The Azken and The Powers
All myths speak of a great being who sat at the center of a sea made from formless dreams and unspoken prophecies. This being is known as The Azken by those who can give it a name, for he appears in the myths as several things, sometimes a great World Tree growing in the center of the universe, others as a sentient void.
The Azken danced, and upon his steps in the Four Directions where born his children, the Powers.
Born when The Azken danced upon the East, Larriune is the force of Life and Creation. Her voice filled Nahast with her element, water, and Nahast was a great ocean from which all forms of life sprang.
His direction is the North, his element earth. Azkenik is the force of Death and Endings as they become necessary for new things to begin, and thus his song brought land that put an end to the vastness of Larriune’s sea, and made distances finite.
The third to be born was Xarmagar, the force of Magic and Chance, her song breathing wind upon the finite land to grant it endless possibilities by carrying the seeds of life from the sea. She also brought with her the primary force of change and is rumored to have been favored amongst The Powers in the dance of The Azken.
The last direction The Azken touched was the South and from there Dengaraia sang the song of Time and Fate through pipes made of wood, the element that grows. It put much-needed limits to the power of Xarmagar and brought reason and purpose into all things.
The Turning of the Ages
The Powers noticed that The Azken had filled the world with beings when he left. These were the spirits, who were the mountains and the trees, the stars and the winds. The Powers were content on watching the spirits be, and let them enjoy Nahast to their leisure. But eons passed and the spirits were in the same place were they had been, and The Powers were concerned and decided to put the spirits to the test. Dengaraia gave them the Test of Purpose that would make the spirits work towards a goal or lose their right to rule Nahast.
They failed, and thus the First Age ended. The world was split asunder in realms of dreams and nightmares, with Nahast as the axis.
At the dawn of the Second Age, The Powers created a great creature. Out of the raw elements and the subtle essence of Dream, The Powers created dragons. Dragons became the guardians of the world and began organizing the spirits, setting rules and assigning tasks, and Nahast began to move. This was the Age that would mark Nahast's fate as the Lands of Strife, for the Celestial Bureaucracy that the dragons created made spirits aware of their station and their power, and the tug of war began as spirits bested one another, absorbing the defeated's power and slowly becoming gods. Larriune gave the dragons the Test of Restraint, which would have them give up portions of their power to create new and better things, or abandon their place as rulers or Nahast.
They failed, and thus the Second Age ended. Dragons faded from the world and gods took their place.
When the Wheel marked the beginning of the Third Age, the first gods had sprung from the conflicts between spirits. . These gods knew only the might of dragons as living things, and modeled the rulers of Nahast from them, birthing the reptilian people that still roam the face of the world. To echo the Celestial Hierarchy, the gods made the reptilians into castes. The reptilians made great advancements and created the first true civilization. They built kingdoms and worshipped the gods and, at their behest, made war with each other. The Powers did not tell the gods that their creations would also be put to the test. Xarmagar gave the reptilians the Test of Questioning, which would have them consider changing their societies to make them better, or lose their place as rulers or Nahast.
They failed, and thus the Third Age ended. The dreams of mortals flooded the spirit worlds and forged the abodes of the gods.
Watching from the shadows, the humble spirits of nature rose from the ruins the major gods had created and exalted the animals in their care, teaching them the secret of skinwalking, creating the beastfolk, who still wander Nahast in the present.The beastfolk made tribes and clans, and some of their numbers rose in power and rank, ascending to the state of spirits themselves. This thirst for power led some shamans to discover the dark arts of necromancy and demon worship. Azkenik gave them the Test of Temperance, which would have the beastfolk curb their own ambition and intolerance.
They failed, and thus the Fourth Age ended. Beast Lords roam the land, demons returned to the world after ages of exile.
The Powers stepped forth and pointed to their directions of the world, and from the elemental essence emerged the new rulers of Nahast: the mortal elemental races. The Fifth Age is the age of humans, elves, dwarves, halflings and the rest of the humanoids. It is an age of promise, and an age where the gods fight harder to attain followers, destroy their enemies' and carve their place in the Celestial Hierarchy. It is an age when The Powers opened the gates of the Dreamlands and unleashed the power of Magic so that the mortals could wield it to challenge the gods and their spirits.
Not even the remaining reptilians and the beastfolk know for sure how much time has passed, but dragons feel that the Time of Testing approaches, and they believe they know what the Test will be, as mere decades ago the half-bloods began to appear, children of two races but part of none. But what the dragons know, they will not tell, and it falls on the mortals to face the Time of Testing alone or cede their place as the kings and queens of Nahast to the race that will come after them.
