Wednesday, August 28, 2013

A Black Barrier - The Darkwall Peaks

I tell you, the mountains are alive.
You know they say that nothing lives there? It's a lie. There are things that live in the mountains; terrible things... nightmare things. Twenty years ago, my troopers and I chased a band of mercenaries led by a handful of filthy Vargr into the mountains north of Steppengrad. Not five miles into those mountains we were hopelessly lost. Us! Seasoned cavalrymen mounted on the smartest, most knowing steeds in all of Morden, lost like children in the Darkwall with night approaching. Why did we not turn around you ask? We did! The path we had taken was gone.

The hills, the very mountains themselves moved about us to block our path. It was as if the land itself hated us and was plotting against us. For days, weeks, we wandered among the empty paths of the Darkwall – huddling in shallow caves during the howling night and searching desperately for a way out during the day.

One by one, we faltered. During the day, men and horses fell screaming into bottomless canyons, or were crushed by giant stones that thundered down the mountainside, or simply gave up in hopelessness. At night, men were dragged out of caves by hidden hands and slaughtered. We could hear their screams for mercy over the howling winds, but in the morning there was nothing left but blood stains on the stones. Eventually our powder ran out, then our food.

We ate our horses, then our boots and belts and tack, and, well, and then things became very desperate indeed. Of the forty men and horses that went in, only I survived. Sixty days after we went in, I escaped the mountain. I came out barefoot and starving, mad from hunger and thirst and the things I'd seen. Don't go into the mountains, child. There is nothing there for you but madness and death.

Soaring tens of thousands of feet into Morden's sky and stretching for thousands of miles all along its northern, eastern, and southern borders, the Darkwall Peaks are one of the most imposing and ill-omened mountain ranges on all of Saturnyn. For countless centuries, this jagged, saw-toothed range kept Morden safe from the predations of the witches in their far off lands. The range itself is an inscrutable maze of deep, miles long crevasses, switchbacks, winding cave complexes, hidden passes, dead end box canyons, and trails that are little more than goat paths. Very little of it has been charted, and those few crazy, brave explorers who have tried have met their ends in the treacherous passes and defiles at the hands of avalanches, rock slides, falls, and other, more terrible accidents. The Darkwall is a place of death and madness, full of conflicting legend. It is both a haven for monstrous creatures and the great wall that kept fortress Morden safe for millennia. Safe, that is, until the witches finally unlocked the way through the mountains and descended on Morden like locusts.

Few humans aside from the occasional brigand, goatherd, or foolhardy adventurer make their homes in the Darkwall. Instead, the range is home to countless species of flora and fauna found nowhere else in the world. Tales tell of huge raptors with wings so big that they blot out the sun, deadly great cats that can scale sheer cliff faces, savage feral humanoids, and massive carnivorous plants.

Other horrors are rumored to live there. Creatures from beyond the grave, slithering beasts from the mists of time long thought extinct, and a thousand gibbering nameless horrors are all said to stalk the trails and lurk in the dark caves. What is true and what is fiction regarding the Darkwall is hard to say, as few who enter ever return. Those damaged few who do are typically in no condition to give coherent accounts.

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