The Arcanist Vault
DescriptionAn ancient tower rising over a thousand yards high into the sky, with doors and hallways large enough to welcome giants and dragons. Cryptic messages are carved into the stone walls. Hidden and magical rooms can be around every corner, and hallways sometimes just end up somewhere else than they used to. At the top of the building, there's a space similar to a bell tower - with the difference that it holds a giant floating crystal instead of a bell. The gemstone, which the current owners call the Arcanist Gem, is a powerful artifact, vibrating with magical energies. Sages studied the crystal for millennia, yet never found out what it did - until the land it was built upon shifted to the dimension of Braythe. Suddenly, it became active, and the wonders it holds keep even mighty wizards amazed. The Arcanist Vault is a building with a long history, and despite all research, those who live here have more questions than answers. The first historical entry about it is more than six thousand years old, and even then it was described as ancient, its original owners long forgotten. Nowadays, the tower stands at the very edge of the world of Ashandri, the clouds of the purple void only a short stroll away. For over five hundred years, it has been home to an organization known as the Arcanists. They have devoted their entire lives to the pursuit of knowledge and understanding of the world(s) that surround them. Most Arcanists are either spellcasters or sages, and the massive tower holds so many secrets that some members of the organization never leave the building, studying room after room, feature after feature. The entrance, while already impressive, is still relatively normal - compared to the upper levels. The road to the cities of Blackhaven and Grimhome begins right at its doorstep. A large staircase leads three hundred feet upwards to a hundred feet high gate. The steps are so large that most humans have to stretch to get from one to the next. Smaller beings have to climb up, get carried or find a way to fly or hover upwards.
Teleportation into the tower is impossible: Whoever tries it lands at the beginning of the staircase. It leads into a grand hall, dozens of doors and four large spiral stairs leading upwards. The higher you get, the stronger the dimensional magic of the tower gets. The tower holds more and more rooms on every level, and beginning at the fourth or fifth floor, there are definitely more chambers and halls than what should fit inside. Still, the lower half of the tower is mostly stable. You walk through one hallway, and there are usually the same rooms behind the same doors. It happens only every decade or so that something changes here. In the highest levels, close to the artifact, the corridors sometimes stretch for miles, or bend and twist in unfathomable directions. Doors lead to gargantuan halls, tiny closets or just blank walls. Some of the rooms are empty, but many serve a specific function. The more regular ones are bedrooms, dining rooms or chambers with finely crafted instruments. Others are magical and alchemical laboratories, engineering workshops or forges. But as with the hallways, the higher up you get, the stranger the rooms you find are. You can find places filled with floating magical lights and dancing ethereal runes, chambers of absolute darkness filled with a melody you haven't heard since childhood, a hall filled with talking plants, or a room where the walls, floor and ceiling are made of canvas, and every step you make paints beautiful pictures that remind you of something you experienced, or a dream you had years ago. Whatever you find won’t be dangerous, if handled correctly. As mysterious and strange as the Arcanist Vault is, there never seems to be any malicious intent. Accidents happen, yes, but that's not really a surprise when overly curious sages and wizards explore an ancient magical tower filled with strange wonders. Not long after the world of Ashandri shifted to Braythe, a new kind of secret was revealed to the Arcanists. The Vault didn't just hold miraculous items and phenomena, it seems it was also some kind of prison... and the activation of the Arcanist Gem seems to weaken whatever kept the prisoners inside. Two weeks after the apocalypse, something began murdering wizards. Witnesses spoke of a dark shadow visible at the corner of the eye. The victims were shredded to pieces. Through magical investigations, the Arcanists finally found the creature. The battle against it cost three more lives, but at least the time of fear was over. Or so everyone thought... In the weeks after, about a dozen new beasts appeared, each one more dangerous than the last. And they seemed to get more intelligent every time. But what appeared like a new scourge also turned out to be a perfect defense when the invaders from Va'Laeth reached the Arcanist Vault. After conquering Blackhaven and the area around Grimhome, three legions of Ravager Elves marched towards the ancient tower. Two of the Perishing accompanied them, as well as several dozen war beasts. The