The Demon War
There was a disruption in the flow of the Wheel during the first turns of the Fifth Age: the Demon War. Some spirits tell it was a vanquished god driven mad by the loss of his worshippers who teared open the fabric of the world and invited Those Beyond to devour all. Others whisper of a mortal drunk on newly-acquired magical power who opened the door. The fact is that a horde of demons and other foul fends invaded the world. Foremost in the fight were the deities who would become the pantheon of Solerne: Zuze'en and her followers.
Empowered by the rallied force of deities and mortal worshippers, Zuze'en struck first and struck fast, securing the gates to the Demon Realms while the mortal armies drove the demons back, then sealing it shut.
For all its simplicity and shortness, the Demon War had a profound effect on the land: it pushed the gods to group together in pantheons and planted the seeds for the mortal kingdoms but, most worryingly, it littered the landscape with demonspawn, the descendants of poor creatures who became inhabited by demons escaping the wrath of Nahast's gods.
The Powers created Nahast as a single world, but the endless turning of the Wheels of Ages brought change and movement, and the world has split.
Surrounding the world of mortals are the Dreamlands, often called the Spirit World. The dreams of men, beasts, mountains and elements come alive in this world, but sometimes it is the dreams beget their physical expression. The relationship between the physical world and the Dreamlands goes both ways, one feeding the other. The Dreamlands are the place where magic comes from, whether its origin is the spirits, the gods, knowledge or sheer resonance.
The Dreamlands are many things to many people, but they are a layer of reality that shelters Nahast from the war that never ceases in the heavens. The gods build their mansions from the matter of Dream, and set them far from the reach of mortal matters. Their realms are like branches in an eternal tree, and mortals who dream themselves into a journey can sometimes visit them. Each of these branches is a world upon itself, tailored by the resident deity to suit his or her divine needs.
But as balance is one of the driving principles of Nahast, the Dreamlands have a mirror beneath the world of mortals. Where the Dreamlands buzz alive with energy and host the living dreams of Nahast's peoples, the Region of the Dead are the barren wasteland where dreams, as well as everything else, die. But death is a necessary thing, the opposite force that keeps the Wheel of Ages turning, and the Region of the Dead is not a place of evil, but of rest and judgement, sometimes even punishment.
While living spirits inhabit the Dreamlands, ghosts are the exclusive denizen of the Region of the Dead. Most of the ghosts are enduring purification, cleansing their souls before they can rejoin the Wheel; others are trapped, unable to find their way and become insane. Powerful souls leave echoes behind, shades of their being that haunt the Region of the Dead, and magic can sometimes bring them back. These shades are not the true souls of their previous owners, but can become powerful beings on their own.
Demons and the Nine Hells
Life and death are part of the eternal cycle of being, and the Dreamlands and the Region of the Dead drive the Wheel of Ages with equal impulse. However, when the world was rent and split by the end of the First Age, one more force was born that would threaten Nahast forever: demons.
Demons used to be spirits, dreams of the world that turned into nightmares when the end of an Age cut off their ties to the world. The wound healed quickly by the very nature of the world, but it trapped the hapless exiles in a world that did not move, where nothing died, but nothing was born. The spirits were utterly corrupted, driven insane and twisted beyond recognition.
They built the Nine Hells in a mad attempt to give their new home anything resembling uniqueness, but their imagination was broken and they could never build more than nine.
They still remember the world that cast them out, and they hate it more than anything. Their only ambition after eons of exile is to return and halt the Wheel of Ages forever, granting it the dubious gift of their immortal and ageless immutability.
The war in the heavens has been waged since the spirits realized they could devour each other's power to increase their own. With the coming of true gods, this sate of warfare intensified. Being a god in Nahast means being always on the lookout for the next challenger to one's power. Through the turning of the Wheel of Ages, many deities have come and gone. They enjoyed a peak during the Third Age, but minor spirits took their place in the worship of mortals during the Fourth, an Age the gods spent nursing the wounds the end of reptilian civilization and their mutual attacks dealt to them.
In the Fifth Age, the gods came up with a series of rules of conduct to avoid destroying each other, as their eternal fighting caused demons to slip through the walls of their prison, once when the spirits almost kill the dragons who guarded the world's integrity, bringing an end to the Second Age; the other was when they channeled too much power into the reptilian priests that waged proxy wars in their name, and almost shatter the world before the Third Age's end saved it, and lastly when they broke the land in a mad attempt to stop the demon worshippers of the Fourth Age.
But despite the trappings of civility, the war between the gods is as vicious as ever, and a god's worshippers are all that stands between their divinity and their enemies.
The first pantheon was formed by the end of the Demon War, when the gods of the future empires of Solerne and Zergune basked in their victory against the demons and realized this victory came only because they fought together. By different means they chose a leader, and bound their power to each other's and pledged it to the pantheon as a whole. With this they protected themselves from their immediate neighbors, and presented an unassailable front against others.
