Horned Lands

Con il termine Horned Lands si intende una regione delle Flanaess popolata da signorie fedeli a un governo centrale di tredici gerarchi, apertamente votati al culto di Nerull e a culti diabolici (di questi ultimi il più importante è la Horned Society).
In seguito alle guerre, tutti i gerarchi sono stati assassinati da agenti dell'Impero di Iuz e le terre sono passate all'Impero.

Storia

La storia delle signorie delle Horned Lands è tutt'uno con quella della Horned Society. Diverse teorie sostengono che le origini di questo culto risalgano ai culti druidici degli Ur-Flan e ai loro rituali più oscuri. La tendenza a venerare entità oscure è stata endemica nel nord per secoli. Castel Hart fu costruito per proteggere i confini delle Shield Lands da armate di signori la cui cultura era non differente da quella delle attuali Horned Lands.
Le origini del culto che ha governato queste terre però ha origine al di la di questo mondo.
Sin dalla Battaglia di Pesh, il mondo di Oerth è diventato oggetto di contenzioso per i signori dei Piani Oscuri. Su Oerth si combattè la battaglia tra il Caos e la Legge e diversi signori dell'Abisso e dei Nove Inferi confidano che altri eventi di simile portata potranno verificarsi ancora su queste terre. L'ascesa di diverse divinità dei Pantheon adorati nelle Flanaess e nel resto del mondo ha però cambiato questi equilibri, rafforzando le difese dell'umanità dalla voracità dei signori del male.
Ci fu un periodo in cui il mondo sembrava in mano ai Signori dell'Inferno. IL patto sigillato con House Naelax (che portò Ivid I Naleax al trono dopo secoli di governo dei Rax nel 446 CY) sembrava un'arma imbattibile. Nessuno si aspettava che un demone minore come Graz'zt diventasse un semidio.
Nel 560 CY Gra'zt fu Imprigionato da Iggwilv e in questi anni fu concepito Iuz. Quando il cambion crebbe, nel 579 CY diventò signore di un territorio nelle Howling Hills (ufficialmente parte del Regno di Furyondy) e iniziarono le sue battaglie di conquista. Sotto il comando dei loro signori i sacerdoti e i seguaci dei culti diabolici in Rauxes inviarono fedeli (una prima forma di quella che sarebbe divenuta la Horned Society) per finanziare e coalizzare i nobili dei territori meridionali contro la crescente minaccia. I signori di quelle terre però, intimoriti dalla spaventosa dimostrazione di crudeltà e potenizale magico di Iuz rifiutarono la proposta. Fortunatamente per tutti, Iuz scomparve pochi anni dopo, all'aice delle sue conquiste.
Con la scomparsa di iuz e il frammentarsi dei territori in signorie dedite al culto dei demoni, i tempi erano maturi affinchè l'Ordine si consolidasse nei territori meridionali in quella che sarebbero divenute le Horned Lands come le conosciamo oggi.
Cominciò una sistematica operazione di conversione e consolidamento dei culti infernali in quelle terre.
La Luna di Sangue era alta nel cielo e maghi, streghe e rappresentanti dei nuovi culti si riunirono al cospetto dei loro nuovi mentori, tredici druidi votati al culto di Nerul, dio dell'inverno, del gelo e della morte e depositari dei segreti di Bael Turath, la cui capitale (sulle quali rovine sorge oggi Stoink fu letteralmente fagocitata dalla terra, intrappolata nei Nove Inferni diversi anni prima delle migrazioni. Sui loro calderoni e copricapi di bronzo, erano ancora presenti i sigilli diabolici degli antichi servitori dell'Inferno. All'apice del rituale, dopo ore di salmodiare, apparve il Signore dei Nove Inferni, splendido nelle sue vesti scarlatte, che diede istruzioni per lo svolgersi del suo piano. I Tredici druidi si ritirarono con i loro segreti, nell'oscurità della foresta, e nove leader spirituali furono appuntati alla guida del culto, i primi nove Gerarchi della Horned Society. Siccome i predecessori erano per lo più spie ed infiltrati nei ranghi di Iuz, questi primi gerarchi erano per lo più predoni ed assassini. Con lo scomparire della minaccia del dio cambion, divennero potenti signori della guerra.
L'autoproclamato Dread Emperor fu uno dei primi di questi maestri ad essere reclutato tra i Gerarchi, e fu colui che inaugurò la tradizione del Gerarca Innominato, mantenendo il suo nome segreto. Fu un grande condottiero, ma nel corso dei decenni divenne folle, credendo di essere il signore del mondo intero. Ascese ad una fortezza nel Piano Etereo e sembrò dimenticarsi degli affari mortali. I suoi successori mantennero la tradizione di nascondere i propri nomi.
