The Ystra-Highland is full of adventure and mysteries. It received its name “Ystra” from the Minotaurs who live in this area. Besides the bitter cold climate, it is these furious and belligerent creatures and the Ice Fairies with their cruel elegance that impress visitors the most. To defend against both races and to safeguard the free and secure passage on Khazor’s Mountain Road, the Order of the Dark Glory positioned a formidable army here. Even though magical teleportation has dampened the importance of this place for transit, the number of people who travel through here has not diminished. In part this can be explained by the many legends and myths entwined within this region with its enormous skeletons on the Sea of Snow, the ancient texts from the Tower of Wailing Winds, the secret treasures of the Cyclops and many other arcane mysteries.
There are many different motives which cause people to be drawn to this place. But the legend that attracts adventures more then any other originates from the Minotaurs and refers to the “Boundless Soul” which is the core of the Minotaurs’ faith. Some think the story is rooted in their revered messengers of God. Others believe it is a hint to a treasure of immense magical power. Another group thinks that the whole story is born out of imagination and delusions and is nothing more then a mere fairy tale. Regardless of whether or not it is just a rumour or speculation – everything indicates an unsolved mystery. And according to the legend, the answer to that mystery is buried in the Minotaur’s altar.
A famous adventurer once went to investigate this secret, but he was eventually found almost dead in the Sea of Snow muttering the following words in his last breath: “The mystery of the Ystra-Highland will reveal a surprising fact that will alter the reality of this world…”
Khazor's Mountain Road
The Road was built in conjunction with the Order of the Dark Glory’s advances into the Ystra-Highland. It is named after the nobleman Khazor, who accidently lost his life during its construction. Now a memorial plaque reminds travellers of the tragedy. The Mountain Road is segmented into three parts. The first part leads through a steep and narrow pass from the Aslan Valley into the Ystra-Highland. The second part runs parallel to the edge of the forest, where defence fortifications have been built to counter assaults on the road by Ystra’s monsters. The third part leads directly to the Dust Devil Canyon. It already existed beforehand and all the Order of the Dark Glory did, was to make some adjustments to improve the traffic flow.
Sea of Snow
This defence work was erected by the Order of the Dark Glory serves as a lookout. It is the centre of the Khazor’s Mountain Road’s defences. Its main purpose is to watch over the Minotaur tribes’ activities at Snowhorn and to act accordingly in a timely manner.
Harf Trading Post
The name originates from the first word the first post director deployed there spoke after it had been built – well, it seems he just had to sneeze due to the cold. The Harf Trading Post is supposed to maintain the transport route through the Ystra-Highland for the Order of the Dark Glory. For that reason a camp was established first, which in time evolved to a small town. But is not only a resting place for travelling merchants. Because of its close proximity to the homeland of the unique Minotaur culture in the Ystra- Highland a lot of adventurers are drawn to this place. Some are lured by artefacts, which were left behind ages ago, while others are trying to solve the mysteries of the Ice Fairies and dragon skeletons from the Sea of Snow.
An observation post has been added to the defences in the middle of the connecting road between the Harf Trading Post and the Dust Devil Canyon. Because enemies like Minotaurs and Ice Fairies generally don’t come near this area, the fortification is comparably low in relation to Khazor’s Watchtower.
The Sea of Snow draws its name from the bitter cold snow covering everything. Nobody knows what lies beneath it or even how far it is to the ground. When the mountain pass from the Harf Trading Post reaches the Plateau, one catches the sight of a gruesome landscape. For aeons towering skeletons have been a part of this environment, which according to the legend are bones of giant dragons from mystical prehistory. Some believe that these are mere stones that only look like bones. Others proclaim them to be demon bones from the “World of the void”. For those who know all the stories, the skeletons eradiate an especially mysterious aura. The region actually has a reputation of being absolutely unfit for any kind of human activity. This reputation stems not only from the climatic conditions, but also from the fact that nearby lies Winter Night Valley, where Ice Fairies appear all too frequently waiting to rob the souls of reckless intruders. Cyclopes also roam the area looking for something to eat. But since artefacts from ancient cultures were discovered in the nearby Tower of Wailing Winds, people have begun to wonder if the Sea of Snow had always been such a hostile place or if humans had once lived there.
The Sea of Snow encampment
In the centre of the vast Sea of Snow an important encampment can be found. Some scientists and magicians have begun to explore the mighty skeletons in its proximity.
Winter Night Valley
The valley is situated on the most remote end of the Sea of Snow. It is narrow with steep walls towering on both sides. The walls are covered completely by frost and the path leading into the valley is also covered by thick ice and snow drifts, so much so that the earth underneath cannot be seen. If one would remove all the snow though, a frozen river would be uncovered. Immense boulders of ice and snow drifts block the way, while the walls only permit one to see the sky high above. In the whole valley not a single plant can be found. No life can exist here except the fairy creatures made out of ice. They wander about looking for intruders to rob their souls.
