Piscine Kin of the Depths
The first of the Shuul were spawn of the Old One Dresdrasil, born in the black abyss of a massive, miles long trench which cut through the seafloor like a gaping wound. In this harsh, lightless realm, where pools of deadly brine strip the life from the fauna unlucky enough to stumble into their murky depths, to hydro-thermal vents which belch out vast quantities of scorching water, life would seem to be at odds with the very environment itself, but according to Shuul belief, something else stirred beneath the surface.
An entity bestowed the gift of sapience upon a select few troglodytic fish, granting them with the blessing of intelligence, the ability to act beyond mere animalistic instinct. To the Shuul, it is simply known as the Dweller in the Deep, a massive being which lives far beneath the basalt floor of their home trench, and which guides and gives their civilization purpose - though for what end only it and the highest echelons of the Aphotic Clergy know.
The first of the Shuul had little difference appearance wise from standard fish, and for many years spent their days behaving remarkably similarly, bound in bodies unfit for higher minds. As time passed, and the Dweller continued to whisper and speak into their fragile minds, they began to change physically, believed to have done so by the will of the Dweller in an imitation of the Descendants far above. Fins elongated, tails split or receded, and their bodies grew. With time, they came to vaguely resemble surface dwellers, having two legs and two arms, with extra eyes occasionally included.
The primitive Shuul began to eke out a small tribe in the perpetual gloom of their home, and in time, an individual of their tribe rose to prominence, both physically and mentally. Largest of all the Shuul, he took the name Shadhuul’Ummush, and proclaimed himself the de-facto leader of all the living Shuul. With the whispers of the Dweller still in their minds, and with the entity’s apparent blessings on his proclamation, the first Lord of the Aphotic Depths was established.
Taking up command of his people, Shadhuul’Ummush would eventually lead to their development of utilizing primitive stone and bone tools and masonry with the aide of the Dweller, setting the foundations for what would become the Basalt City, the Order of the Deep, and the future of the Shuul species as a whole.
Founding the Basalt City
The earliest recorded Shuul history comes from a time before their capital, the Basalt City, was constructed. Led by Shadhuul’Ummush, the first Lord of the Aphotic Depths and a direct communicant to the Dweller in the Deep, the early Shuul began to scrape together rudimentary tools of bone and stone at the bottom of their home trench, gradually carving out their undersea caves into more sophisticated structures.
The first proper structure completed by the Shuul was the Grand Temple of the Dweller, the first stone placed by Shadhuul’Ummush, and the final chisel done by a pious, devoted Shuul named Orn’Illith. With the temple to their faith now completed, Shadhuul and Orn would work together to begin the Abyssal Etchings, carving the teachings and disciplines of the Dweller on cyclopean, solid stone slabs lined against the walls of the Grand Temple. With the completion of the slabs, Orn’Illith would begin to standardize the Shuul faith into its current form, founding the Order of the Deep. Orn’Illith would become the first Grand Augur of Brine, and his followers would be called Illithists by the common Shuul. As time passed, the faith would soon be named directly after Orn’Illith, being referred to formally as Illithism, and the original Illithists becoming the Aphotic Clergy.
With the Order of the Deep just beginning, Shadhuul would begin to enact large-scale public works centered around the Grand Temple, and within a few decades, multiple basalt spires, obelisks, and monoliths would rise around the temple, forming a dim maze of stone at the base of the trench. With city proper established, Shadhuul would formally declare the existence of the Shuul Dominion, giving his species their first semblance of proper government and social organization, though the tribalistic aspects of their earlier society such as size denoting rank remained.
Upon the death of Shadhuul’Ummush due to natural causes at the age of 633, the Shuul would record that the Dweller no longer spoke to the masses. To know the voice and the will of the Dweller was now a privilege only given to the Lord of the Aphotic Depths and the Grand Augur of Brine. A council of Shuul hulks selected one of their peers, Ytheg’Ktha, to lead the Dominion as the new Lord of the Aphotic Depths. Together, Ytheg’Ktha and a wizened Orn’Illith would proclaim the eternal capital of the Shuul species to be their current and first home, the Basalt City.
To the Open Sea
Orn’Illith passed away at the age of 612, deciding to willingly sacrifice himself as a final tribute to his hungry god. His chosen successor was a female Shuul named Atl’Zhul, who would, in conjunction with Ytheg’Ktha, promote further growth across the home trench. The Basalt City would encounter an obstacle to its continued expansion, however, and that obstacle was space. Originally growing down the main line, the Shuul would hit the limits of the trench-floor, spanning edge to edge, and begin to slowly build their way up the sides of the undersea cliff face. Stone spires and structures were also sculpted and stacked higher and higher, with numerous additions being added to the Grand Temple and the Aphotic Lord’s palace to increase their size as the city grew vertically. Eventually, a series of layers would form in the Basalt City, and the dimensions of a modern trench city truly began to take shape. The elites of the Shuul, such as the Grand Augur and Aphotic Lord, lived at the very bottom, while commoners built and lived in new dwellings higher up.
Eventually, these Shuul would reach the rim of their trench, and to their astonishment, the black depths of the sea seemed to expand in all directions. The world was not merely a trench, but something far larger. News of this discovery reached Ytheg’Ktha, and with it, the Aphotic Lord issued forth a decree that the Dominion must branch out, settle, and take control of this vast, new expanse, just as they did with their trench. The Order of the Deep decreed that the Dweller in the Deep had spoken to Atl’Zhul, commanding her to ensure her kin claim the aquatic depths for its hadal vastness. Atl’Zhul would carve in her own addition to the Abyssal Etchings, the decree from the Dweller that the Shuul are destined to be the masters of the deep.
While many Shuul chose to remain in the Basalt City, carving out new homes into the cliff faces or simply adding to the complex, labyrinthine layout of the gloomy capital, many still chose to head out to the open seabed, and explore this new, untamed frontier. The first wave of Shuul colonization had begun.
Spreading out from their trench like a tide of abyssal locust, the Shuul would swiftly expand across the seabed, occasionally finding other, smaller trenches akin to the one now dominated by the Basalt City. At least two of these gorges were colonized in this initial phase, and the trench cities of Yhr’Nthlai and Kth’Solth came into being relatively early in this time period. Though the Shuul were familiar with founding their cities and homes in abyssal trenches, they were not so prepared with the vast, open seabed. Before, their trench offered them some protection from the greater beasts of the sea, and some leviathans would find even entering their home trench an impossible task, but here the Shuul more often than not found themselves prey as much as they were predators.
Frontiersfish who chose to settle on the expanse of the seafloor found a wide abundance of new creatures to cultivate and hunt, from massive schools of sardines to slow moving sunfish and cetaceans. This explosion in available food sources allowed the population of both trench and frontier Shuul to grow exponentially, and soon large, semi-nomadic communities began to form on the seabed. Comfortable enough to stand against the myriad of pelagic predators around them and keen enough to manage and control their traveling, aquatic food sources, these Shuul would eventually grow to abandon the traits that marked them from their aphotic kin. Gone was their bioluminescence, their pale flesh, and their aloof, traditional nature, replaced instead with larger fins, bodies adapted to move at swift speeds across the vast open water, and a drive to spread and roam ever further across their watery domain.
No longer a single species, the Shuul had irrefutably split into two separate races, the Pel’Shuul of the open sea, and the Kth’Shuul of the abyssal trenches. Now, the Dominion would turn its attention towards a new direction, up.
The World Above and Below
Originating in lightless depths meant that the Shuul had no early concept of a surface. The world simply is and was always comprised entirely of water. When the Pel’Shuul would draw nearer to the line between sky and sea, the light of the sun was interpreted as the glowing lights of an enormous, deep sea predator, and the cycle of day and night reaffirmed their belief it was just a creature patrolling its territory. Curiosity would eventually take hold of the Pel’Shuul, as none of their kind had been brave enough to approach this great lure before, and so a party of scouts would hold their fears steady and follow the light. Expecting to encounter a leviathan of unprecedented scale, they instead found, to their bewilderment, the endpoint of their world and the beginning of another. Poking their limbs and heads above the water, they found that they could swim no further, that they could not breathe, and that the beast they had feared was instead a featureless, glowing orb high in what seemed to be a second blue sea far above their heads.
