Atharkam Region

There's always another cave. But never have I seen something like Atharkam.  
— Sodai, Kaia
  Forged from the empty remnant of an ancient volcano, the Atharkam is a maze of volcanic glass and molten stone. Atharkam is an Outer Shell region beneath Aschar and lies disconnected from the rest of the Outer Shell, accessible only through the stygian pit that was once the volcano's caldera. In the time since the lava stilled and the tunnels dried out, life has taken hold in the caverns below. It spawned from the cooling pools of magma that remained, then rooted itself in the rich ash left behind.   For the first time, explorers and pioneers have delved into Atharkam to witness splendors and horrors never seen before.    

Atharkam_1

     

Geography

  Most of Atharkam consist of winding tunnels, magma vents and tubes that seared away softer rock to leave only the hardest stone behind. The walls of Atharkam have a distinct and deformed appearance, where rock has been heated to melt and then cooled in that state. There are few sharp angles or jagged ends, with every stone rounded and coagulated together.  
Atharkam is home to a sort of crystal found nowhere else, ranging in color from blue to dull black with a slimy, wet surface. While just as hard as any other, these crystals melt and reform for reasons yet unknown. Many wild things in Atharkam carry colonies of them inside their own flesh and explorers consider them cursed.
  Atharkam is hot and damp, with a sharp and unpleasant odor of melting rock and biting bitterness in the air. Springs of drinkable water is few and far between, with the liquid pools of crystal account for most of the moisture in the tunnels. Although caverns are relatively rare, some tunnels are large enough to comfortably hold several camps or small herds of crystal-grazing animals within them.    

The Gate

  Most travelers into Atharkam pass through the Gate, the vast and empty opening to the volcano. At least a mile wide, the Gate is a deep chasm that lead straight into the caverns below. The walls are a mix of hard stone and obsidian, with sections of the Gate being sheer drops down. Ramshackle platforms, ladders and crude elevators are scattered across the descent, with toll fares corresponding directly to the safety of the contraption. Beyond falling, the Gate is relatively safe. The flying beasts of Aschar avoid it and the magma-scarred walls hold few nests, while the volcano's slope provides sanctuary against the weather.   Despite that, earthquakes and ash-storms ravage the Gate's edges and cause havoc among the structures lashed to the stone. For this reason, most travel in and out of the Gate will cease when the land is stirring.  
Attempts are being made to hew a more permanent route down the Gate, but progress is slow. The stone left has resisted the flow of magma for eons, and picks fare little better.
   

The Black Maze

  The winding tunnels below the Gate are collectively referred to as the Black Maze; a labyrinthine series of lava tubes that have since merged with tunnels, caverns and grottoes further aside. These passages are much larger than what is typically found in the Outer Shell, widened by centuries of magma and consist of a mixture of hard stones, volcanic glass and partially molten crystals.    

Atharkam_5

    In places, the Maze lead to caverns or adjacent systems, making it a place where animals transit to or through for the purpose of hunting, grazing or mating. While the stone of the Maze itself holds no life, some of these side tunnels have benefited from the remnants of the volcano and become small pockets of verdant growth. Most of the water found in Atharkam comes from one of these side-caverns and these are fiercely contested by wild-life and explorers alike.   Most explorers guess that the Maze leads directly down the Inner Shell, but no one has traveled that deep. Most of the Maze lies unexplored, with Kaia only beginning to test it in the last decade or so.    
The Crystal Caves   The most remarkable caves found in the Black Maze are a series of caves almost covered in the half-fluid crystals of Atharkam. Pools of still liquid dot the floor, from which the crystal spreads and then melt back into. The beasts in the cavern feed off the crystal and their aggression has deterred any substantial exploration so far.
     

Flora & Fauna

  There have not yet been any sustained efforts to categorize Atharkam's wild life and most of what is known is so far little more than gossip and myth. Most life in Atharkam either comes from the Smolders or any of the verdant caves past the Black Maze. The former feed off the heat of magma and the molten stone, while many of the latter eat the crystals. Similarly, most of the plant-life either bask in the glow of the crystals or host cancerous tumors of quartz on themselves.  

