- The Conquerors of the Atlas
- The Nature of the Atlas
"The first explorers took to the hills to discover the lay of the land,
and watched with wonder as the land undulated, crashed and twisted."
"There were seasons in this strange new place, but not of sun and snow.
Seasons of stone that rose and fell like waves.
Seasons of structure and growth and madness and chaos.
Seasons of birth and decay that seemed untethered to cause."
"For a time, it was thought this place could seed an empire
greater than any in history.
The lands could be tamed, and commanded, they thought.
But control, like all things in that place, was an illusion."
Not too long ago I'd have told you that maps were a beautiful mix of science, thaumaturgy, and imagination, that I need only picture a place to conjure a path to it.
I thought them a paradise waiting to happen, but they're more like a tempting morsel sitting below a massive cage. The hunter may be no more, but all the traps are still set.
I long thought corruption a phenomenon unique to Wraeclast, but you need only a passing glance at any one of the lands in the Atlas to see that something frighteningly similar, if not identical, has taken hold there.
Is it the corruption that is unique to Wraeclast, or is it the apparent lack of corruption elsewhere that's truly the rarity? Instead of lamenting the cursed continent, perhaps we should be counting our uncorrupted blessings.
During my first forays into the Atlas, I felt like every bit of progress unlocked deeper understanding about the nature of existence. Now I'm beginning to wonder if it isn't the reverse.
There are times when I feel like the Atlas is watching me, observing me, and offering me a glimpse of my desires to keep me coming back. It's as though the deeper into it I explore, the more it wraps itself around my mind.
I first started exploring the Atlas as a way to grow closer to my estranged father. I had no idea just how close I would get to him, though there was not much left of his mind by then...
Looking back, I think I was overly optimistic about what the Atlas could mean for... well, for everyone. Imagine limitless worlds, limitless resources, limitless open space in which to live.
But now I understand that it all comes at an insurmountable price. To dwell there is to leave yourself vulnerable to unspeakable madness. It's inescapable and insidious. It taps into your greatest desires, offering you a glimpse of what might be, and that temptation... it's all I could do to stop myself from falling into the same patterns as my friends...
The work we're doing is important, but it's also risky. Please, if you start to feel your sanity slip away, you need to tell me.
The group of exiles that slew the Elder was, unfortunately, not the first group I'd enlisted. The rest went mad or were slain much more quickly, and yet even the dead ones are still rattling around out there. I don't think they will cause much of a problem for you, unless one of my former allies gets to them first.
I returned to Oriath with one of the early survivor fleets, excited to finally have the opportunity to put my knowledge to good use. During the rebuilding effort, we stumbled across the golden device -- a device I later learned once belonged to my father.
I'd hoped that it might be useful in the resettlement effort at first, but when we discovered the Elder, it became clear that what lay beyond the device's portals was more likely to harm than help. I assembled a team in absolute secrecy, comprised of exiles who had proved their combat know-how in Wraeclast, and set to work sealing the Elder away. We were successful. The relief I felt... it was indescribable. But...
The Atlas is a dangerous place. It assaults both body and mind. It makes Wraeclast seem positively tame. My team, my friends, they were deeply affected by the journey. The allure of power finally caused them to lose their grip on reality.
And it was only a matter of time until I joined them.
I'm sorry if I came across as harsh, but by entering the Atlas, you may have jeopardised all of humanity.
My name is Zana, and some time ago I took a group of exiles like yourself into the Atlas. Our task, to ensure a creature named the Elder never reached our world, was of immeasurable importance. Even though the exiles I recruited were adept combatants, the journey was difficult. Yet we succeeded. We defeated the Elder. Though we couldn't save--... we still succeeded.
I thought we were done, but... but my companions just kept... returning. Over and over again, they would enter the Atlas, wiping clean entire worlds. It wasn't about saving Oriath, or discovery, it was just... killing.
The Atlas does strange things to one's thought processes. I thought at first the madness was a symptom of the Elder, but now... it's the Atlas itself. I'm sure of it.
