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Aduria: Twilight Peaks by Green Knight

Across the Straits of Atha lies the land of Alitaene. It is a place of long-forgotten empires, ancient ruins, lost treasures and unending sun. The climate in western Alitaene, around the Hurin Bay and in the Gulf of Alitaene, is warm and dry. Sea breezes keep the temperature bearable even during the height of summer, and the proximity to the sea means the coastal strip is fairly fertile. Additional rainfall in the Aramarch Mountains is sufficient to sustain a great stretch of forests that cover the mountains? foothills, and this water eventually ends up in the River of Aereth that brings life to the entire western heartland of Alitaene. Even during the hottest and driest months of summer snowmelt from the mountains keeps the river flowing; albeit at greatly reduced capacity. Further east the land turns into dry steppe, almost bordering on desert in places. In fact only the presence of the great Inner Sea prevents the plains south of the Aramarch range from turning into sandy desert. It was not always so; in ancient times the area had much more moisture and was considered a fertile place. Very few people call eastern Alitaene home, the majority of the population lives in the western part of the region.

[top]The Lost Kingdom

In ancient times the lands around the Inner Sea were one of the cradles of human civilization. It is believed by scholars versed in ancient history that the region were among the first in all the world to see agriculture, domestication of animals and urban settlement. Many tribes and peoples inhabited the land, most of which have been forgotten by history. The people that would eventually rise to greatness were the Hur; they came to dominate all the lands west and north of the Inner Sea around 3000 years before the Battle of Deismaar.
It should be noted that the Hur were not a united people, but instead existed as numerous independent city-states and temporary mini-empires. The Hur were constantly engaged in warfare, both among themselves and with the many barbarian tribes that lived in the hinterlands. From the northeastern mountains (the region now known as the Vaults or the Beastlands) came an especially fierce warrior people that carried weapons of iron and rode to war in chariots ? the ancestors of the Andu. They eventually subjugated the Hur, and ruled as lords over the largely Hurin population. This happened in the 16th or 17th century before Deismaar. Yet their rule was no more unified than that of the Hur before them, and the city-state system continued much as before.
At some point prior to 1000 BD the Great King Arkhelan, an Andu High Priest of Anduiras, conquered the entire region. From Kalah, the City of the Dragon, his warriors set forth to conquer a truly vast area, stretching from the Straits of Atha in the west to the Sudiemiere in the east, and from the Aramarch Mountains in the north to the Zhengeis in the south. The name of the empire is lost to time ? it is most commonly labeled just the First Empire ? but its fate is known. Several hundred years after Arkhelan?s death, after generations of mismanagement by his successors, internal unrest and external invasions, the First Empire finally collapsed.
From beyond the Zhengei Range came the dark-skinned and warlike Naida. Armed with strange magic and accompanied by fearsome monsters, they carried the banners of their patron god Azrai, the Lord of Secrets. The Naida warriors destroyed many of the cities of the First Empire, and carried away its treasures and many of its people as loot and slaves. The Hurin, as the people of the First Empire called themselves now, were scattered and their proud legacy ground to dust.
That Naizad restructured the remaining cities and their population into a vassal realm ? the realm of Hurimar. With a largely Hurin population, it was initially ruled with an iron fist by Naida overlords. For at time this system endured, until the Hurin proved themselves in service to Azrai, and he showed his favor by allowing a Hurin to oust the Naida from power and pronounce the Hurimar Empire. This arrangement suited Azrai very well indeed, for it freed his Naida for other campaigns and left the Inner Sea region firmly under his control.
The Hurin emperors of Hurimar fought faithfully for Azrai for many years, sending its young men to fight in distant war for many generations. With the Naida having passed on to other lands, it fell to the Hurin also to subjugate the Rjuven, the Duatha and the other barbarian peoples inhabiting lands on the fringes of Hurimar. Eventually it became too much of a burden to bear for the Hurin, exhausted by long years of constant war on many fronts, and with the climate around the Inner Sea was changing for the worse something had to be done or the Hurimar Empire would collapse.
