City of the Dead
“These are the gates of the Free City-State of Hollowfaust. Beyond this portal are no laws save those of Hollowfaust. Beyond this entrance is peace, unless you bring war with you. May you find what you seek within.”
– Formal greeting offered to newcomers by the Guardsmen at the First Gate
Welcome to the City of the Necromancers.
Hollowfaust isn’t the sort of city that comes to mind when choosing a “home base” for the usual campaign. In most people’s opinion, there’s just something… unsavory about necromancy. (Most people across the Scarred Lands share this opinion, by the way.) If you asked the average fantasy gamer or reader just what a “city of necromancers” might be like, they’d probably describe a plague-ridden graveyard with a tiny group of mortal sorcerers commanding legions of zombie soldiers. And these necromancers would, of course, be plotting to take over the world.
Hollowfaust, however, is something different. It’s a place where adventurers can indeed gather in a tavern to swap tales of glory or hawk the butchered parts of their latest monstrous kill. It’s also a place where they can see macabre puppet shows, involve themselves in the intrigues of the necromantic guilds or take on commissions to root out titanspawn in the neighboring mountains. Hollowfaust easily serves as a source of antagonists; there are plenty of potential villains lurking in the labyrinthine catacombs of the Underfaust – villains with plenty of grotesque undead minions to send after a bothersome party. Hollowfaust can also be an interesting “change of pace” locale for characters to visit. Finally, Hollowfaust can function as a remarkable base of operations from which characters might explore the Scarred Lands – particularly if many (or all) of the characters grew up there!
What is Hollowfaust to the Scarred Lands? It’s an enigma, a neutral power that has yet to reveal its hand. What is Hollowfaust on a more personal level? This volume merely presents what is known and leaves readers to draw their own conclusions.
What Is Hollowfaust?
Even by the standards of the Scarred Lands, Hollowfaust is a strange place. A council of mages – necromancers, really – rules the city and dwells within a labyrinth of catacombs and tunnels that stretch throughout the core of a dead volcano. Yet very ordinary people populate the city and mill about its houses, shops and inns – a city that, about a century ago, stood uninhabited.
In effect, Hollowfaust is a city of two layers. The Civilian Quarter essentially comprises the surface or “city” layer, fulfilling the usual purposes that cities do: a place to unwind between adventures, to purchase interesting equipment and to get mixed up in urban adventures, which means interacting with some very “colorful” citizens. Although it doesn’t lie along major trade routes (and therefore doesn’t lend itself to “international” adventures, as would a place like Mithril), Hollowfaust nonetheless makes an interesting base camp from which to launch expeditions into the Ukrudan Desert, the Festering Fields or the Hornsaw Forest.
The Underfaust comprises the second layer of the city – part royal court and part wizards’ guild. Gaining access to the Underfaust is tricky business for anyone other than a resident necromancer, but once inside, characters will have ample opportunities to dabble in dangerous intrigues. Belligerent characters, however, will find the Underfaust the mother of all dungeoncrawls – – Which is an endeavor that should be strongly discouraged. Antagonizing a magocracy defended by legions of tireless, merciless monsters would be an unwise and ill-advised course of action, by any standard.
Hollowfaust culture itself presents intriguing challenges. Its legal code has some very interesting ramifications. Murder, rape and torture are all punishable by death, so stabbing someone in a bar fight could lead to problematic circumstances. Additionally, the corpse of anyone who dies within the city’s walls – visitor or denizen – becomes the governing necromancers’ legal property. Characters accustomed to cheap-and-fast resurrections will be unpleasantly surprised, particularly given that heroes’ bodies are much more valuable than are those of ordinary citizens. Primarily, Hollowfaust is a place of learning.
The imagery on its flag symbolizes the knowledge that Hollowfaust’s founders valued so highly – seven arched gateways leading to enlightenment, the lantern of intellect illuminating the path. When searching for information that is particularly esoteric, dangerous or especially secret, people generally first consult Hollowfaust’s somewhat macabre necromancers, while the Guildsmen’s trove of knowledge doesn’t quite match that of their Lokil neighbors on more mundane matters.
The necromancer stereotype – a cadaverous, barely human creature in black robes adorned with skulls, working evil for unfathomable and hateful reasons – is challenged by the Underfaust’s residents. Yes, evil does reside within the necromancer’s Sovereign Council, but alongside compassionate idealism and even-handed pragmatism. For outrageous, incomparably evil necromantic villains that satisfy the superficial stereotype, explore neighboring Glivid-Autel. But Hollowfaust’s necromancers, who speak to the dead in respectful tones and whose actions run the gamut between villain and hero, defy easy categorization and generate excitement through intriguing ambiguity.
Enjoy your visit.
And don’t die.
