It was a crisp fall night when Lunati and I embarked on a seemingly impossible journey. A devastating storm had just passed through the Eastern Isle of Zephyr, leaving only disaster in its wake. Once the brutal winds died down, not a single home along the coast remained intact. My leg was badly crushed by falling debris, but we were safe, for now. It was enough for us to have each other by the end of it.
As Lunati tended to my wounds, she shared a tale passed down to her as a young noble. A series of pristine sky islands hovered high above Zephyr, obscured by clouds. A paradise inaccessible to all but the most dedicated of fliers. It was dismissed as another fanciful legend that no one had cared to verify, but more likely, no one was desperate enough to search for it before. Ever the optimist, Lunati knew in her heart that the story was true and said she could get us there.
Decisions are much easier when you have nothing left to lose. We would have been another pair of hungry mouths at the refugee camp and neither of us felt like squabbling over a cramped patch of sleeping space inside of a musky tent. The condition of my leg was enough of an irritation and I'd barely slept in the company of panicked strangers the night before.
I knew the journey ahead would be difficult. We packed two light satchels with rope, a couple flasks of water, old biscuits and dried fruit and slung them across our hips. I took one final stroll through the abandoned ruins of our neighborhood. Torn up papers and textiles blew across the now vacant town square, reduced to mountains of crumbled stone and wood. Lunati and I said goodbye to our beloved home and departed into the night.
We fought our way through thick fog, aimless and erratic like moths spinning around a flame. Lunati insisted our first goal be finding a rock formation before sunrise, but neither of us knew how long it would take. As we quickly learned, six hours is a long time to fly without pause. Hazily, I spotted a stable rock just big enough to let us lean against each other and get some shut-eye. We anchored ourselves to it and bound our bodies together with rope. This bought us a couple hours of safe rest.
Upon waking, we nibbled on dry biscuits and sipped water from our flasks. The flight resumed sometime around midday. My leg cramped up on takeoff but I refused to let it slow me down. As we drifted ever further from our home, the fog steadily melted away. While easier to make out distant objects in the sky, the path was still far from clear.
We averaged an hour of sleep for each six hours of flight. This took its toll after day three of our journey. Lunati lost a few wing scales and her ears dried out from the brutal wind gusts. My ankles acquired thick purple bruises from abruptly landing on tiny rocks. Any period of brief rest was a welcome one. Sleep remained short, light and dreamless. While neither of us felt adequately rested, we knew we had to keep moving.
By day six, I was troubled by the onset of hallucinations. I can only recall the first one with such vivid clarity because of Lunati's reaction. She had her own problems at the time so her concern was enough to give me pause.
I remember how she looked before my mind painted its own pictures, her normally pristine white fur now matted and grey as she braced herself against the wind, arms crossed tight around her chest. As a cloud drifted away, I noticed an island appear behind her. It was small, with a berry tree growing upon it. I flew over to the tree and began picking up berries that had fallen neatly around its thin trunk.
Suddenly, Lunati asked why I was eating stones. There was no tree, or island for that matter. I was ingesting the gravel from our temporary rest rock. By now, all of the food we packed was gone.
On the tenth day, we awoke on a larger rest isle to a swelling storm. Once the clouds broke open, we dove for cover beneath a dead tree. The sudden appearance of large rocks and even trees was an encouragement, but our bodies grew worse for wear with each passing day. My leg injury healed more slowly on so little sleep. I tore apart scraps of my own clothing to use as bandages, but they fell apart quickly in the rain. The lightning was violent and came terrifyingly close to us as we huddled under a fallen tree. This is precisely what we were trying to escape when we left the Isle of Zephyr.
In time, the storm died down and we managed to fill our empty flasks with rainwater. My stomach groaned each time I laid down to rest. Lunati attempted to eat some wet, dead tree bark. I sat down with her, soggy and matted after the first storm had passed and tried sampling the bark with her. This made us both incredibly ill. We huddled together, expelling whatever poison remained in our stomachs and drifting in and out of consciousness.
