“In the beginning, there was the Eternal Darkness. Within the eternal darkness was an unshaped thing called The Shadow. The Shadow moved through the darkness in deep despair for it had nothing to define it. It moved through the eternal darkness for a long time. Then the Shadow committed the Original Sin, it went against it’s nature and created a Spark. The spark was everything that the Shadow was not. It was an infinite light of total creation. By contrast, the Shadow became an eternal shadow of destruction.”
“For a time, Spark and Shadow moved against each other but none was able to best the other. This is because light and shadow are linked. One balances and cancels out the other. This connection amused the Shadow. So the Shadow proposed a challenge to the Spark. The Spark should create something that the Shadow cannot destroy.”
“The Spark first created the stars in the night sky by placing lights in the Eternal Darkness. The Shadow blew out some of the lights for in time, the light from the stars will grow dim and then disappear. Next, the Spark gathered it’s energies and created the world. The Darkness looked at this creation and scoffed. For in time, the world will grow cold and become part of the Eternal Darkness. Then, the Spark created all of the animals in the world, whispering their secret name as it created each one. The Shadow laughed because each of these creatures would grow old and die. Their life, a short and brutal time.”
“Lastly, the Spark gathered a special animal to it and gave each a fraction of its breath and a unique name. The Shadow laughed and said, ‘this creature is weakest of all. It has no claws to cut its foes, it cannot run fast enough to catch it’s prey and though it has eyes it cannot see in my darkness.’ The spark continued giving it’s breath to the animals, dimming each time. Finally, it turned to the Shadow and said, ‘this animal, man has something that you can never destroy.’ ‘Oh? And what would that be?’ said the Shadow.”
“‘Man has hope’, said the Spark.”
— The Havamael
In the before-time, the land was in chaos. The many tribes fought each other in bloody battles that cost many lives. Lords and soldiers tore through the lands leaving peasants and beggars nothing but scraps. War was a constant daily part of life. The people cried out for a savior. One who would look upon them and clear the corrupt warmongers from the land.
The Havamael, holy book of the priesthood of Saluwan, says that during a particularly brutal war in a town that was called “the hanging place”, the sun stopped in the sky and refused to move. This was when the god Soluwan manifested himself to the people.
“He wore the sun upon his head like a crown
his ebon body nude and covered in painted runes
lo, how the runes still burn upon his flesh
his hair was white as the wind driven snow
his eyes were made of fire.
He spoke to us:
‘Let all who hear this voice carry the message
to all corners of all lands
You are all kinsmen and shall treat each other as such.
Or your end will be swift and unmerciful
this is the cornerstone of my law'”
— The Havamael
Further, according to the Havamael, every warlord in the land fell dead at once. The people fell to their knees before Soluwan and praised him as their god. He taught the priests and priestesses the rituals and scripture that they know today. A golden age spread across the land. Soluwan traveled from settlement to settlement, teaching the people. In that time, he also performed the “four labors”.
The first, was the stopping and restarting of the Sun. The second was the healing of an old soldier’s legs. The third was stopping the winter from coming. The last one lay directly in his death and eventual rebirth. A rich and jealous lord from Galatid took offense of Soluwan and went to an evil mystic. The mystic was actually a servant of the Shadow and as such, created a poison meant to kill Soluwan. That evening, the lord challenged Soluwan to a duel and though he battled with Soluwan for many hours, couldn’t lay a single hand on him. Soluwan refused to fight until the lord brought one of Soluwan’s disciples clad in chains.
Though he was distracted for only a moment, the mystic knew that this was the only chance for him to be dispatched. She snuck behind the distracted god and plunged a black sword deep into his side. The wound festered and grew and within a matter of hours, Soluwan was dead. Before he died however, he made a prophecy. He claimed to return when the world calls out for him again.
Rise of the clans
As Saluwan grew to be venerated, seven families grew in power and wealth until they dominated the land. At first, the lines of each clan didn’t conflict, each clan stayed to their own lands and peace reigned. It wasn’t until the death of Freyr, matriarch of the Skjoldr people that all out warfare broke loose. For the next four hundred years, the Haed would battle the Leudh, the Braut would ally with the Volk against the Tryggr and then allegiances would change again. War became a steady part of life.
“Though his clan of origin is lost to history, it is agreed that Elrik ruled unopposed. By all accounts, his kingdom should have consisted of wary people holding ancient grudges. Instead, he somehow did the impossible, he achieved true unification.”
— A history of the realm, Yimr Eklund
It is unknown to what clan Elrik, the younger was born. Some scholars believed that he wasn’t born to a clan at all and was instead a clanless farmhand who ascended into glory. What is known is that he had a skill at manipulation and diplomacy unmatched by anyone before him. Even when he went to war, it was as if Saluwan himself guided his blade. He would wade into battle and cut a swath through enemy forces to emerge victorious. Eventually peace returned to the people.
The kingdom of Zweitenholm had enjoyed peace and prosperity unparalleled. The warring kingdoms were conquered or assimilated by Elrik the younger and the resulting kingdom of Zweitenholm had such prosperity that many believed that they were living in a golden age. That golden age lasted only thirty years. Little did the people know that this would be the last real sunset that they would see. As the skies grew dim, a new flaming star lit up the sky with a cold sort of light. It was seen throughout most of the kingdom when a noise like a deafening thunderclap was heard and most people were knocked off of their feet. Forests burned with green flame and many people closest to the blast became nothing but charred shadows on the floor.
The final sunset
“Judgement is upon us brothers and sisters!
