In the venerable waters of the Great Sea - just a few knots southwest of the Andragorian Peninsula - rests the island of Drasaga. The island itself is bowl-shaped, with the eastern wall of the mountains recessed into a narrow pass. At the foot of the pass near a large cove sprawls the tiny town of Trysale. The residents of Trysale do not venture into the valley behind them: Hidden there is a school, staffed by mages - refugees of the Andragorian government - a school which should not exist. The villagers believe the valley is protected by a murderous demon, a rumor propagated by the school's attendants and staff. Trysale was settled in 3981 by a motley assortment of refugees barely numbering fifty. They arrived with little more than the clothes on their backs and a will to survive. Since then, thanks to the island's rich cove, their tiny town has grown to over 800 thriving residents. While they pay taxes to Andragoria's King vis-a-vis a nearby liege-lord, they maintain their own governance due to a lack of tradeable resources beyond fish and fruit, provisions which are easier to find elsewhere. A tiny island of hick fish mongers does not warrant governmental representation. A large bamboo patch, commonly called The Wall, divides the town from the valley. Rumor is that the Wall is the island's will trying to starve the horrible demon which prowls the valley. In truth, nothing more sinister than small island pigs infest valley. Tucked in the valley behind Trysale, past The Wall and through the thick jungles of Drasaga's interior, set deep in the anterior western mountain range lies a black temple. Within the temple live seven masters of High Magic and their students. These masters are the descendants of mage assassins from Andragoria, teachers for a school designed to turn young talent into deadly political leverage. The school is called Shalkastere.
Hundreds of years ago there was a school called Shalkastere - meaning High Magic Blade - which thrived in the city of Vryshe Keep, the second largest city in Andragoria at the time. Though Shalkastere kept a low profile, their trade was far from secret: They trained assassins and hired them out to political bodies without bias. But tensions arose between Andragorian officials and Shalkastere as repeated assassinations culled the politicos, cutting down nobles and royalty alike. Shalkastere proudly boasted a perfect record; no failed assassinations in over a century. Over half their targets had been Andragorian officials. The Shalka was sent a missive demanding that he refrain from killing within Andragoria's borders. He refused outright, claiming that he provided a service which was free of restriction. And so the Shalka (headmaster) was killed, along with most of his staff, in a police raid on the school later that year. Witchfinders armed with official warrants swarmed in, slaying everyone they could. In the confusion, the new Shalka and his remaining faculty fled. They traveled far, disguised as peasants, taking only their families and the library of Shalkastere with them. They fled all the way to the Great Sea. After contacting as many of their students as possible they reopened their school in the temple on Drasaga. The community their families built protected their secret for generations: Children were not told of the school. Only those born with the talent were taken to the temple and taught to master their abilities. The rest lived in ignorance on the island, unwittingly providing a barrier between the outside world and the secret temple within the valley. Today, the town provides food and community for the school, and the school quietly protects the town, keeping it out of the affairs of greedy mainlanders. Only the elders of Trysale know of the temple's residents and the secret of the lineage of the seven mages. The elders maintain a strict religious taboo, telling the villagers of an angry demon living in the valley who eats wanderers. The elders travel frequently to the temple, utilizing several hidden paths and tunnels through the valley's green cliffs. The trip takes an hour by the shortest route. Though assassination is no longer taught, the wisdom of the Shalka and his library of high magic remains, preserved against all odds. The modern student of this school departs the island trained to conceal his power even as he uses it to escape trouble. Many of them become hired weapons or scholars. A few remain on the island to train the next generation.
Shalkastere thrives on secrecy. Their students are caught in a constant game of intrigue orchestrated by the faculty, both to teach them subtlety and keep them on their toes. At Shalkastere, the official penalty for disclosing school-only information to the outside is death, though such a punishment has not been used in centuries. Students are taught to value information, to master their emotions and control their powers, to keep their talents a secret and above all, protect the secret of the temple. Always there are seven teachers, a Shalka, a disciplinarian, a dorms master and four teachers, one of each element.
Peitre Nale (The Shalka, Earth Mage): According to himself, Pietre is over 113 years old. He was appointed Shalka by his predecessor, a fire mage named Hannah Abdeth. Pietre commands a network of former students and spies which he uses to recruit on the mainland, as far north as Starkwater and as far east as Nerin's far border. He rarely interacts with the students of the school, preferring to make rare appearances to redouble the impact of his words and actions. He is revered as a repository of immense wisdom.
Abbah Mikus (Disciplinarian, Water Mage): Abbah is Pietre's best friend. He is nearly as old as the Shalka, and they can often be found sitting quietly, discussing the affairs of the school or the behavior of the students. Abbah is the disciplinarian for the school: His favorite punishment is to make unruly students copy ungainly tomes in the library, both to instruct and preserve information. His prized posession is a book categorizing the many types of talents and some of the aberrant High Magic talents recorded by the Shalkas of the past.
