The Urizen lived in Spiral long before there was an Empire, but even then it was isolated. The main thrust of pre-Imperial Urizen settlement was in Morrow to the north, and the two territories were connected by a tenuous "bridge" of spires stretching across Zenith. Even then, the place had a haunted reputation. At some point in the distant past, powerful magic was worked here and the echoes of that magic occasionally caused trouble for the Urizen in their mountain fastnesses.
At the heart of the territory is the Black Plateau, a great plateau of volcanic glass with a dire reputation. Artefacts from the Black Plateau are often considered haunted or touched by malign evil, and are generally destroyed when they are encountered.
Spiral was lost to the Empire fifty years ago. In 331 YE. Barbarians from the Broken Shore came up through Apulus along the coast, and with weapons fashioned from the glass taken from the Black Plateau overran the defenders of Spiral, resisting all efforts to throw them back. Refugees streamed into Morrow and Zenith, and many of them - and their descendants - live there to this day. Some still consider themselves to be living in exile and consider the liberation of Spiral a pressing concern.
With the restoration of Fort Mezudan, Imperial eyes are once again on Spiral. Identifying a weakness in the Grendel supply lines, a concerted campaign of seaborne raiding was followed in Autumn by the invocation of a cataclysmic storm that devastated the docks at Apulian. It remains to be seen what impact this will have on barbarian domination here.
In Spring 381YE, the Grendel orcs launched a major offensive on all fronts that saw Imperial forces driven back to Cinion, and the territory again fell into barbarian hands. Over the next year, war raged relentlessly across the territory, accompanied by the slow rousing of the Black Plateau in Screed. The situation came to a head shortly after the Winter Solstice 381YE when the Varushkan army of the Iron Helms were unleashed against the Grendel. During the Battle of Solen's Doubt in Apstus, three Grendel armies were permanently destroyed as a wave of madness swept through both Imperial and orc forces that culminated in the awakening of the Black Plateau - an event whose repercussions are still not entirely understood.
Shortly before the Spring Equinox 382YE, the Black Plateau became active to a degree unprecedented in the history of the Empire. This has a number of effects, many of which are not yet clear. What is certain for the time being however is:
- Every army fighting in Spiral will take 25% additional casualties going forward
- It is impossible to receive natural resupply in Spiral
- Any army that sends the season in Spiral will lose 5% of its maximum fighting strength over the course of that season even if it is not engaged.
- Fleets, military units, businesses, and farms have their production reduced by a quarter. The nightmares and the oppressive power of the Black Plateau encourages any living person in Spiral to leave. Only the completion of the Block allows other personal resources to prosper, and creates safe havens for Urizen citizens to live here.
- The mithril in the Legacy appears to shield the workers there somewhat, but there are few workers prepared to make the trip to Ossuary given the recent history of the mithril mine and the constant threat of the Black Plateau. As a consequence the upkeep of the Legacy has been doubled for the forseeable future.
The Black Plateau
A great plateau of volcanic glass with a dire reputation. Artefacts from the Black Plateau are often considered haunted or touched by malign evil, and are generally destroyed when they are encountered. Scholars have established that while many of the artefacts recovered from the Black Plateau date back to the days of distant Terunael, and to pre-Urizen Spiral, there are occasional artefacts that reach back even further - they cannot agree on the exact age of the plateau but the volcanic glass may date back to a period before human history.
Barbarians armed with weapons fashioned from the glass taken from the Black Plateau overran the defenders of Spiral, resisting all efforts to throw them back. There are no permanent settlements or spires in the area around the Black Plateau - attempts to establish them ended in tragedy without exception. Even the barbarians are not stupid enough to spend more time than they need to near the Black Plateau. For the last three decades there have been stories of insane, bestial humans - presumably the children and grandchildren of Urizen left behind when Spiral fell to the barbarians - who live on and around the plateau. Their motivations, assuming they even exist, are unknown.
The plateau appears to feed on and amplify negative emotions - especially hate, rage, fear, and despair. Those fighting in the territory when it became active also reported hallucinations and oppressive, malign thoughts causing them to dwell on past failures, insults, and suspicions. In some cases these thoughts lead to tragic action. Shortly before the Spring Equinox 382YE, the Black Plateau was roused to full wakefulness with dire consequences.
