This has always been a war-torn land. The scene of many vicious battles against the barbarians since before Varushka joined the Empire, it is scattered with fortresses, battlefields and ruins. It has an accursed reputation, and many stories refer to the "bloated crows of Karsk, grown fat from human flesh and suffering." At one time this territory was home to numerous merchant boyars who became rich capturing and enslaving orcs to work in the mines of Volodmartz. When the Imperial orcs joined the Empire and it became illegal to keep orcish slaves, the senator for Karsk was brutally murdered during a meeting with a dozen now-ruined Karsk boyars including the last scion of the Zeleny mining family.
After a period of escalating raids, barbarian orcs invaded Karsk from the north in 368YE. In a series of surprise attacks they overwhelmed the border fortresses and pushed deep into the heart of the territory. The ferocity and sheer numbers involved in the assault took the Varushkans by surprise, and before the Empire could organize an effective counter-attack, Karsk had fallen.
The campaign against the orcs stretched on for several decades. A few vales held out against the barbarians, backed up by some Imperial forces, a cabal or two and a few fellowships of wardens. Scattered reports revealed that the initial strong invasion quickly stalled. It soon became clear that the invading orcs were fighting among themselves, and with some of the few remaining indigenous orcish bandit tribes.
Following major offensives in Moresvah and Nitrost a strike team assaulted the town of Isember in Lestasny during the Spring Equinox 378YE. A focal point for traitors aiding the Thule, victory resulted in the destruction of the town and drove Thule forces back into the eastern regions. Karsk was once again in Imperial hands - but the campaign was far from over. The Thule forces showed no sign of abandoning the territory. As the year lengthened, the barbarians regrouped and in Autumn launched a counter-offensive. During the Autumn Equinox, Nitrost was lost following a concerted Thule offensive, and with it Imperial control of the territory.
Within three months, however, the tide of war had turned back the other way. A major campaign by Varushkan, Navarr and Urizen forces aided by powerful ritual magic forced the Thule back out of Nitrost, returning the territory to Imperial hands. During the Winter Solstice 378YE, Karsk was once again made part of Varushka - but this time there was a good deal more discussion in the Imperial Senate, and some talk of granting it to the Imperial Orcs as their first territory.
In Summer 379YE, the Empire signed a peace treaty with the Thule that ended hostilities along the northern borders.The Thule withdrew their forces from Karsk - apart from the region of Krevsaty which was conceded to the orcs of Otkodov as part of the treaty.
Later that year, the Empire began work on roads lining the vales of Karsk with each other and with the rest of Varushka. This large-scale construction project aided in the recruitment of a third Imperial army, and saw the Iron Helms.
The white granite used in the construction came exclusively from Veltsgorsk, and the walls bear distinctive bands of red, orange and pink quartz which have caused some travelers to give the fortification fanciful names such as "the Castle of Sunset". Where possible the Asavean architect has arranged the bands in swirling arabesques which, while attractive, are somewhat at odds with the dark hills of Lestasny. Indeed, the entire fortification is subtly "off" to Varushkan eyes. While the architect has followed the traditional lines of a Varushkan fortress - a solid gatehouse, keep, and wall surmounted by circular towers with high sloped roofs - the structure is informed by Asavean sensibilities. There are few straight lines in the place; walls and passages tend to curve and bend; rooms are usually circular or oval. The layout is much more open and relaxed than is traditional in Varushka, and more than one visitor has remarked that at times it is a little like being inside a giant seashell.
When the fortification was completed, it is also significantly more decorated than is usual for Varushka. They incorporated numerous mosaics and statues of bull-headed figures with a distinctly irreligious aspect. Shortly after the castle was complete, the Senate voted to redesign the castle, removing the statues and the mosaics. By order of the boyar of Ivarsgard, the idolatrous statues were used to gravel the courtyard, so that every Imperial boot that entered the fortification would be treading the Asavean gods underfoot.
Built above the vale of Ivarsgard, the castle is named for the late Aleksandra Irinova Prochnost, a revered wise one. Her preserved remains are interred in the highest tower of the keep, overlooking the vale; there is a saying among the people of Ivarsgard, "Remember, Grandmother is always watching you". In catacombs beneath the keep lies the vale's ossuary filled with the bones of those who fell during the Thule invasion. Here the influence of the Asavean architect is still somewhat noticeable - while the mosaics of leaping dolphins have been removed, the ossuary passages still form a series of interlocking spirals.
