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…