The Emperor of Hurimar announced that they would fight no more, braving the wrath of Azrai in the vain hope of saving his people. Surely Azrai would have visited acts of terrible retribution upon the traitorous Hurin had he had the opportunity. But rescue came from an unexpected direction ? shortly after Azrai was slain during the Battle of Mount Deismaar and his dark servants were defeated and scattered.
The Hurimar Empire would never know greatness again, but continued to cling to existence in the western part of the Empire?s lands. As the centuries passed, the empire dwindled even further, until it was holding only the lands on the Hurin Bay and along the Aereth River. Hurimar was finally destroyed in 854 HC by the Anuirean warlord and conqueror High Marshal Vinaens, and its lands added to the growing possessions of the Anuirean Empire. Calling this now protectorate Alitaene (said to be named after a favorite mistress of his); he set about persecuting the locals with great zeal.
Hurimar at the time was populated by a fairly homogenous mix of Hurin (who in turn were of mixed Andu and Hur stock) and Naida blood. They were treated terribly by their new Anuirean masters ? who seemingly wanted to punish them for the sins of their fathers countless generations before. And for reasons know only to the gods it appeared that the Hurin actually welcomed this treatment and looked upon the Anuireans as a means of salvation. Or maybe it was that they were so thoroughly broken that no spirit or individuality remained to them. The end result was that in a single bloody century the numerically inferior Anuireans completely changed the Hurin way for life. They adopted Anuirean language, culture, values, and even their gods. The conduct of noble war, the rule of law and the tenets of Haelyn burned their way into the tainted souls of the Hurin and changed them forever.
After the fall of the Anuirean Empire, this, the most distant of Anuirean colonies, was completely left to its own devices. A sizable number of Anuirean settlers were left behind, as well as a ruling class, but all military units were recalled. Without economic and military support from the homeland, the Anuirean rulers of Alitaene had to find different solutions to the challenging task of improving their holdings in this far-away land. The solution they chose was one used many times throughout history; they created a new class of landed knights from the native population, mirroring the old Anuirean feudal system. By the turn of the 12th century HC this system was firmly in place, and the Emperor of Alitaene (who claims to be descended from Roele, the rightful ruler of Anuire, and the champion of Haelyn) ruled over an ordered realm through his Dukes, Barons and lesser nobles.
Equally important was the intermingling of Hurin and Anuireans throughout the period. Since they by now shared essentially the same culture, language and religion, the boundaries between master and servant were quickly blurred and eventually disappeared altogether. Today the people of Alitaene are a homogeneous group and they continue to cling to the Anuirean ways adopted long time ago. There is no real contact between Anuire and Alitaene today, and knowledge about the land is minimal. But a popular sailor?s tale in Anuire is the one about the Kingdom of Aquitania, which is said to be located somewhere deep in Aduria; a Kingdom of Anuireans faithful to great Haelyn.
Alitaene has diplomatic and trade contacts with other realms in north-western Aduria, especially Mor Atha, Rhandel and Lurech. Relations with Mor Atha are strained, as that Athans seek to limit the naval power of the Empire to maintain their hegemony over the seas, but Mor Atha is also Alitaene?s most important trading partner so this tends to prevent conflicts from expanding into full-fledged wars. Lurech is another source of trouble, as Luren raiders attack shipping and even stage raids on villages along the coast. The problem is not as great as to warrant a full-scale military response, and the Emperor of Alitaene tries to limit the problem through diplomatic efforts instead.
The people of Alitaene honor the same gods that Anuireans do, with an overwhelming focus on Haelyn as the Divine King and ruler over all. The Imperial Temple of Alitaene is a fairly centralized organization, with a Pontiff as its head, Cardinals, Archbishops, Bishops, and so on, modeled after the old Imperial Anuirean system. The Alitaene Temple is extremely Orthodox, a legacy of High marshal Vinaens, who was a very zealous Orthodox Dieman. The most important difference between religious life in Anlitaene and contemporary Anuire is the lack of emphasis regarding the gods? children ? Cuiraécen, Laerme and Eloéle.
The Alita, as the inhabitants of Alitaene are called, speak Anuirean as their primary language. Despite centuries of separation from Anuire, the language is similar enough that it is recognizably a dialect of Cerilian Anuirean. Indeed, an Anuirean from Diemed would probably understand an Alita speaker as easily as he would one hailing from Dhoesone.

