Because of its proximity to the Imperial heartland, documentation of the Verny Barren Desert’s history exists in relatively decent amounts. Prior to 2E 3000, the region was ostensibly utilized as a staging ground for martial activities. Surviving records indicate that it was a highly militarized zone, with a number of forts and research facilities built throughout the area. It is through this connection that its nomenclature could be reasonably theorized. The name ‘Verny’ could have emerged from the then regional commander of Imperial forces, who is identified as ‘Vernus’ or, simply, ‘Vern’ – the latter is postulated to have been a sobriquet used by their (sex unknown) close associates.
Records highlight that Vernus had been assigned to oversee the militarized zone sometime before 2E 2963. This period coincides with the apex of hostilities between the Empire and the Kaa’ora Kingdom. Due to the heightened aggression, Imperial minds sought to design superweapons of destructive make to utilize against their rivals. While the ancient Verny region’s contribution to the eventual kin’toni outbreak is unknown, its development of high explosives and powerful machinery is better documented. In the years following 2E 2963, Vernus would spearhead the development of ‘high yield’ atomic weapons. Though no recorded accounts referring to actual testing can be found, the oral tradition of Verny tribes such as the Tinaech relate such stories.
“They caused the world much pain, our ancestors and their sorcerous ways. They split mountains and dried rivers, conjured fires from the heavens with blasphemous incantations. ‘Why do you hurt me, oh Children of the One!?’ cried the earth. ‘Am I not to you as a mother from whose bosom you suckle?’
‘Yours is ours to take,’ said our forefathers. ‘Yours is ours to do as we please.’ And thus did they burn away the hills and the valleys until not an inkling of green or blue could be seen across the land…”
-From Ul’Unnya Ud’Arada, the Song of the Earth, date unknown
Imperial presence in the region would heighten in the years building up to the Awakening. Between the Empire’s perpetual conflict with the Kaa’ora Kingdom and other rivals, the need for advanced weaponry grew stronger. In approximately 2E 2987, Vernus called for the further garrisoning of many forts and facilities under their command. The reasoning for this increased martial presence is a subject of much debate. Some theorize that around this period the Empire was going through an interregnum with no single strong claimant to the throne. Resultingly, prominent Imperial figures sought to bolster their own standing through military and economic means. Alternate explanations postulate that there had been a Kaa’oran incursion into the Aqidqyz continent in 2E 2985.
This expeditionary force would have penetrated deep enough into Imperial territory to cause Vernus to summon additional soldiers to their aid. Regardless, the immediate pre-Awakening stage in the Verny region was set to include an impressive array of Imperial armies equipped with an equally powerful arsenal.
The Awakening – The Refugee Crisis
In 2E 3000, the vampyric kin’toni escaped from the laboratories of Zaual-Arae City, spreading with frightful speed across the world. As the Empire ceded territory to the beasts, they consolidated their forces in fortified areas. The Verny region was perhaps one of the most bolstered of these zones. Though exact numbers are unknown, it is believed that Vernus commanded two separate armies, each consisting of roughly 250,000 soldiers. When word reached them that the vampyres had entered Aqidwyz, Vernus made further efforts to fortify their controlled sector. A number of additional forts were built along the region’s borders, and from the atomic arsenal was distributed weapons of ‘low yield’ between military divisions.
Initially, issues experienced by the Verny region pertained to an influx of refugees. Zu’aan fled the kin’toni hordes in unparalleled numbers, often tailing the ever-retreating Imperial forces. Consequently, while Vernus’ large army was reinforced by battered soldiers, they also had to contend with thousands of panicking migrants, many of whom were not citizens of the Empire. The excessive number of zu’aan placed an instantaneous strain on supplies. Rations serving as reserves were doled out amongst the refugees, who were settled in makeshift encampments near region forts. These ‘tent cities’ quickly became a sore on the Imperials. Due to crowded conditions, disease was rife amongst their populations, with fevers killing or debilitating many zu’aan.
Furthermore, zu’aan of varying nations were often cobbled together in single camps. With pre-Awakening tensions still unabated, Empire citizens often clashed with Kaa’orans and other Imperial rivals, leading to bloodshed that at times decimated entire encampments. Eventually, Vernus saw fit to organize refuges by way of nationality. This would prove only a stopgap solution, however, as old wounds from ancient wars spurred the zu’aan refugees to continue fighting amongst themselves. In 3E 02, a group of Kaa’oran refugees approached their Empire counterparts for the purposes of trade. Bartering was a commonplace occurrence for fleeing migrants, with military rations being the most prized commodity.
Dealing with shortages, the Kaa’orans sought to exchange other goods with the Imperial refugees for food. Negotiations quickly deteriorated, and fighting broke out between the parties involved.
“I can’t be biased in the face of facts. We threw the first punch. I saw Lido jab his fist into the jaw of the Kaa’oran leader. From there it was all chaos, with arms and legs being hurled against screaming bodies. To this day it amazes me that even with those blood-sucking monsters knocking at our door, we couldn’t put our differences aside…”
-Unknown Imperial zu’aan, dated ~3E 02
At least three zu’aan on each side were reportedly killed during this scuffle. It would lead to a series of antagonistic replies by the Kaa’orans and Imperials. The former are believed to have launched a night raid against the Empire encampment, stealing enough rations to cause significant malnourishment among children. The Imperials retaliated in earnest, kidnapping the daughters of several prominent Kaa’oran refugees. When the Kaa’orans demanded their release, only one of the girls were returned, albeit naked and covered in mud. A petition to Vernus pleading for justice was met with brusque scorn by the commander. They, according to written accounts, could not find the time to deal with the squabbles of the refugees.
As it so happened, the very same year of 3E 02 was a period when Imperial forces across the Aqidwyz continent supposedly opted to go on the offensive against the encroaching kin’toni hordes. The resulting campaign drew much of Vernus’ attention away from their subordinated territory. This left the refugees in the Verny region alone to deal with their own troubles. A lack of martial oversight developed open hostilities between the Kaa’orans and Imperials. Both groups of refugees began brazenly attacking each other, commencing with back-and-forth scrums with sticks and stones. Despite the primitiveness of the weaponry involved, multiple deaths are recorded to have occurred.
The Imperials would also, quite infamously, bring out the captive Kaa’oran daughters to taunt their rivals during these battles. Following a series of inconclusive skirmishes, the Kaa’orans would launch a daring raid in attempt to rescue the girls. Anywhere between 200-300 zu’aan took part, armed with various jury-rigged weapons, some of which were ostensibly procured from military contacts. The raid was carried out at midnight, with the kaa’orans successfully storming the large Imperial encampment by surprise. However, their initial victories would prove to be short lived. Realizing what was transpiring, the Imperial refugees executed the girls in cold blood, and left their corpses in the open for the Kaa’orans to discover.
The finding of the deceased girls produced shock amongst the ranks of the attacking Kaa’orans, who swiftly found themselves surrounded by an ever-growing number of Imperial defenders. Unable to escape, the Kaa’orans were mercilessly slaughtered. According to reports, as their numbers fell, the Kaa’orans attempted to surrender. Their capitulation was rejected, however, and the Empire refugees killed every last one of the raiding party. The entirety of 3E 02 was marked by similar events. Without Vernus enforcing the rule of law, the Imperial-Kaa’oran Refugee War descended into further chaos. The groups began burning one another’s tent cities, harassing travellers, and plundering shipments of rations meant for the other side.
Important members of both communities were assassinated or kidnapped and held for a ransom. At one point, near the end of 3E 02, the Kaa’orans and Imperials had even occupied parts of each other’s encampments for several days before being driven out. Several more skirmishes would take place with severe casualties when Vernus finally returned to the region the following year. They were met by squabbling delegations and petition after petition demanding that punishment be carried out for crimes both real and imagined. For the initial months, Vernus sought to bring the conflict to a close via civil council. Bringing together Imperial and Kaa’oran officials, the commander engaged them in what ended up a futile discussion.