The History of Hollowfaust
Hollowfaust, like many other cities of the Scarred Lands, was founded after the Titanswar’s conclusion. However, unlike most of the city-states now dotting Ghelspad, Hollowfaust was “fleshed out” on the bones of a city with no living descendants. Many buildings, streets and passages remain empty in Hollowfaust – a mute testimonial to the civilization erased by the eruption of Vangal’s Throne.
Long before the Seven Pilgrims founded the City of the Necromancers, there was Golden Sumara. Sumara sat at Mount Chalesh’s base, bounded to the north by lushly forested mountains and to the south by sweeping, fertile plains. It was one of the most prosperous city-states of the nation of Zathiske. In those times, many a traveler would
pledge to some day journey to Sumara, to see the Jewel of the Gascars for themselves. Even today, certain members of the long-lived races remember what the Sumarans were like. And much of what they have forgotten was discovered later by Hollowfaust’s assiduous scholars.
Sumara was founded in the year 3085 OC as a trading camp, established to grow food and create items for trade with the Gascar Peaks’ dwarves. The northernmost of Zathiske’s settlements, Sumara’s proximity to the mountains’ mineral wealth and the plains’ abundance and fertility allowed it to grow quickly. Within 100 years, it was more city than town; within 300 years, it was one of the finest jewels in Zathiske’s crown.
Sumara enjoyed its prosperity. Its food surpluses were set aside for lean years. The Gascar dwarves traded their wood, metals, gems, tools and weapons for the fine cloths, liquors and foods that Sumara produced. The elves and woodsmen of the neighboring Broadreach Forest brought rare woods, medicines and herbs to trade in Sumara, further enriching commerce there. Many slaves changed hands in the golden city, as did other beasts of burden or of the hunt. Although Sumara was not Zathiske’s largest or richest trade center, the empire took pride in its valued city.
The Sumarans were a body-conscious people; they highly valued cleanliness, health and beauty. Sumara had many bathhouses, gymnasiums and athletic fields, even a great arena where the city’s warriors could engage in ritual combat. The city’s sanitation system was equally impressive; the Sumarans developed an extensive sewer system that many modern Ghelspad cities would do well to emulate. Much of Sumaran art and sculpture emphasized the idealized human form, and the city’s festivals celebrated the body’s health and vigor in equally enthusiastic fashion.
The Emperor of Zathiske appointed a satrap to govern the city. The satrap presided over the Council of Patricians, an assembly of high-ranking citizens, decorated military officers and heads of noble households. The Council oversaw all legislative processes, but the satrap – who spoke with the Emperor’s authority, at least in theory – had the final say in city affairs. A satrap generally earned his position by proving himself adept at diplomacy, intrigue and mercantile maneuvering; it was not a hereditary post. (Thus, when a satrap died, the Council of Patricians would hastily settle any business it could legitimately resolve without requiring a satrap’s approval before his successor’s appointment.)
Although the Sumaran people were not notably bellicose, their legions were nonetheless effective. The cultural emphasis on bodily strength and perfection became mandatory requirements for soldiers, who had to remain in excellent fighting condition to earn their pay or pension. A Sumaran footsoldier had to be able to run a mile in heavy armor and still have energy enough to fight; such a standard more than compensated for his lack of aggression. Augmenting the soldier with armor and weapons from the city’s armories made him a potent adversary.
Sumara’s magical prowess was equally impressive. The city’s founders had chosen well, for Mount Chalesh supplied a rich source of natural energy. Sumaran magi luxuriated in the vast power at their disposal – power that enabled them to more effectively train apprentices; devise magical civic improvements, such as street lighting and reliable public fountains; and otherwise improve Sumara’s glory. Though not invincible on the magical front, the city-state was among the strongest of Zathiske’s cities, maybe even of all Ghelspad. However, good fortune and mortal magic were nothing compared with the power of the titans – and the gods who fought them.
The decades-long Divine War began in 3489 OC. Gods fought and felled titans. Entire races were born and just as quickly extinguished on the bloodsoaked plains of battle. For years, the war raged across Scarn, leveling mountains, uprooting forests and burning plains down to the bedrock.
In 3513 OC, Mount Chalesh exploded. Long before, Sumara magi had cast divinations to determine whether Mount Chalesh remained active, and the answer they consistently received was that the volcano was dormant and would not erupt for a few thousand years. So the Sumaran magi leisurely researched prevention spells and artifacts that would keep the volcano dormant, feeling that there was no urgency. Tragically, their divinations were imperfect; mortal magic could not account for the caprices of both gods and titans. As Scarn was torn and crushed by the Titanswar, the land itself rebelled, including Mount Chalesh.
The erupting volcano unleashed rivers of lava that softened, pressed and threatened Sumara’s walls. Yet Sumara might have survived this calamity, were it not for the killing clouds of ash and poisonous gases that descended upon the city and choked and smothered its people as they fled. Guards fell in the streets, mothers died shielding their infants’ cradles and horses perished in their stables. After consuming a portion of the city, the lava mercifully cut its path short, but ash and gas claimed the rest, slaying all in less than a single day.
