Snake Island Monastery
One of the most mysterious places in the Overspine appeared on the maps recently – and, most interestingly of all, completely by accident. A ship of smugglers traveling with a cargo of alchemical powders from the isles of the Ashen Sea found themselves in a storm and sank in a nameless bay on the western bank of the Overspine Peninsula. A small group of survivors set off into the depths of the jungle, hoping to find signs of civilization. A few days later, they came upon a large and beautiful lake, in the middle of which was an island containing one of the most incredible buildings they had ever seen – and these people had sailed around the entire continent, from the Biting Bay to the Eternal Sea, and had seen a great many wonders.
But the elegant and unusual architecture turned out not to be the only peculiar thing about this place. When they went inside, the smugglers discovered that the monastery – and they somehow didn't doubt for a moment that what they'd found was a monastery – was empty. But there was no dust anywhere, the coals in the fireplaces still smoldered, and the ink on the parchment spread out along the walls hadn't dried yet. It all looked as if the residents had left in a hurry only a few minutes before the guests arrived.
The smugglers spent four days there, and in all this time, the ink never dried, the coals never stopped burning, and not a single mote of dust appeared on the floor. It was as if time was frozen in this strange place – or simply that it flowed around it, like water flowing around a boulder in a riverbed. The reasons for this extraordinary phenomenon have not been explained to this day… but this is only one of the numerous secrets of this lake, which was later named Serpent Lake because of the giant statue of a water dragon that greets all who come there with the piercing gaze of its stone eyes.
As for the architecture, some scholars suspect it was built by the ancient elves, while others insist that it is so unique that it may well not be of this world. The Two-Headed God sleeps and dreams, and who knows how distant are the universes that float across his internal gaze, or how bright and alive those fragments of other worlds may be.
Uncle Gkha's Secret School of Military Arts is a unique place where even the most peace-loving and clumsy client is guaranteed to be transformed into a true warrior capable of crushing enemies, if not into dust, then at least into little pieces.
Uncle Gkha is a legendary figure, an escaped convict who survived three wars, two apocalypses, five deadly wounds, and one exhaustive conversation with a Chimera. In his old age, tired of the unbearable hustle and bustle of the mortal realm, he left the quarry where he was sent for inadvertently subverting royal authority and retired to an island on the Ashen Sea. He quickly grew bored of solitude and meditation, but didn't want to leave the island. It was then that Uncle Gkha founded the School of Military Arts, where anyone who wishes can train until they go blue in the face, learn all kinds of combat maneuvers, and perfect their defensive and offensive skills.
The school is located amid the ruins of an ancient elven structure. It is believed that several centuries ago an unassailable fortress stood there, protecting the southern coast of the Great Arganai Empire. All that remains of that former glory are some harmless, albeit very picturesque ruins. But few go there to admire the scenery.
Uncle Gkha was very careful in selecting staff for his school. He was especially exacting in recruiting candidates for the training dummies. Just the form before the interview for this highly regarded position took up a scroll of parchment spanning ten ells or more. And the less said about the test, the better. The next time you hone your destructive spell-casting skills on these poor souls or test out a new strike-with-a-twist, do it respectfully. Their job is hard enough as it is.
Beneath Kromholm lies an old mine on the Torgorian Ridge — crystal mining began here as far back as the reign of the Drunken Emperor. For centuries the industrious dwarves developed more and more new deposits, decorated columns and banisters with exquisite carvings, erected beautiful bridges over precipices... This place was home to entire generations.
One of the indigenous inhabitants of the mines was an engineer named Hardolf Threebolt. He was a typical engineer, nothing special, except for the fact that in his youth he was once hit in the head with one of the blades of a watermill. After this unfortunate accident he began to act strangely: he would either swing his mallet at nothing, or recite poems from the Red Balcony, or refuse mugs of dark dwarven beer... in other words, he was a little queer, but harmless. Folks like Threebolt are common among the dwarves — watermills don’t forgive mistakes.
In all fairness, Hardolf still had a good head on his shoulders. He invented various useful devices, like the synchropaddletron or the steam-powered, remote-controlled lute. That’s why he was entrusted with an important task: inventing a new gadget that could comb the miners’ beards, polish their stilts, and cook their soup. The machine was supposed to bring some comfort into the harsh lives of these subterranean artisans. Threebolt hit the ground running. He locked himself up in his forge for two months and managed to finish the job by the opening of the next mine shaft.
Rather an awkward situation occurred during the presentation of the mysterious gadget: it turned out that the machine actually performed a completely different function than originally intended — it drained magical energy out of crystals. Instead of delivering his opening speech, Threebolt roared with laughter, tossed a Sapper’s Fleeting Fancy explosives kit into the audience, and, taking advantage of the general confusion, disappeared without a trace. Some people believe he’s still wandering somewhere in the mine’s tunnels. They say that, if you listen carefully, you can even discern the echo of his insane laughter.
The mad craftsman’s invention hasn’t gone anywhere. The machine, which is still capable of draining magical power out of crystals, is now sought after by all manner of rogues, mercenaries, and bounty hunters. The work in the mines has stopped, and its peaceful life is over. Now an interminable battle for the cursed mechanism rages day and night. It’s true what they say: technological advancement brings nothing but destruction and chaos!
