So named for blistering heat and curved mountain ranges to the east and west, The Cauldron contains an arid desert landscape, and an isolated people. It's a harsh wasteland with few locations worth staying in for long, if you're welcome at all. They say that dark magic is stirred within The Cauldron, brewed by witches who strayed from the cook books long ago. There is but one large lake in the center of the region which comes to the temperature of bathwater on the hottest days of summer, and is known in the history of the capital city of Bleakburn.
Around the mountains where some shade and moisture can be found there is sparse vegetation, and the occasional mountainside oasis. These most desirable places have been occupied by the small villages and towns that dot the edges of the region. To the south lies the ocean, accessed by Port Vepst, or anywhere else along the miles of winding beach that makes perfect berth for pirates and fugitives. For all of its danger comes some small flecks of beauty. There are cacti and desert plants which grow only here. In addition, those that risk camp in the open desert may enjoy one of the most spectacular views of the night sky in the land, at risk of disturbing which rests beneath it.
Cities & Settlements
The Cauldron is host to the Queendom of Bleakburn, named for the capital city which rests at the southern center edge of The Glass Lake. The Queendom contains the keep of Belfort, the village of Cannix, and Port Vepst. Beyond that is the witch lair of Crone's Watch, and the independent settlement of Shadowbend.
Bleakburn, The City of Glass
Cauldron Capital City, Queendom of Bleakburn
Bleakburn is a city, a monument, and a tomb. Prior to the last eruption of the Smokestack over 500 years
At the time, indigenous elves were living in adobe style sand homes. Though they lived near the lake, drinking the water without first boiling it would cause the people a terrible sickness. So they fished and laid crab pots and drew water with aqueducts made from their sandstone blocks to passably arable ground nearly 100 yards away from the lake.
As the spring blossomed into summer and the days grew warmer, one was to be the hottest in history. On the longest day of the year, there was a great heatwave of unknown origin that swept the lands and ravaged the city. Crops withered and died before 9am, and by noon the fires which burnt to boil water for drinking were extinguished in a feeble attempt to reduce the heat. Shortly thereafter several people going mad from dehydration and heat leapt into the lake, thinking it would save them. As the sun beamed down, the crystal clear water amplified the light reaching the bottom of the lake, more shallow this day than ever before. The sandy bottom began to glint and shimmer, and the water began to boil the people alive.
The wind died, clouds could not be seen, and the only respite the people had left was to cower in their homes and wait. As the sun passed its zenith, with reflections from the surface of the lake, the sand of the homes had begun to turn to glass as well. Many had fainted from heat exhaustion or died already, but with their homes turned into lenses, the very blood of each person boiled in their own bodies, burst, evaporated, and fused with the glass of the structures they died in.
The next day, when the sun rose as normal, the city had been turned to black glass. A beautiful yet horrific memorial to the people who first dared to settle in such a barren place. The boiling of the lake had rendered the water drinkable, though for many years chunks of glass were found longed in the bottom, preventing plant growth and other life. Over time some has been cleared and some life has returned to the lake, as well as new settlers to the city.
For about 300 years, Bleakburn has been home to new generations of proud cauldron-folk. The palace is the only structure to stand above three stories, and seems to loom darker over the city, giving it an ominous appearance. It's a hard life here, and the queen wishes more for her people.
Hera Lashmi, Queen of Bleakburn
A woman in her late thirties, black hair, tanned sun-wrinkled skin, standing slightly above average human height, who dresses in off-white gowns and robes, not extravagant but well made. Queen Lashmi is a cool and calculating leader who is willing to sacrifice and risk much to ensure her people have good lives. The last attempted ruler of the people of Bleakburn was pulled out into the streets and beaten to death by a large mob. Afterwards, it was Hera and her close friends who managed to pull things together.
She made relationships with other leaders, opened trade, and opened communications to try to get more arable land to grow into. Much of the cauldron is uninhabitable, and while she is aware of the history of the city, and of her people and culture, there is only so much future they will be able to have here.
Hera is forward thinking, always one step ahead of her advisors, who sometimes doubt her because of age, experience, and other reasons. The people generally adore her, having given them a sign of hope after the last reigning dynasty which worked people to the bone and hardly provided.
She is viewed by outsiders as being a vile temptress who consorts with witches and would bring about the conquest and destruction of the human kingdoms as they are known.
