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Ancient Civilisations of Northern Davania - A Discovery in the Hinterlands :by Geoff Gander
It is with pleasure that I, Marcus Cassius Aurestius, announce the discovery of what I believe to be traces of a great civilisation, nestled with the reaches of what we know today as the Thyatian Hinterlands and the Serpent Coast. This region, which stretches from the Green Coast in the west, along the southern reaches of the Serpent Strait separating Yavdlom from Davania, and towards the easternmost portion of the Hinterlands, has been known to explorers from the Known World for well over a century. Those who know of Davania at all most likely think of these lands when that continent is mentioned to them. It is only because of the treacherous waters of the aptly-named Sea of Dread that our explorers had not voyaged there earlier, but, thanks to improvements in ship design and navigational techniques, such voyages are proving not so insurmountable as before.
Before I begin my discussion in earnest, let me briefly discuss the regions of northern Davania that were surveyed. The bulk of our research was conducted, of course, in the Hinterlands themselves - primarily because they were the most accessible to us. The bulk of our surveys in the Hinterlands were conducted in the southernmost regions of the colony, where few Thyatian settlements have yet been built. Our work in the Serpent Coast region, which contains the city-states of Kastelios and Garganin and their environs, was on not nearly as large a scale as in the Hinterlands, in part because of the greater density of settlement in those regions. We could hardly ask a remote farmer to leave his home while we conducted a dig, though some of the locals in that region were quite helpful in pointing out known ruins and other interesting sites. Finally, our work in the Green Coast was of the shortest duration and of the least depth, not least because of the remoteness of the location. The locals were also experiencing more trouble than was normal from the indigenous humanoid tribes of the Adakkian Mounts, not far to the south, and nearby rakasta tribes had resumed their skirmishes with the local human population. I shall now provide an account of some of our discoveries:
Report of Marcus Cassius Aurestius Concerning the Hinterlands:
In reviewing the information that was gained from the expeditions, we were most pleased that our efforts had been so richly rewarded. In all three regions we found evidence of permanent habitation at some time long before our earliest records. During which known time period these structures may have been built, we could not discover, though by all reckonings they are at least four thousand years old!
I will proceed to discuss in greater detail one specific survey location, that located far upstream of Ravenscarp, in the Hinterlands. It was at this site, some ten days from the nearest Legionnaire outpost, that we made our most fantastic discovery. While exploring southwards through the jungle, guided by some local tribesmen of the Raven Clan, we came across a large clearing. This alone was out of place, given the lushness of the vegetation normally present in the region. The locals had told us of a place in the southern jungles that they rarely visited, claiming that the land has been cursed by the Immortals. It was said to be a blighted land, filled with unwholesome ruins. I believed that this clearing, measuring roughly one mile in diameter and two miles long, might be that place.
Our initial survey indicated that there was indeed something amiss with the vegetation. Attempts at transplanting lush plants from outside the clearing to selected locations within its bounds were telling; no single transplant survived more than 48 hours, even with careful watering and adding of minerals to the dry soils. In the clearing itself grew only stubby yellow grass, broken only by the occasional bare hillock, and the odd protrusion of obsidian. The obsidian, being derived from volcanic sources, could not have been native to this region, devoid as it is of volcanic activity. We immediately set out to explore around the stones, to see what lay among them.
This is what uncovered our great discovery! Within hours of digging around the first stones, it soon became apparent that what we had uncovered were the ruined foundations of a building! Surely the solidity of its construction prevented it from being totally eroded away over time, and, judging by the perimeter of the foundations and the thickness of the walls, this building was either very tall, or it served as a fortress of some kind. Excavations around other outcroppings revealed that they, too, were the above-ground remnants of former buildings.
After almost a week of digging, we managed to uncover an area almost 100 feet on a side, averaging four feet deep. We immediately set out to map our excavation site, and realised that we had discovered a sophisticated settlement of some sort. The first structure we uncovered appeared to occupy a central position among a circle of lesser buildings, which were in turn ringed with a paved street, its cobblestones made from solid slabs of granite measuring no less than two feet on a side. Along the outer perimeter of the road, numerous side streets stretched outwards, though these disappeared into the earth; we did not have time to uncover them.