Atharkam_6


Explorers have brought stocks of Ahi Bug and domesticated spiders with them to Atharkam. These numbers remain small, but already escaped animals have found their way into the wilds and mixed with local wildlife.   A few creatures have been encountered enough to become synonymous with Atharkam, such as a hard-shelled amphibian found throughout the Maze. Kaia are still finding which ones are dangerous, edible or both, with captured beasts selling well as exotic marvels back in the rest of Araea.

     

Brave New World

  Since its discovery, Atharkam has drawn considerable interest from explorers and scholars alike. It is a world apart from the rest of Araea and many hope to make their fortune in this uncharted land. There are already three camps settled in the Maze and tensions between them are on the rise as they each race to be the first to every new discovery. Exploration is beginning in earnest and many hope they will find land worthy of a new city-state here.    

Crown.jpg

   

The Three

  There are three major groups that operate in Atharkam, each unwilling to share the glory of discovery with the other. For most, it is not the monsters in the dark or Atharkam's natural hazards that prove the most immediate threat, but each other. Each have established a position around an oasis in the Maze, something that gives them control of the region.   These three are:  

The Seekers

  One of the largest guilds of Kaia in Araea, the Seekers have three teams of Kaia in Atharkam. These are further reinforced by mercenaries, investors and allies, all coming to Atharkam to carve a piece of fresh fortune from this unknown territory. The Seekers' position is strong and their willingness to cooperate has made them many friends among the formerly unaligned.   Some mistake the Seekers' kindness for weakness. Such perceptions are soon to be challenged with the arrival of a fourth team, the hardened Surya Hunters - Kaia renowned for their skill and prowess.

The Yashun Association

  The Association were the first to find Atharkam. It is they who first braved the volcano's edge to find this new land and first shed sweat, blood and tears within its tunnels. It is a fact they will not allow the others to forget and they view the arrival of the other two major groups as theft of glories that are rightfully theirs.   The Association is a mix of merchants, prospectors and explorers from various city-states. A great many came from or have established interests in Rakha. They are well-entrenched and frequently reinforced by slave levies from Rakha.

Hevana

  A splinter group of Kaia that were once part of the Seekers, the Hevana's purpose in Atharkam is twofold: to gain glory and wealth and to prevent the Seekers from doing the same. These are Kaia less motivated by adventure, exploration or discovery and more by money. They have a reputation for underhanded tactics, which they claim is little more than slander by their former comrades.   Mercenaries at heart, they are willing to play for any side that will pay enough - except for the Seekers.

  Between these three, there are countless minor factions that range from private prospector to scholarly groups. Some align themselves with one of the three for safety or access to resources, while others strike out on their own.  
Fortune and glory awaits in the dark of Atharkam. It only needs to be found.

The Outer Shell   Though disconnected from the rest of known Araea, Atharkam's position just beneath the skin of the Surface makes it part of the Outer Shell.   From a few meters to a few miles deep, the Outer Shell lie closest to the Surface and is often harried by things like Blight and beasts. The caves here tend to be smaller and the tunnels barren, with Atharkam as a noticeable exception.   Read More About The Outer Shell

Edge of Unknown

  Atharkam is cut off from any other part of the Outer Shell and it is only recently that explorers have made the journey. Among Kaia and scholars, there is considerable excitement to discover what things wait for them in this brave new world.   Other, more superstitious minds fear that they are treading into lands forbidden, while a few still hold out hope to find other civilized life here - human or otherwise.  
The only path to reach Atharkam is over the Surface and across the Aschar Region. This volatile part of the Surface is rocked by frequent earthquakes and volcanic eruptions, making the trip a dangerous one even without the bandits and wild beasts.
   
Atharkam_3
by Darkest Dungeon
   
The Gate is not the only way into Atharkam. Countless minor passages lead from Aschar into the unknown below, ranging from cramped tunnels to sinkholes.   None are quite as secure as the Gate, but some take the road less traveled in hopes of getting ahead of their competition.
   

The Smolder

  There are places within the Black Maze where fragments of the region's volcanic past still lingers as bubbling pools or still active vents of magma. These are called the Smolder, and act as hosts for a multitude of creatures that bask in the melting rock or feed on those that do.   They are less hospitable to humans, with the noxious smoke and heat making prolonged exposure hazardous.    
Atharkam_2
   
Between the hard stone and the spreading crystals, the traditional way of marking routes by carving stone has proven insufficient to navigate the Black Maze. Explorers are have attempting to navigate by establishing small cairns to guide them but these has proven unreliable. It is all too easy for a rival to turn or demolish way markers and leave a party fumbling in the dark.
   
