Thursday, April 16, 2015

The Land of Tannir

Adam Tannir gave me the kind of mess of obscure words I was expecting out of this challenge: pelagic, ruffian, underwear, niveous, coffee, elk, riparian. Due to a bit of a snafu with his submission, I have the option of trading out riparian for green, but I love the word riparian.

Of all of those, underwear gave me the most trouble. Go figure.

After a couple days of apocalyptic visions, let us go now to the dawn of civilization. A gentler time, with gentler people. Until things change just a bit, of course.

Up on the high glacial plateau roam the niveous. Most closely resembling humanoid polar bears, they are compact, covered in dense white fur, and immensely strong. The niveous live a nomadic life as hunters and herders, having an almost completely carnivorous diet. Their herd animal of choice is the mighty elk. The elk are beasts of burden, gallant steeds, and a source of meat, leather, bone, and antler. They live a life of constant motion, always searching for their next meal. To stay put is to destroy the local ecology, and then starve to death. The very concept of towns makes them shudder.

Towns are maintained by the riparians. Physically, these delicate creatures most closely resemble giraffes. They have a body like a horse or deer with four long, spindly legs. A long neck rises to a small head. But there are significant differences. First, they are covered in long, silky, silvery-gray hair. Rather than the long snouts of your typical herbivore, they have a flat face, more like a primate. And most peculiarly, they have two pair of arms. The larger, stronger set emerge from the shoulder at the base of the neck. The smaller pair emerge from shoulders just below the jaw line, at the top of the neck.

The riparians live close to, and in many cases in, the great rivers that flow down from the glacial melt. Their long legs and necks allow them to wade to the very center of all but the deepest parts. They choose to use this advantage to move barges up and down the rivers, maintaining a lively trade. They also engage in some simple agriculture. Nothing as large scale as your typical European farmlands. It is more that they encourage the forest to produce more of the plants that they like to eat, and discourage the plants that are useless and aggressive.

One of the plants that they encourage the most is the coffee bush. The riparians are able to use the coffee to awaken parts of their minds and souls that are normally locked away. In short, they have a form of magic that is fueled by java. It gives them abilities such as clairvoyance, communicating with the dead, augmenting the plants they care for, and healing sicknesses. It also importantly gives them control over water, allowing them to create currents that move their barges upstream.

Of course, good trade requires good trade partners. The great rivers empty out into the sea, where dwell the pelagics. One might think of these as mer-folk, but they have much more of the shark about them than fish. And rather than humanoid arms, they are gifted with a set of four tentacles, each of which branches into a series of fingerling tentacles at the end. They spend their days herding great schools of fish and tending to fields of kelp. They are also known as exceptional workers of stone, coral, and shell to make both exceptionally hard (by the standards of these metal-poor cultures) tools and exceptionally beautiful jewelry.

On occasion, a pelagic will need to venture on land. Their natural bodies are ill-equipped to move about outside of the water, and their ability to breathe air is extremely limited. Their shamans have developed sets of magical underwear (ed note: it is physically hurting me to write that phrase) that allow pelagics to survive above water and transform their fins into appendages that approximate legs.

This situation has existed in peaceful harmony for generations. After all, none of the three groups would thrive in the environment of the others. Each species may have some degree of warfare within their own ranks, of course. But very rarely do they go to war with each other.

Then the ruffians came. Built similar to the niveous, but smaller. They have the flat faces of the riparians, and the smooth, hairless skin of the pelagics (except, oddly, around their faces). They also have the small, dextrous fingers of the riparians, making them very good at manipulating small objects. The most telling advantage that they bore, though, was metal. Sharp, unyielding metal was the core of their war machine that poured out of the southern forests. They lay waste to entire villages of riparians before anyone even knew what was happening. They have now laid claim to the entire length of one of the great rivers, and are advancing on the others.

The riparians are, of course, in the most danger from the ruffians. But recently an entire clan of niveous were wiped out, the children enslaved and the elk taken into the lowlands. Apparently the glacier contains great deposits of a yellow metal that the ruffians greatly desire, and they need strong slaves to dig it out. As there are none stronger than the niveous, they have been targeted. The pelagics are in the least immediate danger, but the loss of trade goods and the loss of riparian magic is going to hurt them soon.

Can a small band of these natives find a way to defeat the ruffians? Can you discover the secret of their metal? Can you rescue the enslaved niveous children?

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