The holy emerald flame empowers the judges against us!
Repent or be consumed!”
— Member of the path of the green flame, before self immolation
The morning didn’t bring sunlight. Neither did the next one. The people wouldn’t see the sun again. Instead, they were greeted with weeks of ash falling like snow and a sickly light trickling between overcast skies. Later, those poor souls who explored near the impact site would see a crater so large that the other side couldn’t be seen and so deep that nothing but darkness and a dim green light could be made out below.
From the crater came The Hollow Ones. These were beings that once were alive. Some of the Hollow Ones were brother or sisters, mothers or fathers. Some were favored pets or wild animals. The Hollow Ones lost their minds and anything approaching a self. Instead, they were filled with a dull green light that burned from within. They possessed terrible powers of regeneration, seemed to function as a whole and fed on the flesh of the living or weak. Those who weren’t consumed, were dragged away never to be seen again.
Elrik the younger waged a brutal war against the Hollow Ones. His men battled fear and the cold to push back the daily onslaught of the undying hoards. Eventually, seeing his men fighting a battle that could not be won, Elrik the younger ordered the building of a wall around the whole of the kingdom still under his control. The soldiers now fought not only for their kingdom but now, possibly for all humanity. With the wall built, the people rejoiced because they were safe once again! Within the castle at the very heart of his kingdom, Elrik the younger knew that the Hollow Ones had achieved the real victory. His kingdom would remain huddled away behind the walls until nothing but the Hollow Ones remained.
Birth of Darkholm
“The monsters did the worst thing that they could, they made us monsters as well.
Now, it is we who carry the shame of that terrible night.”
— Unsent letter, unknown writer
Unknown to the people of Zweitenholm, a different kind of monster had been living among them since time immemorial. Now, with all their prey corralled neatly behind the walls, the secret hunters of the night fell upon the leaders of Zweitenholm in one night. The streets ran thick with blood as the vampires that lay in shadow and hid from the sun now took their place as masters of all that they survey.
Three tribes of vampires had made a pact and in full view of the people, gathered up the leaders of Zweitenholm, dragged them to public squares and drained them dry before beheading them. Elrik the younger was dragged out of bed and brought before a mass of people where his mock public “trial” was staged. The vampires accused him of being weak and ineffectual. They said that his poor leadership brought the Hollow Ones to them and this curse upon humanity. After working the crowd into a frenzy of fear and panic, the vampires encouraged to people to enact “justice”. The people, in fear of the monsters that were among them and the Hollow ones without, fell upon the kind king and brutally murdered him.
Now, the people go about their lives knowing that immortal monsters rule their lands, infernal glowing demons stalk outside of their walls and simple sunlight is only a dim memory amongst the elders. This new land was called Darkholm.
The clockwork revolution
“What elegance exists in the glories of a gear, you ask?
Why the turning of the very world.”
— Franco Grimaldi, clockmaker
Despite the horrors that the people of Darkholm must endure daily, not all is bad. The vampire lords do not tolerate murder or cruelty among their sheep and all must work for the good of the kingdom. Within the walls there has also been a technological revolution of sorts. Complicated and intricate clockwork machines allow for more efficient farming of what few edible plants and animals that remain as well as all manner of other applications. Gas lamps light up the night and men and women made of clockwork patrol the streets. It is even said that some have harnessed lightning itself.
To the west, are the Free Marches. A loose coalition of all races of men and even some that are not men at all who were either left behind, fled or never went behind the walls of Darkholm. Though they lack the security of Darkholm and must be forever vigilant, they are truly free. The people of the free marches are ferocious fighters yet, are fiercely loyal. The free marches contain the last open followers of religion among the fallen lands of Zweitenholm, many of them worship the dead god of the sun, Sowulan.
A new era
With inter-tribal rivalries among the vampires riding high, the landscape of Nightsdeep has changed considerably. Chief among them is the loss of control of the Tick-tock men. The tick-tock men have malfunctioned in such a way that they took over a section of Darkholm and will tolerate no violence there of any sort. The area has become a haven for those who need to get away from it all. All men and vampires in this area called “Sanctuary” are essentially free in a way. At least, they are free until they dare set foot outside of Sanctuary. Sanctuary has been deemed a holy place and there is much whispered talk in sanctuary of Saluwan coming back.
Since the night that the tick-tocks went out of control, an enormous opening in the clouds has allowed the sunlight to pierce through. Most of it shines on an old temple dedicated to Saluwan. Because of this and the somewhat random other openings in the sky, some believe that this is all the work of Saluwan returning to the faithful. In fact, some call the opening in the sky, the eye of Saluwan. Others are far more suspicious and fearful of Sanctuary and the strange weather. Either way, strange things are happening.
The invention of the Printing press has made it possible to spread ideas in ways never dreamed of before. This has led to the start of the newspaper and printed books. Though the vampires see the books as an oddity, they have the backing of powerful people and have been untouched so far. The press isn’t free however, all stories and books go through the minister of information who decides what can and cannot be printed. It is said though that there are certain printing presses that are operated in secret, publishing old religious texts and other forbidden material.
Last of all is the new improvements in the lives of the people of the free marches. With their lightning tower bringing both power and a sliver of sunlight, the Bondi have begun to have more productive lives. Strange, vertical farms grow grain in concentric circles around the lightning tower. The heated walls and water bring much needed life to the main stronghold in the Marches. Rumors also say that an underground network of tunnels and collaborators has been leading some people out from behind the wall and into the Marches.