Thamarand (pronounced /ˈθæmərænd/) is a great castle that floats above the surface of Varra, constantly moving about the world. Its course is determined by the the castle's inhabitants, but as they don't share their plans it seems to those on Varra's surface to be nothing but random roving. In any case, it never stays in one place for long; Thamarand's pervagations take it all over the mound—though it does tend to avoid the hearts of the deathfields. While it's probable that, if it came down to it, the forces of Thamarand would be a match for any of the bonelords, they may want to avoid unnecessary conflicts.
Well known as a place of strange and puissant magics, Thamarand plays a vital part in Varra's history, its long-ago depredations having dramatically changed the face of the world and been largely responsible for making it what it is today. In more recent years, Thamarand has had little to do with the world's surface below—in fact, if anything, it seems to have been pursuing a policy of intentional isolationism. But it still exists, and still is seen, and still has a reputation as a place of power and wonder, and the fact that it stays apart from affairs of the rest of the world has, if anything, only enhanced its mystique in the popular imagination.
If most Varrans know nothing of the hodiernal state of Thamarand, the reverse is largely true as well. Between its vast size and its lack of interaction with the rest of Varra, Thamarand is virtually a world in itself as much as the crystal worlds are, and most current Thamarandi are natives, they and their ancestors for generations back having been born in the castle and never set foot outside it.
What is now Thamarand began as an ordinary landbound castle called Summer Hill, the royal seat of the kingdom of Earon, then ruled by Queen Roqai, the last scion of the Olohen Dynasty. Earon had long been at war with the neighboring nation of Uthedor, but the two had for many years been in a stalemate, with neither apparently likely to prevail over the other. This changed with the intervention of the powerful wizard Kamikon Tcess, who made an arrangement with King Drau Nechen of Uthedor by which Tcess agreed to help him overthrow Earon in return for being granted Summer Hill as his personal home, as well as the hand in marriage of Drau's second daughter Loe. Both sides fulfilled the terms of their agreement; Earon was vanquished and absorbed into Uthedor, Queen Roqai vanished (if Tcess knew her fate, he never told it), and the wizard Tcess moved into the castle with his new bride.
For years thereafter, Summer Hill became a place of mystery. The old residents and servants were never seen again; some say Tcess killed them all, others that he banished them to another plane (perhaps the same destination to which he had sent their former queen); still others that he transformed them in horrible ways. Regardless, Tcess seldom left the castle, and had few visitors, though his monstrous servitors were sometimes seen in the surrounding countryside. On a few occasions, these servitors visited youths Tcess had apparently scried on and hand-picked as his apprentices. While most of these apprentices were never seen again either after entering the castle, and it's entirely possible they didn't all survive their apprenticeship, presumably at least some of them lived to take over the castle after Tcess, and continue his practices. Others were also said to be taken to the castle, not as apprentices but as servants, or slaves. The exact succession of lords of Summer Hill is the stuff more of legends than of history; it was about two hundred years after the subjugation of Earon that the lord of the castle came to be called the Magelord, but the records are unclear as to just who the then-Magelord was, or whether that was a name they chose themself or one bestowed by outsiders. The castle, too, was called by different names over the years; gradually it was less often called Summer Hill and more often by other names like Wizard Hill, Demon Hill, and the Dark Cloister.
Some three hundred years after Tcess moved into the castle, it began to be called names like the Sky Castle and Roaming Hill. For it was then that the still secretive Magelord, or Magelords, worked what may not have been the first but was certainly the most outwardly noticeable of their enchantments on the castle, one that caused it to break away from the surrounding land and begin to float through the air all over Varra. Rumors continued of apprentices being taken to the castle, but now they were not only from Uthedor but from all over the world. Still, aside from the apparent occasional abduction, the inhabitants of the castle had little interaction with the outside world, and were regarded as an awesome oddity that had little import for ordinary life.
After centuries of sequestration, Summer Hill returned to history some two thousand years ago, almost a millennium after Tcess first claimed it. By then, it seems, it was home to not a single Magelord but a coterie of puissant wizards, who had decided that they had remained apart from the world long enough. Now they aspired to omniregency, and may have spent centuries preparing for it.
