The Drift and the Blackriver
DescriptionThe Drift is a gargantuan maelstrom, spanning about 150 miles, at the border between Delvaroth and the Ocean of Ash. It's the source of the Blackriver, the ashen stream over 70 miles wide that splits the land of Delvaroth apart. Nobody really knows what created the vortex, which made the Arcanists so curious they set up a small town two miles away from the Drift. From the Arcanist Camp, also called Camptown, they regularly send scholars and researchers to study and explore both the Drift and the Ocean of Ash. And they are more than happy to hire adventurers to accompany them, as these missions can become quite dangerous at times. They are particularly interested in Ashfolk adventurers, as members of this new race can naturally survive in this environment. The Drift itself is an impressive sight: The ash within the vortex moves at about 200 miles per hour, hurling black particles far into the air. Two or three miles above the maelstrom, the dust and slag slowly disperses. For air-breathing races, it's almost impossible to survive close to the Drift, unless they have some way to protect their lungs from the ever-present ash. The Blackriver is fueled by the Drift, but after the first few days, it has become slower. It still moves at about twenty miles per hour, but originally, it was almost as fast as the ash within the vortex. It's a strange sight, the ashen powder and dust moving through the land like water. After heavy rain, the black stream turns into a murky ooze, but that doesn't slow it down. The air above it is filled with particles similar to the area above the vortex, but only reaching about fifty yards high. The shores of the river have been tainted by ash over the years, but they are not entirely black: The dark dust turned out to provide the ground with lots of nutrients, and the blackened soil is covered in plant life that has adapted to this environment. Navigating the Blackriver is a serious problem. The stream has a lot of unexpected currents and smaller vortices, and even experienced boatmen have trouble figuring out the patterns in which they appear. Only some Ashfolk seem to have an intuitive understanding, and there are members of the race working as ferrymen all across the length of the stream.
ResidentsNobody really lives at the Drift, except for the small town that developed from the Arcanist Camp. Three hundred people live in Camptown, half of them members of the organization. The other half are either people offering services and goods to the Arcanists, or adventurers looking to work for them. Visitors are generally welcomed here, unless they look like trouble. Except for Blackbed and Bridgepoint, there are no big cities along the route of the river. But despite the constant air pollution, the rich, fertile land at the shores attracts settlers. Dozens of small towns have been founded along its course, some of them so close the locals suffer from serious lung diseases.
Important charactersMeyva is an Ashfolk wizard and member of the Arcanists. She was a famous sage and wizard in Dvarys before the end of the world. As her home was engulfed in apocalyptic fire, the gnome was transformed into an Ashfolk. The metamorphosis saved her life, but also terrified her. She fled the Ocean of Ash, and soon stumbled on a group of Arcanists who took her in. After years of living in the Arcanist Vault, she slowly accepted her new identity. Now, she is a loyal member of the organization, and basically governs the Arcanist Camp at the edge of the Drift. Meyva is an empathetic and endlessly curious person, but so far, she can't get herself to return to her former home lands. Brin Vanderboot and his wife Velmara own the Gearstore, a shop in the Arcanist Camp specialized in all kinds of adventuring equipment. The halfling couple acquired two of the Blacksuits from the Arcanists, and they regularly go diving in the Blackriver. While one of them is away, the other takes care of the store. They often come back with valuable loot they found in the ashen depths, even the occasional magic item. It's a risky business, though: Both have almost died several times during their treasure hunts. That doesn't keep them from going back, though. Kiriel is a dragonborn adventurer born in Dvarys, who now lives in the Arcanist Camp. When the apocalypse came, it was pure chance that he was in Delvaroth: He and his friends were on a quest to find a serial murderer that travelled the entire world. They were successful, but only a week later, the world ended. His former companions died during the apocalypse and the first invasion of Va'Laeth. Since then, Kiriel is driven by the idea of travelling deep into the Ocean of Ash. He still had friends and family in Dvarys when he left, and he hopes to find at least some of them alive. Shima is an Ashfolk ferrywoman who regularly crosses the entire stream from the Drift to Varua. When she's reached the end, she travels straight back over land. She modified her boat so it can be used both on the river and as a weirdly looking carriage with wheels for the journey back. The former elf loves her new life, and she's writing journals about everything she experiences. This had made her a valuable source of information for the Arcanists, and she always receives a warm welcome when she gets back into Camptown.