But these exiles are now so strong... I saw no other choice but to destroy our only way out. I sealed us all in and waited for death to find us.
Instead, I found you.
- Falling Out
My dearest Landren,
It seems we may never leave this strange place. Our guide claims the device we used to come here has been broken and cannot be fixed, and that it would take a miracle for a path home to open. Unfortunately, we know the value of miracles.
I can only hope that perhaps some intrepid explorers will discover this place and see to it that this letter finds you, though that could be a thousand years from now.
How I wish I could have spent but a few more moments with you, and felt your hand in mine just one more time. Fate has seen to it, that like our days in the Courts, duty must come before desire.
Know that I did it all so that you might be safe.
I hope you find happiness.
- Al-Hezmin, The Hunter
When you spend as much time in the Atlas as we did, basic survival skills no longer suffice, and it becomes necessary to master the lay of the land. That's a tall ask in a place where the land changes from day to day, and yet Al-Hezmin took to it like a rhoa to mud. I could not count the number of times he saved us from getting lost in endless twisting caverns, or spotted the tracks of a dangerous beast far sooner than the rest of us would have.
Our praise must have gone to his head, because he began to strive to be the best at all times. If Drox brought back two boars from a hunt, he needed to bring back three. In battle, he had to deal the flashiest and most devastating blows, and he had to make sure we all saw him do it.
His fixation on honing his skills was actually quite useful during our campaign against the Elder, so at the time we thought nothing of it, but... It hollowed him out in some fundamental way. He was full of bravado, yet at the same time desperately afraid of being exposed as merely second or third best. He was never unkind to me, even as the madness crept upon him, but for capable warriors like Drox that threatened his self-image... A clash was inevitable. We slipped away in the dead of night, but I doubt we've escaped a man of his talents. He's out there, lurking and watching, waiting for the best time to strike...
New Person: I don't recognise this one. Doesn't move like the other ones. More sentience. Saw them talking to Zana. Didn't see where they came from or where they went.
Seems strong. Stronger than a lot of the other exiles we saw. Would definitely have remembered this one if I'd seen them before. Maybe Zana hid them from us.
Not as strong as me though.
Going to lay some traps. Test them out. See what they are made of.
Then I'll kill Drox.
- Drox, The Warlord
There is always another verdant hill over the horizon in these untouched endless lands. Once exiled and left with nothing, now I have found a realm where life can be built anew.
Now that the Elder and Shaper are gone, we can craft a kingdom of law and justice here. We can leave the militant domination of the Templars behind. No more will we have to fear those in power, for I shall be the one who leads, and by my strength the law will be equal and fair for all.
A dream, perhaps, but one that I can make reality through force. Each valley whose threats I fell is one more valley for the people I will one day bring here. They will be free, and I will be their lord, ruling by the people's respect rather than through fear or religion.
Drox the Just
Each valley I secure adds to the width and breadth of my lands, yet when I return they seem populated by phantasms and twisted imaginings once more. Are the mists coalescing into feverish creatures as soon as I move on, or am I unable to find my way back along my own path? A kingdom lost in fog is no kingdom at all.
Yet I find that the mists hearken to my expectations in subtle ways as my strength grows. Perhaps I can control this realm with greater finesse as my might becomes unquestionable.
Yes, that is the key. I must grow stronger. Only then will my kingdom become real.
Drox the Mighty
I strike harder and move more quickly with each passing clash. Always, I am on the verge of reaching that glorious flow of battle when my haste shall outmatch the mists. I feel it in my limbs, burning in my arms as I cleave the enemy in twain. It no longer matters what phantasm I fight, only that it falls in a single blow, making way for my next opponent.
The dream is close. My kingdom is nearly within my grasp. I will have it, even if it means I must fight ceaselessly and forever. Raw might flows through me, and exhilaration is my constant companion. My people will have their home.