“The Imperials yelled. We yelled. Their commander yelled. All in all, what was supposed to be a peace talk turned into a bout of old political mudslinging. Someone even threw a chair at one of Vernus’s generals. It was only the threat of escalated violence from the accompanying soldiers that prevented actual bloodshed. The damage, however, was done. One look into Vernus’s eyes reminded you that we were still strangers in the lands of the Empire…”
-Unknown Kaa’oran zu’aan, dated ~3E 02
3E 03 marked the commencement of civil war in the Verny region. Humiliated in the previous year’s campaign against the kin’toni, and unable to diplomatically quell the animosity between the different zu’aan, Vernus ordered their soldiers to intervene in domestic affairs. Force was utilized against an encampment of Kaa’orans who at been at odds with Imperial citizens. Around 1000 of Vernus’ troops were sent to subdue the supposed troublemakers. They were authorized to make use of ‘non-lethal’ options and are said to have resorted to beating those who dared stand against them. Conversely, the violence produced the opposite effect. Instead of bringing the Kaa’orans in line, it whipped them into a frenzy.
They fell upon the soldiers in droves, using their far superior number to simply overwhelm the Imperials. Of the 1000 Vernus sent to deal with the problem, only 234 are believed to have safely withdrawn. When the news was relayed to Vernus, they responded with more brutal means. An entire division was sent over to the Kaa’oran encampment, where they issued a command that the perpetrators of the massacre be handed over. The Kaa’orans refused, believing that the Imperials would not kill zu’aan civilians now that the kin’toni threat had become existential. Their refusal was met with a barrage of shells. The deployed division is recorded to have possessed a brigade specializing in fearsome ‘artillery duels’.
Equipped with the latest Imperial technology, this group bombarded the Kaa’orans with deadly precision, specifically targeting sections of the encampment erected for families. The barrage extended for two hours and is believed to have claimed the life of approximately 4300 Kaa’oran zu’aan. The brutality was enough to cause the beleaguered Kaa’orans to finally submit. Word of the bloodshed would spread quickly to other zu’aan refugees. Many community leaders were swift to reassure Vernus of a newfound loyalty to the Empire and promised that their people would not cause trouble. Migrants from other Imperial rivals, however, took the massacre as a sign of the Empire’s hatred.
They reminded their followers that Vernus was a commander who had spent years fighting the Kaa’orans. He possessed no love for them, nor did he care for the refugees from other territories the Empire had been at war with prior to the kin’toni outbreak. The fear mongering produced an environment of contempt for the Imperials. It was the Empire’s own refugees who would first suffer at the hands of the malcontents. Shipments of rations throughout the Verny region began to slow as protestors swarmed convoys. While most were simply left to run behind schedule, others headed for Imperial refugee encampments were looted. Over a course of three months (citation needed), starvation again threatened many Imperial camps.
The leaders among them pleaded with Vernus to put a permanent end to the dissenters, begging the commander to show each group the justice given to the Kaa’orans. Hampered by new exterior threats, however, Vernus was unable to properly respond to the civil war brewing within the region. A further spike in looter incidents caused violence to erupt in the middle of 3E 03. A civilian convoy meant to distribute rations amongst Imperial refugees was ambushed by dissenters, many of whom were believed to be Kaa’oran youths(it should be noted that these vagrants were most likely outcasts who left the main encampment). The ensuing skirmish injured many zuu’an on both sides, leaving no clear victor.
Conversely, a handful of ambushers managed to escape with some rations secured, leading to outrage in the Imperial refugee community. Dissatisfied with Vernus’s perceived incompetence, the Imperials again took matters into their own hands. A militia coalition was formed between the Empire encampments, which in turn opted to strike against the weakest of their ‘enemies’, the Kaa’orans. With the belief that their ancient rivals had taken part in the theft, 800-950 Imperial refugees attacked the already decimated Kaa’oran camp.
“We descended upon them in the middle of the day because we knew they were weak. When they saw us, their leadership tried pleading ignorance.
They claimed if any Kaa’oran had taken part in the ambush, they were of the ‘misguided’ youth. We, however, had no patience for their lies. I was among the zuu’an who mercilessly beat their wretched elders, and among the first who hurled makeshift incendiaries into their crowds of tents. We could hear the wailing of their women and children as the fire engulfed them. Good, I remember thinking, we can stop the Kaa’oran pests at the source.”
-Unknown Imperial zuu’an, dated ~3E 03
When the smoke cleared, the main Kaa’oran camp was little more than a smouldering ruin. The survivors were picked off by the Imperials, who carried out brutal means of execution. According to reports, little to no Kaa’orans emerged from the onslaught. Those fortunate enough to be taken alive were younger women, who were to be held as prisoners until a ransom could be paid. It is speculated, quite darkly, that the idea of a ransom was an excuse used by the Imperials refugees to take slaves, as the families of the Kaa’oran girls were already deceased. The incident spurred the other zuu’an groups to action. A week after the slaughter of the main Kaa’oran camp, several diasporic communities bound themselves together in an alliance known as the ‘Anti-Imperial League’.
They did not bother petitioning to Vernus about their woes, believing that there was no protection to be found in the Empire’s military. The League took matters into their own hands, forming their own militia force to combat the Imperial refugees. They began posting sentries and regular patrols in their territories, which halted any Imperial traffic. Additionally, raids against ration convoys became organized efforts as opposed to the spontaneous acts of angry dissidents. Through bribery, League leaders were able to obtain convoy manifests from unknown military officials, containing details on cargo and potential military escort. Armed with this information, the League struck indirectly at their Empire counterparts.
More supplies of rations were hindered from making their way into Imperial encampments, causing yet another bout of starvation. A significant number of children are recorded to have perished in a two-week timeframe. The Imperial refugees’ response was to engage their foes directly. In 3E 04, their militia army set out to confront the League. Simultaneously, Vernus was again called to action outside the Verny region. That year is reported have been a desperate one for Imperial forces combating the kin’toni hordes in Aqidwyz. The vampyres were making gains uncontested throughout the province, turning city after city, and infecting millions of zuu’an with their mysterious hemophilic disease.
After experiencing a crushing defeat the previous year, the Empire was determined to throw back the beasts. The resulting absence of the military in the Verny region led to unrestricted conflict between refugees. The Imperial militia sought to catch the individual League members in their encampments. Advanced patrols, however, set by the League would thwart any oncoming surprise. Alerted to the Imperial’s advance, they quickly scrambled their own militia force, sending them to intercept their foes. Both groups met in early 3E 04 in an unknown location, postulated to have been situated in the southwestern region of the present-day Verny Barren Desert. The ‘battle’ took place sometime in the afternoon, with the Imperials having set up camp between two hills, west and east, to rest.
The League took advantage of the undisciplined, disorganized, and overconfident force. They split their militia army in two, taking up both surrounding hills. From the superior position, they rained down projectiles including stones, rudimentary explosives, and other dangerous material onto the encamped Empire refugees. The lack of martial training (true for either side) caused a mass panic amongst the Imperials. Many fled the scene, while others, disobeying their leaders, charged up either hill. Seeing the enemy rush towards them, the League forces also broke ranks and ran to meet their assault, eager to avenge the Kaa’orans. This led to a bloody melee on the slopes of both hills.
Atop the western slopes, the League overwhelmed the Imperial through brute force, slaughtering them and taking no prisoners. The eastern hill proved to be a more contested affair. For reasons unknown, most likely inexperience, those zuu’an commanding the League’s forces called for a full retreat. The order created confusion amongst the League militia, with half of them clumsily withdrawing, and the other half stubbornly remaining to fight. Seeing the League running before them, the Imperials on the eastern slopes pressed on confidently, easily overpowering the few League militia that stood their ground. Two hours of combat saw the opposing sides in possession of either hill. Yet exhaustion had ground them down significantly enough for a temporary truce to be called.
