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Harrowdeep

Inside the caverns of Harrowdeep

Harrowdeep is a cavernous labyrinth situated deep beneath the seabed of the Shadowsea in the Umbral Veil of the Shadrac Convergence in the Realm of Ulgu.[1a]

History

Origins

The Harrowdeep was constructed by shadow daemons hailing from the Orb Duplicita. These parasitic entities were, in part, fuelled by the nightmares of lesser beings, and for centuries they had delighted in feeding upon the terror of those who fell into their clutches. Yet for all their power, they were creatures of insubstantial shadow, unable to feel their incorporeal talons tear warm flesh, or to savour the taste of gushing blood. Bitter and hateful, they longed to manifest in the physical realm in all their glory. So it was that they constructed Harrowdeep, not merely as a dungeon into which to lure their prey, but as something far more sinister Cryptic signs of their intent lie everywhere amidst the darkened labyrinth. The shattered chrysalises containing malformed skeletons, and the strange, crystalline eggs that are scattered about the structure give a hint to its true purpose ‑ not the ending of life, but the gestation of something new.[2c]

For centuries the shadow daemons laboured, using the power of the Helleflux to twist the Waking Gate into a vessel for their dark designs. They poured so much of their malign essence into this work that upon its completion they were forced to entomb themselves at the bottom of Ulgu’s ocean, to recuperate in lightless isolation. Even as they slumbered, they reached out with their dreaming powers to ensnare mortals and drag them into the maw of Harrowdeep, for the living were a necessary catalyst for the next stage of their plans. Those who wander the halls of Nethermaze are nothing more than subjects in these dark experiments. With every step that takes them closer to the Waking Gate and freedom, they come nearer to fulfilling the shadow daemons’ unspeakable desires.[2c]

Age of Myth

In the Age of Myth, legends of the ancient coastal tribes in Ulgu tell from a "Deeper Darkness", a place far beneath the dark seas of the Realm of Shadows that cant be found by looking for it. Myths warn about ships being lost under the dark gaze of the Orb Duplicita, but with the dawn of the Age of Chaos and its own horrors, the tales of Harrowdeep became lost to time.[1b]

Founding of Urama Othal

The Harrowdeep was only rediscovered in the Age of Sigmar. Queen Kia'tan of the Morladron was the Idoneth exile who first established the undersea haven of Urama Othal, where Khainite and Deepkin sought freedom and autonomy from the rest of their kind. Yet it was not autonomy that drew Queen Kia'tan and her people to their lair of Harrowdeep, but the subtle insinuations and promises of shadow daemons, ones that echoed the hints Kia'tan had discovered in her occult research before she first left Morladron. The voices spoke of a swirling portal deep beneath the ocean of the Helleflux, known as the Waking Gate. If a mortal were to seek out this portal and pass through it, they would emerge on the other side renewed, with all their bitterness, rage and self‑doubt shorn away. To an Idoneth — one whose people had long been stricken by a terrible curse of the soul — such promises were impossible to dismiss. They offered Kia'tan and her people a faint hope of redemption.[2c]

The Daughters of Khaine who joined these Idoneth were religious dissidents who opposed the religious reforms under Morathi-Khaine, which begun during the era of the Broken Realms. The tumultuous era of the Broken Realms was marked by many twists of fate. Few, however, had greater ramifications than Morathi’s long-desired ascension to godhood. While this apotheosis saw the Khainite cult flushed with power, a number of its aelves regarded Morathi’s aims with unease and grasped, to some degree, that the Shadow Queen sought to replace worship of their murder god with her own glory. Not wanting to succumb to Morathi’s bloody purges, these Daughters of Khaine turned to a people with whom they had recently formed an alliance – the Idoneth Deepkin.[1b]

Though they are aelven kindred, few Idoneth look upon the hot-blooded Daughters of Khaine with anything but chill disdain. The would-be turncoats to Morathi’s regime were fortunate, however, in coming to the attention of Queen Kia'tan of the Morladron. Heavily censured by High King Volturnos for the overbearing cruelty she had displayed in the recent siege of Anvilgard, Kia'tan also chafed beneath authority, and recognised in the Khainites masterful illusion-sorcerers. This sorcery, alloyed with the strange magics of the deep aelves, allowed the two wayward factions to found an enclave on the ocean bed of the Helleflux, far from prying eyes and condemning tongues. Kia'tan did not explain why she had chosen this location (the whispering voices of shadow daemons), but such was its natural arcane potential that few cared.[1b]

Rediscovery of the Harrowdeep

It was not long before the aelves discovered the secret beneath their winding streets. In the great Plaza of Dusk, a void opened without warning, revealing the Silent Stair - a spiral path downwards that seemed to slowly hypnotise those who travelled upon it. Descending the first few floors, the aelves discovered chambers filled with caches of shadeglass and rocky chrysalises that, when broken open, revealed curiously fresh skeletons. Many clutched strange jewels that radiated a fell energy, though not even the most accomplished mystics could divine their purpose. Queen Kia'tan became increasingly withdrawn, even by Idoneth standards, though those passing outside her chambers occasionally heard her descending into uncharacteristically fervent - and one-sided - arguments. As reports of nightmares amongst Urama Othal’s populace grew more intense, an expedition was organised to uncover the true nature of their refuge.[1b]

