OVERVIEW: For nearly 500 years the Island of Despair, which sits just east of the coast of what is today the city of Floran, was used as a permanent holding asylum for the mentally deranged and psychotic. Set on a small island surrounded by sheer cliffs up to 300 meters high, the insane asylum covers almost all of the island’s surface.
This massive and secluded island was a destination from which few ever escaped or returned. Even the staff of doctors, nurses and maintenance workers were subject to the terrible mortality rate. Most deaths were attributed to the workers’ own madness. Sent there for months at a time, the doctors and workers would go as mad as the inmates and hurl themselves over the cliffs and onto the rocky coast that surrounds the island-if they weren’t killed by an inmate first. Some say the deaths were related to the severity of the patients’ mental problems and their tendency towards violence, or the staff being outnumbered 40 to 1 combined with disgusting working conditions. Others however, insist the island was and still is cursed.
Before Despair Asylum (as it is now known) was finished the men and women who built the facility returned from their work with strange stories of curses, ghosts, bizarre accidents and suppernatural occurances. It was known as a cursed island as early as twenty years before the asylum first opened.
Between 400 PM to 100 EM the insane asylum was used without a break in occupancy. It was built over a 10 year period by the people of Floran and Bedrin and opened officially the seventh day of Desanna, 400 PM. In the 500 years of its use, Despair Asylum housed an estimated 250,000 people, insane or otherwise. A sickening 225,000 of those were killed during their stay or shortly after by causes directly related to their stay.
The official opening of the asylum was a time of excessive death. Within the first month of operation nearly 90% of the inmates capable of walking, died. Most inmates were incredibly violent and disturbed and quickly found the weak points in the facility’s walls. After their escape almost all of them fell off the cliffs in an attempt to escape. Others fell victim to the elements and died of either starvation or dehydration. The staff was horribly unprepared for searching the grounds for escaped inmates and were unable to do anything to help.
Conditions in the facility were never meant to be comfortable or even adequate for the inmates or workers. Inadequate and poorly constructed buildings, food supplies that were often rancid, sleeping quarters of 3×3 meters that housed fifteen people, inmates and workers alike were subject to the conditions. It became very difficult to differentiate between the inmates and workers. Visitors who stayed only briefly (even those there for research or the short lived tourist program) admitted that only the clothes someone wore hinted at their role as worker or inmate.
Because the workers lived in conditions no better than the inmates they were supposed to tend to, they were ambivalent at best, and hateful at worst-the worst being most common. Because of the pervasive hatred, few of the workers kept up on their duties after more than a month of work. This left the inmates free to their own insane desires and activities. Wandering around the grounds, the insane were left without any care (the staff only worked in the few enclosed buildings and rarely if ever patrolled the grounds) and would frequently start fights, murdering one another in their rages. Most of the inmates who were capable of walking were left out in the grassy ‘recreation field’ which made up the vast majority of the island. Fights would break out between individuals and entire groups over simple matters. The fights would almost always turn deadly. In an average day five inmates were killed in the brawls.
It wasn’t just the fighting that caused the high mortality rate. The Isle of Despair and most of Floran are hit annually by severe hurricanes. During these storms the insane remained outside. While most of the workers didn’t care whether or not the inmates were kept outside during the storms, the few that did were helpless to do anything about it. Because the facility was built as inexpensively as possible, the original designers built as few enclosed structures as possible. An administration building, two testing facilities (where horrific medical experimentation took place), a cafeteria, a small medical facility and the housing area (which itself held thousands in an area not meant for more than a couple hundred) were the only buildings with roofs. All of these buildings were located on the western end of the island and took up no more than 10% of the entire surface. The rest of the six square kilometer island was surrounded by a huge wall covered with redundant layers of barbed wire. With so much empty space outside the main facility the inmates were able to wander off without being noticed. Many patients died from things like pneumonia and diarrhea and dehydration after getting lost in the lightly rolling terrain or falling victim to one of the many thunderstorms that plauges the island. In one devenstating storm alone over 2,500 inidividuals were killed, staff and inmates alike. over 1,000 of them were killed by exposure to the storm (lightning, dehydration, pneumonia), and another 1,000 were killed in riots and fights. The 500 or so others leapt or fell off the edge of the cliffs.
Whether from storms or riots sections of the wall frequently collapsed. When it happened near the main facility the staff was slow in mending the damage, often taking weeks to do so. But when one of the eastern portions of the wall fell it was rarely repaired within a year. Gaping holes in the wall allowed the inmates an opportunity to escape and jump off the cliffs. Many of the inmates who met their demise falling off the cliffs were too mentally deficient to know better. But many others, workers included, used the cliffs as a way of ending their lives and escaping the horror of the island.