It was at this time that the name Thamarand came to public attention; this was the Magelords' own name for their home, though the name's origin was untold. How long the Magelords of Roaming Hill had called their base of operations by that name, no one knows, but until they broke their seclusion no one else had heard the name. Now it was on everyone's lips, as from Thamarand the magelords rained destruction all over Varra in their bid to substaquilate it.
As powerful as the Magelords of Thamarand were, however, they were not the only powerful beings on Varra, and their campaign of conquest turned into a devastating war. The Magelords did not hesitate to use the most destructive of magics against their enemies, and huge tracts of Varra were laid to waste, the Magelords apparently being fully willing to destroy the world in their attempt to win it. In the end, the Magelords' power and preparation won out, and their opposition was crushed, but they were now lords of a desolate and depopulated world, with huge areas broken and barren. The cataclysmic deperdition brought about by Thamarand's attack is now known as the Ravaging, and the world is still very far from fully recovering.
What the Magelords did in the immediate aftermath of the Ravaging is as obscure as their actions immediately before it. The Ravaging had few survivors outside the crystal worlds, and the few who were still trying to eke out a living on the wasted world had more immediate concerns than divining the goings-on in a floating castle. There are stories of the Magelords or their servants descending to Varran villages to demand tribute, but these tales are scattered and dubious, and in any case grow less frequent over time, suggesting that even if the Magelords did at first take such direct interest in their dominion they did so less as time went on. Perhaps they repented of the ruin they had wrought, or perhaps they rejoiced in their unrivaled reign. In any case, though, as the world gradually began to heal, or perhaps more accurately to cicatrize, the Magelords played little part in it. Either they were content to know they were the most powerful beings in the world and saw little need to directly exercise their control, or they had lost interest in rulership, but in any case, after the Ravaging, Thamarand returned to what it had seemed before it: an isolated curiosity with little direct impact on the world below.
The original castle Summer Hill had a fairly conventional layout, with a keep surrounded by a curtain wall with other towers; the bailey within the curtain wall and around the keep was occupied by a number of other buildings and was more or less a self-contained town. During the Magelords' occupation, the castle was greatly expanded through a combination of construction and enchantment. Some of these alterations involved an ordinary expansion of the castle's physical structure, but not all of them affected the castle's outward dimensions. Parts of the castle were mipped to make them much larger on the inside than the outside; other parts were connected to pocket planes and other extradimensional spaces.
Now, Thamarand is a convoluted conglomeration of chambers and corridors that connect in curious and complex ways. Even so, it can be, and by residents often is, conventionally divided into four main regions. The Core comprises the original keep and the structures and spaces connected to it. The City occupies what was Summer Hill's bailey, and is now where most of its inhabitants live. The Curtain is made up of the curtain wall and its associated towers and other enhancements, along with the limited space outside the curtain wall on the fringes of the shee. Finally, the Labyrinth is a term for all the extradimensional spaces and other extensions that don't seem to pertain to any of the original parts of the castle.
The Core is perhaps the part of Thamarand that has outwardly changed the least since its origin as Summer Hill. There are a few extra towers and flourishes, and many added decorations, but the general shape of the keep remains the same. Inside, however, the Core is greatly augmented through multum in parvo enchantments, and honeycombed with portals to pocket planes, such that its interior volume is far vaster than its exterior would suggest, even more so than for most of Thamarand.
The Core is the seat of Thamarandi High Society; it is there that the lord of Thamarand himself holds audiences in the Throne Room, and that his closest conferes consort in the Court. At least five grand ballrooms and as many dining rooms, each distinctly themed and decorated, are found within the keep, connected by a maze of corridors, galleries, and halls. One of the most infamous places in the Core is the Gallery of Failure, where enemies of Thamarand and its leaders are put on display in suspended animation, or agalmatated or otherwise transformed.
The highest point of all Thamarand is found within the Core as well. Often called simply the Tower, or the Tower of Tears when distinguishment is necessary, this rises more than ten meters above the next highest parts of the castle. Not part of the original structure of Summer Hill, the Tower was added at some later time for the purpose of conducting certain dangerous experiments away from the rest of the castle. While it's no longer used for that end, some remnants of those experiments still lurk there.
