The Walled Continent
The island continent of Murasa is a vast, steep-walled plateau that rises sharply from the sea. Although smaller than other continents of Zendikar, Murasa conceals an incredible diversity of environments hidden behind its sheer, stony cliffs. Inland from these cliffs, the land drops off sharply, wreathing Murasa in an irregular "wall" of mountainous cliffs. The largest break in this wall is the Sunder Cove, an enormous, tide-wracked bay clotted by the massively trunked harabaz trees.
The interior of Murasa is a rugged landscape of steep, windy hills and precipitous jungle valleys. The most notable exceptions to the interior elevation are the Skyfang Mountains, the Na Plateau, and the canyon lands of Kazandu.
Getting into Murasa
There are four main means used by inhabitants of Zendikar to reach the interior of Murasa.
This huge bay is filled with a maze of the multi-trunked harabaz trees. These massive plants grip the seabed in their entwined roots, joining to form one titanic organism. The harabaz trees grow blade-shaped prows on their seaward sides that enable them to cut the giant waves that smash toward land during the worst of the tides, and after the rising of krakens or the great sea monster Lorthos. Ships attempting to make passage through the Harabaz Forest must remain vigilant against submerged harabaz and maintain tight control of their vessels lest they be smashed against a blade-prow. Making passage during the changing of the tides, a storm, or a manifestation of the unpredictable Roil spells sure doom.
Fortunately, elves of the Tajuru tribe and assisting merfolk have set up a network of flags and beacons to mark the safest route. Sometimes the elves are able to spot sundered ships and reach them in time to save a few crew, but no Tajuru risks travel through the harabaz forest at night or when the water is rough.
Cliffs of Kazuul
These cliffs represent the only maintained cliff-side ascent of the exterior of Murasa's Wall. Set up by the Tajuru elves but now maintained mainly by humans, the Cliffs of Kazuul are named for the pass's current ruler, an ogre slave-master who demands tribute from any who seek passage. Those who pay (including a bribe to the lift operators at various points on the path) are allowed to traverse the steep zig-zagging trails cut into the cliffs between each harrowing vertical ascent using log-and-rope elevators. Those who reach the top without proper tribute for Kazuul are cast out—sometimes literally hurled to their deaths in the crashing ocean.
This passage follows the route of the rushing Vazi River as it heads out to sea. Boats can navigate the rough waters for a couple miles inland through the canyon of Thunder Gap, but travelers must then disembark and take the precarious trails and rope bridges that run along the canyon walls, across the thundering water, and beneath or above the many waterfalls that burst from side canyons or the plains above. Some trails lead up and out of the canyon while others follow the river for its length, eventually leading to the ground beyond Murasa's Wall.
Thunder Gap was known as the safest means into the interior and had been well-maintained by Tajuru elves and a clan of kor that lived along the Pillar Plains above Thunder Gap. But two decades ago, something happened to the kor. Travelers found kor bodies strewn along the path of Thunder Gap, their corpses hung like butcher's meat from their own hooked lines. The trail hasn't been maintained since, and the most shadowed sections of the pass are said to be haunted by tortured kor ghosts.
"No sign of the Wall of Omens the elves said would be here. Instead we find dire omens of our own—horrible sights of bodies that don't quite exist, eyes of kor that leer at us, screaming ghost-sounds, strands of moonlight reaching out for us from the cliffside. We know we have awakened guardians from some far realm, but we do not know how to calm or free their bound souls."
—Anitan, Ondu cleric
A huge sea cave leads under the east side of Murasa's Wall, and at its rear lies a cavern opening accessible when the tide is low. If a traveler can follow this cave far enough before the tide rises to fill it again, the way through Glint Pass lies open to him. Although torches or other means of illumination are necessary in many part of the journey, the caverns of the Glint Pass gained their name from the light given off by flame-quartz, clusters of crystals that jut from the rock throughout much of the underground passage. These faceted stones shine with the light of internal fire, like lanterns lit by fires in the earth. In some places along the trail, the fire of the earth is obvious as the path wends its way over rivers of magma.
