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Flora and Fauna: Melaine Mushroom

Flora and Fauna: Melaine Mushroom published on

Valley of the Silk Sky - melaine mushroom

Melaine is a carnivorous fungus that typically feeds on insects or small animals like birds and rodents (the size of the prey depends on the size of the mushroom). Prey are lured in by the sweet-smelling ball bait at the end of a hair trigger. The treacherous ball is extremely sticky, and the struggles of the stuck prey trigger the hair to yoink them forcefully into a bowl of viscous digestive juices. The larger the melaine the more potent the goo, and the larger melaine specimens can eat away at human flesh.

For humans, it’s a “better safe than sorry” situation. If you see (or smell) a patch of melaine, give it a wide berth, lest you accidentally step in one and get splashed with a caustic substance.

Since the digestive goo is viscous and sticky, getting it off once it’s on you is a challenge to say the least. As with poison ivy oils, sometimes efforts to remove the substance just spread it over you even more. You will, at the very least, wind up with some lovely chemical burns, if not open sores.

The Daraz Harcos have significantly thicker and less sensitive skin than humans, so they aren’t as likely to be harmed by the melaine’s digestive juices. They have discovered that a small mushroom isn’t potent enough to do significant damage to the skin, but instead acts as a disinfectant for wounds, and the sticky nature of the goo helps stop bleeding by sealing the cut. Instead of avoiding melaine at all costs, the Harcos seek it out as an important tool in field medicine.

Daraz Society: Social Structure

Daraz Society: Social Structure published on

The Daraz are a subterranean species of monotremes who live in extensive cave networks in the mountains. An average clan has 500-1000 individuals.

Daraz society is organized around four primary castes, whose role is determined at birth based on what the clan expects to need in the coming years:

  • Kiralyno (a.k.a. The Kira) – the primary egg-layer and clan leader
  • Hazastars – consorts to The Kira who contribute genetic material during reproduction
  • Munkas – non-reproducing laborers, of whom there are several sub-types
  • Harcos – non-reproducing warrior/hunters


The Kira is responsible both for laying eggs and for making major decisions affecting the entire clan. Xe spends nearly xer entire life underground, carefully guarded by the rest of the clan. Only when a young Kira is leaving to form a new clan are they seen aboveground. Kiralyno are capable of limited parthenogenesis, laying unfertilized eggs that can develop into Harcos and Munkas. Typically this only happens when setting up a new clan.


The Hazastars provide the Kira with eggs and sperm, which xe gestates, and then lays eggs into development cells. Hazastars also rarely venture aboveground, only to be seen outside during trading pilgrimages. These pilgrimages take place when clans trade Hazastars with one another every few years, helping to bolster genetic diversity across clans.


Munkas see to the day-to-day of running a clan, including digging new tunnels, farming and harvesting subterranean plants and fungus, practicing medicine, keeping records, advising The Kira, and so forth. Scribes are known as The Irnok, and their actuarial tables determine which eggs are assigned to what caste. Of the four main castes, they have the most discretion to choose what roles they want to take on, within their purview. They are asexual and have no role in reproduction.


Harcos are non-reproducing, asexual members of the species, and exist primarily as the hunters and warriors of the clan. Harcos group into units called quads, which can consist of anywhere from two to five individuals, but are most typically comprised of four people, two older and two younger Harcos. The older ones are responsible for training and mentoring the younger ones. Harcos are the caste most likely to be encountered by humans, as they frequently leave the clan to hunt. The humans of Pocalo routinely employ Harcos to act as officers of the peace or bodyguards. These roles are filled on a rotating basis, as a Harcos’s primary loyalty is still to the clan.

Daraz Society: Daraz/Human Relations

Daraz Society: Daraz/Human Relations published on

Valley of the Silk Sky - Daraz/Human RelationsThe Daraz are indigenous to the Pocalo Valley, while humans wandered in a few thousand years ago. For the most part, things are pretty chill and symbiotic between the two species.

Since the Daraz are subterranean and build their cities and farms inside the mountains, there is little competition with humans over living space. There is a certain amount of overlap in the use of wild food resources, particularly animal protein, but on the whole the integration is peaceful. Both parties pretty quickly figured out they could benefit from one another’s presence.

What the Daraz get out of it: FIRE. Being subterranean, they cannot burn anything basically ever. Not only would they all die of asphyxiation, fire messes with their infrared vision something fierce.

But fire is also incredibly useful for all sorts of technological innovations, so by allying with the Humans the Daraz are able to gain the benefits of access to fire without the downsides.

What the Humans get out of it: DEFENSE. The upper provinces of Pocalo (that is, all provinces that don’t touch the ground) have a universal ban on weapons of war, and on physical fighting of any sort.

What if an outside force wants to invade? What if a criminal needs to be captured and detained? What if you are a caravan merchant and don’t want your stuff stolen by bandits? For all of these things, Humans employ the Harcos, the Daraz warrior/hunters. The mere presence of the Daraz in the mountains discourages invading forces (it’s difficult enough as it is to march any kind of army up the side of a mountain, and even moreso when the mountain itself is full of people who don’t want you marching).