Both militias agreed to leave the area and return unharmed to their respective refugee encampments. Though individual totals are lost to record, it is estimated that the total zuu’an killed was around 272. The inconclusive battle would only spawn a series of several more. For months after, the militia groups would meet regularly on the field, killing each other for little tactical or strategic gain. Both the Imperials and the League did not appear to have a shortage of males of fighting age eager to enlist. Either side saw a growth in their paramilitary forces, expanding from ranks of 800-950 to 1200-1300. This seemingly unprecedented influx of fighters did not occur as a result of internal population increase.
Beyond the Verny region, the war against the kin’toni created wave after wave of fleeing zuu’an desperate to escape the vampyres. A sizable percentage of these refugees were drawn to Vernus’s territory, as it was fortified significantly in addition to possessing an expansive military garrison. Zuu’an from all corners of Taerel came to the Verny region seeking a safe haven. And despite the vampyric menace, persisting rivalry separated them into competing ethnic and national factions, Imperial or Anti-Imperial. Three years of strife accompanied the wars between zuu’an refugee groups. Vernus and their forces were engaged in a protracted campaign against the kin’toni hordes across Aqidwyz.
This resulted in supplies being diverted from civilian needs to that of the military, effectively doubling the mortality rate of the elderly and newborns. It was only by virtue of mass immigration from fallen cities and lands that civil life, as perilous as it was, could continue to function. However, 3E 06 saw a sharp decline in the number of refugees entering the Verny region. Between 3E 06 and 07, the militia forces of both migrant groups lost zuu’an to a mass conscription effort taken by Vernus. The Imperial commander sought to bolster their depleted ranks through forced service, often retaining conscripted individuals via the promise of rations. Yet attention to the ongoing civil war was a priority Vernus neglected until their return to the region in 3E 09.
A near decade of fighting the kin’toni in Aqidwyz and other continents had left Vernus a weary shadow of their former self. Upon returning to the Verny region, the Imperial commander left governance of refugees to their generals. Both Imperial migrants and the Anti-Imperial League, however, put little stock in respecting the martial hierarchy. Calls for peace were met with scorn, and another series of inconclusive battles raged on for the better part of 3E 09. On the eve of the decade, Vernus emerged from seclusion to forcefully summon the leaders of both factions to the peace table. Unlike the first meeting, there exist no known records or accounts of what transpired. It can be reasoned that the conference went no where based on the violence that soon followed in its wake.
3E 10 saw the Imperial military directly involve itself in the Verny civil war. The resulting carnage would dispel any further conflict. Utilizing the same artillery division that had decimated the Kaa’orans seven years prior, Vernus first surrounded the camps of the League one by one. It is around this period that the first instances of this group’s name first appears. Fragmentary Imperial records indicate that the artillery division in question was the 77th Counter-Battery Unit, known colloquially as the ‘Hellbringers’, from whom the Tinaech tribe claims descent. Instead of offering terms to the insurgents, the Hellbringers shelled each encampment without mercy.
The cramped conditions of the migrant camps contributed to the deaths of thousands, with entire refugee groups being wiped out by the usage of low-yield atomic weapons. Vernus offered the League no quarter, and those who came begging for their mercy were met with a well-documented response.
“I’ve spent the better part of this wretched decade picking up the pieces of a dying empire. I’ve fought, tooth and nail, for every little inch of a continent plagued by monstrosities out for zuu’an blood. And what do I get at home? Squabbling, inconsiderate, troglodytic barbarians with enough brain cells to only remember ancient rivalries. You want mercy? I’ll grant you mercy. The mercy of a quick, explosive death.”
Bold text-Commander Vernus, dated ~3E 10
By 3E 11, Vernus had ordered the Hellbringers to kill approximately 80,000 zuu’an refugees. This number corresponds to the estimated population of most of the combined Anti-Imperial League. It is currently unknown how many Imperial refugees lost their lives due to the 77th Counter-Battery Unit. Existing documents do propose that Vernus did indeed turn his attention on his own people. The extent to which they experienced termination can only be speculated, with estimations ranging anywhere between 30,000-50,000 dead. In the wake of these massacres, Vernus also placed heavy restrictions on refugees seeking to enter the region. One official stipulation can be pulled from surviving records, that only Imperial citizens from the Aqidwyz continent were permitted entry.
The Awakening – The Siege of the Verny Region
The Empire would continue to fight the kin’toni hordes threatening Aqidwyz for another decade. The war, however, proved with each passing year to be a losing effort. Eventually, many Imperial commanders were forced into strongholds of their own, waiting for the vampyres to inevitably come to them. For Vernus, this reckoning began in the 21st year of the third era. By 3E 20, the Verny region had become an impregnable citadel ringed by forts and numerous other defences. Every hill, valley, and ravine along the border was turned into a killing field adorned by razor wire and thousands of mines. Each cliff and crag overlooking passes and roads were developed into impressive gun batteries stocked with enough munitions to last years of consistent fire.
Trenches were cut into mountainsides and mounds and slotted with soldiers and weapons in constant rotation. Due to strains on Imperial logistics, tremendous numbers of munitions, warheads, armaments, and vehicles were secured in the Verny region.
“There was not a fort, base, placement, or facility in the then Verny territory devoid of optimal stock. The war against the vampyres had forced the Empire to centralize its logistical supply routes, and Vernus’ well-defended, near-central region seemed the only logical position. From it, munitions and weapons could be transferred to any front in a safe and timely manner. No kin’toni horde could breach it without a costly fight. And before its defences could fall, it was assumed by the Empire’s martial class that their most secret, destructive, high-yield weapons would be employed as a final countermeasure…”
-Author unknown, The Fracturing of the Heartland, dated late 3E
The first trickle of encroaching kin’toni were spotted in mid 3E 21 near the region’s northeastern border. This sudden appearance of the vampyres stirred the militarized zone into a frenzy. Communications were dispatched to neighbouring regions, urging other commanders to send detachments to the immediate aid of what had become Aqidwyz’s martial staging ground. The request for reinforcements was met with varying responses. Vernus rivals within the Empire’s military ignored his communique. Other commanders could not spare additional troops as they were bogged down with fighting the kin’toni elsewhere. Consequently, it is estimated that Vernus received anywhere between 10,000-20,000 soldiers. This number was sufficient to only reinforce one compass direction of the Verny region.
The initial battles between Vernus’s forces and the vampyres were small, long-ranged affairs. The Imperials, having garrisoned and fortified the region, easily disposed of any approaching kin’toni. Vernus usually deployed their mobile ‘vanguard’, a highly trained ‘hunter-killer’ brigade capable of striking quickly against the smaller groups of kin’toni. It is believed that the Hellbringers were also assigned to support this strike force, lending them fire support. According to reports, the 77th would shell any vampyric incursion, ‘softening them up’ for the rest of the vanguard to surround and destroy. This likeness of combat was a staple of the years between 3E 21-23. Even as the minor ‘hordes’ grew in size, Vernus was able to counter them by simply bolstering the number of strike troops sent out against the kin’toni.
The situation would expand to the southern border in 3E 24. Unlike the skirmishes in the northeast, the horde assaulting the south employed martial tactics. These vampyres were supposedly composed of erstwhile military personnel, and so made use of weaponry that could rival what Vernus deployed. Without approaching the border, the kin’toni launched a campaign of long-ranged strikes against the defences. Forts and gun batteries were struck by high-yield munitions, causing mass casualties among the defenders. To counter this, Vernus pulled the Hellbringers from the northeastern border and stationed them in the south. Trained in counter battery operations, the 77th proved most effective, silencing the vampyre’s artillery and forcing them to advance without fire support.