One of the most dangerous areas of the Core, and indeed of all Thamarand, is the Hellblight, a section in the lower part of the keep where apparently some portal to another plane has let various sorts of enchantments and dangerous monsters leak through into the castle. While the lords of Thamarand have done an excellent job of containing the Hellblight and preventing it from spreading, they haven't eliminated it—and it may be that they don't want to, because they're interested in studying its contents.
Other notable areas of the Core include the Circles, a series of circular halls constructed for some arcane paracarminical purpose; the black Tarhall, and the Grounds, an indoor arena where various tournaments and contests are held.
The City lives up to its name, a large network of residential and commercial buildings largely independent of the court and the Core. The population of the City of Thamarand is mostly human, but there are many other races represented, some of whom have their own racial enclaves. Kelden, quilaghs, zegzats, and various sorts of azraryazen and argen live within the City's boundaries, along with many other races present in smaller numbers including (but by no means limited to) rradri, soldis, iadora, pedarras, kukani, and even some extraplanar species. Not all the City is residential and commercial; it has too its industrial districts, places of great mills and usines, many of them far ahead technologically of anything found on Varra's surface.
Like most of Thamarand, the City has been enlarged by multim in parvo enchantments, but haphazardly over a long period of time. Due to this patchwork expansion, the City's layout is difficult to grasp or to map, and while longtime residents may know routes to get between locales of interest, even they may find themselves lost among the City's warped dimensions if they wander off the roads they know.
Among the many residences and storefronts, a few locations stand out. The Mote is the residence of the Lord Mayor of Thamarand, lawful governor of the City (though only of the City, and not of Thamarand as a whole). A castle within a castle, the Mote would be an imposing structure on its own were it not placed within the courtyard of the much larger castle of Thamarand itself. The Menagerie of Thamarand houses creatures from all over Varra and beyond—and, it is frequently said, also contains myriad portals to the various worlds its exhibits are taken from.
The City also includes two different universities where the castle's more connected residents can receive an advanced education. The Magelord's Academy is the larger of the two, and the better known; the scions of most of Thamarand's wealthier families attend the Academy, as do some students from lesser backgrounds who have managed to prove their potential or catch the attention of an influential patron. Known only by reputation to most of Thamarand's residents is the Still School, a hidden establishment somewhere in the City where secret arts and obscure magics are taught. Matriculation in the Still School is by invitation only, though some stories say that an intrepid youth who manages to find the school will be accepted as a student as a reward for his cleverness—while others say that they will be quietly disposed of to maintain the school's secrecy.
One of the City's most colorful districts, both figuratively and literally, is Madtown, an eclectic collection of ramshackle buildings of various sorts, with most everything painted in clashing, criant hues. Madtown's origin was as a place of refuge of extraplanar creatures summoned by Thamarandi mages and stranded in the castle, which may account for some of its strangeness and diversity; while now it is home to many humans and other native Thamarandi, it remains one of the City's most racially polygeneous areas.
The wall surrounding the City, and the towers that rise at irregular intervals along it, harbor many secrets and significant regions of their own. Even before the Magelords' rule, there were a few hidden tunnels within the curtain wall, though few to avoid overly weakening its structural integrity. After the castle detached itself from the ground and the curtain wall was no longer a vital part of the castle's defenses, the Magelords and their minions have seen fit to excavate further tunnels in the wall, many of them mipped so that the walls contain chambers and complexes far too broad to fit in their four-meter-wide exterior dimensions.
Some of these tunnels serve as residences, essentially an expansion of the City; others were seemingly built for no particular reason, and serve no particular purpose. But still others are put to specific uses, such as the Blue Hive, where a figure named the Hivewarden tends to a colony of weird extraplanar creatures; and the Graven Halls, multiple levels of corridors the walls of which were covered in strange glyphs by a past Magelord for some now forgotten purpose—perhaps as part of a complex spell that was never cast, or that is still in the process of being cast. Even a part of the wall's exterior surface has been put to use: the Watching Wall is an area where enemies of the Magelord have been percipiently cælified, made part of the wall to gaze eternally outward at the castle's path—and also to serve as angaries through which the castle's functionaries can see the same view.