Arcanists were well-prepared for the attackers. With all the magical might at their disposal, as well as a small army of allies and mercenaries to defend the Vault with blades and bows, they kept their enemies at bay for over a week. It was an elite group of assassins that almost brought defeat. The Ravager Elves managed to sneak into the tower, placed deadly traps, killed important members of the organization, and sabotaged whatever could be used for defense. They were hiding in the tower for days - until they were suddenly found in a dining hall. Their heads and limbs dismembered with surgical precision, a single message was written on the walls with their blood: These intruders are not welcome. The next night, screams were heard from the Laethian camps. And when the Arcanists checked on their enemies at dawn, the entire legions were wiped out. Several creatures seemed to have attacked them, as some of the victims were violently torn apart, others half-eaten, and one entire legion dismembered like the Ravager Elves found in the tower. Since then, every couple of months, a new kind of beast appears in the tower. After what happened with the Ravager Elves, there are intense discussions whether the creatures have really been imprisoned here, or if they are some kind of defenders of the Vault. Some even believe the monstrous entities are the original creators and owners of the tower. Whatever the truth, the beasts keep hunting the Arcanists. Most people would probably just abandon the place. But to the sages here, the risk of getting murdered by vile creatures is a price they’re willing to pay to find out more about the secrets of the Arcanist Vault. Over the last years, they have installed countless defense mechanisms, and both engineered and magical ways to track down intruders. When a new beast appears, it usually doesn't take more than a few weeks, sometimes even just days, before they hunt it down. When they do, they try trapping the creature instead of killing it. They're not always successful, but a few of the unique beings are now confined in laboratories, subject to the research of their former prey. A few ones, though, have escaped to this day. The most infamous one is a creature people just call The Carver. It feeds on the lungs of its victims, but keeps the rest of the body intact - except for the runes it carves into their flesh. The very same kind of runes carved into the ancient walls of the Arcanist Vault.
The Arcanist Vault by Chris Owl
Secrets of the ancient runesOne of the great secrets of the Arcanist Vault are the cryptic messages left on the old walls. Some appear as nonsensical scribbles, others are carved into the stone with great care. Each rune represents a syllable, but it’s hard to say what a word is: The runes are always written in the same size and with the exact same distance to each other. It’s like reading a text with no spacing between any of the letters, missing any kind of punctuation, and with more or less random line breaks. Still, the Arcanists managed to translate many of them. Unfortunately, they seem to be written in some kind of code, or maybe just by a creature with a very different mindset than those of the sages living in the Vault. Nevertheless, they often managed to uncover their true meaning, or at least part of it. A relatively well-known such writing said: Words None To Everyone Light Alive
The Light Desires They
Need To Know
Light Purple Suffering
Touch River Light This text actually makes more sense than most carvings. The current interpretation is that this refers to the moment when the Arcanists used the tower’s artifact to telepathically speak with everyone in Ashandri. “Words None” are translated as telepathy, “Light Alive” to the Arcanist Gem becoming active. So the first line is interpreted as “Using telepathy to contact everyone once the Arcanist Gem is active”. The last line probably refers to the moment when one of the Arcanists, now known as the Speaker, touched a ray of light that came out of the crystal, and had the strangest feeling of becoming friends with the artifact (“Speaker befriends light”). This was when he realized how he could use the Arcanist Gem to speak with everyone in the world, if only for a few seconds. This way of deciphering helped make sense of several such writings, and they turned out to be instructions to find hidden rooms or how to use certain items in the tower. Still, they leave a lot of room for debate, and even the easier ones often have one or a few lines that people just don't understand - yet. In the above example, sages are still discussing what the “Purple Suffering” might be, or what meaning the line “Mother Gone” might have. What's interesting is that many of the texts that the Arcanists could make sense of seem to refer to events after the apocalypse. The most common theory is that the original creator (or creators) knew what would happen, and left the writings as a sort of instruction manual to help the current residents of the Vault. After the murderous creatures appeared in the tower, this interpretation is heavily debated.
