The Starless Jungle

General

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The Starless Jungle

Hot, humid, beautiful, dangerous; the Starless Jungle. It's a single gigantic tropical rainforest. It extends from the southern edge of the Great Savannah to the northern border of the Aezrikka Zule. It covers the entire equatorial region. Travelers will find that ships are the easiest way to reach it, because there are no roads that lead to it and going across the Great Savannah is dangerous, while going across the Zule is simply difficult without knowledge of the correct paths or the ability to fly.

This huge biome has the greatest variation of flora and fauna of all Threan lands. Thousands of species live in the shade of the jungle's tall trees. Their canopy is so dense that if one stands on the ground and looks up at night, they won't even be able to see the stars in most places, hence the name. Even during the day the rainforest is rather gloomy and terrifying. The plenty dangerous beasts and plants that live here don't make the place any more inviting to foreigners. Only the native Rizlin tribes and their worshiped Rizkul allies settle there for they have learned to brave the jungle's dangers.

Geography

The Starless Jungle is one of the least mountainous regions of Threa. Most notable are the very hilly, almost mountainous areas that mark the border to the Aezrikka Zule and the Divine Spikes, whose southern third reaches into the Starless Jungle's far eastern areas. Beyond those, there's only a few low mountain ranges and some hilly areas. However, there are also many depressions, such as sinkholes and gorges. These make the terrain uneven and more difficult to traverse. The Maws are a good example for a noteworthy cluster of ravines and sinkholes. Overall, plenty of entrances to Threa's subterranean layer exist; great feeding grounds for Subterra's creatures.

Rainfall is practically a daily occurrence in the Starless Jungle, so plenty bodies of water exist. Many rivers, both wide and narrow, make their path through the rainforest. Many begin in the Divine Spikes or in the Aezrikka Zule, but some also start in the lower mountain ranges and even in the hills. They ensure a continuous supply of water, create swamps and marshes, and are a great habitat for various aquatic lifeforms. While there is a truly great number of lakes, ponds, and streams, none of them are so large that they are particularly noteworthy.

Climate

It's hot and humid in the Starless Jungle, no matter what season it is. Due to being located right on top of the equator, the sun shines hotly upon the rainforest. Thanks to the dense canopy and the presence of permanent water sources, the intense sunlight doesn't end up drying out the ground and the organisms living on it. It's actually rather shady underneath the treetops and thus less hot than it is above them.

Only the rainfall is affected by the seasons. There's a wet and a dry season. During the wet season, it rains every day and sometimes even for a whole day. As a result, the humidity during those times is extremely high; it easily reaches 70-100%. The wet seasons lasts for most of the year, beginning in spring and ending in fall. The rest of the year is taken up by the dry season, during which it rains once every few days. Overall, the rainforest remains humid throughout the entire year and it's always rainy, sometimes more, sometimes less.

Flora and Fauna

Following three adjective describe the vegetation of the Starless Jungle perfectly: Dense, beautiful, deadly. The flora entirely consists of evergreen plants. The rainforest's trees grow extremely tall. Most reach sizes around 100 m (~328 ft), but there are also some ancient giants that grow up to 200 m (~658 ft)! Millennia of having to deal with the plentiful insects of the rainforest and other threats to their wood has caused the trees of the rainforest to evolve a thick bark and dense wood, making them extremely resilient. Together the treetops form a thick canopy that covers almost the entire Starless Jungle, hiding it under a green carpet. The rest of the plant life in the jungle consists of ferns, flowers, shrubs, and bushes. They live in the shade and grow thickest wherever gaps in the canopy allow sunlight to reach the ground. Despite growing in a somewhat shady environment, they're very flashy and colorful. Many of them are also toxic or have some kind of defense mechanism in place to prevent that creatures eat them, or even to eat said creatures. However, most plants are safe and edible. Some carry very delicious and nutritious fruits.