La società trovò ottimi alleati negli hobgoblin (hoch-jebline, che ricordavano ancora la nazione conquistata in quelle terre prima dell'espansione Aerdy ed erano ansiosi di sfogare la propria ferocia contro olve e dwur.
Per i primi decenni di attività, la Horned Society fu per lo più composta da diabolisti. L'allineamento della società mutò con l'arrivo dei daemon. Fu l'ultrodaemon Mydianchlarus, consigliere dell oinoldaemon Anthraxus, che spinse i daemon ad intervenire. Tradizionalmente, i daemon hanno ben poco interesse negli affari mortali, preferendo il coinvolgimento attivo nelle guerre tra signori dei piani oscuri, relegando all'umanità il ruolo di erbacce che vanno eradicate. Mydianchlarus insistette sul fatto che quella particolare regione del Primo Piano Materiale stesse raccogliendo grande interesse sia dai diavoli dei Nove Inferi dell'Impero Aerdy, che i demoni dell'Abisso al servizio di Iuz e altre creature dei piani immondi, come i mostruosi demodand al servizio di Nerull. C'era ampio spazio per forze mercenarie e i daemon avrebbero potuto dare sfogo alla loro natura distruttiva sull'umanità. Se poi le voci che davano Oerth come il luogo finale della lotta tra i piani di esistenza (il conflitto conosicuto come Plane Wars, allora era necessario intervenire. L'elite dei mercenari daemon intavolarono una lunga discussione nei Nove Inferi, che si concluse nel 527 CY, quando un sacerdote di Anthraxus divenne il decimo Gerarca.
In seguito il decimo gerarca coinvolse altri tre rappresentativi, ambasciatori dell'Abisso, d Abaddon e dei Nove Inferi, portando il numero dei gerarchi a 13.
La magia divina è per i daemon qualcosa di immondo e ributtante ma spinto dalla pragmaticità Anthraxus concluse un patto con Nerull, affinchè i suoi sacerdoti ottenessero potere divino dal Mietitore. Dopotutto Nerull è il maggiore dio della morte di Oerth, e Anthraxsus, signore delle malattie, avrebbe portato pestilenze nelle Flanaess e feroci guerrieri daemon.
Un coacervo di culti immondi, la Horned Society prosperò per anni consolidando diversi territori precedentemente conquistati da Iuz e spingendosi contro la formidabile barriera delle Terre dello Scudo. Fu in questo periodo che Torkeep fu fondata sul confine tra le due nazioni, e antiche fortezze come l'immenso Castel Hart furono ripristinate.
Entambi erano avversari formidabili, ma le Horned Lands sapevano che le Shield Lands non avrebbero resistito per sempre. Con il passare del tempo, ambiziosi signori della guerra sostituirono diversi diabolisti, primo tra i quali il potente Dread Emperor.
Con la dipartita del Dread Emperor, diversi Gerarca Innominabile presero il suo posto, alternandosi in una spirale di assassinii e tradimenti. Nonostante tutto la Horned Society resistette con forza, con un formidabile amramentario di leggi e tradizioni. Anche la ricomparsa di Iuz nel 570 CY non li spaventò, e proseguirono con i loro schemi come se il cambion fosse ancora imprigionato.
In un periodo imprecisato tra il 570 e il 580 CY (la mancanza di nomi e la segretezza della società rendono difficile identificare l'anno preciso) un ambizioso e potente mago extraplanare conosciuto come Erac's Cousin ascese al Trono Innominabile. Un decennio prima Erac's Cousin vendette l'anima all'arcidiavolo Baalzebul dopo essere fuggito alla schiavitù per conto del signore dei demoni Fraz-Urb'luu.
Come parte del contratto, Baalzebul concordò che dopo la morte fisica di Erac's Cousin la sua promozione a Diavolo Maggiore sarebbe stata più rapida se avesse potuto continuare le trame sul Primo Piano Materiale come se non fosse mai morto. Patti come questi sono pericolosi e difficilmente saldati senza il predominio del detentore, ma in questo caso il rapporto che si strise fu di vantaggio a entrambe le parti.
Infine, tra il 579 e il 581 CY, le armate hoch-jebline e armate mercenarie della Horned Society, con il supporto di daemon e demodand schiacciarono le Terre dello Scudo, i territori furono poi donati come feudo ai signori hobgoblin e altri capi militari. Negli anni che seguirono, la Horned Society fu al picco del proprio potere. Nel 583 CY però, i gerarchi divennero irrequieti. Voci dal nord davano Iuz come una forza che aveva consolidato il suo regno di terrore, e si stava preparando ad assediare Molag e le Horned Lands per annetterle di nuovo alle terre del vecchio.

