Medium The Black Bay,
Aina O Ka La
- Cerak At'Thul
- The Black Bay
Mixed Autocracy Trade Tongue Walls, inner keep, various magic traps Slaves Food, Arms, Armor
Cerak At'Thul Is an ancient fortress located deep within the crescent of the Black Bay. The fortress stands tall, its walls crafted of dark gray stone that looms over the endless rocky landscape and the cove below.
No one knows how long ago Cerak At'Thul was built, nor what its purpose originally was; today it's known as one of the biggest slaver holdouts in Arethil. Though not really a city, over the years Cerak At'Thul has become a small society in itself. The great fortress rises from the peak of the rocky crags of Black Bay, overlooking the gulf on one side and the makeshift village of Cerak on the other.
Since the fortress itself is relatively small, a village has sprouted further down the slope to house the populace that moved to Crescent Island. For the most part Cerak lies on the shore of Black Bay, straggling houses and huts that cower in the shadow of the Black tower.
It's a ramshackle shanty town beaten together from driftwood, straw, mud, and broken stone. Nearly every building in Cerak seems to be falling apart, the rotting wharves barely enough to keep them above water. Despite this the town is constantly swamped with activity as dozens of slaver, pirate, and smuggler vessels dock in the Black Bay at all times of day. Crews often spend several nights drinking and whoring before setting out again for the long journey across the open sea.
DemographicSurprisingly Cerak At'Thul is a very diverse place. The fortress is of course barely populated, but the town below is crawling with all sorts of different species and races.
Though there is slight tension between everyone, the town isn't necessarily xenophobic in nature. Humans, Dwarves, Elves, and even a few Naga visit Cerak on an almost daily basis. All of them with ill intent, and all of them of a lesser moral caliber. This is mostly because Cerak wasn't founded for any specific purpose, but rather serves as a home base for many slavers, smugglers, and pirates.
In theory, this means that any species is welcome – as long as they have money or goods.
Cerak At'Thul is by no means a free place, nor is it a friendly one, but it doesn't hold any particular racial prejudice against anyone. This has often led to conflicts in the street or even the fortress, and more than once bands of certain species have attempted to conquer the town and Island. None have succeeded so far.
DesignationCerak At'Thul is a slaver town. The fortress and the town sustain themselves through the sale and trade of sentient goods brought in by dozens of different vessels. Though piracy, smuggling, and arms trade also constitute a large portion of Cerak's income, the majority of it comes from slavery.
The Black Bay sees a constant stream of galleons and sloops to and fro, most of them bringing in a cargo of captives. No particular species is favored in the wild markets of Cerak – some are Elves, some are Human, but all of them are slaves.
It goes without speaking that trade conducted in Cerak is as cruel as it is harsh. There's no kindness lost between the town and the keep, and it takes a strong stomach to stride down the street and not avert one's eyes from the grisly sights.
What little economy exists is dependent entirely upon slave trade. The town sustains itself through the sale of slaves to different ships and lands, with a large portion of the profit dedicated to the fortress which guards the Black Bay from any forces of law that might seek to take it.
ArchitectureThe fortress proper is constructed of thick black stone. Its walls appear to be carved from the rock itself, not a seam or a strip of mortar in sight. Every surface, every edge is carefully cut and smoothed, crafted with such intricacy that it seems to radiate power all on its own.
Few people ever enter Cerak At'Thul, even those who frequently visit the Black Bay. Those who have wandered within its halls describe its facade as a horrifying collage of mangled statues and broken mosaics. The Black Fortress is a remnant, a leftover relic from a more glorious age. Its walls still stand, but they are a mere shadow of what they once were.
The town of Cerak itself is an entirely different story. Not technically large enough to be considered a city, Cerak is a shambles of stone, driftwood, and whatever else can be found lying around. Wooden boardwalks serve as a way of traversing the town, with dozens of piers jutting out into the Black Bay. If Cerak has ever heard of urban planning, it was likely considered an insult to shout at the people below as they emptied their pots into the street.
Everything seems to be cluttered together, with many buildings simply shoehorned wherever there was still space. Inns, brothels, and warehouses dominate most of Cerak, with actual houses being almost non-existent. Filth permeates the air, and even wandering around the winding alleys takes a certain amount of willpower.
Points of InterestCerak At'Thul - No one is entirely sure who first built the Black Fortress, but most believe that it was a race of Elves that had parted from their woodland kin.
Whether or not this is true will likely remain a mystery for the ages, but it's clear that the keep was abandoned some millennia ago. Only the last few decades have seen a local rise in population again as its drafty halls were reclaimed by an intrepid band of pirates. Despite the centuries of oblivion, the magic that was used to create it still lingers in its walls.
Many folk – hardened, obdurate criminals – find it difficult to gaze at Cerak At'Thul for any length of time. It fills people with an insidious, creeping dread. The shadows cast by its walls seem to stretch further than they ought to, and constant black clouds hang above the jagged fingers of its towers. Though no-one can put a finger on it, everyone who has ever seen it agrees there is something off about the Black Fortress. Those who live within it often find themselves growing more irritable, angry, and impulsive.
