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Illaria’s Follyby Geoff Gander from Threshold Magazine issue 9
by Geoff Gander
The Empire of Selhomarr is a land that is ancient even by the standards of the Hollow World – so much so that it has ebbed and flowed several times over the millennia, and is built on many layers of its own ruins. The empire's history has had many dark chapters, some of which are so far back in history that they have been forgotten. This article presents a region on the fringes of the empire, where one of the darker chapters played out: The blasted ruins known as Illaria's Folly, where naïve hope was dashed against the rocky shores of political expediency.
Several thousand years ago, a young and very studious priestess of Xeron (Ixion) named Illaria of Annurios, daughter of Thessara, was approached in her rural temple by an older man who spoke with the smooth accent of someone who grew up in the capital, Regemnon. The man, who did not give his name, told Illaria that her devotion to Xeron - and to knowledge itself - had been noticed, and she could better serve her people if she accompanied him. At first skeptical, Illaria demanded proof. The man demonstrated magical prowess that was well beyond the ability of any spellcaster she knew or had heard of, and he shared details about her life that only she and her immediate family knew. Convinced at last that the stranger was an emissary of a great power – perhaps Xeron Himself – Ilarria accompanied him to the nearest port, where a waiting vessel carried them beyond the frontiers of the empire, to the continent of Iciria. There, the pair journeyed overland to a secluded valley inhabited by peoples of a vast multitude of cultures – the Lighthouse. Illaria's guide, who called himself Rallian, explained that his people watched out for those who were driven to expand and preserve knowledge, and that he had selected her to join his order if she wished. Illaria, passionate in her faith but increasingly frustrated at the hierarchical, hidebound nature of the Church of Xeron, eagerly accepted.
After training for several years, Illaria was sent back to Selhomarr to look out for the Lighthouse's interests. Armed with a more accurate knowledge of the history of the Hollow World and its peoples, she sought out obscure records and other treasures that found their way back to her order's headquarters, where they would be preserved. At first she was happy to fulfill this role, but as time passed she discovered fragments of lore that, if disseminated amongst the populace, might advance the knowledge of her people and improve their lives. Rallian told her all that he knew about the Spell of Preservation in an effort to dissuade her from that line of thinking, but all she saw were Selhomarrian treasures being sent to the Lighthouse to be kept under lock and key. Eventually Illaria's frustration got the better of her, and she secretly began sounding out her fellow Lighthouse operatives in the empire. A handful felt as she did, and they made plans of their own.
When the time was right, Illaria and a half-dozen other Selhomarrian Lighthouse operatives abandoned their posts, took whatever treasures they had, and headed for a prearranged meeting spot beyond the “eastern” fringes of the empire, on a grassy plateau. There, they established a stronghold, where they could study the artifacts and other treasures they had recovered. Illaria also urged her companions to round up as many supporters as possible and lead them to their stronghold. The Lighthouse soon learned of Illaria's actions, and Rallian tracked them down several years later. He implored his former apprentice to return to the fold. Illaria denounced the policies of the Lighthouse, which she believed unnecessarily held the peoples of the Hollow World back. Realising that he could not break through her misguided idealism, Rallian left – but not before telling her that the Lighthouse did not tolerate rogue operatives. Knowing that retaliation was coming, Illaria urged her followers to fortify their position while she redoubled her efforts to find out if any of the treasures they obtained, some of which they had figured out, would help them against possible attackers.
The Lighthouse was not idle, and used its connections to encourage the nobles of Annurios to march against a purported nest of bandits and insurgents on the fringes of their territories – in a region where no organised communities of any sort had ever been known to exist. When scouts (some of whom were agents of the Lighthouse) reported that a fortified base was under construction, the local army moved in quickly. Illaria’s stronghold – essentially a fortified village of roughly 200 – was not nearly as formidable as described in the reports, but the Lighthouse’s careful manipulation ensured the Selhomarrian commanders viewed it as a serious threat. The armies of Annurios battered the half-built stronghold with catapults while Illaria led her people underground, and once the dust had cleared hundreds of soldiers were sent forth.
