I feared my thoughts would turn into crystals in my head.Phrōjhana is an arctic Outer Shell region near Hēla. Its caverns are coated with ice and snow from above and the temperatures are freezing. Glaciers slowly breach through the boundaries between the surface and the caves with inexorable and force the stone apart to let in the sun and snow. Howling blizzards pour down from above and the cold lends an biting edge to the wind. It is a place for hardy folk and hardy beasts, clawing a life out of frozen rock.
The caverns in Phrōjhana range from frigid to merely very cold, with some caverns being almost entirely encased in ice. Closer to the surface, ice and snow dominate the landscape, too cold for civilization to take root. Hunters and prospectors brave the ice in search of fortune but much of the land is too cold, too Blighted to see even the bravest of visitors. Deeper inside the sheltered caverns, life huddle around geothermal vents that provide a life-saving modicum of heat. Water drip from the ceiling as the eternal rimfrost melts and the superheated steam occasionally erupt from geysers or springs. It is only further down then even this where there is more stone than ice and snow, where the chill relents enough for a more recognizable kind of flora to grow.
The Frost LandsBetween the shelter below and the raging blizzards above, the Frost Lands are the largest part of the Phrōjhana - at least, as far as humanity is concerned. These caves are as much ice and snow as rock, and it is not always easy to determine which one the next cavern will be carved from. Frigid rivers have formed from the glaciers above, forming pools or lakes deeper underground. Some are covered by thick sheets of ice and slipping into the midnight-black waters is usually a quick death. Some parts of the Frost are frozen over, the stone foundation covered by meters of ice and stone. Further down, the cold relents before branching out into the Warrens. Compared to the rest of the Outer Shell, the grottoes and passages in Phrōjhana's Frost Lands are larger and more open, but this space is always at risk of being stolen by an avalanche or glacial cave-in. Geothermal vents and geysers are oases of heat, islands of warmth surrounded by ice and cold. They are havens for resting beasts and weary travelers. The caverns of these vents contain an abundance of life that feed off the steam and heat, coating the walls and ceiling with a shocking contrast of color to the white and blue just beyond. All but the strangest life in the Frost depend on these vents and geysers. In desperately cold seasons, even predator and prey share these caverns without strife. The cold kills everyone, without distinction.
Not all such caverns are hospitable to human life. Some spew noxious gas or create pools of terrible acid. Less frail things still make these caves their home, having long since adapted to such poisons as the lesser of two evils. Things that feed off of melting stone and toxic fumes to stay out of the chill.
The RimeBelow the Frost Lands and closer to the Inner Shell, the Rime are far enough from the Surface that to avoid the worst of the ice and Blight. Most of the Rime consist of endless labyrinthine tunnels, with only the occasional cave of any size. Travel through the Rime has a few established routes surrounded by unknown and unexplored territory. The Rime isn't as cold as the rest of Phrōjhana, but neither is it as lively. Much of it is stone, with nothing to allow fungi or mushroom to grow. The irony has given rise to a popular jest among the people in Phrōjhana: the gods has given them a choice, starve or freeze. Despite that, the Rime's position as an area between the Inner Shell and the rest of Phrōjhana lends it some importance. Way-stations and merchant-stops dot the caverns large enough to support them, relying on food from either of its destination to stock its larders. These intermediate stations often function as neutral ground for diplomatic functions or other meetings: to destroy one of these would be to cut the vital flow of goods in and out of Phrōjhana. The people of Tah'loh pay particular attention to the action of visitors, fearful of what could happen.
There is a sort of rivalry between those who chose to stay in the Rime and those who live in the Frost Lands. Those who live further into Phrōjhana and suffer the cold think of those who don't as weak, fragile or lesser than themselves. Those who stay in the Rime think themselves smarter than the damned fools who willingly live in such terrible places.
The FreezeThe caves here are made from sculpted from ice from primordial eons past. Beyond the Frost Lands and deep into the glaciers that have invaded the subterranean world lies the Freeze. Some of the passage ways lead all the way the surface, straight across the depth of the glacier. Any human here are mere visitors into a land of ice and snow, guests to beings that thrive in temperatures that can kill the unprepared in mere short order. The grottoes of the Freeze are carved from howling winds and nesting beasts, aided by the occasional meteoric impact. The flowing, almost organic curves of the glacier filter sunlight from above when the thick shroud of snow allows it and lighting the ice with an azure gleam. The only plant that grows here are the blood-red algae that feed on Blight, spreading across the glaciers like great jagged scars.
There is a common misconception among the cities of the Inner Shell that the creatures of Phrōjhana eat nothing but ice and snow. Those who live there know better. Predators stalk the heated steam-tunnels in search of prey or across the frozen rivers, while web-like fungi grow across the ceilings to feed on the fumes from geothermal vents. The further away from any source heat, the rarer and stranger life becomes. But outside the Freeze, most life remain close to some source of heat or shelter from the cold. Even if a beast can survive the frigid temperatures on their own, and they often can, the heated caverns are where things grow and where food can be found. Creatures in Phrōjhana have all adapted in some way to the cold, whether with shaggy coats of fur, thick layers of blubber or means note readily understood by the humans of Araea. Fish swim slowly in black waters that can kill a man in minutes without harm and are hunted by chitinous predators equally at ease in the freezing depths.