As for the towers, the towers of Summer Hall may have been more or less uniform, but they have been much altered in the years since and are now a multifarious lot. Originally, their main role may have been defensive, but now they are put to all sorts of uses. Some of the towers are private residences of particularly powerful denizens of Thamarand who are not close enough to the court to merit rooms in the Core. Two, the Guest Towers, serve as their name implies as the quarters of important guests invited (often from other planes) to sojourn for a time at the castle; they undergo marked changes to better fit them for each successive guest. The largest tower, though not the tallest, is the Barbican; while originally intended to protect the castle's gate, it later was put to various uses and now contains something of a self-contained community largely ignored by the rest of the castle (and ignoring it in return). Among the other notable locations in the towers are the White Tower, a drepaniform tower wherein arears obscure magical research, and Aecori, a tower apparently patterned after an ancient civilization perhaps with the intent of by emulation discovering some of its secrets.
The extramural parts of Thamarand's shee have few permanent inhabitants, a few refugees from Thamarand's government and some eccentrics who choose to live without the walls for reasons of their own. There isn't the space, anyway, for much development here; the walls lie mostly within a few dozen meters of the shee's brink, and the ambit hasn't been subject to the extensive multum in parvo enchantments that permeate the castle proper. Perhaps the most notable site outside the walls is a bosky peneshee where tales say devotees gather of strange and forbidden cults. Though the peneshee itself has no common name, the holt that covers it is known as the Tonguewood.
The Labyrinth is a collective term for the maze of passages and chambers accessible through other points in the castle but not truly a part of it, existing rather in pocket planes and in distant places. Some of the castle's residents live within the Labyrinth, but they are among the most eccentric or alien of Thamarand's inhabitants; to the majority of the castle's populace, the Labyrinth is a place to be best avoided. The Labyrinth largely comprises a network of anfractuous alleys bewildering to anyone not familiar with their arrangement, their geometry strange and complex and defying Euclidean expectations. Doors and passageways open off into myriad enclosures of varying and enigmatic layout and purpose. However, amid all the maskering meanders are some specific sites that have attracted some measure of notoriety.
Hidden deep within the Labyrinth is a place simply called the Ice Cave, which is more or less what one would gather from its name. While the Ice Cave looks like a natural formation, it's not clear where it really came from; it may be a wholly artificial creation, or it may even be imported from another plane. In any case, its vast concavities are tenanted by all manner of psychrophilic being, some quite possibly peculiar to the place. Strange rhege cover many parts of the cave, affecting any who stray within their areas. What tempts some people to visit the Ice Cave despite its perils is the fact that some of these rhege are actually useful... some, indeed, are istics where visitors can gain lucomonic powers.
One destination in the Labyrinth that sometimes tempts treasure-hunters is Zanagam, a series of tunnels apparently made of gold and silver and other precious metals. Though the sight is said to be breathtaking, most visitors don't come just to take in the beauty, but to try to chip off pieces of the clinquant walls to enrich themselves. This is not an easy matter, as Zanagam is not without defenses, both animate guardians and powerful curses that fall upon those who defile the glising halls.
There are at least two major areas of Thamarand that are, or at least appear to be, entirely underground, though it's not clear whether either is actually physically located mostly in the interior of the shee. These two areas, the Grot and the Snare, are sometimes conflated into a single area called the Depths, which may be considered a main part of Thamarand the peer of the Core, the City, and the Curtain. More typically, however, the Grot and the Snare are thought of as separate areas, though connections do exist between them. Even separately, each of them is immense enough to be sometimes considered a full main part of Thamarand, though more often the Snare is considered part of the Labyrinth, and the Grot separate from any of the main parts of Thamarand but not necessarily at their level.
The Grot is a cave system beneath Thamarand, apparently mostly natural, though it's not clear whether it began as an ordinary cave beneath Summer Hill in its original location or whether it was created or imported from elsewhere. Either way, it now seems to fill much of the interior of the shee below the castle proper. The Grot is filled with elaborate and beautiful cave formations, though it's also noted for the dangerous monsters that roam its profundities. It has been relatively little settled or explored by the inhabitants of Thamarand proper, though some of them may have established hidden retreats there.