This rich buffet of plant matter allows thousands herbi- and omnivores to thrive in the Starless Jungle, who in turn make it a great hunting ground for carnivores. Families of tiny mammals, winged lizards known as b'tinks, hives of watermelon-sized wasps, solitary titanic snakes; the Starless Jungle is home to them all. Most creatures in the rainforest are invertebrates, reptiles, or avians. Mammals aren't as common in this environment, but they still exist in great variety and numbers.

A few of the most noteworthy beasts are the aforementioned titanic snakes that can constrict even a grown Rizkul with ease, Mazkul and River Azkul that infest the waters, and last but not least the feared Rizkul. These scaled stalkers terrorize the entire jungle, sometimes just for fun. All in all, the Starless Jungle's wildlife is varied, numerous, and quite dangerous. Yet its riches and sights still draw in curious explorers and greedy adventurers.

Bloodslime Fern

This fern doesn't look all that different from common ferns, so only a skilled herbalist can easily find a bloodslime fern. They do this based on the leaf shape and overall appearance. Its leaves are shaped like an elongated heart with a few round incisions along the sides of the leaves. The plant also has purple flowers with fleshy petals, but that isn't the most specific trait either as many plants in the jungle have brightly colored flowers, even purple ones. The petals can be ground into a purple, viscous slime. If this substance is applied to a wound, it assists in stopping the bleeding and healing of the injury. Additionally, it also numbs the area, relieving the pain. Bandages should be used to keep the slime pressed on the wound so it can do its work.

Bloodslime ferns grow only in Starless Jungle and in some rainforests in the valleys of the Aezrikka Zule. It's commonly sought after by the local population to use it on injuries. The Rizlin and Aezkul are well aware of the plants purposes and gather it. Unfortunately, the slime loses its potency rather easily when exposed to air. Hence the Aezkul cultivate small gardens to ensure they have a ready access to it.

Carcass Mushroom

Grown specimen of this mushroom consist of a thin, up to 20 cm (7.8 in) long stem with a large head at the top. The mushroom head is up to 8 cm (3.1 in) tall and shaped like cone. The pointy end of the cone is connected to the stem and the top is flat. The color of the mushroom is a pale white.

It gives off spores that are extremely toxic to the point of being lethal even in small doses. The spores just have to touch a mucous membrane or get into a wound to poison a creature. An afflicted creature will suffer from an agonizing headache and strong nausea which can cause vomiting. It will die from dehydration or from being in so much pain that it's helpless when facing a predator.

Once the victim of the spores died, the surviving spores will begin growing into more carcass fungi. They feed on the corpse of the dead animal. This way of reproduction has led to the mushrooms primarily growing out of carcasses, thus the name. Dead bodies also attract scavengers, such as insects and some bigger creatures. The mushrooms themselves, even the young ones, are as deadly and dangerous as the spores, so if a scavenger accidentally consumes them they will suffer the same fate as the original victim, which ensures the fungus doesn't have to worry about losing corpses to them. In fact the mushroom smells horribly of rotting bodies in the hopes of attracting said scavengers to exploit them for reproductive purposes. Rizkul have become adapted to this technique by instinctively avoiding corpses that have an unnaturally strong smell.

Carcass mushrooms can be found all over the Starless Jungle, but due to its specific way of reproduction it isn't evenly spread out across the rainforest. It is usually found in small clusters. During the rainy season their spread is slowed; the copious rainfall prevents that the spores are blown far and wide. The spores also lose their toxic potency mere seconds after being released, so the dangerous zone around the mushroom is small. However, even the weakened spores can still cause digestive problems and dizziness, when they directly enter the bloodstream. Hence the Rizlin commonly apply them to their arrow tips.

Dreamgiver

This bush has a single trunk of medium thickness. From its top protrude many twigs. The plant reaches a height of up to 1.3 m (4.3 ft). From its branches grow large, fern-like leaves that soak up the bit of sun that shines through the dense canopy. From the thicker branches hang bright yellow bulbs , the dreamgiver berries. They are globular, roughly 3 cm (1.2 in) in diameter, and hang from a short, thin stem. The plant purposefully lets these berries dry out, causing their skins to become taut. After a while, the berry is ready to burst. Roughly brushing against it causes it to rip open and release particles into the air.