Of course, golden Sumara was hardly the only casualty of the Titanswar. All across the face of Scarn, the conflict sundered the landscape. The lush plains to Sumara’s southwest were blasted into sand and dust, expanding the Ukrudan Desert. The southern plains boiled, becoming the Sweltering Plains. The Gascars, shorn of nearly all their trees, became twisted and alien. The Broadreach Forest convulsed, feeding on the blood of Mormo, and become the Hornsaw. What was once a green and fertile corner of Ghelspad had become an inhospitable, no-man’s land. A dead city stood silent at the heart of this wasteland – its walls mostly intact, but all signs of life seared away. The dead now populated Sumara: ashcovered skeletons and children’s ghosts.
But sometimes, death is not forever.
The Coming of the Seven Pilgrims
For years after its destruction, Sumara was little more than a tomb. The citizens’ deaths had tainted the magical energies that had previously nourished the city’s mages. The entire city’s population had died within a day, and the massive release of life energy amid fear and pain irrevocably tainted the stones. Maddened ghosts struggled against imprisoning cocoons of ash when the full moon rose, and ghouls scrabbled at the city walls, trying to break in and feast on what they could find there. It was not a place for any living thing … but that would change.
Sumara’s ruins finally attracted new residents in 8 AV, when seven necromancers and their assembled followers arrived at the dead city. Pacts of cooperation bonded these necromancers, who were driven by a common purpose to explore and harness the potent necromantic forces that lay dormant in the ruins. They described their journey to their followers as one of discovery, an opportunity to research the most esoteric of topics and, most notably, “a pilgrimage of sorts.” This is how history remembers these necromancers – the Seven Pilgrims.
They arrived at Sumara dressed in, their profession’s somber regalia. They blasted apart the ghouls that attacked them at the gates, sending but few survivors whimpering into the desert. Their reanimated laborers cleared the ash away from streets and buildings, and the necromancers used the ash and “unearthed” corpses as new raw materials. They sent some ghosts to their final rest and bound others to their service. And when they had finally established a base camp, they began their research in earnest. The city proved to be more beneficial to the necromancers’ research and exploration then they’d hoped. They had the remains of an entire city’s population at their disposal; though some corpses were unsuitable, the variety of useful materiel was astonishingly abundant.
The powerful necromantic energy pulsing through the city offered a near-bottomless wellspring of fuel for the sorcerers’ spells and rituals. With the most violent of the restless spirits quelled, the remaining spirits comprised a strong source of information concerning Zathiske and Sumara’s glory days. When the Pilgrims discovered that the Gascar Peaks held rich deposits of black onyx – a material with a powerful affinity for necromantic energy – even their most sardonic members admitted Sumara was an ideal locale for their studies. So they settled in deeper, assigning their servants and followers the simple tasks of raising food and excavating more of Sumara’s buried treasures. To some, Sumara was becoming their new home, and there was really no reason to leave.
The Arrival of the Refugees
The necromancers explored the dead city undisturbed for several years, digging further under the mountain and into the ruins. Few people willingly braved the hazardous terrain surrounding old Sumara, even to search for Sumara’s legendary golden treasures. Rumors that a mighty cabal of necromancers roosted in the dead city further deterred unwelcome visitors. Several Pilgrims were already famous (or infamous) in their homelands, and few adventurous souls were particularly interested in verifying the legends of Taason the Black or Malhadra Demos, Knight of Fear.
Still, some people had no choice but to risk entering the city of the dead.</p.>
The tumult immediately following the Titanswar destroyed many cities, towns and villages over the years. The homeless numbered in the thousands – their possessions destroyed in battles between desperate titanspawn and determined soldiers of the divine races. Many people, desperate and destitute, decided to try their luck elsewhere. And so began a minor exodus from the lands that would later become Calastia, as people without roots set out to search for a peaceful place to start their lives over. Unfortunately, the refugees found few options open to them. To the west lay the Sweltering Plains, where no human could long endure the heat. To the north sprawled the Homsaw Forest, where the refugees quickly learned that the hostile woods could not be tamed.
Perhaps this very lack of options aided the refugees’ survival. With only a narrow strip of land offering safe passage, the various families, rogue military units and miscellaneous emigrants found themselves traveling en masse because there was no other option. They also quickly discovered that working together helped them survive the raids of bandits, titanspawn and maddened predators. So the column of refugees grew in size, led by Dunzad Lemartos, a former general who had deserted his post to protect his family. To this day, many Hollowfaust residents call that narrow tract of land between the Hornsaw Forest and the Sweltering Plains “Dunzad’s Corridor” in the general’s honor.