Half a year of fighting in this manner produced skewed losses. The Imperial defenders were able to quickly repair their fortifications while inflicting considerable damage to the kin’toni assault. Unable to progress, the vampyres withdrew from the south, only to be encircled and destroyed by Vernus and an unknown commander from another of the Empire’s beleaguered territories. The success in repelling a heavily armed vampyric horde would be repeated in 3E 26 and 28. The former year is documented to have seen a turned Imperial army attempt to break through the defences of the Verny region. This kin’toni force was composed of an estimated 100,000 soldiers, each a former militarily trained zuu’an.
The vampyres additionally possessed adequate vehicles, artillery systems, and certain rocket-propelled ballistics capable of inflicting severe losses on Vernus’ defenders (it is debated whether these were atomic superweapons or not). Equipped with these instruments, the kin’toni launched a series of attacks against the region’s northern and eastern borders. They sought to open up a war on two fronts in an attempt to divide Vernus’ garrisons. It is also believed that this force of 100,000 was the vanguard of a far larger vampyric army that, due to immense size, faced logistical problems that hindered their movement. Several theories hold that the vanguard was simply sent to both probe and damage the Verny’s defences.
Numerous artillery strikes began in early 3E 26. These were aimed specifically at Imperial gun emplacements positioned in the border’s cliffs and crags. The resulting attacks were successful, as Vernus’ forces along the north and east reported high losses in equipment and artillery personnel. Under the cover of immense fire support, the kin’toni launched a mechanized assault using armoured vehicles and mobile troops. Before they could reach the line of trenches anywhere on the border, however, they suffered heavy losses due to the concentration of explosive mines. Ballistic support from within the Verny region brought further destruction on the vampyres’ efforts. Imperial rockets and larger fixed guns decimated the kin’toni all throughout the northern front.
In the east, they fared relatively better, driving deep into the Imperial trench line and capturing key positions along the border. Yet this success would be short-lived. Vernus, unwilling to give ground so easily, ordered superweapons of moderate tonnage to be employed. Several atomic ballistics were launched at the kin’toni-held locations, which eradicated the vampyres. More atomic strikes were then utilized against the kin’toni’s reserves, sending them into a full withdrawal. Negatively, the use of such weaponry created large pockets of radiated zones. Subsequent Imperial forces sent to reoccupy the positions were equipped with means to counter radioactivity, though reports indicate that radiation sickness was still rampant.
The kin’toni would not reattempt a large-scale offensive again until 3E 28. By this time, it is believed that they had secured a number of atomic weapons (several zuu’an strongholds were reported to have been ‘levelled’ by the vampyres). The coming attack took the Imperials in the Verny region by surprise. Long-range ballistics struck positions along the border and at facilities within the territory itself. Vernus, fearing the kin’toni would begin to utilize atomic warheads, placed air defences on high alert. While no official reports state that the vampyres used superweapons at this stage of the assault, tribal oration centuries later seems to indicate there was at least one attempt.
“My mother, spoken to by her mother, spoken to by her mother, spoke to me of the day the beasts hurled fire from the sky. Bright did their magics burn upon our forefathers, and many did perish in shrouds of heathen flame. Yet strong was the resolve of those whose blood we share. With their own sorcery they cast out the heavenly fires, sending the eastern sky into a bloom of orange and red.”
-Matriarch Zafarah of the Tinaech zuu’an, 4E 100
The sudden barrage effectively stunned the Imperials long enough for the kin’toni to begin a rapid assault. Trenches spanning the southern, northern, and eastern borders came under attack by vampyric military units. Temporarily bereft of immediate countermeasures, the defenders were forced to hastily withdraw to secondary and tertiary lines. The kin’toni attackers were able to bolster their ranks by turning the wounded left behind in the chaos and pressed on with momentum. Three months of combat saw significant parts of the northern border controlled by the vampyres. Fighting in the south pushed Vernus’ forces right up against the natural fortifications of ravines and cliffs.
The conflict in the east proved a bloody affair for both sides, as the final trench line before the border changed hands frequently due to counter attacks from both the zuu’an and kin’toni. Vernus’ leadership would again save the region, however. Taking personal command of the infamous Hellnbringers, they struck hard at the northern front, pushing the vampyric attackers from the border in a month-long counter offensive. Vernus would then swing their regrouped northern units out east, assaulting the kin’toni and driving them southward. Another four gory months finally put an end to the attempted incursion. Having forced their foes into a single front, Vernus ordered several high-yield atomic weapons to be unleashed against the vampyres.
The resulting explosive cascade annihilated the kin’toni and is believed to be the cause of a deep depression that runs along the current Verny Barren Desert’s southern border. Despite the success in holding back the kin’toni, the Verny’s defenders were still fighting against time. Imperial forces across Aqidwyz suffered heavily as more vampyres joined the war in the next few decades. Regions became increasingly isolated, separated by individual hordes rampaging through open terrain. Cities that maintained weapons production either began falling or broke away from the Empire, believing themselves to be ‘tethered to a corpse’. The loss of manufacturing bases crippled the Imperial war effort.
Infighting broke out amongst the ruling martial and civil class, leading to entire armies splintering off to form new states. Some commanders are even said to have willingly gone over to the kin’toni, turning themselves and their soldiers into new vampyric foes. Constant fighting along the borders of the Verny region produced an inevitable wear on defences. Shelling and counter shelling became a matutinal occurrence between 3E 30-45, with untold thousands of Imperial soldiers being killed. The mortal blow to the province’s stalwart borders came in the years between 3E 44-46. The exact date unknown, the death of Vernus can still be accurately traced to this period.
“The demise of the legendary figure of Commander Vernus is a tale passed down throughout the many tribes of the Verny Barren Desert. Extrapolating the details from fanciful orations, it can be deduced that an elderly Vernus was slain by a kin’toni ballistic strike on their command bunker. The loss of such an integral unit in the region’s martial hierarchy produced harrowing results. In the few years following their death, Imperial forces were driven from border fortifications. And in 3E 50, the vampyres officially entered the Verny region.”
-Author unknown, The Fracturing of the Heartland, dated late 3E
The Awakening – The War for the Verny Region
Having finally breached the borders, the kin’toni now had to contend with internal defences. Being a highly militarized zone, the Verny region possessed multiple interwoven layers of fortified positions. Vernus had masterminded the plan behind this layout, designing it for achieving maximum crossfire between forts, bases, and outposts. Assaulting one location meant receiving artillery strikes from another, coupled with entrenched emplacements along hills and other vantage points. It is speculated that an extensive network of tunnels also ran between key points, though this has yet to be confirmed. Crowning the impressive system were five primary bases that served dual purposes.
They were first and foremost the largest of the many forts dotting the Verny region, fully garrisoned and well-supplied. They also, reportedly, doubled as storage facilities for large stockpiles of Imperial superweapons. Therefore, their defence in the eyes of the Empire’s forces was paramount. In light of Vernus’ death, a zuu’an named Ipso Zephyr succeeded them. He was, by all verifiable documents, the son-in-law of Vernus, having wed their daughter 20 years earlier. This familial connection was important to keeping the morale of the remaining armies high. Zephyr, conversely, would prove to be an inadequate replacement for his father/mother-in-law. Rather than consolidating Imperial troops within the highly fortified positions, he chose to counterattack the kin’toni with brute force.
He ordered ballistic strikes to be launched against the vampyres as they sought to gain a proper foothold within the region. Following this, he deployed four divisions of approximately 15,000 soldiers each to attack where the kin’toni were weakest. The chosen location was the northern border. As suggested by intelligence, the vampyres had suffered heavy casualties in their assault of the fortifications there. Zephyr believed that by retaking one border, the Imperials could effectively divert the attention of their foes and gather them in a single location for a large atomic strike. In 3E 51, Ipso Zephyr commenced his planned offensive. Ballistic strikes mauled kin’toni positions, permitting Zephyr’s four divisions to race north.