Today I got my first glimpse of our destination, an ancient elven airship pier. No words can describe the beauty and elegance of the carvings that cover the entire surface of this stone wonder. No words can convey the feeling of lightness, so uncanny for such an immense structure capable of accommodating dozens of people. The bottom of the shaft beneath it is eternally shrouded in fog, and I have no doubt that magic was involved in its creation. Carved pillars that apparently served the Elder Folk as anchoring posts for their airships rise from the six corners of the site. It is truly one of the most magnificent structures I have ever seen.
Today we came across extremely curious formations in the lake: undoubtedly man-made hexagonal stone pillars of various heights rising out of the sand. The scope of the Elder Folk’s achievements is truly impressive! One gets the feeling that everything in the area — rocks, forest, even the vast body of water — is nothing but a veil concealing a huge magical mechanism built many centuries ago. I am burning with the desire to reach the ancient secrets hidden beneath this idyllic landscape, but the excavation is advancing very slowly. Another major concern lies in what is taking place in the Fiery Lands beyond the Rupture. They are very close, and their scorching, toxic breath can be felt everywhere. The workers fear the dangerous proximity of this incarnate Chaos, and I’m afraid that I won’t be able to persuade them to continue the excavation when their contracts expire.
O Four Almighty Ones! At dawn, the Mortmount volcano, which lies just beyond the Rupture, began to erupt. A pillar of flame rose to the clouds, and smoke and ash swept over the sky. Hot rocks are still raining down upon us, each of them bearing the fire of primordial Chaos. The camp is panic-stricken, and the terrified people are trying to find some kind of shelter. I shudder to think of what might happen if even one piece of volcanic debris were to hit one of the elven structures, and what forces might be awakened by the collision of these two so disparate elements... "
From the Journal of an Archaeological Expedition Led by
Flight from the Spooky Fort
It gets dark quickly in the jungle in the fall. Before you even realize it, it’s pitch black. But there is a special night, a night when the Swampy Fort is lit by hundreds of candles and pumpkins decorated with exquisite carvings — Crabeater's Eve, a common holiday called Samhain by dwarves and Halloween by humans. It is believed that all the hellspawn crawl out of their dwellings on this day to stir things up at the surface. No one knows whether this is true or not, but the orcs alone are quite capable of stirring things up enough to make any demon turn green with envy. On this night, the whole tribe goes to feast at the Cannibal Stronghold, to drink fresh home-brew and feast on crabs. The Fort is left to face the darkness by itself.
A bitter wind carries autumn leaves along plank canopies, swinging rope bridges, rippling oozing backwaters, and whispering ancient curses through interweaving branches. The few who have been unlucky enough to spend the night at the deserted Fort speak of grey figures summoned by the wind that emerge from the bog, of sinister shadows that create mysterious patterns at the edges of the darkness, of songs in an unknown language that echo from the swamps.
They say the pumpkins laugh at travelers who, by some quirk of fate, happened to be here, as if foretelling horrible torments and disclosing their most private secrets, making the poor devils quake with fear. But woe betide those who give in to the fear and run away, praying to the gods to help them. On All Hallow's Eve, even the gods dare not show their faces, and screams can only attract the even more dreadful beasts that wait in the dark corners of the wilderness.
Undoubtedly, the most dangerous and merciless inhabitant of the swamps is the evil spirit of Ygr-Gkha, the ghost of an orc shaman who drowned there many years ago. According to legend, his own tribesmen drowned him, having grown tired of his mad cruelty — and that's saying a lot! Perhaps this is why he stayed chained to his place of death forever and began to wreak a terrible vengeance on his killers. The surviving sorcerers could not subdue the cruel spirit for long — it is no easy task to destroy something that is already dead. In the end, they imprisoned it in a scarecrow, which they then burnt. Oh yes, they celebrated the victory, but their triumph did not last. On the next Crabeater's Eve, all of them were found with their throats torn out, and a scarecrow with a bloody smirk sliced into its hideous pumpkin face appeared on a hill near the Fort. No orc dared to approach it, but it disappeared on its own with the first light of dawn. Ever since then, this scarecrow appears in the vicinity of the Fort every Crabeater, grinning and scanning for its next victim with its empty eyes. Cut it down, burn it, trample it — it will appear again next year. It seems that the custom of leaving for the Cannibal Stronghold during this holiday came about thanks to this very scarecrow. Now it can only feast on arrogant thieves and adventurers, albeit rarely. Old shamans speak the truth of Crabeater's Eve: “If there is no living soul at the Fort, that doesn't meant that it’s empty”. Heed their wise words...
Station of Lost Souls
Olfred Five-and-a-Half-Gears, former station master at the Expanse of Mists, doesn't like to talk about the Steam Witch. Usually, if people pester him with questions, he just snaps and turns to the window or starts humming the Gunner's March — it’s the best way to drive off undesired company.
A little Miner’s Dark comes to the rescue, as always. Just a couple pints of the foamy drink can get an old dwarf to talk. And then you just need to pay attention and make sure the ale keeps flowing.
"I knew the captain of the Witch" — that’s how Olfred usually begins his tale — "We trusted each other, because it was important back in those wild, lawless times. I searched for customers for him, helped him fence the loot, and he and his boys helped me solve my problems with cave bears and Imperial taxmen. Especially since we didn't have to think too hard about what to do with them — the Expanse of Mists is surrounded by chasms on all sides. Long story short, even the most reckless of pirates needs a place where he can feel at home. My station was such a place for the crew of the Steam Witch.