Nahast has been the home of many different peoples throughout the ages. While the First Age belonged to the spirits and the Second to the dragons, from the Third Age forward, mortal and sentient races made Nahast their home, risen from humble beginnings by the gods, by the learning on the spirits and finally, in the Fifth Age, by The Powers themselves.
Humans: The Jandeki, Children of Wind and Magic, are scattered and chaotic as their patron is, with little to bind them together as a race. They raise the strongest magicians in the land and their technology and sciences advances in leaps and bounds ahead of the other races.
Elves: The Prahja, Children of Water and Life, divided in two early in their history: the forest-striding Maehvindra and the seafaring Viryuni. While both have diametrically opposed attitudes towards others, they are together in their worship of the force of Life itself, and so the strongest witches and rangers are usually elves.
Dwarves: The Zhong, Children of Earth and Death, live strict disciplined lives in the bossom of their patron element. Great craftsmen and alchemists, their clans have been at war for centuries without anyone else even noticing.
Halflings: The Whanau, Children of Wood and Fate, are insular and seldom seen outside their tribal lands deep in the southern seas. While they can be as savage as the Maehvindran elves, they are also deeply spiritual and are actually the only race that understands the passage of the Five Ages, and the only ones aware of the coming Time of Testing.
The Beastfolk: These half-animals were once the ruling race of the world during the Fourth Age, but their dominance shattered along with their southern lands when the gods took a star and hurtled it upon the land to stop the beastfolk from making a mistake that would destroy the world. Having forgotten their former civilization, the beastfolk tribes have learned to coexist with the people of the Fifth Age.
The Reptilians: Once the rulers of the Third Age, the reptilian castes created the first true civilization of Nahast, but devolved into barbaric brutes when they failed their Time of Testing. Still, thanks to the secret awakening of a few Celestial Dragons, the reptilians are seeing a rebirth of their nations, slowly recovering the ancestral memories of their magic, martial arts and technology.
Solerne is a nominally egalitarian society, where Emperor and Empress hold equal authority over different aspects of government, although local customs will change the general dictates of Imperial Law. The lands are ruled by Noble Houses that swear fealty to the Imperial throne but are more or less autonomous, and often conflict with each other.
The City of Beldatz: Beldatz is actually the place where the Empire was born, as its patron goddess Suze'en accepted leadership of the Solernian pantheon against the Demon Princes in this place. However, Beldatz has not been the capital for a couple of centuries, and is reduced to one of the most important trade ports in the northern reaches of the Empire.
Built on the shores of the Bay of Dawn, Beldatz is a focal point of the Empire's supernatural balance, and so, several dark forces have converged to take advantage of the powerful energies within and around its lands.
The Empire of Zergune: A nation that also suffered the ravages of the Demon Wars but emerged victorious through slightly different means. A militaristic nation whose gods demand constant sacrifice to empower them, for the ravages of the Demon War has made sufival difficult, and both people and gods need all the energy they can get to make the land alive again.
Atemac Valley: A small nation of rugged survivalists, etching out a life squeezed between the empire of Solerne and the Maehvindra woodlands. Strongly spiritual, they are loyal allies and bitter enemies.
The Iron Baronies: Across a demon-tainted blight from Solerne, the Iron Baronies are a confederation of feudal holdings of various sizes. Forsaking the aid of gods and their wars, the Ironites turned to sorcery and science, and view all their neightbors as potential threats.
The Amiyalli Nation: An ethnic group that once was the dominant force in the land, but slowly dwindled until the Demon Wars reduced it to a sad shadow of their former glory. The Amiyalli people survive as a Noble House in Solerne, with their own territory and customs different from the rest of the Empire, and as a subjugated group in Zergune.
Maehvindra: The woodlands of the savage and xenophobic wood elves, who live in a complex clan structure and trade with their neighbors only grudgingly.
Kang Lo: The most accessible of the dwarven underground kingdoms, they trade copiously with human lands and have their own districts in many human cities.
Tesirea: A small nation that lost most of its arable lands, along with its former goddess of fertility, to the flight of the Demon armies; now they export their first and foremost resource: people. Under their remaining god of war, Tesirea became a nation of mercenaries and, for some reason, the tlacorax reptilian warrior caste now calls it home, living with their human neighbours in warm camaraderie.
The Shattered Islands: The former capital of the beastfolk nations before the end of the Fourth Age broke it. It still has the largest population of beastfolk, but they have no political unity.
Rapawani Islands: Home of the Whanau halflings, it rests by several marine currents so, even if they are far in the Southern seas, the halflings have a ready access to the rest of the world, for they are master navigators, even if not as good as the Viryuni elves.
Viryaprati Archipelago: The ancestral home of the Viryuni elves is a collection of small islands far to the East, joined together by bridges of living trees and sargasso beds.