Meika Calise (Dorms Mistress, Air Mage): Meika is a motherly 47-year-old woman, beloved by every person at the temple. She provides guidance and counceling to all the students, and even Pietre has been known to seek her comforting words on occasion. Her husband is an elder in the village. Her duties include supervising the student dorms and settling confrontation.
Aileen Kameh (Fire Teacher, Fire Mage): This red-haired girl is the youngest of the high mages, and the most powerful. Her talents burned her village to the ground at the age of 11. The only survivor, she was found by gypsies and adopted. She learned to master her immense powers with a new technique, earning her a place on the faculty of the school which she accepted from Peitre at the age of 21. That was two years ago. When she isn't antagonizing Mason she crafts origami art or composes haunting songs which she sings softly each sunrise to her cat on the veranda.
Eli Brognan (Earth Teacher, Deviant Mage): At 56 years old, Eli is still as hale as he was during his service as an Andragorian foot-soldier with the First Army. At the age of 15 he discovered he had the ability to push his consciousness into metal (as he describes it), suffusing it with magic. He used the trick on his armor, reinforcing it to many times the strength of normal metal. It is his only talent, but it kept him alive through many skirmishes with Andragoria's enemies to the east. When he broke up a street brawl between Aileen and Mason last year, Mason realized his power was immense and novel and so he invited Eli to the island. Pietre offered him a position recently when master Voljor died on the mainland some months past.
Mason Gormel (Water Teacher, Water Mage): Mason is a 32-year-old study in contradictions. Quick to anger, quicker to fight, Mason displays none of the atypical personality traits of a water mage. He is loud-mouthed, brash and tends to get a bit physical with his students, once going so far as to bury Aileen in quicksand for a backhanded comment about his abilities as an instructor. He has a crush on her, but would never admit it. Mason is a former sailor.
Deloro "Del" Acharanoska (Air Teacher, Air Mage): Del is 72 years old. Some say his mind is quite gone; often he is spotted atop the temple, tossing huge frames made of sticks and paper into the air and channeling air magic to blow them as far as he can. He insists to his students that one day he will build a device which will sail him to the mainland, though he has yet to even get one out of the valley. His favorite saying is, "Nothing is impossible, sah."
Students of Shalkastere are taught a kind of mental control invented by the first Shalkas and teachers of the school. It involves tying certain emotions to triggers (called the Kora) which can be recalled at any time. Because high magic is a mental process, mental self-control is supremely important to high magic users.
Love - Courage, hope, creation. The Kora of love is most useful for transformation. It is the Kora of imagination. Mages who need to invent a new use for their infinite-use talents employ this Kora. It was originally used to ensure none of the students trained in assassination would become psychopathic, and the other benefits were discovered after the process was perfected.
Rage - Anger, temper, hate. Most useful for sheer volume. The Kora of rage increases the intensity of high magic castings. Example: Lifting 300 gallons of water and hurling it onto a fire. This Kora can also allow a caster to extend his reach. Example: Drawing water from a very deep well.
Concentration - Unemotion, calm, logic. Most useful for speed. The Kora of concentration (otherwise known as self-awareness) increases the speed of high magic casting in multiples. Example: Launching a small spike of water at 200+ kmph. Also allows the caster to perform highly complex castings. Example: Creating an ice sculpture with high detail.
Sorrow - Despondance, remorse, depression. Most useful for suppression. The Kora of sorrow puts a clamp on the caster's abilities. Example: A raging fire mage may be close to self-destruction, but by recalling his sorrow Kora his flames extinguish. This Kora is dangerous, for the user must be vigilant not to turn the sorrow inward and bind their own various Kora beyond their own ability to unlock them again. Often a student will be naturally strong in one Kora. Typically fire students are strong in rage, earth strong in love or concentration, water strong in love or concentration, air strong in rage or love. Some students are strong in sorrow, and must be broken of their self-limiting and self-hatred.
Little is known about this building. Built of a solid piece of black obsidian, the temple is folded into the mountain and overgrown with vines. Some rooms have never been opened in all the 300 plus years humans have inhabited it, though not for lack of trying. Depictions of snake-headed people adorn the walls, though it is commonly believed that nagas moved in after the thing was constructed and carved their own art into its walls, as evidenced by older, more archaic carvings deeper inside, past long-locked doors of thick volcanic glass. The images drawn there are very mysterious and some claim staring too long at them causes headaches and nausea. The reason for the nagas departure is also a mystery. Atop the temple, jutting from the mountain, is a massive veranda, the utility of which is not known. The veranda is used as a training ground for the students. It is where the Kora are accessed and where emotions are repressed or experienced in agonizing waves as necessary.