ResidentsThe only permanent residents of the Arcanist Vault (if you don't count the murderous beasts) are members of the Arcanists, the most famous organization of Ashandri. They were already well-known in the old world before the apocalypse. With the magic of the Arcanist Gem, they managed to send a telepathic message to every sentient being of Ashandri. The short explanation of what had happened after the apocalypse - Marisha Veilbreaker being chosen as champion and the dimensional shift to Braythe - helped calm down many people. And, of course, it brought the Arcanists to the attention of literally every thinking being in Ashandri. Thousands wanted to join them, some of them traveling to their tower from all over the world. This makes the Arcanist Vault possibly the most diverse location in all of Ashandri. Only one thing really unites them all: The passion for knowledge and the desire to understand... well, basically everything. Every single person here is working on some kind of research project, either their own or helping someone from whom they want to learn. Most of these projects are either meant to help and protect the people of Ashandri, or to uncover the great mysteries of the multiverse. Yet, despite the overall positive attitude of most Arcanists, there are those with a rather dark view on magic and science. Some spellcasters and sages seek power through knowledge to pursue some evil goal, and there are those who are willing to do everything to find knowledge. If these people, which other Arcanists call Defilers, overstep, the leaders of the Arcanists show up. Those who kill innocents or risk the safety of the world are shown their limits. Usually, they're brought elsewhere - it's said that the Arcanists have secret prisons where they keep the most dangerous of their members. But sometimes, a Defiler's work is just so useful that they get to stay, continuing their work - as long as they don't go too far again. Or, at least, as long as they don't get caught again...
Important charactersRaenath Avadil is an elven sorceress, and the current bearer of the title Supreme Weaver of the Mystic Arts, Leader of the Arcanists. She has traveled the old world for centuries, and is known to be as wise as she is intelligent. Raenath joined the Arcanists only a few years after they took over the Arcanist Vault from an evil lich. She even helped defeat the powerful wizard and his army of vampires and other undead creatures as a mercenary. But before she became an Arcanist, she had to slay another evil: Her own father, who had been turned into a tentacled aberration by nightmarish creatures deep in the subterranean world of Virthys. She was granted the title of Grandmaster, one of the six leaders of the organization, two hundred years ago, and became Supreme Weaver after the death of Lorizian, a silver dragon wizard that died of old age while studying the Arcanist Gem. Since Ashandri shifted to Braythe, her main goal is to explore and understand this new home - meaning both the reborn world created by the champion Marisha Veilbreaker as well as the strange dimension of Braythe. She has sent a few exploration parties to the World Chains as well as to the neighboring world of Morothai, and is keen on exploring the purple void itself. She is met with a lot of criticism, because funds for the exploration of the Arcanist Vault itself have been cut in favor of exploring the "outside world". So far, Raenath doesn't care a lot about this criticism. Djerbis, the Grandmaster of Beasts, is one of the six Grandmasters alongside Raenath. The human man is a druid and a warlock serving an unknown patron. He specializes in studying magical and other strange creatures. With the appearance of the vile beasts in the Arcanist Vault, he suddenly received much more attention, and created a task force to capture and study the unique creatures. But his personal passion project is the study of the Perishing, and seeking ways to defeat them. He was personally involved in the creation of the spells that helped Marisha Veilbreaker kill some of these beings. This turned him into some sort of heroic figure for many sages, but also made him the target of several assassination attempts by agents from Va'Laeth. Taecron Drithvil, also known as Keeper of the Runes, is a dwarven sorcerer who joined the Arcanists about 60 years ago. He devoted his life to deciphering the cryptic runes carved into the tower walls all over the Arcanist Vault. He has been working on dictionary books for the ancient language for decades, but new runes keep coming up. Fortunately, some of the other magically inclined residents are capable of reading any language, even those they don’t know. So the major problem isn't reading the runes, it’s correctly interpreting them. And this task has become even more important since the Carver showed up in the Vault. Taecron and his seven students, the Rune Readers, have abandoned the work on the old dictionaries, and now create a