The Corpse Trail

From World of Charun

Of the changes to come to Charun in the Fourth Age, perhaps none have been as significant as the partial land-bridge, made up of the Grey Fens and extended coastline past Old Arinthia. It is now possible to walk all the way from the far eastern portion of Atalheim and the Stormy Clfifs all the way to the Three Isles -- or even to Mogaroth, if you can make it that far. This has created a giant unstable zone that in theory is controlled by local powers, but in actual fact is a perpetual source of violence. "Working the Corpse Trail" has now become a metaphor for adventuring and the free-lance brigandry, raiding, and informal-soldiering that adventuring regularly entails. The same geographic conflicts appear to hold true for all of the "peoples" of Charun: a human might "pick up the trail" in Randsala, much the same way as a Dhazzir slaver might start it by venturing into the Sorceror's Knolls or the Feral Fen.


Creation

"The Corpse Trail" originated in the Fourth Age as a euphemism for the violence involved in mercenary work and adventuring (insofar as a mercenary or adventurer tends to leave a trail of corpses behind him), but because of the geographic and political changes of the Fourth Age, has also come to describe a conflict zone stretching from the Mogarothi border in the Farlands to the Feral Fens and Stormy Cliffs in the Old Land.

The eruption of Mount Doom in 780 IV led to the alteration of the Fierce Sea's northern most seafloor, and the resulting uplift now known as the Grey Fens made it possible to walk directly from the Farlands directly to the Old Lands without having to attempt a crossing of the perilous Snowy Peaks or Narghal. This new territory, in turn, created a power vacuum, and its ownership has not yet been permanently settled.


Zones

In effect, three different specific conflict zones were linked together and then altered: the Islean/Mogarothi stalemate line, the lands of the Sunul and Arinthians, and geographic band stretching from the Sanctian border with Talewood to where the Sorceror's Knolls gradually shift into the Stormy Peaks and Feral Fens. This is exacerbated by the eruption of Mount Doom itself: its ashfall forced the Sunul and Arinthians to migrate, and each now occupies an important part of the Trail. The Arinthians are in a constant state of low-grade warfare with the Cavers, Urmen, Dhazzir, and Narghali, up in their mountain-cave fortresses.The Urmen of Talewood and Saurians of the Stinky Swamp, of course, need no encouragement. The Sunul themselves now control a larger territory, and are known to assault any travellers they find in the stretch of territory from the western end of the Grey Fens, across the northern Bay of Harigum (now known as the "Sunul Shallows") and to the Maze Hills.

Because Mogaroth did not fortifiy directly across from the Three Isles, but instead "refused the flank," to use a military term (because otherwise Islean forces would have been able to land soldiers both in front of and behind the fortification line, which would have made it very vulnerable), the region known as the Maze Hills is now a no-man's-land, accessible to all the various great powers, but controlled by none of them.

Adding to all of this, Narghal and the Dhazzir have not been passive. If Mogaroth was able to link up and control or ally with the larger groups of now-isolated Urman and Saurian tribes, they'd become immensely powerful. Narghal has thus steadily opposed the expansion of Saurians into the Grey Fens, and there are rumors of consistent attempts at Dhazzir expansion into the Snowy Peaks.

Thus, all of the great nations south of the Snowy Peaks must watch events on the "Corpse Trail" closely, and while most of them are deadlocked and unable to make significant progress -- and were they to do so, word would spread across the length and breadth of Charun within the week -- scouts, brigands, adventurers, and spies of all kinds have found extensive employment as they attempt to make coin or achieve small gains, even if it is only by frustrating the designs of other groups on the Trail.

A Veteran Speaks

"Kid, I been working the Corpse Trail since afore you was born. And if I tell you we're sneaking and running, we're sneaking and running. You don't like it, you're free to leave and take your chances with the vampires, starting right now."

The old man took a sip of his ale, getting less formal the more he drank.

"We call it that because it seems like half the powers of Charun keep moving closer and closer together, and the closer they get, the more bodies get ground into mud between them. The armies can't move but here and there, now and then, because as soon as one army moves, everybody else moves, too. But smugglers, bandits, and adventurers, we can "work the Trail" without anybody getting worked up over us being there. Nobody cares about a half-dozen hard cases slitting throats and hunting for treasure, because that doesn't redraw the map. Though you can bet that the people whose job it is to worry pay more attention than the garrisons do."

