“In the souls of the people the grapes of wrath are filling and growing heavy, growing heavy for the vintage.”
John Steinbeck, the Grapes of Wrath
THE DAY OF MIST
Almost everyone in the Kingdom of Arnesse can remember the cold Winter’s Day almost six cycles of the moon ago, when the Mists came. Roiling seemingly out of nowhere on the 15th day of the 2nd Moon Cycle in 763 A.S., a strange gloom swallowed the land in its dark, damp embrace. It began during the Witching Hour and persisted the entire night, and then throughout the entirety of the next day, before finally beginning to mysteriously retreat from whence it came.
When the strange fog had gone however, more than a few fell ill with a persistent wasting sickness that claimed the lives of young and old alike. Livestock perished, crops in the south failed, and, ominously, people, young and old alike, throughout the Kingdom are said to have vanished, swallowed entirely by the oppressive fog, never to be seen again.
In the wake of the Mist’s disappearance, the Kingdom has struggled to come to terms with what has happened. Even the most rational of individuals, however, consider this an ill omen. The King has called for an inquest into the origins of this seemingly supernatural phenomena, and both scholars and learned individuals alike have scrambled to find out more. Some think it an astronomical event that somehow pulled the very fog from the sea, while others say it may have simply been a strange storm. But no natural or scientific explanation has gone far enough to assuage the worry and terror felt by many. In the moon cycles since, a palpable sense of unease has gripped the Kingdom in the weeks following as Commoner and Noble alike came to the dreadful realization that they truly experienced something utterly unexplainable.
And then word came of the Annwyn. How exactly it was discovered remains unclear. The popular story is that a crew of sailors in Breakwater Bay came across a long line of fog that swallowed their ship whole. They returned some days later, cast out of the fog and speaking of a land shrouded in mists and mystery. They spoke of ancient ruins, terrible monsters, and fantastic treasures. A land lost to time itself. Thus, it was given the name Annwyn, the Otherworld. Further scouting revealed a section of the western Arnesse coastline was indeed encircled by a ring of deep, roiling fog. Several expeditions entered the wall, though none has yet to return. The curiosity associated with this discovery was soon replaced by fear for many, and any expeditionary efforts began to slow. Coincidentally, this also marked the time at which the fog began to be used as a means of execution and punishments for the Kingdoms’ undesirables. Known as the “Last Walk,” prisoners and others that were no longer welcome were taken to the borders of the Annwyn and sent to their Fates.
Then came the Mistwalkers. These individuals are said to have emerged from the misty border of the Annwyn and claimed to be able to navigate their way through to the other side, able to take others with them. At first, they were understandably mistrusted, though after several demonstrations it became clear that these Mistwalkers could in fact do as they claimed. There was only one catch, of course. Once one travels the mists, and through to the Annwyn, coming back again is nearly impossible. It has become common among those speaking of this new land to recite the phrase, “...once the Annwyn has you, only she can let you go.” Now that the journey into the Annwyn was not proven to be a death sentence it was once thought to be, the floodgates have opened to those wishing to make the voyage. Parties of nobility, joined by Cirque and Commonfolk alike have started to make their way to this new otherworld, each group more hopeful than the last.
To accommodate all these would-be settlers, a ramshackle village was set up on the borders of the Annwyn and aptly entitled, “Gateway”. In recent moon cycles, owing to extremely rapid growth and an uncanny combination of poor planning and administration, it has become a stinking, festering boil of raw sewage, open-air markets, and decrepit buildings. The town has also become a bit of a haven for criminals, grifters, and the unscrupulous merchant looking to price gouge would-be adventurers. Gateway is nominally administered by a coalition known as the Mistguard, nobles and knights from House Richter and House Bannon who have taken it on themselves to maintain civil order in the area in and around Gateway. The village is a waypoint and a final destination before the unknown, a place to resupply and seek a Mistwalker who can take you to the Annwyn. One can secure lodging in Gateway, but it is expensive, and the rooms are poor at best. A large tent-city has cropped up around the wooden palisade and most who arrive here end up sheltering there.