new one which includes their interpretation of the mindset behind the writing. Eleandrim, also called The Speaker, is an elven wizard who joined the Arcanists a year before the apocalypse. He hoped to find ways to bring peace to the world, and was devastated when Zathruax defeated all the forces united against him. After the creation of Ashandri, he simply sat on the ledge surrounding the Arcanist Gem, staring into the distance, pondering to jump down and end everything. Then, suddenly, the magical crystal began to shine brightly, and a single beam of light reached out to him. He touched it, and, as he describes it, connected with the artifact. Seconds later, he knew how to use the Arcanist Gem to telepathically communicate with everyone in the world - which he did after consulting with the Grandmasters. Ever since, Eleandrim visits the crystal daily. Occasionally, the artifact reveals some new power to him. The arcane gestures to activate the Shield Wall is the best known example, but he also found out how to enter the Dread Cathedral safely (unfortunately, it only works for him so far). Rumours are there are some powers he keeps secret. The elf claims these are simply empty accusations by jealous rivals. Alva is a female Ashfolk (former human), and one of the most passionate researchers of the Braythian Void. She is in constant contact with Elvra Greenfox from Rimville near the Void Fortress, hoping that together they will manage to build a Void Ship - capable of traveling the purple void while protecting all passengers and crew. Alva is also known for exposing the vile experiments of Aen Jarlox, who experimented on kidnapped villagers from all over Delvaroth. Aen was scolded by the Grandmasters, and had to stay in an Arcanist prison for a month. After that, he was allowed to return to the Vault, and continue his work - just without sentient subjects. The two Arcanists hate each other, but mostly, Alva is afraid that Aen will find a way to get her killed. Aen Jarlox, a known Defiler, is a warlock hellbent on finding a way to enter the Mesmerizing Mountains while being protected from the mindweb. Rumours are that his patron, a vile and ancient creature, has given him this task. Aen worked together with an organization of slavers to kidnap innocent people, and use them in his experiments. Every single one of them lost their mind, some of them talking confusing gibberish, others just blankly staring into nothingness. After one of his fellow Arcanists, Alva, revealed what he had done, he was gone for about a month - officially sent to a secret prison. But he returned even more confident than before. He is still furious, and frustrated because not using sentient innocents slowed down his progress. But Aen also knows that he is watched closely, and understands that this is not a situation where he should push his luck.
The Guardian MountainsWhen Ashandri shifted into the dimension of Braythe, and powerful magic swept over the world for a whole day, the landscape was heavily changed in some places. Right here, at the edge of the world, earthquakes made the ground tremble for hours. At some points, the land ripped open, and massive rocks were pushed out of the ground. Two rifts stretched for miles away from the world's edge, and turned into the so-called Guardian Mountains. They rise about as high as the tower itself. Some people interpret the mountains as natural shields protecting the home of the Arcanists, which led to the name Guardian Mountains.
The Shield WallStep by step, the Arcanists uncover the secret powers of the Arcanist Gem, the great artifact hovering at the top of the tower. One of these powers is the so-called Shield Wall, a magic barrier that is nearly impenetrable. When active, a light purple force field surrounds the Arcanist Vault in the shape of a dome. It combines the properties of the Wall of Force and the Forcecage spell, but not only keeps those inside within it: It's as hard to get in as to get out. It is immune to the effects of a Disintegrate spell. If the Shield Wall is deactivated by some other means, it can be switched on again within 30 seconds by anyone knowing the correct magical gestures and standing close to the Arcanist Gem. The Arcanists still study the Shield Wall, and there are theories it might have additional powers. To be able to study it, the wall is activated every couple days, and wizards and other spellcasters are seen casting their magic on the wall. The Shield Wall extends about twenty feet into the ground, and a complete force field extends below the ground. This prevents attackers from simply building a tunnel to get into the magical dome. With all its powers, the Shield Wall was one of the essential defensive abilities of the Arcanist Vault to keep the forces of Va'Laeth out. How the small group of Ravager Elves still managed to sneak inside is a mystery yet to be solved, and one of the reasons why the Arcanists invest so much time in studying the Shield Wall.
