Though Floran City is known for its artistic and youthful culture, the province as a whole is known near and far as the home of the Asylum of Despair. The asylum still sits atop the Island of Despair (renamed for the asylum after its closure). The island itself is set off from Floran just over a quarter mile and rises 1,000 feet into the air (the same height as the mainland and Floran City). It is a round and rocky precipice covering two square miles and topped with green grasses and small bushes. Save for small hillocks and rivulets that carry away rainwater, the island is entirely flat.
The asylum was designed to be a permanent home for the mentally deranged and psychotic and was born during a time when mass fear of the mentally unstable was spreading throughout the proto-nation of Atla. The asylum was in operation for almost 400 years beginning in 200 PM and finally closing its doors 198 EM. A vast majority of the asylum’s buildings and facilities are located along the western end of the island with only a couple of exterior buildings set along the southern cliffs.
Only a handful of patients sent to the Asylum of Despair (formerly known as the Institution of Floran) ever returned. The institution was a placed designed to house the violent, unsettled, and unruliest of mental patients and was created during a time in which insanity was seen as a dangerous plague. Patients were not sent to the asylum to improve or heal; they were sent to live out the rest of their lives where they couldn’t interfere with ‘normal’ society. Even the workers who themselves were often said to be mentally unstable, their sanity eroding and decaying with every passing day, were subject to the high mortality rate.
Reaching the asylum was incredibly difficult and required a trek up the narrow cliff stairs carved out of the solid bedrock. As a result, employees lived on the island for six months to a year at a time, receiving a two month leave after each year of work. Due to constant exposure to the horrific conditions more than 50% of all employees died during their tenure (usually from suicide) or died of cancer shortly after. The longer an employee worked at the asylum the greater their chances of dying. Anyone who returned for a second year had an 80% chance of dying before the second year was over. It is said that the constant exposure to the patients and the prison-like environment drove even the sanest person mad, prompting them to hurl themselves off the sheer cliff to the rocky ocean below. As for the outbreak of cancer, many believe it was a result of the materials and products the staff used, though others believe something more sinister and supernatural.
From its creation the Asylum of Despair was never managed or maintained properly. The minister of Floran (the title of the city’s head official prior to Atla’s unification) worked with the leaders of several other major cities to create the facility as a way to house both the insane and the unrepentant criminals (usually viewed to be one in the same). Though it was well funded at first, the management and staff were poorly trained and left with little direction from the creators of the facility or other health care facilities. As a result, when the facility first opened the workers were outnumbered 30 to 1. Riots, rape, murder, assault, and other violent crimes began mere days after the grand opening. Not many weeks later the staff themselves began showing odd behavior, and from that point forward few workers lasted more than a single month before dying or quitting.
Constructing the asylum and surrounding facilities was an almost impossible task, taking 30 years and hundreds of thousands of mig from each investor. Over the course of its construction more than 500 workers died, some falling to their deaths while building the stairs, others killed in freak accidents, and many others taking their own lives. The tradition of suicide began during the facility’s construction and continued throughout its operation. Due to the high turnover rate throughout construction management could never acquire or maintain a clear picture of the facility’s progress. When it finally opened the lack of communication was revealed in the shoddy workmanship, cheap materials, and poorly designed structures. But by the time it opened retrofitting all of the low quality or broken buildings and equipment would have cost almost as much as its original construction.
The conditions within the facility were never intended to be comfortable for the staff members who lived on the island and visitors faced conditions even worse than the staff. In fact, visitor quarters were not installed during construction and had to be retrofitted several months into the facility’s operation. One of the smaller storage buildings on the southern edge of the island was converted to a guest room to house the few visitors willing to spend the night. As with all other living quarters the guests were forced to endure inhumane conditions—roofs leaked, rodents were common, provisions were either stale or rancid, and restrooms were nonexistent. But as bad as the visitor and staff facilities were the patients faced the greatest problems of all. Instead of being given individual beds the patients were given bedrolls, thin blankets used and reused until little more than a few strands of fabric, to spread over the concrete floors of their single-room dormitories. The patients were thought incapable of understanding and using a proper bed and were instead provided supplies deemed safe. For an average group of people this would have been uncomfortable at best. But for groups of 10 or more mentally unstable and violent ‘residents’, it was an impossible situation. Some patients would horde the supplies and sleep on a great mound of tan blankets, others would destroy the blankets or leave them outside, while others would defecate or urinate all over the supplies to mark their territory. As a result, the blankets were effectively useless; the patients slept on the floor and in unsanitary conditions instead.
