Sands of Ath-Thurayya
The Swirling Sea- The inland sea known as the Swirling Sea is a treacherous, narrow body of water that separates Drealand from Ath-Thurayya. The land on the northern end of the sea is controlled by the Rhunic Empire, although it is mountainous and the Empire has few ports here. The sea should be a watery highway bringing trade and culture to all these places, but the difficulty in navigating its waters has stifled this. Legend tells that the sea used to be the southern end of the mountains that separate the Rhunic Empire and Drealand, but during the Wizard King wars, a great magical battle caused the southern end of the mountain range to sink beneath the waves. The sea-floor is a jagged maze of mountain peaks and passes, some of them rising above the waves to create islands, many hiding just below the waves, causing riptides, whirlpools, and invisible hazards. Combine that with the fact that neither the Draelings or the Rhunes are particularly good sailors, and the Swirling Sea becomes more of a barrier than a highway.
The Shark Spur Islands- Jutting up in the northern end of the Swirling Sea, the Shark Spur Islands are the remains of mountain tops sunk beneath the waves during the great Wizard King Wars five hundred years ago. No one is sure exactly how many islands there are and only a few have been charted by scholars from Rhun or Ath-Thurayya. There are a few dozen larger islands, and perhaps as many as a hundred smaller islands, ranging from bare scraps of jagged land to large islands big enough to farm and maintain a sizable population. One large island is claimed by the Rhunic Empire and houses a naval base, but all the other islands are home to various pirate groups, settlers, and other flotsam and jetsam of the sea. The islands are largely temperate, although the soil is poor and farming is hard. The islands are frequently racked by vicious storms and the shores are littered with shipwrecks and often, far stranger things.
The Zusu Delta: The confluence of the mighty Zubani and peaceful Suhaqa rivers form the fertile Zusu Delta. The Zusu Delta is the heart of the Ath-Thurayyan culture and holds much of the region’s population. Like most deltas, it is a bewildering maze of river channels, fens, marshes, and swamps interspersed with more solid land and reclaimed farming land. The delta has a long growing season, although it does technically have seasons, and there are about three months of relative cold in the delta that slows crop production. During the rest of the year, farmers can harvest two, sometimes three crops, a year, making food plentiful. The Zusu Delta holds the jewel of Ath-Thurayya, the shining port city of Zusu, as well as half a dozen other smaller city-states, but even with that, there are vast stretches of wet wilderness, full of savage beasts (including a fair number of Chimera) and hidden and lost ruins.
Cha’thag Coastline: Much of the coastline that borders the Swirling Sea has a narrow band of coastal plains. The Cha’thag region is the widest, supplied with fresh water by several small rivers that run out of the bedrock under the shifting sands of the high desert and steady, if sometimes violent, storms from the sea. The soil is not as rich as the Zusu Delta to the north and the Cha’thagans sometimes have trouble providing enough food for their people. The coastal plain is relatively flat, offering little protection from the elements or invaders. However, the cliffs that come down from the high desert provide ample porous, red stone to build cities, roads and fortifications. The cutting of this stone has created extensive terraces in the eastern highlands of the Cha’thag coastal region.
The Zubani River Valley: The mighty Zubani crashes out of the mountains of southern Rhun and cuts like a knife through the northern sands of the Ath-Thurayyan desert. The river is full of rapids and waterfalls. It cuts deep ravines and canyons in the desert bedrock, making travel by river all but impossible. During the seasonal floods, the river is not only impassible, but it’s horribly dangerous.
The Suhaqa River Valley: The Sahaqa river is a vast, gentle, life-giving river, having its origins in the deep jungles far to the east. It winds its way through the desert, creating a number of different geographical features, from deep, switch-back canyons to smooth, flat, flood plains to the broad, fertile delta at it’s end.
The Serpent Bluffs: The Suhaqa river has created a 25 mile long stretch of switch-back canyons called the Serpent Bluffs. The canyon walls are nearly vertical and are dotted with caves and overhangs. In some places, the desert is more than 500 feet above the river bed. The Serpent River Clans have made this region home, living in vast cave networks overlooking the river below.
The Ash-Ri-An Flood Plain: Between the Serpent Bluffs and the Zusu Delta is the river flood plain claimed by the Ash-Ri-An people. Seasonal floods bring life-giving silt to feed the fertile croplands. As the floods recede, waterfowl and river creatures provide the Ash-Ri-An hunters with plenty of game. Along this flood plain, the slopes up the high desert are broad and gentle, providing stable areas above the croplands for building homes and temples.
The High Desert: The vast majority of Ath-Thurayya is an endless-seeming high desert of shifting sands and wandering Chimera. The desert itself has many features, from shifting, deep dunes to rock-strewn plains to salt flats. There are very few oasis in the desert, despite the fact that rains do fall several times throughout the year, which give rise to rumors of the Sphinx Caverns (see below). The desert is full of ruins of a forgotten age, dating back to the Wizard King Wars and far beyond. These ruins seem to shift with the sands; there on one expedition, gone the next, never to be found again. Only the Desert Nomads who call the vast desert home might know the truth.
The Sphinx Caverns/ Home of the First Ones: It is taken as common knowledge in Ath-Thurayya that the high desert is hollow. There is much evidence for this. Though rain falls in the desert and the lands around Ath-Thurayya are green and fertile, still the sands cover the land like a blanket. The stone quarried from around the edges of the high desert is porous and natural caves are common. And finally, at least once a generation, some intrepid adventurer explores a hidden or uncovered cave and finds his or her way to a magical and deadly world of ancient traps, riddles and treasure, including Materia. These stories are legend. Put all this together and it is clear to the inhabitants of Ath-Thurayya that the bedrock under the shifting sands hides a vast cavern network filled with water, secrets and vast splendor; the ancient and forbidden home of the First Ones. Every child in Ath-Thurayya dreams that they will someday find that mythical world and return as a king.