Endless Blue – Week 81 – Olyhydra: The Mistress of Law   Leave a comment

Theology

Olyhydra: The Mistress of Law

Life is toil.  You must work to survive, and even then you are not guaranteed a respite from your labors.  But following the Law is the only path to salvation.  Strict adherence to the dictates of Olyhydra ensures that however brief the anguish in this world, by doing Her bidding secures your reward in the next.  Eschew temptations that steal you away from your work, and dedicate your life to doing Her will.

Unlike most other Elquan religions that foster morality through promises granted in this lifetime, Olyhydra promises eternal salvation after death.  The un-saved are buoyed up to the surface world, where they suffer unending torture and anguish among the aberrations there.  This is why the dead float upward.  It is how things work; it is the natural law.

Olyhydra, The Stern Goddess, Mistress of Law, Mother of Suffering, Matron of the Waters,  Judge-of-All, the Path to Salvation.

Alignment: Lawful neutral
Symbol: Elquan scales and the melusine tail
Domains: Force, Law, Protection, Strength, Water
Preferred unguis (weapon): Bident, a two-tined trident
Clerical Weapon of Choice: Tridents at lower levels (priest through deacon), bidents for upper echelons (bishops on up).
Cleric Alignment: Lawful neutral, neutral, neutral evil, lawful evil.

Divine Visage

Olyhydra, expectantly, appears as an idealized Mer, except that Her tail is split down the center.  Images of Law Mistress show each of these calved halves curved upward on either side of Her, both supporting the pan of a balance scale.  The scales represent Olyhydra as the ultimate arbiter of worth, and that judgement is Hers to decide with but a shift of either tail-half.  In one hand She carries a trident, a symbol of Her power; in the other is a net, illustrating the all-encompassing reach of that power.

Church of Olyhydra

The organized religion of the Stern Mistress is officially referred to as the Holy Church of Olyhydra, or the Olyhydran Church.  In following Her teachings, the role of the church is to maintain control over her congregation, spread Her word to new believers, and usher new souls to the afterlife.  The church does this by keeping the level of education amongst the piscean populace low, by keeping literacy at a minimum save for those in its own clergy.  Without the ability to read, write, or do math, the church keeps its school dependent on their service.

Pastor — the lowest grade in the Olyhydran hierarchy save that of generic priest, a Pastor serves as the ordained head of  a congregation.  Called a parish, it is the small, local area of influence of the Olyhydran Church, and is the deepest into the operations of the Church that most pisceans are privy.

Deacon — watches over multiple Pastors and their congregations.  More bureaucrat than priest, they are in charge of the operations of the church, physically and monetarily.  Deacons are the “tithe collectors” of the organization

Bishop — a step above deacon, and operates in much the same way.  Their duties are more political in nature.

Cardinal — the inner circle of the Olyhydran hierarchy.  They interact with the Pearl Pontiff personally.  There can be only one Cardinal per aquapolitical organization (i.e., there is one cardinal for each of the eight Mer Currents, as well as one for each of the other Fluid Nations).  Additional cardinals exist, such as the one that oversees the Adjudicators.  The cardinals are the “faces” of the Church in their area, and serve as proxies to the head of the Church.

At the top of the Church hierarchy sits the Pearl Pontiff.  The Pontiff is the head of the Church, the chosen representative of the Judge-of-All.  She charges her pontiff to carry out Her will in the homeseas of Elqua, to spread Her influence across the Known World.

Adjudicators are the judicial/retributive arm of the Olyhydran Church.  Membership to the Adjudicators is through appointment only by the Bishop Adjudicator, who in turn is hand-picked by the Pontiff herself.  They use the same rank system as the rest of the Church, but operate independently of the main church and are not in charge of congregations.  They meter our punishment from the church hierarchy upon those that threaten its sovereignty from within or without.  The severity of the Law Mistress’ punishment makes Adjudicators a feared sight, and usually the mere presence of an Adjudicator is enough to change piscean’s behavior significantly.  One of the most infamous of the Adjudicator’s crusades was the Culling Purge, the near-mob mentality slaughter of thousands of pisceans for little more than being accused of holding Resurrectionist beliefs.

Shrines and Ceremonies

The Cathedral of Olyhydra is often referred to as a “wonder of the modern world”.  Hews out of a single immense slap of basalt, the cathedral is located at the junction of three Mer Currents.  It is a stark, imposing monolith of a structure, and its design make it clear that the edifice is nothing but a mer-made monument to the most demanding of Goddesses.

As the popularity of the Olyhydran belief has grown, so to has the settlement around it.  What was once just the dwellings of the Church’s faculty has since bloomed into a great metropolis.  It has the distinction of almost being treated as its own Current, and is not considered to be part of the surrounding currents.

Smaller churches are scattered across the sea floor — some impressive works of architecture in their own right, others simply adapted dwellings for the local faithful to join together in worship.

Services are held frequently and repeatedly, like clockwork.  Multiple services each day give those practitioners opportunity to bask in Her magnificence while still completing their daily labors.  Precise regularity in services shows the Stern Mistress reverence.  Attendance of as many as possible is expected, though only the most devout go more than once or twice in Elqua’s five-day week.

Allied Organizations

There are few organizations outside of the Olyhydran Church that would qualify as true allies.  It is more accurate to say that most of the Olyhydran Church’s influence comes from the devotion of members in key positions in the local society.  Olyhydrans have ingratiated themselves into Mer Currents government, and show a significant influence over Mer policy making.  Having the fealty of pisceans in high places has made the Holy Church plenty of powerful allies.