The sleeping arrangements weren’t the only problems the patients faced. Due to the lack of security many of the more aggressive and mobile individuals would break out of their rooms and wind up wandering the grassy field that covered most of the island. Without an organized roll and observation system the patients would often spend days outside before anyone realized they were missing (if they did at all). Within months of opening the patients began dying off from starvation, exposure, illness, or by falling off the unguarded edge of the island. It was more common to find the patients wandering the grassy field just behind the main work center than it was to find them in their rooms or in treatment centers. The death count reached one per day by the end of the first year of operation. If the volume of deaths been known publicly it is probable that the institution would have been closed immediately. However, the number of deaths was easy to hide given that most patients had no close family, few visitors made the journey to the facility, the staff members themselves were counted among the dead, and the lack of care most workers felt towards their positions and the patients.
Several years into the facility’s operation the owners and staff revamped the security in hopes of curtailing the steady increase in deaths. The facility was built along the western end of the two mile island with some buildings to the south. The rest of the island was an open expanse of grass and small native shrubs. In hopes of keeping patients and staff from committing suicide or wandering too far from the buildings the management installed a single length of barbed wire fencing stretching from the guest quarters in the south and terminating at the northern end of the administration building, effectively forming a triangular ‘playing field’, as it was called. The closed space was just that—an enclosed space. Inside the grounds were still the same grass and wild shrubs.
Initially the fence reduced the number of deaths from suicide but it dramatically increased the number of injuries. Due to inadequate supplies and equipment the patients would frequently die from infected wounds incurred after getting caught in the barbed wire.
As the asylum continued to operate the death count continued to climb. But for those that weren’t murdered or didn’t commit suicide the situation wasn’t much better. Staff members and visitors alike returned home only to be plagued by health problems or mental issues. These issues wouldn’t end once the individual passed away but affected surviving family members for one or two generations. This led many to consider the island cursed or haunted, others thinking it a gateway to the underworld, home of the Demigods.
As the years passed and the death count increased, the waters around the island became infested with sharks and other predatory sea creatures. The sheer volume of bodies provided the local population with more than enough food to thrive and grow. Floran city’s port sits at the bottom of the cliffs opposite the island. A road, much like the one winding its way up the Island of Despair, connects the port below with the city above via 10 switchbacks. Navigating the rocky waters around the island and safely reaching the harbor have always been dangerous tasks for any sailor. But with the rising population of sharks and other predators the journey turned from dangerous to deadly. It was common to see the dorsal fins of half a dozen sharks following ships in and out of the craggy bay as they waited for a hapless victim to fall overboard. Loading and unloading cargo became even more dangerous as a single mistake could mean instant death. Though the island is no longer in use and the supply of bodies nonexistent, the waters between the cliffs of Floran and the Island of Despair are still home to the largest population of sharks on the eastern seaboard.
The asylum reached its peak between 100 EM and the unification of Atla. The following 200 years saw a slow decline in the number of patients shipped to its coast. With funding slowly dwindling, the public and scientific perception of mental illness changing, and facilities opening up throughout the rest of the country, the once crowded island became less and less relevant. But even as the population dwindled the curse continued, with staff, visitors, and patients all dying horrible deaths while on the island or shortly after their return.
Today the Island of Despair is off limits and officially closed to the public. The small port at the base of the island is in a state of disrepair and has gone unused for 50 years. Researchers, scientists, investigators, parapsychologists, and even curious adventurers have largely ignored the island. A tangible sense of death hangs over the land as the facility, its ruins visible from the eastern edge of the Floran cliffs, decays. There are no plans to open or repair the port or to do anything with the old facility. 20 years ago the acting mayor prohibited travel immediately around the island’s port, and recently the Grand Council declared the entire island a historical monument and made it illegal for anyone to even set foot on the docks. Before long the narrow path leading up the cliffs will erode and fall into disrepair, sealing the Island of Despair’s fate for eternity. As the old insane asylum and surrounding buildings rot and decay the people of Floran City will watch as 400 years of bloody and despicable history are left to the elements, abandoned by the living but certainly not forgotten.