Eventually, the wanderers approached the Gascar Peaks and not long after that sighted smoke from the necromancers’ settlement. The refugees arrived at Sumara’s walls, where the skeletal guardians that manned the gates attacked them. Eventually, the conflict drew the necromancers’ attention; they hurried to the gates and witnessed the hardy band defending itself – a group that had obviously braved many such dangers and come very far. Lemartos addressed them humbly but insistently, begging shelter in exchange for whatever tasks the displaced families could perform.
The Seven Pilgrims were quite divided on the issue. Carthylla, Paeridates and Sapheral argued to take in the refugees, citing reasons both compassionate and practical: living beings grow food and create needed goods. Barastrondo, Taason and Demos argued against the idea, fearing that the proposal would drain their resources and time. Besides, they pointed out without qualm, the persecution of ignorant people was what drove the necromancers to Sumara in the first place. (Airat, for his part, was eager to accept the refugees – as living test subjects and sources of raw materials. Neither faction was willing to countenance his perspective.)
The debate raged for several days, during which time the refugees huddled outside the city’s gates. Finally, Demos relented, agreeing that, with careful management, a civilian population might be well worth the trouble. (Later historians suggest his reversal hinged on the fact that furthering his art required the close proximity of living people. Others counter, citing evidence that Demos had romantic designs on Carthylla and that, by “letting her compassionate arguments sway him,” he would, he hoped, endear himself to her. The truth, as always, lies somewhere in between.) Bowing to the majority, the Seven Pilgrims opened the gates and let the desperate people inside. Thus, Sumara once again had a population, though only the merest fraction of that of its golden years.
The First Siege
The settlers and the necromancers’ mettle was soon thereafter sorely tested. There were no human domains near enough to threaten the newly re-settled Sumara, and few of the divine races could survive the trek across the Ukrudan Desert or the Sweltering Plains. So the threat was farfrom human. Somehow, the sutak of the Ukrudan, a
rigidly martial race of fiery titanspawn, learned of a new human settlement near their territory. In 16 AV, fueled by their hatred for their creator’s slayers and the weaklings who worshiped said gods, die sutak organized into a massive army and marched against Sumara. Thus began the Great Siege. It almost proved disastrous.
The Seven Pilgrims were scholars, first and foremost – not warmasters. Although they were powerful necromancers, only Taason and Demos had any knowledge of war magic. The others used their spells in a largely supportive role, augmenting the legions of undead and the hastily mustered peasant levy. The necromancers relied upon Dunzad Lemartos as their strategist and tactician, but the sutak had many equally skilled officers. The sutak weakened the outer walls, destroyed legions of undead defenders and slew many humans who marched forth to oppose them before the siege ended.
Ultimately, though, the necromancers’ forces prevailed. Though the sutak included fire-wizards and metal-sorcerers among their number, they lacked spellcasters of the Seven Pilgrims’ caliber, and the tide of battle shifted. Although the attackers had the numbers and morale necessary to vanquish the skeletal rank-and-file, the sutak could not overcome die dreaded ash golems. The final blow fell on the fourth day of the siege, when the sutak’s champions and wizards rushed the gates. Sarrant, leading an elite force, answered that challenge.
Sarrant, Carthylla’s bodyguard and lover, was unquestionably the greatest warrior among Sumara’s defenders. Some say that, bom with the mark of a wizard, Sarrant instead turned his talent inward, eschewing magic to master his martial skills. The true extent of his legendary power was revealed during die last hours of the siege, when he slew the sutak general in hand-to-hand combat. Then, to the astonishment of all, Sarrant lifted the general’s corpse, rent it in two with his bare hands and drew it onto his body like a suit of armor. Thus clad in the corpse of the sutak’s leader, he marched from under the gates into full view of the invading hordes. And the sutak, seeing the ignominious fate of their greatest warrior, broke ranks and fled.
Thus ended the Great Siege, which would only later come to be known as the “First Siege.” When the survivors had harvested the last of the battlefield’s corpses, the people began to rebuild their city. The necromancers slowly accepted the fact that their settlement was no longer merely a refugee camp. To guarantee victory should the sutak return, the Seven Pilgrims decided to maximize their use of the land’s resources, so that the people in their care could be as much help as possible. Maximizing those resources required organization. And so the Seven Pilgrims, having escaped the civilizations of their birth, found that civilization had come to them – and that they were its de facto lords.
The Birth of Hollowfaust
The Great Siege had proven that the Seven Pilgrims’ magic only barely compensated for the settlement’s lack of organization. Although several necromancers only wanted to return to their studies, they realized that, unless they attended to their mortal charges, any future assault would likely destroy the city and end their research altogether. So for three years, the Pilgrims, their followers and civilian advisors from the refugee settlement devoted their time to codifying laws, setting various civic projects in motion, working out a potential hierarchy and animating replacements for the undead forces lost during the Great Siege. Finally, in 20 AV, the newly christened Sovereign Council redrew the borders of old Sumara and proclaimed the formation of the Free City-State of Hollowfaust (a name referring to the “faust,” or volcano – the city’s most geographically and historically prominent feature).