Interestingly, it seems that those of the cambion lineage are particularly resistant to this oppressive influence; they still experience the urges, thoughts, and visions but rather than giving in to them they tend to become stubborn, obdurate, uncooperative, and self-contained. This means that Urizen with cambion blood are very much in demand to serve as scouts and messengers between isolated spires not conencted to the Heliopticon- but the very quality that makes them so useful also means they tend to be frustratingly intractable and prone to embarking on unrelated side quests that they have decided are more important than the mission given them by their "superiors".
The Three Passes
Before the Autumn Equinox 381YE, the Grendel engaged in a program of collapsing the passes through the western and the northern mountains out of Spiral. At this time there are only three major passes still open that are large enough to allow a campaign army to pass through them without difficulty.
- The Onyx Path linking Optarion and Ateri. The western end of the pass is guarded by the Citadel of the Flame, while the eastern end emerges near the ruins of Fort Mezudan.
- The Crow Road linking Willstone and Cinion. The western end of the pass is watched by the resourceful sentinels of Willstone spire, while the eastern end emerges in the hills above the ruins of Damakan's Forge.
- The Twilight Gate linking the plains of Proceris and the northern Ossuary. This "pass" is wide enough that it would be extremely difficult to close it without constructing a fortification.
These three passes now effectively control access from Imperial territory into Spiral, and vice versa. There are several smaller, higher passes still intact of course that can be used by small groups or caravans - but these are not suitable for a campaign army to use.
Of particular note, the mountains of Apstrus contain no passes through to the Grendel territory of Mareave that are suitable for use by an Imperial army. Without an opportunity it is only possible to enter Mareave through Apulus.
Ruins of Fort Mezudan
The fortress Fort Mezudan - also known as the Fist - was under construction at the time the barbarians attack, but workers and guards refused the order to destroy the walls. When the original defences against the barbarians fell, the workers armed themselves and held the semi-completed fortress for two weeks until Imperial reinforcements arrived. For that reason the stone-crafters guild were always considered have nominal control of this small fortress, and no decade went by without some major renovation or improvement being undertaken.
During Winter 377YE, the Imperial Master of Works arranged for emergency supplies and many wains of white granite collected by Marcus of Endsmeet to reach the stone-crafters guild of Ateri. While Imperial forces occupied the invading orc armies, the final months of work were completed at a feverish rate that burnt out almost the entire ushabti work force. By the middle of Spring 378YE, the Fist was complete, ready to serve its intended purpose as a bastion for Imperial forces against the invaders of Spiral.
Unfortunately, shortly after the Autumn Equinox 379YE, a powerful magical storm struck the fortress, which had already been damaged as part of the renewed Grendel offensive. The Fist was completely destroyed.
On the slopes of Ankra stood the Spire of Ankarien. One of the oldest and most prestigious of the Urizen spires, it was home to perhaps the finest library in the Empire. The infamous Emperor Nicovar was born here, and lived much of his early life at Ankarien; this did not spare the library from his destructive wrath as he descended into madness. What Nicovar did not quite achieve, the barbarians almost managed. As they drew near the librarians carried much of the contents to Endsmeet. The Spire itself now lies in ruins, and the remainder of its books and scrolls are presumed destroyed by the savage orcs.
Not far from Damakhan's Forge in Cinion stands the Block, a vital construction that helps alleviate some of the impact of the Black Plateau. Proposed in Winter 382YE by a group of illuminates, the Block is positioned within a circle of blasted and burnt trees that seems to be a powerful locus of Winter magic.
Following their suggestions, the Imperial Senate approved construction of a carefully shaped block of mithril, aligned with the Oak an the Lock and used to harness the power of the regio that lies at the heart of the blasted grove. The block now emanates waves of magic across the territory following the old heliopticon paths. While it is in no way powerful enough to impact the emanations of the Black Plateau, any spire built in the territory with the correct web of mithril nodes is able to focus that energy and protect the inhabitants of the spire from the worst of the Plateau's influence. The protection offered by the block means that people can live in Spiral despite the curse of the Black Plateau, allowing for a slight increase in the rate of recovery for the territory and its contributions to Imperial coffers.
