In the vast and empty expanse of the Southern Ocean's south western reaches, a rocky, inhospitable landmass stands alone amongst the waves, the Continent of Zastral. For millenia the Lonely Continent did not feel the footprints of a living humanoid until a group of unfortunate sailors of the Seacrake were caught up in an enormous storm system that swept them from the outer edges of the Centric Sea and marooned them there in the year 439AIF. Those that survived the storm had to learn quickly how to scrape out a living amongst the rocky peaks that dominate the continent, the never ceasing, bitter cold wind, the ice and the snow. But it was not just hardship that they found there. Their exploration of their surroundings led them to discover rich veins of gold and silver close to the surface, sometimes scarring the very faces of the weather-beaten mountains themselves; caves full of precious gems and stones; and more intriguingly, the remains of enormous creatures and the ruins of a long lost humanoid civilisation that had died out long ago. The ruined settlements the sailors of the Seacrake were able to explore yielded vast riches: gold coins, intricately crafted jewellery and items that had clearly been imbued with an unknown magic. Remarkably, the hardiest of the crew were able to repair their beleaguered ship and set sail for civilisation after months of being stuck on Zastral at the height of its stormy season. Though only one crewman survived the journey, he was able to give enough of an account of the Seacrake’s voyage and handover some of the mineral riches and ancient curios the sailors had discovered there to wet the appetite of the then Emperor Belliotrix III 'The Cartographer' to send an expeditionary force back to Zastral, to claim the continent and its riches for the Empire of Turelion. Since the first Imperial Colony ship set out bound for Zastral in 441AIF the continent has become home to a number of Imperial Colonies, overseen by Colonial Governors who administer their charges and their work on behalf of the Imperial household. These colonies have been founded primarily to exploit the mineral wealth of the Lonely Continent, but also to investigate and document the long dead residents of Zastral and bring back a wealth of curios for the pleasure of the Emperor and the court. But, there is one thing that is hidden from the bevy of people wishing to be selected to join one of Zastral’s colonies, hoping to share in the riches there; one thing that has been all but expunged from the report of the Seacrake’s tribulations. That lone sailor who was rescued and brought back to the habited world spoke in hushed whispers of the guardians of those long dead cities, who rose from the rocky ground to strike down any trespassers, and who were more deadly to the men and women of the Corncrake than the weather or mountains. The sailor was branded a lunatic, scarred from his ordeal by the Imperial Inquisition, but the story still lingers on. Though snippets of this tale and the rumours they engender have never been completely quashed, it would only be a stupid or foolhardy individual that would give too much voice to them, lest the heavy hand of the Emperor come down upon them.
The continent of Zastral is an enormous island in the south-western corner of the Centric Sea, which is dominated by a range of steep, jagged mountains, known as the Devils’ Teeth, which take up almost all of the available landmass. Many of these mountains are capped with snow and ice throughout the year, making them even tougher to ascend for even the most experienced mountaineer. The edge of the continent, where the land meets the sea is almost entirely made up of steep cliffs, with a sheer drop down to the waves below. This makes many parts of the continent all but inaccessible from the sea, as safe places to moor a vessel are few and far between. To compound the dangers of the landscape, Zastral is a highly volcanic area, and littered amongst the Devils’ Teeth are numerous volcanoes that spew noxious gases and molten rock across the landscape. The lava flows from these volcanoes often flow right down to the cliff tops at the edge of the landmass, and it is where the lava meets the waves that safe harbours tend to be found, as the quickly cooling lava creates shallower areas of water that are less effected by the raging sea, or even natural harbours that are almost completely cut off from the Centric Sea beyond by the flow. As well as the jagged mountains and the rivers of molten rock that flow from many of them, the continent is also riddled with caves and tunnels, many of which emanate from extinct volcanoes, or mark where a lave flow wormed its way to the surface. This network of subterranean passages runs for uncounted miles, and some have suggested that it is all joined into one massive cave network beneath Zastral. Many of these tunnels and caves open up right into the sea and some of the biggest caverns are so large that they can function as subterranean harbours. Port Belliotrix, one of the colonies set up on Zastral has such a port, with the main entrance to the town being via the underground passages and waterways. Those who have visited Zastral joke that the continent only has two types of weather, the rainy season and the frozen season. Because of its position in the far south-western Southern Ocean, the island is battered by storms all year round, with 90% of the days during spring and summer experiencing precipitation and the same percentage in the autumn and winter having snow, sleet and ice. Areas where volcanoes are present are almost permanently surrounded in mist as the rain and snow melts in the lava flows and almost instantly evaporates into steam.
Fauna & Flora
The creatures that live on Zastral have to be hardy to survive. Because of the windswept desolate nature of the terrain and weather there is almost no soil on the continent, which means that little plant life can survive there. Generally only mosses, lichens and fungi tend to be able to eke out an existence there, and many of these three types are only found in the much more sheltered subterranean areas of Zastral. The areas that have a form of soil are steep rocky valleys within the heart of the Devils’ Teeth mountains, where the soil is actually deposits of ash that have gathered in these relatively sheltered locations from nearby volcanoes. Even here only the hardiest plants can survive, mostly grasses and shrubs. There are no reports of anyone having seen a single tree on Zastral, let alone naturally occurring crop plants, which means that settlers in the Imperial Colonies have had to become creative in finding foods to survive. All of the colonies maintain subterranean farms where they grow edible mosses and fungi to replace the agricultural crops they otherwise would have grown to survive. In terms of the fauna of Zastral there are few herbivorous creatures as there is little vegetation for them to eat. The most successful herbivore is a species of rodent, similar to the rabbits that are ubiquitous on the other continents in Zastral, that are known colloquially as Cave-Hoppers by the colonists. There are far more species of carnivorous creatures, many of which are primarily pescatarians that feed on the large number of fish that feed and breed in the deep, nutrient rich waters that surround Zastral. These fish stocks are a vital source of food for the colonists too, but since the appearance of humanoids once more on the continent, many of the predatory creatures have acquired a taste for them to the point that entire subspecies have appeared which have adapted specifically to hunting humanoid colonists rather than fish or Cave-Hoppers.
The Lonely Continent