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Approximately 200 years prior to the “present” time, a giant cataclysm wracked the world. Legends say the Sun, Pelor, tired of the warring of the races (in large part influenced by the Hextor and his clerics) and placed an omen in the skies for all to see as a signal of his wrath. He sent visions to some few of his most loyal followers warning them of the coming trial. The other Gods, following Pelor’s lead, did the same with their worshipers.
Alas, the warring amongst the races continued unabated, each group convinced that they were not the subjects of the Gods’ displeasure and so would be spared. The Gods’ warnings unheeded, Pelor smote the world with his flaming fist, causing the seas to rise, the earth to shake, mountains to flame and the very air itself to kill. Darkness spread over the world and a long, cold winter settled over the lands.
Those who had heeded the Gods’ warnings, few though they were, were guided to the virtually unpopulated island of Megarth, which in the old tongue meant “Land of Redemption”, and told to prepare. Wizards, Sorcerers, Clerics and Druids, collectively referred to as “Magi”, were given or shown knowledge arcane and divine that would help fend off the coming cataclysm. Warriors of all stripe were held ready to defend from invaders.
When Pelor struck, it was on the opposite side of the world from Megarth, and the resident arcane and divine spell casters were able to stave off most of the effects felt by the rest of the world, though at great cost to both their number and strength.
More might have survived, and fewer weakened, had not the followers of Hextor invaded the island, surprising the mundane defenders with their ferocity and attacking Shield Keep, the mages’ stronghold in the Fultar Mountains. Were it not for the valor of the Order of the Sun, a group of priestly knights dedicated to Pelor (most of whom gave their lives defending the Keep in the attack) all might have been lost.
Though the full force of the Shield, held strong by the Keepers, was only effective for a few tens of miles, it’s effects were felt in gradually decreasing degree for some hundreds of miles. Outside the uttermost range of the Shield winter raged. Winds tore at the sea, clouds darkened the sky, and periodic quakes shook the earth. Many refugees came to the shores of Megarth. Those deemed worthy, and who accepted the Code of Peace, were allowed entry. Those who attacked, or tried to enter by stealth or fraud, were turned away, to settle on the eastern shores of the slightly less affected continent of Tregarth to the west.
Not benefiting from the full effect of the Shield, life on the coast of Tregarth is hard, though not as hard as farther west. Those who settled there because of rejection from Megarth became highly distrustful of the islanders, bitter at their outcast. Periodic disorganized raids on the island by those who were spurned have been repelled, though not without some difficulty at times. There appear to be enough hardships on the mainland to keep most of the residents busy with their own lot.
Those who are native to the mainland are for the most part not overtly hostile. Population is sparse, except where trade with Megarth has improved prosperity, and they don’t see any particular advantage to accepting the Islander’s Oath.
Inside the Shield’s effective area, the seasons have passed on their usual course, normalized by the Keepers of the Shield. Almost the entire island, though still sparsely populated, has been at least traveled over.
However, it’s been almost two centuries since the Strike, and the Shield has become more tenuous over the last few decades, as the strength and number of the Keepers dwindles. For though the Keepers themselves are quite powerful, dedication to their duty prevents them from providing more than rudimentary instruction to those who might replace them. In fact, in the two centuries of Shielding, only eight new mages, two from each order, have been raised to the level of Keeper, and those are not as strong as those who went before. At the same time, a dozen from each order have passed on, leaving only a few from each order currently able to maintain the shield.
Fortunately, over those same decades, the world outside the Shield has begun to return to normal, and though unusual storms and wrack still occasionally appear on the horizon, the area within several days travel from the island is virtually the same as inside the Shield.
Much knowledge of the Old World has been lost, though there are some books, maps and manuscripts rumored to have been brought to the island by the original settlers. The rigors of early settlement, and the battles that raged over the island after the Strike served to destroy, scatter or hide much that was once widely known.
The Keep Library is open only to those higher level magi who have attained Keeper, Adept or Apprentice status, though the latter are only allowed with a chaperon. The Teacher’s guild also has almost unlimited access to peruse the Library. Only Keepers have the right to remove items from the Library, all others must remain in the facility while using the materials. Copying is permitted, but most of the Keepers don’t have time to do it, and they are the ones who would do the best job. Over the years, the Scribes have made several copies of some of the more valuable books and scrolls for storage elsewhere on the island.
All of the humanoid races are represented on the island, to a greater or lesser degree, and racism is not an appreciable factor in island life. With the exception of Humans, who are most likely to be found in the company of other races, residents of the island tend for the most part to live with those of their own kind, though they trade, travel and communicate freely.
The only exception to this generalization is the Hanoak plainsmen, who are nomadic and tend to keep to themselves except for the yearly Wintermeet. The Hanoak are not hostile to others, just aloof, preferring to stay within the confines of their own range, neither seeking out, nor particularly avoiding, contact with others. Their shrines are sacrosanct, no outsider is allowed entry, indeed, few not of the Hanoak race even know of their location.
In an effort to prevent the same type of strife that brought on the wrath of Pelor in the first place, the original settlers instituted the Oath of Peace. All persons, upon reaching a leadership role within their respective communities, must take the Oath before attaining that position. For some reason not now known, the Hanoak are the only residents of the island who do not follow this custom. Being among the most non-violent inhabitants of the island, almost pacifists when it comes to conflict with others, this isn’t generally seen as a problem. It’s rumored that the Hanoak were already in residence on the island, and had been for some time, when the other settlers came. Others discount these rumors, noting that, according to some of the ancient scrolls, there were several Half-Orcs present in the original landings.
Don’t ever call a Hanoak a Half-Orc though, unless you are fond of being pummeled into a pulp. Though rumored, by those of low character, to be originally descended from the union of humans and Orcs in the depths of time, they are a separate species, breeding true. Any suggestion that they are “half-breeds” is considered a serious insult, resulting in an uncharacteristic rage on the part of any Hanoak who might happen to be present.
The Code of Peace says, in part, that the least amount of violence necessary to defend oneself is the best. Violence is never condoned when used for offense.
In keeping with the philosophy embodied by the Oath of Peace, the races on the island get along pretty well. This is a picked society, originally chosen from those who were guided by their Gods to the island, all highly motivated to stay peaceful. All children are brought up to value the life they have on the island, and though most elders recognize youth as a learning time and so are quite understanding of conflict among children, any variance from the path of Peace once adulthood is reached is not tolerated.
There are conflicts even among adults, of course, but they are by and large handled at the local level. Only rarely is the Council of the Keep called in to adjudicate a dispute. Since their punishments tend to be rather severe, exile from the island for one or both disputants is a moderately rare, but quite possible outcome in case brought before them, it’s generally in the best interests of all parties to resolve their problems before they escalate to that level.