[Worldbuilding] Living Landscapes (with Vocal Opinions on How Life Ought to Work)

Another post in which CR invites you to spectate while he infodumps worldbuilding at himself. These types of posts will all be about the same world.

This time, I'll ramble about...

Quanders! Land spirits with total control over their domains. Some create perfect, climate-controlled zones for the benefit of their resident humans; others have decided rain must be dangerous and prevent it from falling, ever. Some despise erosion and hold themselves as elevated pillars among worn canyons. Some despise gravity.

None of them know what they're doing, but good luck changing their minds.

Quanders are spirits of location. Each governs a single rigidly-defined territory; governing duties include management of all geographic processes and lesser spirits found within that territory.

Being spirits, quanders are incorporeal. Only other spirits and mediums can see or communicate with them. But quanders often choose small physical objects to dwell in, and these silent, inert bodies are visible by all. These forms are usually representative of something from their territory: rocks, tree stumps, and puddles of water are common.

Quanders were created as a way to keep living beings safe when gods could not or would not interfere themselves. To this end, the spirits were given unprecedented magical control over their territories. A quander's duty can be summarized as: “selectively break the laws of physics for the benefit of mankind”.

Though, at the time of the quanders' creation, complex biological life did not actually exist. Single cells hadn't bothered clumping together yet. This left the quanders somewhat confused by the gods' command to “protect complex life from undue hardship”, no matter how much the gods qualified the order with statements like “should it develop” or “when it arrives”.

(Then the gods abandoned the planet for a few billion years. But the gods' ineptitude is beyond the scope of this post, except that they left the quanders in charge.)

Every cubic inch of the world is contained within exactly one quander's territory. No gaps, no overlaps. These territories are fixed in relation to the core of the planet and never change, though there are marked differences in size and shape among them.

Ground- and sea-level quanders were given vertical territories that stretch up into the stratosphere. But due to tectonic shift and other natural geographic processes, almost every quander's territory looks different from how it once did. Some who were content to monitor rock-spirits below the earth have long since been exposed to the sky (the control of which still belongs to a different quander). Some who oversaw the ocean have found islands erupting into their care. Still others have been buried or had their land eroded down below their area of control.

Most quanders are okay with this type of change. Their only concern is to facilitate complex life, and life operates on a non-geologic scale. Tectonic plates can shift all they want. Individual quanders might steady the ground beneath a few buildings or prevent poorly-placed sinkholes; who cares if change occurs beyond that?

Some, however, have taken a more radical outlook on their responsibilities. They received no further guidance than that one directive, “prevent undue hardship for complex life,” for billions of years. Given that both “undue hardship” and “complex life” are phrases open to creative misinterpretation, some quanders take a far more active and stubborn role in their territory's day-to-day function.

This activity makes their territories... weird.

These weird territories come in clusters. Quanders cannot perceive anything beyond the boundaries of their territory except the speech of nearby quanders, a condition which creates regional and often highly localized differences of opinion. The most radical dissidents may only implement rule changes to one or two territories; those with less severe opinions can cause changes across a dozen or more.

Quanders whose land has been settled are more likely to depart from normal physics than those in charge of wilderness. Protect that life, guys.

I could now explain in excessive detail the types of changes a quander can make to its territory—or I could just give significant examples.

Quanders of Notable Weirdness

The Borali capital of Rivermouth lies, unsurprisingly, near the mouth of a river on the bank of a sea. The cluster of quanders it sits atop has decided it would present undue hardship for Rivermouth if water could intrude on manmade structures. In other words: despite its precarious location, Rivermouth cannot flood. While many quanders will mitigate floods, this cluster takes it to the extreme; the interiors of Rivermouth buildings are even notably less humid than the exteriors.

In addition to the obvious benefits, this quander-rule has allowed the construction of basements in an area that would normally see them vanish beneath the water table. Its residents have taken full advantage of this to escape Borali's muggy equatorial heat; more of Rivermouth is excavated than built up. This excavation led, in turn, to a second set of quander rules forbidding cave-ins and altering the mechanics of air exchange... which then led to further excavation, as well as the expansion of Rivermouth into the sea itself, where the seal created by water refusing to touch manmade structures prevents those structures from weathering whatsoever. (Rivermouth could not extend far into the sea, though, due to conflict with its resident fishpeople, the sleth).

Another unusual cluster exists nearby along the eastern Borali border. Two hundred years ago, the gods destroyed that border, drowning it in impassible, non-Newtonian mud (never mind why; post, scope, beyond). The area is now referred to as the “bottomless marsh” (though it is neither thing). Most quanders permitted the construction of this “marsh”; the gods gave them their orders in the first place, after all. However, a cluster near its center maintained that impassible ground constituted undue hardship and would revert to dry land each time the gods tried to change them. Eventually the gods surrendered; the midmarsh quanders now serve as a dry waypoint along the marsh's lone passable road.

On the southern tip of the continent, far below the antarctic circle, lies a single, large quander known as the Polar Tropic. The Polar Tropic had concerns about humanity's ability to exist in a polar climate—so it decided not to be one. The Polar Tropic imports all of its qualities from the north; it imposes equatorial day-night cycles, humidity, rain, temperature patterns, and topsoil richness. It contains a totally unique ecosystem full of plants and animals found nowhere else, as well as a mixed orchard of crops and livestock imported from the north. During the months of polar sun, this quander is visible for miles as a column of midnight; during months of darkness, it becomes a horrible beacon that ruins everyone's night vision and disorients the wildlife.

(Imagine here: several hundred words of sociopolitical context regarding ownership and utility of the Polar Tropic. Deleted, re-typed, and re-deleted. That's Beyond The Scope Of This Post™).

Humans don't get all the fun quanders. Long ago, an enterprising group of sleth figured out how to chip off pieces from a quander's physical dwelling. These shards project a space around themselves that recreate the conditions of their home territory. The shards are mostly taken from land-based quanders and used to create pockets of air to transport humans below the sea. (Note: there is always the danger of sudden, violent decompression if you brush against that pocket of surface pressure while deep in the ocean.) Others are used to bring ocean-based sleth into freshwater conditions without needing months of transition time. Knowledge of how these shards were made has been lost, but the shards themselves remain.

Now a few shorter examples, for fun:

A river flows against a hillside at the junction of two quanders. One refused to erode that hill, and the other refused to reroute its river. Their solution: the water flows upward and transits through the air before tumbling down the other side.

The Godfall quander marks the location the gods first appeared physically on the planet. It towers several hundred feet above the surrounding landscape, as it, too, refuses erosion. By this point so many tunnels have been dug through that its column of rock is effectively floating midair.

A small group of quanders in the northwest black out the sun for five minutes whenever a resident of their cluster dies. (Shadow-spirits serve as psychopomps in this world, but, uh, they really don't need the help.)

A stretch of Cazh desert is actively terrified of rain. It diverts all storms around itself and begs adjacent quanders for help recharching its aquifer.

Across the globe, multiple clusters have expanded the definition of “complex life” beyond the standard generally used by their fellows (ie, “humans and sleth”). These clusters all consider vertebrates complex; some include invertebrate animals or fungi; a handful include plants, and one includes only plants. The methods used to protect these places varies, but a common theme is to consider humans as presenting undue hardship towards other life (and sleth, and sometimes any carnivore or omnivore).

Prompted Again by Writing Wonders

Like my last worldbuilding post, this post was prompted by difficulties in answering the #writingWonders prompts on Mastodon within a 500 character limit. They're often thoughtful prompts, though, so I wanted to give them their due here for encouraging me to get this all down in one place.