THE ARCANE BOOK
IN THE BEGINNING
In the beginning, there was only Chaos. This was not Darkness, which has an order to it.
Then appeared the Goddess. She was not Light, which has a chaos to it. She was Order.
She took the chaotic energy of the universe and corralled it into eight elements of four opposing pairs... And all eight were used to create the world. These elements are: Light/Dark, Earth/Wind, Fire/Water, and Moon/Tree. Her power became known as Mana, and being too powerful to handle directly, humans have learned to utilize it through these individual elements.
The chaotic energy was contained in eight Mana Stones, even as the energy strained to release itself. Should this energy be released, its physical form would be one of the monsters known as God-Beasts. In order to control these new elements, She created eight Elemental Spirits to guard each part of the energy she had contained. Though all these minor deities have immense power in their realm, the deliberate splintering of the elements ensures none have absolute power.
The actual energy used to contain the elements is maintained in the form of a "Sword" in the Holyland. The raw power of this artifact could be used for good, or for evil, being of neither. The Goddess placed a layer of protection on the sword, so that She may chose for herself who can receive it.
Once her tasks were completed, the Goddess herself chose the corporeal form of a tree. This has been interpreted to be favoritism towards the Tree element. The Moon/Tree opposition has often been misunderstood. The Moon element represents the Void, change, the absence of life, whereas the Tree element represents creation, reproduction, perpetuation of life. Perhaps the Goddess gives her blessing to Life itself this way.
It is important to realize that the Goddess, the God-Beasts, the Elementals, the Sword, the Stones all exist in both forms of matter, and forms of energy (i.e. magic). In the physical forms, they are closest to the world, and possess great power; at the same time, they are part of this world, and are as vulnerable as the rest of us.
THE RISE OF HUMANITY
The first great cities of the world were Pedan, and the Ancient City of Light, whose name is lost to us. Both appeared well over a thousand years ago, and grew to a position of prominence in the ancient world. The remainder of the human race was comprised of smaller tribal communities.
On a lush tropical island, Pedan discovered the powers of the Goddess, called Mana, and created Magic, harnessing and expanding the powers granted by the Elementals to create a civilization never before seen. To this day, their works are unequalled. For hundreds of years, this magic dominated the civilized world, and the power of Mana was worshipped, appreciating not only the Goddess herself, but the blessings of Mana she gives. This became known as the "Mana religion", and it is still practiced in Altena today.
THE GIFT OF MANA
Somewhere in the shadowy origins of Pedan, lie the beginnings of the giving of the Gift of Mana, a part of the Goddess's power, to individuals; this gift became known colloquially as the "class change". How these may have first occurred, or the result, is not known. But it became known that the powers of the Goddess allowed a person to make a choice between Dark and Light, twice; the first set the path, the second refined the choice.
The labels "Dark" and "Light" reflected a common, and current, prejudice, for dark over light. In fact, more accurate terms might be Chaos and Order. Those who chose the Dark path were not evil, but rather more suited to handle the unknown. In both the ways of Dark and Light, the result of Good or Evil was of the individual.
The Gift of Mana is currently offered to the most accomplished individuals of a nation. The Dark vs. Light distinction lives on, but, though tailored to the individual, the training of the different societies has allowed the candidate to more easily accept certain skills and powers. Thus, each society gives names to the gifts their finest will receive, representing the ultimate in desirable skills. For example, a Navarrese will always retain speed, stealth, and connection to nature, whereas an Altenan will always know the structure and source of magic; but it is in the experience of receiving the Gift that it will be decided how such skills will be focused and utilized. Accepting her Gift is both a personal privilege, to receive her strength; and a responsibility for the elite of all nations, to honor Her.
ANCIENT CITY OF LIGHT
Some eventually became disillusioned with the powers of Pedan, arguing that it was the Goddess herself who was the source of Mana, and it was to Her, and Her only, that worship was owed.
This group traveled to the main continent, wandering through the forests to arrive at Lake Astoria, at the base of the Rolante Mountains. There they encountered the "Tribe of Light", a largely egalitarian society where only women acted as priests. The Pedan group lived with them and eventually founded a Holy City, now known only as the Ancient City of Light, at the peak of a mountain overlooking the lake, the site of the Mana Stone of Light. This city grew to be the source of the religion now known as the "Goddess Religion", and in its time, was a beacon for many peoples of the world, and its outposts extending as far north as the large island north of present-day Rolante. Even Pedan was forced to acknowledge its importance and for decades leading into centuries, the two cities formed the core of the world's civilization.