The charter of government made the Sovereign Council the official lawmaking body in Hollowfaust. The Council, in turn, would include the heads of the seven High Guilds – by default, those of the Seven Pilgrims. The charter formally set the civilian quarter apart from the Underfaust and assigned the actual day-to-day government of the Civilian Quarter to the office of the High Magistrate. Dunzad Lemartos took office as the first High Magistrate, the Sovereign Council withdrew to the Underfaust to pursue its research and Hollowfaust began its rise to prominence.
Exile of the Renegades
Hollowfaust then faced its first, serious domestic issue. More than a mere scandal, it was nothing less than high treason. For years, grim rumors circulated concerning Ahrmuzda Airat and his Society of Immortals’ dark practices and Taason and his followers’ sociopathic tendencies. In 27 AV, the rumors were proven true. Since the city-state’s founding, Taason had openly dedicated himself to rooting out its enemies and had executed several necromancers who, he alleged, had proven gruesomely incapable of responsibly governing and protecting the citizenry. Things came to a head when Taason presented evidence that one of his own Disciples of the Abyss, Baryoi, had abused the powers of his post. Taason promptly executed Baryoi and claimed the body.
However, Baryoi’s reputation painted him as someone temperate and logical. When Carthylla and Demos reviewed the evidence of Baryoi’s crimes more thoroughly, they discovered that some of it had been falsified and the rest was traceable to members of the Society of Immortals. Over the next several days, the Sovereign Council (excluding Airat and Taason) quietly dug deeper and discovered a complicated web of murderous crimes – the work of Airat, Taason and many of their followers. When the Sovereign Council burst into Airat’s laboratory to confront him and demand an explanation, they found the two renegade Council members preparing to destroy Baryoi, whom they had resurrected in one of their dark experiments. The two were subdued until the Council could decide how to proceed.
The inquest took several weeks, and the findings were grim. Taason had apparently lost the greater portion of his sanity over the years, and Ahrmuzda Airat was evidently all too willing to sacrifice anything and anyone to achieve his goal of immortality. Worse, fully half of the Disciples of the Abyss were implicated in Taason’s murderous schemes, and the entire Society of Immortals was as morally bankrupt and culpable as its founder.
The Council recognized that enforcing the law to its fullest would lead to great internal strife, especially jeopardizing their rapport with the citizenry. How could the civilian population trust protectors who executed more than a full seventh of the Guilds-men at once? The Sovereign Council first ensured that the full account of the renegades’ crimes would never be made public; to this day, only a few Guilds-men know the true extent of the murders, tortures and blasphemies that occurred in the Underfaust.
The Council publicly announced that Ahrmuzda Airat and Taason were guilty of numerous, unnamed crimes; in light of their great contributions to the citystate, however, they would receive mercy and simply suffer banishment. Because corruption ran so deeply within the Society of Immortals, the entire Guild shared its founder’s fate. The Disciples of the Abyss fared better, as roughly half its membership did not participate in its founder’s schemes. Airat accepted the ruling without quarrel, afraid as he was of an untimely death at an executioner’s hands. Taason protested, but stopped short of testing his powers against the combined might of the other Council members.
So, stripped of their most potent artifacts and spellbooks containing their most powerful spells, trie the renegades were expelled from Hollowfaust. With Airat and Taason gone, the Sovereign Council was deeply weakened. The resurrected Baryoi took Taason’s place, leading the remaining Disciples of the Abyss and filling the sixth chair. However, with Glivid-Autel entirely gone, the seventh chair was not easily filled. After two days of debate, Sarrant the Unfailing agreed to assume the seventh seat until the Council found a more suitable replacement.
The Second Siege
Hollowfaust had fortified its defenses since the Great Siege to repel future sutak assaults, but the next threat did not come from the Ukrudan. Instead, it was born in the Hornsaw Forest’s twisted heart. Following their exile from Hollowfaust, the renegades had established a permanent domain within the Hornsaw’s borders, which they named, rather uncreatively, “Glivid-Autel.” Even given the renegades’ potent magic, their survival within the Hornsaw was no easy task. The forest held innumerable and imminent dangers, and the renegades soon realized that they could not resolve every conflict using force. In 30 AV, the renegades initiated negotiations with nothing less than a high gorgon cabal called the Torn Womb.
By most historians’ reckoning, the parley must have been intense. Like the rest of their race, the Torn Womb had no love for the divine races, and this particular cabal was one of the strongest within the forest. However, the always shrewd Ahrmuzda Airat deflected the gorgons’ bloodlust away from Glivid – Autel. The gorgons, he argued, made good allies, as they were too dangerous to consider adversaries. Far better to redirect their bloodlust and set them against the nearest major human settlement.Which was, of course, Hollowfaust.
