Saturday, March 25, 2017

News of Arunia: Pacification of the Iceflow

Rumor speaks of a combined force of adventuring parties in the northern marches of Craftsman's Reach taking back the vast wilderness little by little. Between the forces of the Raven's Banner, Aldorius the Silver Hand, the Moonstar Coster, and Fenrus' Very Best (also known as the Swords of Stock to the elves of Tailmisia), the grave dangers that once faced this wild region have mostly been quelled. All that remains are threats of giants beyond the Iceflow River, the rumors of trolls in the west, and the ogre tribes that plague the southern borders of the elvish kingdom.

A great battle was fought fifteen rods west of Tyreth Castle, upon the fields of the Low Plain, between Prince Aegus' knights, led by the Raven's Banner, and the gnollish chief who had caused so much pain to folk tall and small alike. Victory was accomplished with much pain, and even now the Raven's Banner has pressed north to make forays against the giant called Psíchros, who commands a clutch of mannish cultists and a hide-away dedicated to Dinismayl, the Winter Queen.

Fenrus' Very Best, after flushing the ruin of Sariesh of its occupants, ventured eastward into the mysterious forest of the Greatwood to deal with the elves. Rumor speaks of skinchangers and lycanthropy, all of which was cured by the Gwyderion Caelatulia, hierophant of Noronia and King of the Greatwood.

With the cure properly administered, Fenrus' Very Best has become involved with the politicking of the elves; driving one of the wyrmish children of the Deep Dragon from the capital city of Aita Valmindene, they have now agreed to delve the depths of the Tomb of Serenavalla, the last Golden Age Mage-Queen of Ylvasmetsa, in order to petition her spirit to determine whether an election should be held.

For this is the question of the day for the elves. Will the Gwyderion Caelatulia Elimia step down and abandon his position as the King of Ylvasmetsa and permit an election to be held, as was the elvish custom of old, or will the Temple of Noronia hold both the Temple of the Daystar and the Crown of State in perpetuity? Even as the wyrms of Eldispell have withdrawn their armies from the field, retreated their goblin thralls from the Daleadau, and begun a period of fierce civil strife in the ruins of Sylvasil, the elves have recognized the danger to their kingdom has passed—and thus the question of elective rule is once again current.

FROM ABROAD
Rumors are confused from the Third Empire of Miles. Some say that the Emperor has died, and others that he has survived, but all voices agree that he was assaulted in the throne room of the Imperial Domus at Miles by a mad knight and his entourage. There are those who say it was a plot of the Young Serpent, head of the Imperial Civil Service, Hydrophis Schoolman. If it is true, the war in Miles has ended and a new peace is likely to descend. If the Emperor still lives, the fate of the Empire itself may be in danger.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