The Crow Roads
In Autumn 379YE, a major public work's project was commissioned to restore the devastated roads of Karsk. As a consequence, the roads are in excellent repair and almost every major settlement in Karsk is now connected to them, and through them to the rest of the Empire. A great deal of white granite was invested in the project, and every seventh stone was carefully prepared to reinforce the warding hearth magic. This great work not only increases the prosperity of every mine and forest in Karsk, but also speeded the recovery of the war-torn land. As a consequence, the Varushkan nation was able to begin restoring the Iron Helms army - and to support a third army, much earlier than might otherwise have been possible. Since their completion, more local Varushkans have been referring to the roads as the "Crow Roads" - perhaps a reference to their connection to the Iron Helms.
Once a prosperous settlement on the shores of the Semmerlak, in the centuries before the orc revolt the vale grew rich from the profits of its slave labour-fueled mines and forests. After the rebellion, the vale closed its mines, forests, and timber yards and developed a new economy based on foreign trade with ships constructed with the last output of its slave-based industry.
When the Thule barbarians invaded, Ivarsgard fell before their armies. The boyar and his schlacta stayed behind allowing a small group of survivors to escape across the Semmerlak. The lucky ones who managed to flee founded a new home, near Karotny, establishing the outpost of Ugleyzastava on the eastern shores of the lake. Those less fortunate were taken by the Thule and, in a cruel twist of irony, forced into the re-opened mines and lumber yards by their new orc overlords. While the slaves were freed when Lestazny was liberated, the ruins of Ivarsgard remained uninhabited save by squatters and borderland bandits for some time. One of the first to return was the late Aleksandra Irinova Prochnost. The preserved remains of the revered wise one have been placed with great reverence in a simple bier in what will one day be the central square of the settlement.
Shortly after the Spring Equinox 380YE, Senator Maarit commissioned a project to rebuild the vale of Ivarsgard. White granite and weirwood were provided, as well as money to cover labour costs, but the materials and funds were supplemented by volunteer labour. A number of displaced citizens of Karsk had taken refuge in the forests here and, following discussions with the exiled Boyar of Ivarsgard, agreed to help rebuild the vale in return for a place within its walls. A call has gone out for survivors of the fall of Ivarsgard to return and lend their strength to restoring the prosperity of the reborn vale.
It is not just former citizens that have come to Ivarsgard; merchants from the Sarcophan Delves negotiated a special mooring at the docks here which was approved by the Senate in Summer 382YE. The Custodian of Ivarsgard Docks is appointed to maintain good relations with the visiting traders, and to ensure that Ivarsgard ships and boats have a safe and profitable mooring.
Ivarsgard is connected to the roads of Karsk, and protected both by a sturdy wall and by the brooding presence of Aleksandra's Watch. A basic quay has been laid in, as well as a number of buildings - including an armoury. While many of the structures inside the walls are currently tents, they are supplemented by more permanent structures as the prosperity of the area continues to grow..
Before the Thule invasion, the vale of Veresk was known for its musicians and entertainers. The Vereski Stzena were based here, operating a well-respected school that was one of the few structures to emerge mostly unscathed after multiple attempts by the orcs of Otkoov to conquer the town. Veresk never fell, and was a focus of Imperial scouting activity for much of the war. Wardens watching the area were among the first to report incidents of orcs fighting orcs within the barbarian encampments there. Later investigations suggested that these were conflicts with "local" orcs under the guidance of the Charnel Lord of Broken Barrow, many of whom still live in the vicinity of the haunted hill.
Veresk was severely damaged during the invasion, but in the years since it has been largely rebuilt by the stubborn survivors who refused to leave their homes. One of the most recent additions to Veresk is the famous Empress of all Goats Theatre, built by the Eternal Barien for Hubert Annanovich Gremani as a reward for completing a Challenge from the Iron Duke. The theatre has since been expanded, and is now widely respected as a major cultural site by many Varushkans. Most of the plays, even the most comedic, contain valuable lessons for their audiences and have proved popular outisde the borders of Karsk - indeed some have been adapted for the stage in Temeschwar and Holberg.
