Relics of the Past
The Nerath Empire
The world’s humans are scattered and divided, engaged in a losing battle against the darkening world and their own ignorance. It wasn’t always so. Once, the splendor of Nerath lit the world with its culture and accomplishments. It united races and governed prosperously. Nerathi architects raised marvels of engineering; its artists composed works capturing the imagination; and its philosophy formed the foundation of humanity’s ideologies. Yet none of these feats could save Nerath from destruction. Humans today are the inheritors of this legacy, though few of them realize what their ancestors lost with the empire’s fall. Although Nerath now means little more than ancient legends in the shadows of crumbling ruins, every person of every race alive in the world today shares this common thread to their history—that once, Nerath ruled, and the world was a better a place. There are those who would see it so again.
The Flame Imperishable
The most important symbol of Nerath is the Flame Imperishable, a brilliant white fire set within the highest ramparts of the imperial palace. It burns even today. Legends say that Magroth took the flame after slaying the ancient gold dragon Ayunken-vanzen, who laired in the land which would become Nerath’s capital city. The flame was a symbol of Neraths’ manifest destiny—brilliant, pure, and undying. Though the empire fell, the Flame Imperishable is eternal. Legends say that it will burn until the very breaking of the world. Today the flame is a symbol of hope amongst Nerathi faithful. Noble families incorporate its iconography in their heraldry and knightly orders dedicate themselves to its preservation. The masses of apathetic or ignorant commoners, however, think nothing of the flame’s tarnished image as it flashes meaninglessly on the ancient coins trading between their grubby hands.
The Gates of Destiny
Greatest of all Nerath’s engineering accomplishments are the Gates of Destiny which formed the main entrance to the capital city. Immense beyond reckoning, these gates soared into azure skies and gleamed white in the sunlight with their flanking, twin marble colossi sculpted in the likeness of angels. Legends say that milk and honey flowed from the angel’s ewers, providing a never-ending bounty for the Nerathi. Some bards even sing of upstart armies that threw themselves down in weeping surrender at the Gate’s majesty. The angels were pulled down by the gnolls so that their wreckage was dashed across the causeway leading through the gate, which now bears blasphemous markings dedicated to the Ruler of Ruin.
The Eladrin Empress
In addition to the Flame Imperishable, a common image seen in surviving Nerathi art is that of the Empress Amphaesia. Legends say that Magroth claimed her for his bride after his conquest over her father, the King of Blooms, during a campaign in the Feywild. A figure of mythic beauty, Amphaesia guided the empire through the turbulent years following Magroth’s sudden death. She herself disappeared after helping cure the horrific Ashen Plague. Adventurers returning from Nerathi ruins are accustomed to bearing objects graced with the likenesses of her otherworldly beauty,and such images are frequently worked into talismans carried for good luck and protection by treasure seekers.
Nerathi architecture soared to unmatched functional and esthetic heights, thanks to use of innovative building materials, keen understanding of engineering, and implementation of ritual magic. Although their greatest works were ravaged during the fall, intact ruins are prized by heroes and treasure hunters, who are irresistibly drawn by the lure of undiscovered cities and complexes and the priceless treasures they conceal. For the Nerathi faithful, these ruins are much more than tombs to be plundered; they are places of deep reverence which often become sites of organized pilgrimages and intellectual preservation.
Many elements of Nerath’s great civic works, such as its roads, aqueducts, public buildings, and even fortresses, survived in provincial regions. All are still used by people today, who are accustomed to walking in the literal shadows of their ancestors. Few, however, have the knowledge to maintain these structures. Their architectural secrets are jealously sought by today’s kings, who are eager to erect monuments of their own to rival the ancient empires’.
- Social Structure and Politics:
Countless customs practiced today began with the Nerathi, though most of them are now no more than simple traditions or festival days. Nerathi ideals have succumbed to the evils of greed and fear. Ambitious monarchs have trumpeted “tradition” in their efforts to scoop ever more power into their own hands. Such kings prop up their authority by claiming a hereditary connection to former emperors or governors. Some cultures go so far as to defame Nerath as an example of hubris and as a challenge to existing authority. In these places, anything related to the empire’s legacy may be outlawed rather than revered. Restoring the lost egalitarian social structure of Nerath may be a challenge too daunting for societies to overcome, but it’s undertaken by many Nerathi faithful.
- Personal Ethics:
While Nerathi virtues rewarded self-discipline and sacrifice, the exact opposite is true in most regions today, where folk are forced to cut ethical corners just to get by. Bereft of the self-confidence and security of their ancestors, many humans today are forced by circumstance to do whatever is necessary to survive. This almost always results in selfishness and moral apathy; so long as monsters, villains, and dark forces threaten existence, few willingly take the high road when easier and pettier options are available. The Nerathi faithful often take up their ancestor’s ethics as a matter of personal honor or genuine desire to improve society.
Though they respected the gods, Nerathi took great pride in their ability to succeed without divine guidance. To them, the highest reverence went to their virtues of duty, equality, reason, and temperance. When the empire fell, however, religions stepped in to fill the cultural hole. Today, few societies take the time to bother with ancient philosophy, and most clerics owe little to Nerath save the splendid architecture of their temples. Many clerics openly attribute Nerath’s fall to its haughty self-reliance and diffidence toward the gods, with the cleric’s patron deity always playing a prominent role in guiding folk through the chaos that followed. To the Nerathi faithful, bodies of literature written by Nerath’s many philosophers are among the empire’s most treasured artifacts.