The mountain range west of the Meadowlands include several high peaks made out of highly magical stone. The rivers that form from those icy peaks cut through stone and soil, forming great and plentiful canyons that make up the Wildlands.
The magical radiation from the water seeps into the rock walls, layer by layer, and infuse each canyon plateau with wild magic. Suffice to say, this has created wild and varied effects on the landscape. Rather than use rivers or cities as landmarks, the denizens of the Wildlands have named each plateau, as each has a unique ecosystem that stands out like islands.
Because of how strange and magical each plateau is, only Wildlands nomads live on the surface, learning the quirks and dangers of the land, and gathering secrets and trade items. While these nomads can be Senzokuan, Maalish, or a mixture, they are often seen as seperate, with their own culture and mannerisms setting them apart when race wont.
Wild elves have found ways to survive in the plateus, favoring those that more closely resemble jungles and forests. Some elven “villages”, as they can only tentatively be called, trade with nomads. Some wild elves are even part of a nomadic group, sometimes of all elves. Young elves seeking out adventure, or having been banished from their tribe, have no choice but to join a caravan. The majority of wild elves communities, however, are self-sufficient, and never stray far from their plateau.
As for the majority of the civilized people of the Wildlands, the Senzokuans and the Maalish don't live on the dangerous and unpredictable plateaus.
The Maalish live on canyon walls, where it's difficult for strange plants to grow, and where many monsters cannot climb down to. They farm plants that can grow quickly, reducing the possibility of wild magic affecting the vegetables, and hunt carefully on the plateau or riverbanks below. Birds and goats are their main sources of protein, however, as they don't need as much space or specific feeds, and can survive on cliffsides.
The Maalish aren't as anti-magic as the wild elves, but they prefer for magic to be handled by sorcerers and shamans (mages, of a strange sort), and most live a life without dealing with magic at all. The sorcerers and shamans all typically belong to a single family in each Maalish tribe, with clans that spread between multiple Maalish communities.
The shamans study magic and trade information with other shaman families, usually the only people to leave their canyon walls with regularity. They share spells on goat hide tapestries, using color and shape to communicate more than they use their dialect of Common. Their personal spellbooks are usually kept as beaded bracelets, charms, tokens or the like, keeping color and shape as the means to easily understand information.
Because shamans do deal with strange magics, sorcerers are often born in their family lines. Even non-shaman families, thanks to the magic infused in the land that they live off of, will often have sorcerers, which will be adopted by shaman families.
Clerics, mages, sorcerers and bards are all decidedly different, by Shadow standards. For the Maalish, however, they all fall into the category of “shaman”. Within shaman clans, however, the different classes are a clear nuance, and are taught respectively. A village's chief shaman is usually a cleric, with mage or sorcerer assistant shamans handling the day-to-day magical needs of the community. Sometimes, the chief will be a bard, as storytelling, often via song and dance, are a vital part of every Maalish community. Democracy and tradition is also a large part of deciding who is chief shaman, and who has other shamanistic roles. For the most part, there are only a few in each village that are named as any sort of shaman, and the others study magic and support those family members who have attained the titles.
Maalish religion is similar to the Eastern religions, but often seems strange and alien to adventurers from Shadow who manage to discover some of their culture. The Maalish worship many Oris, divine aspects much like powerful spirits or demigods. They believe that each Ori is made up of the souls of the creatures, people and plants that have died, with souls of certain types belonging to certain Oris. Those in life, for example, who worshipped the Ori of Flame would likely become a part of that Ori. Each Ori, however, is too weak to manage all of the many spirits that encompass it. And so, Ori will often combine into Orimawus, Great Oris or the gods, as the people of Shadow know of them.
The Silence was a shock to many in the East, but not so much to those in the West. Orimawus have personal relationships just like people, and occasional wars will ensue. Orimawus that are defeated are not really killed, but broken apart into their Ori pieces, which will recombine with other Oris into new forms. This had happened before, and will likely happen again, in the faith of the Maalish, and while it can be turbulent for the mortals, it is to be expected.
Every Maalish home has a shrine to their favorite or the family's patron Ori. And each village will likely have public shrines to each Orimawu. They're usually filled with dried animal or plant parts, sometimes clay statues, called nkibo, or fetishes. Each is supposed to have energies from the Oris that make up each Orimawu, having a stronger connection than the average plant or animal, and can be used by shamans in rituals and spells. Some people keep nkibos on their person as symbols of the Orimawu their family pays ultimate fealty to (above the Ori that they favor) in the form of necklaces, bracelets, hair accessories, and so on.
The Senzokuans live on the canyon floors, often building on top of the rivers themselves, on tall stilts, boat houses, or even arcane floating huts. Whereas the Maalish are wary (in their words, respectful) of the magic energies of the rivers, the Senzokuans embrace the power that the water has, incorporating it in many parts of their lives. That's not to say, however, that they are flippant in its use.
Senzokuan culture is very rigid and bureaucratic, with everything and every one having its place. Each village has a leader, assistants to that leader, assistants to those assistants, managers of various aspects of life under each assistant, assistant managers, and so on. Even marriage is considered a role, where one partner in a marriage is considered the one who works outside of the household, and the other works inside of the household. And given that Senzokuans favor large households with three, four or five generations living together, even the wives, partners and husbands who are homemakers have ranks, positions and duties, often based on age or ability.