With no means to explain this phenomena, these explorers retreated back into their familiar, murky depths, bringing fantastical news of another world, just above their heads, with them. Initially skeptical of this claim, as the Abyssal Etchings make no reference to this so called second world, the Order would dismiss it as a wild fantasy. However, as more and more Pel’Shuul made this trip to the surface, the Order would finally decide to investigate and send an envoy of their own. Amazed and dumbfounded at this revelation, the Grand Augur, still Atl’Zhul, would enter a state of cloistered prayer and meditation within the Basalt City, seeking to hear the Dweller’s reasoning as to why the surface was never before revealed to them.
Ytheg’Ktha, still the Aphotic Lord, would initially suggest an attempt to try and further explore the surface. Rumors had begun to abound at the fringes of the Dominion, of great pillars of rock and sand, topped with green, that rose up from the sea and pierced the surface. The Aphotic Lord’s attention to these strange structures, however, would be drawn away, as a great plague was soon to befall their race, and a great Shuul emerging from the depths.
Disease was not a new adversary for the fishfolk, and though it could always take a strong toll on a community, the Shuul were confident in their ability to bounce back from such tragedies. A new sickness, however, would infect their kind from the very fringes of the Dominion, a seaborne illness called the Rot. Shuul infected with this plague seemed to exhibit no abnormalities for the first week, but once that time had passed, the disease would begin to attack the Shuul’s bodies, causing their scales, and the flesh below, to turn black and slough off in a painful and slow process that took weeks to finish. To compound this, the puss and blood that the Rot forced into the water would attract various aquatic predators, and beasts the Shuul once thought they could keep at bay soon began to attack beleaguered settlements.
The Rot would spread rapidly across the Pel’Shuul population, cutting off any sort of contact with far off communities as Shuul began to quarantine themselves from the epidemic sweeping across the sea. Once the Rot began to reach the trench cities, the Kth’Shuul would fly into a panic, believing that this plague was, in some way, a punishment from the Dweller, a toll enacted upon the fishfolk for a lack of proper sacrifice and devotion. Mass sacrifices were held in the Basalt City, with scores of infected and non-infected Shuul being cast into the dark chasm beneath the Grand Temple, an attempt to placate their ravenous god. Atl’Zhul, emerging at last from her cloister, decreed that she had spoken to the Dweller, and claimed that only through the greatest of sacrifices could the Shuul people be spared. It was decided that like her predecessor, Atl’Zhul would sacrifice herself willingly, as a sign of her ultimate devotion. Before allowing herself to be sent into the pitch abyss beneath the capital, Atl’Zhul would name Shud’Umr, a male Kth’Shuul, as her successor.
Whether it was merely a coincidence, or an act of divine will, is left to one’s own interpretation, but shortly after Atl’Zhul’s sacrifice, the Rot would begin to cease in its severity. With the sickness now fading away into obscurity, the Dominion now looked to the shattered lands it once held sway over. The trench cities remained steadfast, but many Pel’Shuul settlements, especially ones which were distant from the capital, had no means of communication with their heartland, and so began the Dominion’s endeavor to reunite their scarred populace.
Matron of the Depths
Ib’Tstll was born in a Pel’Shuul village a days swim away from the capital, and so was exposed to the Order at a very early age. Born only a week after the Shuul first discovered the surface, Ib’Tstll also bore a mutation very rarely seen amongst the fishfolk, an extra set of arms. This four armed daughter of the sea, born so soon after such a great revelation, was seen as a blessed omen by the Aphotic Clergy. Once Ib became a juvenile, she was taken to the Basalt City, paraded about as a sacred idol, taught fluent Benthic, and tutored on the Abyssal Etchings. Though her upbringing was intended to make her into a priestess, the outbreak of the Rot made her decide to leave the capital, and head for her home, and her people.
Even during that crisis, Ib’Tstll was a symbol of pride for the Pel’Shuul. Strikingly beautiful, hallowed and zealous in her faith, but also deeply compassionate for the Pel’Shuul of whom she came from. Ib’Tstll would travel across the seabed, visiting and tending to all Pel’Shuul she could during the plague. Despite her constant exposure to the sickness, she never once fell ill to it, which only further exonerated her amongst the fishfolk. It was the tumultuous time after the plague had passed, however, that earned her a place beside the Dweller in the eyes of the Shuul.
Ytheg’Ktha, wizened but still clinging to his power, ordered communications and Dominion control to be re-established amongst the far and scattered Pel’Shuul settlements, lost during the worst years of the Rot. Ib’Tstll would be one of the chosen Shuul to lead these forays into these bygone lands. At first, these surviving Pel’Shuul communities seemed to eagerly accept reintegration back into the Dominion, but the further Ib’Tstll led her entourage, the stiffer resistance grew.
Being separated from the Dominion entirely, many outlying Shuul settlements began to relish their newfound independence, and in the time of crisis that was the Rot, formed several pacts and treaties amongst themselves, attempting to ensure their freedom would not be snatched away. When news of the Dominion’s encroachment came to their attention, they were quick to act, assembling militias and pockets of resistance to violently oppose their previous overlords. Skirmishes and guerilla attacks occurred all across the fringes of the Dominion, yet no Shuul commander faced as fierce of resistance as Ib’Tstll.
Despite facing war shoals assembled from half a dozen communities, Ib’Tstll’s single war shoal managed to repeatedly fend off and capture more and more captives battle after battle, sending the prisoners in great marches back to the heartlands to be sacrificed, while subduing the remaining populace. Due to being a Pel’Shuul, she took a more lenient approach to these rebellious villages, especially when compared to the other Kth’Shuul commanders and governors. Though she was a fierce and innovative leader and tactician, she treated those not bound for the altars fairly, and won the respect of those she defeated. This support and reverence across the Pel’Shuul, especially as more and more of them were returned to the Dominion, eventually earned her a place as a living icon for the Pel’Shuul.
With the reconquests beginning to slow to a trickle as the Dominion began to reunite itself, Ib’Tstll would return to her home, and start to breed with multiple suitors. Her reputation across the Dominion, coupled with her sacred status and desired beauty, allowed her to give rise to many spawnings of Pel’Shuul, and soon she began to be called the Matriarch of a Million Spawn.
Ytheg’Ktha would eventually succumb to his age, and be replaced promptly by a Kth’Shuul named Om’Zhin. Om would soon offer Ib’Tstll a place at his side as a consort, and Ib would accept the offer. She would have one spawning with him, and would attempt to use her position of power to ensure the Pel’Shuul enjoyed greater representation and amenities in the Dominion before she finally passed away. Om’Zhin, as a sign of respect, would honor her by having her body deposited into the great cavern below the Basalt city, sending her directly to the Dweller whom she served so diligently. Pel’Shuul would go on to say she stole the heart of the Dweller itself, and became its divine consort, becoming deified by the Pel’Shuul and eventually, the Order.
Shortly after Ib’Tstll’s passing, a new problem loomed on the horizon of the Dominion. Beyond the orders of their aquatic homeland, displaced and wandering Pel’Shuul had fled far beyond the known sea during the Rot, settling into a great archipelago lined with many vast and vibrant coral reefs. These Shuul began to change, adapting to their new home away from the open seabed and eventually forming the Cor’Shuul. Isolated entirely from the Dominion and unknown to their ancestors, these new Shuul would form the Coral Tribune, a new, second Shuul state comprised of primarily Cor’Shuul and some outlying Pel’Shuul villages. Contact between this old and new nation was now inevitable.
The first meeting of the Dominion and the Tribune, which was also the first meeting between a Cor’Shuul and a Kth’Shuul, took the Dominion back by surprise. That a new breed of Shuul could develop outside of the Dominion’s authority seemed outrageous, even more so that the Tribune did not immediately cede their independence to their older kin. Due to the distance involved, however, the two sides did not choose hostilities at first, choosing instead to enter a sort of deep sea cold war.
Trade and travel to the Tribune from the Dominion was forbidden, and the Order of the Deep denounced the Cor’Shuul as a rae of traitors and apostates, whose salvation can only be achieved by submitting to their ancestral homeland. The Coral Tribune, much smaller and less organized than the Dominion, began to do its best to levy and assemble its war shoals, train its populace, and prepare for an eventual invasion. The Shuul Dominion allowed its people some time to recuperate from the multitude of conflicts they had been in not a few decades earlier, deciding that immediate war would take a toll on the morale of their populace. After five years, the Dominion would begin to mobilize its war shoals once again, and Om’Zhin would send them forth to the borders between their two states. Still, there was no official declaration of war, nor did it begin yet.