The Semiotic Apocalypse, or: Everything is Salad

I was told today by a very smart friend that she and another friend had developed a theory (really more of a belief, but that’s neither here nor there) that everything in the world can be divided into one of three categories: salad, sandwich, or omelet. When I asked what gave birth to this theory, I was gleefully regaled with a tale of semantic openness—that the word salad was so expansive as to contain within it the definition of almost any foodstuff. Surely this could not be so! The definitions of words have boundaries precisely in order to stop this runaway semiosis. Edge-cases may be hard to categorize, but we can surely construct a central finite curve of meaning. I went at once to that trusty resource we all know and love, Google.
            A cold dish of various mixtures of raw or cooked vegetables, usually seasoned with oil, vinegar, or other dressing, and sometimes accompanied by meat, fish, or other ingredients.” There, then, was your salad. The limiting words were “cold,” “dish,” and “vegetables.” While that definition is vast in its scope, it certainly has hard edges. She pushed at it. “Caprese salad is a salad.” And so is tuna salad, and chicken salad. And these things aren’t just salads by metaphor, like word salad. They have salad in their very names.
            What are we to do then? This kind of endless semiosis threatens to devour the language. Yet no one is alarmed at the presence of this semantic serpent lurking just around the corner. Why? Human beings don’t seem particularly prone to this kind of bug. In most cases, if you were to tell most people about something like this, they would likely dismiss it as not worthy of their time. Like pornography, you know a salad when you see one. No need to address the logical underpinnings of salads.
            But when you do, things start to unravel. The primary reason for this, of course, is that the universe is a simple continuous undifferentiated mass of vomitous chaos. The world has no inherent definitions, because definitions don’t exist. Plato’s universe of forms is sadly missing in our everyday experience. Universal categories are abstracted from non-universal types. The forms of table, of person, of cat, are made up of the common experience of a multitude of real, instantiated, individual tables, people, and cats.
            This flies in the face of most modern Western theology. Attributes can’t be an abstract human invention, they must be grounded in some moral absolute: the godhead. But the Mind of God doesn’t hold absolutes, moral or otherwise. The ultimate nihilistic apopheosis, Eco’s reversal of the ontological argument, deprives the universe of all absolute standing. That is, unlike poor Anselm, Eco said that all existing things are imperfect. Therefore, in order to be perfect, a thing must actually enter existence at all; the only perfect things are those which are ensconced in non-existence. God, as the most perfect being, as a necessary corollary of this ontology, cannot exist. Without the Platonic world of forms or its neo-Platonic interpretations through the vessels of the early Church, there can be no ontological argument for the existence of Divinty.
            Because we exist in this world where we are feebly attempting to map universal definitions onto a constantly shifting and amorphous khaos, our definitions are fuzzy around the edges. Push on some of them enough, and you’ll find the chaos lurking beneath. It’s easy to deny the semiotic abyss by simply erecting arbitrary barriers and clinging to them. And that’s not to say that some of our definitions haven’t taken on a new, secondary life of their own. Indeed, because we operate on the very top level of the semiological pyramid we’ve constructed, the base semiosis actually disguises the material world of chaos most of the time, and the concepts we’ve built over generations to deal with that material world can take on an actuality all their own.
            Take the concept of race, for example. It’s a useless, non-scientific, imperialist, western construct. It serves no purpose in describing the state of the world in an objective, scientific, manner. Race is not real. But the existence of the concept of race is very real, and the resulting baggage that comes with it is unfortunately something that we have to deal with. This is because we do not have access to the material chaos underlying the semantic grid; the only portion we have access to is the language itself. Our ability to experience the world is mediated by linguistics.
            Being denied access to this more basic material world means that we tend to treat our semantic constructs as actual existential objects. We manipulate them mentally, and use them as proxies and stand-ins for real, existing, objects. All of our mental processes must be performed on semantic and phantasmic objects, rather than the real things. I cannot take a table, or a cat, from the physical world and somehow place it in my mind; I must craft a system of related signs, an imprint, a phantasm, of that cat inside of myself. Nothing passes this impermeable mind/world barrier. All experience is experience of phantasmic information.
            This is what my friend meant when she said everything in the world could be divided into one of those categories. The categories themselves are ciphers, devoid of actual meaning, because they are layered on top of a meaningless substrate. We don’t have to fear the semiotic apocalypse because we have been living in it for our entire lives. Our own ability to comprehend is far inferior to the complexity of the world around us. This is something neuroscientists have been agreeing on for a long time. Cognitive biases exist as shortcuts to comprehending the complexity of the world. Why re-learn everything when you can simply use a shortcut each time?
            Why build a definition when everything is already salad?

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Hotsky Totsky Secret Trotsky

After an all-nighter working in Illustrator, I have modded Secret Hitler into Secret Trotsky.

As more Trotskyist articles are passed, the unplayable General Secretary of the Party pulls the state deeper into War Communism, from which he may never recover. The goal is to enact full socialism before the Comintern eats itself alive, or else to kill Trotsky before he becomes Chairperson (after three Trotskyite Articles are passed).

Here are dem PDFs.



Saturday, February 18, 2017

The Aedeion, a history of Kholos

Long ago, the reign of Moros Aklaustros, the Unmourned, inaugurated the use of necromancy in Arunia. His kingdom, located in the region we now call the Dragonback Range, was a strange and occulted one. It is said that Moros the Giant-King crafted the first necromantic magics, and that much of modern necromancy stems from his ancient and occulted court. In truth, it was the nearness to this awful place that helped foster the Twin Empires, as well as the Art studied by none other than Tharos the Necromancer, who rumor says spent time in Moros' court.

But there is another figure of import here, one who entered the broken ruins of Moros' kingdom some in the 6th Age and only emerged in the 7th; that is, Lakryss of Essadurea, a powerful magician who sought enlightenment through dark and unwholesome channels. Rumors persisted that he was a sorcerous general of Rho'anir, or that he had served Galos in the War of the Chains; whether they are true, we cannot say. He left the regions recently conquered by Haxrim the Conqueror, and fled west, away from the conquests of his Essadi kin. Lakryss emerged from the realm of Moros Aklaustros, ruined though it was, with the gift of vampirism—he had transformed into a vampiric spirit of the north.

