At the very top of a mountain shrouded in dark clouds was a city, the capital of a kingdom called Eldore. It had rained for a thousand years, with no indication it would ever stop. Centuries ago the city was cursed by Cai, a god torn from the mortal woman he loved by Death and the borders that limited his influence outside the kingdom he called home. The other gods refused to allow the lovers to reunite after her death, and in his grief and anger, the once loving god turned his sorrow into a curse.
Clouds formed over the mountain and the plains on the first day, dark clouds filled to bursting with Cai’s tears. Those raindrops fell onto the city and continued to fall as the god cried for his beloved wife, withheld from him by the jealousy of his brethren. Over time the clouds shrank as Cai’s power diminished, until only the mountain was subjected to his curse.
The mountain’s name had been lost to time, and the records on which that name was inscribed had long since succumbed to must and mold and damp. The city perched on its crest was called Var Eldore. Like all cities on mountains, the wealthy lived at the peak while those with less struggled closer to the bottom. Unlike all other cities on mountains, there was a slightly more practical reason for this than simple ego or even defense. It was the rain. The rain flooded the lowlands beneath the mountain. The poor built their homes upon stilts of stone, while the rich built elaborate systems to divert the water from one place to another.
The rainwater eventually made its way to the plains below the mountain. The plains muddied and sank and became a marsh, a cold, harsh place where little life grew. What life there was came in dangerous forms. Large beasts of claw and tooth and pebbled leather hide. For the most part, carnivores roamed the thick swamp. Stretching farther from the marsh, the plains took hold again. The great beasts were present there as well, but tamed by the efforts of those who dwelt on the plains. A people apart from their pale neighbors on the mountain, the Ruvi were gypsies and nomads with dark skin and hair the color of blood. Legend told of the time when the mountains to the far east split open to allow passage, and these strangers came to the plains.
The winds swept the grasses and drew music from the reeds at the edge of the swamp. Sunlight warmed the plains, and the Ruvi kept their herds in peace. They traded east and west, and even with the city, though Var Eldore was a dangerous place for a Ruvi to go. Slave markets abounded in the lower city, called the Mire by those who lived there, and the traders weren’t particularly choosy about where their wares came from. They raided the plains and stole children from their beds. The small settlements on the edge of the swamp were all fair game to those vile men with their vile trade. Farther up the mountain, slums and slave markets gave way to taverns and tradesmen, and farther still were the fine shops where petty nobles and wealthy merchants spent their coin.
It was also there, in the highest reaches of the city, where the guild of magic resided. Many such guilds dotted the city landscape. There were those traditional edifices for carpenters and wheelwrights, bakers and smiths in Blathe’s Row, but in the Palace Green, in the shadow of the Royal Castle, the Mage Guild stood as testament to the power and influence of magic.
For every guild there were guild lords. The Mage Guild had nine, though the trade guilds were limited to three. These lords were powerful, wealthy and influential. Through the guilds the people of the city felt security, and over all of this was the king. Every profession had its guild, and every member had protection.
Except not every member was equal. Certainly in trade there were those merchants with more power than others. There would always be a better blacksmith and a smarter alchemist. In magic, however, it was different. There was magic that killed, magic that healed. Magic to build and protect. For each of those schools there were those guild members that stood out. Sentinels who watched and worked closely with the King’s Watch, the city’s erstwhile police force; Enforcers who dealt out justice with the Crown’s grace and no trial; Healers who could knit bone and blood with a touch; Artificers who made armor and weapons of magic.
Yet these masters of the arcane were only a handful in comparison to the numbers boasted by the guilds of trade and craft. These more mundane men and women kept their heads out of palace politics and avoided places like the Mage Guild and the dangerous wizards it bred. They worked in their forges and shops and simply tried to make a living in a cursed city.
It was at such a shop, on a particularly foul-weathered day, winter beginning to settle in on the mountain, that a man stood by a window staring out at the sky and the dark clouds that still hovered over the mountain.