Many would think this precludes the occupation of the fortress, those who now dwell there don't seem to care. Cerak At'Thul is the key to Black Bay; a defensive bulwark that keeps its residents safe and allows the slave trade to prosper. Everyone who does business in the Bay pays a cut to the Fortress, no matter who they are.
Cerak - The town of Cerak is the token living area for those who have chosen to settle in Black Bay but cannot, or will not, live in the Fortress itself.
Calling this place a town is incredibly generous, and more aptly the settlement can be described as a 'collection of scum that somehow managed to build a few houses'. Cerak came into being out of necessity and was built by slavers, pirates, and whoever else would deal with such people.
There is no rhyme or reason to Cerak. Streets and alleyways go everywhere and nowhere; inns and brothels sit on every corner; docks randomly veer out into the bay in a desperate attempt to moor ships. Cerak feels like complete chaos.
Despite this, Cerak has survived and even thrived. The town has expanded ten-fold since the first few huts, and it's showing no signs of stopping. At this rate, all of Black Bay may disappear under its cancerous growth.
The Black Bay - There would be no Cerak or Cerak At'Thul without the convenient crescent of dark rock that forms a peaceful anchorage for several scores of ships. Whatever the original inhabitants called it, that name has long been lost to time. The new wave of criminals and marauders dubbed it Black Bay, and the term simply stuck.
Derived from the black facade of Cerak At'Thul and the knot of clouds that hangs over the fortress, the name seemed apt, if a bit on the nose. It is also a reflection of the black rock on the island that surrounds the bay itself, casting dark reflections onto the water on the few sunny days that can be found here.
Oddly enough despite this rather dark appearance, Black Bay is a surprisingly vibrant place. The tropical weather has nurtured a sprawling rainforest across much of Crescent island. Brightly colored fish zoom through the water, huge trees and vines encroach on the streets of Cerak, and many animals still roam the land at dusk and dawn.
BackgroundNo one exactly knows when Cerak At'Thul was constructed, nor do they know why or how. Many believe that it was the Elves, a tribe that had left their ilk on the mainland and decided to get as far away as possible.
Whatever the truth, it is well known that the fortress is far from what it used to be. Over the millennia of its watch over Black Bay, the gray stone has faded into black, eroded and broken; the lustrous facades have fallen into utter disrepair, the detailed carvings lots to the teeth of time. Wondrous magic turned ill, and dark foreboding gathered above the tower.
After lying abandoned for centuries, Cerak At'Thul reached out. Its black clouds and twisted walls sung and enthralled a would-be king. A Dark Elf by the name of Alarak, a broken and ruined thing in his own right, came to the Black Fortress. Once a pirate and slaver, Alarak discovered Cerak At'Thul and answered its call.
He occupied the keep along with his crew, using it as a base of operations for their raiding and slave trade.
Over time the Black Fortress grew in notoriety, and slowly more vessels began to flock to the bay. Several crews attempted to wrest control of Cerak At'Thul from Alarak, all of them slaughtered like cattle. Despite his unmatched control, paranoia began to fester in the Dark Elf. He and his crew took up permanent residence in the Fortress, whence they defended their claim on the island.
Eventually Alarak and his crew became a fixture of Cerak At'Thul, and many dubbed them the Wardens of the Black Fortress. They forged a tentative peace with those who came to Black Bay. Cerak At'Thul would protect them, allow them to trade, as long as they received a cut.
This arrangement quietly fell into place, and before long the town of Cerak blossomed from the unholy union.
Lore"I saw him once.
It was only a glimpse, but it was enough. There's something about him, about that place... it's hard to put into words. I've been all over the world, sailed the seas, been to the Blighted Plains and even saw the Naga once or twice but... this is something else.
The fortress is bad enough, gives me the creeps just to look at the damned thing. But then sometimes... sometimes you see him standing on the walls.
He never comes down into Cerak, he never even leaves the keep, but sometimes you can look up at the right time of the night and you just see him standing there. Just a shadow really, an outline of what could be a man. Most say it ain't him, just a sailor or a trick of light... but there's something about it.
The eyes I think. That pale glow all of them damned knife ears have. You can feel it, right? When it cuts into your soul, burns the edges of your mind?
I know it was him.
And I know why no one goes up there."
–Frederick Halson, First Mate of the Twice Born
Cerak At'Thul is one of the greatest slaver towns in all of Arethil. Though it is nowhere near as large as Alliria or other settlements, the Fortress and the town below it are still responsible for nearly a third of all slave trade in Arethil.
The entire settlement thrives on the misfortune of others, a fact well-known by most honest merchants and scholars. Over the years several Free Cities have attempted to dislodge the slavers from Black Bay, but each time they were beaten back by the massed pirate fleets and Cerak At'Thul itself.
Because of this the Black Bay has remained a hub of black market activity. For many around the world Cerak At'Thul is a hellscape, a place where only the worst criminals live and go.