Only those who know the path can find their way through the labyrinth of the Glint Pass, but fortunately for travelers, a vampire guide can often provide safe passage. The pass opens into an ancient structure of diamond-shaped passages on the far side of Murasa's Wall, and vampires have lived there for as long as any can remember. The vampires keep to themselves and hide their settlements out of sight in side passages. No outsider can say how many live there nor why they continue to live beneath the oppressive stone, and the vampires do not tell.
These high, steep-sided mountains are covered in forests. They extend from the western side of Murasa and wind deep into its interior, dividing the western half of the continent in two. Those who wish to get over the mountains must brave the dangers of its beasts and the perils of its "fangs"—huge stalactite-like shards of rock that float above the mountains when the sun shines on them but that plummet down to stab the mountainsides when the sun sets or when a passing cloud blocks the light.
Flight is the safest way to go through the Skyfang Mountains, but the next best path is the aptly named Shatterskull Pass. A wide trail passes through on a relatively shallow incline. Yet dozens of "fangs" hang above the pass, their bottoms blunted into flat surfaces by countless ground shuddering impacts into the ground. Travelers through Shatterskull must beware not only the fall of the "fangs" but also the local rocs that might not be patient enough to wait for a meal of carrion.
The Na Plateau rises from the land just east of the center of Murasa. Roughly a quarter mile high, its forested top is about as high as Murasa's Wall. Wurms dwell in the cracked cliffs of the plateau, hunting the surrounding lands for miles around for beasts large enough to make a meal. The plateau is also home to several screeching goblin tribes that battle over the scraps they can retrieve from peril seekers and archaeophiles who come to plumb the secrets of the Singing City.
This ruin is a cyclopean maze of strange structures and tumbled towers hidden somewhere near the center of the enormous Na Plateau. Known by legend throughout Zendikar, the Singing City is so named for the eerie, almost musical sounds that come from underground chambers below the ruined buildings. The sounds have driven many explorers mad, causing them to turn on companions or hurl themselves from great heights, but enough have survived with proof of great treasures and powerful magic to draw others to grim fates. Goblin tribes dwell around the ruin, offering aid to those who would enter the Singing City and then hovering like vultures in the surrounding trees, waiting for their chance to pick up the pieces.
"I believe the influence of the Eldrazi is strong here. The notes that play in my skull spell out what feels like a message, the words of which I feel I can just barely translate in my dreams. When I wake, though, the morning shreds my revelations like damp paper. No matter. I can feel a breakthrough coming. Tomorrow we journey into the ruin's heart, and I will finally know what they wish to tell me."
—Journal of Aida Lunda
The Vazi River rushes down a sloping and twisting canyon to crash into the sea. The river splits many times as it passes through the Pillar Plains, but these side channels typically rejoin with the river in crashing waterfalls. Its waters are difficult but navigable for a few miles inward from the ocean, but then most of its length consists of thundering rapids supplemented by roaring waterfalls from the plains atop Murasa's Wall and from higher side channels.
Thunder Gap cuts through a section of Murasa's Wall known as the Pillar Plains. There the wall is cracked and broken into thousands of massive pillars, the tops of which are grassy plains buffeted by sea winds. For generations a clan of kor dwelt atop the pillars living a simple herders' lifestyle, a strange blend of the pastoral and perilous. They crossed between the pillars on bridges they crafted of rope and bone, or they swung from leaning menhirs (large, upright monoliths) to cross the gaps between pillars the oxen could simply leap. Living in simple tents and herding the hardy pillarfield oxen, they received all else they needed through trade with travelers through Thunder Gap. Now the campsites are abandoned, the oxen run feral across the pillarfields, and only a memory of the kor haunts the Pillar Plains.
Visimal, the Hidden City
An unknown number of vampires dwell within Murasa's Wall in the region of the Glint Pass. They live beyond a water-logged maze of diamond-shaped passages cut into the wall by unknown hands ages ago. The purpose of these chambers has yet to be determined by researchers—largely due to the ferocity with which the vampires protect their secret city. Travel through the main passage to the Glint Pass is the only permissible trespass.
