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Spirit of the Wind

General Information

The acitan (in their own language, the People of the Plains) are a technologically advanced species native to the Southern Basin, a vast caldera dominated by tropical savannah. The acitan are one of several sentient species in the area (the others are river dolphins, silvanshee, and dragons); there used to be more but the genetic experiments of the acitan caused the extinction of several sentient species during a Breach event. The edges of the crater are rimmed by mountains, which has kept the area evolutionarily isolated and to some extent protected its biodiversity--though these days, one couldn’t tell.

The Southern Basin might appear to be a paradise, but it’s really an evolutionary and ecological wasteland. There used to be hundreds of wildly different types. Six-legged gazelle-like creatures were preyed upon by giant crabs, and bronze manta rays known as ky-ya darted through the air. But the acitan, to their eternal shame, are singlehandedly responsible for the extermination of dozens of those types. Now it is something like North America--dozens of species gone during a massive extinction event. Except it is worse, for the North American extinction did not wipe out entire families. And because of this, the acitan are zealously intolerant of anyone, anywhere, causing any potential damage to an ecosystem, especially the Southern Basin’s. Even the most calm, even-tempered acitan will kill without a second thought in defense of their already slowly collapsing biodiversity.

Curiosity is the blessing and the bane of the acitan, as is the drive to create and modify. It is not, as any acitan will quickly correct one thinking such things, because curiosity or the drives of the acitan are evil, far from it. Rather, it’s, in the words of the acitan ‘the fault of the bastards’. The ‘bastards’ are generally anyone who objects to the acitan digging around in the DNA of species and bending them to their own purposes. And that’s a lot of people. The lions do not particularly care for it, as poses a potential threat and clashes with their unliving machines anyway. The human church does not like it, for morphogical freedom goes against their philosophy.

Despite their cavalier attitude towards gene meddling, the acitan do have limits. Experimentation on sentients without written consent obtained without threats or trickery is strictly prohibited, and violating that rule is practically an automatic death sentence, with the style of execution usually being whatever the locals think is the most painful (usually being vivisected while unsedated). Modification of animals (especially ones with large brain mass) to make them subservient is frowned upon, as are permanent non-health-related gene modifications to one’s own body if one plans on having children (part of complete morphogical freedom is getting to be born as a blank slate). Plants, however, can be freely modified without even the slightest disapproval.

Acitan are born with innate affinities towards gene meddling. Indeed, it is something that seems almost instinctual. At a young age, when a acitan opens their eyes for the first time and look onto the world, their first thoughts are not only how astounding the world is, it is also what could be. Because before all things, acitan are creatures of possibility, envisioning countless potential futures, always hoping for a better one. Destroying the possibility for a better tomorrow is regarded with complete horror--which is quite possibly one of the few reasons why acitan society haven’t ended up weaponizing plagues (so the general consensus is that it would probably be better to make sure the acitan stay that way).

Their psychology is... unfortunate. The acitan look at the world, and they cannot feel wonder, or joy. They just see sadness and suffering. The best among them can channel that grief into rage, and that rage into passion. But in general the acitan are a very sad species. There is a disconnect between the world they think should be and the world that is. And this gives them pain. They are separated from the world emotionally, and most will never truly feel, at least not anything but loss.

The acitan species physically resembles an anthropomorphic cheetah, similar to the ash cats of the Elemental Plane of Fire (in fact, the ash cats are an offshoot group that left the main acitan civilization in protest of the modification of animals for the purpose of making life easier for the acitan, though the movement hardly left with them and has been gaining ground recently). Similar to the ash cats, they’re insanely quick, the result of generations of messing around with their own genomes before their culture disapproved of such changes. They’re also more intelligent than the average species. Due to the fragility of the local ecosystem, they cannot hunt and so over time have developed strong moral aversions against killing to eat, and most acitan, ironically enough, can’t process animal matter effectively--nor can they process plant matter effectively, due to their short intestinal tract, without consuming a special plant that is the relative of the pothos and thankfully grows as easily as it. They still have the instincts of a predator, though.

