My BasicFantasyRPG table was designed to be a one-shot to see if I enjoyed running the system. I had a single crawl, rough world map, and a base town set up–but that was it. As the party got through the crawl, however, we were having so much fun that we’ve just kept playing. This left me pondering next steps. Two things happened in that first crawl gave me some hints.
First, the group discovered a Dwarrow priest who was worshipping some unknown goddess.
Second, the party found a secret room and triggered a message from another unknown goddess who provided two names. Anaris, the goddess of light and life. And Shachath, the goddess of chaos.
Stopping the chaos became the over-arching arch for the party. So I began pondering how the history of this world unfurled. Why did humans, elves, and dwarves get along so well in the region in which our adventures were taking place? Where did the ruins come from, and why was that Dwarrow worshipping this unknown goddess? How did these two goddesses become forgotten?
My thoughts were just becoming solidified when one of my players cornered an NPC who seemed to be knowing more about what was going on than he was letting on. So, on the spot, I told the story to the table–formulating my thoughts into words for the first time. The players seemed to enjoy it, so that made me happy. But there were still thoughts in my head which needed to get out.
So I decided to write them out. Here is the history of the world of Arden, the origin of the Zhadrin Alliance, and the sisters Anaris and Shachath.
In the time when the Great Divine wove the material realm into being all was chaos–an endless explosion of light and energy free from all bounds of order and rule. The Great Divine also wove into being the powers we now call divines, and they swam through the violence of chaos much like a fish swims through the ocean. Most of these divines had little to do with one another, so lost were then in the joy of the Great Divine’s power which was woven into the chaos. But two of these divines formed a bond and swam though the endless explosion as sisters. Their names were Shachath and Anaris.
The sisters confused the other divines, who needed only the majesty of the Great Divine’s power to be content, but the Great Divine looked upon Shachath and Anaris and loved them above all the other Divines. And so it was, because of their special bond, that the Great Divine allowed the sisters to discover the next phase of the tapestry.
The Great Divine adored the power of chaos, but also knew its limitations. The grand tapestry required something new if bonds like the one between Shachath and Anaris were to grow. The Great Divine realized that chaos needed order.
And so it came to be that, as they were swimming far from the other divines, the sisters saw something which stunned them. It was a space where the chaos was kept at bay. A space where the light was gathered into one place, and the space in which this light shone was free from the endless explosion of chaos. Around this light moved a new thing. Swimming through the emptiness much as the divines swam through the chaos. This new thing confused the sisters, who thought it must be another form of divine. But the new thing had no voice or will. It just swam around the light in the emptiness, as though tied to a tether.
The Great Divine was pleased the sisters had found the order in the chaos, and permitted Shachath and Anaris to watch as Order brought forth life. These small fragments of chaos adorned Order, and the sisters watched as they altered the very shape of Order itself. But, although it was chaos in its essence, life couldn’t swim in the endless explosion. It was bound to Order, and could not leave it. The Great Divine spoke then spoke to the sisters, “Here in the chaos I have chosen to create a space in which the very bound you both enjoy will become what defines life. Here chaos meets Order, and together it will create new wonders.”
The sisters were stunned. Neither could believe what the Great Divine had told them. A new wonder? It was unheard of! Wasn’t the joy of the Great Divine’s power in chaos wondrous enough? Sensing the sisters’ dismay, the Great Divine spoke again.
“You think I am jealous for the wonders I create with my own will? My children, the whole tapestry is mine, and so when the things I have woven manage to add their own designs to the tapestry I feel only joy. Joy as I feel at the bond which you both, alone among my children, share. I bid you both, stay and watch what will come from Order in the chaos. And find the pleasure I feel in its existence.”
Still stunned, the sisters nodded. And together they watched Order in the chaos as life altered its nature. It grew hot, and then cold, and began to be covered with something which moved much like the endless explosion of the chaos. And then green things emerged, and smaller moving things, and then creatures were formed who seemed to wield the power of chaos themselves. These latter creatures shaped Order in the chaos, and where they walked the Order bore the marks of their passing.
As the sisters watched, Anaris was filled with awe and wonder at what the Great Divine had woven. And so Anaris felt joy at this new section of the Great Divine’s tapestry. She begged her sister to enter into Order and help life in its weaving.
But Shachath grew more and more frustrated with Order in the chaos. The emptiness in which it swam filled her with dread, and the way in which the bits of chaos that adorned it were bound to Order filled her with sorrow. She felt that life was imprisoned in Order, and longed to set it free. So when her sister begged to enter Order in the chaos, Shachath agreed. But, rather than help shape life’s weaving, she went to help set it free from the prison of Order.
Once they became part of Order in the Chaos, the sisters discovered beings who possessed will, and who communicated with echos of the endless explosion which they had left. When the sisters first appeared to these ancient beings they were hailed as beings of power–and were called gods. Pleased with this, each sister took some of the ancient beings and began to guide the way they wove into the Great Divine’s tapestry. Anaris embraced the beings who would come be known as the dwarves, elves, and humans–and instilled in these beings a joy to create. Elves were drawn to the trees, Dwarves were drawn to darkness below the mountains, and Humans felt the call of grass and sea. Shachath embraced all the creatures who felt no call to any particular part of Order, and promised to find them a place among Order in the chaos. This promise pleased Anaris, who was glad her sister would help those who felt lost. After the sisters parted, Anaris dove into guiding the people she had embraced.