His forces were able to swiftly cut the vampyric horde in two and regain multiple strongpoints along the northern border. The vampyres, however, had planned for such contingencies. The forts strutting the edges of Verny territory were rigged with low-yield atomic weapons. Upon garrisoning them, the Imperials unknowingly triggered the explosives, leading to the rapid destruction of all four divisions; 60,000 troops. The blow permanently hamstrung the surviving Imperial army in the region, as their numbers would never again be significant enough to push to the borders. This setback forced Zephyr to refocus on the defensive. The early half of third era’s fifth decade was marked by plethora of long-ranged engagements.
Behind stout fortifications, the Imperials avoided mass casualties while inflicting heavy losses on the vampyres. Artillery battles and skirmishes pockmarked the terrain with craters that often filled with rainwater and the bodies of kin’toni. The interlacing bases and shared fields of fire rendered any offensive operations nearly impossible. The vampyres sometimes found success in destroying key targets with ballistic projectiles, but most of these weapons were often countered by the Empire’s extensive array of surface-to-air systems. The kin’toni were also driven to split up their forces, unwilling to provide large targets for the fearsome superweapons they knew the Imperials possessed.
It is around 3E 62 that records, accounts, and surviving documentation become sparse. From what exists, it is hypothesized that the nature of the war remained relatively constant throughout the next few decades. Both sides chipped away at each other using artillery and long-range explosive projectiles. This type of engagement, of course, favoured the ever-growing kin’toni horde, whose numbers in the Verny region continued to rise with the arrival of freshly turned zuu’an. A desperate Zephyr made constant use of low-yield atomic weapons to try and stem the tide. The persistent deployment of such munitions led to a spike in radioactivity throughout the region. Floral and faunal life is reasonably believed to have vanished in cataclysmic proportion, with entire areas devolving into toxic wastelands.
3E 81 is presumably the year that the kin’toni managed to make territorial gains. Faced by an increasingly dwindling supply of munitions, the Imperial defenders were forced to abandon bases, shortening the line of contact. By this point, it is also speculated that Ipso Zephyr had died, as the commander named in reports is one ‘Kel Plutus’. In 3E 83, Plutus ostensibly communicated with other Imperial forces in Aqidwyz, sending out a plea for assistance. This message predominantly fell on deaf ears, with only a handful of Empire loyalists making vague pledges. On the brink of starvation in 3E 90, Plutus ordered the Imperials on the offensive. While the details of this campaign are lost, it would go on spawn a slew of ‘last gasp’ offensives that ultimately spelled the end of the Empire’s hold on the Verny region.
“Plutus, still a young man in the 90th year of the third era, could not bear the suffering any longer. Too many zuu’an began perishing under his command due to a lack of food and constant kin’toni shelling. And seeing the last of his three children die undoubtedly drove him to borderline insanity. A sudden paroxysm of Imperial bravado suddenly seized him that year. It spurred his decision to attack the besieging vampyres with whatever forces he had left. Everything the Imperials could muster was highlighted by his staff; weapons, vehicles, troops, and systems. He organized them into new corps and divisions, each with an assigned compass sector that it would fight to the death for. Following extensive ballistic strikes that included atomic warheads, Plutus set his offensive in motion.”
-Author unknown, The Fracturing of the Heartland, dated late 3E
Four armies were created in order to combat the kin’toni in this manner. Each force was ordered by Plutus to take and hold a preordained area, these being the northern, eastern, western, and southern regions of the Verny territory. A near century of perpetual war had reduced Imperial fighting capacity to a mere shadow of its former self. The resulting compositions of Plutus’s troops are believed to have been poor renditions of his predecessors’ forces. Despite this, the armies undoubtedly possessed enough firepower to cause significant damage to the kin’toni hordes. This became evident in the following year of 3E 91. What occurred in the initial stages of this renewed conflict can only be theorized.
Most experts on the mysterious history of the third era speculate that Plutus’s armies struck hard and fast. They managed to drive the vampyres from key locations in the Verny region, though none were able to reach the border save for a few southwestern detachments. Both zuu’an and kin’toni forces resorted to the use of low-yield and high-yield atomic weapons during this stretch. The explosives were primarily deployed as defensive countermeasures, rigged as demolition charges to destroy forts and bases to prevent their recapture. Additionally, both sides are reported to have unleashed massive salvoes of atomic warheads upon each other. The highest concentration of these weapons was utilized in the northeastern areas, where an entire storage facility is supposedly said to have been detonated remotely.
The Imperials rapidly lost momentum as the offensives against the kin’toni dragged on. Eventually, both races again settled into protracted bouts of positional warfare. So late in the war, these artillery duels and exchange of ballistics heavily favoured the kin’toni, whose supply seemed unending. Most of the Imperial artillery brigades had been decimated by 3E 88. Either completely destroyed or functionally disabled, crews were absorbed in piecemeal into units that could operate effectively. When Plutus launched his offensives in 3E 91, the largest of these surviving brigades was the 77th Hellbringers, who had incorporated elements of at least 12 other detachments. 3E 93-95 produced a ‘pendulum’ of territorial exchanges.
Reports dated to this period vaguely mention that the Imperials would force the kin’toni from a position, only to have the vampyres retake it a month after. The metronomic nature of the conflict again resulted in the deployment of superweapons. When one side lost interest in holding a location, they would rig it with atomic traps or outright demolish it with a ballistic strike. An exponential increase in region-wide radioactivity was the consequence of these further usages of such arms. Levels of radiation grew so mortally dangerous that even the vampyric kin’toni were unable to subsist in ‘hot zones’. Imperial forces suffered heavy losses due to radiation sickness, as drugs and protective equipment became increasingly sparse.
Kel Plutus himself ostensibly perished due to a cancerous growth in his lungs sometime between 3E 95-97. His unnamed successor would be the zuu’an who ordered the Verny region to be turned to scorched earth. By 3E 98, all Imperial forces were broken and scattered. The kin’toni had occupied much of the once formidable defences built by Vernus a century prior. The remaining zuu’an in the region had been forced into hastily dug bunkers and shelters, with many of these under siege by vampyric hostiles. Survivng military personnel still retained a hold on primary installations, however. From them, the Empire’s garrison in the Verny region maintained control of their atomic arsenal. Yet like the bunkers housing the zuu’an remnants, these too had come under attack.
Plutus’s unknown successor is weakly documented to have published cryptic final message in light of certain defeat.
“Is anyone out there? Anyone? I know you fat, pretentious fools in the capital are sitting safely behind your manses and spires. For a hundred years we’ve served as your bulwark. And for a hundred years millions of us have died so that you may continue partaking in your hedonistic debauchery! But know that your time of revelry is at its end. The beasts have overrun our fortifications. They now control every inch of trench line, base, tower, and bunker beyond the scope of central command. With that, they come to knock at the very doors of our weapons caches. If they manage to get hold of the superweapons…then the zuu’an race shall cease to exist as we know it. But I will not allow such a thing to happen. I will see us all burn before the blood-sucking fiends place their filthy claws on decades of research. I, [name expunged], will turn Vernus’s labyrinth into a wasteland of glass and bone!”
-Unknown Commander of the Verny Region, dated 3E 99
In the 99th year of the third era, this unnamed commander ordered the detonation of all atomic stockpiles in the Verny region. Five primary bases are believed to have been utilized for the purpose of storage and testing, and all five were linked by a failsafe mechanism purposely designed for self-termination. With the kin’toni said to have been swarming the central command base, the caches were remotely activated. The subsequent explosion is reported to have been seen for ‘miles on end’ throughout the Aqidwyz continent, with seismic activity documented as far as ‘hundreds of kilometres’ out. Everything caught in the impressive blast was vaporized, kin’toni, zuu’an, and what little remained of the region’s wildlife. The Verny militarized zone, after holding for a century, was finally destroyed.
