In the earliest days of mankind, as men started organizing in tribes transmitting culture and knowledge through generations, they discovered the exceptional medicinal properties of a transluscent rock mostly found underground: the Essence.
Broken into pieces, and then ground into powder, the Essence could disinfect and heal wounds, and cure illnesses when absorbed in potions. It soon became one of the most valuable ressources to men.
Some tribes eventually discovered that besides its basic medical properties, the Essence would also react to certain incantations. Using the rights tones and rythms, it could have even more extraordinary properties: emit light or energy, become lighter than air or harder than diamond...
A nomadic tribe called the Adal developed the best knowledge of the Essence, always trying to find new melodies, and ways to refine the existing ones, to create ever more powerful Essence reactions.
As the Adal roamed the earth, they eventually located a source of Essence in the Plains beneath the Sharnam desert. The Essence here was very pure, and close to the surface, sometimes even finding itself above ground.
As the Adal started collecting it, and digging deeper, they kept finding more and realized that vast quantities of Essence were to be found here. They decided to settle here, and soon start building walls around their settlement, to defend their reserves.
Generations passed, and the Adal tribe grew in power. It developed its mining and incantation techniques, and started sending explorers throughout the lands, to find more sources of Essence to dig for. New settlements were created, as the city of Raslan developed, and started spreading beyond its fortified walls.
Their vast reserves of refined Essence made them a trading partner of choice with the countries nearby ; the knowledge of their chamans was also sought for. Foreigners started coming to Raslan to learn the secrets of the Essence.
Having acquired enough power, and tired from dealing with troublesome neighbors, the 27th King of Adal decided to go to war, bringing most of the countries nearby under Adalian control in a period of a dozen years, and growing some more in the next decades.
After these initial conquests, the Empire knew a long golden age: treated fairly and respectfully of their local traditions, the provinces didn’t seek to rebel from the Empire. Outside it’s borders, the Empire was both feared and respected, and entertained diplomatical and commercial relationship with distant lands far beyond the great Desert.
As the Empire grew in power, rumors were spreading in far away lands: the Shadows of the old legends may not be myths after all. Sightings were made of beings who seemed to transcend space and time, blinking in and out of existence.
Some pretended having talked to them, and having seen them invoke treasures out of thin air, as if matter was unfolding itself from a fracture in the fabric of reality.
Time has passed, and Adal is the economic and cultural center of the world. Travellers from distant lands come here to learn and trade.
Above the old fortified walls of Raslan, stands the tower of Raslan, jewel of the Empire. In the highest levels of tower are found the Great Library, lit by walls infused with Essence, the quarters of the imperial family, including their training halls, and the Hanging gardens, overseeing the plains of Adal land.
As the Empire grew in power and wealth, it did not become complacent, and kept developing both the arts of Essence and the arts of War. All members of the imperial family practiced various schools of combat with masters, in the training halls of the Tower of Raslan.
In time, they created the Shards: gem-like stones with a natural Essence streak, they are refined and enchanted, and can capture the Tension, a raw energy generated by combat. Stored in the Shards, the Tension can be channelled, and used to gaine the upper hand in battle.
As it developed, the Empire kept workshipping the old gods of the Adal tribe, but it was more to keep with tradition than out of true belief. Other religions and belief systems mingled together in the Capital, coming from all over the world. The Empire was tolerant of these different faiths.
Amongst these, a mystical sect calling themselves the Guides claimed to know the will of the One True God, Anlek. Living by the rules of their Divine Laws, they tried to convert others, but their prophecies of impeding doom and divine punishment failed to convince.
One morning, as the city of Raslan was waking up from the cool spring night, the earth split open, a wide rift creating itself between the tower and the low city, engulfing entire nieghborhoods.
Thousands died crushed by the earth and the falling buildings, but many more died poisoned by sulfuric fumes released in the air by the Rift - amongst them, the Emperor and his family.
In a twisted turn of fate, two of the main cities of the Empire were also destroyed in the next days.
A tsunami hit the town of Arnak on the Ocean, home of the Empire’s fleet, drowning most of the population.
In the East, a volcano awoke near the city of Calresh, where the Imperial family stayed during the warm days of summer, suffocating the citizens in clouds of burning ash.
Dead leaders, destroyed cities, poisoned fields... the Empire did not survive the cataclyms of the Downfall, and the few who survived fled to the provinces near the heart of Adal.
These provinces regained their autonomy, but the balance of power had shifted, and new orders emerged.
Amongst the survivors were some members of the cult calling themselves the Guides.
Their faith was reinforced by the events of the Downfall, and their influence grew fast: all over the former Adal provinces, the populations had been traumatized by the tales of the cataclysms, and the prophecies of the Guides seemed to give meaning to these events: follow the Law of Anlek, or suffer divine wrath.
The guides used fear to enter people’s hearts and minds, but their ideals were quite simple: men should abandon the vain pursuit of wealth and power, use the Essence only for medical purposes, and behave peacefully with each other.
The Guides lived simple lives amongst the populations, often taking the role of medecine men. As such, they are appreciated by most.
As the influence of the Guides was growing, the sightings of Shadows multiplied, closer to the Adal regions.
Their purposes were mysterious, but they appeared to be searching for ancient artefacts, and their appetite for Essence Dust seemed insatiable. In the provinces, people started calling them “Etherans”.
The Guides eventually made contact with the Etherans, sensing that they could somehow benefit from their strange powers.
Striking a deal with the Etherans, the terms of which remain a well-guarded secret, the Guides managed to use twist the Folding into a series of artefacts: the Masks of Moral.
Placed on someone’s face, the mask allows it’s wearer to be folded at the instant of death, in order to be revived at an Altar, a sacred shrine infused with Essence. The Mask is also a tool of control for the Guides: through it, they can influence the perceptions and thoughts of those who wear them.
The first generation of Prospects were experimental subjects, picked at random, linked to the Mask, and sent to the ruins of Adal to be trained. The Guides soon realized that many Prospects don’t tolerate the endless cycle of deaths and rebirths, losing their minds progressively. They called them the Lost Prospects.
With the Absolvers at their side, the Guides could now also wield hard power, and their word became Law. The Absolvers were not only enforcers, but also protectors. As such they were both feared and respected, and the Guides had no trouble recruiting Prospects to train. They took over Towerpoint, an old Adalian military outpost in the mountains to build themselves a sanctuary, and to create a central Authority for their theology and research.
The Guides rule over the lands, their power extending even further than the old borders of the Adal Empire. In the sanctuary of Towerpoint is located the Guidance, central authority of the faith, and home to secret Essence research.
They are not unchallenged: in the lands under the Guidance, some resent their rule and resist those they see as oppressors. Others continue seeing them as a force for peace.
Although the majority of the Guides remain driven by their faith in Anlek, at the highest levels of the Guidance, belief and ideals are now secondary: power has become an end in itself, and what matters most is keeping that power in their hands.
Although they initially denounced the use of the magical properties of Essence, saying this power should not be used by men, the Guides soon realized that if they wanted to stay in power, they would have to embrace the powers of the Essence.
The Lost Prospects, although they will never become Absolvers, are therefore useful to the Guides: attracted by the Essence, they discourage other foreign powers from seizing control of the Adal mines, and can be manipulated into extracting it, ensuring a steady supply of Essence for the Guidance.