The Song of the Qui-Chi
As the traveler crests the summit of the Ringing Mountains, he sees what is perhaps the strangest sight on Athas, and one that will assuredly take his breath away. Below him, a jungle of tall fir and birch trees covers the steep slopes of the high mountains, with a thick undergrowth of rhododendron and mountain bamboo. It stretches north and south along the spine of the mountains as far as the eye can see. This is the legendary Forest Ridge, the paradise at the top of the world. For some reason, a wide band west of the summit of Ringing Mountains is surprisingly moist. Nearly every morning, a gentle drizzle falls, and at night there is sometimes an inch or two of snow. Predictably, this more-or-less constant supply of moisture has resulted in a green-belt unlike anything else on Athas. As the traveler enters the forest, he quickly discovers that the vegetation is so thick that he must cut a path through it. The forest grows dark and gloomy, and it is filled with the chortles and cries of hundreds of small animals alarmed at the intruder’s presence. Overhead, the wind whistles through the treetops with an eerie ringing-hence the name of the range. Although the mountains on this side of the summit are as steep as those on the eastern side, the footing is much less treacherous. The loose gravel has been replaced by a carpet of moss that clings to a thick layer of black soil. The slopes are still steep, the cliffs are just as rocky, and the abysses just as deep, but they are hardly visible behind the green curtain of vegetation. The most amazing thing about this forest is the humidity. Beads of water cling to everything: tree leaves, rocks, even your forehead. The gentle murmur of tiny brooks comes from all directions, here and there becoming a small roar as a stream plunges over a precipice and crashes onto the rocks at its base far below. Even in this paradise, you still will suffer from mountain-sickness. The slightest exertion still fatigues you and your head still pounds, but at least the thick canopy of the jungle provides some shelter from the sun. At night, the forest remains surprisingly warm, almost as if the thick canopy were acting like a blanket to insulate the ground. The temperature drops, lingering a little bit above or a little bit below freezing but does not plunge anywhere near the extremes experienced on the barren eastern slopes of the mountains. You mustn’t linger in the forest, however, unless you have come here to die.
Surprisingly, the greatest threat does not come from animals. The jungle is occupied mostly by small animals that rely upon poison to defend themselves, and they won’t bother you if you don’t bother them. The predators are not generally dangerous to men, either; they tend to be small and feed almost exclusively on the lesser creatures inhabiting the forest. It is the halflings that you must watch out for. They consider anything that enters their territory- including other intelligent races fair game. Once they become aware of your presence, they will silently stalk you through the forest, awaiting just the proper time to spring ambush. If possible, they’ll take you alive and present you as a gift to their king. Should you be taken alive, this is not a fate you should hope for. Some halfling kings are so savage that they prefer to eat humans and demihumans presented to them alive. Others are more civilized, and will at least have the decency to kill and cook their meals first. If a traveler cannot be taken alive, the halflings will be just as content to drive him over some cliff, ambush him during his sleep, trick him into trusting them by pretending to be friendly, or simply overwhelm him with superior numbers. It should be noted that any halfling with the adventuring party will be spared if at all possible. Even if the halfling is dressed the same as his companions, the natives will assume he has been captured and is being held against his will by the “big people”. Protests and entreaties on behalf of the rest of the party will have no effect, as the savage halflings will simply assume that their unfortunate brother has been magically seduced into defending his companions. After the “brother” has been “freed,” he will be invited to join the tribe or be released with an armful of gifts to go on about his business.
Flora and Fauna
There are so many trees, vines, and shrubs growing on the Forest Ridge that it is futile to try to describe them all. Suffice it to say that there are hundreds of mighty trees, all covered with lush growths of huge leaves, bearing strange and exotic fruits. From their branches dangle more kinds of vines than I could catalog in a lifetime. The floor of the jungle is so thickly covered with green shrubs and brightly colored flowers that the ground itself can only be glimpsed on rare occasions. The fauna of the jungle is as amazing as the flora. A thousand species of snakes, frogs, birds, and little rodents scurry about your feet. Occasionally, you will also glimpse one of the great, dark predators that lurk in the depths of the jungle-but so briefly that you will not be able to say that you saw any more than a dark shadow. Be forewarned, however; in the forest, just because something is small does not mean that it is not deadly. Poison is so common in this jungle that it is a wonder you can breathe the air without inhaling some foul toxin.