Atharkam_7
   

Shortage and Supply

  Atharkam is limited in how many it can sustain and the influx of explorers is beginning to test these boundaries. Water and food must be foraged from Aschar and brought below, while tools and other supplies must still be brought from elsewhere. Each camp compete with the other over what trickles into the region.   While the fertile caves found within Atharkam have relieved some of the pressure, there never seem to be enough to go around. Theft and raids between groups are common, while there is a quietly agreed upon ban on poisoning the few sources of water that have been discovered.    
The Seekers
Organization | Mar 11, 2019

The Seekers are one of the largest Kaia guilds today, with headquarters in many different city-states.

   
Atharkam_8

Comments

Please Login in order to comment!
30 May, 2019 16:14

I love the layout of the page and the little, subtle touches. For example the headers having a sort of 'mineral' background to fit with the theme of the cave and the spider picture on the sidebar lining up with the flora and fauna. I found this place fascinating and thought you deserved recognition for your efforts.   I look forward to reading more.

30 May, 2019 21:43

Thank you very much for your kind words. :) I appreciate every comment that my work gets and it is always good to hear that someone had a good time reading it.

30 May, 2019 16:54

I just have to say how well the images tie together this article! Like, damn, they're really really good. I often struggle with finding the right images + the right locations to put them. This article reads like a masterclass in "how to use images properly"   And that's not even mentioning the descriptions of Atharkam along side them! I really like this, I will definitely be reading more in this world!

30 May, 2019 21:52

Now there's a potential article waiting to happen!   I'm glad you enjoyed the read! :D And I hope you enjoy anything else you decide to check out!

30 May, 2019 18:13

I loved the article, I'm getting a great image of the region in my head and want to know more! :) I love the art and layout, it's easily visible that you put a lot of effort into making this page look the way you wanted it to and it's worth the effort, it looks AND reads amazing!   There isn't anything big I can critique so all that's left is some small nitpicks and checking for spelling and grammar:  

Forged from the empty remnant of an ancient volcano, the Atharkam is maze of volcanic glass and molten stone.
  I think it should be "...a maze of..."  
Atharkam is hot and damp, with a sharp and unpleasant odor of melting rock and biting bitterness in the air. Little of the moisture comes from water, with drinkable springs being rare. Although caverns are relatively rare, some tunnels are large enough to comfortably hold several camps within them or small herds of crystal-grazing animals.
  Where does the moisture come from? in the last sentence, I think I would change the order to: "...comfortably hold several camps or small herds of crystal-grazing animals within them." You have "rare" two times here, very close to each other, might just be me but felt a little unelegant when reading.  
...the volcano's slope provide sanctuary against the weather.
  provides?  
The stone left have resisted the flow of magma...
  I think, should be "has resisted"  
The most remarkable of caves found in the Black Maze is a series of caves almost covered in the half-fluid crystals of Atharkam. Pools of still liquid dot the floor, from which the crystal spread and then melt back into. The beasts in the cavern feed off the crystal and their aggression have deterred any substantial exploration so far.
  just some grammatical errors, I think: I would take out the "of" at the beginning and then "are a series of caves" "from which the crystals spread..." "feed off the crystal[]s and their aggression has deterred"  
Most life in Atharkam either come from...
  I think "comes"  
The former feed off the heat of magma and the molten stone, while many of the later eat the crystals.
  "latter"  
Since it's discovery, Atharkam has drawn considerable interest from explorers and scholars alike. It is a world apart from the rest of Araea and many hope to make their fortune from this uncharted land.
  "its" :) I think you'd make your fortune "in" an uncharted land but my English isn't perfect so "from" might be a valid form as well.  
One of the largest guilds of Kaia in Araea, the Seeker have three teams of Kaia in Atharkam.
  "Seekers"  
their willingness to cooperate have made them many friends
  should be "has"  
Some mistake the Seekers kindness for weakness.
  possessive ' on Seekers is missing  
Such perceptions are soon to be challenged with the arrival of a fourth team, the hardened Surya Hunters.
  I was confused by this sentence. The Surya aren't mentioned anywhere else, are they? And how does their arrival challenge the perception that the Seekers are weak? I assumed they react in a way to the Surya that shows how strong they really are but I was still left with a question mark here.  
It is a fact they will not allow the others to forget and view the arrival of the other two major groups as theft of glories that are rightfully theirs.
  I think it needs a "they" as in "they view the arrival" I might be mistaken but I think "glory" has no plural  
to gain glory and wealth, and to prevent the Seekers from doing the same.
  I think the comma is unnecessary/wrong here  
Among Kaia and scholars, there are considerable excitement to discover what things wait for them in this brave new world.
  "...there is considerable excitement..."  
This volatile part of the Surface rocked by frequent earthquakes and volcanic eruptions, making the trip a dangerous one even before the wild beasts are accounted for.
  "This volatile part of the Surface is rocked..."? The second part of the sentence sounds a bit off to me... Maybe "...even without accounting for the wild beasts."?  
They are less hospitable to humans, with the noxious smoke and heat making prolong exposure hazardous.
  "prolonged"  
Between the hard stone and the spreading crystals, the traditional way of marking routes by carving stone have proven insufficient to navigate the Black Maze.
  "...has proven insufficient (maybe ineffective)..."  
Explorers are instead attempting to navigate by establishing small caerns to guide them but has proven unreliable.
  "cairns" I think the last part misses a "that" (that has proven...)   Thanks for providing a great article to read! :D

