A Short Introduction to the Aether
We came from another world. that much, all legends agree on. some say it was a paradise, some say it was corrupted, but all know that it was much larger than even all the new worlds combined, and that it is now gone. Scholars called this world the Material Plane.
No one knows exactly what the catastrophe was that shattered that world into splinters, but the mortal races had to flee it on the only way that was still open to them, to another dimension, the Aether.
Before the Material was shattered, the Aether was largely uninhabited, and even now, few can live there without the aid of magic. the Aether is a world of mists and protoplasm, of half-formed ideas and images, where there is almost no solid matter of any kind.
It is only in the demiplanes that civilization is possible, small bubbles of stable reality in an ocean of raw potential. Demiplanes were fashioned by the strongest of mortal mages as fortresses against the incursion of the Far Realm, and as places where life could continue when the world was gone.
A demiplane, essentially, is a dimension separate from the Aether, fashioned in whatever way the original architect, an arcane caster of immense power imagined. Most are spherical and one or two dozen miles across on the inside, but smaller when seen from the Aether, spheres of may be half a mile in diameter, that shimmer like mother of pearl and bubbles of soap.
For nearly a thousand years, these worlds where closed off to the mists outside, and only few brave and enterprising individuals dared to leave them on often pointless expeditions, for resources are scarce in the Aether and the demiplanes care fully closed to outsiders. A few worlds still kept tenuous contact, but these are rare exceptions.
Then, on the world of Caligo, several inventions were made in rapid succession that should change life in the Aether forever. the aethersail which allows the construction of large ships that can traverse the Aether propelled by its intangible winds, the navigation chamber, which enables the plotting of exact courses and the precise determination of one ' s position, and the planar penetrator, which can open a formerly closed demiplane from the outside and allow entrance.
This was the birth year of the Guild of Shipwrights and the Core worlds. since then, a Network of trade has sprung up between several worlds and a new society was born, built on trade and exploration. the Shipwright's Guild has become, by far, the most powerful and the richest organisation in the known Aether, maintaining an absolute monopoly on these key technologies.
Still, this new civilisation is still young, vigorous and growing. Tales of strange new worlds come to the Core worlds every day, and the ships of brave explorers carry riches beyond measure.
2. Major Organisations of the Aether
The Shipwright's Guild
“Through the Guild, the light of civilisation is spread into the darkest corners of the Aether. I won't lie to you. Of course the Guild looks for profit. Everyone looks for profit, in one way or another. What is ethics but a way of making sure that not only one, but all profit? And in the end, the individual profits most when society profits. What the Guild wants, is a stable, civilized, rich, happy Aether, because then, it is a profitable Aether.”
-Guild Master Salasso Tirmina Pelagino Bonieri Molgrave
“Th' Guild? Wha' prime hole do ye come from that ye don' know all about th' Guild? … Ah, well. 'Course I know th' Guild. Everyone knows th' Guild,. It's simple, ye see. Everthin' ye see out there? That's all the Guild's. The ships, the buildins an' the people. Yup. The Guild owns us all, some jus' don' know it.”
-”Hairy” Joll Marnes, first mate on the free ship Estrella
“If the Guild was so intent of “spreading the light” and “bringing civilisation”, why don't they share their technology? Why are they so intent on keeping their monopoly, if sharing it would make us all richer, trade easier and progress faster? I'll let you put the pieces together yourself, but in the end, it adds up to “gold”.”
-Khaira Silverhair, Rogue Trader on the Whitefire
The history of the Shipwright's Guild begins 87 years ago, the year now known as Guild Year zero (GY 0). at the time, only a few brave adventurers left their homeworlds even if only to travel to neighbouring demiplanes, much less deeper into the Aether or even to the Planes beyond.
Two who dared to do just that were Rane Blackwall, a carpenter who thought himself a swordfighter of some skill, and an artificer named Tario Etta Ragi Eregasio Pivoli of house Corava, a house of bankers and money lenders and one of the few organisations that regularly outfitted planar expeditions on the off-chance that some of them might survive to return home with the treasures of some forgotten world-shard, elemental outpost or abandoned demiplane.
They set out at the head of a small party of mercenaries, house guards, scouts and mist raiders in search of treasures of the world that was. What they found instead was a harrowing journey: they were beset by thirst, starvation, nightmares, monsters and once even Nathri.
However, the worst part of their story was to come when they found themselves in the path of a tangle of gale riders, tiny spiderlike ethereal critters that travel across the Aether pulled by sail-like webs made of their silk. It is not known what exactly happened at that point, but historians agree that while the other members of the caravan could flee and survived, Blackwall and Pivoli stayed behind in the party's camp.