The balance changed, however, roughly a thousand years ago, when the Ancient City of Light was destroyed by demonic forces, appearing out of nowhere as if summoned. Rumor has it that the forces of the underworld had taken control of the Holy Prince, who sold the purity of the kingdom for the power of the underworld. Perhaps it was a failing of the Ancient City that Light was assumed to be superior to darkness, and when the darkness came, they had no understanding of it and no idea of how to fight back; the Underworld is not pure Darkness, but has some similarity to that element.
Despite the philosophical conflicts of the two cities, Pedan recognized the threat and sent a contingent of its most accomplished wizards to the Ancient City. But when they arrived, there was nothing but ashes. The Mana Stone protected by the City seemed to be unharmed. Several Pedanen remained at the ruins, believing this to be the work of the Goddess herself, and ultimately blended in with the mountain tribes. Current Mana theory suggests that it was not in fact the intervention of the Goddess, but rather the fact that the Underworld was not yet strong enough to pursue this goal.
With the Ancient City of Light destroyed, Pedan comprised the only remaining center of civilization. Lacking the balance of its opposing city, conflict began to wrack it from within, and fanaticism appeared. Cults preaching the death of the Goddess abounded, and the magic for which Pedan was known began to be abused by the populace.
THE MODERN KINGDOMS
Desperately, a small group of powerful mages left the disaster that Pedan had become to found their own community, in A.G. (Ancient Goddess) year 927. Perhaps it was their desire to create a society as different as possible from Pedan that compelled them to travel from the tropical jungle to the northern icefields of Altena. In those days, the Sub-Zero Snowfield exhibited seasonal fluctuations and summer warmth, forming a welcoming countryside. There, the Magic Kingdom was formed, following the religion of their ancestors and pursuing magic wholeheartedly, removed for centuries away from the conflicts tearing apart Pedan.
Following the period of Altenan isolation, a zealot rose up in Pedan, preaching that the creatures known as Dragons would save the city. This man's name became lost to history, and he is now known only as the Dragon Emperor. The dragons he summoned, however, were not the pure beasts believed to be creatures of the Goddess herself, but reptiles corrupted by foul Mana. Not only was the Dragon Emperor ultimately driven out of Pedan, but rumors spread that Mana itself was weakening. As Altena thrived, Pedan struggled to hold on despite its restless citizenry.
After decades of struggle by its rulers, Pedan decided to divert its energies into expanding territory as its resources suffered and famine took hold. The eyes of its leaders turned to the fertile plains called Forcena. The plains being quite hospitable, they were in fact quite populous, and bloody warfare resulted. Both spear and sword were used by tribes fighting the Pedan wizards, but as spears were burnt to ashes, the female spear-wielder's graceful techniques no defense against magic, the vicious and effective brutality of the men's swords triumphed. The sword became the dominant weapon, and the men became more skilled in their craft, covering themselves with plates of the same metal used to create their weapons. Some members of the defenders stepped back from the bloodshed to care for the fallen, not only of their own people but of those of the enemies. These became known as Knights.
As Pedan was beaten back, in A.G. 742 the grasslands of Forcena declared itself an independent nation. Some of the captive Pedan mages chose to become citizens of Forcena, bringing their magic to combine with the Forcenan's martial techniques. More importantly, they brought with them a respect for learning that was recognized and quickly became a respected part of the culture, causing Forcena to grow as a learning center as well as military. The hospitable terrain and central location enabled Forcena to flourish as other nations formed.
As Forcena developed its strength, the tribes from the hills above Lake Astoria appealed to it for protection. The bulk of the survivors of the Ancient City of Light remained in the mountains; but with the strength of the Forcenan Knights, within a few decades a group was able to return to the lowlands, and founded Wendel, which became the new seat of the Goddess religion. Unlike the Ancient City, Wendel was more understanding of the balance between dark and light, and devoted study to both sides. Pedan, though having somewhat stabilized this time, did not have tremendous contact with Wendel, adopting an increasingly isolationist policy. In A.G. 613 the new Temple to the Goddess, at the shores of Lake Astoria, was consecrated. Over the next decades, dozens of tiny villages sprouted in the fertile lake area.