The Cipher in Flames
The Glint Pass hides the fabled Cipher in Flames, an ever-burning and complex glyph set in the heart of the rock. It is said that those who can survive the journey and decipher its magical instructions can perform a ritual that transports them anywhere in the world. Whether or not this is true or what other effects the Cipher might have are unknown—none have returned from seeking it except a bedraggled few who found the search too perilous or who failed to read its magic.
Jurworrel trees have dark twisting branches that bristle with thorns. The thorns leak a thick green sap that can knock creatures unconscious. Jurworrels possess a mean intelligence, but they can move only by growing, which they do very slowly. The jurworrel beneath the tumbled palace has been trying to push that edifice into the sea for centuries for reasons unknown. It has even wrapped itself around the floating portions of the structure and seems to be attempting to push them down.
This human and elvish ore-mining operation surrounds Raimunza Falls, a raging torrent of water that cascades off the southern side of the Na Plateau. The huge waterfall is used to propel log-and-pulley winches that raise and lower the miners and their hard-won treasures. They honeycomb the cliff face with crude, shallow, hand-drilled caverns, racing up or down the face of the plateau while dodging the tailing tossed down by other miners.
Any cave left unattended for long is taken by giant wasps for the laying of their young. The normally solitary hunters would attack the miners, but the huge number of possible egg chambers tends to draw wasps during their spawning phase when they eat less. The wasps fill their fireproof nests with deadly acid-spewing larvae that live there until they grow wings. After they've left, the humans can collect the metals laid bare by their acid.
The Living Spire and the Grindstone Crucible
Hedron-shaped caverns in the side of the Living Spire draw great draughts of air like a breathing thing. Titanic hovering vines whorl from the surface of the plant-shrouded Spire through the center of these stone throats until they reach the chamber of the Grindstone Crucible. There they encompass the Crucible in a spherical latticework of life. The Crucible itself is a thundering mass of huge, rune-covered boulders and shards of rock compacted together and grinding rapidly—sure death to any creature that comes close. The Crucible is a font of wild mana, but to draw on its strength one must stand on the latticework or between it and the Crucible. Yet when the air is drawn into the chamber it is sucked into the Grindstone Crucible with hurricane force, taking with it pieces of the latticework. When the air is not being sucked in, the vines grow, thrash, and writhe, struggling to encompass the Crucible before its next inhalation. The cause of this inhalation and the purpose of the Crucible are unknown.
Kazandu riots across Murasa as a broken landscape dominated by tangles of the mountainous jaddi trees. In a cataclysm lost to memory, the region that is now Kazandu collapsed into the earth as though a bubble burst beneath the skin of the world. This has left the ground a mass of irregular canyons, twisting valleys, and high broken steppes, all dotted here and there by plateaus that tower above the landscape—surviving pillars of the previous ground level. Most of the lower areas are dominated by the strange jaddi trees, many growing nearly as tall as the plateaus. Only the sheer cliffs at Kazandu's borders keep the titanic jaddi trees from crawling across more of the world. This is the seat of power of a group of elves who have dissociated themselves from the larger Tajuru nation, known as the Kazandu Splinter.
"Kazandu is the last place I'd expect to find myself—literally, I expect it to be my final resting place. Its devouring canyons and immense flora swallow my mind, not letting me rest, drawing me back in expedition after expedition. I have mapped and remapped its corridors and its sheer drops. I have lost friends and allies to its treacherous broken cliffs. I have found artifacts lost from a distant age and have drunk the earnings from their sale. I orbit Kazandu like a weary satellite, always hoping I can break free from its pull, never liberated."
The jaddi trees form a massive web of branches. These enormous plants support whole ecosystems and villages of elves upon their limbs. Countless plants grow upon them, and whole species of creatures live and die in their canopy, many never even seeing the ground. The trees are so tall and their branches so wide that the ground beneath them exists in eternal shadow. Jaddi trees grow slowly but dauntlessly. The wood of a jaddi tree is as hard as stone and grows over cuts, making habitation of the trees a surface affair. No one knows how long a jaddi tree can live—none have ever died.
This rushing flow of water runs from the base of the Na Plateau and wends its way to the edge of Kazandu. There it falls onto the wide branch of a jaddi tree that grew under the water's flow. Now the river flows along jaddi branches for miles. While some stretches are relatively level and quiet, others dive like waterslides or fall from a great height only to be caught by another channel in a branch. Eventually, the river plunges into the marshy Blackbloom Lake in the center of Kazandu.