Some say that they were simply exhausted, others that there was mutiny involved or, in a popular tavern tale, that the two were simply too drunk to be roused in time. The official Guild history claims that Pivoli and Blackwall were so fascinated by the aethersails and the possibilities they held that they decided to stay behind and study the gale riders more closely. In any case, the pair was swept away by the whispersilk sails of the tangle. When the small handful of survivors finally returned to Caligo more than a week later and without their leaders, Blackwall and Pivoli were presumed dead, swept away by the wind and starved, as happened to all who lost their way in the Aether without supplies. House Corava spent lavishly on a public funeral ceremony for their lost son.
All the greater then, was the surprise when another two weeks later, a Caligan fisherman spotted something strange drifting on the Elder Sea: two castaways, half-starved, holding onto a flimsy construction of pearly white wood and shimmering golden silk both holding onto small chests of arcane machinery as if their life depended on it.
Blackwall and Pivoli were carried away for miles and days by the migrating tangle, to a long, bare shard of Material Plane rock covered in ghostwood trees, where there gale riders made their nests. Using only their tools and wits, they had, there, built not only the first aethership, but also the beginnings of the navigation stone. With that, they made their way back to Caligo.
House matriarch Carnaia Sylva Tor Celessa a-Corava, a shrewd Businesswoman even before, immediately saw the potential inherent in these new technologies that had dropped into her lap. She founded dozens of further expeditions out into the Aether lead by Blackwall and her nephew Pivoli, gathering more whispersilk, ghostwood and the arcane ingredients necessary for more navigation machinery, followed by years of testing prototypes.
Six years went by and House Corava started to lose more and more of their influence in Caligo as the other Council Houses began to assume they were squandering their money on more of their mostly pointless expeditions. Rumours were beginning to circulate about the matriarch's beginning senility, and the first speculations about who would assassinate and succeed here weren't far behind.
Then, every thing changed.
It was Guild year six, though no one called it at that, back then. the first Aethership had laid anchor outside Caligo, and others were following soon after that in Belamin and Ember. These ships were not prototypes any more, though still far from the sleek construction of modern traders or battleships. essentially, these were built like Caligan water crafts, with decks, cabins, masts and sails, even though much of that made little sense in the gravity - free environment of the Aether.
These ships all delivered the same message: that House Corava had founded the Shipwright's Guild and taken as its headquarters the hitherto unknown world of Sirnia, which was to form the heart of what they called the Core Worlds, worlds that were deemed politically stable and economically profitable enough to be connected by the Guild's trade Network.
The Guild laid down its new rules, the Guild Law: Guild members were to be exempt from all laws of the worlds they would visit, only only have to answer to Guild courts. No world government was allowed to tax the Guild or any of its members, and no good the Guild traded was to be placed under any tariffs, customs or restrictions. No one but the Guild was allowed to build ships, but they could be chartered at exorbitant prices. the new Guild silver Florin was to be legal currency on all worlds.
The reward for complying with this Guild law was being connected to the Guild Network and sharing into the wealth the yearned and the discoveries they made. None-compliance lead to isolation.
The houses of Caligo eagerly jumped onto the chance. On Belamin, never a world to hold one opinion or to have one central infrastructure, opinions were as diverse as they were on any issue. The senate of Ember was careful at first, noncommittal, but a bloody revolution of a trade-hungry merchant class soon changed that opinion. The Asha'im, when discovered, were skeptical and feared losing their precious metals, but eager for resources. and Spire... Spire took to this new challenge with flying colours and thirsty blades.
Of course many worlds did not comply at first. Some ships were, and still are, attacked, but the first aether-capable Guild marines were soon trained to replace the mercenaries of the first years, as were battlemages, alchemical weapons and siege engines.
The Guild, however, soon learned that military power alone does not win friends, and so they changed their tactics to argument and impression, showing off their massive wealth to what many in the Core still deem primitive border savages. Some of the first Guild laws had to be stricken from the record, such as total legal immunity, and between the pressure of their own merchants and the promises of coffers full of taxes, dozens of worlds soon joined the Guild Law as border worlds.
The Guild, meanwhile, grew rich beyond the wildest dreams of pre-Guild traders. Shipping metal, water, wood and technologies from the Core to resource-starved border worlds, and returning with holds bursting with food, exotic spices and animals, and soon, cheap border labour.
Trade and exploration
One of the Guilds greatest enterprises, and in all likelihood the one that consumes the most resources is the exploration of new worlds and trade routes. The Guild' s economic power stems in a large part from the fact that many worlds which were abandoned for a thousand years did not get through that period without lacking at least some essential resource in the end. Metal, which the Guild can take from Ashaton, wood, from Belamin, food from Ember or water from Caligo are scarce often enough that the holds of any explorer are filled with those goods first.