When inhaled, these particles induce strong hallucinations. This strong high makes the affected creature unable to do anything but lie on the ground and experience imagined visions. Some animals seek the plant to purposefully get themselves high, but most avoid this plant altogether, because being drugged makes them vulnerable to predators. In fact there is one specific, rather unusual predator who has made this plant its symbiotic partner; it's a gigantic sloth, simply called nightmare by the Rizlin. It slowly moves through fields of dreamgivers, getting covered in their psychoactive dust. This doesn't trouble the nightmare, because it's immune to it. The dust even protects it from foes, because they will become drugged if they take a breath near it. When the beast comes across a drugged animal it just slowly begins eating it. It doesn't even bother to kill its prey first. The victim wont even notice its flesh is being feasted on and will continue to experience strong hallucinations until it dies from blood loss. Whatever rests the sloth leaves behind enriches the ground nearby the dreamgiver with nutrients.

A few of the dreamgiver's bulbs also contain seeds. When the bulbs pop they simply spread the seeds across the land nearby. This means that dreamgivers plants grow in natural occurring fields that can easily span a few hundred square meters. These clusters grow all over the Starless Jungle and almost all of them are inhabited by the giant sloths.

The nightmare sloths aren't the only ones who make use of the dreamgivers and their berries. Rizlin very, very carefully harvest the not just yet ripe bulbs and let them dry out in the sun somewhere safe, then make them pop on purpose when they are in a safe place to enjoy the ecstasy it brings. Daring adventures also gather the berries to sell them back home for exorbitant prices. It's quite popular in the Sokan Empire.

Wrathherb

This herb looks similar to parsley. It grows up to 75 cm (30 in) tall. When it reaches maturity, it develops small, red bulbs in its stems. These contain small, round seeds; their diameter isn't bigger than a few millimeters. The bulbs are edible and look rather inviting. Birds commonly eat them, but they don't manage to digest the seeds. Hence they expel them with their feces, spreading the seeds and thus the wrathherbs around.

A red powder can be won by grinding the seeds of the wrathherb. It's called rage powder because it has two interesting properties when snorted: It dulls pain and it makes one incredibly aggressive, bloodthirsty even. It's possible to distill the powder into an even higher concentrated liquid, called wrath strike. If wrath strike gets into the bloodstream of a creature, it afflicts it with utter aggression and even hallucinations. Weak minded creatures may even end up attacking close friends and family members without hesitation.

Wrathherb grows everywhere in the Starless Jungle. Rizlin commonly use rage powder to turn their warriors into unbeatable killers who can't feel pain and won't back down, while they use wrath strike to terrorize intruders. Little is worse than having to harm or even kill your friends because they want to do the same to you in their drug-induced rage.

Natural Resources

The Starless Jungle extremely rich in natural resources, both of the organic and mineral kind. It's one gigantic, bountiful hunting ground for those willing to hunt in it, and willing to risk ending up as the prey. Many predators of the jungle would even consider an armed group of lin a potential target. Most game is of small to medium size. Only if one is willing to go after Rizkul, gigantic snakes, or similar will one be able to acquire large game, if at a high risk. The various huge insects are also a great source of protein, as are the fat fish in the rivers. Fishing is great here, but one must be cautious and look out for Mazkul and other aquatic predators.

Vegetarians can also find plenty to eat in the Starless Jungle. Dozens kinds of fruits are available in the rainforests, but one has to be careful because plenty of them are poisonous. Wild potatoes and mushrooms also grow here. There are plenty of useful herbs and plants, too; some of which are detailed in the section above. Many have medical uses, can be used to treat various diseases or at least their symptoms, while others are toxic and can be used to poison others. Many plants in the jungle also have recreational uses. From relaxants to hallucinogens, all kinds of drugs grow here. Unfortunately, the especially strong ones can quickly lead to addictions.

