Monday, November 18, 2013


I don't think Nalta will play much of a part in a Land of Flowers game, but whatever.

Nalta and the Glimmering Isles

Seven Years Upon The Fish

The greatest ocean in the world is the Sea of Fish, and the men who sail upon are the greatest of sailors.

The Sea of Fish is sometimes also called the "Fishy Blue" or sometimes just the "Fish".  A sailor might say something like, "aye, I spent seven years upon the Fish, an watched her swallow me mates and me son, though I still love her, I do".

It is said that the gillmen call it the "Sea of Apes" because of all the humans sailing on it.

In the southwestern quadrant of the Fish (known as a mild and playful expanse, with entire stretches of emerald-green water blanketed by sea-lilies and lumber-flies) you will find the island of Nalta.  It has a smaller, companion island called Namboora.  Between them and to the north are the Glimmering Isles and the Megara Reefs, which were believed to be cursed for a long time (because of all the ships that disappeared while sailing between them).

It wasn't until the Three Carpenters Who Became Kings sailed through the Megara Reefs in their horizon-fetcher (picture an giant outrigger canoe crossed with a galleon, with two main decks and a canvas tent above that) that they discovered that it was home to a large city of gillmen.

The Three Carpenters Who Became Kings helped settle the island and died their first deaths, just in time for the Naltese islands to be conquered by the empire Cheox.  After a generation, Nalta had been transformed into a land of huge plantations and orchards.  Most of their produce went to feed Cheox.  When Cheox fell (within a few decades of conquering Nalta), the liberated citizens tore down the statues, but set up their own government in imitation of the one they had just escaped.

A Tedious History of Violence

In the years that followed, Nalta attempted to establish itself as a kingdom of plantations.  But Nalta is a desirable prize, with fertile lands and beautiful beaches.  Various forces struggled for that narrow island, and the history since then has been clotted with warlords and plantation kings, with dynasties springing up and falling sometimes in the space of a single season.  We'll skip all that tedious history then, except for one warlord, named Tora-torog, The Biter of Fists.

Tora-torog was the only warlord to unite all of the islands.  He was a Zyrolean marinel (monkey-tailed sailor dude) from the Changoor dynasty.  It is said that in the Battle of Angry Faces (which united all of Nalta) the fatalities were so high that the rivers ran red with blood.  They also say that before the Battle of Burning Tongues bananas were a sickly yellow, rather than the pleasing red they are today.  The sundry bones of those buried beneath the orchards nourishes and sustains those great fruits.

Almost immediately after conquering Nalta, Tora-torog, The Biter of Fists began to go powerfully insane.

Many strange aspects of Nalta can be attributed to Tora-Torog.  He built an enormous series of dikes and earthworks called the Serpentsgrip Hills, ostensibly to keep his "life essence" from washing away from him (possibly referring to his semen).  He built the Secret Beds of Dogs as a series of tombs for his beloved "dogs", hid the entrances, and killed all of the builders that didn't want to build another tomb for one of this "dogs".  The Secret Beds are sized for dogs (no hallway is higher than 5') and all of the known ones have been looted.  Tora-torog's definition of a dog was a loose one, and the Secret Beds hold humans, fish, horses, and even a few richly clothed rocks that Tora-Torog thought resembled dogs.  But what Tora-Torog is most known for is the House of All Gods.

The House of All Gods

Tora-Torog was a follower of Furo, the marinel religion that has been described as the pinnacle of pan-inclusive idolatry.  The Followers of Furo believe that the world is full of numerous small gods that physically reside in their idols, which they trade like mercantile commodities.  However, Furo believes that all gods are part of the Furo omni-pantheon, even those of other religions (which is why they consider all temples to be their temples, and even a great deal of things that aren't temples).

Anyway, Tora-Torog decided that he would build a mansion for the gods to live in when they wearied of living in their idols.  By following their instructions, no matter how nonsensical, he would build the ultimate vehicle of divine accomodation--a precursor to heaven on earth.

The House of All Gods resembles a city, if all of the buildings were taken from disparate parts of the world and them smashed together so that there are no streets.  (This is not an exaggeration.  In at least one instance The Biter of Fists paid a clan of pirates an exorbitant fee to steal the Tower of Yen from the monks who venerated it, and install it in the center of the House of All Gods.)  There's even a few ships assimilated into its mass.

In fact, much of the construction seems impossible: buildings attached  upside down, a heavy stone cairns stacked atop a wooden hunting lodge (complete with trophies), and even a 300' bridge that appears to stuck into the ground sideways without bending or falling.  The common consensus is that Tora-Torog, despite his  madness, actually received assistance from the gods.  

So, at least in this respect, Tora-Torog was not just a madman (there are those who believe he was the sanest man who ever lived), and if this is true, then the Biter of Fists succeeded in his goal, and the House of All Gods is a literal incarnation of the gods' realm, as well as a preview of the (apparently incomprehensible) afterlife that we will all one day experience.