In return, the Core world need not resources, but luxury goods and food. Nobles and merchants associated with the Guild hunger constantly for any novelty from the unexplored worlds beyond the border, and any gentleman worth naming owns a collection of curiosities. While new worlds are no longer discovered weekly, as they were in the beginning years, the trade Network is still constantly expanding.
Upon discovering a new world, Guild explorers are advised to very strictly follow a program set down by the Guild based on long experience. From the first contact and the opening of a world's shell, the explorers should try their hardest to appear as superior as possible in every aspect. The Core Worlds, so the impression given to the „savages“, are healthier and stronger, more civilized, organized and advanced and, most of all, richer.
Native markets are flooded with luxury goods and rare resources at prices that seem, to the natives, to be little more than gifts, in exchange for paying handsomely for any unique good a world may have. If the world has any infrastructure problems or is under threat from wildlife or Nathri, the Guild may even offer to solve those problems in the spirit of friendship. iIn this stage, a world is referred to as an open world.
Of course, all this posturing and goodwill is soon cast aside when talk of business comes up a few months later. The Guild uses quite clear terms to make certain that if the natives want to continue to enjoy the friendship and wealth of the Guild, they will have to join the Guild law as a Border World, and give numerous legal and economic advantages to the Guild. In exchange, however, the new members of the Guild Network can use aetherships for transportation to other worlds, their traders can charter Guild ships, and even apply for full Guild membership, a complicated and costly process that involves a small army of bookkeepers and accountants descending on every piece of written material in a given world.
Novice members of the Guild are given their own ship, limited charts of the most well-known and safe trade routes and license to conduct their own business.
New worlds are no longer opened by military force, as happened a few times in the Guild's earliest years. Now, the Guild Marines are used mostly for defence: against Nathri, the pirates that are becoming more and more numerous in the Border Worlds as the trade network expands beyond a size that can be tightly controlled, against aggression from newly opened worlds and, of course, against the undead and other dangerous wildlife.
There is only one other thing that brings down the wrath of the Guild, usually in the form of assassination: researching navigation cores or planar penetrators. Both machines are likely to explode when tampered with, but after more than eighty years, inventive scholars and artificers have found ways to disarm most of these safety features.
Still, as far as is known to anyone in the Core Worlds, no one has ever discovered any of the secrets of the Guild artificers and those who investigate them too deeply tend to vanish or suffer fatal accidents. Even splinters of a destroyed navigation stone, however, will fetch impressive prices on the black market among Rogue Traders.
Guild politics are, essentially, simple. The Guild seeks to maximize long-term gain. For this reason, it favours diplomacy over aggressive negotiations, civilisation over wilderness and mutually beneficial agreements and grow th over massive immediate profits.
Of course, not every one loves the Guild. The Rogue Traders are a flourishing organisation, and many Opened Worlds defy the Guild and refuse to become Border Worlds. Artificers and wizards begrudge the Guild their secrecy with their amazing new technology, while merchants dislike the monopolies on ship building and certain trade routes.
The Guild, however, prefers to buy off enemies and transform them into friends or, where that is impossible, to wait until the enemies have died out and are displaced by a younger, more open generation. Standard tactics in the case of a newly explored world turning out to be hostile, as an example, are to document the phenomenon, leave behind samples of various Guild goods and return twenty or thirty years later for another attempt, this time better armed.
A good example of this successfully working was the empire of Ember: The orthodox Imperialists of the first contact refused to deal with the corrupt and greedy Guild, but it took less than a dozen years for sects to form over the issue of the Guild and, after a violent revolution helped by Spire, the new government was more than willing to join the Core Worlds.
Membership and Ranks
The Guild actually has very little in the way of a centralized organisation. Most duties are taken on by merchant members, who otherwise all act more or less independently on each other. Trade rights, such as the right to explore new sectors, run especially profitable trade routes or monopolies on certain goods are distributed in Guild auctions between the members every year, with the profits going into the maintenance of ships, military units and Sirnia.
The Guild has, however, three divisions that are owned jointly by the entire enter prise: the Marines, including fortifications, the heaviest warships, barracks and training institutions, the clerks and bookkeepers, including Guild-owned banks, which specialise in giving loans and letters of credit (of course with better conditions for members), and the various branch offices and warehouses maintained in all major ports, in which Guild members can rent storage and office space.
Membership in any branch but as a Guild merchant is a complicated process. People with useful talents, be they skilled controllers, navigators, scouts, diplomats or accountants, are usually contacted by the Guild, and not the other way around. What follows are years of schooling, background checks, Guild instruction in Sir and, for security reasons, magically enforced oaths of secrecy and loyalty.
Ashaton: The Guild sees the world of Ashaton as one of their most valuable, if costly, investments. The Asha'im are, most certainly, the most stable society in the core worlds, but also one that is very difficult to work with, with their many layers of tradition and custom governing every aspect of their lives. Still, the Guild needs Ashaton's metal, sacred though it may be to the Asha'im, and they do their best to appease them, as they do not want to anger a nation that commands an army of golems and war machines.
