Ulmyr’s Gate, the mythic city, isn’t on any map of Etharis. At least not anymore.
The city is now a prison for all its denizens, enveloped in the Ethereal Plane. The very few who have escaped tell of a place shrouded in magic and nightmares. Even they themselves have not returned as they once were. The Ethereal Plane still grips them. They shift between reality and intangibility. They are the disembodied, a cautionary tale of those that gamble with magic and fail.
If the Arcanist Inquisition has a reason that their hatred of mages is justified, it is illustrated by the tragedy of Ulmyr’s Gate.
During the time that Ulmyr’s Gate flourished, the city was in the sway of some of history’s greatest magical minds. Valen de Holmes, Cerian the Colorful, Avashtor Malibree, and Kir’Rasti the Undrowned were a few among them. These arcane scholars worked in conclaves or sometimes isolation. Each were dedicated to improving the Bürach Empire’s knowledge of magic, yet each were often unchecked and dedicated solely to their own areas of interest.
Ulmyr’s Gate was home to The Great College, once the most revered institute established for arcane instruction. The city attracted magicians, occultists, diviners, and sorcerers of all kinds to its halls and laboratories. The potential of this city seemed limitless. The power of Ulmyr’s Gate could have solved hunger, wiped out diseases, ended wars, or wrestled control of Etharis from the gods. That is what the mages’ claimed. But all that potential came to an end when the city ceased to exist.
The Ethereal Rift
While it flourished on the Material Plane for barely two lifetimes, Ulmyr’s Gate demonstrated the potential of magic. With its demise, it showed the danger of magic. Something that the Arcanist Inquisition decries daily.
The city vanished with a single ritual, and with it the hope of magic improving the world. This event exposed the hubris of The Great College. Those that treated magic like a common resource to be drawn and used for mortal whims. Instead they proved that magic is a raging dragon, as likely to devour its own subjects than take heed of their commands. Between the loss of Ulmyr’s Gate so long ago and the growing influence of The Watchers of the Faithful, magic and mages have never returned to such glorious heights.
Yet despite what seemed the end of Ulmyr’s Gate, there is a postscript to the disaster. The city was not destroyed as first thought, instead it tipped into the Ethereal Plane through the Rift opened by the ritual. From those city streets shrouded with magic, some citizens have managed to return to Etharis. To understand how anyone survived the calamity, it must first be known what happened inside the city.
Ulmyr’s Gate was named by its founders, folk of wealth and power, who envisioned the city as a magical doorway. A literal gate that could be stepped through to allow the material to touch the ethereal. Some imagined limitless travel across the realm, unshackling themselves from the considerations of space and time. Others sought to visit other planes entirely, to touch the whole of infinity. The most powerful of mages imagined a gateway into the heavens, to witness the face of Ulmyr for themselves.
The Ethereal Rift was the result of the city’s collective power and egotism.
The Great Founders
No record exists in this realm as to who first proposed the gateway into the Ethereal Plane, or who were formally leading the wizards behind its creation. However, there are a few notable suspects that dwelt in Ulmyr’s Gate at the time of the calamity who are believed to have been involved.
Valen de Holmes was a legendary transmuter, and the leading architect of Ulmyr’s Gate. While only written accounts of the city exist as reference, they suggest a world of towers, high ceilings, and branching roadways in the sky. Legend weaves a tale of de Holmes literally raising the city out of the soil with his bare hands as he commanded it into existence. This is certainly exaggeration. Yet Valen undoubtedly had a hand in shaping the gate that would lead to the Ethereal Plane.
Cerian the Colorful was a mistress of illusions and wonderous visions. She made it so the sun never seemed to set at Ulmyr’s Gate. Through rumors from the disembodied, Cerian happens to rule the city to this day, deep in the Ethereal Plane. Yet no one ever truly meets her, only her illusions, and some wonder if these are simply the echo of a long dead mage.
