City of Crypts
History of the City of Crypts
The History of Asheron, City of Crypts
The modern city of Asheron, called by the vulgar the City of Crypts, is located in what used to be the Merchant’s Quarter of the ancient city of Midia Antiqua. This spot was chosen because it is far more defendable than any other locale across the sprawling ruins of the old city, especially considering that the Grand Acropolis of Mhar-Keth-Akar II, the center of the old city, is currently infested by infernals and worse, rendering it unsuitable as a city center.
The modern city’s history began when stragglers from the Second Crusade, seeking a city of the primitive humans of the area, former slaves of the Dark Empire, to conquer, while trudging across the Gray Desert, topped the Smoking Hills and saw in the vast ash and sand filled valley stretching to the Sea of Ashes nothing but ruins, ruins as far as the eye could see; vast temples and ziggurats, brooding black pyramids, colossal, broken statues, vast colonnades of massive pillars, grim, huge palaces of scorched marble; more ruins of black stone spread across an area larger than any city of the West; larger than any City the astonished Crusaders had ever heard of.
Their curiosity got the best of them, and they trudged down through the still smoking outer ruins, strange, magical fires still burning on stone, as if the archaic ruins had only been sacked recently. Some of the half burned, mysterious buildings were still standing, half buried in the sand and ashes, and when entered, they were discovered to be filled with gold and magic items, more than any the crusaders had ever seen before in their lives. Underneath the buildings was a network of crypts and more buried buildings, vast tombs to honor the dead of the ancient metropolis, and all were crammed to the brim with coffins of black iron, and funerary vessels filled with gold, grave goods, and magical items.
Almost immediately the Crusaders fell to looting, attempting to seize as much of the mind numbing wealth as possible, but to their horror they discovered that the ruins were also riddled with fiendish traps that slew in gruesome, inventive ways, and infested with undead; horrific, flesh eating, animated corpses clad in robes of black silk, wearing ominous, skull like masks of metal. Coated with the dust of ages, the ravenous undead lurched from the shadows of the tombs and catacombs that riddled the city, devouring the intruders in a screaming orgy of cannibalistic death. Enough looters survived to flee back to Irel, City of Mages, telling their tales of terror, and showing their vast riches, each with enough to buy a dukedom in the West, and swore what they had was a mere minuscule fraction of what was still waiting in the ruined city.
Word spread rapidly, all the way back to Erad where many former Crusaders were settling down into what would become the Western Bastion of Crusader States. Most were the peasants, thralls, and runaway serfs of the Second Crusade, and the lure of gold to people who had only ever seen copper and bronze was overwhelming. They trudged in droves across the Gray Wastes, enduring hunger and thirst, the strange magical storms and fluxes of the area, as well as the unrelenting attacks of the mysterious, war lizard riding Tarak nomads, who wore frightening masks of white bone and metal, and assaults by the horrific Beastmen, goat horned and savage. All this they endured to reach the ruined metropolis, where they fell to looting with a vengeance, despite the horrific casualties the ravenous undead inflicted upon them, and more followed in their paths despite the death rate.
By the time of the 3rd Crusade, some 150 years later, a sizable(in Western terms) enclave had built up near the Causeway of Forgotten Kings, lined with its hundreds of huge, grim, shattered statues of black marble, tributes to ancient, saturnine rulers of grim visages, and the Fallen Colossus, a huge, toppled 60ft statue of bronze and marble depicting an ancient ruler. This squatter’s community initially had no order or rule, being merely a shambles of a settlement, built entirely upon unrestrained looting of the more easily accessible ruins. However, pressure from the undead, the roving war bands of Beastmen and the Tarak Nomads slowly began to force the looters to adopt some sort of order for self defense. Leaders came to power by forces of arms or force of personality, and just as easily went when the Beastmen launched one of their many sacks of the encampment, or when hordes of mindless undead shambled forth to devour all flesh in their path before returning to their tombs.
During this anarchic time, the encampment was ruled periodically by such luminaries as:
- The Council of Shadows: A guild of evil rogues and sorcerers, that was overthrown and slaughtered by a lich calling itself Ahmakhar-il-Zhakar, 3rd Vizier of Khashghazhar II the Mad.
- Bragg Tombfinder: A dwarven warrior who picked up the pieces left by the slaughter of the Council of Shadows, ruling as tyrant by the might of his axe, until he was slain by an undead monstrosity calling itself the Ghoul Thief.
- The Ghoul Thief: A undead rogue with a hunger for flesh, who charged a flesh tithe on looters, forming the start of the lucrative slave trade.
- King Dharan de Mirai: An Arlesian crusader/adventurer who killed the Ghoul Thief. He moved the encampment from near the Causeway of Forgotten Kings and the Fallen Colossus to current site in the old Merchants Quarter, which was more easily defensible. There, he laid out the plan for the original city, as well as building the first wall. He was slain fighting on that wall when the city was sacked by a huge Beastman warband.
- The Sanhedrin: A organization of evil wizards that moved in after the great sack to exploit the magical resources left in the area. They were destroyed when they unleashed a plague from one of the deep tombs that afflicted arcane casters, melting the flesh from their bodies as they watched.
