Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Shuma and the Egg

Shuma is a city on the Sea of Fish.  For the last few generations, it has avoided any major wars, plagues, famines, and excommunications.  They have a merchant fleet supported by airships.  They have the highest literacy rate in the world, and have the largest secular school: the Pillar of Academy.  Their politics are mild and very accepting of other cultures.

This is all very unusual.

The architecture is late Neropic, with many buildings resembling bulbs and squashed domes, while others are mudbrick with exposed wooden supports.  The cuisine features a lot of rice and seafood (especially squid), with a healthy influx of cuisine from their three biggest trading partners: Abasinia, Kaladar, and Charcorra.

Shuma is also the only city where you'll find a superhero.  Her name is Lulu, and she fights crime.  She flies across the city on magic wings, and she wears a squid mask. Everyone loves Lulu.  Children wear imitation masks; sailors get tattoos.

Hexaplex cichorium
The Quadrumvirate

The city is ruled by the Quadrumvirate: four wealthy families.  Every five years, one of the seats is up for election.  Each family is then responsible for providing someone to sit at the Quadrumvirate.

Craftau Warlov - The Warlovs were founding members of the Pillar of Academy.  Mages, heretics, rebels, and priests.  A family of dissidents.  They have awkward family dinners, but they do their best to present a unified face.  Craftau is a mage, and is usually accompanied by her husband, an exiled knight from Noth.

Guster Lethok - The Lethok family deals in airships, and holds the second membership.  The matriarch of this family, finally grow too old to attend, appointed her youngest son to fill the role.  Guster has spent most of his life abroad, studying.  While the Lethok family is popular, Guster is unknown, and therefore untrusted.

Kashtan Larksmith - A family that deals in banking and land ownership.  Kashtan is fiercely loyal to the city, and wary of outside influence.  She's killed at least two people in duels.

"Eb" Alazed - An ancient and enormous old man, who operates a dozen merchant ships.  His sons manage most of Shuma's modest navy.

Hatred of Orcs

Shuma was conquered by orcs and did not win its freedom until a century ago.  Noth helped.

The city's famous tolerance does not extend to orcs, which are despised and hunted at every turn.  There are a few remnants of orcish rule in the city.  Shumish art tends to mirror the brutality of orcish art.  A number of orcish words persist in the Shumish vocabulary.  And the rapid assembly of human thrones persists as a popular sport.

The Hum

On very quiet quiet nights, you can can hear it.  Not in your ears, but in your bones.  A subsonic thrum that permeates everything.

Visitors hate it.  It keeps them up at night.  Locals speak fondly of it, for the most part.

Most people are convinced that it is caused by something deep in the Pillar of Academy.  They are correct.

an Ionic columm

The Pillar of Academy

Looks almost exactly like a Ionic pillar, magnified a hundred times.  A stone skyscraper of antediluvian construction, every floor marked by a row of pin-prick windows lancing their light out into the night sky. 

The top of the Pillar emits steam.  Illuminated by light, the cloud is bright enough to illuminate the city at night.

The basement of the Pillar is filled with light.  Most assume that it is some sort of mechanism that the mages invented.

The deeper down you go, the brighter it gets.  Blindness becomes a risk.  The marble walls become reflective.  The light becomes painful even through closed eyelids.  Eventually the heat becomes an issue as well.  The lower levels of the basement are where the Pillar keeps its secrets.

The Egg of Shuma

According to anyone's best guess, the Egg is an extraterrestrial mollusk.

It was found in the lake of Zaotan a long time ago, and stolen from the dragon Tar Lath Lien.  (This was back when the Egg was still small enough to be hidden under a cloak.)

It sits in the middle of a secret dungeon beneath the known dungeon beneath the Castle of the Pearl.  It has grown so much in the last 50 years that the vast crenellations and creases of its shell form a small labyrinth around the animal inside.

The central chamber resembles the inside of a conch shell, with the far wall filled with a folded, protruding shell.  This wall is full of symmetrical apertures, from which the Egg can extrude its nearly-translucent tentacles.  Somewhere in the pulpy mass of its cryptic head is a five-toothed mouth, surrounded by what can loosely be described as a face.

The Egg eats a steady diet of eggshells and fish heads (so many fish heads).  It communicates through local telepathy and is the most intelligent creature in Centerra.

Here is the reason for its genius: it is capable of absorbing the intellect of any fresh brain that it consumes, which is then integrated and aligned with the Egg's own goals.  It is also utterly evil.

When asked about what it would do if it were given a choice, the Egg described a scenario that involved the annihilation of all other life on the planet except for its own, the consumption of all resources, and the launch of its offspring into the ether.  The ultimate justification for this was to minimize ignorance and suffering (two cornerstones of the human condition) and also to prepare for the end of the universe.  (The Egg intends to survive.)

The Egg is honest.  If it were capable of lying, it hasn't revealed it yet.