All parties who wish to enter the Annwyn by land go through Gateway first. Groups tend to gather every week or so, underneath the light of the moon and stars, and then head into the Annwyn with a guide shortly thereafter. Some are willing to brave the journey without a guide; most of them are never heard from again. The practice of the Last Walk has yet to cease and there are certainly no guides provided for that grim punishment. Many consider it a death sentence. Approach by sea to the Annwyn is said to be possible but treacherous at best. There are a handful of captains who are said to be able to navigate the way through the mist wall by ancient star charts, but far more tales are told of wrecked ships and sailors’ who have been dragged to the depths than of anyone actually making it through to find their ‘fortune and glory’.
One way or another, you have found yourself on the precipice of adventure, setting forth for a new land. Either from the mud-swollen streets of Gateway or aboard sailing ship bound to navigate the treacherous waters surrounding the Annwyn.
Journey to the Annwyn
The town of Gateway and the Annwyn are located in western Arnesse, on the coast of Breakwater Bay in the Vale of Shadows between the Worldspine Mountains to the South and the Richter lands of House Varga and the Deephold to the North. Players are free to leave from whichever destination they wish, however those that wish to journey to the Annwyn via the most efficient routes truly only have two options: overland, which is by far the slower of the two routes, or by sea. Sea travel is less expensive though far more dangerous, and is the method preferred by those with less than their fair share of coin. One might seek a wealthy patron to cover all or part of the cost, or a very enterprising individual may also agree to assist with some work aboard the ship to help offset the cost of the passage.
The journey by sea from most locations in western Arnesse takes weeks. Eastern destinations can take much longer as ships must sail south around Tarkath and then north along the coast. Weather is a constant threat as are pirates. The waters around Breakwater Bay are marginally patrolled by some Richter ships out of Ludavar, though are well known to be dangerous. Captains must navigate between Crow’s Nest and Ship’s Rest to avoid shoals. This natural funnel is known to be patrolled by pirates looking to take prizes.
The journey overland is long and arduous. Roads in Arnesse vary in quality. Some are smooth, level, stonework affairs while others are little more than rock-plagued mud channels that are ridden with deep ruts. Most travel is done in wagons or on foot. Owning a decent riding or war horse is generally for the wealthy and knights alone. It is easy to get hired onto a merchant caravan bound for King’s Crossing, Scrow, or Ember. Most caravans charge a modest fee to accompany them, but someone could serve as a guard or even work labor as a hired hand to help offset the cost. This would be a fantastic journey for almost anyone. Traveling like this is not common at all in Arnesse and a trip of any length is something that a person could tell stories about for years to come and would make them the envy of many in their homeland.
The journey overland is also not without dangers. While the roads are known to be somewhat safe, bandits and highwaymen tend to lurk along these thoroughfares in the hopes of catching someone brave, or dumb, enough to travel alone. Many caravans hire security, and the Cirque employs its own mercenary company, the Nagas, specifically for this reason. The weather is also often an issue. Headed into the Winter months, the caravans would be moving quickly to get out of the Sovereignlands, Dusklands, Everfrost, and Thornwood before the snows come. After the 11th moon cycle of the year, the roads in many of these areas are impassable. Luckily this does not extend to the Midlands or the Hearthlands, who have chilly, but moderate climates in the winter. The journey over land is sped up some by the fact that the last three to four hundred miles of the trip are covered on a barge down the river which runs through the Vale of Shadow, the Dread Run. Superstitious types say that the bogs and forests of the Vale of Shadow are haunted and teeming with the supernatural. Many of these are tales by superstitious peasants, but each year, some number travelers never complete their passage.
Town criers and gossips around the Kingdom have been talking about various happenings in the land of late.
● Unrest in the Kingdom has grown in the moon cycles since the appearance of the Annwyn. Uncertainty and fear over the nature of this mysterious event has brought many to question if this was not some ominous portent of something far more terrible. Interest in the Aurorym faith has grown, even in places that were normally resistant to such things. At first, the King of Arnesse, Giles Bannon II, a faithful man himself, was neutral on this matter, but in the last three or four moon cycles he has become positively outspoken about the Aurorym faith and that it’s apocalyptic prophecies may hold the key to the survival of the Kingdom. Increasingly, those who are anti-faith have found themselves shunned or even persecuted from positions of power throughout the Sovereignlands, the Hearthlands, and even parts of the Everfrost, Midlands, and Dusklands. In places where the faith is not popular, prayer groups or circles have begun to venerate the Dawn. There are also rumors of Apocalypse Cults that have begun to crop up, speaking that the coming of the Mist and the appearance of the Annwyn are signs that the End has come.
