Threads of Invasion
The Demon Wastes
On the outer fringe of Khorvaire both physically and socially the Demon Wastes is a forbidden realm of barren rock, the last remnant of the ancient civilization of rakshasas that reigned over Khorvaire before the Age of Monsters and long before humans ever stepped foot on Khorvaire’s soil.
North of the Eldeen Reaches, life gradually seeps out of the earth. Lush forests fade to a broad tableland of dried soil and cracked rock. Further north, the elevation rises into the bleak chain of mountains known as the Shadowcrags, then drops dramatically. The land beyond, a highland plateau, is broken into badlands, a network of canyons and mesas that forms a natural labyrinth leading out to a plain of blackened sand and volcanic glass. This is the Demon Wastes—the last remnants of the rakshasa civilization that ruled Khorvaire millions of years before the rise of goblinoids or humans. Amid ruins so old that they barely resemble the buildings they once were, fiendish creatures search for fresh blood while ancient forces watch from the shadows. In this realm of death and desolation, long-forgotten treasures and primeval secrets hide in the blasted wastes.
This ruined land’s history, as pieced together by scholars at the University of Wynarn and elsewhere, is incomplete and sometimes full of contradictions, but it paints a picture that can help outsiders understand the forces still operating in the Demon Wastes. According to these sages, Eberron has known at least fi ve distinct ages over the course of its existence. The Age of Dragons, the earliest age still remembered in the current era, was a time of amazing wonders that dwarf even the greatest arcane achievements of the common races. This was a time when the world was one and not split into above, below, and between. Some legends say that the planes were bound to the world during this period, pulled from distant locations and attached via magic of unbelievable power. This was the age of the progenitor wyrms, the first and greatest of all dragonkind. Of these powerful creatures, three stood above the rest—Siberys, Eberron, and Khyber. The legends conflict as to whether these three created the Prophecy or simply discovered it and set it in motion, but all agree that eventually Siberys and Khyber became embroiled in a death-struggle over it. The powers wielded by these progenitor wyrms rocked the very fabric of existence until the world lay ruined and dying. Only then did Eberron, last of the progenitor wyrms, intervene, shattering the Prophecy and using the energy thus released to separate the rivals and remake the world. In the end, the legends say, great Siberys, dismembered and dying, became the glowing ring that surrounds the world. Khyber, on the verge of victory when Eberron intervened, was sealed within the world. And Eberron took his place between the rivals, healing the desolate world by becoming one with it. The last conscious act of Siberys and Eberron was to create their descendants, filling the world between with dragons and other related species of dragonkind. This spell of creation didn’t stop with dragonkind, however. Eberron blossomed with all manner of living things. Khyber, not to be outdone, shaped dark life of his own from within the depths of Eberron’s imprisoning folds. The fiends were born, slowly seeping up through the cracks in the earth, rising with the molten eruptions of volcanic pits, and bubbling up from the depths of the sea.
As the newly remade world cooled, the descendants of the progenitor wyrms were primitive, almost mindless creatures. But the fiends, led by rakshasas, zakyas, and night hags, were cunning and vicious. It wasn’t long before the Age of Demons took hold of Eberron. This was a hellish period for the world, when fi ends ruled the land. Eventually, the legends say, the dragons discovered the Prophecy and realized their power and heritage. They rose up against their fiendish overlords. After a long and terrible struggle, the dragons won the day but paid a great price. The couatls, allies and as much the children of the union of Eberron and Siberys as the dragons, sacrificed almost all of their number to send the greatest of the fiendish lords back to the depths of Khyber and bind them within the Dragon Below.
When the great war between the fiends and the dragons ended, the lesser fiends that had not been imprisoned or destroyed went into hiding. Many returned to the place from which their lords once ruled, the land called Fah’lrrg in the Ravanan tongue but now known simply as the Demon Wastes.
