Punjar: The Tarnished Jewel
The Blackwell Citadel
The fortress known as the Blackwell looms in the mists just off the mainland, a constant reminder to all those that would dare thwart the will of the Overlord. A prison in a city of criminals, the Blackwell is home to the worst villains that Punjar has to offer.
The ocean’s waves pound the walls of the Blackwell day in and day out. The citadel’s stark towers bear no decoration, save the solitary red lanterns that guide merchant ships through the narrows straits. No flags or banners flap in the sea winds, and no gargoyles stare down from on high. Rather, the grim walls and stoic towers stand like giant sentries, on constant watch over their wards.
Prisoners are shipped to the Citadel on barges. Inmates have their forearms branded with special irons that mark them forever as prisoners of the Blackwell. Then each inmate is fitted with manacles and leg shackles. Suspected spellcasters are fitted with masks to restrict speech; rogues and warriors have their thumbs bound to their palms with painful iron gloves. Then the prisoners are assigned to slave gangs and sent to labor beneath the Blackwell, digging ever-deeper dungeons to make room for the growing prison population.
For those that have the misfortune of offending the Overlord, the punishment is immediate and final. Mage or warrior, priest or rogue, the punishment is the same: the subject has his tongue and thumbs removed, and is fitted with a scorched iron mask concealing his face. Rather than laboring in the company of his fellow prisoners, the offender is sentenced to solitary confinement, at the bottom of a lightless pit ranging from 60 to 100 feet in depth. Food and water are delivered to prisoners once or twice a week, but often the overseers forget about these damned souls, neglecting to return to the pits until it comes time to lower another prisoner into the hole.
Of those sentenced to incarceration, most die within the first 10 weeks. Between the prison’s cruel overseers, the dangerous conditions, and competition with fellow prisoners for food and water, the dungeons exact a terrible toll. Those that do survive the harrowing experience are incredibly resilient in both body and soul – for what good it does them. Only one out of 100 prisoners lives out the first year, and no prisoner on record has survived longer than 5 years. (Of course, this does not include the special prisoners condemned to an unlife of necromantic servitude.)
Standing watch over the Blackwell are the Gaolers, sentries distinguished by their black and crimson robes. Though seldom seen outside of the citadel, sometimes a triad is sent into the city on a specific mission – a cause for great fear and excitement to the common folk of Punjar. The ranks of the Gaolers are filled entirely by children selected from Punjar’s orphanages – children without families or futures that are raised in absolute obedience and loyalty towards the Overlord. Like a guild of artisans or craftsfolk, the Gaolers are divided into strict ranks accorded by accomplishment and learning. These ranks are presumed to be initiate, apprentice, journeyman, and master, with varying degrees and titles within each ranking. And like most guilds, the rituals, signs and tokens of the ranks are held in absolute secrecy.
It is commonly accepted that the Gaolers answer to one known as Master Azdiel. Though the master was certainly once human (or perhaps Eladrin) it is unknown what wicked transformations he (she? it?) has undergone since accepting his post. Those that have seen Master Azdiel report that the master is seven feet in height, and slender as a skeleton, despite the heavy crimson robes that adorn its frame. The master is often seen carrying either an obsidian staff tipped with a pulsing ruby, or a massive greatsword, with a glowing ruby adorning its scorched black pommel.
Escape from the Blackwell is deemed impossible by the common folk of Punjar. Given that most of the citadel’s prisoners toil far underground, the best chance for escape is within two days of arrival. Even then, eluding the Gaolers is no small feat, given that nearly all wear chain shirts and carry deadly crossbows beneath their simple robes. Further complicating matters are the complex and strong ocean currents that surround Blackwell Island. To date, while many have attempted escape, none has survived to tell the tale.