Thus did Lakryss set about building his kingdom in the Aedeion. In this time, the cult of Tharos the Necromancer was first gaining strength. The seeds of that cult which would later sprout in Teral, in the 10th Age, were planted when Lakryss invited a quarter of Poison-Tongues to the shores of the Red Lake and made them his servants. Shortly after arriving at the Red Lake, Lakryss proclaimed himself king of the misty forest in that region of the world. He slaughtered the skin-changer hideaways and the peaceable giants of the region, collecting men from the wild regions of Vithania and the Dragonbacks, his ranks swelling with those fleeing Haxrim the Conqueror and his successor Tarkus the Indomitable.

This new kingdom grew up around a city bearing Lakryss' name: Lakra, on the Red Lake. Lakryss himself, having undergone a vile transformation in the hidden halls of Moros Aklaustros, grew to be known as the Weeping King; his eyes ran with thick phlegmy tears, streak with blood, which he never bothered to wipe away. This fearsome visage buckled the warring men and three nations of wood elves together under one banner—his. They resisted the onslaught of Soloth and later Caruel, remaining independent under the Weeping King's sign. This new kingdom was called Kholos.

To help him rule it, the Weeping King ennobled a number of men. He further drafted some into his service as vampiric children, heirs of his vile curse, making a brood of some fifty powerful vampires. He fought off others from the north, and was known as the mightiest king in west of the Twin Empires. But Soloth and Caruel fell, and Kholos did not.

Not until the coming of Roland of Sunhome, who's story is best told in other places. Suffice to say, this paladin who founded the Order of the Forge Divine slew Lakryss the Weeping King, and he slew many members of his vampiric children. In the aftermath of that violent conflict of the 8th Age, the kingdom of Kholos fell into five duchies, each ruled by one of the strongest of Lakryss' children. Lakra herself remained a free city, governed by a council of Poison-Tongues in the service of the Necromancer.

Wars and the advent of the Bleeding Plague reduced the rulership of these lands, and their people. The vampires fought one another until most of Lakryss' line was extinguished and only lesser beasts roamed the land. Amongst the remaining Heirs of Lakryss was the Duke of Dakrya, a region west of the river Dakesis. This vampire, Glev Redcloak, also called Glev Lakryos, was hunted for many years by mendicant members of the Order of the Forge Divine, dispatched by their Grandmaster to finish the work that Roland had begun.

Eventually, the Duke of Dakrya went into hiding, leaving the governance of his province to men. The Cult of Tharos spread, and after the fall of Teral, it found its seat in the ancient and now-abandoned city of Lakra. With great aplomb, they drove out the Forge Divine and re-established order through the eastern portions of Kholos, calling their newly forged land the Duchy of Aklaustria. In the west, beyond the River Dakesis, the Stewards of Dakrya continued to resist them. It was only with the emergence of Duke Glev and the foundation of the Order of the Black Hand that the power of the necromancers was checked.

Now, Duke Glev and the Poisontongues stand at each other's throats, neither side willing to commit to war, but neither willing to back down. The lands of Aklaustria lie blasted and ruined by necromantic magic. Towns have vanished back into the wild, and cities have been drained of their people. For two generations, Aklaustria has suffered under its necromantic masters. As the necromancers have no need of living subjects, they callously kill those who break even the most minor of laws. Their corpses are used to farm the meager lands required to sustain the cult at Lakra.

Holy Books: The Life of Orlandus -- Part 3

See Part 1 and Part 2.

Our Lord Orlandus sought for a blade with which to slay the Weeping King. He knew there was one place where he could find such a sword for certain: Hârnholme. The ancient kingdom of the dwarves was the one place where a man could earn himself a mighty blade, laid with magics that might slay an immortal tyrant like the King of Tears. For three years he worked and lived as a gestr to the dwarves. He abandoned his goodly works and there our lord of Sunhome shoveled coke and pumped the bellows of a forge. He worked as a drover, a carter, and a woodsman. All these things he did without the comfort of a place in the dwarven halls, a worker without a home.

In the deep winter of the third year, the Mountain Smith Magnr Smokebeard came to the rick wherein our lord slept and said, "For three years you have lived on scraps, as less than an apprentice amongst a people who have no love for you. For three years you have toiled in the workshops of my forge, smelting ore and moving fuel. Something must have brought you here. Why have you come?"