One organization that could perhaps be considered an “ally” is the Liberty Tide.  The Liberty Tide stands against the slavery of other pisceans, and the Church has seen this as an opportunity to spread it’s faith.  The Church offers aid and solace to Liberty Tide operatives, even political and religious protection if needed.  The Mistress of Law’s writings prohibit the owning of others as property, seeing instead that all are in truth Her property.  This thin thread of commonality has provided succor for many Liberty Tide cells in Olyhydran parishes.

Opposed Organizations

The Godless — Flat out defying the Holy Church, the “Godless” (a label given to their cause, not chosen) teach literacy and arithmetic to the masses as an effort to break the Church’s domination through education.  Outliers — pilgrims of the Godless that travel across the Known World teaching any willing to learn — have been targeted by more zealous Olyhydrans (both civilian and clergy) for persecution.  Most claim it is done as retaliation against what their religion views as heresy, but the truth leans more towards reinforcing their grip on piscean population.

Paragon CynosureResurrectionists that aim to resurrect a dead species — namely the Icht — are seen as heretics in the eyes of the Stern Mistress.  However there exists an uneasy truce between the two, as the use of homunculi in the Mer Currents is common, if not prevalent.  Even the Church itself will use lower level homunculi for its more physically demanding work.  The line is drawn at independent thought, that no homunculi should be able to think for itself.  There are no more than tools, hoes and scythes used for toil.  They serve the greater cause, and nothing else.  Independently willful homunculi are seen as an affront to Olyhydra, as only She has the sole purview over what may live.

Synesthete Synod — While the two seldom come to conflict directly, emissaries of both will manipulate their agents into carrying out the less savory actions needed to advance their cause.  Only the inadequate agents let things grow to the point of violence, but it has happened more than once.  Adjudicators have a reputation for expunging Prospectors among the Sahaguin, for example.  While the Church has only an inkling of the Synod‘s divinations into the living Acumen Cipher, they have no concept of how far the synesthete’s plans have advanced.

Relations with other Religions

The Holy Church’s relation with other theologies is at best considered poor to outright hostile.  A core tenet of Olyhydranism is the claim that the Law Mistress is the one, true divine being.  This clashes with similar assertions by other religions, but is an unwavering belief of those that worship the Stern Mistress.

There is particular enmity towards Pantheon worship, as it not only contravenes the Church’s claim of one true Goddess, but the domain of each of the Yaun-Teel gods is portrayed as sinful in Olyhydran dogma.  Despite this, the congregation has found a common ground with the Yaun-Til concept of “The Principles of Service“, and as a result have had an influx of Yaun-Teel conversions.

Pity is the best way to describe the Church’s view of belief in the Source.  It is seen more as primitive superstition than any serious contender for dominant religion.  Those that honor the Source are said to be backward fools, and it is the Church’s duty to enlighten them to the glory of Olyhydra.

A step above Source belief in the eyes of the Church is ancestor worship.  There are tinges of ancestor worship in the Holy Church in the form of venerating saints.  With this common ground , conversion to Olyhydranism is helped by drawing a parallel between their practice and the Church’s own saints, with Olyhydra being “the Saint of saints”.

Sectarianism exists in the Church, without a doubt.  The brunt of this prejudice is levelled against the Godless and Maelstrom cultists (also known as Elsewhere servants).  The official stance of the Holy Church is that atheists as un-savable by choice, and Maelstrom cultists un-savable by corruption.  Historically, the Church of Olyhydra excommunicates those who spout extremist ideas such as these, as they notably excommunicated Seamus Lorwynn (the father of evolution).  Others, such as Endira Mundi, have been censured long after her death, despite the Church’s monopolization of her creation, math.

Schisms

The Holy Church has not existed long enough for a true schism to have formed in its followers.  There are those, however, that view Olyhydra in a less stern light.  This apocryphal sect calls her Melusine, and portrays Her as the Mother of Suffering, a divine being that suffers in their stead.  The Goddess still expects devotion and hard work from her school, but is more understanding when the flawed piscean does not measure up to Her expectations.

” She is the law, she is the water,
she gives life, she expects toil
she is the Judge-of-All…”
– a short Olyhydran prayer

Endless Blue – Week 80 – Nautilus   Leave a comment

Archeology

This is one of the earliest images I envisioned for the Endless Blue setting: a Roman-style nautilus helmet.

Nautilus Helmet

Nautilus Helmet

Piscean aesthetics favor the natural coloration of a material, and artisans compliment that rather than obscure it with pigments or plating.

Endless Blue – Week 79 – Tidal Malaise: Sickness in the Seas   Leave a comment

Biology

Tidal Malaise

Wherever life thrives, other forms of life evolve to prey upon it.  Such is the ancestry of the great oceanic predators like the carcharadons and pleisosaurs, but not all aggressive creatures embraced the evolutionary path that led to massive size.  Some of the most lethal forms of life in Elqua are too small to be seen.  These are the microbes and viruses that take advantage of the ocean currents to travel from host to perspective victim.

Complete submersion makes transmission of communicable diseases easier.  Unlike our world, where the air makes it somewhat more easy to avoid contaminated sources, water flows every where, and eventually through the gills of all pisceans.  Because it is so easy to catch a disease when you float in shared fluid, Elquan society has created social taboos and mores to govern daily life, all with an eye on preventing the spread of maladies.  Dietary constraints are a major deterrent used by piscean life, and especially the Church of Olyhydra.  The lists of animals and plants that are deemed “unclean” by the Olyhydran dogma is long and convoluted.  Further sanctions on where bodily waste may be expelled, avoidance of spawning waters, and a myriad of other laws dictate the life of the devout Olyhydran.  It is no faint claim that Olyhydrans call their diety “the Harsh Mistress”.