The renegades told the high gorgons almost all they knew about the city’s defenses and reassured the titanspawn that, with the absence of the “two mightiest necromancers,” Hollowfaust would easily fall to an army of sufficient size. If the Torn Womb could take the prize, it would obtain enough magical knowledge to make itself the preeminent cabal of its race and slaughter humans to its heart’s content. The high gorgons accepted the challenge. For a year, they mustered their forces, both recruiting titan-worshiping human cultists and marshalling their subhuman, magically bred servitors. Then, in 31 AV, they marched on Hollowfaust, beginning the Second Siege.
Unlike the sutak’s well-organized army, the gorgons’ forces were utterly barbaric and savage. Lacking a clear chain of command, the horde was divided into “packs” of 7 to 20, each pack led by a “packmastet” of greater rank within the cult. The packmasters, chosen for their stability and charisma and not their ferocity, received a more thorough briefing on what to expect from the necromancers and a review of the events surrounding the First Siege. The packs’ savagery tempered with guidance, the high gorgons believed, would serve them where the sutak’s discipline had failed.
However, Airat and Taason’s arrogant assumption that Hollowfaust would be critically weakened without them was a costly error. The Great Siege and the renegades’ subsequent treason had motivated the Council to assume a policy of constant watchfulness. Divinations, originally meant to chart the next sutak assault, instead drew the necromancers’ attention to the Torn Womb’s army. By the time the savage horde howled out of the Hornsaw, Hollowfaust had readied its armies.
Hollowfaust met the motley army’s charge with a legion of reanimated sutak: veterans of the First Siege now bent to Hollowfaust’s service, which terrified the superstitious packmasters. The enemy faltered, and the initial charge broke, driven back as the Sowers of Fear cast their nightmare magics into the heart of the massed attackers. With the initial assault broken, the invaders could not make headway. Hollowfaust’s engineers had sealed the route through the abandoned portion of Sumara with the newly erected Inner Wall, and ash golems patrolled the sewers. The high gorgons, forced to use their magic in an active role much sooner than they had anticipated, became Hollowfaust’s chief targets. Within a week, the Second Siege had collapsed, and what was left of the Torn Womb and its followers limped back into the Hornsaw.
Of course Hollowfaust had suffered losses, as well. Many of its young soldiers had fallen in battle, as had several Guildsmen. The Second Siege’s most keenly felt loss, though, was Paeridates, the foremost diviner among the Seven Pilgrims. In the weeks preceding the siege, Paeridates had stretched her skills to their limits to discern as much as she could about the unknown threat her spirits had spoken of. Overly taxed by her efforts, she nonetheless continued to call on spirits and conduct divinations during the Siege, which was her undoing. When summoning a powerful Sumaran general’s ghost, her will finally gave out, and the ghost’s power aged her to her death. She was buried at the end of the siege, when her successors would have time to properly mourn her.
A Few Years of Peace
With the end of the Second Siege, Hollowfaust secured time enough for peaceful endeavors. Of course, many such endeavors involved rebuilding and replanting what was lost during the siege, but the bloodshed was ended for a time.
Those Disciples of the Abyss who hadn’t commiserated with Taason spent much of their time, while under heavy surveillance, trying to shed the unwholesome reputation their founder had left them. Tension among the six remaining High Guilds was high, and very few new laws were passed. Sarrant’s presence on the Council didn’t help matters; the devoted bodyguard spent most of his time teaching his techniques to a few select pupils, and many observers thought him too favorable to Carthylla’s agendas. Skeletal laborers, working tirelessly, extended the road leading to Hollowfaust to the west, cleaning and repairing an old road between the Gascars and what was once the Ukrudan Plains. The first merchants to leave Hollowfaust to sell their wares in Darakeene encountered mixed reactions, and the first traders to visit Hollowfaust almost fled the city in fear. Nonetheless, tentative connections had been established, and the outside world at least knew where Hollowfaust was – even if stories didn’t paint it as an ideal place to visit.
As Hollowfaust’s reputation began to spread, the city attracted new émigrés. Many people, like the original wave of refugees, were desperate for a stable, lawful home. A few people were spiritual heirs to the Seven Pilgrims: spellcasters, particularly necromancers, intrigued by the prospect of studying the ruined city and eager to study under the original necromancers who had tamed the city and whose sorcery turned away invading hordes. Although the Sovereign Council proceeded cautiously in their inductions following the Taason/Airat debacle, they discovered many promising applicants with much to offer the High Guilds.
Of these applicants, the most remarkable was Yllamere, a pale-haired beauty from Lageni. Yllamere, a mistress of song magic, had near-legendary talent. By some accounts, here achievements included singing a fevered firewrack dragon to sleep, comforting inn-wights so that they might gain the peace necessary to pass on and enticing a pack of ferals to slay themselves in search of release. She would neither confirm nor deny these tales and would not tell her own story; she maintained that her task was to sing the stories of fallen heroes and tragic lovers – those who could not relate their own tales.
