Illus. ‘The Outer Wall’
I n other areas of the stronghold, internal walls and stony outcroppings act as natural windbreakers against the bite of cold air. No such terrain protects the largest and poorest district of the stronghold, where the wind carries snow over and against the south wall to form large snow banks and give the Drifts its name. It’s no surprise that this place, underdeveloped and unprotected by climate, is home to the poorest of the stronghold’s residents. Powerful families don’t make their homes in the Drifts, and seasoned warriors from Dorrhusk don’t proudly patrol the winding, haphazard avenues of makeshift homes here. Still, there is a pecking order here; the oldest kind, a hierarchy of strength and a kind of primal cunning, the ability and desire to impose order only so far as to ensure the tenacious survival of one’s own household.
The Drifts are pockmarked by tall posts, upon which whale oil lamps hang sputtering weakly or, more often than not, lightless entirely. The presence of many citizens living pressed together in an area with poor waste management mixes with the intense sulfuric odor of the district’s hot springs to create a nigh-overwhelming olfactory assault.
Geysers and Hot Springs
The social hierarchy of the Drifts is a constant battle for position around the area’s natural geysers and hot springs–or more accurately, the ground around them that is warmed with geothermal heat. The strongest family groups control the ground surrounding hot spring pools, fiercely defending their claim to the warmest and safest places in the Drifts. Families and other groups constantly go through a cycle of alliance and betrayal as they attempt to attain or maintain a position near the hot spring clusters.
Just as warm but much more dangerous are the collection of geysers pockmarking the area around the district. As with the hot springs, the geothermal heat warms the ground and is a precious boon to survival in the Drifts. Unlike the calm hot springs, the geysers send up scalding columns of water and steam, making living next to them a dangerous affair. Residents must be wary of these scalding waters whenever they are outside their homes, and the water that falls onto their homes and freezes requires consistent upkeep to clear. Despite these dangers, the enormous benefits of the ground’s natural heat lead to competition just as fierce as the fight for the ground around the hot springs.
The near-lawless and volatile nature of life in the Drifts leaves many desperate for a reprieve. Shamans, priests, and other spiritual guides of varying faiths and beliefs establish shrines to serve the community–and sometimes themselves. Cynical residents of the Drifts are quick to point out how many of these shrines and their resident priests have conveniently established themselves on the banks of hot springs. Still, the people of various faiths find comfort in the presence of these shrines and believe they act as a moral center in a chaotic and sometimes violent part of the stronghold.
Location: The Drifts
Race: Welkyn (female)
Defining Trait: Colorful shaman headpiece made of feathers, fur and bones.
One of the oldest shamans living in the Drifts is Arkti M’bakta, though she would be the first to call herself by her local nickname, ‘Feathers.’ Once just another citizen fighting trying to scrape out a living in this district, Arkti experienced a personal revolution and found herself wishing to serve others. Arkti went to the hot springs; not to fight for position, but to offer to assist others in washing and grooming themselves. For the past sixty years, Arkti has spent every day at the hot springs serving others by assisting them with personal hygiene, taking a special interest in those who are old or injured and cannot do so themselves. The community of the Drifts give her donations of food and other supplies and have built a tiny home right on the edge of the hot springs to accommodate her. Arkti’s kind spirit has touched the hearts of even some of the most aloof or derisive citizens, and there would be brutal retribution for anyone who dared to harm her.
Seemingly the only permanent structure in the Drifts, the Suntower is a poorly constructed but serviceable stone tower located in the approximate center of the district. The gaps between the stone blocks are packed with snow, acting as insulation for the tower’s two residents who live in a cramped room on the ground floor. A ladder ascends two stories to a wooden trapdoor and the covered tower roof, under which is hung a large metal gong. The gong is rung once at twilight and twice at nightfall. The tower keepers are volunteers who essentially serve lifetime appointments and command polite respect in the community.
The residents of the Drifts use the Suntower as an important physical and social landmark; in a district with the ever-changing layout, asking to meet “by the Suntower” is the most reliable method of navigation. The tower’s two gong signals also serve as a kind of social truce; the time between twilight and nightfall is a sacred time in the Drifts, the last chance for its residents to secure lodging, fire, food, and warmth before the bitter cold of the night. There’s an unspoken social contract in the Drifts that hostilities are put on hold when the first gong sounds, remembered by a popular saying: “In the morning, no one can tell which frozen corpse won.”
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