Sickness in the Seas

Unfortunately, scientific medicine is still in its infancy in the Endless Blue.  The College of Doctors is an arm of the Resurrectionist philosophy that has only now found a level of acceptance in the Mer Currents.  Many pisceans still see them as corpse stealers and plague bearers.  It has been a hard current to cross, as historically Anatomist have been known as grave robbers and persecuted en masse, the worst known as the Culling Purge.  With few chances to observe, hypothesize, and test their ideas, these Anatomists have only a basic understand that disease is passed from individual to individual through some strange property of the normally life-giving water, but are at a loss as to how to prevent the spread.

Argulus — Argulus is caused by infestation of lice — a crustacean parasite that can just barely be seen with the naked eye — causing morbidity and eventually death.  Despite their ease of notice, they can be readily overlooked when doing a scale scrape, appearing as just dark spots on the host that could just as likely be coloration if not for their movement.

Anchor worms — Another parasite, anchor worms tax the systems of their host and weaken its resistance to other diseases, though rarely kill in itself.  The larval form buries itself deeply into the muscular tissue of the host, making it difficult to remove.  There it incubates for several months, where upon it makes its way back out of the host.  This leaves ugly, obvious wounds that do not heal.  It is a common disease in areas of bloodshed.

Blackgill  — Blackgill consists of a loss of scales and/or coloration, a blackening tar on the gills, lesions, the body wasting away, spine curling and other skeletal deformities.  Usually terminal, even the Resurrectionists advise euthanasia over making the victim suffer through the disease.  It plays a much similar role as tuberculosis does in our world.

Dropsy — A mysterious disease, it normally only manifests in the already sick.  It affects the renal system and results in fluid retention, causing the body to bloat and scales to distend.  The distended scales make the soft flesh beneath vulnerable to parasites (see argulus above).  Kelaguen infusions have shown a modicum of results in combating the disease in the short term.

Fin rot — A bacterial infestation of the webbing of fins, fin rot is unknown among the Orcans, Chelon, or Lumulus (and few care if it affects the Ceph).  The bacteria feeds on the thin membranes, and use the easily accessed capillaries to travel through the circulatory system to other fins.  The leprosy of the setting, it is a terrifying decaying of the piscean body while he still lives.

Hole in the Head — a dietary disease, comes from poor intake of vitamins and calcium.  Manifests in pitting of the skull and down the lateral line of the victim that grow into cavities, the flesh sinking into the vacancy.  The disease can be treated, but recovery from the progressed effects cannot be mitigated.

Ich — Also known as White Spot disease, it is one of the  most common and oldest of maladies.  It forms small white cysts on the body — the epynomous “white spots”.  A protazoean cell attaches to the piscean’s skin and feeds on bodily fluids.  As it matures, it grows the white cyst shell, usually the first outward sign of infection.  It is usually too late to do much at this point, and the victim must wait until the cyst has aged and dropped off.  These shed cysts will eventually crack and release more of the protozoa into the water to repeat the cycle.  Sufferers are generally isolated to low, near Shelf level of ocean where the currents will drag the hatching eggs down to the sea floor instead of circulating them among the populace.

Velvet — An incredibly virulent disease that manifests with a reddish-brown or golden dust spreading outwards from the gills.  The primitive races tend to be resistant to the damaging effects of the disease, and become carriers.  The civilized races seem to be especially susceptible to velvet, possibly the result of epigenetics.  It inhibits breathing, shortening the breath and eventually asphyxiating the victim.

Wasting — The terrifying syndrome that recurs yearly on the anniversary of the Rending of the Gorgon, consists of the body’s muscles twisting incessantly, to the point of tearing apart.  It has been partially weaponized, with those knowingly infected plotting to expose innocents to the disease where it will do the most damage.

Infection is a daily worry for those that breathe and swim the waters of Elqua.  Never discount the social stigma that might result in the superstitious from a tiny cough or ashen complexion.

 “Suffer not the unclean, lest your life suffer as well…”
Olyhydran proverb

Endless Blue – Week 78 – Whispered Secrets in the Deep Sound Channel   Leave a comment

Physics

Whispered Secrets in the Deep Sound Channel

It cannot be emphasized enough how much water engulfs the world of Elqua.  At only 5% of its surface being land, it is a world that is nearly submerged beneath vast, deep, and consequently heavy oceans.  The pull of gravity on the great expanses of water overhead makes the layers beneath become more compact.  As the accumulating weight above pushes downward, this increasing pressure makes the water below compress more and more, which as a result creates such problems for oceanic life as crushing pressure and maintaining buoyancy.  However, there exists an interesting positive effect of this highly compacted water molecules: the Deep Sound Channel.

The deep sound channel is a phenomenon where the speed of sound is heightened to a maximum due to depth pressure, water temperature, and salinity.  Water is a superior medium for conducting sound, since there more molecules closer together to propagate the sound wave.  Distilled water is approximately 4.3 times a better conductor of sound than ambient air.  Adjusting for saltwater, colder temperatures, and pressure, and that rises to over five times as conductive.  As these factors increase the deeper you go, the water takes on superior sound refracting qualities that rival sound propagation above the waves,  Sound can be carried more easily and farther at the expense of less energy.  This is the manner in which whalesong travels so far and remains viable.  And here, both literally and figuratively, is where the magic happens.

There are claims that not only can the calls of sea fauna be heard for miles, but older, more puissant sounds still echo since their first utterance.  It is believed that the First Words of the Verse can still be heard across the oceans of Elqua.  Those first notes, the syllables that began the world of the Endless Blue, have been resonating along the deepest trenches where only the Cetaceans can hear.  Remnants of the First Verse still reverberate here, a bass background rhythm, eternally crisscrossing the globe, holding the secrets of creation for those that dare seek it out.  Orcan and other mystics delve into the deep sound channel for scraps of enlightenment.  The echoes of the First Verse repeat, overlap, synchronize, heighten — like a natural condensator of the creative magicks that created the world — producing the purest harmony praising the act of creation.

