Friday, 9 September 2016

Pocket Deserts, Feral Elves

In the days of the living sea, the mountains that reached down to it from the north were like a branch dipping into a pool, refreshing itself: they were washed with soft breezes and slow, old growth. The elves were creatures of the warm plains below, where their elegant palaces unfolded across the shore in one pavilion and another. But in the bleached stretches of the summer, the wealthiest and mightiest of them would retreat to the green slopes, to sinuous summer palaces of pale wood curled across the hillsides.

When the sea began to retreat instead, when the bright ring of life around the sea began to crumble, some of them fled to the mountains and their unfamiliar forests, and fought over the highest and the most secret places. Some of them are still there, squatting in the ruins of their own luxury, trying to survive on alien slopes from which they could look down and see the azure shore creep back from the homes they had known. Many of them died, freezing in the winter or tumbling from thawing cliffs in spring or taken by the bears and wolves and shaggy-bearded tigers of the mountains, the southernmost outpost of the great savage beasts of the north.

Or, no longer the southernmost outpost: for as the sea gave way and the salt and sand unfurled under the sky, and as the elves fled upwards, the beasts came down. The great dark bears of the high crags cannot live in the sands for very long: but their forays there are rich in minerals and unattended carcasses. For this reason, in the northern reaches of the Dry Sea, there sometimes emerges from the heat haze, with the dark, indistinct hump of the mountains at its back, the lurching form of a great bear, or the fatal, firelight curl of a tiger’s body treading silently across the sand. The parched bed of the dry sea is very flat. There is no place to hide yourself.

The Chara sands are a real (if hideously implausible) place, a pocket desert in Siberia: also real are the forests on the southern coast of the Caspian sea. This is a little like those places, but with more post-decadent elves trying to rediscover the connection to the natural world that their self-myth claims they've always had. It's not working very well for most of them. Also, players don't expect bear attacks in deserts.