Here Olfred usually pauses and falls silent for a while, trying to cope with the tears that are choking him. Don’t forget to push another full pint towards him and turn away politely so the old man can wipe his wet eyes with a tip of his moustache. After regaining his composure, he continues:
- When the guys decided to go on that raid, their last raid, I knew something was fishy right from the start. You didn’t need to be a fortune teller to understand that their plot would come to no good. Just fancy, stealing the Hell Pumpkin from the Orc Temple on Samhain's Eve! Only a madman could ever go in for that. Well, their reckless courage did in fact resemble madness. Some cursed sorcerer was promising fabulous wealth for that pumpkin, and greed won out. I still remember them as they were leaving for the last time: they decorated the armored train with black flags, shouting songs and firing their arquebuses into the air. And then seven long years went by without so much as a word about their fate. Then, on another Samhain's Eve, the Steam Witch came back.
Five-and-a-Half-Gears falls silent again and hits his pint. Be ready to fill it again and wait patiently for him to drink up — then Olfred will reward you with the end of the tale:
- It was a wretched sight. The boards were rusty, the flags were rotten, the pipe was eaten through, coughing up sinister green smoke that enveloped the train. And the crew... well, they were at their stations! Dead. Silent. I'll never forget their eyes, burning and icy, totally empty, as if the Abyss itself were gazing at me through them. Then the Captain turned his cobweb-covered face to me — and that was when I screamed. I screamed and ran away, and I didn't look back. I never saw the Steam Witch again after that. They say it stops at the Expanse of Mists every year on the night of Samhain. That's why I can never go back there. Never! That place is cursed...
Usually, at this time, Olfred Five-and-a-Half-Gears sobs, rolls his eyes, and drops from his bench under the table, where he breaks into a deafening snore.
They reached the World’s End only as midnight was approaching, but the darkness there was lit by the ever-hungry flame of Chaos, raging on the opposite bank, beyond the Rupture. Sanguine flashes danced on trees and low-hanging clouds, ash swirled in the hot air. On the massive bridge that joined the ends of the chasm there stood — no one. The knights and dwarven demolitionists had disappeared without a trace, leaving only barricades that no one else was trying to destroy or capture.This was not what Gnawrock had expected. This place had been a battlefield for so long that everything there was soaked in the scent of death and blood. Crowds of undead brought back from the Dark Paths by the transcendent power of the External Chaos had been assaulting the Rupture 's only crossing for days, never letting the knights rest, even for a moment. The defenders' forces had been running low, and dwarven sappers were already preparing to blow the bridge if the enemy managed to overcome the barriers. The last messenger sent from the outpost to Kromholm had begged for reinforcements, and Rorgar Gnawrock left immediately for the Rupture at the head of a hastily assembled squad. Walking day and night, with only two brief rests, they had managed to get there quickly — but instead of the sounds of battle, the warriors were met by absolute silence.
Soon they learned the reason — Gnawrock climbed a hill and, gazing though his spyglass, saw a mysterious structure at the very edge of the fire sea, where the scorching fangs of Chaos bit into the fabric of creation. Four colossal stone pillars stood at the ends of a round platform covered with dead bodies.The pillars were covered with elaborate engravings depicting hideous creatures with fangs and countless serpentine tentacles. Just one glance was enough to send tendrils of ice down Gnawrock's spine. He shivered despite the heat. He had had encountered beasts like those engraved on the ritual stones before, and the old dwarf would have given anything in the world to forget about those encounters. If only the nightmares that tormented him by night would cease...
"Well then, my dear fellows!" he said to the soldiers after descending the hill. "We’ve got our work cut out for us on the other shore. We need to cross the bridge, go around the chapel ruins, take the heads of those rotten cultists who made those altars dedicated to the spawn of Chaos, and send them to Krom's mother! Any questions?
There were no questions.
“... a weird place indeed, your Foremanship. The depth of the bay cannot be measured, and the water is full of deadly poison, making it unfit for fish, snakes, or sea monsters. However, it is this very poison that has brought us here; according to my calculations, it serves as raw material for the crystals that we all need so desperately. Recent studies have shown that the substance codename “Charger” is extremely explosive and has broad applications for warfare, mining, and brewing. And, most importantly, Charger cannot be found anywhere else. Gaining control over the only known deposit of this substance could give us an incredible advantage over other nations.The extraction process is quite straightforward. There are areas on the shores of the Bay where Charger comes very close to the surface. By your Foremanship's permission, we have erected a Large Distillation Tower (model GGH-047) equipped with a standard steam-powered twister. Extraction is performed using a portable Superpump (model SPA-22Y), which is similar to pumps used for repairing accidental damage to water pipelines and breweries. The pump capacity is 500 dwarven gallons, which is quite enough for full-scale production. However, our small plant is in need of additional equipment: please send us one Done-in-a-Flash Counterbalanced Grounder (preferably model M/F) and a couple of Eightfold Spiral Hoggers (with no less than a 1.5 step radius).
Hopefully you are aware of the fact that we absolutely must be provided with a huge security staff. The surrounding area is deserted and wild, and I shudder to think what would happen if our location were ever discovered by bandits or so-called "adventurers." The experimental armored crawler Inquisitor’s Wrath is the only vehicle currently at our disposal, but it’s completely useless in real combat! Send reinforcements!
