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Order of the Sword & Rose
On the island of Aerenal, the boundaries between life and death have worn thin. The Aereni elves preserve their greatest heroes through magic and faith, and these deathless have provided protection and guidance for thousands of years.
Elven civilization began on the continent of Xen'drik. For thousands of years, the elves were enslaved and oppressed by the powerful nations of the giants. Thirty-nine thousand years ago the elves rose up against the giants . . . but this was a war both sides would ultimately lose. At the height of the conflict, a visionary named Aeren foresaw a coming cataclysm; she gathered a host of elves and convinced them to flee the approaching storm. As dragonfire and terrible magic shattered Xen'drik, the elven fleet landed on the island that would become their home. Aeren guided the elves to this land, but she never saw it with her own eyes; a wasting disease took her life during the long voyage. After interring their prophet in the soil of their new home, the leaders named their land Aerenal, "Aeren's Rest."
Though they had joined together beneath Aeren's banner, the refugees came from many different tribes with a range of traditions and beliefs. They shared a common reverence for their ancestors and the heroes who had died in the cause of freedom. While the elves were a martial culture, Aeren had said that arcane knowledge was the greatest weapon of all, and the majority of the elves chose to set aside the sword for the book. Calling themselves the Aereni, these elves dedicated themselves to the study of magic and mysticism. One of their greatest interests was the art of necromancy; in their reverence for their ancestors, the elves were determined to find a way to preserve their heroes. In time, two schools of thought came to dominate the field of necromancy: the techniques of the line of Vol, which many blame for the spread of vampirism into Khorvaire; and the traditions of the Priests of Transition, which focused on positive energy and the power of Irian. Ultimately it was the positive path that took root in the land, and the lines united behind the cult of the deathless. The Undying Court has ruled the land for over twenty thousand years, and today the deathless are inextricably linked to Aereni society.
In the cities of Aerenal, life and death stand side by side. The streets are lined with cenotaphs and memorials far older than human civilization, monuments to the ancient history of the elves and the heroes of previous eras. While this fascination with the fallen may seem morbid to outsiders, it pales by comparison to the presence of the undying. While the members of the Undying Court remain in the city of Shae Mordai, younger deathless can be found across Aerenal. Few foreigners can tell the difference between the deathless and the undead, and as a result travelers often describe Aerenal as a land where the living consort with zombies and liches.
Beyond its fascination with the death and the deathless, Aerenal is a land that looks to the past to shape the present. The Aereni elves place tradition above all else: Artists and bards are expected to perfect ancient techniques instead of developing new styles. The elves apply themselves to their work with uncanny devotion; an elven bowyer may spend centuries honing his skills, and produce bows the like of which a human craftsman could only dream. But he still follows the traditions of the past, and the bow he makes today is a mirror of one that could be found in a 5,000-year-old tomb. Magic is the only field where innovation is encouraged, since the Aereni believe that there is no such thing as perfection when it comes to the arcane arts. But even here, the elves often find themselves blinded by their traditions; as a result, the magical talents of the younger races are becoming a match for the Aereni.
While people from all nations come to do business at the port of Pylas Talaer, foreigners are rarely welcome elsewhere in Aerenal. Unlike Riedra, no restrictions exist on travel across Aerenal, and adventurers can move freely through the land. But the elves have little patience for members of the younger races. Elf wizards and sages dedicate themselves to their studies, while Aereni artisans devote themselves to their crafts. Even farmers and other laborers pursue their duties with astonishing devotion, seeking perfection in all that they do. Outsiders are a distraction. They are often loud, rude, or simply ignorant, and they disrupt the order of Aerenal. So adventurers are allowed to travel unhindered through the land -- but they are rarely made welcome or catered to in any way. Furthermore, the laws of the land are swift and harsh. Crime is a rare occurrence among the Aereni, and they have no patience for those who disturb this peace. An Aereni magistrate may use zone of truth or other forms of divination to confirm the facts of a crime. But the word of the magistrate is final, and a criminal has no rights. While exile is more common than execution, the wise rogue will ply his trade in a more lenient land.