In the fortress of Khin-Oin on the plane of Abaddon, on Coldeven 11 in the year mortals in the Flanaess had named 582 CY, the ultroloth Mydianchlarus whispered into the ear of Anthraxus that Iuz had sent demons to destroy the Horned Society, and that if they were to maintain a semblance of balance among the evil of Oerth, he would have to act directly to check them. Overwhelming force was needed to dissuade Iuz from this sort of crude assault, and as there was no time to prepare an army, an appearance by an archfiend in the flesh ought to suffice.
Anthraxus nodded, seeing the wisdom of Mydianchlarus' council. With a minor effort of will he appeared in the palace of the Horned Ones in Molag, determined to squash Iuz's assassins
like the insects they were. He was surprised to see the Hierarchs already dead, the assassins not mere demons but Iuz himself, accompanied by his mother, the witch Iggwilv, and a powerful aspect of the demon queen Zuggtmoy resembling a bloated fungus with four elephantine legs.
The Oinoloth cursed Mydianchlarus, realizing he had been set up. The battle lasted for some time, and much of Molag was damaged, but the outcome was always certain. Anthraxus was banished back to Hades, now weakened and far from the throne where Mydianchlarus was even now consolidating his power. Anthraxus now roams the Lower Planes, seeking alliances with other evil gods and powers in the hope that he might once again reconquer Khin-Oin; however, with his fall even Nerull has abandoned him, and it may be some time before he is able to threaten the new rule of Mydianchlarus, who for his
part has been too distracted with mastering the secrets of the Siege Malicious and his power as the new Oinoloth to concern himself with mortal cultists. On Oerth, Iuz added the lands of the Horned Society to his own. Even so, the Horned Society was not destroyed entirely. The cleric Nezmajen was away in the Fellreev Forest at the time of the slaughter, and continued resisting the forces of Iuz using
the fortress of Darkpool as his base of operations. The cleric Andrade Mirrius, too, was away from the Horned Lands, busy in the City of Greyhawk. Still, it is likely that the Society would never have grown beyond Andrade and Nezmajen's band of resisters if not for something that the triad of Iuz, Iggwilv, and Zuggtmoy had not been aware of: Baalzebul's contract with Erac's Cousin.
And so it was, after a purely nominal time as a lemure, that the soul of Erac's Cousin was refined in the Pit of Flame and reshaped into the form of a greater devil (naturally, he was made into one of the caste known as horned devils, as befit his Society). While normally a devil would be expected to serve as a least devil for at least a century before progressing to higher ranks, in Erac's Cousin's case this requirement was deferred until a later date, after such time as he his performance might be found so unsatisfactory as to earn a demotion. As yet, this has not happened, and the once and future Unnameable Hierarch has been patiently rebuilding the Horned Society as a secret cabal. Where once their schemes were concentrated primarily in a single nation, they now work behind the scenes to advance their
goals across the Flanaess. The reborn Unnameable Hierarch's first act was to contact Nezmajen, who in his absence has promoted his protege, the cleric Guiliana Mortidus, as a new Hierarch in her own right. Erac's Cousin accepted this decision as lawfully done, and Nezmajen, Andrade, and Guiliana, though more aligned with with daemonic forces than diabolic ones, were suitably impressed by their former leader's new, terrifying appearance and renewed their oaths of fealty. Erac's Cousin set about finding further recruits to help rebuild the Society.
One of his first recruits was the wandering fighter Warduke, who was in reality Damen Tyneman, a Furyondian noble, a son of Lord Bennel Tyneman of the Reach. Bennel Tyneman's wife was one of Belvor III's younger sisters, making his son a cousin of the crown prince. In childhood, Damen Tyneman spent a great deal of time with his second cousin Thrommel Fairwain.
Bennel Tyneman is the son of Gertrue, the widow of Thrommel II "the Usurper," who married the Duke of the Reach after her husband was executed by Belvor III. She attempted to groom her son by the Duke of the Reach to take the throne, but the hedonistic Duke Bennel was never interested in his vengeful mother's schemes. His son Damen, however, proved to be extremely susceptible to his grandmother's manipulations. Since Damen's own mother was Alyndra Fairwain, the youngest sister of Belvor III, he has always felt he has a real claim on the throne should something happen to his cousin Prince Thrommel. In their youths, encouraged by his mother and grandmother, Damen was very close to his cousin, and they adventured together early on as part of a party of young nobles who disguised their names in order to travel without the burdens and dangers of association with their famous families. Calling themselves the Company of the Heartstone after an artifact for which they quested, they included Prince Peralay Brightflame of Celene, who adventured under the name "Melf" Prince Olinstaad Corond of Ulek, who called himself "Elkhorn;" Prince Thrommel Fairwain of Furyondy, who called himself "Strongheart;" and Sir Damen Tyneman of the Reach, who called himself "Warduke." Other party members, not all of them of noble blood, included the thieves Figgen, Foxfingers and Zarak, the wizards Ringlerun, Skylla, and Kellek, and the clerics Mercion, Raven, and Zargash.
When the party finally encountered the Heartstone, it altered their personalities, amplifying the virtues in some and the vices in others and tearing their friendships apart. Damen grew to hate Thrommel for his perceived weakness, embracing his grandmother's teachings in earnest. As Warduke he became a mercenary sowing terror throughout the land, seldom seen in his father's court.
While hurt by the schism in their party, the friendships made proved vital when the demihuman peoples, still decimated and demoralized by the Hateful Wars, refused to join the humans in battling the Horde of Elemental Evil. Then it was the friendship between Thrommel of Furyondy, Prince Brightflame of Celene, and Prince Corond of Ulek that managed to bridge the gap, gaining the forces of Good the crucial alliances it needed to defeat the Horde at the Battle of Emridy Meadows. Also in attendance at the battle were the cleric Serten, whom Melf knew through his time adventuring with the Citadel of Eight, and
the archmage Serten the Elder. It is believed that Warduke and his allies fought on the opposite side of that battle as mercenaries with the Horde, although they managed to escape after the Horde was routed.
Whether or not Warduke had anything to do with Thrommel's eventual disappearance has never been proven one way or the other, but as one of the strongest claimants to the throne after the anticipated death of Belvor IV, he was certainly a tempting recruit for the Horned Society's schemes. When he was approached by the Unnameable Hierarch, he readily accepted membership, and he in turn recruited some of his old companions - Foxfingers, Zarak, Skylla, Kellek, Raven, and Zargash - to join him.
Erac's Cousin also journeyed to the Ethereal Plane to renew contact with the Dread Emperor. Flattering his delusions, he convinced the Emperor to help create magical equipment for his Society in exchange for a regular tribute of live human children. Next was Sammael, a servant of Baalzebul like Erac's Cousin, who had seized control of the prostitution and drug trades in the town of Delaquenn on the banks of Lake Whyestil. From the debauched noblemen of the Dyvers and Hardby, Erac's Cousin recruited Gillard DeRosen and Markosian, both enthusiastic priests of Asmodeus, encouraging the cult among
their respective circles of nobles, merchants, and pirates. The half-elf Thorolf, a cleric of Dispater, runs an ancient mausoleum, mainly set aside for the use of nobles, in the town of Dustbridge in the former Great Kingdom. He has long used his power to protect his mausoleum from necromancers and others who might disturb the dead, cementing his reputation as an upholder of the Law as well as protecting the crypts as an outlet for his own unnatural lusts. Thorolf makes no secret of his reverence of Dispater, and in Dustbridge this has not been a problem as long as he continues to show deference for
Prince Stychan, the town's ruler. Thorolf, who has a minor claim to nobility from his human ancestry, has become a frequent and popular guest at Strychan's parties, events so decadent
that Thorolf's own predilections often seem minor by comparison. Strychan values Thorolf for his company and wit, as well as his aid in ensuring the town's security. The Horned
Society, in its turn, values Thorolf's connections, and has promoted him high in their ranks.
Fox Fingers has a respectable life and a respectable career. He is a nobleman, a peer of the realm and a representative in Furyondy's house of lords. He is certainly not a thief.
Except… he is. With a compulsion that, after all these years, he still cannot resist, he continues to practice his trade in Chendl, night after night. As much as he hates himself for
debasing himself with these burglaries, he hates his former adventuring companions from the Company of the Heartstone even more, for they know his secret.
The half-orc Zarak was Melf's friend. They met while exploring the ruins of Castle Greyhawk and, where most elves would not have, Melf saw the kindness and nobility beneath the thief's
ugly features. Zarak, in his turn, saw that Melf truly respected him, offering friendship out of more than mere pity. They became fast companions, and when Thrommel organized the
Company of the Heartstone, Melf brought Zarak along. When the Heartstone corrupted his friend, magnifying the paranoia and jealousy that had always been latent within him before,
their friendship was torn apart. While the Horned Society has many minor cultists and warriors, the following are the major
power players active in the organization today.

