Preliminary note: This overview will present a broad outlook of the area through a geographic, economic and, where appropriate, cultural standpoint. The entry will then narrow its focus to each of the main settlements structuring the region and give an account of their important features.

The Dragon’s Back is a region named after a prominent mountain stock in northern Zhun in southwestern Nybelmar, comprised primarily of the four villages of Ktsarmashik, Serekeye, Katkara & Kechit and their capital city, Karakan. The rural communities lining the land between them are assembled under the leadership of Karakan. Karakan, often referred to as the "Dragon City", is a Krean military outpost half a furlay north of the “Silver Serpent” (the Great Kimb River) The region owes its peculiar name to the arc the “Forefingers of the Earth” (the mountain ranges just north of the Dragon City) form, vaguely resembling the curving back of a great Krean Forest Dragon.

To understand the Dragon’s Back region, one must first be acquainted with the individual spirit of Karakan and its major villages: Ktsarmashik, Serekeye, Katkara & Kechit. Then he must try to identify how each contributes to the region as a whole.

Introduction. We will provide an atmospheric excerpt from Emperor Dearan’s famous work, "A Zhunite Sunset", to familiarize you with the general feel of the region:

"As your cart leaves the Pageant of Blue and White, it jolts carelessly off the mosaic street tiles one last time – perhaps brandishing a final farewell to peaceful Evasnos. A furlay away - after a day’s leisurely ride from the City of Gods – sunflowers already dot the countryside. Smile to each curtsying golden-blade! Smile to the wind’s welcome, sighing softly through fields awaiting harvest! Wildflowers in their prime meet your passage in their brightest wears; the liberated horse neighs his proud greeting: Welcome to Zhun, welcome to the state of the sun! Far away on each hand stretch rich pastures and patches of maroon soil made ready for the peasants’ corn. There is a remnant still of last year’s golden clusters of beehive ricks rising at regular intervals behind strips of geranium.

The headstrong mules pull their carts yet another day north alongside the stately Kimb. Ah the Great Kimb River! How majestic is its interminably rushing waters, how fascinating is its effervescent sprays! Ah, how regally he gathers his clear torrents and rides to meet Maren Zyloth in white embroidery! The surge takes a broad sweep westward and the wind heralds your arrival to the working north.

Serekeye is already up, displaying her proud earthenware at the busy marketplace. Rows after rows of pottery are left out in the sun to dry, sometimes with the occasional sleeping sentry. Perhaps they tan in imitation of southerly ladies? Perhaps they bask to greet the flirting wind? Wrinkled woman sit in vibrant garments before the clay shaping wheels, bent in working meditation to mould those daily miracles. You decide to leave the town scurrying about after familiar toil humming merry Zhunite tunes as they work.

The wilful cart heads eastward towards the plateaus of Kechit, resting now with its headstrong goats and exhausted shepherds. That transition from mud bricks to imperturbable stone pronounces your entry to the northern lands; soon a regiment from Karakan in shining gold-scarlet breastplates will accompany you to the region’s heart. My earnest efforts could not dissuade them from chanting loud enough to bring the mountains on their heads. A light breeze stirs the Mint Plains further east and brings you that refreshing smell so characteristic of the province.

You begin to feel the gentle roll of the green hills; soon vineyards will hail your passage into the time-honoured streets of Ktsarmashik. Quick! Pluck away a bunch of those luscious grapes before the growers notice. Today must be your lucky day; you caught the wine-tasting festival. You are even in time for a folkloric dance! Watch those young men tap ardently around the gyrating maidens. Ah! Breathe in this Zhunitely air! Breathe the sounds of merriment in! Help that little boy steer his donkey up to the wells along a labyrinth of narrow avenues and vine-covered houses. Taste the cool mineral water running from the mossy fountains.

Hurry north, hurry north! The mines of Katkara await! As you traverse the narrow pass of Resonant Gap, you fervently pray that the fanatic cries of those Karakanite soldiers will not topple the rickety boulders. After an hour’s passionate praying and sweating, the cold mountain gusts welcome you into the realm of gold. Regrettably you missed the change of guards and the gates are now closed. Seeing your High Krean diplomatic passes, the ranking officer decides to make an exception and let you in – for a trivial price of course. Do you now understand why you were told to buy three handcarts’ fill of costly textiles in Kimbar? Try not to make this much trouble next time; heed my advice.