The Edge CathedralAside from the main tower, the Arcanist Vault has two smaller towers - called cathedrals - at its sides. Opposite to the main tower, the cathedrals have a stable structure - but they still hold their share of wonders and secrets. One of them, once called the Cathedral of Knowledge, is right at the edge of the world, a few inches of the building even going beyond the rim. People now just call it the Edge Cathedral. Both buildings have a very specific nature, a theme that is reflected both by architectural and supernatural features. The Edge Cathedral's theme is, as its former name implies, Knowledge - but not just any knowledge. It's all about obscure secrets and the great mysteries of the multiverse. There are libraries filled with books that you can only open if you uncover a different secret first. Rooms are filled with puzzles that lead to other puzzles, and sometimes, decades of research only reveal a cryptic poem or a painting of a person that nobody has ever seen before. Even magically consulting with divine or other supernatural beings doesn't reveal much. After Ashandri shifted to Braythe, a single stone door appeared in the ground at the far end of the cathedral. The entire building had been magically examined, and revealed no signs of a basement. Yet, the heavy door leads to a staircase and down into a cellar level. The main hall is another library, but there are hundreds of other rooms. The doors to them are locked, and cannot be opened even by the most powerful magic. The Arcanists managed to solve a handful of puzzles to open them, and found wondrous artifacts hidden behind.
The Dread CathedralWhere the Edge Cathedral is devoted to knowledge, the Dread Cathedral has a darker theme: Fear. Most Arcanists prefer not to enter the building, and many of those who did never returned. In its halls and chambers, lit by crystal chandeliers floating mid-air, you find statues, paintings and figurines of distorted and nightmarish creatures. Those few who have returned from here explained that, sooner or later, you see something that triggers one of your deepest fears. And when you do, the likeness turns real, and begins to hunt you. Some of them simply try to kill you as quickly as possible, others prefer to torture their victims. And a few ones like to play mind games, driving their victims insane before killing them. Despite these dangers, the Dread Cathedral also holds fascinating secrets. Many of the nightmarish creatures that came alive communicated with their prey, and it seems they know the answers to many of the great secrets of the multiverse. The common theory is that this knowledge, while always correct, is simply a form of bait, and there are better and less risky ways to get answers. On the other hand, even the murderous beasts that hunt Arcanists in the main tower don't scare off most members of the organization, so there's always someone willing to risk their lives for knowledge in the Dread Cathedral.
The Entrance HallOnce you climb up the massive staircase and walk through the great entrance doors, a luxurious hall awaits you. The floor is made from marble and obsidian, the walls are over a hundred feet high, and the ceiling is covered in paintings of unknown landscapes. When you enter, you are greeted by novice Arcanists, and asked to identify yourself and state the reason for your visit. If you want to become a member of the Arcanists, you are led to the Bureau of Novitiates. Guests are escorted to the Sanctum Hall instead. Four spiral staircases lead to the upper levels of the Arcanist Vault. But the entrance hall itself is already a sight to behold: Beautiful waterspout fountains shaped like mythological creatures are surrounded by marble benches, and glowing spheres hover through the air, emitting a soft light that dims down at evening. Sometimes, waves of a blue magical energy flow over the ground and the walls - another secret that the Arcanists couldn't solve yet. The entrance hall is also a meeting place for the residents, often to discuss their current projects. And, as mundane as it sounds, also to meet for lunch - one of the doors here leads to the great dining hall.
The Bureau of NovitiatesAnyone who wants to become an Arcanist has to visit the Bureau of Novitiates first. Here, veteran members evaluate your intentions and possible magical powers, and clarify what the Arcanists are all about - and what they don't want to see in their members. If you pass the evaluation interview, you are allowed into the guest chambers, and have to pass ten challenges over a course of five days. These tests are always created individually for every recruit, focusing both on their main strengths and main weaknesses found in the interview. The tests about the weaknesses are mostly meant to make sure new members aren't dangerous to others, and that they can stand a certain amount of pressure. Failing the official task doesn't mean you don't get in. But if you freak out and lose control, or endanger others, you're kicked out instantly.
