The Song of the Qui-Chi
The Ringing Mountains form the western boundary of the Tablelands. The range runs from north to south, forming a barrier that separates the area from the unknown regions beyond. From a distance of 100 miles, the Ringing Mountains look like a ridge of reddish clouds hugging the horizon. As a traveler moves closer, the range gradually grows sharper and more distinct. From 50 miles away, the craggy shapes of individual peaks become visible. Between 20 and 30 miles from the base of the mountains, the traveler must climb fan-shaped heaps of coarse sand that wash down out of the canyons. About five miles from the mountains, the range appears as a great wall of loose rock, a sheer cliff that seems impossible to climb. However, the Ringing Mountains aren’t as inhospitable as they look, and many paths exist for determined travelers.
Methods of Travel
The best way to get from one side of the mountains to the other is by walking. Riding animals can cover many miles up into the canyons that twist their way into the range, but eventually a boulder field or rocky escarpment will make it dangerous to remain mounted. Eventually, a traveler must dismount and rely on his own two feet. Walking through the mountains is even more exhausting than plodding through the desert. It’s impossible to travel in a straight line because obstacles intrude that must be avoided. Cliffs, high peaks, deep crevices, rock slides, and other barriers require travelers to constantly change direction. Add to this the fact that for every mile a traveler journeys horizontally, he has hiked hundreds of feet vertically. The paths aren’t all solid and stable. Loose stones and crumbling cliffsides can cause footing to slip, plunging a traveler down the mountain. If such a fall doesn’t kill the traveler, the resulting injury probably will. Creatures of all sorts roam the craggy peaks, and desperate raiders wait in ambush around every other bend. At night, the mountain air becomes extremely cold, dropping well below freezing in the highest elevations. Travelers unaccustomed to such rapid temperature changes could freeze to death before the blazing sun rises at dawn. Travelers need to beware one final danger. The thin air produces a weariness of both body and spirit. Elves and half-giants are particularly susceptible to this malady, which manifests as a desire to rest more than anything else. Those affected by it even forget to eat and drink as the lethargy overtakes them.
The Ringing Mountains have their share of ruins, though sometimes of peculiar sorts. The canyons and gulches are, for the most part, devoid of any ruins. Whether this is because the ancients did not build there or because the flash floods have washed away all signs of their presence is impossible to know. Suffice it to say that if you are searching for lost treasure, dont bother looking in the canyons. The spires and ridges of the foothills are dotted with crumbling towers, abandoned keeps, and forgotten castles. Usually, these lonely edifices stand atop a peak or knoll overlooking what must have once been a point of some strategic importance, such as the junction of two large canyons or the narrow entrance of a particularly long gulch. Sometimes, the foundations and dungeons below these castles still contain a few pieces of steel armor, a metal sword, or some other forgotten treasure. Just as often, they now serve as the stronghold of a powerful raider chieftain or monster tribe. In the foothills, there are many natural caverns of incredible scope and size. Usually, they are inhabited by a wide variety of nasty creatures, but some of them house incredibly beautiful scenes and vast pools of water concealed in their depths. It is occasionally worth the risks involved to sneak into one of these caverns just to see what you can see. The mountains and foothills alike are laced with ancient mines. For all but dwarves and halflings, mine tunnels too low to walk in comfortably; in fact, half-giants and many elves must crawl on their hands and knees to explore these places. Some people claim that this is because halflings were once expert miners who dug most of the tunnels in the Ringing Mountains, but Im not sure I believe this. Whoever dug the mines did a poor jobor else age has taken its toll on their craftsmanship. I have heard tales of mine entrances collapsing unexpectedly, leaving a party of explorers trapped inside and suffocating. Some mines are filled with water, and as you move through them you must be careful not to step into a hidden pit, or to open a door that will unleash a torrent of foul-smelling water that burns your skin like acid. Other mines, I have been told, are filled with explosive gas, so that when you carry a torch into them, the air itself erupts into flame. Add to these dangers the usual assortment of horrors lurking in dark caverns, and strange races of dark-dwelling humanoids said to inhabit the mountain tunnels, and the mines seem to be very good places to avoid. Of course, I realize that many of you reading these words have heard the tales of underground cities and treasures hidden in these mountain mines, but just remember that neither wealth nor fame does a dead man any service. That is all I will say on the matter. Finally, the strangest ruins of all can only be found high in the mountains. Every now and then, you will come across a strange, dilapidated building still clinging to the side of a high cliff, or tucked away in a deep crevice halfway down a thousand foot abyss. These tiny buildings are large enough to hold no more than two or three people, and can only be entered at considerable risk by climbing a sheer face of rock or lowering oneself several hundred feet on a rope. They seldom contain anything of economic value, but I have known clerics and druids alike who have spent a day or two there and emerged with new insights on the nature of the world that have allowed them to increase their powers significantly.
If you intend to travel into the Ringing Mountains, be prepared to fight for your life one minute and run for it the next. About the only friendly people that you will meet are the herders grazing their animals on the sandy heaps at the mouths of the canyons. Otherwise, the inhabitants of the mountains are there either in search of privacy, or because it is a good place to hunt. Neither group is likely to welcome visitors. Occasionally, you may discover a merchants trading post hidden away in some gulch, near a rock quarry or possibly even a mine. Unless you work for the same house, and are bringing him supplies, dont expect a warm welcome. Any merchant outpost in such an out-of-the-way location is a sure in-dicator that something in the vicinity is of economic importance. Most likely, the resident agent will assume you are scouting for a competitive house and will do nothing to make your job easier or even to save your life. On the other hand, there is little need to fear that he will ambush or otherwise assault you; all merchant codes strictly forbid using violence to weed out the competition. Of course, if you can prove that you are not a competitor, and offer to swear a satisfactory oath never to reveal the outposts existence, the agent may be inclined to receive you as a guest or customer. Of course, once you have proven that you do not belong to another house, his obligated to avoid violence no longer applies.