Great Ilmenite Desert
The Great Ilmenite Desert is a continent-sized desert found on Lepidos's northern hemisphere. Grey, dusty, and sparsely vegetated, the Great Ilmenite Desert was a place of great political turmoil even before the events of The Midnight cut it off from the trade resources of the former Magocracy of Lepidos. Steel Mill Corners is the most prominent city-state in the Great Ilmenite Desert, where it survives through a combination of guile and close alliances with the local Cobalt Protectorate outpost at the Execution Hill Launch Complex.
The Great Ilmenite Desert is bracketed the east and west by rocky mountain ranges - a product of the movement of tectonic plate subduction. The Stone River meanders through the desert from the the north to the southwest, combining with the smaller West Spur River which flows in from the northeast. Where the ground is softer, the Stone River carves steep canyons between the grey-yellow hills, and small settlements tend to spring up in and around these canyons. Stone River Hollows lies in one such canyon near where the rivers fork. Where the Stone River cuts deep enouhg into the terrain to bypass the upper crust of reducing iron-rich soil, it tends to seep into underground aquifers. Hence, while the desert surface is quite arid, settlements like Steel Mill Corners can exist somewhat further away from the river system by tapping into groundwater.
The Great Ilmenite Desert supports the sort wildlife appropriate for a high, cool desert in a terrestrial environment. Small burrowing mammals, lizards, snakes, and a wide variety of insects are the most common land-dwelling animals, with the dryness of the environment not lending itself well to larger life. Avian life tends to be focussed towards carnivorous and scavenging lifestyles, though a few smaller species of seed- and fruit-eating birds fill the rest of the ecological niches. Trees, shrubs, and succulents are sparse and geared towards surviving long droughts. Pine trees and sagebrush tend to grow in the higher elevations, while the lowlands sport tufts of (usually brown) grasses.
As the name implies, the Great Ilmenite Desert is rich in iron, aluminum, and titanium deposits. Both before and after The Midnight, this wealth of metal ores drew the attention of the mining industry and its support industries despite the harsh conditions of the environment. 'Islands' of yellow or rust-red silicate sand - the tailings of exploratory excavations - often serve to demarcate the boundaries of old mining towns. Rail lines crisscross the desert to connect these settlements together, though many of the towns have since faded into obscurity, or, worse, become havens for bands of opportunistic highwaymen looking to get rich on stolen resources.