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Cold Swamp

by hughpierre
Standing where I am beneath one of the Steps' many Cavern Cities, I cannot help but appreciate the tightness of my shoes,the heaviness of my tokai and the moisture of my breath. Because it is cold. So cold. So very, very, cold. What was I thinking. I didn't even have to be here. No, I wanted to be here. To trek from Gaioor to Protilla, experience an adventure in my young and soon to be short life.   My father and his cohorts make the trip every year and return nearly unscathed. We hadn't even made it to White Woman then the chill reached my joints and it ached to step. Surely, conditions had been sporadically worse this year than all previous years. But I looked up from my resting rock to the grizzle but still unconcerned looks on the older parties.   I really needed a rest and was lucky to find a crack in the mountain wall I could collapse against. Upon high, is the invisible Protilla. Or so they tell me. On the the narrow harrowing path, the rest walk past; unconcerned with the boy in the rock. I am such a baby. They must be thinking. And all I want is to be home. This wouldn't be the most horrible place to die. But the thought immediately brought to mind the brown burly sack that flew over his head. He'd initially thought it a huge boulder and that they would all be doomed and buried under a massive avalanche. Afterwards many of his companions shouted and screamed angrily at things unseen above us. When I had asked what it was, a toothy woman had told me it was a person tied into a velvet bag- An honorable way for executing nobles.   I nestled in my crack with a luminous view. Though it seemed to me that the swamp can't decide if it'd prefer to be green or grey. I pointed this out to my father days before and he had to remind me of the flammable gases that emit from the softening bog. I must be going loopy to have forgotten its most famous feature. They crawl and creep along, then spontaneously combust; lighting the bowels of the earth and collapsing into the famous firewells that pimpled the distant landscape even now. Want I wouldn't do for a firewell now.   I feel all the more miserable as the passing caravan ghees at me. Damn it. "Protilla is here. Protilla is here," the men and women would smile at me. I try to lazily crumple off my rock and nearly stumble off the edge. That was an awfully efficient way to wake me up. I continued to look wide eyed over the bleak covered precipice, and noticed how I couldn't notice Tonda beneath me; before marching vigorously to the hole in the wall.

Geography

Off the edges of the mountainous chain known fittingly as "The Bad Step"; is a deep, shear dive (4000 ft) into wet, cold and hard jungles that expanses to 'who-knows-how-far'. Liquid water does not exist here; but a liquid 'something' does flow down slops and pool in low laying pits. A silver majesty, that for all its beauty does nothing to aid in survival. The colours of the grass trees vary between a dark green to jet black due to the weak sunlight.   More necessary to life are the red majesties: the firewells. Vortexes of ever cascading gases set alight that can burn for years. They dot the areas far away from the foot of the Step and are the beating heart of the swamp people who settle along its fiery edges. The Preynillan Fire Well is the largest and longest lasting; having seen the rise and fall of nearly 60 settlements in its 300 year life. Every well also has its matching ‘star’ being reflected off the swamp’s frozen sky.   Though people feel the cold winds ride over the boundary peaks at the Step; the epic coldness never truly crosses over. It remains so confined that the clouds freeze and fuse together into a crystalline mega structure that bucks and breaks onto the land below. It is believed that the hot-rocks lining the Step’s face feed the water vapours in the air, into the ice cover and push them away from the Bad Step; and cause the ice to fall into the deeper swamp.   In additional to the mirroring effect the sky reflects on the landscape, there is an accompanying source of white light, forever hidden behind the ice cover, that refracts through the mirror images; making everything look distorted, and obscuring features. One can say that the Cold Swamp is the one landscape that provides a map to any lost explorer. It may be a blessing or a dastardly trick. For remember that that map is being warped from the many holes, bulges and fissures on the surface; as well as, from the light of the winter sun. As a result, it is difficult to tell the passage of time with the consistent state of pale-white twilight apparent everywhere.   Due to the swamp’s cold and the Step’s heat, there exist a strip of wet land in between called the Wet Wilds. This area is sometimes conflated with the Cold Swamp, but it is a distinctly separate place with more conventional life forms. It is here that the cavern cities of the Step built their colonies (called Sinks).   Red, Green and Silver are the colours of the Cold Swamp. But far away from the Sinks is the brilliantly blue Sauoomsae (the River of Life) that marks the boundaries of the Swamp and the Northern Range; and never freezes. Ever. Hot-rocks seem to line the river bed well past the sighting of the Step and flow into a giant block of ice.

