MOSNOLL AND ERONIT
by Chris Wayan, 2004
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The great plains west of the Eamet Ocean are Serrana's heartland. Readjust your senses for subtlety; here, water and groundcover define the land, not the exuberant verticality of the mountainous north. I've covered that region elsewhere: the Sa Rethen Mts, the highest range on the planet (except for a couple of Martian-sized volcanoes in the south), behind which sprawls the Rakach Plateau, as big as Tibet, but greener--high, cold pastureland. To the west is the similar Yanneba Plano, and at the mountains' feet the semi-arid Yanneba Valley runs down to the Nede, an Everglades bigger than Florida.
We'll start a bit south of the Nede, at the mouth of the Mosnoll River, on Sosna Gulf. This tongue of the Eamet Ocean is big enough to be a sea of its own, really--9-10 million sq km (4 mil sq mi). The capes forming its wide mouth, Ynlor and Tsethuas, each have island chains larger than Japan. The Sosna shore is lush--hot, but not tropical in the Terran sense, for Serrana's eccentric orbit and lack of axial tilt create a torrential monsoon summer and a mild, drier (but not rainless) winter in Sosna Rainforest. The result's warmer and wetter than Terran monsoon forests but drier and more seasonal than our tropical rainforests. This climate is common on Serrana's equatorial coasts.
Sosna Wood and the Larrotil Shore south of it are the ancestral home of the tree-squid. In the bayous along the shore, an octopus-like mollusk with six legs and three clever eyes was tempted into forays up the buttresses and trunks of the mangrovish trees, into the canopy. The species learned to breathe air, and slowly turned arboreal. Today it fills a niche much like apes on Earth. To grasp branches, the tentacle-tips split like the tip of an elephant's trunk; six "digits" became twelve. But these aren't mere molluscoid apes. They've acquired tools, fire, and speech. Their language is pictographic: color glyphs rippling over their skin--biological animation! Chromatophores in their skin, originally used for camouflage--a neat example of evolutionary opportunism. Perhaps because they think in pictures, squid are drawing and painting masters--unrivaled concision, abstraction, design. They print half the books on Serrana, though the Planians do compete, since squid literature isn't to everyone's taste: squid go for baroque.
Most of their diet is fruit, nuts (cracked in their powerful parrot-beaks), leaf buds, and insects, but they net pseudobirds in trees and fish in the bayous. Rather than clear the forest for agriculture, they merely altered the balance toward fruit and nut trees they favored; today, the warmer woods around the Eamet Ocean may look wild to the untrained eye, but they're huge, haphazard orchards. Well, haphazard to a human eye--we evolved as vertical beings on a horizontal plain, and to this day, right-angled grids are the order we look for--there's an emotional, evolutionary reason we call that angle "right"! Squid orchards use wrong angles--densely interlocked radial meshes.
I'm not saying they're better. Squid get uncomfortable in houses with corners, despite their storage-efficiency--if we're boxed into a way of thinking, they too are, uh, netted...
Squid were originally solitary, but the advantages of technology pushed them into small villages. Socialization is incomplete; squid remain rather feline. To be alone, a squid just climbs high into the trees and meditates, swinging from the branches. It's the height (so to speak) of rudeness to address a treetop squid, and many an over-eager raptor or taurlope trader has gotten inked. The Sepia Fool has become an archetype transcending species, and is a staple of Serranian theater.
Superb actors, mimics, dancers, and musicians--just not singers. A soft hooting is their only voice. But their didgeridoos, hollowed by deft tentacles, have multiple resonators and sound holes, playing not just melodies but chords. Trap-harps, complex radial stringed instruments, derive from spidery trapnets, just as human stringed instruments derive from bows. Trunk-drums are so big they're played by ricocheting around inside. The slam-dancing involved gives trunk drummers a perhaps undeserved reputation for insanity...
