The Phantom Village of Velathae
The story as told thus far...
The village of Velathae was not always the subject of low whispers, nor was it shrouded in so much myth and hyperbole. Historical records in neighboring towns located on the outskirts of Riverwood, and even in the City of Helt, tell that Velathae was a village populated by artisans and craftsmen of all types, and its citizens were predominately human, with a minority of ordlyn (non-human race, in this case elves)--not to mention the hathlyn (half-elves) offspring that eventually appeared. The humans of Velathae were on friendly terms with the minority groups, and there were never any officially recorded disputes. The village often attracted attention from some travelers and merchants for the intriguing wares that the villagers produced, which were boasted of as being unusually well-made.
The citizens of Velathae were a quaint, caring bunch, and they enjoyed the close-knit community in which they dwelled. Often, profits acquired through individual shops were given to the town to help make repairs to the village, or to build new communal establishments. People who sought to relocate to the village of Velathae were generally greeted with open arms, and they were even helped through the charity of other citizens to establish a foundation in the village. Those with artisan or crafting skills were especially sought for additions to the community.
Like with all towns, Velathae had its seedier underlining that was not truly welcome, but generally tolerated unless laws were broken. High traffic of trade always attracts outlaws and scoundrels of all types who are out to find quick, easy means of gain. Some even established places of business amongst the village, but only others of their type frequently visited. When one of them grew too violent for the village, especially when laws were broken, the community as a whole helped to contain them in jail--or, in extreme circumstances, to banish them from the town proper.
The village itself was founded around a massive hill. At first, the founders considered attempting to flatten the mound by conventional means, but it was decided that such an attempt would be futile and they decided to just build around it. On top of the hill, a large tower was erected by one of the founding families--an eccentric bunch who enjoyed collecting various artifacts and sharing lore over a glass of wine. It wasn't until several years after the building of the town, and several missing kids, that the locals began to investigate the intriguing hill.
It was discovered that the hill was actually an ancient, great barrow from a war long since passed, the interior of which was filled with a labyrinth of corridors and tombs of dead warriors. Who they were and why they fought has been lost to the annals of history, but their remains lie underneath the seemingly innocent hill. Those few who ventured into the barrow, and returned, spoke of arcane writing on the walls and whispering voices--some even claim to have been attacked and chased away by the dead. The barrow was sealed, and entrance was prohibited by the village officials, but there were still cases over the years of people vanishing and who were thought to have been lost to the dead that lurked within Tower Hill.
The mysterious incidents of the hill, however, did not keep people from traveling to Velathae--nor did it keep a few of the barony's wealthiest families from establishing homes just outside the town. A small community sprang up, just down a path from Velathae, of estates for rich nobles who did not wish to mingle with the commoners. Winter Wren Estates were exclusively for those with wealth and nobility, and they boasted many large villas. Several incidents occurred over the years of the seedier types wandering into the community, so the inhabitants erected a large iron fence around the property to keep the unwashed masses out.
Not all of the wealthy lived outside of Velathae, however. One family, said to have been among the founders of the town, lived in an expansive mansion along one of the side roads. Records do not list much information about the family who lived in Villa Macellarius, though it seems all its members were lost throughout the early years of the village to strange, unexplained deaths.
Nearby residents reported to the town officials and constable suspicions of murder, not only of just the family, but also several people who visited but were never seen from again. The reports indicated blood-curdling screams at odd hours of the night, sightings of bloody handprints on windows, and other strange commotions. But the town officials never documented any evidence of foul play, or otherwise. After the last member of the family died, Villa Macellarius closed and was left unsold as newer wealthy residents preferred Winter Wren Estates outside of town.
One of the proud accomplishments of Velathae was a large apple orchard that was planted by one of the village residents. It was tended to mostly by the villager's family, but every so often those who broke the law would be sentenced to work in the orchard for several hours, or days, as punishment by the village officials. The orchard was quite prosperous, and deemed to grow some of the best apples in the barony. There were long rumors that gnomes were responsible for the disappearance of many apples over the years, and eventually, several years later, an Aledotter was caught selling bootleg hard cider to a local inn. A deputation of sheriffs sent to investigate the possibility of a compound beneath the orchard was never seen again.
Religion became an important foundation to most of the residents of Velathae, as represented in the temple that was built sometime in the mid-years of the village's existence. The temple was dedicated to the Liabo Arkati Lorminstra, and it held regular services for residents and non-residents alike. The adjacent graveyard, Nazir Necropolis--which was named after one of the founding members of Velathae who died during the initials struggles of the town's establishment--holds memories of friends and family who fell through the initial struggles of the village's birth, and those who passed away later on.
