I fled through the caverns as a thousand generations of my ancestors did. Each step was a new kind of pain at the end of my journey. Up, up, up I sprung, the spring in my step, honed by a hundred generations of flight from the depths the only thing keeping me ahead of the predators. Two there were: one with a beak as strong as a five men’s axes, and the other with a mouth full of knives. Around corners I fled them, over ledges, under the great bur-shrooms, and past the clouds of spores on the tunnel winds. When at last their rhythmic steps in pursuit turned to rapid strikes and they fought behind me, I turned, gathering the last of the stones my father had prepared for me. I held it tight, just as he said to do, and I waited.
The sharp-beaked was the first to land a great blow: its beak tore a great rend in the knife-mouthed’s back, and spilled the blood for the fungi of the room. But it was not yet knife-mouth’s undoing, for it too had one last spring in its step. With a motion near-impossible for my eyes to follow, a great clawed foot slammed against the side of the sharp-beaked. A growl and a squawk followed, and then, a vulnerable throat exposed, the knife-mouthed dived for the kill. Its mighty jaws tore the beak from its neck, and the body followed the head to the ground. Then the knife-mouthed turned to face me; his breathing labored, tired from his kill and nursing a mighty wound. Whether his wound would claim him in his next sleep I wondered, but more whether he’d claim me now. We stared at each other for a time: my arm cocked still, his legs relaxed, unprepared now for the next strike. “Be calm, knife-of-mouth,” I whispered, and turned slowly away. My ears were full of the silence of the cave, but for a long minute I waited for the sound of his pounce. It was never to come, for after the fullness of the minute, he tore into his kill—splitting bone and granting me a brief reprieve. It was not long after that I caught the first glance at starlight.
From The Wanderings of the Mourner
The city of Mourning is a settlement unlike any other on [red planet]. From its mystic founding by a single Elf as a refuge against the harsh planetary surface and predator-filled upper tunnels to its many racial enclaves, Mourning is a bastion of civilization amid a seemingly unconquerable wilderness. Perhaps only here on the whole planet, citizens of [red planet] may worship their gods under open skies. The city itself raises a three-towered awning hundreds of feet above the surface, and in these stone towers, a plethora of sentient citizens dwell under one government. It is a government ruled by a meritocratic mageocracy: A few gifted Elven mages—of both divine and arcane patronage—consult otherworldly forces to determine proper conduct and matters of highest law.
But the common Mourner knows and cares little for the high-minded concerns of the Mageocracy; rather, she knows that if she does well, she may yet be included in this years lottery. She goes about her work as a bureaucrat or trader, a hunter or a laborer secured in the knowledge that it is ultimately people like her who carry out the works of Law in Mourning. For, once a year at the conjugation of the moons, she hopes against all odds that her name will be picked from the ceremonial cup. Those so chosen gather for months into a political body and produce this year’s Corpus Juris.
Those races having a significant presence in Mourning are:
- Elves. They tend to be members of the permanent nobility or religious classes. An elf trader is also not unheard-of. They get along best with Half-Elves and tend to quarrel with Dwarves and. Their dislike for halflings, kobolds, and anyone shorter than human is well-known and well-documented. There are about half as many elves as humans in Mourning.
- Humans. They tend to be members of the middling (Bureaucrats and Fine Goods [especially Spices] Traders) classes. Occasionally, a Human family is granted a title of Nobility, but such occasions are very rare. Humans tend to get along with most races, although individual humans are often prejudiced against Elves or Dwarves. While the first Mourner was an Elf, ultimately the fecundity of humans presses against the long-livedness of the fairer folk.
- Half-Elves. They tend to blend in well with either Humans or Elves, using whatever favorable dispositions they find. Half-Elf families are more likely to be elevated to Nobility than Humans, and are also more likely to serve as Bureaucrats than any other race. They get along best with Halflings, but are respected by all races. There are about as many Half-Elves as Elves in Mourning.
- Dwarves. Often seeming displaced from their natural solid habitats, Dwarves in Mourning are best known for their stout bodies and their fine craftsmanship. A Dwarf merchant is likely to have produced many of his own wares, even if they are magical. The methods to this is hidden from the public at large, and often disputed. Dwarves are known to quarrel with Elves, but their serious and reserved attitudes on political courses have prevented issues in the past. There are half as many Dwarves as Elves in Mourning.
- Halflings. While not every Halfling youth in Mourning is a thief in the making, there are enough of them that Halflings are asked to bring a certificate of origin for their goods or to levy a thief-tax against any goods they intend to sell in Mourning’s marketplaces. Of course, this policy has resulted in a new kind of thieving: certificate forgery. Halflings tend to get along well with Humans, but their mistreatment of Mourning’s few Kobolds is very well known. There are half as many Halflings as Dwarves in Mourning.
- Kobolds and Goblins in Mourning were originally remnants of an unsuccessful invasion of Mourning by a coalition of Dragonkin and Goblinoids a few decades in the past. The ultimately fatal attempt to overtake Mourning led to the enslavement of the smaller creatures, but a later dictum from the Mageocracy declared them to be eligible for a kind of citizenship provided they swore never to fight against Mourning’s walls. Those who accepted these terms have struggled to integrate, and have been joined by a slow trickle of refugees from the Goblin Forest. There are about one-fifth as many Kobolds as Dwarves and half that number of Goblins in Mourning.