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Deepdark

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The Deepdark is a troglodytic inhabited cave system located under Crikland, a province of the Northern Kingdoms of Terrwin. The main entrance is through the Fissure, a crack located at the bottom of Lake Crikmere. The Deepdark is a large network of caves and corridors, filled with water and teeming wildlife, extending several fathoms deep. There is no light source in the Deepdark, so all creatures there are blind. Infravision does work, and all native species have a few other senses that make them well-adapted to the environment. The base of the food chain consists of algae and plants that can metabolize radiation, which is provided by the scales of the great uranium dragon-god Argon.

The inhabitants of the Deepdark are mostly unique to that Setting; it is very isolated, and so there is virtually no trans-migration between the Deepdark and other Settings. There are no native species of human, dwarf, elf, gnome or goblin. Cave rainids are the only sentient species found in the Deepdark that are not endemic. They constitute approximately half of the permanent population. The remaining main races are the salamandrine humanoid olmian, the upright millipede-people vagramines and the duck-headed humanoid derrador.

Contents

Regions

The Deepdark is divided into ten Regions:

  1. The Fissure: The crack that connects the Deepdark with Lake Crikmere, and the area immediately around it
  2. Veverrin: A rural, remote corner of the Deepdark
  3. Senshinois: A giant cavern filled with a coral reef
  4. Rastennois: A tyrannical vagramine empire
  5. Al'hirrizad: A large city with several sparsely inhabited cave systems attached, located about halfway down and a requisite stop for any descending travelers
  6. Oxios: A large bubble inhabited mostly by dark elves
  7. Maladrozin: Civilized, widespread empire, home of the central temples of Chamballa and Per.
  8. Quentolla: Wild area, lots of coral reefs and druids
  9. Chandradajja: Four rainid kingdoms that constantly war with each other and sometimes the rest of the Deepdark
  10. Ehuun: A few cities and a large agricultural area, supporting a giant temple-complex serving Argon

Ecology

The ecology of the Deepdark is based on plankton, algae and bacteria that can metabolize the massive amounts of radiation given off by the sleeping uranium dragon-god Argon. In some areas, especially nearer the Fissure, veins of lead line the rock walls, blocking radiation, making some corridors entirely lifeless. The further down in the Deepdark one goes, the more lush the life, generally speaking. The most ubiquitous life is algae, which appears in clumps along the rock walls and in free-floating little bits. One step beyond that in the food chain are a myriad of small fish, frogs, salamanders, slugs, millipedes and other creatures, as well as an array of carnivorous plants. These are in turn eaten by a number of fish, mammals and others, who also feed on the larger plantlife that grows in some regions. In places as large as any normal tree on the Surface, the Deepdark's plant life includes an array of flowering plants, whose pollen is fertilized by small fish and disseminated throughout the area. Top-level predators include large whales, sharks, octopuses, squid and, most commonly and iconically, the fierce, shark-toothed dolphin merolvids.

Virtually all life in the Deepdark is entirely or almost entirely white, and all native species are totally blind, not even possessing infravision. Instead, all animals are able to hear, smell and taste the water around them, deriving a great deal of information from those senses, which are very powerful among indigenous life in the Deepdark. In addition, most creatures have a powerful ability to sense the flow, direction and temperature of water, even at large distances. The electrical life field that surrounds all living things is also perceptible by most species in the Deepdark. These senses enable native Deepdark creatures to function just as effectively as any surface-dweller. It also means that any surface-dweller who does not have the Deepdark-specific senses will find himself at the mercy of his environment even assuming he can find a way to withstand the water, cold and pressure of being there in the first place.

Flora

Algae makes up at least two-thirds of all plant-life in the Deepdark, by weight. Much of it is free-floating and microscopic, but there are species that grow in tufts and clumps, some of which can grow to the size of a whale or larger (e.g. the slow-growing evershrub of Veverrin). The algae are entirely white[1] and are mostly edible, though many species are unpalatable or unnutritive. Some algae clumps are more organized, forming spirals or tubes. A few have even evolved carnivorous feeding mechanisms, trapping small fish or plankton like filter-feeding ocean-dwellers.

Larger plants in the Deepdark are almost entirely carnivorous to some degree or another. Many are simply able to absorb nutritive matter that happens to fall on them - which happens often in the Deepdark, where bits of flesh and blood quickly disperse, coating the surroundings - but some are highly specialized, akin to fly-traps, pitcher plants and other Surface-dwelling carnivorous plants.

