These are two of the smaller basins on the planet. It would take at least eight of these maps to reproduce the Highlands on this scale.
These basins are one to a geologist. Norbin is not very deep for this latitude and for that reason is somewhat seasonal. All of the Norbin basin gets frost in the winter and a lot of it gets it in the summer also. The Kshoned basin is somewhat lower but frost is possible in the winter in some areas. This meant that before the Energy Age most settlement was in the lower Kshoned valley where onions could be grown.
The prairies at higher altitudes are home to large herds of grazers and the carnivores that go with them. The theirops to the north of the basin are particularly large and vicious. The winter darks are bitter cold on the prairies and there are no permanent human settlements. The Kshoned basin has extensive rain forests along the shore of the Tuidain swamp today, but that area was much drier before the wildhull covered the sea. There are hyadunes and blike (a carnivorous chuff) in those forests.
The northern third of the Kshoned basin is a seasonal high desert with some tundra in the west and far north. The temperature extremes make it impractical for human habitation. There are lots of scamps in the region however and a type of mlak that is adapted to the extreme cold of the tundra winter dark.
The Kshoned River would be one of the longest on Earth and third longest on Centorin, but it does not make the top twenty five on Kassidor. It's watershed is nearly the whole of both basins and well into the Yclel-vi.
The basins are fertile at all altitudes, and the population is dense. They are small as basins go, about the size of India and Mexico, and there is a little over a billion people between them. The Norbin basin is rolling hills, The Kshoned is a little lower and flatter except for the mountains near the coast.
Only along the lower Kshoned River is heat really a problem. It is not life threatening if one has access to water and as the region is a rain forest, it is likely. The river is free of really dangerous predators, but there are a few spheelunges that get cranky enough to take humans as prey, so three or four are lost per year.
In the jungle-clad mountains of the coast it gets hot closer to the Tuidain, but in most parts of those hills, the climate is rather pleasant, if a trifle wet. The mountains are not particularly high and do not cut the basin off from moisture from the Tuidain. A low-level air current is sucked up the basin by the winds off the very steep rise of the Norbin Mountains that are just inside the North Durlegar Waste.
This basin was largely unsettled until modern times because the climate will not allow onions. Until then it was the hinterland of the Kshoned basin. Kassidorians who know of this basin know it as the site of the mad industrialists who split with the founders of the Kassikan.
Norbin was one of the first basins settled by the Highland Elves. The founders of the city had a falling out with leaders of the Kassikan very soon after the rediscovery of the cure for aging. In 651bc they reached the site of the original city and began the foundations of a dam and university of their own. The population of the region was light at the time. They brought the hardy onion with them, so population was still concentrated in the lower basin.
The founders planned on a single-city basin from the beginning and strove to keep production in their own factories ahead of demand as the basin was settled. From the beginning selling products down the river into the Kshoned basin was important in Norbin's economy.
The pioneers who came to this land settled the midlands to the south of the city. Their crops all float down the Kshoned or it's tributaries to the city. There are freezes every winter in this region, but the earliest hardy onions were able to live there. For most of the light the climate is nice. Only summer Afternoondays are actually hot. Relative prosperity was common, except for one issue.
The founders of Norbin thought the cure for aging should be reserved for the affluent and conspired to keep it's cost above market rates. That only worked for a few generations while the geneticists of the Kshoned Basin caught up and under bid them. Still, there was some trouble about it in Norbin and several businesses were burned and two of the founders of the city were assassinated within six Earth years of each other. There are still a very few of the snootiest in town who have some vestige of that belief.
The founder's plan of keeping it a one-city basin failed before the Instinct arrived. The first other big city to develop was Tarsitar (Citything City), and within a century it was larger than the original Norbin. Dinreaal and Nrejda are agricultural centers, but Tarsitar and Yoonasil had water power of their own and were soon rivaling Norbin in industrial output. The result of this was that in the mid to late forties the basin had the lowest priced consumer goods on the planet.
Most of the competition came from other dams and locks just a few miles upstream or downstream of Norbin itself. Each of these cities had it's own business council and each competed directly with Norbin for the trade along the river. Norbin itself was in danger of becoming the university town in the area while those educated in the university were moving to other cities just a day's travel away.