One sweltering summer day, Tora-torog was indulging in an eating contest among his closest friends and family (he was a champion eater) when he attempted to eat a vast mouthful of baby octopi, who clung to the inside of his throat and choked him.  His brothers promptly hoisted the cutlery and declared war on each other.  Within a week, the islands were plunged back into war, and men no longer eat more than one baby octopus at a time unless they wish to tempt fate.

The Three Plantations

The Three Great Plantations of Nalta are more like small city-states that organize themselves according to the old lines of indentured servitude and slavery that were common in the Cheoxian era.  For example, the nobles eschew traditional titles, and instead are known as Taskmasters, Lasher, and Master of Plums, even though those titles have lost much of their original meaning, although the Lashers still carry whips (often bejeweled) at the side of their impeccable, white, tailored suits.

To use modern terminology, Nalta is a failed state.  The islands are technically in a state of perpetual war, but the actual experience is better described as an extremely tenuous peace characterized by willful ignorance.

Walking across the countryside, it is not uncommon to find a group of soldiers from one plantation drinking iced mango juice beneath a sprawling banyan and then, just over the next hill, a group of soldiers from a different plantation-city will be playing a lively game of lawn darts, while prostitutes hang off their arms.  If you attempt to alert either group to the existence of the other, they will grow unfriendly and accuse you of lies.

Although the people of Nalta are varied, they have grown tired of generations of war, and most would rather ignore each other than engage in open warfare.  This attitude does not extend to the upper echelons, and the leadership of each plantation hates each other with a contemptuous rage.  Given the opportunity, they would rather attack the other plantations.  However, when the orders are given to march on the enemy, the armies conspire with each other, and elaborate marches lose themselves in the hillocks and orchards, and in the end, each army is miraculously unable to locate the other.  About half of all military campaigns end with each army drinking punch with their distant relatives, or a skinny dipping on some white sand beach.

The other half of all military campaigns end in battles, retreat, flanking maneuvers, and many young men dying in banana groves.  Because it is not all empty posturing, and not everyone prays for peace.

The closest thing to a neutral ground is Bitefist Bay, which occupies a central location on the main island.  The cognitive dissonance is even stronger here, and you may even find opposing soldiers walking past each other on the same street, each doing their very best to pretend the other one isn't there.  Skirmishes are very rare in Bitefist Bay, because the whole islands depends on the commerce that moves through it.  Nalta is not self-sufficient, and relies on trade for clothing, iron, and other finished products.

There are three big plantation cities, each controlled by a different group in a different area, and each is known for a different type of liquor.  They compete for control of the islands but especially for the House of All Gods (which is the same thing).

Vast and subtle enchantments were wrought that persist to this day. In the forests, the trees grow in straight rows, and small birds will explode in a shower of feathers if someone pantomimes shooting them with a bow (much to the delight of children).

Papa Temnoc and the Golden Claw

The gillmen are some of the first inhabitants of Nalta, and they have since returned in force to claim it.  There is a savage clan of red gillmen living in the Glimmering Isles and the Megara Reefs, who call themselves the Golden Claw.  Their leader is called Papa Temnoc, who is a gigantic (7') tall gillman who has had one of his hands replaced with a golden claw after losing it in battle.

The Golden Claw Clan is also known to use a great number of enslaved crab men for battle and labor.  Crab men are as big as ogres and covered in armor.  Their crabs are drugged with opiates and painted (both fearsome patterns and vulgar graffiti) and then ridden into battle.  You've never really lived until you've been killed by a giant crab covered in neon pornography.

Digression: Gillmen are basically merfolk with legs.  Gills are basically semi-external lungs that rely on a large surface area for gas exchange.  So basically, they look like pale green-blue humans with holes cut out between all of their ribs.  Like, you could poke a stick beween between their ribs and almost poke their spine.  Human lungs are filled with alveoli; but gillmen ribs are filled with what appear to be bushy masses of red filaments, which are visible between their lungs.  See here:

Another Digression: Although gillmen can breathe water and swim like fish, the fastest way to travel across the ocean is still by boat.  These are strange, fusiform things, with most of the ship's mass beneath the water and the sails sticking out above the water.  Sort of like footballs/tuna with a bad infestation of canvas.

Papa Temnoc dreams of capturing the House of All Gods, flooding it, and filling with schools of small, tasty fish.  The Golden Claw is known for producing a type of alcohol called salavoka, which is made from the gas-filled bladders of a type of succulent kelp.  Salavoka is a dark black liquid that is usually diluted before drinking, when it turns a sort of rich yellow color.  It is sold and served from small wooden barrels, each of which is packaged with a single sea urchin (meant to guarantee purity, since the urchin will rot if the alcohol content is not high enough.  Salavoka is traditionally consumed from hollowed out urchins.  After the barrel is finished, the urchin is either carefully eaten or thrown hard against something wooden, where it sticks.

