Kith'takharos, The Wild Frontier
Kith'takharos, An introduction
As the Adventurers navigate the Kith’takharos Region, the Village and the surrounding Landscape they will become more familiar with the people and places of the area. To help in this familiarization process certain maps and pieces of information will be made available to them.
Geography, Climate, and Character
I tracked the poachers for two days. Then they entered Swamp Man territory. I heard Dorian’s voice in my head, ordering me to turn back. But I could not. This chase was personal now.
The sweat poured down my face, my hair matted slick against my head. The patches of sunlight breaking through the trees set the air on fire. My path took me from hot to hotter, and I expected no relief until nightfall.
Near midday I halted for a rest. After lunch I sensed that something had changed. There was no line of demarcation, just a sudden realization that my surroundings were…different. Now the sweat that coated my skin had a vague itch, as if the dirt of the swamp was burrowing into my flesh.
I noticed other changes. The wind seemed to whisper like a garbled voice on the edge of my hearing. The sunlight appeared brighter, with an odd orange tint that rendered everything more clear and sharp. The swamp was oddly quiet. No, that is not quite right. Rather, my hearing was muted, and the birds, insects, and other creatures sounded far away.
I knew that I was being watched. Wherever I turned, I saw no threats, yet an unaccustomed dread gripped my insides. I continued walking in silence.
For no reason I could comprehend, I suddenly halted and examined the ground near my feet. Nothing stood out against the deep green plants. I bent closer. Then I saw it: a scrap of flesh. One end was jagged as if the skin had been ripped from some larger piece. After a few seconds, understanding struck me like a hammer blow.
The scrap of flesh was a pointed elven ear. The Swamp Men were giving me a warning. It was time to go home.
―Entry from the journal of Dothar Barkan, Order of the Jade Leaf scout.
As the Karkalin River wanders through the lands west of Kith’ftakharos, the banks become a shallow marsh of tall grasses. Further from the river, the marsh transforms into a dense swamp. The swamp serves as natural flood control for the river: when the river level rises, the water disperses into the swamp, where it slowly seeps into the ground. The increase in water level is most dramatic in the spring, when the mountain snows melt. Then more land becomes submerged, and the high ground breaks up into islets. Should the swamp disappear, the water would have no outlet besides the rich farmland downstream.
The swamp resembles a morphing collage of water and land. Larger landmasses remain relatively stable, with only their edges expanding and contracting with the passing of the seasons. The smaller islands recede and grow in concert with the water level. Landmarks can shift from one year to the next. Even outsiders with extensive experience navigating the swamp will find a considerable portion of their knowledge rendered obsolete after only a few years.
Boats provide the best method of traversing the swamp, since all locations are linked by water. Ponds and narrow channels separate the sections of land, interspersed with open water that spreads out into lakes. Deep in the swamp, the water seems still, clogged with mud, leaves, grasses, and trees. Dead plants settle to the bottom and accumulate into a thick layer of muck. The murky water often appears shallow enough for wading, although even a careful step sinks into the morass.
Travel by land presents its own difficulties. The meandering high ground formed by the crests of hills offers the best footpath through the swamp, although no continuous route exists. Trees and brush fight for the meager light, and where they cannot grow, mold and moss claim the unoccupied space. Branches and needles claw at passersby. Trails must be cut through the dense foliage, only to close again within a few days. Barely above the water table, most high ground remains damp, not quite mud and seldom wet enough that boots sink above the soles.
Heat and water dominate the climate of the swamp. While the rainfall is no greater than in bordering lands, water often hangs above the swamp in a thick mist that obscures vision beyond a few yards. The fog is most dense in the mornings, when the water is still warmer than the air. The swamp defies the sun, and on some days the mist never retreats before its heat. The days are usually warm, and the abundant water retains the heat of the day well into the night. The air temperature varies little from winter to summer, except that the summers are a bit more humid. Very rare is the winter day where the temperature nears the freezing point of water.
