Friday, September 14, 2012

Golmadras: Wachalen, City of Strife

Wachalen: City of Strife

"When I and my companions arrived in Wachalen it was with the best of intentions. I could not have imagined the carnage that would ensue, nor the madness of civil war that had descended upon the mountainous valley, a conflict which spiraled out from the bleak castle guarding the pass like a maelstrom engulfing all in its path. 

"We arrived as four explorers charting out a foreign land of decadent corruption and draconian fascism, to explore the easternmost reach of the dreaded territory of the so-called "Final Lands." What we found was a guerilla war between the native sylvan elves and a bitter garrison of soldiers who were culled from the crudest and most despicable criminals in a land run by criminals. 

"It was, as my old taskmaster in the Temple used to say, "Time for a messy clean-up."
--Excerpt from the Travelogue of Corlance dann Veraskon

Castle Wachalen (Wyldraven)

Part I: The History of Wachalen
Wachalen is an ancient fortress that was built during an age long gone, its first foundation laid by high elves (the Suethenurien folk) more than 3,500 years ago, the quasi-mythical time of the War of the Gods. The old tales speak of the great fortress as a masterpiece of ancient elven engineering and architecture, erected to stand fast in the Atalonian Mountain Pass of the southern Greenmantle Mountains against an invasion by the abyssal armies of that lost era.

As the stories go, Wachalen was then called Atalon’dar, meaning “Throne of the Mountains” in old elvish. It was meant to protect the heartland from the warring armies of the north in a time when gods walked the earth in physical form, using armies of angels and demons to fight for supremacy over the mortal realm. The fortress, according to these legends, served to repel a vast army of demonic invaders and cult warriors to the chaos gods, but it suffered greatly. Some tales say ten thousand elvish warriors died standing in defense of the pass, and that one needs to dig but a few inches into the soil to find the bones of these warriors and their fallen enemy. Other tales say that less than a few hundred warriors managed to stave off the demonic hordes for weeks before receiving aid. All tales agree that the fortress was blasted nearly to oblivion in that era, and that this explains the charred, blackened walls and stone of the region. Local farmers in the high valley pass will also attest to the fact that it is nigh impossible to plow the ground without exposing bones of some sort. Many bones clearly belonged to men and elves, but a great many more appear to have been those of terrifying beasts, judging by the chaotic and disturbing appearance of the remains.
Over many centuries the fortress served either as a garrison of defense in times of war or as a peaceful community where overland trade was conducted. The trade routes east out of the mountains lead to Saddikar (once Blackholm) in the north, as well as Akalios and Ostenar (of Sendral) to the east. The largely unruled and independent folk of the southern Hyrkanian desertlands beyond the mountain often rely on Wachalen (as well as Ostenar) for trade and commerce. They sometimes even seek the council of the ruling lord at the castle, to resolve legal disputes or criminal accusations.

Eleven centuries ago there was a period of great turmoil. The old Hyrkanian Empire was in decline and a dark age had fallen upon the Middle Kingdoms. Octzel was in disarray and was fracturing into multiple smaller kingdoms during the Hundred Year War, and a mystery as yet unresolved led to the Great Deluge, which began with a tidal flood along the coast that destroyed countless towns and cities, after  which the sea level rose by a measure of dozens of feet in some regions, flooding coastland and forcing people to move inland to secure ground. During this time the high elves of old Sylvias sent many stranded folk to dwell in and around Wachalen, as part of a relocation effort to deal with the shrinking coastland.

To the south, the devastation was much greater as the broken land-mass of Karaktu, which consisted of a cluster of large islands, was engulfed in the flood waters, destroying the empires of old. This led to the exodus of the old Argosean people, who in turn sought refuge elsewhere, and tens of thousands of these refugees arrived on the shores of Sylvias. The high elves, though reticent to accept so many humans into their land, felt there was little choice in the matter but to be as accommodating as they could. (See the introduction to Golmadras for more on this).

The flooding of the Deluge lasted for about a century, after which a newer and more dreadful event transpired. About a thousand years ago came the horrific plague years when the undead god Unarak unleashed a plague of undeath upon the land. Wachalen was once again reinforced by warriors who stood fast against the darkness, though this time the troops were Golmadran men or sympathizers, for after several decades the Golmadrans went from immigrants to rulers of the land in a bloody civil war that lasted for three decades. The elves were vanquished and many had fled to other lands to escape. The dark elves of Modra had risen to power. In this time Wachalen was placed under control of the dark elf named Malador Verastain, a cruel warlord and powerful servant of the demon lord Kostchie. Verastain led the human and dark elf forces (as well as many elvish slaves) to victory against the hordes of undead which swept into the pass, keeping it clear and defending Golmadras from the encroaching hoards. Despite the slaughter that went on in the mountain pass, it was noted by many that the undead hordes never struck along the coast or anywhere else in the mountains, which while largely impassable for men would prove to be mere inconveniences for the relentless undead. The emperor, or course, claimed it was divine protection of his realm. Malador Verastain argued otherwise, saying it was the diligence of his men.