In the Chelon Sea, there stands the memorial spire of a past Emperor, Prolixus Princeps.  Built in the later years of his reign, its foundation was laid in a valley of land that had little other use: it was too deep to be used for aquaculture, the currents too cold and saline for livestock.  Otherwise, there is no evidence to support that the choice of location was for any other reason than the area serve little purpose.  During construction, the site was plagued with reports of workers hearing “whispers where no one was”, and earned the project a foolish belief it was haunted.  It wasn’t until the death of Prolixus and building was complete that the stained glass mosaics praising his reign began to vibrate.  The climate in this area had worsened, and the water became dense enough for a tributary of the deep sound channel to wash over the spire.  Like a crystal goblet, the glass in the walls of the spire began to vibrate sympathetically with the flow of the deep sound channel, and the entire tower would intermittently sing.  After the discovery, propagandists would claim the Chelon Empire would expand as far as the spire’s sound was heard, with several outbreaks of the Shellback Wars using this belief as a rationale for expansion.

Not every race is as graciously accepting of the deep sound channel.  It is because of its inherent “audio conductivity” that the Kouton avoid building their mausoleums there.  They hoard their secrets jealously, and avoid forming any settlements in the area.  That is not to say a Kouton wouldn’t be willing to learn any mystery the channel whispered to them, just that they would not risk their own secrets to be spread by it, and neither would they want to be spotted by other Kouton lingering there.  The Lumulus avoid the channel as well, normally giving it wide berth.  When travel forces them to cross the channel, they will usually take the most direct path across despite how much more additional time it adds to their trip.

There are others that wish to utilize the channel in vain.  The lost pisceans in the Undertow consistently hope for a connection to the deep sound channel, in hopes of adding their pleas for salvation to the voices in the current.  However, unknown to them, the last surviving Kraken lingers in a pool that is filled by a side-stream of the deep sound channel.  There, she listens to the history of her kind’s former glory replay over and over again, their cruel fall from grace, their punishment by damnation, all slowly twisting her mind, maybe even her body…

The Calls of the Cetacean Hordes

One of the engineering marvels of the Orcans, the Calls date back to the reign of the Cetacean Barbarians.  This network of thin towers are dotted across the Cetacean Ocean, each supporting a strange octahedral diamond-shaped object at the peak.  These objects are carved from of dense stone with geometric precision, with four hollow triangular pyramids on the bottom and another four along the top.  The hollow pyramids are at right angles to each other, forming a square mid-line through the object.

The ancient Cetaceans discovered that sound could be reflected, and through experimentation developed these arrays of corner-shaped reflectors to help their already mighty whalesongs to travel further and with precise control.  Each of the three flat surfaces of each pyramid intersect perpendicularly, forming a concave space that bounces sound back at a path parallel to the original sound.  By angling the sides of each pyramid, sounds that enter the retro-reflectors can be concentrated and directed in specific directions.

This proved very useful to the early Orcans, whom set up small sentry stations across their borders as an early warning system to the settlements further inside the homesea’s borders.  At the first sign of danger, a powerful Versesinger could direct his whalesong toward one of these “Calls”, which in turn would relay the sound towards the predetermined settlements.  And while not as accurate, the Calls were also be used as waymarkers for Cetacean navigators that traveled beyond their homsea’s borders, becoming a “homing signal” when used with the species’ native echolocative senses.

The sharp angles of the Calls are a stark contrast to the graceful curves of Elqua’s leylines.  Points of intersection bring both woe and weal to the local inhabitants.  The Orcans in general pay little head of leyline locations; the Chelon, however, find the Calls disruptive.  These “Walls of Calls” interfere with native fauna, driving wildlife away much like any noisy area would.

The Sea Hags

Here be the Sea Hags.  The Crones.  Dreaded individuals of awesome might, their bodies and minds metamorphosized through immersion in the resonating theurgy of the Deep Sound Channel.  Perhaps the epitome of synesthesic divination, all their senses are tied together.  Sound triggers color, which triggers taste, which triggers scent…  Sea Hags have a supernatural attunement to the patterns of Elqua, seeing the connections that even the Synesthete Synod can only dream of linking.  They would be oracles of their world, if not for the reticence of Sea Hags to interact with the known races.  They usually maintain of stance of non-interference, playing little part in day-to-day existence for the Fluid Nations.  Indeed, they almost ignore the piscean races entirely.  There is a saying credited to the Crones: “One cannot learn unless one listens; one cannot listen if one is acting…”

Despite their collective name, the Sea Hags are not a race — each Hag is an individual, physically different from any other Hag.  The long eons submerged in the last vestiges of the First Verse has changed them.  Once piscean, their eyelids have fused shut over their eyes and have sunken into their sockets, and their forehead melons have turned transparent.  Their tails have split into multiple tentacles.  Otherwise, the manifestation of their transformation is personal.  For example, the Lumulan Sea Hag known as Black Annis has her carapace extending over her tentacles, giving them a multi-jointed look.  Cailleach of Locanth Gulf is a mix between a Gaia-mother and a Master of the Wild Hunt, while Atropos in the Chelon Sea is a living coral reef.  Of an unnamed Sea Hag in the Yaun-Teel Bights is said,  “…the lash of each of her sinewy tentacles delivers a different punishment according to the deadly sins…”  Conjecture speculates that there is no Sea Hag from the shallow Sahaguin Lagoons, but there are a few deep dips in the area where the deep sound channel can reach.