  • Cryennek (= Kelek?) (mage 12) - a cowardly mage of Furyondy. The Marklands, page 39.
  • Thorolf (Male half-elf cleric 6/fighter 6 of Dispater) - a necrophiliac who runs a mausoleum. Book of Vile Darkness
  • Rosette the Bladeraver (Female halfling rogue 5/Cleric 6 of Levistus) - a traveler who tries to blend in with other halflings. BoVD
  • Sammael (Male human cleric 13 of Baalzebul) - rules a city of drugs, debauchery, and murder. BoVD
  • Gilliard DeRosen (Male human Aristocrat 6/Cleric 10 of Asmodeus) - Controls a large cult made of wealthy nobles and merchants. BoVD
  • The Dread Emperor (Male human wizard 10/diabolist 10) - Lives in a fortress in the Ethereal Plane with his child-slaves. BoVD
  • Dorban Smokestone (Male dwarf Cleric 8 of Mammon) - lives in a dwarf community and hires thieves and assassins to eliminate his enemies. BoVD
  • Zargash (Male human cleric 7 of Glasya) - advisor to Kelek. Fallen cleric of Ehlonna who Mercion once assisted. Former friend of Melf. Blames Ringlerun for the Heartstone disaster, and hates him for it. Has tried to kill Melf several times since the accident. Shady Dragon Inn
  • Fox Fingers (Male human thief 13) - treacherous ally of Kelek. Shady Dragon Inn
  • Kelek (= Cryennek?) (Male human M-U 7) - Partnered with Skylla. Former friend of Ringlerun. Hopes to gain control of a wizard's guild. Shady Dragon Inn
  • Skylla (Female human M-U 6) - Former student of Ringlerun, now partner of Kelek. Shady Dragon Inn
  • Raven (Female human cleric 10 of Fierna) - Lover of (and devoted to) Warduke. Former friend of Mercion. Not totally evil, but her true personality is hidden by her love of Warduke. Shady Dragon Inn
  • Warduke (Male human fighter 18) - Former friend of Strongheart; plans with Skylla to kill Kelek when he is no longer useful. Shady Dragon Inn; Dungeon #105.
  • Andrade Mirrius (Male human cleric 18 of Nerull) - Lives in Greyhawk City. TAB, 91.
  • Markosian (Male human sor 5/Ftr 2/Disciple of Asmodeus 10) - "The Devil Behind Thrones." Controls corrupt nobles and pirates. Dungeon #111
  • Guiliana Mortidus (Female human cleric 12 of Nerull) - Lives in Greyhawk City. Greyhawk Adventures, p. 49; TAB, 91.
  • Nezmajen (Male human cleric 15 of Nerull) - Dwells in the Fellreev Forest, resisting Iuz. Iuz the Evil, TAB, p. 91.
  • Zbavra the Witch-Queen (Female human cleric of Hextor 5/Sorcerer 9) - Serves in Mammon's court. BoVD, 150.