The Faceless Cabal: The Guild as a whole hates everything about the Faceless with a passion, even though there are few members not paying them off in order to guard their trade secrets. The Guild has too many secrets to allow an organisation like the Faceless to exist, and Sirnia has posted rewards on every corpse of a Faceless Spy brought to any Guild office. In fact, freelance Faceless hunting has become a popular activity amongst adventurers, at least those few with any means of identifying them, which, so far, no one reliably can.
The House of the Sun: The Guild and the House share an interest in research and exploration, and they are willing to pay well for both. Being rich and peaceful makes them overall very interesting business partners, and so the two organisations are on good terms, even if their goals do not coincide.
The Order: The guild sees little fault in the Order: the organisation supports existing political structures, favours the establishment of strong monopolistic hierarchies and is essentially against social upheaval for any kind. All of which favour an organisation that is already firmly entrenched in all places of power.
The Retrievers: These people are valuable, if prickly customers. They have a never-ending demand for weaponry, alchemicals, exotic materials and recruits. And in exchange, they can teach many valuable lessons: the guild tries to train specialist squads of marines to deal with any possibility, from pirates to elementals, and protecting the mind against Madness and the Strangeness is a useful thing indeed.
The Faceless Cabal
“We offer services. Services everyone important needs appreciates, though no one wants to admit it. The bad news is, we spy on you, and we know all your secrets. The good news is, for a fee, a substantial fee that you will nevertheless be willing to pay, we can also spy for you. Or rather, tell you the secrets of your enemies, which we already know. In detail.
And, if you think about it, are we not a positive force upon the Core Worlds? How many crimes are uncovered by our actions? How much corruption, that would otherwise fester for decades more? We represent the blinding light of truth shining upon the darkest corners of your souls, because we known what you did.”
-Diplomacy Form 4-XVII
“Extra, Extra! Read it in the Gazette! Are key members of the Living Houses actually Faceless? Has the Cabal compromised the council? Courtesan Estrella Moladi unveils all the secrets in an exclusive interview! Only in the Gazette!”
-Paper boy on the streets of Caligo
“Of course the Cabal is a threat. But it is a threat we are ready to face. Our security systems are fully able to distinguish between Faceless and normal customers and employees. All accounts are absolutely secure, and will remain so in the future.”
-Melna Dilby, director of the Caligo Merchant Bank, who later turned out to be a Faceless Spy when she vanished along with the contents of a secret vault
The history of the Faceless Cabal up to about thirty years ago is, in all likelihood, not known to anyone outside its ranks. That was the time when, for the first time, a Faceless spy was found, and that literally by accident.
The son of a merchant family upon Ember, a youth by the name of Atashes, had been crushed under the wheel of a wagon that had fallen on its side. His chest was caved in, and within minutes, he had died. But then, his servants, who had desperately tried to save him, noticed something strange: his body almost seemed to be dissolving, the lines of his face and his body were losing shape, as if they had been made from soft clay. In the end, in Atashes' place lay a creature with willowy, slender limbs, ashen grey skin and, most remarkably, a face that was completely featureless, except for a narrow slit of a mouth and two large, glossy black and lidless eyes.
Further investigation showed that the creature must have been an unknown type of shapeshifter and spy of remarkable skill, perfectly copying the scion's appearance, mannerisms and speech for an unknown amount of time.
The discovery soon led to a veritable witch hunt in the core worlds, and over the next year, maybe a dozen more of the Faceless, as they were now called, were discovered. It was at that point, that they made themselves publicly known. To show their skills, they started by printing announcements in the Core Gazette, revealing several closely guarded secrets of various merchant houses, banking institutions, Guild members and nobles.
After this initial shock had passed, the tone changed: the Faceless were offering their services. They would, so they told the important people of the Core, spy on everyone equally and impartially, hoarding all the secrets in their extensive archives. These secrets would be used for two reasons: monetary gain and the protection of the Cabal and its homeworld.
Quite simply, the Cabal would charge a certain price in gold, in exchange for which a faction's or individual's secrets would not be shared with that person's enemies. Valuable pieces of information could also be purchased, for a price, as could, if requested, assassinations.
That information was taken in almost the same way across the Core Worlds: in a mixture of fear, greed, and thinly veiled hatred. Soon after, the Faceless set up official offices in all of the Core and several Border Worlds, even though most of their business was conducted in secret.
