A world dominated by a massive landmass, and an even larger ocean. Crossing either is unheard of, except in the most extreme cases closer to the poles.
The continent is orientated mostly N-S, and has a massive megamonsoon, a seasonal dry/wet cycle. Air flows from the cool ocean to the hot landmass in summer, pulling moisture with it.
In the East, it is met (after over two thousand kilometers of travel), by a massive mountain range, almost impassable. As the air tries to flow over the mountains, it cools further, and dumps its water. The land east of these mountains are wet and plentiful, and abound with rivers and lakes. Blizzards and snowstorms in the coldest areas, thick drifting rainstorms in the temperate, and massive hot lightning in the tropics. The West does not have mountains large enough to cause this effect, and so its clouds travel further, almost 12 thousand kilometers, before the last of their moisture is lost. The coast is wet, the middle forested, and eventually plains fade to scrub fade to desert fade to badlands.
In the centre of the continent, its largest biome by size, is the Rainshadow Desert. It is drier than can be imagined. No water has fallen here in thousands of years. The air, regardless of temperature, pulls moisture from skin and eyes, plucks at every exposed inch. It is empty, and big, and the most well-equipped and adventurous excursions into it die before crossing a quarter of its width. Nothing lives here, not animals, plants, or even bacteria. It is not even a place of death, for death is life’s shadow, and this is nothing.
It is said that on quiet, dry days, when the wind shifts and blows gusts hotter and drier than ever before, nothing comes out of the desert. Small communities on its edge vanish, as though every soul within disappeared. They drop what they hold, take nothing, and leave no tracks or traces.
A corpse in the Rainshadow does not decay. It simply dries. Century old mummies can be found, looking no different to those who died mere months ago. Locals, those who dare the desert for its salt and minerals, leave their dead where they fall. They make them comfortable, give them a simple map and a sealed flask of water, and move on. Because sometimes, the dead come back. They stagger out of the desert, skin like leather and muscles like jerky, but if fed and watered and cared for, can return to healthy life. Sometimes they are those who vanished years ago. Sometimes, they speak no language known, and wear jewellery only traded as artefacts in this age.
Sometimes, they are hollow.
OCEAN AND THE FONT
In opposition to the Desert, is the Ocean. Where the Desert is an empty void, rejecting even death, the Ocean teems. It is vast, but most of it is shallow, and life thrives. Nothing that dies in the Ocean is dead for long, its body reclaimed by scavengers and predators long before mere decay can take it. The further from shore, the bigger the creatures get. It is said that in the farthest point, beyond sight and any hope of reaching, is the Font, a place where all water and all life springs. It is guarded, or perhaps simply inhabited, by Leviathans, creatures of legendary size and power. Sometimes, a Leviathan comes to shore, and hauls its bulk out of the water, crawling or slithering or skittering inland. They eat everything, forest and field and town, until they die, air and gravity finally winning against obscene strength.
There are few major coastal cities for a reason.
There are places, in the far North and the far South, where the mountains are different. Older, smaller, rougher. There is little life here, and yet they feel full, as though their age gives them a life of their own.
The truth is stranger, and deeper.
The rock they are made from is old. Recorded history is thousands of years old, biology millions, and geology billions. But there is history unrecorded that goes back further, into the million years of our race’s rise to sapience. And there is biology older than any other, that ruled a harsh and hot world for a billion years. Life that was simple but implacable, that claimed acid seas and barren, barely-cooled land inch by inch. Almost as soon as there was an ocean, and a land, they were. The Archaea. They ruled uncontested for a billion years, and fought a war for another billion with oxygen-breathing upstarts, and finally faded away to the quiet places when the first multicellular life arose a mere half a billion years ago.
They are simple, but they are First, they are Many, and they are Old. The mud they lived in, made from their own bodies and refuse claimed from naught but barren rock and ash, became stone, as the corpse of billions of years of life was trapped.
When something dies, a piece remains. An echo of it, a trackmark of its descent into the Abyss. The older something is, the deeper the mark runs, and the more power it has. A century-old ghost haunting a ruined manor is nothing next to the spirit of a thousand-year tomb.
And all of human history is a forgettable footnote to the Archaea.
They do not think. It was billions of years before their children first Thought.
They do not see. They do not hear. They do not touch. Sense came later.
There is Good, and Bad. Good is Warmth, and Food. Bad is Cold, and Other. If Other is not Food, Other is Bad.
They do not dream, or sleep, because they are older than both.
In truth, they are older even than Death, for they came first. There are gods that may claim dominion, titans that may cry about primordial power, but they are infants, and less, to the Archaea.
They exist. It is all they do. In the folds of stone, in the deep dark of caves, they Are. If you travel to the caves in the ancient mountains, and lay yourself down in the deepest dark, you might hear them. You might see and feel the slightest curve of their power. And you might survive.
For you are not Food, and not Them. And though they are the smallest and weakest of all things, they are eldest, and myriad.
The world shifts. The deeps echo with fire like they haven’t in the longest time. In the Rainshadow Desert, nothing is threatened, and responds. The Font surges, and a Leviathan greater than any other begins to move slowly towards its antithesis in the dry wastes, driving lesser beasts before it. And the Archaea, for the first time in hundreds of millions of years, feel Warm.