Aschar Region

It sleeps uneasy. I don't want to be here when the land wakes up.  
— Sencha, Blight-Tracker
  Aschar is a land of angry earth and wandering fire, home to many numerous volcanoes and frequent earthquakes. Its mountains reach to the skies and lava-carved valleys hide secrets in their shadows. No other part of the Surface has as grand or as many mountains as Aschar. Ash and smoke choke the sky while boiling magma cut brilliant wounds of light through the haze.   It is here that the Surface vents its most violent fury and spawns its most precious wonders.    

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Geography

  Aschar is dominated by mountains, with valleys and plains between cloud-piercing peaks. Snow and frost cap many of the mountains, remnants from some distant eon, while columns of smoke rise to the sky across the region. The frequent eruptions have cast a shroud of ash over much of Aschar and the flow of lava have scored deep gashes into the rock. Like most of the Surface, Aschar is cold and dry with the magma in volcano or eruptions providing a searing contrast. At any given time, ash drifts through the air in vast clouds. The smell of ash and sulfur is everywhere.    

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    Beyond the shelter of the mountains and outside the valleys, the Shrouded Lands begin.    

The Mountains

  The many mountains and volcanoes are the heartlands of Aschar. It is a mix of sheltered plains and valleys, jagged mountain chains and smoldering calderas. Small lakes and ponds dot the landscape, springing from either melting glaciers and snow-capped peaks or underground springs and rivers snake down the slopes. Not all are water, with the run-off from volcanoes and sulfuric creating colorful lakes of poison. Even when Aschar is at rest, magma boils in volcanoes or bleeds from mountains in sluggish streams.  

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The highest mountains in Aschar offer a commanding view of the rest of the region and beyond. It has been the dream of many to use such lofty perches to gaze out into the Shrouded Lands, or towards the stars.   Between storms, earthquakes and volcanic eruptions, success for such projects has been few and far between.

   

The Valley-World

 
Could be good. Could be bad. Watch your step.  
— Sencha, Blight-Trackers
  The lands between the mountain range between small plateaus to mile-long plains, caller the Valley-World. Most are craggy and lifeless, regularly scoured clean of life by fire and rockfall. Nomadic beasts travel between different valleys, feeding on the melting rock near lakes of sulfur or hunt the other denizens of the valleys. Some are more fortunate, shielded both from the wrath of the mountains the the Blight beyond. These become home to thriving, hidden worlds of lichen, moss, bush and weed that can come to cover an entire Valley in a rich coat of green and plant life.  


Some valleys are inaccessible through the Outer Shell and only a journey across the Surface will find them.   The Atharkam Region begins in the depths of such a valley, a unexplored and disconnected section of the Outer Shell.  

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The Heaps

  Some valleys are shielded from the wind and with nothing to carry it elsewhere, causing them to drown in volcanic ash. These plains are called Heaps and can be found throughout Aschar. Like any other valley, the Heaps are buried between mountains and span entire plains between them. Some have ash so deep that an explorer could step onto the surface and plunge deep, while others see enough wind to remain ankle-high.  
Not all Heaps are so utterly shrouded though, and nearly every valley has some corner where the wind does not reach and the ash piles high.
  In places, the ash melt into a thick and tar-like sludge that trap animals and explorers alike. Such pits are dangerous hazards even at distance, with the gas from the bubbling ooze enough to poison anyone unfortunate enough to breathe it in.      

Flora & Fauna

  Life in Aschar is broadly divided in two categories: those who live within the ash and volcanoes, and those who do not. Heat-seeking reptiles cluster around the open veins of magma or burrow into the warm ash, while the peaks make unreachable nests for creatures like the Watchers. Aschar has more flying beasts than perhaps any other part of the Surface and aerial duels between such creatures are a common sight. The more bold among explorers sometimes attempt to steal the eggs from their nest, selling these as a rare delicacy.  

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The more lush of the valleys hold the greatest concentration of life, the flourishing plant-life supporting a wide variety of animals. Everything from acid-spewing beetle-things to many-armed predators have been seen by explorers, making anything more than a temporary hunting lodge there a dangerous prospect at best.

     

Fire and Ash

 
First step into a new world, just beyond the ash. Who wouldn't want to go?  
— Sencha
  Despite its many dangers, Aschar sees many visitors. Atharkam can only be reached by trekking across the mountains and there are plenty of Kaia eager to make their mark by delving into the unknown. For the less adventurous, Aschar has a wealth of resources to exploit with the most common and perhaps most valuable being the volcanic ash. Sometimes called 'black gold', the ash is one of the best fertilizers available in Araea and farms across the deep will pay handsomely for it.  


