a land of antecambrian storm

Setting: The interminable sea of tundra. No trees grow here; even in the endless bog of summer the soil never thaws once you get down far enough. The short summer brings sedges and lichens and bearberry and wildflowers. The winter brings death. And the galloping wind. Always the wind. Roll d10.

1: In the endless dusk the quillhaired mammoths migrate, led by their equally hirsute riders. Heavy feet crunch out the only sound on the frostrimed sedge. A lash-boned howdah tops each, the foremost fur-clad rider handling a long, languidly bobbing lance; the secondary slumping forward, a stout bow in hand even in sleep. They will neither speak nor turn from their course.

2: Spring has thawed the top of the permafrost into a sea of mud, scragglebush, and standing water. The population of striga has exploded, their vermilion nests dotting the bush, golden-beaked bloodsuckers blackening the short days.

3: The indigenous elves—gaunt and footfast and taciturn—have sent one of their own on a vision quest. He squats atop a hillock of shrubs and grass, rolleyed and seeing the things that aren’t yet. He awakens to tell of what he saw in a year: travelers, bedecked with sores and suppurating striga scars, mad with hunger, missing fingers and toes to infection and cold and what-all-else. It’s you.

4: The brief summer thaw turns to refreeze, the turf heaving in expansion, expelling sunken detritus like splinters from a wound. This year has been a hard one. Expelled are corpses, frozen in headdresses and birchbark finery, along with horses and boats. If lifted from the earth they awaken.

5: In the thin spring a riot of wildflowers flows to the horizon. A village-worth of children carefully pick through them, plucking a certain orange blossom which can be chewed to make a dazed, deadeyed stupor. They do so, sneaking them to mouth when the adult overseers aren’t looking.

Image: Александр Лещёнок

6: The sedges and bittergrass lead into a landscape of pocks and bowls, each with a pool of boiling water in rings of cerulean and scarlet. At unpredictable intervals a geyser spurts forth, filling the air with a clammy mist. Aqueous beings ineffable cohere in the air, falling back to the pools before being drained away into the realms from which they spring.

7: An elderly orc in a loincloth lives in a rude hovel by the river. An ascetic—one of the tundra fathers—he is continually beset by finger-size imps, sprites, and gremlins. They constantly bedevil him.

8: A reverie of spectral hunters races across the permafrost. A tangle of the fae and diabolic, all grimacers and howl and teeth and claw and lance, led by an antlered figure atop a whitehair mammoth. Black hounds and imps scatter among the riders’ hooves, and an ungodly chatter follows in their wake. Strife is presaged.

9: A sea of reindeer migrating. From the distance they look like a muddy river, so thick they are flowing down the path of least resistance. These are times that make men small in the face of their inability to change the world.

10: The black storm has come. A roiling mess of gale and lightning and black clouds so overladen they can’t possibly stay up in the sky. Each gust carries the wordless wail of an unremembered spirit. Every drop that falls on a cairn opens it, a new phantom shrieking up to the cloud.

The tundra is no place for men.