The Isle of Lost Souls
The lands of Aerdy lie along the shores of the tempest-lashed Solnor Ocean, at the eastern end of the Flanaess. In the dark centuries of the Great Migrations, Johydee, the Hidden Empress, promised them to the forefathers of the Oerids, prophesying that a glorious sun would rise upon the shores of the day’s dawning. That promise alone sent the Oerids questing across half of Oerik, from the trackless plains of the west to the uttermost east. And out of their struggles and strife, the Sun of Aerdy rose to light the Flanaess with its weal.
Yet, in the hindsight of the bloody fall of the Great Kingdom, some among the wise have thought Aerdy to be a curious location for a promised land. Certainly, it is fertile and well-watered, its climate temperate and its summers long. However, it is a land fraught with hidden perils – places of almost palpable malignance that lurk like hidden cankers beneath the skin of an inviting fruit.
Somewhere beneath the Asperdi Isles lies the Cauldron of Night, a terrible womb of evil from which the fiend-seeing Malachite Throne of the Naelax overkings was born. The tangled tors of the Gull Cliffs conceal a gate to a splintered reality – a Fading Land – where stands the horrific Blood Obelisk, which thirsts ever for slaughter and war.
However, perhaps the greatest nexus of ancient evil in these lands is not hidden in the folds of the Oerth, nor sequestered on some demi-plane. Instead it stands in plain sight not a half a mile from the storm-battered shores of what is now the Great Kingdom of Northern Aerdy. It is called the Isle of Lost Souls, and it is well named.
The tale of the Isle is bound up with the malign legacy of the ancient Ur Flan, an insidious venom that poisoned the glorious dream of Aerdy and begat the tyrannous reign of the Naelax dynasty. The Ur Flan were ancient mystics and sorcerers, who, instead of seeing death as part of the natural cycle of the world, sought to master it, and in so doing, escape it. With their unholy powers, they enslaved their own people and forged for themselves a realm centred on the valley of the River Trask in what is now Northern Aerdy. The Ur Flan set their slaves to build great ziggurats and rewarded the unfortunate thralls for their labours by sacrificing them to dark powers. They trafficked with fiends and vile wyrms and made war upon the olve – most notably the olve of the City of Summer Stars. For centuries, these necromancer Tyrants of the Trask reigned unchallenged, spreading death and terror throughout the lands of the east.
Until the coming of the Aerdi, that is.
Led by the Prophecy of the Hidden Empress, the Aerdi settled what is now Medegia, quickly founding the ancient cities of Rel Astra, Pontylver and Mentrey. Used to the boundless plains of the West, the Aerdi warlords quickly expanded their borders. The princes of the houses of Cranden, Darmen, and Rax conquered the rich basins of the Thelly and Flamni Rivers and claimed them as their personal domains. Not to be outdone, the Torquann, Atirr, and Naelax lords turned their gaze north, towards the domain of the Tyrants of the Trask. They waged a bloody and terrible war against the Ur Flan. The Tyrants where overthrown and their fell temples razed so utterly that few now know where they stood.
The location of only one unholy site of the Tyrants comes down through the ages, a site that even the wrath and might of the Aerdi could not erase. The Isle of Lost Souls was the last refuge and redoubt of the Ur Flan. Alone it defied the strength of the Aerdi princes, impregnable until an act of extraordinary self-sacrifice brought it low.
Then, as now, the Causeway of Fiends, a path of enormous granite slabs spanning the narrow strait, linked the Isle to the mainland. Such malign potency crackles within the glittering stone that even the waves of the ocean dare not touch it, instead recoiling in two vast walls of water. Wielding the power of the Causeway, the Ur Flan bent both devils and demons to their will and flung them against the besieging Aerdi host. However, the Causeway was to become the instrument of the Tyrants’ doom, or so the story goes.
Among the Aerdi was a powerful warmage named Ivindrenn Naelax. Day after day he watched the men of his house die screaming in hopeless battles against endless hordes of fiends. Day by day his wrath grew, until at last he could contain it no longer. Offering a final prayer to his patron Hextor, he marched forth from the Aerdi camp, girded for battle. Exactly what Ivindrenn Naelax did next is not known, but its result was apparent to all. The fiends, long the thralls of the Ur Flan, suddenly turned on their erstwhile masters. In an orgy of destruction, the vengeful fiends ran amok on the Isle, slaying many and carrying off the survivors screaming to the Lower Planes, leaving only ruins and ashes behind them.
For his part, Ivindrenn Naelax was seen only once more by mortal eyes. He appeared before the encamped army and told them to return to their homes, that the war was over, and that the Tyrants of the Trask were no more. Then he turned his back on the Aerdi host, set off across the Causeway of Fiends for the Isle of Lost Souls and disappeared forever from the history of the Flanaess.
