History before the Warping is sketchy at best. What is known is that, until the Warping, the Yuan-Ti ruled an empire that reached out from the heart of Ssahmpa to stretch across both Aerhyn and Nuermah. Only the goliaths, protected by the thin atmosphere in the high peaks of the Golka Mountains and the mighty grovska warriors, and the fierce raptorans in the far northeast of Aerhyn were free of the snakemen’s rule, and it was only a matter of time before even the raptorans fell.
Then, some 500 years ago, in the deepest reaches of what is now known as the Twisted Wood, a great wrongness was released and the face of Karath was changed. A twisting, corrupting energy swept across Aerhyn and warped the land. Now, natural laws are twisted by supernatural corruption with humid, tropical jungles giving way to arctic glacier and arid desert bordering fetid swamp.
Whatever happened in the Twisted Wood, whatever it was that was released, the effect on the Yuan-Ti was catastrophic. The snakemen abandoned their slave armies and retreated to their vine-covered ziggurats in Ssahmpa. Agents of the Yuan-Ti can be found infiltrating every level of nearly every society, and the Vanara in Raksha work constantly to keep the snakemen in their ancient fortresses. To date, the Yuan-Ti have made no attempt to march forth and reclaim their empire.
The Yuan-Ti armies consisted mainly of slaves, many of the magically controlled. Skarn shcoktroopers, bred for battle by the snakemen, as well as vanaran warrior-mystics and human foot soldiers were led by Yuan-Ti commanders and spellcasters. When the Yuan-Ti retreated, the leaderless armies of slaves had no interest in continuing the snakemen’s conquest.
On Aerhyn, the suddenly free and leaderless troops found themselves fighting monsters spawned by the Warping and the land itself. Those that survived quickly fled, either to Ssahmpa or Nuermah. The raptorans, no longer engaged in a war with a concerted force, also found themselves facing warped abominations and the twisted land. Unwilling still to abandon their ancestral home, and benefiting from their race’s ability to fly, the raptorans did not take long to discover the unnatural plateaus and standing stone encircled pools of fresh water.
Overcoming their initial distrust of the unknown magic behind the plateaus and their rings of glyph-carved stones, the winged-folk used the relative safety of the elevated land to build settlements that were not constantly at risk of attack by roving monsters; they called these plateaus “aeries.” Their natural flight allowed the raptorans to travel between aeries with little to no contact with the ground. Thus, they were able to spread out and replenish their war- and Warp-depleted population with a period of much exploration and increased breeding. The winged-folk’s druidic traditions were also instrumental in their efforts to cultivate the aeries, many of which they discovered to have watersheds within, apparently fed by whatever magical source fed the pools in the rings of standing stones.
As the raptorans spread south and west across Aerhyn, they eventually discovered, in the far northwest of Aerhyn, on a peninsula once covered in lush, green forest, a vast desert littered with strange crystal and populated by unusual creatures, including a previously unknown race of humanoids whose skin shone with light reflected from flecks of crystal that seemed to grow on them naturally.
Assuming they were humans twisted by the Warping, and therefore hostile, the winged-folk made war on the humanoids as they went about settling the aeries that stood in the desert. AS time passed, it became apparent that these new humanoids were not inherently hostile creatures, and they had no desire to war with the raptorans. After several tense peace meetings between the races, it was learned the the maenads, as the called themselves, hailed from a different world altogether and had somehow been pulled from that world and deposited on Karath, along with a great stretch of the crystal desert that was their home, by whatever force caused the Warping.
The raptorans, tired of war and happy to have an ally against the world itself, told the maenads about the conditions on the aeries and helped to move their battered communities onto the plateaus. The maenads were overjoyed at the conditions atop the aeries, as the had never had access to easily arable land and unlimited fresh water. Gradually, the two races integrated their settlements, with travel facilitated by the flying raptorans.
The maenads taught the raptorans how to harness the magic of the mind practiced by their people, and the raptorans taught the maenads how to harness the power of the natural world.
On Nuermah, the direct effects of the Warping were much less severe. Earthquakes and storms raged across the continent for days after, but the damage was less not permanent and natural laws were not twisted as on Aerhyn.
