The Dry Season
Four miles above the surface of the world floats a group of islands: One great island, shrouded in mist, often wracked by violent storms, and 22 smaller islands of varying size, with a wide variety of inhabitants. The islands travel, propelled by an unseen force, in a great circle that covers a large part of the world beneath them, evoking three distinct seasons: The wet season, when the islands float over the open ocean with its tropical rains and storms, and when the floating ships of the smaller islands leave the skies for the seas and bring back an abundance of food and wealth, trading with the nations below; The building season, when the islands float above the vast forests and mountains northwest of the ocean and the ships travel downwards to the surface and bring back raw materials; and the dry season, when the islands circle around the great mountain range and spend long months above the empty wastelands – a traditional season for war and the settling of old conflicts, when the ships have nothing to do beneath the islands.
The islands are home to many nations. Humans hold little power in most of them – the Celestial Kingdom of the Orcs remains uniformly hostile to them, blessed with a long memory of human attempts to overthrow their emperor in ages past, and in the Elven republics, while they are legally equal to the elves, it is difficult for a human family to make much headway against trade families whose individual members live as long as a human dynasty. Humanity has had better luck blending in with the gnomish communities that rule the smallest islands, though scarce resources put limits on the gnomes’ generosity. Instead, most of humanity exists as second-class citizens or worse in kingdoms ruled by other races, and in the wet season there is fierce competition among human families for spots on ships heading down to the water, where many of them simply find an island to settle on or become citizens of the prosperous Dwarven or Lizardfolk kingdoms that dot the water islands.
Those unable to join the gnomes or flee to the surface below do have one final option, though it is a dangerous and frequently unsuccessful choice: Many of the islands have networks of catacombs in the underside of the rock, though whether or not they are natural none can say. Over time outcast communities, in stolen or jury-rigged floating ships, have fled to and settled these caves. While their presence is a constant irritant to the legitimate governments – especially since many must resort to piracy to survive – they are extremely difficult to dislodge, since they have entrenched themselves well, and any serious efforts to destroy their communities risks damage to the structure of the islands themselves.