A Candle in the Dark
Living under the Shadow
As the Shadow’s armies spread across Erenland, the Night Kings issued a series of edicts designed to deny their new subjects the ability or will to resist their rule. The edicts have been enforced by whip and vardatch; even orcs fresh from the breeding grounds in the north understand that to appear weak before the cattle, as they call the humans and enslaved fey, is to invite a stampede. There are no appeals, no mercy; judgment is swift and brutally efficient, with innocents suffering as often as the truly guilty. In the case of serious violations, whole families are enslaved or sacrificed for the crimes of a single individual. The harshness of these punishments is designed to turn brother against brother, father against son.
Foremost among the laws of the Shadow are these: fey are to be killed on sight or reported immediately; none but the servants of Izrador may bear weapons, even simple hunting tools like knives and bows; and none but the Order of Shadow may teach others to read or write.
The subjects of Izrador also live in fear of the Shadow’s enforcement of unwritten laws, which can change at the whim of a local legate or garrison commander. Even those proclamations that are declared with posted writs and notices are sadistic excuses to punish the ignorant, as few in Eredane have the ability to read. This lack of certainty breeds fear and indecision, with villagers seeking approval for even simple repairs or everyday movements, yet fearing to draw attention to themselves lest they earn a beating for their trouble. Survival skills in these dark days are passed from generation to generation, and among the most valuable things a child can learn are how to anticipate a legate’s whims, how to predict an orc’s rage, and most importantly how to remain unnoticed by both.
Life Under the Occupation
One hundred years of combat, disease, deprivation, and enslavement have greatly reduced the human population of Eredane, especially north of the Pelluria. The Dornish population has been cut in half since the end of the Third Age and continues to decline. The rest of Erenland is littered with abandoned or destroyed villages. Wind and rain have eaten away at these once vibrant communities, turning the collected buildings into little more than moldering piles of rock and rotting timber. Small forests have reclaimed fields and even swallowed buildings that once nestled in their clearings. Rich farm fields lay fallow, full of weeds, or covered by swordgrass and thistles. Only the winds, whistling through broken windows and amongst the burial rings, bear witness to what once was.
The loss of life and abandonment of countless villages has also taken its toll on the roads, bridges, and dams that once marked the strength and achievement of Erenland. Even well into the south, what were once wide, well-maintained trade roads are now little more than scattered game trails. Bridges have collapsed or washed away, leaving their jagged foundations to jut like fangs from the riverbanks. Those bridges that remain are extremely hazardous and crudely patched. In some cases, bridges have been purposefully destroyed by insurgents to prevent easy passage by the Shadow’s armies.
Time and the elements have not been the only causes of widespread destruction; at the end of the Third Age, dark magics and foully concocted diseases washed over towns and villages that attempted to resist the Shadow’s advance. Some sections of Eredane are completely lifeless as a result of these attentions, the ground brittle and gray, avoided by all living things. Some say that Izrador’s corruption has seeped into the earth, deforming the landscape and filling all that dwell there with hatred and malice. The most dangerous of these corrupted holes is the Foul Bog of Eris Aman, whose fetid marshes are riddled with sinkholes, poisonous plants, and bloated, endlessly hungry creatures that slither through the stinking swamps.
With the collapse of the Kingdom of Erenland and the abandonment of much of the frontier, natural and unnatural predators encroach on human territory to hunt both domesticated animals and their keepers. Grass cats, owlbears, displacer beasts, and other dangerous hunters have followed caribou and skarpin herds south and have developed a taste for human flesh. Domesticated animals have turned feral and packs of savage dogs, once the protectors of the Dorns, now attack lone travelers. Everything from simple hunger to malign magical corruption have warped the behavior of normally peaceful animals, turning them into savage beasts that attack without provocation and have caused them to lose their fear of man. The natural order is slowly being overturned, and the hunters have become the hunted.
The Loss of Knowledge
The forces of the Shadow in the North raided and burned, killing all who opposed them, and laid waste to the land. They destroyed whole cities, wiped entire cultures from the face of the earth, and plunged the world into a dark age out of which there is little hope of crawling. The legates of the Order of Shadow have continued to drive this descent into darkness by outlawing literacy, writing, and science, arresting or killing outright those found with books or teaching others to read.