The tale of Ivindrenn Naelax has largely been forgotten. However, the Isle of Lost Souls has haunted Aerdy ever since. In the heydays of the Great Kingdom, all sane and goodly folk avoided the place. They do so still. However, as the Sun of Aerdy dimmed and the empire slipped into decadence and depravity, its stock of sane and goodly folk diminished. Men consumed with madness, ambition, and evil began to make the lonely pilgrimage to the Causeway of Fiends in the hopes of taking a fragment of its shimmering stone away to shape and craft into artefacts of great and malign power. Many perished in the attempt or were dragged screaming to a fate worse than death by vengeful fiends.
Even approaching the Causeway is perilous in the extreme. The lands about the landward end of the Causeway are wild, windswept and empty even of the birds of the air and the beasts of the field. When Celene stands full in the sky, demons and devils stalk its length and the country within a half mile of its landward end, attacking any foolish enough to approach. About once every century, great hordes of fiends pour forth to cavort and do battle beneath the light of the Handmaiden, their terrible cries and shrieks rending the air.
Not one fiend, however, ever dares to trespass onto the Isle itself. A greater evil slumbers there, the tales say. Sailors would cast themselves into a storm-lashed sea rather than have their vessel founder upon its jagged shores. The seafarers of the Solnor Main, whose courage is not often doubted, will not allow the Isle to stand upon their horizon, even as the most distant speck. They say that it hungers for the souls of the living and raises sharp reefs and shoals to hole any ship foolish or unlucky enough to venture too close. The spirits of those who drown within sight of its frowning shores are said to haunt the isle as keening ghosts whose wails of torment can be heard drifting across the waves on still nights.
The Isle rises out of the sea in jagged cliffs that rarely tower less than 100 feet above the waves. The only way to scale these precipices is the hewn stair that winds its way upwards from the end of the Causeway. The Isle’s landscape is largely made up of undulating stony ridges and shallow valleys. A single low rounded mountain dominates the northern end, though its summit is perpetually swathed in mists and black storm clouds.
The tumbled ruin of a large building stands upon the southern cape of the Isle, scowling across the turbulent waves of the strait towards the mainland. The only work of artifice on the Isle aside from the cliff stair, its provenance is disputed. Those ignorant of the Isle’s dark history claim it is a manor house built by an obviously insane and long-dead scion of the Torquanns or the ill-starred Atirrs. The more knowledgeable say it is a monastery or holy place dedicated to some long-forgotten god.
Those wise enough not to speak openly of the place know the truth. They have read the crumbling texts that speak of the dark sanctums, lightless fanes, and stygian halls that the Ur Flan hewed from the gut rock of the Isle. They read of the unholy rituals whereby the greatest of the necromancer Tyrants thought to cheat death by being interred while still living within vast crypts, of how their most loyal retainers were ritually murdered so that they might serve forever as their lords’ undying honour guard, of how the blood of sacrificial victims ran in waterfalls over the cliffs of the Isle to stain the sea red. They read this and then turn with unease to news of the dead city of Rinloru.
For the last decade and a half, Rinloru has been the fief of the animus-priest, Delglath the Undying, one of the many Aerdi nobles given the ‘gift’ of unlife by Ivid V, the last overking of the Great Kingdom. Unlike the other animus lords of Aerdy, Delglath revelled in his new state of being. He abandoned the worship of Erthynul and wholeheartedly embraced the dark church of Nerull the Reaper. Such was his devotion that he embarked on a mission to "perfect" his fief, cleansing it of the life that so offended his new master, and granting his subjects the same gift that he had been given.
Not content with ruling a city of the undead, Delglath sought to extend his beneficence to surrounding lands. Unsurprisingly, the nobles of the North Kingdom did not share his vision. They attacked Rinloru, but were thrown back with heavy losses by a seemingly endless army of undead. Having only succeeded in swelling the ranks of Delglath’s horde, the princes of the North set a leaguer around the city to contain the threat.
Ten years of raid and counter-raid have altered the situation little. Delglath’s fervour is undiminished, his forces, unlike the living soldiers who oppose them, untiring. There is disquieting evidence that though he faces stalemate on land, the Prince of Rinloru is seeking the means to break the deadlock elsewhere. There has been a marked increase in the number of vessels vanishing in the waters between the ports of Winetha and Atirr in recent years – far more than can be accounted for by the usual threats of storms and piracy.
In 597 CY, a Fruztii longboat limped into Ountsey, its mast gone, its hull hastily patched and three in four of its crew missing or insane. The ship’s mate, one Hlofgir Iaeversson, said that the dead had risen from the waves and attacked the vessel twenty leagues south of Atirr. Though the Fruztii warriors had fought off the initial attack, the ship’s mast was lost and for the next week they had been attacked nightly as they tried to row their way to safety.
Still more disturbing is the tidings of the ghost ship spotted by a squadron of warships out of Atirr heading under full sail straight for the Isle of Lost Souls. The squadron’s commander risked a mutiny to order the ghost ship pursued, set ablaze and sent to the bottom.
It is known that Delglath visited the Causeway of Fiends soon after his ‘conversion’ and bore away shards of its stones. It does not bear imagining what part in his machinations the Causeway, the Isle, or what is interred beneath it might play.