"The "Corpse Trail" as known in the Old Land starts in Randsala, and involves the border zones on the Twinset River, and the lands along the Sorceror's Knolls and Talewood. Across Talewood are the dominions of the Dhazzir and Fearanni; in Talewood, of course, are Urmen and Cavers in huge numbers. But should he travel west, he comes upon the Arinthians. Beyond there, one must either risk exposure to Talewood, or else move along the southern side through A'Soar territory while while trying to avoid the creatures of the Stinky Swamp."

"In either case, the next step is a careful jaunt through the Talewood, with everything that has to offer: bandits, Fearanni raiders, Urmen, Cavers, roaming Saurians, and highly-organized teams of Sanctian smugglers and brigands. Many adventurers would consider this sufficient."

"The brave might press on into the Fearann, dodging packs of Fearanni Raiders, vampires, and Blood Frenzy Men -- not to mention huge packs of worgs and bands of lurking Cavers which also carry and transmit the disease. The Fearann is beautiful, so long as the sun is up, but managing to cross it alive without coming to a bad end is no mean feat."

"If that were not bad enough, leaving the Fearann is as likely to kill you as staying in it, as that involves a perilous and risky journey hugging the coastline between the seashore and the Forest of Lamentation. From here Narghal's influence becomes both obvious and direct, and a single wrong move may result in a fate literally worse than death."

"On the other hand, those who don't think this is excitement enough can take a short detour and try their hands and adventuring and looting in the city now known as "Old Arinthia." It's overrun by vampires and all manner of terrible things, but it's also full of the loot of a whole nation. "Word on the Trail" has it that much of the Arinthians' wealth still remains there untouched, as the dead have no use for it. Of course, that may just be something the Narghali say in order to encourage visitors. And just because you think you've seen a vampire doesn't mean you're ready for dealing with Narghal."

"Leaving aside Old Arinthia, assuming you're not suicidal enough to climb further into the foothills and try your luck with Novy Arinthia, one comes to the Grey Fens, a labyrinth of head-tall grasses that is heavily-patrolled by Narghali and Fearanni troops, and inhabited by at least three different groups of Saurians. Staying on land will almost certainly get you caught -- but venturing into the water will just as certainly get you killed. It's a three-day passage at best, assuming one isn't forced to hunker down and hide from one of the huge battles regularly occurring in the place."

"If you can make it through the Grey Fens with your skins intact, THEN you get the joy of entering into Sunul territory. The Sunul aren't like any other Mórail you've ever seen. Yes, they are a bit on the scrawny side, and it's not that hard to outmuscle them, if you're one-on-one. Problem is that you almost never will be, and while they may not own a scrap of metal, they can still kill you dead as a rock by blow or spell. I've seen one kill a man stone dead just by punching him. Through a mail shirt. The Sunul are uncanny."

"The Maze Hills are just what they sound like -- it's really, really easy to lose your way in there, and that's a bad idea, because the Maze Hills are no-man's-land. Urmen from the Snowy Peaks. Dhazzir even show up now and then, too, why nobody knows. And if you keep your heading, you come out just on the other side of Diamond Isle, and you're home free."

"Assuming you weren't killed by the lizards. Because just west is the Mogarothi fortifications, and the Saurians there are something like you've never seen in your life. They've got numbers, discipline, gear, and Urmen aplenty. So a wrong turn in the Maze Hills can lead one to a bad end very easily. Nothing like getting chased by an eight foot lizard with a great-axe in one hand and a warsword in the other."

He took another sip.

"Thing you have to understand is, it's just as bad for everybody else, too. The lizards are strong in the marshes and out at Mogaroth, but if a lizard were to try to get from Mogaroth over to the Feral Fens, he'd be taking his life in his hands for most of the trip -- though he could let his guard down a bit in the Talewood. An Atlir doesn't think twice about the bottom of the Twinset, but for a Saurian that's no-man's-land, likely to get them torn up by three kinds of human and Dhazzir slavers, to boot."

"Charun's got plenty of places to go, and lots to see. I've seen lots of it, too. But for the most part, in this day and age, if something's going to happen, it's going to happen somewhere along the Corpse Trail. I just hope I'm not around to see it once it really goes."

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