Today, there is little civilization in the harsh and infertile Demon Wastes. Rocky cliffs surrounded by deadly reefs make up the coastal regions, volcanic activity rumbles across the land, and fiendish creatures and deadly spirits roam the interior. Amid rivers of lava, bubbling pits of noxious stew, and barren wasteland, a few barbaric tribes of orcs and humans struggle to survive. These savage warriors avoid the rakshasa cities, fearing the power of the ancient forces that lurk in the crumbling ruins.
The barbarian tribes who eke out an existence in the desolate plains between the Demon Wastes’ forbidding coast and the twisting canyons of the Labyrinth have no interest in making contact with the rest of Khorvaire. Indeed, they work hard to keep the dragonmarked houses and other foreign powers from exploiting the resources of the land. The barbarians actively protect narstone and Eberron-dragonshard deposits that dot the landscape, as well as the relics of the ancient rakshasa civilization that can be found throughout the Demon Wastes.
Life and Society
Two distinct barbarian groups occupy the Demon Wastes. The Ghaash’kala clans inhabit the Labyrinth, while the Carrion Tribes wander the plains that lie to the west of the canyons.
The members of the Carrion Tribes are the more numerous of the barbarian hordes. Descended from orc tribes who fled the Eldeen Reaches from during delkyer invasion and Sarlonan refugees stranded in the Wastes more than a millennium and a half ago, the Carrion Tribes consist of vicious human and orc savages who worship the malevolent spirits that haunt the Wastes. Over the centuries a handful of different tribes have emerged, each following a different rakshasa rajah. No matter which demon they pledge allegiance to, the Carrions are bloodthirsty nomads known to slaughter any strangers they come across—including members of other Carrion Tribes. While they worship the ancient fiends, the Carrion Tribes also fear the rakshasa ruins and so avoid such locations. Occasionally a tribe attempts to break through to the Eldeen Reaches, which results in a brutal conflict with the Ghaash’kala clans. The Carrion Tribes are extremely primitive and generally use hide armor and wooden or stone weapons, though a few may possess superior equipment scavenged from their victims. The Carrions practice ritual scarring and mutilation; each tribe uses distinctive techniques designed to give its warriors the features of fiends.
Ghaash’kala roughly translates as “ghost guardians” in the Orc tongue. The Ghaash’kala barbarians believe they have a sacred duty to prevent evil from leaving the Demon Wastes. Primarily orcs mingled with a handful of humans and shifters, the Ghaash’kala clan members are fierce but not bloodthirsty by nature. They act to keep travelers from entering the Wastes, preferring to convince with words before drawing weapons. On the other hand, they consider anything that emerges from the Wastes—whether wild beasts, barbarians, or travelers returning from an expedition—to be hopelessly tainted, and they strike against such creatures without warning or mercy. The Ghaash’kala clan members are more sophisticated than their counterparts in the Carrion Tribes; they do not possess metal armor, but they use hide armor, metal swords, and bows. Clan warriors carry the brand of the binding flame; they believe that these brands help to protect them from demonic possession. Twelve Ghaash’kala clans are spread throughout the Labyrinth, where they share a common priesthood and have strong diplomatic ties to help them carry out their sacred mission.
Government and Politics
The Carrion Tribes revere the dark spirits of the Wastes. Native fiends of Khyber and half-fiends whose ancestors mingled their blood with the rakshasa lead most of the tribes, while a handful of priests and warriors possessed by evil spirits rule the rest. Leadership of a tribe is often quite precarious; any warrior has the right to challenge a chieftain to battle to reaffirm the favor of the spirits. The tribes constantly feud with one another, and violence and bloodshed fill up daily life. Among the Ghaash’kala, the priesthood determines leadership of each clan. A chieftain usually rules until death, but the priests have the power to install a new leader at any time. Each clan guards its own section of the Labyrinth, but priests and warriors gather four times a year for religious ceremonies, displays of skill, and to share counsel and information.
Few established power groups operate in this desolate land. The only humanoids found in the Demon Wastes belong to the barbarian tribes (though House Tharashk is seeking a way to exploit the region’s mineral resources).
