The Free City of Noxborough, resting on the northernmost shore of Nornest, guarding the vast but forlorn Winter Sea, was a merchant city and wealthy on its own accord. The proud and ancient House Arlington was its ward, ruling the Dukedom with the same ferocity as their white Osprey sigil ruled the seas.
Merchants from all over the world docked by the large harbour to restock their supplies and have a few nights’ rests ashore before heading out onto the vast seas again—but no one truly cared about the city in itself. No one ever thought of staying in such a dreadful place, so far north, and Noxborough thus became a necessary but easily forgotten centre at the edge of the world. It was by no means a small settlement, with a population of about ten thousand northerners—neither was it a grandiose metropolis like the ones in the warmer climates. It had its own set of nobles, gentry, merchants, townsfolk, civilians and criminals; it had its politics, scandals, and uprisings. All in all, it was a city like any other, bustling with life despite its lack of finery and grace. Although resting upon hundreds of years of history and culture, it had been neither praised nor recognised for anything other than being the gateway to the Winter Sea—but the people of Noxborough were superstitious; every man and woman in the North knew that beyond the Winter Sea lay the shores of the White Void.
The tales were not uncommon for any Edredian, about the cold tundra where the souls of the fallen soldiers had to fight their last battle against the demons of the Netherworld that roamed the shores, demons only the righteous could defeat to enter the Void and join the afterlife with the Builder himself. For the cities and kingdoms further south, this was nothing but a story, a legend preserved by the soldiers out of tradition, but to the people of the North, the notion that there was something out there across the vast ocean was but a fact. The demons were real.
The first of them came in very small numbers, long before the Kingdom of Nornest had fallen. Grey-skinned, strong warriors with golden eyes were scouted in some of the northernmost settlements. They were seemingly peaceful, but terrifyingly large. One hand could easily crush the skull of a man; their teeth were those of predators and their nails grew like claws; their ears were pointed at the tip and their tongue was that of nightmarish growls. Their skin was adorned with black shapes and symbols, and some of them had their ears decorated with silver and golden rings. Despite their peaceful manner, they were armed to the teeth and dressed in thick black leather armour. They knew the common tongue and spoke fluently and gracefully with dark voices and hard accents. They called themselves the Kas, the Grey Ones, from the great island of Kasarath, and said they had come to discover new land.
When the fear of the strange men had settled, curiosity arose. Were these strange creatures truly demons? Were they truly children of the Netherworld? They had strange, but firm, teachings about ethics and conduct. They had firm beliefs in duty and honour and believed that order was the only thing preventing chaos from ripping through societies. They believed in callings and fate, and that everyone had an important destiny to fulfil. There was no currency, no riches, but they seemed well-fed and well-supplied nonetheless. Surely, the people thought, they would find no such reason and rationality with demons.
Their teachings spoke to many of the lower class citizens of Noxborough—those too poor to live decent lives felt an appeal in not needing money or connections—and many decided to follow the foreigners, despite not knowing whether or not they would be dragged down to the Netherworld for it.
As the years went by, the northerners had grown accustomed to the strange grey giants, and the talks of demons slowly died away. But then came the War of the Kings, a war that would shatter the country into six independent cities, and Noxborough called upon the Grey Ones for help. With the King dead, and with no heirs to take his place, House Arlington was convinced they were the rightful rulers of Nornest. With the help of the grey giants, they would surely win. But the Grey Ones declined—the fight was not theirs—and left, finding the land too corrupted by greed and chaos, and swore to never return.
For hundreds of years, the Kas stayed away, and the stories from the scorned Noxborough spread across former Nornest and as far south as Illyria, about the vile and terrifying beasts from the Netherworld. Soon, the last true testimony of the Grey Ones ever being in Nornest faded, and they became nothing but stories and legends, and the people simply forgot their brief friendship with the strange culture.
So it was, that every child born after the War of the Kings was frightened by the stories of the Demons of the North. Most monsters would stay on the shores of the White Void, but not the Grey Ones. They would come at night, like shadows, and take the children from their beds and devour them. Not even the bravest of seafarers would dare venture into the Winter Sea, frightened of what truly might lie beyond it.
During a terrible storm, however, one merchant found himself washed up on a strange shore. It belonged to Kasarath, a big and beautiful island with bursting summers when the sun would never set, and raging winters when the sun would never rise. The legends were true, the merchant found out, but the creatures weren’t monsters or demons. They were warriors, farmers, traders, and everything in between. The merchant stayed for many years, converting to their faith and philosophy, before making his way back to Noxborough to tell the world of his extraordinary tale. Soon, other brave merchants wanted to see the island and its riches for themselves, for there could very well be fortunes to be made. At times, the merchants brought with them a Grey One, and each time, a few more of the citizens were entranced by the promise of a prosperous life and converted to the Kas teachings and settled on Kasarath.
For years, the exchange was simple and peaceful, despite the frightening stories and legends. It seemed as though the history they had all forgotten were to be repeated—but then came the Day of Reckoning, the day when the grey warriors landed on the shores of Noxborough, and there was no mistake in what they truly wanted.