And when Orlandus our Lord told Magnr Smokebeard his quest to slay the Weeping King, Magnr brought him into his most intimate workshops, beyond the secret vaulted doors which only the Master Smiths could open; lo, our Lord was was shown the very heart of the Mountain Smiths' forges, where the ancient and mighty keys that are the patrimony of the dwarves must undo the mightiest locks ever devised. And in this place, Magnr Smokebeard told Orlandus, "You will learn to work steel and gold, balglamr and aedr. Only when this is done will we forge your sword."

For ten years, Orlandus studied under Magnr Smokebeard, and he learned only the most meager of the dwarf's secrets, for the Mountain Smiths rarely share their powerful art, and even in the aid of such a worthy cause this Smokebeard would not reveal to Orlandus the most mighty of arts. Yet even so, when the ten years were complete he spent one final year under Smokebeard's tutelage to forge the blade he would carry for the rest of his life; the holy sword, blessed by Haeron the Hammerer, which is called Angurvidal.

So, too, did Magnr Smokebeard forge for Orlandus our Lord a suit of armor in the old Milean fashion which is called Peaceward; a misericord called Heartpiercer; a hammer named Thalmung; and a spear called Atgir. With these weapons and harness, Roland of Sunhome ventured forth to confront the Weeping King.

North, he went, and northward, until at last he came into the Kingdom of Aedeion, within the mist-girdled forests. With him, too, was his sacral destrier, Lightning. As he went, the Weeping King's people flocked to his banner, eager to, at last, overthrow their awful lord. A great battle was joined before the gates of Lakra, the eternal city. The lieutenants of the Weeping King could not give battle or ride forth beneath the blazing sun. Thus, the armies of the vampire-lord were defeated without their leaders, and the city of Lakra was stormed. Hundreds of vile servants were woken from their enchanted slumber, and hundreds more who served willingly driven to the edge of the Red Lake and executed there until the waves ran with blood.

At last, as the sun set, the Weeping King came forth from his palace, flanked by his vampiric children. But our Lord Roland was a knight pure of heart and mighty of arm; seven of the eldest vampiric princes died by his hand in that bloody sunset, and then, at last, with lance, shield, and blade, he brought low the Weeping King.

Friday, February 10, 2017

Eldarion's Passage

It takes a lot of liquor to get an elf drunk. Eldarainen never let that get in her way. She lurched down the Lantern Path, her familiar twining between her legs. Weasel the weasel was worried for her master, and she occasionally emitted a faint squeak. "Not now," mumbled the sorceress, trying her best not to trip over sodden robes or the weaving, bobbing head of Weasel. She glanced at her companion, the swordswoman Asinaryn, trying to gauge the shorter elf's state. "He kicked me out of the tower yesterday," she said.

Asinaryn came to a halt. Her fingers balled into fists, the cords of muscles in her back tensing. "He did what?"

"Kicked me out of the tower," Eldarainen replied. A bubbling froth of laughter escaped her lips. "After all, he was just another sorcerer."

Weasel pranced nervously around the path. The two elvish women were out on the farthest loop of the meandering reveler's trail. The shadow of the Shuttered Palace was near at hand, its ruined bulk sitting squat along the river. Weasel didn't like the feel of that place, its empty eyeless windows and statues worn to smooth facelessness by the wind and rain. She chirped her anxiety to Eldarainen, but her master was too far gone to do more than feel the sudden sharp wave of fear in her familiar. Eldarainen reached down, scooped Weasel up, and gave her a stroke along the back. Although weasels cannot pout, Weasel tried her best.

"Talifer's wounds, we'll see how he fares in a duel, then." Asinaryn was hotheaded, even for an elf. Perhaps it was because she was so small.

Eldarainen smirked. "Right. A duel. You. Him." She reached out to shove her friend, staggered, and instead slammed into her. They both went down, Weasel shrieking angrily as they toppled. The three of them lay together in the tall grass for a while. A party of revelers passed them, laughing and drinking, lanterns slung low on their poles. It wasn't until they faded into the distance that Eldarainen spoke again.

"The city is a hard place for a newly made wizard," she said.

Asinaryn shoved her off. "No," said the little swordself. As in all elvish conversation, she was replying to something unsaid—the city is a hard place for a newly made wizard, so I am leaving it.