Norbin continued to be the cultural center, because of the university and because of the old neighborhoods that had been built centuries before the newer cities up and down the river. Until the Instinct, Norbin continued to have the largest military and used military action twice during the forties on the factories of rivals that they alleged had broken treaties. There were records burned in several cities, most in Norbin itself, so knowing the truth of these events is difficult.
From the arrival of the Instinct on, relations with the Highlands have improved and the city of Yclel-vi grew up on the trek between the two basins. The tube that has recently reached Kugenzglaw is planned to reach Yclel-vi, Norbin and even Kshoned within the next century. For now it is three local years on river boats and coaches.
Norbin became the overwhelmingly largest city in the basin (but still not as big as Kshoned) once again when the urban areas of all the cities along the Kshoned River breaks merged so it is one contiguous city. It took two more Kassidorian centuries, from 1271ad to 1715ad, for them to adopt a unified merchants code.
Since 2000ad there is very little evidence of the old animosities in the urban area. It has become a lot like the Highlands in modern times, but not a copy. Much more different from the Yakhan than Yclel-vi or Korsto.
The Norbin Basin never lost its Highland Elf heritage completely. They have tried to shake it and a few traditions of their own have developed, but it will not seem unfamiliar to you. You will know you've passed from the Yclel-vi basin to the Norbin basin when you get to Tarsitar and see it on the map. You might notice a difference in the accent in the city of Tarsitar itself.
Most of the land is covered with smallholds of an acre or less. In the countryside most are living in hangleaves and they keep them trimmed back almost as much as in the Bordzvek Basin. Few live underground in the Norbin countryside. There are villages every mile or two and small cities every twenty five to fifty and larger cites every few hundred. Kedas are common and the wagons are built the same way as in the Highlands, with planks but factory made wheels, bearings and fittings. The coaches are closed, unlike the Highlands, and many run thru the dark, unlike the Highlands.
You'll find a lot of the same things on the menu, but not as much diddle as you see all over the Highlands. The breads are hearty and they make sandwiches even bigger than Bordzvek. Cold cuts are an art form and scientists at universities do research into developing ever tastier and safer brines. Even so, some of the same eatery franchises from the Yakhan are found in some places.
Data service is available in almost every village and screens are available in every village, sometimes more than one. Small cities have every modern convenience except private tube stations.
The inns are clean and comfortable, but may be a little rowdy in the countryside. They are often where the locals come to drink, people know everyone and they drink as much ale as yaag. They will include you if you let them. Most people have heard of Centorin, but some might not be sure they believe in it.
A custom many find interesting is that the local women may entertain the local men by undressing to the tune of whatever music is playing, usually at an outdoor plaza near any convenient body of water. Occasionally a man will undress on the stage to entertain the women, but it's about five sixth's female. It's a lot like striptease except they're not employees, there's no g-strings, they don't take money and they usually know everyone watching. This is usually about 'who's picking me for the sleep' but sometimes she's just doing it for pure entertainment of the viewers. When the girl is especially desirable it gets rowdy. The ones that leave the room quiet are still from a culture that has used genetic control to enhance their beauty for four thousand years.
There's great hunting on the prairie a few weeks north of the city. There are safaris you can get on, as anywhere on Kassidor don't go out alone or without a guide. Most here will use supply wagons and keda teams. They will make sure you are competent with any weapon you bring before they will let you join.
Playing mish is more of a big deal than in the Highlands. One's racquet is a status symbol, climbing the ranks is a big deal for a lot of the population. Like all Elves, men and women compete on the same leagues. There are professional players and their matches draw thousands. The atmosphere is somewhat refined, and the fans seldom get rowdy. People mingle and there are sex rooms under the grandstands.
The atmosphere of privilege and status lingers among some of the population, but even with Centorin money, you won't be warmly welcomed among them. Most of them are the original founders and settlers. They have lost control of the city and its merchant's council, but they continue to enjoy outrageous wealth and the trappings that go with it. Most of them live in closed communities of imposing stonework in the old city. You may see their fancy carriages and entourages from time to time.
