The First Great Maelstrom

hen, in A.D. 476, Rome fell. Simultaneously, the darkness of the great Labyrinth seethed and hissed. Sentries at all the portals of the Labyrinth rang their great gongs, trying in vain to warn Stygia of the approach of the greatest disaster ever to befall the City of Death: the first and greatest Maelstrom. It erupted from the Labyrinth, wracking the Darkness, flooding into the Shadowlands, and pouring down the River of Death. It screamed across the Sunless Sea. The roads crumbled and cracked.

But Stygia was hit hardest. A coordinated attack by the Spectres coincided with the first Maelstrom, and the city was invaded. Charon’s palace, the Onyx Tower, erupted in flames. Only through the masterful strategy and tactics of Charon was the City of the Dead saved. Nonetheless, the Ferrymen were decimated, the Legions were left in tatters, and the Senate building was destroyed. Many wraiths turned Renegade, living like predators in the Darkness.

The living world likewise suffered. Barbarians and brigands ran rampant over Rome’s fallen glory. Soon Rome was but a distant legend spoken of by peasants as they cowered in their huts.

Charon realized that only a strong leader could prevail in the years to come. Taking a cue from the Caesars of the living world, Charon appointed himself Emperor. He retained his seven Senators, but renamed them, dubbing them Deathlords. The Ferrymen immediately took issue with this: they felt that Charon had overstepped the authority vested in him. They would not serve an Emperor. In a rage, Charon banished them, telling them that they would have to survive the Darkness alone if they would not serve Stygia.

Many years passed, and Stygia was slowly rebuilt. Storms wracked Stygia, and only the presence of the Equitaes kept the roads from falling completely to Spectres and other baleful creatures. Wild Renegades, seeking to hide from or defy the power of Stygia, built villages and towns along the river and the roads. The power of the Shining Ones waned as belief in the pagan gods died; conversely, the Fishers convinced ever-increasing numbers of dead to travel with them on their one-way journey to Paradise.

During this time, some wraiths began employing Arcanos to scare and dominate mortals. Many took the shapes of monsters and demons, manifesting to fearful peasants and demanding tribute. The Renegades were the worst of these malefactors.

Finally, after centuries of effort, the last of the Maelstrom-spawned Spectres were destroyed or driven into the Labyrinth once more. Now there was time to recognize the honor and glory of those who had fought for Stygia. Charon instituted the Imperial Order of the Sickle and named several Equitaes to its ranks. It is still the greatest honor that Stygia can bestow to a wraith. During this time, Charon rebuilt his great palace and set about recovering some of the antiquities that were lost. As the fledgling Church of Christianity struggled through its early years, Charon ordered a great sea-wall built around the Isle of Sorrows to protects it from future great Maelstroms.

Also during this time, Charon created the Dictum Mortem, the Code of the Dead, to counteract the Dark Age wraiths’ horrific abuses of power. Though mainly designed to protect the living from the dead, the Dictum Mortem also made it absolutely clear that only Charon and his designates were empowered with the authority to gather and dispatch souls.

As for the Fishers: they soon made their presence known. Into Stygia’s harbor triumphantly sailed the Fishers’ Golden Ship, a marvel of shipbuilding whose homeports was the Far shore of Paradise. The Fishers brought with them building materials to construct a massive temple on one of the hills of the Isle of Sorrows. They demanded that Charon tithe to their temple, but he refused, saying that he served Death, not the Far Shores. Instead, he made the Fishers a counteroffer: if they would donate to him 10% of the relics they collected, he would provide them with the souls of those who sought Paradise. This was agreeable to the Fishers, although they never stopped attempting to convert Charon to their beliefs.

Stygia became an excellent walled city in the grand tradition of Paris. As the Crusades began in the living world, Charon once again had the resources to send his Equitaes (now know as knights) out on the roads. The whole network of paths was cleared and repaired, and new roads were created to connect the newer, swelling cities.

Stygia has often been called the City of the Dark Echoes, because it is similar, but never quite like the living world. Little in life affects the City of the Dead. Still, the Crusades did not go unnoticed. Many Legions followed the crusading armies, collecting the dead of both sides for transport to Stygia. It was not an uncommon occurrence for the Knights of the Sickle to have to break up post-mortem fights between the shadows of Moors and Christians, even as they waited to be judged in their respective temples.

The number of wraith-Knights became staggering during the Crusades, as many crusaders left behind lovers, wives and family whom they cared for and who bound them to life as Fetters.

Once again providing his knowledge of his own citizens, Charon changed his imperial ruler ship to a more feudal style. He created what he termed the Hierarchy; whereby wraiths could know their place in the Shadowlands and in Stygia. The topmost rung comprised Charon and his seven appointed Deathlords. Below them stood the Legions and the Knights, followed by the Free wraiths. At the bottom came the Thralls, wraiths who had for one reason or another been bound in chains of Stygian metal. Thralls became widely used as both slaves and currency.

In response to this, the Fishers appointed their own Knights, called Crusaders. Tensions between Stygian Knights and Crusaders began to mount.

Just as the feudal system was based on agriculture, the Hierarchy was organized on the collection of souls. Freewraiths watched for and gathered newly arrived souls, while Knights protected the Freewraiths from Spectres and Renegades. Many Freewraiths became masters of various Arcanos involving the soul trade. These Freewraiths organized into guilds after Charon discovered the mortal guild system.