The catalyst for the invasion was the Yhr’Nthlai Incident. An entire nursery cave of Kth’Shuul, from the smallest of fry to adults who tended to the young, were found slaughtered in heaps, the water filled with blood and viscera. Not a single survivor, nor a living witness, was found. The manner of the wounds inflicted, however, made it clear that it was not the work of some aquatic predator. Only a Shuul could have done such a thing, and though the exact culprit of the incident is unknown and still occasionally debated amongst the fishfolk, the Dominion would blame Cor’Shuul marauders for such an atrocity, and begin their invasion of the Tribune. Though they vehemently denied the accusations, the Coral Tribune would have no choice but to prepare to defend their homelands against this overpowering enemy force. The first war amongst the Shuul had begun, the War in the Deep.
The War in the Deep
The first battle of the war, the Battle of the Shattered Reef, was the largest and most decisive engagement of the war. The larger and better-trained Dominion army clashed with the Tribune’s forces at the base of a fortified coral reef. The Tribune’s war shoal took positions atop the reef, using the crevices and coral as shelter from the encroachment of the Dominion’s shark knights. The frontline of the Dominion’s war shoal smashed into their foes at the base of the reef, and though they didn’t have aid from their aquatic cavalry, it was clear that the battle was still theirs, as their hulks, crabvalry and infantry slowly managed to advance ever higher up the side of the reef. Once they neared the top, a mass rout of the Tribune’s forces commenced, with Cor’Shuul scrambling down the opposite end of the reef, where the fleeing combatants were swiftly picked off in open waters by the circling sharks. It was clear that on any even fight, the Cor’Shuul were at a disadvantage, weaker than their kin, and their numbers were fewer.
The majority of the Tribune’s army was destroyed at the shattered reef, and so the opposition to the advance of the Dominion was minor at best. Pockets of Cor’Shuul and their Pel’Shuul allies attempted to hold several smaller reefs on the path to their archipelago, but each encounter was met with a forced retreat, until finally the war shoal of the Dominion arrived at the mouth of the great coral reef the Cor’Shuul called home. Encircling the entire archipelago, the Dominion would not commit a direct assault, instead opting to blockade and wear down the morale of the Cor’Shuul. Months went by, then years, yet the Cor’Shuul held firmly to their independence. After six years, however, Om’Zhin would send the Tribune an ultimatum, to cease their resistance, submit to the Dominion, and live under the rule of the Aphotic Lord. In return, the Cor’Shuul would be allowed to integrate fully into the rest of Shuul society, and escape what would currently be their ultimate fate, sacrificed upon the altars. Weary and beleaguered by six years of besiegement, the council that governed the Tribune agreed to the terms, and with that, the Coral Tribune became part of the Shuul Dominion, and the fishfolk were fully united once again. The siege was broken, and a new era began.
With the Tribune and the Cor’Shuul now part of the Dominion, Om’Zhin would convene with the new Grand Augur, Apho’Vhar, on reorganizing the Shuul government to ensure the two, younger breeds would not rise up against their Kth’Shuul overlords. Decisions were made to allow both Pel’Shuul and Cor’Shuul higher positions in governance, as well as some self-autonomy and religious leniency. Soon, the Shuul Dominion would become the Submerged Empire, or the Shuul’Kdatha, a single, unified nation of all Shuul, claiming that all the seas of the world belonged under its sovereignty.
A new wave of colonization began, now with the assistance of the Cor’Shuul, who had enjoyed some benefits and compensation following their previous rebellion and resistance to their kin. Despite their territorial gains, they were still nowhere near any significant landmass, and had no real knowledge of the surface world, until a party of Pel’Shuul encountered something their kind had never seen before, a wandering knot of seven Axolotyn. Before this moment, the Shuul had no knowledge that other intelligent, sapient species exist in the world. Once they came to realize these new creatures were not just another varying breed of themselves, the knot was beckoned to come and visit the heartlands of the Shuul’Kdatha, and explain what they were. With their curious nature, the seven Axolotyn agreed.
Quickly learning Benthic due to their natural talents with linguistics, these Axolotyn would be met with a torrent of questions by Shuul scholars and officials on all manners of life beyond the Submerged Empire. What truly piqued their interest, however, was not what the Axolotyn, who they saw as a new species to eventually integrate into their aquatic domain, had to say about themselves, but instead the fact that sapient beings like them existed on the surface, and that great masses of land held all manners of strange flora, fauna, peoples and magic. Upon hearing the limited knowledge these nomads had of the descendants, their world, and their mannerisms, the Shuul requested that the seven lead them to the nearest settlement of these surface dwellers, and so they obliged.
Unknowingly, like a stray sheep drawing wolves to the flock, the Axolotyn drew an ensemble of all species of Shuul, some members of the Aphotic Clergy and others officials in the imperial government, to a seldom visited, unimportant port named Illsmith. Primarily inhabited by humans, it sat lone and dreary on an unremarkable island, its people as equally unremarkable, fishermen and sailors by trade. The Shuul would come ashore, much to the shock and awe of the locals, and decree themselves as emissaries of the Shuul’Kdatha. Illsmith was surrounded by a sea which now seek to subdue them, and the people of Illsmith knew not what to do. The Shuul made a bargain with Illsmith, that once every year, a resident of Illsmith be given to the Shuul as an offering, and that a map of the known world be provided to their scholars. In return, the Shuul would ensure that the people of Illsmith never went without fish, never hungry, and that jewels and other riches from the depths will be bequeathed freely upon those who are loyal to the Dweller in the Deep. Accepting the Shuul’s offer, knowing that resistance was impossible given their circumstances, the people of Illsmith would soon become a living experiment, a model the Shuul used to see how the surface dwellers would react when confronted with a demand from their kind, and how time could affect these bargains. Both ends of the deal were upheld, a sacrifice is delivered every year, the maps were given and copied onto aquavellum, and in return Illsmith has never gone without bountiful hauls of fish, nets ready to burst, while those who turned their hearts away from GOD and to the deep became decorated with precious gems, strange jewelry and profane idols of sculpted gold.
With Illsmith now a surface community controlled by the Shuul’Kdatha, the new Aphotic Lord, Chtur’Gha, would advise his council with the immediate exploration and eventual colonization of the newly revealed realms, with Arcas being the first to come to their attention. Hearing stories of it from Illsmithians, and with traveling merchants from the town providing even more detailed, accurate, and up to date maps of the region, a new endeavor of Shuul expansion would begin, with more and more of their kind making the journey to this new landmass, some eager to start a new life or escape the authority of the Shuul’Kdatha, while others plan to spread their abyssal civilization to the shores of this new frontier, and make Illsmith the first of many to uphold a pact with the depths.
Shuuls live in complex, ever changing societies, with a Shuul’s place in it being decided by its subspecies, trade, age and size. Size and age are the predominant factors in deciding a Shuul’s place in the social hierarchy, with the largest and wisest of the Shuul taking up the loftiest and often most burdened portions of leadership, while some may lead relatively peaceful and cushy lives by their kind’s standards. The two highest positions amongst the species, the Lord of the Aphotic Depths and the Grand Augur of Brine, are held by two of the largest and wisest of their kind. Despite the importance of size and age, a Shuul’s breed also influences its place in most communities, with the Kth’Shuul being held in the highest regard, the Pel’Shuul second, and the Cor’Shuul third. These opinions can vary depending on both where the community is located, and what its primary denizens are made of. A Cor’shuul community will for instance, not have the kind of ostracization that a primarily Pel’Shuul community would.
Kth’Shuul are more than twice as likely to be taught how to read and write the Shuul language of Benthic, and are sent off frequently to be part of the Aphotic Clergy, advisors for non-Kth’Shuul leaders, or architects and scribes for their deep, stone cities. Often assuming every role of higher leadership within the Submerged Empire, the Kth’Shuul are clearly the dominant species politically, with the Lord of the Aphotic Depths and the Grand Augur of Brine both being Kth’Shuul throughout the vast majority of their history. Viewed as innately wiser amongst their peers, Kth’Shuul are still sometimes contested by their two brethren, disputes which have resulted in more calamitous times in the past for their species as a whole. After the War in the Deep, Kth’Shuul have enjoyed some lax of questions and criticisms, no doubt an attempt by their kin to keep the peace.