Avashtor Malibree wove protective charms and arcane barriers to protect Ulmyr’s Gate. Stories suggest that as the Ethereal Rift opened, Malibree’s magic saved the city from being ripped apart by the eldritch maelstrom. She sacrificed her life to save the city, yet among the disembodied there is debate about whether that was an act of kindness or cruelty.
Kir’Rasti the Undrowned was also said to be at Ulmyr’s Gate with their deceased twin. If this were true, it is likely they had a few friends. Many wizards fear to dabble in the realms of necromancy, which is a predilection unshared by the laneshi. Kir’Rasti’s presence has been blamed for the Rift and the reason why the city fell into the Ethereal Plane. These stories offer conflicting reasons why the laneshi would do this, ranging from reviving their sibling to gaining mastery of the underworld. What is for certain is that if this tale has a villain, Kir’Rasti fills that role.
Lost Legacy of Ulmyr’s Gate
Every mage, scholar, spellcaster, and apprentice in Ulmyr’s Gate contributed to establishing a permanent portal between Etharis and the Ethereal Plane. It was intended to begin only as a small doorway through which one could simply step. Instead of opening a gate, the mages ripped a chasm in reality that swallowed their city.
Ulmyr’s Gate was perhaps the most important city in history. Then its wealth, knowledge, and power were simply gone. Hundreds of the greatest minds, thousands of pages of arcane learning, and the secret arts only they had mastered, all vanished.
Families wept for their lost kindred. Nobles cried for their investments and the promises the mages had made. The whole of the Bürach quaked as darkness fell upon it. Had Ulmyr’s Gate never fallen, perhaps hope could have existed in this age of descent. Only those that loathed magic rejoiced that day, for they’d seen their great enemy decimated.
Where the city once stood in our plane, is now only the occasional spark of the Ethereal Rift which serves as a monument to Ulmyr’s Gate. Unknown to many, the Rift isn’t a magical marker denoting where the city once stood. It is a crumbling wall magically dividing the planes. On the other side of that tattered veil, Ulmyr’s Gate remains eternal, if ethereal.
Escaping the Nightmare
It isn’t clear what occurs inside the lost city. Few of the disembodied who have returned will speak of it. Those that do describe a place with the logic of dreams. Returning to the Material Plane is like being reborn, with the memories of their internment hazy and nonsensical.
What has been portrayed is a place of immateriality. Movement is not restricted by the physical laws of barriers or direction. There is no up or down. It is like swimming through half-material objects. The city scintillates with eldritch energy like it is within the clouds of a growling storm.
Many of Ulmyr’s Gate’s citizens lost themselves to despair or disorientation. Some were consumed by creatures of the Aether Kindred, drawn to the city like sharks drawn to blood. Others were transformed by the Ethereal Plane into aberrations themselves, or their spirits were shattered into glassy shards or fused together into screaming amalgams. More still lived in the silent torture of non-existence, for they could see and hear our world, but could not affect it.
Yet through all the horror and confusion, the disembodied managed to claw their way back to reality. They may have found path out of the Ethereal Plane and into ours. Or perhaps if talented enough, they opened a portal through which they could slip. In any case, once here they are not entirely as they were. They’d been citizens of the Ethereal Plane and had been re-made by their experience.
So what of the disembodied? What is life for them in our material world? They were once like you and I, but no longer. They are creatures preserved by the Ethereal Plane, aging much slower and not one has departed due to old age. Their bodies are only semi-tangible and appear translucent in shifting patterns, as if their image were an imperfect illusion trying to repair itself. Yet they are surprisingly solid, if cold, to touch. They can suffer and withstand physical punishment no different from any material mortal. In fact despite being mistake for wraiths, they are decidedly humanoid.
Some further differences might be called advantages, through their connection to the Ethereal Plane. The disembodied possess innate magics that allow them to escape our world when danger threatens. Their body can become entirely blurred and difficult to target. The disembodied sometimes seem weightless, denying the commands of the earth to return swiftly to it. These abilities could be considered remarkable if they were not a byproduct of the trauma suffered during their time in that other world.
