Saturday, August 10, 2013

The Nordest Colony Part I - The Expedition

A plaque in the city of Emilia, in the Plaza Campana, states that four hundred and thirty years ago, on the first day of the year, Antorio Casse left Emilia, with the blessings of the Consigliere, on the expedition that would lead him through Baegnolia and on to Nordest. This is only partially true--the Consigliere, while they agreed to send him, were incredibly skeptical about his chances of success. Talar had been an established colony of the Eracian Empire for several centuries, and no one there had made it past the deserts to their north. Monsters and storms often came out of that region, but little else. Casse, a scholar and adventurer, claimed that he had worked out two important pieces of information: that the monster tribes generally settled down for breeding and regrouping during the winter, and that the storms there followed a particular pattern that he would be able to exploit. The expedition itself had been both planned and approved only because the war with the Fiannans continued to rage, blocking off a northeastern route to the lands of Nordest, and while Casse himself was only interested in natural resources and possible settlement, the Emilian military saw some strategic value in establishing holdings east of the Empire's foe.

With or without the council's consent, Casse had the money that he needed, and with a full retinue of mules, guides, and wagons, he set out on the Emilia-Gora road while the bells of Emilia rang constantly in celebration of a new year. The first few weeks of the journey were smooth, as the group traveled the highway the Empire had laid down in very recent years. They stopped briefly in Nalcira, but continued on to Ankazir to join the road that wound up past the Dalma Sea and to Baalistan. The Plena Mazda, harsh and windswept in winter, took the first casualties from Casse's party. By the time he reached Anahran, two of his drivers and one of his farriers had abandoned the cause, intimidated by the stories they had heard from locals about the terrible desert to the north, and two of his mules had to be put down after a manticore attack wounded them severely. Further problems with the wild monsters of the plains--largely settled, but still with sparse areas along the major lanes of monster invasion--exhausted the group and killed three of the guards. The priest of Creus Casse had brought with him was sorely taxed by all the necessary healing, and he was forced to hire, at great cost, an itinerant priestess of Inanna. Azira was her name, and she proved to be a great help to Casse's expedition, though she parted ways with the explorer under odd circumstances shortly after the expedition's end.

It was nearly a month into winter when Casse passed the provisional Ft. Ibn and headed into unknown territory with roughly half the number of men and women he had employed when he set out. Passing over the windswept region of enormous dunes, Casse swiftly named the region Baegnolia, an Emilian word meaning "land of sand dunes". Though this would prove to be a misnomer before he left the region, he kept it on all of his maps, saying that his "original impression of the land was more important than accuracy--that the harshly dry and windy land I first rode into is how I shall always remember that place." Dust storms struck almost immediately, but Casse was prepared, using the charts he'd assembled based on records from Ft. Ibn and Castle Kyr to skirt around the edge of the storm. His good luck would not continue, however, and in another week's time the group had only traveled fifty miles. While Casse had been correct about the fact that the monster tribes went to ground during this time, this was less true for the solitary and terrible creatures that lurked in the interior of the desert. An encounter with a basilisk killed all but two of the expedition's remaining guards and the priest of Creus, and another attack from a family of cockatrices took no lives but destroyed much of the party's provisions. They were now on very scant rations, and were forced to learn a few things about hunting in the desert.

A few more weeks passed, and the group came to the badlands of central Baegnolia, where they became lost in the maze of box canyons and deep valleys that cover that most maligned region of that province. Their going was slow, and Casse began to worry that the expedition would not make it through the desert to the promised land he had already dubbed Nordest which he expected to find to the north. The party began to despair, and it was only the guidance of Azira that held them together. Meanwhile, as their hunting skills improved, they soon found themselves pursued by a group of hobgoblin scouts. Soon, an entire tribe of hobgoblins was on their trail, and only Casse's projections saved them. He veered the party into the path of a sandstorm, fatiguing the group and killing all but their last mule, but throwing the army of monsters off of their trail.

Little is known about the following month, as Casse would not speak of it during his life. Some of his men became convinced he was leading them on to their death (with good reason), and a mutiny took place. When all was said and done, only Casse himself, Azira, and two mule drivers were left alive. The mule itself they were forced to eat, their best hunters having died or deserted. During this period of time, however, they moved at incredible speed away from their deserters and dead, desperate to leave Baegnolia behind. Though how far they traveled in actuality is debatable, the small group covered several hundred miles in the matter of one month. They soon passed over into the tortured lands of the north, the last leg of their journey through the desert, and though the survivors of the expedition have said that this was often the most grueling part of their voyage, there were few monsters and no storms so late in the winter. Casse forced the group to press on as Azira taxed her spells to keep the group fed and strong rather than healthy. Soon the group began to notice some odd things about the region--here and there, where sand had been parted by wind, they found the remains of old roads, signposts in a language they could not read, and broken weapons as well as signifiers of everyday life. These signs were sparse, but they gave Casse hope, and he began to believe that the culture he believed lay to the north had retreated from a growing desert, leaving behind artifacts and relics. Years later he would learn that many of the weapons he saw were of gnomish, elven, and what seemed to be ancient Eracian make. It was not until the formation of the Imperial Archaeological Society that many people gave thought to this odd coincidence.

Finally, two and a half months after leaving Emilia, Casse ascended from the desert, crested a rise, and looked down onto the arid grasslands of southern Nordest. It is said that he sighed with relief when they left the desert behind, but his hopes of finding a civilization would not be realized for several more days of travel.

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