Everything is calm at the moment, but my unease is growing by the minute. Yesterday the mist over the water cleared and we saw some ancient ruins on the opposite shore of the bay. One of these days I’m going to send a team of sappers over there...”
From a letter by Yorli Trickypaunch
to the Senior Foreman of the Artisans' Guild
(the letter was never sent)
At the very edge of the inhabited word hides Dragon’s Gorge, a dangerous place where the careless wanderer is constantly threatened either with sharp rocks or a gaping abyss. Narrow footpaths wend their way precariously along the edges of cliffs populated only by solitary decaying pines. The hills around Dragon's Gorge are filled with the sulfurous breath of slumbering volcanoes, and low-hanging ashen storm clouds merge with the shadows of enormous rustling wings.
In the midst of the gorge rise the ruins of a fortress that, many ages ago, was known as the Refuge of the Green Flame. In those dark and distant days a depraved sect called the Shadow Riders conducted their cruel rites here, summoning the ancient goddess known as the Chimaera, the Mother of Basilisks. Their sorcery was so dark and unnatural that the universe itself took up arms against these audacious cultists - the heavenly firmament shook loose and came crashing down upon their fastness in a torrent of searing stones, wiping every living thing for miles around from the face of the earth.
And to this very day stones continue to fall here, as well as heavy meteorites whose core contains a precious, yet very dangerous ethereal metal. Travelling alchemists have determined over time that, by erecting monuments of a certain shape from these stones in specific locations within the gorge, they can gain access to forbidden sources of dark power - the very font from which the Shadow Riders drew their energy centuries ago.
Since the Night of Madness, the alchemists’ notes have fallen into the hands of marauders and adventurers seeking an easy profit. Dragon’s Gorge is now host to endless, bloody battles between various bands and armies striving to harness the power of a nearly forgotten sect. Swords clang, shots resound, and the cries of the wounded echo throughout the uncaring ashen cliffs. Skulls impaled on pikes indifferently observe the unrelenting carnage from their empty eye sockets.
But evil begets only evil. The green murk has begun to stir once again in the depths of the ruined fastness, and the shadows of broad leathery wings have again begun to creep along the earth. Chaos has awoken not only the Chimaera, but also her eternally hungering children.
Night of Infernal Farmers
The Orc Shrine is a famous place, but only a few know why it is considered sacred. Normally it is no different from any other place, but once a year comes a very special night. This night is the magical night of Samhain, which the Orcs call Crabeater, and the Humans – Halloween. A horrifying night on the eve of Autumnal Equinox when evil spirits and the undead roam free. During Crabeater, the green-skinned savages know better than to approach this place after sunset. They tell each other eerie legends about what takes place here after dusk.
Legend has it that, on this night, a monstrous Blind Gardener comes to the Shrine and sows magical seeds that instantly grow into Hell Pumpkins. These sinister pumpkins are full of ancient magic and mysterious powers that make them ideal ingredients for elixirs and potions. Every mage or warlock is ready to make any sacrifice to get just a tiny morsel of this gorgeous treat, for the limits of its powers are still unknown.
That is why, on the night of the Autumnal Equinox, mages and shamans of all four races converge here in merciless battles. Despite the avarice and cruelty of the participants, these battles are held according to certain rules. It is an ancient and inviolable ritual, the observance of which allows the combatants to avoid the wrath of the demonic Gardener. Anyone who tries to snatch a pumpkin without a fight is doomed.
“The Gardener has finished his work!” cried one of the witches. “Come to me, my brethren!”
Hardly had she uttered these words when mages, shamans, and warlocks of every stripe rushed to the Shrine from all directions. Naked elves, orcs covered in war paint, dwarves wearing nightmarish masks, and humans in hangman’s hoods. With screams and curses they filled the clearing and clashed in a disorderly, chaotic brawl.
“The annual tournament of dark forces is begun!” howled the witch, her shrill voice barely audible over the raucous din. “The rules are as before! He who poisons his opponent’s beds first takes the whole crop!”
And so the battle began. The still night erupted, filled with the the whizzing of clubs and axes, the explosions of fireballs and mines, and the clang of spells and swords… ”
Charles the Squint
“Nightmare in the Shrine”
Deep in the borderlands, among the desert hills and rocks, lies the Alchemists' Citadel – an impregnable stronghold of the ancient Fellowship, a repository of arcane knowledge and dangerous secrets of the universe. For centuries now, the solid granite bastions have defended the scholars who dwell within, devoting their lives to the mastery of the Seven Elements. And, it goes without saying, these towers have witnessed many wonders over the course of their long history. Here, in the clay-coated retorts of royal copper, white mercury, and innocent blood, the philosopher’s stone, an artifact capable of turning any metal into gold, was devised. Here, in large spherical flasks, swarmed hideous homunculi who knew the answers to all questions, while deep in darkened cellars blinded basilisks raged in their chains. Here, according to the dwarves’ secret recipes, blowdust, also known as gunpowder, was produced from coal, serpent sulfur, and rock crystal.
The Citadel itself was transformed into a gigantic alchemical apparatus by its inhabitants, who had laced the walls with a network of pipes and placed huge reservoirs in the courtyard and on the tops of the towers. “Blood of the Citadel”, a byproduct of the experiments, was often used as a weapon against besiegers desperate to take possession of the Fellowship’s secrets.
From the high scaffolds alchemists used to observe the stars, striving to read the message of the Bygone Gods and predict the future, but they never saw the omen of imminent peril, nor did they use their wisdom to stop the madness of Chaos.
