The Fertile Lands
The Fertile Lands
The known world is vast; the unknown world more so.
Where once were six provinces, five remain under the rule of Emperor Maximilian. His seat is the Falcon’s Perch: a fortress on the plateau at the heart of the empire.
The Known World
The Fields of Ash
The Western Province was once a thriving mining region. The glorious capital of Caceres was said to be paved in the gold unearthed therefrom. Aeris the Uniter made his home in the foothills of the west before his great struggle against Azkhan (see Aeris and Azkhan for more of the legend).
Now, the west is a smoldering ruin of ash, forsaken by all. Hardly a ranger exists that can truly profess to have explored the smoking hills west of the Sura. Due to the few travelers, nothing is reliably known of the current state of the former province and the Emperor sanctions no guards or expeditions to explore the ruins now spoken of only as The Fields of Ash.
The Homeland of the Emperor
The Eastern Province’s capital is the stone fortress, Riedhof, is located about two days from the Falcon’s Perch along the Footsteps of the Emperor. The Eastern Footsteps continues for two days against the flow of the small River Isar before reaching the Aibling Ford; it continues southeast a day to Linden; thenceforth, it follows the shore of Lake Schwyz before its southern terminus at Schwyz.
The Ruins of Oberrain lie two days northeast of Aibling and have remained uninhabited since the famous raid by the Hounds of Hölle. The Border Forest is particularly dense and wild where it is closest to the ruins; it was only a few hours away by foot from where the Hounds launched their assault.
The society in the east is built on the backs of the farmers who tend the vast fields and the livestock that range freely over the grassy plains. Guards see to the protection of those villagers and peasants against the attacks of the thieves, and worse, that make their home in and beyond the forest.
This area is primarily human in nature. Most of the people are poor and unskilled, except in farming.
The Merchants of the South
Located at the northwestern border of the Deep Water, the capital of Turin makes its fortune by trading with the sailors who visit the port. Within the walled city are fantastic sights of other-worldly beauty, it is said. Strange smells, foods, and colors are normal to the southern people; those from other provinces are often shocked by the oddities therein. The northernmost tower of Turin is known as the Gilded Tower although locals are wont to claim it is solidly gold and not merely an ornamental covering; each year scores of travelers pay to enter Turin and touch the Gilded Tower and pray for a prosperous year.
The south is networked by several rivers, most are too shallow to be worth mentioning, but the mighty Piomba dominates the landscape as it flows through Turin north to the base of the Falcon’s Perch before turning westward toward the Fields of Ash. Flat-bottom boats transit between Turin and the Crossroads daily and carrying passengers is not uncommon; for those too poor to barter passage, the Footsteps of the Emperor takes about three days.
The Ausa, a smaller river, flows to the east of the Piomba. It runs north through the two smugglers-havens of Asti and Voghera. Both villages are frequented by unsavory characters bringing contraband into the Fertile Lands, but none are foolish enough to follow the Ausa further north of Voghera. The Ausa flows northeast and empties in Lake Schwyz along the Border Forest and south of several large estates. Travelers on the Southern Footsteps follow the Ausa and will arrive in Voghera within two days.
People with exotic skin or skills are not uncommon in the largest city of the Fertile Lands, Turin. Spellcasters may begin their careers in the study halls of the foremost colleges and temples, although self-taught casters may be found in all regions. A city as large as Turin isn’t without its less-savory parts and silent thieves and underground organizations are rumored to wander freely; Asti and Voghera are both smaller than Turin, but they too have darker sides: pirates and smugglers, thieves and fighters may make their home or visit the lesser cities of the south.
The Southeastern Swamp-dwellers
It takes four days to follow the Footsteps of the Emperor from the Crossroads to the wooden capital Meribor. The first two days of the walk follows the border between the extravagance of southern estates and the hovels of the eastern farmers. The Ausa must be forded to continue the road southeast.
Beyond Meribor only locals travel easily through the boggy marshes. Guides can be hired to assist travelers visiting Savoly or Halbenrain; to travel without one presents certain peril and likely death. Those who make it to Halbenrain are only a few hours from the Deep Water. It is uncommon, but not unheard of, for travelers or fugitives to embark on a passing sloops or caravels.
Solitary creatures, nature-loving druids, and self-sufficient rangers all make their home in the rugged swamps of the southeast. In addition, the environment provides a natural deterrent to those who want to hide away from Imperial guards or peering eyes.
The Southwestern Desert Nomads
The harsh environment of the sandy desert provides little protection from the heat and water is perpetually scarce. Only the heartiest survive in the waste: some in tribes that wander in search of water and sustenance, others as solitary wanderers. Some of the solitary wanderers are criminals sentenced to wander the sands for their crimes; others are even more deranged and dangerous.
There are no lasting cities in the sands; however, there are scrolls in Turin that claim a great monument is carved into a great canyon deep in the heart of the firelands. No scholars from Turin have deemed it necessary to leave their comfortable life to verify the voracity of those centuries-old claims, however.
Barbaric, wandering tribes are the only permanent inhabitants of this region. Few people find any reason to explore the seemingly endless waste otherwise.