Unfortunately the power of the block is not be sufficient to deal with all the problems encountered by those outside the warded spires. The penalties to armies, in particular, and the increased upkeep of the Legacy, are not affected. Likewise, the wilderness outside the Spires continues to be extremely dangerous.
This vast mine complex is one of the few places in Spiral that remain under Imperial control. It is mostly played out today, but still manages to produces significant quantities of mithril for whoever controls it. According to legend the site was part of a great gift to the Urizen people but who gave it to them, and why, are details lost to time.
The Legacy is a national Bourse position which produces mithril. Control of the Legacy is assigned to whichever Urizen candidate receives the most support from Urizen owners of mana sites. This Bourse position produces 22 Imperial wains of mithril every season.
This Bourse seat was lost to the Grendel during their full-scale assault of Summer 379YE. It was later recaptured by Imperial forces during the big push following the Winter Solstice 381YE.
The mountains of Ankra are the site of some of the oldest spires in Urizen, including one of the most prestigious - the library of Ankarien.
The lower slopes of the Apstrus peaks are covered in rolling woodland, carefully cultivated by ushabti and at one time produced a great bounty of forest materials, especially Iridescent Gloaming. The dreaming spires of Apsterus (as they were often known) were dedicated to philosophical thought, their forest-bounty providing the inhabitants with lives of comfort despite their location on the very eastern edge of the Empire. One of the most prestigious was Solen's Doubt. Dedicated to experimental philosophy, it was a place for solitary study and thought. Unsurprisingly, it was overrun during the barbarian march to conquer the territory. The Battle of Solen's Doubt shortly before the Spring Equinox 382YE saw Imperial and Grendel forces clash here for the final time during the campaign. Three Grendel armies disbanded due to the presence of the Iron Helms, and the Black Plateau became fully active. Five hundred Imperials died in the very instant the plateau awoke; both forces withdrew in disarray in the wake of the calamity.
Of special interest to the Urizen, the central Heliopticon tower for Spiral stood on the northern slopes of Apstrus, the heart of the communication network. The defenders held the tower for several months against the barbarians, allowing the rest of Spiral additional warning of army movements, and relaying desperate messages for aid to Morrow and Redoubt. When the tower finally fell, it is assumed the barbarians either destroyed the specially calibrated mirror and the light-source (a glowing stone infused with the magic of the Realm of Day), or stole them away. Some recent rumours suggest these two components might have been hidden by the defenders, and only uncovered recently, but the facts are unclear - and idle speculation has no place in the study of history.
Qualities: Coastal, Ruins
Before it was taken by the barbarians, Apulus was the gateway to adventure for the people of Urizen and, to a degree, the Empire. Expeditions into the wilds outside the borders would rest here before undertaking their quests into the unknown wilderness. Ships from across the Bay of Catazar docked at the coastal spires here, with League and Freeborn adventurers in particular being regular visitors.
Perhaps the worst casualty of the barbarian invasion was the Lighthouse at Apulian, a Great work that served as both a spire dedicated to foreign trade and a beacon for all the Urizen fleets based in Spiral. The last Keeper of the Lighthouse, Hadrian of Apulian, burst the entire structure apart once it became clear it would fall to the orcs, shattering the magical stone (a gift from the eternal Kimus) that served as the light. The white granite tower exploded in a thunderous detonation, the echoes of which were reportedly heard as far away as Sarvos and the island of the Lyceum. The release of magical power incinerated several hundred orcs, along with all the defenders of Apulian. Some refugees from Spiral attempted to have Hadrian declared an Exemplar of Loyalty, but received little support from the Imperial Synod. Most of the survivors are dead now, of course.
The town is no more. In 378YE the invoked devastation finished what the defenders had started - the rebuilt waterfront at Apulian was smashed to pieces. Then in 380YE, during a conjunction of the fountain, powerful ritual magic sank the entire coastline of Apulus into the Bay, transforming the region into a stinking mire. This was the last straw for Apulian; the remaining buildings collapsed and sank in the marshes, leaving the entire area in ruins.