Now the Citadel stands empty. The lamps still burn with a deep blue flame in the sharp-clawed paws of stone gargoyles, the steel pipes are still full of deadly acid, the dungeon doors are still tightly locked… but there is no one to read books in the library halls, no one to peer through the dusty lenses of the telescopes. The alchemists are gone, and the Citadel has become a lure for countless adventurers and treasure hunters.
Stray groups have been constantly fighting over it, hoping to get hold of the Fellowship’s powers. Many daring warriors have fallen on the threshold of the Citadel, many brave men have been killed on its walls and stairs, and yet the number of those seeking its mysteries has not declined. The Citadel is difficult to storm, yet no less difficult is it to defend, which is why it has passed through so many hands. The ancient towers have grimly observed this endless confrontation, waiting for their true masters to return.
Expanse of Mists
The dwarves have always had a passion for massive, cacophonous mechanisms. Which of them invented the train is unknown, but in the heyday of the Deep Empire railway tracks crisscrossed the entire Torgorian Ridge. They were primarily underground, but sometimes they would rise to the surface. The most famous section of such a railway is called the Crow Branch, which connects the highest peaks of the Ridge. It is this particular line that has a station called The Expanse of Mists. It is perched between two huge rocks of unimaginable height that seem to pierce the clouds themselves. Here, rocks and ancient pines drown in the pale mist, and snow falls endlessly from the dreary sky.
The Station itself is an outstanding example of the early empire’s architecture: squat stone bases, treated oak beams covered with exquisite carvings, and pointed gable roofs. It was built here for a reason: there is a large deposit of crystals - the most elevated one yet found. In some places, magical minerals protrude directly from the surface of the rock.
From the small plateau on which the station lies, strong wooden bridges lead in different directions: one to the Mine, and one to the “Precipice” Tavern. The innkeeper, fat Ragnar Threebeard, knew the names of all the ravens living in the neighborhood and attracted customers not only with his delicious ale, but also with a never-ending supply of bawdy tales.
After the Night of Madness had fallen, the mine and the tavern were closed, their dwellers disappeared without a trace in the whirl of endless disasters, and only the ravens continued to watch the clouds. Occasionally, however, the war reaches even here, and then the troupes of vagabonds, noble warriors, and bounty hunters clash in fierce battles at the top of the world. They say the trains are still running on the Crow Branch. If this is so, then those who ride them are likely to witness the massive bloody battles shattering The Expanse of Mists. From time to time a merciful gloom descends on the battlefield, hiding the ruthless grin of Chaos.
The Great Kharraz-Ghul wastelands are home to warlike nomadic tribes. From time immemorial, green-skinned barbarians have roamed the barren plains and rocky highlands, constantly fighting for survival. The ruins of ancient elven buildings have often become sites for their settlements and camps. The Orc Burgwall is rightfully considered the most famous of these. It was erected in the Red Rock Valley by order of Derzag-Khag, the legendary chief who united all the savage tribes under his rule.
Surrounded by forbidding rocks, the stronghold is a true masterpiece of fortification: it can only be assaulted from one side, and that is defended by steep slopes, sharpened palisades, and deadly grapeshot.
Pillars of a ruined elven temple tower in the heart of the settlement, and the surrounding rocks are scarred by a time-worn bás-relief of strange winged creatures.
"I believe that in ancient times, these sculptures served as guardians, meeting pilgrims and reminding them of the omnipotence of the gods. Now, surrounded by motley barbarian tents clinging to the sheer walls of mud huts and countless stakes with skulls impaled on them, they are but an absurdity. The greenskins did not dare to encroach upon the temple itself: there are no visible signs of the orc presence among its columns, although the noisy and colorful encampment is situated just near the fallen entrance arc. <…> The wooden area in the heart of the camp is decorated with bunches of skulls. Empty black eye sockets watch you from each post, each beam… a typical barbarian decoration. <…> Beneath this area is a fount of what the orcs have called “dead water”. I looks like a dirty, scum-filled puddle, with green bubbles emerging occasionally on its surface. There are dry branches and bone fragments sticking out of it, as well as several whole skeletons. Anyone who touches the "dead water" dies a quick and painful death. It may be the remains of some deadly elven trap, or perhaps some natural anomaly. The Kharraz-Ghul wastelands hold many strange things… ”
“Recollections of my Wanderings” by Sir Bistol the Silent
The glaciers of Kocha-Gacha nourish many small rivers that rush down the broad plateau to a canyon carved in limestone by the Talla River. The place opposite the Simian Cliff, where the meltwaters of Kocha-Gacha fall down into the backwater, is called the Baboon Cascades.
The ledges of the cascades were carved by numerous shallow streams that merge into bigger torrents and roar down into the lagoon. Clouds of water vapor rise into the air, settling on the darkened and damp monkey-shaped dolmens. It’s from these dolmens that the place take its name. Those who have seen the cascades are amazed by this breathtaking spectacle. The far side of the canyon is dominated by a fort situated at the foot of the Simian Cliff and surrounded by lavish tropical greenery. The white snowcap of Kocha-Gacha can be seen from behind the uppermost edge of the cascade.
There is an islet of dry land on the cliff, a place sacred to the ancient orcs, who used it to worship the vital force of water. A magical flow rises from the ground, filling every living thing with vital energy. He who stands in the centre of this flow will feel the unparalleled euphoria of unity with the world around him.