- The Trion: Three adventurers: the wizard Elias Sambarax, the fighter Sir Wilhardt von Trark, and the rogue Glorion of Westford. After their adventuring company was shattered defeating the undead of the Shattered Spire, which had threatened the city in the chaos following the Mage Plague, the three survivors took charge. They tore down the Shattered Spire, a constant source of ravenous undead, rebuilt the walls and the community, and ruled efficiently and jointly, until Glorion treacherously murdered his companions and seized power. He ruled as ‘The Thief King’, with enforcement handled by his guild, the Tomb Haunters, until one of his many expeditions to the ruins to find rare treasures unleashed a horde of undead from the Grand Mausoleum near the city, which devoured him and most of his guild, then ravaged the city.
- The Iron Band: A group of mercenaries who took control after the death of the Thief King. These strictly neutral professionals set up an orderly camp, with most of their efforts devoted to keeping the undead and Beastmen at bay. They instituted the first tax in the city, the Garrison Tax, still paid to this day, to maintain the garrison and walls of the city. They ruled effectively for ten years, until a massive attack by the Tarak Nomads scattered them, allowing the city to enter its next phase, the rise of the Mage Lords.
After the scattering of the Iron Band at the Battle of the Red Square, the city endured another period of chaos. The survivors of the Iron Band retreated to the Iron Keep they had constructed, focusing on their own survival, and the city was again reduced to anarchy. During this period, the wizard Ibaris, a fugitive from Zarrana fleeing the Pantheist Inquisition for unholy magical experiments, arrived in the city. He set about exploring one of the city’s peculiar features, the huge, twisting towers of colored stone that dotted the city. Arcane casters had long known that these towers were sources of vast reservoirs of arcane power, ancient artifacts of some sort, yet they had stubbornly resisted all attempts to control them. All previous attempts had failed, and the failures had consistently resulted in very gruesome deaths for the wizards, sorcerers, and warlocks who attempted it.
Ibaris never recorded how exactly he accomplished his task of mastering the tower. His journals only speak cryptically of ancient, dark magics, lost languages learned, and some sort of trial to undergo. The results, though, were evident. The power granted Ibaris by the tower was such that he easily overcame any other arcane caster in the city, bending them to his will or destroying them. He also incinerated an entire horde of Beastmen attempting to sack the city again, leaving nothing but ashes in the wake of the fire storms he invoked. This was enough to impress on the anarchic looters that he was indeed the new master of the city. He hired the remnants of the Iron Band, paying them well and making sure they were rebuilt to their former strength, for they were the army of Ibaris the Great, Mage Lord, Master of the Red Tower of Invocation, and First High Mage of the City, which was now already being referred to as the City of Crypts, after the profusion of burial places located in the ruins, even under and in the mundane buildings.
At first, Ibaris didn’t trouble himself about such deep things as what culture, obviously human, had constructed the vast city, or what had destroyed it. He didn’t even question about the number of undead, or why any sane culture would become so obsessed with death that they’d build tombs anywhere in a city, no matter what mundane function the building served. Instead, Ibaris concentrated on organizing the city so he could wring every drop of wealth he could from it, with the least effort. For 75 years he reigned, hardly aging, and making his fortune by ruthlessly taxing any looting from the ruins, and by selling supplies to the hordes of greedy adventurers who flocked to the city to find their fortunes.
Ibaris finally perished in a disaster called the Night of the Dead. A group of unwary adventurers investigating the depths of the Grand Mausoleum in the center of the city unleashed a horde of undead unlike any seen before. When Ibaris attempted to incinerate the undead horde as he had the Beastmen, he was attacked by two liches in red robes, wearing steel, skull-like masks, a dozen mummies in blood red armor of alchemical bronze, and equal number of magic wielding specters, wraiths, and ghosts. Overcome by this arcane might arrayed against him, he drew upon the magics of his tower, only to suddenly age and wither before the eyes of his terrified apprentices. Crippled by this backlash, he was annihilated by the shadow magics of the undead, his soul devoured, and his corpse left nothing but a pile of dust that blew away in the wind. The undead then ravaged the city, slaughtering and devouring half the populace, before returning to the Grand Mausoleum, leaving devastation behind them.
Following Ibaris’s gruesome death, those of his apprentices who survived the wrath of the undead turned on each other in a mad killing spree, attempting to seize as much wealth and arcane power as possible. Many killed each other trying to seize control of the Red Tower, leading them to a unspeakable end. Those of the Iron Band that had survived the undead assault had decided that a century tied to the ruined city was enough. They too looted what they could and marched off, eventually conquering the city of Mishrahk, City of Iron Walls to the West of the city. It seemed that the city was doomed to end up back where it started, an anarchic collection of looters and renegades, perched precariously in the ruins.
What saved the city was Ibaris’s only surviving apprentice, Engladien of Westford. Always a cautious man, he had avoided the feeding frenzy among the apprentices of Ibaris, laying low until they had eliminated each other, or been eliminated by the Red Tower. Engladien spent some time researching, and gathering up what treasure and magical items he could after the debacle, when, almost by accident, he became master of a different mage tower. He became Engladien the Wise, Mage Lord, Master of the Green Tower of Conjuration, and Second High Mage of the City. His plans for leaving the city now cancelled, he proceeded to use his new found power to restore order in the shattered city. He summoned up a horde of planar creatures to destroy another horde of Beastmen attempting to sack the city, securing his control of the city and establishing his right to rule.
