The Caverns of Echoes Edit
In the earthen depths of the Illacrim region resides Salisara, a network of desolate caverns bereft of comfort or the luxuries of the surface world. Inhabited by denizens of the dark, these troglodytic hermits and outcasts scrape together an existence far out of sight and out of mind of those who could wish them persecution and harm. With breathtaking chasms and narrow twisting tunnels, the region provides a natural refuge for the dispossessed and many are the ambushes sprung upon pursuers, should they manage to navigate the confusing confines and avoid losing their way. Those who lack vision in the darkness are at least barely able to function due to the various types of bioluminescent fungi and moulds, a resource that also provides much of the sparse nutrition available. Rumour has it that whole nations live within the various caverns, their legacies in ruin and shunned by those above. With the caverns spanning much of the continent, though sporadic in nature, any tale of those who dwell there changes with each tectonic movement, a constantly shifting realm of rock and stone whose rumblings go unnoticed by those above.
Most residents of Salisara are outcasts and fugitives, eking out a spartan existence and generally praying to be left alone and as safe as can be for their environment. Predation runs rife as the various creatures of the deep dark live their bleak lives, though some of the populace have through necessity banded together to form small almost isolated communities within any cavern with the space to house them. It is these small communities that lend a caste and trading system of sorts to the drab confines. Many of the small communities are fleeting things, moving as and when tectonic activity changes their surrounding area, and the most durable and tenacious groups live out a nomadic life, moving where safety and opportunity beckons.
Each community tends to number no more than fifty, though rumours abound of significantly larger dynasties who haunt the deeper levels of Salisara, their surroundings riven with traps and fortifications to dissuade the curious or unlucky. Due to the nature of their lives, the communities are often formed from a variety of races and previous walks of life, be they former surface dwellers or the paler generations born in the darkness. Those whose sight can pierce the largely lightless confines live with a significant advantage and more importantly tend to live in general, though many of those who have lived in Salisara for generations have developed such a survival trait.
To say that most who reside in Salisara are defensive and flighty would be to do them an injustice, for their style of life necessitates paranoia and a healthy regard for personal safety to merely survive. Even so, outsiders are tolerated and even openly welcomed should they provide valuable assistance or improvements to the way of life. Many travelers seeking those who have fled to the depths have receive help from a community thanks to providing needed skills, food or equipment. Hospitality is a facet of life in Salisara should strangers approach with good intentions, for each ally is another body to help bolster a defense or stave off the perils of the caverns.
Due to the lack of many niceties of the surface, coinage is often disregarded as frivolous and unimportant - coins won’t feed a family, nor are they useful for construction. Rather, most denizens who have lived in Salisara for any reasonable length of time emphasize and support a barter system, with goods or services being the desirable ‘currency’ of the realm. Those with a magical inclination can often live exceptionally well, their talents in high demand. Many community leaders are valued for their ability to constantly provide such life-maintaining water or even food, though such abilities are often innate for study of the magical arts is almost nonexistent for the local populace. Occasionally a fugitive or criminal with such arcane or divine arts can make a region of Salisara a bolt hole, and these individuals inevitably rise to a sort of power, multitudes willing to give their aid and service in exchange for protection and sustenance.
There are, however, many communities who have a simple facade of approachability in order to lure in visitors or members from other groups. These lured individuals often find themselves either pressed into service as slaves, or rendered down as nourishment for their ghoulish captors. These shadowy groups are often found without warning, as they take great pains to ensure those who find them never leave, or simply aren't capable of describing what happened. Such predatory groups are nearly always small in size, the violent and cannibalistic needs of the group preventing them from growing beyond their means.
Thanks to the nature of their lives, many of the inhabitants of Salisara find solace in religion or basic faith, though no specific deity is particularly worshiped. Concepts of darkness are naturally a popular choice, as are isolation and madness for those without the support of peers. Many communities value ideals of family groups and fairness, even the predatory groups lest they consume themselves in chaos. Faith concerning light is relatively uncommon, though cults can exist surrounding those who have come from the surface and share their experiences.
With death being a constant threat there are many mortuary cults and the dead are usually treated with respect and the hope that they have gone somewhere better. The more pragmatic, or desperate, consume the corpses of their dead ritually. This not only helps those who survive to continue doing so, but often ties into concepts of rebirth and the great cycle of life and death. Regardless, most outsiders who stumble upon this practice either find it distasteful or outright horrifying and leave the community where it is practiced. With the dangers of the dark, that isn't always the best choice.
Flora and Fauna: Edit
Many are the troglodytic creatures and beasts that dwell in the caverns. Various critters and vermin navigate the dark with ease, monstrous spiders and centipedes a common occurrence to the extent that they are the most commonly ‘domesticated’ creatures, though it can be arguable how tame they can be. Aberrations abound in the deep, those most locals know of methods to at least decrease the likelihood of accidentally stumbling across them.