The next few days were spent examining the various buildings, digging around their foundations in search of artifacts that might tell us something of their former inhabitants. All the while, however, a sense of uneasiness began to develop amongst us. No one could define specifically what was going on, but the feeling remained. It was during this period that a bizarre cold snap developed in the weather, shocking many of the native Hinterlanders, unused as they were to cooler temperatures. Still, we pressed on.
In our first week of searching we found an assortment of iron pots, rusted bronze sword blades, and what looked like half-melted blobs of metal. The pots and blades were interesting in that they showed the inhabitants were capable of forging metal, though not steel. Faint traces of engravings were found on the metal goods, though time had succeeded in eroding any readability from them. Some of these samples we sent immediately to Ravenscarp, so that they would be kept safe. Fascinated by our finds, yet convinced that more lay just beyond our grasp, we returned to the original building, and dug deeper into the structure. It was here, after reaching the original obsidian-paved floor of the building, that we made our greatest, and most fearsome, discovery.
The Great Building:
It soon became apparent that the largest building at the site was a structure of importance. Its floors were engraved with what appeared to be runes of significance, though we could not read them. The surviving portions of the walls contained the remnants of paintings and frescoes, depicting what appeared to be battle scenes. Of the runes and paintings we drew copies, sending those by runner to Ravenscarp, where known sages might try to make sense of them. In the centre of this building, in what must once have been a majestic chamber, was a great black marble slab embedded into the floor, measuring eight feet long and three feet wide. Around its perimeter were inscribed more runes, though these had a slightly different character to them - for some reason I had the impression that they told a tale of some sort. We resolved to remove the slab the next day, to see what lay beneath it. That night was the strangest, and the most disturbing, of all that I have had during these expeditions.
I suppose I should explain myself somewhat at this point. During the entire period of the excavation, once we had begun digging up the ruins, I had experienced strange dreams. In them, shadowy figures flitted about in the corner of my vision, whispering suggestions to me in a guttural tongue I did not comprehend, yet I was able to grasp the underlying intentions of the speakers. Over the period of our excavation, the feeling grew in me that we should leave the site - and never return. I could not explain it, but upon awakening in the morning, I was convinced that we had to leave. Several of my companions also related similar feelings. It was the night after the discovery of the slab, however, that was the worst of all.
I dreamt I was standing on a grassy knoll overlooking a shallow valley. The sun was high in the sky, and light forests lay behind me. Within the valley was a great, walled city, apparently constructed of obsidian! I seemed to approach it without consciously wishing to - I did not even appear to possess a body! As I approached, the city grew clearer, and soon I passed within its imposing gates, and saw its inhuman inhabitants for the first time! As long as I live I shall not forget what I saw - columns of armoured creatures, not unlike lizard men in some respects, parading up and down the wide granite avenues. Tall obsidian structures, none of them less than two storeys in height, crowded me on either side, their facades marked by sharp inscriptions.
I drifted amongst the common inhabitants, many of whom were of the same stock as the warriors, but dressed in simple robes and loincloths. All about me I heard a strange language being spoken - the same rasping, guttural tongue that I heard in my previous dreams, I was sure! The commoners went about their business as those of our own cities do, gathering food, goods, and other sundry for their own needs from those who were obviously merchants. Scattered amongst the crowds, however, were those that I knew were masters of this unnamed city. They seemed to be about my height, and they were dressed in elegant robes and jewellery. Not one of them went unaccompanied by a retinue of servants and guards - creatures of the same race as the soldiers and commoners. They were hideous to behold, with pale, greenish-grey scaly hides; gaping, toothy jaws, and cunning red eyes glinting in the sunlight. These saurial creatures seemed to glow with power, and for some reason I knew they were adept in the magical arts.