Engladien’s rule was characterized by minimalist government. He ensconced himself in his tower, engaged in magical studies, leaving the rule of the city to an administration of his green robed apprentices. He only emerged from his seclusion when civil war or unrest threatened the peace, and to keep other arcane casters away from the other mage towers. For 62 years he brooded over the city, engrossed in unraveling the mysteries of the city: who built it, what happened to them, and, most importantly to him, what were their arcane secrets? It was he who first connected the city with the Midians, the ancient, evil, accursed human empire mentioned in the Pantheist holy books as the epitome of ancient arcane evil. He translated one of the unknown languages of the city, which he called Midian Linear C, by comparing it to the holy scripts of the god Zhon, of the island of Zhond, the successor to long lost Zhuvan, successor to the Empire of Amaar, itself the heir of ancient Midia, as well as to the arcane texts of the vanished empires of Akaad and Khorzhar, themselves heirs to ancient Midia as well.
Over the course of his reign, he became more and more obsessed with Midian magic, seeking their dark secrets deeper and deeper in the ruins, brooding on its past glories, brooking no rivals to his power, while the city slowly rebuilt and retrenched, overseen by the green robed apprentices who conveyed their master’s wishes to the various factions of the city. This period finally ended when Engladien perished while attempting to perform a complicated, ancient Midian ritual he had recovered from a series of bronze wall tablets deep inside the ancient library in the northern ruins. As with his master Ibaris, he aged rapidly in front of his horrified apprentices, his flesh flaking away as he withered, then turned to dust, which blew gently away in the winds.
Without any control, his young apprentices, as Ibaris’s had 62 years before, engaged in a mad conflict for power. This period, called the Apprentice War, lasted 8 years. They ruthlessly slaughtered each other in their mad quest for power, thinning their numbers, until only one was left. This survivor, Gaius Silvano Mericius the Syralian, triumphed because he had mastered the ordeal of the tower, becoming Mericius the Stern, Mage Lord, Master of the Green Tower of Conjuration, 3rd High Mage of the city. His slaying of the three other surviving apprentices with summoned Lords of the Pit, then his disposal of the nearby tribes of Tarak Nomads with another summoned fiendish horde cemented his claims to rule the city, and all the inhabitants acknowledged his power.
Mericius continued his master’s policies, so much so that other than the break of the Apprentice War, there was little disruption in the city’s life. He recruited new apprentices to wear the green robe, replacing his slain rivals, and set about making the city run as efficiently as possible without his direct supervision, so he could concentrate on magical research. He set up the first three guilds, the Caravaners who transported food, goods, and new people to the city; the Merchants, who sold those goods and handled tax collection; and the Excavators, who regulated the expeditions to the ruins to avoid another debacle like the Night of the Dead, and who also handled construction. These three organizations, under guild masters chosen by him, handled most of the day to day affairs of the city, and they in turn were supervised by the green robed apprentices, which allowed Mericius to relieve himself of most of the duties of running the city, which was now calling itself Asheron, after the many inscriptions in Midian Linear C containing this word, mistakenly assumed by Mericius to be the name of the city, unaware that it was actually honoring the first ruler of the Midian Empire, Asheron I urel-Khadeth the Great.
For 38 years Mericius isolated himself in the tower, studying Midian magic as his master had, making great strides in recovering the lost, dark knowledge of the vanished empire. He began the work of translating Midian Linear B, an older version of the language used primarily by the Midian nobility, he uncovered the Midian social structure, defined by the eerie metal skull-like masks they wore, and he rediscovered the Talathos Liturgy, adopting the worship of the vile Midia gods and reintroducing them to arcane casters seeking gods that supported their greed and ambitions. Along with this unholy research, he also was occupied with keeping everyone away from the other mage towers, for he brooked no rivals, just as his master had.
His efforts ultimately failed, though, when twin Qamani sisters, Sifiya and Fiya al-Rhasuli arrived in the city, and, despite Mericius’s best and most vigorous efforts to kill them, they managed a feat unheard of. They almost simultaneously became mistresses of two mage towers, Sifiya becoming Mistress of the red Tower of Invocation, and Fiya becoming Mistress of the Silver Tower of Abjuration. The conflict between the two women and Mericius that followed was called the Sisters War, lasting two years, and ending with Mericius’s death in the same manner as the previous two High Mages: rapid aging and disintegration into dust during the middle of a vile Midian ritual he hoped would annihilate the two sisters. His death left the two sisters in control of the city, and they instituted vast, far reaching changes that would alter forever the nature of the city.
The sisters ruled wisely, as the Twin 4th High Mages, reinforcing the guild’s authority and letting them elect their leaders. They hired professional mercenaries to guard the city from Tarak Nomads and Beastmen, and their silver-robed and red-robed apprentices handled daily administration. Their biggest change was they did not restrict access to the remaining mage towers. Instead, they encouraged others to try and take control of the artifacts, hoping that more mage lords would make the city more stable. Soon, dozens of wizards, sorcerers, and warlocks all flocked to the city, eager to try their luck at the towers, with almost all perishing horribly. Finally, after 23 years of failure after failure, an elven adventuring wizard-warrior named Lord Parathiel became Master of the Blue Tower of Enchantment. The quiet, scholarly elf worked well with the sisters, becoming a fast friend, forming a triumvirate which governed the city peacefully for the first time in its modern history.