While magic on the Ethereal Plane was possible, many mages found their spellcasting confounded. Certain individuals gave up the practice of magic entirely, blaming it for their imprisonment. Many turned to religion, finding comfort in the gods they now felt closer while inside Ulmyr’s Gate. Nevertheless, it was primarily mages who first managed to find their way home.
After a disembodied escapes back to the Material Plane, their lives present unique challenges. They must re-acclimate to physical form. Bodies can have inherent aches, even just muscle soreness, and disembodied miss the ability to will themselves from place to place. Speaking of, those that return display incredible amounts of willpower. After so long in a realm where the phrase mind over matter is how life is lived, disembodied have incredible determination. Their egos are difficult to dissuade, and they have gained a self-assurance that few can match.
Disembodied Story Hooks
Among the returned is Ermit the Guide, the self-proclaimed caretaker of the Ethereal Rift. Many adventurers seek the Ethereal Rift, hoping to cross over or learn how it was created to replicate as a weapon. For a modest fee, Ermit offers to guide anyone that visits the last physical location of Ulmyr’s Gate. He’ll discuss where buildings were and give the city’s history. If the visitors are curious researchers, Ermit will happily aid their education. However, those that hope to recreate the Rift or threaten Ulmyr’s Gate will be thrown by Ermit into the other plane.
Cheaub Leesi, the disembodied wechselkind, is the most unique of the returnees from Ulmyr’s Gate. With a reputation for craftiness, this artificial individual can escape any situation by slipping into the Ethereal Plane. Therefore, no one and nothing is safe from Cheaub. However, in his misadventures he has uncovered a secret too dangerous to be shared. He’s being hunted by wizards who will stop at nothing to disassemble him and bury his knowledge. Cheaub is offering passage and payment to Ulmyr’s Gate itself to anyone who will safeguard him there.
The Arcanist Inquisition hates any mage hailing from Ulmyr’s Gate. Kyrie Elle makes great efforts to terrorize the institution. The elf used all of her will to escape the Ethereal Plane only to discover that her tragedy was used as justification for the murder of magic practitioners. Her outrage galvanized this escapee into an instrument of revenge. She hunts the Inquisition. Moreover, she has found a target within their organization, a circle of high-ranking judges. Her plan is simple, she will infiltrate their meeting and flush them all to the Ethereal Plane for trial. However, she needs accomplices to help her execute this plan.
Waverley Hall is a resplendent manor that has sat empty for decades. Named for the Lord and Lady that once lived there, the doors were locked and the windows drawn before the two departed to Ulmyr’s Gate to study at The Great College. Today the mansion is rumored to be filled with untouched treasures and magical artifacts from the couple’s collection. But few dare to step inside. It is said the wraith of Lady Madelina Waverley has haunted its halls since Ulmyr’s Gate disappeared.
Solvan the Spirit Drinker is a drunkard monster hunter. His time in the Ethereal Plane granted him a unique point of view involving how to hunt and dispatch evil spirits. His passion is drink and exorcising the undead, both denied on the other side. Despite his skill, Solvan has met his match. A haunted sorcerer is eager to capture Solvan to be guided to Ulmyr’s Gate. Solvan is offering potions of wine to anyone that will help him stand against this undead horror.
The Disembodied Windel Kaymish misses flight. More than anything, flight made Ethereal life easier. Sitting on a horse or walking up a hill are difficult when you’ve spent so long able to soar over the world. Despite not being a mage, Windel is determined to find a way to fly. To that end, he’s discovered the perfect ring of flight. He just needs to cut it off your hand. If you resist, he’ll take you to the Ethereal Plane and do the cutting there.
When she escaped, Polsi Mkeile was not able to bring her brother across the Ethereal Rift. He’s now alone on the other side and needs Polsi’s help. On the Material Plane, Polsi is alone and needs him. Together, they might be able to open the Ethereal Rift entirely and free every disembodied inside. Polsi’s plan requires her brother. What she doesn’t share is the downside. If she and her brother fail in their attempt, then the whole world might be sucked into the void as a consequence. Or else a horde of aberrant nightmares could also be released. To reunite a family, will you risk the mortal world?