After being sworn in by the guards before the Black Altar to never tell anything witnessed within the walls of Katkara, you are now finally allowed to take your leave for Karakan, where you will spend several weeks taking in the city’s marvels and resting for the arduous journey back home."

-- Dearan Asaen’s "A Zhunite Sunset, Tome 4: The Northern March", Chapter III, Dawn Over the Sleeping North; Section: Introduction: A Northern Cascade, Subdivision: The Voyage Through Dragon's Back
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Description. As you travel northeast from Serekeye, the flat, dry terrain gives way to the steep slopes leading up the Kechit highlands. Serekeye’s soil absorbs more and more of the northerly rain and develops into the rich earth of the Mint Plains.

The tiny underground stream watering the terracotta village dies in the Potter’s Shelter, a mossy crevice on the southern perimeter of the Kechit Slopes. The slopes themselves are rather barren as there are no underground flows to dampen the soil. Nothing more than a few isolated bushes grow on the dry land of the Kechit Slopes. The slopes are named after the infamous goats of Kechit, which appear to be the only creatures (perhaps other than greedy Zhunite merchants) able to scale the rise without exhaustion.

Slowly the Kechit Spring emerges among the pebbles of Stone Valley and rushes south through the Mint Plains, nourishing men and plant alike. It then takes a mild westward twist; the Mint Stream, as it is now called, leisurely runs through Kechit, the village of goatherds and mintmaids. Upon the turbulent waters where Mint Stream issues from the wild Kechit Spring the famous Goat Bridge that gave birth to so many folkloric tales rests.

A few leagues west of Kechit is another overpass under which Mint Stream flows into one of the many tributaries of the Great Kimb. The Sunset Bridge, although larger in size and grander in architecture, never enjoyed the incredible fame of Goat Bridge.

If one takes the road northwest from Kechit instead of the well-travelled pathway to the Mint Plains, one will soon meet the green, rolling hills trailing to Ktsarmashik. In springtime a carpet of colourful wildflowers cover these hills, engulfing the land in their beauty and scent. The area around Ktsarmashik has a rich network of underground streams. Because these springs have to travel between layers after layers of rocks to surface, their waters often have decidedly mineral characteristics[1].

North of Ktsarmashik marks the beginning of Dragon’s Back ranges, from which many of the building materials used in the region are excavated. The rocks of these mountains are so rich in ores (especially iron, copper and gold) that even small, independent Zhunite towns can rival the gigantic Imperial Mining Facilities scattered elsewhere around the Forefingers in the amount and quality of produce. Katkara, for instance, despite its small size is one of the principal mining sites in northern Zhun. Nothing other than that it is located within the Dragon’s Back passes is known about Katkara - due to the oaths of silence taken before the Black Altar.

The land loses its fertility as one travels further northwest. So significant is this lessening of fecundity that only about a third of the area surrounding Karakan can support crops. Even those arable sites are radically infertile compared to the rest of the region. Thus, wheat is Karakan’s main harvest; and even that is delivered in reduced quantities. Most of the outpost’s food stock is imported (or to be more precise, collected as tribute) from the villages under its protection. Limestone and silty soil are characteristics of this part of Dragon’s Back. Karakan, like most of northern Zhun, is also very rich in mineral deposits: marble, copper, iron and coal. Return to the top

Key Locations. The key locations of the Dragon's Back region can be summarized in detail as follows:

The Region of Dragon's Back

View picture in full size Map  description. A map of the Dragon's Back region in southwestern Nybelmar. Map by Koldar Mondrakken and Coren FrozenZephyr.

Location. Dragon’s Back is a small region in northern Zhun, on the skirts of the great Forefingers of the Earth (in south-western Nybelmar). It extends from the headquarters of Karakan, located within a bowl shaped valley north of where the Silver Serpent runs parallel to mountains, all the way to the Stone Valley - encompassing the beautiful Mint Plains. Return to the top

People. The people of the Dragon’s Back region are typical northern Zhunites: Not as garrulous – thankfully – as your average Zhunite, but cheerful around the hearth and talkative nonetheless. But what marks the inhabitants of northern Zhun are the jaws – as well as characters – set with the no-nonsense determination that comes with working the earth. If one had to choose one word to depict the people of Dragon’s Back, however, it would have to be “folkloric” – a queer one perhaps, but accurate nonetheless.