Within the Ranks
No one outside the Faceless quite knows how they are organized, though many have tried to find out. Both magical and mundane methods invariably seem to fail to produce any useful results. What is known of them, mostly from information they have volunteered themselves, is this:
The Faceless have an unknown and unnamed homeworld somewhere in the Guild Sphere. Since, so far, it has escaped discovery (or, at least, publication), it is assumed that it is either one of the barely explored Known Worlds among the Border Worlds, or that the inhabitants are amazingly successful at projecting an aura of innocence when explored.
The Faceless seem to be masters of biological engineering. Their state, much like an insect hive, is divided into castes and, as far as can be told, all the members, though individuals with their own personalities, are unfailingly loyal to it. Among themselves, they only use castes and a kind of serial number to identify and address each other, such as Spy Form 395-XXI, or Combat Form 31-XL, the first number, so it is assumed, designating a subcaste, the second the individual.
The most common known caste is the Spy caste, mostly humanoid creatures with know facial features that are able to assume not only the shape, but also the voice and smell of a target creature by changing their own bodies. These forms, so is assumed, are infiltrated into most organisations in the Known Worlds.
Above the Spies are the Combat Forms, faceless able to not only shift into the forms of creatures they have replaced, but also to change their size and grow biological weapons such as claws and fearsome teeth from their bodies in order to rend unsuspecting victims. These are used for when direct defence is required, and to carry out paid assassinations.
Diplomatic Forms are the only caste known to identify themselves readily. These work in the Cabal's offices in the Core Worlds, taking contracts and working on the carefully cultivated public image of the Cabal. These forms have silver tongues and are able to make the Cabal look like a positive influence on the Core Worlds, even to it's greatest enemies.
Other than those three forms, other forms are only vaguely known. There is talk of so called Shaper Forms, those responsible for creating new types of Faceless, and Thought Forms, who integrate all the data known to the Cabal and guide the entire organisation's course.
Rules Note: Basic faceless spies are well represented by Eberron's Changelings or, if these are not available, by Doppelgangers. Combat forms are easily produced by using lycanthropic templates (though they would not spread a disease that turns victims into more faceless) or grafts and shapeshifting classes. Of the higher forms, little is known, but Diplomatic Forms would most likely have levels in charisma-dependent classes and high social skills, while Shaper and Thought Forms would have levels in magical classes.
The Guild: There must be spies in the Shipwright's Guild, as there are in almost every organisation in the Known Worlds. Many secrets of individual Guild traders have indeed leaked out, though, so far, no amount of money paid by Rogue Traders or enterprising merchants has seemed sufficient to uncover the secrets of Guild Technology. It seems that, so far, the Guild is still better at keeping their innermost secrets than the Cabal is at finding them.
Ashaton: There are few secrets among the Asha'im. They share most of their production processes with anyone willing to spend the years required to learn them, processes which so far have proven far too complicated to ever be industrially viable. That, coupled with the fact that Shemesh could prove to be a potential way of uncovering the Spies, means that there is not much Faceless activity going on in that plane.
The House of the Sun: Even though they describe themselves as a political non-entity, the House continues to be of interest to the Guild. Immortal creatures, after all, have an eternal life of little shames and scandals to look back on, and an eternal life of amassing riches to pay for them. And one never knows when a society might suddenly become interesting, so the Cabal keeps an eye on the House.
The Order: The Order is an interesting and profitable organisation to infiltrate simply for the fact that it is well respected on most levels of society, as well as enjoying the confidence of those in power. Furthermore, if underlings are told not to question their superiors, it is much easier to replace said superiors.
The Retrievers: The Cabal infiltrates all organisations it can find simply on principle. Someone will always be found to have interest in whatever they uncover. But the Retrievers are simply less interesting than many others, because they have less of a hand in politics than most.
The House of the Sun
“The past was a better time. Believe me, I was there.”
-Lord Ishkabele the Eternal
“Under my watch, the last glories of the old age will not fade away. The dusk of will not overtake the remaining glories. I will find the treasures of the past, and preserve them, for they must never be lost. Only the past can be our guide to the future.”
-The Sun's Creed
“It's over. The old world might have been a paradise or not, but in any case, it was a thousand years ago, and only a bit of debris here and there remains. That is all. Even those who still lived in it have to see that we can not live in the past.”
-Lord Wilming Renward
In a way, the House of the Sun has existed as long as Ashaton and seen thus, it represents merely a logical continuation of Ashai ideals, expanded to all worlds. The House's philosophy is simple: the Demiplanes in existence today are merely pale shadows compared to the greatness of the world from which mortals came. Even though mortalkind could never hope to bring back this greatness, they should at least try to preserve of it whatever they can.
The House first came into being as an interplanar organisation when a delegation of Asha'im ventured forth on one of their rare trips to visit the caves of Belamin, both to assess the structural integrity of the ancient tunnels, and to examine the art collections stored within.