Agriculture is nonexistent in the Starless Jungle. The forest is very dense, so most land would have to be cleared first before it can be utilized. The ground is very fertile and many of the native plants could be cultivated, so the potential for farming is certainly there. Animal husbandry has less potential in the jungle, because most of the fauna isn't suitable as livestock.

Naturally, the rainforest can be exploited for wood. The sturdy bark and resilient wood of the native trees make them perfect for timber. They're also adapted to a rainy climate, so their wood is very resistant to moisture and rough conditions, which makes it perfect for outdoor usage and weapons. Apart from wood, settlers trying to build in the Starless Jungle can also exploit the plentiful clay as building material. Stone is also not all that difficult to acquire due to the various canyons, gorges, and hilly regions. Limestone, slate, and granite would be the most commonly quarried rocks. Currently, no one exploits the wood or stone of the Starless Jungle on a large scale. The Riz tribes don't require a lot of wood for their humble homes.

If it weren't for the thick overgrowth, it would be possible to rather easily find veins of various metals nearby the surface, even without having to dig. Across the entire jungle deposits of tin, lead, copper, and iron. There are especially rich iron veins in the southern tip of the Divine Spikes. Gold and silver deposits can be found in a few places as well, if only in small amounts.

Known Locations

Most of the points of interest in the Starless Jungle are natural. Gorges, craters, clearings overgrown with flowers whose scents caress the nose, huge hives build by giant bugs, fantastic birds who sing wonderful songs, the rainforest has a lot to see for travelers who dare set foot into it. Not all sights are beautiful, some are quite gruesome. Rizlin often let the corpses of their enemies hang from trees or make totems out of them as a warning to others. Sometimes the jungle is also not filled with song, but with the wicked, terrifying calls of the Rizkul.

Artificial sights are far less impressive and common. Currently, no advanced civilization exists in the Starless Jungle, so it's impossible to find towns, cities, or similar. At most one might find a Riz village, but that's rather difficult because the population density is very low. Most of the land is wild and even the territories of the tribes are mostly untamed and quite dangerous. Interestingly, while there are no living, grand civilizations in the Starless Jungle, there are traces of dead ones. Ruins of temples, castles, even small cities can be found in the rainforest, hidden under thick layers of plants and guarded by predators who made the once great structures their lairs. Treasures and interesting artifacts could be hidden within the ruins, but few dare to explore them. Some Riz tribes believe these places to be cursed and avoid them thus.

Natural Locations
Divine Spikes

The Divine Spikes are a ridge of mountains that spans from the Starless Jungle all the way into the core of the Great Savannah. The two regions share the mountain range, but not evenly. Roughly two-thirds of it lie in the Great Savannah, the rest lies in the Starless Jungle. It has been created by the collision of the plate of the Secret Sanctuary and the rest of the north, so by the folding of land and the eruption of volcanoes. Two ores that can be commonly found in the Divine Spires are iron and gold. The former can be primarily found in the southern reaches, the latter in the very, very north.

The mountains are massive and there's valleys and canyons in between them. In the south, these valleys are filled with rainforests, in the north they covered in subtropical forests and even further north in grasslands. The Divine Spikes see a lot of rain coming from the nearby ocean, so they're more humid than the lands west of them, which they grant rain shadow. Overall, the Divine Spires are rather lively, offering countless homes to various Riz tribes, Wolshak packs, and of course thousands of beasts, both large and small.

Nearby Riz tribes named the mountains; they they are the spikes jutting out of the back of a creature that's sleeping deep beneath the surface. One day that beast will awaken and bring destruction to the land, unless the Rizlin worship it, feed it, keep it sated and sleepy. They sacrifice meat to it, even people, by throwing them into volcanoes or cracks in the stone. Yet the volcanoes still erupt, which obviously means the destroyer of worlds craves more!