The foundation of the Prime Chorus came from the tragic divination by the Sea Hag Grendel concerning the fate of Khantusk. During the decline of the reign of the Cetacean Khanate, Orcan leaders became more and more obsessed with reclaiming their former glory and indulged in a series of ill advised military incursions into foreign territory.  As the health of the last Khan faltered, the head of the Eight Banners become more desperate to maintain the failing empire.  The head of each of the Eight Banners — the traditional divisions of the Cetacean Hordes — believed they would be the best to inherit the mantle of Orcan leadership.  During these desperate grabs of power, one particular incursion into the deeper fathoms of the Cetacean Ocean ran afoul of one of the more savage of the Sea Hags, the crone known as Grendel.  When the crone would not swear allegiance to the Banner’s ordu, the Noyan ordered his forces to attack.  He flung tumen after tumen at the Sea Hag, who slaughtered each successive wave of soldiers.  Once the waters cleared, only three pisceans remained: the crone herself, the Banner’s Noyan, and the ordu’s young vexillifer, Issoh Mumol.  Before the young Orcan’s eyes, Grendel slew the pompous Noyan and used his entrails to cast a divination of the fate of the Khanate.  Through the glaze in blood frenzied eyes, the Grendel foretold the fall of the Khanate and a rivening of its pisceans, half of whom would abandon their ways as the other half abandoned their nation.  The rift would never be mended, she intoned, unless…  unless the lost symbol of the Cetacean Hordes united them again.  That symbol was Khantusk, and Grendel foresaw the artifact would fall into the grasp of an enemy.  There would be no unification without Khantusk, and its recovery would signify the return of the Orcan glory.  The visceral bruatlity of it all burned the prophecy into Issoh’s soul, and she dedicated herself to the reclamation of Khantusk.  She founded the Primal Chorus, using it as a front to collect intelligence and influence in the quest to reclaim the lost relic of Cetacean might.

In the Tale of the Crone Gorgon, the Sea Hag of Kouton Bay that broke not only her kind’s belief in non-interference but her species’ belief in keeping secrets, aided the Piscean races in their efforts to throw off the shackles of Kraken oppression.  Many key victories were won due to her information, but inevitably the Kraken Occupation found out and in a public spectacle meant to crush all hope, dismembered her.  Her screams joined the deep sound channel, and the agony can still be heard today.  But her slaughter did not go unavenged.  As her blood spilled into the currents, it spontaneously sprouted one of the most virulent red tides since the Cardinal Epoch.  As the red tide flourished, it infiltrated the gills of the Kraken present and infected their bodies.  An insidious invader, the red tide was slow to act, as if biding its time until the Kraken were dispersed across the Known World.   It took an entire year for the infection to act.  On the first anniversary of the Rending of the Gorgon. those Kraken involved in the vile murder sudden experienced muscle spasms, rendered helpless as their twitching, flexing muscles  wound their tentacles up into dense knots, so tightly they tore themselves apart.  Victims lingered, helplessly immobile as their own bodies ripped themselves apart.  The infection was spread to any other Kraken nearby, repeating the year long incubation and unavoidable rending.  The Wasting, as it became known, has since become an annual recurrence that the Resurrectionists and their College of Doctors have so far been unable to cure.

Fairy tales of Hags stealing the breath from the gills of the impertinent and disobedient are a common part of piscean childhood.  One of the most famous is the chronicles between the Hag known as the Harridan and the Fry of the Black Mangrove, where the children suffered at her hands after taunting her maliciously.  The stories go back and forth between which was the original aggressor, and each subsequent round of the escalating interaction becoming more and more fantastic.  From what the tales suggest, the antagonism between the two factions is ongoing to this very day.

Whispers in the Dark

But the First Verse is not all that still lingers in the deep sound channel, preserved in a cerulean amber with eerie clarity.  The trace murmurs of the replaced Icth, bemoaning both their appearance as well as their disappearance.  The rustling movement of the expanding kelpygmy tribes, as they mysteriously appear across the Known World.  The unending gyre of the Maelstrom as it trawls the ocean floors, upturning silt and sediment, eternally scratching at the sea floor as if searching for something.  What might happen to a monolithic Spur in the wake of the deep sound channel?  What reaction might occur if the Indigo spread into the channel, or a red tide was carried along its currents?  Could it be that the Leviathan of Coinchenn that the First Khan slew during the Mer Exodus was a transmogrified Sea Hag Icht?  And then there is the floating island of Atlantica, the enigmatic chunk of stone and sand that seems to eternally hover between the surface and the ocean floor.  It is not hard to realize that at some point it may — or even does — pass through the deep sound channel.

In the fathomless depths, secrets lie, and lies are kept secret…

Endless Blue — Player Race Illustrations by Vincent Coviello   Leave a comment

In the fall of 2013, I had the pleasure of commissioning a series of nine digital paintings by Vincent Coviello (V4m2c4 on DeviantArt).  Each image has a tight line drawing, a full color illustration (as seen below), and a final background composite.  Many of the magnificent details in these drawings came from Vincent himself, and his input was spot on.  During the whole process I could not help myself from checking my email compulsively for the newest sketch or update.  I may have suffered a little bit of withdrawal when he finished the project.

Illustrations of the player races in the Endless Blue Campaign Setting.

Illustrations of the player races in the Endless Blue Campaign Setting.

