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Another Vacros and Cathos placement theory

by LoZompatore.

Here is a theory of mine about the possible location of Vacros and Cathos islands (see adventure module M2SOLO "Maze of the riddling minotaur").
It was posted a couple of years ago in the Italian Message Board, and it was progressively refined by other Italian users (Zendrolion, DM and Morgoth). The theory is not coherent with the other possible locations suggested so far, and it is mostly based on a "cartographic hole" in the Pearl Islands maps. See if you like it.

First of all, here you are the "cartographic hole": there are two missing islands in the Pearl Islands archipelago. Some official maps show them (Companion Set and Savage Coast, for example), while other maps do not (DotE, WotI and PWAs, for example).

Here is a selection from the Companion map showing the two missing islands:

Here is the northernmost of the two islands above in a Savage Coast map:

(Notice also that the PWAI entry about the Pearl Islands specifies that there are another 500 square miles of islands in the archipelago, not shown in the maps, so the two islands were not simply dropped from the latest maps).

The idea is to use these two "ghost islands" to detail Cathos and Vacros. The main advantage is that their position is in agreement with the information given in M2SOLO module about the setting. Most notably:

# 1) Vacros and Cathos are part of an archipelago:

"These merchant lords (of Vacros) then became pirates and began to raid the local islands, including nearby Cathos, for sacrifices to their minotaurs. The people of the islands beat back these raids, and a large armed force, led by Lady Durnsay of CathosCity, invaded the isle of Vacros, destroying the great city and the foul temple."

# 2) Vacros and Cathos are divided by the Empty Channel, a strait that may be crossed in three sailing days with a small sailing ship (solo adventure) or in two sailing days with a larger ship and a stiff breeze (group adventure, at the end of the module):

"Amhadi's small boat is waiting. The old boatman hoists the sail and you set course across the Empty Channel toward Vacros... The passage across the empty channel is swift and uneventful. The days are clear and warm, and a strong wind at your back drives you towards Vacros. At the end of the third day the island appears on the horizon..."

"The voyage across the Empty Channel has been quiet: two days of clear sky and a stiff breeze. Towards the end of the second day, your boat nears the island of Vacros."

If you estimate the average speed of a small sailing ship to 24 miles/day (36 miles/day with a stiff breeze), then the two islands should be separated by some 100-140 miles, which is quite in agreement with the distance shown on the Companion and SC maps above.
Notice also that, if the Empty Channel is really devoid of islands, then the Thanegioth archipelago location for Vacros and Cathos is less likely, considering the much closer distance between the islands of this archipelago.

# 3) Vacros is a volcanic island, covered with jungle. Given the short distance between the two islands, also Cathos should be a tropical island:

"The maze of the riddling minotaur takes place on the northern tip of a large island abandoned for centuries by civilised men. There may be greater treasure and adventure among the jungle ruins of the city, as well in the volcanic highlands."

"You leave the boat behind as you follow Ahmadi up the foothills that surrounded the ruined city. The volcanic spires of Vacros make the island look like the evil place of the legend. You pass over a low ridge and see the ruins of VacrosCity lying at the base of a large mountain."

"the weather begins to turn as you near the island: tall thunderclouds gather around the mountain's peaks..."

"Dark rain clouds gather over the island, and lightning dances around the volcanic peaks at the isle's centre."

"At the top of the ridge, a view to the south shows the wreckage of what was once VacrosCity. The jungle growth has covered most of the ruins; only a few shattered towers break the deep green roof."

#4) Cathos should be somewhere NW of Vacros. This is not an official statement but it is a reasonable hypothesis given the fact that in both the adventures of M2SOLO module the characters make landfall in the northwestern shore of Vacros.

Placement inside other canon material:

If the location above is accepted, then it is possible to merge Vacros and Cathos with the surrounding area with some ease. Notice, in fact, that the ancient Traldar migration to Davania passed very close to both islands, so both of them could be colonised by Traldars, thus explaining the M-Greek culture of the two islands. From PWAIII ("Davania" entry):

"Hundreds of refugees, including the king, perished during the voyage. After many terrifying months battling the sea and the fish, the Traldar landed on the coast to the southeast of the modern day Hinterlands(this land has been deserted for about three centuries). The Traldar settled at the mouth of a river, and survived by hunting and fishing. But the monstrous fish continued to terrorise them, capsizing fishing boats and even snatching people off the riverbank.
To escape this menace, a warrior named Androsar led the Traldar inland, following the river beyond the reach of the monstrous fish. They settled for a time in a desolate patch of hills and grasslands. Trouble with neighbouring humanoids forced them on, into the jungle-cloaked hills on the edge of the great interior grasslands. Here they flourished, establishing the Milenian Empire. Androsar was the first Emperor."