With the destruction of the accumulated knowledge of centuries and the brutal punishment of anyone caught pursuing such knowledge, the Order of Shadow has forced the human lands into a pit of ignorance and sealed it over with fear, suspicion, and hate. Trade routes have been broken and the flow of information severed along with the flow of goods. Without the natural exchange of ideas and knowledge, the human lands have fragmented into isolated pockets of mistrust and prejudice. Art has ceased to exist and only the basest of necessary crafts continue. The common tongue, once widespread, is fragmenting into incomprehensible regional dialects, further alienating humans from each other. The sciences of alchemy, healing, and metalworking stagnate and slowly revert to more primitive forms.
Now, even if the fey were free to openly walk the land, they would find nothing but fear and prejudice awaiting them in the human lands. Suspicious peasants and fearful city dwellers alike would hand them over to the legates’ spies, with no respect for the memory that their peoples once stood together against the Shadow.
Even in the lands of elves and dwarves, where books and literacy are cherished legacies, there has been an inevitable academic decline. Under the reign of the Shadow, trade with the fey is punishable by death and therefore only vital goods are smuggled into their lands. Unfortunately, little science or philosophy comes with them. As one by one settlements near the borders of their lands fall to the Night Kings’ raids, great thinkers are murdered and libraries of irreplaceable tomes are burned. One idea, one thought, one story, or one scroll at a time, the collective enlightenment of the world is falling prey to the fire and hate of the Shadow.
The Shadow has divided Erenland into 22 districts, creating a system of regional viceroys that have their own troops to enforce the laws, root out resistance groups, and ensure the smooth flow of supplies, slaves, and sacrifices. The viceroys are responsible for vast areas, much of which is sparsely populated and not easily accessible. The major communities all have permanent garrisons and the old trade roads and navigable rivers are well patrolled, with fortified guard posts at fairly regular intervals. Minor roads, game trails, and lesser rivers and streams are rarely patrolled, however, due mostly to the sheer scope of each garrison’s patrol zone and the limited returns to be gained. Indeed, the vast distances between population centers and major roads, especially in the Dornish north, are the major reason why the resistance has survived for a century against overwhelming odds.
Not all humans are enemies of Izrador; many are active collaborators. The Order of Shadow, for instance, is almost exclusively human. In addition, thousands of humans serve in the Night King Jahzir’s armies or as guards for legates, as loyal retainers of the traitor princes and false sussars, and in mercenary units. While each racial group accuses the others of providing the greatest percentage of traitors, the truth is that Dorns, Erenlanders, and Sarcosans have all turned willingly to the service of the dark god. Many of these are not evil warlords or malevolent rogues, but rather simple craftsmen, farmers, and woodsmen who betray their friends and neighbors out of fear or desperation. Collaborators can appear anywhere and in any guise. The old healer that acts as the local midwife is the same woman that identifies children who bear the spark of magic to the local legate. The neighbor that has shared bread for years reports blasphemies against Izrador to see former friends hung. The fear that anyone could secretly worship or serve the dark god has sapped the will of most of the subjugated people of Eredane to resist the Shadow.
While all of the traditionally Dornish lands have been ravaged and plundered over the last 100 years, there remain vast distances in which to avoid the gaze of the Shadow or the wrath of his legions. Much of this area has been raped of what resources it has to offer, however, and is cursed by foul weather, the restless souls of the Lost, or dangerous creatures that have followed the orc hordes down from the north. The region north and east of Bastion, though covered in tall sword grass and subject to the full fury of the winter storms from the north, has few orc garrisons, and those are tied to key villages and old Fortress Wall keeps. In the barren wilds north of Steel Hill, nearly feral Dorn tribes subsist on wild boro herds and scavenge what wild roots and edible vegetation they can gather, and may never see an orc legion. While marginally free, the Dorns of these areas live such miserable and harsh existences that one might question whether slavery would be better.
Farther south, in the more fertile lands, most of the Dornish villages are under the Shadow’s control. A few, isolated by dense forests or extremely rugged terrain, have escaped the Shadow’s notice. The only other free areas in