“Like death, the dryness is not something you think about frequently, it is only inevitable.”
~ Goldmage Lamar Lythadros
Your lips are dry. Your lips are always dry. The entire world is thirsty, and has always been thirsty – thirsty and cold – for as long as you have known. But, the elders in your province have recently declared the final harvests of Soun – the cold season. They claim that, soon the scorching season of Rhan will begin and last for the rest of your life. You’ve heard many stories about how Rhan will transform the world, but part of you doesn’t believe these stories any more than you believe in the clever talking animals and wish-granting fairies that your grandparents promised when you were young, but which you have obviously never encountered. Thus far, you have lived only in Soun.
The Dragons live longer, through seasons of both cold and heat, but they sleep for half of their lives, slumbering through every Soun, trading off with the Azure Direwolves who hunt in Soun and bury themselves deeply to wait out the heat of Rhan. Many other animals do similarly, waiting in eggs or stasis or disappearing entirely until their preferred season returns.
The intelligent peoples: humans, halflings, asherati, and bhuka live in both climates. And they too seem to have evolved to the patterns of the world – as the gods gift many more babes with the fire spark (redmages) as Soun approaches and with hands of healing (whitemages) and growth (greenmages) before Rhan when any skill that fights the parching heat is desperately needed. But as much as the gods seem to know what we need, there are always too few water-blessed-mages (goldmages) to go around. A village blessed with two in one season is considered a miracle. A village unblessed either pays heavily for the help of another nearby, or disbands and diffuses among those luckier. And, although few talk about it openly, all know that it is becoming even harder for small provinces as the four kingdoms call for dozens of goldmages every period, rarely from towns that can spare them.
Scholars say that the Ancients didn’t seem to face the great challenges of thirst and fickle climate, or maybe the Ancients were simply so great themselves that such problems were solved as an afterthought to the creation of their cities and arts. The giant city skeletons, while still magnificent, have long been stripped clean for anything of value: jewelry, stoneware, and often even the stonework itself.
Preserved works of art and scrolls depict that the Ancients had powerful magics: magics that could hold cities suspended in the air, that could summon great creatures from other worlds, and terrible magics of destruction used in the devastating wars depicted in murals covering the walls of ruined palaces. While the written language of the Ancients has not been translated, much has been extracted from drawings, structures, and tools they left behind. That which was scavenged from the Ancients’ ruins has aided technology in many ways, but not with our most pressing needs: water and protection from the harsh climate and temperamental weather. In fact, in this way, the remains of the Ancients’ seem only to mock us.
What we need are maps: maps of the land and skies and stars, where metals are buried, and underground water, more precious than iron. But the leather maps found in the Ancients’ cities are good for nothing (not even fire starting as most seem somehow spelled against destruction). They depict mountains where there are valleys, planes where there are treacherously angled peaks, and large bodies of priceless water where everyone knows too well that there are only endless deserts swallowing a handful of desperate and foolish dowsers every season. And no ancient map shows The Edge.
You’ve seen a portion of The Edge, all children are taken to see it after the turn of their twelfth annum, and you could hardly believe how long the dog they threw took to hit the bottom. The Edge is said to go on forever, in a circle surrounding all four kingdoms and all known lands. Many people think that the black ground beyond The Edge swallowed up the Ancients, or that, like lemmings, a great panic struck all of their people and they flooded over the cliffs. Who knows – any guild bard can tell more stories of how the ancients disappeared then there are nights to sing. Sometimes they say that the Ancients angered one of the Great Gods who struck them from existence. Sometimes they claim that the Ancients bickered amongst themselves, finally fighting an epic war to end all wars which none survived. Sometimes they sing that the Ancients simply evaporated along with all water on the surface of the world.