● An alliance of House Richter and Bannon, joined by allies in House Corveaux and even House Hale has formed around the appearance of the Annwyn. Called the Mistguard, this tenuous agreement among the Iron Lords and the House of Kings is said to be to protect the Annwyn and determine its true origins. The wise know that there is also the matter of who owns the Annwyn. Tensions have continued to rise in the moon cycles since the settlement of Gateway. It began with an argument over how House Bannon’s Burgomaster was running the ramshackle village and collecting taxes. This escalated into a skirmish in the town proper which almost led to a full-fledged conflict between the two houses. It was only the timely intervention of nobles on both sides that held things in check. An uneasy truce has been settled the matter for now but some feel it is only a matter of time before this conflict rears its ugly head again. House Corveaux has suggested they be allowed to administrate the town instead, being a third party, but, thus far, neither the Richters nor the Bannons have agreed to those terms.
● Guided by their religious leaders and House Blayne, the faithful have also been flocking to the town of Gateway to gain entrance to the Annwyn. Within the last moon cycle, a massive pilgrimage of Aurorym arrived in the village flying the banners of the New Dawn, a coalition of faithful from the Sovereignlands, Dusklands, Hearthlands, and the Everfrost. Many of those who joined the New Dawn went in as warriors for the faith, sworn to give their lives to defeat an unnamed, unseen evil that they swear rises even now within this newfoundland. Some of these faithful remained behind in Gateway, erecting a Rectrix, the Last Humble House. Most of the Aurons and Vellatora continued on, finding passage through the Mists and entering the Annwyn.
● Tensions have risen in recent cycles as the battlelines look to be drawn over matters of faith. The Sovereignlands is a hotbed of activity as the houses which have aligned with the Aurorym faith have begun to ready themselves for a fight. They claim it is to wage war against some supernatural foe that has yet to make itself known but their rivals have had to respond in kind, lest they get caught flat-footed should this turn into hostilities. These tensions have even begun to spill over into neighboring Midlands, with ancient alliances being tapped and new ones being formed. The border the Corveaux share with the Heartlands has become a proving ground for the faith as more and more proselytizers cross the border and find their way into local towns and spread the word of the New Dawn. Even now, knights are being rallied to the banner of Saint Cuthbert the Fearless in the lands of the Horse Lords. Many are suspecting that a conflict is brewing. The faithful claim it is against a rising evil but pragmatic and wise Lords and Ladies alike are seeing this as a long-coming final conflict between the faithless and the faithful. Many fear that the Butcher’s Bill will be coming due for the reckoning that was the Godslaying so many years ago.
● Tales of the mystical and supernatural have long pervaded the mythological zeitgeist of Arnesse. Many of these are said to harken back to the time of the Eldritch Age, when magic was present and creatures both terrifying and fantastic stalked the land. In the modern times, tales are still told and every once in a while, someone swears to have had an encounter with the unknown, but such stories are rarely ever verified true. However, since the Day of Mist, the Kingdom has been rife with tales of the supernatural and encounters with otherworldly forces. In particular, tales of ghosts and encounters with the risen dead seem to have become more commonplace. All of this could just be some kind of mass hysteria or a manifestation of fear, but it has had a real impact on the people, causing a slow, rising panic that’s sent authorities and scholars scrambling to verify if the stories are fact or fiction.
● The cold chill of winter is still upon the lands of the Annwyn, and the local peasantry are celebrating the Festival of Lights. Its origins are a bit of a mystery, but it is said to have roots in an ancient tradition of lighting candles to ward away the darkness and evil in the deepest hours of the cold nights. It is also said to be a time of renewal, a holiday where one can let go of their deepest regrets for the last year and start anew. This is often celebrated by writing one’s regrets for the year on a piece of parchment or crafting an effigy out of wood, straw, or sticks, then casting that into a fire, burying it in the earth, throwing it into a body of water. It is often a time when the people commit themselves to new tasks for the year lunar cycles, setting aside bad habits and grudges. Since the weather outside is often not good, games and indoor rituals will often take place inside taverns and homes around the land. Songs are sung and tales are told in the hope that the sound of merrymaking will drive away the evils of the night.