The Silent Years
The fallout from the explosion birthed a period of desolation in the Verny region known as the Silent Years. From the deadly levels of radiation permeated a broad range of abnormal meteorological activity. For centuries after, the landscape would be whipped by acid rain, ‘burning’ snows, and fearsome dry winds powerful enough to have shred mountains. This prevented any expeditions into the area by both zuu’an and kin’toni groups. According to certain reports found in the archives of the Imperial capital, several attempts were made. These were met with failure, however, as zuu’an are documented to have ‘dropped dead’ due to radioactivity. It is currently unknown what transpired within the region during the Silent Years.
Tribes like the Tinaech believe their ancestors survived by remaining underground, supposedly living in the tunnels that ran between military installations. Furthermore, these tribes also hold that the war for Verny region did not cease. The kin’toni too sought refuge in the steel depths, where they often clashed in narrow passages and dark chambers with Imperial remnants. The ancestors of the Tinaech, the Hellbringers artillery brigade, developed a bloody reputation among the vampyres in these close quarter battles. According to the Tinaech, the former artillerymen modified their fixed weapons to command entire segments of confined hallways. Heavy guns were ‘forcefully evolved’, turning them from long-range pieces to cannons capable of clearing out packed formations of kin’toni.
There exists little record of this continuation of the war, however. Even within the oral tradition of the Verny’s tribes, it is mentioned in passing. Contrary to martial narrative, other scholars hypothesize that survival was the key goal of any surviving lifeforms. While conflict did occur, it was few and far between, often involving minor skirmishes that ended in stalemate. Additionally, it is also speculated that both kin’toni and zuu’an survivors destroyed interlinking passages to avoid direct confrontation.
“At first glance, this operation would seem counter-intuitive to the kin’toni. Due to their parasitic method of ‘reproduction’, zuu’an are required to replenish their numbers. The cataclysmic scouring of the Verny region is estimated to have wiped out at least 80% of invading vampyric forces, effectively rendering them out of capacity. The remaining 20%, taking shelter underground, would have tried to turn Imperial remnants no doubt. Yet upon meeting fierce resistance, they theoretically concluded a cessation of hostilities more beneficial for their diminished horde…”
-Author unknown, The Fracturing of the Heartland, dated late 3E
The Silent Years carried on in an undisturbed quietude throughout the third era. It would be at least another three centuries from the atomic scouring that the first signs of its present characteristics began to manifest. Desiccating windstorms are recorded (by external observers) as having stripped any remaining fertile soil from the region. Temperatures rose to exceedingly high degrees, ‘baking’ the land and drying up the last surface-level water sources. Moist shrivelled into dust, giving way to the nascent dune seas of the Verny Barren Desert. Persistent radioactivity still prevented any sequestered zuu’an or kin’toni from emerging for another two centuries. When the region finally stabilized, it was marked by what geographers recognize as its wastes and deserts.
Wildlife was the first to reclaim lost territory, with mutated plants and animals arising from the desolation to thrive in whatever way they could. The Verny’s present tribes eventually saw fit to return to surface life in approximately 3E 732. Yet their disposition was a far cry from what had been their Imperial heritage. Gone were the advents of technological prowess and martial discipline. Supplanting civilization was a primitive, barbarous nature characterized by superstition and violent caution. However, what remained of the ‘old way’ lay in their physical appearance. Despite centuries in the darkness, the Tinaech and their kindred retained a distinctly ‘zuu’an’ physiognomy. How this came to be remains a mystery to this day.
The Verny Barren Desert is located in the southwestern region of the Aqidwyz continent. It covers an area of roughly 137,000 square kilometres (52,896 square miles) and is predominantly composed of dry wastes and dune seas. A few narrow ravines and significantly broad depressions mark the locations of what may have been pre-Awakening bodies of water. Little to no actual sources of hydration exist, rendering greenery a rare sight. In several areas across the desert exist blackened craters. These jagged openings are currently inaccessible due to dangerously high levels of radiation. It is speculated that each crater was a former Imperial weapon’s testing and storage facility that were detonated as a desperate countermeasure against the kin’toni.
Furthermore, the excessive tonnage of stored weapons is believed to have been the cause of the Verny’s desertification. While it is difficult to confirm this hypothesis, most tribals, claiming descent from stranded Imperial forces, seem to support the notion.
“The Black Pits are stories from the old days. The times when the dushaha (blood-suckers, kin’toni) came for our ancestors in drove after drove. It was my mother who told me of how the Great Fire took the land. It came from the Black Pits, a brilliant flash of thunderous sparks that burned all it touched. Some say it was the wrath of the One, a punishment for both zu’aan and dushaha. But others believe a darker tale. I have heard whispers that the Black Pits were sorcerous temples wherein our ancestors dabbled in forbidden magics. When they could not halt the dushaha, they called upon their heathen powers to destroy the temples before the monsters could take control of them...”
-Matriarch Dhiyarah of the Tinaech zu’aan, 4E 220
The craters and their surrounding vicinities are what compose the Verny Wastes. These arid landscapes compose roughly 45% of the Barren Desert’s total area, and are characterized by cracked, desiccated earth. Five craters compose the heart of each waste, from which also is drawn the location’s name. As of 4E 250, the wastes are titled as follows.
Eyun Ud’Dhaha – The Eye of Darkness: Simply known as Ul’Eyun, the Eye, this waste is the largest and well known of the Verny Barren Desert. Its crater is believed to have been the location of an Imperial military base wherein an impressive number of superweapons were stored. Radiation levels have dropped off significantly over the past few centuries, resulting in tribals wandering closer to the central crater. According to reports, the crater is immensely deep, with observers unable to distinguish its bottom. No attempts have been made to explore the depths, as wanders say a ‘steely’ echo can be heard emanating from within.
Ul’Yalur – The Rise: This moderately sized waste is located near the Verny’s western fringes. Its name stems from its unique placement atop a plateau that is surrounded by the largest of the dune seas. The Rise is still considered a ‘light’ danger to those who wish to climb its heights. Any exploration of the plateau is often cut short by mild radiation sickness in addition to a strange sense of mania. No explanation has been proposed for the latter condition.
Ul’Thawisinyn – The Elder Twin: The smaller of the Ul’Thawi, the Twins, the Elder Twin is also the smallest of the Verny’s wastes. Due to a near negligible amount of radiation, one can travel across its expanse in a matter of three hours. Its shallow crater also contains a lengthy cylindrical metal object tribals call Ul’Rud Nayat, the Slumbering Thunder. This miraculously preserved artifact is speculated to be an unexploded Imperial warhead or the barrel of an ancient weapon.
Ul’Thawisinan – The Younger Twin: The larger of the Ul’Thawi, the Younger Twin is divided from its elder sibling by way of a thin strip of dunes called Ul’Kabr, the Bridge. It is second in size to only the Eye, consisting of a complex ravine system home to the Verny’s rock spire ‘forests’. Like the Elder Twin, the Younger also possess a decreased level of radiation. However, certain areas amidst the waste are known to contain levels of dangerous radioactivity.
Ul’Hawarat – The Abyss: This waste is located in an expansive depression in the northeastern segment of the Verny Barren Desert. Due to extremely high levels of radiation, exploration is impossible. Both faunal and floral life avoid the area altogether, and tribals consider any mention of it taboo. From extrapolations taken from surviving Imperial records, it can be postulated that Ul’Hawarat was the site of a cataclysmic battle between Empire forces and the kin’toni horde. This hypothesis is supported by tribes like the Tinaech, who also refer to the Abyss as Ul’Wadah Shabar, the Valley of the Ghosts. According to the Tinaech, the forefathers of the twelve tribes fought in the supposed battle.