Pel’Shuul, being the most common of all breeds, are expected to fulfill most of the manual labor in Shuul society, doing everything from gathering raw materials, domesticating and harvesting various sea creatures for their people, fighting the wars of the Shuul’Kdatha, guarding young, and more. Pel’Shuul have also utilized several deep sea creatures, particularly mollusks, to create invaluable boons to their civilization, giving them an earned reputation as inventors and innovators. Pel’Shuul in some ways, mimic the commoner above on the surface, vast in number and tasked to do with all sorts of varied and harsh chores, but ultimately a fundamental part of what allows their civilization to run smoothly.
Cor’Shuul are often ostracized and mocked by their peers, though their value and input is surely not unnoticed in their aquatic world. Being the weakest and the rarest, it is seldom that a Cor’Shuul takes any form of renown or prestige with the Submerged Empire, though when one does the word spreads quickly across the seafloor. Unable to perform exceptionally as warriors, forage thoroughly, or remain conformist and zealous in their ideals, their greatest value comes from their innate skill at craftsmanship, and their unparalleled ability to grow and fashion coral into all manner of shapes, sizes, and tools. As such, Cor’Shuul often take the role of artisans and fine craftsmen within their communities, setting themselves to refining and fixing everything from their own fine coral creations to scavenged tools of shell, bone, and other detritus. Due to these services, Cor’Shuul tend to become rather rich in their later lives, especially as their skill in a craft only sharpens with time, and Cor’Shuul have been known to sell some of the most prestigious and beautiful armaments and tools in the entire ocean.
With the amount of skill and time it takes to become an expert craftsmen and the rarity of high quality artisans, a Shuul wearing a lot of coral jewelry is a sign of high status and wealth. The top warriors often can be seen adorned with numerous piercings and rings ranging from colorful coral to precious metals taken from surface dwellers.
The primary religion of the Shuul is a monotheistic, organized, and violent faith referred to as Illithism in their native language, named after the first Grand Augur of Brine, Orn’Illith, worshiping the fickle and ravenous being they call the Dweller in the Deep, which may truly be Dresdrasil, or at least an aspect of it. Illithism is represented by the Order of the Deep, a sprawling deep sea institution that spans all corners of the Shuul’Kdatha, primarily made up of a priesthood of Kth’Shuul and their Pel’Shuul attendants called the Aphotic Clergy. Illithist beliefs and doctrines are written in the Abyssal Etchings, the sacred texts of the Order originally carved into a series of great basalt slabs, though now many copies have been made and distributed using aquavellum. The Order controls a large aspect of daily Shuul life, and instructs that the Dweller, the master and creator of the Shuul species, has designed them with the purpose of serving its whims and needs. There is no beast in the sea larger than the Dweller, as the Order preaches, and so it must be appeased.
In order to sustain itself, the Dweller must be provided with ample sustenance in the form of ritual sacrifice, and so the Order often calls for captives, both Shuul, land dweller, and beasts, to be sacrificed on masse to appease the endless hunger of their ravenous god. The Dweller is said to be located beneath the Basalt City, and an expansive, lightless tunnel running below the Grand Temple of the Dweller at the base of their capital is said to be the direct route to it. The most prestigious of sacrifices are often sent into the tunnel, lowered with weights about their arms and legs, down into the unexplored abyss to whatever fate lies in store for them. The entrance to this great cavern can be sealed, though with the constant necessity, as the Order believes, for sacrifice, this is rarely done. Sacrifice done outside of the Grand Temple takes on many different forms, though often it involves the local priest of a Shuul community having a victim be held down to a prepared basalt altar located in every temple to the Dweller, before a sacrificial knife of bone and brine is plunged into their chest, removing their heart in a quick display of ritualized gore. The heart is then devoured by the priest, where it is believed the soul of the slain is sent to the Dweller, while the rest of the corpse is feasted upon by the frenzied onlookers. Other forms of sacrifice include feeding captives to large, aquatic predators, impaling them upon coral spikes, drowning them in brine pools, and bleeding a sacrifice dry through dozens of small incisions. The Order views sacrificing as a duty that cannot be ignored, and members of the Aphotic clergy will often strike deals with surface dwellers to exchange goods and precious jewels for living captives, though violent conflicts with landlubbers to capture sacrifices is not unheard of.
Funerary rites exist amongst the Shuul, though it is still done in a manner to honor the Dweller. Ordinary Shuul that have passed away will be left out at the open sea, their carcass serving as a feast for the multitude of scavengers on the seabed. This sea burial, which resembles an on land sky burial, is done because the Shuul believe their souls are returned to the Dweller in death, no matter the outcome of their lives, and so a dead body is merely nothing more than meat. They are not forbidden from eating the dead flesh of their average kin, though as their death is meant to appease the Dweller, eating it would be akin to stealing food from the plate of God. Shuul which lived to be hulks, or otherwise achieved some sort of glory or renown, are taken to the Basalt City upon their death, their bodies lowered into the same sacrificial pit that thrashing captives are cast down into unwillingly. This is considered to be the highest honors for a Shuul, to live a long and exonerated life and then be returned directly back to their source, in both body and spirit.
Brine is the sacred liquid of the Order, forming in dense, toxic pools at the bottom of the sea. Considered to be the physical blood of the Dweller, Brine is harvested from these miniature seas and sent to temples and shrines all across the Submerged Empire, used to baptize new members into the Aphotic Clergy, drown sacrifices, ritually imbibe, and fill containers that could be considered aquatic censors. Though concentrated brine is toxic to marine life, Shuul continue to use it ritually, and overcoming the effects of brine is considered a sign of devoutness and divine favor amongst the fishfolk.
The various priests, missionaries, oracles and seers of the Order of the Deep are led by an individual Shuul known as the Grand Augur of Brine, who maintains full religious authority over the entire Order, is able to elevate and demote its lessers at will, add scripture to the Abyssal Etchings, and can communicate directly with the Dweller in the Deep, a privilege only reserved for it and the Lord of the Aphotic Depths. His power over the Lord, however, is far more limited when it comes to general social and political affairs, his authority remaining squarely within the Order and its adherents.
The Shuul afterlife is considered to be a state of oneness with the Dweller, and is sometimes referred to as the Descent. Existence in the Descent is believed to be both heavenly and hellish, with the faithful and honored of the Shuul species living in enlightened splendor with their immense deity, enjoying the feasts and spoils it reaps from the waking world, while those of unremarkable livelihoods may enjoy its glory and wisdom at a distance, and feed upon the scraps it leaves behind. The sacrificed and the few apostates, however, exist in agony, constantly devoured, torn apart, re-sacrificed and reformed by both the Dweller and its more faithful subjects, who are blind to the wails and screams of their victims. The Descent appears to be pitch black, with only the purest, all encompassing light of the Dweller lighting the murky abyss.
Non-Shuul are permitted to convert to Illithism, though these converts are of course, very few and far between. Often setting up these mystery cults themselves through a Kth’Shuul missionary, some non-Shuul are even allowed into the Aphotic Clergy after a baptism in brine, serving as priests and agents of the Order on the surface, These converts are believed to share the bounty of the Descent with their aquatic comrades, and will be spared and transformed into more befitting creatures by the Dweller once it begins the Grand Deluge.
The Grand Deluge is the eschatological event of Illithism, and will be heralded by the War Under the Sun, a massive conflict believed to be held between the world of the surface, and the world of the deep, during the end of days. The War Under the Sun will be fierce, hard fought, and bloody, with the Shuul almost wiped from their holdings on the surface entirely before the Dweller finally awakes in full, breaking free of its subterranean home and releasing a tide of destruction upon the world. The Basalt City will be destroyed, the greatest casualty amongst all the Shuul, while the sea levels will rise to swallow the clouds. With a great roar to pierce both time and space, the Dweller will crash the full weight of the deeps down onto the surface, swallowing all land, from the deepest valley to the tallest peak, and extinguish all life not fit to live in this new, watery world. The Shuul and other aquatic species will be the only sapient life left, and will spend the remainder of their existence in a perpetual, earthly paradise, the Descent usurping the living world, and the Shuul living as masters of this new world beneath their immense god. The Grand Deluge is noted for having not existed in Illithism until the surface world was discovered, with the Aphotic Clergy never before revealing when they end of days would come, or how.