The DriftThe giant maelstrom is one of the defining features of Delvaroth. It is precisely centered on the border between the two regions, making half of it part of the home land of Marisha Veilbreaker. The force with which the vortex moves the ash here is so strong that it's almost impossible to get into the Drift itself and survive. But on several locations around the Drift, the Arcanists have used magic to create tunnels that lead deep into the ground. They made sure they keep far enough away from the maelstrom so far, but they are looking for ways to safely explore the Drift itself, too. All previous attempts ended tragically. Not only did the physical force of the vortex crush any vehicles the Arcanists created to get into the swirling ash. Even magical attempts failed: Something about the Drift seems to make magic unstable, and protective spells turned out to be too unreliable. This only incited more curiousity for the members of the Arcanists, even though they have become far more cautious than before.
The Arcanist CampAlso called Camptown, this little settlement is home to about three hundred people. Half of them are members of the Arcanists. The town heavily relies on imports from other cities, both for equipment necessary for the exploration missions and for a variety of daily goods. Two farmers have begun growing crops here about a year ago, but their harvests are not yet enough to provide for everyone in town. The Arcanists fund and organize regular caravans from Bridgepoint, Seeker's Furnace and Blackhaven. They are negotiating with Felmor's Nest, too, but so far they haven't found an agreement that both sides accepted. Population distribution:
- Humans: 40%
- Halflings: 20%
- Gnomes: 15%
- Elves: 10%
- Ashfolk: 5%
- Other races: 10%
The Shivering TunnelThe Arcanists have created several tunnels reaching into Ashandri's subterranean world, and regularly send new exploration parties there. With one exception: The so-called Shivering Tunnel has been abandoned entirely. This shaft is the closest one to the Drift, and the two wizards that created it a year ago mysteriously died from heart attacks soon after - in the very same night. At a certain point in the tunnel, people reported feeling like they were constantly watched. Several explorers disappeared here. They were out of sight of their companions for only seconds, and suddenly they were gone. Some animals and fungi are beginning to populate the tunnel, including several species of giant spiders, but any sentient being feels too uncomfortable here to stay for long.
Goods and servicesThe Arcanist Camp is a strange place when it comes to spending money. You might be able to find a powerful magic item here, but there won't be any rope before the next caravan comes in three days. The local spellcasters might know a spell to determine the exact age of a rock, but don't know how to break a curse. And in just a week, things might be pretty much the opposite.
Local rumours and news
- The Arcanists have created a new vehicle, the Onyx Sphere, with which they want to explore the center of the Drift. They claim that they learned enough from past experiences to finally build a safe means of transportation. Now they are looking for adventurers willing to try out the new craft. For "administrative purposes", no member of the Arcanists themselves is going to be part of the Onyx Sphere's maiden trip.
- Kiriel has recently acquired a map of a part of the Ocean of Ash. Some Ashfolk travellers came into Camptown, and happily shared their knowledge with him. Now the dragonborn looks for companions to journey into the ashen lands. His goal is to reach a place called the Grave Palace. Rumours are he received information that one of his family members is still alive and kept as prisoner there.
- Shima recently came back into Camptown. She claims that something weird is happening at the Blackriver's mouth in Varua. There have always been vortices at the end of the river, draining the ash into the black depths. But now, there are more than ever, and they are bigger and stronger, too. Even the experienced ferrywoman almost crashed with her boat. The Arcanists are considering to send someone there to investigate what's going on.
- A new kind of flower has recently been found at the Blackriver's shores. The plant's blooms look a bit like black roses, but otherwise the flowers look more like thistles. The petals seem to contain some kind of natural drug. People tried to use it for tea and other forms of consumption, and reported heavy hallucinations. The experience seems to be pleasant, and some who tried it believe they have seen sacred visions. The Dreamthistle, as sages have labeled it, does have a drawback, though: It is highly addictive, and those who regularly take it often forget to drink or eat. There have been several deaths because of this effect already.