The Mighty in the North
Three days and three river crossings from the Crossroads is the island, capital city Omsk. The stony cliffs of the island are the handiwork of the Gods according to some; others posit that the first fighters trained by the Masters earned their brands by hauling a ton of rock from Slavgorod and placing it atop the fortifications with only their two hands; still others claim that the River Om, which splits north of the island, is the cause.
Regardless the true origin of the island, it takes a day to reach Slavgorod by the Northern Footsteps, without a ton of stone. After crossing the Om westward, Atbasar is the farthest permanent settlement in the cold hills of the north.
Strength is the most important feature of the north. Whether within the stony walls of Omsk where fighters train, or in the cold hills surrounding the Monastery in Atbasar, strength is power (although the monks of the north make a strong case for dexterity and wisdom over brute force). The hills and valleys are widely populated with game although the variety of vegetation is limited due to the temperatures; that source of food is used heavily by wandering bands of fighter/monk-dropouts and they pose a danger to any travelers who venture about: even Imperial guards sent north from the capital have been known to go missing along the Emperor’s Footsteps.
The Falcon’s Perch
From atop his Perch, the Emperor sees all.
The seat of the Emperor, the Kings before him, and the site of provincial conclaves supervised by Aeris before them is the Falcon’s Perch. The plateau monolith rises abruptly into the sky and dominates the landscape. On all sides but the man-ramped east the Perch is gouged continuously from top to bottom in long and narrow columns of rock.
It is commonly believed that the vertical columns are a symbol of protection left by Aeris to warn Azkhan and other evils that the Fertile Lands were protected. Since the death of Aeris, however, entire columns of the Perch have been known to crumble and fall; many now wonder if the protection is waning and the potential for an incursion is growing.
From atop the Falcon’s Perch, Omsk and Riedhof are readily visible; a few claim to have even seen the Gilded Tower of Turin or the Border Forest in the east from atop the mountain. On some days, fog settles at the base of the plateau and even the Emperor’s Lake, at the foot of the mountain on its northern side, is completely hidden from view.
The Palace at the Top of the World overlooks the Emperor’s Lake from its position on the northern side. The rest of the plateau is made of grand halls for spectacular receptions, training grounds for the hand-selected Guardians of the Emperor, flamboyant pleasure houses, and gritty slums where servants live in squalor.
Very few are fortunate enough to begin their lives in the rich part of the capital; however, births in the less affluent parts are frequent. Those who live to serve the powerful have hard lives and escape from servitude is not unheard of, although few who escape are not recaptured and punished for their transgressions. While members of different races may find themselves at the Falcon’s Perch as servants or performers, very few are regarded highly enough to make a permanent home there.
The Unknown World
This region of the world is commonly called unknown, but information about what lies beyond the Border Forest is not hard to come by. Instead, this region is simply ignored by the civilized peoples of the Fertile Lands whose lives matter not what lies beyond the wood.1
The Desert of Death
Only the foolhardiest rangers venture into the sandy waste that lies east of the Border Forest; most return only in the memories of their acquaintances. Those few who do return often are not whole: some are missing parts of their physical being; some have lost their mind to madness.
The madness is said to take you in the second week of the journey east, though the cause is not surely known. Some rangers claim to have uncovered wondrous treasure in the sands and will stop at nothing to return and find more. Those corrupted souls claim that the sand itself are small shavings of the fabled Treasury of Caceres and are often last seen returning to the forest in search of more riches.
The Black Mountain
There is a saying throughout the Fertile Lands:
When the mountain shakes and smolders, ruin follows.
Even travelers bold enough to approach the mountain do not linger long. The mountain is said to be the lair of Azkhan the Fearsome and the location of the Treasury of Caceres; however, no reputable sources have substantiated the veracity of those rumors.
Because the mountain is almost entirely avoided, the most reliable and consistent reports of it come only from the sailors whose ships catch brief sight of its massive spire on the horizon of the Deep Water. Their reports are characterized only by color: by day a blackened peak approached only by the darkest clouds; by night a glowing red monolith that instills fear to the deepest fiber of your being.
The Deep Water
Bordered on the east by the haunting presence of the Black Mountain, on the north by the choking dryness of the Desert of Death, and on the west by marshes and Turin the Deep Water is the source of life and water for much of the Fertile Lands. The rivers Piomba and Ausa in the south emanate from its depths; the swamps of the southeast are also fed by this mighty and revered body of water.
The islands Holguín and Hoctún provide much of the traded materials that arrive, legally or not, in the Fertile Lands. Their spices and goods make the south the richest province since the burning of the west. Few sailors claim to know, and fewer still can likely be trusted, where the origins of the Deep Water truly lie. Most say that beyond the islands lie another world with strange animals and still strangers vegetation; without proof inside their holds, however, much of that is likely only sea stories told to new recruits to the sails.
The Hills of Ice
1 Beyond the regions discussed above, much of the knowledge becomes lore more than fact. Stories of other mountains, tall forests, hills beyond the horizon, and water farther than can be sailed are often sung by bards in taverns; much of these stories may be true, but likely it exists primarily as fiction.