She arrived at the First Gate with a small retinue of followers: some wizards, sorcerers and bards – all musicians – who had hoped to gain inspiration or an education through the association. By all accounts, she charmed the Sovereign Council with her reverent interest in immortalizing the fallen and by demonstrating a remarkable knowledge of magical dirges, requiems and chants. (Her incomparable voice and great beauty only enhanced her appealing intellectual qualities.)
Inducted almost immediately into the High Guilds after their arrival in 40 AV, Yllamere and her followers won the honor of High Guild status in their own discipline two years later, calling themselves the Chorus of the Banshee. Yllamere assumed the Sovereign Council’s seventh chair, which greatly pleased the Council, which felt it had finally gained a “true” seventh member. Sarrant willingly abdicated his responsibility to the Council and established a formal school for the Unfailing. A few years after the Chorus of the Banshee’s induction, the Council lost another of its original members. Carthylla the Healer, though still remarkably strong for her age, stepped down from the Council in 54 AV, leaving the Anatomist’s Guild in the hands of her greatest student.
Hollowfaust’s mortal military also swelled in size. The Guildsmen brought forth coffers of gold reclaimed from the Sumaran ruins and dispatched word that professional fighting men and women would have a well-paid place in the city. Hollowfaust’s remote location and fell reputation dissuaded many mercenaries, but attracted those few interested in a secure job far from the most war-ravaged lands. After all, the mercenaries reasoned, a place so isolated and remote was unlikely to see many wars. Lemartos’ son, Hyrikk, took the most talented swords-for-hire under his tutelage, organizing them into what would become the elite Stygian Guard regiment.
Meanwhile, the Guildsmen pursued their various specialties. Many necromancers explored the outside world, securing news, further magical knowledge and the corpses of powerful beasts. The High Guilds began doing a brisk trade in body parts, paying huntsmen and mercenaries generous sums for the skeletons or corpses of Ghelspad’s more exotic and dangerous creatures.
But these peaceful years also witnessed the passage of two of the Seven Pilgrims. Sapheral the Weary finally succumbed to his body’s weaknesses in 56 AV, leaving his underpriests detailed instructions about his successor’s appointment. Like all of Nemorga’s priests, Sapheral did not use magic to extend his life, giving the god his due, and reputedly died praying, grateful for death’s release. Later, in 68 AV, Carthylla died peacefully in her sleep and was interred with all honors in the Underfaust. Her faithful Sarrant joined her in death, lying down beside her in her tomb and quietly expiring, thus ending a love story that is remembered even today in song and story in Hollowfaust and beyond.
The Third Siege
Peace, in the Scarred Lands, rarely lasts forever. In particular, the Ukrudan’s sutak, still stinging from their defeat a half-century before, had spent the intervening time replenishing their strength. In 72 AV, the sutak, their numbers boosted to invasion levels, boiled out of the desert a second time against Hollowfaust. The sutak gave every appearance of having learned from their previous effort. The sutak army was twice the size of the force that conducted the First Siege, and their officers had created a tighter chain of command. Their alchemist-engineers had prepared cunning siege engines and magics that would take the sutak over Hollowfaust’s wall or breach it altogether. Had the sutak been facing the Hollowfaust that existed at the time of the First or even Second Siege, they would have won.
But the necromancers had had more than 40 years since the Second Siege to rebuild and expand their forces, and they too had used the time well. Once again, the undead legions marched forth and, with sufficient numbers, stymied the greater body of sutak troops. Strangely animated siege engines flung bone javelins with preternatural accuracy at the sutak conjurers who tried to fly over the walls. The Stygian Guard tested itself for the first time against Hollowfaust’s enemies and was nor found wanting. So the sutak – rallied around an army that could have easily crushed lesser cities – were repelled and dispersed once again.
Although some non-Hollowfaust historians contend that the Third Siege cost the least in terms of casualties, Guildsmen themselves make no such claims. The Third Siege cost the Sovereign Council dearly, as the battle took the life of master craftsman and animator Barastrondo. The Animator’s Society leader had taken the field in person, moving among his pet siege engines, the osseous calabrae, to ensure their continued and optimal operation. To his misfortune, three potent sutak conjurers leading a charge on the wall blasted him with repeated spells of nullification, canceling not only the magics he used to amplify his creations’ abilities, but also the wards preserving him from attack. While the necromancer struggled to recast his protections, the sutak magically pulled him from the wall, where he died under the invaders’ swords. The necromancers fought valiantly to recover his mutilated body, and his Guild restored it to perfect wholeness before laying their founder to rest. Of the Seven Pilgrims, only two remained.