The Snare, on the other hand, appears to be a clearly man-made collection of corridors and chambers, of convoluted arrangement but mostly laid out along a rectilinear grid. It's perhaps as populated with perilous monsters as the Grot, and adds the additional threat of deadly and devious traps. It's widely said among the Thamarandi to have originated as a trap for intruders, though it's far from clear how it would have fulfilled this role, or what would have induced intruders into the area in the first place. Others say it was a proving grounds for Magelords' apprentices or others whose mettle needed to be tested, though there's little evidence of this either. Whatever its origin, the Snare is now avoided by most wise castillians, though tales of hidden treasures still bring explorers there.
A third, smaller but still significant subterranean area of Thamarand (sometimes included as part of the Depths) is its Crypt of Thamarand. Though this crypt is (dramatically) expanded from a catacomb under the castle in the days of Summer Hill, those laid to rest here are exclusively the subjects of the Magelords (and perhaps some of the Magelords themselves); all the previous remains in the crypt have been reanimated as undead of various kinds to guard their former resting place.
There are a few places within Thamarand that don't obviously belong to either the Core, the City, or the Curtain (or the Depths), yet aren't conventionally considered part of the Labyrinth. Mostly, this is because the Labyrinth is generally thought of as mostly composing extradimensional spaces connected through magical portals; areas that are large and physically consistent don't necessarily seem to fit its theme, especially if they can be easily accessed from other parts of the castle. (The Ice Cave is large, but can only be reached through the Labyrinth, so is generally counted as part of it.)
Two of these sites do not even share Thamarand's shee, but float nearby alongside it, associated with Thamarand because they always remain nearby. One of these, the Folly, is a separate, much smaller floating castle that occupies its own shee. Built by a past Magelord for reasons unclear, it now has become a place for the rulers of Thamarand to dispose of mistakes and embarrassments. Another, called the Moon of Thamarand, is a floating orb that does indeed bear some superficial resemblance to a moon, though it actually serves as a place for experiments and magics too dangerous to be carried out on Thamarand's shee itself.
Other more or less independent areas include the Vaults, where the Magelords keep their treasure behind numerous wards and traps; the Library, a series of vast chambers filled with scrolls and codices and records of more obscure form; and the Prisons, where the Magelords confine those foes who, for whatever reason, they don't want to eremize like those in the Gallery of Failure and the Watching Wall. Scattered through all Thamarand's regions are strange complexes called the Forgotten Temples, fanes dedicated to some strange god or pantheon by builders unknown.
The powerhungry Magelords who ruled Thamarand in the days of the Ravaging are long gone, their reign passed on to their appointed successors. The current Lord of Thamarand is an unassuming man named Carron Shanmar, who spends his days in feasting and amusement and who seems to have little drive for the conquest that obsessed his forebearers.
Shanmar is very far, however, from being the only figure of note in the castle, and may not even be the most powerful. Serving as something of a cabinet to the Magelord but in practice often acting independently are the Five Masters: the Mistress of Magic, the Mistress of War, the Master of Craft, the Master of Books, and the Mistress of the Crowd. Seldom do these masters all convene together, let alone meet with the Magelord; they each pursue their own purposes and interact only when their goals conflict, or when they see benefit in a temporary alliance.
Even the Five Masters are not the sole powers in Thamarand. There are also rumors of at least three Hidden Masters whose power is comparable to that of the Five but who act more covertly: the Mistress of Planes, the Master of Gain, and the Mistress of Secrets. Furthermore, not traditionally numbered among the Masters but maybe their equal are two enigmatic figures called the Lord of the Walls and the Lady of the Labyrinth. Other figures of note in Thamarand's government are the Lord Mayor of Thamarand, who governs the City, and the Archortolane, whose nominal duties comprise little more than tending the gardens and greenery of Thamarand, or supervising the others tasked to do so, but who in practice has leveraged his seemingly seely position into one of considerable influence.