Native Fiends: In the Demon Wastes, fiends don’t have to hide their true nature. For this reason, no matter how far they wander to manipulate the populace and hatch their complex plots, they return home at intervals to revel in their fiendish glory. Free rakashas and other native fiends are few in number but their effective immortality makes them as powerful as it does unfathomable. These fiends serve the causes of chaos and destruction, seeking to set in motion slowly unfolding plans that will eventually lead to the collapse of order and virtue.
Some never venture beyond the Demon Wastes, content to play cruel games with the barbarian tribes who worship them. When not engaged in such sport, these rakshasas and other fiends seek to find ways to release their ancient demonic masters who were long ago trapped beneath the broken land. Others look to the trapped fiends as sources of power, content to let their masters remain imprisoned as long as they can draw energy with which to make themselves more formidable.
The Maruk Ghaash’kala: The Labyrinth is a convoluted series of canyons and depressions carved into the flat highland plain as though by gargantuan claws. No part of Khyber, the Dragon Below, rests so close to the surface of Eberron as in the Labyrinth. In ages past, the orcs that eventually became the Ghaash’kala entered the Labyrinth for the express purpose of keeping the horrors of the Wastes trapped and cut off from the rest of the world. One of the oldest of these clans, the Maruk, has a long and bloody history of fulfilling this mission.
The Maruk clan guards the central passages through the Labyrinth, the routes most often used by fiends and their agents. The sly and clever rakshasas often manage to slip past the vigilant eyes of the Maruk guards, but the sacred warriors of the binding fl ame are not without their resources. They can see through disguises used by the fiends, and when a fiend’s disguise is seen through, deadly battles can erupt in the depths of the canyons. The Maruk clan suffers terrible casualties as a result of these constant battles; the only reason the clan has survived to the present day is because of the steady infusion of new blood. Orc barbarians from the Shadow Marches, human and shifter scouts from the Eldeen Reaches, and even youths from the Carrion Tribes often hear the call of Kalok Shash, a divine beacon that draws them to the Maruk Ghaash’kala. As a result, the Maruk clan counts more humans and shifters among its members than any other Ghaash’kala clan and possesses slightly better equipment. The Maruk clan also has a higher percentage of paladins than the other three clans.
Members of the Maruk Ghaash’kala are somber and serious, prepared to die at any time in battle with the fiends of the Demon Wastes and other horrors spit up from the depths of Khyber. Torgaan Shashaarat leads the clan, while the elderly priest Lharc Suusha guides it.
The Moon Reavers: While most of the Carrion Tribes worship the rakshasa rajahs and their lesser servants, the Moon Reavers revere the night hags—fiends who spread fear by the dark of the moon. This clan is made up mostly of barbarians, but because it specializes in terror tactics and guerrilla warfare, a number of rogues are also among the membership. Whenever possible, the Reavers prefer to stalk isolated prey using methods designed to frighten them prior to making a kill. They draw this fear out for as long as possible, reveling in the terror of their victims. Clan members make masks and other decorations using the bones and skin of their victims. They file their teeth and let their nails grow long in emulation of the fiends they admire.
Karka Darkbane leads the Moon Reavers. She is a cruel woman twisted in mind and body by a night hag while she was still within her mother’s womb. In battle, Karka wields a mace of terror, a gift from her sinister patron, the night hag who marked her as its own before she came into the world.
Night Hags: The rakshasas share the Demon Wastes with the night hags. Much fewer in number than the rakshasas, a mere nine night hags live in the Wastes. The hags spend most of their time engaged in mystical studies beyond the realm of mortal ken (and mercifully so), exploring the ancient ruins for arcane tomes from the Age of Demons. Most of the night hags react with hostility when approached by strangers, but a few can be dealt with—provided the visitor has something to offer and minds her manners. The widely respected hag Kyrale serves as an ambassador and mediator among the fiendish powers active in the Wastes, and mortals wishing to negotiate with fiends often seek her out to act as an intermediary.
The Plaguebearers: This Carrion Tribe reveres an imprisoned force of filth and pestilence. Its members seek to turn the power of their lord against their enemies. Plaguebearers are typically covered with weeping open sores and angry welts from various infections, but they are remarkably resistant to the effects of diseases and poisons. In battle, the Plaguebearers become wild berserkers; they close ranks as quickly as possible and fight to the death, praying that infection will claim the lives of any enemies who survive the battle. Fulgrun Bloodboil a hideous individual surrounded by a horrible stench of pus and rot, leads the clan.