Harcos also act as officers of the peace to some extent – they have a huge investment in Pocalo functioning as a stable society, but little investment in or loyalty to individual Humans. As such, their susceptibility to bribery is low. And, because they’re excellent trackers, they’re very useful for hunting down known criminals.

Humans can hire Harcos for things like caravan security, or protection for runners going into particularly dangerous areas. In these cases the Harcos basically function as mercenaries, with the payment submitted to the clan as a whole. The hirer pays with a Harcos chit, a special coin used specifically for this purpose. The coins have to be bought from the Pocali government and they ain’t cheap. If you’re small potatoes, no Harcos bodyguard for you.

So, while the Harcos’ primary function is the protection and betterment of their clan, you will often see them interacting with humans as The Heavy. Jobs that involve interaction with humans are typically rotated; an individual Harcos still spends at least 75% of xer time on clan duties.

Daraz Society: Bathing and Grooming

Daraz Society: Bathing and Grooming published on

The underground cities of the Daraz are always built around a subterranean hot springs pool (of which there are many throughout the Valley). While all Daraz engage in similar bathing rituals, it’s especially important for the Harcos, the warrior/hunter caste.

Their body armor is made if very thick skin and/or keratin, and requires a great deal of maintenance to keep clean. Without regular exfoliation, they run the risk of skin infections, particularly down in the joints where the plates meet. Harcos organize into quads (groups of anywhere from 2 to 5 individuals, though the most typical number is 4, hence “quad”), and quadmates are responsible for grooming each other.

The act of being groomed releases endorphins and tends to make the one being groomed a little (or a lot) sleepy. As such, it’s typically a pre-bedtime activity.

In a pinch, grooming can also serve as a means of calming down a Daraz who’s having a freakout.

Forehead grooming is itself a dominance act (“I’m in charge here, and you need to settle down”), generally deployed by the older quad members to keep the younger ones chill.

Valley of the Silk Sky - Daraz bathing room

Valley of the Silk Sky - Daraz grooming

Daraz Biology: Flehmen Response

Daraz Biology: Flehmen Response published on

Valley of the Silk Sky - flehmen response

The Daraz have a vomeronasal organ, located near the roof of the mouth. There’s smelling with the nose like a noob, and then there’s the flehmen response, wherein a sharp inhalation pulls air over the vomeronasal organ to allow a deeper read of a scent.

In mammals the flehmen response is typically used for sensing pheromone information from another mammal of the same species, and is related to reproductive activity.

Because the Daraz Harcos are non-reproducing members of their species, they care not about reproductive activity. Instead, given that they are the primary hunters and defenders for the Daraz, their flehmen response is used to gather other types of information: Is this something I want to eat? Is it a predator I need to avoid or fend off? Was the scent made an hour ago, or a few days ago?

All good things to know if you’re trying to track, say, a young charge who got lost in the wilderness. Just to throw a random example out there.

Daraz Biology: Body Type and Caste

Daraz Biology: Body Type and Caste published on
Valley of the Silk Sky - Daraz Biology
Daraz Harcos

These creatures are a species known as the Daraz, and they are monotremes, a.k.a. egg-laying mammals. The Daraz come in four basic body types: Kiralyno (a.k.a. The Kira, the primary egg-layer); Hazastars (consorts to The Kira who are involved in reproduction); Munkas (non-reproducing laborers); and Harcos (non-reproducing warrior/hunters).

Of these, the only ones humans are ever likely to see are the Harcos, as the rest typically stay underground for most of their lives.

Your body type, and therefore your caste, is preselected at egg-laying based on what the clan needs most. Every egg has the potential to be any body type. Which one it grows into is determined mostly by what the embryo is fed while it is developing in the cell. Some will get a diet rich in thus and such hormone, and become breeding adults. Others will get a different hormone, and become non-breeding workers.

Daraz society is collectivist – you have a job to do for the good of the clan as a whole, and there’s not much room to decide you want to do something else. After all, if you’re a non-breeding worker caste, you do not have a reproductive system (beyond some vestigial internal organs). You can’t decide you want to be a breeding adult instead. If you are a Harcos your body is literally a weapon, and you will be expected to train in how to use it so you don’t hurt those around you just by existing.


Ah, but biology is complex and prone to unpredictable variation, and as such this predetermination process doesn’t work smoothly 100% of the time. Up until about 6 weeks of gestation you can switch production over to a different body type without noticeable consequence. After a somewhat vague cutoff point, though, you wind up with someone who is a little bit this and a little bit that. These Daraz are known as “Keverek,” a.k.a. “mixed.” In these cases, you’re assigned to the caste you seem most similar to, and everyone just sort of hopes it works out.

Hali is one of these Keverek. Xe started out on the path to being a Hazastar, but a sudden need for more Harcos had xer production shifted fairly late in the game. Since Hazastars are significantly smaller and less muscular than warrior/hunters, Hali is shorter and thinner than xer compatriots. (Xe is also much younger than the other two in the illustration, who are adults tasked with training the up-and-comers.) Given that xe has all the Harcos weaponry and no evidence of a functional reproductive system, xe was assigned to the Harcos caste, and off to training xe goes.

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