Magic and water usage is strictly controlled by members of the Water and Rice Control department, often mages and other arcanists at the head, with more mundane laborers. In order to prevent the magic of the water changing the people into something stranger, water and rice is doled out to families in amounts based on rank, accomplishments and privilege. Water and rice both are usually kept in special vases to ensure that the magic has time to stabilize or evaporate before being given out to the masses.
Every family and every person has a vase, pot, bottle, etc. for their own personal use, and the level of Senzokuan art born from this cultural habit has made them prime commodities in the West. Each is a miniature sculpture in its own right, often passed down or commissioned for each individual.
Rice, as has been indicated, is an important part of Senzokuan culture, and their main food staple. The rivers allow for irrigation of rice paddies, and ensure that Senzokuans can farm enough rice to feed their villages. The paddies are controlled by each village's government, and no one gets any more rice than they have earned.
While this seems like a system that could be abused by government officials, the Senzokuans have a strong sense of honor. In fact, the higher your rank, the more honorable you are expected to be, with the village leader being the most honor-bound member of the community. That doesn't mean that corruption does not occur, but with how small and isolated so many of the communities are, it is usually not expected to be an issue.
Senzokuan religion is almost a mirror of the Maalish, or the Maalish a mirror of the Senzokuans. Eastern scholars will say that they are twin daughters of Shadow religion, but they say this away from Senzokuan ears. Each culture believes their religion to be very distinct.
The Senzokuans believe that every object, living or inanimate, has a spirit in it called a kami. Though nature seems chaotic, each kami is just as ranked and regulated as Senzokuans are. Most kami belong to the court of a single Okami, representatives of natural forces and terrains. And while there are many Okami that are favored by families and individuals, each of these pay homage to the Celestial Emperors/Emperesses.
Like the Maalish, they recognize that these gods fight amongst themselves, but unlike them, the Senzokuans don't believe that the Celestial Emperors have the personalities of mortals. Their wars are far beyond the ken of the Senzokuans, and all they can do is wait for it to pass. When the proverbial dust cleared after the Silence, they saw that new kami had risen in rank to become Celestial Emperors, and which Okami payed fealty to them had changed, as well.
The constant fight between the Maalish and the Senzokuans is so entrenched in both societies that even the East has heard of it. Tales of hatred-obsessed barbaric tribesmen fighting amongst themselves tell a bloody story, though it's not a correct one. For one, neither are barbaric, having deep cultures, and technological and magical advances that rivals the East. Albeit decentralized. For another, the Maalish and the Senzokuans don't hate each other, per se.
The Maalish, the Senzokuans, the Wild Elves, and the mixed Nomads all share the same area. It's a large area, at least as big as Shadow, perhaps Shadow and Dagger both. However, many plateau tops are inhospitable to anything but the most savage monsters. The ones that one can adapt to and live upon are almost always taken up by wild elves (not that the average explorer would know, as one can walk through their villages without even seeing them or the houses). The canyon walls, where they are steep enough to discourage monsters from descending, have been claimed by the Maalish. The rivers below are the domain of the Senzokuans. And the nomads pay fealty to whoever's territory they are in, ensuring that the information and commodities that they carry for trade is enough to grant them passage and a few mights of rest in every domain.
Theoretically, all four could live alongside each other just fine. Rumors reach the East of at least one city where they do, in fact, live together. The walls, floor and tops of the canyon alive with homes of varying architecture, bridges sporting shops as well as walkways, and a market to rival Torm's, Azha and Tharis all together.
However, it's easy to believe that this is only rumors, as the Maalish and the Senzokuans do not believe that their cultures can coexist in the same area. The Maalish are not chaotic, but find that Senzokuan order and law is too confining. The Senzokuans find restricting magic to certain families to be a violation of human rights. And though both respect the water of the canyons, each disapprove of how the other respect it. The Senzokuans abuse it, the Maalish fear it, the stories of the other race are judgmental and derisive.
So, the problem between the two is not one of hatred, but of territory. The populations grow, and each canyon can only hold so many, if they refuse to adapt to how they live, and refuse to allow the other to live with them. There is room for both of them if they lived together, but not if they refuse to share soace with the other. They fight as they believe they must, to gain more habitable land for their people. Boundaries change often, some even daily, and the nomadic tribes have a hard time keeping track of borders. Empty cliff houses overlook newly build stilt houses one day, and an archepelago of floating foundation the next.
The nomads usually don't take part in the conflict, their number growing as much from people joining to avoid the conflict as from births. That's not to say that they are peaceful. For every one tribe of wild elves that allow them to rest and trade in their communities, there are three that see them as intruders. There are bandit tribes, human, orc, and otherwise. And, of course, the monsters. The nomadic life is not an easy one, by any means. However, every nomad who once was a villager knows how important the nomads are. Not just trade alone, but information, transportation, guides and knowledge are all the domains of the nomads, and they are often the messengers of the Wildlands.
It's the nomads, eclectic and cosmopolitan, that binds the Wildlands as one massive, decentralized community (with isolated exclusions).