Eldarainen rose unsteadily to her feet. She was a wind elf, like all the folk of Aita Valmindene, and stood nearly six feet tall. Asinaryn, perhaps due to some admixture with wood elvish blood in her ancestry, barely came up to her shoulder. Now, at the darkest hour of the night, Eldarainen's long pale blond hair fell unbound to her waist. Asinaryn was still clad in her training  clothes: a quilted tunic, parted at the waist, and heavy chausses of thick wool. Together they made an odd pair—the wizard and her swordswoman.

"There are places other than Aita Valmindene," Eldarainen said.

Asinaryn sulked. "Bad places."

"Come on, Weasel doesn't like it here. She can smell the ghost of the Mad Hierophant." Asinaryn struggled to cross the road and peer in the direction of the Shuttered Palace. Eldarainen left her standing there, staring into the semi-darkness, and followed the bobbing lights of the other revelers.

The next day, they both awoke in the Historian's Quarter, achey from having spent the late hours laying in the Field of the Songwrights. They were not far from the little shrine devoted to Talifer, the God of Fools, and of Love. Eldarainen had pledged herself to him in her youth, and never had cause to regret the choice. Asinaryn thought it childish, and in the way of elves she derided her friend by speaking not of Talifer, but of the great strength, wisdom, and fury of her own god—Anunia, the Wind Lord, chief of the elvish gods, and patron of fury.

They made their way into the temple to stand before the cracked mosaics of the Wounded God, depicted with his left arm in a sling. When they were done muttering murmured words (Asinaryn more hesitantly, as her own lord was Anunia, not Talifer), they strolled north to the Old Market. Once amongst its sunken lanes and colored tents, Asinaryn returned to the topic that pricked and rankled her.

"I can't believe he cast you out. He promised he wouldn't."

Eldarainen sighed. She cast her eyes upward. "We both knew that was a lie." But the lie was her insistence that she had known all along. The wound was still too fresh to examine. She finally turned to look at Asinaryn. "He's a wizard, Aryn. That's how they are."

"So are you," the swordself said, resting her hand on the hilt of her curved blade. "It doesn't make him a wizard, it makes him a fool."

This was enough. They were now crossing Mero's Bridge, leaving the Old Market behind. The river rushed away beneath them, the current sweeping inexorably out of the kingdom, westward and ever westward, to empty in the distant Aelfwater. Eldarainen followed the rush of water with her eyes until it passed beneath the great girdling walls of Aita Valmindene and became a distant thread of mercury. With a great exhalation of breath, her mind followed the river west.

The statues of ancient elvish kings passed by on their left as they walked along the source of the Valmin. On the right, the peninsular-island of the Gwyderion's palace shone like a fallen star. For a time they spoke of nothing and merely walked in contemplative silence. But this was too much for Asinaryn, who, after several minutes, erupted. "Someone should show him his place!"

"Enough, Aryn!" Eldarainen snapped. "Enough! Yes, he lied. Yes, he promised he wouldn't treat me like all wizards have treated their apprentices since the time of the tower builders. But I'm not a child, and I refuse to stay hurt." But the hurt ran deep. It was a seeping wound in her breast, hidden, but barely. "I'll go out of the city and master the Art, and he can rot or go mad."

He. None other than Eviscoinisian of the Ruby Staff, the wizard who had taken her in and taught her the secrets of the Art. Eldarainen had been a mere child when Eviscoinisian extended his hand and brought her under his wing. With softly spoken promises, he swore he would never abandon her like other mages did with their apprentice-children. And yet, here she was, no less than eighty years later, and just three days before he had quietly, in his soft-spoken way, suggested that she might leave his tower. Eighty years! And why? Because she had finally mastered the mind-breaking discipline, the finger-smashing skill to summon up magic from nothing. She was a child in the Art, but even a child who could use magic was something for the mighty Eviscoinisian to fear.

"Besides, I'll return. When I'm rich and powerful, I'll come back. You'll be a sworn guard of the Gwyderion by then." Asinaryn wrinkled her nose in distaste. "Or some other high family," she was quick to add.

They walked for a little while longer, coming now to the Road of Rejoicing, which ran all the way to the Gate of Peace. Asinaryn balled her fist and punched Eldarainen in the shoulder. "Don't change among the mannish children out there," she said. "They're mayflies. And don't go getting killed."

