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Everyday Drabbles #227: Crime Scene

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EDWinter2

The victim lay sprawled at the bottom of the stairwell. From the way the dust and dirt had been disturbed it was clear at a glance that they fell a long way. They were wearing some kind of space suit, with the face shield down obscuring their identity.
But the thing that really stood out were the leis. The body was wrapped in rings of tropical flowers, real ones. Based on the condition of the stairs, they had to have been placed on the body after it came to rest.
The detective sighed. They always gave him the weird ones.

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Elanterra Journal 006: The Half Elves

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Although they aren’t officially one of the Five Peoples, Half Elves represent a sizable population in Elanterra, and their numbers seem to be growing rapidly. Legends indicate that the earliest Half-Elves were scions of romantic pairings between Elves and Humans, often chivalrous Human knights and fair Elven maidens, whom they rescue from some danger or other. In these tales, the pairing is always stressed as taboo, and the couple brings disaster upon themselves by eloping. The child is left an orphan, and either becomes a great hero or, more often, a terrible villain. What historical records survive are sketchy at best, but paint a similar picture. Elves, for all their self-proclaimed Immortality, fare poorly outside of their forests. They sicken, rot, or kill themselves, usually within a few decades of leaving the Ironwood. Sometimes they simply disappear, abandoning their human spouse and children. These trysts are becoming more and more rare as the years pass, but it is not uncommon for an Elven ‘Ambassador’ to leave a clutch of bastards in his wake after his assignment is completed. These unfortunate mothers and their children are often exiled when their crime comes to light. In some Human kingdoms the children are even drowned, a practice which draws no comment at all from the Elves.

Half-Elves are tall, thin beings whose appearance draws about equally from their heritage. Half Elves are especially long lived, aging at about a third the rate of a normal human once they reach puberty. Half-Elves can usually be found in the great cities, where they band together for mutual protection. They are considered monstrosities by their Elven kin, and far less than Human as well. Half Elves are effectively a slave caste in many Human kingdoms, ranking even lower than serfs. Since they are stronger than they appear and live long lives, they are often used in the most dangerous jobs, such as mining and sailing.

Even with their high mortality rates, Half Elves reproduce at a similar rate to humans, but remain fertile for most of their long lives. It is not uncommon for a Half Elf matron to be caring for five or even six generations of grandchildren. Humans try and tightly control Half Elf families, for fear that they will be overwhelmed by sheer numbers.

“Free” Half Elves in the great cities still find themselves to be the victims of prejudice, since they are the product of a taboo pairing. Higher education and skilled labor are usually denied them, and many turn to underground or criminal organizations for support. It is said that a Half Elf, given enough time, can get you anything, if you pay their price.

Compiler’s Note: The Half-Elves have suffered greatly over the centuries, bing the arrow fodder of every army, working the most uncomfortable and dangerous jobs, and suffering innumerable degradations. It is distasteful to say, but a Human who disdains a Half Elf for the ‘unnatural acts’ of her parents will often not think twice of taking one against her will as ‘spoils of war.’ The Half Elves wait, and maintain their population. And those outside the Human kingdoms wonder when the Half Elves’ anger will turn to violence.–G. B.

 

Elanterra Journal 005: The Elves

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The Elves, the Forest People, dwell almost exclusively in the massive Ironwood, a sea of trees which dominates Elanterra’s South-Eastern peninsula. Very few outsiders have ever stood at the heart of the Elven holdings, and their stories are often contradictory. What is known for certain is that the Ironwood is a natural fortress of maze-like trails, bloodthirsty animals and plants, and wild magic. To enter their domains without Elven guides is fatal.

The Elves are taller than a human, but usually very thin. Their features are delicate and beautiful. They claim to be ageless, although little proof exists to support this claim. Elves are greatly skilled at magic, but only practice the skill with other peoples reluctantly. Their use of magic is highly religious, and they claim that other practitioners somehow misuse ‘the gifts of the Mother.’ Whether this refers to the earth itself or to their mysterious Goddess is unclear.