Domination Mode is played in this location. Two opposite teams struggle to capture the power point. Each team’s objective is to control this area as long as possible. The overall goal is to be the first team to score the number of points required to take control of the the capture point.
From time immemorial, the Talla River has rushed down the icy slopes of Kocha-Gacha, carving a deep canyon in limestone and rock. Its waters nourish the flows of local streams and creeks. The canyon walls first swing open into wide floods, then close up again over sheer cliffs, forming remarkable stone labyrinths. The distant roar of water is filled with the screech of birds and the howling of the wind as it struggles through the vise of the stone canyon. A road winds along the bed of the Talla, stretching far west before turning south near the gentle slopes of the Obacha volcano. It passes through many lands and nations. It holds many legends and has taken many names from various races. I have yet to meet a traveler who has passed this road from one end to the other.
Rushing down the plateau into the Talla, the Baboon Cascades form a backwater framed by pylons from which statues of mighty ancestors tower. There was a time when even a pride of saber-toothed lions would avoid a warrior of our people…
Here the road passes around a large cliff whose peak has been blunted by wind and tropical rains. The canyon wall is crowned by a rock on which the enormous grinning face of the Precursor is outlined. His countenance is turned toward the icy white spurs of the mighty Kocha-Gacha. The memory of those who conquered this rock and gave it the form of the deity has long sunk into oblivion. It is a place sacred to the orcs. Here they perform their rites and initiate young warriors.
A little fort has spread over the top of the cliff, guarding the sacrificial site and allowing the orcs to control the road. This place is called the Simian Cliff… The King of the Hill scenario is played in this location. Two teams fight for the right to control the cliff and the sacrificial site on its peak. If a team loses control of the site, it is transferred to the foot of the cliff and must begin the assault again from below.
The Dwarven Quarry is a map for the “Point Capture” scenario. You will have to join the battle on the side of one of two teams: the first team’s objective is to seize all five capture points on the map while the other team tries to prevent it.
The location’s art design is inspired by the northern Scandinavian countryside. A shroud of gray clouds sweeps along the low sullen sky, driven by gusts of sea breeze. A shaft of thin northern sunlight flashes through the occasional tear. Dark firs bend their tops toward the flat, rocky ledges. Huge boulders stand at the foot of the cliff like the silent remains of stone warriors. The game begins on a marina washed by stormy waves. The attacking team should undertake a forced march up the narrow paths leading from the coast to the top of the cliff. Through the quarry with its huge drilling rig scattering earth and stones in all directions. The dwarven railway with its steam locomotive can save you time and effort. When the attackers arrive at their destination, they are guaranteed a “hearty welcome” from the defending team. The final battle takes place on top of the cliff around a dwarven artifact – a huge clock carved from a block of stone and surrounded by an ancient Dolmen.
Players not only have to use their individual skills, but also demonstrate excellent teamwork - any frontal assault may end up in repeated retreats to previous positions, while the defense’s failure to control the passageways may lead to their being quickly flanked and defeated. The Dwarven Quarry is a real challenge for all Panzar players, one that you must be ready for.
Arena of the Warlords
The Arena is a Domination Mode map. It’s an excellent place both for beginners still mastering their classes and hardened veterans eager to plunge into the non-stop battle raging on this map. The overall goal is to be the first team to capture the central platform.
The island that serves as a battleground is located in the Ocean of Fire. The macabre, gothic coliseum, built on a granite rock-face, is covered with clouds of acrid sulfur. The lifeless glowing moon, whose shards are scattered like meteors around its ancient ruined body, reminds the warriors that death comes even to the heavens. The stadium is surrounded by a gallery of gothic arches, making it a convenient platform for ranged fighters. As the gate falls shut, the dark stairwell of the Chapel expels another wave of warriors up to the light, fire, and victory.
Dominance in the arena cannot be won through mere hacking and slashing. The battlefield around the centre of the arena periodically descends into the boiling lava, which proves fatal for all those who fail to sneak into one of the narrow side passages or clamber onto one of the rocky platforms rising over the fire. Players who remain in the middle can bring their allies some much-needed domination points - that is, provided they can withstand the hail of spells and cannon-fire the enemy unleashes at them.
These battles are fierce and cruel, and thus pleasing to Zar, the God of War, who delights in the torrent of blood spilled over the runes carved into the fiery stones of the arena.
Siege of the Swamp Fort
The Swamp Fort is a location for the “Point Capture” scenario. Ancient, majestic trees spread their limbs skyward. The orc camp has spread out here among their mighty trunks, teetering on them with its platforms and terraces and extending to the greenery of their tops. Cheered by the frantic cry of the orc shaman, the attacking team begin their journey to the topmost platform and must fight their way to the five key points. At every step of their advance, they are sure to face fierce resistance by the defending team, who have a large variety of traps at their disposal.
Down the narrow gangways, making sure the huge spiked logs do not send anyone away on a fatal flight, goes the messenger and his team. The first stage has been completed, and the path continues to the roots of the Sacred Tree, to its very center. If the defenders surrender the line, the huge gate flies open, taking the battle outside the camp. The greenish smoke of toxic swamp fumes envelops the fighters, making it easy to loose one’s footing and perish in the quagmire. Not a single step backwards! Ahead, to the center of the swamp! But be careful, the quagmire isn’t the only danger to daring warriors willing to reach their goal at any cost! The carnivorous plants would certainly be more than happy to stuff themselves on such a martial snack.
