Monday, July 27, 2020

Mappae Solis: Venus and the Elves

Venus and the Elves:

Venus is hot and humid, and even though it has a thick cloud layer, its proximity to the sun causes a large amount of UV radiation to pierce the clouds. To the human eye, Venus is mostly a dense swampy jungle of thick black mycelia. Descended from the altered fungi that helped terraform Venus in ancient days, the current ropy tree-like growths cover the majority of Venus’ surface. Although they usually form biomes that are some flavour of “hot, wet, and fungus-trees”, there are a variety of biomes ranging from wetlands and dense jungle, to swamp, moor, shallow sea, and massive river deltas.

The mycelia itself is mostly chemo-synthetic, still drawing on the sulphur that once dominated the atmosphere for energy. Growths in the upper floors of the jungle do use some photosynthesis, but absorb mainly UV radiation. The mycelial “trees” branch into and out of each other, different species merging together as they grow, forming a three-dimensional web. Navigating Venus is difficult except by brachination.

The dim visible light causes most visitors to assume Venus is gloomy. To the natives however, the mycelia shimmers with UV light. The whole jungle is iridescent, and so are many of the creatures that live there. Most of the wildlife is derived from coastal organisms from Earth. Lichen-covered crabs the size of elephants muscle their way through the jungle floor, while their smaller cousins range from sheep- to mouse-sized. Slow grazing starfish descendants move like sloths through the canopy, hunted by fast urchin-derivatives, their ancient enemy. Most of them are prey to shrimp-wolves, ravenous pack hunters with sharp needle-like shells and snipping mandibles, though even they give the bear-like mantis shrimp and the bivalve cthulhu-crocs a wide berth.

And then there’s the elves. 

Elves live in villages carved or cultivated from the mycelia, usually half-way up the jungle. They move with fluid grace, deploy slings, bows, and hatchets to devastating effect, and are strong enough despite their willowy appearance to crush a shrimp-wolf shell with their arms. They not only appear human, but beautifully so. They are taller and slimmer, more delicate and graceful, and have a refined air about them. 

Each elf village seems to be defined not by local culture or family, but by philosophical ideas or fashion style. A single elf may move between many villages in their life, but be expected to conform to the style of that village while a resident. Most villages have strict rules of etiquette, almost to the point of pantomime. Many have unique fashions, and all elvin residents attempt to out-compete each other as they explore the village’s idea fully. Some villages have even vanished overnight as the resident elves conclude that the central theme is dead.

For all their complex rules, elves are very friendly and understanding of outsiders, and will happily welcome them to their villages. They happily rescue or guide lost souls to safety, and those who know them say their hospitality is second to none, despite their oddities.

Elves never open their mouths, even when talking. Elves hide their faces instead of showing strong emotion. Outsiders never see elves eat, though their cooking is, as most things are with them, excellent.

The truth is that elves are descended from cephalopods, although heavily modified. They can change the colour and texture of their skin, and use hydraulic pressure to support themselves as they stand. Elves only mimic humans, their kind and expressive faces a literal mask with a beak hidden under the chin. There is no malice here, just shyness. Elves adore humans, and have long sought to emulate them. Their extravagant fashion and culture, impeccable art and cuisine, all incongruous against the black Venusian jungle, are all a labour of love.

Elves hide when emotional because they lose control, and drop the mask. Among themselves, it is considered no more rude than passing gas, but an elf who drops the mask in front of a human might find themselves exiled. 

Due to a lack of bones, elves do not have much in the way of striking strength. However, their fluid limbs can contract and constrict with obscene force. In melee, they can crack bone with their grip, but can only slap rather than punch. Slings and bows are more useful to them than spears, and their short hooked hatchets are carefully designed to deliver maximum force from a whip-strike. Their bows are made from a particular fungus, laminated many times. They are short, but too stiff for most humans to draw. Their arrows are often made from the silica-thorns of another fungus, and can slice deeply through shell and armour.

A human who tries to fight an elf will not find a willing opponent. Elves try never to hurt people, especially humans, and will try to de-escalate whenever possible, dodging blows with fluid grace and attempting to safely neutralise with grapples if they must. If an elf drops their human facade however, and reverts to their base cephalopod form, then be afraid. They have decided to kill you, and nothing will stop them.


  1. I'm imagining a subculture of outcast "punk" elves who drop the mask on front of outsiders or show emotion sometimes.

    Would totally tear apart a crab with bare...hands?... land eat it in front of you.