The sweet odors of decay and the perfumes of strange plants drift through the water-laden air. The murmur of disturbed water, the shrill cries of birds, and the incessant, high-pitched calling of insects combine into a background din that increases to a brief roar at irregular intervals. Eventually the nose and ears become inured to the constant assault and only unusual scents or sounds register as important.
Few travelers leave the swamp as healthy as they arrived. Poisonous plants await the careless brush of a bare arm. Wounds easily become infected in the moist conditions. Food spoils quickly and the only fresh water lay hidden in scattered springs. Survival skills learned outside the swamp often seem useless; the environment is so foreign that even the most accomplished hunter may have trouble gathering wholesome food.
Most travelers shun the swamp. A few become lost while navigating the Karkalin River, then die in the opaque waters, eaten by the swamp denizens and remembered only as they contribute to inhospitable legends.
The swamp boat followed the shoreline. The thick foliage crawled down the bank in an impenetrable curtain, and the men sat uneasy, shifting position and staring hard into the green. They feared what they could not see, imagining swamp dragons and Swamp Men hiding behind every stand of trees.
A wooden pole dipped into the water, noiseless as it pushed the boat around the next bend.
Black eyes watched the boat. Against the green leaves, the mottled green head was invisible in plain sight. Another minute or two passed before the creature hissed an acknowledgment that the thin skins were gone. Two other green figures stepped forward in the muck and reached into the dark water. Heavy tails balanced the effort as they levered up blocks of pinkish stone. One of them sifted through a tangled mass of mud and sticks and pulled out a silver necklace.
As the afternoon progressed, the Harlass Orn ruins revealed even more secrets.
—The Swamp Men explore the mysteries of the swamp.
The insects are ubiquitous, hopping, flying, and crawling over everything. They buzz in clouds or march in strange, purposeful formations, always underfoot or gnawing at a traveler’s ear. Uncovered skin is an invitation to a meal, and their feathery landings are sometimes mistaken for drops of sweat. Little can dissuade the more determined bugs, but some bites can be avoided by wearing additional clothing or by applying the salves and lotions concocted by the natives.
Exotic creatures both plant and animal share the swamp. Most remain unknown to the merchants and other travelers that ply the Karkalin River only a few miles away. Fierce beasts prowl the waterways, unseen except for the traces of their passage. A ripple could indicate a fish, a submerged branch, or a hungry swamp dragon. A traveler should count himself lucky if the only marks upon his body are the bloody streaks left by oversize swamp leeches.
The Swamp Men are a reptilian people who thrive in the deepest parts of the swamp, far from the settlements of the common races. Except for their well-known desire to remain separate, most so-called knowledge of the Swamp Men borders on speculation.
The swamp civilization of Harlass Orn collapsed over a thousand years ago. Submerged and overgrown Harlass Orn ruins lay scattered across the swamp. Most of the ruins are still undiscovered, although the village of Kith’takharos was built atop the foundations of a Harlass Orn city. Some scholars conjecture that the Swamp Men and the Harlass Orn are related, yet have no proof to substantiate such a bold hypothesis.
Koran Thelig lifted the wooden pole from the bottom of the Big Water. The end of the pole now drifted just below the surface, trailing a miniscule line of ripples that soon merged with the wake of his swamp boat. A half dozen heartbeats passed before he tightened his grip and pushed down into the mud. Then he relaxed his hold and again raised the pole as the boat glided forward. Each stroke was fluid and precise, with no splashes that might reveal his position.
Dawn tinged the eastern sky as he neared Kith’takharos. Stealth should not be required so close to home, but he was a careful man. Quiet as a prowling swamp dragon, he drifted towards the Order’s docks. A blanket of fog was settling over the village, and already most buildings were obscured. Only Kith’takharos Keep rose above the haze on its low hill, signal lights burning in the guard towers.
A shape occluded one of the lights for a moment. Koran strained his eyes and saw someone moving along the crenelation. Lady Salmissra, no doubt, taking an early morning stroll. Koran forced his gaze from the keep to the vague shape of the docks ahead. He could barely make them out in the fog. The space between his boat and the dock closed, and he prepared to halt his motion by stepping onto the dock. Soon he could relax and eat breakfast.