Success from the Third Siege bought Hollowfaust several years of peace, which it spent rebuilding what was damaged or destroyed and growing larger still. More than 50 years passed, and the citystate’s population became even healthier. Although Hollowfaust was far from a thriving trade center, word continued to spread that the reclusive city-state offered remarkable products for trade and had ample gold to spend on grain, beer, horses and other goods. Those traders who safely crossed the road to and from Hollowfaust found the rewards well worth their troubles; remarkably, many traders began making annual visits.
During these years, bands of vagabonds, mercenaries and treasure-hunters (who preferred the euphemistic term “adventurers”) recognized the value of Hollowfaust as a way-station and base camp from which to mount expeditions into the Ukrudan Desert, Hornsaw Forest and Gascar Peaks. Many of these bands fared poorly and never returned from their ambitious explorations; some adventurers never left at all, foolishly assuming that the local laws didn’t apply to them. But the successful bands profited greatly, particularly by selling the carcasses of their more exotic kills and the information they’d gained to Guildsmen. Some inspired Hollowfausters even mimicked the adventurers’ success, forming bands of their own to seek knowledge, magic and wealth in the surrounding lands. The sages of the Scarred Lands owe much to these intrepid bands of adventurers who have collected vital information on the Ukrudan and the Hornsaw and their residents, such as the asaatthi. The tradition continues to the present.
The Fourth Siege
Of course, the same 50 years that allowed Hollowfaust to grow benefited its enemies as well. In 126 AV, Hollowfaust faced a revitalized attacking force once again. Once more, the sutak roared out of the Ukrudan to make war on Hollowfaust. This time, however, they were at their most dangerous, calling themselves the Hemtakht Pherakkht – the Army of Pherakka.
Never before had one leader commanded such loyalty and confidence from his troops, but Pherakka was in many ways a paragon among sutak war leaders. Though Pherakka was as charismatic a commander as his predecessors were, what made him truly dangerous was his status as a fire warlock, with power far greater than any sutak before him. Pherakka could incinerate entire skeletal legions at once, as he proved during the first few days of the siege. With an accompanying cadre of lesser fire-wizards assisting his spells and dispelling the magics hurled at him, Pherakka cut a swath through Hollowfaust’s defenders.
Complicating matters, the High Guilds’ most senior members had sequestered themselves away from the siege. Not even their apprentices could say for certain where they’d gone. But when the sounds of battle lulled in the night, some people swore they heard chanting sounds drifting down from the volcano’s crater far above.
The battle itself was vicious, as neither camp relented. Legion after legion of undead soldiers was thrown at the sutak, destroying only a portion of the invaders’ forces before Pherakka’s magic demolished them. The bone siege engines slew many sutak but were in the end blasted from the walls. A few sutak squads, aided by magic, actually crossed the Outer Wall and reached the streets of the Civilian Quarter before being cut down by the Stygian Guard, who remained within the walls to protect the population. Hollowfaust’s defenders could do little more than hold the walls and stymie Pherakka’s most audacious gambits; for once, it seemed as though the city of the dead would not outlast its enemy.
On the seventh day, though, the necromancers unleashed their newest and most terrifying weapon. From the calderas emerged a massive dragon – a bone-and-sinew creature lashed together and fortified with the necromancers’ strongest spells. They called it the Bonewrack Dragon, and its initial attack threw the sutak into disarray. As it wheeled about, the city’s defenders organized a desperate countercharge, which launched itself into the sutak army, the Bonewrack acting as the spearhead. Pherakka’s magic finally failed him; he could do little more than badly sear the Bonewrack before the monstrous undead dragon blasted the life from Pherakka’s body.
Once more the surviving sutak fled into the desert – regrettably leaving Pherakka’s corpse behind. The sutak wizard-general’s bones are now in the Sovereign Council’s keeping; a low rumor says the Council summons Pherakka’s spirit from time to time, working arcane torments on his ghost to exact revenge for all the lives lost during the Fourth Siege.
Today, Hollowfaust is as strong as ever, but so are those agencies that may yet prove to be its enemies. To the southeast, the Calastian Hegemony grows in strength and size, and its covetous wizards surely wish to claim Hollowfaust’s secrets as their own. To the west across the Ukrudan Desert lies Dunahnae, and when the chardunite nation decides to go on a campaign of conquest for its god, Hollowfaust may well prove a target of proximity and opportunity. The sutak still inhabit the Ukrudan and may be rebuilding their forces to stage an assault to surpass all those that have come before. Glivid-Autel still lurks in the Hornsaw Forest and nurses its wounds, thirsting for revenge. Surrounded by unfriendly nations, except for nearby Lokil – itself not the mightiest of martial lands – Hollowfaust may find its self-reliance tested to its limits in coming years. Many sages hope that the city-state can hold on, for the sake of all Ghelspad; if Hollowfaust’s enemies take the city-state and add its necromantic might to their own, who then could stand before such ill-directed power?