Suddenly, I saw before me what I knew to be the largest building in our excavation - that building which contained the slab. Tall it was, taller than even the greatest temples of Thyatis the City! Engraved along its obsidian walls were scenes beyond description, so strange they were that I had no point of reference to describe them. Suffice it to say I felt uncomfortable in looking at them, and that I was happy that I did not understand them. Clearly, from the pungent sickly-sweet incense billowing from its cavernous archway, to the aforementioned carvings, this building was a temple! Soon enough, however, I found myself drifting towards that gaping entrance.
Inside, I felt as though I had entered a tremendous cavern. The high, vaulted ceiling was no doubt lost in the blackness high above, and along the walls I saw the now-faded frescoes and paintings. I will say only this: I am glad they are no longer whole! That we surmised the scenes were ones of battles was correct, but the sheer carnage that was depicted in that horrid art! Words cannot describe the revulsion I felt. Also, I saw the great black marble slab, glinting in the dim torchlight. Amid clouds of fetid incense, I saw grouped around that tumulus several prostrate robed forms, chanting in that foreign language common to this city. They were kneeling before a lone figure, who stood facing the slab, apparently holding something within its robes. Before I could fully gain my bearings, the figure turned, looking straight at me! The creature - a member of that apparently dominant race of powerful saurials - pointed a clawed finger at me, as uttered, "An-resh okh rh'okham. Peram okh sek durrh." After it spoke those words, a large red amulet about its neck began to glow softly.
The next thing I new, I had awakened in a cold sweat, the mysterious creature's words echoing in the back of my mind.
The Slab and Its Contents:
Shaken, but otherwise none the worse for wear, I ventured to the site of the slab, only to find that my companions had proceeded without me, and were in the process of opening it. Moments after I arrived, the slab moved ponderously aside by a few inches, then a few more. Within ten minutes, it was opened wide enough to admit one person at a time into the stairway that lay beneath it. From within its depths wafted a foul, musty breeze, faintly reminiscent of that incense I had smelled in my dream.
Torn between fear and eagerness, I proceeded to enter the rift we had opened. The stairs continued downwards for quite a distance - I would estimate I was at least 100 feet below the surface. Here, there were untouched wall carvings, their lines so sharp that they could have been inscribed yesterday. So tight a fit the slab must have made that there was only a fine layer of dust on the flagstones of the stairs and corridor at its bottom. Knowing from my dream what those carvings contained, I ignored them, though my companions did not, and occasionally I heard a muttered word of disgust at what they saw. How long the narrow corridor continued I did not know, though obviously it was frequently used at one time, as evidenced by the brittle torches occupying sconces in the walls.
After what seemed like an eternity in that constricting hallway, with no sounds save the scuffling of many feet, the walls seemed to give way into a larger chamber. We found ourselves in a round room, measuring roughly thirty feet in diameter. The basalt floor was covered in flowing runes, their meaning unknown, and the walls contained recesses at regular intervals. On the opposite side, the tunnel appeared to continue into blackness, while above us rose a domed ceiling, its surface painted as a pattern of the night sky. Many of the constellations we know today were recognisable, though their positions were different from what one would expect. Next to certain stars were what appeared to be cartouches, containing more of those strange runic symbols. As we paced about the room, our footfalls echoing ominously in the gloom, I heard a cry from one of my companions! Going to him, I saw what gave him fright; it appeared that we were not alone in this subterranean realm. He had ventured near one of the alcoves with his torch, and illuminated briefly what lay within - a withered form, held erect and armoured as though in preparation for battle. Though its features had long since been eroded by time, it was clear to me that I was gazing upon the desiccated form of one of those warrior lizard-kin I had seen in my dream. A quick inspection of the room revealed that every alcove contained one such preserved creature - thirty in all. I believed this place was a tomb of some sort, and this chamber a guardroom, to protect the departed in the afterlife. Seeing all we needed to see, we continued inwards.