Eldarainen sighed, but gave her bravest smile. "I won't," said she. Weasel chirruped. It would be good to get out of this hateful city.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Aita Valmindene, City of the Elves


INTRODUCTION
Aita Valmindene (EYE-ta val-MIN-din-uh) is the oldest city in Atva-Arunia. Its first stones were laid before even those of Imperial Miles. The Southmen helped construct the Tower of Tursas themselves in a time before elves knew how to build towers of their own. Now, the City of White Walls stands like a glistening gem in the heart of the Greatwood, several rods west of the great mountain Aurisia, whose mighty slopes can be seen from within the city. As befits its age, Aita Valmindene is one of the most densely populated elvish cities in Arunia, with centuries upon centuries of construction abutting one another. Indeed, it is one of the few elvish cities ever to overspill its walls, with the fabled Garden Quarter and the Vineyards all occupying space beyond the ancient limit of the city.

Coming to Aita Valmindene is normally done by riverboat, up the River Valmin. It first appears when the river ship is still some eight rods distant: a glimmering shining mass of spires on the horizon, surrounded by dense forest. Eventually, the ships are forced to disembark their passengers at a great artificial pool, dug with the help of dwarven craft, outside the walls. Here, elvish customs agents pour over the craft and register them with the harbor authorities. Once the token fee is paid, visitors from the west are welcomed into the great city to wander to their heart's content.

HISTORY
The history of Valmindene is the history of the elvish people. It has been the capital of the elvish kingdoms since its foundation, only once occupied during the War of the Moon (also known as the Elvish Civil War), and rarely attacked by any outside armies. To go into the eons of detail would require a voluminous series of its own, so we will not even attempt to delve Valmindene's history here.

COURT OF THE HIEROPHANT
The city is dominated by the presence of the Gwyderion's palace, located in its exact center. Since the days of Tursas the Wise, the Ylvasmetsa, the Greatwood, has been ruled by a Hierophant rather than a king. Today, the Greatwood is under the rule of Caelatulia Elimia, Hierophant of the Daystar. His court is the heart of all political life for the elvish kingdom. Every decision must flow through the reigns of some court official, and all court life is carried out as a leisurely exercise in relaxation and contemplation, a fact that often stymies visitors of other races who arrive to secure some diplomatic concession. For the elves, there is time enough for all things, and no necessity for undue haste.

The Gwyderion's palace is located on an outcrop of land that is surrounded by the many springs that make up the source of the Valmin river. This peninsula is protected by a mighty wall and gatehouse thrown across its neck. Only those with the express invitation of the Hierophant may proceed beyond this gatehouse into the complex of palace buildings that lie on the far side.

The structure of the court is draconic in its complexity and nearly impossible for outsiders to understand. Suffice to say that there are a bewildering array of positions, all held by knights of minor elvish houses, of which there are hundreds in the Greatwood.

At the very heart of the Gwyderion's palace is the Hall of the High Star, an enchanted chamber which mirrors the circuit of the Lamp of the Sun by the transit of a sun of its own, high above the floor, amongst a cannily made mosaic ceiling which fills with clouds when the weather outside is ill. Here, the Gwyderion receives all guests and supplicants while seated on a simple wooden stool with a single cushion.

WIZARDS OF THE CITY
Ever since the Southmen came into the Greatwood and introduced elves to magic, it has been an obsession of theirs. One would be remiss when speaking of Valmindene if we did not turn also to the powerful organizations of wizards that reside within her walls. These are, simply, the Tower of the Pearl, the Tower of the Bleeding Star, and the House of High Sorcery.

Tower of the Pearl.
The Tower of the Pearl, so named for the pearlescent white sheen upon its walls, was founded after the Second Elf-Dragon War. The elvish wizards who fought under the Wizard-Lord of Nostorin returned to the Greatwood much impressed with their cousins' prowess. A small clave banded together to found the Tower of the Pearl, which exists in more or less the same shape to this day, four Ages later.

To gain admittance to the Tower, mages must prove they have mastered High Sorcery. This being done, they must also do a great service for the Tower to achieve the acclaim of its prior members. Further, there are only ever 40 Wizards of the Tower at any given time, and they will not increase their number. Those who join the secretive order are granted access to the hidden libraries of the Tower, as well as admittance to the brotherhood of its members.

Tower of the Bleeding Star.
In stark contrast to the Tower of the Pearl, the Tower of the Bleeding Star was founded after the plague ravaged the Greatwood in the 9th Age. The star to which the tower's name refers is a falling, bleeding, or bearded star, and has the connotation of being a monumentous omen. The members of the Bleeding Star choose their apprentices to induct into the order; it has a much more structured membership and hierarchy than the Order of the Pearl Tower.