The Carrion Tribes worship the fiendish powers that dwell within the Wastes—the imprisoned rakshasa rajahs, the night hags, and the lesser spirits that dwell in the shadows. Barbarians are seen as sacred warriors who undergo a form of possession when they rage in battle. Each tribe has slightly different beliefs, depending upon the nature of the spirit they revere. But all the tribes seek to water the Wastes with the blood of their enemies—something that the rakshasas find most entertaining.
The Ghaash’kala worship a force they call Kalok Shash, the binding flame. The priests say that the flame consists of the souls of noble warriors, and that this force holds the powers of darkness at bay. Kalok Shash is the same force revered by the Church of the Silver Flame, although it could be difficult to convince a knight of the Flame that a branded orc barbarian is a champion of the faith. When Ghaash’kala barbarians rage, they seek to submerge their identity into the flame, drawing on the strengths of the warriors of the past and losing all fear of death. Noble warriors are often called to serve as paladins—although the Ghaash’kala paladin presents a very different image than the silver-armored knight of the Flame.
In all, the Ghaash’kala clans see it as their sacred duty to guard the Labyrinth passages from escaping fiends, rampaging horrors, and other evils that might seek to slip past the Shadowcrags and invade the Eldeen Reaches and beyond. Through the light of the Kalok Shash, new members are constantly called to join the clans and keep the ghost-guardians strong lest the dark powers overwhelm them.
There are no significant humanoid cities in the Demon Wastes. The nomadic Carrion Tribes constantly move across the desolate plains as they hunt prey, avoid enemies, and search for sustenance in the bleak land. The Ghaash’kala clans maintain a number of small towns and villages, generally established within natural caves or in well-concealed cliff dwellings high above the flash flood line in the gorges of the Labyrinth.
Blood Crescent(Hamlet): House Tharashk established this outpost shortly before the end of the Last War. Built on the shores of Crescent Bay and regularly supplied by ships from Yrlag, a large town across the bay in the Shadow Marches, Blood Crescent serves as House Tharashk’s long dreamed-of foothold in the Demon Wastes. From this outpost, the house sends parties to scout for resources such as deposits of narstone and open pits of Khyber dragonshards. Finding the resources isn’t difficult; surviving the dangers of the Wastes is. That’s why the outpost commander often employs adventurers to either serve as guards for his scouting teams or even as scouts themselves when he seeks to enter a particularly treacherous stretch of the Wastes. The ruthless, no-nonsense orc Baruk commands the outpost, which maintains a company of elite house guards in addition to the scouts and laborers necessary for finding and transporting exploitable resources from the Wastes. The outpost has survived three lost expeditions, seven assaults by the Carrion Tribes, and four attacks by random fiends and monsters. This history has given the place a very military outlook; many of the longtime residents of Blood Crescent feel as though they have been under near-constant siege.
The Demon Wastes are sparse and barren. Fire pits and active volcanoes fill the air with smoke and ash, while cauldrons of boiling mud give off a sulfurous stench. The ruins of ancient fiend cities litter the plains, appearing as oddly shaped piles of stones worn down by time or halfburied under layers of lava. Occasionally a structure survives the eons intact—strange, alien architecture formed from metal fused with volcanic glass. Rakshasas and barbarians have looted most of the ruins over the last hundred millennia; only those guarded by powerful spirits still hold ancient treasures.
The Labyrinth: A massive scar mars the otherwise flat plains that stretch beyond the Shadowcrags. Like wounds gouged out of the earth by fierce talons of gigantic size, the twists and turns of the canyons and depressions form a barrier separating the Shadowcrags from the western plains. This is the Labyrinth, where the Dragon Below meets the Dragon Between in a land of ruin and desolation.
