Lanterns in the Mist
Ustalav, Immortal Principality of
The Immortal Principality of Ustalav lies on the Nocturnal Sea, a grim bastion of civilization amid the misty sea, where a harsh landscape and a history rich in tragedies inspire a wary population with skepticism, religious devotion, and superstition. A conglomeration of loosely affiliated counties, each run by feuding nobles vying for power and influence, Ustalav is a pitiful shell of its former glory, before it was subjugated to centuries of slavery at the hands of the Whispering Tyrant’s undead armies. While the nation’s upper classes struggle to compete with the very kingdoms that abandoned them to fend for themselves after the Whispering Tyrant’s defeat, the average Ustalavic citizen has it much worse.
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Hundreds of years of subjugation and the residual horrors that plague the countryside have left the people of Ustalav suspicious of magic, religion, foreigners, and their fellow citizens. Beyond their eccentric and insular qualities, Ustalavs often have a dour worldview. They resign themselves to lives of suffering, seeing nothing in their people’s history to suggest there is any hope for a better life. Despite the physical and psychological strains upon its populace, Ustalav nevertheless fosters extremely hardy and tenacious stock: men and women who firmly believe that no matter how bad it gets, history shows it could always be worse.
Although Ustalav has little to offer its rural peasants, inhabitants of its many metropolitan cities fare somewhat better, and the centers of learning and culture they provide draw trade and travelers from throughout the Eastern domains. The capital, Caliphas, stands on the banks of the Nocturnal Sea, and its fog-shrouded streets host some of the nation’s most esteemed centers of trade and academia. In the north, the city of Karcau boasts a thriving culture of music, theater, and other fine arts, and its opulent architecture rivals the excess of even the most exotic Cordinian palace. Meanwhile, Ustalav’s northwestern counties have broken from aristocratic rule and formed their own local, democratic government without nobles, calling themselves the Palatinates and providing a glimmer of hope for the downtrodden people of provincial Ustalav.
Since the ancient days when it was first unified, Ustalav has been ruled by a single king. Unfortunately, the line of kings was broken during the Whispering Tyrant’s reign, and the current rulers are but a shadow of their predecessors. Leadership of the land has become particularly contentious since the death of the so called ‘Eunuch Prince’ Valislav Ordranti, who left behind no official heir when he died in 721. His brother, Prince Aduard Ordranti III, stepped into the mantle of monarch, a role for which he was ill-suited. The whole affair was complicated even further when the Eunuch Prince’s long-time companion, Millaera Caliphvaso, gave birth to a bastard child she claimed was the son of the Eunuch Prince. The claim caused a huge scandal and Millaera disappeared under mysterious circumstances shortly after making these claims. Her child, Reneis Ordranti, was adopted and raised by the child’s devious and conniving aunt, the Countess Carmilla Caliphvaso. Rumour has it that the Countess has her eyes firmly set upon the throne as soon as Reneis reaches manhood. Other darker rumors whisper that she may have her incestuous eyes set on becoming queen, willing to marry her own nephew to get it.
Ustalav’s position is precarious, as it is located next to two hostile lands: the caliban-inhabited Hold of Belzen to the west and the misty barbarian to the north. All other countries must be reached by traveling through the dangerous and fog shrouded Nocturnal Sea. However trade ships commonly travel between Liffe and Nova Vaasa. Considering the nature of its neighbors, it is no wonder that many of Ustalav’s inhabitants are insular and distrusting of foreigners.
The geography of Ustalav is hugely varied with each of the thirteen counties having their own unique geography. Ustalav lies in the Nocturnal Sea. There is an established mistway from Lamordia to Northern Vieland called the Conduit of Enlightenment. However, if there is one geographic feature that dominates the entire country, it is the Hungry Mountains that encapsulate an entire county in their stony reaches.
Ustalav now finds itself a strongly divided country, struggling to reclaim a semblance of its former greatness and burdened with a history of darkness. In recent history, the country has had to deal with some massively disruptive events:
- 715: The country was fractured as three north-western counties overthrew their hereditary governments becoming the Palatinates
- 721: Prince Valislav Ordranti moved the Ustalavic capital from Ardis to Caliphas and shortly died thereafter
- 721: The current Prince of Ustalav, Prince Aduard Ordranti III, ascended to the throne under the shadow of a rival claim from Reneis Ordranti who was born the same year
- 734 – 740: a civil war, known as the War Without Rivals, rages in the east leading to the formation of the wasteland called the Furrows
Under the political upheaval and machinations of its rulers, lie deeper threats to modern Ustalav too. The legacy of the Whispering Tyrant is a poisoned, cursed and haunted land; many of his followers remain at large, patiently hiding awaiting his return. Older threats also stir, including spirits of the Kellids that the Ustalavs destroyed over generations; and legendary beasts long forgotten. The threats from beyond its borders have not gone away either. All this leads to the modern Ustalav being of a fearful and suspicious character. Some seek meaning in the dark spirit of the nation and manage to turn to the arts or to faith and learning; while others turn to the shadows to be consumed by what they find there.