Ktsarmashik is known throughout the Zhunite Plains for its vineyards & wineries. Serekeye has its potters and associated terracotta industries. Kechit is the town of husbandry: its goatherds rivalling their stock in stubbornness, its shepherds as sleepy as the sheep they herd and the farmers, as ubiquitous a landmark of the countryside as the ever-present olive tree. If ever you hear of a band of heroes born in some obscure village in the mountains upon whose shoulders the burden of the world now rests, know that they must be from Kechit… For where else could produce that obstinate determination, that rustic ignorance, that simple (simplistic?) nobility of character so favoured by that fine old yarn legends are spun from?

And Katkara – well… which man could claim intimacy with the affairs of Katkara? Return to the top

Coat of Arms/Sign. The regional coat of arms adopts the crest of Karakan, a scarlet dragon’s head on a golden background, but with four scarlet veins radiating from the disk around the dragon’s head to the four corners. The central dragon head represents Karakan, the de facto ruler of the region, and each of the four diagonal arms of the “X” one of its constituent villages.

Each village slightly modifies the regional banner displayed within its boundaries, adding to the emblem a hallmark from the settlement. So in Ktsarmashik the dragon’s head is festooned with green vines, whilst in Kechit it bears a goatee and has a goat’s horns, in Katkara the dragon keeps the Black Altar in its roaring mouth and in Serekeye it balances a gorgeous amphora on its head. Return to the top

Climate. Compared to Santharia, the Dragon’s Back region, although at a slightly more northern latitude than the hallmark Zhunite settlements, has a fairly warm climate. The summer, being the dry season, yields many dry hot days. Occasionally the heat of the plains will be cooled by seasonal breezes known as ‘meltemíá’. Thus, the inhabitants of Dragon’s Back regularly enjoy pleasantly cool evenings.

Winter in these mountainous areas can be quite cold – though next to the bitter Sarvonian winter even Karakanite weather is fairly mild. Extended and heavy snowfall is quite infrequent. As the wettest season, soaking downpours are to be expected in winter – although it must be said the distinctive rainy season is between the months of the Dead Tree and Awakening Earth.

As with the rest of Zhunite plains, the exceptional feature of the climate is the abundant sunshine. One must note, however, that during the scorching summertime the sun is not as welcome a face among the Zhunite fieldworkers as we northerly Santharians would expect. But for the cooing meltemia, the summer heat would become severely uncomfortable. Return to the top

Flora. The closer one moves to the colossal mountains, one cannot help but notice the thick carpet of sahnrix pines and black oaks covering the landscape – especially in the north with a heavy redberry bush undergrowth. Roses, daisies, honeysuckles, jasmines and mimosas are among the area’s natural flowering flora and are extensively used in garden arrangements. Once again olive trees, as almost anywhere else in Zhun, dominate the scenery.

But the author’s favourite are the abundant bougainvilleas, cascading like a waterfall down the stone houses and enveloping the wrought ironwork with their brilliant colours.

Although wheat is the only grain that can be cultivated in sterile Karakan, the fecund earth of the surrounding countryside, in particular that sketch of land between Ketchit and Serekeye, supports a variety of grain crops. Supplementary produce by the surrounding villages include corn and other grains, cotton, figs, olives, oranges, peaches, tubberroots, sugar beets and tomatoes. Return to the top

Fauna. The mountainous woods are home to a rich wildlife, among them boars, elver elks and moss bears. These dignified forests are the motherland of the black Zhunite eagle, soaring in majestic circles along the mountain ranges. Also, a fine assortment of sparrows – oft of interesting plumage – dwells in the low hills between the settlements.

As for that indispensable yet unpopular segment of the fauna, the insects nobody enjoys talking about, white and purple spiral butterflies, the golden seeán beetle, as well as an overabundance of industrious myrmex completes the painting.

