The cold has to claim them first, for Candenheim is a realm of the dead. It was built by the dead and inhabited by the dead. They pay little mind to the cold, now that the flame of life has left their body. The unhallowed, the unburied, those who go missing and are never found, their souls make their way to the great city under the Eternal Flames that burn in the sky.
The Flames hang in great sheets, so high that not even the strongest wings can reach them. Strange energies radiate from the sky fire, so magics that reach to touch them are poisoned, or corrupted. Worse still, any spell that touches the Eternal Flames runs the risk of creating a conduit between the spellcaster and the Flames themselves. The mage will never know the folly of what they have done, as their life is blown out in an instant. But for the seconds it takes for their corpse to beÂ disintegrated, power and flame flows out of them. To the uneducated viewer this quite simply looks like an explosion of green and golden red flame. Such blasts are great enough to level entire wards of great cities or turn the isolated wizard's tower into so much shattered slag and glassed sand.
But Candenheim, the City Beneath the flame is very real. Very real, and very dangerous.
The City of Candenheim
Candenheim is an ancient place. No one is really sure if it was simply thrust violently through the ice when the world was young, or if it is a broken relic of the world that existed before the current one. Regardless, the city is older than old. It is located in the extreme north, where the seas have all turned to ice that never melts and Summer is a day that lasts a month, and Winter is a night that lasts a month. The city rises from the windswept and tormented Plains of Nikal, where whimsical and dangerously mad spirits of wind and snow dance under the Eternal Flamelight. Beyond Nikal rises the battered and pock marked wall of Candenheim. This stone barrier rises from the bones of the earth, and is an almost supernaturally strong type of stone. The wall creates a barrier against the ceasless winds and crawling dunes of snow.Â
The Wastes of Nikal
The wastes are not empty, it would be better if they were. The creatures that live there are more spirit than flesh, and this makes them a good deal smarter than common animals and the canny can bargain with them. But their cunning makes them all the more dangerous, as they are seldom scared away by common defenses. Clanging pots and pans together or a bright flame will do little to deter most of them. Their are spirits of moaning wind, and they seem like ghosts, but they tear at flesh with wind frozen claws not the entropic grip of the damned. There are also ice wolves, wyrms with wings as pale as death and claws and teeth to rip steel like fish scales, and strange amorphous creatures that are amalgams of frozen flesh and ice.
Then there are the Icebound Dead. The Icebound Dead are zombies, but they are ridden by winter and storm spirits, their eyes are filled with a fiery cold hatred. Like the common undead they hunger for flesh and blood, broken skulls and greasy entrails. Unlike the common undead, their hearts, cold and unbeating, still remember avarice and greed, lust, and envy. The victims of the Icebound Dead are found stripped naked and usually half eaten. They are drawn to warmth and movement, and those that are not hunting travelers or wandering south to spread chaos among the tundra tribes, are drawn north to the great walls of Candenheim. They stare captivated by the shimmering light of the Eternal Flames until they remember their hatred, and their greed and are driven onward by these dark desires and throw themselves against the walls.
But not all denizens of the Nikal are hateful and evil. There among the icy megaliths and wind carven towers there live great ghost bears, with blue fur and dark sparkling eyes. They know of Candenheim, and of the dangers of Nikal. The bears for looking as animals are actually cunning and intelligent, and number their years long than man and near those of the dwarven kind. Most live primordial lives, deliberate primatives. Some take up human skills and many are drawn to the forge or the sword. No expedition across Nikal has come within sight of Candenheim without at least a Ghost Bear guide. The Ghost Bears are skilled in magics, especially druidic ones and many have the ability to wear the form of a human for a short time, a few hours to a day cycle.
The Lord of Candenheim
Candenheim has a sole ruler, undisputed and unquestioned. The Lord is a Giant, with a great white beard and thick horny knuckles. His face shows the callous weathering of the denizens of the north,Â reddened by wind and cold, cracked by the perpetual dryness of the air. He most commonly affects a red cloak, trimmed with wolf fur and carries a multi thonged whip and a cruel axe made of remorse and ice tempered steel.Â He is first and foremost a wizard, a conjurer and summoner of strange magics. He is the only living or formerly living soul to form a conduit to the Eternal Flames and survive. He is a powerful and dangerous warrior as well. He has no subtlety in conflict other than to launch surprise attacks and brutal dragonades that leave few if any survivors.Â
The Lord of Candenheim is simply too large for a horse to carry, so instead he has two different conveyances, a riding sleigh and Horgensurge.Â
The Sleigh of Candenheim: The Sleigh is a giant scaled version of a common winter sleigh. It seats four giants comfortably, or as many as a dozen common men and one giant driver. The Sleigh is pulled by eight massive Ghost Bears, each loyally sworn to serve the Lord of Candenheim, and to defend him and the city with their lives. Each of the eight are female druids, and are skilled nature magi, competent warriors, and can shapeshift into human forms that are pleasing to the Lord of Candenheim.Â
Hildaera and Gunnir, Hrista and Gondale are the lead section of the team, and are the most accomplised martially of the Ghost bears. Hildaera favors a single headed axe, while Gunnir, Hrista, and Gondale prefer using spears. They are keen trackers and strong in the traces for pulling the sleigh across the ice and snow.