Drox the Warrior
The people hail their king! They cheer for the awe and power of my reign as I fell enemy after enemy in a blaze of golden glory. This is justice! Free lands for a free people, raising their hands and shouting their hopes out of the mists as I obliterate the enemies that fill these lands.
Finally, we are free, through the force of our arms and the blade of justice. I shall never rest, so that my people may fill the valleys of the Atlas and prosper. They will know me as they know the Sun, shining on them as I pass in a golden blaze.
Drox the Warlord
I've seen my fair share of combat, Exile, but never have I seen someone more comfortable on the battlefield than Drox. Though he was not our leader, he was our commander. When an impossible decision had to be made in the midst of battle, somehow, Drox always found the right path forward. He led us through numerous situations we thought fatal with an unflagging warm grin that let us know he believed in us.
But at some point, almost imperceptibly, Drox stopped making decisions for the group, and started focusing only on his new dream. His smiles turned to scowls. He remained fixated on this mad idea of building a kingdom in the Atlas. He became cold to Veritania and distant to the rest of us. All his efforts went towards securing the Atlas and establishing law. His obsession was putting us in danger, and that is something I could not tolerate.
When I led the group away from him, he either didn't notice, or didn't care.
- Veritania, The Redeemer
This so-called 'Atlas' makes me uneasy. When the Elder and the Shaper fought for dominion, their territories made a certain violent sense. There was a known purpose behind the miscreations we fought. Now that those purposes are gone, these lands have reverted to a primordial malleable clay which seems to offer up our very desires as offering and appeasement.
Long ago, before I was exiled, indeed before I truly knew the uncouth adult realities of humanity, I wandered a hall of mirrors at a carnival in Theopolis. By flickering torchlight, I saw myself reflected into infinity, finally obscured not by any horizon, but by the darkening and shrinking of my own image as it grew more and more distant behind echoes of itself.
The mists of the Atlas are the same. There is no fog, no humidity, no obscuring and coiling haze. There is only my will, my thoughts, and my expectations, reflected as countless echoes through a vast and immeasurable space. A pure being might make this a paradise, but we are mortal, and brimming with vices.
Desire is the true enemy here.
Veritania the Disciplined
For a brief time before we lost Sirus, I would have called these fellow exiles friends. Perhaps, even family. A certain bond forms between those who believe they are about to die, and that kept us focused... but we did not die. Sirus sacrificed himself, and we won the day.
At what cost? We are drifting apart. Each of us sees that which we desire on the formless horizon, and each of us pursues our own path. I saw Baran continuing his crusade in a righteous wrath, though I know not how many days past, for the sun is false in this place. I suspect each valley I tread has a sun only because I expect it to be hanging in the sky. Does each valley only have a sky because I expect that, too? I no longer believe anything at all.
I would not call myself bitter, but I do see the others descending, while I remain steadfast in my convictions. Drox believes he can forge a new land here, with himself as king. His pride draws him ever further from me. Al-Hezmin seeks to hone his skills against ever more dangerous enemies in a vain attempt to be more powerful than Drox and Baran, a curious kind of envy that poisons both his soul and the land around him.
They are all becoming disgusting.
Veritania the Principled
I understand now. I must serve as the moral heart of this place. The others are lost in their own gluttonous pursuits. They have become naught but delusional addicts lost in a haze of indulgence, and the thought of them makes me nauseous.
I continue to fight the horrors out of the mists because I must keep them in check. The pure require strength to impose order on a chaotic world, and I cannot allow the likes of Al-Hezmin or Drox to spread their filthy vices.
Yes, I am the only one among us free of the hall of mirrors. I am the only one still thinking clearly. I have to get us out of here before it is too late... I am the only one that can save us.
Veritania the Pure
Loathsome, foul creatures! This 'Atlas' is infested with vice. In every direction, they emerge from the mists, dancing, laughing, eating, drinking, and cavorting in grotesque exaggeration of mortal frailties. The smack of their lips as they chew grates on my ears, the gulps from their bulging throats as they down their wine fills me with fury, and the embrace of coins and jewels and golden treasure makes me shudder.