This period of relative peace and harmony ended with the arrival of a Azhi wizard named Arian, fleeing the wrath of the Brothers of the Holy Flame, the Zhurist sorcerer-paladins of the East. He was a ruthless, evil man who was descended from the noble houses of the evil eastern kingdom of Ur-Nammu, which boasted of its descent from ancient Midian refugees. Convinced that the destiny of his bloodline was in the lost, ruined city of his distant ancestors, Arian became a Mage Lord, Master of the Green Tower of Conjuration. Not content with that achievement, he then declared himself 5th High Mage of the city. Following his declaration, he spent the next 12 years alternating between fighting, sullenly cooperating, and ignoring the other Mage Lords, all the while becoming increasing obsessed with recovering Midian lore and becoming increasingly paranoid.
Arian continued Mericius’s work of translating Midian B, cataloging the Talathos Liturgy, as well as conducting the first attempt to map out and identify the ruins of the city. He also uncovered a copy of the Midian Roster of Kings, listing all Midian monarchs, recorded in an unknown, older version of Midian Linear, which he dubbed Midian Linear A, on tablets of pure platinum. The only other copy in existence had been recovered by the Second Crusade, from the Dark Temple at Erad, and was jealously guarded by the Pantheist hierarchy in Sacrys. Arian became obsessed with translating it, slipping into insanity, and becoming more and more convinced he was descended from the ancient Midian emperors and was in truth the rightful ruler of the city.
Finally, he was engulfed in a paroxysm of rage, paranoia, and ambition, and he attacked the Triumvirate with his full might, unleashing an army of undead Midian warriors he had unearthed from a pyramid he had named the Iron Pyramid, several dreaded Midian necro-icons he had recovered and restored from the Academy of the Kharkas, the necromancers of ancient Midia, and his most potent weapon, the artifact known as the Eye of the Eyeless God. This army of unholy might, along with detachments of fiends he summoned through his tower, he hurled at the Triumvirate, igniting a new Mage War.
With this power, Arian was eventually able to destroy both the two sisters, who died while stopping a Midian ritual Arian was casting that would had slain half the city’s population, converting their life energies into fuel for his dark magics. Arian himself was slain immediately after, while vulnerable, and his undead and summoned army destroyed. This was accomplished because the Triumvirate had acquired two new Mage Lords who had mastered their towers during the chaos of the Mage War: the earnest, serious Westfordian Pantheist wizard Sovan the White, Master of the White Tower of Divination, and the enigmatic Tartessan necromancer Yagra the Silent, Master of the Black Tower of Necromancy. In the aftermath of the conflict, one of Sifiya’s apprentices, Lyden Melisino of Erad became Master of the Red Tower of Invocation, leaving four mage lords again to restore order and security to the shaken city.
Their first step was to formalize the governing arrangement of the city, formulating a law proclaiming them to be the Mage Council, and they conducted all business jointly. They first banned necromancy, though Yagra and any of his apprentices were exempted, under the arrangement that they practiced their art at the Black Tower, which was outside the city, in the ruins near the Great Necropolis. They also restricted access to any Midian archives and cultural artifacts in the city itself, cordoned off the Grim Processional, and undertook to personally review any who came seeking to become a Mage Lord, so as to reduce the risk of another madman declaring himself High Mage.
The new council ruled effectively for 38 peaceful years, or as peaceful as the city ever achieved, as they had to deal with constantly holding off the undead of the near ruins, while also keeping at bay the Tarak Nomads and Beast men, who were always threatening to sack the city the minute its guard was down, and balancing the various factions in the city and diggers camps, keeping them from each other’s throats. During this time, the Malaval wizardress Kytara Anyakara Tzamara passed the council’s scrutiny and became Mistress of the Green Tower of Conjuration, the wizard Macrinus Maximus Favonius of Syralia became Master of the Jacynth Tower of Elemental magic, and the Azhi sorcerer Aramon Khobedai became Master of the Silver Tower of Abjuration.
Now with seven Mage Lords, the city seemed assured of stable government. The quiet, disciplined Kytara and the studious, reserved Macrinus worked well with the existing Mage Lords. Aramon, however, harbored secret ambitions, and for 35 years he labored in secret to overthrow his colleagues. He finished the translation of Midian Linear B, and made forays to the both the Academy of the Bel Shandarim, evil brotherhood of Midian sorcerers, the Library of the Ishandi, the dread brotherhood of Midian wizards, as well as the Academy of the Kharkas. He talked to the restless Midian undead in their tombs, learning foul secrets, as well as consulting the Oracle of the Eyeless God. When he was ready, he unleashed a new Mage War upon the other tower lords, proclaiming himself Aramon the Mighty, 6th High Mage of the City.
Unfortunately for Aramon, his assault was defeated by coordinated actions of the Mage Lords. Sovan was aware of his plot as it began, Yagra undid the army of the Midian dead Aramon raised, Parathiel defeated his magics, Macrinus blasted his living troops, Kytara summoned an army of celestials to defend the mage lords, and Lyden incinerated the new High Mage into ashes. Despite this resounding victory, the Council decided that steps needed to be taken to ensure it didn’t happen again. They issued the first city charter, based on Syralian legal principles, regulating and codifying all laws and legal precedents in the city, establishing itself as a self governing republic. They also abolished the title of High Mage, and established the Council of Mage Lords as the supreme governing body of the city, as well as withdrawing the apprentices from administrative duties for the city, which was turned over entirely to the three Guilds.