Many long moments later, we entered what I thought must be a actual tomb itself! Clearly, this culture was unlike any I had ever known. Occupying this rectangular chamber was a massive throne, atop an imposing dais and carved from what looked like a solid piece of obsidian, embedded with rubies! Scattered along the walls were numerous stone chests, their faces carved with bas-reliefs depicting scenes I could not comprehend. Along the walls were painted colourful murals, apparently depicting the life of the occupant of that throne. Judging from the quality of the paints that were used, and the deeds described, this creature had led a long and illustrious life, but also a bloody one. Numerous scenes depicted the prominent saurial leading armies of warrior-lizards into battle, putting what looked like humans to the sword by the hundreds, and defiling what appeared to be temples. Other scenes depicted the saurial prostrated before a tremendous altar of basalt, around which flitted forms that were mercifully indistinct! A creature of prominence, and of power.
And the occupant of that throne! Bringing my torch closer to the withered form, its faded robe still bearing the richness and detail of a wealthy person, I realised that it was one of those creatures I saw in the temple of my dream. Gazing more intently at the jewels and other baubles decorating it, I noticed, half-hidden within the folds of its robe, a necklace of some form. Cautiously reaching forward, I grasped the golden necklace, and pulled it to the light to have a better look at it. I nearly dropped it once more when I realised what I saw! Nestled within my palm was a red amulet, made from some unknown material - that same amulet I saw worn by that priest in my dream! I broke out on a cold sweat at my realisation of who this creature was, and immediately felt revolted at the sheer evil of its deeds. Backing away from the corpse, I sought a means of cleaning my hand, feeling somehow corrupted by touching it.
Knowing now what lay here - the belongings and remains of a creature of utter evil - I asked my companions to leave with me. It was just as well, since no one was able to open the stone chests lining the walls; no visible means of opening them was present. Upon returning to the surface, I sketched out a map of what we had seen, and directed my companions to replace the slab. Some of the nearby Hinterlander natives looked on approvingly, saying to me afterwards that we had discovered "that which should not be disturbed". Truly, we have uncovered the remnants of a mighty civilisation, but one that I am not sure we would do well to emulate. What I set out to recount in enthusiasm I now do with a cautionary note. There are wonders aplenty in northern Davania, but equally true there are many dangers, the likes of which we have not known.
The above text can be used as the basis of an adventure. The PCs can discover this text in a sage's collection, or in a library in Thyatis or any other "civilised" nation. The writer was an explorer who was commissioned to explore northern Davania for the purposes of determining future sites for colonies in the Hinterlands, and potential places to explore, and who could still be alive today. The PCs might even meet Marcus in their travels, who might tell them of what he discovered, urging them to destroy what he found, for his own safety and that of the world. Alternatively, evil individuals may have received news of the discovery, and obtained a copy of this testament to provide PCs with the information they need to locate and pillage the ruins.
What Marcus and his companions discovered were the ruins of a Y'hog Carnifex city, named Ishtur-Koth. It was built circa BC 7200 in one of the great advances of the Carnifex hordes against Lhomarr and its allies. A large swath of land was secured by Dhalgesh-K'ha, the local leader of the Carnifex armies, and it was he who was rewarded with rulership over the city, and who was entombed in its temple after his death. At its height, Ishtur-Koth contained roughly 15,000 inhabitants, most of whom were troglodyte servants and warriors. The city survived the final battles of those dark times, but mysteriously entered a period of decline not long afterwards. By BC 6800, not long after Y'hegg-T'uhath itself sank beneath the waves, there were clear signs of decay, with the Y'hog Carnifex overlords growing ever more decadent and cruel in their excesses. The troglodyte servant class, having seen the destruction of the mighty empire of the Y'hog Carnifex, realised how far their masters had fallen from power. Finally, in BC 6782 they rose up, murdering every Y'hog Carnifex they could find and looting their homes, and destroying much of the city in the process. Afterwards, wishing no further connection with their former masters, the troglodytes gathered their belongings, and prayed to half-forgotten Immortals to cleanse the land of the Carnifex' influence. Seeing this change of heart, several Immortals pooled their energies to curse the land in such a way that any who neared the ruins would be subtly warned that the land contained something unwholesome. They also wiped out the troglodytes' memories of the Carnifex, and moved them to the shores of the Adakkian Sound, where they could begin anew. So powerful was the curse that almost nothing will grow there now, and no animal will willingly enter the clearing where the ruins now rest.
