The Twilight Seas and the Isles of Ishorin, Part I

   Since the Twilight Seas are now coming into play, it’s time for some background information on that area. First up: the historical origins and physical structure of the Isles of Ishorin.

   The Ancient Days:

   There isn’t much left from before the founding of Ishorin. There are a few crumbling old tomes in languages that usually have to be translated with magic and there are a few old tales – but they amount to very little. There is enough to outline a few basic points though:

  • The founders once inhabited a city where they were securely hidden from some enemy.
  • They recognized a number of gods, most of them now forgotten. The few still known include:
    • Haerun, God of Trickery and Concealment. The primary patron of the Founders. Alone among the ancient gods, Haerun is still said to sometimes grant significant spells to those who try to worship him.
    • Ilroth, Goddess of Darkness, Fear, and Intrigue.
    • Ranul (Ransal?), God (Goddess?) of Assassins.
    • Gortar, God of War
    • Sitrae, Goddess of Light and Joy.
  • Their city was destroyed by a massive series of volcanic eruptions.
  • A relatively small number of survivors traveled a long ways, eventually either landing on or emerging onto the Twilight Isles.
  • There were a few other races on the Isles already, but their populations were even smaller than that of the founders. Most of them were absorbed into the new race that was rapidly becoming the Shadow Elves (although there are occasional throwbacks), while a few remnant groups are still hanging on here and there in backwaters and mountain valleys.
  • It took many generations to adapt to the isles and establish themselves. For a long time, most of the children died early.
  • Eventually – after many generations – the majority of the children lived past early childhood, and the population began to expand.
  • With the pressures of an increasing population, and no precedent in many generations for dealing with it, organized warfare returned to the Twilight isles for the first time in generations.

   Ishorin Korvian, a ruthless warrior-mage of great power, seized control of the major islands. Finding that many people opposed the measures she thought necessary* – citing law, tradition, and ancient privileges as justifications – High Queen Ishorin declared war on the past. She burned books dealing with history, law, and other impractical matters, sent out teachers to pass on a standardized basic education and suppress bothersome traditions, broke up powerful cartels and families, and executed defiant priests, scholars, and nobles – including several of her own offspring and grandchildren.

   Thanks to those persecutions, the recorded history of Ishorin starts 1418 years ago, when Ishorin began her campaign of unification. She crowned herself six years later – making this the year 1412 HQ.

   *Ranging from declaring a rough equality between men and women (as opposed to the prevailing notion that women were to be carefully sheltered – a holdover from the generations when child mortality was so high that every women was precious), standardizing weights and measures, strict laws and ruthless punishments, and breaking up large landholdings, on through removing some privileges from the nobility, strictly limiting the number of “nobles” in the population, instituting advancement-by-merit, strictly limiting private armies, setting up a royal military force, and the suppression of (debatably) “subversive” and criminal groups – including several priesthoods and organizations of mages.

   While there were several years of chaos after Ishorin’s death, and quite a lot of her “reforms” were set back substantially, her reign of nearly two centuries set a firm pattern for the realm; Indeed, even today – some 1216 years later – the realm is still known as Ishorin, in honor – and in fear – of the first High Queen and the iron crown she forged.

   The Physical Realm:

   Ishorin consists of a central archipelago of eleven large volcanic islands, some thirty small ones, and several hundred tiny ones – ranging from rocky outcroppings too small to support a more than a fisherman or two on up to islands capable of supporting several villages. At least two other, smaller, rockier, and more distant groups of islands are known – but they are both too volcanically active, and too infested with dangerous creatures or other races to be worth any serious attempt to colonize them.

   In geological terms, the islands are relatively young, they are still volcanically active (and thus prone to earthquakes and tidal waves), and the soil is mostly thin and rocky. They are, however, rich in metals and crystals, all of which are mined from old volcanic vents. While the concentration of such metals in the soil was not at all healthy for the early inhabitants, the current generations have adapted nicely.

   Beneath the ground lies the realm of darkness, of the dead, and of the beings which feed upon the dead. Thus corpses are always burned if that is practical, lest – in burial – they become infused with the powers of the underworld and rise in undeath.

   The islands bask beneath the light of the Jav-Sabok – a softly glowing layer of mist which gathers some miles above the isles and the sea and bathes the known world in a perpetual twilight radiance. Oddly enough, despite the weakness of the light, it causes plants to grow very, very, well, enhances the abilities (and hastens the aging) of people and animals – and feels distinctly warm. Scholars say that beyond the Jav-Sabok lies the intolerable fires of the heavens, a blaze kept from annihilating the isles only by the vapors of the sea. Whether for good or ill, however, the energies flowing through the Jav-Sabok distort magic and psychic energies and – at close range – overload and destroy living things even before the regions of intolerable heat can be reached.

   The air is dense, and the climate is warm, humid, and rainy; the isles have little experience of cold – although such hostile conditions do prevail on both of the other two known archipelagos, which lies nearer to the Seas of Darkness. Powerful storms are all too common – and are often more than purely physical disturbances, as the energies of the dark realms beneath the earth, the skyfire of the Jav-Sabok, and the magical energies of the world contend. Storms are times when the eight thunders – the lightning of the four elements of the world, of raw magic, of the spirit , of the necromantic powers of the underworld, and of the lifefire of the heavens – stalk the land, bringing strange rains and spawning offenses to the natural order. Such storm-wrought disturbances require continuous suppression, and provide opportunities for young adventurers. Ambitious youngsters often attempt to tap the power of the eight thunders for one purpose or another*; such attempts often end in disaster, but succeed often enough to encourage new generations of gamblers.

 *Certain trees and plants have adapted to the power of the Eight Thunders; they gather power from passing storms. When a particularly powerful storm with the right aspect passes, they may gather a great deal of power indeed – and they store it within their fruits, seeds, and special organs. Such Stormfruits are relatively rare, and often dangerous to gather – but they are natural foci of power, useful in spellcasting, enchanting, and the creation of potions. A few even have useful powers in their unprocessed state.

   Unsurprisingly, thanks to the wild magical energies of storms, the creatures of the land are often strange and dangerous. Still, their scope is usually limited to an island or two. The creatures of the air are worse – harder to track down and eliminate, and able to easily relocate themselves and spread. Worst of all, of course, are the creatures of the deep waters – where there is endless room, no people to try and eliminate them while they’re manageable, plenty of food, and shelter from further storms for those powerful enough to claim it. Those entities can be awesomely powerful, as strong as the demigods of legend, and it is a woeful day when such a terror rises from the depths!

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