ALthough they are not welcoming hosts, some Elves have engaged with the rest of Elanterra. They are strong supporters of the Alliance, and dutifully send ambassadors across the Island. The nature of these diplomatic visits causes the Elves to be seen as haughty and intrusive to the other Peoples.

There is a great benefit to these travels, however. Elves have laid roads across the island that are strong, wide, and easy to navigate. Trade and travel flourish along these byways, and banditry is almost unheard of. They even engage in some trade with Ferros, selling their Ironwood, which is said to have many great qualities, to the Dwarves for precious metals and gems.

Elves have the dubious distinction of being the only people able to mate successfully with Humans. The Half-Elves, as they are called, are shunned by both societies, and Elves known to consort with Humans are exiled. They rarely live long outside of their forest homes, but Half-Elves are becoming more and more common in the Great Cities.

Compiler’s Note: Aside from their seat on the Council of Five Peoples, the Elves have completely retreated beyond the reach of other Peoples. Even then, they say little and do nothing more than watch. The reasons for their withdrawal are unclear. Some sages theorize that a plague or some other catastrophe has struck the Heartwood. Others claim a political shift. In any case, There have been no corroborated sightings of an Elf outside of Isleheart Castle in more than a century. The Half-Elves only grow more and more common, however, and most sightings of ‘True’ Elves are likely scams perpetrated by their base-born kin.

“Elanterra Journal” is a look into the People, Places, and history of the Island of Elanterra, the setting of the Freelance Hunters stories.   “Glory’s Gauntlet,” an ebook collection of four Freelance Hunters shorts, is available from Amazon and Smashwords.

Elanterra Journal: 004-Dwarves

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Elanterra Journal

004-The Dwarves

 

Although it is not possible to get a full census of their numbers, it is believed that the Mountain Folk, more commonly called “Dwarves,” represent the third-most populous of the Five Peoples in Elanterra, behind the Humans and Hillfolk. Dwarves are thick-set, hairy humanoids standing roughly four to five feet tall. Underneath their extremely thick hair and beards, which can be just about any color, they are extremely pale, with large eyes and ears, and surprisingly dextrous hands and feet. These features are found on both males and females and it is considered impossible (and also, rude) for outsiders to determine a Dwarf’s gender by sight.

The two main Dwarven settlements are in the Ferros in the North East, and Paladine in the South. Dwarven sub-communities are also common in most surface communities. In Human kingdoms in particular, they are welcomed as merchants, craftsmen, and bankers. Outsiders have difficulty living in Dwarven holds because of the extremes of the environment. While some settlement areas are quite comfortable, and cater to outsiders, the true dimensions of Dwarven holdings cannot be explored by outsiders, and the subject is for some reason taboo.

Dwarves are well suited for their environments, which include the surfaces and interiors of most of the mountains in Elanterra. They are capable of surviving extreme cold and heat, and their senses are extremely sharp.

Dwarves are extremely community minded, often forming large stable households of adults when living on the surface. Dwarven children are not reared in foreign lands, and any pregnant Dwarves are sent with great speed to the nearest homeland. At the same time, they are surprisingly private creatures. They have a strict religious culture which is politely but firmly closed to outsiders. Their patron deity is known by many titles, including “Earth Father,” “Divine Craftsman,” and “Protector.” Some speculate that these are separate gods rather than aspects of the same divine being.

Ferros is the center of Dwarven industry, and the seat of The Mountain King, the terrestrial ruler of all Dwarves. Although Dwarves living on the surface are bound to the laws of whatever settlement they dwell in, they remain subjects of the Mountain King, and are bound by his laws. A strong sense of honor and fair play ensures that both masters are satisfied.

Paladine, a much more temperate settlement built into a volcanic island and stretching an unknown depth underneath the Bay of Storms, is a smaller, settlement, and the center of Dwarven religion. Dwarves will make pilgrimages to Paladine as often as they are able, to give offerings, get advice, or make penances. Paladine is overseen by the Papal seat.