Fort Mezudan stood on the slopes of the mountains here before its destruction by Grendel magic. The Onyx Path is one of the three passes wide enough to allow an Imperial army to move between Spiral and the rest of the Empire. The eastern end of the pass was guarded by Fort Mezudan, while the western end is protected by the Court of the White Fountain.
The wide valleys of Cinion are lush and covered in rolling woodland. Until Winter 380YE the region was littered with ruined spires, most long since looted by the barbarians. Several of these spires stood over plentiful mines and there were many rich veins of tempest jade and weltsilver. The mines remain, but almost all the ruined spires are now gone. Those that survived the supernatural fires that raged across the mountains in Spring 380YE were consumed by trees and vegetation invoked with powerful Spring magic designed to rejuvenate the area.
One small area proved resistant to the magic released to heal the wounded hills. A grove of blasted and burnt trees, no more than twenty-feet across, remains devoid of greenery to this day. Magicians who have visited the area suggest that it is infused with the power of Winter magic and that it forms the locus of a regio tied to the Thrice-cursed Court. A small group of illuminates have committed to keeping an eye on the place; their suggestion in Winter 382YE lead to the creation of the Block that now occupies the blasted grove and provides magical protection to the spires of Spiral against the influence of the Black Plateau.
The most famous of the lost spires was probably Damakan’s Forge - and alone of the old spires, it still stands reasonably hale and healthy despite damage from the magical flames and the uncontrollable Spring magic. Damakan was renowned as the greatest Urizen swordsmith of antiquity, and even today her blades change hands for small fortunes. Although many of her secrets went with her to her grave, a small lodge of smiths have maintained her forge and traditions in its original site in the Spiral. Crafters who were allowed to work with this lodge are rare indeed, but those few who did were able to create swords of surpassing excellence. The spire fell to the barbarians forty years ago - it is unclear how many of the secrets of the weaponsmiths fell into their hands at this time. The smaller settlement of Ossen's Spire served as a gateway to Damakan’s Forge, where those who wished to serve there came here first, and those who wished a sword from there lived at Ossen's Spire to prove their worth before being granted the honour. Unfortunately, the spire was completely consumed in the fires raised during the liberation of Spiral.
The Crow Road is one of the three passes that connect Spiral to the Empire, linking Cinion with Willstone in Redoubt. The eastern end of the pass is watched by the resourceful sentinels of Willstone spire, while the eastern end emerges in the hills above the ruins of Damakhan's Forge.
Ossuary takes its name from the large number of giant bones regularly unearthed in the mines here. Scholars are at a loss to explain them - some claim they may be the bones of great drakes or perhaps even dragons. Many of these bones have been exported to other parts of the Empire where they are studied or presented as curiosities.
The Legacy is in Ossuary; a vital resource that provided mithril to the people of Urizen, which was primarily used to enhance mana sites. It was lost to the Grendel in Summer 379YE, causing a significant blow to the prosperity of Urizen - and potentially to their ability to work magic.
From northern Ossuary, the Twilight Gate connects Spiral to Proceris in Zenith. This "pass" is wide enough that it would be extremely difficult to close it without constructing a fortification at one end or the other.
The Black Plateau occupies most of Screed. Even when the territory was in Imperial hands, Screed was largely deserted apart from temporary camps of scholars studying the plateau and its artefacts. Today, the barbarians are said to be employing scavenging teams - some supplemented with human slaves - here, but likewise have avoided creating any permanent settlements.
- As of the Autumn Equinox 383YE, the Urizen (and thus the Empire) control the regions of Cinion, Ankra, and Ateri. The Druj control Ossuary and Screed. The Grendel control Apstrus, and the region of Apulus is nominally under their control. The territory is not Imperial, but neither is it controlled by anyone else at this time.
- Shortly before Spring 382YE, the Black Plateau awoke to full malignancy. Its influence is felt across the entire territory.
- Damakhan's Forge in Cinion has some potential to be used as the basis for an Imperial runeforge. Prior to Winter 380YE, the civil service had made several estimations of how that might be achieved - but with the wave of rejuvenating greenery that swept across Cinion, and the destruction of many of the outlying parts of the spire, these costings are now obsolete.