There's a city beneath the earth that never stops screaming. It's ragged, raw, slicked in blood, and beautiful beyond all you can imagine... or endure.
If tragedy is a thing that can be deserved, earned even, than Sha'Hidun is a fate that truly belongs to the Traitors-Below.
The existence of this city is a closely guarded secret that few outside of Melanthris are aware of. And what they do know about it only scratches the surface of the truth that lies hidden beneath Tairos. To the Elven nobility it is both a tomb and a prison for those among their society that favored The Autumn Queen's rule during her war almost three centuries earlier. While most of the nobility in fact sided with the Fae it eventually became clear that the Queen's efforts would ultimately end in defeat. Melanthris made a choice; to switch loyalties and exile both true believers in the Queen's cause and any other nobility that had a history of challenging the authority of the Elven King. Traitors, political dissidents and enemies of the state were all disposed of in one efficient action but rather than execute them they were exiled to the Bitter Depths in the hopes of avoiding any new unrest that such a bloody solution might invoke. Thus; Melanthris was free of troublesome elements from within and sparred the scrutiny of the surviving nations after the war.
Those deemed worthy of exile were brought to the Bitter Depths and stripped of their luxuries. Most had only known a life of decadence in the halls of their glorious estates but now they, along with their loyal retainers, were forced into the dark with little more than the bare necessities. The tunnel they were forced to walk was the deepest one known to explorers and once the last of them entered it was sealed completely with both physical barriers and magical wards. The secret shame of Melanthris' treachery during the Queen's War was gone now and they were finally able to begin rewriting their history in a way that cast them in a much better light than what the truth offered.
Those sacrificed to the depths for Melanthris' brighter future had a story of their own to begin writing. One of bitterness, scorn, excess, and ultimately... tragedy.
The Silence is Broken
It took the exiles over two days to travel from the outer most edges of the Black Periphery to their final destination. The legionaries from Melanthris took them only a short distance into the depths, just far enough to make sure they were on the proper path. Just far enough to make sure no stragglers would escape being walled inside. The journey for the exiles might have been quicker but they wasted many hours wailing and pleading to the barrier slowly being erected by their kin. Only when the last shred of the surface's light died did they let go of any fleeting notion of hope and turn toward the dark.
The Bigger Depths had never been truly explored. Only a cursory investigation was conducted by the elves of Melanthris before they dismissed the usefulness of the realm. The most recent effort was made by the Haddich Family from Balmoral who hoped to plumb its depths for valuable veins of precious minerals. Instead, all but only a handful of explorers perished and those that survived did so only thanks to the rescue mission sent to retrieve them. All of this meant that ill-prepared nobility and their servants had little chance at survival.
Dark Vision, a trait common to all elves, offered little comfort. In a place devoid of light this ability offered them the equivalent to holding a dim candle. They were still blind to all the dangers lurking at the edge of their sight. They fought like beggars over scraps things as simple as lanterns and torches. Many once-powerful figures died ignoble deaths in those first hours. Once a pecking order of sorts was established only than did they take the single path open to them. Down.
Finally, after their long and terrifying trek, the echoes of their miserable caravan penetrated into a place that had known nothing but silence for eons unknown. They found an empty city steeped in quiet and devoid of life all set within a hollow cavern larger than Lake Lunarch herself. They found the city that has never seen light.
Traditions Written in Blood
The caravan of exiles found little they recognized among the strange spires and alien monoliths. Just structures that seemed to be carved out of single pieces of black stone with intricate, line-like, runes that ran from building to building and even block to block. The whole city was covered with these designs and left untouched amid the Shimmercap fungal blooms, still ponds, breathtaking rock formations. And, while the nobility were content to contemplate a new future for their houses a very different vision of the path ahead was boiling in the darkness.
Those that had tended to the every whim of the elven lords they found this exile to the be yet another callous reward for their loyalty. Despite their cultured, learned, and elegant ways they had come to know that their masters saw them as equals only to peasants in the farmlands. Watching these pompous nobles bicker among themselves for lordship over the caverns was painful enough. The real insult was seeing the lengths to which they'd go to transform the dark into their estates of old. They refused to let anything change, even now, miles beneath the earth in an alien city.