His body followed the motions it had practiced a thousand times, and tied the boat to the dock. But his heart remained on the parapets of Kith’takharos Keep.
―Koran Thelig arrives home after a long night.
Most of Kith’takharos Village is clustered along an old Harlass Orn roadway. The road begins at Kith’takharos Keep and runs in a straight line towards the Big Water. Near the shore, the road crosses a bridge. Here the roadway ends, although it would extend to the Beacon Tower if it continued to the Big Water. When the first Lady Salmissra arrived in Kith’takharos, most of the roadway remained in good condition, and only required some leveling and the replacement of a few stones. Those stones were excavated from the ruined section between the bridge and Beacon Tower.
The Harvesters first built upon the strong foundations of ruined buildings near the keep. As the population of the village grew, wooden structures on stilts were built nearer the Big Water and along the shores of the inlets. The stilts prevent the buildings from flooding in the wet season.
Docks line the shore of the Big Water and extend far into the shallow lake. Scores of small, flat-bottomed boats bob gently along the docks. These boats, designed for up to a dozen passengers or commensurate cargo, are used for most travel of more than a mile or two from the village. The boatmen push themselves across the water with long poles.
Places in Kith’takharos
1. Kith’takharos Keep. The residence of Lady Salmissra commands the high ground overlooking Kith’takharos. Ancient fires have blackened the thick stone walls, which show obvious indications of repair. Much of the crenellation is still broken, leaving gaps in the line of stone teeth. Gatehouses flank the outer entrance and contain new crank mechanisms to operate the original Harlass Orn gates. Arrow slits ring the towers and the gatehouses.
Visitors to Kith’takharos Keep first enter the outer courtyard. A second gate leads to the inner keep. Corridors and stone stairways connect the various defensive rooms of the inner keep, and the parapet can only be reached from these rooms. The inner keep also contains a freshwater well.
2. Tipped Cup. Niki Ocnita owns the Tipped Cup. He creates many minor magical items used by the Order of the Jade Leaf in its harvesting activities, as well as enchantments used in the processing of swamp plants. He also accepts independent commissions.
3. Last Stop. Alma owns the Last Stop, a general store down the street from Niki Ocnita’s Tipped Cup. Many of the items he sells would be considered mundane outside the swamp, but command a premium price in Kith’takharos due to the expensive transport costs.
4. Sheltering Frond. The Sheltering Frond appears far too luxurious for a swamp. Cylene Edarrion established this tavern and inn to serve the finest beverages and swamp delicacies. The young leeches and swamp dragon eggs are especially popular. A bound ice elemental cools the dining area and all guest rooms, offering blessed relief from the swamp heat.
Cylene breeds her own leeches and fish in the pond behind the Sheltering Frond. She also imports skilled entertainers from outside the swamp.
5. Order of the Jade Leaf Keep. The Order occupies a fortress-like structure near the shore. Most villagers assume the placement of the keep directly across the Harlass Orn roadway from the Transit Guild House was purposeful. The Order also controls nearby docks.
6. Transit Guild House. This rambling compound has a palisade wall that encloses a handful of wooden structures and a dock at the end of a small inlet. The buildings surround a freshwater well. Few villagers choose to live near the guild house.
7. Salted Eel. Cyrus Morgan owns this rough-and-tumble tavern near the shore. He brews low cost beverages of surprising quality. The most popular drink is his Big Water Stout. Fistfights provide a way for patrons to blow off steam, and serve as regular entertainment. The Order of the Jade Leaf does not interfere as long as the fights are restricted to the bar.
8. Open Air Market. This collection of stalls is clustered in the space between the end of the Harlass Orn roadway and the docks. Some of the proprietors have occupied the same stalls for years, while others shift with the seasons.
9. Old Beacon Tower. The cylindrical stone structure is another Harlass Orn ruin. The first Lady Salmissra built a lighthouse atop the cylinder to guide incoming cargo boats and patrols. Although only forty feet high, the signal light is visible from great distances on the Big Water.