Between the curators of those collections and the visiting Asha'im, the new movement was born. Both Asha'im and Belaminans associated with it began donating some of their gains from selling metal and wood to the Guild to the cause. Accounts on the Guild banks were founded, and used to build more museums and libraries upon Belamin, and outfit the first expeditions.
The House has set itself three primary goals: to preserve the knowledge of the Old World, to preserve its artifacts, and to preserve it's inhabitants.
For the first two, expeditions are sponsored, to the Prime Shards, the Border Ethereal, the Border Worlds, and the Aether beyond. Adventurers traveling to any of these locations are likely to be paid well for doing so, if they are ready to sign contracts that force them to hand over any interesting Prime artifacts for inspection by the House's own scholars.
Whenever creatures are found that at one point in their lives actually lived on the Prime, the House becomes truly active. They will send scholars to interview the creatures, offer them the sponsorship of the House and any protection or luxury they may desire in exchange for their tales of the Old World.
There is only one other goal that inspires the House more than any other: the search for immortality. Any alchemist with promising leads about the formula of the philosopher's stone, druid with new insights into reincarnation and the nature of souls, artificer with new ideas about mechanical bodies or necromancer with aspirations of lichdom may find scholarship money with the house to further his studies. The House knows well that even the few elves, small gods or ghosts who still remain from the fall of the Prime will one day die, unless they take action, and then no one will truly remember the Paradise of Old.
The Guild: The Guild is, to the House, a necessary evil. They provide two services they need, exploration of new worlds and transportation to them. If that transportation was free, all the better, but overall, there is not much political ambition between the two.
Ashaton: Ashaton is the House's world of origin, and most Asha'im embrace the House's ideal whether they know it or not, simply by their respect for artefacts of the Prime and everything old. The House, of course, bemoans the fact that the Asha'im's memory is imperfect, and hopes to one day perfect the process of soul transference.
The Faceless Cabal: The House likes to believe that it has little to hide and only few things to find out and therefore does not officially do business with the Cabal. Of course, no group of people has ever been without its dirty laundry, and so sums of money in fact regularly flow to the Cabal. The House also wishes to be immediately informed of any secret attempts at finding true immortality.
The Order: The relationship between House and Order is a complicated one. On the one hand, many of the powerful have ties to both organisations, protecting their power and seeking longevity. Both organsisations, as well, have an interest in keeping existing structures in place. On the other hand, many in the Order do not trust the House at all.
The Retrievers: Relations between the House and the Retrievers are, at least, respectful. They share a common idea in that the Prime Material, before the Cataclysm, must have been beautiful, though their conclusions drawn from this are very different.
“Know your place, and you will know peace.
All the evils of the world come from those striving and struggling for what is not theirs to own. Be content, and peace will follow.
Happiness can not be achieved through material possessions, or through overcoming difficulty, for those who strive to defeat adversity will only find themselves facing bigger problems. Serene acceptance of what we should not strive to change is the root of a good life.”
-The Book of Order
“Isn't it easy for them to speak of acceptance? These judges and teachers, sitting at the top of the pile being fed and clothed by their students. What about us? Should we just accept being beggars for the rest of our lives? Should we smile and nod, while our children starve and our wives die of the vapours? Or is it time to act, my brothers?
We say that the rebellion should start right there. Find those who tell you to be content, and you will have found your oppressor.”
-The Ringleader (an illegal anarchist publication in Caligo)
“It may not sound acceptable to us, who seek, first and foremost, for knowledge, and who seek to spread the light of civilisation. But the Order produces results, that much is undeniable. No other form of society has so little crime, produces people so content, so happy. That is certainly worth admiring, and worth studying.”
-Seshara Mai, Lantern Companion
The Order only came to be called that name nearly fifty years ago, at the first Belaminan Conclave, when philosophers, clerics and wise men from all over the Known Worlds met to pool their wisdom in order to create a unified philosophy of peace and propose a system of government for all Worlds.
The Order philosophy has many roots, and aspects of it could (and still can) be found in most Known Worlds in some form or another, as numerous ideas were considered and amalgamated into the Order's central teachings. One goal, after all, was to create a system that would appeal to a wide variety of cultures.
The Caligan concept of the Unborn, and people being born to different lives strongly influenced the Order's ideas on fate, and the fundamental inequality of the rights of people, and this was only reinforced when the Emberite caste system was considered as well.
From the Ashai came the concept of a perfect state in the distant past that was lost due to the imperfection of people, and the idea of the acceptance of the wisdom of elders. The importance of the constant discussion of teachings between wise men found strong resonance in the philosopher-culture of the Belaminans.
When the first teachings were established, the Order soon spread across most of the Known Worlds, as wise men returned to their own worlds with new ideas and plans. The religion, if it can be called such, has broad appeal, but has been more well-accepted amongst the educated and the already rich, as well as people traditionally considered wise, such as teachers, judges and priests.