[top]Duchy of Rend

The Duchy of Rend (the area adjacent to the capital of Alitaene) is one of the great wonders of Aebrynis ? because much of the land was once below the surface of the ocean or would be today had not the rise of the ocean been checked. It started a long time ago ? the slow but inevitable rise of the sea ? with land disappearing into the ocean, especially around the Aereth river delta. There was not really much the rulers of fading Hurimar Empire could do about the march of the sea; they had not the skills or magic require for such a daunting task, and their fervent prayers to Masela and Reynir went unanswered. The Hurin could only watch as premium farmland and some of their greatest cities disappeared at an ever-growing rate.
Nothing changed following the Anuirean invasion and conquest, but after the Fall of the Empire and the subsequent abandonment of Alitaene, things would change. It was divined that within a few hundred years the entire delta would become a salt-water marsh, useless for human habitation. Something had to be done, and the new Anuirean overlords of Alitaene devised a bold and unprecedented solution. Hiring dwarven engineers from some distant dwarf-hold, they set about creating an extensive system of dikes and flood-barriers between the many islands, lakes and rivers in the area. Slowly but surely, the sea was pushed back opening up lands for re-cultivation and allowing drowned cities to once again rise above the waves.
Work never ceases on the great dikes; it takes a lot of effort just to keep them in repair, let alone expand on them. The dwarves have long since left, but the art of engineering survives and is held in high regard in Alitaene. Every day inspectors examine large stretches of dikes and work-gangs of convicted criminals labor to repair and expand upon them. Thousands of wind-mills turn constantly, driving the many pumps that help keep the land dry, emptying water into great canals that carry it to the sea. It may eventually be for naught ? for as long as Rend has had dikes, the people have know about a simple fact; the sea rises. Very slowly, but never ceasing, the level of the sea creeps upwards. It will take a long while yet, but unless stopped or reversed, Rend will eventually be reclaimed by the sea.
Altan, capital of Alitaene, is situated on a roughly circular island about five and a half in diameter, located just of the Aereth?s main channel. Unlike the majority of islands and islets in the delta, Altan sits on solid rock. The central part of the island is actually below sea level, and on the eastern side of the island there is a wide gash where the sea flows into the interior, forming a natural harbor. Surrounded on all sides by water and protected by the steep walls of the island and countless watchtowers and walls, Altan is virtually impregnable. From the harbor in the city?s middle ships venture forth across the ocean and river-boats embark on journeys up and down the river or follow the many canals crisscrossing the duchy.
Built upon the ruins of the old Hurimar capital Altan has a decidedly Anuirean architecture, but its history stretches back into prehistory. The city is the heart of he Empire in more ways than one; the Emperor of Alitaene rulers his realm from his court in Altan, it is here that the merchant houses have their headquarters, the nobility retain vast town-houses, the Imperial Temple and the Brotherhood of the Arcane both have their headquarters within the city.

[top]Gulf of Alitaene

The innermost portion of Athan Straits is known as the gulf of Alitaene. It is a fairly shallow part of the sea, a depth of about 100 feet seems to be the average, having been dry land thousands of years ago (before the rise of man around the Inner Sea). Ruins of gigantic buildings can sometimes be glimpsed sticking out of the mire beneath the waves at low tide, a legacy of the giants that once dwelled here in great numbers. Sea-going vessels try to avoid the Gulf if they can, but shallow-bottomed fishing vessels ply the region in great number, harvesting a considerable bounty from the sea.

[top]Forest of Shadows

At the foot of the mighty Aramarch Mountains lies a dark and brooding forest, known only as the Forest of Shadows to the locals. Unlike many other primeval forests, this one is not a haven to the fey and their ilk. Instead the forest houses all manner of aberrations, magical beasts, monstrous vermin, dire animals and other unnatural creatures; the following creatures are known or rumored to live within the forest ? araena, attach, basilisk, displacer beast, ettercap, lychantrope, and will o-wisp. Needless to say, normal folk are reluctant to visit the forest.
One particularly persistent rumor about the Forest of Shadow is contains one or more passages into the deep earth, beyond the earth and rock of Aebrynis, and deep into the nether reaches where only the shadows dwell. It is even said that for those who dare go deep enough, there is way to be found into the afterlife, a journey sometimes undertaken by desperate lovers who seek to bring back the spirits of their departed loved ones.

[top]Aramarch Mountains

The Aramarch Mountains mark the northern border of Alitaene, separating it from Oeried and Rhandel. The mountains play no great part in Alitaene, for in the western reaches the populated regions are separated from them by the Forest of Shadows and in the eastern reaches very few humans live anyway. Once in a while a band of trolls will come down from the mountains and raid beyond the Forest of Shadows or some vile monster will be found wandering at the edges of the Eastern Plains, but to the common people of Alitaene, the Aramarchs are a factor in their daily lives.