UP THE MOSNOLL
Let's head up the muddy Mosnoll. 800 km inland, the Sosna forest opens to patchy savanna, and in the next 600 km the glades thin to strips along the river. Between winding tributaries, dry golden veldt stretches another 1000 km to the feet of the Mosnoll Range, where the river arises from glaciated Andean peaks up to 7 km high (23,000 ft). To the north and south, the mountains widen like the Andes around Lake Titicaca, forming two cool, grassy "planos" 3-4 km high, where cameloid Planians grow high-altitude crops and weave blankets of their own fur. Beyond, to the west, is much drier land: in the south, the red, desolate Senim Basin; to the north beyond lonely Senim Tholus (a desert Ararat 5 km high) is the Mosnoll Zee, a brackish lake larger than the Aral Sea, ringed by marshes. Beyond are more ranges, basins and inland seas reminiscent of Central Asia, growing greener again near the shore of the Aburros Sea. This is the real Serrana--vast inlands hovering between desert and veldt, as the climate teeters from Terran to Martian and back.
But the Mosnoll Basin itself never teeters far--from dry savanna to mixed prairie and open woods. Warm, fairly dry yet fertile, it's the heartland and evolutionary cradle of Serrana's most ubiquitous species:
Taurlopes are gracile, rather cheetah-like centauroids common on veldts around Serrana. They have somewhat equine heads, manes and tails, but kangaroolike mid- and rear paws instead of hooves, and four-digit hands. Taurlopes are far more lightly built than horses--more like antelopes, as the name suggests. Coats vary greatly, from spots to stripes to plain, by region and tribe. Originally strict herbivores, with two stomachs and a lengthy gut, and still able to digest cellulose with their second stomach (and the poorer tribes must); but tool use has increased their intake of fruit, leaves, buds, bugs and fish.
Shy, nervous, temperamental, beautiful and very aware of it, prone to religious visions and ecstasy, fond of poetry, song, stories, music, dancing, sex, or all the above at once.
Be warned that taurlopes kick if teased.
Taurlopes were historically wary of raptors and somewhat patronizing to squid; but liberal taurlopes are now common in racially mixed communities. Their slender build is made for heat dispersion; while ubiquitous in low latitudes, they leave the highlands and tundra and cool north woods to others.
On Serrana, life's conquest of the land had two-phases, and many animals only manage half. Almost all early land creatures emerge into rainforest or swamp. But most of Serrana is grassland and desert. Species who linger by the shores and in tropical forests stay regional, but those who step out of the trees can spread worldwide. True, it's a tough veldt out there--you face creatures that might as well be from different planets.
Eventually, some marginal tree-squid (literally so: on the dry, patchy forest-margin) take the chance. Leathery, sun-tolerant forms step onto the savanna... as we did. Just as we lost our black fur in the hot sun, they lose their chromatophores--hides thicken to prevent sunburn. Unable to form full-color pictographs on their new skin, they develop a gestural sign language. After all, hexapi have free limbs to talk with while still walking and carrying tools and kids in other arms. Far simpler than investing in specialized nerves and muscles to refine their soft hooting into speech. Tree-squid, like apes, don't allot a fixed number of legs for propulsion versus manipulation. Hexapi have specialized, but unlike humans, hexapi limbs are a spectrum from delicate to sturdy. No two are identical. A limb for every purpose--like a living Swiss Army knife!
They're still close cousins to tree-squid, as close as humans are to gorillas. But you'd never mistake them for their arboreal cousins--they're lanky, leathery, tall. Instead of six radial arms they have three lower "legs" with cartilaginous stiffeners--rubbery "bones"--and tough pads at the tips. Three more delicate upper arms have longer fingers. Their leathery skin is mostly covered by small pebbly calcium "scales"--almost snakeskin. This new skin can't change color or form pictographs; hexapi speak in signs.
They still like shade; one of their first inventions was the parasol, and they often wear bright-colored wraps against sun and wind. They rainbathe, drinking rain through their skin. They can swim, though not far; their calcium armor weighs them down. Most tribes have hairy topknots doubling as sunshades and flyswatters. Top-tails, basically, changing from brown to blonde to green to match the seasonal grass-colors (camouflage when splayed out on a hunt).
Some "hands" stayed relatively sensitive, others grew thicker armor, for fighting and heavy tool use. Hexapi handled fire early (for they could pick up hot coals in their toughest tentacle) and thus never suffered serious losses to raptors. They adopted a more carnivorous diet than their forest cousins as they learned cooperative hunting; though they still excel at bird-snaring and streamfishing. Root-digging led to basic agriculture, possibly the first on Serrana. Many warmweather crops are Hexapian.
