Here the Korsalish hunt in large packs across
the Wandergrounds, and venture south along ancient trade routes to trade
their wears as far as Lazan and Mal Tanor. On the frozen ice of the arctic,
where Valtak barbarians wage bloody battles for survival locked in the
seas of ice that blanket the land.
The mighty forests of the Sylar end in a mighty wall to the north. They do not shrink or dwindle, the giant forests simply end as a great wall of trees overlooking a deep purple tundra.
The tundra is home to many creatures; monocorns, firemanes, taranters, tandras, erd and woolly-landlizards roam in great herds feeding of the grasses and scrub brush that flourish here.
On the Tundras the summers are short and brittle, marked by a brief dazzling burst of colour as the plants flower desperately to reproduce before the next snow. It never gets warm, with cold winds from the north making even the brightest days hold a bitter edge.
In winter the entire land is covered in a thick blanket of snow and ice that locks the land solid for nearly eight months of the years. The herds migrate south to the cover of the Sylar trees or perish in the freezing snows.
Following the herds as they travelling are
the mysterious and secretive race known as the Korsalish
Where the Korsalish came from no one is certain. Even the Korsalish themselves claim to know little. Their first encounter with the southern races was with the Naejeeri who say that Korsalish lived in the tundra long before they took to the trees. Yet ancient Endazi records show no peoples their before the arrival of the humans. Where they came from and why they remains a mystery.
They are an alien people, built like men but with canine features. They have a long wolf-like snout under black, intelligent eyes. Their ears are high on their heads to catch sounds from all angles. Their skin is thick with gray, white or black fur to protect them from the winter snows. Their feet are wide and clawed to allow them greater purchase on the ice yet their hands are soft and leathery with all the dexterity of a man.
They follow the herds throughout the year, acting as both their protectors and their hunters. The Korsalish are true carnivores, using fire only for warmth or to thaw frozen meat. They kill their prey with brilliant strategies designed to herd them nearer to the camps or tiring them down so much that a single shot with an arrow or spear will kill the beast. These strategies are also used to confuse and confound raiders, Valtak and slavers who often find routed enemies twisting behind them or leading them into traps.
Their life is one of constant movement. They build no permanent homes, just simple tents and belongings that can be easily packed and carried. They use no riding beasts, walking tirelessly for months. A few monocorns have been domesticated by some tribes, but these beasts are used to carry belongings and foods on travois. Only the young, old or infirm can ride upon the backs of the creatures. The Korsalish see all animals as sacred and to ride the back of one is seen as a being a burden on the tribe. Even severely wounded warriors will choose to walk, and die rather than ride.
The bands are small and mobile, usually consisting of a few mated couples and their children. All members of the tribe hunt, children are brought out on hunts as soon as they are able to weld a spear. The husbands and wives take turns so that their are always hunters that remain to guard the tents.
A few bands are fortunate enough to have Shamans.
Mystics known as Skinwalkers who worship the forces of nature and the spirits
of the animals. By donning the hides of animals they can change their forms
and many chose to live among the herds, roaming and migrating across the
elations with other the Other Races
The Korsalish have been under nearly constant harassment by the Valtaks. Dwindling food recourse to the north have pushed the barbarians south into the tundra where they threatened the herds. They found an ally of sorts in the tree dwelling Naejeeri. who were under pressure the Parthenians to the south.
Both people have taken to patrol the narrow strip of open land between the Wandergrounds and the rest of the continet. Just below the Ironspire mountains, the Naejeeri who help keep it clear of woodsmen, slavers, Valtak, and Malthans.
The other races of Parthenthius care little for the far north. The Parthenians see the Wanderground as too barren and remote to be of any use to the Empire and only a few desperate slavers will come, hoping to grab a few easy marks before they leave. The Malthan have little regard for them, taking a few as slaves but usually dismissing them as animals or vermin.
The peoples below the Corridor have little contact other than a few Korsalish caravans that travel to Lal Chim. Traders who do make the long trip south prefer to cross the Otan wide plains to trade with the Otan and Centrans directly rather than enter the claustrophobic cities of the Trig.
The Wanderground tundra fades under a layer of permanent snow that rises rapidly into the massive glacier that lies a mile thick over the land known as the Valtak Icefields.
The surface of Valtak is as desolate as the moon. Freezing winds whip across empty miles of ice and snow marked only by impassible mountains of jagged ice that can rise overnight and collapse like a house of cards as the treacherous glacier heaves and crawls across the land. Featureless sheets of open ice dominate the landscape, punctuated by deep chasms, often hidden by thin layers of ice and snow, that can drop suddenly for thousands of metres into the heart of the frozen lands.
Little can survive this summerless waste. The twin suns shine from a bitter blue sky over a land where the temperature at night it can plunge so deep that exposed skin freezes solid in seconds. In the brief summer, winterblue-lichen grows alomg the coasts at a fantastic rate, taking full advantage of the few warmer months to coat the snows in a brilliant blue. The lichen brings flocks of avir to feed and drakes to feed upon them. But in the open, desolate interior only frost demons, ice dragons and the sprawling blossoms of parabol blossom flowers, unhindered by the cold can survive year round.
But the glacier is deep, over a mile deep in the centre and inside this frozen sea of ice, out of the wind and storms, life survives.