 

This and some of his other work has been recently featured on IO9.com in the article “Can We Please Have More Diverse Dragon Designs Like These?”  His hard work and talent are plain to see.  It was a pleasure working with Vincent, and hopefully, someday I will again…

Endless Blue – Week 77 – Aquatic Prosthetics: Restoring What Was Lost   Leave a comment

Archeology

Aquatic Prosthetics: Restoring What Was Lost

Life beneath the waves is a perilous existence.  The constant battle between the well-honed ungues of the predator and the evolutionary adaptions to escape of their prey is a constant specter.  Those escape tactics don’t always succeed, and by some twist of fat should the prey survive an attack, they rarely always survive unscathed.  The lucky remain relatively intact, with scarred-over gashes where tooth tore flesh.  But many other creatures pay a dear price for their freedom, losing limbs to the jaws of the aberrations above or the ocean predators below.  For these victims, their loss need not be completely permanent.

Prostheses are artificial creations that replace lost bodily parts.  Their purpose is so the piscean can regain normal function in day-to-day society.  While lost limbs are seen as a red badge of courage (and those individuals are given respect for the dangers they escaped from), their absence still proves a hindrance to living under the waves.  Instead of having to rely on another piscean for daily functions, most pisceans prefer the independence granted by limb replacement.

Form and Function

Most prostheses are single function.  Meaning, they are designed to replace a single activity the lost limb could accomplish.  Tails and fins are designed to give maneuverability back to the amputee.  A lost hand would be replaced with either a hook for combat or a flipper for movement.  Chirurgeons, who often “cut to cure”, rely heavily on prostheses for their patients.  Resurrectionists study anatomy in order to better understand the piscean form, and by extension this helps them design better prostheses.

Mariners and other soldiers often lose a limb in the service of their homesea.  In the cases of lost hands, many chose to have their favorite weapon replace the lost hand.  Spear and Trident heads are the most prevalent, but simple blades or even blunt cestus’ are known to exist.  Many military groups bestow those maimed in service with a traditional prosthesis that bears an inscription or other carved insignia dedicated to the piscean’s sacrifice for their homesea.  Such a prosthesis would be passed down from generation to generation, down the family line, as a symbol of respect and reverence, in many ways becoming a family heirloom.  Sahaguin have been known to purposely amputate themselves so a particularly famous family prosthesis could be attached to their body, raising their esteem in the community.

Forms of Prostheses:

Limb — Prostheses of this type can vary in nature.  While a finger is usually too small to replace and still maintain functionality, a limb missing at various points along the arm is more common.  Hand, forearm, and full arm limb replacements are possible.  While movement at the joints is possible, it is a bend-and-lock mechanism that must be adjusted through applied force.  These prostheses are incapable of mimicking normal movement of a limb.

Tail — A common predatory tactic is to sneak up from below and bite their prey in half.  It is rare to survive this kind of suprise attack, but it does happen.  Survivors find a great portion of their tails lost.  Such a loss severely impacts the ability to swim through the water.  Tail prostheses are based on a flexible rod that replicates the undulating movement of swimming in reaction to movement in the hips.  Otherwise, the prosthesis is rather stiff, making its existence obvious to the observer.

Dental — Blunt trauma to the face can result in permanent dental damage.  The repair of lost teeth or a damaged jaw is possible through dental prostheses.  These are usually permanent implants, but temporary removable dentures are possible.  Due to the variation between the shape of the mouth, all dental prostheses are custom-made.

Ocular — Lost eyes can be replaced by finely smoothed glass or obsidian glass spheres that are inserted into the empty socket.  Unfortunately, these prostheses are cosmetic only, and cannot restore binocular vision.

Dorsal/Pectoral/Caudal Fin — The replacement of fins is important to the mobility of the afflicted piscean.  Fins are normally in a constant state of small waving motions, in order to stabilize or shift the orientation of the individual.  Even the most delicate of fins can be replaced, but restoring the original minute dexterity is beyond the skill of prosthetics designers.

Enscorcelled Prosethetics
These are magical works of metal, bone, coral, and other materials.  Imbued with mystic energy, they act exactly like the missing appendage or organ.  The most infamous of these magical prostheses is the Cetacean artifact, Khantusk.  Wielded by the first Khan of the Cetacean Hordes, and lost during the battle of the Leviathan, Khantusk bestows great leadership and mastery of command to those that posses it.

Resurrectionist Prosthetics
Biological prostheses are the grafting of flesh given life once more.  These prostheses are not cheap: Resurrectionists still suffer from the superstitious fear of the populace, so they must work in secret, and require severe compensation for the risk they incur.  But should a piscean possess enough wealth, he might persuade a Resurrectionist to graft a limb.  These limbs utilize the same animus vitae that Resurrectionists employ in the animation of homonculi.  The replaced limb becomes a natural part of the, with the same blood flow as the rest of the piscean.

“Transpisceanism”

The Transpiscean Movement is in its infancy.  These Resurrectionist believe that the races of the Elqua should not be limited by the piscean form.  The piscean form can be improved upon, through the grafting of newer organs.  Some fear this idea of slowly replacing the body with homonculi organs, piece by piece.  But it goes further than a creeping supposition of the body — Transpiceans believe they should not be limited to the shape of their bodies.  Extra arms, dermal carapaces, even organs like ink glands or venom sacs can be infused into the piscean form, at the individual’s whim.

Due to cultural taboos, Transpisceanism is viewed negatively by many species of the Known World.  The Chelon and Lumulus, usually at odds over almost everything, both reject the idea of purposely revising the body.  The Church of Olyhydra views it as an aborration against the Mistress’ design, to such an extent as to decry almost any prosthetic other than those that are the most primitive, basically sticks strapped to arms.  But Transpisceanism has found a home in the Mer Currents due to the culture’s inherent openness to new ideas.  There it flourishes just as well as the Olyhydran Church, and it is just a matter of time until the two philosophies clash.

The piscean form is an artifact designed by inheritance.
It was not designed to remain in its present biologic state
any more than roe is designed to remain roe.
– Transpisceanist argument.