None who entered ever returned. Eventually Kia'tan herself journeyed into the depths. The absent queen has not been sighted since, but there are signs of her presence to be found fragments of text scrawled across coral‑slates and scattered pieces of torn vellum give some insight into her mind, and, by extension, the nature of the labyrinth itself. It seems impossible that such delicate clues have survived the pooling waters by accident, their presence seems all too convenient, as if someone — or something — wants them to be discovered. It was only when Kia'tan descended into Nethermaze itself that she realised she had been deceived. The voices in her head belonged not to benevolent saviours, but incorporeal entities that had long slumbered beneath the oceans of Ulgu, and were awakening at last to once more sup upon the fear and madness of mortals. Indeed, such was their dreaming power that the darkest levels of Nethermaze morphed and shifted according to their whim. These were shadow daemons, monsters from Ulguan legend. Where once they dripped honeyed promises into her ears, now they mocked her cruelly. As Kia'tan’s people stumbled blindly into Harrowdeep after their queen, they one by one succumbed to hopeless madness, and the labyrinth consumed them.[2c]

Though stricken by guilt, Kia'tan would not give in to despair. Amidst the lies and deceptions spoken by her tormentors, she sensed a glimmer of truth, that the Waking Gate did in fact exist.[2c] However, the Queen would eventually be consumed by the Harrowdeep, devolving into a mad revenant and made a plaything of the shadow daemons.[3a]

Investigation

When Morathi's agents finally found the hidden Enclave of Urama Othal, it was deserted. Only strange and twisting shadow magic remained in the city, and the shrouded halls below. Ever since, the whispering whirlpools, portals to Harrowdeep, have opened up with increasing regularity across Ulgu and the Mortal Realms. Trapping more souls than ever before in the lightless chambers of Harrowdeep.[1b]

Nature

 
Xandire's Truthseekers battling Da Kunnin' Krew within the Harrowdeep

Located even below the lightless ocean floor, the ancient structure known as Harrowdeep is equally parts winding labyrinth, and ominous pit. I coiling spiral, its caverns and hallways leading deeper and deeper into the depths of Ulgu. Floodings and the always present shadow-magic of Ulgu makes it impossible to determine its true size.[1a]

Harrowdeep is shrouded in mysteries and legends, and little can be known for sure. But some details stay surprisingly consistent among the countless tellings that circulate the Realm of Shadow. Its when the Orb Duplicita, darkly fabled moon of Ulgu, is at its apogee that the doors to Harrowdeep open. Any surface touched by its sickly gaze can transform into a gateway into the depths. Even swamp water can turn into a whispering whirlpool that transports anyone unlucky enough to be pulled beneath the surface into the lightless halls of Harrowdeep. Those that find themselves trapped inside Harrowdeep soon feel the dark influence of this dark labyrinth. Paranoia soon grips the minds of even the most stalwart allies, while all that reside inside these walls feel a growing urge to descend deeper and deeper down the spiral. Legends speak of vaults filled with treasures and powerful artefacts deep inside the dark heart of Harrowdeep.[1a]

Structures

The upper most levels of Harrowdeep do not appear too different from other dungeons that can be found all across the mortal realms, ancient structures made from slick stonework, as well as signs of recent Aelven habitation. Only, the further one descends the more strange and other does the enviornment become; weird geometrics of the stonework and echoes that do not quite feel right, all acompanyed by the spray of the Penumbral Falls, a torrent of shadow-magic gushing from the top of Harrowdeep.[1a]

Deeper in, the hallways spiraling further and further into the depths become claustrophobic, harder and harder to navigate. Portals that appear when moving towards them from one angle, but not from another, Smooth, featureless obstacles barring the way forward, all while half sunken skulls are fused to the walls, their empty eyes staring into the darkness. Some of the larger caverns and structures inside the labyrinth have been given names by those trapped inside its depths. The Halls of Hidden Eyes, and the Vaults Mysterium are just a few of them.[1a]

Chambers

Plaza of Dusk

The Plaza of Dusk is an upper chamber of the Harrowdeep. It was here that the yawning portal to the Silent Stair and by extension the deeper portions of the Harrowdeep were first revealed to the aelven colonists of Urama Othal.[1b] Metaliths within this chamber are etched with harrow-runes that both name the site and also tell the story of Queen Kia'tan.[3a]

Silent Stair

The Silent Stair a spiral path downwards into the Harrowdeep that seemed to slowly hypnotise those who travelled upon it.[1b] Within the Nethermaze, one might accidentally stray too close to arcane glyphstones and are magically transported back to the summit of the Silent Stair, the very spot from which they first began their journey. Many travellers cannot stand the descent a second time, and simply collapse to the ground, where they are slowly and agonisingly absorbed into the very foundation of the labyrinth.[2b]