Mad King Ketch and the Darklanders

On the west side of the main island, you'll find settlements filled with Darklanders, exiled from their homeland twenty years ago.  They are led by a man called Mad King Ketch, who has two wives, and two daughters with each one.  Although he controls farms and orchards, he lives in the small swamp there, which is called the Brackenwald.

Within the Brackenwald, he resides aboard the remains of the Ship of Fools, the same vessel that carried him here from the Darklands.  The Ship of Fools was filled with the cast-offs of society: madmen, criminals, and blunderers.  Although the Ship of Fools is no longer seaworthy, it is still most definitely swampworthy.  You may occasionally see it being towed around the swamp by teams of ragged crocodile-men and wild-eyed darklanders.  It was a big, flat-bottomed scow before it was marooned in the swamp.  Now screech owls nest in the portholes and moss throttles the figurehead (a horse).  Black swamp-wolves climb up the netting and sleep beside the lepers. The masts have all been broken apart, and made into totem poles that decorate the swamp. This is where Mad King Ketch holds court.

The Darklanders have been joined by a great number of lepers and runaways since then, building their own village of lost souls.  And although they are still called "the darklanders", the ash-skinned northerners actually make up a minority of the group.  Some of them can't even speak darkentongue, and most of them can see see colors.

Mad King Ketch exports black rum.  ("The blacker the tongue, the warmer the sun.")  It is made from the sweet fruit of enormous swamp ferns.  The black color comes from caramelized fern-fruit and a period of aging in charred barrels.

It is said that Mad King Ketch's two daughters are brine witches, as are his two wives, as are his two mothers-in-law.  The Ship of Fools is guarded at all times by Oshi-Oto, the Worm-Dragon, a dragon, although he is barely recognizable as one now.  In his youth, a flesh-eating disease robbed him of his arms, legs, eyes, and scales.  The only respite the mad, crippled dragon has is in black rum, which he insists keeps his disease at bay and drinks by the gallon.

Lady Dalfeen and the First Circus

Tora-torag was a scion of the Changoor dynasty, and that proud tradition is continued today in the First Circus.  Led by Lady Dalfeen and her acrobat-nobility, the First Circus is the only remaining institution still surviving from the days of the Biter of Fists.

The First Circus can be found on the eastern half of the main island, amid the rolling hills and orange clay.  The vineyards there produce a rich variety of the fruit brandies that Nalta is best known for.  The most famous liquor produced there is called looskay (rhymes with "moose bay") and is known the world over.

Lady Delfeen and her acrobat-elite dwell in Rukya, a town of terraces and grape presses.  She controls the Nine Acre Chariot which is usually used to carry all of the produce back from distant orchards in a single trip.  However, the Nine Acre Chariot is more famous on the sea, where it is one of the biggest warships in the world.  It resembles a barge the size of a building being towed by a pair of even bigger ferris wheels (packed with laborers, who run up the sides of the wheels like hamsters in a wheel), not unlike a chariot being pulled by two revolving horses.

Bitefist Bay

The closest thing to a neutral zone on Nalta is the portside town known as Bitefist Bay.  You'll see an intersection of marinel from the hills, darklanders from the swamp, and all manner of travelers and traders.  (Agents of the gillmen also frequent the town, although you won't find gillmen there in person.)

Technically, everyone on Nalta works on a plantation, so Bitefist Bay constitutes its own plantation.  If a resident of Nalta wants to declare themselves to be neutral, they'll claim allegiance to Bitefist Bay.

Neighborhoods will be divided up according to allegiances (although this won't be obvious to outsiders) and outsiders will be pressured to take sides. Adventurers will be hired to attack, sabotage, and distract the rival plantations.  Plausible deniability and all that.

You won't find nobility here (No Lasher Dandies or Mango Ladies), but you'll meet lots of associated personalities.  The taverns serve the local alcohols in tin cups, and hunting and fishing  are both enormously popular diversions. The town square contains a fifty foot long grill that they use to fry a single pelagic otterworm, on the rare occasions when one is caught. (Everyone loves an impromptu otterworm festival, and if you ever want to broker peace on Nalta, it'll help if you show up with an otterworm.)

The Mayor is a woman named Beatrina Lamonsiq. She is a cripple, and rolls around in a wheelchair, a blanket in her lap, a strong drink in her hand, and a twinkle in her eye. She is popular because of her powerful dedication to protecting Bitefist locals. Her son, Abergrand Lamonsiq, sells cigars and is in charge of appraisng newcomers and keeping her informed.

Another notable person is Glipkerian Mosok, who committed a heinous crime in his youth and was punished for it. Originally, he was to be put in the stocks in the marketplace until death, but people brought him food and he lived for months. Eventually, his sentence was commuted to merely having his feet put into the stocks. That was twenty years ago. Now, Glipkerian occupies a rounded booth in the center of the square, where he operates his "Shop of Useful Items". He has never strayed from where he is anchored, and his body has grown round and fat, and now snugly conforms to the dimensions of his shop-prison. No one has seen his feet in years, and they are the subject of many rumors.

No comments:

Post a Comment