Deep beneath the canopy of Kazandu, in the valleys created by the roots of the jaddis, crevasses open into the earth. Three such dark regions exist within Kazandu. One is the Doom Maw, dominion of demons and bone-hoarding dragons. The second, Silent Gap, is plumbed by a group of vampires that seek some secret beneath the earth. The third is the migratory home of deadly species—caustic crawlers, giant bats, and shadow scorpions—each inhabiting the crevasse at a different time.
Sejiri is Zendikar's subpolar cap. It is like an enormous mesa; impossibly tall cliffs encircle its entire parameter, and its surface is a rocky, wind-blasted tundra. Expeditions have explored this region but almost no permanent settlements exist here. Of the humanoids that have taken up residence, most are goblins who have no association with a major tribe.
Aside from climbing sheer rock faces, Midnight Pass is the only way to access Sejiri. The surrounding seas crash into this narrow pass between cliffs, and only ships with a dedicated Ula-creed merfolk navigator have any real hope of successfully steering into the pass. Within the pass, the cliffs loom so high over the waters that virtually no light is admitted. Deep into the pass, once the seawater can no longer churn the waters, ships can dock and begin the slow ascent to the tundra plateau — a path riddled with switchbacks, rockslides, and sheer drops of many hundreds of feet.
The Tundra Perilous
Stark, beautiful, and extreme, Sejiri is a vast, icy tundra. Pelted by storms of ice and wind, its freezing wastes are a breeding ground for natural hazards. Travelers here must contend with brittle ice bridges over rapidly-flowing rivers, frost-breathing predators, and enormous, floating stone "urns" that spill avalanches of ice and snow across the landscape.
In the thawing season, lichens and scrubby grasses appear in patchy meadows across Sejiri. These resilient plants provide just enough sustenance to feed its population of shaggy, velvet-antlered deer, which in turn feed Sejiri's population of drakes, wolves, yeti, and snow rocs. The tundra deer have a layer of special fibers underneath their outer wool, which is thought to allow them to repel the fierce mana that rages in Sejiri's atmosphere. The deer have little to fear from humanoids, as even semi-permanent structures of humans, merfolk, and kor are destroyed by the exposure to the harsh elements or by the marauding ice elementals themselves, keeping the humanoid population low.
Despite the dangers, rugged Sejiri does support a handful of staunch explorers. The kor and human wolf-sledders of this region are known for their especially hardy breed of gray-white wolves, whose hot breaths beat back the wind. The kor have mapped a substantial portion of Sejiri, but the winds and ice storms of the region tend to wipe out known landmarks after months or weeks, rendering most of their maps historical oddities rather than valuable guides. Some kor believe that the ice shelves of Sejiri actually move in regular patterns, and that their maps in fact point to a feasible model of the spiritual forces that lie beneath the tundra.
"I sailed here eight years ago, unpaid, in the long dark of the blizzard season, against the passionate arguments of everyone I knew. They told me I would find nothing but ice and death. Instead I found everything I ever wanted—beauty, extremity, savagery—a world stripped of everything false and illusory. My sinuses don't bleed anymore from the altitude and icy air. My skin glows in the wind now, instead of cracking and flaking away. And my mind has adapted, too—I no longer miss the mundane comforts of lesser places."
—Jalaradi, Ikiral outrider
Outposts in Sejiri are few and far between, but in the ruins of a massive stone monolith huddles the settlement and trading post called Ikiral. The huge hedron lies awkwardly on its side, partly sunken into the icy tundra, split down the middle. In the split in the architecture, partly sheltered from the elements, cluster the wind-scoured stone buildings of Ikiral. Frequented by wolf sledders, tundra scholars, and the occasional planeswalker, the outpost is the best place to find supplies, rumors, and an up-to-date map of the surrounding area.
No one knows whether this underwater shrine actually exists. If it does, it lies under one of Sejiri's deep riverbeds and houses remnants of a lost culture of ice merfolk—and perhaps other secrets as well.