Other allies

  • Zbavra, the self-proclaimed "Witch-Queen" is a cousin of King Grenell's, a lady of the House of Naelax and a cleric of Hextor who, seeing her ambitions for greater political power stymied in the Great Kingdom, traveled to the Outer Planes to serve her god directly. There, she became Hextor's ambassador to the courts of Hell, and thence fell further into the politics of the infernal lords. Serving Mammon for a time, she impressed the Lord of Avarice so much that he appointed her head of his palace guard with six companies of bone devils under her command, but she secretly desires to return to the Material Plane and seize the throne of the Great Kingdom from her cousin Grenell. Erac's Cousin himself has approached her with offers of alliance, and Zbavra has begun to believe her fantasies of becoming a queen may yet come to fruition. With a horned devil servant of Baalzebul in control over the organization and the followers of Anthraxus and Nerull sidelined, the Horned Society is more firmly aligned with the forces of Hell than it has been in decades. Even so, the current incarnation of the Society is not without its factions. There are those in the organization that believe the best path to future control is in aligning themselves with one or the other of the nobles of the North Kingdom; they seek to aid the North Kingdom to conquer its southern counterpart and thus put a Naelax back on the throne of a revived Great Kingdom; naturally, with a court full of Horned Society advisors. Others think a more realistic goal is setting Warduke upon the throne of Furyondy, bringing that mighty nation under their control, while more cautious voices believe if Warduke were to gain this much power, he would no longer need to ally himself with the Horned Society at all, and might well turn on them or, at least, limit the power they once

wielded. Still others, Nezmajen and his Nerullite faction foremost among them, believe the Horned Society must work to undermine their hated enemy Iuz and reclaim the Horned Lands from the Old One's grip. The diabolists are less eager, believing the Horned Lands are part of the Society's past, not necessarily a key component of their future triumphs.

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