Up until very recently, Dwarves also maintained a stronghold in the Icy Mountains. It is now abandoned, and the reasons for this migration are unknown. Legends of gold-filled ruins draw treasure hunters, and rumors of monsters pouring from the earth draw monster hunters.

In truth, Dwarves live remarkably austere and simple lives. Their value of the community above all makes them dedicated tradesmen, soldiers and laborers. While slander often paints them as usurious, and great lovers of gold and gems, the truth is usually opposite. Dwarves value practical items, particularly wooden objects and fruits and vegetables, which are difficult to obtain in their native lands. Inexperienced Dwarven traders will often pay in pure gold at incredible sums, which may be the source of these legends.

Compiler’s Note: Much is still not fully understood about Dwarven culture. In modern history, Ferros has often come into conflict with neighboring kingdoms over resources, and the result has been a general migration of Dwarves back to the two main Holds. Dwarves are frighteningly efficient militarists, and even claim that they have waged secret wars below the surface for generations. When pressed, they become evasive on the subject, however. Dwarves are honorable but fierce in combat, and their military seems to be exclusively male, although how this can be managed without any visible difference between the sexes is unknown. Due to their extreme modesty, the actual form of a female Dwarf is unknown. Some experts theorize that Dwarves are in fact hermaphroditic. Other experts (and their heirs) have learned that Dwarves respond with extreme violence when this theory is suggested to them. As to the truth of Dwarven anatomy, the outside world may never know.–G.B.

“Elanterra Journal” is a look into the People, Places, and history of the Island of Elanterra, the setting of the Freelance Hunters stories.   “Glory’s Gauntlet,” an ebook collection of four Freelance Hunters stories is available from Amazon and Smashwords.

Elanterra Journal: 003- The Riverfolk

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Riverfolk are an amphibious people who mostly live along the banks of the mighty Cobaltine river in central Elanterra. Riverfolk have an extremely adaptable physiology, which allows them to survive both above and below the surface for long periods of time, but they cannot flourish very far from either environment. Their skin is extremely elastic, and a series of complex muscles allow them to alter their bodies’ shape. On dry land, they are short and squat. Their limbs actually fold in on each other to provide stability. In the water, they can stretch out to move more smoothly through the water. These unique physical properties provide several distinct advantages for the Riverfolk. Other peoples often mistake their reach and strength, which is exceptional.

Riverfolk have adapted their society to life along the river. Settlements typically extend along the banks, right down to and often under the water. In their capital city of Carabos, buildings often have foundations built under the water, and rise from the surface like icebergs. This construction is possible because the Riverfolk have access to a unique building material called ‘concrete’ which allows them to build under the water and construct some of their impressive architectural feats.

Riverfolk society is considered quite incomprehensible to outsiders. Unlike most of the other settlements of the Five Peoples, the Riverfolk organize their society along something they call “The Game.” Attempts to translate this concept to other members of the ancient compact have resulted in failure. The game is not limited to the power struggles and politics that Human nobility and the burgeoning merchant and artisan classes engage in, nor is it strongly linked to organized crime or tribal relationships, as with the Hillfolk and Half-Elves. The Game seems to involve every aspect and facet of daily life. It is a team sport, but exactly how these groups are determined is a mystery to outsiders. Some teams, or Houses, as the term is more often translated, are based on home region, or family, but some families support half a dozen different Houses. While there does seem to be rivalry, at the same time, Houses, or rather members of houses cooperate with one another to accomplish their goals. What these goals are and what they hope to achieve is another situation shrouded in mystery. To casual observation, nothing is out of the ordinary, and the Riverfolk consider prying into the House of someone who is not displaying their affiliation quite rude. A few outsiders have been known to join Houses, but if they have any greater understanding of the game, they are not at liberty to say. As masters of the Great River, as well as Engineers and Magicians, Riverfolk often come into contact with other Peoples. They are fond of saying that all People play the game, but only the Riverfolk know what side they are on. This sentiment, along with their bizarre physical appearance and habits, do not inspire trust in their fellows.