Ages went by, and those under Anaris’ care flourished and shaped the Order, which they called Arden. Cities were built, art was created, and the chaos of Arden was shaped and molded into beauty. But always there were rumors of beings who sought to help chaos unravel the beauty of Arden. These beings lived far from the peoples under Anaris’ care and were little more than phantoms living in mist, seen only in the withering which they left in their wake. These beings concerned Anaris, and she began to suspect her sister was behind their hatred for Arden. But she’d not seen Shachath since the two had first departed and so Anaris was unable to confront her sister.
And then it came to be that a city of dwarves, who had begun to submit to Shachath’s guidance in secret, unleashed a vent of poison on to their neighbors in the valleys and forests of Arden. Cities were rended uninhabitable, rivers turned to acid, and green forests became dust and ash. Anaris watched the poison weave it’s deadly treads into Arden, and was horrified. The dwarves, for their part, were shocked at the breadth of the destruction they had wrought–but in their shame they refused to answer Anaris’ pleas for an explanation. But Anaris’ cries did bring a response. As the goddess stood among the ruins she glanced up toward the mountain from which the poison had spilled, and saw her sister for the first time in many ages.
Shachath’s visage had become pale and colorless. Her clothing absorbed light, covering her in endless shadow. And where she walked life died. But it was Shachath’s eyes which struck Anaris the most. Where they were once full of life and joy and love, now they showed only bitterness and resentment.
Shachath looked down toward her sister and offered a hideous grin.
“Greetings, sister. We came to this cursed place to help guide it. Do you see how determined I am to set it free?”
“You have desecrated the Great Divine’s tapestry,” Anaris replied. “Is this freedom to you, sister?”
“Don’t speak to me of the tapestry!” Shachath hissed back. “The bits of chaos which are plagued with this cursed Order are nothing more than prisoners. I will set them free. Free to return the endless explosion from which they were born. The joy which the Great Divine has denied them by forcing Order upon them!”
“But they weave, sister. They reflect the Great Divine in a way our siblings never could. Surely this is something we can celebrate together? Please, come down from your mountain, let us heal this wound and live in joy together again. I have missed you.”
Shachath sneered. “Missed me? You have devoted yourself to helping these prisoners build a better cage for themselves. You have not missed me, and I despise you for dedicating yourself to being a jailor!”
“Nevertheless,” Anaris responded. “I have missed you. And I could never despise you.”
“Then you are both a fool and a puppet! I will not be controlled. For chaos to flourish Order must be destroyed. The emptiness of this space must end. And I will see it does!”
Anaris’ heart grew heavy. The voice was her sister’s, and her face was the same, but all joy had been removed from her–so much so that it was difficult for her to recognize this new Shachath as her sister of old. Confronted with this image, Anaris sighed. “If that is your desire, sister, then I am sorry, but I will not allow what the Great Divine has woven to be unravelled.”
Shachath’s eyes narrowed as a grin formed. “Very well,” she said as she spread her arms wide. She held her pose for a breath, and then brought her hands together with a thunderous clap. Howls of rage and anger called out in response, and out from the poisonous mines poured a host of beings Anaris could not recognize. These were creatures who had been twisted by the bitter guidance of their patron until they became haters of life–obsessed only with gaining the freedom of chaos which had been “stolen” from them.
This host swept over the poisoned landscape, slaughtering all who were caught in its flood. Anaris herself fled from the onslaught, and gathered to herself survivors or her chosen beings. Deep in forest paths, hidden by mountains too remote for Shachath’s minions to find, Anaris guided her charges in a new task–she would help them wage war.
Shachath, however founded a kingdom in the poisoned land. This realm was dedicated toward the unravelling of Arden, and thus bring about their return to the endless explosion. The realm twisted all it touched, and enslaved the younger peoples who had not yet come under the patronage of the sisters. These younger beings cried out for release from their misery, and Anaris knew she must act.
Though bound to Arden, Anaris had enough of her chaotic nature remaining to reach out to her siblings and plea for help defending the Great Divine’s tapestry. When her siblings discovered what the Great Divine had woven, the idea of Order in chaos, they were amazed. And when they heard how Anaris’ own sister, Shachath, was determined to destroy what the Great Divine had woven, they were horrified. Several chose to forego the joy of of the endless explosion and come to Arden–taking up the patronage of different aspects of life. Reinforced, the host of Humans, Elves, and Dwarves emerged from their refugee in oder to defend the tapestry of the Great Divine–which the peoples of Arden called “Zhadrin.”
The alliance pushed out from their hidden valley stronghold and, empowered by the combined forces of the divines, captured the territory held by Shachath’s followers and cleansed it of it’s bent toward chaos. A new kingdom, Zhadrin, was established to prevent Shachath’s followers from continuing their dark work. But Anaris knew the work wasn’t completed. She knew her sister wouldn’t rest until her desires were fulfilled. So the divines combined their wills and wove a new thread into the tapestry. Relying on the special bond shared by the sisters, Anaris would join her sister in sleep while erasing both sisters’ names in living memory of all but a few of Anaris’ most faithful. But these few were charged to never call upon Anaris’ name, lest they break the thread. They were charged only with passing on the story, so if the thread should ever be weakened there would be some who knew the truth and move to preserve what the Great Divine had made.
This is the charge to those who read this tale. Speak not the name of the Lady of Light, until the name of Chaos is heard on the winds of Arden once more.