Exploring the Ruins:
The ruins are located roughly 60 miles south of Ravenscarp, near the River Torion. The surrounding region is inhabited by Raven Clan tribespeople, many of whom consider the lands occupied by the ruins to be forbidden. Anyone staying in the clearing for more than one week must make a save vs. Spells or become uneasy. They will not be able to identify the source of their uneasiness, but the feeling will grow over the next few days that they should leave. Also, strange weather patterns begin to develop, such as sudden hailstorms or cold, bitter winds, to "encourage" everyone to leave. All of these effects are part of the Immortal curse on the ruins.
Anyone who digs amongst the ruins, however, awakens a curse engineered by the Carnifex inhabitants of the former city before they were massacred in the uprisings. Within days of digging, people will begin to experience disturbing dreams in which voices whisper the them in the Carnifex tongue, and shadows flit in the corners of their vision. These become steadily more vivid, and the threatening tone becomes clearer, until the person is haunted by them during their waking hours, eventually driving them insane. Disturbing the slab, however, will arouse a vivid dream in the person deemed to be the most intent on exploring the city. They will dream of Ishtur-Koth during its heyday, and will find themselves entering the Temple of Akh'All the Unmentionable. There, they will encounter Dhalgesh-K'ha, who notices them, and tells them in the Carnifex language, "You will be our slave. You will obey us."
That person is then marked by a curse cast by Dhalgesh-K'ha in life. The one who is affected will then become compelled, over the next few years, to seek out other ruined Carnifex cities, and excavate from them artifacts of power and other items, which will aid the followers of the Outer Beings when they deem the time is right to rise up and conquer the world for their masters. The cursed person will be affected as though under a geas, though they cannot resist the urge to explore. Over the next few years, as well, they will become increasingly haunted by visions of the Y'hog Carnifex, and will hear their voices more frequently. Eventually, they will be able to understand what is being said to them, and realise the purpose behind what they are doing. The only way to break the curse is to enter Dhalgesh-K'ha's tomb beneath the ruins of the temple, and crush the amulet his corpse wears around its neck. That amulet is in fact a receptacle for his life force and consciousness. If he determines that the person handling his amulet intends to take or destroy it, he will animate his corpse, and those of the troglodyte guards in the outer chamber, to destroy the intruder. Treat the undead troglodytes as ghouls (including the paralysing touch), and Dhalgesh-K'ha's animated corpse as a 22 HD lich, with a full repertoire of spells. If Dhalgesh-K'ha wins, he may possess the body of the person who tried to take the amulet, and use it to leave his tomb unnoticed and help further the aims of the Outer Beings. If he does so, he will venture into the world, looking otherwise unremarkable except for the fact that he wears a large red amulet.
Contained with Dhalgesh-K'ha's burial chamber are eight stone chests, sealed shut ages ago. The only way to open them is to smash them (each chest has AC4, 80 hit points), or cast transmute rock to mud or knock. The actual contents of the chests are up to the DM, but they should contain jewels, gems, coins from Lhomarr and other realms, magic items, information, and other such valuables. DMs may also wish to include lost Carnifex of Lhomarrian spells in the chests, as a means of introducing them to a campaign. Dhalgesh-K'ha's tomb is not the only one beneath the temple; there could easily be sealed entrances to other tombs at the base of the stairs, containing their own perils and rewards.
Buried amongst the ruins of the rest of the city is a wealth of treasure and information. The troglodytes did not manage to take everything, and they likewise failed to destroy all relics of evil. There could easily be an artifact or two buried deep within the ruins - perhaps in the now-forgotten sewers of the city. The ruins take up almost the entire area of the clearing, providing many adventures' worth of exploration, danger, and excitement. Additionally, the ruins could serve as the beginning of a long campaign to uncover the machinations of the Outer Beings, and perhaps bring the PCs into conflict with these entities at some later time.