Unexplored Realms: Frostbyte Reach
There is a story popular among the freyjan. It holds that, when the Goddess was shaping Crystalia, she passed her hand through groves of great trees and brushed up a cloud of fluffy seeds. Delighted, she blew on them, and laughed as they scattered in every direction to spread life to the world. But the force of her breath carried on, and the chill of it grew as it flew from her, so that by the time it caught in the tangle of rock that became the Frostbyte Reach, it was so cold that it froze everything it touched. Ice and snow encased the mountains and have never released their grip.
No one knows when the dwarves first came to the Frostbyte Reach, or indeed if they actually originated here, as their official histories claim. Those records say that the first dwarves were shaped by rapid streams when they fell through fissures into underground chambers and channels. Their shapes were waiting, trapped in the rock. As the water washed the softer stone, the Goddess saw the emerging forms, smiled, and stepped in to give them greater definition. Her fingers traced over the outlines, filled in the shape of their beards and strong limbs, and touched each of them on the forehead. With that touch, the first generation of dwarves awakened in the darkness. These are the official stories, of course, and widely accepted as national myth if not necessarily historical fact. For all anyone knows, they could well be true.
Fragmentary evidence suggests that the first completely underground cities developed close to the surface and along the courses of existing subterranean rivers before the techniques developed to build artificial waterways. Foruk’s Falls, near the Wandering Monk Mountains is traditionally held to be the first such city. Many outside scholars question this, citing its deep location, clearly dwarf-made water system, great sophistication. None of them realize that the current Foruk’s Falls is the third city of that name. The ancient ruins of the original city can be found over a mile from the current walls; the scars and scorch marks left from sack of the city remain obvious. The continual construction of increasingly impressive defenses for all dwarven settlements dates from this time.
Without question, dwarves dominate the Reach; indeed, to all appearances, this seems to be their original homeland. Since the Dragon Call, the Frostbyte Reach has also been the foremost stronghold of the dwarven people in Crystalia. Hearthsworn dwarves rule a series of fortified kingdoms that extend from the inhospitable surface to the wondrous caverns deep beneath. Most first-time visitors to the reach are shocked to see the shear number of dwarves living in even one of these fortified strongholds. To many, it seems as if all the mountains must be hollow.
While the Hearthsworn dwarves predominate, the far edges of the Reach are home to the other major branch of the dwarf family, Brinebreakers. On the eastern and southern coasts, where tides and storms eat away at the blank faces of the Frostbyte’s cliffs, the Brinebreakers build their deep harbors and stone shelters. For the most part, they live in smaller villages and towns devoted to fishing, shipbuilding, coastal trade, and aquaculture. They have a few cities, however, and these are the sources of their exotic crafts and creations. No one builds ships or approaches sailing and the sea quite the way Brinebreakers do. Catamarans and trimarans, often with mismatched hulls, dominate the design for their faster or larger ships, which are incredibly stable in the often rough and stormy seas. But, custom craft grown and sculpted from coral or crafted from giant shells have sailed from their docks.
Much as some Hearthsworn cities have above and below ground components, well over half of the Brinebreakers’ largest city, Bright Coral Bay, is underwater. Painstakingly excavated from coral and a ridge of submerged granite hills, the city’s most famous feature are the huge expanses of magical crystal that serve as windows. Some measuring almost forty feet thick, these marvels are enchanted to remain watertight and perfectly clear. Magical lights outside illuminate the surrounding sea during the day and phosphorescent plants take over at night, lending the galleries and halls below them a pleasing feel of daily cycles. The armored docks of Bright Coral Bay can close completely, allowing work in and out of the water, even completely flooding for special projects, and provide perfect protection against the worst storms.
Central to any description of the Reach, Dwarfholm Bastion is the great ancestral home of Crystalia’s dwarves. Grand, glorious, a majestic and monolithic marvel; writers and singers have applied every superlative to Dwarfholm at one time or another, some of them all at once. All of them are true. The scale that some of the Bastion’s halls and galleries are built on would humble the jotnar. Many have wondered this, given the dwarven stature and their habitual conservation of space. The fact that these spaces never fail to inspire awe—even regularly in those who have seen them almost daily for decades—answers the question quite firmly. Dwarves are not ostentatious by nature, but they are rightly proud of their achievements, and their magnificent architecture continually proclaim their prowess to all who come to their ancient strongholds.
The Bastion is not one settlement. Rather, a half-dozen of the oldest holds and halls gradually expanded and merged, much as often happens on the surface. In this case, however, the dwarves recognized the process very early and laid careful plans for the best method of unifying their communities, as well as providing for mutual assistance, defense, and trade. This successful cooperation ultimately resulted in the original version of the Sanctuary of Stone, the magnificent hall that forms the core of the inter-clan government. Carefully sited to allow for gradual expansion and embellishment, the Sanctuary is a grand meeting hall, ever-evolving monument, and seat of deliberation; it’s also a point of pride for dwarves across Crystalia. Even those who have never visited know that, should they ever go, they have the same right to stand before the assembly and speak as any practiced politician or feted ambassador.
The term “Bastion” refers broadly to the working communities, the winding and gorgeously decorated tunnels connecting them, and the extensive defenses that surround this spiritual heart of all dwarves. “Dwarfholm” specifically means the series of halls, galleries, and caverns that form the core of the Bastion. Strangely, precise definitions of the ‘Holm seem to vary. Most include the Sanctuary of Stone, the Gallery of Memory (four stories of multi-level, overlapping mosaics and friezes depicting the sweep of dwarven history), Ordendoral’s Anvil (an enchanted communal smithy), the Measureless Cavern (a twisting, spiraling cave of unworked stone filled with crystals), and the Fields of Fnafir (the armory, training ground, and marshaling yard of the Bastion’s army). Some add variously the Greywall, the Falls of Kallodor, the Empty Hall, and even the Way of Mourning. Regardless of any official classifications, all dwarves hold these locations sacred and many work for decades to be able to visit them at least once in their lives.