Do you not see how repugnant you are? Stop consuming, stop partaking, and look at the abomination you have become! Every morsel you stuff down your gullet and every lie you tell yourself just makes you that much more monstrous. You are changing. You are misshapen. Your mouth bulges and grows, your eyes bulge, and your hands bloat. Do you not see yourself?!
I shall save you from your own vices by purging your weakness.
Veritania the Redeemer
When I met her, Veritania was a paradox. She was quiet and reserved to the point of reclusiveness, yet she seemed to feel compelled to help others by a humanistic moral code she'd profess by the campfire. Before, she took care of the hungry, the down-on-their-luck, the homeless, the addicted, and the enslaved alike. She was, in fact, exiled for her charity work... helping one too many mistreated Maraketh or Karui made powerful people in Oriath very angry.
As we explored the Atlas, Veritania's mind became an invaluable resource. Thanks to her, we were able to stretch our limited resources farther than I could've possibly hoped, avoiding fruitless confrontations and conserving our strength for moments that mattered most. She'd see a bad situation coming sooner than anyone, and help steer us away from it.
But her mind, like the others, soon broke beneath the weight of the Atlas, and the once-merciful Veritania became contemptuous of all we encountered. It was impossible for anyone but Drox to meet her increasingly high standards. She broke away from the group not long after we left him. The last time I saw her, she accused me of using the mysteries of Atlas as a drug to distract myself from the loss of my father. After that barb, you can imagine I'm not too eager to see her again.
- Baran, The Crusader
Like many of those once loyal to the Templar regime, Baran held particular contempt for his former brethren. Our mutual disdain for Dominus helped us bond. We stayed up far too late on many nights, discussing where science and spirituality overlapped... and where they clashed.
While I tended to agree with Veritania's secular view that people must be responsible for their own actions, Baran was still a firm believer that trust in God was necessary for good moral judgement. Despite everything the Templar put him through, his faith was unshaken.
We didn't always see eye-to-eye, but we respected each other's positions. Of course, once the madness set in, that respect vanished, replaced by fevered argument and name-calling. As the group dwindled, he found reasons to cast doubt on each of the departed. In our last fight before the two of us went our separate ways, he accused me of being sent by a shadowy demon to draw him away from the righteous path...
And then I was alone.
So that's it then. Baran can't be saved. Caeserius... did she understand the costs? Did she know the fate she was consigning my brother to? I've no small bitterness over how far she went to try to save her father, yet here we are, abandoning my brother to eternal madness. There's nothing to be done about it, but it still burns.
In my heart, I do blame her for what happened to Baran. If he was simply dead, that would be one thing, but he's out there suffering eternal madness because of her. I can't deny that bitterness. However, duty calls. The people we've got are it. If we tried to explain all this to the citizen Magistrates, Caeserius would be locked up for her associations with criminals, and we'd all be thrown in an asylum for our wild tales. We must face this 'Sirus' together, all grievances aside.
- Watchstones and The Return of Sirus
They left me. In my moment of need, they left me.
I remember seeing a light swallowed in an orb of darkness. Suspended. I remember its hands reaching out for something to hold. Desperation. I remember stepping forward. I wasn't thinking of myself, or of Oriath. I was thinking of my friends, and of my brothers and sisters whose lives depended on me. I remember its cold grip tightening, then I slipped away.
I remember... glass. Encased in glass. I couldn't move. Couldn't speak. But I could see everything. I saw everything. I saw everyone. Saw them leave. Saw her leave. It was all so quick. A thousand days and nights passed in a flash. Then...
Nothing. I felt nothing. No sadness or anger. No joy. No pain. No pleasure. I was free. Free to move, to go where I please. Free of desire. Free to see the universe for what it was.
To the discoverer of this letter,
What transpired here in this strange and twisted realm is beyond comprehension. An evil older than time itself roamed these lands feeding on the memories of Valdo Caeserius, a son of Oriath.