The assaults by two fellow Mage Lords wearied Lord Parathiel, who was also affected greatly by the deaths of the two sisters, whom he had been close friends with. After a century of being a mage lord, Lord Parathiel gave up his mastery of the Blue Tower of Enchantment, and left the city, never to be seen again. He was succeeded by his chief apprentice, and rumored daughter, Lyssica the Enchantress, Mistress of the Blue Tower. Starting twelve years after Lord Parathiel’s departure, three more mage lords arrived. One was the wandering wizard Eryx Dzunkares of Nycosia, who became the Grand Illusionist, Master of the Amethyst Tower of Illusion, followed a decade later by the Qamani wizard Shardis tel-Qama, the Grand Magus, Master of the Gold Tower of Transmutation, followed eleven years after that by Erasmus des Javaros, the Puissant, Master of the Silver Tower of Abjuration.
With nine Mage Lords, the Council was at its peak of power. Despite several personality quirks among the new Mage Lords( Eryx was vain, and a practical joker, Shardis was grandiloquent and pompous, Erasmus hated Yagra for being Tartessan, Lyssica enjoyed flirting with the other mage Lords, Yagra was intellectually superior, Sovan was pedantic, Lyden was manic-depressive, Kytara was arrogant, and Macrinus was practically a hermit)the Council functioned well. During this time, the last great wave of ravenous undead from the Grand Mausoleum was unleashed by another unwary group of adventurers seeking its hidden wealth. Fully a quarter of the city perished again in yet another undead holocaust, that was barely driven off by the combined might of the Council.
After this debacle, Yagra presented his findings on his research to the Council, namely that he believed a insanely powerful lich dwelled in the depths of the Grand Mausoleum, one that was best left undisturbed, and that he had translated Midian A. He also presented his and Sovan’s evidence that the city was not one of the sub-capitals of the Midian Empire, but rather one of its major cities, a prospect that caused dread in the Council, as there were only an handful of such vast metropolises in ancient Midia, none of them a place where they would like to be living in the ruins of. They responded by placing the great ban on exploring the Grand Mausoleum, on pain of death, and by increasing Council funded expeditions to determine which of the major metropolises of Midia Asheron was.
A few years after this, Macrinus died in his sleep, apparently of old age, and his tower stood vacant as he had only three apprentices, none of whom felt capable of mastery the Jacynth Tower. The city itself remained stable and prosperous, as more adventurers cleared out the Near Ruins, opening up more area for settlement, and more population arrived to provide goods and services for the droves of adventurers and looters flocking to the ruins. This period of peace lasted only a decade, before a new mage lord would arrive, who would leave a permanent mark on the history of the city.
He called himself Talthos, the Supreme Sorcerer, Master of the Crimson Tower of Blood Magic, though he was actually one Jean de Ranseur, a poor runaway serf from Arles who had fled the Arlesian authorities for banditry. He had the misfortune to carry in him a strain of Midian blood that, due to chance, was very pure. This taint called him to the city, across thousands of leagues, to the ruins of the city of his distant ancestors, whispering to him of his destiny across continents. He easily mastered the Crimson Tower, and despite uneasiness felt by Sovan, managed to pass every test of the Council for his fitness.
Once secure in his tower, he began to implement his mad scheme to achieve his destiny. No mere title of High Mage would suit him. An ancient Midian prophecy, the Scrolls of Laments, written in the blood of kings mixed with gold, on tablets of mithril, in Midian A, foretold that a new Midia would arise, led by a new Emperor who would be the Chosen of the Talathos. He would be Talthos ar-Ransar, the All Powerful, Emperor of Midia Reborn. To that end, he secretly scoured the ruins, finding and translating every Midian text he could find. He talked with formless shapes in the dark wells and secret places of the city, and they whispered foul secrets to him. He conversed with the monstrous undead Midian lords, still entombed in the ruins of their city, and they gave him aid in the name of the Talathos. He consulted the Oracle of the Eyeless God, and seized every necromantic and arcane artifact he could find. Guided by the whispers in his mind, he managed to amass an impressive array of the most hideous Midian artifacts and spells imaginable, which he unleashed on the Council in a new Mage War.
For five years the city was under siege by an army of the dead, and the near ruins were a bloody, horrific battle ground. Talthos managed to slay Lyden, Erasmus, and Erasmus’s successor, his apprentice Balthazar the Mysterious, as well as the newly mastered lord of the Silver Tower, Salamar the Easterner. He was finally cornered and slain in the Blood Tower, his armies scattered, by the remaining Council members, along with Lyden’s chief apprentice, the new Master of the Red Tower, the Rhakhastran Tyger the Fire Mage, and Salamar’s apprentice, Hamad al-Qusar of Al-Qalad, the Silver Mage, Master of the Silver Tower.
With Talthos’s death, the city repaired itself, the decimated Council settled back into routine, and things returned to normalcy. During the next 15 years, the guilds achieved more power and prominence, as the over worked Council was unable to effectively govern as it had in the past, due to the increased activity of the Midian undead, which required their attention. Also, to everyone’s surprise, religion arrived in the city. A Monotheist missionary named Father Zelano said he had a vision form the Pankreator that he was needed to minister to the city. He and his followers founded the Abbey of Our Lady of Ashes, and they eagerly dispensed healing, charity, and lent their strength against the undead, making them a welcome addition to the city. This added protection enabled the city to increase in size again, pushing against its old boundaries as more permanent settlers arrived to take part not in the looting, but in the vibrant economy serving the diggers and adventurers. The city now began to resemble a much more normal, Western community, rather than a vast, sprawling, anarchic mining camp. People now actually began to call the Asheron, the City of Crypts, home.