A scattered set of stone structures atop a mound, the Broken Barrow is one of the oldest and best known abodes of a sovereign in Varushka. A great stone slab lies in two pieces on top of the central structures. Legend says that its a barrow, and it is the lair of the Charnel Lord - by its own accounts an aged and terrible creature that predates the earliest settlers in the area. While the barrow is empty, the hill is apparently riddled with passages and galleries and it is here that the Charnel Lord sleeps. The people of the nearby area, especially the inhabitants of the vales of Branoc look to the Charnel Lord as a protector. During the Thule invasion, the Charnel Lord allied first with one side and then the other, finally throwing its support behind the Empire. According to stories, it extracted a promise from the wise ones of Varushka to look after its people, and then slipped back into a deep slumber somewhere beneath the hill.
Varushkans do not linger here after dark, but there is a small settlement of independent orcs here that apparently enjoy the protection of the Charnel Lord. While they have never been formally recognised by the Imperial Senate, they trade quietly with their neighbours and keep themselves to themselves. Some stories claim they are the descendants of Thule raiders, or of the orcs who once lived in the hills and forests here before the coming of humans. Regardless, they have little love for the orcs of Otkododv and seem to have little interest in the wider politics of the Empire..
The Ruins of Isember
Grew rich off the back of orc slaves, hacking prime timber out of the rich forests overseen by hard-eyed schlacta. When the slaves were freed, and the mercenaries left, the wolves in the forest grew bolder. Isember was in decline long before the orcs came, known as a violent place where anyone could carve out a new living for themselves, with no questions asked as to their background. Evidence came to light that many of the town’s inhabitants may have made bargains with the invaders, and that exiles and outlaws from across the Empire were coming here to fight under the Thule banners. In Spring 378YE a decisive battle was fought here, and the town of Isember largely ruined in what was a turning point in the war with the Thule. The people of Karsk show little interest in rebuilding it.
One of the few structures still standing is the poorly-named Sovereigns Heart, a hostelry that saw excellent business during the liberation of Karsk, primarily serving Imperial troops raiding the Thule. It proved especially popular with Imperial Orcs and Wintermark raiders alike. The precarious nature of the inn - right on the edge of Thule-claimed territory - added a certain dark desperation to the drinking and fighting that were a regular feature of a night spent here. It remains to be seen what effect a lasting peace with the Thule will have on business here.
- Quality: Hills
The raven-haunted hills of Branoc are the site of the sinister broken barrow. The entire region has a poor reputation, as do several of the vales established here. During the war to liberate Karsk from the Thule, the introverted Varushkan folk of these vales fought under a single banner - and not always on the side of the Empire. Today they have largely reintegrated with the rest of Varushka - a number of them helped to form the core of the Iron Helms - but they are still said to have odd customs related to the Charnel Lord of the Broken Barrow. There are said to be one or two vales high in the hills that have little time for Imperial visitors, and cling to pre-Imperial attitudes. Branoc is also the site of a small settlement of independant orcs who engage in low-key trade with their human neighbors, despite having a nebulously defined legal status.
- Quality: Hills
A desolate hilly region, the site of many mines, and also the site of vicious fighting with the Imperial orcs during the Orc Rebellion. This is the site of a powerful Winter regio raised by the Thule during the Winter of 376YE, and of the cursed Moye Mucheniye. The vales here tend to be insular and quite fortified - there are stories of horrible unliving wolves who dwell in tunnels and caves beneath the hills and emerge on nights of the new moon to hunt. These creatures are said to be the remnants of orcs who died of starvation during the cold Winters - not only during the Rebellion but in the centuries of slavery that preceded it.
When Karsk was conquered during the reign of Empress Richilde, a hidden temple dedicated to the eternal Wendigo was discovered high in the hills of Crowslook The temple was destroyed and the worshippers scattered. During the reign of Empress Varkula the region was again revealed to be the heart of a conspiracy dedicated to the Hunter in the Wastes, a subtle "cult" that sought to place its members in positions of authority in the Empire but was exposed when they made an ill-considered overture to the Cardinal of Vigilance. A third such cult came to light shortly before Empress Deanne took the throne, seeking to take advantage of the Imperial focus on the southern coast to unleash a horde of hungry dead to ravage Karsk. The cult was exposed and ultimately defeated by Varushkan wardens, although stories suggest they had the aid of dark spirits of their own. Whenever there is trouble with Wendigo in Varushka, it seems to invariably be traced back to the hills of Crowslook.