The fundamental teaching of the Order is that every person has their own place in a grand hierarchy and that, by finding and accepting their place in that hierarchy, one can find peace and happiness, the two grandest virtues the Order can promise. Inversely, strife comes from the desire to improve one's station above what is appropriate. Those who seek to earn riches, or the respect of their fellow man, or wish to gain skills and offices that are not given to them by nature will only struggle in vain.
Hierarchical relationships are at the heart of everything the Order promotes. Students should respect their teachers, children their parents, peasants their rulers, soldiers their officers. But these relationships always have two aspects: while one must respect his superiors, one must also always have the best interest of one's subordinates at heart. Power is not a goal to be searched, but a responsibility that those destined for it must accept.
While the Order teaches lawfulness and hierarchy, it places little emphasis on the Law. While the law of the land must be respected, as it represents the passed down words of one's superiors, the Order also notes that the decision of a wise judge counts for more than a general law, which can not account for specific situations in the way a wise decision can.
Finally, the Order teaches peace and nonviolence. Talking and reaching consensus is the preferred method of solving conflict.
The Order supports the establishment of stable power structures. The Guild is the most stable, all-encompassing power structure there has ever been. As such, many in the Order see it as their duty to support the Guild, even if they may secretly doubting if the Guild really has the best in mind for all layers of society.
The Faceless Cabal: The Cabal is, to most, the anathema of all the Order stands for. They rise above their station, they employ underhanded tactics and, worst of all, they remove and corrupt the rightful leaders of the people. If ever anything had to be exterminated, it was the Cabal.
The House of the Sun: While preserving the old, wise and powerful may indeed seem like a good idea to some of the Order, a majority thinks that immortality reeks of hybris and rising above one's station. There might be mutual respect, but very little warm feelings.
Ashaton: The Asha'im have much to speak for them: they respect the elders and their knowledge, they know their place, they seek little improvement, only to preserve what once existed. And while changing one's very nature from humanoid to construct may seem unnatural, the Asha'im are still the Order's strongest supporters.
The Retrievers: What is past, is past, or so many of the Order would say. While respecting the old is good, one can simply not bring back a world that was destroyed. As such, the Order sees the Retrievers, if anything, as warlike and a bit ignorant, and prone to upsetting the social peace.
“Once, we all came from one world. And then, what did we do? We let ourselves be chased from it, like cowards. Not today! Today, we take back the world!
They call it horrors beyond human imagination. Let's see if they are beyond the Sword, as well! Perhaps we were not meant to know, but I say, we are meant to slay!”-
-Malnar Calderon, Retriever Paladin, The Battle of the Velvet Rift
“I see no fault, per se, in wanting to study the Cataclysm, what it left behind, or what caused it. Now, of course, in many cases, studying it ends in madness, but that should hardly be a deterrent for a truly determined scholar. However, I think it has been quite conclusively shown during the Veil Wars that running at living, phase-shifted mountains with blank steel is not a promising tactic, but a suicidal waste of time and effort.”
-Magister Selenian Plutonis, Professor for Prime Astrology
“I have never seen the Prime before the Cataclysm. They may tell me that it was the more beautiful than any world created by mortals.
But here I sit under an ambervine pergola, sipping a glass of Belamin B.G.Y. 24 while gazing out at the burning Azureon, and I just can not bring myself to think that any world that has been lost to the Strangeness and shattered into myriad pieces could ever compare to this, even if we conquered it.
It is nostalgia. Escapism. A desire for a paradise that will never exist, and most likely never has. It is a harsh truth. All truth is harsh.”
-Agmundr Hrodulfson, the Poet-on-High
As an organisation, the Retrievers only came into their own only after the establishment of the guild Law and the trade network between the Known Worlds had solidified. The Paladin Malnar Calderon, today revered as the first High Retriever traveled the Known Worlds recruiting like-minded folks to flock around his banner.
His philosophy was simple: the first world, the Prime material, was as perfect as any world could ever be, given to mortals by the Outer Gods as a gift. Mortals, flawed as they are, had squandered this gift. They tried to set themselves up as gods by using Arcane Magic. Magic, however, is a power reserved for gods, and its misuse shattered the first world, resulting in the cataclysm. To counter this catastrophe, there was only one thing mortals could do: take up arms and defeat the Strangeness with steel and will, their natural, gods-given powers.
Calderon was highly charismatic, an inspirational speaker as well as an impressive warrior, and soon his followers were soon in the thousands, warriors and mystics, priests and penitents. They flocked to the Border Ethereal and there, where the Strangeness touches the Aether, they began to prepare themselves, studying protective techniques against the madness and honing their martial prowess.
