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The Charnel Road is a 22 mile long road connecting the capital cities of Welstead and Exerprad in the northern kingdoms of Gelderhoff and Unaria respectively. It is considered to be the most dangerous road in the world, both by reputation and by those who have survived traveling it.
Originally called the Way of the Sun1, the name Charnel Road comes from the multitude of bodies interred along its length. The originally interred bodies were the result of mass burials during the War of 1000 Kegs2, waged between the two nations it serves; a war now over a century past. The extent of death and decay left behind by this war has created a powerful ley line along the road and has caused the dead buried along it to rise from their graves and forever travel the road. The walking dead harass travelers who use the road, and those killed by the mindless creatures are taken into their ranks, forever doomed to patrol its path.
Recently, talks have been started regarding rebuilding the Way of the Sun on a parallel route. However, since tensions between Gelderhoff and Unaria still exist to this day, very little progress has been made. Neither side is willing to pay for a road allowing their counterpart easy access to their kingdom’s border, and so far negotiations to split the cost between the two have failed. For the meantime travel and trade between the two cities occurs over rocky, uneven paths created by the travels of numerous carts, horses, and other pack animals. These rough paths are only slightly safer than the road itself, but at least the hazards on these paths are natural hazards, such as the occasional tar pit3 or attack by a mouse-eared lion4.
The road is now most famously known for its biannual coach races, known as the Charnel Run5. For the race, racers travel in heavily armored, horse-pulled coaches from Welstead to Exerprad. Many of the coaches never arrive at their destination and the coaches that don’t arrive inevitably become burial tombs along the road for their drivers, while the drivers themselves join the ranks of the non-living. Although many of these drivers are likely killed by the undead walking the road, it is common knowledge that just as many are lost with the help of the other racers6. Despite these dangers, a hundred or more drivers vie for the title every race, thanks in part to the more elaborate prizes awarded with each new race. Past prizes have including thousands of cold coins, custom built coaches, award-winning bred horses, noble titles, and deeds for land. The most talked about race in recent years occurred four years past when the winning coach, driven by Johanas Firth, crossed the finish line with a headless driver. Although Firth’s widow was devastated by his death, she quickly recovered in the private chambers of her newly won mansion, on her newly won vineyard.
1- The road’s original name, Way of the Sun, comes from the Yashi Pilgrimage which started in Welstead and headed east toward Exerprad. The significance of the pilgrimage has been lost, but it is believed by many reputed historians that the pilgrimage was one of cleansing, whether spiritual or literal is still of some debate.
2- The War of 1000 Kegs, contrary to popular belief, was not a war for ale. These types of rumors are the kind one would expect from a nation of foul-breathed, beer-spewing, miscreants like the Dwarves. It is in fact known that the War of 1000 Kegs refers to the gunpowder kegs of the Ji’Li Tribesmen that were promised to both nations and then left by the Tribesmen in the middle of the road for the two kingdoms to fight over much in the same sport as a Capture the Flag game.
3- Tar pits are not as uncommon as one might think. According to recent statistics, 1 out of every 12 caravans loses a wagon to the northern tar pits (“Northern Oddities and Other Wonders”, Klide Von Cowder)
4- The mouse-eared lion, known for its small ears and large mane, still roams the northern wilds in small packs. It is said if you see one you may be able to avoid attack by feeding it blue cheese.
5- The first Charnel Run was raced almost 50 years ago and the race started as a bounty to the first person who could safely deliver a full set of the famous Welstead china to Duke Wells in Exerprad. The race was said to generate so much interest that it has been continued biannually ever since.
6- As a one-time racer of the race myself, I will attest to the lack of rules and the overall shenanigans that occur during the race. The racers are just as dangerous as any other hazard on the road.
Respectfully submitted by:
Trent Homass of Exerprad
Lucky Survivor of the Charnel Run, '56
(And never again!!)