Credit for the city's success lays squarely with the Egg.  The Quadrumvirate ask the Egg questions, and it answers.  "What would the outcome of this taxation policy be?" "How much should we trust Noth?"  "Where should we deploy our Navy?"

It doesn't make decisions.  It simply provides answers.

The Quadrumvirate has had to make very few concessions in order to secure the cooperation of their prisoner.  As the Egg will point out, this is unjust.

Assassins have attempted to kill the Egg on past occasions.  They have all failed.  Even without any psychic powers, the Egg is fully capable of defending itself.

And of course, it's usually trivial to figure out who hired the assassins once the Egg starts eating heads.


A huge array of containment systems have been arrayed around it, both physical and magical.  Dozens of barriers prevent the escape of Shuma's most important citizen.  The creature's brain is also tattooed with dozens of explosive runes, set to explode if the right command word is uttered.

The Egg actually cooperated in designing its own prison.  It gave good advice, and the mages who designed it were impressed by its thoroughness and innovation.

Quest idea: thieves hire you to break into (what they assume to be) the secret vault beneath the Castle of the Pearl.

There are also many rules in place to prevent the Egg's abilities from being abused.  No one may speak to the Egg unless the entire Quadrumvirate is present.  Questions are best formulated by telling the Egg what your objective is, and then asking the best way to achieve it.  And lastly, no one should be fed to the Egg who might know the details of the Egg's prison.  (This last rule has only been slightly broken a couple of times.  Sometimes its important to know what a mage was lying about.)

The Hum, Part 2

Craftau Warlov manages the Benevolence Engine beneath the Pillar.  It is responsible for five things.

1. The everpresent, luminous clouds above the city and the light-filled tunnels beneath it.

2. A great deal of heat.

3. A great deal of thermal pollution downstream, in the underground river.

4. A calming effect on the city's population, making them less prone to anger and despair.  It does not suppress happiness or creativity.

5. The suppression of the Egg's latent psychic powers.

The Retrievers

Kashtan Larksmith manages the retreivers, who are an artificially created race of human-Egg hybrids. They resemble winged women with eyeless squids for heads.  (They can see, despite appearances.)  They are empaths and psychics.  There are six of them.

They are used to hunt down threats to Shuma, typically criminals.  Once captured, the retriever will immobilize her prey, stretch her mouth over the victim's entire head, and neatly bite their head off.  This is made possible by a boneless jaw and a radula similar to a wire saw.

Swallowed heads are diverted to a second stomach, where they are kept alive and fully conscious until they can be delivered to the Egg.

To prevent injury to themselves, retrievers are instructed to break the jaws of their victims before decapitating them.

Each retriever is different.  Duvadembra refuses to kill anyone.  Yoctalys is defiant, and considers the Egg to be her true father.  When Ovia catches a criminal, she punishes them with their own crime before killing them.  Zenziss despises her body, and wishes to be human.  Ulmara and Japherine play musical instruments and are probably in love with each other.

The common populace believes that there is only one of them, who they call Lulu.  The Quadrumvirate encourages this farce.

Lynn drew Lulu here.


  1. Superb!

    A nod to the Egg of Coot, I imagine? Terrific in any case. I love the 'superhero' delusion!

  2. This kind of reads to me as "What if Omelas, but an adventuring hook and the orphan was Objectively Evil and Captively Well-Fed and An Alien Instead Of Constantly Tortured".

    It's cool.

    1. Omelas = would you hurt an innocent kid for the good of everyone?

      The Egg = would you imprison an evil creature (for your own gain) even though it hasn't actually done anything wrong?

      My personal answers are yes and yes, btw, but there's still an interesting discussion to be had there.

  3. Has anyone thought to ask why ? Why is the creature so helpful ?

    The only reason I can think of would be if somehow, that were to trigger it into ceasing to be helpful, or escaping.

    1. Two possibilities:

      1. It's capable of lying, and has been subtly lying this whole time in order to manipulate a certain circumstance that will allow it to escape. (It's smart enough.)

      2. It's not lying, but it is a prisoner. Since it doesn't make mistakes, and its captors do, all it has to do is wait long enough for them to fuck up.

    2. Makes sense. But I still wonder whether the captors have thought to investigate ...

    3. Option 2 is the most interesting to me, because it suggests the trope of a cosmic horror (or at least superhuman entity) finding humanity inconsequential, but taken in a different direction. Nothing they can do will matter to it, because it will outlive all their efforts no matter what it tells them. A helpful sort of existential apathy!

    4. Princess in Yellow: as incredible as it sounds, I still think there are rich veins of untapped concepts inside Mt. Lovecraft, away from from the main vein.

  4. Replies
    1. I honestly imagine the Lulus being generally sick of superheroing the same way that kids get sick of practicing piano when their parents force it on them.

      If you draw her, I'll post it up top.

    2. It's been a while, but I did actually do that drawing! If you're still interested, here's the pic on DA:

    3. That's awesome! I'm going to post it.

    4. Let me know if you want me to take it down.

  5. I can't find Shuma on your map. Was it originally called Shylum?