Fortress, Queendom of Bleakburn
The mountain keep of Belfort is built into a spire that rests at the edge of the northern lip of the eastern mountain range of The Cauldron. It is suspected that the spire was once home to a sort of genie, or perhaps even a dragon, though it was long left abandoned by the time it was discovered only about 200 years ago.
Since then Queen Lashmi has stationed a small military garrison in the base of the fort, to protect the northern entrance to the Cauldron, as well as the secrets and mysteries that are housed in the spire.
Within the upper floors are scholars and arcanists who seek to unlock the secrets left behind in mysterious hieroglyphs and fragments of records from the original inhabitant of the upper spire.
Village, Queendom of Bleakburn
Cannix is a small village of hopeful and simple desert-folk. The village is run by an administrator appointed by Queen Lashmi, who manages a small guard company and the well-being of the village.
The people live in simple rounded adobe clay style homes, dug into the sandy soil at the foothills of the western mountains, they're able to escape the heat that pervades the region in the afternoon, when the sun continues to beat on the rest of the lands but they are blessed with shadow.
The people help one another to build new homes, provide childcare and education services, and some will hunt in the mountains, or grow fungus and other food in mountain caves. There is one public well that is closely watched by the administrators guards, to ensure everyone receives an equal share, especially in times of drought.
The administrator and the queen get along well, and the queen does her best to support the village from afar.
A human originally from Brisbirne, studied at the academy in Prosperous for a short time then visited both the far eastern elves, and the northwest human capitals. A traveler and a scholar, Giacomo is particularly interested in linguistics and languages.
Though he is not an official member of the Explorer's League (he doesn't want the bureaucracy or the hubbub) he has contracted with them before to help decipher ancient elvish tablets and other discoveries requiring his rare services.
He is middle aged though acts a bit older and wiser than he appears. He dresses simply, has plain short dark hair in a friar cut and sparse scruffy facial hair, scruffy and slightly curly. He is friends with the gnome librarian in the city of Northtide.
Cauldron Capital City, Queendom of Bleakburn
This town is both a haven and a hellhole depending on who you are and what you want. The members of the port authority report to the Queens administrator, but they have their own agendas as well. Some are after enough money to move to the Nebrth Bay and have an "easier" life. Others want power in the Cauldron believing that the Queen will bring them all a better life. Some are pirate sympathizers who just enjoy the show.
Pirates, smugglers, and plenty of other folk can get by without papers nor inspection if you know whose purses to pad with coin. Some of the port authority are diligent and dutiful, while others are slimy weasels who take whatever sort of bribes and bonuses they can get. Joining the port authority is a matter of who you know, and who will sponsor your membership. Sometimes it is earned, other times paid for, and other times stolen or beaten out of someone. Power shrinks and expands rapidly here, and local politics are a nonsensical web of children all reaching in front of each other to grab at something different.
The Queen would like the port to be cleaned up, but there is too strong of a pirate community in and around The Teeth for her to deal with using force, seeing as how she doesn't have the lumber to build herself a navy, nor the coin to purchase them from another kingdom. For now, she attempts to enforce her laws, but struggles to expand both north and south.
Lair, The Cauldron
This lair is located to the east atop a small badlands plateau, a small climb (or fly) from the desert below over and around popcorn rock and crumbling terrain. Outside here there are makeshift tents and structures built from bleached bone and sparse lumber, alongside sun bleached hides from all sort of creatures. It would almost appear more like a barbarian tribal camp than a witch coven, if not for the arcane drawings in chalk and blood in the center of the outside camp. In the mountainside, there is a passage into a small magically excavated hold, where other reagents and various books are kept.
Candles made from strange waxes, in strange colors, producing strange smells light the lair, and sit atop carved bone candle stands outside. Bloody drawings line the cave walls, and outside the mountainous entrance.
Farther within, there is a way to reach an upper chamber with a large open air window carved into the western face of the room. It is from this chamber that the elder crone watches from.
Rumors of all sorts circulate about the coven, though little is properly known. Some say the elder crone can see the future, others say they will grant you a wish in exchange for a newborn baby, who they either sacrifice or convert into one of their own.
The witches here are not young and beautiful as newer lore may suggest, but are old, wrinkled in the sun with thin wisps of black hair clinging to their freckled forms. They are witches of an older sort, desert witches who were once advisors to the primitive lords of the land before they were cast out to live alone in the dust.
