Saturday, August 4, 2018

Going Downhill: The Pem-Pah, Part 2.

Click here to read Part 1. 

"The bugs, the waves, the roaring... I can't sleep like this!"
- Tabren Achek, first Pach-Pah Yul ambassador to the cyclopean city of Anqoh.

"Just try counting the thunderclaps, oh Commendable One. That is what I do when I am restless."
- Apota Dolj, his local guide. They lost count somewhere after 186.

In the vast cosmology of the Pach-Pah Yul, there is a clear delineation between good places in the world, and evil places. The underground is feared as the underworld- not because of any malevolent spirits or gods of the dead abiding there, but because it is understood that the place is simply a natural anathema to anything with a surface-born nature, as the People of the Earth possess. The peaks of their homeland however, are pure, cleansed by their proximity to the breath of their greater gods who dwell in the space between the land and the sky.

The lowlands, meanwhile, are theoretically livable in mythological concept, and explicitly so in day-to-day life, yet they lack the protection of the spirits and ancestors. So while the rest of the world is not explicitly forbidden, it would be folly to try and dwell there, because a Pach-Mih would never truly "belong" there. This is the logic which has been used by highlanders to understand the perceived bizarre way in which Pem-Pah culture has developed over the centuries since their genesis. And it his stuck and gained cultural currency, even after years of gradually increasing contact with the Pem-Pah. Because one could be easily forgiven for mistaking the land of Khaitam-po as a cursed and forsaken place.

First, it must be understood that in the unique case of the Pach-Pah who perpetuate this idea, they are spectacularly adapted to their homeland. In addition to their generally stockier builds protecting them from the cold better than those of taller men and women from the lowlands, they are also resilient to the debilitating effects of thin air which have been reported by many a rangy-limbed traveler.

This specialization, however, seems to have a reverse side.

When traveling from high altitudes to low ones, many of the Pach-Pah have been observed to experience a prolonged period of weakness characterized by such symptoms as headaches, fatigue, dizziness, inability to sleep, loss of appetite, and even an overactive bladder. These ailments are generally worse the lower one goes, reaching their ironic peak at sea level, which is exactly where the entirety of Khaitam-po is located. To a person informed by the logic of gods-breath and discouraged or forbidden places, it is natural to believe that this weakening is a very real, very serious treat to one's health, and proof of the bond between people and land.¹ Though the Pem-Pah still visibly share many aspects of physiology and size adaptation with their cousins uphill, it can be surmised that they transitioned into lowland living over a long enough period of time in the ancient past that low-altitude sickness became nonexistent for them. Tall folk seem to lack this handicap, and their contributions to the ethnographic record have been considerable, but I don't believe that each half of these people will be able to form a full and rich appreciation of one another until this divide has been more thoroughly circumvented.

While it is known that a handful of Pach-Pah have been able to temporarily acclimatize over a period of days or weeks throughout history, few other than dignitaries, traders, mercenaries, and adventurers have done so, and virtually none of them have been bothered to do so for the sake of staying deep within Khaitam-po, thanks to the number of other oddities which the location boasts.

In addition to the air being thicker, keen-eyed outsiders have observed that it has a strange, perpetually yellowish-green tinge to it in the atmosphere. Certainly, it is more humid and salty thanks to close proximity to the sea, but many have reported less clearly discernible aspects as well. There is a stifling quality to the air, which can cause a tickle in the throat of outsiders. There is also a discreet odor to it which tends to cling to things, including the clothes on one's back. The Pem-Pah are entirely unfamiliar with these experiences, and have playfully taken to referring to outsiders as being "baby-nosed" as a result.

Flora and fauna are far more diverse in Khaitam-po than elsewhere, with an uncomfortably high percentage of both being harmful to people in some way or another. Toxic plants and venomous pests are known throughout. These things too, the Pem-Pah are adapted to, in the sense that they learn early and thoroughly from their elders how to deal with each one. It is remarkable, though also somewhat off-putting, to see a man casually handle and show to outsiders a species of horn-backed spider whose bite can kill in under five talecks.

Chief among the oddities are sea and storm, however. I have to believe that these alien phenomenons came about some time after the Pem-Pah had founded in their new homeland. Because if they willingly settled down in full view of those ominous sights, I am afraid to wonder what horrible circumstances of their migration caused them to decide that permanent lightning storms and aptly named "Killing Tides" were preferable to what laid behind them on their journey.

¹ This logic has also informed the argument by some of the more isolationist camps within the spectrum of P.A.S.C.O.P.P.Y. nationalism, that other peoples outside of their homeland should not be consorted with in any meaningful way.  This has been another significant obstacle to trade and integration.

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