The final battle takes place on the foothills, where the opposing teams are taken after they leave the swamp. This is the last chance for the defenders to stop the messenger, and the last chance for the attackers to hurl themselves at the post. Teamwork and the will to victory are the keys to success!
"It’s high time to reign in the so called Free Mechanics. They spread their influence across the continent like some kind of a contagious disease. You know, if it meant only philosophical rumblings or occasional steel legs, then we’d let it pass! But they went too far, endangered the well-being and the very existence of our world. They woke Iron Smith, and now supply him with materials for his job. Yes, I’m talking about that artificial unnatural monster, blasphemous abomination created by Krom in ancient times! Please, do not make a surprised face. This is such a big secret that it's actually not a secret any more. By the way, many scientific minds believe that it is Iron Smith who is responsible for all our troubles of recent years, that on his damned anvil he link by link creates war, endless and brutal war that had plagued our land!"
From the interview of Tangrim Grey
for the “Evening Kromholm” newspaper
"However, much more trouble is delivered by all kinds of smuggler hunters. By whatever reasons they are confident that we have entered into an alliance with the forces of the Outer Chaos, that Iron Smith forges a war that destroys the world. Can you imagine? Absolute nonsense! But no matter how ridiculous the accusations are, paths to the Forge now become really dangerous. Hunters arrange ambushes in tunnels, try to stop, or even blow up our trains. We have to organize convoys and compose them from the most notorious thugs or lunatics - because, of course, no one in their right mind would dare to make such a trip. Especially if heavily armed champions of law and order defenders await on the route. Leave us alone! You have no idea what really is going on in the Forge of Iron Smith and how important his work is! If you want war, make no mistake - we are ready for it and are not going to back down. We are ready to fight. It’s your choice…"
From an anonymous letter
to the “Evening Kromholm” newspaper
One of the famous places in the Karraz-Ghul desert is the Sandstorm Temple. Nobody knows precisely where it stands and even the most experienced nomad would not tell certain directions towards it. To find the way in one should pass through special magical gateways, one of which is situated in the Rhou-Arkh jungles and the other - somewhere in the snowy mountains of Arganai. The mysterious disposition of the Temple gave birth to dozens of various theories, the most logical and reasonable one being the version scratched with a knife on a top of a table in the “Grey Basilisk” tavern.
According to it the gateways take the one who dares to walk through not only across space but time as well. Supposedly, the Sandstorm Temple exists in future so distant that nothing alive abides there. Argus erected it as a memorial to the Four Nations and then he created portals so that the best representatives of these very nations could have the possibility to feast their eyes at the monument in their honour. But the mortals understood everything the wrong way, once again.
Regrettably, the author of this theory in unknown – during the night of its appearance in the “Grey Basilisk” several young Berserks stopped there and the innkeeper discovered the inscription only in the morning when he hammered together the tables. One of the guests although stated as if he had a chance to notice a stranger with a crutch who was carving enigmatic signs (apparently, the orc meant letters). According to him, the mysterious guest had two heads – but taking into consideration the fact that the Berserks had already managed to empty the wine vault of the tavern, this statement cannot be taken seriously, of course.
The name of the Temple comes from sandstorms constantly raging in its vicinity. Those are real disasters, vast, fascinating - and extremely dangerous. On their own the sand and the wind can barely cause any harm, but they wake the dead, resting around the Temple. Angry and bloodthirsty corpses of soldiers and travelers, thieves, treasure hunters and adventurers - all of them turned to withered mummies by the merciless sun - rise from the dunes to bring death to anyone in whose breast still beats a living heart. In this way the Temple protects ancient artifacts stored in its depths, the mysterious magic spheres which possess truly incredible powers.
Hall of Our Fathers
In the days of the Deep Empire, this place was sacred. Once every seven years, the copper voice of the Big Gong sounded out over the mountains, summoning guild masters, elders of various powerful clans, military leaders and scientists to council – but only those who were to come could hear its heavy, otherworldly hum. Through secret mountain trails and dark underground passages they came to this small valley, lost in the heart of the Thorgor Ridge. And when all the guests gathered, the Gong sounded for the second time, awakening the surrounding Granite Ancestors from their stone sleep. Heavy eyelids lifted and the great heroes of bygone eras, carved out of rock, talked to those who gathered. Past and future were mixed in those gloomy speeches, dreams merged with reality, and light with darkness. Those calls and prophecies, warnings and cautions were written in special scrolls that were to be burned seven years later, on the day of the next meeting.
Perhaps this is just a legend, one of the many still living among the people of the Thorgor Ridge. The Deep Empire fell and the Granite Ancestors have not uttered a word since. Their knowledge remains locked in stone, their unknowable minds exist throughout time and can perceive it as a whole, but are no longer able to reach the living. The Big Gong is silent, too. It is said that Krom will ring it when tired of the trials and travesties of life. He'll strike the Gong three times. With the first strike, the gods will lose their power and mortals will rule over them. The second strike will open the gates to the Abyss, and monstrous things living in it, like the creature that turned Karraz-Gul in the scorched desert over a thousand years ago, will flood into our world. The third strike will reach the stars, awakening Argus, the Two-Headed Lord of Nightmares himself. And what will happen next, even the wisest of the wise do not yet know.