Flora & Fauna
Due to its proximity to the Surface, at times separated by no more than a jagged gash across the icy ceiling, Phrōjhana sees visitors that from above with some regularity. Some are predators who have learned to come below to raid the geothermal chambers for prey, while others seek shelter from storms or Blight. At home in both freezing temperature and lethal zones of Blight, these creatures tend to be even more bizarre than those in Phrōjhana proper.Out in the Freeze, life is rare and alien. The things that live here make their home in nests of ice and in the heart of raging blizzards. Few know anything about them, but there are many superstitions. Some seem more like ice come to life than creatures of flesh and blood, so they are regarded as spirits, devils and god-beasts of the coldest parts of Phrōjhana.
Those who chose to come to Phrōjhana are invariably tough, independent-minded people who take a perverse pride in enduring all that the region inflicts on them. It is a hard life with the kind of mortality rate that breeds a certain kind of grim pragmatism: this is the way things are. Newcomers to the region learn that they will have to prove themselves to the locals, or be dismissed. Some settlements like Tah'loh have been established especially to exploit the resources of the region by its parent-city states. Ice, fish and other aquatic critter are shipped deeper into the caves, while tools, fuel and other cheaper kinds of foodstuffs are in turned imported to keep life going. Blubber from the Pahu Worms, furry centipede-like things that span several meters in length, can be turned into either food or oil. The recent discovery of several rich seams of rare gemstone has seen a recent influx of settlers to Phrōjhana, much to the locals dismay. Much of life in Phrōjhana revolves around the cold. Everything must account for it, from the tools to clothing and buildings. Locals bundle up in thick layers of clothing and have learned how to avoid the worst effects of the cold. There are many ways to freeze in Phrōjhana and most visitors suffer at least a few cases of frostbite before they learn.
Fortune & Frostbite
The Outer Shell The Outer Shell are the tunnels and caves nearest the surface, in some cases separated only by mere feet of stone. The grottoes are are smaller and support less life than those deeper down in Araea, though some must contend with visitors from the Surface. Read more about the Outer Shell
Ice-CuttingPhrōjhana does see enterprise from hunters to explorers, but its largest industry is that of ice-harvesting. Teams of harvesters cut large blocks of ice from glaciers or frozen lakes to be sold back in cities and settlements, for reasons that range from preserving food to chilling drinks or providing water. It is dangerous, unpleasant work, but at least Phrōjhana is not at risk of running out of it anytime soon.
Singing Ice Some ponds and lakes of black ice sing when disturbed. The ice cracks across a wide expanse and creates a tone that rings out across the water in eerie, otherworldly sound. Most consider it bad luck to hear such song - a practical superstition, as the ice is very thin. Others believe that the song holds secrets and use it as a form of divination. Either by tapping the frozen lake with special tools and dropping sacrifices on it, they listen to the tones and compare them to intricate charts to tell fortunes or decipher prophecy.
Steam TunnelsNot all of the Rime is so uniform and dead. Some parts of the Rime have tunnels near always shrouded in hot steam from springs and vents in the rock. These tunnels are often credited with restorative abilities that range from minor to miraculous, but many are content with enjoying the warmth. These tunnels are where the only place in the Rime where things grow. Barnacle-like fungi dot the walls while blood-red stalks sprout between them to grasp for the venting steam, while roaming beetles feed on either. Some are useful, but only a few of the plants here are readily edible.
The PalaceThe largest known cavern in the Freeze, if not all of Phrōjhana is known as the Palace. Deep in the heart of a glacier and carved by generations of monsters, the Palace is an enormous chamber of sheer ice. It spans several stories in height with multiple chambers and tunnels that connect to the central cavern. Tales persist that not all of the its architecture is made by claw or howling wind alone. Some say it is now desolate and abandoned. Those who have been there say otherwise.
Some parts of Phrōjhana is half-submerged beneath frigid water. Entire chasms in the Freeze are filled with water and some of the most dangerous travel ever done in Phrōjhana is by boat.
River AmāvAmāv is the largest single continous river in Phrōjhana and large lake. It is a common goal to reach the lake for prospectors, fishers and hunters, both for what the lake offers on its own as well as to access the river for quicker travel. One exit from the Rime leads directly into the subterranean river, making the ramshackle encampment there the only real port in Phrōjhana and perhaps the entire Outer Shell.
The NomadsPhrōjhana connect to the surface region of Hēla through multiple paths and its settlers have come into contact with the Phtangi Nomads. As long as they can remember, the Phtangi have made their homes not in the sheltered caves below, but on the wasteland Surface. They eke out a living from whatever they can, travelling across the arctic tundras on the back of their Goa Striders. The people in Phrōjhana have a complicated relationship with the Phtangi. There is little direct conflict, as the Phtangi seem remarkably reluctant to fight another human and so far, the Phrōjhana settlers have been content to trade and occasionally send aid to stricken tribes of Phtangi. Whether or not they should be let into the caves remain a matter of fierce debate.
by Diana Franco