There were no birds around, nor fish or insects. Grass and rotting fruits were the most palatable items we were able to scavenge on our journey. What little we'd been able to consume kept us going for days more. Each time we passed a rock covered in dead trees, I wondered if we were getting closer to the Isles and, whenever we abandoned them, I was filled with regret. For hours, sometimes days after each new encounter of such a rock, no other signs of life appeared.
By the second week, my ankles were swollen to the size of cantaloupes. Small rock formations were appearing closer together now. While Lunati saw this as a promising sign, it raised the potential for disaster. In my condition, the smallest error or miscalculation in flight could be fatal. Lunati expressed concern for my ability to avoid obstacles so we came up with short, silent signals to let the other know when it was time to take a break.
The pain was giving me more hallucinations, many of which were scent-oriented. Occasionally, I would smell smoked pork or chicken, sweet grilled vegetables and other real foods that I hadn't tasted in ages. An upcoming rainstorm even smelled like strawberries and cream. I was losing my mind from pure exhaustion and hunger.
Lunati wasn't faring much better. Her wing scales continued to flake off, altering her balance and coordination in flight. Our periods of rest were extended out of concern for each other's safety. As we approached the third week, the dead forests vanished. Our leather flasks, last filled with rainwater, were now dry. In our desperation, we ripped apart one of them and ate small pieces of it. Perhaps our least proud moment, but it gave us that final push we needed.
Nearly a whole month had elapsed since our departure. The first sign that we were close were the atmospheric changes. The clouds grew incredibly thick, a throwback to the heavy fog we'd pushed through at the start of our journey.
We spotted a small rock covered with green, living grass. I first wanted to dismiss it as another trick of the mind but, as we zeroed in and spied the gleaming dewdrops, we promptly fell to our knees and shoveled as much grass into our mouths as we could. Lunati was so happy she actually started to cry. While I would have preferred a bed of roasted meat, the fresh vegetation was crisp and refreshing. Being an unfortunate feline, however, I immediately threw up all of the grass I'd consumed and Lunati had a laugh at my expense.
The grass felt amazing underfoot. My toes instinctively curled around the soft, dew-covered blades. It was such a strange sensation after all we'd been through. At last, a sign that our destination was near and the gruelling journey was coming to an end.
Lunati was content, full and in high spirits. I rolled over onto my side and curled up in the soft grass, a divine feeling after all we'd endured. Lunati kissed the top of my head and told me to rest while she went on a brief scout of the area. There was a heavy blanket of fog over the skies that night, but Lunati felt confident enough to explore on her own. At last, I could close my eyes and get some well earned sleep.
I awoke some hours later to Lunat's excited voice. She was carrying a whole bundle of fresh shoots when she returned to my side. She described a massive central island with cascades and rivers and more life than she could have ever hoped to find. There was even wildlife; fat, flightless birds, a striped dog-like creature and gigantic nests. I blinked a couple times, unable to process her words. I prayed my partner wasn't having hallucinations of her own.
Lunati insisted the island was perfectly habitable, but some part of my mind refused to believe it. After such a voyage, reality had temporarily slipped from my grasp. All I could do was wrap my arms around her, pull her close, and encourage her to take a short nap with me. I had to see this island with my own eyes, but first, a good night's sleep was in order.
The following morning, we abandoned our small, grass-covered rock and Lunati led me to the forementioned area.
The isles were very spread out from here, so the flight took a little over an hour. As we approached, a great central island materialized through the fog. I witnessed waterfalls cascading off its grand ledges, miles upon miles of land surrounded by a smaller cluster of isles nearby. It was even more beautiful the closer we flew in to inspect it. I could hardly believe the amount of plant and animal life in front of us and, for a moment, I wondered if we'd died somewhere along the journey and this was the afterworld.