Alas, the fiend that fed upon him was powerful beyond measure, and unerring in its desire to spread what we discovered was known as the 'Decay.' I know not how long we pursued the demon. Long enough that my allies began to show signs of madness. We'd surely have fallen to the evil were it not for Sirus' courageous leadership... and his sacrifice.
We could find no way to slay the demon, though we tried countless times. It was the daughter of Valdo who found a way to seal it, though it cost poor Zana her father, rest his soul. Our gambit would have failed were it not for Sirus. The demon would not give in, clawing its way from Zana's device. Sirus... He leapt onto it. We saw the demon tap into his body, at last relinquishing its grip. Sirus and the demon spiraled into the trap and out of our reality. Both gone.
Then Sirus was there once more. None of us witnessed his return. His eyes did not move, he did not blink, and his mutterings... Mad and unceasing. Then his face contorted in ways I'd seen only from men possessed by the black spirit. He struck at us again and again. We could not restrain him. We had to flee that place. That is when we discovered our path home was sealed. Valdo's daughter had sabotaged our return.
I do not know how long we have been trapped here. Weeks, at least. Possibly years. Time in the Atlas is a mirage.
Please, dear reader, if you have an ounce of sense in your body, do not dwell here. Return to Oriath, or wherever it is you are from. Tell of Sirus' heroism and sacrifice, and leave him, and us, to die with the secrets we uncovered.
Baran, the Faithless
He has gone silent. At long last, he has finally ceased his mad mutterings.
It was inescapable. No matter where we tread, where we hid, where we sought solace, his mutterings found us. Even when we splintered, his voice wrapped around our heads like a snake, squeezing every other thought into warped shapes. I could not hear God's whispers with such constant noise.
I dare not visit him now. I want only to escape this prison and punish that insolent blasphemer, Caeserius, for her foolishness. Then, perhaps, I will return here with an army, and take the Atlas. What better show of faith is there than the establishment of a nation in God's name? And then? Whatever God whispers.
He has shown me a door. The stones. The paths they reveal. I need only find the right key.
God almighty, I am your servant. I am your sword. I am yours, mind, body, and soul, and I promise I will deliver unto you all you wish to have.
Baran, the Blessed
When Baran fled, he left a stone behind. Superficially, it resembles a virtue gem, but I don't think that's quite what it is.
When we defeated the Elder, we didn't kill it. I don't think something like that can be killed. Instead, we sealed the Elder using a device designed by my father -- a design we salvaged from physical memories of his we found. When we sealed the demon, some of my father's memories were expelled, along with those of the Elder's countless other victims. They were muddled together, completely unparsable.
These stones are what's left of the Elder's victims from across aeons. Crystallised and concentrated, and drawing the latent energies of the Atlas towards them. To hold one is to hold countless lives in your hand, to fill your mind with a maddening mix of sounds and images and emotions.
I don't know if Baran knew what he had, but I think he knew what it did. They are intoxicatingly powerful. It took all my willpower to lift my hand from the stone and step away. I can't in good conscience let you take them, but that doesn't mean we can't use them in our fight against the Elderslayers.
Each Watchstone contains an immense amount of information from the earliest explorers of the Atlas. As the Exiles seek to hide from us, they will undoubtedly move into deeper territories, masking their paths. But these paths are known to the souls in these stones.
I know of places in the Atlas where these stones might be used to reveal those paths. Show me on the Atlas where you want to explore more deeply, and I can use the stones to reveal locations long-hidden. Be careful, though, for these Watchstones will empower everything near them, and are certain to draw our foes out of hiding.
I suppose I was a fool for thinking I could just lock us all away -- it was always only a matter of time before someone's curiosity got the better of them.
Exile, I know who you are and what you've done. I know you are strong. Capable of slaying gods! But the other exiles in the Atlas... they are beyond compare.
Yet, they must be stopped. We have a small window while they do not understand that there is a way back to Wraeclast. They are trying to find other ways out.