The nation of Aerenal is an alliance of lines, which serve the Sibling Kings and the Undying Court: Melideth, Jhaelian, Mendyrian, Vaerol, and Tolaen, to name but a few. Each line is descended from one of the tribes that followed the prophet Aeren from Xen'drik. As a result, a line is not a single family: It is a city-state containing a dozen or more separate families, bound together by common history. Thus you can be part of the line of Jhaelian while having the family name Dolorenthi.
Each line is led by a noble house, and by tradition only the members of these houses can be raised as deathless. But membership in a noble house is not hereditary. Aereni nobles are chosen, not born: The current members of the house select their successors from among the most remarkable members of their line. Aereni nobles do not even breed among their house; instead, they breed with other members of the line, keeping the noble blood spread throughout the community. For the Aereni, reproduction and marriage are two entirely separate things: marriage is about love, while children are a concern of the entire community. The Aereni believe that their island is a sacred land, and that it can support only so many souls; given their practice of preserving the dead, population control is a serious issue. An elf must earn the right to sire or bear a child, and the nobility has the right to determine the match that has the most promise. As a result, the elves of a particular line see all members of the line as part of an extended family.
Every member of an elven community has the potential to rise to the nobility and from there to the Undying Court. Normally, nobles are chosen based on the skills that they display, and this is why the elves spend centuries honing their talents. But in recent years, younger elves have sought to prove their worth through exploits in foreign lands, battling the Order of the Emerald Claw or seeking the magical secrets of Xen'drik. As an adventurer, this is likely to be the path you have chosen: Your heroic deeds may be your ticket to immortality!
To date, no half-elf has ever been raised to a noble house. But a few Khoravars have rejoined the lines of their ancestors. Aereni pride and prejudice make the prospect of a half-elf noble an unlikely one. But anything can happen. Perhaps you will be the hero who proves that the wisdom of your elven ancestors is untouched by your human blood!
The Dead and the Deathless
The Aereni elves care for all of their dead. The elves have perfected the art of embalming, and some practice this trade in the great cities of Khorvaire. As an elf's body is prepared for burial, two chronicles of her life are made. One copy is buried with her body and one kept in the great library of Shae Mordai; thus she will never be forgotten, and anyone who finds her body in a future age will know of her deeds. The bodies of the fallen are preserved in catacombs that stretch deep beneath the cities of Aerenal, filled with the assembled dead of thirty thousand years. Grave robbing is considered a heinous crime in Aerenal, and someone who knowingly transgresses against the fallen may be killed and cremated, with no record made of his death.
The elves reserve the gift of immortality for their greatest heroes. The Aereni respect knowledge and wisdom as well as martial skill, and the Undying Court includes sages and artists and well as warriors and wizards. But most elves are consigned to the catacombs after death. Traditionally an elf can become deathless only after she has lived three centuries. The Priests of Transition view life as a journey, with undeath as a destination; even those worthy of the honor must experience a full life to appreciate what comes next. However, an elf who shows great promise may be raised from the dead, so that she can continue on the path of life.
A deathless elf does not automatically become a member of the Undying Court. Military heroes usually become undying soldiers; they continue to defend of the nation and exist in the catacombs and all of the major cities of Aerenal. Newly raised undying councilors serve as sages and administrators -- although the living perform the most vital tasks, so that they may complete the journey of life and avoid becoming dependant on the Undying. After a thousand years, a councilor is considered for admittance into the court, where she will tend the ascendant councilors and study with the elders. What happens next is a mystery the mortal mind cannot understand; the ascendant councilors are truly alien beings who are thousands of years old and charged with the energy of Irian.
The Magic of Aerenal
The elves of Aerenal were using continual flame while humans were struggling with fire. Each generation has added new enchantments and artifacts to the great cities of the island, and Pylas Talaer has magical wonders that outshine even Sharn. Many cities contain buried orbs enchanted with a powerful form of prestidigitation; people passing through an Aereni city may hear ghostly music, and they will find that their clothing, hair, and skin remains perfectly clean. Rumors claim that the nobles maintain a network of teleportation gates that connect the great cities, but if these tales are true, the gates are reserved for the important business of the nobility.