What the historical records of Velathae will not speak of, however, are the tales surrounding its demise. On an eventful morning, the first patrons to arrive at Velathae--hoping to purchase some of the local wares--discovered a grim sight to behold. Over the course of a single night, the entire town was destroyed. Buildings were burnt to the ground, still smoldering in the early morning light, and others were simply missing entirely.
Portions of the orchard were gone, and what remained looked as if it was overcome by a terrible blight. Winter Wren Estates, the homes of the wealthy, also appeared to have undergone some horror unknown as parts of houses were missing, some were burning, and it appeared as through the entire place was ransacked. The entrance into the ancient barrow under Tower Hill, however, remained sealed and untouched, but its vigilant sentinel on top, the tower of the eccentric collector, was missing.
The strangest, and eeriest, part of it all was that no bodies were ever found of those who lived in the village of Velathae.
Those who were a part of the crowd that early morning said they saw markings all throughout the village--some say it was the insignia of a regional bandit clan, others say it was some demonic cultist mark. The final official investigation report on the incident never came to a conclusive determination of what happened to Velathae. Its residents simply vanished, and the town was laid to waste. Most people fondly remembered Velathae for several years after its destruction, but eventually they forgot and found new memories to cling onto. The ruins of Velathae were left to overgrow, and soon enough nothing remained of the village except for the great barrow.
It wasn't until recently that Velathae became a common name once again. However, it was not spoken of in its former glory, but in hushed whispers near fireplaces. On the bicentennial of Velathae's destruction, neighboring villages reported seeing lights at night where the village once stood, and others claimed to have seen the silhouette of the tower that once sat on the great barrow. The sightings were sparse at first, and those who ventured close never found anything, but eventually the reports began to flood in around the month of Jastatos.
Some claimed to have wandered by Velathae's old location during some nights in Jastatos, only to discover that the town was standing right before them with all its buildings recreated as they were before the village was destroyed! At first, only the empty village appeared...and even then only briefly. As it neared the Eve of the Reunion, however, the whispers began to include talk of seeing residents walk the streets of the village again.
Of course, hardly anyone took these incidents to be more than simple tales spread among the sordid bunch and local drunks. It wasn't until a large merchant consortium, the one that plans the annual Ebon Gate Festival, went to investigate the stories--out of financial interest, of course--that anyone began to take the tales as true. The merchant consortium sent several small investigation teams to the old site of Velathae and waited until the village once again rematerialized.
And rematerialize it did. Velathae stood as it had two centuries before, as if no time--or damage--had happened. But most curious of all were the residents who were now ghosts. They continued to act out their previous life, working in their shops and selling wares. In their point of view, they did recognize their own deaths, but they still felt the old desire to sell their wares. People who visited the phantom village during Jastatos tried to discover what happened to the once living town, but none of the residents seem to be able to recall the full details of the fateful night. At most, they can remember individual tales of moments just before they died. Nor could anyone determine exactly why, after so many years, the village was appearing. Some tossed it up to the work of Lorminstra giving the mysterious village of restless spirits a chance to figure out what happened to them before they move on to Oblivion, and others say it is the work of the great evil that destroyed it with a nefarious plan to use the captured spirits as an army against the barony of Riverwood.
The investigative teams brought back what they discovered, along with some curious bit of information--it seems that objects taken from the village persisted long after the town vanished, as if they were any other object and not some relic from a phantom village. The merchant consortium listened to the information, and decided that Velathae would make a grand stage for a brand new Ebon Gate Festival--a true ghost village with intricacies and delights to bewonder the living. The village officials agreed with the negotiation to stage the festival during the times the village has manifested during Jastatos, but it came with a forewarning. The town officials said that not everything has returned to what it once was, and not everything is at it seems. Further, the ghosts of Velathae had problems with the seedier, scoundrel type spirits causing havoc, and they decided to contain them within the orchard. None of the ghostly residents have heard from the wealthy of Winter Wren Estates, and strange occurrences have been happening at Villa Macellarius. The great barrow's activities also increased beyond the occasional happenings, as it did before, although none of the village residents can determine why--except that the seals on the entrance are missing.
The phantom village of Velathae is a curiosity to the living world, and those who enjoy lore and legends. It's uncertain whether or not the full truth about the village's demise will surface, but scholars and bookworms alike will continue to search out the information. As to the ghostly residents, however, they are simply happy to be a part of the living world once more, and to be able to do what they loved doing for the short time that the village manifests each year around the Eve of the Reunion.