As the old masters gathered to seethe over old insults and new claims on territory a promise of blood was made among all of their servants. That promise was a simple one... never again. That night, generations of sworn servitude were cast off and a new pact of loyalty was made, one between these servant bloodlines and built on a foundation of murder. The set upon the nobles in their chamber with knives, clubs, precious silverware smuggled into the depths by the masters. Anything they could get their hands on. Even rocks or bare fists would do. This became known as the Night of the Red Promise.
Servants than flocked into the streets and for many nights following they hunted the remaining nobility and generations of pent up rage manifested in gruesome brutalities of all kind. Finally, the screams from the city grew silent and only the servants remained. After the promise was carried out in full new traditions and values took the place of ancient and misplaced loyalties. Community became paramount. Explorations of the Bitter Depth took priority rather than carving out personal empires. And, vicious punishment arose as a cornerstone of this new civilization.
Some of the largest structures became dedicated arenas where the condemned are forced into blood sport against each other or with any of the beasts that lurk in the Bitter Depths. It is here that criminals, dissidents, and threats from above are brought to fight and to die. Atop some of the tallest towers there are amphitheaters where poetry, plays and art are presented to eager audiences. The subject matter of these works tend to focus on the rewards and pleasures they are owed or with the artistic execution. The city's most talented take up the role of hero while criminals plucked from the dungeons are forced to play the villain, albeit for only a one-time engagement.
Punishment is now the spectacle that the citizens of Sha'Hidun craved and it is as precious as currency to them.
Delve within the Shadows
While the people of Sha'Hidun indulged in their new hungers for retribution they also had to focus on the most critical obstetrical of survival facing them... mastering their city and the Bitter Depths themselves.Though weeks had gone by they still knew very little about the bizarre black buildings and the etched symbols that covered them. Their purpose was unclear and every bit of infrastructure that a modern city would possess seemed missing. Explorations of the surrounding Depths revealed many surprises but their home offered no answers to her secrets.
Several other intelligent species were discovered by expeditionary teams. Most were reclusive and fearful like the rancid albino-amphibians known as the Sleth or the peaceful, hulking, Dutroti. Some were solitary hunters like the hook-handed Ekek who needed to be killed on sight. Others still were deeply unfathomable like the magical living fungoids who called themselves the Drift and wanted nothing more than to spend their days in a drug-induced dream they all shared. They cleared out anything that made its home too close to Sha'Hidun and showed no mercy to any that resisted eviction. Yet, from those races they did manage to communicate with (a very difficult task since most of these races did not make use of a spoken language) were able to give them some insight into the nature of their city.
It was abandoned even when these native peoples were young but stories existed of strange noises, inhuman screams that rattled through the mind rather than the air, lights that pulsed across the odd grid of etchings that filled the city and even tales of lone figures walking the dark streets. However, the greatest breakthrough came when members of the Dutroit race were brought back as unwilling contestants for the arenas. These multi-armed, mole like creatures made poor combatants regardless of their massive claws, thick scales and immense strength but it was when one of them broke loose and fled through the city that they began to learn more. As the creature scrambled wildly trying to find freedom it began activating any building it touched. The etched grids would spark to life and green light would cascade from channel to channel and briefly bring life to these dead structures. The pulses of light seemed random, chaotic and ultimately without any effect. However, fully examining the escaped Dutroti one scrap of flesh and drop of blood at a time yielded results.
Written into the very fabric of the Dutroti's physical make up were buried secrets from generations past. The greatest medical and arcane minds among the elves all came to the same conclusion, these simple minded creatures were created by whomever built this city and sculpted the Bitter Depths eons ago to serve as slave labor. Though the masters may be gone their slaves remained and branded into the Dutroti's essence were the tools they left behind.
Spoilage and Harvests
Great advances were being made. They came to realize the builders of this ancient city used a special kind of magic they'd never seen before to control its many functions. A magic that came from within the mind and was fueled by the strength of the body rather than from the Leylines or the gods. This magic, called Psionistry by the elven sages, was unknown to the surface and so far had only been discovered within the Dutroti.