Members of the Bleeding Star wear its symbology on their robes, and are known for their alignment with astrological events and signs. They are a withdrawn and careful sect, who sometimes offer unsolicited advise to noble houses. They are also often seen as being politically neutral, something that they do their best to take advantage of by hiring themselves to the great houses indiscriminately. None are certain whether or not they actually do have an external agenda.

The House of High Sorcery.
The House of High Sorcery is the oldest order of wizards in any elvish kingdom, which likely makes it the oldest continuous order in the world. It is an invitation-only society, and only those wizards who have mastered the very highest tier of magic are ever invited into it. Non-elves are sometimes extended invitations as well.

The House of High Sorcery maintains a private compound within the city where its members can meet, live, and study in peace. It is rumored that there are never more than a handful of High Sorcerers at any given time, but they prize their identities, and so the membership of this order is not publicly known.

PLACES IN THE CITY
Road of the Old Kings. Every ruler of every elvish state, excluding only the Wizard-Lords of Nostorin, has a statue along this ancient road. Deep and rutted is the path, and overhung by massive oaks and plane trees. It is the most central circuit within the city, and therefore the most well-traveled. At any hour along the Road of the Old Kings, there can be found a range of chanteurs, lutists, musicians, theater troupes, minstrels, jugglers, acrobats, and adventurers.

The Old Market. This is said to be the oldest market in the north. It is located in a somewhat sunken square, with hundreds of tents and kiosks creating a sort of secondary city. The market is active for three days of the week: Avaunus, Galus, and Heirus. Many merchants are permitted to bring barges into the city the night prior to a market day to unload their wares at Mero's Bridge.

Mero's Bridge. This bridge, while not the original span built by Mero the Southman, still commemorates the ancient compact between elves and men. To that end, statues of the Zeshimite sorcerer adorn it on both sides. It is the only place where the Valmin can be forded without the use of a ferry within the circuit of the White Wall.

The House of Wind Lord. An enormous dome, supported by pillars carved from lapis, and hung with thousands of silver wind chimes, the House of the Wind Lord is the center of Anunia's worship in the north. This is the residence of the priest known as the North Wind. Conclaves and meetings of the Four Winds frequently occur here, in the House of the Wind Lord. Public worship takes place at the external altar, a fantasy of looped silver, and daily ceremonies of prayer are held before the temple for the populace.

Tursas' Mausoleum. So old as to be mostly formless, this ancient lumpen monument is said to house the incorruptible body of the first Hierophant. It is now overgrown with amarantha and purple orchids, lending it the appearance of something long forgotten. However, whenever a new Hierophant is crowned, they are crowned before the Mausoleum of Tursas.

Guildhall of the Silver Tree. The House of the Silver Tree, a renowned elvish trading guild, has its home here in Valmindene. The guildhall is smaller than any of the vast rambling palaces and courtyard-houses of the great elvish families, but still quite large. Members of the compact often stay here when visiting the city, and caravans from Valmindene frequently originate from this marble building, carved all over with birds and branches.

Market of the Sea Fountain. The fountain of Meri at the market's center pumps salt water and is filled with sea fish. This market is open only on Heimirus, and tends to be frequented by merchants from Valcaela and Vesimia.

Shrine of Meri. A small temple dedicated to the Sea Goddess oversees the market. It is made from blue-green seastone and sits on a rise at the northern end of the Market of the Sea Fountain. The Merianite priests collect the market tolls from all the goings-on here, and therefore are also charged with the market's upkeep.

Grove of Lights.
The Grove of Lights, which are two stands of alder trees, hide the temples to Aloran and Senia. Each of the trees here is hung with many silver lanterns, which are enchanted to light themselves every dusk. This creates a mystical, haunting quality on the shores of the Valmin and throughout the Market of the Sea Fountain.

Tower of the Pearl.
The home of the Order of the Pearl Tower, this building stands alone in the center of the Swordway. Its fabric is opalescent, and glimmers strangely in the sun. It's said that the wizards of the Pearl Tower have enchanted it to contain great halls and libraries within, though from without it appears to be a humble five-story tower.

Sun Square. This square also serves as a smith and metalworker's market on every Avaunus. It is a wide paved space that stands in the light of the Golden Temple. All tradesmen's tents on Sun Square are set up and broken down at the beginning and end of every market day, rather than remaining all week. The square is dotted with statuary describing mighty elvish knights and heroes.