The remaining 55% of the Verny Barren Desert is covered by the various dune seas. The tribals allocate varying dune segments to several different seas. This number can range anywhere between 100 and 110 depending on a tribe’s beliefs about geography. In recent years, to alleviate confusion, foreign experts have proposed a naming system that demarcates these areas based on compass direction. It should be noted that this system is not accepted by any of the twelve tribes.
Ul’Samala – The Northern Sea: The northern dune sea and its constituents are often described as ‘undulating’. It contains the highest concentration of individual dunes, with very few flatlands between. Because of the increased number of dunes, the sun produces shadowy pattern across the sea’s expanse. This ‘black and white’ striping is the origin of the loosely general name for the region, Ul’Unnya Aghwadi Wa Ashwani, the Song of Darkness and Light (or Black and White).
Ul’Suraq – The Eastern Sea: In terms of area, the eastern dune sea is the smallest of the four. It also contains the lowest number of dunes, as most of its expanse is covered by flatter desert terrain. However, its dunes are among the tallest of the seas, averaging at heights of 50-65 feet. Because of this, the deep shadows cast by the sandy hills are popular resting spots for wildlife.
Ul’Jinadh – The Southern Sea: Often considered the ‘damper’ region, the southern dune sea is home to a nexus of life. Much of the Verny’s hardened flora can be found in significant concentration among the southern dunes. The sand is considerably cooler, even when exposed to sunlight, and at unmarked times of the year, streamlets of water spontaneously erupt from unknown subterranean chasms. This seemingly miraculous property has led the tribals to consider portions of the south as sacrosanct. No one tribe is permitted to live permanently there, nor may warfare without cause be pursued.
Ul’Gharith – The Western Sea: By far the largest of the seas, the western expanse contains a modest composition of dunes and sand flats. It is home to tallest dune of the Verny desert, Ul’Tanuut, the Dragon, which stands at 2476 feet. Tribals believe that the bones of an ancient monstrosity lay buried beneath the heaps of sand. Imperial records seem to indicate the usage of an ‘advanced military vehicle’ of ‘prodigious’ size during campaigns against the kin’toni in the region. The exact fate of this machine is unknown, though some have theorized that the skeleton of the Dragon is in fact the remains of the Imperial vehicle.
As suggested by its name, the Verny Barren Desert contains scant few signs of floral life. The extremities to which temperatures can both rise and fall render the growth of plants all but impossible. Resultingly, the handful of species that populate the desert are of a hardy make, evolved for long-term water storage and retention.
Verny Sabul Plant
Verny Sabul Plant is an umbrella term used to classify the numerous spiked florae that can be found throughout the region. These plants are easily recognizable by their reddish hue, a colour generated by mutated chloroplasts found in the plants’ outer membrane. These organs produce an abnormal variation of chlorophyll known as chlorophyst; a blood-like substance integral to the absorption of solar energy. In addition to this absorptive property, chlorophyst plays a key role in water retention. The process through which it achieves this is currently unknown. It is speculated that the system may be related to the plant’s semi-predatory nature. The height of a sabul plant varies between species.
The tallest known classification belongs to the Zeruun, which can grow anywhere between 8-10 feet tall. Other species such as the Gudah only reach around 3 feet in height. Regardless of measurement in loft, sabul plants retain a red colouring, along with brown or black thorns that adorn their outer surface. These spiked appendages are the primary method utilized by the sabul to trap prey. They emit a sweet, attractive odour that activates the thirst sensors in the brain. A lulled victim will then approach the plant, believing it be a source of water, only to be caught by the thorns, which extend hook-like barbs into the prey’s flesh. Once a creature is ensnared by the thorns, the plant will emit two types of secretions.
The first is the neurotoxin, zenantine, commonly known as the poison zenan. When encountering organic material, zenantine is absorbed into the bloodstream, where it travels swiftly to the spine and brain. There it proceeds to shutdown all primary cognitive and motor functions, thereby causing the trapped organism to fall into a paralytic coma. Immobilization achieved, the sabul will then secrete the second of its substances, chlorophor, derived from chlorophyst. This chemical derivative, parasitic in nature, enters the immobile victim’s body and begins the process of breaking down all organic material into water. The molecules of cholorophor will then bind to the water molecules, ferrying them back into host sabul.
When sucked ‘bone-dry’, the plant will release its victim, leaving little more than a dried husk., Sabul plants are all possessive of a chitinous material that constitutes their outer membranes. Translucent, this shell-like coating is often referred to as ‘armour’ by desert natives. Its smooth texture belies its strength, being able to withstand multiple blows from both sharp edges and blunted instruments. Upon reaching maturity, a sabul will secrete a glossy substance that eventually hardens over time to form this hard layer. Tribal warriors of the Tinaech zu’aan are known to coat their shields with the secretion. It is also utilized in repairs of various other materials.
Mahmat – Corpse Lover
'Mahmat, commonly known as corpse lover, is a floral lifeform known for its lengthy periods of dormancy. When fully sprouted, a mahmat plant resembles a tangle of knotted roots. It consists of multiple stalks ‘pulled’ together in a messy interwoven pattern, each devoid of foliage. They are often small sized, growing anywhere between 1-3 feet in length and coming no higher than the ankle of an adult zu’aan male. However, masses of mahmat sprouting in the same location conjoin in a single entity, forming a mahmut, a corpse taker. These symbiotic florae can grow up to 6-9 feet lengthwise, and 3-4 feet in height. Like sabul plants, mahmat are highly evolved for water absorption.
Though not classified as predators, they still meet demands for hydration via the breakdown of other carbon-based organisms. This is achieved through ‘scavenging’. Upon reaching maturity, a mahmat will undergo a process of self-termination. It will break itself down, packaging essential nutrients into seedlings, which are dispersed by the millions into the surrounding desert. The seeds then lay dormant in the sand, sometimes for decades, until they encounter a deceased creature. How such sensory cognition is achieved its currently unknown, as it is perhaps indicative of a higher degree of intelligence. Once mahmat seedlings are provided with a corpse, they will sprout.
Each seed grows its stalks around a specific segment of the body, joining with other seeds to form a mahmut. This process typically takes 3-4 days, with each cycle amounting to higher percentage of flesh covered by a mahmat stalk. Eventually, the corpse will be completely covered by the mahmut, which then commences the process of breaking down its material for water and nutrients. To do so, each mahmat releases a type of acidic chemical compound known as mortaic acid. This substance boils the organic material of the corpse, essentially ‘melting’ it so that the mahmut may easily absorb the liquified substance. A full liquefaction of the body and absorption of its water and nutrients can take up to 3 days.
Following this, the individual mahmat will reach maturity, leading to the process of cellular apoptosis. The stalks subsequently wither and die, expelling seedlings which can either occupy the immediate area or be taken by the wind to spread elsewhere. What is left of the afflicted corpse is nothing more than acid-scarred bones.
The wahjar (titan) is perhaps the Verny Barren Desert’s most recognizable symbol. Standing at over two-hundred feet tall and fifty feet wide, these floral behemoths can be seen from a considerable distance away. Because of their enormous size, however, their growth throughout the desert is exceedingly rare. Currently, only 4 are known to occupy various locations throughout the waste, with the largest, Ul’Katim, located in the ‘damper’ southern region. The trunk of the wahjar is a light brown in colour. The wood is described by the natives as possessing an ‘iron-like’ hardness, being impervious to physical damage. The lowest occurrence of branch growth occurs at around one-hundred feet.
Here, green-hued fronds sprout at lengths of twenty feet, with widths of ten feet, and are composed of twenty or so individual blades. How such verdancy can be achieved in a land destitute of water remains a mystery. The wahjar, unlike its smaller kin, is not known to prey off organic material. Thus, it is supposed that it employs a complex series of roots that burrow deep into the earth, tapping into hidden water sources. This theory is supported by the Tinaech, as they have often tried to excavate the roots of Ul’Katim. All attempts to do so have met with failure due to unfathomably deep tunnels detrimental to logistics. In addition to their considerable size, wahjars are believed to be of a supremely advanced age.