Riverfolk are also notable for spending their winters in hibernation. Towards the end of the year, Riverfolk gather in Carabos for a great festival. Due to unknown, most likely magical means, the lake remains above freezing until the final day, in which every Riverfolk citizen in good standing parades into the waters, which freeze over behind them. It is speculated that they gather in some hidden grotto in Spire Rock, the formation at the center of the lake, but others suggest they simply sleep through the winter. A Riverfolk who misses the gathering is shunned by his people, should he manage to survive the winter.

Compiler’s Note: Riverfolk remain the greatest Engineers and Magicians in all of Elanterra. Their expertise is highly sought, and the Magical Academy of Carabos, which is now open to other peoples, such as myself, is the most respected center of learning on the Island. The Game goes on, as ever.

“Elanterra Journal” is a look into the People, Places, and history of the Island of Elanterra, the setting of the Freelance Hunters stories.   “Glory’s Gauntlet,” an ebook collection of four Freelance Hunters stories is available from Amazon and Smashwords.

Elanterra Journal 002: Humanity

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Humans are simultaneously the most populous and shortest-lived of the Five Peoples living on Elanterra. The reasons for this strange dichotomy deal largely with their social structures and societal norms.

Physically, Humans are taller than most of the other Peoples, ranging from between four and six feet tall. With access to a proper diet, they are the most physically adept as well, at least on dry land. Humans have smaller, more rounded ears, and lack any other distinguishing physical traits. They can be found in settlements of various size throughout Elanterra. As a rule, Humans are opportunistic. If a niche can be found, a Human with find a way to exploit it to survive. Although not necessarily as adept as the other Peoples, Humans farm, raise, fish, hunt, mine, carve, brew, and sell. Other Peoples, particularly Hill and River Folk, often employ Humans as labor.

Humans tend to organize in strict feudal states called ‘Kingdoms.’ These societies are ruled by a supreme executive called a King. In some cases, the royal family rules together, or the Kings power is held in check by a Parliament of nobles, but this isn’t common. The title of King passes by blood from the current ruler to his designated heir, usually the first-born son. Women have very few rights in these Kingdoms, and cannot inherit titles or property. A woman’s inheritance will typically instead fall to her husband or eldest son. There are some rare cases of women ruling as regents or advisors for children too young to take the throne for themselves. Although women have little direct power in these structures, they tend to have the responsibility of managing their husbands houses and affairs, giving them far more influence than expected.

The largest Human Kingdoms are Argonia in the east and Lithia in the southwest. Hydraal is also nominally considered to be a Kingdom, although its political structure is much looser. Its monarchy is considered largely symbolic.

Although the ruling class holds most of the wealth in Human society, they make up a very small percentage of the population. Non-noble Humans are known as Serfs, and they are in some matters considered the legal property of the nobles, who most farmland and hires Serfs on as tenants for a percentage of the harvests. As with the King, these arrangements pass from father to son. In exchange for their labor and service, Human nobles are expected to protect the serfs from monsters, foreign powers (usually other Human nobles) and perform other duties of their station. In cities, or settlements not overseen by a noble family, Humans are considered “Free.”

Humans, particularly serfs, suffer from generally poor conditions and a lack of varied diet. Most Humans consider the magical arts to be taboo, and avoid magical healing. Since there are very few skilled healers that are not magicians, Apothecaries are common in Human lands. Their effectiveness varies. Use of magic, and in some cases being known as a spellcaster is a crime in most Kingdoms, with a variety of punishments. Lithia is the most zealous, with an elite corps of Witch Hunters serving in their military.