Although Illaria and her followers were passionate, and many of them were experienced (i.e., higher-level) adventurers, she knew they would not last long against a concerted attack. Some of Illaria’s former Lighthouse colleagues led a defence in the upper levels of the underground complex to delay pursuit, while she led the remainder into the deepest levels. The delaying action bought her the time she needed to activate one of the artifacts that had been kept from the Lighthouse – a magical transportation device that had been brought to the Hollow World as Lhomarr sank, thousands of years previously, which Illaria had not had the time to fully study. Although the device was functional, it had been damaged during the Sinking of Lhomarr and it now required someone to stay behind to operate it. Illaria sent her remaining followers into the artifact and activated it, hoping they would be sent someplace safe. Her followers vanished and the artifact exploded, causing much of the stronghold above to collapse. Almost everyone who was in the complex at the time died instantly. Although the ruins were searched thoroughly, there was no trace of Illaria or her remaining followers – leading everyone to conclude that she had been destroyed.
After Illaria’s disappearance, Rallian ensured that all records of his wayward protégé were destroyed, and that her reputation was discredited – both to prevent average people from learning what the Lighthouse did not wish them to know, and as an example to his subordinates of the cost of treachery. Only fragmentary tales of Illaria now remain, and where she is recorded at all, she is mostly remembered as heretical cleric of Xeron who had to be destroyed for the good of the empire. However, Rallian was not able to suppress the truth entirely; some of her followers did manage to escape the assault on her stronghold and sneak back into the empire, where they preserved what little knowledge of her works that remained and continued it – very slowly and under a deep veil of secrecy.
The artifact that Illaria used was built shortly before the Sinking of Lhomarr, by a now-forgotten sorcerer who had foreseen the destruction of his homeland and sought a means of escape. Had it functioned properly, the artifact would have transported his entire estate and its inhabitants into a pocket dimension for a period of 100 years, during which everyone inside would be in stasis. After that period, the pocket dimension would expel its contents to the nearest suitable location, and the estate and its inhabitants would continue as before. Unfortunately, the artifact did not function as intended. Instead, it teleported itself to the nearest safe dimension – which happened to be the vortex created by the Immortals to transport what they saw as the best elements of Lhomarrian society to the Hollow World. The sorcerer and his estate ended up at the bottom of the ocean.
The transition to the Hollow World, followed by thousands of years of neglect, did not do the artifact any favours. The Immortals were aware of the item but concluded that the Selhomarrians, now held back by the Spell of Preservation, would never be able to figure out how to repair it. By the time Illaria found it in BC 2500, the artifact was heavily deteriorated.
The fateful conflict took place in BC 2468, and when Illaria used the device it transported her followers, but also sent her into a semi-ethereal state, and tied her to the ruins of her stronghold. She now wanders the ruins as a ghost; although she is not dead.
Forbidding Ruins: Illaria’s Folly is known to the people of Annurios as a cursed place visited only by the truly foolhardy, but even though it was destroyed certain parts of the lower levels of the complex could still be intact. The DM would have to decide what sort of items might await discovery, and what kind of dangers would await the PCs. It is possible that the portal that the artifact opened may have allowed creatures from another dimension to enter. What these creatures might be, and how they would react to the PCs, is up to the DM.
Illaria’s Fate: As stated above, Illaria was thrown between dimensions when the artifact exploded, and now lives in an eternal, ghostly half-life. She has not aged, but the centuries of solitary imprisonment have driven her insane. She would beg the PCs to help her free herself, but once freed she would seek to win their confidence (perhaps with promises of sharing her considerable knowledge) and use them in her personal vendetta against the Lighthouse – especially Rallian (who is now long dead). Depending on their own moral leanings and ambitions, the PCs might very well decide to help her. If freed, Illaria would be a cleric of Xeron (Ixion) of 14th-16th level.
Illaria’s Heirs: A small cabal of Selhomarrians secretly carries on her work – that of uncovering the true nature of the Hollow World. They operate in a dangerous environment because their ideas fly in the face of accepted doctrine and because the Lighthouse has been trying – largely unsuccessfully – to stamp them out for centuries. This has made the cabal extremely secretive, but also quite fervent because (in their view) their ideals must be important if the authorities are trying to silence them. Free-thinkers, rebels, and heretics form much of their membership now, and periodically factions splinter off to pursue their own ideas. It is possible that the Order of the Homebound (from the DM’s Selhomarr Sourcebook - http://www.pandius.com/sel_gaz.html) could be one such group. The PCs could run into one such group, and become enmeshed in its plans.
Lost Followers: The ultimate fate of the people whom Illaria helped escape is deliberately left vague. Although it is likely they were killed when the artifact exploded, it could be more rewarding to have them be transported to another dimension (where the PCs may run into them), or even to a remote region of the surface world. It could be very interesting if PCs who have visited the Hollow World come across an isolated village of strange people who claim to have originally come from a land with a red sun…
Map - Province of Annurios