A lesser deity is worshiped in conjunction with the Dweller by many Shuul, a four armed, large, female Pel’Shuul named Ib’Tstll. Often referred to as the Matriarch of a Million Spawn and the Matron of the Deep, Ib’Tstll was born amongst the first few generations of the Pel’Shuul shortly after the discovery of the surface, and bore the exceedingly rare mutation of an extra pair of arms. Gifted with beauty that drew Shuul suitors to her like barnacles to a hull, Ib’Tstll would have many thousands of eggs in her lifetime, flooding the sea with her brood and often considered to be a primary reason for why Pel’Shuul became the most widespread of their kind. Devout to Illithism and the Order, Ib’Tstll would go on many expeditions and conquests across the seabed, bringing back many beasts and renegade Shuul to be sacrificed on the basalt altars of the Dweller. A survivor of the Rot plague, from its beginning to its end, Ib’Tstll was never once affected by the wasting disease. Growing into a hulk, Ib’Tstll would continue her long life breeding, warring, and tending to the Pel’Shuul people, who she grew to hold with affection, and who grew to see her as their icon, and source of identity from the Kth’Shuul. Passing away at the age of 608, Ib’Tstll would be honored with having her body deposited directly into the cavern of the Dweller beneath the Basalt City, and it is there the Pel’Shuul say that Ib’Tstll took the Dweller’s heart, and became its consort. She is now said to rule beside their deity in the Descent, the queen and protector of her people. Though faith in her is commonplace amongst Pel’Shuul, their kin are more skeptical of her divine nature. Nonetheless, a four armed, cross legged statue of Ib’Tstll, holding a clutch of eggs in one hand and a trident in the other, now stands tall in the stone halls of the Grand Temple in the Basalt City, and many female Shuul across the sea pray to Ib’Tstll before laying their young for a bountiful and prosperous spawn, while male Shuul sometimes pray to her before battle in the hopes of capturing many living, virile sacrifices.
Some Cor’Shuul also worship their own distinct being, a force called the Bountiful Tide. Said to be a result of the Dweller’s breaths, the Bountiful Tide is seen as a fickle force to the reef dwellers, sometimes creating favorable conditions for exploration and crafting, even bringing in precious gifts of driftwood and other detritus from across the sea, and other times it forms into a violent, swirling riptide, capable of sweeping away even the hardiest of swimmers. Though not widely believed, the Order of the Deep still allows these Cor’Shuul to continue their reverence of the Bountiful Tide, if only because it is explained as the breath of their god.
Shuul, especially when they are far from their cities and villages, often turn to more primitive, basic shamanistic practices, abandoning the structure and teachings of the Order in part and sometimes fully. These Shuul apostates worship a wide variety of natural occurrences, from massive, deep sea leviathans to especially large shells or distant noises, while some take to even worshipping something as mundane as bubbles or sand. The Order has little forgiveness for these apostates, and more often than not they are dragged screaming to the altars once discovered by their more traditional kin.
With fire and metallurgy beyond cold working being impossible for the Shuul to have ever developed, their species has had to rely on both foraging the raw materials around them and domesticating, and by extension, selectively breeding the various creatures of the sea to suit their needs. As such, though it can be argued that Shuul technology is primitive when compared to the surface, its reliance on using living creatures to overcome natural obstacles belies the Shuul’s true intelligence. They are not a race of bottom feeders, but innovators.
Bone, shell and kelp are the three primary resources of the Shuul, and most of their tools and trinkets are made from these three material. Bones and shells can be collected en masse from all across the seafloor, while Kelp is often grown in vast, expansive farms. Kelp fibres are harvested to be used to kelp rope, which is considered an especially important material amongst any Shuul. With simply kelp rope and whatever they can scrounge from their environment, Shuul can make all myriads of objects and luxuries to assist them with their daily living. Materials considered to be of higher quality do exist in Shuul society, but are considered goods more reserved for the more important or at least larger members of their kind. Materials like this include rare shells, valuable domesticated living creatures, and the all too precious and coveted coral, considered to be the strongest and most beautiful material to craft with in the entire sea. Due to this high value, and the skill required to shape it, coral and coral goods are rare amongst the common Shuul, though hulks and Cor’Shuul often carry more than a few coral goods.
Arguably the most important invention the Shuul ever created for their civilization was aquavellum, a living “paper” which allowed the Shuul to etch their language on a surface that was easier to work with than stone, and longer lasting than flimsy kelp scraps. Utilizing the skin of sea-floor mollusks such as octopi and cuttlefish, Pel’Shuul savants were able to create a surface which allows a Shuul to write with only their finger, but can also erase errors and copy itself, as well as prevent further editing. Aquavellum is harvested from a species of selectively bred, long fleshed octopus, with many flowing, wide and flat strands of normally tan skin hanging off of them like a matt. Snipping off a desired portion, which are often grown into equal lengths by breeders to prevent the need to measure portions, a piece of aquavellum continues to remain alive separated from its mollusk for up to three years. Resting the flat piece of flesh on a smooth surface, the Shuul can begin to write or draw on the surface of the vellum with its finger by triggering the chromatophores on the skin. Chromatophores are pigment containing, light reflecting cells, and are what allow a mollusk to completely change its apparent color and texture in moments, giving them an almost immaculate form of camouflage. The chromatophores on the aquavellum respond to the pressure of the Shuul’s finger, and light up according to where it is placed and drawn. Colors can be changed by resting an object of said color underneath the aquavellum briefly, such as a green stone, or a white pearl. Patterns and words can be erased by applying a flatter, harder pressure to a specific area to “reset” the chromatophores back to an original state. Entire pages of aquavellum can be copied by resting a finished piece of vellum below another. The skin above will react to the skin below, and directly mimic what it is laying upon. Due to this, all aquavellum is able to reprint itself, establishing a sort of organic, deep sea printing press. A piece of aquavellum can be killed by applying hagfish slime to the surface gently, which causes a biological reaction in the skin which kills it but leaves the patterns on the chromatophores intact. The hagfish slime also helps preserve the aquavellum, both from the erosion of time and also from the predation of small fish and bottom feeders. Killed aquavellum does not copy itself, and can be eventually fashioned into books, parchments, and leaflets. Living aquavellum is sometimes set up as glowing, vibrant banners for various units in war shoals, vibrant displays of the fishfolk’s allegiance and ideals in much the same way banners on the surface are presented.
Coral is the most valued of all the natural materials the Shuul harvest, and the process is done almost entirely by the Cor’Shuul, whose natural affinity with coral earned them the moniker “reef dwellers”. The coral which the Shuul use and trade normally comes in five varieties; brain, tube, bubble, horn and fire. Brain coral is the most common, and lacks the sturdiness required to be used for conventional arms and armor, devaluing it and making it an affordable form of coral, sometimes referred to as “minnow coral”. It has, however, plenty of patterns and swirls which are inviting and appealing to the eye of the Shuul, making brain coral pottery a frequent item of display in even some more average Shuul homes. Bubble coral is the next in line for the most common variant of coral, and is often the first type Cor’Shuul artisans learn to shape. Primarily used to detail or frame larger pieces of art, bubble coral is sometimes used in small, portable shields, the multiple bumps and ridges meant to deflecting and parry incoming blows not too dissimilar from a surface buckler. Tube coral is the sturdiest in terms of structural integrity, and many Cor’Shuul mold their homes, and their client’s, out of this breed of coral. The shape at which it grows makes it unsuited for weaponry, and it is sometimes used as fancy interior decor while simultaneously providing support as a pillar. Horn coral is frequently used as armor, due to its lightweight and sturdy but easily shaped form. Sharpened and refined into spears, short blades, and tridents, horn coral also comprises the majority of Shuul coral weaponry. Horn coral offers a safer, and cheaper alternative to the other type of coral main used for arms, fire coral. Fire coral is the most dangerous type of coral to work with, requiring a coralshaper to be at the peak of their craft in order to forge without bringing harm to themselves or their client. Covered in stinging polyps, fire coral must be shaped and prepared using special slimes and clothing to ensure the coralshaper can safely nullify the areas that will touch the bare skin of the wearer, while simultaneously keeping the stinging tendrils alive on all other portions. Forged incorrectly, fire coral armor can cause immense pain to the client upon first slipping the armor on, and fire coral weapons can be rendered unusable if the handle remains covered in polyps. Forged correctly, however, and fire coral equipment can inflict a stinging, burning pain on whatever it comes into direct contact with, provided the polyps can reach exposed flesh, and with most fire coral weapons being forged by masters of their craft, that outcome is likely.
