A History of the Bladelands

By Steve Arensberg and John W Curtis III

Copyright ICE 1999

The following is a brief account of events that shaped the Bladelands of today. These tales are told from the perspective of an inhabitant of Tesse Nadir (the Valley of Tears).

The Ancient World

Before the Storm, or so the legends say, the world was rich and green; and its people populous and strong, builders of great works and marvels to the mind and eye. Not all who live today choose to believe such, but many do. The world in which the Ancients walked with their long strides was in many ways very different than the world in which we now live, but in some ways it was very much the same.

The Ancient world was a world of Man; a world of cities and towns, of cultivated fields and domesticated herds. This was a world that Man (and not just men, but all the intelligent races of the world) controlled by strength of will, strength of arms, and strength of magic.

For these men were prosperous, and did not struggle as do we, to survive the fury of the storms, the attacks of foul beasts, the hardness of the soil, and the great work that we must do to merely put food in our bellies and shelter over our heads. 'Tis said that all men were prosperous then, like the mighty lords who rules the Middle Lands today. 'Tis said that they had leisure to craft works of beauty and strength, to learn and pursue the arts of war, to master the Land of Hues.

And 'tis said that is was in the Ancient world that the Bladestorms were first created, and in that world that Man attempted to control them for his own ends.

Many believe this to be the very cause of the Maelstrom, the wrath of the Bladestorms turned on those who would control them, and also upon those innocents who stood in the way of that whirling death.

The Maelstrom

No writings record the beginning of the storm, though many chronicle its end. None who live in the world today know for certain how many hundreds and thousands of years our peoples fought against the Maelstrom, struggling to survive in a place where the very air had turned to steel.

But legends reveal much, if they can be believed. The stories say that the very world was changed; that oceans rose to swallow whole cultures, while other islands grew from the sea, and mountains from the plains. The great cities of the Ancients were crushed, buried, or drowned, until only the rubble of their foundations remained to be covered by the dust of centuries.

Many died while the storm raged its fiercest; those who had not heeded the words of the prophets were destroyed; swallowed by the cracking earth, engulfed in tides of liquid flames, or torn to rags by the whirling, steely bite of the wind. Many others died at the hands of their own, as they tried to escape the destruction only to fall into the hands of slavers, cannibals, madmen, or worse.

But a few people managed to escape the destruction, to flee their ancestral lands where the storm was fiercest, and to seek shelter from the Storm. For some, that shelter was the cool dark of the earth, for others, the churning sea, for others mountain caves or tree-guarded glens. And some learned to feel the Storm; to know when it roiled in the sky, that they could outrun it with their fastest steeds.

And so, hidden away, they survived and eventually prospered as the Storm raged around them.

The End of the Storm and the Return of the Calm

But then, as all storms do, the Maelstrom subsided. Many did not know it at first (and 'tis said that many still know it not) that the Storm had gone; they remained hidden from the world and continued their own fearful ways.

But others stepped out into the bright-hued sky, and walked the land, a calm land, for the first time in generations.

It would be many more years before the tale of the Maelstrom's end would rise out of the south. A tale of Dy'rnthar, those strange tall beings from the desert, who sacrificed their bodies and souls to bring an end to the Maelstrom and usher in a new era of calm. But some it would, on the lips of winged messengers, who gave tidings of calm, life, and hope.

Tesse Nadir, the Valley of Tears

Here, in the southernmost part of what is known as the Middle Lands, a great many Men settled upon their return to the land. Here, they found great plains of fertile soil, wide rivers of clean water, and thick woods with straight, tall trees; they found hills with stone and metal for building; they found herds of beasts which had survived the Storm and were readily trained. They found everything they needed to begin again, to build a land in which they could live in peace, and enjoy some measure of prosperity.

The Valley drew all manner of folk; those who wished to leave the world of the past behind and begin anew. The first among those to arrive were a small group of Dy'rnthar, whispering out of the south in the soft silk raiment, offering aid to those in need, and performing great feats of magic. To many, it seemed as if they could control the Hue itself. They did not stay long, but promised that others would come to continue their work. And so it has been--at the start of each new year, out of the south come a Dyrnth or two or three, with their companions. They remain for a time, and then move on. But always do the Nadiri look to the south at the first of the year.

And from the north, in more recent years, have come the Pulaar, stonelike, and hairless, collared as animals, bringing tales of torture and slavery at the hands of the Gorlu ("demons" in their tongue). they were just a few at first, these escapees, but more risk escape and the harsh trip south to find this land of freedom.

The City of Hope

None know who it was that said a city must be built. For years a town had stood here at the foot of the mountains, the river running beside it.

A "city," they said (though none know who "they" were). "A city must be built. We will call it Nyevarie, the City of Hope. And it will be a beacon in the dark to all our brothers of the world who have forgotten what freedom is; whether their slavery is the metal collar of the Gorlu, the Storm's collar of fear and pain, or the collar of darkness and confusion in their own minds. And here atop this mountain pass it will stand, bright and true, a beacon of hope in a dark land, calling all those who wish for freedom and peace."

