Dreams of Ice and Madness
The grand human empires spanned the globe. While faiths, crafts, architecture and cultures varied, humanities nations stood as monuments to the skill and determination of a young race. Some might say that it is truly their world which has been buried deep beneath the ever-expanding icecap, the living record of their achievements confined to icy graves.
After The Exodus, many humans made efforts to preserve the greatness of their empires in portable forms of art, but even these are now rare. The Humans who settled the vale did as all humans do, and sought to adapt to their new place. Humans of differing creeds spread out and explored the vale, becoming the nomadic Southern Tribes, the towns of the Central Expanse, the settlers of The Harsh, and the ascetic scholars of Stormbluff.
Where humanity had to leave behind it’s grand empires, Dwarvenkind had to vacate their ancient halls. The monuments and ancient places of magic that lay buried beneath the earth, the holy places to the children of stone, are miracles of architecture and stoneworking that the harried exiles to the south will never be able to replace. The most skilled artisans who survived the journey south devote their lives to trying to capture the glory of these places in vast frescoes, which never seem quite so grand as the stories behind them.
Dwarves settled into the Westwalls, a wide region of sheer rock jutting from the snow on the northwest wall of The Vale. They have carved many settlements of varying depth into these cliffs, jealously guarded their smelting techniques, slow as they are without their ancient halls, and produce weapons and armor of steel which are simply beyond the ken of the rest of the Southern Wound’s inhabitants. The items’ craftsmanship, but more their rarity and the effort needed to forge them, drives the Dwarves’ entire economy of trade.
Elves have always been a strange race. Enigmatic and insular, their long lives make them hard to relate to, and the timeline for their works is incalculable to other races. Where other races left behind empires, the Elves left behind something older. Other races could hope to carve out new halls or build new walls, but the Elves allowed the ice to overtake cities, fortresses, and cathedrals that had to grow for thousands of years. Their natural architecture was irreplaceable, homes and buildings tended for centuries like resplendent gardens. Some say, the loss of these forests and the cities within has driven the elves even madder.
The Elves who have settled in the vale went east, secluding themselves in the high woods, many hoping to tend the mighty forests their into something usable, if not exactly home. The elves were also fortunate enough to bring with them far too much arcane talent for their own good, allowing them to scour away the ice and chill over the soil with magic, and warm the earth enough to plant hardy crops. The Elves’ ability to farm has made them invaluable to the rest of the vale, who trade everything for the elves’ grain, fruits, vegetables and fibers.
In recent months, the Elves have also faced an internal Crisis – An event that they have termed ‘The Call’. As is want for their kind, the debate moves – Slowly – on how to react to a sudden sense among every elf in the vale that something far to the north, kin or kith, is calling to them, telling them in their dreams and thoughts of a new empire that is rising over the ice… A second chance, a paradise for elvenkind to grow and tend once again. Only a blink ago in the geologic timescale of Elves, it may be years before anything is decided upon by these recluses.
The entrepreneurial halflings who joined the exodus already lived among the other great races. Some of them of wild bent came south with the elves on their great ships, others the stout craft of dwarves and most the hurried craft of humankind. Halflings loss in the north has been their communities, places where even the most outgoing halfling could retreat to in the off months and be among their own kind without the intrusion of bigger folk, sharing tales and good times. Without an empire of their own, they relied on the resources of other races to escape the ice.
Having settled in the Vale however, Halflings have undergone something of a renaissance. Needing fewer resources to survive and with a talent for mediation and good business, Halflings spread across the settlements of the other great races reached out for each other, and built the trade networks that keep The Vale alive. They began to congregate in the middle of things, trading depots in The Harsh, posts in The Dragon’s Tail, wayside hostels on the Great Ridge Road, then finally, in the crossroads of Three Trails, where they grew to represent commerce.
It is because of their place in between the other races that Halflings, better than anyone, can see what’s coming. They of all people know what a cheery, delusional facade looks like… and they can spot it in the faces of every other race. For the adaptation and fortune of the Halflings of the Vale, the loss of all the races has in some ways become theirs, and allowed them to forecast the hastening decline of this foothold against the ice.