The conquest of Nuermah had been more complete than that of Aerhyn. Only the goliaths in the Golka Mountains remained free of the dominion of the Yuan-Ti, and the snakemen had decided that pursuing them into the high peaks was not worth the effort. Effort on that continent, then, had turned more toward settlement and consolidation of power than ongoing war. At the time of the Warping, settlement efforts had mostly been concentrated north and west of the Golka Mountains and south of the Tovar Plains.
When their masters fled, the forces left on Nuermah were more like subjects than slaves. They also differed from the forces left on Aerhyn in that their war of conquest was largely over and they did not have unnatural terrain and roving monsters to contend with. With the exception of the slave-soldiers who had been set to watch over the centaurs and other intelligent races of the Tovar Plains, who were slaughtered by their charges when the snakemen retreated, the former subjects of the Yuan-Ti were free to develop their own societies and culture, built on the settlements established under the snakemen.
Unfortunately, the former slave-citizens, the bred-for-slavery skarn in particular, were loath to relinquish any amount of their newly found freedom. Lawlessness prevailed for decades following the Warping, with the strongest and most charismatic gathering those they could bend to their wills and fighting each other for control of the settlements. These petty warlords raided each other’s settlements and often fought challengers from their own settlements. Those in the north near the Tovar Plains were the first to establish order and working societies, mainly out of a necessity for a coordinated defense against raids from the plains.
Eventually, the goliaths realized that the Yuan-Ti had abandoned their subjects and marched down out of the mountains to exact retribution for the snakemen’s attempted invasion and extend their control over the lowlands. Initially, the invasion was successful and the goliaths claimed a large swath of territory stretching out from the mountains. However, as mush as the skarn and other former slaves were reluctant to submit to rule by their peers, they steadfastly refused to bow to an outside force.
With an efficiency that surprised the mountain invaders, born of years of service in war, the skarn, humans, vanara, and kenku who had squabbled among themselves for so long unified under the most powerful among the warlords, who in turn chose one of their number to lead them against the goliaths. The invaders were repelled in short order by the combined might of the warlords, who then agreed to divide the realm with each warlord having sovereignty over his land but agreeing to mutual defense against any would-be invaders. The resultant collection of city-states and minor kingdoms has remained, with periodic changes in boundaries, until the present day.
Sprinkled across the territories claimed by the warlords of Nuermah are crumbling towers and enclaves that once housed the Yuan-Ti arcanists. Since the days immediately following the Warping, these edifices have been considered taboo by the people of Nuermah and avoided. Particularly brave, or foolish, explorers occasionally venture into one, few return, even fewer return with their minds intact.
One such lucky group decided to explore an abandoned tower nearly a hundred years after the Warping. A small group of humans, possibly extended relatives, lusted after the fabled magic of the snakemen and sought to claim it as their own; they were led by a confident and determined woman named Alzaera. It is unknown what they found in the tower, but when they exited they headed straight for Aerhyn and a small, forgotten Yuan-Ti outpost left there.
It is believed that they found a hidden entrance to an underground compound there, though the outpost has yet to be rediscovered. When they finally emerged from the fort, several months after entering, their skin had taken on a rocky, marble cast and their minds had been opened to the ways of magic. The called themselves alzaen after their leader, who did not emerge with them from whatever hidden location they had found.
By this time, the raptorans and maenads had begun integrating their communities and made peaceful, if wary, contact with the newcomers. After establishing that the alzaen’s intentions were peaceful, they helped the altered humans establish a settlement on one of the southern aeries, which the alzaen called Stands, close to the sea where the raptorans and maenads had not yet settled. They would later come to regret this decision.
Word of the alzaen somehow made its way back to Nuermah and other like-minded humans traveled north to learn magic and explore the ruins left behind by the Yuan-ti and their servitors. It was also discovered that a pairing of human and alzaen was as likely to produce an alzaen offspring as a normal human. As time passed, the explorers were joined by others looking for knowledge, adventure, or just an escape from life under the warlords of Nuermah.
Eventually, the wizard-explorers had more requests for tutelage than they could manage while still performing their research and exploration. They decided to accept only the most promising potential students as apprentices. They established criteria and tests for determining who would and would not be taught to wield magic. Until this point, they had been living in separate dwellings with their respective families and meeting to coordinate expeditions and discuss research. With the establishment of codified requirements for acceptance into their ranks and a renewed focus on research over tutelage, they established towers where they would live and work together, away from distraction. It was at this time, a little more than two hundred years after the Warping, that they gave their increasingly structured organization a name: The Arcane Order.