Fauna & Flora

Grass Tree: The Grass tree is a large species of true grass, located natively nutrient rich or poor soil. It makes no difference. This is a land dominated by grass trees. Grasses are hardy plants which reproduce sexually by dispersing their seeds, and asexually (or vegetatively) by spreading out a network of underground stems. Their exposed trunks and leaves regrow from the underground portion of the plant and so can withstand a great deal of damage. So much so that they are heavily used in constructing the great buildings, primarily those of the Triple Alignment, in the valley above. Both the old and the new trees are the biggest tradable resource. Though mightily difficult to fall, they nonetheless form the backbone of the Sinks', and by extension, the Step's economy. The network of grass stems can also stabilize loose soil and consolidate steep slopes. The grass trees form the basis of a whole new ecosystem.   In the Cold Swamp, grass tress are the most common living thing to be seen owing to the ability to produce such resilient stems. Stems growing out over rocky outcrops form woody-looking creepers, gnarled and tangled, reaching like fingers towards the next pocket of soil. The photosynthetic parts reach desperately skyward to the swamp's winter sun, sending out sprays of dark leaves from the central trunk. And lined beneath that trunk is a purple crystalline salt scarped away used by the College to neutralize their reactions. From a distance, a grass tree looks like a cluster of conifers growing from a tangle of rooty creepers.   Humid mountain wind will blast upwards through gaps between jagged peaks at the edges of the Grey Haven. Fluffy seeds from the grass trees of the lower slopes are swirled upwards in a white blizzard, eddying between the crags. The seeds bristle with tufts that catch the air and act as parachutes. Here and there, they touch the rock, but if there is no soil to engage their little anchors, they are swept onward once more, a lucky few even making it up and over the Bad Step's lowest peaks.   Stripped Spider: The most common spider in the cold swamp. Females about to give birth normally conjugate together and lay their eggs all together in a huge fruit of spider eggs. The first to hatch face certain doom.   The first to hatch attempt to cross the canopy where they freeze solid and serve as a platform to other newborns who meet the same fate. But spiders who hatch last find a Causeway of their frozen fellows (called spider veins) where they're able to move about in relative safety and protected from the cold.   When striped spiders outgrow their spidery cocoons; they begin a period of exponential growth resulting in a constant shedding of their exoskeleton. The process of which leaves markings of concentric rings all about their body; hence the name. They typically continue this process for the rest of their lives, plateauing until they are the size of a beetle, although under certain ideal situations they can grow to the size of dogs.   Pearl-Back Toad: For the scarcity of food one can find in the Cold Swamp; it is positively baffling as to how the Pearl-Back can grow to the size of a house. Perhaps they feed on the spider veins that span the tree canopy or actively hunt the terror Birds along the river banks. No one knows for sure. Somehow, no one has ever seen these creatures hunt anything.   Although this can perhaps be attributed to their frequent inactivity due to the toads seemingly being frozen for most of their life. Being only given the chance to move once a fire well springs nearby and thaws them out. Freezing again once it dissipates. Alternatively, it could just as well be that when active they are more than capable of hunting witnesses to their hunt. As the creature is able to spark a firewells to life because the toad is rumored to shoot fire from its maw, thus lighting swamp gas.   The Pearl-Back gets its name from the white opaque structures growing hard out of its back. They are in fact the poisonous secretions of a normal toads', cept continuously being frozen.   Stonecutter Ants: As the name gives, stonecutters are capable of cutting stone and other hard rocks to build their tower homes. These structures are so sturdy resistant to temperature that people who live close by devised a method to drive out the ants in certain sections for them to break down and quarter away to build their own defenses.   Banshee: Otherwise called 'Living Cloth', Banshees are boneless creatures with a near negligible depth to them. Capable of surviving, and indeed thriving, in extreme environments; either aquatic, terrestrial or aerial. Needing to feed infrequently, banshees are either capable of bloating themselves up like a balloon fish and swallow prey hold or drain the fluids through their barbed tail.   The latter of which is the most believed as there are more Hunters who report such. Although, dissections of dead Banshees greatly support that the former is also possible.   Little Brother: A species of lemur that live on the tops of the highest trees.   In the Cold Swamp, they exhibit a dark colouring of fur and pitch-black eyes; while there exist an inverse of these creatures on the other side of the world, in the Brine Marshes, with silver-white fur and pale eyes.   Pitcher Plant: A carnivorous plant with modified leaves serving as a prey-trapping mechanism featuring a deep cavity filled with digestive liquid. Saplings attract tiny insects to the cavity formed by the cupped leaf, often by visual lures and nectar bribes. The rim of the pitcher is slippery, when moistened by condensation or nectar, causing insects to fall into the trap. Pitcher plants may also contain waxy scales, or crystals, folds inward and downward pointing hairs guard on the inside of the pitcher to ensure that insects cannot climb out. Mature plants go to such a size that they can digest small monkeys.   One feature common to both the pitcher plant and to Grass Trees is that a good portion of the root system is above ground. It has been observed, however, that the Pitcher may not need to have its roots in the ground at all. As they apparently can continue on living when uprooted, or in certain instances, of the roots don't grow downward, but would twist and grasp tightly onto a tree. So long as the pitcher remains upright, this plant will subsist on meat.   Terror Birds: Large and carnivorous flightless birds with a large beak-to-head ratio than that of other bird. Though admittedly huge, it is noted that they can grow to be much larger when in captivity. This might be because they are not necessarily the best predators around. They tend to move together in packs, but the fact that their eyes remain at the sides of their heads implies they must have issues with depth perception. Critical to successful hunters.   Nonetheless, these birds remain a terror to anyone, or anything, within their sights on account of a curious feeling of vertigo that is said to overcome fleeing prey, such that they are too disoriented; and consequently caught.   Armadillo Beetles: The rest of the world might know of certain species of beetles able to roll into themselves for protection. The armadillo beetles is just like that, only are the size of armadillos and resemble them more than any other when they are rolled. Usually tame and docile, they are used as a safe food source for people in the Deep swamp provided they can be prevented from rolling away.

