Bringers of the Rain

Some background on my 2011 NaNoWriMo novel.
Bringers of the Rain cover, depicting a saguaro in actual rain.

Vocabulary

Just the ones I'll use a lot and matter. If I miss one, let me know.

Arroyo - dry creek or riverbed, ephemeral stream. Often has mature trees growing in it, and can be walked in or even dwelled in much if the year. Related terms include wadi and wash.
Playa - salt flat, basically like Death Valley. Arelated term is a sabkha. What happens when a salt lake runs dry.
Monsoon - a seasonal wind event (in North America the season is typically July - September) that generally brings wind, dust storms (and sandstorms like haboobs), thunderstorms, torrential but brief downpours, flash floods and microbursts.  Much of the year's rain is monsoonal.
Chaparral - The area with a lot of brush near a desert. Think inland non-desert Southern California.

Peoples

There are two major people groups in this area, for now I'll call them the Arroyo Tribe and the Chaparral Tribe. 

Arroyo Tribe

The Mesquite Village and Creosote Village are the two relevant communities of the Arroyo tribe, both along Stormcloud Arroyo.
Magic
Their magic is "element"-based, with a person knowing to control or affect one or two elements, like water and air, or light and bone. Somewhere between 45% and 60% can do any magic. Water mages of any level are revered, and are the entire reason they have the level of agriculture they do is because of a few powerful water mages setting up irrigation systems beyond their normal technological level.

Chaparral Tribe

They are semi-nomadic, finding it better to travel away in the dry season (aka most of the year) and come back to this area in the monsoon season when the arroyo is flowing.
Magic
Their magic is environment-based and usable by about 55%-65% of the people. If they are in a monsoon, they have monsoon powers, in a flood they have flood powers, in a dry desert basin they have dry desert basin powers. Just as their powers change with their environment, so do they, and as they age (especially mages, but it's true of everyone), they become more and more like the desert until they eventually become part of it.

General

Appearance
The average person in these groups has brown or black hair, brown eyes and tan to brown skin. Basically like most people in the world, and most desert dwellers in the world. Influence of magic or the environment at any phase of their life or at any time around their birth or milestones can change this. A water mage's eyes may turn blue, a child born in a sandstorm may have light brown hair, someone saved by a light mage may have their skin turn pale and their eyes turn golden. That sort of thing. Often the source of the change cannot be found, and it's attributed to the way The Desert wanted it to be.

Magic
Both have some magic users, and both inherently have the Three Gifts (ability to find water, internal conservation of water, and partial immunity to heatstroke) although about 5%-10% of the population lacks one or more of these and copes the old-fashioned way.

Clothing
Both tend to wear loose-fitting light-weight clothing. If there is much of any wind, people tend to favor black clothing, covering much of the body (to protect from the sun), and on still days, tighter pale or white clothing is preferred. Clothing is not gender, age, rank, or wealth specific (though accessories are). Powerful mages, and mages in intense study tend to wear additional trappings of their element (Arroyo) or environment (Chaparral).

Beliefs
Most of their belief systems are undocumented. One particularly popular one is that all bad (and most good) things are the direct or indirect result of powerful mages in other areas meddling with their own environment. They even extend this to the movements of planets, etc. Also popular is the belief that before a time of great calamity, a child will be born (with jerboa ears and a few other odd features) to non-mage parents that will be a powerful enough mage to avert or mitigate the disaster if trained up right. Some say this is a blessing, others a sign of doom. It is generally believed that people either become part of the desert when they die or become dust and blow to wetter climes in the next great sandstorm. As such, sometimes lightning misses you, or an eddy steers you towards the shore, and it's probably the intervention of someone you once knew. Same if in an area with many trees you get hit with lightning, or if a snake bites you rather than the one who disturbed it. Usually grand concepts are treated with reverence and ascribed will (such as The Desert turned her eyes green, or The Monsoon has chosen to bring dry lightning and fires).

Language
Both tribes speak a somewhat related language, which are rendered in plain English for simplicity. Picture them how you want, perhaps like Spanish or Arabic or Swahili or Nahuatl or O'Odham. Whatever floats your boat.

Setting

Rain and Plants
For the setting, picture the Sonoran Desert.  It is rather wet for a desert, and is home to drought-tolerant cacti, succulents, trees, shrubs, and wildflowers aplenty. This isn't your stereotypical dunes and dust desert, but it does qualify as a desert.

Temperature
It gets between 10-12 inches of rain a year, mostly during the monsoon season.  Daytime temperatures regularly top 100F in the summer, and significantly colder at night (Usually in the 70s or 80s in more vegetated areas, potentially freezing in desolate areas). Usually they stay indoors (in adobe [brick] houses) during the day in summer, and spend their evenings outside on the flat roof of their home or simply outside somewhere.

Flash flooding
The sky can be clear and blue, but rain in the mountains can cause a dry arroyo to be a raging river in a matter of minutes, with little to no warning. Normally they just avoid the arroyo bed itself in monsoon, but sometimes it hits flood stage and that's not enough.
Subpages (1): gila monster excerpt
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