The Highways (Firmament)

From Bestiary of the Hypogriph

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Venturing into those silent halls is a unique experience, certainly. It can almost feel at times that the somber, stagnant air itself promises one the glitter of gold and the thrill of danger. But I have to wonder whether those brave souls who travel in the Highways ever stop to consider the fact that they are rot eating away at the carcass of an empire.

The Highways are a network of underground tunnels spanning nearly the entirety of the continent of Zhnamancand. Built by the ancient Qoranit, a subterranean race of marvelous engineers and inventors, the Highways stand as one of the greatest architectural achievements on Telamon. Since the fall of the Greater Qoranit Imperium, the massive underground network has largely been overrun by the Nethálfar, a primitive race of escaped Qoranit slaves whose widespread presence across it served as one of the reasons for the empire's initial decline.

History[edit | edit source]

Constructed by the Qoranit from roughly 2500 1E onwards as a means to connect their continent-spanning empire, the Highways served as a testament to their empire's power, with the Qoranit simultaneously entering a golden age that would last for the next 1,300 years. During this time, the underground network was filled to the brim with life, as people travelled from one city to another and trade flowed between the Qoranit and the catfolk of ancient Ezaren. In fact, at the empire's peak, the movement of people was nearly continuous and in such high quantities that the largest crossing points could have been considered full-blown cities in their own right.

In 3800 1E, however, the Greater Qoranit Imperium experienced a massive slave uprising instigated by the Notvolv and their mysterious Enairtheil masters. As a direct result of these conflicts, large portions of the empire's southern territories were abandoned alongside the sections of the Highways that connected them to the northern heartlands. With the Qoranit entering nearly complete isolation and eventually disappearing completely, the freed Nethálfar quickly claimed ever larger chunks of the Highways as their nesting grounds, becoming an infuriating scourge for any traveller deciding to use the ancient pathways laid down by the Qoranit. Ever since discovering their first set of Qoranit ruins, the Arakai have also been a frequent sight in the northern sections of the Highways, going on expeditions to reclaim any secrets that still remain hidden within them as well as patrolling for Nethálfar raiding parties and outsiders trying to cross into their territories.

Characteristics[edit | edit source]

According to Aynachian knights who have gone on knightly quests into the abandoned tunnels, the Qoranit Highways are comparable to the dwarven Underway back on Aurelia, with its own type of vermin to quell and ancient relics to retrieve. Oftentimes described as illustrious even in their derelict state, the Highways feature expansive, finely built corridors of stone decorated with the special type of gold alloy upon which the Qoranit built their empire - provided that the alloy hasn't been harvested by passing expeditions and merchant caravans. The alloy, due to being an exceptional conductor for magical energies, also produces a small amount of light that keeps the hallways lit with a dim golden orange glow.

As one heads deeper into these tunnels, they are known to continue at times as stone and metal bridges going high across large underground ravines and lakes of flowing magma. Various geothermal vents found across the entirety of the Highways draw their heat from these magma lakes, with the Qoranit having built intricate systems to capture it so as to provide the illusion of the sun's warmth for the non-Qoranit who might find themselves travelling underground. Other Qoranit structures can also be found across the length and breadth of the tunnel network: ancient vaults hiding away untold riches and knowledge, idle workshops where the inventors once upon a time constructed their automatons, and great forums where the judicial proceedings of their kind were held, to name but a few.

See also[edit | edit source]