The Ashen Sea

Once a great sea of water that lapped along the northern shores of Xiua where TheGrin the Grin once stood. The Ashen Sea is now a huge, sunken basin of dust and wind-blown silt. Like water, the Ashen Sea is flat, its contents fill a low-lying area, and heavy objects sink and disappear beneath its dusty surface. KlikChak Klik'chak created the Ashen Sea as a prison for his daughter Asherah to try to contain her malicious ways. She has since created a small kingdom in the center of the Ashen Sea and taken advantage of the inhospitable landscape by using it as a defense against outsiders. No individual has been known to successfully cross the Ashen Sea and reach the IsleOfAsh Isle of Ash without divine aid.

On a rare day when the wind is calm, the Ashen Sea looks like an endless plain of pearly powder. Sometimes it lies as flat as a table and it seems like a person could see clear to the other side of the world. Other times the surface appears frozen in wavelike ridges that could come crashing down without warning. The most common condition is much more turbulent. The wind churns the dust into star-shaped dunes or massive swells, and the shape of the surface can change in an instant.

When the wind blows, dust rises to cover the Ashen Sea with clouds that reduce visibility significantly. The slightest breeze stirs up a silvery pall of dust that clings to the surface like fog. The silt-laden air and the dust bed merge into each other, making it impossible to tell where one ends and the other begins. Stronger winds, which blow across the Ashen Sea almost constantly, turn the dust bed into a roiling cloud of silt.

On stormy days, the wind roars over the silt like the howl of a banshee. Not even the SolarEternity bright orb of Elimanishon at midday can penetrate the obscuring dust. Visibility is cut to only a few feet in every direction as the storm intensifies. Dust coats everything over the sea and along the shore, and anyone wandering nearby faces great danger. Not only does the dust get into the nose and lungs and eyes, but it swirls around a body, forming a sandy embrace. The ground and sky disappear. Thick dust covers the land, making it hard to walk. Direction has no meaning when a silt storm rushes onto the shore, for the dust disorients even those who know the area well. It’s easy for those caught in the swirls to walk into the sea itself, becoming lost forever beneath its churning surface.

When a large storm springs up, everyone within 50 miles of the shore had best find shelter and wait it out. The air becomes so thick that the only way to breathe is to wear a cloth over one’s nose and mouth. Those who stop to rest in the open will find themselves buried beneath a drift of gray powder before they know it. On some days the silt rises thousands of feet into the sky, blocking out the sun and turning day into night. Once the wind dies down, it may take days for the disturbed powder to settle.

Then the wind kicks up again, and the whole process begins anew.

Methods of Travel: The surface of the Ashen Sea isn’t solid. For those who want to travel across it, only a handful of methods exist: flying over it, wading through it, or levitating above it. Other methods are tried from time to time, and there’s always the possibility that new modes of transport will be discovered, but these three are the most common methods employed by those who travel the Ashen Sea. Boats do not function in the Ashen Sea as they do on water, as the silt has far too low of a density to support a boat. Wooden vessels would sink to the bottom almost instantly if launched in the silt.

Flying avoids the hazards of the sea itself, but few mortals have the ability to travel in this fashion for extended periods. Even wizards who have access to spells of flight or psionicists who have the proper powers must be careful, for when the spells dissipate or psionic abilities fail, the silt below awaits to drag the hapless person down. Most often, one will not have traveled far enough to reach a safe landing area before falling from the skies. The constant storms which whip the silt into the sky are almost as deadly in the upper atmosphere as it is on the surface, and those flying through nonmagical means will quickly find the wings of their mount or craft too laden with silt to maintain flight.

Wading only works near the shore or across silt shoals that lie hidden beneath the sea’s deceptive surface. In most locations, the dust is too deep for anyone to walk through without sinking completely beneath the sand. Moving through the silt is exhausting work, for the fine sand clings and pulls at a body. At best, it is a slow, tedious process, for the wader needs to probe the silt ahead with a long pole to determine the locations of unseen drops and holes. If a wader doesn’t notice a pit or takes a misstep, he plunges into the silt and suffocates within minutes.

Other inventive sorts have employed stilts, silt shoes, and other methods to navigate the Ashen Sea. Some of these methods work better than others, but all depend on knowing where hidden pits are waiting.

Levitating across the Ashen Sea is usually an option only available to wizards and psionicists. By magically or psionically floating above the surface of the silt and then being propelled by sail or pole, people or objects can travel safely over the sea. Quite often though, the spells and powers cease to function before safe harbor can be reached. This is somewhat less of an issue when multiple wizards or psionicists are working together to maintain the levitation effect.

Features of the Ashen Sea: Not everything in the Ashen Sea is dust and sand. Travelers may come across mud flats, twisting estuaries, protruding islands, and even silt shoals hidden beneath the loose powder.

Mud flats are areas where traces of water seep up through the floor of the Ashen Sea, turning the dust into mud. Mud flats range from 50 to 500 yards in diameter and support a variety of bushes and small trees. Sometimes the top layer of mud is baked hard by the sun, but more often a mudflat is swampy. These locations become the hunting grounds for all kinds of ferocious beasts who feast upon smaller creatures that come to feed on the vegetation. There is also a thick ring of mudflats surrounding the Ashen Sea where it meets with the ocean around it, though vegetation on this ring is quite sparse as it tends to shift location with the frequent tides.

Although the ground of a mud flat is moist, there is no freestanding water, though swamp plants make their home in the mud flats. Towering, naked-trunk trees capped by umbrellas of huge fronds are common, while the undergrowth is a thick tangle of ferns, grasses, and broad-leafed plants springing out of bulbous roots. Travelers should beware the grasses, for some have thick blades sharp enough to cut unprotected skin.

Estuaries are long, narrow arms of the Ashen Sea that extend inland. Estuaries have all the characteristics of the sea itself, cutting into Xiua and forming considerable barriers to overland travel. Mortals have as much trouble traversing these inlets as they do the sea itself.

Islands jut from the dust all along the shore of the Ashen Sea and even deeper into its powdery expanse. Flying creatures, genies, pirates, hermits, and even the occasional herders dwell on these isolated pieces of land. Many islands have pristine supplies of water and abundant foliage because of their secluded nature. Those who dwell on a particularly lush island tend to be highly territorial. Strangers are chased away or even killed to keep the location of the bountiful spot a secret. Note that many islands have as many deadly animals and plants as they have benign ones. The most beautiful flower could be a killer on these oases of solid rock in the sea of dust and sand.

The largest island in the Ashen Sea is the Isle of Ash, home to the demigod Asherah. Here stands the great brass city of Akkade, inhabited by Genies genies of all types who worship Asherah and are fiercely loyal to her. The IsleOfAsh Isle of Ash is primarily desert, but within the walls of Akkade stand lush gardens and lavish displays of wealth. Truly, the Akkadians live in a palace of paradise in the center of the most hostile landscape on Playground.

Silt shoals sometimes serve as paths through parts of the Ashen Sea-if one is skilled, knowledgeable, brave, or desperate enough to navigate these unseen roads. In most cases, silt shoals are compressed sand bars or solid rocks lying beneath the surface of the silt. In others, they are buried islands that once stood aobve the waters. Traveling along these shoals is possible, provided accurate charts are obtainable or the means for determining routes through the dusty basin can be found. Even the best charts can fail if a sudden storm springs up or the wind forces a traveler off the precarious path and into the deeper silt.
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