The Third Great Maelstrom

oon thereafter, the Third Great Maelstrom blanketed much more pervasive. It saturated the Darkness completely. Wraith stopped referring to the area as the Darkness and began referring to it as the Tempest, for it had become a place of continual storms and wild chaos.

During this time the Freewraiths’ guilds attempted to seize power in a weakened Stygia, but this revolt was put down. In retaliation, Charon ordered all the guilds disbanded. He immediately trained his Legions to do the same things that the guilds did, but later reemployed guild members when it became clear to them that Charon would not allow them to re-form.

The Third Great Maelstrom changed the face of the Shadowlands. No longer were there any impassable places dominated by the Darkness. Quite clearly, there were now two levels to the Underworld. The “uppermost” level comprised the Shadowlands, the area closest to the Sunlit Lands; “below” them, through the Tempest, lay Stygia, the Isle of Sorrows, and the Sunless Sea. The safest ways to Stygia were via the roads, for the River of Death had become choked with Renegades and Spectres. Additionally, a power called the Shroud separated the living world from the dead lands. This Shroud limited the power of Mystery: the power of magic, of wraiths’ Arcanos, and of spirits and faeries. Many magical places were lost, and many wraiths in the Shadowlands retreated to their Haunts, where the Shroud was still thin.

Once again, instead of admitting defeat, Charon surprised all around him by responding to the impending Age of Enlightenment. Where once Stygian steel was given only to the Knights of the realm, Charon began arming his Freewraiths and other supporters with swords made of the material. The Grand High Artificer designed a wicked crossbow that fired three quarrels in rapid succession, and began to experiment with explosives and muzzle-loading guns.

Charon himself moved through the streets of Stygia, making Thralls from what he called the “wastrels”: the shiftless dead who had no purpose and provided no help to Stygia. Soon these Thralls were hard at work toiling at the Venous Stair, mining Stygian metal from the bedrock of the Labyrinth itself. Despite the vigilance of Charon’s Legions, many Thralls were devoured by Spectres rising from the deeps. Thralls who survived often faced an equally grim fate: they were reduced to ore for Stygian metal once they became useless. The Industrial Revolution had come to Stygia.

Thralls became the foundation of Charon’s new ideas on how to deal with the dead: although he could no longer house the dead, he could definitely utilize them and, in the process perhaps provide them with the purpose they needed to make eternity pass a little easier. He promised the Thralls freedom if they worked hard in the Labyrinth and served Stygia well.

Furthermore, the spirit of imperialism infected Charon. Instead of trying to run everything from Stygia, Charon sent trusted wraith so the Shadowlands to set up smaller versions of Stygia, which Charon called his “Necropoli.” Necropoli were purposefully located in abandoned sites within living cities, near population centers where the dead could be more easily collected. Charon hoped to establish permanent colonies and thereby ease Stygia’s overcrowding.

During this time Charon minted the first deathcoins, also called oboli. This was because it was easier to trade deathcoins than it was to trade Thralls, which had been the former standard unit of value.

By expanding the road system to connect with the New World, Charon was finally able to send wraiths to places like New Amsterdam and Boston. Wars were fought in the New World between Stygian colonists and the established Heretic settlements. Also, during this time the rampant colonialism of the British Empire (followed closely by the Hierarchy) brought the Stygian Empire into conflict with the Jade emperor to the east and the Ivory Queen to the south. After bitter struggle, a mutual agreement was reached. This compact gave the Hierarchy custody of the souls of the European dead, but left the indigenous dead alone.

Hierarchy, Heretics and Renegades battled constantly during the War Between the States. The Ivory Queen demanded the souls of the dead children of Africa who had been enslaved in life, and Charon allowed her minions to travel with the Hierarchy’s forces as they moved south. As a result of this, the Ivory Queen later took control of New Orleans and forbade Hierarchy and Renegade alike from admittance. To this day, Charon’s Hierarchy does not operate in the Shadowlands of New Orleans.

As the Victorian Age blossomed, Charon’s Hierarchy worked like clockwork. Souls were loaded onto carriages, which would then travel along the roads to Stygia. Here, souls would be separated and awarded to the Deathlords according to the manner of their death. Charon encouraged the Necropoli in their collection of souls by sending Stygian artifacts to the Anacreons of the Citadels.

During the 19th century, Charon learned how to solidify the essence of the dead and transport this energy, in a plasmic form, throughout his Hierarchy. More and more Thralls were reduced to nothing in the fires of Kyklops, and the tailings of the Venous Stair mine became great hills on the coastline.

The first ships forged from Stygian iron were launched from the quay on the Isle of Sorrows. These black ships knifed through the black waters patrolling the headwaters of the River of Death, sinking Heretic blockade-runners and watching for Renegade attacks.

More and more people began to die without belief, falling immediately into Oblivion, which had grown stronger and stronger as the Industrial Age seeped into people’s souls. The Shroud soon became so strong that wraiths could barely affect the Skinlands except in areas where they had established Haunts or Fetters. Charon, noting this, began recruiting his Hierarchs from local people, people who had Fetters where he needed them.

Finally, late in the 19th century, the Deathlords and Charon made a frightening discovery: they could no longer travel to the Shadowlands. As they neared the Shadowlands, they began to discorporate. Investigation soon revealed that their Fetters had long since been destroyed. Even Charon, the mythical Grim Reaper, could not stay long in the Shadowlands.

The inability of Charon to interfere directly in the Shadowlands prompted the formation of a hegemonial government among the Necropoli. Stygia was the center of everything, and the Citadels were rather like the colonies that the British had established all over the world: a local Anacreon ruled each. These Anacreons were virtually autonomous as long as they continued to supply Stygia with souls and upheld the Code of Charon.

During the Victorian Era, many great inventors were born and died. Charon claimed more than a few for his own, and soon knowledge of new technology like the repeating revolver and the steam engine was taken by Nhudri and incorporated into the artifacts of Stygia. Thus were railroads laid in the lands of the dead. Although Charon still preferred the reliability of Mortus, his horse, the new rail lines were obviously useful – more useful, perhaps, than the roads, for it was more difficult to ambush a rapidly moving train along a track.

In America, the frontier was opened up. Charon asked his two greatest Legions, the Grim Legion and the Skeletal Legion (purveyors of violence and pestilence), to travel along with the pioneers and leave Citadels wherever settlements were made.

At the turn of the 20th Century, things looked well for the Hierarchy. Stygia’s control over metal and manufacturing ensured that its satellite Necropoli sent a steady supply of souls. Stygia became increasingly isolationist as the Citadels took more responsibility and more power in the Shadowlands.

When, in 1914, the First World War broke out, the Hierarchy became a soul-colleting machine, using its new railroad to carry the incredible number of souls gathered during that time. The First Consul of War and the First Consul of Pestilence were actually summoned to the court of Stygia on charges that they had instigated the concept of trench warfare and influenced the mortals into using mustard gas just so they could gain more power. They were cleared of the charges, but to this day the Inquisition of Charon continues to search for possible clues that they violated the Code of Charon.

The city of Stygia outgrew the Isle of Sorrows. Iron bridges spread out to the shore, and the surrounding Iron Hills soon were laid in cleared area away from the Iron Hills, and temporary housing for souls was thrown up there: great warehouses for the dead. Renegades occasionally attacked the rail yards, trying to abduct gangs of shuffling, confused young soldiers for their own armies.

After the war, the Hierarchy made sure that Haunts in France and Germany were protected or rebuilt. Everything seemed fine; certainly the mortals were celebrating the end of the war.