Wives in Ktsarmashik frequently complain about a “porcupine issue” – but they talk of the creatures with such unexpected affection that one cannot help but wonder if they see the porcupines not as pests but almost as adolescent sons whose antics are to be put up with as quid pro quo of the amusement they provide the household…  Return to the top

Resources. As in many other historical examples, the presumption that geography shapes culture holds true for Dragon’s Back: For instance, Ktsarmashik and Katkara’s proximity to the mountains prompted the heavy use of stone in the towns’ architecture. Contrast this with Serekeye, where the availability of high quality mud is reflected in its mud-brick houses. On the other hand, being on the threshold of a small forest gave rise to wooden construction in Kechit. You may have observed that each of these four settlements was founded around local water supplies - whether they be streams or underground sources (note for instance the Wine Spring and mineral wells of Ktsarmashik).

Regional Mineral Overview. The Dragon’s Back Mountains are tremendously abounding in iron, copper and gold ore. The soil of the region is rich in limestone and silt. - Now let us briefly look at the natural resources available to each of the main settlements:

Trade. The main exports of the region are armour & weaponry (Karakan), bronze and marble sculptures (Karakan), various ores (Karakan & Katkara), wine – but surprisingly not grapes - (Ktsarmashik), dairy products & wool (Kechit and pottery (Serekeye). Like many northern settlements close to the Dragon’s Back forests, a small supply of wood is also available for sale.

An assortment of vegetables & fruits, chief among them citrus fruits, are sometimes bought from the southern cities to add variety to their diet. Horses from the plains around Cyras are fiercely coveted but they have become a rarity during the past decade due to the intense demand from wealthier cities & the increasingly tense relationship between Karakan & Cyras…

Note however that due to the mountainous topography of northern Zhun long distance trade over land is extremely arduous and time consuming in this region. Downriver trade on the Great Kimb River & the truly majestic Dearanic Boulevards, an extensive system of paved roads built by the Emperor (then Overlord) Dearan to tie the fragmented Zhunite cities, had greatly improved the situation. Sadly, many of these once glorious highways have fallen into disrepair after the fall of the Krath Empire, neglected by the emergent city-states preoccupied by their paltry sieges & rivalry.

Karakan imports a sizeable number of luxury products relate to both their aesthetical and culinary senses - among them Evalaris jewellery, porcelain from Evasnos, painted ceramic vases from Serekeye & Cyras as well as specialty honeys & fine wines from Ktsarmashik and all over the Zhunite plains. Such a significant amount & variety of luxury import is surprising for a city infamous for its austere lifestyle and can perhaps best be rationalized as a hangover from their Krean times…

The city’s main source of income is its soldiers, rented to other cities’ defence (or ambitious sieges) from time to time for an exorbitant price. Minerals (limestone, salt, scarlet quartz crystals), ores (iron, marble), weaponry (especially spears, halberds) and armour (particularly metal breastplates) in addition to the town’s famous bronze and marble sculptures form the backbone of Kárákán’s economy. After the deforestation of around 2000 b.S., export of timber from the town was prohibited by the Council of Zhun. Return to the top

Mythology. Around the 3500s b.S., the Twin Kingdom, following the recent prophecy of the famous Stone Caster Xhin’áktár, decided to expand their civilization into the mysterious plains of the east. The High Council of Grand Empire of Krath in the spring of the same year organized a massive expedition, the greatest as of then, to explore and - whenever possible - cultivate the feral hinterlands of Zhun. Finding - in spite of the prophecy - nothing more than fragmented communities of farmers, fishermen and nomads upon their arrival, the majority of the Krathrian search parties returned home thwarted. The Krean, being a much more patient than their Krathrian allies, marked their priestess’ words - especially the part that foretold the downfall of the League (which, rather unsurprisingly was not known to the rest of the Empire) – and carried on. It was not until they reached a small fishing community three weeks after their departure that they witnessed the first of the marvels forecasted: An endless blue expanse of ever curling land. The Krean explorers named their first settlement after their first encounter with Great Sea of Zyloth: Cusca (which translates in the Common Tongue as “Hills of Salt” or shortly “Salt Hill”).

Upon the seventy sixth day of their arrival in Cusca, Priestess Xhin had her next vision: “Seek the silver serpent through the seaside and pursue it to the stones of the Spirit”. Thus, two parties were assembled to find this mystical Silver Serpent. The parties departed on the 13th of the Month of the Changing Winds (known as the "Month of the Serpent’s Song" in the Empire of Krath) for what would later be called the "Search for the Silver Serpent".

