World building - Life in the Abyss

[1] Common wisdom tells us: Fall off one of the floating islands, you'll never hit the ground and eventually starve. Some doubt it and jump. [2] In fact, you can subsist on surprised birds until you hit the deeper layers where skyjellies roam, trees without roots, edible clouds [3] Hold onto one of those trees and you may find it inhabited with other pilgrims, living in treehouses constantly buffeted by the abyss' winds [4] Life in the eternal roaring twilight is austere but not without joys. There is great celebration every time the hunters bring home skyjelly. [5] Large nets around the trees both slow their fall and bring in food, sails collect dust to grow crops in, some colonies trail entire orchards
Where do the islands come from? Nobody knows, but they're at the top of the abyss, nothing much happens above them. A little civilization grows on them, a bit like mold or rust. Sometimes, rocks and soil fall off, or people, sometimes voluntarily, sometimes less so. The abyss itself is bottomless but not dark. Neither can anybody see an end to its light, nor does anything indicate one. Birds nest in the islands and roam the space below them. Sometimes they bring home artifacts that hint at a world below the islands, but no human explorer has ever come back after setting out to find it. Some jump anyway - they tend to be convicted criminals, explorers, fanatics or desperate. The first thing they usually notice as they fall is the wind, steady, brutal, unforgiving. It won't end for a while. If you bring some provisions (especially water - the wind dehydrates you quickly) and are not above eating birds or dead compatriots, you can make it to the deeper layers before starving. Everything here is falling in some way or another and you have limited navigability if you angle your limbs a bit, so you'll be able to feed for a little longer. Those skyjellies with their upwards-tentacles will mess you up though, avoid them. Some trees grow here - Water (in the form of the occasional cloud) and light are both present. They have no roots, they're leaves in all directions, tough ones that resist the constant wind. Their seeds are one of the few things in the abyss that float upwards. They're less dense and fall slower than the usual human, but it's possible to survive falling into one - and then you notice it's inhabited. Of course, others have taken the jump before you. Some have even survived and given the abyss children. They're a tough bunch, wiry and desiccated, breathing the constant wind of the abyss, attuned to its howl. Sometimes, they set out to hunt the creatures of the abyss (humans fall pretty fast, but with a parachute, their colony will catch them again), the edible clouds (light mycelium tangles that catch and feed on floating skytree seeds, that is if the seeds don't sprout first and use them as root matrix), birds, and the feared skyjelly that you can only approach from below since its tentacles completely control the space above them. The skyjelly are worth it though: A tough leather hide, edible meat, lots of stored water, their tentacles can be weaved into fabrics and their poison can be fermented into a potent hallucinogen. There are more agrarian approaches as well. Some dust from the islands (remember them?) always floats in the air and will catch in the clouds, or sails attached to colony trees. It provides essential soil and allows skytrees to grow beyond shrub size - it is among the more valuable possessions of a colony. Veritable spiderwebs of nets extend from some trees, in the hope of catching whatever else floats in the abyss. Cities exist, few and far in between, but they're slow, unwieldy, and the abyss doesn't exactly support a high population density. What we would at most call a village, with hydroponic gardens and a cubic metre of soil, is the most civilization most anybody will see. There are rumors about a fallen island though, full of riches and sins so heavy it stopped floating, much deeper in the abyss, much faster than anything else. And during one watch, a small jewel hits our hero's colony from below, bound to a tiny parachute... published: Aug 04 2016. epistemic status: subjunctive.