The elves of Aerenal consider arcane magic to be both a science and an art. Most elves have a natural gift for wizardry and find it far easier to follow this path than humans do. While most of the inhabitants of Aerenal are commoners or experts, many possess a level or two of wizard, and professional wizards are as common on Aerenal as magewrights are in Khorvaire. While there is a general interest in necromancy, most of these wizards focus on practical magic -- Tenser's floating disk, unseen servant, prestidigitation, magecraft, and similar spells.
While many consider necromancy to be the magic of death, for the Aereni it is far more. In studying death, the Aereni wizard learns about life. In studying fear, he learns about hope. To the elves of Aerenal, the study of necromancy is as much a philosophical voyage as a quest for power; the wizard's ability to strike down his enemy with a ray of enfeeblement is a side benefit of his work, not the point of it. The one path that the Aereni avoid is the creation of negatively charged undead: vampires, liches, wraiths, and the like. The Aereni believe that these creatures are anathema to life. According to Aereni lore, the deathless are sustained by the energy of Irian and the devotion of their descendents -- energy that is freely given. Negative undead take the energy they need to survive -- siphoning away the life energy of Eberron itself. Karrnathi necromancers scoff at this belief, but the Aereni take it very seriously.
Aerenal contains a number of manifest zones that are closely linked to Mabar and Irian. These empower necromantic spells, and Aereni wizards and clerics have developed a number of necromantic rituals that can be performed only in these areas. While deathless can leave the island, the Aereni believe that the Undying Court relies on the energy of Irian to maintain its bond to this plane of existence; as a result, the ascendant councilors of the court rarely venture from Shae Mordai, which is the site of the largest of the Irian zones.
Style and Customs
The Aereni seek perfection in everything that they do. Elven clothing is beautiful, typically involving interwoven patterns in two or three different colors. But beyond appearance, Aereni clothing is designed for function: An elven shirt may last its wearer for twenty or thirty years, holding its colors to the end. The elves put equal care into architecture, and some buildings in Shae Mordai are over twenty thousand years old. The elves build their cities from densewood and livewood, creating wooden structures that are just as tough and enduring as buildings of stone.
While the elves take great pleasure in crafting things of beauty, they have unusual ideas about physical beauty. To a follower of the Undying Court, the body is a temporary vessel. Aging and even death are not things to fear -- they are part of the journey of life. The deathless do slowly decompose, and to an elf who plans to spend eternity as one of the undying, physical beauty is a trivial thing. To a large degree, this simply means that the Aereni do not concern themselves with cosmetics to the degree that many other humanoids do. Masks are a common fashion accessory among the elves, and the holy symbol of the Undying Court is a golden mask. Some elves take things a step farther and actually disfigure themselves in life -- abandoning physical beauty to be better prepared for what is to come.
While the Aereni place more importance on mystical knowledge than military might, they still respect the martial traditions of their ancestors. Every elf learns to use sword and bow as a child, and archery and stylized duels are a common form of recreation. For the average elf, this is as much a mental exercise as it is physical. Much like their Tairnadal cousins, the Aereni see war as an art. Aereni soldiers usually rely on speed and skill as opposed to brute force. Swashbucklers and scouts are common among the Aereni, but the island has its fair share of fighters -- deadly warriors focused in the paths of archery or Combat Expertise.
To an outsider, Aereni often seem cold and repressed. This is not actually the case; the elves feel emotions as strongly as any other race. They simply don't display their feelings as blatantly as members of the younger races, and they rarely reveal their thoughts to strangers. Aereni do possess a sense of humor, but it is quite sophisticated; an Aereni joke may take an hour or day to come to fruition. Humans generally find Aereni humor to be dull or confusing, while the elves consider the culture of the Five Nations to be simplistic and crass -- though it can be excused on account of youth.