The party that followed the coastline claimed to have found the “Silver Serpent” after two months: They had come to a valley just north of Krath’s northeasternmost forest where a stately river met the ocean. After following the river west, however, the party came to a fork: There the river split into two great arms.

The group that followed the branch that trailed back southwest to their homeland discovered loaded deposits of pure silver ore at place they named Kárát Sílhádhor (“Fangs of the Earth” in the High Speech), a great ragged range of mountains. They sent messengers to the allied lands to declare that their search for the Silver Serpent had ended. On the high mountain passes of Kárát Sílhádhor they built a colossal city consisting of seventeen citadels merged together via vast underground passages and great bridges. They named their imposing settlement after what guided them to the land’s treasure, Kátrá ílár Chághruh, “the Mountain’s Call”.

The troops that tracked the meandering torrent tailing to the northeast came across another mountain pass sited right in between two mountains of similar size and shape. They named these the "Twin Peaks", and the city they built perched there on the pass "Twofold" to remind them of their homeland, the Twin Kingdom. In no later than three months further expeditions from the city realized that their new city was located on a straight line diagonally northeast of Cusca. The men and women of Twofold spent the next thirty years methodically constructing highways leading from their city to Cusca, Kátrá ílár Chághruh, the Kingdom of Orcal and other established settlements around Zhun. Many scholars agree that Cusca remained the preeminent trade center of the century solely because of the raw and finished goods these ways brought from all over the southwestern continent. Only two centuries later would these routes be entitled the "Great Roads" by the Emperor of the time and patrolled every hour of the week by imperial pike men. As they were the first people to come in contact with the Kingdom of Orcal (which is built around an enormous serpentine river closely resembling a snake) and establish a Zhunite trade network (which gives the rough impression of a luminous serpent from the Twin Peaks), Twofolders claim to be the rightful offspring of the Search for Silver Serpent; thus identifying themselves as Ríhght Mát’hár (“The True Inheritors”). For centuries the men and women of Twofold were known as great traders and adventurers.

The second half of the main expedition that left Cusca in search of the Silver Serpent had the worst luck of all. On their journey north, they were caught up in a war of the two largest nomadic tribes of the Zhunite plains. But their ill-fate would not end here, as upon encountering trespassers the two tribes had allied to obliterate the Krean party. At the time in Cusca, after receiving no news from the Northern Pursuit the statesmen had arranged a funeral rite for “the great heroes that breathed their last breaths in search of a noble dream”. Ironically these remarks were not wholly off the mark, as a great number of the exploration had died escaping the war either from disease or exhaustion. The remaining few, however, reached the grandest city they had seen so far on Zhun after two year’s exodus. The locals had named the place “Kimbar” after the immense river that ran to the east of the city. “Kimb”, as this river was called, stood for the greatest and deadliest serpent found in the forests of Zhun. Interestingly enough, over the years the Krean have assimilated this word into the Common Tongue as “cobra”. [Author’s note: The fact that the entire plain of Zhun was covered with large patches of forests should be kept in mind when accounting for the perils of this expedition.]
The citizens of Kimbar were a very hospitable, polytheistic people. The rulers of the city saw to the needs of the search party and treated them as children of their own. After three weeks’ treatment, the Northern Pursuit was convinced that this river – which even the locals had named after their greatest snake – from whose rushing waters the sun’s rays reflected like silver arrows was indeed the Silver Serpent they had so desperately been seeking.

On the day of their departure the expedition was greeted by a celestially handsome young warrior that promised to guide them to the Promised Land if they would agree to build a fortress there in his name. The Oracle of Kimbar advised the Northern Pursuit that this man was the Dragon Lord Sérás, the fierce Zhunite God of War to whom they would be wise to relate well. The majority of the survivors was thrilled at this news, for the touch of this mysterious warrior – whether he be a god or not – stirred a great fervor in their hearts, a passion to strive, a bloodlust they had never felt before… One of the soldiers even described it as “a divine torch lit inside our veins”. All the same a group of priestesses, who also served as the leaders of the expedition, were not at all pleased at the arrival of this false deity. They had confronted the people claiming that should the Northern Pursuit follow this fallacious god, the High Goddesses would curse them for eternity. The young warrior that called himself Sérás only laughed at the mention of the High Goddess Ankriss, claiming to be Her second youngest son. Promising to prove his assertions once the party reached in the prophesied land, the Warlord, Sérás, settled the issue.