These peaceful creatures became the target of elven hunters by the hundreds. So important was their capture deemed that an old tradition was brought to life again, reforged by the new ways of Sha'Hidun. The Spider Goddess, a myth from the tribal days of the elven people, was said to be one of the finest hunters in all the heavens. She was without mercy, patient but deadly, beautiful and terrible. Her tribe was one where women ruled and the weak were made to serve or to die. They were known as the Vrakhari and their purpose was to make the tribal elves of old the most efficient and perfect killer... to make them strong so that all of Tairos could rightfully belong to them. This legendary cult may or may not have every existed but in Sha'Hidun they were born anew as the city's most elite protectors. They were loyal only to the city itself, not any one person, and so fanatical was their conviction for the city's perfect future that most saw them as zealot. Necessary Zealots.
Though, even the Vrakhari could not vanquish the spoiling that was slowly laying waste to the people of Sha'Hidun. The elves were not made for the Bitter Depths. The lightless environment, toxic spores, noxious fumes, bizarre diets were all taking their toll. Elves were withering away and without magic they lacked any means of combating the deluge of conditions that were starting to arise. It was the medical sages that had been studying the internal workings of the Dutroti that offered salvation. They had come to learn that the Dutroti were not just branded with the tools of the old builders but actually forged by them. The Dutroti were built to thrive off of the Bitter Depths; their specialized blood, organs and nerves giving them every advantage they needed including resistance to the many pathogens attacking the elves.
The healers and the Vrakhari didn't waste any time in gathering hundreds of Dutroti specimens to be analyzed. Entire family groups were reduced to slicks of viscera on the laboratory floors of their workshops. Vrakhari would adorn the walls of their hippodromes with the skulls and claws of the most formidable Dutroti who perished in battle against them. These trophies would be more cherished than any other reward. By their efforts combined the salvation of the elves would survive while the Dutroti would be driven to the very edge of extinction. Only those that fled into the far recessed of the Bitter Depths would live to carry on the species. All this carnage had an effect on the physicians as well. They began to embrace the ways of the Spider Goddess too but choosing to write a new tradition rather than reinvent an old one. They called themselves the Jhitaxis, which in The Common Tongue translated to Inoculators. They were science-obsessed torturers who saw their alchemical talent as the venom of the Spider Goddess. That "venom" would come in the form of injections which would poison the diseases attacking the bodies of the elves.
The Inoculators' labors gave the elves enhanced dark vision far beyond what their surface kin possessed. They became resistant to many toxins, illness and other malignancies. It also allowed bodies to become perfect nutrient processing factories and thus severely reduced the amount of food or water an individual would need to survive. An unexpected, yet welcome boon was that it also allowed some individuals to interact with the etchings the same way certain Dutroti could. Those same individuals would also begin to manifest psionic talents that could eventually be harnessed and later perfected. Though less than one in a thousand would develop such abilities they were never the less a pivotal instrument in Sha'Hidun's expansion.
Yet, like all things concerning the elves below, there is always a cost for progress. The Inoculators' venom changed the bodies of the elves as well. Their flesh grew pale as fresh snow and their hair darkened to different shades of pitch or ruddy blood. Their skin also became sensitive to many of the surface's most common elements but none so bitterly painful as sunlight. It blinded their eyes and burn their flesh. Even the air above would irritate their lungs; necessitating the development of breathing apparati for those venturing there. If that wasn't enough it also cost them years. The almost limitless lifespan of the elves was traded away for something only a little more enduring than that of the average human.
Some shunned the Inoculators' treatments and chose to either live out their days as a true elf or flee deeper into the dark hoping to find either a route to the surface or a place free of sickness. If any of those elves still live they're unknown to Sha'Hidun or the rest of Tairos for that matter.
Studies of Hatred
With their realm conquered and their bodies steeled against the dangers of the Bitter Depths the exiles chose a new name, the Drekhevoresh or simply the Drekh. It was a term from the old elven language without a direct equivalent in common. It refers to someone that delivers a righteous punishment by night, so perhaps similar to a vigilante in a way.
The Drekh had always harbored a dream, one where they'd return to the surface and exact a bloody toll upon their kin. Yet, many barriers stood before them. First and perhaps most obvious was their allergy to the sun. This meant that any punishment would have to come from below and by night. Secondly, they simply lacked numbers. Though their passion for revenge was near limitless the ranks of their army were not. In fact, they had only a few hundred trained warriors at best most could not compare to the centuries of experience possessed by the Melanthrin legions. Only the zealotry of the Vrakhari and venoms of the Jhitaxis could match them yet neither cult possessed relevant number.