A creature recently bred into a valuable tool for the Shuul is a species of amphipod called a spute. Sputes resemble their close relatives sand fleas, though they have a longer tail to aid with swimming. Like all amphipods, sputes lack the carapace commonly found in crustaceans, and though they are large for an amphipod, they typically only grow to around two inches in length at most. Being amphibious, they can survive in both the water and on land, and their use for the Shuul comes from their body’s ability to release excess oxygen at their underside. Attracted to the warmth and relative safety a Shuul’s gills provide, sputes are set to rest in each set of gills, where they intake and filter oxygen from the air on the surface. This oxygen is only partially absorbed by the spute, and the rest is filtered through their body and discharged right onto the Shuul’s gills. Oxygen processed this way is able to be passed through the Shuul’s gills, allowing it to “breathe” on the surface through the actions of much smaller organisms. Due to this, Shuul on the surface must take great care in ensuring no harm comes to their gills or head, for a dead or dying spute can swiftly lead to a dead Shuul.
Distantly related to the spute, and a former parasite turned tool, the cythoa is an isopod with a loose, ruffled carapace running down the length of its back. Formerly a parasitic species that would invade the mouths of fish, sever the blood vessels of the tongue, and eventually replace it once the tongue fell off, the Shuul would come to find that the slack fit of their carapaces could be used to produce sound in a partially sealed chamber, such as a mouth. Breeding the parasites amongst unlucky colonies of fish for generations, and testing their behavior in the mouths of unlucky Shuul, a variant would eventually be produced which remains in the mouth upon the tongue, but doesn’t sever the organ, instead opting to rest in the mouth and feed on the scraps its host eats. Cythoa typically grow to around five inches in length, though some larger species are bred for larger tongues. Though a cythoa has little use underwater, the Shuul’s true intent was to use the cythoa as a means to ease communication on the surface. Without proper vocal cords, holding conversations and pronouncing certain phrases in the languages of the surface dwellers remained a difficult obstacle, but through refinement, breeds of these now benign parasites can shudder their shells and shape the noises formed by the Shuul’s own muscle contractions and vibrations into voices and sounds that more closely resemble the patterns of speech that surface dwellers have.
The architectural style of the Shuul varies significantly, depending on factors such as which species is the dominant in which area, where they are located, and what resources are available to them. The greatest of all Shuul cities are carved out of cyclopean pillars and slabs of basalt by Kth’Shuul masons. Deep sea monoliths tower in these gloomy depths, monuments to the Dweller and Shuul civilization as a whole, lit by teeming hordes of bioluminescent fish and crinoids. Life in these trench cities is vertically stacked, with the affluent and powerful living near the bottom of the city, while their lesser kin scramble to the top, eking out an existence amongst the tops of vast, stone spires. Great glyphs and sigils in Benthic are carved into massive obelisks and even the walls of the trench itself, bearing the symbol of the Dweller, the Order, or some other form of prayer, great beast, battle, or incantation. Statues of notable Shuul jut from entryways and crannies across the city, testaments to their ancestors. The design and layout of trench cities become labyrinthine and almost unnavigable by foreigners, Shuul or not. Their compact space, combined with many twisting, turning and hidden tunnels, routes and plazas across sometimes miles of space can leave visiting Shuul wandering its deep streets for days if they are without a guide. Due to the massive amount of stone required to construct them, these Kth’Shuul cities do not exist outside of the abyssal depths of the sea, where there is ample room and resources to construct them.
Contrasting to the cold, stark gloom of the trench cities, settlements and cities of the Cor’Shuul are things of beauty, even to the standards of surface races. Forming vibrantly colored spires, arches, platforms, and homes out of shaped coral, reef cities often blend into their environment, an intentional design choice by their coral architects. Often covered with decorative kelp and expertly shaped, coral murals and aquavellum that hangs upon sculpted columns in public squares, reef cities carry a more welcoming and open vibe than the dark, stifling confusion of the much larger trench cities. Though reef cities carry the same vertical design as the rest of their kinds architecture, they have plenty of room to grow and expand outwards, and so they do not rise as high as the colossal temples and obelisks of the deep sea. Being close to the surface means that reef cities experience a day and night cycle, and so caged lamps are filled at dusk with glowing fish to light up various pathways and avenues of travel, while glowing kelp is used to light the most well-traveled routes throughout the city. Space is well available within these radiant communities, and Shuul living in reefs enjoy a healthy amount of breathing room and personal space compared to their deeper kin.
Other Shuul structures, especially the ones of the Pel’Shuul, lack the finesse and handiwork of the reef and trench cities. Structures, especially on the open sea or near rocky coasts, are built of whatever the Shuul can manage to gather, with large portions of bone, shells, driftwood, and kelp rope holding together what could be described as ramshackle homes. That is not to say that they lack the ability to cut stone or shape coral, but in most far flung communities these options are limited, and while the local temple of the Dweller may be constructed from basalt and the Cor’Shuul’s residence out of coral, the rest of their kind may very well live in whatever they can repurpose. Common types of homes include the skulls of massive undersea creatures like whales, giant shells deposited by long passed crustaceans and mollusks, and natural formations like caves and sheltered reefs. Lighting is still provided by glowing fish and kelp, though often they are kept on a Shuul’s person, rather than being left in public avenues and forums. At least one plaza and marketplace is left in every Shuul village, though their resplendence pales in comparison to those in the reefs and trenches.
The language of the Shuul is known as Benthic, and is primarily communicated vocally underwater through a series of croaks, clicks, thrums and wails. Most of these sounds can be heard by non-Shuul, though a few frequencies are inaudible to species not specialized in hearing higher and lower audio spectrums. On both land and underwater, Benthic’s sounds remain somewhat understandable to a non-speaker, and though it is definitely a difficult language to learn for a non-Shuul, and incredibly difficult to speak, it is still able to be understood verbally by land races. Learning written Benthic is a far easier endeavor, as the language is able to be universally understood when it is on vellum or tablet. Benthic is written with many different logograms, each symbol representing a word or phrase. Benthic has, over time, been simplified as the Shuul began to expand across the sea, and though most Shuul in their heartlands speak and use many old Benthic words and characters, the majority of outlying Shuul and tutored landlubbers now use the newer, simpler system. Old Benthic remains the liturgical language of Illithism, and prayers to the Dweller are still conducted in it.
Spending the dawn of their civilization in the perpetual gloom of the seafloor, the sun and lunar cycle was entirely unknown to the Shuul for a great amount of time. Nonetheless, they managed to develop an accurate means of telling the months, and the beginning and end of a year without ever laying eyes on the sky. The Shuul calendar measures time by the migration patterns and whereabouts of deep sea creatures such as whales, sea turtles, and marlins. Their arrivals and departures into the heartlands surrounding the Basalt City marking the beginning and end of months and years. The discovery of the sun and moon, and of the surface calendar, led to it also being adopted, with Shuul in more coastal waters preferring the new system over the old.
Conflict makes up an important pillar of Shuul society, and war is often seen as a necessary endeavor to procure more sacrifices for the Dweller. Warfare is typically conducted with the aim to capture an enemy alive and bring them back to the basalt altars. As such, Shuul warriors typically carry a net with them, and a few lines of kelp rope to bind potential captures. Shuul weaponry tends to be constructed from bone, teeth, shells, and coral. Iron rusts and wears down swiftly in the briny depths, and though bronze is rarely used, it must be forged on the surface, and little to no Shuul understand metallurgy. A group of Shuul armed and outfitted for combat is referred to as a war shoal.
Due to the nature of underwater warfare, spears tend to form the vast bulk of Shuul armaments, with their tips being made of anything from discarded shark and Shuul teeth, to intricate fire coral prongs. Some spears are outfitted with parts of various creatures, including urchin quills and stingray barbs. Coral is also sometimes fashioned into glaives, allowing the warrior to still thrust efficiently while having the option to slash. Tridents are considered to be sacred weapons, symbolizing the Dweller and its relationship with the Shuul, though they are mostly used by larger Shuul to aid in spearing smaller, agile targets.