And so the Pulaar set to work, turning their skills toward a task more fitting their talents than palaces for the Rga-khur warlords, and coliseums for their kin to fight in death matches for Gorlu enjoyment. They would create a city of such beauty that those who saw it would weep for joy.

Six years later, the city was finished. It was everything the Pulaar who built it--and all those who watched and waited and planned--had hoped for.

And so the city has stood for the last nine years--calling those of all free peoples to it who would build a new and better life from the ruins of the Ancient world.

The Lo'ar-Gorlu War

While the Maelstrom raged on the surface of the world, and the Mannish peoples struggled to survive in a chaotic world, far below ground another struggle ensued. The age-old war between the La'ar and the Gorlu hordes reached its crescendo, over the few realms under-land that survived the pounding of the Storm.

And when the sounds of warfare ceased, the Gorlu stood above a La'ar nation on its knees. Those dwarves who were not slaughtered outright became the Pulaar, the artisan-slaves of their Gorlu masters, who wore collars of slavery wrought by their own hands.

The Gorlu Nations

When the Maelstrom ended (some 300 years ago), the Gorlu nations were the first to emerge from the underground, and lay their claim to the Bladelands. Six nations of Rga'khur have risen since that time, each ruled by a warlord called a "khurgaash." These khurgaash rule much of the Middle Lands with iron fists, their armies of Rga-khur (War-born) at the ready.

Five casts make up Rga-khur society. They are (in order of worthiness): Rga-khur, Rga-don, Tehnan, Mongrul, and Pulaar.

Rga-kuhr (the War-born): All Rga-khur (male and female) are born as warriors, and are trained in the art of personal combat and warfare almost from birth. To the Rga-khur, there is no more noble, holy, and worthy pursuit than war.

Rga-don (the Reborn): Those few Rga-khur who are born weak, not fit to fight, are left out in the wilds to fend for themselves. Those which survive are allowed to live, having proven their mettle against the cruelty of the world. Then these Rga-don, the Reborn, are given to other Rga-don for training in arts which are more suited to their feeble (non-warrior) skills.

Tehnan (the Servants): The humans of these lands, while most are not collared slaves like the Pulaar, are little better than that; living and working in small communities who must pay tribute (whether foodstuffs, livestock, lumber, or finished goods) or face destruction, slavery, and worse. For them, life is little better now than the tenuous existence they eked out during the Storm. Yet here, with the sky above not so threatening and the world growing again, some have cause for hope of something better; of a day in the future when they can live free of their Gorlu masters.

For others, they may be servants, but they are fed, and protected from monsters and evil beings by the might of the Gorlu warlords. To many, this yoke of servitude is better than any freedom full of dangers this world spawns.

Tehnan may also be slaves, if the warlord or his agents make it so. Tehnan life, whether slave or servant, is always subject to the whim of the Rga-khur.

The Mongrul (Half-breeds): These half-breed offspring of Rga-khur and Man are disdained by both groups and are generally outsiders wherever they go. Most who do not flee from the Khurlands are either slaves or the lowest class of servant. They are usually given tasks which keep them out of the sight of Rga-khur, who often kill Mongrul (even their own offspring) out of disgust.

The Pulaar (Slaves): The Pulaar have come above ground with their masters, and serve not only as basic labor for the building of their Khur empires, but as skilled craftsmen for their Khur lords (who have little skill for creating). Their metal collars are a constant, chafing reminder of their new position in the hierarchy of the world.

Yet these Pulaar are not without Hope. Their brethren, the Shulaar, maintain their own freedom, plying the rivers of the Middle Lands in boats crafted of the same metal as the Pulaar chains. And the eldest of the Pulaar speak in secret of the fabled Lo'ar, those dwarves who survived the devastation of the Gorlu, and who will come in force to rescue their brother Pulaar when they have regained their strength. The younger Pulaar call such dreams fancy, or foolishness.

Ghurzek

Ghurzek is the southernmost Rga-khur warhold. While not the most powerful, its ruler, Mollog, still controls his lands with a tight fist and a ready whip.

In Ghurzek, a new tale has come, brought by travelers, of a land of freedom and a new city born, a city of hope. Guided by the mysterious Dy'rnthar of the desert and the free Pulaar, the men of the south have banded together to create a new city, one which stands in defiance of "khurgashek" rule.

Ghurzek's "khurgaash", Mollog, sees this petty Manling rabble as little threat; all men are weak by nature. "Let them build their free city," he says. "All the better to have the work completed before we conquer it."

The Daan - Descendants of the Ancients

These Men live far to the north, on an island they call Kond, at the northernmost tip of the continent. It was to here that these descendants of the Ancients fled the destruction of their kingdoms. They are a strange folk, these Daan who come south searching for lore and trinkets from the Ancient World. They wear them with a strange, almost manic gleam in their eyes, as if they have found a prize of such value, that only they can understand the worth of it.