In the end Malador Verastain was assassinated by his own mother, Lady Caervalle of house Verastain. His success brought much honor to her clan, but he was apparently accused of consorting with wood elves, and it was said that he had a relationship with Erinesse Valdari, the daughter of the wood elf king Draegas in the high mountains of Eflin. This was too much of an affront, and when rumors of a bastard child surfaced Lady Caervalle contracted the Fire Knives to kill him. Today, his vast and deep tomb can be found in the necropolis east of the city, where it is said that the warlord was buried with illegitimate child and his immediate followers, wives and concubines. Despite being a hero of Golmadras, the emperor stood idly by while the dark elves exacted their own punishment. Some local legends suggest that Malador returned from the grave, and that his vampiric presence can be felt in the streets of the castle and town on moonless nights.

Malador Verastain

Over the last millennium as Golmadras grew, so too did Wachalen. It became a prosperous center of overland trade, more so than in the previous years under the elves, for Golmadras despite its imperialist nature was ever receptive to merchants and coin. The elves of old Sylvias had always been a guarded lot against outsiders (and the Golmadrans proved why). Now, Wachalen was open to all who had coin and goods. This prosperity turned the mountain pass from a remote fortress and township into a sprawling urban city in the high mountains.

This prosperity was not to last, however. Within the last century and a half the city has suffered economically as much of the overland trade dried up due to growing conflict between Golmadras and its neighbors. In the current era (3,501 aw) Wachalen is a city that appears to have slipped into squalor and decadence, a place where the very rich and the very poor commingle and merchants find themselves less and less interested in staying for trade and business. Much of the overland trade has shifted to the young independent city-state of Erazad to the east, and the current ruling governor of Wachalen, the porcine Count Verask Mataelen is furious at the competition Erazad provides. He has petitioned the emperor himself to demand that the Golmadran fleet take action against the budding polity, but for reasons yet unknown to the public no immediate action has been taken. Behind  the scenes there is a suspicion that Erazad has fallen under the protection of both Sendral and the Iron Kingdoms, such that to attack it would be to start a war with two powerful neighbors. The Count does not care, however, and has been looking at creative ways to fund his own private army with a measure of deniability to cause harm to Erazad. Right now this comes in the form of bandit and orc raids along the trade routes leading to Erazad.

Count Verask Mataelen

While the Count worries about his petty trade wars with Erazad, a bigger threat looms. Since the dawn of Gomadras in a blood war against the old native elves, the sylvenurien wood elves of the northern Eflin Mountains have managed to survive against their neighbors for centuries now thanks to their all but impenetrable kingdom within the high mountains. Early on in the rise of Golmadras Wachalen was a center of military operations against the wood elves, but little progress was ever made as the wood elves proved to be the only folk who could safely navigate the treacherous fey-shrouded dominion in which they dwelled. Entire regiments of Golmadran soldiers were said to have disappeared into thin air. Soldiers would go on patrol and return a day later, aged eighty years, or go to sleep and awaken as mewling infants in their bunks. It was a war that could not be fought, and eventually the Golmadrans decided to leave well enough alone.

In recent decades something changed, however. The wood elves have begun to emerge from their high mountain kingdom, at first for an occasional raid, but frequently they have gotten bolder and more aggressive. Wachalen is at the heart of this rising conflict as the wood elves engage in frequent, often weekly guerilla strikes against their forces. Some strategists of the Count suspect that there is a connection between the elves and the city state of Erazad, though no one has proven this yet, but of the few elves captured or killed in these raids it has been noted that some of their gear appears not to be elven-made.

Today, travelers in the region can expect to be at risk of an attack by wood elves, beset by bandits privately backed by the Count, threatened by the large local militia, oppressed by the private militaries of local lesser nobles or roughed up by desperate and penniless citizens. Wachalen is a kettle pot about to boil over into insurrection and civil conflict.

The Eastern Passage

Next: Part II, an overview of Wachalen, its occupants and environs

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