In my opinion, a possible setting for the whole migration could be something similar to this:

In this map I included also some of the neighbouring cultures of the area around BC 1000. The extreme vicinity of the first Traldar/Milenian settlement seems to me a point to the hypothesis of having the two islands inhabited by some scattered members of the migration.
Notice also that the Tanagoro (Nuari) colonisation of the Pearl Islands happens at the same time of the Traldar migration, so it is possible that the two westernmost islands of the archipelago were colonised by the Traldar, while the rest of the islands were colonised by the Tanagoro. Moreover, the giant fish (the behemoth) that haunts this area in this epoch will likely discourage long journeys among the Pearl Islands, thus preventing large scale invasions or cultural assimilation between the Vacros/Cathos people, the Nuari and the Milenians of the continent. This situation goes on until at least BC600 (from PWAIII we know that the giant fish is still awake after the fleeing of the Thyatian tribes from Davania), but possibly not after BC500 (from DotE we know that in this century Ochalea starts shipping great amounts of grain to the Alphatian Empire).

Vacros and Cathos built both flourishing trading cultures, Vacros being the oldest and the largest:

"The island of Vacros is a dark, legendary place, a barren volcanic island banned to the people of Cathos and removed from their maps from hundreds of years. Long ago this island was the home of a mighty trading empire, an empire whose ships sailed throughout the known seas, returning with gold, strange gems, and great magic."

"Cathos and its capital Cathos City have become the new trading empire, touching port with many of the places to which Vacros once sailed..."

If the location above is accepted, then Vacros (and Cathos afterward) can trade with the Milenian Empire, the Pearl Islands, Ochalea and the Alphatian mainland (and possibly also with other less civilised places such as the Thanegioth archipelago, the Alatians and the Jungle Coast). The two islands should become very rich, accordingly to M2SOLO module.
(In the maze under the temple of Vacros City there is also an interesting statue of an elf "dressed like the elves dressed many centuries ago". Possibly some Vacros merchant route might lead very far in Davania or somewhere else).

Summarising, the Vacros/Cathos culture should be a kind of M-Crete, that substitutes the Nithians in international trade affairs after the fall of their empire and that precedes Thyatis, Ierendi and Minrothad fleets in Mystaran seas.

From M2SOLO we know that the fall of Vacros culture starts when the cleric kings of the island begin to worship a chaotic Immortal called Kiranjo, who is a patron of minotaurs. They built massive temples to him and reverted their trade activities to piracy:

"But it came to pass that the foul priests of a bull head deity, Kiranjo the Minotaur, turned the land of Vacros to evil ways. In the name of Kiranjo the men of Vacros built a great temple, and beneath that temple a huge maze work, which they stocked with savage minotaurs from the far continents. These merchant lords then became pirates and began to raid the local islands, including nearby Cathos, for sacrifices to their minotaurs."

"I am Kandros, leader chief of the bull headed people in service to Kiranjo Minotaur god. For years many we have been in service to Kiranjo, treasure guarding and sacrifice taking as is our duty. This was for many years as such, and we grew powerful as did the men people that also worshipped Kiranjo."

"Oltham wants revenge, for he is the descendant of the cleric kings of Vacros..."

We might add some more mundane causes to Vacros decline, such as the fall of the Milenian empire (50 BC), which suddenly deprives Vacros of most of its markets in the south and the rise of the Thyatian pirates/merchants who sail as far as Ochalea and the Pearl Islands in the wake of the first Thyatian/Alphatian war (0 AC, almost concurring with the fall of the Milenians). Possibly the cult of Kiranjo inserted itself in the social unrest caused by these external factors and so was able to seize power in the island.

(Another possible hint: what if the Milenian migration to Minaea of BC 100 was made thanks to Vacros merchant ships - and Milenian wealth? The Milenians should not be very accomplished sailors. Moreover, this migration required two years accordingly to PWAIII, which means that the Milenians stopped somewhere along the route. Vacros could have been the first stop...)

About the fall of Vacros, we can decide that M2SOLO is set around AC 1000, and so Vacros was destroyed by the Cathos army led by Lady Durnsay around AC 600, more or less at the same time of the Ierendian rise as a naval power. Notice that, from the quotes above, it seems that the Kiranjo cult thrived for many years after its introduction in the island.
A small hint about Vacros being populated until the last few centuries come from a scroll of protection fron lycanthropes that can be found in the labyrinth underneath Vacros City. If we want to strictly adhere to canon, it is unlikely that this scroll was prepared before the lycanthropic spread of AC 400, so the island should be inhabited until the V century AC.