Rift storms are not the weather of the world. They are unnatural phenomena that twist reality and spread madness. They vary so widely in intensity that particularly severe thunderstorms are sometimes mistaken for mild rift storms, at least by those who are familiar with this little-known aspect of Rossberan occult.
Rift storms get their name from the fact that they are supposed to be tears in the fabric of reality, portals to the realm of chaos, the Great Void of Everything and Nothing. In chaos worship, it is said that every now and then, the primordial powers get bored with reality, open a rift, and toss out something of their own creation into the material world. Neticine crystals are said to be products of the Great Void, rather than of the natural world, but they are just one example. Since chaos worship all but disappeared by the time of the Great Rossberan War, such stories were extremely rare, and the stories surrounding the rift storms themselves all but disappeared. Still, the most undaunted occultists eventually put the pieces together.
There are four primary aspects to chaos: rage, resilience, evolution, and passion. Depending on the sect of chaos worship one examines, these concepts could be bent a bit: war, fire, and blood all stand for rage, pestilence and endless cycles of static karma both stand for resilience, fate and magic both stand for evolution, and passion could be any number of other emotions that don’t fit with the other three aspects of chaos. There is little rhyme or reason to how these might fit within the overarching concept, after all, this is chaos, and in addition to the four primary aspects, there are either four or five secondary aspects, which is why chaos is represented by an eight or nine-pointed star (eight is much more common) with points of different lengths. These ideas are vaguely connected to rift storms based on what sort of events may follow them, for instance, the great plague that swept over the lands of Skhara in the wake of Castle Holgar’s fall.
I believe I’ve written about this before, but just in case I haven’t, Skhara fell after the castles of the noble houses were raided, one by one, as the country descended into complete anarchy, following two centuries of decadence and decay. As the raiders grew in number, closing in on Holgar, a storm began to brew right over the massive citadel. The gates were broken down and the citadel sacked, and at some point during the mayhem, the magazines containing the supply of dark fire were ignited, blowing off the top floors of the citadel and the ceiling to the great hall. Columns of dark blue flames reached into the black clouds above the ruined citadel, and almost in response to the happenings on the ground, the sky erupted, becoming laced with lightning. The clouds spread all over Skhara, bringing with them a malevolent plague that killed most animals and a good amount of plant life as well. Wherever the plague ravaged the land, a creature known only as the Night’s Dragon could be seen flying overhead. The Night’s Dragon was rumoured to be a daemon that the Skharnovs bound inside their citadel to give them power, and the raid on Castle Holgar unleashed the creature. There was a tiny grain of truth to these rumours, but for the most part, the Night’s Dragon wasn’t the bearer or herald of the great plague, merely an observer. Since no-one ever figured out what the source of the plague was, or even what disease so indiscriminately ravaged the Skharan lands, occultists came to the conclusion that the plague of Skhara was no natural event, but a rift storm, albeit an extremely brief one. There were legends of storms that lasted for centuries, some of them recent enough that there was some real history to corroborate them.
The two halves of the Rhûnnish Empire, later known as Alexandria and Okseetia, were separated by a mountain range. There are three gaps in this otherwise impassible mountain range, places were the mountains are low enough that the terrain is easily traversible, at least on foot. For some unknown reason, there is a portion of the central gap where the tectonic plates, rather than buckling upward to create a mountain range, buckled downward to create a massive valley. As one might expect, this valley slowly filled with sediment deposited by runoff, creating a lowland region known as Bezdnya, which literally means “without day,” because shadows from all directions kept the lowlands in perpetual darkness, but is also nearly identical to the Rhûnnish word for “chasm.” In addition to the perpetual darkness, Bezdnya also tended to accumulate cold air descending off the mountains, and therefore was almost always covered in thick fog. This alone was reason enough to avoid the region, but to make matters worse, thunderclouds gathered above the region with remarkable frequency and almost no warning. It was said that the slightest disturbance would cause a massive wall of black clouds to appear out of nowhere above Bezdnya, and the flashes of lightning would be visible up to fifteen leagues away. For over a millennium, those who dwelt in central Rhun, specifically just north of Krivs or the Velikipust, lived forever in the eerie shadow of the intangible wall. The only comfort that they had were the espers.
In central Rhûnnish folklore, espers are said to be those who descend from the unfortunate souls who were caught in the storm the very first time it appeared. The legend goes that when the storm first appeared over Bezdnya, it engulfed everything within the lowlands and twisted it into a vile, corrupt form of what it once was. The people fled, but everywhere they went, were treated as monsters because of how disfigured they were. What the storm’s survivors lacked in aesthetics, however, they made up for with newfound magical powers. Whether from compassion or coercion, some people interbred with the disfigured people, and the offspring were called espers. The magical abilities of espers persisted throughout the family, and for this reason, esper families largely kept to themselves. Ordinary folk kept their distance out of fear for the unknown, but remained somewhat thankful to the espers for their regular rituals to keep the storms of Bezdnya from getting worse or spreading. Ironically, when the Rhûnnish Empire split in half, the storms dissipated, and only the shadow and fog remained in Bezdnya, thus removing part of the natural border between Alexandria and Okseetia. The espers quietly faded from common folklore and local religion to one of the most esoteric occult terms. Since Bezdnya remained a place that no-one wanted to visit, the true version of events that inspired the old legends remained completely unknown for another three centuries. At least, this was the case until occultists started finally asking “what happened to the espers, if they even existed?”
Legends of espers were never widespread, but instead in localised pockets scattered over Rossbera, always in relatively remote areas that were known for supernatural phenomena. Another important example was the legend of the Ma Xin dynasty, the last dynasty of Minkutian Emperors, more commonly known as the dynasty of sorcerers. Though it was widely believed that the sorcerers did not have any real magical powers, and that they simply displayed elaborate parlour tricks in order to dupe the Minkutian people, Jenůfa Nószimål, who was present at the sacking of Sing Yat San, seemed to think otherwise. Nószimål later became acquainted with the espers of Rhûn, though despite her on-and-off obsession with the local legends, she never figured out what the true nature of Bezdnya was. She came close, but most of what she wrote about the Rossberan supernatural disappeared when the Rhûnnish Empire fell, presumable stolen by former inquisitors who later formed the Stalwart Order of the Iron Rose. The Order of the Iron Rose, which operated all over Rossbera, effectively had total control over what manner of occult knowledge was available. Anything to do with “real” magic, they guarded jealously, and this led to conflicts with another secret organisation: the Zigidzt Society, which controlled information about other secret organisations, keeping them as well-hidden from governments as possible – assuming that they payed their dues. Between the tension with the Zigidzt Society, the rise of proletarian collectivism (an ideology which opposed guilds and guild-like secret societies “gatekeeping” knowledge), and the resurgence of chaos worship, around the time that the Great Rossberan War began, all the secrets started to unravel. This would be this time that mythology and reality would finally be separated.
Sorry to end this little bit of lore on a cliffhanger, but I’m still working this part out. Most of the “magic” in this world is just superstition, so I have yet to figure out how much of this is real, and how much is just weaponised mythology. The motif of this story is supposed to be steampunk, not gaslamp fantasy.