I traveled out of Helmar with my olmian guide, Darthraux, who led me through the winding tunnels that he said would take us to Veverrin. We passed through a dense jungle of tall white plants, many of them coiled leaves wrapped to form conical projections, thorny vines snaking along the ground and here and there small snapping leaves that devoured small fish and squid as they swam by. Using the light my helm radiated, I made out a shape straight ahead, and I asked Darthraux what it was, but he said he didn't know what I was talking about. Swimming closer, I saw it was much like the fly-traps of the surface, just a pair of thickened leaves ready to pounce on anything that swam between them, and it was just large enough to fit a full-grown man, or a pair of olmians. I stopped, but Darthraux just swam forward until I questioned him. He denied sensing the plant until he was only inches away from it, and then it snapped shut, damn near ripping his face off. If I hadn't warned him of it, he would surely have died. Apparently that was a known danger to Deepdark denizens, which they called egolahsho. It is a perfect hunter for its environment in that it sits perfectly in tune with the flow of water around it, and it even matches the turgidity of its floating tendrils so that they will be in perfect sync with the water. Because Deepdark denizens use perception of water flow and current to sense, the egolahsho is almost invisible to them, though easy to see for Surface-dwellers with a light source of their own.[2]
We happened upon the hapless rainid near Al'hirrizad. He had been caught in a different kind of carnivorous plant, one which Darthraux and Melvid called duxtram. It consisted of thorny vines that spread through tiny cracks in rock. There, my guides differed, with Darthraux swearing that there is only one duxtram in all of the Deepdark, and they are all interconnected through these miniscule tendrils of stem. Melvid called that an urban legend. Regardless, the duxtram had a large body that fit into a crevice in the rock, and when it sensed a suitably large creature in front, it pounced, throwing itself around the creature and enveloping it in a large leaf that seals itself up. The leaf grows ever-tighter and more compact, its thorny interior soon piercing and killing the victim, while the plant begins digesting it.[3]

Fauna

Some notable species:

  • Coral: Bone-white coral reefs occur in a few spots in the Deepdark, though they are rare since they require a large area in which to grow and a delicate mix of growing conditions. They are teeming with wildlife, and are all densely-inhabited. Some have been grown and shaped by sentient workers to form buildings, a process that takes centuries. One particularly notable species of coral, blade coral, is very sharp, and can cut off limbs - it digests the blood that it spills around it - and is used as fencing and in security walls.
  • Crimmbers: A very common food fish, especially higher-up in the Deepdark; stretches up to five feet wide, but very flat, preying on small fish it can reach its hunting spots on the ground, sometimes bite larger creatures who come too close, but they do not do any significant damage most of the time.
  • Gentle Whale: Huge filter-feeding whales, specializing in very small shrimp and fish, slow-moving and gentle beasts, can be trained as mounts in some cases, have entirely translucent skin, so the entire digestion process can be witnessed in great detail.[4]
  • Hellionfish: Small but fierce predators, approximately kitten-sized, with wide teeth. They attack in swarms, like piranhas. Their eggs, called hellionberries, are delicate and difficult to collect without breaking them even after the fish are killed, but they are a valuable delicacy.
  • Hookworm Jellyfish: One of the most feared creatures of the Deepdark, this jellyfish is slow moving, and consists of hundreds or thousands of tentacles thinner than a human hair. Each tentacle has tiny barbs on it, and if any barb grabs a hold of flesh, it instantly wraps around it, triggering other tentacles to do the same. The creature is digested almost immediately. Since it is slow-moving, it is not particularly dangerous to sentient creatures, who can easily block it, forcing it to go around inhabited areas. However, it is greatly-feared because it is a common method of execution, used by both criminals and governments. A person tied up in the Hookworm Jellyfish's path will be quickly torn to shreds and is said to be digested so quickly and efficiently that the victim's brain - and ability to feel pain - is the last part of the body to go.
  • Lovely Squid: Named for the calming fluctuations of the jets of water they shoot out while swimming, the Lovely Squid are the largest animal predator in the Deepdark. Their tentacles can reach up to ninety feet in length, and their body up to thirty. Their skin is white with a faint rosy tint. Unlike Surface-dwelling squid, Lovely Squid have no ink sacs.
  • Merolvids: Merolvids are dolphins, the size of a large dog, with a big, toothy snout. They have two rows of interlocking teeth, like a shark, and are ferocious predators. They attack in packs of four to fifteen, and confuse their enemies by swimming in a circle around them, making it impossible to sensibly perceive differences in water flow, effectively blinding their victims.
  • Olloans: Olloans are large fish with a single horn on their head, ranging from two to four feet long. Territorial and aggressive, they are sometimes kept as guards and attack animals, especially by criminal gangs, who also run olloan-fighting rings, which are very popular among certain underclasses of the Deepdark.
  • Kidneyfish: Tiny fish with an important organ, said to be kidneys, that can be preserved by salting and will last forever, also possessing enough nutrients and calories for a person to live off just one kidney a day; also notable because the kidney is green and the skin and scales are translucent, so the fish look (to any Surface-dweller who comes to the Deepdark with light) like swimming balls of green.
  • Rilled Crab: Up to seven feet from claw to claw, the Rilled Crab is a common species, and is a major food source. It is sacred to Modrobene, and it is their distinctively hooked claws that most Mortiss in the Deepdark use to soulcleave.
  • Silkfish: A small, quick fish best-known for spinning huge webs that encase its eggs. The webbing is bitter and slightly poisonous when fresh, which helps to keep the eggs safe. However, the webbing can also be spun into fabric, and it is a vital part of civilization throughout the Deepdark.
  • Ximbis: Large starfish that can extend up to twelve feet from arm to arm.