Thus, every morning at exactly six minutes past the seventh bell, Sérás would appear clad in full armour on a hill top, radiating like the sun itself to lead his followers up the Silver Serpent for thirteen hours straight. This is in fact why the official work and training hours in Kárákán is still thirteen bells.

On the thirteenth afternoon of sailing up the Silver Serpent, the Dragon Lord ordered his followers to build a great bonfire dedicated to their former deities, the Two High Goddesses, from the woods of their boats. Sérás averred that he could not become the patron deity of the Northern Pursuit or lead them to the Prophesied City unless they would end all their bonds with the past. The leading priestesses, of course, maintained that no Krean would bring their former rites to a halt unless he who claimed to be the Son of Ankriss performed a miracle connoting the consent of the two Goddesses. Hence, the Dragon Lord Sérás at dawn appeared with the High Goddesses on his side and taught the Krean the Prayer of Saviour. For thirteen days the three deities would appear side by side to guide the Northern Pursuit from the riverbed to the birth place of the Silver Serpent. There, at the source of the Great Kimb, the Warlord Sérás ordered his people to build a great fortress in tribute of their rescuer. Yet the priestesses would not yield; they called for the approval of their former deities before taking orders from the Dragon Lord. Crying to the heavens in anguish and melancholy Sérás summoned his mothers to “insert some sense into your priestesses’ brains!” Upon seeing the devastation of their second youngest son and the devout fidelity of their former clerics, the High Goddesses decided to expound their approval of Sérás patronage and reward the Kreans loyalty.

Lady Ankriss, the High Goddess of Earth, gestured and the treasures hidden deep below the lands rose to the surface. Even today the mines of Kárákán effortlessly yield the finest ores of the entire continent in profusion. Then the High Goddess Arléá, Patron of the Flowing Water, sang and the Great Kimb River roared and changed its course the other way around, so the armies of the Dragon Lord would always sail swiftly to triumph but no enemy of Kárákán would ever reach the city. Consequently, it is no wonder the Silver Serpent flows more rigorously than any river in western Nybelmar since then.

It is also alleged that Sérás chose – or would ever appoint – any women as his cleric after what the priestesses of the Northern Pursuit made him suffer through. Whether this is a mere local tall story or the scandalous truth itself, no one knows.

Hence, it is no wonder that the Search for the Silver Serpent ended in the lair of the greatest serpent to ever walk the face of Nybelmar, the Dragon Lord of the Zhunite plains himself…
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[1] Although the ancients had known of mineral, sparkling water for an indeterminate time - and indeed have built numerous healing centres all over the Zhunite Plains where particularly salubrious springs were found – it was a young female goatherd (and one must admit: alchemist and innovator – that is amateur alchemist and innovator), one Eustha’Spheida of Evasnos, who first discerned and documented (albeit in her amateur technique) the correlation between the taste of a stream’s waters and the bed it traveled in as well as the characteristics of its source. Initially she noted for instance that brooks fed by the melting snow of mountains had a fresher, clearer taste where as watercourses which meandered in and out several rocky surfaces tended to have a bit more of a ‘tang’, to adopt her description, a somewhat bitter or saltier taste. She would travel all over Zhun, climbing ardous hills, traversing difficult passes, walking up this river and down this cliff to find more samples to experiment with, to observe how springs and streams formed, how rivulets differed from one another, how seemingly disparate watercourses and underground rivers influenced one another… This fascination with water and its characteristics became a lifelong pursuit, culminating in the writing of her classic text, "A Precious Gift: Water & Its Salutary Virtues". The originals of her journals are surprisingly detailed and accurate for someone with no formal education; a full account of discoveries has recently been published as in twelve tomes edited by the respected Cuscan scholar Thios Kaspios Euthalis. [Return]

 Date of last edit 30th Rising Sun 1667 a.S.

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