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The vast rainforest interior of The Midlands has been many things to many people. A refuge. A challenge. A final place for colonists to express freedom and dignity in a world sorely missing both. But none could have expected what awaited the descendants of those first Featherfolk colonists who landed on its bright shores in the Heroic Era, hacking away at the teeming jungle to build a commune dedicated to Air-Void agency after fleeing the cutthroat oppression of The Auric.
For what it is worth, the inhabitants of Panacea are loyal to the nightmare of their choice.
Panacea takes its name from the cure-all for sickness and poverty that its founders strove for. This once small outpost on the banks of the Azta River first swelled with runaway Auric and Deonan slaves, religious exiles, and intellectual radicals from Hollowfalls over the decades leading to 0 EM. None had the proper survival skills to live alone, as everything tries to eat everything else in Dema’s jungles. Even after forming like-minded groups, the number of deaths among colonists famously outnumbers successful birth clutches. Only the most adaptive can thrive.
With this diversity of mind comes diversity of intent. Dozens of small followings professing any manner of beliefs or doctrine use Panacea as a staging point to lead their believers deeper into the jungle, returning only for supplies from the outside world.
This is not to say the remaining population is small. The settlement at its height in the middle decades of the Uprising Era is as vibrant and chaotic as any proper city’s seedy underbelly, given the strongest form of government around is a vizier who barely reports back to The Auric. This loose agreement allows the main factions to stay out of one another’s way so long as tributes to the Auric in spice and timber are met. Otherwise, the mercenary companies, trade guilds, and criminal cartels who’ve settled at the mouth of the river have free rein, sending fortunes back to their headquarters in cities like Mundi.
The network of colonies that radiate outward from the main settlement have since become known as The Panacean Communes. To survive, each commune is nestled in wooden huts suspended hundreds of feet up in the canopy, far above the fanged and poisonous predators lurking on the jungle floor. Winding spiral staircases ascend to the great boughs where families carve dwellings into the bounty of wood, entire villages springing up in a single side of a mighty kopak tree.
The Featherfolk of one commune may be Sisters of Kinziha, peace-loving animists who spend their days categorizing each insect they discover to be closer to the nature spirits. Their neighbors may be Sishuun' Zar, death cultists who coat themselves in the sacred ashes of their cremated kin. Both might briefly ally to make war on the painted Cegroti headhunters paddling the tributary rivers that lead deeper into unmapped territories.
Explorers who return from the far fringes report of vine-covered palace spires and temple complexes holding potent Eldertech relics left behind by forgotten jungle kingdoms, the abandoned halls prowled by feathered serpents dozens of feet long. Still further on are the Silverleaf Wilds, a land so treacherous, it is frequently compared to the nightmare apocalyptic waste of The Red Desert on the other side of the Gilded Sea.
For merchants of all stripes, the riches these ruins promise in Eldertech and loot pale in comparison to the natural treasures growing all around them. The exotic food markets of Panacea are legendary. All manner of rare hunted meats, hybrid herbs, candied fruits, and ultra-nutritious vegetables extracted from the dangerous forests beyond the city limits are prized in the dining halls of distant aristocrats. Outsiders enjoying a razortail fillet flavored with honey mango likely have little clue how many Panacean hunters and gatherers disappeared with no trace but a trail of gore for that meal to reach the table. The price in blood for these luxuries remains acceptable to the world at large.
Panacea’s thousands of species of plant and animal life have also yielded all manner of cures, tonics, potions, poultices, and salves. The order of doctors, surgeons, and researchers distributed among the communes who make use of these resources are known as the Apothicants. Some of the greatest medical minds have braved man-eating plants and pit tigers, and for good reason. The value of preventing an outbreak of plague in one of Dema’s teeming settlements like Deonar and Abresia is immeasurable. Their sergeants-at-arms will put body and mind at risk to make sure an Apothicant’s urgent work is protected. To study beneath them is a privilege. A world-class Featherfolk medic or cleric has likely spent their fair share of time swatting mosquitos while traveling between the most isolated settlements, rendering aid to no shortage of the disfigured, diseased, and damned.
As if fated from the start, a nightmare ripped from the slumbering continent itself would ultimately spell Panacea’s doom.
After three Eras of colonization, trade, and pilgrimage by tens of thousands seeking medical aid, reports of a new pestilence trickled back in from the outer communes in the final years of the Redsky Era. This sickness spread by the bites, gouges, and vomited ichor of black-veined infected driven to feral madness. The infected possessed enhanced speed and pain resistance to wounds that would kill a healthy Featherfolk. Nothing short of decapitation proved able to halt their relentless hunger.
The virulently hostile hordes spread out and consumed their fellow Featherfolk by the thousands, overwhelming communes. Cults dwelling in the canopy found themselves cut off and condemned to starvation as supplies dwindled. Warlords rose to power in dramas over supplies of water and control of canopy-bridges between safe holdouts. The chants of their rituals and blood sacrifices to cleanse infected fell on deaf ears as no gods or magic answered back. Great charges of Usundi bladeweavers clashed against the rotting hordes, only to add to the masses of forsaken as quantity overwhelmed all. The last factions attempting to retake the interior of the continent crumbled by the end of the solar decade.
Faced with ruin, the survivors in Panacea itself constructed a city-wide wooden wall to keep out both the infected Featherfolk hordes and countless infirm pilgrims seeking sanctuary. For two years, the palisades held. The last refugee ships to flee for the open seas reported of the city guard and Apothicant sergeants waging a last stand, their researchers feverishly working towards a cure as the infected hordes climbed over one another to breach the defenses.
Will your stories be told in the hushed whispers of adventurers recalling their Heroic Era expedition into the jungle ruins? Or does your party hail from a cult with beliefs of your design? Perhaps you lead the Apothicant warrior-healers protecting pilgrims, or in their desperate final hours battling the infected ferals to keep the rest of Dema safe. Resourceful Panacean Featherfolk often find work in the faraway lands of The Athenaeum, Light Plains, or the Moon Realms. The Apothicants alone keep outposts in most major settlements.
Lifetimes can be lived before Panacea’s end arrives. It is up to your characters to make this Dayland culture endure in the heart of the jungle’s brightness.
This is one entry of multiple lore posts covering some of the cultures and locations of Dema. Even more lore on each featured topic will be in the 5E Conversion Book. Check out our previous spotlights on topics like the vast Aether-based empire of the Solar Hegemony, or the epic struggle of the underground Earth Sporespawn of Tohol.
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