The three faces of R'habali
A survey of a fascinating dimension
R'habali is an odd world, with only two big continents despite having a medium radius. Some would mistakingly think that the two very different lands are a good example of the dichotomy that may appear on a world evolution, but that would be forgetting the third realm of R'habali, which makes up about 90% of its surface: the immense Veter ocean.
When Limel Szird decided his exploration done and left R'habali, there was still much to discover. Another explorer was called to complete the task, and to the surprise of all, it was the unexpectable Loanna Rixen who replied. Even more surprising, she wrote a thorough report and a whole book about her time in the dimension, which was enough reason to question her well-being. Her work describes the origin of the continents and makes a very good introduction to the dimension, but the focus is the ocean, in which she goes in-depth, literally and figuratively.
The Shan Desert
The place is arid, prone to develop strong and resilient life forms. The presence of the Shantiahe makes me think that not so long ago, perhaps two or three million years, the continent or at least a large part of it was covered in a lush rainforest. They and several other animals present traits of adaptation to arboreal life that would be a waste of energy in a desert like this. The fact that many species display a predisposition to climbing despite the mostly flat land, save for a few mountains, supports this theory. Concerning what transformed this primordial rainforest into the desert that we know of, I surmise it is a major natural disaster. The lack of diversity in the desert implies that there was an event of mass extinction probably due to a rapid change in the environment. Only the species that already had some kind of adaptation to arid climate survived, like the scales of a Shantiah that makes them resilient to heat. The emergence of sentience in this species seems to postdate said event, as no mention of anything else than a hot desert can be found in their tradition.
The book then describes several species found in the desert and the geological oddities it contains. Loanna did not write more than an overview of Shantiah culture, and the chapter is the shortest one in the book, although being rich in illustration and notes arguing with other writers and researchers.
In-depth analysis of Shantiahe has already been done multiple times so I am not going to do it there. I just want to highlight some points that I find insultingly misguiding or straight up misinformation.
I still cannot explain why the colonization process takes place in the Shan desert rather than Fanyr. This is a Shantiah world, by the way, meaning something along the lines of "the outside world" or "the far land". Technically speaking, everything that is beyond the boundaries of the Shan is Fanyr to them. The name is not mine. Blame Limel. This continent is the perfect opposite of the Shan. This so-called continent is more of a giant archipelago of very close islands. The aerial view reminded me of a shattered nut. The proximity of the specks of land makes it hard to distinguish ocean currents from rivers, are both flow rapidly. The whole archipelago bath in water purer than the rest of the ocean, allowing for top-notch irrigation of the lands, thus a lush jungle. There are some islands and an extinguished volcano, but most islands are relatively flat at ground level. Life is everywhere in the strangest of shapes and behaviour. Where Shan predators are sometimes venomous, Fanyr's are poisonous. The monochrome made way for bright and vibrant colours. Compared to the desert, it seems that a greater number of animals wanted to eat me. The place is definitely inhospitable to outsiders, but I managed to study some of the numerous species living under the canopy.
She spent quite a while in the rich jungle, categorizing specimens and trying to make sense of the currents' behaviour. She did not find any trace of the people mentioned in Limel Szird's report even after surveying half the continent, but she got too bored to continue until the end.
I do not think Limel is a liar. The place is vast and I only explored part of it. It is very possible that I just was not in luck, and the density of the vegetation makes it hard to detect them from above. Subsequent exploration is deemed necessary.
"Veter" is the Shantiah word for water. So that is water ocean. Do not blame me for this one either. It does not come from the Shantiahe, as Veter is also the name of the aquatic world full of their alter-egos in their mythology. And I did not manage to find its origin before getting too bored, so let us bear with the name. It is the ocean that sparked my interest in R'habali at first. Waterworlds tend to be quite small and devoid of life, except for unicellular organisms, and very uninteresting. But the Veter ocean is full of it, and home to many sea monsters too. To my utter disappointment, no visible civilisation has emerged from the depth, and the most intelligent species have nothing more than primitive intelligence. Even sailing on the ocean is extremely dangerous. Whatever the reason is, marine animals are bigger than normal even at the surface. Plankton is especially rare in the epipelagic zone, and the absence of organisms close to cyanobacteria is the most surprising part, and a first in planets harbouring life. At the formation of every explored planet, its atmosphere was filled with carbon dioxide until it was trapped in carbonates and mainly converted by cyanobacteria or other organisms like them. My supposition is that either this planet's formation was different, which is far-fetched but not impossible considering the predominance of water, or either the carbon dioxide quantity became so scarce these primordial converters died or evolved to find other sources of energy.
This last chapter is the longer of them all, spanning two-thirds of the book. Loanna described in great detail the composition of the ocean and what she could interpret from the plankton samples she brought back. Then she went down, diving deep to the ocean floor that was an average 8 054 metres below the surface. At such depth, the pressure was brutal, even for an alcyer like her. She collected some samples of shells and organic deposits, fought giant sea monsters she had trouble describing accurately as their size was out of this world and befriended something that looked like an octopus and followed her for the better part of her journey.
I travelled several thousand kilometres underwater and encountered countless creatures, more than I could put in this book. Yet I have the feeling that I have barely scratched the surface and that so much more remains to be discovered down there. I may return eventually, and come back with enough material for a whole series dedicated to life in the depth of R'habali.
Critical and public reception
The book received a mild welcome in the scientific circles, as it seemed to be rigorously written and the information was first-hand, but it lacked any method and some claims were only wild assumptions presented as facts or consensual hypotheses. On the other hand, the global public loved it as a complete tour of the dimension compared to the countless works focusing solely on the Shan desert. It is now on sale in every R'habalian bookstore and tourism offices as a reference book. The fact that it was one of the rare books by Loanna Rixen helped greatly to its popularity. Loanna, of course, did not care the slightest.