Independent Town, The Cauldron
Shadowbend is home to a special location called The Reluctant Convergence. Here, the various realms of evil overlap ever so slightly with the material realm, forming a thin veil between worlds at certain moments. Most often only one overlaps at a time, but on extremely rare occasion multiple can overlap at once, causing unstable portals in the lower realms to draw unsuspecting monstrosities, demons, and undead into each others realms or our own. One moment they're walking along in endless tunnels of darkness and the next they emerge into an adobe style village built into a mountainside.
Someone or something stops them all from spewing forth and wreaking havoc. The sun and wasteland conditions of The Cauldron aren't appealing to most who emerge so unwillingly from the convergence, and those that would relish the terrain are somehow halted. Either a paragon of goodness keeping them contained, or perhaps an evil force funneling them elsewhere for some sinister purpose.
Either way, Shadowbend isn't a destination marked on any maps, and it isn't a welcoming place. Though the rare vile human will find there way there to attempt to make a deal with a devil, rarely does it go in the mortals favor.
The Cauldron is considered poor by most standards. The people have very little of monetary value, a piece of silver or some family trinket perhaps. They are supplied with food and water by the Queens people, and often spend their time creating cultural goods: songs, pottery, art, weaving, and others. Not an industrious or militant folk, though they can be clever in times of need, and fight hard when their lives depend on it.
Sandstone, glass, alchemical reagents, dye, historical relics.
Fresh fruit and vegetables, lumber, artisan goods (e.g., oil, cheese, wine).
The cauldron-folk live a hard life. They do their best and make their way however they can. Some may deal with witches, and others may pray to selfish gods to keep them alive when things get tough. The people have little pride for their region though they are proud and supporting of Queen Lashmi. They are rugged desert folk who can draw water from cacti safe to drink, and skin a sand snake in a flash.
They want nothing more than to be accepted by the world, and welcomed into the northern kingdoms where they might see vast evergreen forests, wide sprawling fields, or even the white of snow. They have heard stories, and many cauldron-folk live with an idealized version of the world outside of their own region.
Many people here pray to Uth'Tama the Matron (NE), for they feel they are forgotten and abandoned by the world, left in this wasteland to struggle until they are strong enough to take what they need, if it should come to that. Many are in-fact very peaceful and prefer not to fight when possible.
The Dust Bone Brotherhood (DBB)
Despite many people here being against violence, some have fully embraced it as the way to get what they need for their Queen. The DBB are a group committed to striking out into other territories and kingdoms and taking land in the name of their Queen. They are not endorsed by the Queen, nor legally entitled to do so, but they continue on anyways. Since they are made up of cauldron-folk, the Queen will not take action against them; and though she has asked them to cease their bloodshed, they refuse.
Outsiders view The Cauldron as a boiling pot of evil. Anything and everything that comes steaming out of that pot ought to be snuffed out, tossed into the sewers of the world, and forgotten. Not everyone shares this opinion, though it is wildly common among the people of the Kingdom of Eastcastle, and fairly common everywhere else.
Points of Interest
The Glass Lake
Lake, Queendom of Bleakburn, The Cauldron
The Glass Lake is so named because of the layer of glass that formed at the bottom on the hottest day. Still, chunks and shards of glass float invisible in the crystal clear water, making it dangerous to venture into. In addition, at certain parts of the day throughout the year, looking across its surface makes it appear as though it were made entirely of glass, matching the sullen city it lies just north of.
Swimming is dangerous, often attempted by foolish adolescent boys. Fish are rare but exist, plant life is slightly more common as the lake does get a high level of sunlight year round, and interestingly enough a few new species of plant life and shellfish have begun to cling and grow within the glassy silt and stone.
The civilizations that lived here before built homes into the earth, and worked alongside nature and its inhabitants until it became no longer possible to do so and survive. Throughout the deserts travelers may come across the tops of structures now buried in sand, remnants of ages past and souls lost. Though, not all who died here have left. There are a number of ancient towns nearby to tombs containing mummified and ghostly remnants of past people.
Legends also say that a great mythical beast lives beneath the sand, in the tomb of their long dead master, waiting for their promised return.
Some theorize the beast is in fact a dragon, as many cauldron folk have claimed to see the shadows of great flying beasts but been unable to look upwards to the glare of the sun. The witches of Crone's Watch are said to know the true tale.