It was then, like a lightning bolt, that after fifteen years of being thought dead, Talthos returned, still powerful, mad and vengeful, and still in control of his tower. He placed his soul in the body of a young orphan boy, and he brutally murdered Eryx and Hamad in their towers. He was stopped in an epic battle near the pyramids by the combined might of the Council, Father Zelano, and a nameless Tarak warlord, who wore a mithril Midian mask, and his apprentices, a Tarak Holy Girl priestess and a young female warrior. The Tarak warlord died taking out Talthos’s demonic and undead guards, while the mad sorcerer himself was slain when father Zelano touched the boy with a single, white tarot card, which drove Talthos’s soul from the boy’s body, freeing him from Talthos’s influence, though at the cost of Father Zelano’s own life.
Despite their apparent victory, the Council was shaken and nervous, by the deaths of two more of their numbers, by Talthos’s ability to transfer his soul from body to body, by the fact that despite his death, Talthos’s tower remained active, and, most of all, by the growing suspicion that Asheron was in fact Midia itself, capital of the empire, a conclusion that had dire implications for all of them. The Council, in desperation, decided to cede more control of the city to the guilds, so that their reduced numbers could focus more on discovering the truth about the city, and to keep vigilance to prevent a return of Talthos.
In the decade that followed this Mage War, Tel-Qama and all his apprentices where slain in a mysterious incident in his tower. At first the mage lords suspected that Talthos had returned, but a thorough investigation revealed that Tel-Qama had acquired from an unknown source a strange, three foot coffin of black iron. This coffin was found open in his main chamber, and Tel-Qama and his apprentices were all dead around it, their hearts and blood removed with wound or leaving a trace. It is an arcane mystery that is unsolved to this day. This reduced the number of mage lords down to five, far too few to both govern the city and keep watch on the growing arcane threats. Yagra and Sovan then proposed that the Council be reformed to legally include the three guild lords as equal members. Yagra also proposed including, over Sovan’s devout Pantheist objections, the Monotheist Abbess of Our Lady of Ashes. Surprisingly, Kytara, Tyger, and Lyssica agreed, and the new City Council was formed.
The city was now solidly governed, with a freshly growing population and economy. As feared, Talthos did attempt another return, but this time Sovan accurately predicated it, and a group of adventures were employed to find and defeat the mad sorcerer, who had transferred his soul into the body of a mute man. Though defeated again, Talthos’s tower remained ominously active, and the mage lords remained vigilant. With the guild lords and the faith lord now handling all of the administrative functions of the city, the city opened up even more. The increased tax revenue was used to enhance the city’s defenses, including hiring the mercenary Company of the Black Spear, a disciplined group of hobgoblins who kept strict order. The near ruins were also cleared out more thoroughly, and the city walls expanded to include the new land, allowing more settlers to arrive.
The city’s character changed during this period, as new religions and personalities arrived. The Pantheists arrived in the form of the Penitent Brothers, who set up a poor house, and the Border Legion, a force of well armed troops financed by the Pantheist Church. Surprisingly, all the way from the far east, the religion of Zhur the Fire Lord arrived as well, led by the Fire Priest Khalid, who established the Temple of the Holy Flame. Both local leaders were made Faith Lords, strengthening the council and the city. Two personalities also arrived who organized the criminal element of the city as well. Crime had always been rampant, and the good aligned Thieves Guild, the Shadow Blades, which had begun as a resistance movement against the Dark Realm, established itself, but was never able to make headway against the huge number of criminals who infested the city and the diggers camps.
This changed with the arrival of Thovas the Red, and Vilerune Demonheart. Thovas was a meticulous, lawful rogue from parts unknown, who quickly established a gambling house and brothel, protected by his gang, the Red Circle. The mysterious, armored and masked Vilerune Demonheart was rumored to be an ex-Pantheist Paladin who had been seduced by evil. His group, the Demonhearts, set up an almost monastic, militarist thieves guild. These three organizations divided up control of the underworld between them, and managed to severely curtail the number of independent operators plaguing the city, though in the diggers camp, the evil Kreel and his Tomb Robbers Guild continued to thrive and resist attempts to eliminate it. Though not members of the Council, their control of a large portion of the city’s economy, legal and illegal, gave their words weight with the Council, and their discreet advice was often sought on important decisions.
Also at this time, another person came to the city seeking his fortune, who would change the city’s nature so profoundly that his name was attached to the period: the Artemisian Era, after Zalthar Artemisias Ithskhar. A cleric/rogue of Zhon, from Zhond, he arrived in the city to establish a branch of the Shadow Network to observe the increased activity of the Midian dead for his god. He and a wizard partner established a bank, that grew into the first new guild in centuries, the Bankers Guild which handled all monetary and money changing transactions. This put him on the Council as a Guild Lord, where he also established a degree of control over the new Slaver’s Guild, which controlled legal slavery and entertainment in the city.
Charming, talented, and ambitious, once on the Council, Artemisias helped shape the Council’s agenda, as well as allowing his deity to supply the mage lords with information concerning the truth about the city, that it was indeed Midia itself, and that the Midian undead and the Talathos were plotting to restore Midia in all its undead, evil glory. This alarmed the mage lords, who began serious preparations for an all out conflict. In more mundane affairs, Artemisias helped reorganize city government more efficiently, establishing an elected Senate, which advised the Council, voting rights for all guild members and property holders, and a professional bureaucracy to run the city’s government. He also established the custom of the city giving assignments to adventurers to deal with threats to the city, for a lucrative reward.