This vast network of canyons and mesas forms a natural maze of stone. The wind in the canyons sounds like the keening of hundreds of ancient banshees, and sometimes the air inexplicably fills with the smell of fresh blood or the bitter tang of sulfur. Rockfalls and flash floods can make short work of unwary travelers, and it is all too easy to get lost in the twisting channels of these badlands. In addition, cracks and crevices sometimes open that drop into the very heart of Khyber itself, and fiery rivers of molten lava flow haphazardly within the winding depressions. Fiends and other foul creatures wander the canyons, engaged in activities that most sane minds would rather not examine too closely.
The canyons are also home to the dedicated members of the Ghaash’kala clans. These orcs, humans, and shifters patrol the Labyrinth and fight to the death to keep anyone from entering or exiting the Wastes. They maintain a number of small settlements that resemble fortresses built into and around secure caves in the canyon walls. The largest, most permanent of these are Ghaash Dar in the northern canyons and Maruk Dar in the south. As the roc flies, the Labyrinth is approximately two hundred fifty miles wide and over seven hundred miles long. On foot, a typical journey covers roughly twice that distance (assuming the travelers avoid getting lost).
The Lair of the Keeper: At the northern edge of the Demon Wastes, a vast chasm in the earth leads down into the depths of Khyber. Legends describe many perils that lie beneath—the River of Blood and Bone, the Chamber of Secret Thoughts, the Legion of the Forgotten Dead—but most deadly of all is said to be the Lair of the Keeper. This place hallowed to one of the Dark Six, the Sovereign Lord of Death and Decay, contains many trapped souls held by the Khyber dragonshards that grow from the walls and floor. Legends say that those who venture here to rescue others often become trapped in turn.
Both the Lair of the Keeper and the chasm leading to it are powerful manifest zones linked to Dolurrh, the Realm of the Dead. Those who enter the chasm are subject to the entrapping effect of the plane of Dolurrh, except that those who fall prey to the effect are absorbed by and imprisoned within the dark dragonshards rather than becoming shades. They retain their memories but are unable to free themselves.
Those who follow the teachings of the Dark Six believe that the Keeper himself operates within this foul place. Whether the soul-trapping properties of the Lair of the Keeper have anything to do with gods or just occur due to the interaction of naturally binding Khyber shards and the manifest zone is a debate for scholars and theologians to engage in—and many do, at great length.
Lake of Fire: Volcanoes and fire pits fill the Demon Wastes. At night, the clouds of ash and smoke glow with the reflected light of lava and flame. Stories say that each volcano marks the prison of one of the mighty fiends trapped below the earth at the end of the Age of Demons. The most impressive of these is the Lake of Fire—a vast volcano with a crater almost a mile across. There are a host of legends about the Lake of Fire: stories of fiendish monsters that have emerged from the lake, of powerful artifacts thrown into the lava now waiting to be recovered, and of the mighty fiend bound below that waits to be unleashed. Some say that sorcerers and wizards who travel to the lake can draw on its power to perform astonishing feats of evocation. True or not, the Lake of Fire is an impressive landmark that seems to act as a beacon for the fiendish creatures of the region, making it a dangerous place for mortal travelers to visit.
Desolate: Originally named Greenholt, then Newholt, and finally Kymar’s Folly, this remote outpost has at various times been a House Lyrandar trading post, a Thrane hermitage, and the center of a small Aundairian colony. Now universally known by its nickname Desolate, the place has been thrice settled and thrice abandoned. Each time its inhabitants have all disappeared in a single night, their fate unknown, leaving all their worldly goods behind. The last occurrence was early in the reign of King Jarot (862 YK); the outpost has lain deserted ever since.
Even though abandoned for more than a century, the city is remarkably intact. Trees are few on this low-lying point, set off from the rest of the Wastes by sheer, unclimbable cliffs that tower above the city. Most structures in the city are made of native stone, as is the city wall. Only now, with the Last War finally over, are plans for Desolate’s resettlement underway. Aundair has proposed to resettle Desolate with Cyran refugees, giving them their own autonomous area. So far such plans are at an impass as few of the refugees see this as any better than living in exile or, worse, death.