Land of the False Star
Before the Fall
The Duchy of Forband reigned for centuries. From the great walled capital city of Forbandheim, it ruled over the whole of the valley, but its influence was felt far beyond. It was a center of art, learning and trade. The wizard college of Tarnengil and the Great Library of Forbandheim held knowledge from throughout the known world. Great temples lined the streets of the White District. The trade center of Ravental grew without restraint.
Endric the Mad
In the Imperial Year 603, the wizard and scholar Endric was named the Master of Libraries and High Advisor to Duke Lethan of Forband. Endric was ambitious, talented and unrestrained by the caution of his predecessors. He dabbled in dark magics, and rumors roared after he came to power of dark liaisons in deep forgotten places within the city.
Hideous things were seen in the night. Political foes of the wizard disappeared never to be seen again. The Priests of the White Temple called for an inquisition against demonic cults and the influence of chaos. Riots broke out as young women were found gruesomely murdered.
The name Endric was on all their lips. His dark allegiances had risen from mere rumor to accepted truth.
The False Star
On a cold day in the autumn of the Imperial Year 614, a mob gathered before the Great Library, torches lit, led by Priests of the White Temple. The doors were held shut by eldritch magicks. Endric and his loyal circle were trapped inside. As the mob battered down the doors, the City Guard joined them.
The battle within was bloody. Monstrosities fought within, killing many. Parts of the library were set to the torch, destroying irreplaceable texts. Endric’s loyal cultists employed horrible magic against their foes, but were cut down in the end. Only Endric himself was spared. Bound and gagged, he was taken from the Library and cast into the dungeons beneath the ducal palace, to be brought before the Duke’s judgment. On that first day, the bright red star appeared in the sky.
On the third day, it had grown to the size of the moon, flaming in the sky. The wizards of Tarnengil had known of comets as before but none this large, and many spoke of it as an ill omen. In whispers, it was called ’Endric’s Servant’ by some. But for many, it was ‘the Red Star’.
On the fourth day, as the Duke called for Endric to be brought before him, to answer for his crimes and also to speak on the ever-growing star, the False Star came to Earth. It smashed into Forbandheim, cutting a massive gouge in the Earth. Thousands upon thousands died. Parts of the city were set aflame with dark red fire that would never be put out. Others died of noxious fumes in the streets.
The lucky ones died by the Star. What stories there are say the rest were… changed by it. Whatever energy or force existed within the hideous meteor, it twisted the bodies and souls of those it touched within the city. The False Star brought an unspeakable corruption with it.
The Beacon of Darkness
A darkness stretched across the valley. The dead would not sit still in their graves. Horrible monstrosities and corrupted men spilled forth from the ruins of the capital, and other sinister forces were drawn to the energies of the False Star like moths to a flame. It was a beacon, calling the hideousness of the world to it.
In the coming century, the proud land was reduced to a place of fear and uncertainty. Many of the Forbandites gathered in primitive freeholds to keep the night at bay. Most nobles and knights who rode out to confront those evils which harassed the land never came back at all. Some held on, but their numbers grew fewer as the years grew longer. Those lords who were spared the worst were surrounded by rumors, of foul deals made with the forces of darkness.
Unholy necromancers, worshipers of dark gods and barbarian tribes dedicated to the forces of chaos flowed into the undefended realms of Forband. Towns and cities were destroyed as much by these ambitious evil men as by the monsters issuing forth from the False Star. The evil energy of it fed them, made them stronger than they ever should have been.
The Black Duke
From the pit of Forbandheim, rumors of a leader holding court emerged. A figure robed in darkness, it gathered the misshapen creatures of the ruined city to it and bent the barbarians to its will. It had no name other than ‘The Black Duke’ and while some claimed it was the corrupted spirit of Duke Lethan, changed and remade by the False Star, others denied that the once-beloved leader could be turned in that way.
Still, the Black Duke’s banner, the plummeting red star upon a dark field, waved from towers and before bands of barbarians and undead. Other twisted figures bearing the trappings of nobility were reported, some bearing heraldry similar to lords who went to fight the darkness and never came back. Was it corruption, or was it mockery? None could tell.
Those great bands that overwhelmed the defenses of towns were blamed upon the Black Duke, led by sinister armored figures. As the rumors went, the False Star had chosen a new ruler for the Valley, and he would rule over a kingdom of death and suffering.
The Horde and the Crusade
The terror reigned for years. And then the army marched out of the crater. It was a vast bleak force, made up of monstrosities, barbarous humans and undead, attended to by cultists and necromancers. The Black Duke’s banner waved high above that savage mass.