But why should we concern ourselves with such things? Let the alchemists in their towers calculate the angle and speed of rotation for the next End-of-the-World. We do not care of such lofty matters so long as the hand tightly grips hammer or sword, and good ale splashes in the cask. Ahem… Wait! I meant the other cask, with… Oh, Kromm's bells, you've confused ale with explosives again! Drink it yourself, blockheads…
... I thought that damn jungle would drive me crazy. The air - wet and heavy, like a water-soaked cloth - was full of insects constantly trying to sting us. The vegetation was so dense that every step had to be won. From dawn to dusk we did not let out cutlasses off our hands, cutting the way through inhospitable thickets. Huge predatory flowers growing at almost every wetland, forced us to be constantly alert. But I didn't realize that was just the beginning. Until yesterday evening.
The sun was already setting when we got to the village. At first I thought that the vast cleared glade was some kind of a sacred place for primitive savages of the jungle - there was a rough wooden statue of an ugly swamp monkey. Beliefs of greenskins are simple and meaningless, they worship everything around them: swamps, old stumps, and apparently the monkeys, too. But then we saw those structures above, in the branches and trunks of large trees. Some simple huts made of twigs and dry grass, connected by suspension bridges constructed of planks and vines. It seemed that inhabitants had left the place quite a time before - judging by holes in the walls, mold and spider webs, the huts had been empty for several months.
We camped in a clearing, glad to sleep on a flat, dry ground. But our joy was short-lived. After midnight the guards woke us up - drums were rumbling deep in the woods. Hollow, low sound that filled the whole body with a shudder. It seemed to be coming from all sides at once. The voice of the jungle. Warning. Threatening. Promising death.
We actually had enough time to prepare for battle before the savages fell on us out of the darkness. But there were so many of them that the struggle lasted only for a few minutes. I hid behind the statue, leaned towards it and whispered a prayer to the unknown gods of swamps, masters of those forests and wetlands, asked them to protect me. I do not know whether the spirits were able to hear my prayers, or those drowned in the cries of rage and pain, tearing the night over the clearing. But at dawn I left through the path cut by us the day before, trying not to look at what was left of my companions...
From the report of Saygary-Wicked-Light
the only surviving member of
expedition into the Rhou-Arkh jungle
The text below is an excerpt from the notorious play "Thieves And Madmen" which was put on a stage in the Theater of Kromholm several years ago but was banned immediately after the opening night. The play's author remains unknown.
INMATE: No! No! Just listen to me, please. It's a large and rich palace: marble, granite, gold everywhere! In the middle of the main hall there is a fountain and its water turns into pure silver under the light that goes through the giant glazed dome. I'd never seen such luxury!
DOCTOR: And I've never seen such consistent delirium. Day after day he rumbles about the same imaginary palace and never gets confused even in a tiny bit. It seems our healing techniques turn out to be completely ineffective - maybe we should increase the dosage of daily whippings. Anyway, let's move to the next chamber - that's where you can see a really interesting case.
VISITOR: Sorry, doctor, but I think I'd like to stay and learn a little more about that... enigmatic palace.
DOCTOR: Why? Everybody knows that there are no palaces on western branches of Thorgor Ridge, only rocks and cold mountain lakes. It's a usual nonsense not worthy of your time. Follow me to...
VISITOR hits DOCTOR with a dagger
that has been hidden in a sleeve of his robe.
DOCTOR falls with a moan.
VISITOR leans towards INMATE,
who flattens himself against the wall in fear.
VISITOR: Now, my friend, tell me about the Treasury. Tell me everything you know about the Granite Father's palace. Because it's what we are talking about, right? The haven of the Short Strange Skinflint, his luxurious lair on the edge of our continent. Don't hesitate, don't be afraid - I believe you, I believe every word. Speak!
The Dragon Rock Palace
Before the Night Of Madness we always swam past this palace, plague on it! It stands on the river, right? Well, orks in Kharraz-Goul have never been steady-going, you know. Those green boys now are wild, and at the time they've been just mad as a meat axe. For example, you speak to their chief and he promises a safe passage for your caravan - and the next day it turns out that the chief's been cooked and eaten, and they already have another leader instead who has no obligations and is ready to tear your caravan apart. Savages, plague on them!
So we had to take a detour - from the free city of Isnar to the south-east, to the shores of the Snake Bay and from there on barges to the Eternal Sea. We moved along the coast, went into the mouth of the river and climbed over it to the southern foothills of the Arganai. Elves waited for us there, changed wine and cloth for hemp, honey and dwarven powder. Yes, that way turned out to be several times longer, but much, much more safe, plague on it! And there on the river, where it accepts another, flowing from the west, the palace stood. And over it on a rock - a huge golden bas-relief depicting a dragon.
How many times, I remember, we got up for the night on the other side, and there always was that talk among the guys - let's get to the rock, they said, throw the dragon down and saw it. There was, I suppose, there was so much gold, that would be enough for us and our grandchildren, and great-grandchildren to live the most luxurious lives. Yes, but no one dared. No one! It's too scary out there. Judge for yourself: who knows by whom that empty palace was built a thousand years ago. Even elves, plague on them, didn't dare to stay inside it - elves, with all their magic and witchcraft! And now, you say, there is constant fighting out there, isn't it? Amazing. Because of the dragon? No?! Because of some dwarven mechanisms? Oh ... always knew that those dumplings would put our world on the verge of death... worse than any curse, plague on them!
Toshua the Idletalker,