There was once instance in history, more than a thousand years ago, when multiple volcanoes erupted. The ground trembled, rainforest was burnt away by freely flowing lava, and debris rained down as fiery death. Most tribes saw this as a reason to sacrifice more. Some even began sacrificing each other, thinking that only the blood and flesh of Rizlin will pacify it. Another tribe, a singular one, believed there was no way to calm the beast down. The tremors were so terrible, the fires so hungry; the tribe had to leave and find a safer world. The decision was sealed when their Rizkul matriarch was smashed by a piece of volcanic hurled at her by another eruption. Clearly, all deities had abandoned and forgotten them.

The shaman, assisted by a new matriarch, led his people northward. This is the only known time that Rizlin and -kul as they're known nowadays have left the Starless Jungle. Having no idea how to properly navigate while on long journeys, they simply followed the shore of the Eternal Bay, keeping it on their right. First they entered the subtropical forests of the Great Savannah. Their journey took a great toll on them. They weren't used to the land; predators and Wolshaks attacked them. Naturally the Rizkul did their best to defend their matriarch and her subjects, but they took losses. Trezkul were the worst. Acid scared them off usually, but some were daring, struck those who strayed too far from the group or picked them off from the skies. More and more Rizkul died on the tribe's march until they finally reached the Forest Lands.

A terrible incident took place there. The group was attacked by a pack of Wolshaks; the furred savages wanted to slay the unusual kul, turn them into trophies! They succeeded. They killed off the last Rizkul, even the matriarch. The Rizlin were put in such distress that they fled the fight, leaving the last few fighting males Rizkul behind. Headless and desperate, they just continued northward.

Hunger set in. Without the Rizkul hunting was much more difficult and the Rizlin couldn't forage as much in the Forest Lands as they could in the Starless Jungle. One fateful day they were attacked by a Trezkul. Instead of fighting it, the hungry Rizlin threw themselves into the dirt and prayed. They pleaded that this mighty creature, whose kin has managed to kill Rizkul before, allowed them to remain alive. Of course the Trezkul didn't understand a word, but lucky for the Rizlin this Trezkul was one of the smart ones. He understood that the Rizlin submitted to him, so he made them his servants and the Rizlin settled down. The community grew, mingled with Trezlin. This is how the Drivek and the followers of Yggrax came to be.

The Maws

The Maws are a cluster of large chasms in the ground, which are in the western half of the Starless Jungle, near the Aezrikka Zule. They are between 10 to 1200 m (33 - 3950 ft) long and up to 5 to 200 m (16 - 660 ft) wide. Most of them are so deep that they reach into Threa's underground caverns. The deepest ones reach roughly 3 km (1.9 mi) in depth. All the rifts are parallel to each other, going from west to east. Their walls have a rocky, jagged surface, and some feature natural caves and tunnels. It's possible to climb the cliffs, but only advised to do so for experienced climbers. At the bottom of a Maw one either finds an ecosystem adapted to little sunlight or a lake. There's a few rivers that end in some of the Maws, filling them with water, feeding various subterranean rivers and lakes.

Local flora and fauna have completely claimed the Maws. Vines and similar plants grow along the walls and many animals, especially birds, use the tunnels and rock outcroppings as nesting grounds and homes. The lakes at the bottoms of some Maws are teeming with fish.

Multiple Riz tribes live around the Maws, but not because of the gold. They see the Maws as sacred places where one may sacrifice various things to appease the jungle spirits, or whatever else they may believe in. With religious vigor, the local Rizlin throw gifts to their deities down the Maws, 'feeding' them to make sure they do not hunger for the flesh of Rizlin. They believe the spirits are especially happy if they are fed with the flesh of lin and kul, as long as they are not Rizkul, so they're rather hostile to intruders. Naturally all the Rizlin are doing is feeding the fishes and underground beasts that live at the bottom of the holes.

One of the Maws' larger rifts has walls that are lined with numerous, rich gold veins, which reflect the sunlight when it shines down the hole at the right angle. The glimmering reflections are a rather pretty sight. Accessing the gold is difficult due to their location and the various critters that have made the Maws their home.