Gerdrifa and Hrunda are much more mystically inclined, with Gerdrifa being touched with the gift of oracles and seers while Hrunda is a healer and diplomat when required.
Kaera and Reginleif bring up the rear of the team and are the sorcerers. The two ghost bears can call down winter spirits, summon ice wolves and conjure wyrms from the frozen ground beneath Nikal. Their most formidable power is if the two work together they can call forth storms of jagged lightning and thunder.
Horgensurge, the Red Beast: Horgensurge is no mechanical conveyance. Rather, Horgensurge is an ancient red dragon. The dragon is well past the age when most wyrms have passed on to whatever awaits their kind when they die. It's scales are dry and brittle, and it's claws are ragged and there is something horrid about the way the great monster defies death. But one of the things about dragons, especially the eldest among them, is that their flame grows ever hotter and hotter. A gout from Horgensurge's maw can turn an arctic plain into a boiling lake, or reduce a section of a mountain in a butter soft oozing mass of lava. When true speed is needed, the Lord of Candenheim mounts Horgensurge and the two take to the air. The flight of the Lord is never alone. He is attended by flights of snow white storm crows, and a retinue of winged wraith like wind and ice elementals.Â
The Black Walls of Candenheim
The walls, and in fact, almost all of the structures of the Hyperborean city are made of a similar black stone. Wood is rare to non-existent and anything not stone is likely to be worked metal, bone, or animal hide. The city is not devoid of life, rather is it quite the busy place. The largest population of the city are a strange and alien race of elves. Unlike their somewhat angelic arboreal cousins, these are the White Elves of the North. They are short and stunted in stature and seem more like gnomes and dwarves than elves. But it only takes a single look into their eyes to see that they are indeed elves.
The elves are miners, stone cutters, and metal workers. Their industry drives the city of Candenheim. The city is an exotic locale, and while few know of where it is, or even it's existence, they are well aware of the very fine northern cold forged steel and cold iron goods. All of these goods are made without the first whiff of flame. The only downside to these goods, besides the extensive labor required is that the cold forged goods if subjected to sufficient stress can shatter.Â
The Slave Trade
The Lord of Candenheim does most of the trading, exchanging vast hoards of metal goods from his sleigh at various trade towns and cities along the northern reaches. He only accepts two forms of barter, gold and children. The children he collects are taken north to Candenheim where they are used as menial laborers and assistants to the white elves. There are some efforts to breed these tributes as they reach physical maturity, but morale among them is low, many are truculent, and they are alarminglyÂ susceptibleÂ to illness and injury. It has become a common tradition in the regions that border Candenheim to have winter festivals that generally coincide with the Lord's passing through. The most troublesome and rebellious children are traded to the Lord in exchange for cold steel wood axes, tools, metal goods and other weapons. On rare occasion, some of the tributes, in their middle years will be brought back to the communities that tributed them. These individuals invariably are better educated than their rural peers and quickly become leaders in said communities.
The trade thus continues.
The Wild Ride
The wastelands of Nikal, and the Hosten Yardang, and the Bonewhite Mountains are foul places, seemingly desolate but in some places thick with monsters and hostiles who favor the permanent cold. Periodically, the Lord of Candenheim will sally forth from the Black City with his retinue of soldiers and butchers to make war on the beasts and barbarians of the north. Cities and towns that traded in bad faith, or turned away the Lord of Candenheim will sometimes be visited by the Ride, which usually ends with blood spattered across the snow and half of the buildings left in flames and ruin. Should a location find a way to uniquely offend the Lord he will arrive atop Horgensurge and there is nothing left but three hand picked survivors to tell of the ruin of the city.
You better watch out
You better not cry
Candenheim's worse than death
It's better to die
You better not pout
Horgensurge will burn you out
The Lord of CandenheimÂ
Is coming to Town
Winter. The final frontier. For who truly knows, if spring will ever come.
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? Responses (6)-6
I really like how you've turned the Christmas stuff into a menacing fantasy location. The imagery is great, and there's a lot of stuff about this post that's just neat - ghost bears, collecting children, the Eternal Flames... and so on. It all reads very well.
I have some concern for how well this would actually work in play - it just seems a little too out of the way, though the Lord's travels make it easier to bring him in.
But all said and done, top notch.
The transformation was so good I didn't catch it until the end. You captured Mr Howard with this one. Nicely done!
With a cruel axe made of remorse and ice tempered steel slung over his shoulder, the red coated demon chants as he glides past the moon, 'Ho-ho-ho. On Hildaera, Gunnir, Hrista and Gondale! Let us go collect some more children this night'
Rather charming, I'd say. I wonder how long it will players take to call 'Santa? O.o' on this one.
This was a joy to read! Plus what they all said.
Shameless self bump. Going to be writing some seasonal stuff, and I'm going to link it back to this sub.