Hall of Hidden Eyes

The chamber known as Hall of Hidden Eyes is an anachronistic and unfathomable, as if it belongs to another lair, another realm. Rank seawater trickles from shadow-decked walls. Mono­lithic columns are carved in smooth stone. The cavernous emptiness is lifeless and dark. There are hundreds of statures, standing in ugly ranks, like idols of crystallised shade magic jutting up from the floor. If eyes are truly hidden here, they are hidden poorly as one cannot help but feel the statues are watching them.[3a]

Nethermaze

 
Harrowdeep inside the Shadrac Convergence

Those who follow the spiralling labyrinth of Harrowdeep to its very nadir find themselves entering an even more nightmarish place: the Nethermaze, a bizarre and ever‑morphing domain of pure shadow magic, shaped by the will of ancient, slumbering entities. Those luckless beings discover only an array of greater and more maddening horrors. The sinkhole at Harrowdeep’s nadir leads to an inverted reflection of the upper halls — a maze even darker and more dangerous than its mirror.

Here can be found the dwellings and innermost arcane laboratories of the labyrinth’s creators. Seemingly formed from living, writhing coral, these chambers are filled with blasphemous artefacts and chrysalis‑like devices of ancient, terrible provenance. The sense of paranoia, of eyes constantly fixed upon one’s back, is constant and maddening in this section of the labyrinth, as is its refusal to abide by physical and arcane laws. Water pours along the walls at unnatural angles, dripping from floor to ceiling. Twisting stairways collapse in upon themselves in impossible fashion, and before one’s very eyes, navigable passages transform into slimy, pulsing maws. Unblinking orbs wink open amidst pools of gelid slime. Here and there can be found jagged shards thrust deep into slick stone — fragments of shadeglass, hurled far and wide when the labyrinth was pierced by the Katophrane Curse. Where these fragments are embedded the walls drip black liquid as the inky waters of the Penumbral Sea find ingress, along with oozing, boneless creatures from the ocean floor. They settle into thigh deep pools that travellers must wade through, feeling the slimy caress of unseen tentacles curling around their sodden boots.[1b]

Perhaps the violence of the curse’s shattering stirred the sleeping architects of Harrowdeep from their slumber, and in turn, awoke the Nethermaze itself. The domain’s nameless creators drink deeply from the despair of those sealed within, delighting in driving adventurers to madness by luring them into sadistic traps. Many of these are lethal in nature, but some are subtler creations, such as the hovering, arcane glyphstones. Those who stray too close to these are magically transported back to the summit of the Silent Stair, the very spot from which they first began their journey. Many travellers cannot stand the descent a second time, and simply collapse to the ground, where they are slowly and agonisingly absorbed into the very foundation of the labyrinth. Yet it is the way of Ulgu to weave lies around a kernel of truth. Whatever purpose Nethermaze was created to serve, it is somehow connected to the wider realms; somewhere down in the abyssal darkness lies a portal to freedom, one that will only be reached by those who keep their faith and refuse to abandon hope. Even should such a resolute soul escape the maze, it may cost them more than they are willing to pay.[1b]

Chamber of the Last Threshold

At the end of the Nethermaze lies the Chamber of the Last Threshold, whose walls are made of shirking coral they are fashioned from the bodies of those who tried and failed to escape Nethermaze, and were instead absorbed into the very workings of the structure so that their nightmares might feed its terrible architects. They stretch out calcified arms to grasp and tear at any who enter, frenzied in the grip of their terror. In the centre of this chamber is the realmgate known as the Waking Gate, a vile, bubbling pool of shadow magic and embryonic matter into which one must descend if they are to escape Nethermaze. Those who take up this final test are challenged both physically and spiritually. Only those who face their inner demons and conquer them, excising the darkest depths of their psyche, can hope to awaken from their nightmare and once more feel the touch of Hysh’s light upon their skin.[2d]

Not only will they have escaped the horrors of Harrowdeep, but they will have stripped away the darkness and malice within themselves, leaving it behind at the ocean’s floor. However, just as with all bargains, there is a price to be paid for this escape. The shadow daemons’ cruel trials demand that only the strongest and most resolute creatures make it to the Chamber of the Last Threshold — indeed, the entire design of Harrowdeep ensures that this is the case. This is not without reason, for the denizens of the Orb Duplicita choose their victims with care. Those who escape Nethermaze take something with them, a parasitic shadow that clings to their essence, screaming in agony and triumph as it passes from shadow into light.[2d]

Quotes

I was a fool. I should have never transcribed that old harrow-rune. Its their symbol, the lords who ruled before man or aelf. They do not wish us to gaze upon their works. Please. Please, I am sorry...

~Last scribblings of the Scholar LaVenzi, found strangled in his locked chamber.[2]

Sources