A bare few tell tales of the nightmarish Derro, their pale wild hair and milky white eyes looming in the darkness as they abduct the unprepared or isolated. Such survivors describe gruesome experiments and torture, with those released afterwards unsure if they can consider themselves lucky or not.
More terrifying however are the legends of the Destrachan, a hunched reptilian beast that lopes on two clawed feet, its eyeless head dominated by a huge circular maw filled with jagged teeth. Such sightings are always accompanied with terror, for the cry of the Destrachan sunders the rocks and tunnels many call home, their merciless sonic barrages pulping those too close or otherwise burying them in collapsing rock. Entire communities have vanished from Salisara thanks to the Destrachan, or so it is said, though with no survivors from such occurrences it can be wondered how anyone would know.
Though certainly not strong, light is generated by a good number of lichens and mosses in Salisara. Some are cultivated additionally as an edible food source, and some communities thrive on the crafts of their Lichenweavers, individuals who can tease out, grow and weave such flora in to impressive glowing garments or portable light sources. Such crafts often carry a deep spiritual significance and many leaders, when confident of their safety, wear such softly glowing robes of stoles to promote their authority.
In ages past, it is said that the ground deep beneath Illacrim was solid a whole, a firm foundation for the lands and life above. However, something changed. Great rents were torn in the earth as the ground trembled and shook, villages swallowed whole by the grasping dark before the clefts sealed shut once more. Though nearly none know of what truly happened, scholars theorize that there were great earthquakes and tremors that caused a significant restructure of the hidden layers of rock deep below. It is not known what caused the sudden quakes and calamity, though people who suggested not just building pressure but also the possible wrath of the Gods or similarly powerful entities.
Regardless of the cause, the newly created spaces no doubt filled quickly. Though none today can say with any clarity who first started to colonize the depths, Derro persist in myths and legends as hunters of the dark. Enslaving those they can, abducting individuals or even raiding small communities on the surface, the Derro have been a pervasive threat for as long as any alive can remember. Such occupation has shaped the caverns almost organically - tight bolt holes and meandering tunnels providing ample places to ambush the unwary, and only the fooling travel alone.
It likely wasn't long however before the curious or desperate began to navigate their way into the depths. Though relatively frequent tectonic activity made these first initial forays dangerous, they were carried out anyway. Those seeking knowledge often sought to return to the surface, but many fugitives found the darkness to be a lifeline, a respite from their pursuers. Thus it can be said to be likely that the first non-Derro societies in Salisara were formed by the dispossessed, the vagrant and the criminal. Needless to say, such early attempts at forging a life with other unsavoury characters no doubt led to strife and suffering, but at some point stability must have been maintained to lead to the current situation of multiple small communities spread across the under-continent.
As with many locales, these spaces also gave rise to new hunting grounds for beasts and aberrations, the dark confines perfectly suited to lone predators. The colloquial name for Salisara, the Caverns of Echoes, arose in part due to the haunting cries of prey, whether captured by beasts or the painfully inventive Derro, echoing throughout the tunnels and caverns for long, long distances. The caverns keep their name today due to the misleading nature of their sounds - what may sound close could indeed be miles away, where what sounds far away may simply be a skilled predator lying in wait.
In recent memory, more communities have been openly formed from various races working together in concert. These communities often rely on a story tradition, their history and lessons passed on by skilled orators who definitely do not twist histories and tales to get their points across. It is said that these veritable pillars of community knowledge are always happy to help travelers navigate Salisara, for a reasonable price. Whether such a community may have ties to the Derro or some other beast, sacrifices traded for safety, is always a matter up for discussion by the more wary of Salisara’s visitors.
One tale told by a great many skalds of the caverns concerns the legacy of Mulithera, a gigantic purple worm that terrorized all who came within it’s realm. Many are the caverns and tunnels attributed to the worm and its’ progeny, the eventual scale of Mulithera causing quakes and tremors in its own right. It is purportedly the sacrifice of a champion, his name lost to time, who finally brought an end to the creature by having it choke to death on him, the only detail of his appearance still remembered being his incredible bulk. Even so, Mulithera’s offspring live on, though none to the scale of their originator and sire. Whenever the regular rumblings of a worm are felt, multiple communities will band together to either slay it or pool their resources and favour to hire people who can.
Important Persons: Edit
One of the communities closest to the surface, and thus likely to be encountered, is the tribe of Sul’Amon. This group of vagrants is led by Zartak, a troll of great cunning and practicality. His hide is crisscrossed with countless scars and burns and his eyes glitter with intelligence uncommon for his kind. Garbed in a soft blue glow from his bioluminescent lichen robes, his leadership has seen his tribe live through attack and ambush, predators and lawmen.
Though most would attribute cruelty and violence to a troll, Zartak rules his group with a measured hand and a surprising level of fairness, though he suffers no fools. Only the ill-prepared would attack him or his band, for they have weathered some of the worst both the surface and Salisara can throw at them. Even so, everyone who lives in Salisara has a bargaining point, and Zartak is no exception. Those with the right skills or talents can no doubt bargain either protection or employ from the wily troll.