Endless Blue – Week 76 – The Aboleth: Puppeteers of the Deep   Leave a comment

Zoology

The Aboleth: Puppeteers of the Deep

When the Kraken Empire fell, the apex predator of the Endless Blue disappeared almost overnight.  This left a vacuum in Elquan ecology that has never been truly filled.  That is, until now.  The aboleths have stirred from their “long dreaming”, and begun infiltrating their thralls into the political and social circles of the Known World.

Aboleth

Huge Aberration (Aquatic)
Hit Dice: 8d8 +40 (76 hp)
Initiative: +1 (Dex)
Speed: 60 feet (12 cubes)
Buoyancy: Shelf (adjustable)
Armor Class: 16 (-2 size, +1 Dex, +7 natural)
Base Attack/Grapple: +6/+22
Attack: Tentacle +12 mêlée (1d6+8 plus slime)
Full Attack: 4 tentacles +12 mêlée (1d6+8 plus slime)
Space/Reach: 10 ft. by 20 ft./10 ft.
Special Attacks: Subjugate, parasite, psionics, slime
Special Qualities: Darkvision 60 ft., ultravision 60 ft., mucus cloud
Saves: Fort +7, Ref +3, Will +11.
Abilities: Str 26, Dex 12, Con 20, Int 15, Wis 17, Cha 17
Skills: Concentration +16, Knowledge (any) +13, Listen +16, Spot +16, Swim +8
Feats: Alertness, Combat Casting, Iron Will
Environment: Deep, dark waters (Shelf)
Organization: Solitary or slaver brood (1 plus 7-12 skum).
Challenge Rating: 7
Treasure: Double standard.
Alignment: Usually lawful evil.
Advancement: Huge (9-16 HD),  Gargantuan (17-24 HD)
Level Adjustment: -

Aboleths are vile, alien aberrations.  They occupy no true role in the delicate ecological balance of Elqua.  Instead, they subvert and undermine the natural ecosystem to suit their whims.  They do not insinuate themselves into the natural order, but instead disrupt it by their very presence.  Nothing preys on these aberrations, allowing them free passage where every they go.  And where ever they go, the reap devastation.

Their huge, massive bodies are roughly twenty foot long prism-shapes, and consist of sickly colored teal, segmented plates covering their front and a flexible, finned tail behind a circle of socketed tentacles.  Its ventral side is a pale, jaundiced pink that falsely looks tender and vulnerable.  Along its sides are a series of darkened, pulsating sphincters.  These orifices constantly ooze a steady flow of mucus that the aboleth spreads over its entire body with its four tentacles.  This cloudy, rancid mucus is insoluble in water, and prevents the aboleth’s scent from being carried on the currents.  It had detrimental effect on the biology of the average piscean.

The vertical row of sanguine eyes on the prow of their head betrays the wicked intelligence of these monsters.  They see all matter as their play things, and treat creatures with cruelty and disdain.  Their unblinking vision can stare straight into the soul of a piscean, and somehow finds every weakness therein to manipulate.  They will distract and seduce a victim, separating him from the group for enough time to crush his will and mentally enslave him.  Once dominated, the aboleth initiates a slow transformation process in its victims that culminates in their utter submission into a form of sub-piscean known as a “skum”.  Skum are the puppets of the aboleth, working for the aberrations, completely unaware they dance on strings.

Aboleth possess a communal racial memory.  What one aboleth knows, all know.  An aboleth possesses the knowledge and memory of its predecessors as if they were its own.  This way, there is no actual “teaching” of aboleth ideas and culture — you have to be an aboleth to know it.  This has produced a level of technology far in advance of the pisceans of the Known World.  A form of bio-technology, their artifacts were once living creatures, now perverted in purpose by the malign needs of the aboleth.  Without being an aboleth, no one can utilize their bioconstructs, no matter how simple, other than clumsily swinging and thrusting.  The operation of aboleth biotech requires the mind of an aboleth, controlling the body of an aboleth, to act in an aboleth manner.  At the very least, all aboleth grafts — the fusing of a living creature with new abilities — requires repeated, frequent anointment in the aboleth’s own bodily excretions.  That alone makes the technology almost useless to the piscean races.

Combat

An aboleth prefers to use its skum thralls for combat, but if cornered will attack using its tentacles, whipping their slender lengths with fearsome speed and accuracy.  But overall, aboleths abhor calling attention to themselves or their agents, and utilize their illusion powers to the fullest long before resorting to violence.  Once violence is needed, though, they are  savage, torturous monstrosities.

Subjugate (Su):  An aboleth can attempt to enslave a living creature within 30 feet.  To do so, the victim must either be out of line of sight of any ally, or be physically touching the aboleth.  Should the victim fail a Will save (DC 17, Charisma based), he is suffers the effect of a dominate person spell (caster level 16th).  A subjugated creature automatically complies with the aboleth’s mental demands as if they were his own free will.  This telepathic domination can be countered with a remove curse spell.  Unless the victim is addicted to the narcotic effects of the aboleth’s slime (see Slime, below), he can attempt a new Will save every 24 hours to break free.  Should the aboleth die, the Will save decreases slowly at the rate of one point per passed day.  There is no limit to the distance an aboleth can maintain dominance over a subjugated victim.

Psionics (Sp):  Aboleths posses the following psionic powers with an effective caster level of 16 and saves DCs are Charisma based: At will—hypnotic pattern (DC 15), illusory wall (DC 17), mirage arcana (DC 18), persistent image (DC 18), programmed image (DC 19), project image (DC 20), veil (DC 19).  Aboleths understand all spoken languages.  Further, an aboleth automatically senses everything a subjugated victim experiences, and has full access to the victim’s memories.  Finally, an aboleth enables a subjugated skum overcome the suffocation effect of its mucus cloud (see below).