[top]Eastern Plains

East of the riverlands of the Aereth the land gradually dries up, turning first into a savanna and then later into dusty plains and near-desert areas. The strip of land closest to the Inner Sea is not as arid or desolate as the inland areas closer to the Aramarch Mountains, but they are not bountiful either. Humans long abandoned the Eastern Plains, except for a series of military outposts maintained by the Emperor of Alitaene and the odd outlaw holdfast.
The primary inhabitants of the plains today are tribes of primitive lion-men, called wemics by the Alitan ? the wemics have been a feature around the Inner Sea and beyond for time immemorial, but only in the last 500 years have they grown numerous enough to be of real consequence. The wemics are proud and fierce fighters, more than a match for any Alitan knight, but they are hardly an advanced people (still working in stone and bronze) and rarely band together outsider their family groups. There is some conflict between Alitaene and the wemics, as the lands closest to Alitaene are the most fertile. Especially in lean years there is a problem of wemics raiding across the border and stealing livestock.

[top]Lake Hur

Lake Hur is the largest brackish lake in the world, a result of the rising sea level and the reduction of the Inner Sea. A vast network of salt-water marshes and twisting river channels connect Lake Hur to the sea. During times of exceptionally high tides, the water-flow is completely reversed, and Lake Hur briefly merges with the ocean. Animal and plant life in the region is well adapted to the peculiarities of the environment, with a host of species unique to the area. To the east of Lake Hur is another marshy area connecting Lake Hur to the Inner Sea; once part of the lake, the land-bridge between the two lakes emerged from the deep as the waters of the Inner Sea dried up. The entire area is one soggy morass of stinking mud flats, stagnant pools and slimy vegetation. Only to the very south is there any quantity of running water, as the Inner Sea empties into Lake Hur by means of the Zerrig River. Indeed, it is possible to travel all the way from the Gulf of Alitaene to the Inner Sea, but it requires a pilot who is very familiar with the area.

[top]Inner Sea

The Inner Sea (Known in antiquity as Lake Hur, but now that name is only applied to the lesser lake west of the Inner Sea) is the greatest freshwater lake on Aebrynis, covering an area of tens of thousands of square miles. The lake is fed mostly by rainfall in the eastern regions, as most air from the Suidemiere empties over the Nehalim Basin and the majority drains away into the Inner Sea. The eastern part of the lake is quite deep and filled with all manner of life, but the western regions are quite shallow and significantly less bountiful.
The Inner Sea was once the great life-bringer of the region, a vast landlocked sea of fresh water bringing life to what would otherwise by an arid land. Over the past millennium, however, the climate has become somewhat drier, so that the Inner Sea is slowly receding as evaporation exceeds inflow. This process has left the lake?s western reaches ringed with a great band of dried-up mud flats. The waters of the lake are still fresh-water, but great inflow of minerals and salts from the surrounding lands coupled with excessive evaporation is slowly turning the water salty. If the current dry climate continues for another few thousand years, it is likely that the entire western half of the Inner Sea will become dry land, leaving only a much-diminished lake in the east; a lake that will turn bitter and salty as its waters no longer has any escape to the ocean. A few more millennia, and the rising sea might finally break through Lake Hur, and the Inner Sea might finally become part of the real sea.
Despite this, the western reaches of the inner sea, the region most closely associated with Alitaene, is not devoid of habitation. Descendants of a pre-Hur culture of humans who call themselves the Khanai live on the Inner Sea on great floating villages made of reeds. From their floating holdfasts, the Khanai venture forth in their canoes to fish and hunt in the waters of the Lake. The Khanai sometimes trade with the Altani, but they are a fairly reclusive people, and do not welcome strangers to their reed-villages.