Kopvenost is (for Varushka) a gentle region of low hills and scattered woodlands. Its long, gentle southern coastline proved strategically valuable during the Thule occupation as a place to deliver supplies from ports along the Semmerlak. The region itself never fell to the northern orcs; the Empire mounted a spirited defence from the high-walled town of Kosti each time the Thule tried to push west. These days, the trade road that runs to Triosk in Volodmartz are more likely to see well-guarded merchant caravans than the fast-moving wagon-trains that once brought soldiers and supplies from the rest of Varushka to shore up the defences here.
For all its relative peace and quiet, there has long been rumoured to be a colony of mora in the region who move unseen among the human populance. The Travy Mudrosti herb garden is one well-known example of the dangers these strange shapechangers can represent.
- Quality: Hills, Otkodov
As part of the Thule peace treaty, the rolling hills of Krevsaty were ceded to the orcs of Otkodov. The region was well known for the many rich groves that covered the hill slopes, presnting a rich bounty of ambergelt.
During the war, Krevsaty was the site of a major Thule warcamp, based around the ruins of the town of Oloy. The vale was once a great centre for the making of defensive talismans. Wise Volhov, natural amber, and the silence of isolation combined to make great magics. Oloy fell quickly to the Thule; few of the Varushkans who lived here escaped and those few who did told of magical treasures hurriedly hidden from the invaders. Perhaps some of those troves still elude the eyes of the regions new masters.
The peace with the Empire is a little uneasy on occasion but has held comparatively well. Informal agreements allow Imperial citizens access to both the Proritsatel Oloy - a mana site on the southern borders - and the Krevsaty Yelta - one of the richest ambergelt forests in all of Karsk. Both are harvested by Imperial citizens albeit under the watchful eyes of the warlocks.
Today Krevsaty is believed to be under the control of a potent Thule warlock, a master of Spring magic who once oversaw the invasion of Karsk for the Dragons. Now, though, rather than merciless warriors and dangerous magicians the orcs who come south from the hills of Krevsaty tend to be blue-hooded merchants and traders, along with the occasional band of travelers who give little indication about their business on the roads of Karsk.
- Quality: Forest
In the south of Lestazny stands the rebuilt vale of Ivarsgard - a newly restored haven for settlers in Karsk, along the northern shores of the Semmerlak. The vale is watched over by Aleksandra's Watch, a brooding castle that houses the remains of a revered wise one. Outside of the fortress itself, several smaller watchtowers and outposts protect the roads throughout Lestasny.
Previously this forested region was the location of the town of Isember; a wretched hive of scum and villainy. A great distance to the east of the ruins of Isember lie the Mir Mozga - a barren stretch of pines, surprisingly rich in dragonbone.
Reasonably hilly and has a long, rocky coast; it was one of the last regions to be taken by the Thule. For many years defenders from the three largest mining families - the Malinov, the Sloev and the Pravin - held out and fought the Thule using the isolated mines and networks of tunnels to avoid capture. Following their liberation by Imperial forces in Winter 377YE the three families broke into their reserves of equipment and materials to offer valuable resources to the armies fighting the Thule here.
Not every mine in Moresvah was so lucky - the Zeleny Zheleza for example was thoroughly plundered by the barbarians during the occupation. This did not stop the Sloev family attempting to take control of the mine in Spring 378YE, but they abruptly withdrew their petition and the mine ultimately fell under the jurisdiction of the military council as a spoil of war.
- Quality: Hills
A hilly region, where the vale of Veresk still stands – rebuilt almost from the foundations by its stubborn citizens. Nitrost has recovered quickly from the Thule occupation - the vales here are notably prosperous and trade extensively with on another. Not everyone wishes to remain in Nitrost, however. The schlacta known as Slava's Schlacta saw their vale overrun by Thule and lost their boyar in the recent war of liberation, and sought out a new captain to lead them against the enemies of Varushka.
- As of the beginning of Autumn 379YE, Imperial forces control the regions of Kopevnost, Moresvah, Lestasny, Nitrost, Crowslook, and Branoc. The Thule still control Krevsaty. The territory is under Imperial control.
- Aleksandra's Watch is a rank 1 fortification.
- A list of the spoils of war, allocated by the Military Council at the Summer Solstice 378YE can be found here.