Mucus Cloud (Ex): An aboleth constantly exudes a cloud of mucus that it surrounds itself with, about a foot thick.  Those unlucky enough to come in contact with and breathing this substance must pass a Fortitude based save at DC 19 or lose the ability to breathe for the next 3 hours as the cloying, viscous goo clogs their gills.  Additional contact/inhalation with the mucus cloud and failing another Fortitude save renews the effect for 3 more hours. The save DC is Constitution-based.

Slime (Ex): A blow from an aboleth’s tentacle or inhaling the aboleth’s mucus cloud (see above) can cause a terrible addiction. Exposed creatures must pass a DC 19 Fortitude save or become addicted to the narcotic properties of the aboleth’s slime.  Each additional hit in the same round requires another save, but with a cumulative +1 to the Difficulty Class.  Remaining in the mucus cloud continues the cumulative penalty, but the DC rating resets at the beginning of the next round should the victim retreat or otherwise leave the area of the mucus cloud.

An addicted creature’s thinking becomes clouded, and he will subconsciously choose actions that invoke additional attacks from the aboleth and re-entry into the creature’s mucus cloud.  For example, an addicted fighter might chose to cross the aboleth’s  threat area and enter hand-to-hand combat instead of maintaining his distance from the aberration.  Even the victim will not realize he is unconsciously putting himself in danger in order to get another fix.

Casting a remove disease spell is enough to break the addiction and free the victim’s will from the slime’s influence.

Parasite (Ex):  If an aboleth can successfully isolate a subjugated victim for at least a week, it can implant a parasite that replaces the victim’s tongue and prevents the dominate person effect from being dispelled.  It requires a heal spell to expel such a parasite, followed by a regeneration spell to regrow the consumed tongue.  Addiction to the aboleth’s mucus must be cured separately.

Creature Lore
Common:  Relegated to myth, aboleths have so rarely been seen that the populace believes them to be obscure, minor folklore.
Uncommon:  Some apocryphal scriptures of the Church of Olyhydra describe aboleths as invaders from the Vastness, set to seduce the unwary into damnation.
Rare: Aboleths are reputedly immortal.  Like the Lumulus, they do not die from old age, and instead simply grow larger and larger as the centuries pass by.
Obscure:  The slime of an aboleth, once absorbed into the body, acts like a narcotic.  Habit forming, victims will seek out aboleths in order to collect the tiniest trace of their addiction.

The Dark Undercurrents:

The aboleth incursion has been plotted out long ago.  The vile aberrations have systematically mentally enslaved key pisceans and sent them off to infiltrate normal society.  There, under the telepathic direction of their overlords, these dominated individuals built up bases of power, ensuring their entrenchment in the homeseas of the Known World.  As time passed, the aboleth slowly altered their slaves, and as they reproduced, increased their number.  These new generations of slaves needed less and less mental attention of the aboleth, until the point where the slaves essentially serve of their own free — albeit, unknowing — will.

Much of this complete domination is successful through the use of a parasite.  Created by the vile knowledge of the aboleths and passed down through their cumulative racial memory, these parasites are bred not unlike a piscean Packbreeder develops her animals.  The parasite begin life in a pupal stage, and appear like a nodule about the size of a Mer’s molar.  This nodule is inserted into the mouth of a victim through the mucus forming orifices along the side of the aboleth, where it gestates.  As it matures, it slowly gives off chemicals that deaden the sensation of pain in the victim’s throat.  Once the nodule dissolves completely and the pupa matures, it bites into the tongue at the back of the throat and slowly devours it completely.  The host remains oblivious to this change as the parasite anchors itself on the stump and replaces the consumed tongue with its own body.  It reacts to impulses in the body’s nervous system, flexing in the same way that an intact tongue would.  Speech is not hampered by this exchange, and indeed, the aboleth can take over the victim’s vocal chords through the parasite and speak for him.

The depth of infiltration these enslaved pisceans have achieved is staggering.  It would have taken multiple generations to so thoroughly ingratiate their way into the upper echelons.  Skum reproducing, passing on the aboleth parasite to their offspring, they repeating the cycle…  The planning must have taken generations, way back to a time period when the Kraken still dominated the Fluid Nations.  Which then begs the question, “Did the aboleths have a role in the fall of the Kraken?”  Perhaps they made a new deal with the Elsewhere powers that fueled the occupiers’ rise?  Might this pact have been the catalyst for the dark powers to abandon their servants on the eve of their final battle?

There seems to be a suspicious link between Lumulus and Aboleth lifespans.  They share a similar alien mentality and psychic ability.  Could there be a link?  The Orcans are quite sure they were the first race on Elqua, could it be that the aboleths played a part in the creation of the crustacean species?  Could there be a deeply submerged command in the psyche of the Lumulus, laying dormant, awaiting the day their aboleth masters reactivate them as skum?

If aboleths have a weakness, it is the coating of mucus that enshrouds their repellant bodies.  Without this intact layer of phlegm, their skin would shrivel and dissolve in the briny waters of the Endless Blue.  This makes areas of underwater brine pools, rivers, and falls especially dangerous to the aberrations.  It is the greasy, insoluble aspect of their excretion that saves them from an excruciating fate of being salted alive.  To avoid this fate, an aboleth can enter a suspended state they call “the long dreaming” or “the endless slumber”.  This state of torpor is involuntary, leaving the aboleth comatose and at the mercy of its surroundings.  It cannot escape this state of its own volition, and is utterly dependent on either random chance to save them, or their own contingency plans put in place years earlier.

“Coincidence is the veil of the puppeteer; masking him as he pulls the strings of marionettes…”
– conspiracy theorist mantra.

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