Meanwhile, other descendants of the Ancient City of Light remained in the mountains, clinging to the same Goddess religion but not yet joining Wendel. After the Forcenan conflicts, some of its female spear-warriors made their way to the mountains to join these people. There, they met the female descendants of the ancient priesthood, and taught them Forcenan spear techniques to overcome the disadvantages of lesser female strength. The priestesses soon trained their physical strength to the maximum, then enhancing their power through the use of increasingly sophisticated spear techniques. For their part, the priestesses had learned a smattering of magic from the handful of Pedanen who had mixed with them so long before. They began to preach of a Warrior Goddess, who granted them the power to become a new nation, and after prayer to the Goddess and the Elemental Spirits, developed a never-before-seen type of magic intended to strengthen allies and weaken enemies.
Thus armed, the mountain tribes were able to flourish, and they expanded eastward and upwards into the highest mountains, windy but still warm because of their location close to the tropics. At some point the Mana Stone of Wind was discovered in these mountains, and it was decided to build the new kingdom on the nearest possible outcrop, almost to the top of the highest peak. The first stone of the kingdom of Rolante was laid in A.G. 573. The main castle took forty years to finish, and the higher structures, known as the Tower, developed over centuries following. The warrior-priestesses preached that it was a woman's duty, as the manifestation of the Goddess, to protect the kingdom, while the men provided the brute strength needed to defend. These female warriors became known as "Amazons", an ancient name for the Goddess; confused Forcenans somehow turned this into the more feminine "Amazoness". Both variations are now in use interchangeably.
Rolante's strong religion led them to form a particular bond with the Elemental Spirit of Wind, Jinn. From Jinn, they learned ways to control the wind to defend their castle; in combination with the strategic location, this made the Rolantic castle impenetrable.
For the next three centuries, a period of stagnation resulted. Ravaged Pedan became increasingly isolated. It is believed that in this time, the old wizards began to use Mana itself to hide the city from the outside world. This protected it, at the same time spelling its demise. Meanwhile, the new kingdoms flourished.
This all changed with the rise of Navarre. Navarre, to this day, cannot truly be called a kingdom. Nor does it have a beginning. Unlike Altena, founded by immigrants, the people of Navarre seem to have been there for as long as recorded history. Occasionally foreigners chose to enter this desert society, and today the Navarrese have a little blood of every nation in them.
Navarre, centuries ago, was as tropical and therefore hospitable as Pedan, and inhabitants maintained a close contact with nature. Though the Goddess was not worshipped until much later, there seems to have been some elemental cults focused on Dryad, Salamando, and even Luna. Even decentralized, the population grew steadily.
For unknown reasons, the forest of Navarre began to recede at about the same time that snow crept into Altena. The scattered but now-substantial population was forced to combine groups for more efficient survival. At some point, around A.G. 290, the Navarrese began to create in the cliffs a structure known alternately as the Sand Palace or the Sand Fortress. Over the years, as more and more of the desert people sought refuge from the encroaching desert in the Sand Palace, the structure was expanded to become an enormous and impregnable entity. Still, Navarre followed tribal customs of its past, never installing a monarch. Often, the leader was the progeny of the prior ruler, but even so, the election was democratic. The same family ruled Navarre for over 150 years, until the heir herself decided to splinter away, paving the way for a series of new leaders.
It was after the year 200 A.G. that climate began to change even more severely, and rumors spread that Mana itself was changing, even as intellectuals discarded the concept. The northern and southern kingdoms - Altena and Navarre - suffered the most. Altena quickly adapted its magic skills to warm the inhabited regions. Navarre, however, was still habitable despite the warming trend, but its resources rapidly dried up.
Even as it still respected its nature-worship roots, the people turned to thievery for survival, and began to develop it as an art. Oddly, Navarre has its own code of ethics about who can be stolen from, and where; within the kingdom, even lying is practically a capital offense. After years of survival based on robbing Wendel and Rolante, the Navarrese became more sophisticated and began to exploit more licit methods of obtaining money, ultimately becoming a major financial hub without ever losing their thieving past completely. Though still officially a "guild", not a kingdom, Navarre rapidly became rich enough, through participation in the world economy, to be considered a major power. Due to secrecy, even within Navarre itself, its wealth is unquantifiable; therefore, it is unknown whether or not it is wealthier than Altena.
A new power has only recently emerged, as the Beastmen of the Moonlight Forest have emerged under a new leader to declare themselves the Beast Kingdom, known formally as Ferolia. Previously, the beastmen were considered to be little more than animals, though known to become fully human during daylight hours. The forest in which they lived was kept in an endless night; this is believed to be the work of Luna, the moon spirit. Their groups were highly fragmented, but appear now to be achieving unprecedented cohesion. As Ferolia is new to the world stage, its religion and belief system are not yet fully understood, and will have to be explored in the next few years.