A True and Ancient History Of Ustalav
It can be said that the earliest inhabitants that we know of were the ancient Kellids. They were a superstitious lot who worshiped things far older than our present pantheon. For untold years, they lay claim to these lands, still evidenced by their ancient runes and standing stones. All things change though, and the Kellid tribes’ dominion over the area was no different.
Over 7 millenia ago, the legendary hero Soivida Ustav drove the Kellid tribes from the region. Though possessed of strange powers bestowed by their inhuman deities, the Kellids stood no chance against the forged steel and formulated spell-power of Ustav’s company. Victorious, he claimed and divided the country amongst his allies and lieutenants, who passed their holdings onto their descendents in turn. This created the foundations of the country of Ustalav, a loosely knit union of supporters who eventually forgot the reason for their purpose of unity. 500 years of tentative peace passed, but as more Varisians became integrated amongst the people of the country, the more disputes over familial rights came into play. Some of these conflicts, particularly ones centering around land holdings, escalated into of open conflicts. Rather than face civil war, the then-appointed King Kaldemov divided the country into sixteen regions, each controlled by the most influential families. This created a lasting peace, one that would endure for nearly 3,000 years. Again, all thing change, and the glory days of Ustalav were no different.
Tar Baphon, known today as The Whispering Tyrant, was once a mortal wizard, born some 6,000 years ago. It is said that in life he was born of greatness, possessed of an incredibly gifted mind that also bore the cruelty of detachment. It is perhaps this cold, calculating mindset that led him to the arcane arts and more specifically, Necromancy. Dozens of conflicting tales are remembered about his rise to power, that he murdered his professors at his arcane academy and then brought back them back as undead so they might continue to teach him; that he turned an entire city into a town of zombies overnight, that his undead could not be harmed by all but the most powerful clerics, that he could alter reality on a whim. His power began to rise, for with each horror he committed, his dead foes would rise up to join his ranks. Eventually, he began to amass a small army that in turn began to swell into a legion. As the numbers grew, so did his necromantic prowess, for each victory afforded him new test material. Furthermore, as word of his atrocities traveled, dark souls sought him out to learn from him and in turn teach him new secrets. However, as his power and might grew, so did his hubris. In an act of supreme arrogance, Tar Baphon attempted to utilize his great magic to lure the god of Humanity down to fight him, whether to simply destroy him or to supplant him is not known. The histories speak of a great battle fought on The Isle of Terror, many leagues south of here, a battle where the combined might of the-then-great nation of Taldor and a manifestation of Aroden himself came forth to battle Tar Baphon. Aroden is recorded to have mortally wounded him, but it is believed that the wizard king somehow used his necromancy to survive and to retreat to the depths of The Isle of Terror. Some say, particularly The Whispering Way, that Tar Baphon succeeded in the end, and it simply took him a few millenia to accomplish his goal. Nonetheless, all trace of Tar Baphon vanished for nearly 2,000 years. When he returned, he had at some point made the transition between life and death, reappearing as the most powerful Lich Golarion has ever known. Again, all things change, and Tar Baphon was no different.
In the year 3203, Tar Baphon reappeared as the leader of the orcs in The Hold of Belkzen. Having somehow united all of the constantly warring orc tribes into one force, Tar Baphon, whose name soon became known as The Whispering Tyrant, began to raise a force that no country was prepared to withstand. Some say that after his defeat and during his long absence, it was The Whispering Way that taught him the deepest secrets of necromancy and how to pass between the threshold of life and death. Whatever the case, his power was greater than any spellcaster the world has seen, as he summoned forth legions of ancient dead to join with the already swelling orc horde. Leading his armies were the most powerful undead known to exist, the Nightshades. These creatures of unliving darkness exist only to see the world consumed of life, and few could stand before the apocalyptic onslaught that these terrors wrought. Ustalav was the first country to face The Whispering Tyrant’s wrath, as he began his assault with the siege of the Grodlych, a n Ustalavic county now part of the nation of Lastwall. He then spread eastward towards the capital, quickly taking the land of Virlych from its former owner, a count whose name is stricken from all records. It is believed that the nameless count sold the Whispering Tyrant the lives of his people and his city in exchange for wealth and freedom. Whatever the case, Adorak became The Tyrant’s new capital and the staging point for the rest of his conquest. From there, dozens of great heroes perished as they tried to wrest the Lich’s control of the land from him. This culiminated with the loss of the heir to the throne, Prince Ardurras Virholt II, as he rode forth to confront the Lich Lord with his undead-destroying blade, Corpselight, only to be felled by the Lich’s powerful magic and reanimated as an undead blasphemy. The entire nation, at the backing of the church of Pharasma, led a crusade to destroy the Lich King. This crusade, comprised of holy warriors and crusaders, were lead by Pharasma’s High Arch-Bishop at-the-time, Prince Adamondais Virholt, who wielded the holy artifact Raven’s Head.Even with this divine relic and their strength of purpose, the crusade was slaughtered to the man when they attempted to march upon Gallowspire, the Tyrant’s seat of power. Further betrayal occurred within the very heartland of Ustalav itself, when the powerful wizard known as Socorro, a well respected scholar and leader in the town of Carrion Hill, lead an uprising that butchered thousands of citizens in the name of the Tyrant. Beset from within and from without, the fractured counties of Ustalav crumbled to the assaults of the monstrous hordes. By 3206, The Whispering Tyrant had secured all of Ustalav. A final stand was made at The Battle of Dawnmarsh by the last King of Ustalav, King Ardruras Virholt, a massacre where he and his company were slain to the last . The fallen king, reanimated as the grim jongleur called the Shrieking Sovreign, preceded the Tyrant’s legions into the capital city of Ardis where he crushed all hope by hanging himself from the Palace Tower. With the destruction of the noble line, the annihilation of the armies, and the eradication of the church from the land, The Whispering Tyrant made Ustalav his seat of power, spreading from there like a cancer across Golarion. For 6 centuries he ruled the land in fear, uncontested. However, all things change, and even the mightiest wizards can fall when they have enough enemies.