Humans worship a stern, authoritative god, called the Divine Emperor. He is often depicted robed in the night sky. He is secretive, and those outside of the nobility and clergy classes are not even privy to his true name. His worship states that Humans are called upon to do the service of their station, with a very few rising to the ranks of the clergy or other specialized vocations. Those that violate the social order are severely punished. As a result, Barbarian tribes and other Humans outside of the traditional social order are often shunned for turning their backs on ‘the chosen people.’

Compilier’s Note: This entry remains pretty accurate. Humans are ruled by kings, who have all the wealth and power, and everyone else stays at the bottom. Humans do much better in the mixed cities, particularly Carabos, where they are a large minority, and consist of most of the surface labor pool. The plight of women in Human society remains particularly bad. Hill and River Folk women traveling or doing business in Human lands are required to travel with a male companion, as a woman traveling alone will likely find herself detained ‘for her own safety.’ Dwarven women, obviously, don’t have this problem. –GB

Elanterra Journal 001: The Grand Isle of Elanterra

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Elanterra, otherwise known as the Grand Isle, the Island of Mystery, and the Sealed Lands, is a large island some 300 miles west of the continent of Surtia. Much like the fabled Five Kingdoms far to the east, storm, remoteness of geography, and other factors have kept the island isolated from the rest of the world for centuries. The Island was a major battleground during the Godswar, and is thought to hold the sealing-place of the Nameless God of the Orcs and wild tribes, many of whom survive on the island. Elanterra is also home to thriving civilizations of Humans, Elves, Dwarves, Hill-folk and River-Folk.

Exact measurements are inexact, but the the Island is estimated to be a landmass of roughly 150,000 square miles, consisting of vast forests, mountain ranges, and plains. The climate is temperate, with hot summers and cold winters, particularly in the northern mountain ranges.

Much of the island’s early history has been lost due to the direct intervention of the Nameless God and his subsequent destruction. The Island is said to have once hosted a shining golden age, when all the peoples lived in peace and cooperation. While intricate and vast ruins remain, little other evidence of these utopian civilizations is left. The exact spot of the Nameless God’s sealing, and that of his dark allies, is also unknown, although adventurers and cultists scour the island looking for them.

Although the Nameless God is lost, gods grant forever, The Surtian Empire has devoted an entire fleet of warships to patrolling the waters around the island. This blockade, combined with the weather, has effectively stopped all but the hardiest of travelers from making the crossing.

While the Golden Age of cooperation between the Five Peoples ended with the war, the treaties that bind them together still function, for the most part. For the most part, their civilizations and kingdoms keep to themselves, although the lowlands in the center of the Island feature many settlements where Dwarves, Humans, and Hill-folk live side-by-side. The Elves maintain their Heartwood, and do not welcome visitors. Half-elves, the scion of ancient pairings between Humans and Elves, are surprisingly common, and can be found in nearly every human city. They usually are treated as an underclass, and have almost no rights or privileges, however. The only place where all five people can be seen rubbing elbows is the great city of Carabos, center of learning, trade, and arts on Elanterra. The River-folk are the original settlers, but due to their unusual nature, all People have access to some sort of education and even governance in the city. The Grand Isle is home to vast wilderness, teaming cities, and untold wonders and magic. This document attempts to reveal just a few of its mysteries.

Compiler’s Note: Much of this short introductory entry remains accurate to this day. Carabos is the center of trade and education on the Island. Border wars have recently begun to flare up, such as the protracted skirmishes between the human kingdom of Argonia and the dwarven capital at Ferros, but the ancient treaties still hold The Elves have retreated even further into their isolation, and do not even maintain a presence at Carabos. No credible tale of Elves appearing outside of their forest borders has been verified in over a century. The reasons for their introversion remain a mystery. –G.B.

“Elanterra Journal” is a look into the People, Places, and history of the Island of Elanterra, the setting of the Freelance Hunters stories.   “Glory’s Gauntlet,” an ebook collection of four Freelance Hunters stories is available from Amazon and Smashwords.

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