Friday, December 25, 2009

Places Under the Dying Sun - Devil Lake

Nestled in a valley in the Tharian Hills, it is possible that this was once a true lake, but the so-called "Devil Lake" is now just a sulphurous wetland; a stinking, marshy expanse with a foot or two of yellowish, standing water. While many plants eke a lean existence from the tainted waters, the area is almost wholly devoid of animal life. Indeed, the Tharian Wildmen strictly avoid the valley and regard Devil Lake with a superstitious dread. They say that the marsh is actually the outflow from some Hell and that a portal to that nether-world stands in the midst of the lake in the form of a vast sinkhole hidden under the water's surface.

Although this tale is widely believed by the credulous, most sceptics regard Devil Lake as merely the dying remnant of a once-mighty lake or inland sea which vanished as most of the other surface waters of the world have and which has become polluted by elements in the soils.

However, there is a persistent rumour that the Lake's foul nature and fouler reputation were manufactured for the express purpose of keeping the area isolated. Many gamblers, adventurers, and drunkards of the City of Hajal have heard the whispers that the waters of the ancient lake were drained into some subterranean vault or cavern lying just below the surface by an antique and foresighted order of scholars and wizards, who saw the coming of the Aeon of the Dying Sun. Upon the lightless shores of the old lake made new, they founded a utopian society with the might of their forgotten arts and sciences. These blessed survivors broke no intrusions upon their sub-terrene realm and thus created the legend of Devil Lake to maintain their seclusion.

This legend or dream promises uncountable wealth in artifacts and other wonders of the Old Men to any who should penetrate into the sunless vault and return alive. But the inhabitants will visit a horrible fate upon any outsiders whom they catch. Using the soul-drinking machines of the Senex, they render all intruders into mindless troglodytes, loathsome creatures less even than animals who live only to feed, and release them upon the shores of Devil Lake to add to their security.

There is one further tale of these unknown wizards, more of an appendix, and it is one whose telling is most dangerous in the City of Hajal. A few brave or foolish souls whisper that there was once a rebel among the underground sages who sought to convince his fellows to rise up to the surface and use their great powers to conquer the world. He went so far as to stage a coup, but was overthrown and forced to flee for his life. This outcast then made his way to the surface world where he eventually took the name of "Attar Khanda" and, using his ancient magics, became the Archwizard and Dictator of Hajal. Needless to say, the telling of this particular part of the tale is bad for one's health within the City.

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