Also at this time, the noble adventurer Valerin Dragonheart, a Pantheist paladin, came to the city. After a successful adventuring career, he led an expedition to Dzherkhoz, a small city to the north of Asheron, where they overthrew the tyrant King Jhysan the Mad, and established a reign of law and justice. This newly renamed City of Dragons, protected by the Order of the Dragonheart, secured Asheron’s trade routes with the dwarves to the north, as well as supply much needed food to the city. King Valerin Dragonheart, advised by Sovan’s apprentice the White Wizard, would become a legend, ruling wisely and well.
This twenty year period of prosperity was punctuated by the awakening of the slumbering Illithid god-brains that dreamt inhuman dreams under the city after the decimation of the Illithid by the ancient god of law, Orim the Ancient. This antediluvian horrors desired nothing less the destruction of all life except the Illithids and their slaves, as commanded by their lord, the primal deity of chaos and evil, Morkhaal the Deathwyrm. Their tools in this scheme were the Mindwraiths, Illithid horrors imprisoned in undead Midian bodies, who secretly controlled the Royal Houses of ancient Midia, corrupting Midia from within and ensuring that the evil nation followed the goals of the Illithid and the Deathwyrm.
When a group of greedy adventurers were duped into releasing the Mindwraiths from the tomb Ashak il-Kethri the Great of Midia had imprisoned them in, it set into motion a vast plan of the god-brains to free Morkhaal from its imprisonment by Orim, and return Midia to existence as a vast empire of undead, which, allied with the Dark realm, the Empire of the Talon, and the Yuan-Ti realm of Nharaak, would form a juggernaut of evil to be released against the living nations of the world. Sovan accurately predicted this was coming, and Yagra was also warned by Zhon, who stood with the good deities of the Pantheon and Orim against the horrors of Morkhaal. A group of heroes were chosen by the gods: Torak White-Eyes, the Seer of Orim, King Charles Dragonheart, Chosen of the Pantheon, Tabar the Young, High Priest of Mhoram, god of Death, Jak One-Eye, Chosen of Good, King Valerin Dragonheart, Champion of the City, and, most surprisingly, Ashak il-Kethri the Great, Chosen of Zhon.
The legendary Midian Emperor had defeated the Mindwraiths millennia ago, only to discover that Morkhaal had sacrificed the Mindwraiths to eliminate him, denying Zhon the ability to keep the Deathwyrm from influencing Midia into taking on the world in a suicidal war. With Ashak out of the way, Midia had been transformed into an empire controlled by the undead, fiends, and Illithid horrors, leading to its destruction, something neither Ashak or Zhon forgot or forgave. Though he had been mummified alive and imprisoned in his tomb, Ashak managed to escape, and he and Zhon arranged for his soul to be reborn into a Tarak child’s body, so that he could lend his and Zhon’s might against the Mindwraiths, Morkhaal, the Talathos, and undead Midia.
These heroes confronted the Mindwraiths and the other minions of Morkhaal in an epic confrontation called the Mindwraith War. When it was over, the Mindwraiths had been destroyed, Ashak had sacrificed himself to destroy Talthos, in his last attempt to become Emperor of Midia reborn, as well as the army of Illithid horrors and undead Talthos led, King Valerin Dragonheart had died in the battle against the Mindwraiths, to be succeeded by Charles Dragonheart, who in turn perished leading the great 9th Crusade against the Dark Realm, and Torak White Eyes, Tabar the Young, and Jak One-Eye destroyed Nephara, the Dark Queen of the Dark Realm, ending forever the brooding remnants of undead Midia and ensuring the Deathwyrm remained imprisoned.
The period after the Mindwraith War brought more profound changes to the city. During the conflict, Ashak had briefly occupied the Azure Tower of Ancient Magic, using the command words and ancient magics known only to the Emperors of Midia. Using this power, he was able to install two new Mage Lords. The human Kytallia, a bard/sorceress who’s body had been hijacked by Talthos as a host, was freed from Talthos’s soul and became the new Supreme Sorceress, Master of the Crimson Tower of Blood Magic, while the wizard Urza of Irel was made Grand Artificer, Master of the Gray Tower of Universal Magic. The religion of Mhoram was official inducted into the city, at the House of Gentle Repose, under Tabar the Young, as well as the faith of Zhon, at the Black Altar.
The elimination of the Mindwraiths also brought changes to the city itself. Asheron grew in size dramatically, as the reclaimed fertile land around the City of Dragons along the River of Dust, which flowed clear and sparkling again, produced more food than even in the ancient times, food that was sold to Asheron, in turn supporting a larger population. The city population grew first from 2,000 inhabitants to 4,000, then 6,000. It twice outgrew its walls, expanding into the cleared area called the Bawn, until it had filled up the old Merchants Quarters and was expanding into the old Artisan and Tradesmen Quarters to the East, and the Military Quarter to the South. The fiend controlled Acropolis still blocked expansion to the North, while the Great Necropolis blocked expansion west and south west, and the Temple District blocked expansion to the south east. Peace with the Tarak Nomads, now under Jahun Jak One-Eye, who took over protection of the Great Southern Caravan Route, stopped the incessant attacks on the city, allowing breathing room. The elimination of the Dark Realm allowed new settlers to enter the north, while the Knights of the Circle, founded by King Charles Dragon Heart, now a Pantheist saint, took over protection of the Northern Caravan Route, relieving pressure from that area.