So far, only one settlement has weathered the Aschar's fury to set down roots. The ash-harvesting city of Cha'i clings to the polluted corpse of a formerly verdant valley, sending its slaves into the Heaps.   What precious few gardens of life that remain are jealously guarded and their bounty enjoyed only by the wealthy. The poor and enslaved eat ash-rats and hardy mushroom, or worse.

   

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  The valleys have always been a lure to would-be pioneers that seek to settle the Surface, while hunters and prospectors roam the mountains in search of bounty. But Aschar is a dangerous place, and many who go into the mountains never return. Rich or poor, Aschar makes no distinction. The city has already been leveled once and its end may be an inevitability.

The Surface   Between scorching deserts and frigid tundras, haunted by radioactive dust storms and the hardy beasts that survive these extremes, the Surface of Araea could charitably be described as "hostile". Even then, the Aschar region is known to be particularly unkind to explorers.   Read more about the Surface

Aschar Rain

  Were it not for the storms that sweep down the region, many think Aschar may have been buried by now. The frequent eruptions cast titanic clouds of ash across the region, and clumps often rain down further afield.   It is common to see an ash-cloud overcast, welcomed as a reprieve from the sun's burning rays for explorers still acclimating from the caverns.    

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Troubled Earth

  Earthquakes are a daily fact in Aschar, with hundreds strong enough to be felt for miles around each season. Some are harmless, others cause devastating rock slides or tear the ground asunder. Ever so often, Aschar is home to an earthquake so powerful that the land is forever changed. Such quakes are ill-omens, and cults seek communion with the things that caused them.    
The Mother of All Mountains   Out of all the mountains, there are none equals the Śikhara. It is the tallest mountain in the known world, and its peak has never been reached.   Many legends hold that Śikhara is the source of all the fury of Aschar, of a god-monster trapped within its heart and struggling to get out - each tremor and quake born from the monster's struggle.
   
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Ash-Storm

  After especially violent eruptions, the winds across Aschar can pick enough of the falling ash to shroud the land in black. These Ash-Storms are dangerous, with the ash dangerous to breathe and visibility reduced to a mere few feet. Once the winds have settled, parts of Aschar are for a time coated in black. Some think this an omen, and an entire art of divination have emerged to read the ashes.    
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The Gardens

  Some of the Valleys blossom into rich and vibrant ecosystems, the soil made fertile from the volcanic ash. Unlike any other land on the Surface, each is a unique wonder of vegetation and wild life. At least one has been lost to greed and pollution, used to exhaustion by settlers. Only one remaina inhabited by humans - the beasts of Aschar guard their dens ferociously.  
Others speak of the Gardens, valleys of peace and tranquility. A promised land, far from Blight and the struggles of below, where life springs unbidden from the ground.   Exactly where these Gardens are, no legend can agree on, save for deep in Aschar where no human has yet to thread. Some search, but most think of it as a myth of the most cruel kind. The truth is no more gentle.
   

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Well of Souls

  Deep in Aschar, there is a caldera where the lava burn a bright blue in the black of night. The superstitious whisper that it is the glow of souls, lost explorers and dying men alike feeding the fire of Aschar. Orbs of fire have been seen jetting from the flames and out into the night, to fates that can only be guessed at.  
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  At least one cult make their worship at the lip of what they call the Well of Souls and cast their sacrifices into its devouring fire. Others think this is the first flame ever lit in Aschar, in perhaps in Araea, and whisper of the things that can be forged in its heat.


Comments

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4 Dec, 2018 18:56

I usually love reading your stuff, but something about this article made it feel unusually heavy. I can't put my finger on it however. The quotes are great, and the character feels just slightly salty about the whole thing. Very nice.   As always, you make me want to read more about other things everywhere. All these strange beasts and plants. Good stuff.

11 Feb, 2019 15:04

I haven't had time to revisit this yet, but it's on my to-do list now that WE is over. Have you had any additional insights about what it is that makes it heavy?

11 Feb, 2019 17:55

Not really. Nothing more than it reads more like a geology encyclopedia than prose. It feels dry and heavy, somehow. I know it's a region description, but it doesn't really feel that interesting to describe rocks.   I think the length is the greatest enemy. A regional description is usually something you can get through just fine, but this one keeps going on and on, and I think that is what causes the sense of "is it over yet?"

11 Feb, 2019 18:32

Which is ironic, since caves are mostly rocks. :D   I'll have to give it a serious look, then. Nothing is worse than being boring. Thanks!

11 Feb, 2019 20:12

I don't mean it as any disrespect. I'm only relaying what I felt reading it. It's quite unusual, as your stuff usually is very engaging.