The party sets up camp for the night in the confines of the small room. Wounds are bandaged, bed rolls are laid out. The oppressive heat of the swamp delays sleep. Sweat rolls down your body. The air is hot and oppressive. Your armor confines and pinches you. Crickets and frogs make noise against the quiet of the ruined Black Academy. Each of you rustle trying to find a measure of comfort on the ancient stone floors.
Dharma stirs she voices similar thoughts to what the rest of you are thinking, “Long ago, when the Dragonborn Empire of Arkhosia thrived, Ustraternes, one of many airborne dragonborn citadels, was undone. Tiefling wizards unraveled the magic that levitated the dragonborn fortresses high above the clouds and began bringing them down. One by one, the floating citadels fell to earth. When Ustraternes crashed into an alpine peak, it cracked open like an egg, scattering the sundered pieces in all directions. The mountain thereafter became known as Morningfall Summit, its original name erased from history. Its location has been lost to time… those that did this deed would have learned there art in this very building…”
Hari stirs his back against the door, a humanoid arm lying in his lap, “The words of the legendary Tiefling general Malachi were some of the more celebrated passages of The Hellpath Tome, some of the fragments found in The Hellpath Tome just scratch the surface of a deep and ancient martial discipline taught to the early soldiers and captains of Bael Turath by the Dukes of Hell. There style was first codified by the resourceful commanders charged with developing military manuals for the phalanxes of legion devils serving Bael Turath. None of the manuals have ever been found, but one phrase. “Time to throw down your shield,” has survived and is still used by Tieflings I have fought beside. They speak it at the moment when a defensive line breaks and they must fight on the offensive to prevail.
Kevvvry eyes flutter open, “I too have heard of the might of the warriors of Bael Tuarth, my mentor a paladin of Kord spoke once of the Crimson Legion. The warriors of the Crimson Legion were paladin warlocks who worshiped Asmodeus and entered into diabolic pacts. Their combination of arcane and divine magic made them formidable opponents.
Today, the traditions of the Crimson Legion continue but have shifted and changed. The survivors believed that Asmodeus had turned his back on the empire despite the pact between them. Thus, the warriors of the Crimson Legion still enter into eldritch pacts with diabolic powers, but they now ally with other gods to strike at Asmodeus. By turning the power of Hell against itself, they seek to avenge their fallen empire. Most members of the Crimson Legion worship Kord, Ioun, and Bahamut. However, their dabbling into arcane magic makes them suspicious figures, even as they attain victory after victory against Asmodeus’s followers.”
Gnimbiddle adds his knowledge to the conversation with a deep sigh, “Centuries ago, the folk of Bael Turath struck a bargain with Asmodeus. They became the first tieflings, and in the name of the Nine Hells they conquered lands far and wide. Today, their empire is a warning to those who would deal with the infernal powers. Yet, at the time of the empire’s height many believed that the lords of Bael Turath had done the unthinkable in outwitting Asmodeus.
To this day, some folk believe that Bael Turath fell only because of Arkhosia’s overwhelming might, a power that not even the Prince of Hell could overcome with the boons he offered. The Crimson Knights stood as one of Bael Turath’s most potent weapons. A cadre of paladins and warlocks, these crusaders were the cutting edge of the empire’s war machine. Their power rested at the center of the compact between Asmodeus and Bael Turath. The tiefling empire once spanned thousands of miles and served as a testament to the power of its devil-bound overlords. Filled with wonders and terrors the likes of which cannot be imagined by most, the legends about it sleep now. Fell citadels of world-rending might lay broken over the foolish ambitions of their makers. Senseless feuds mixed with opulence and blindness brought the gloried days of their world to a close.
But still, the rumors of the shattered empire persist. Those who believe that the white towers of Arkanast are civilization know little of the vastness of what the tieflings once ruled. The tainted masters of countless empires ruled from Vor Kragal, their seat of power. Vor Kragal pulsed with the terrifying might to break the souls of kings, and its markets flowed with the treasures of a hundred worlds. The secrets of life everlasting and the power to touch the face of the gods were all as commonplace to the tieflings of old as irrigating crops or erecting a simple stone wall is to those living in our current age. The magic of the present is a crude tool when compared to the dance of the elements seen in the past. Such power. For even a glimpse of it, a person might trade his soul. Now, though, the ruins of Vor Kragal are merely an ashen landscape that unknown terrors call home.
Vrax eyes seem to burn with fire, “Bah you speak of the might of Bael Turath but know this myths speak of the birth of the dragonborn, though they differ in the telling. Tales, awe-inspiring and terrifying, tell of the rise and fall of dragonborn empires, the greatest among them lost to a war that is still remembered. As soon as the Dawn War against the primordials ended in the gods’ favor, Tiamat and Bahamut began a struggle for dominance over dragonkind that has lasted into the present age. Many dragons and dragonborn took sides. Some turned to Tiamat’s ways, others to Bahamut’s, but a plurality walked a path between the two extremes.
Dragonborn families formed clans, extended groups unified by geographic proximity and similar temperaments. A large number of clans dedicated themselves to serving dragons. Many of these dragons belonged to bloodlines on one side or the other of the war between Bahamut and Tiamat. From within this clan structure, the dragonborn and their dragon lords formed centralized, cooperative states. They developed codified laws, as well as civic and religious institutions. War and diplomacy further unified realms. Dragonborn nations waxed and waned. All along, the conflict between the dragon gods did the same.
