Askamar is a magical realm linked to the mundane world of Udaris by Gateways. Some people call it the Sunless Realm, for it lies in eternal twilight. Askamar is home to immortal, magical entities known as Ankaykari. They claim to be the only true natives of the realm. However, they now share their territories with dragons, and also with humans who have been changed by magic and can no longer live in Udaris.
While Udaris is a globe, Askamar is a plane surrounded by an ocean called the Sea of Smoke. At its heart lies an Abyss where raw magic fountains up from the depths. It is this magic which ultimately sustains all life within the realm. The regions closest to the Abyss are known as the ‘Inner Lands’. Beyond these lie the ‘Midlands’, where it appears to be eternal summer. The wintry ‘Outer Reaches’ lie at the edge of the land.
Shards of rock known as ‘Sky-islands’ float above the realm, veiled by mists. Beneath the surface, Askamar is riddled with the maze of caverns known as ‘The Deeps’. These can be perilous; some are flooded and some are filled with poisonous fumes. Both the Deeps and the Sky-islands are a valuable source of azuhan jewels. While many have been claimed by the Ankaykari, others have been forgotten or still await discovery.
The Nine Courts of Askamar
Askamar is governed by the Ankaykari, who regard themselves as the guardians of the land. They tend the realm’s forests and meadows; if they are absent, the land withers and the mortal creatures starve.
Their society is divided into Nine Courts, each ruled by an Esu. The lands of a court are composed of the Esu’s personal territory, along with the territories of their Nayusuru servants – some of which might lie on the far side of the realm. When a Nayusuru changes their allegiance, they take their land with them, causing the court’s borders to shift.
Sometimes an Esu will claim the allegiance of the others, forming a ‘Sovereignty’. The royal court is situated in their Citadel, and the other Esu serve them as vassals – at least until they are overthrown. At other times, the Esu rule together as a Council. The ceremonial sites of the Ankaykari are situated on Maroth, which is common to all courts.
Courts of the Inner Lands
The Inner Lands are those that lie closest to the Abyss. Their skies are crimson, while their terrain tend to be jagged and mountainous, with swamps or deserts in the lowlands. The storms that sweep the region are infamously ferocious. Only the toughest mortal creatures and the strongest dragon clans can survive here. The three Courts of the Inner Lands are Veskansare, Zaresnar and Ebzazire.
Courts of the Midlands
The Midlands are considered by many to be the loveliest region of Askamar. Streams glitter beneath a mauve sky, flowing through rustling meadows, fern-filled glades and mossy forests. A light rain occasionally falls, but the weather is usually mild. Many creatures can be found here, some closely resembling those of the mundane world. The three Midland Courts are Burshnar, Thasenare and Imbire.
Courts of the Outer Reaches
The Outer Reaches lie at the far edge of the land, where the sky is blue and chill winds blow. The trees here are always glimmering with frost, even during the rare times when they bear flowers or fruit. The more remote regions are covered in snow and swept by bitter storms. The three Courts of the Outer Reaches are Barezeth, Zepzaris and Nezruthar.
Travelling in Askamar
Askamar has long been a source of fascination for humankind, but it is a perilous land. Most mortals who accidently wander through an unmarked Gateway are keen to find their way back out again – especially if they have ended up in the Deeps or on a freezing Sky-island. Thankfully the Ankaykari value mortal life, and they mark every Gateway that they find on the Askamaran side, usually with a stone.
Descriptions of Askamar’s geography tend to be confusing – possibly because the magical realm is riddled with unseen Gateways. A traveller walking through a forest in Barezeth could suddenly find themselves in Drakuzare without realising they were on the other side of the realm.
The dangers of Askamar are listed in countless books – some more fanciful than others. The most famous is Berukon’s Journeys in the Sunless Realm, which describes ‘strange waters’; blood-thirsty monsters, deadly fruits; trees with burning sap; trees that send those who rest beneath them into an enchanted slumber; and wind-storms that can drive a man insane. In particular, Berukon advises travellers to beware of Rhakukath (the ‘Forest of Shadows’), which he describes in great detail.
Plants and Animals
According to the Ankaykari, Askamar was once a barren land. There was nothing but wind, rock, lava… and themselves, overlooking the wastes from their stone strongholds. In Udaris, however, new forms of life were appearing. Vegetation was spreading across the land.
The immortals were fascinated by the varied life they saw when they ventured through the Gateways, and they brought plant seeds back into Askamar. They carefully tended the plants with their magic, enabling the vegetation to grow without sunlight. Over time their ‘gardens’ spread across the land, until Askamar was as full of mortal life as Udaris.
As the millennia passed, mundane creatures also migrated through Askamar’s Gateways and were reshaped by magic, some subtly and some dramatically. There are creatures in Askamar that look exactly like the foxes, owls and cats of the mundane world. There are also creatures that bear a resemblance to mundane animals, but in the case of some, it is hard to discern their mundane ancestry.
The trees, mosses and ferns of Askamar are its most ancient and magical mortal life-forms. The Ankaykari claim that some of the oldest trees are sentiment and able to talk. From time to time, men of the Ektanstaran Order persuade the Ankaykari to ‘introduce’ them to these talking trees, but all they hear is the whisper of wind through leaves.
In Askamar, everything is imbued with magic – the soil, the streams, the animals, the fallen branches that a traveller might gather to a make a camp-fire, even the air. The most common human visitors are mages who come seeking herbs or minerals for their spells. Sometimes, however, a band of hunters will venture through a Gateway.
Tales of unicorn hunts are especially popular in Udaris. A unicorn’s horn can not only purify the dangerous waters of the magical realm, but also counter the poison in a lord’s wine-cup, and therefore alicorn is highly valued. Among the most famous legends of unicorn hunters is the Tale of Vakracha Jan’Takab, a Gabakaruan princess who travelled to Drakuzare with her loyal companions, determined to prove herself worthy of the crown. In the end she abandoned her hunt, but she did become empress.
Askamar is the only source of azuhan jewels, which is one reason why mundane rulers are willing to fight for control of Gateways. However, the sites where azuhans form are often hard to reach, within the treacherous, flooded caverns of the Deeps or high upon remote Sky-islands. They are also jealously guarded by the Ankaykari, who are furious whenever they discover that humans have trespassed upon their lands.