Finally, years after he began, Calderon declared the Veil War begun. The Retrievers began crossing over into the Prime, battling the outgrowths of the Strangeness they encounter. Little progress was made or years, but Calderon kept his men's spirits high, calling this a spiritual battle as much as a physical one, a test of their will.
But after three years, even Calderon's speeches began to ring hollow, and a new weapon had to be found. Calderon found it in Ashaton. The Asha'im, who longed themselves for the Prime of old, outfitted him with golems, war-creations of incredible power, that had no mind to be corrupted by the Strangeness, and no flesh to be warped.
What follows was called the Battle of Twisting Steel. Golems by the dozen crossed over into the Prime, beating back the Strangeness, at least for a while. A Bridgehead is formed, and for the first time in over a thousand years, a mortal walks on Prime soil, as Calderon himself crosses over.
Their victory was shortlived: seven months after the bridgehead was first established, something new awakes on the Prime, a new expression of the Strangeness and the effects are felt throughout the Border Ethereal. Retriever Veterans (those that can still speak coherent sentences) describe it in a multitude of ways, as “a shadow, the colour of rainbows”, “an ocean of black, oily liquid, swallowing the world” or “a heap of twisted, pulsating flesh, the size of a mountain”. The creature attacks the Retrievers on the Prime and the Border with devastating effect. The golem legions are scattered, though some of the war-creations are said to still exist on the prime, and the bridgehead is lost. Later, this is called the Battle of the Velvet Rift, though none can say why.
The worst loss, perhaps, was that of Calderon himself. Ever since the Battle of Velvet Rift, he was never heard of again. Vanishing in such a way was not unusual, for nearly a third of the Retrievers was never accounted for after the battle, with neither their corpses nor any survivors ever found. Some fanatic Retrievers maintain, to this day, that Calderon will return one day with the Lost Battlebrothers, and once again retake the Prime.
After this loss, the Retrievers lost much of their drive. They built a mighty citadel in the Border Ethereal, protected by all the ways known to keep the Strangeness at bay, on the exact spot corresponding to the former Bridgehead on the Prime, though most of the Retriever's activity, these days, is focused on the Known Worlds, trying to gain more support for future endeavours.
Modern Philosophy and Actvities
With the loss of both their leader and their army, the Retrievers have become less primarily militaristic than they were a generation ago. They still train warriors in techniques to resist the Strangeness, and their main goal is still fighting it. However, their means of accomplishing has changed.
Their first and perhaps most demanding task is to suppress cults to the Strangeness. These weird psuedo-religions crop up every few years, usually in the poorest, seediest parts of Caligo, Waketown, Ember or the Spire. Each of those cults is different, some worshiping the Strangeness itself as a divine phenomenon, some specific entities, some trying to ward of an apocalypse, some praying for it, some simply sharing a common, recurring nightmare that drives them to certain actions. The Retrievers think that all these are symptoms caused by the Strangeness, and that the have to be fought to keep the Strangeness at bay.
The second is training. The Retrievers still train their recruits, and anyone willing to learn (and donate, often enough) in techniques to resist madness, mind control, involuntary shapechanges and other undesirable effects of the Strangeness. Preparedness, so they say, is the only way to stop the invasion of the Strangeness they fear.
Third is research. As much as it pains many Retrievers to admit it, they did fail in their mission, and fail hard. If they ever hope to succeed, they need to know their enemy. Find a weakness to be exploited in a force that defeated a united plane and shattered worlds. Beyond the apparent impossibility of the task, they face two problems: first, the overwhelming majority of scholars interested in the Strangeness also at least dabbles in Arcane matters, employing the very forces even the more liberal and modern Retrievers detest. Second, the Strangeness has the rather unsettling tendency to react in unpredictable ways to being studied, turning those studying it mad, into cultists or staging points for an incursion.
Of course, preparing for a war needs financing, and so, more and more of the Retrievers find themselves doing odd jobs that have little direct connection to their long-term goal. They work as trainers, mercenaries, guards and experts on the Strangeness, selling their expertise at arms and mental fortitude for money.
The Guild: The guild is vital to the Retrievers. Every newly discovered world is a new pool of resources for the great undertaking, and the more united the worlds are in their goals, the sooner they can fight back the Strangeness. Also, the Guild is a great customer.
The Faceless Cabal: The cabal has, usually, little need for mercenaries or meditation techniques, and their area of interest intersects little with the Retrievers. As such, they prefer to leave the Cabal alone.
The House of the Sun: Preserving the Knowledge of the Ancients, and especially whatever stories they can tell about the Prime is a noble effort, and one the Retrievers fully support.
The Order:A society at peace with itself provides a great recruitment pool for the Retrievers, and every civil war and border skirmish is a waste of resources that could be used against the Strangeness. But the Order also discourages war of any kind, even against the Strangeness, so relationships are tense, at best.