Golden Temple of Noronia.
Much like the center of Avaunite worship in Haldera, the Golden Temple in the White City is a massive pyramid with many stepped levels. Every surface is plated in gilding; at midday, the entire temple shines like a second Lamp of the Sun. While this is technically the seat of the priesthood of Noronia, since the Gwyderion occupies the palace at the city center, the Temple of Noronia has been reduced in importance as a physical presence on Sun Square.

Tower of the Bleeding Star. Opposite the Merianite temple is the Tower of the Bleeding Star, a building marked by mystery and strangeness. The tower has no windows, and is made of a black stone flecked with gold. Banners hang from its upper reaches, proclaiming the might of the Bleeding Star. None who are not members of that order have ever been within.

Moonstar Costerhouse. This smaller costerhouse is home to the Moonstar Coster's operations in Valmindene. It is a converted townhouse, carved all about in lions and antelope, that was long ago purchased by the Coster and made into a staging area for meetings and caravans.

Mausoleum of Emperor Sylimus. Sylimus the Elf-Friend, Emperor of Miles, is buried here in Aita Valmindene. His mausoleum is a gathering place for men living within the borders of the White City. The field outside the mausoleum has, since his reign, served as a place for mannish expatriots to sit and discuss affairs of the day, and men are often to be found here in small clusters playing board games or smoking.

Poet's Way.
So named for the Poet's Market located between the Wyrmgate and the Mountain Gate, Poet's Way is frequented by elvish writers and dreamers. It is lined with willows, and a small stream trickles alongside its northern course, eventually diving below the earth by the foot of the Malidenorianen hill. The Poet's Market remains the easiest place to purchase parchment and writing supplies in the city.

Road of the Stars. The Road of the Stars is an ancient highway, paved with gemstones studding its surface. It was once the location of several royal palaces, all of which have been repurposed and granted to noble families in the centuries since its completion.

Tower of Ilisia the Sage. This tower belongs to the chief historian of the Gwyderion's court, Ilisia the Writer. Though she is rarely at home (the Gwyderion keeps her plenty busy in the palace), Ilisia is one of the most renowned historians of ancient Arunian history in the north.

The Skyknight Parade Ground. This open field belongs to the Skyknights. From time to time, the Gwyderion asks them to perform feats of martial prowess in and above the city, to remind the elves who commands the order. There are boxes for sitting here, and a well-manicured lawn for the presentment of the pegasi.

The Library of Sulcania. The great Library of Valmindene, a public institution since its earliest days, stands at the end of a colonnaded courtyard, framed by a large mirror-fountain along the Willow Walk. This is a place of repose and study. Many elves come here to be tutored or taught the paideia, the corpus of elvish learning.

The Shuttered Palace. The most ancient royal palace of all, the Shuttered Palace is all that survives of the reign of the mad Gwyderion, Pellarimen. This ancient ruin is sometimes said to be haunted, and most of the elves of the city stay away from it, unless they are there to drink in the melancholy madness of the Mad Lord. For this reason, the Lantern Path actually passes right by the Shuttered Palace.

Lantern Path. A walk often taken by revelers, particularly those who are drunk on rajarico, the Lantern Path is a meandering route through the oldest district of the city, past the Shuttered Palace, that ends in the Field of the Songwrights, by the Silver Gates.

Wayfarer's Palace. There are, perhaps, forty inns and hostelries scattered throughout the vast confines of the White City. The Wayfarer's Palace is one of the most expensive. Located on the Old Market, rooms at the Wayfarer are nearly always full, as travelers from all over the Greatwood come to attend court. It also hosts a large number of mannish merchants and delegates to the court, making it second only to the Kingstaff for mannish customers.

Veiled Hill. This is a place of wolfsdens, carnal delights, and the Night Market, which is open every night. The unseemly and unpleasant portion of the elvish temperament is expressed here.

Kingstaff Inn. The more friendly of the city's inns, the massive Kingstaff, is located on the confluence of the Road of Rejoicing and the Road of the Old Kings. This huge building is serviced by a complex of structures without (stables, kitchen, dovecote, hawkery) and stands on a bluff overlooking the Cavamistiran Palace and the Mausoleum of Finlír the Sage. Rooms at the Kingstaff are finely appointed, but not prohibitively expensive.