Immediately after touching ground, Lunati and I threw our hands into a nearby river and eagerly scooped up fresh water to drink. I caught a couple of small fish while Lunati built a cozy little streamside fire. She gathered as many vegetables as she could to roast alongside the fish and, that evening, we indulged in an incredible feast. With our bellies full, we agreed to take the next few days off to recover. We slept peacefully, the difficult voyage now behind us.
I estimated it would take a few extra months for new arrivals to join us on the Isles, so in the meantime we'd do our best to chart out the territories and document native plant and animal life. I wrote messages to our friends back home, whoever still remained, and informed them of our discovery. I welcomed any and all to come join us and rebuild their lives, but I understood if most wouldn't. After all, who would be crazy enough to follow us into the heavens?
Galeplume Gryphons are one of the largest species of gryphon. They spend their lives roaming across vast distances from sky isle to sky isle, searching for food and securing nesting sites. These gryphons rarely venture down into lower lands, although they are nomadic by nature. These avians grow up to five meters in length with wingspans in excess of ten meters. Their physiology is perfectly suited to the harsh winds of Nimbaterra and they are capable of flying at breakneck speeds.
When faced with the dilemma of how to transport friends safely to and from the Isles of Nimbaterra, Tacoma sought the assistance of these majestic fliers. One of them, a Peregrine by the name of Gryofalco, introduced himself as the fastest flier in the galaxy and was pleased to offer his services in exchange for delicious food and goods from the Isle of Zephyr. Lunati and Tacoma spent many nights with the Galeplume, telling tales from their time on the Eastern Isles of Zephyr and answering questions about the lower lands, where most aven had not been before. Tacoma showed Gryofalco her staff and explained her starbound magic, summoning glittering showers of comets and stars from the farthest reaches of space. Thrilled to make new friends, Gryofalco was eager to help settle a port town to transfer goods and services between Zephyr and Nimbaterra.
The idea for a resort came about from a discussion Lunati and Tacoma had with their friends from the Eastern Isle of Zephyr. Lunati, having grown up among nobility, knew just the right touches to give a space the feeling of richness and elegance. It would appeal to the wealthiest travellers, and with that funding, they would be able build entire neighborhoods for those who'd lost their homes in the storm which ravaged the eastern coast of the Isles of Zephyr.
In the first year, Tacoma worked with gryphons and other aven to build a port town and temporary housing. A simple bar was constructed, providing hot meals and drinks to builders. The resort itself was erected gradually around this central bar. At the very center grows a beautiful golden-leaved birch tree, the only one ever known to exist. Tacoma found it was so incredibly beautiful that she wanted to leave it at the forefront of the resort. Expert gardeners researched all they could about this unique plant in order to care for it properly.
More and more rooms were needed as additional structures formed. Travelers came and went, but many returned to enjoy the relaxing atmosphere. Lunati's idea for a luxury resort was put into action, with more refinement added and rooms were expanded upon. What set these rooms apart was the degree of artistry that had gone into their creation.
From her time in a noble family, Lunati had learned just how to appeal to the upper class. Each room were given elegant decor comprised of the finest silks, bedding, furs and embellishments money could buy. This was no overnight stay at a simple inn, these exotic suites attracted the wealthiest nobility, with patrons often having to book their stay months in advance.
One natural resource that grows plentifully throughout all of Nimbaterra are the Isle's native Opium Poppies. The seeds could be baked into delicious breads and pastries, poppy pods for medicinal tea and the opium itself could be used as treatment of chronic pain.
This abundant plant soon grew in demand for its beneficial effects. It was also found to help insomnia, alcohol withdrawal and digestive ailments. It became the single most profitable resource on the isle, with wealthy furres willing to pay top dollar for its export.
Over time, products derived from the local poppies were harvested and sold at the bar. This created a demand for the exotic opium produced. Along with this, the usual refreshments continued to be served at the bar and massages were given in a newly built Bath House.