The encampment in the Winter Night Valley
It is a simple camp, housing only a few explorers and magicians that investigate the ancient objects in the Tower of Wailing Winds and the frozen life in the Valley of Winter Night. They depend heavily on regular supplies from the Harf Trading Post, without these they could not survive.
The Foxtrack Cave is a bitter cold cavern full of snow drifts. Normally this is sheer impossibility, but they exist nonetheless filling the cave with a mysterious atmosphere. The cave was given its name, because an adventurer once found a foxes footprints in it. As he followed the tracks into the cave, he met an outstanding fox, which he described as follows: “With a woven silverwhite coat and eyes sparkling like a clear crystal he was surrounded by a mist of ice and snow.” The adventurer was found eventually in the Sea of Snow claiming he had brought along the foxes coat as proof. The only thing in his frozen hands though was a small layer of hoarfrost. Some say that this fox is also mentioned in the Barbarian Snowfox legend.
The Frozen City
At the far end of the Winter Night Valley stands a castle made of thick ice. The city of ice was created through both nature and human work, and displays a magnificent but also intimidating beauty. This place is the “Frozen City”, the residence of the Ice Queen. Some say that the Ice Queen guards some great power here. Others say that the queen herself is this very power. But nobody has returned from the innermost part of the Frozen City alive. The only thing one can be sure of is that the “Boundless Soul” from the Minotaur legends is on the summit of this mountain and that the only way to this summit is through the Frozen City.
The Tower of Wailing Winds
The Tower of Wailing Winds is a huge rock which rises out of the stone wall. The core of the rock is hollow and in the outer wall are many openings. Whenever the wind blows through these holes it creates an eerie howling noise, hence the name. Both at the summit and base are caves which are connected by a tunnel in the side of the mountain.
At first, people thought that these caves had a natural origin, but some courageous adventurers who dared to sneak inside found ancient stone tablets and vessels. The news of this discovery lured many scholars to the Harf Trading Post. Now they are hiring mercenaries to explore this place full of monsters and to obtain more artefacts.
But the mystery of who left these things behind and why they are still here is yet to be solved.
After stepping out of the connecting tunnel and turning east along Khazor's Mountain Road, a snow covered forest comes into sight. This forest is located in a relatively low-lying area which is called Frostwood Valley. The Valley is mainly an important hunting ground and agricultural area in the Ystra highlands. Many tribes come here to hunt and the Barbarians, Cyclopes, Minotaurs and other monsters often ambush humans and their caravans.
Since the Order of Dark Glory built defences along Khazor's Mountain Road, these incidents have slowly been reduced, but there are still many adventurers who enter the woods for curiosity’s sake.
Snowhorn, the Mountain City
The area South of Frostwood Valley is surrounded by high mountains, but not exposed to the cold winds blowing down from the mountain peaks. It is a relatively warm area and this is the home of the Minotaurs. They have dwelt here since time immemorial and even though the inscriptions in the stone walls might look crude to humans, they do proudly tell the history and culture of the Minotaurs.
The Minotaurs are a race of giant humanoids that live off hunting and some agriculture. But even though they possess a highly developed culture, scholars presume that the civilization of the Minotaurs can be traced back nearly to the time of the ancient civilization. That makes it older than the civilization of most of the Barbarian tribes, and this is the reason that there is this spectacular cave city.
The cultures of the Minotaurs and the ordinary Barbarian tribes are quite similar. These societies are governed by tribal chiefs and priests. They admire courage and fighting power, and unlike humans are not able to use runes. But there are also differences between the Minotaurs and the Barbarians. In their legends they often refer to “men with power” and “sons of the creator” and apply these names to statues and wall paintings. Since these depictions have characteristics that humans would attribute to demons, the Minotaurs are believed to worship demons.
Many people also believe that since the Minotaurs have lived such a long time on the Ystra Highland, the key to many of the riddles in the legends of Ystra lies with them.
The Mystic Altar is situated on the summit of Snowhorn which is the centre of religion and thought for the Minotaurs. Inside are carvings which apparently look similar to demons. But in fact this is about the history of the creation of the Minotaurs. Some adventurers managed to sneak inside and understood this as a sign for demon worship, and so the rumour spread that the Minotaurs are an evil race which has degenerated into demon worship. It can be said that the Mystic Altar is the essence of the Minotaur culture. The Minotaurs are very proud of their culture and say that the altar is a holy place which outsiders are not allowed to enter under any circumstances. So they guard it extraordinarily fiercely.
But all the rumours about the Minotaurs do somehow mention it: “And now this-and-that item lies hidden in the Mystic Altar and is guarded closely by the dark warriors”. So many adventurers have already died in the Mystic Altar, trying to uncover the secrets of these legends.
Sun Cave, Moon Cavern and Star Gate are three Caves located in areas known for their harsh climate. The Star Gate is one of them; which is basically just an ordinary cave.