HISTORY: Originally the asylum was intended to rid the cities of Bedrin and Floran of the incomplete, as they were called. The law abiding citizens of good birth and mental stability became bothered by the urchins, beggars, thieves and homeless filling the streets of their cities. Leaders of the day decided it would be better to simply remove the individuals causing issue in their respective cities than to reform the governments or policies. In a joint effort between the King of Bedrin and the Magister of Floran the two cities funded the project. However, disagreements between King Bedrin and the Magister slowed the pace of work on the island. During the ten years of its construction funding was cut by both sides at least twelve times. Workers were given old or dangerous construction equipment. Most went unpaid. More often than not the workers would simply stop working and return home. The longest ever gap in the construction was 385 days and came in the middle of the facility’s construction. By the facility’s completion the construction quality was so poor that several of the doors wouldn’t open or shut properly, merely hinting at the problems throughout.
Once the facility was finished King Bedrin and the Magister of Floran began sending criminals and the insane to the Island of Despair by the hundreds. Soon, anyone who displayed even the slightest ‘irregularity’ was sent to the island in what became a purge of the unwanted by both cities. Men temporarily without jobs, beggars, radical thinkers and the unusual, anybody considered unacceptable to the ‘normal’ were sent over without so much as a trial, hearing or even a chance to somehow prove their sanity. Even an angry glance or rude gesture was enough for someone get sent to the Isle, creating a mood of fear and apprehension for the first months of the facility’s operation. Artists in particular were shipped over by the literal boatload, as the King of Bedrin in particular saw art as a danger to the hard working farmers and law abiding citizens. One of the most famous stories of an individual being sent to the asylum took place in Floran six months after the asylum’s initial opening. A traveling bard had arrived in Floran after traveling from Arodil. What made the bard so unusual is that he preferred singing at night. Composing his own poetic verse and setting it to his own music they were said to be wonderful tales praising the gods. For years he had traveled the cities throughout what is today Atla, serenading the townsfolk as he went. When he arrived in Floran he set out for the edge of the cliffs, ironically overlooking the Isle of Despair. When the moon climbed the night sky the young singer began his performance. Before he could get through his third song the Magister sent her guards to apprehend the bard. By the following midnight he was on a boat along with over 100 others to the Island of Despair.
CURSE: With hundreds of years of service and few people ever returning, the number of corpses both in and around the island grew overwhelming. The waters around the island are still the most shark-infested in all the known sea. Layers and layers of corpses, more than the sea could handle, have piled up on the sea floor. A few explorers have gone diving in the water bringing back stories of a sea bed where there is no sand, algae or rock, only endless piles of bones. Though no accurate record of the seas depth existed before or since the asylums existence, many say that the bones at least halved it.
Today the asylum is empty and in disrepair. Travel to the island has been outlawed by the Mayor of Floran because of the danger in doing so. The bridge that once spanned the narrow channel between Floran and the Isle has long since collapsed. Now, only the cliff steps, a winding, steep cutout along the face of the cliff, allow access to the facility. And even that is breaking apart and crumbling so much that it has been fenced off at the base.
Despite the danger and laws preventing anyone from traveling to the facility a few adventures souls still sneak their way through the fences and climb to the top of the Isle. In keeping with Island’s deadly history, many of the people foolish enough to make the journey never return. And those that do are often stricken with bizarre illnesses or plagued by accidents until their deaths which almost always come within one year of their return. In fact, nobody who has been confirmed to have traveled to the Island and back has lived for more than a year afterwards. Not all the deaths are from illness or disease, as many are attributed to freak accidents or even murder. Regardless of the causes, the death rate is nearly 100%.
Shipping from and around the port at the base of Floran City has all but ended with the increasing growth of the raillines. But long before the railline dominated transcontinental shipping, the main shipping route between Pelenak and Bree passed just a few kilometers east of the Isle of Despair. Named the Ocean of Despair long before the Island of Despair was given its horrible epithet, the stretch of sea right around the Island was the most dangerous of the entire route. Sudden storms blowing off of the Edge of the World Storm, columns of rock just below the water’s surface and even ghost ships created an eerie, deadly lane. In heavy fog ships would simply vanish, never to be seen again. No debris would ever wash up and no ships would ever claim to spot them. And given that the shipping lane along the eastern coast of Atla is only ten kilometers wide, a shipping going unnoticed is astounding. Many claimed these freak accidents were caused by a the curse of the Island and that the very waters were conspiring against them.
The talk of a curse seems to have originated in approximately 500PM when a fleet of ships sunk in a vicious storm. Shortly after the horrible wreck sailors began telling stories of ghost ships sailing the narrow channel between Floran and the Island. The natives of Floran also told stories of ghost ships in the water and ghosts roaming the lands. Local legend says that, following the crash, the surviving sailors climbed the cliffs of the Island of Despair, thinking they were climbing up to Floran. When they arrived at the top, collapsing from exhaustion, the mist parted revealing they were no more than a kilometer from Floran, but separated by the massive gap. At the time there was no direct route down the cliffs from Floran, and nothing safe back down from the Island. With no food or water available on the Island the dozens of survivors died within days of reaching the top. Now, their twisted, sad souls wander the island searching for a way to Floran.
TODAY: There are currently no plans to repair or demolish the old asylum on the Island of Despair. With the route up the Island slowly falling into disrepair and shipping all but vanished, there is little need. Until someone finds a use for the nearly inacessable island, it will remain a cursed oddity.