Slashing weapons are uncommon, due to the increase in drag and resistance when used underwater, though they are used often in raids that go above the surface. Daggers and knives are sometimes carved from bone, stone and coral, and are frequently kept as backup weapons. Sawfish rostrum are the most common analogue to a sword, with sizes ranging from shortblades to zweihanders. Some Shuul carve large shark teeth into what could be considered katars, with a hollow at the base of the tooth to form a handle.
Blunt weaponry is comprised of mostly crude clubs and maces of bone, stone, and coral fragments. Shaped coral is considered unfit for making the hefty heads needed for an effective blunt weapon. Shuul hulks have been known to take up a fondness for using pilfered anchors in battle, swinging and smashing the huge hunks of metal with reckless fury.
Projectile weaponry is only used on the surface, and without developing the bow or the crossbow, the ranged capability of the Shuul falls to thrown javelins and harpoons. Harpoons are considered especially useful, since targets that are struck can be entangled and drawn back, often to be subdued in nets before being dragged back into the sea. Javelins and harpoons are typically made out of bone, coral and kelp rope, with barbed tips to prevent them from being removed easily.
Shuul nets are occasionally made from interwoven strands of jellyfish tentacles, which can continue to sting for days after a jellyfish has expired. Made often only hours before an attack begins, these jellyfish nets are able to inflict excruciating pain on exposed skin, though their ability to successfully restrain captives is limited compared to a traditional kelp net.
Shields are seldom used underwater, due to awkward handling, but on land Shuul have found them to be especially useful in conducting their raids and excursions. Shields are typically made out of bone, turtle shell, bivalve shells, urchins, horseshoe crabs, and occasionally coral. Urchin and fire coral shields are prized for their offensive capabilities, and are often used by prestigious warriors.
Body armor is typically worn on the chest, stomach, and head, with mobility and ease of movement preferred to full bodily protection, though full suits of armor are still crafted and used by Shuul commanders and heavy infantry. Shuul armor is typically fashioned from bone and shells, with a sharkskin cuirass underneath the hard exterior for padding and an extra layer of protection. Coral armor is as treasured amongst the Shuul as full steel plate is on land, with only the most wealthy and affluent Shuul sporting extravagant suits of horn and rarely, fire coral.
Mounts and war-beasts are a common sight in war shoals, though the majority of them are seabound. Heavily armored and decorated shark and eel knights often swim out far at the flanks of war shoals, performing swift and broad flanking maneuvers before they and their vicious, armored mounts charge into an enemy formation in a flurry of spearheads, teeth and gore. Large breeds of crabs scuttle across the seafloor and into the frontline of foes, steered by Shuul riders who manipulate a series of embedded coral shards directly under their shells. These living tanks, sometimes called crabvalry, are also the only type of mount Shuul are able to bring up from the sea to the surface. Siege weaponry such as battering rams are replaced with large species of mantis shrimp, whose club-like, smashing arms can blow through even basalt walls, while larger species of crustaceans such as lobsters are used to transport greater amounts of soldiers safely across the perilous deeps.
Relations with the Surface
Despite their natural distrust and adversity to surface dwellers, Shuul find that dealings and pacts with coastal communities are often advantageous to both parties. Any sort of pact made with landlubbers is often initiated by the Shuul themselves, who come to shore in a small party to offer greetings, gestures of comradery, and terms. Shuul deals are typically a system of mutual exchange, with the fishfolk promising to bring forth great shoals of fish into the nets of local fishermen, as well as valuable coral trinkets, and even rare gold and jeweled idols at times. Some pacts also entail maritime protection on behalf of the Shuul, and it is often in their best interest to ensure their partner remains prosperous and unspoiled.
In return, the Shuul often ask their partners for bronze tools, which do not rust or corrode underwater like iron does, and living beings as tribute for their sacrificial altars. Though the amount and type of creature can vary depending on the deal, Shuul can accept everything from common farm animals to sapient denizens of the community. The method in which sacrifices are selected is often left to the surface dwellers to decide, with unbiased lotteries or condemned criminals used as the most common methods of offering tribute. This method of obtaining sacrifices peacefully from landlubbers is mostly preferred to violent raids, as attacks on the surface can be especially risky for the fishfolk. Shuul tend to also proselytize, attempting to draw their partners into their faith in order to cement stronger ties in the future.
If such a pact is refused, which is commonplace, the Shuul often choose to remain close by their selected community, still engaging in regular trade and communing with the locals, though this is done mostly to satiate some curiosity they have with the daily lives of the surface dwellers. Shuul which live at the fringes of their aquatic nation are more partial to this non-intrusive relation with coastal communities, likely due to less pressure from their superiors. Land dwellers which also share an affinity or respect to the ocean are also treated with greater respect and equity than those who do not.
The Shuul are a piscine, humanoid species - their physical appearances differing across individuals from each of their subspecies. Each can take on various traits and qualities of other aquatic fauna, from sharks to groupers and anglerfish. They are a species prone to frequent mutation, but despite their variation, all Shuul possess several constants in their physiology.
Shuul are covered entirely in scales, and aside from several softer patches at their necks, stomachs, palms and feet, their bodies are more resilient to physical attacks, though still nowhere near as effective as armor. Though the texture of their scales can vary, each of them has a thin, slimy coat around their bodies, due to spending the vast majority of their time beneath the waves. Their skin can dry out while on the surface, though the time this takes, and the danger it poses, varies on subspecies.
Each one has a set of gills set either on their neck or the sides of their skulls, enabling them to breathe underwater. They do not have lungs, preventing them from breathing on land without some form of aid. The time a Shuul can spend on land without a proper means to breath varies depending on its subspecies, but even the most resilient cannot last more than a few minutes, even less if they are in the middle of a strenuous activity, such as combat or manual labor. The lack of lungs also prevents them from vocalising the languages spoken above the surface without aid. Vocalizations underwater are done through muscles vibrating their internal swim bladders, another organ which all Shuul share, or through stridulation using a small pair of bones located in their throats.
Each of them has two arms and two legs, with five webbed claws on each. Shuul claws are naturally sharp, and can easily tear through exposed flesh, though they are primarily used in aquatic locomotion and gripping slippery surfaces. Male Shuuls have a dewclaw on the back of each of their legs, and despite being vestigial, is seen amongst their kind as a display of courtship.
Fins are featured prominently on all Shuul, though their placement on the body and appearances can vary. Usually fins are attached behind the forearm and to the sides of thighs, allowing for easier mobility in their aquatic environment. Fins are also frequently attached to the spine and head, such as the top of the skull or behind the jawline. Fins seldom grow from the chest, and never in the palms or soles.
Shuul each possess an adipose eyelid, with three transparent membranes which are able to both block and remove seaborne detritus from their eyes, as well as filter out certain forms of light to help them focus. The first layer is the thickest, and is meant to clear the eye of foreign objects while also keeping it moisturized above ground, much like a traditional eyelid. The second layer allows to Shuul to perceive polarized light, while the third layer can block out ultraviolet light. Due to the transparency of the adipose eyelid, a Shuul will never appear to blink.
All Shuul have above average regenerative abilities, commonly seen in the quick restoration of their fins, which can easily become damaged. They do not form scar tissue, and instead their wounds, provided they are not too severe, clot within a few minutes to half an hour, the damage swiftly restored to its previous state over the course of a few days. Entire limbs can be regenerated in this manner, provided they survive the ordeal, and the full restoration of a leg or arm takes approximately a year and a half, with the new limb functioning just as the previous one did.
Each Shuul is cold-blooded, though despite that, they are poikilothermic. Their circulatory system is counter current, exchanging their arterial and venous blood, minimizing their heat loss between their cooler, slow moving core and their warmer, fast moving extremities. Outwardly their temperature can vary, but their internal temperature largely remains the same regardless of their environment. This allows Shuul to survive in frigid waters with little to no discomfort. Shuul are also euryhaline, and can survive in fresh water despite originating in the ocean.
Shuul are strictly carnivorous, and though the size and shape of their teeth varies among their subspecies, each of them frequently loses or sheds their teeth throughout their lives, only to have them regrow and be replaced. An undamaged tooth is typically shed within two years, and a new one takes its place a day later.