The Sanctum HallThe Sanctum Hall is a large - really large - hall on the second level of the main tower. It is connected to dozens of bedroom chambers, in which guests are allowed to reside. The hall itself is filled with shrines built by clerics and other worshippers of divine powers that are members of the Arcanists. There is also a delimited area separated with white draperies where the local healers care for the wounded and sick. It's usually not a very busy area, but sometimes, members are careless in their experiments, or a surviving victim from a beast attack is brought here.
The BalconyA few levels above the middle of the tower, a hallway leads to an outside stone platform. It's one of the features in this level that never changes: The path from the staircase to the outside has always been the same since the Arcanists took over the tower. The so-called balcony has no security measures, and with the wind being strong up here on most days, a few Arcanists have fallen to their deaths. The stone platform itself is covered with runes, hundreds of circles of small inscriptions surrounding the tower. It looks like arcane magic, but the order in which they appear make no sense. It seems as if someone had copied runes from actual spell scrolls or spellbooks, but always only taking one rune from each scroll. Many Arcanists believe the inscriptions on the balcony are similar to the Arcanist Gem, and will be somehow activated by a future event. Another theory says this event has already happened, lost to the past, and the runes have no power anymore.
The Arcanist GemThe most famous magic item of the Arcanist Vault, this artifact hovers above the ground in the so-called Gemtower. The staircase from the lower level leads to a ledge surrounding the crystal, which shines in a soft violet light. Up here, the magic it emits is almost tangible. Some spellcasters even feel so overwhelmed by its power that they can't stand being here for more than a few minutes. Those who can handle the magic can profit from its powers very directly: After a long rest in the gemtower, every spellcaster gains an additional spell slot for each of the first three spell levels. These slots have to be used up within the next four hours, or they simply vanish. There are always a couple of Arcanists up here, either studying the Arcanist Gem or simply guarding it. After the attack of the Ravager Elves, the Arcanists want to be prepared to activate the artifact's powers whenever they need them.
Goods and servicesWhile the Arcanist Vault isn't a settlement in the classical sense, there are several thousand members of the organization living here. That means there are little shops to provide the sages and spellcasters with everything they need for their daily life. For anything arcane - spells, items, components or research -, you can either address the officials that constantly wander the Sanctum Hall, or ask around to find an Arcanist that specializes in what you seek. Theoretically, there are complex administrative processes to purchase from or hire one of the Arcanists. In reality, most members can't be bothered with this, and just tell one of the (constantly overworked) officials about it after the job is finished.
Local rumours and news
- Raenath Avadilm, the leader of the Arcanists, has announced she wants to send an exploration party to the underground of Ashandri. She sends her only student, the Areian Elf Kimithandra, to study the Void Clouds that gather below the world island, and is looking for adventurers to protect her on the journey.
- For a few weeks now, there have been strange rumbling sounds coming from under the obsidian floor of the Dread Cathedral. The Arcanists have sent in two groups of spellcasters to investigate the noises, but none of them returned. Now they're looking for a more diverse group of adventurers, hoping they might be better prepared for the dangers lurking here.
- A new creature has appeared in the Arcanist Vault, hunting for warlocks exclusively. Their bodies have been found fully intact, but it appears as if their entire magical essence has been stolen. Even attempts at reviving them have been unsuccessful, as if their bodies now reject arcane forces.
- Taecron Drithvil has found a completely new hallway in one of the uppermost levels of the main tower. The walls are covered in the typical ancient runes, and the first translations left Taecron heavily worried. He announced that he is looking for brave and good-hearted people to accompany him to the Bleeding Jungles in search for an important artifact.
- About five miles away from the Arcanist Vault, a couple of dead bodies have been found. It seems these were simple merchants hoping to sell their goods to the sages. People fear it might be the work of a new Defiler, and the Arcanists do their best to find out what happened here. It's clear that magic was involved, as any kind of divination magic was unsuccessful.