In the dark and the cold, the incredible pressure produced by the glacier as it moves across the land can melt the ice and send it thundering along mighty rivers that tunnel through the ice. These rivers can pool in massive caverns and freeze solid again as the glacier shifts collapses the river tunnel. While others make it to the coasts where they spout like a giant fountain into the sea.
The glacier is riddled with such tunnels, some
dry as the river is cut off by the distant rumblings of the glacier. Other
tunnels have been carved out by those who live in the frozen dark; the
fearsome, insect-like White Raknids, and the people known as the Valtak.
The Valtaks are true giants among men. The stand nearly eight feet tall with wide, muscled builds, strong features and thick white hair. Their blue/black skin is thick and leathery, impervious to the stinging cold. Their eyes are small slits, and almost all pupil to see in the low light of the ice tunnels. These eyes are protected by massive eyebrows to ward out the glare, the ice and the cold. Their feet are wide and broad to distribute their massive weight and a large, barbed talon grows from their heel to prevent slippage on the ice.
They are a grim, quiet people, who speak a dialect of the Ancient tongue. They have no religion and little magic, seeing life as a constant, brutal cycle of death and rebirth. The few Valtak who call themselves shaman, sell their meagre magics, stories and skills to the various groups they encounter. The one magic they never practise is healing. The wounded and the sick are expected to live or die on their own.
Nomadic, they travel in small groups through the ice tunnels. The Valtak have no chiefs and the nomadic groups break apart and reform as often as two groups come across each other in the dark caverns. Resources are scarce, but conflict between bands is uncommon unless one group is close to starvation and can offer nothing in trade. While not an hospitable people, they recognize that within the glacier, being alone means a slow death in the cold and the dark. Women are regarded as slightly superior, but anyone over the age of ten is expected to have all the skills to survive and is given to the next group encountered, where they earn their keep or die.
Their nomadic lives are dictated by the environment in which they live. The tunnels through which they travel can collapse at any moment, and they spend their days searching for more stable shelter in the larger caverns in the ice or by the roots of a parabol flower.
The Valtak's life is a never-ending search
for food and resources. When the winterblue lichen blooms they travel to
the coast to feast on the avir, fish and other creatures, but through the
rest of the year they live on a meagre diet of parabol blossom root, fish
caught from where the glacier extend out over the sea, white-raknid and
the flesh of the dead. Except in times when resources are rare, they do
not actively kill others for food, but they are not averse to eating the
flesh of their fellows who have died of other causes. Indeed, in this environment
where every resource is precious, they make leather from skin, boots from
the hair and weapons and tools of the bones. But the resource they most
cultivate, most actively seek are the lairs of the white-raknids and their
precious, heat giving scintilla.
White Raknids and Scintilla
There is no wood within hundreds of leagues of the Valtak glacier. Wood, and forged metal are more priceless than blue diamonds to the Valtak. Without wood there is no fire and without fire the glacier is a cold, hard place. Yet there is heat within the galcier , within the petals of the parabol blossom blossoms, in the bodies of the Valtak and raknid, and most importantly within the glowing hot orbs of the raknid's scintilla.
The white-raknid, giant, insect-like creatures covered in, milky-white chitinous armour, crawl about the tunnels. They live in small, mobile hives that travel from cavern to cavern in search of parabol blossom root, and Valtak barbarians, their two main sources of food. As they travel they come to the surface and lay catches of eggs within the dish-like blossoms of parabol blossom flowers. The hives cannot remain in one place long enough to protect the cache and so they fill the blossom with scintilla eggs and move on, trusting in fate to hatch the eggs. If other scintilla are found within the blossom they are eaten, and a few stolen to help them move through the frozen landscape.
As the eggs lie within these natural incubators,
they absorb tremendous amounts of heat. Most use this heat to hatch and
slip back into the glacier, but others are stolen by the Valtak who use
the orbs to cook their food, melt new tunnels through the ice and as torches
in the darkness. If the scintalla are not permitted to hatch, then they
can retain their heat for weeks, gradually growing cooler and dimmer until
the Valtak crack their shells and drink the still-warm insides. Valtak
almost always carry one of these scintilla, mounted on bone cradles and
when they don't have one they spend a great deal of time searching the
frozen surface for more.
Barbarians, Gladiators and Slavery
Reseantly, the Valtak have come to face a new threat. Slavers coming up the coasts during the brief warmer months when the Winterblue lichen blooms, come to capture the strong, brutal barbarians who come to the surface to harvest the lichen..
Taken to the southern lands, some grow blind under the desert suns, slaving on the Mining platforms, while others grow fat, working as farm slaves, gluttonous in the abundance of food. But most wind up as personal body-guards or gladiators in the arenas of Mal Tanor and Parthenthius.
Most Valtak taken as slaves surprisingly, seem enjoy this lifestyle. Farm-workers live surrounded by more food they they've ever seen in their lives and prominent gladiators are treated like prize horses by their owners, every extravagance and desire catered to. Those that survive eventually buy their freedom and a few have even risen to high standings among the Arena circles or the underworlds or Parthenthius and Mil Tanor, preferably through the use of gratuitous violence.
Yet all this has a price. Every year a few dozen are stolen from their homes in the northern wastes. Most die and few, if any every return to the lands of their birth. The Valtak population is a small one to begin with and the steady drop of numbers means that their futue in the north has become uncertain.
The Sanctum Alcedon
Shigata Ga Nai High