Today, after a week off from pretty much everything, I’ll be heading into the dark side of Kir-Sharaat, home to the zahajin and some of the deeper mysteries of the world of Wood.
The most important detail, from the perspective of pretty much any creature in the system, is the sheer profusion of aetherite in the Darkwild; veins of the luminous crystals shine in the darkness, granting their eerie light to what would otherwise be perpetual darkness. It is this eye-tricking twilight gloom that makes the zahajin who hunt for intruders so effective – creatures used to the steady light of the sun aren’t going to be a able to penetrate the shifting, ghostly shadows cast by the flickering pulses of raw aetherite.
The uppermost level of the Darkwild – because what Underdark analogue is complete without multiple layers – is the Foundation of Sky, the level where the improbably vast roots of the world-piercing trees dominate, forming a nearly impenetrable roof and puncturing deep into the crust. Mists dominate the air, and symbiotic plants like mosses and fungi grow in groves that would shame forests on other worlds. Here, too, is the location where the relative peace between the fey lords who rule the zahajin and the Tritarchs of the erahthi people was brokered.
Beneath this is the layer known as the Path of Frozen Dreaming; these tunnels follow the great roots of the world-trees as they quest deep for water and minerals. They follow no true pattern, as organic and confusing as the minds of those who dwell in the perpetual darkness. Plants that require little light grow where water flows, and aetherite richly infuses the walls in many places; the zahajin of this layer build their villages where aetherite is particularly concentrated, sometimes incorporating the dangerous glowing crystals into the architecture of their homes.
At the bottom of the world’s layers is the Deeping Sea – more accurately, perhaps, would be the Deeping Seas, as the depths are a series of interconnected seas split into pockets by supporting walls of aetherite-rich stone. Portals to the Evermorn’s fey realms are common in the depths, as are creatures that feed on the aetherite radiation and zahajin villages built around the taproots that sink into the waters, drawing them upward to be dispersed in rainfall from the great trees and eventually flow back down to the Sea. What might lie deeper is unknown, as the erahthi who made it this deep in the wars with the zahajin were unable to plumb their depths, and modern zahajin are understandably unwilling to share their secrets with outsiders.
Of the many threats of these deep realms, the most prevalent is the deadly radiation of aetherite, as the exposed veins are everywhere, becoming more common the deeper one goes. The zahajin and other natives life of the depths thrives on the radiation, making it easy for would-be explorers to underestimate the risk they face from the apparent wealth of unclaimed riches. Equally dangerous, more unpredictable, and somewhat less likely to be encountered is the danger of the fey lords, the powerful protectors and patrons of the zahajin that kept the Tritarchs from wiping them from existence. Capricious and temperamental, the fey lords are alien creatures, planar beings still connected to their place of origin, and should be treated with the respect due to such powerful and alien beings.
Many other dangers fill the depths, of course – walls of force spawned by formations of aetherite, terrible beasts infused with fey magic, and – due to the proximity of the Evermorn – alarming fluctuations in the flow of time, here and there in the deeper reaches.
There’s more to Kir-Sharaat, of course, but I leave that to readers to discover – the secrets of the fey lords and the detail of a few cities belongs in the hands of Game Masters!
Next time, I’ll be visiting the debris field that was once the homeworld of the progenitor-race of Aethera: the Amrita asteroid belt!