Instead, they searched the Bitter Depths for species to conscript, weapons to deploy and anything else that could turn the tide against their hated enemy. Yet, nothing offered the same potential as what they found within one of the towers of Sha'Hidun during their exploration of the city... a functional Gate.
While on the surface above these dead devices were impossible to access and suffered from terrible decay this one was in perfect condition. More importantly, it seemed to react to those manifesting psychic abilities. It did not take them long to realize the primary language these gates operated in was psionics rather than magic as the old sages presumed. The Drekh used the machine to connect with counterparts all across the cosmos. They found wonders and dangers the likes of which the people of Tairos could never fathom. Yet, one thing was common across the many dozens of worlds they ventured to.. ruin. Some recent and others ancient but all the same these worlds were empty of intelligent life. All of these ravaged cities suffered the same death; a city identical to Sha'Hidun seemed to grow or erupt from the ground and devastate everything around it. The Drekh had no idea what it meant but it seemed to be a means of eradicating a metropolis in one swift action.It was exactly what they had been hunting for.
They sent explorers far and wide across all the dead worlds they found and through new gates discovered there. The purpose was to find who or what was responsible for such perfect cataclysms and to acquire this power by any means necessary. Many of these teams never returned while others reported back on rumors of antediluvian threats comparable to the wrath of god. Chief among them was an alien race known as Xikhani who seemed to be as obsessed with alchemy as the Inoculators but on a scale that spans worlds. They were merchants, scientists, slavers, and alien horrors but they were something else as well... a bridge.
The Xikhani knew the network of gates very well and they knew of the places where other races still prospered. They earned the Drekh's trust with promises of wonder and weapons of war. One of the Xikhani "corporations" even earned an invitation back to Sha'Hidun for a formal alliance and trade. The elves assumed they would be welcoming dignitaries but instead this marked the end of the Drekh's brief empire. Rather than diplomats the gate opened for countless legions of Xikhani slaves and war machines. The diminutive Xikhani themselves hid behind their living weapons and delighted in the opportunity for conquest before them.
It would be difficult to categorize what followed as a war. The capabilities of the Xikhani were such that all resistance was meaningless. In fact, the only weapon of any potency turned out to be the psionics and small amounts of magic the Drekh had access to. Despite those tools the elves surrendered their city to the invaders after less than a week of conflict ad the Xikhani were all to happy to act as merciful conquerors. While the elves of Bitter Depths would be a profitable harvest the it paled in comparison to the vast profits the occupation of Tairos would provide. However; the surface gates were all damaged or buried and unable to carry their invasion forces into position. That meant Sha'Hidun would become their lone outpost here and the Drekh second-class citizens in their own city.
Maintaining the Silence
Sha'Hidun has become a very busy place where denizens of different worlds and different planes of reality come to trade and treat with each other while the Xikhani play the role of benevolent host. Even their defeated Drekh are allowed a modicum of freedom so long as they serve dutifully. Despite all this commotion there is a very specific kind of noise they work to silence immediately; psionics. They know this city, the gates, all of it belong to the Architects. There is nothing that compares to the threat they represent and that is not exaggerated hyperbole on their part. All across the stars there are barren worlds lingering in avoid where their stars once shined bright. They are the bringers of extinction and extinguishers of light. They have laid waste to all opposition, erased civilizations, destroyed stars and murdered gods. All made possible with reality-warping levels of physic mastery and technology. And now, in this late hour of the current epoch they slumber. Waiting for new life to pluck and new light to smother. Their ways are a mystery to the Xikhani except for one, they find psychic manifestations to be a threat worth waking for. They've see even small numbers of psychics gathered in one place be enough to warrant the Architects activating their hunter-drones to seek out the noise. Small populations of such gifted individuals have in the past triggered these sleepers to wake one of their strange vessels and order termination of a world of the death of a star.
Thus, the Xikhani do everything in their power to hunt down and kill any Drekh manifesting psychic abilities before it's too late. That is not to say that they won't keep a few of the most useful in states of constant torpor should they be needed for a task or for a reasonable price at auction.
All of this happens concurrently with the corporations grand scheme of occupying all of Tairos. With the gates no longer an option they instead have turned in their age old strategies of infiltration, manipulation, and sailing their vessels across the sea of stars for an eventual invasion. And, thus far, everything is going according to plan.