Those few who speak of their homeland tell of cities (more than one!) which rival our City of Hope in size and splendor, plus many towns and villages. They also speak reverently of their lords or kings or whatever they name their rulers, the Urdaan. The Daan explain that the Urdaan are purest of blood, and so fit to rule those of weaker blood. (I'm sure if you cut these Urdaan, they'd bleed good old red blood, just like you or me. And I bet there's nothing pure or holy about it. But that's just my opinion.)

Chuandeyn, the North Forest

This great forest covers much of the northern third of the world, from as far south as the Gorlu nations, to the northernmost tip of the continent, right at the straight of Ma'oughin. This great expanse is inhabited by the Chuan, a mysterious race who watch the wood and its animal inhabitants; and who protect the forest from the predations of others. Few who enter the forest leave it; and those who do escape it rarely (if ever) go back.

The Great South Desert

South and east of the Middle Lands lies the Ua'deh Meyr, Dy'rnthar for "crystal powder sea" or some such. This section of the world is divided into three distinct sections: the Steppelands (also known as the Great Ride, home of the Sul nomad tribes), The Kalien Tae Toth (the Mountains of Wrath, which parallel the western coast and are controlled by Vancu enclaves in the north and Egalian aeries in the south), and the desert itself (the Ua'deh Meyr, home of the Dy'rnthar, their companions, and little else).

The Steppelands:

This vast grassland stretches from the southeastern edge of the Middle Lands far into the southern third of the world. A land of harsh beauty, where bladestorms are frequent and fierce, the Great Ride is home to the Sul, a loosely scattered confederacy or nomadic tribes who use fast horses to follow and hunt the great herds of antelope and bison.

The Mountains of Wrath:

This chain of volcanic mountains hugs the southwestern coast of the southern peninsula, and is home to two mysterious peoples. The Vancu are a race of warlike females (males do exist, but are little more than slaves and breeding drones) who ride great wingless Dune Drakes out of secret enclaves in the mountains, raiding Sul encampments, harassing travelers, and occasionally mustering a force of enough size to risk a strike against the Dy'rnthar holdings. The Egalian, the winged-men who carry messages throughout the Middle Lands, and beyond, are said to hail from a great city carved into the very stone of the tallest peak, at the southernmost end of this mountain chain.

The Ua'deh Meyr:

This great desert consumes most of the rest of the peninsula. Its environment is harsh enough that few can survive here for a limited time, let alone, year after year. Yet the Dy'rnthar and their great warrior Men companions do just that. Rumors tell of a great crystal city deep in the desert; others speak of great caverns below the scalding surface of the desert; still others tell of a string of beautiful oases, with great groomed gardens and sparkling pools. Those Dy'rnthar who roam the world do not say which, if any, of these grand tales is true.

The Eastern Island Realms

East, beyond the Inland Sea, lie the island realms. Of the many that must exist, only one is well-known to us in the Middle Lands: the Shulaar.

These kin of the Pulaar returned to the world decades ago from their adopted home on Ren Shu, a large island well east of the main lands. These lively, wandering folk now ply the rivers, either in great paddle-wheel boats or small barges; offering transportation of goods and people for a price, trading goods with all manner of folk, and exploring the wild lands of this world.

The Shulaar brought with them tales of other folk on islands to the east. The Tatanopo are a race of pleasure-seekers who live on an island of unsurpassed beauty. Few inhabitants ever desire to leave this paradise, and few outsiders are able to find it unless by accident. The Morn are a race of wild men, fierce, and warlike, who live among the islands of a great archipelago to the northeast of the mainland. Even the friendly Shulaar found it difficult to befriend the violent Morn, some of whom perform such barbaric practices as blood sacrifice and cannibalism.

Return of the Powers

As the Maelstrom cut its swath of destruction about the world, the peoples of the Bladelands called out to their gods for aid, for mercy, for deliverance. yet, in what seemed to many the darkest hour, the faithful heard nothing from the gods who had once sheltered them.

What happened to the gods of the Bladelands? Had they forsaken their people and left them to the Storm? Had they sent the Storm themselves, that they might cleanse the world and begin anew?

Or had the Maelstrom proved even too strong for them? Had it destroyed them as well? Or had it merely cut them off from their worshippers?

Such debate about the fate of the old gods continues to this day.

Yet as the Maelstrom ended and the Veil returned to the sky, new powers began to manifest in the lands. Some, like the Shulaar or the Sul, believe in a single god, while others believe in the existence of seven, or nine. Whatever the truth, divinity has returned to the Bladelands.

Yet divinity's welcome is perhaps not as warm as expected. In general, the folk of the Bladelands are less willing to accept the yoke of a god than their ancestors were. These new folk know what it is to suffer, to pray for deliverance, and hear nothing. So before they give their belief to anyone, they must see something, some show of faith, to prove for them that the power can be trusted.

Editor's Note

Please email any comments on this article to gfw@pinc.com. In the next issue, we'll continue our look at the world of Bladelands with "The Veil of Hues"