They are disdained by the remainder of the population, and none of the class divisions remain among the vast majority of the population. In fact many go out of their way to demonstrate that they are not class conscious when in the presence of foreigners. There is a bit of cultural shame over the events of the basin's history.
This is often called the women's basin, though the culture is such that Centorin women may be put off by it. Today it exists somewhat in the shadow of the Norbin basin though they are nearly the same size and the population of the city of Kshoned is considerably larger.
In prehistoric times there was a population here that fossil evidence indicates was of the Yondurian race. They did not develop a high civilization, but knew agriculture and built villages of worked stone at least as far back as 10,000bc. They settled mainly in the lower river valley. The climate of the time was a few degrees cooler and that was the only place onions could be grown at all during prehistoric times.
This basin, as the Norbin basin, was passed by during the Energy Age. There can be no doubt that explorers knew of it, but no trackway was built into the area and no military outposts were built here. There seems to be no better reason for it than the commander of the region didn't want to bother. It is suspected there were personal issues involved, but of course no written record remains of that. The extermination of tallgrains during the fall had an effect on the area anyway, starvation was rampant and the culture deteriorated to nearly the paleolithic level before recovering.
In the Troubled Times this area was invaded by the Fmak. While the invasion of the Ydlontrostl basin found mainly empty space and more or less peaceful colonization was set up, and the invasion of the Edniktar basin brought little resistance, the struggle to conquer the Kshoned basin was long and bloody. The major campaign consumed four generations of Fmak emperors and cost over five million lives. More lives were lost than in the Wars of Magic, a much larger area was involved and the time scale was hundreds of times longer. Because this area has not contributed to Elven folklore, nor had a gifted chronicler to tell the story, the struggle is not as well known.
The Fmak were especially brutal in imposing their rule on this area, and very determined to alter the culture to bring it in line with the Fmak way of life. This was particularly intensive regarding the role of women. In the Fmak culture of the time, women were domestic animals, beasts of burden with no rights and lives of slavery and childbirth. Few lived to old age. Most were in large harems of the dominant males.
The Yondurian race was second only to the Elves in the equality of their women in ancient times. The dimorphism in size and strength was not as great as in the Fmak race. The greater size and strength of the local women made subduing them a feat of great status for a Fmak chieftain and the colonial forces set about it with a vengeance.
Nearly all the local men were eventually exterminated and the women subjected to brutal treatment in the harems of the invader. Their children were raised as Fmak, and any males were sent back to the motherland. This condition went on for generations.
Those that escaped lived as nomadic hunter-gatherers in the jungles. If they settled anywhere they would be found, but as nomads they could stay ahead of Fmak forces. With nearly 200,000 square miles to hide in, few were found. So many men were lost in battle that women were the majority of the population, and thus the majority in these tribes of fugitives in the jungles.
It is not known if the Fmak rulers became soft. The legends of the time say they did not, but the events that followed seem a bit improbable without that. By this time the population was as much Fmak as Yondurian genetically, which meant the women should have been somewhat slight and delicate.
The legend of Shiloah, liberator of the Kshoned basin, says that she killed dozens of Fmak soldiers single handedly in a single sleep and inspired the remainder of the population to rise up and throw off the invader. Pictures of her show her as a mighty warrior with wild hair, muscular arms, shining armor and a broadsword. Most history scholars rejected this tale as being grossly embellished, but in the 51st century (1302ad) a skeleton was exhumed from the ruins of an ancient temple of a female who stood over six feet tall, was heavily muscled and lived around 1200bc, about the right time frame for these events. Such a giantess would have been more than a match for the Fmak soldiers of the time if properly trained and armed.
The records in the Fmak empire state that the colony was lost due to incompetent leadership and an invading army of Trolls. It is genetically possible for a Troll woman to grow to that size and strength at the time. However, no other Troll remains have been discovered in the entire Kshoned and Norbin basins until modern times.
After that, the population was in serious trouble because of lack of males. We can only assume that what males there were, were kept very busy, because the population soon recovered. From then until the modern age, women had the upper hand in the basin. All rulers were female until governments dissipated. The rules of inheritance became matriarchal. All property was owned by women.