As Ashandri was created from the fragments of the dying world of Virthys, the lands of Delvaroth and Dvarys - now known as the Ocean of Ash - collided and fused. On the first day, over most of the fringe zone, the border between the two regions was clear. Later, ash was blown into Delvaroth by the wind, gradually covering the Delvaratian border region more and more. But there is one place where things went different from the very start. Approximately in the center of the border region, when the two lands were fully melded, something began to move. Deep below the ashen surface, an unknown force created a vortex, a spiraling motion that grew bigger and bigger within hours. It spewed out ash into Delvaroth, not just from the surface: The black substance was pushed into the neighboring land, carving a 70 miles wide channel into the ground while the maelstrom itself grew about 150 miles wide. The black stream didn't just thrust into the land; it consumed it. As the dark masses were forced through the land quicker than anyone could run, Marisha herself teleported from one location to the next to warn people. But she couldn't save everyone. It took about a week before the ashen stream reached Varua. During the first day, several hundred poor souls were swallowed and killed by it, their souls now bound forever to the black river. The material losses were significant, too: Entire cities and towns were swallowed by the Blackriver, and they're still buried in the ashen depths somewhere. The Drift, as people call the vortex today, is still active, moving tons of ash into the black stream hour by hour, day by day. The ashen river ends in the Ice Desert of Varua, staining the white landscape over miles and then simply draining away in the snow. If anyone knows how all this works, it should be Marisha Veilbreaker. But the halfling champion keeps strangely silent about the Drift. She once mentioned to an Arcanist sage that the Drift "shouldn't even exist", and the Blackriver is "only partially her doing". The paragon didn't answer any further inquiries, though. Considered the first great natural disaster of Delvaroth - after the apocalypse, that is -, the Blackriver now parts Delvaroth into two sides: Western and Eastern Delvaroth. As terrifying as its creation was, the stream served as a natural defense when the Laethian armies first attacked. As they marched into Delvaroth, the ravager elves were startled when they reached the Blackriver. While some scouts managed to cross the dark torrent, the invaders found no way to transport their entire legions to the other side. The city of Blackbed was little more than a small settlement back then, and the Blackriver Bridge didn't exist yet. It took about two weeks until a group of wizards from Va'Laeth invented a new spell, and created a temporary bridge - a translucent magical force. When they reached Eastern Delvaroth, the Ashandrian forces were prepared. As the legions tried to march into the land, a magical battle ensued: The Delvarati tried to dispel the magical bridge, while the Laethian wizards constantly recreated it. Thousands of ravager elves fell into the Blackriver as the ground below them suddenly vanished. Despite all Ashandrian efforts, the Laethian armies still made it. Marisha Veilbreaker and her allied armies had to retreat, at least for the moment. But the magical bridge between the two sides of Delvaroth couldn't be kept permanently, and so the Blackriver split the forces of the invaders. When the Ashandrians finally returned to reconquer their lands, the Laethians had no way out until the bridge was recreated. Tens of thousands of soldiers died on both sides, but the majority of the losses were among the ravager elves. Finally, peace returned to Delvaroth. And after a while, the sages of the Arcanists got curious about the Drift. They have set up a camp about two miles away from the maelstrom. Much closer, and the air is so polluted by ash that it's hard to breathe. The wizard Thavarim, an Ashfolk member of the Arcanists, created a new spell for his colleagues that allowed them to breathe ash. Other members of the organization created the Blacksuit, a jet-black leather outfit that covers the entire body, magically providing the wearer with breathable air while keeping all ash out. With these preparations, the Arcanists are constantly sending exploration parties to the edge of the Drift, into the Ocean of Ash. Some of these stick to the surface, but some missions also go underground. The Arcanists have magically created tunnels leading into the depths of the land. As they explored them, they found further natural passages, reminding them that the Ocean of Ash was once a normal land. While the ashen surface goes deep, there is a subterranean world in this land that is still fully intact. This finding only spawned more curiosity, and by now, the Arcanists are sending sages and adventurers not only to investigate the Drift, but the hidden world below the Ocean of Ash, as well. All of these missions start at the Arcanist camp, which has slowly turned into a small town over the years.