- See also: Silk Road.
- "The thinglings came in great wheel huts. We ate them and took the shinny things. They gave us small metal suns. Bad to eat but good for trade"
- —The Saga of the Ogres.
The continent-spanning trade route known as the Ivory Road is often said to be the only traversable way from the Old World through the hazards of the East and into the heartlands of Grand Cathay, and even then the journey is fraught with peril. The route received its name when in 702 IC, some Ogres travelled to the far east where they learnt that the great horned trophies worn on many of their helmets were highly valued, and established trade relations with Cathay[2a]. The caravans that travel it are almost like nomadic towns; such is their scale that a Great Caravan can reach a full mile in length. They are heavily defended, as they have to travel through some of the most dangerous and hostile areas on the face of the world. Caravans are regularly beset by marauding wolf riders, Chaos Dwarfs, Skaven, Giants, Goblins, Ogres, Black Orcs, cave-beasts, Hobgoblins, giant scorpions and dark things that stalk the shadows in the moonlight. As a result, a caravan will typically employ whole families of Ogre mercenaries to act as caravan guards - a very prestigious occupation as far as Ogres are concerned, for the combination of gold, good food and near-constant danger is a powerful draw.[1a]
The Ivory Road passes from various cities of the Old World through the Worlds Edge Mountains, past the Dwarven hold of Karak Drazh and along Death Pass. It winds through the treacherous, haunted mountains until they pan out into the Dark Lands, where it passes to the north of the Goblin-infested Mount Grimfang and angles north-east towards the Howling Wastes. These desolate plains are plagued by near-constant gale force winds that shriek and scream across the blasted heath - some whisper that these are the voices of those that have died in this evil land. In the midst of this realm stand the gigantic standing stones known as the Sentinels. As the journey to this landmark passes through the heart of the industrial wasteland that are the Chaos Dwarf realms, only a heavily guarded caravan stands any chance of arriving in one piece.[1a]
A pair of enormous rock formations jutting out of the ashen plains, the Sentinels are deep in the Howling Wastes. They are the only area of relative safety in this nightmarish landscape, despite their relative proximity to Black Fortress and the Daemon's Stump, a ghastly citadel where the scions of Chaos gibber and prowl. The Sentinels act as a trading post for Rhinoxen, furs, provisions and other equipment necessary for a sustained trek through the mountains and a caravan will often change guard in this location before heading off on the next leg of its journey. The sheer faces of these standing stones, eroded by aeons of harsh weather, have countless winches, lantern tunnels, Gnoblar nests, smuggling holes and pulley systems set into them, and harbour so many adventurers and entrepreneurs that they teem with activity day and night.[1a]
From the Sentinels, the Ivory Road forks, with the main road continuing east, and the secondary road - the Spice Route - travelling south to the trading settlement of Pigbarter at the mouth of the polluted River Ruin. This is by far the safer route, for once a traveller has made his way past the stinking sulphur pits of the Desolation of Azgorh, he finds himself in the wild and largely deserted homelands of the Hill Goblins until he reaches civilisation, or something approaching it.[1a]
From Pigbarter the Spice Route heads east into distant Ind, the Land of a Thousand Gods. It snakes through the far north of Ind, at the tail of a great mountain range, where the monasteries of the Celestial Dragon Monks are to be found. Mystical but highly aggressive, these legendary warriors practice enlightenment through violence, and through strict meditation and training have even mastered the ability to breathe fire and run across water without breaking its surface.[1b]
Mountains of Mourn
The Ivory Road itself runs alongside one of the tributaries of the River Ruin high into the Mountains of Mourn. There it faces a new set of dangers, amongst them the tribes of the Ogres and their Gnoblar slaves. Bizarrely, it is the latter that pose more of a problem to the caravans: 'civilised' Ogres, and specially those under the rule of Greasus Goldtooth, have a healthy respect for the great caravans and in general will not attack them unless in direst need. Not only that, but it is easy to see an Ogre raid coming and defend accordingly. Not so with the Gnoblar Scrappers: a lightfingered, mean-spirited subculture of Hill Goblins (often called Magpies by the caravan's staff) that seem to get just about everywhere and make off with anything they can carry for their own tiny imitation scrap-caravans. If a Great Caravan makes it through the Ogre Kingdoms, fending off predatory Sabretusk packs, feral Gorgers, hungry cave bears and worse, all the while withstanding the harsh climate and sub-zero temperatures, it will eventually cross the Mountains of Mourn and emerge into the Ancient Giant Holds.[1b]
Ancient Giant Lands
The mountain range to the east of the Ogre Kingdoms is colossal in scale, making even the mighty peaks of the Mountains of Mourn look small by comparison. Even their lower slopes are so far above the cloudline that very few know of their true scale, and the air is so thin at such jaw-dropping altitude that a normal man could not explore a fraction of their majesty before his lungs collapsed. And yet, back when the world was young, they supported an entire civilisation of intelligent Giants, known as the Skytitans. The Skytitans hewed and crafted the mountains into megalithic castles that climbed high into the crystal blue sky, enabling them to look out across a sea of cloud punctuated by great islands of rock to which other citadels perched. These Skygiants lived a hermitic existence, ignorant of the younger races, and only descended onto the slopes to shepherd the herds of great mammoth that inhabited the plateau below.[1b]
Hundreds of miles away, the coming of the Great Maw triggered the first of the Ogre migrations, sending thousands of confused and starving Ogres up into the mountains in an attempt to escape the lethal attentions of their new god. Their arrival heralded violence of unprecedented scale in the mountaintops. The Ogres came as a plague of locusts to the Skytitans, for they ate everything they could find, stripping the mountains of all food and slaughtering the Mammoth herds with abandon. A bitter war raged above the clouds for years, but the Ogres were far more numerous than the Skytitans, and soon grew strong on their flesh. Eventually the Ogres overthrew the Skytitans, devouring the entire race down to the last fingerbone in grand feasts, sometimes whilst their unfortunate victims were still alive. Not content with destroying their foes utterly, the Ogres rampaged through the peaks, toppling their castles into the valleys below.[1b]
The only shreds of evidence of this once-proud race's existence are the immense ruins that have tumbled down into the mountain passes at the feet of the mountain range. The famous trade route known as the Ivory Road joins one of these passes, winding around enormous chunks of masonry that were once the foundation stones of a city of castles in the sky. The deserted city of megaliths is amongst the safest areas the Ivory Road passes through, as the Ancient Giant Holds are haunted by little more than shadows and movements seen out of the corner of the eye.[1b]
Once the caravans have passed through the mountains and emerged on the other side, they rumble into the Baleful Deserts in the north-east of Cathay. Heavy metal screens are erected to protect against the hazards of this barren desert, and much of this period of the journey is spent sealed within the caravans. After all, almost nothing lives in the deserts aside from the odd Ogre pilgrim and the razor-limbed, black-caparaced giant insects that burst from under the vitrified sand in showers of glass to attack unwary prey. Nonetheless, there are a host of other dangers the caravan faces on its way through the desert, and all are far more insidious. Sickness, cabin fever, starvation, dehydration, mutation and poisoning are all likely to occur as the caravan makes the last leg of its journey before desert finally turns to rice field and the caravan rumbles into Great Cathay. It is a testament to the vast riches that can be amassed by a successful caravan trading mission, or perhaps to plain human greed, that such a hazardous journey should be undertaken in the name of commerce.[1b]