However, it didn't take long for residents to complain of withdrawal symptoms during a brief period of shortage. Not everyone was able to get what they needed due to an especially harsh winter, and the cost of obtaining the medicine quadrupled overnight.
With the negative affects now well known, export slowed to a crawl. All export was eventually shut down to combat drug trafficking by the Cirrus Cartel. The silver lining to all this was the increase in tourism by those seeking the medicinal plant.
The poppies had grown into a huge source of income as patrons came back again and again. Many guests returned on a regular basis to get their fix and feel right again. Even the botanists working to maintain the gardens had their own habits and were paid partially in opium and opium products including Laudanum, Morphine and tea made from ground poppy pods.
Of course, more conflicts arose as time marched on. Desperate addicts would strip or prostitute to afford their drugs. Guests who were foolish with their money and habit became workers, and workers that took a fall became slaves. Once this happened, they provided essentially nothing to the resort but further expense. Most slaves were rented out with hopes to be sold.
Every now and again you will see a dungeon filled with heavily drug addicted slaves. They can be witnessed withdrawing in the pens in agony, screaming and begging. The lucky ones are taken into the Clinic, those that perform well. The only way out of slavery for them is through auction or through rehabilitation.
A slave who genuinely wants to fight their way out of chemical dependence can. Most of them will eventually be sold off if they remain in the dungeon. If they somehow wind up an addict again, they have no choice but to be sold. Slaves who are able to fight addiction can sometimes earn their way back into more dignified work such as a bar or garden setting.
The Club has many bouncers and mechanical defense structures. An armory is in production that will be stocked with ballistas, cannons, explosives and firearms. Blacksmiths and engineers are working hard to supply this armory in the event of a military raid.
In ancient times, Morpheus was a deep obsidian drake who guarded the ancient isles and protected his family. He has willingly turned himself to stone to sleep for most of the year. Morpheus is the sole guardian of the dreaming realm and often visits Nimbians in their own dreams to help guide them in difficult times or simply just to say hello.
Morpheus wakes briefly on December 13th to oversee the Sky Gardens and consecrate the soil. This day is known as the Day of the Divine Harvest, and any blessed poppies bled of their opium on this day will cause no ill toward those who partake of its medicine. For this reason, there are no harvests between the months of August and December. Gardeners are kept busy with the other plants at this time, while Opium products are sold at a higher price to prevent exhausting the fall supply.
When Morpheus awakens at 9am on December 13th, a deep blue light blankets the isles and remains until sunrise the following day. This light turns the isles and its plants into various shades of dark blue except for the poppies, which glitter icy and bright. The week following the Divine Harvest heralds the beginning of winter.
Nimbaterra Law was decided upon by a counsel with various groups and races having influence. The Cirrus Cartel is the only group known to continually skirt these laws. In the sixth year, exportation of Opium products ceased and threat of military raid from the lower lands were issued if any plants were discovered outside of the isles.
The Cirrus Cartel has members outside of Nimbaterra as well, and a few are even well-trained assassins. If a rat is ever found in their ranks, it's a sure bet their body will be discovered horrifically mangled on the side of a cliff.
The Cartel reports recruitment in the hundreds with a recent census pointing towards 540+ members. They are greatly dispersed throughout the Isle of Zephyr and other lower lands as well as the Nimbaterra isles. The current Cartel leader is a tall, coal colored Gryffe by the name of Biaggio Blacktalon. He is often seen wearing a black suit with black dress pants and decorated in gold jewelry.
Assassins are often dressed in red masks with black gloves, red cloaks and boots. Dealers are seen wearing trenchcoats and suits not unlike Biaggio's. Dealers are sometimes called "blackcoats" due to this choice of attire. Most Cartel members are avians but it's not unheard of for Werewolves and other furres to join their ranks. Initiation rites include grand theft, destruction of enemy property and the assassination of slaves.