Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Astu Fides - The Holy City

The Aurean Vale is formed by two branches of the Blessed Des River and is sealed from Where Angels Fear to Tread by sheer cliffs of brilliant white stone that rise as a mighty bulwark, hundreds of feet high. Where the only break exists in the cliffs stands the Holy City of Astu Fides, the Wall an extension of the natural cliffs of the Vale. The Spire of the Old Cathedral is visible for miles, a triumphant beacon over the heath.

The interior of the city is far more magnificent than most others. Where most any other city is home to people of various social strata, here the city is composed almost exclusively of the clergy, merchants, and artisans. The few poorer citizens are often street sweepers or gardeners in the payroll of the church to maintain the beauty and cleanliness of the city, and either rent small rooms above the shops or bed at the almshouse outside the city walls. Not only is this a product of the stature of the city, but that its primary commodity is silver. While ordinary jewelry does compose a part of it, the particular skill of the silversmiths is crafting it in ways that are protective against unhallowed creatures. Weaponsmiths trained by the Cathars create weapons imbued with the power of blessed silver or living wood enchanted to maintain its properties against the undead, and are envied as slayer weapons across the Surviving Kingdoms, especially in the Kessig Wilds in the Eastern corner of the vale, where monster hunting is a way of life. The Etchers are another part of this trade, where with silver pens they etch prayers and blessings into everything from weapons and shields to children's toys; in a blade it grants greater damage against the undead, and in ordinary objects it provides wards of protection. Someone skilled in the art can write so finely as to fit dozens of prayers and blessings onto a small locket.

The Cathedral Boulevard is the main thoroughfare of the city, and stretches from the gates to the steps of the Old Cathedral. When one first enters they are greeted by the Heralds bell, a tower standing alone in a plaza with a silver bell atop used to summon the citizens to weekly service; during the Feast of Goldnight when for two days the sun does not dip below the horizon, this bell and those in the Cathedral toll out an endless melody. Surrounding this plaza is also the largest Graf in the city, graveyards that serve much like public parks. It is considered tranquil to be amongst lost loved ones still peacefully interred in a world where so many suffer the curse of undeath. The Cathedral cloister that stands at the top of the Boulevard, however, is the most domineering aspect of the city. At the foot of the steps in a plaza mirroring that of the Herald's Bell is the Gallows Tree, a massive oak that forms a green canopy over the plaza, and from its branches hang nooses imbued with the same magic used to maintain the properties living wood has against the dead. Growing over the Cavern of Souls, it is believed that the tree has the power to absolve the souls of the hanged.

As one ascends the steps in the Cathedral Cloister, one must pass through the gate of the Childrens Wall. The oldest wall in the city, it bears the names of hundreds of thousands of children stretching back countless generations. In the year of a child's birth, parents make pilgrimage to the city to have the baby's name inscribed here, believing it will grant them some protection in life. In the shadow of the Cathedral stand the Aureum Grounds and Theonas' Seminary, where the military forces of Astu Fides are honed. The Aureum Grounds train the Crusaders of Astu Fides, a fighting force that traces its lineage to the very beginnings of Caelum. Here men and women train tirelessly to become holy crusaders, and clad in steel and silver, as Harbinger Marorin reminds them "They are symbols of what Caelum once was, and hope for what it will be again."

Over the gate of the seminary, the inscription "From Mortal Hope, Immortal Power Springs" spans the archway. Crusaders and even Hamlet captains who display a particular connection with the divine hone their skills here, honing their bodies into weapons against the darkness. The wield the finest crafts of silver, as weaponsmiths are also trained here to imbue a blade with holy silver, making it the perfect weapon of a slayer. When their training is finally complete and they are ordained in the order by the Geist of St. Theonas himself, they can invoke blessings and boons in battle; some can even entreat angels to fight by their side.

The Cathedral, however, is the most dominating feature of the city, its great spire visible for miles. In this highest sepulcher is the seat of the current Lunarch, Jenara, the holy leader of the city. Below her are the Bishops and Archbishops of the Chapel of Nobles, who not only serve as holy figures, but are also the aristocracy of the city, and below them are the Lesser Clergy and Ordained Fellows of Midvast Hall, where the commoners worship during important holy days. Finally there are the common cloisters, the covered corridors along each wing of Midvast Hall, where commoners worship during common services. It is not only beautiful, but it serves as the governmental body of the city and the vale as a whole; the word of the Lunarch is law in Astu Fides.

And finally, accessed only from the Cathedral Garden, is the Cavern of Souls. The interior is gorgeous crystalline structures and rock etched with veins of silver. As you enter a calming presence overwhelms you, and you see the spirits that give this place its name. Small lights flit from crystal to crystal and the thousands of them that culminate at the apex of the roof cast an enchanting glow over the entire cavern, causing the veins of silver to emit a white glow. In the center of this room, hundreds of feet high, is an edifice of silver about which many of the spirits circle yet never seem to touch; The Vault. Here He is imprisoned. He who corrupts, He who defiles. The Harbinger of the Abyss, Griselbrand. This silver monolith beneath the Old Cathedral serves as his prison, and with him are trapped hundreds of unpurged evils. The spectral guardian of this holiest of places is the Geist of Saint Theonas, the first mortal to ever entreat the angels to fight beside him.

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