I've begun finding altars like this one hidden in the spaces between maps. I'm worried the others are building them as a means of escape. We need to find a way to stop them.
I'm sorry. I know you've done so much... but who else can possibly do what I ask?
These Exiles have found hidden pathways like this one. I'm not sure where they hide, but if you can find out, I can get us there. I'll be waiting in your hideout.
- The Awakener
There's something happening to the Atlas, Exile. When you socketed the fourth Watchstone in a Citadel, something responded. A storm on the horizon... a creek becomes a river... I'm not a man of metaphor, but I don't know how else to describe the crackling feeling of power on the wind. If the Atlas is a sleeping giant, our unknown force out there is slowly waking it.
While you've been tracking the Conquerors, I've continually noticed swaths of devastation left by a force unknown. The land reshapes and awakens with riotous power afterwards, so I thought it might simply be a property of the Atlas, but now I see there's a pattern: a storm. There's a storm somewhere out there, massive beyond anything we've ever seen, and roaring with enough force to disintegrate anything in its path. That storm... I'd bet my eye we'll find our enigmatic Awakener right at the center.
No... Sirus is still alive? Gods, I thought he was dead! He took the brunt of the energy released when we sealed the Elder. How did he survive?
Sirus was the leader of the group of Exiles I recruited. Brilliant and determined, and a force to be reckoned with even before we travelled the Atlas together. We... grew close. I was distraught when he vanished with the Elder. At first I thought the other Exiles were looking for him as I was, but perhaps they knew he was still alive...
I have a terrible feeling that Sirus may be tied to the madness of the others. Or perhaps he is just as mad as they are. We need to find and stop him -- if the others are looking for a way out, I'm certain he is too.
Exile, this is urgent. While you were gone, our Map Device began acting strangely. Vibrating, humming, aligning its gears as though being tugged by invisible strings. I fear I know the cause...
There's an enormous storm at the heart of the Atlas that has masked all information in that region since Sirus' return. Sirus wants to escape, and he may have found a way. A Map Device of his own creation, built inside the Atlas, for a journey back to Wraeclast. That's the only possible explanation for our own Map Device's erratic movements. Even that storm wouldn't be able to diffuse the energies of another Device.
We must hurry, Exile. If Sirus makes it back to Oriath... Gods... We must destroy that device, or all is lost.
The man Sirus was and the entity that destroyed our homes are night and day. Whatever happened to him in the wake of The Elder's sealing stole the very essence of his being. When Sirus returned, he returned incomplete, missing that vital essence.
Not long ago I might've held hope that we'd find that piece out there, that the true Sirus might be drifting through the Atlas, waiting for us to find him and bring him home.
I know better now than to hope. Perhaps the Atlas has eroded that part of me, as well.
Was he an evil man? I think on it when I'm trying to sleep at night, because it seems the wound he gave me will never fully heal. It itches like rabid mudflies, damn latent disintegration eating away at me about the same speed as the skin naturally grows back...
Oh, but Sirus. I can't imagine being abandoned in darkness for a subjective eternity. I also can't imagine becoming so hollow that I would attack people I loved. I suppose, in the end, it doesn't matter. We did what we had to do... and we will again, when the time comes.
- The Second Fall of Oriath
Seems enough was enough. The Vanguard undertook the largest evacuation in history... hundreds of ships... and Oriath has been abandoned. After the domination of the Templar, then the crackdown under Innocence, then the slaughter at Kitava's hands, and finally the ruination by Sirus, it's clear our little island is no place for men to live. Even cursed, one could say, though we are not entirely blameless for those disasters.
No small irony that the Oriathan people now depend upon the Karui we once enslaved. I always said that if you kick a rhoa in the arse, one day, it'll kick you in the head, but I underestimated the honour of our new hosts. They're different after the death of their gods... and we are, too, after the departure of ours. I wasn't a believer, but I can feel it. We're on our own now.
We're going to have to work together to face what comes next...