Way of the Wicked
Vale of Valtaerna
The Vale of Valtaerna is the very picture of peace. A light dusting of fresh fallen snow failed to hide the resplendent greenery of the vale. Most of the vale even today is forested. This is not the wild broadleaf forest of the Caer Bryr. This is a pine forest. Perfectly straight conifers grow in tightly packed clusters. They so perfectly devour the light that little grows on the forest floor. There is only a mat of pine needles and moldering cones.
Still these forests are rich with life. Where ever a pine tree has fallen, mushrooms reveal themselves covering dead wood logs in thick mats. The mushrooms emerge in a riot of color – reds, blues and oranges being quite common.
Squirrels and small roe deer patrol the forest, making their way much as they always have. Birds dwell in profusion in this isolated vale and many of those seen here are found nowhere else. Small thrushes and starlings flutter between the trees hunting small bugs. The woodpeckers of the vale are to be found here in great numbers red-crested and otherwise black and white.
Even though a town of three thousand people share the vale with all this animal life, it is not over-hunted or threatened. Most of the vales inhabitants are priests and their assistants. They have little time for hunting. What food is not grown here is brought in via trading caravans from Ghastenhall. Thus the vale flourishes without being strained by its inhabitants.
At the center of the vale is the beautiful lake Parynthus (pronounced PEAR-ren-thus) fed by mountain melt water and teeming with fish. The plentiful char of the lake are good eating – their fatty meat being somewhere between lake trout and salmon. The lake itself is a placid pool rarely disturbed by great gales in this sheltering vale and never quite cold enough to freeze.
At the northern end of the vale, great waterfalls flow from Mount Mitrandius and pour into the vale feeding the lakes and streams. It is this water that is the lifeblood of all living things in the vale. The falls are brilliant, sending forth flocks of rainbows through the clouds of mist. They are also ice cold, only recently melted from mountain snow.
The vale is surrounded by great mountain peaks that rise high enough that they never entirely lose their snow caps. The mountains too are not lifeless. Shaggy mountain goats dwell in the peaks walking along impossibly steep trails to graze upon the plants that sprout from the stone. Small ground squirrels also clamber among the rocks scratching for pine nuts and acorns.
Birds too find shelter here in the mountains. Goshawks, wrens, chiffchaffs and pipits hide amongst the alpine greenery. In particular a small population of Valtaernian hawks makes their aeries in the high peaks that wall the vale.
These impressive hawks with plumage of vibrant red are much prized by falconers and wizards alike. It is said within their heritage flows the blood of the firebird and thus they possess a uniquely magical nature. What is certain is that if you can capture an impressive specimen it easily commands hundreds of gold in Ghastenhall.
All in all the Vale of Valtaerna was a jewel. It was an oasis of peace and serenity near the very heart of Talingarde. Whenever the cares and strife of the major cities of the south wore upon the population, they could arrange a pilgrimage here. They could find solace in the endless glow of the phoenix’s mount. They could take comfort that blessed Mitra loves them enough to provide such a garden of serenity.
This was how the vale was before the Knot attacked.
Today that is all changed. Today the Vale of Valtaerna belongs to the Knot of Thorns and their underlings. Today bands of murderous bugbears hunt the forest eager to find survivors from the slaughter of Saintsbridge. Today vampires and duergar patrol the night eager for blood and vengeance. Today all is shadow and death.
The day after the conquest, winter comes to Valtaerna. Snow falls thick and soon everything is white and gray. The passes into the vale become almost inaccessible. Winter has cut off this vale from the world and for one season, this vale becomes the playground of the Knot.
The sky darkens after the snow storm and even at noon, the days are never brighter than twilight. Light sensitive creatures can now move about the vale all day without penalty. Vampire spawn must still avoid the height of day but they find their night hunting hours greatly expanded. Perhaps this is not the hand of any dark god or prince of hell. Perhaps this is merely a sign of an early winter.
Or perhaps Asmodeus watches the deeds of our villains and is well pleased.
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