Already at a breaking point, the cities of Roden and Falmon were overwhelmed. The massacre was hideous, and what few survivors there were told stories of mass sacrifices and resurrections, mutilations and corruptions of the flesh, of people screaming as they entered black sarcophagi prepared by the cultists and something changed coming out of them. The horde’s ranks grew larger with the fruits of its atrocities.
Refugees fled into the gates of Ravental, the vast trade city that had become darker and more perplexing as the False Star continued its influence. Strange political machinations were at work within the City of Ravens, and the seven councilmen of Ravental called themselves into secret talks within the city’s citadel. As the horde approached, the Council of Ravental emerged from their discussions, all seven of them wearing strange and beautiful masks, heavily enchanted to block any scrying upon their user. They declared themselves lords of the city, the new Masked Lords of Ravental, and by their hand, Ravental would be spared.
Panic only rose. Sharing none of these new ‘masked lords’ confidence, the Ravental Watch manned the towers and battlements of the city. And the horde crossed the river to the west of the city, and never came within an arrow’s shot of its walls.
The Siege of Aukstein
What remnants of the Ducal Guard, and the noble houses they protected which had survived the coming of the Star, had fled to the fortress city of Aukstein. But now, the horde split in two, one marched south while the other drove toward Aukstein. The city’s lord dispatched riders to Endstandt, to both warn the foreign ‘last free city’ of the peril marching in their direction, and to call for help.
And then darkness laid siege of Aukstein. Dark cults emerged within the city to try and storm the gates from within, only to be slaughtered by the Vigilants of Aukstein, the reformed remnants of the Ducal Guard. Outside, monsters and undead attacked the walls.
The Crusade Comes
Word spread quickly of the dark army in the Valley of Forband. Priests of bright gods, rulers of nearby nations and others sent out word – the army of the Black Duke only grows stronger, and it must be stopped. A crusade gathered in Endstandt, determined to march out and break the horde. With the blowing of horns and the blessings of priests, the crusaders stepped into the Land of the False Star.
The two armies finally met decisively in the hills of Helenvost. It was worthy of song, but it was a victory earned at a great price. It was a great slaughter, and only by the bravest leaders of them, Sir Julianos, storming the hillside where the necromancer cults set to raise their own men against the forces of light, was the battle turned to the favor of the crusaders.
Julianos himself was struck down by the Black Duke himself. The Duke struck Julianos through the heart with a unnatural blade, and all witnessed as suddenly Julianos was wreathed in a pillar of white flame that reached into the sky. Then, with an explosion of energy, the Black Duke screamed a primordial curse and then was not there. Strokes of white lightning cast forth, striking down the undead about them.
The dark army broke without their leader, with such an impressive show of the forces of order and light. Some were hunted down but many escaped into the wilderness. The besieging forces at Aukstein broke with their leader missing, and a troubled peace settled across the land. The crusaders may have won, but their forces were battered and their casualties immense. Calls to march upon the crater of the False Star and face the evil there were dismissed by the surviving commanders.
The Troubled Peace
The forces of darkness were scattered, but the crusaders retreated to Endstandt. Aukstein thought of war upon their neighbor Ravental for their obvious treason against them, but Ravental was defended by high walls and the Vigilants did not have the strength.
The Black Duke was defeated, if not dead, but the False Star still glows, and the night is still full of terrors. It has been fifty years since the Battle of Helenvost, and the land remains troubled.
The Order of Julianos
Those crusaders who had witnessed the miracle of Julianos’ slaying of the Black Duke and wished to continue his divine mission swore an oath in the great temple of Endstandt, to hold to his memory and keep the darkness at bay. They swore to retake the land and hold it in his name. So, the Order of Julianos was born.
Their victories were slow to come. Invading the valley was easy, but holding it, making it safe, has proven more difficult. The Order maintains castles and claims lands in the southern valley, patrolling the roads and protecting the one stable town outside of the freeholds, Waldgast. They seek to further spread their influence, but the corruption of the False Star still spreads and creates new horrors for them to face. Some of the order even say that what they are able to hold is enough, and without another great crusade, the valley can never truly be redeemed.
Dark Cults and Necromancers
The Black Duke appears to be the center by which the foul followers of dark magic orbited about, and with his death, they have splintered, groups and individuals carving out their own slices of the lawless valley. Individual necromancer, dark wizards and barbarian warlords have emerged to terrorized castles, towns and freeholds.
The greatest of these is the black fortress of Hod Azrak, that grow overlooking the ruins of Falmon. The dead stirred in that city with its rising, turning it into a necropolis. Little is known of what goes on inside the curiously organic walls of the necromancer fortress, though dark robed figures emerge and leave, some heading north to the barbarian lands, others going within the valley. Some are rumored to venture to Ravental for some sinister business. The Lord of Hod Azrak does not make itself known to outsiders.