31 May, 2019 11:34

Thank you for the indepth comment! Here we go..  

I think it should be "...a maze of..."
  Fixed!  
Where does the moisture come from? in the last sentence, I think I would change the order to: "...comfortably hold several camps or small herds of crystal-grazing animals within them." You have "rare" two times here, very close to each other, might just be me but felt a little unelegant when reading.
  Updated the sentence, nuked one of the rare's and placed "within them" at the end of the sentence instead.  
provides?
  Fixed!  
I think, should be "has resisted"
  Fixed!  
ust some grammatical errors, I think: I would take out the "of" at the beginning and then "are a series of caves" "from which the crystals spread..." "feed off the crystal[]s and their aggression has deterred"
  Removed the off, fixed the are, fixed the missing s. :)  
I think "comes"
  Fixed!  
"latter"
  Fixed!  
"its" :) I think you'd make your fortune "in" an uncharted land but my English isn't perfect so "from" might be a valid form as well.
  Fixed!  
possessive ' on Seekers is missing
  Fixed!  
should be "has"
  Fixed!  
I was confused by this sentence. The Surya aren't mentioned anywhere else, are they? And how does their arrival challenge the perception that the Seekers are weak? I assumed they react in a way to the Surya that shows how strong they really are but I was still left with a question mark here.
  Correct - this is their interaction. The implication I tried to impart is that if you think the Seekers are kind and these people challenge that, it's because they are not going to be nice. I added a little extra bit to see if that helps, but I'll have to get some additional eyeballs on it.. Over-explaining implications tends to reduce the impact, I find! :) But perhaps it is not clear enough.  
I think it needs a "they" as in "they view the arrival" I might be mistaken but I think "glory" has no plural
  Fixed - and glories does indeed have a plural! Learned that by playing Exalted. :D  
I think the comma is unnecessary/wrong here
  Removed it!  
"...there is considerable excitement..."
  Fixed!  
"This volatile part of the Surface is rocked..."? The second part of the sentence sounds a bit off to me... Maybe "...even without accounting for the wild beasts."?
  Fixed and updated the last part.  
"...has proven insufficient (maybe ineffective)..."
  Fixed!  
"cairns" I think the last part misses a "that" (that has proven...)
  Whoops.. Right you are! Caern are werewolf hangouts from WoD. :D   There we go. Did a pass on everything. :)

31 May, 2019 11:49

:D Glad I could help a little bit! And yes, I think reading the part with the Suraya now gives me an easier understanding of where you were going with it!   I am looking forward to read more in this world, it's a very intriguing setting!

30 May, 2019 19:28

Awesome article Q! I really like the mixture between the desire to explore new lands and the dark, claustrophobic and forboding nature of the region. As for feedback, Jayol is right there are only a few things to nitpick and he has noted all of them. So only thing left to do is like and again say: Continue that amazing work Q!

31 May, 2019 08:13

I'll try my best! <3 Thank you :D