To the east of Alitaene and the Eastern Plains lies the enchanted forest of Gieannwode, home to many of the Fair Folk, not just elves, but also many other kinds of fey besides ? satyrs, dryads, sprites, gnomes and such. The majority of elves living in the Gieannwode are akin to the elves of Cerilia, but they are of a far less sophisticated breed. Sometimes referred to as wild elves, they have abandoned many of the trappings of elven civilization, and now truly live as one with the forest. They are rangers without compare, and have closer ties to the other Fair Folk and the spirits of the wood than do their Cerilian kin.
In the depths of the Gieannwode sits the sparkling peaks of the Kalinnene, the Heavenly Pillars, and offshoot of the mountains to the north and east, and here can be found another kind of elves. The mysterious and insular winged elves (called Avariel by some) to dwell only here and nowhere else on all of Aebrynis. Graced with beautiful feathered wings, they glide as effortlessly across the sky as their earthbound kin walks the ground. Gnomes, another fey kind known for their love of the earth and good life, are rare in Cerilia but found in numbers both among the trees of the Gieannwode and around the Kalinnene.
The Hur, the Andu, the Hurin, and the Anuireans who came here to explore or to settle, never did understand the peculiarities of the Gieannwode. The Hur feared they place, for they believed it to be sacred to Reynir, and the might of the elves and their fey allies were great in those ancient days. Indeed, the Andu of old tried to pass through the forest into Hur many times, only to be turned back. Not before the Andu have found a path to the Inner Sea that circumvented the Gieannwode, were they able to start their raids on the Hur city-states of the ancient world. The Hurin for their part, being a mix of Hur and Andu, were content to leave the forest in peace and so the inhabitants of the Gieannwode were left alone for a very long time.
Azrai, however, was not so inclined. One of the tasks that fell upon the Emperor of Hurimar was the destruction of the Gieannwode. The task would eventually prove beyond them, but for a hundred years the Hurin waged bloody war upon the fey. The attackers fared well most of the time, driving the fey back and cutting down their forests, except when they ended up fighting the King of Autumn. Only the wondrous magical powers possessed by the fey managed to keep the attackers at bay and to preserve the forest. As a result of the war the fey are extremely suspicious of outsiders, and have refined the art of defending their forest to a very high level.
A visitor will find only a petrified forest, completely devoid of life, as he approaches the Gieannwode. As he ventures deeper within this cunningly crafted illusion, insidious enchantments will play with his mind, convincing him that there is nothing of value to be found and that he must leave. Should he persist and ward of these illusion and enchantments, he is still faced with the daunting task of find his way into the forest proper ? after walking for a time, the visitor would find himself at the edge of the trees again, his path twisted and deflected by powerful abjurations. And were he to bypass even these protections, he would find himself face-to-face with armed and suspicious fey, eager to rid the forest of this new threat.
Two Queens and two Kings ? the Queen of Winter, the King of Spring, the Queen of Summer, and the King of Autumn, rule the Gieannwode in accordance with the Great Seasons of Aebrynis (which repeat every 27 years). Each regent is an ancient and powerful dryad ? a spirit of the forest, and a manifestation of the will of the land.
Arimshalee is the Queen of Winter, and her reign is the shortest, lasting only a few years at most before spring comes. Arimshale is the oldest and the most suspicious of outsiders. During winter, the Gieannwode withdraws from the outside world, and the forest becomes even more dangerous to visitors; for a human to enter during winter is almost certain death.
Tarkalaan is the King of Spring, and is reign is short but potent, usually lasting half a decade before summer comes. Tarkalaan is the youngest of the rulers and the one most eager for change and growth. During spring the Gieannwode is actively seeking contact with the outside world and adventurous fey leave to visit foreign lands.
Oonnaee is the Queen of Summer, and her reign is the longest, lasting at least a decade and sometimes even longer. She is mature, but not old, and it is her long reign that keeps the Gieanwode functioning as a realm. During summer the Gieannwode continues the relations begun in spring and the realm is most open to visitors.
Karran is the King of Autumn, and his reign is short, half a dozen years at most, but filled with wonder. Karran is the oldest of the Kings, and is junior only to Arimshalee. During autumn the Gieannwode enters the last phase of its cycle, terminating again its relations to the outside world, and any visitors would do best to leave before the coming of autumn. Any fey who have left the Giannwode return to the forest before the end of autumn.
The fey have no gods and that applies to those of the Gieannwode as well. They people of the forest live as one with nature, immortal spirits of starlight and faerie dust, and have no need for the spiritual trappings of man or other mortal races. The language of the Sidhe is not used in the Gieannwode; instead the Sylvan tongue is spoken. Sylvan is related to Sidhelien, but is a far simpler and more primeval language, devoid of many of the intricacies of the elven tongue.

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