Their habitat today? From open forest to wide, dry veldt. Common on coastal islands too. They feel short of breath in mountains and dried-up in deserts, and aren't fond of snow. Still, they can be found on 60% of the land surface, though never in huge numbers.
A hexapi lifestyle? So variable it's impossible to generalize! In this regard they're perhaps the most human of Serranians, under the skin. Hexapi are both settled and nomadic; farmers, traders, travelers. Builders, burrowers, or tribes passing lightly as clouds over the grass, carrying only their beloved parasols.
TO THE SOUTH
The Larrotil Shore is the long green subtropical west coast of the Eamet Ocean, between the Tsethuas Islands and the equatorial forests of Sosna. Hilly, with short rivers. The woods are mostly tree-squid orchards, but mixed farm villages of hexapi and taurlopes dot the opener areas.
Inland is Eronit Prairie. This great plain is something like the central USA--warm and wooded near the sea, thinning steadily to harsher grasslands, where half the precipitation is from summer thunderstorms (some of it hail), and the other half blizzards from Thuas Shore to the south, as the American high plains get Canadian blizzards.
In the north, taurlopes dominate the warmer Eronit Valley. They find winters in the southern plains too harsh. This prairie is dry, but never desert: the Eronit Range is lower than the Mosnolls further inland, but it's further from the equator too, and is equally snowy. Meltwater from the Pedess and Eronit Planos runs down across the plain in even the driest summers, sustaining hexapi farmers in the riverbottoms, and raptor ranchers on the high plains.
Raptors are small ornithischian dinosaurs--hot-blooded, bipedal, long-tailed. They're viviparous, with marsupial pouches--basically, fierce, feathered kangaroos! Omnivorous hunters; in ancient times, their prey probably included taurlopes, but when lopes adopted spears and fire too, this became costlier than trade. Raptors now ranch small nonsentient taurs and roosaurs for meat and eggs.
Historically, these were warrior cultures obsessed with honor, status, pecking order, and duels for mates. Raptors look fierce, but today they're fairly safe to visit: modern honor requires them not to bite other species. Siblings, though...
Being the most carnivorous people on Serrana, raptors were the only skilled butchers, flayers, furriers and tanners. Appetite and simple curiosity about innards have led them to develop the sciences of anatomy and surgery. Raptors know more about, say, Planian internal anatomy than that gentle, squeamish people do themselves! Herbivores like Planians and taurlopes aren't stupid or reluctant to learn; they just faint.
Raptor art is body art: leatherwork, featherwork, the flirtatious bone-flute dance in which headcrest and tail semaphore emotional nuance in a language as stylized as a Japanese lady's fan.
Where else do they live? Around the world in desert, veldt, or open woods. A dense-feathered subspecies called featherballs has even settled the cool, dark conifer forests of Yelav Narg Basin far to the south, and the similar Thron Shore half a world away--possibly because no one else wants them. This subspecies might well settle in mountain forests, too, but raptors don't like thin air. They evolved quite indepedently of the other vertebrate peoples on Serrana (their four-limbed plan isn't a hexapodal design with two lost limbs; they evolved from a different sea). Though raptor blood uses an iron-based molecule to transport oxygen, it's somewhat less efficient than the hemoglobin analogue the centauroids all use. It works better than the copper-based blood of tree-squid and hexapi, but not as well as the quite different iron-based molecule the crustacean-derived "mammoth" species uses. (Confused? That's Serrana for you. Four independent oxygen transport systems--and that's just among the people we've met.) What's it mean? Raptor blood's very efficient at low altitudes, but they fail to adapt to thin air, forever feeling weak and shaky--and for a raptor, weakness is worse than death.
PEDESS AND ERONIT PLANOS
Like the Mosnoll Mountains to the north, the Eronit Range widens into two large alpine plateaus: cool grassy islands above the deserts. Temperate, and much rainier than the Andean Altiplano, Pedess and Eronit Plano are the heartland for a high-altitude cousin of the taurlope: Planians.