Bitter Depths Full by Timmiaou
Drekhari make up the vast majority of the population. Xikhani number perhaps a few dozen or so at any given time. Mercenaries, traders, visitors and other citizens from the stars are always passing through. The Xikhani also maintain a very sizable number of cloned slave-soldiers to enforce the occupation and fight off any potential hostile takeover initiated by rival corporations.
Black Mark Acquisitions The people living under the occupation of the Xikhani in Sha'Hidun likely don't understand the corporate nature of these monsters and most assume that they're a unified race. When, in truth, they are under the control of one of the Xikahni's largest and most successful business- Black Mark Acquisitions. The company's name has to due with a sort of positive appraisal typically used in their language.Drekhari Provisional Government So long as the Drekh behave and serve they are allowed to self-govern. This is little more than a figurehead council of advisers who report to the Government's Regent. That Regent than reports to and receives orders from the Xikhani.
The twisting network of passages that lead to Sha'Hidun are the primary defense the city has. The Xikhani occupiers maintain a sizable military presence but it is the elves that act as the primary defenders of the city from external threats. It is also believed the city has inert defensive systems built into it as well.
Industry & Trade
Trade is of immense importance but none of it involves the surface. Their trade is with merchants from beyond the gates. Beings of truly bizarre origin who seek to treat with the Xikhani or each other. Slavery and body-modification are the primary industry of Sha'Hidun now and thanks to the Xikhani they are well known throughout the stars and planes for that craft. Dutroti are sold for labor and fetch a great price at auction. However, elven female assassins born and indoctrinated into slavery are of particular worth. They are loyal, dispassionate toward the morality of their craft and incredibly beautiful. These warriors are known as the Akhali, another ancient term from the tribal days of the elf referring to duty-bound guardians who took sacred oaths to serve their masters.
Sha'Hidun infrastructure is not yet entirely known to its people. The nature of the city and what the Architects built into it has yet to be fully discovered. What has been discovered though are water purification and extraction devices likely built to maintain slaves. Air purification devices and vents leading to surface to relief carbon build-up dot the city. Most of the highest spires possess machinery that the Xikhani have identified as dormant communication devices. Buried beneath Sha'Hidun is believed to be miles of additional infrastructure and power sources.
Guilds and Factions
Black Mark Acquisitions- Those employed by Black Mark are part of the faction with the greatest amount of leverage in the Bitter Depths. Their access to incredible technology makes them the clear winner in most power struggles. They are however hamstrung by two distinct weaknesses. Their need to keep psychic manifestation in check and their very limited numbers due to having only one functional gate.
Drekh Nobility- Sha'Hidun is home to many dozens of noble houses and functions much like Melanthris above. Countless noble houses of various influence make up their society yet they all report to the Regent and to the Xikhani now. Officially. Practically, they are always vying for power with each other, hoping to have a member of their house claim the Regency and the favor of their occupiers. They all believe there will be an end to this alien occupation and they want their house to be the one to rebuild in the aftermath. There are also houses that are less invested in infighting and more so in rebellion. They plot and scheme to find means of overthrowing the Xikhani and supporting the Vrakhari efforts.
Vrakhari- The zealous sisterhood that once defended Sha'Hidun have now become the insurrectionists that seek to free their city no matter the cost. They target treacherous Drekh nobles and Inoculators whom they see as race traitors. Any Xikhani they can get their hands on are invaluable prizes for interrogation and torture. Those allied with this faction will be fiercely militant and opposed to alien rule. Their ultimate goal would be to find a way to destroy the gate. Without support from the stars they believe winning back their homeland would inevitable.
The Inoculators- Unlike many of the Drekhari who openly or secretly seethe at the idea of occupation the Inoculators welcome it. Once the gate was unlocked and the Xikhani invaded this already unhinged sect embraced the true scope of the cosmos. They've become obsessed with the flesh crafting sciences of the Xikhani as well as the legion of other possibilities offer by gate travel. In the truest sense, the Inoculators are no longer part of Drekhari society. They see themselves above it and most of the gate travelers have come to agree. And... considering the depths of physical alteration most Inoculators have enacted upon their bodies other Drekhari would agree as well.
The area around Sha'Hidun is very spacious and also dotted with smaller side tunnels and cavernous dead falls. The ground itself is very smooth, almost like ice, due to the underground rivers that used to flow through here.