During this 25 year time frame, the city again reorganized its government. A new guild was added, the Scribe’s Guild, which handled all documentary activity, record keeping, and took over running the legal system. With more stable inhabitants in the city itself, rather than hordes of adventurers and looters, Artemisias proposed adopting a more republican style government. The franchise was extended to all citizens of the city who had been born there, or lived their for longer than ten years. They in turn elected the Senate, which become the main legislative, deliberative, and administrative body for the city. The Council, which included the Lords of the Mage Towers, the Faith Lords, the Guild Lords, and the Guardian of the Towers(the military commander of the city) remained the executive body of the City, while the Council elected a Prefect, who was the chief administrative officer of the city. Not surprising, given his charisma and influence, Artemisias was elected as first City Prefect. He governed well over these 25 years, until his death, when he was succeeded by his equally popular son, Artemisias the Younger, who was elected City Prefect by a resounding margin.
The Artemisian Period came to an end not just with Artemisias the Elder’s death, but also with the outbreak of the Death War, a vast convulsion between the Houses of undead Midia over future of the vast hordes of undead spawned by ancient Midia over the issue of leadership, and whether the undead would remain content in their new existences, or seek to conquer the surface world by physical and arcane might again. A new group of heroes, led by Ghaul il-Kethri, son of Ashak the Great, sired while the Midia Emperor was alive as a Tarak Nomad, Ashak the Younger, favored son of Jak One-Eye, and Lord Star, son of Tabar the Young, High Priest of Mhoram, and Princess Moon, the redeemed Ythraag Princess.
They managed to channel the war away from the living, allowing undead Midia to engage in a bloodbath among its own, and undid the ancient Curse of Devastation cast upon Zhuvan by the Talathos, raising up the isles of Zhond to a lush, verdant archipelago. Ghaul became Emperor of Zhond, completing the transformation of that nation into a new Midian empire, one free of the influence of demons and undead. Ashak the Younger became the Hand of Zhon, the chief assassin of Zhond, while his twin brother, Ashak the Noble, became head of the Order of the Dragonheart, while Lord Star became a Seer of Orim.
Five years after this, a group of adventurers that included the brothers Julian and Maxwell Childs and the warlock Vox arrived in the city. Julian and Maxwell were the Midian reincarnates Bashaan IV il-Magaroth and Ashakaar il-Magaroth. This company of adventurers became enmeshed in Zhon’s plans to collect on various favors owed him over the millennia from other deities. Vox became a deity, a member of the Talhazhon, the new pantheon sired by Zhon, which became the official religion of the Empire of Zhond. Maxwell Childs succeeded Braedon Dragonheart, squire of Charles Dragonheart, becoming Maxwell Dragonheart, the new King of the City of Dragons, and Julian, as Bashaan IV, became the Reigning Emperor of Midia, re-founding Syrakh, City of Shadowed Pools, as the center of a new kingdom for Midian reincarnates seeking refuge from the undead civil war.
Ten years following this, the city was shaken by new events. Morkhaal abandoned the Talathos and undead Midia for failing him repeatedly, transferring the veneration of its followers, the Faithless, to its new religion. The Deathwyrm then duplicated itself, splitting into three deities: One remains Morkhaal, and the other two are Szatharaan the Tentacled Tyrant, and Kathkathraal the Lurker Between Worlds. All share the same aspects and goals, and now three deities pressed against Orim and his Ban on Morkhaal. In response, Orim and most of the other deities decided to chose a replacement for Orim’s portfolios, while Orim concentrated solely on keeping Morkhaal and its duplicates imprisoned.
This replacement, a young girl of pure Midian blood named Rachel, ascended to become Rachel the God Child, the new deity of Law. Aiding her were a group of Midian reincarnates, notably Keth-Kal Rak Mal, Prince of the House of Rak Mal, Talas Urel-Khadeth, First Blood Prince of Midia, and Hadan Nasham re-Zhorahz, eldest son of Khashghazhar re-Zhorahz II the Mad. They ended the undead Midian civil war, and helped assure Rachel’s’ ascension to godhood. Hadan became a recognized Prince of the Blood in the Empire of Syrakh and the Empire of Zhond, as well as head of the Contracts Guild, which handled processing all assignments from the city and the tower lords. Keth-Kal became Master of the Azure Tower of Ancient Magic, the Arch Magus of the city, and Talas became the proxy of Rachel. In the process, the River of Dry Bones, the ancient waterway of the city, was revived, and now flows clear and clean to the Sea of Ashes, surrounded on either side by arable, green land.
Now, ten years later, the city is still growing and prospering. It now has some arable land to call its own, it sits at the center of a trade network from the Dragonheart Kingdom to the North, the Empire of Syrakh to the South, Irel to the East, and Mandahar City of Exiles to the West. Though its physical growth is still constrained by the ruins pressing in against it from all sides, the city has new power as a center of trade and arcane learning. Adventurers and looters still flock to explore and exploit the ruins, and with them come new inhabitants. Undead Midia slumbers again, its powers subdued as the Talathos seeks to adjust to a new existence without Morkhaal. All is as well as can be expected from the City of Crypts, though inhabitants from long experience know that could change at a moments notice, when the plots of the mighty shake the thrones of the world.