Perhaps a hundred thousand years ago, cameloid relatives of the modern taurlope strayed into the high planos from Mosnoll and Eronit Veldt, and speciated into the Planians: shorter, rounder, like centauroid llamas or vicuñas. Their chief glory is their long warm fur, golden and fluffy. They shed annually, collecting and weaving their wool into goods prized all over Serrana. An amiable, easygoing, hardy, stubborn people, planians are far calmer than their high-strung relatives the taurlopes, for they had few natural enemies--raptors can't keep up in thin air.
The Planian heartland is on the four planos east of the Tsud Desert: Mosnoll, Pedess, Eronit, and Reppok. In recent gentler times, they've spread north to Yanneba Plano, and the huge Rakach Plateau.
They're mostly farmers; Serrana's temperate crops are mostly Planian. Superb weavers, rivaling squid. Planians pioneered writing, books, murals, and large sculptures. Fond of loud color, fur-dyes and cosmetics--camels love lipstick!
And music: story-ballads with shifting keys and chords, like a rap-folk-symphonic fusion, or whalesong. The huge woodwinds played at festivals send players into a hyperventilation trance; their visions guide villages. So Planian politicians all play the rowissog to give their visions authority. Of course most play it very badly, although (as with bagpipes) I'm not sure a non-Planian could tell; that endless droning honk sounds pretty maddening. Psychotic foghorns! Just what we need...
To the south of the Planian heartland rises the Reppok Range: high, massive east-west mountains widening into the southernmost plano in the world. This one's a cool windy sea of alpine grass; Planians live along the streams and nomadic mammoths graze the licheny heights. Unlike Earth's altiplano, below is no Amazon, no ocean, just steep, thinly forested slopes dropping to desert--indeed the Reppok Basin to the north, cut off from sea winds all around, is about the driest on Serrana. It's part of The Tsud: a near-Martian desert spanning half the southern hemisphere, some 45 million square km (18 million sq mi, as big as Eurasia), or one-eighth of Serrana's surface. It frays into dry veldt at its fringes. The Tsud has its good side: Serrana's small, stagnant, cut-off seas are surprisingly fertile because the Tsud dumps much more nutrient-laden dust into them than the Sahara drops into our seas.
Beyond the mountains is the Yelav Narg River: a long, east-flowing stream draining the steppes and tundra between the Reppok Range and the South Polar Cap. The west end is desert, the middle reach is steppe, but the lower river flows through dark, dense pine and spruce woods. This is the Thuas Shore--the cool green southwest coast of the Eamet Ocean. Winters can be snowy here; Thuas is seasonal hardwood forest like New England. It's an undramatic land--no great Martian peaks, no desert canyons, no weird planos--just a quiet forest as big as the eastern US... and much like that land was, in precolumbian days. Its inhabitants are mostly featherballs, the cool-weather subspecies of raptor--tropical raptors say they look like mops. These dense woods are just too claustrophobic for other people--except squid, and they hate snow.
To the north, on Cape Tsethuas, the milder climate allows a much lusher perennial hardwood mix approaching rainforest. Rainy, with muggy summers and cool but mostly frostfree winters, Tsethuas is like Carolina or southern Japan. Rich, perennial broadleaf woods, broken only by a few meadows, cover the land.
Offshore is Tsethuas, the largest island in the world, bigger than Borneo. Beyond it, the windy Tsethuas Chain crosses the Eamet Ocean all the way to Cape Leas--narrow, lonely isles scarcely bigger than Crete or Sicily (well, except Tsomrettu, a good 500 km long). Featherball fishing villages line the more sheltered southern shores, but that's all--too cold for squid or taurlopes, and the dense woods make Planians claustrophobic. Culturally, they're parochial and backward--like any monoculture! Like Earth.
I'll end here--windy, cool, lonely isles like Tsomrettu are the very opposite of warm, crowded Mosnoll and Eronit. Even the featherballs of Tsomrettu know it. The name translates as something like "Furthest" or "Loneliest." I'd rather go back and dance and make a general fool of myself at the Mosnoll Solstice Fair, and so would most Serranians--of any species.
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