An Introduction to Mahid
Zalaggi lies beneath the ruinous desert badlands known as the Thousand Sleepers, far from the powerful states of the north and south. It is the only surviving sea on Mahid, a subterranean salt lake in an almost inconceivably vast cavern pierced by a single great oculus, its only direct communication with the surface.
Zalaggi has no outlets, and it is fed by Canals that dive underground thousands of miles away, high enough in the northern and southern hemispheres that they cannot be entirely used up during the hot months when melt water is plentiful. During this time, the tunnels going from that hemisphere to Zalaggi are partially or entirely flooded, while those coming from the opposite remain dry. The result is that Zalaggi sees great seasonal variations on the currents of the sea, how much fresh water is available and from which side of the sea it can be retrieved, and the direction of those who would travel through it.
While no less dangerous than a desert journey on foot, riding the subterranean streams is significantly easier and quicker than a surface caravan, or perhaps even a sandskip, assuming one does not need to bring along many items ill suited to banging down a tunnel stream that is swift running, pitch black, and perhaps even submerged in places if one’s luck or planning is poor enough. Some experienced tunnel runners note that the best commodity to take to Zalaggi is people, because the tedious business of keeping the goods from destruction en route is in that case handled by the goods themselves.
Granted, riding the subterranean canals only gets one to Zalaggi. Getting back out of it requires trekking up such a tunnel when it is (relatively) dry, and evading whatever extortionists, thieves, and unnamed creatures happen to inhabit it at the time, or ascending through the oculus and making a similarly lethal if less populated trek across the Thousand Sleepers, under the scorching sun.
Naturally, no small number of those who ride the waters to Zalaggi are unable or unwilling to make the harder journey to the other side, so a kind of society of cultural detritus has survived here for as long as anyone can remember, surviving off whatever drifts down from the surface and the strange, alien wildlife of Zalaggi’s dark saline waters, undrinkable to creatures not born of it.
More recently, however, the scavenger towns lining the sides of Zalaggi have existed alongside and in support of the emerging, self-styled Tladratan Empire, whose enigmatic presence has made travel through Zalaggi less risky, but also more expensive and mysterious.