Historians, dragonborn and otherwise, differ on the subject of the outcome of the draconic conflict. Regardless of the truth of the matter, after numerous dragonborn kingdoms had passed into forgotten history, a unified array of dragonborn city-states formed the storied empire of Arkhosia. Arkhosia arose in the distant recesses of history, untold centuries before the rise of the human empire of Marson. It grew from a confederacy of seven city states united under the leadership of a single ancient dragon dubbed the Golden One. Dragon nobles integrated under a dragon emperor, mythically dubbed the Golden One. A dragonborn bureaucracy supported the nobles, protected by a military headed at first by the general Surina Moonscale. The Golden One and mighty Moonscale held Bahamut in highest regard among the gods, and this faith helped establish central principles for the empire. Imperial priests also held strongly to the tenets of Erathis, Ioun, and Kord.
Arkhosia seemed to be an unstoppable taming force that would eventually span the world, bringing progress and a measure of uprightness with it. Even Tiamat’s worship was outlawed and forced into secrecy. But evil other than Tiamat’s had risen to power in lands distant from Arkhosia’s central regions. Eventually, the expanding borders of the fiendish kingdom of Bael Turath, ruled by Tieflings and devils, collided with those of Arkhosia. Ideology, culture, and ambition smashed together as well. No common ground could be found between the two empires. For one to succeed, the other had to fall. War was inescapable. It came swiftly and brutally, and it spanned hundreds of years. Both sides suffered internal strife, mirroring the surface conflict.
The desire of common folk to be free of infernal shackles poisoned Bael Turath’s well of power. Bane’s cult worked both sides, stoking the war hotter, while extremists loyal to Melora aimed to bring both empires down. Bitterness strengthened the utter incompatibility of ethos between the two nations.
Ever worse exchanges led the warring empires toward ruin. Bael Turath’s forces heaped atrocities upon Arkhosia, corrupting some lands to the point that neither side could hope to reclaim them. Many of Arkhosia’s stalwarts of Bahamut began to thirst for retribution more than justice, to look to vengeance more than protecting the defenseless. Bloody Arkhosian campaigns against Bael Turath led some idealistic Arkhosians to doubt, and the empire’s foundational beliefs faltered, causing political turmoil. Overextension of resources made it difficult for ironhanded Bael Turath to keep order in its core provinces.
Neither relented, eventually costing both everything. The Golden One and many dragon lords perished, some fleeing with their lives but without honor after the death of the dragon emperor. Lesser lords of the Nine Hells strode across battlefields, only to fall to draconic claws or the assaults of Arkhosia’s legions. That which didn’t disintegrate in direct combat crumbled under the stress inflicted by the seemingly endless and vicious war. But end that war did, when neither empire had the resources or the will left to fight. When the dust settled and the smoke cleared, Bael Turath and Arkhosia were no more. Fiends of Bael Turath that weren’t hurled back into the Hells hid among the ruins, and Arkhosia’s few remaining dragon lords abandoned the wreckage or squabbled over the remains. Tieflings and dragonborn alike were left with no choice but to largely abandon their lands in search of refuge elsewhere in the world. Under later kingdoms, including the Marsonites, dragonborn were prohibited from gathering in large numbers. Yet many dragonborn still think of themselves as citizens of Arkhosia, exiles from a land that no longer exists but might someday be reborn.”
Pasha speaks her voice far away as if memories fill her mind, “As the ancient empires of Bael Turath and Arkhosia clashed for the final time, a small cadre of people brought together by chance came into knowledge of a Far Realm invasion and felt compelled to oppose it. The sane survivors— a deva courtier, a tiefling witch, an Eladrin scholar, a dragonborn soldier, and a masked male known only as “the Jack of Swords”—swore an oath never to reveal what they had heard and seen, and they also resolved to find a way to preserve their knowledge for the next time the world might need it, though all society might fall and dissolve. To keep alive their hopes despite the coming dark age, they created separate organizations that were linked together as a secret society dedicated to protecting the world from the Far Realm, regardless of whether what was left was worth saving. These five survived the war that ruined the empires of the world, and perhaps due to a taint of the very place they sought to combat, most lived far longer than nature would allow. Under their guidance, the Celestian Order emerged. Though most of its founders are now dead, their wisdom and determination were a shining light during the dark war of the two empires.”
Dirte sits up and takes a swig from his water skin before filling the silence with his words, “Corrin spoke earlier of the legend of halfling eating Ice Devils, my people have a legend passed down in draconic that speaks of a place so horrible that it was swallowed by the god that crawls, Torog. It is said that he reached up and dragged the blasphemers down into the Underdark. My people say that there the tiefling peoples of Maelbrathyr dwell still as prisoners of the God of Torture. Never to leave for ever to suffer…”
Corrin nods and adds to Dirte’s tale, “I have heard in my travels that those that fled the city of Harrack Unarth during the fall of Bael Turath were cursed. These curses were tailor made to each of those that fled. Murders would be haunted by the spirits of those they killed, some of the bloodlines first kiss resulted in death, and a noblewoman of the ruling house family was cursed to where red. If she or her relatives did not then they bled from the skin, though they could stave off the curse for a month by killing a criminal… as one of the accursed myself, I have listened to many such stories.”
Pasha seems to startle from her memories, “Such drab talk does not suit are current location. Sleep now, talk when the sun rises!”
The others seem to mentally shake themselves and resume their restful poses about the room. Hoping that sleep is not disturbed by the dark thoughts of the fallen kingdoms.