The culture has eerie echos of that of cats. The clans were run by sisterhoods, males came and went at their whim. The lower ranking members of the clan were field workers and servants. Males could rise as high as overseer if they pleased one or more of the sisters well enough. Males often left the house to wander where they might meet a woman of a clan and apply to be taken in. There were elaborate courtship rituals and labors they were put thru, many of them extremely sexual. A couple stories of this age have made it into underground literature.
During the mid to late Troubled Times, (1000bc - 0) the merchants of Kshoned built large sailing ships and while the Fmak went into decline, Kshoned was the major power center on the Tuidain Sea. The ships were large square riggers and could make the crossing to Ydlontrostl in as little as three weeks. The best lakerunners in the Highlands today can only cut one week off of the time to go that distance.
When the modern age arrived, equality was restored, but the culture that has developed is still female centric and to some extent has stayed that way into the present age. Now that there is no age, the same women from the end of the Troubled Times run most clans and the same women run most companies.
This has lead to some stagnation. In recent times the industries of Norbin have dominated those of Kshoned. Though their music is different, most gear is from Norbin. The material standard of living is not as high in this basin as in Norbin's. That is softened quite a bit because of the clan living.
Today almost all cultures of Kassidor have complete sexual equality. There is still some vestige of male dominance in the Lumpral and Fmak basins and among the Goblins, but it cannot be enforced except by social pressure. In the Kshoned basin today there is nominal equality, and no real way to enforce female dominance. In spite of that, a lot of the old culture lives on. Most property is still owned by women. Women tend to run most businesses. They are the leading people in the arts, science and even sports.
The racial type has been more heavily modified by genetic science than in most basins, sometimes into wildly exotic forms. In parts of the culture, there is a heavy preponderance of females in the population because the science to select the sex of offspring is available and widely used. In those sub-cultures, there is usually one male per clan estate. Many, but not the majority, of women today try to model themselves after Shiloah. Women in this culture will generally not be attracted to men who are bigger or stronger than they are. Males who are not comfortable being dainty and cute usually wind up leaving the basin. In the mainstream of the city itself, the difference is slight and both sexes are of pretty much equal stature.
The average person in the basin today, if you can find such, is light skinned with dark hair that is not as curly as Yondurians. Though the women are usually stronger, they are not unattractive with good figures and pretty faces with sensuous lips and large dark eyes. The males are extremely similar with thicker waists and male genitals. Both sexes have soft, smooth skin that is a dusky off-white. Both sexes have the size and strength of Troll women. Their clothing is as flamboyant as in Yondure but of different style. Men wear tail coats and hats except when working at manual labor or on midsummer Afternoondays when it is too hot. Women wear elaborate gowns of most unusual cut.
In the countryside, people tend to live in groups on large estates. Agriculture is efficient and productive. The cities have a lot of light industry, but the industrial might of Norbin has overtaken most of the heavy industry in the basin.
The material standard of living is only slightly above the Kassidorian average, but income distribution is quite uneven. Most of the very poor are urban, but most of the very wealthy are urban also. Gas lanterns are common among the affluent. Plumbing is comfortable for almost everyone, but the homes of the poor may have nothing but an all-in-one as in the poorer cities of the planet. Most housing is now grown using archwood, but a lot of stone built structures still survive.
Cuisine is heavy on casseroles, cream sauces, curries and all manner of extensively prepared dishes. Because the climate is quite seasonal, menus are quite seasonal also. Yaag is not as strong as in the average basin. Green's are available, but enhanced yaag is just about unknown. Boost and other accelerants are pretty common. Beer is light but distilled alcohol is an art form exceeded only in Dos.
The most unique thing about the culture is that the vulva is to this culture what the penis is to Borlunth. They are displayed proudly and often, usually in the aroused state. Genetic enhancements are very common and some of them are extreme, as in wrap-the-male's-whole-pelvis extreme. Showing them off is not done in rowdy bars as the penis is in Borlunth, but in stylish fashion shows and judged competitions with hushed commentary and photographers. High fashion gowns always show them and playing in them is de-rigeur at most social events.