While acitan aren’t physically strong or sturdy, they make a point of teaching their children the basics of how to fight so that they have a better chance of surviving a rogue organism. Of course, the acitan haven’t gotten rid of their instincts yet, and have no urge to, so cubs are born with some capacity to fight. At a young age acitan also receive at least rudimentary training in the sciences--it’s nearly unheard of to meet an acitan who couldn’t go on at length about biology.

The acitan worship no deities. The concept of worship is itself foreign to them. However, acitan are known to consort with a variety of supernatural beings of high caliber, including deities. The Order of Transcendence, one of the the larger movements in acitan society, even has deities in high positions, most notably Kulcol, a couatl whose followers (not worshippers but those who view him as a philosophical leader) claim that he became a diety through understanding of the natural world (whether that is true is, I think, not for me to determine).

The biotechnology of the acitan is ubiquitous. Genetically engineered trees and large shrubs form small housing complexes, and vines connect to the plants to carry in water from underground aquifers. Modified fungus stretches across hundreds of square kilometers to form the acitan equivalent of telegraph lines. Giant mushrooms light up at night. Slime molds stretched over wood to form hang gliders, but with tiny sacs holding hydrogen, are piloted to carry supplies from area to area. And animals have been modified as well, in an attempt by the acitan to keep their ecosystem stable or as products of acitan paying little regard to the opinions of their fellows. In the Southern Basin, it’s anything but uncommon to run into a variety of organisms that are clearly not of natural origin--many creatures that in other places would have their abilities work by supernatural processes (and therefore not work in an antimagic field) work by natural means in the Southern Basin. But most of the non-natural creatures in the Southern Basin don’t have breeding populations and are quickly dying out--perhaps a good thing, since many of those same creatures are extremely territorial and don’t fit into the ecosystem.

If the acitan had had their way, no biotech experiments would be roaming around, but the same humans and lions that hate the biotechnology of the Southern Basin with a passion attempted to use force to convince the acitan to stop, destroying nurseries and setting free dozens of experiments.

Mammals of the Southern Basin are mostly similar to what you’d find in East Africa. The types present, though, are limited to felines (species are cheetah, lion, leopard, black-footed cat, serval, and wild cat), canines (African wild dog, black-backed jackal), ungulates (limited to various species of gazelle), cetaceans (a species of river dolphin superficially similar to the spinner dolphin), mustelids (a species of otter living in the rivers), and bats (fruit bats). While that sounds like a fair bit of variety, there’s a lot that’s not there--for instance, pachyderms, rodents, many species of ungulate, microbats, foxes, mongooses, pangolins, etc. Rodents are extinct due to a genetically engineered raptor, though thankfully there’s a species of crustacean that’s expanded to fill the niche.

Crustaceans of the Southern Basin include a variety of land crabs, most of which radiated (with help) to patch the gap left by the demise of rodents, but it’s a temporary fix at best, because the land crabs need water for their eggs, so during drought years there are mass wildlife dieoffs and insect surges. A segmented creature similar to a giant velvet worm but covered with armored plates and with large crab legs is also native to the area, but lives underground and is rarely seen.

Birds of the Southern Basin are currently exclusively hummingbirds. There are promising signs that they may be radiated, though, to start eating insects, especially locusts.

Reptiles and amphibians of the Southern Basin are currently what’s holding the ecosystem together. Besides the usual East African fauna (minus a few species of fairly unremarkable snake), several species of tortoise the size of elephants knock down trees and a variety of snake, but with scales adapted into shark-like fins, consumes fish.

Insects of the Southern Basin are pretty much the exact same as what you’d find in East Africa. If East Africa had butterflies with meter-wide wingspans and lungs. Fish are the same. The local plants come from Southern Africa.

-- Citrakayah

Written 2012