Natural Resources

Near frozen Grass Trees: Hollow trunks are harvested and used in constructing buildings and crafting wands.   Gases from the earth: Captured with rubber nets as they rise from the bogs. They are used as a means of heating homes but sometimes, a capturer catches gases that are either not flammable or too flammable.   Ice: Generally the only clean and reliable source of water to be had in the cold swamp.   Stone Mounds: These structures are so sturdy and resistant to temperature. Folks drive out the stonecutter ants and section off their towers to be taken away for man's own construction. Stonecutters build them from pebbles and dirt mortared with their saliva.   False water: A silvery liquid that bubbles from unknown places in the earth with a heavy consistency. No one can mistake it for water; and is proven poisonous over time if in constant contact. But it is collected as a solvent for chemical/alchemical uses.   Hot-rocks: Rough and black outcroppings that pile at the foot of the Bad Step having fallen off the mountain face. Hot-rock have high thermal conducting properties that are perfect for constructing in-home stoves but do not emit heat on their own; as shown when they are mined from the ground and lose their heat. This suggest that there is some heat source deep in the earth.

Trade Routes

Black Roads

Physically, the layered, flattened and polished hot-rocks connecting the many Sinks in Cold Swamp. It also names the overall trade system by which the vanilla flower is traded.  

Reed Roads

Between the cold and freezing environment in the Deeper Swamp, are long combed over reeds of a bygone era that remain stable and clear with little maintenance.
Alternative Name(s)
Wet Wilds
Type
Wetland / Swamp
Inhabiting Species
Related Myths
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Outbreaks of Diseases


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Cover image: by Sharky14X
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