So, if you are into that, Kshoned is the place to go. The clubs in the canyons of the Yakhan don't even come close (but are years closer). You almost can't meet a companion in this basin without pleasing her lips. If you are not into that, you'll probably sleep alone while you are here.
Other than that quirk, travel is comfortable in the basin. The scenery along the Tuidain slope has an eerie beauty, but the heat can get oppressive on summer Afternoondays. To the north there are great limestone cliffs and the largest natural cave systems on Kassidor, with hundreds of miles of galleries. There are some with marked trails, but you have to bring your own lantern. The only big game hunting in the basin is to the west along the Tuidain, the heat can be too much for a normal person and the danger is not worth the prize. There are few guides going into the area and any you find will be women who will demand sexual favors as part of the bargain.
The city of Kshoned is over fifty million people. It is not spread and open like Norbin, but concentrated like Zhlindu. The river is slow down here, but some intrusive rocks give a little elevation, and like Zhlindu, the elevation is welcome on summer Afternoondays. Unlike Zhlindu, there are fourteen hills that the Kshoned winds thru with forty one locks linking the harbors. Unlike Zhlindu, the city is ancient. The halfway point of settlement here is when the Fmak first arrived around 2300bc.
There are ruins under everything, and older ones under that. Like in Borlunth, the poor dig them out. Also like Borlunth, there are mammoth archwood towers above them today. The climate is nothing like Borlunth, Kshoned is only two miles below sea level, the sky is blue and Dawnsleep can be quite brisk. The street pattern of Kshoned is even more haphazard than Borlunth, partly because of the rugged little hills it's built on. Along all the docks and waterways there are multiple levels of streets with cargo at the bottom, streetcars next and two or three levels of pedestrian. They are often the first third, fourth and tenth floors. There are no streets fifty stories up like the Yakhan, Bordzvek, the Trenst Ring or Zhlindu.
The average person lives in a clan, the clan will usually own a single archwood. The common areas will be very ornate and plush. The leading members have lavish chambers, but everyone else has a small room and shares a bath. Clans may be together for dozens of generations and some members are there by 'marriage' though there is really no such thing. The clan usually has a business and it's usually in the lower floors of the same archwood. About half the clan members work in their own business and half as hired hands in another. The more urban the area, the larger the clan and the bigger the archwood holding them.
The members of the clan may not be closely related, if it wasn't for that, there could be a dangerous amount of incest going on within many of them. On average, one in ten sex acts performed in the city of Kshoned is between members of different clans, nine of ten are performed between members of the same clan. That still leaves over two million women looking for someone outside their clan on the average evening.
They are found at millions of little cultural events. Kshoned has managed to make everything into an art form and have shows of it. Anything a human can do can be considered performance and if refreshments are served, it might draw a crowd. There are real musicians, though the music tends to sound like Broadway and movie music meets Spanish opera. Marching bands and animal shows draw crowds, as do book signings and historical lectures. Poetry readings get banners hung from balconies and book 3000 seat halls.
Whatever the occasion, there are buffet tables, casks, cups for rent or sale. There will be little quiet spots where one can still see or hear the 'attraction' but it will not intrude. People do most of their mingling at the buffet table and there needs to be a whole separate guide published detailing what foods she talks about and what that means between you. Of course people read those books and change their behavior to thwart those who thought they were in the know. Just try and look charming and she'll bring you to her table and then home.
The only disadvantage to going home with her is she probably shares a bathroom with three other clan members and one current live-in. There's no telling how they get along. Usually fine with normal sisterly kidding and friction, but sometimes it can get uncomfortable. If she's open to staying with you at the inn, her place might be a horror story full of whining, bawling and slamming doors.
Getting around the city can be a pain. It's hard to find a decent map, everything curves around. You have to change streetcars more often than in crossing the New Midlands and a lot of times once you get to the part of the city you're looking for you'll find the names you were given aren't used any more.
There is no talk of a tube system in Kshoned. Different parts of the city want to be hard to get to for all but the produce farmers. It is second only to Lumpral in social fragmentation. The people of the area know it is all one city, but they are partial to their part of it and often go to events to applaud politely for their neighborhood smiling team.