Two elements contested the Tyrant’s rule from within the country’s borders, two supernatural elements that had long resided within the nation, Ustalav’s vampires and werewolves. The nation’s vampires, having long established themselves within its cities, found themselves at odds with the purposes of The Whispering Way and its most powerful member, for a world devoid of life was a world devoid of blood. This split the vampires into two factions, those that supported The Tyrant and those that did not. Powerful enough to not be beneath the Lich’s notice, a purge of the vampires not loyal to The Tyrant was lead by the vampire lord, Malyas. This further schismed the vampires into warring factions, and a number of them escaped to other countries where they spent centuries rousing forces against the Lich King. How much of the vampires’ influence might be responsible for the campaign launched against him centuries later is unknown, but the absence of vampires amongst his forces during the final years of his rule suggests that the vampires eventually withdrew their support from the Tyrant’s forces. All things change, and loyalty from something centuries or millenia old is always a questionable gamble.
The nation’s Werewolves are believed to be the descendents of Kellid tribes who were never fully driven from the region, people who hid amongst the unassailable Shudderwood and over the years integrated themselves and their customs amongst the Ustalav populace. Some of these customs and religions are very old and blur the line between man and beast. For those of their ancient line, the curse of Lycanthropy is seen as a hereditary blessing, one passed on by the blood of their ancestors. Indeed, what few accounts of the werewolves of the Shudderwood exist depict re-enactment of old Kellid rituals and gatherings around their old standing stones. Despite their old bloodlines, a number of them had relatives and friends who were citizens of the country, if not lords. When the Tyrant invaded Ustalav and killed the two sons of King Ardurras Virholt, his bastard Prince Andriadus Virholt was selected to be the next heir of the crown. Rather than accepting the crown’s responsibility of leading what little forces were left on a suicide mission against The Tyrant, the Bastard Prince retreated to the Shudderwood, where he went about a campaign of rousing the forests’s Lycanthropes against The Tyrant, recruiting the lycanthropic Sczarni in a shadow war against the Lich. Even years after the Lich’s complete control of Ustalav, the Shudderwood can never truly be considered to be within his grasp. Even to this day, few tread into the deeper parts of the forest for fear of what ancient things lay undisturbed. As for the Prince, it is said this his blood mingled with that of the ancient shapeshifters, and that even now, some Lycanthropes can trace their blood back to the first king of the realm. The werewolves were thus the staunchest enemies of the Whispering Tyrant and his forces until something changed, the completion of The Shining Crusade.
At last, after years of horror piled upon atrocities, the people of Avistan began to resist. Spurred on by righteous indignation at the blasphemies within Tar Baphon’s kingdom, the nation of Taldor began what is known as The Shining Crusade. Besides Taldor, the crusade was comprised of dwarves from the kingdom of Kraggodan and the Knights of Ozem, a dedicated order of Iomedaen paladins, clerics, and other holy warriors. For 26 years the crusade fought a long and bloody path to the heart of Ustalav, where lead by Taldan General Arnisant, they emerged at the gates of Adorak, the Lich’s capital city. Many legendary battles were fought in the campaign to reclaim the land from darkness, and in the end, the crusaders succeeded. There before the Lich’s stronghold of Gallowspire, General Arnisant sacrificed his very life to finally defeat the Lich, destroying The Tyrant and himself in a final, epic battle. Upon his destruction the stars changed and mists grew around all of the boundaries of Ustalav. In time the mists would open to the south revealing a salt sea where a fresh water lake had once been. Yet despite his destruction, Tar Baphon’s spirit remained intact. Given enough time, the Lich would rebuild his body and begin his conquest of terror anew. Rather than face their foe again with a less certain outcome, the remaining crusaders and holy warriors utilized their most powerful magics to create a prison for Tar Baphon, an oubliette to hold their enemy for all time. Even to this day, almost 4,000 years later, the prison still supposedly contains Tar Baphon within it, left to plot his revenge against the world of the living…