Sentience

  • Cave Rainid - White-skinned rainids
  • Derrador - Hominid with a duck bill and face, and shark-teeth
  • Harbels - Small intelligent starfish
  • Olmian - Humanoid salamander, pink to almost translucent skin
  • Terrolvid - Dolphin-bodied and humanoid from the waist up, with piranha-like teeth
  • Vagramine - Upright millipede people

Pantheon

The most important Deities throughout the Deepdark are Argon and Chamballa, said to be siblings who rule over the rest of the Deepdark's pantheon. The children they have had together and others consistute an extended family is called the Divinatrix.

Name Zones Other Notes
Argon Dragons - Fatherhood - Life - Punishment - Radiation - Righteousness - Vengeance Brother of Chamballa
Authorn Derrador - Honor - Justice - Knighthood - Paladins - Truth Zimbom's husband
Barrabia Banditry - Gambling - Millipedes - Thievery - Vagramines Per and Chamballa's second son
Chamballa in the Deepdark Aquaculture - Birth - Fertility - Growth - Motherhood - Pregnancy Sister of Argon, wife of Per
Durruin Academics - Knowledge - Intelligence - Magic - Study Son of Authorn and Zimbom
Firgraun Cruelty - Murder - Violence - War Brother of Argon and Chamballa
Gabbia Brides - Young Women - Virginity Wife of Nutrollian
Hazia Deception - Illusion - Magic - Mischief - Squid - Trickery Per and Chamballa's second daughter
Josumme Druidry - Fish - Perception - Plants - Tracking - Wilderness Per and Chamballa's third son
Nelktor Burial - Crabs - Death - Undead - Necromancy - Soulcleaving Modroben, said to be Argon and Chamballa's grandfather
Nutrollian Bravery - Hunting - Manhood - Wild Animals Per and Chamballa's eldest son
Per Derrador - Nature - Secrecy Chamballa's husband
Rigaron Children - Fun - Joy - Pleasure Nutrollian and Gabbia's son
Tanillia Hatred - Merolvids - Spite - Terrolvids - Vindictiveness - Widows Argon and Chamballa's aunt, sometimes called Mother Tamilia
Uddria Agility - Desperation - Olmians - Movement - The Poor - Resourcefulness - Speed Per and Chamballa's third daughter
Zimbom Beauty - Feminimity - Sexuality - Womanhood Per and Chamballa's eldest daughter
[[]]

Civilization

The silkfish is a vital part of Deepdark's culture, for the species spins a kind of webbing to encase its eggs in. This webbing can be collected and spun into a strong, durable fabric. Pods, generally circular, made out of this fabric is common, and it also constitutes most clothing in the Deepdark. Tanned leather made from shark or whale hides are also common clothing fabric.