Their documentation ostensibly predates the coming of the vampyric kin’toni, as well as the wars between the Empire and the Kaa’ora Kingdom. It is approximated by some that Ul’Katim is at least four-thousand years old, though this number is difficult to confirm. Other reports and tribal legends seem indicate relative nascency. According to these accounts, it was the usage of Imperial superweapons against the ravenous kin’toni hordes that caused the growth of a ‘mutant’ strain of ‘large plants’. This explanation provides some background as to why the wahjar exists in a sparse number, as the armaments utilized by the old Empire would have wiped out entire wahjar forests. However, whether or not the plant existed in greater numbers prior to the Shattering is currently a topic of speculation.
Between the onset of the vampyre scourge and the usage of atomic weapons, faunal life has become a system of niches. Various animals have evolved to occupy certain ranges of predatory activity. Most have also developed a hibernal pattern. This allows them to enter a statis period wherein the utilization of essential nutrients is proportionately rationed. When nourishment is required, the animal can awaken to hunt for prey. This section contains logs on a few notable animals of the Verny Barren Desert ecosystem.
The roq is a flying creature of decent sizing that usually occupies the high branches of wahjars. They can grow up to four feet in height and possess a wingspan of six feet. Their plumage is gore-red in colour, arranged in a long, tufted pattern on their tails and wings. A rigid crown of feathers can be found on the heads of males, arranged in a straight line running from forehead to neck. From a distance, they distinguished by their bright yellow beaks, which are curved at the very tip, and lengthy six-inch talons. Like the plant used for their domicile, the call of the Roq is a recognizable symbol of the Verny Barren Desert. The tribals describe the noise as the ‘twin peal of the storm, the harmonious voice of lightning and thunder’.
Roqs are one of few species of the desert that are truly omnivorous. In addition to a liking for meat, these winged organisms will gnaw sporadically on wahjar fronds to satisfy water needs. When greenery does not suffice, a roq will opt to seek food by means of hunting. For creatures smaller than itself, a row will descend sharply by ‘tucking’ its wings and diving in a manner similar to a zu’aan swimmer. When directly above its prey, the roq will then open its wings whilst simultaneously snatching at its intended victim with its talons. For larger targets like zu’aan or kin’toni, a roq will utilize the same process, albeit with the intention to maim first. The highest percentage of roq concentration can be found to the south at Ul’Katim.
For reasons unknown, roqs from other wahjars will occasionally gather in the south once a year to produce a cacophony of noise that can be heard throughout the desert. This bizarre ‘ceremony’, called mukbala, can last anywhere between five hours to a full a day. Following its conclusion, roqs not native to Ul’Katim will depart. This mass migration to and from the largest of the wahjars is considered a sacred event by the Tinaech zu’aan, who mimic the process.
Rumiq Suyura – Sand Hunter
The sand hunter is a type of dune-dwelling organism. They are large, flat creatures with coarse skin the same texture and colour as sand granules, with a pair of vertical black strips positioned along their spine. Extending from their rear is a flexible tail capped by a lengthy barb capable of piercing iron. Because of their shape, sand hunters cannot exceed a foot in height. However, their length and ‘wingspan’ are known to exceed measurements of 8 feet, with the largest recorded number placed at fifteen feet. As indicated by its name, the sand hunter makes its home amongst the dunes of the Verny Barren Desert. The creatures spend most of their lives hidden beneath the sand.
As a result, their sense of sight is extremely weak, and possesses an advanced degree of sunlight sensitivity. To rectify this apparent handicap, sand hunters utilize improved auditory, olfactory, and haptic systems. The latter is the primary method through which a sand hunter will seek prey. Submerged in sand, these organisms can detect the slightest surface disturbance as far out as a mile. When it does so, it will then ‘swim’ through the surrounding dunes at incredible speeds until it comes into its prey’s vicinity. From there it will position itself beneath the unsuspecting victim and strike with its tail. This ambuscade is usually directed at a victim’s chest or head, killing them instantly, before the sand hunter finally pulls its catch beneath the surface.
When a sand hunter has eaten in this manner, it will enter a period of hibernation that typically extends over eight hours. If food cannot be procured, the creature will lay dormant in a months-long ‘stasis’, woken only by signs of movement. While a carnivorous diet is intrinsic to sand hunters, they can be picky creatures. They favour the meat of the vampyric kin’toni, while completely avoiding zu’aan flesh. This phenomenon in dietary need has led to the development of a symbiotic relationship between Verny zu’aan tribes and sand hunters. Nomadic tribals will often follow larger hunters, looking to them for ‘protection’. Their presence in turn attracts kin’toni, who are then subsequently hunted and eaten by the creatures.
Guuli Guuli (guul for singular) are hunched, decrepit beasts with pallid skin and jaundiced eyes. Their ears are pointed and rigid, often mistaken for horns protruding over their bald pate. If stretched to full height, a guul will display similar measurements to a zu’aan, accounting for variances in sex. However, this physical property is rarely seen, as guuli locomotion is accompanied by a bent gait that confines them predominantly to a squatting position. Guuli are infamous for their nocturnal activity. Dormant during the matutinal hours, they awaken at sunset to roam the dunes of the Verny Barren Desert. This is done is packs of 15-20 and constitutes their primary method of procuring nourishment.
Called ul’dhahul mawat, the shadows of death, by tribal natives, guuli are not found far from battlefields and other sites of mass carnage. They will descend rapidly upon the dead to strip them of flesh and bone, leaving nothing behind but puddles of blood. If food cannot be attained in this manner, guuli may resort to ordinary means of hunting. Being reclusive, packs will shy away from attacking groups of other creatures. Instead, guuli seek to isolate lone individuals, and are known to attack zu’aan travellers or smaller groups of kin’toni. Due to their bodily zuaanthromorphism, it is plausibly theorized that guuli are in fact devolved zu’aan or kin’toni. The former is more frequently postulated as being their biological ancestor.
“Since the time the Empire sought to quell the onset of the vampyre hordes, the radiation levels in the Verny Barren Desert have remained relatively stable in certain locations. These locales, believed to have been atomic test sites, were detonated at the climax of the great war for what is today the Verny region. The resulting fallout was undoubtedly devasting. One cannot fathom the sheer extent of mutation that took place among organisms unfortunate enough to have survived in close proximity to these ‘hot zones’. The guuli are believed to be the by-product of zu’aan matter and radiation. This theory is certainly more than plausible, as there exist accounts of encounters with guuls sporting bits of old Imperial armour…” -The Verny Scrolls, Author unknown
Imlaq Qasi - One-Eyed Hopper: Hoppers are excessively furry creatures that possess one eye and two hind legs. The ‘hopping’ motion with which they travel is what grants them their name. When hunting, a hopper will bound quickly after its prey and attempt to kick them over. Once temporary incapacitation is achieved, the hopper will then proceed to decapitate its victim via a single bite from its tremendously large jaws.
Utuba Dhuban - Thresher Wyrm: Possibly the only serpent species known to the Verny Barren Desert. Thresher wyrms are scaled creatures that grow up to three feet in length. Their broad hooded heads are composed of a stony material used to ‘thresh’ food. Upon poisoning small prey animals, the wyrm strikes at it repeatedly with its head, beating it into a fleshy pulp. The wyrm will then gorge itself on this fine paste, leaving only fur, bones, or scales behind.
Khalfar - Burrowers: Burrowers are small, tufted creatures that populate the desert in vast numbers. They are the primary food source for most other organisms, being both physically weak and mentally incapable of higher aspects of self-preservation. They breed in exceedingly large numbers, and often resort to cannibalism to satisfy their needs. It is not uncommon to find hundreds of burrower husks surrounding Verny cacti, as the creatures are drawn to the plant in droves by its emitted toxins.