Geography - Everdeep
Everdeep is uncharted.
Everdeep was first discovered in the First Age, when the first druan built their great capital of Ristwar under the rock and stone. While carving their way deeper to make more room for their rising settlement, they eventually punctured a hole leading into previously unknown network of tunnels, caverns and lairs. Little did they know what secrets would be unveiled, and what impact their discovery would have for the whole world. After multiple attempts to explore and map the caves, druans gave up, for several expeditions marched into the darkness and never returned. New entrances were found later, and the vastness of the underground realm began to come clear. It appears that Everdeep covers the entirety of all four continents, slithering under the surface of the world like a giant serpent. Containing entire closed ecosystems, Everdeep is a natural environment for many creatures and plants that cannot be found anywhere else.
The upper levels of Everdeep are home for many creatures who have originally escaped the surface and slowly adjusted to the underground. From these refugees, only Arathans delved deeper and created their feared empire in what is considered middle levels, although it's impossible to say for certain. Most of the middle levels remain a mystery, and no one, not even the Arathans, can tell how far down the tunnels go. There is a wild mixture of facts and myths concerning the Everdeep, and sometimes it is difficult to keep those two apart.
Factual information gathered by expeditions:
Jibbets have spread across the upper levels, forming small communities in the nooks and crevices of the cold stone. No iridal or arachnon settlements have been discovered, but their war bands have been encountered numerous times, for Darfins and iridals crave for the same minerals. Arachnons, on the other hand, have little interest for metals. They simply hunt anything they can use either for slaves or nutrients, or both. Rathlins have built towns in the large caves of the cold layer. They often attempt to raid the Darfin cities near the surface. Nearks, the peaceful symbiotes of Dalmrion mushrooms, live in vast fungal forests between the cold and temperate layers. Extremely toxic and dangerous when attacked, nearks never engage if they are left alone. They are considered guardians and keepers of the fungal forests.
Everdeep is divided in three layers. Two of these are at least partially known (cold and temperate or upper and middle). Temperature rises toward the lower layers, and no expedition has managed to travel past the Arathan empire, which is, by far, the strongest force in the known Everdeep. It is assumed that, eventually, conditions become too dire for any life to endure, and that is where the myths begin to take place.
Mythology of Everdeep:
Nobody knows what all lies down in the hot layers of Everdeep, nobody can tell what all lurks in the dark nooks of the temperate layer, for the Arathan realm covers a small area that is located beneath northern Belmora. Every now and then, something creeps up from the depths, reminding exactly how dangerous the underground is, and how fast it can become deadly. The following incidents have been collected from scattered Arathan writings, iridal scripts obtained as war spoils and the reports of several Darfin expeditions. They are too few to be determined facts, and instead remain as entertaining tales with some possibility for factual basis.
Somewhere down from Arakhnest, the grim capital of Arathans, dwells a species Arathans call drithens, which translates to intruders. This doesn't suggest that they would be particularly aggressive or expansive in nature. Drithen, according to the Tome of Garaz, are very thin, long legged creatures attaching to the cave walls and waiting for prey. When careless Arathan or any other sufficient victim wanders too far into their hunting grounds, a drithen wraps its legs around the victim's head, locking themselves in place with their tail that slithers far into their throat and inserts a pair of appendages into their ears, reaching the brain within seconds. This way they take control, effectively enslaving them and forcing them further into their nest where they work on whatever tasks the parasite wishes them to, as soldiers, servants, whatever the drithens happen to require, until lack of nutrients makes the victim collapse. After this, the body that can no longer serve their masters is slowly consumed, then the drithen returns to the outskirts in order to ambush another host.
Crimson lichen, another translation from the Tome of Garaz, is a type of symbiotic growth that appears on the rocks where plenty of water is available. Acidic enough to slowly burn through skin and bone, the crimson lichen, known as lothnark among the Arathans, causes problems around the underground lakes that are the primary water source for Arathans. Garaz himself seemed to think the lichen is naturally drawn toward body heat, so approaching a body of water that emits faint red light would be extremely dangerous. Arathans, presumably, have prepared spells to clear small areas from this pest.
Darfin excavators of Barathur have reported intercepting a fierce group of cannibal warriors, who, apparently as a ritual of victory, consumed parts of their fallen enemies. Having a dark mane flowing down their backs, grey complexion and extensive bone features upon their faces, these remarkable warriors seemed to have but one weakness, which ended up saving a part of that unlucky excavation. These creatures, later named as Khaloids after the mane that faintly resembles the lords of Khartaka, the Leotars, have perfectly adjusted to see the infrared spectrum of light, which leaves them completely blinded in firelight. There has been only one recorded case, and it happened a long time ago, so the very existence of these Khaloids has been questioned by the scholars and sages.
One of the most popular subjects of tales concerning the Everdeep are the draugars. Often reported wandering in the outskitrs of different Darfin halls, yet never been properly documented by a group of explorers, these dead are said to carry and guard the secrets of who they once were, fallen kings, heroes of old and evil druids and sages bringing forth their curses and hexes even from beyond their graves. There are a lot of records about sightings of the dead across the Aradean history, but as much as there are records there are also those who absolutely deny the possibility, which keeps the matter as a mere myth.
Overwhelmingly large portion of the population, regardless of continent, believes that somewhere in the hot layer (lower levels) the wyrms of Atars, one for each twelve, still continue to forge the very core of the world. The source for this belief is the Tome of Ages, which states that during the Waning (the end of the world), the twelve rise from the fiery lakes of the molten core and fly back to their makers, and in their wake the world shall burn. These wyrms are believed to be the last physical manifestations of the immortal Atars on Aradea and kind of anchors of their power. It is notable that the text mentions twelve wyrms, yet only ten Atars survived the creation of Aradea. There is no knowledge of what this could mean, if anything.
Lake Forloth and the ancient resting place of the sleeping Drakhars has always been one of the most popular tales, and the guesses about the location of Nargoth run nearly as wild as the ale during these stories. Like for the wyrms, the Tome of Ages is the sole source for this legendary race that stood against the Valhars in the First Age. While Valhars, and their sacred city of Helberoth, are believed to have sunk and disappeared from the face of Aradea altogether, the Tome of Ages clearly states that Sagriel led her children underground, which possibly was a part of the eternal Everdeep network. Tome of Ages describes Lake Forloth as water that is cold enough to kill a man, which points to the upper levels of Everdeep, but in the entire Westerdel, which should be close to the location of this mythical secret, there has not been too much interest to delve down into the tunnels to find this place. The concept of thousands of sleeping demigods together with whatever secrets and traps there might be lurking in the abandoned streets of Nargoth has effective kept all attempts at bay. In any case, it is a popular subject of tales and songs, keeping the ancient legend alive and well.