Since there are no seeing creatures in the Deepdark, beauty and aesthetics in the Deepdark are judged differently. Shapes are very important, and pleasing designs are considered attractive. Just like on the surface, symmetry is the basic component of beauty. Buildings in the Deepdark, whether made out of silkfish webbing, or carved into stone, may be decorated with a series of tubes and simple valves. These systems, designed by architects, alter the flow rate of water, and sometimes its temperature (through various complicated and expensive mechanisms), creating pleasing patterns and variations. Formal clothing has similar effects, and some artists in the Deepdark even create entire symphonies based on the sensations created by changing the characteristics of the water that surrounds the audience.

History

The entire plateau that is now called Crikland was once a huge lake, one of the largest and deepest in the world. At the time, the Fissure was not there, and the bottom of what is now Lake Crikmere was simply the deepest part of what was then called the Mancheggan Sea (despite still being freshwater). The Mancheggan Sea drew in water from hundreds of mountains, and was teaming with life, both sentient and animal.

There are at least three attested versions of the Deepdark's creation:

The legendary version is popular both above and below the Fissure.
The Deepdark was created by a beast named Petromyza, a fearsome lamprey-like creature with a round, jawless mouth and two rows of sharp teeth. She flew across the world at that time, devouring entire cities and demanding tribute, lest she swallow whole populations and regurgitate them as an army of undead. The hero Moxabbin chased after her, finally tracking her to the Mancheggan Sea, where he snuck up on her when she rested, and climbed on her back. Armless, she was unable to rid herself of him, as he began to hack into her thick hide. She screamed and twisted in the sky, writhing in pain and fear, then dived into the Mancheggan Sea to try and remove the hero from her back. But he could breath water, and he survived her even as she dove through the very ground, creating a huge network of caves that filled with water, draining the Mancheggan Sea. Finally, she died, and her body was so huge, and so crawling with flesh, both hers and her victims, that a small ecosystem arose around her decomposing corpse. Eventually, of course, her body ran out of sustenance, and the god Argon settled in her burial ground, falling into a deep hibernation that is said to be a psychic battle with her, to keep her from returning and destroying the civilizations that have been created in her destructive wake.
Collected by Seamus McAnvey, of the Hechlirrean Islands
Logical deductions based on other, better studied geologic formations contradict the notion that Petromyza created the Deepdark, filled it with water, and then life came later.
That an irregular crack (The Fissure) opens into the sort of cave system most closely associated with above-ground formations strongly implies that the caves existed first, and the crack appeared, flooding them. The existence of Oxios and the claimed history of that place supports the notion that an air-breathing civilization existed here first, and the Fissure flooded it. This legion of uncleaved souls who would have died in such a flood also helps to explain the high population of ghosts and other undead in the Deepdark.[5]
Geologist of the gnomish Accadine University, Mintersnood Devversley
The monk Hepstince Apckin wrote a version involving the small kingdoms of Helmarthonn and Quinteir, and claims their founding by a pair of brother and sister twins followed their acceptance by Argon, who brought to the siblings the necessary accoutrements of civilization once they proved their worthiness to him. For more information, see The Fissure, but note this version is not well-accepted by historians. It was probably political propaganda from the city of Helmar, which Apckin did not do well at filtering out in his reports. His version of events are only cited here because they are the earliest known description of the Deepdark.

Notes

  1. The Malvorinian scholar Bellixta of the Academy at Crikland has documented green algae, believed to be recent imports that have not yet fully adapted to the Deepdark, and a family of yellow algae native to the bubble Oxios. Her findings have not been confirmed.
  2. Apckin, ibid
  3. Apckin, ibid
  4. The scholar Timbledon published an extensive monograph on his observations of Gentle Whale digestion, for which see Timbledon.
  5. Devversley refers to the bubble air-breathing civilization, Oxios, found low in the Deepdark. The Oxians claim that they had always lived in a small pocket of caves, which Petromyza then connected to the lake. Their gods then created the bubble to protect the core of their civilization.

Published Works

  • {{#rawmsg:SSlink2}} (trade paperback/$9.99) (free ebook in .pdf, .rtf, epub, .mobi, .lrf, .pdb, .txt) (read online). is the story of Terredor Delver, a shy and uncertain young man who ventures into the Deepdark with his mentor and adoptive father, Waimbrill Lommia. Together with their guide, Mortiss Gelvid of Helmarthonn, and the legendary Knight of the Noble Fin, Sir Esterhund, Terredor braves the legion of fearsome beasts that haunt the lightless caverns of the Deepdark, outwitting the cruel bandits and devious schemers who roam more freely the further Terredor descends.
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