The Shuul have, over the long course of their history, evolved into three distinct types, each one found at a differing layer of the ocean and adapted especially to suit their needs in their environment. They frequently resemble and borrow traits of other seaborne life in the region they were born in. The variants, in Benthic, as known as the Pel’Shuul, Cor’Shuul and Kth’Shuul.
Primarily dwelling in the pelagic zones, and in most of the open ocean, Pel’Shuul are the most widespread and common of all Shuul. As a result, they are also the most physically diverse, with their appearances resembling some aspects of lesser fish species, from groupers to sharks, marlins, tuna, and mackerel, though many more variations exist. Their color palette is often composed of greys and whites, along with some deep blue and dark green, their chest generally a lighter shade than their limbs and back. Some Pel’Shuul are born with tails, though they serve only to help propel themselves in water, and offer no aid and can prove to be rather awkward when used on dry land. They are the fastest swimmers amongst their kind, their bodies adapted to traveling great distances in the vast, open sea. Due to the amount of space their natural environment provides, they can grow at almost twice the speed as their kin. Their scales do not dry out as swiftly on land as the Kth’Shuul, but they will still be outlasted on the surface by a Cor’Shuul, able to go for around eight hours before needing to be moisturized in water. Pel’Shuul have a knack for domesticating and selectively breeding various sea creatures to serve their civilization, with sharks and eels often frequenting as their mounts, while Pel’Shuuls have also been responsible for major technological developments like Aquavellum. They were the first subspecies to emerge from the original Kth’Shuuls, and as they spread into more coastal waters, would eventually give rise to the Cor’Shuul.
Found almost entirely in coastal waters, especially in coral reefs, Cor’Shuul, sometimes referred to derogatorily as “Reef Dwellers”, are the least common variant of the Shuul, though their proximity to the surface means they are likely the most seen and by extension, the most understood by surface dwellers. Cor’Shuul take on the features of more tropical, reef dwelling piscines, such as barracudas, pacu, cichlids, piranhas, catfish, and other species. Their color palette is also the most varied among all other breeds of Shuul, with some individuals boasting vibrant displays, hues and patterns of red, blue, orange, yellow, black and white. Cor’Shuul fins also tend to be larger and more extravagant, decorated with the same colors as their bodies. Physically the weakest of all three species, Cor’Shuul are likewise able to hold their breath on land for almost a minute longer than their kin, and being so frequently exposed to the sun and surface, dry out at a reduced pace, especially when compared to the Kth’Shuul. Cor’Shuul can remain exposed on the surface for around twelve hours before their scales begin to dry out and crack. Greatest of all contributions they make to the Shuul as a whole is the art of Coralshaping, the manipulation of living coral into designs, objects, weapons and armor. They are the only species with an affinity to coral, and are the most specialized craftsmen of their race. Youngest of the Shuul, they descended from the Pel’Shuul, who in turn descended from the Kth’Shuul.
Dwelling in the black, aphotic depths of the abyssal reaches of the sea, the Kth’Shuul are neither the most prolific, nor the most sparse of their species. They are by far, however, the most reclusive, especially to surface dwellers, with their kind rarely rising above the tide, or even approaching the coast. Kth’Shuul take the appearance of abyssal species of fish, such as anglerfish, hatchetfish, stoplight loosejaws, viperfish, snaggletooths, and dragonfish. Coloration amongst the Kth’Shuul is limited compared to their kin, with frequent deep blacks and pale whites blanketing their scales, while occasionally translucent flesh covers their chest. Bioluminescence is a feature many Kth’Shuul share, with glowing lures, barbels, and protrusions emerging from their bodies, both lighting up their pitch black homes and drawing hapless fish to their clutches. Kth’Shuul have very few air pockets in their bodies, allowing them a higher tolerance of the crushing depths which they live in, though due to this, they feel especially uncomfortable on land, with their internal pressure offset by the lack of external forces on the surface. Kth’Shuul also dry out quickly on the surface, needing to be soaked in water every five hours before their scales begin to crack. They have had a long history of deep sea masonry, especially with the abundant mineral basalt. Taking on the roles as leaders and holy figures across the briny depths, Kth’Shuul are also the original and oldest of the species, with the other Shuul being descended from Kth’Shuul explorers and colonists.
Shuul begin their lives as small, translucent eggs which lack a shell, no more than a few centimeters in diameter each. The process begins in special spawning chambers found within each Shuul community, a cloistered area set aside for the development and growth of their young, with its entrances heavily guarded from predators. A female typically lays around five hundred eggs at a time inside an unused portion of the spawning chambers, though only around a fourth of their young will actually hatch after five months. The remaining dead eggs will be eaten by both the adults and the next stage of the Shuul, the larvae.
Larvae are scaleless, only around eight inches in length, and at the beginning of their lives, are unable to feed themselves. Their egg sacs still remain attached to their chests, and provide nutrients for the first four days of their lives. Once their scales begin to develop, their egg sac is fully absorbed, and they are able to feed themselves, they devour the unhatched eggs in their portion of the chamber before advancing to their next stage, the fry.
Fry quickly grow to be around 2 feet tall, and resemble shrunken down Shuul, with their more prominent, species defining features like lures, patterns and teeth beginning to develop fully at this stage. Curious and aggressive, fry learn how to perform rudimentary undersea communication inside their home cave, and though they are tended to and cared for by a select amount of adult Shuul, fry have a tendency to kill and cannibalize the particularly weak runts of their group, referred to as a school. This behavior is not stopped by the adults, who see it as a valuable tool to cull underperforming spawn. Fry remain at this stage for a year, before developing into juveniles.
Juveniles are usually around four feet in height, and have all their distinguishing features fully formed. It’s at this time and age that they are taken out of the spawning chambers and taken under the care of adult Shuul from their own species. Juveniles are taught a basic education, with being able to speak and understand their language, as well as those of the surface, primary lessons, along with basic undersea survival. Literacy is a luxury reserved only for the most intuitive and intelligent of their species. Higher trades, including masonry, coralshaping and domestication, are also reserved for Shuul who show a natural fondness for it in their youth. After four years of education at the hands of their community, a Shuul fully grows into an adult, and often relocates itself to an area that best suits its needs.
Adult Shuul continue to grow slowly over the course of their lives, beginning at around a height of five feet and eventually growing to twelve feet, occasionally even higher, though never beyond a recorded thirteen feet in height. This stage is also when Shuul are first able to reproduce, and they often seek out several mates over the course of their lives. Shuul that grow to heights above eight feet are referred to as hulks, and eventually find the burden of holding their own weight up on land to be difficult and cumbersome.
Hulks rarely embark to the surface, and never far from the shore, while their even larger brethren find it painful to be out of the water, and never depart from the sea. Strongest and smartest of their kind, hulks frequently lead Shuul society as a whole, and also serve as the living core in battle formations. Shuul become hulks at around three hundred years of age, grow too large to support themselves on land at four hundred, and naturally expire at six hundred, though few rarely live to this number.
The minds of the Shuul work differently from the beings on the surface, with their priorities frequently focused on the betterment of their community first, and themselves second. This is not to say Shuul don’t possess a sense of individuality, and should not be seen as eusocial. Pel’Shuul especially feel the impulse to head out and explore the vast, wide open seas before them, and make the best breed for colonization and general expansion of the Submerged Empire.. Cor’Shuul are more inclined towards exploring the coastline and beaches, and also take a keen interest in objects of intricate beauty and craftsmanship, from coral to shells to trinkets from the surface. Kth’Shuul lacks the sense of self-determination that their descendants do, and are extreme conformists, living among one another with little quarrel and squabble, while rare traits such as bravado and insubordination are seen with much dismay from their peers.
Shuul are naturally superstitious, and see their faith as indisputable fact, though differences of belief can still occur among individuals. Shuul do not have a particular reverence or respect for most animals of the deep, viewing them in much the same way that surface dwellers do. Some are meant for food, labor, pets, crafting or are just outright ignored, their piscine aspects not giving them a particular love for other fish.
Shuul typically do not form deep bonds of friendship with one another, due to the harshness of the environment they live in, but tend to respect and care for their peers regardless. Friendship can still form between two Shuul, often if one performs a great act for the other, and Shuul hold these bonds for life, willing to go so far as self sacrifice for their scaled brother or sister. Love is another rare concept among the Shuul, and though they are choosy on their mates, they select distinguishing and attractive features first. Shuul are driven to reproduce almost purely for the reason of propagating the species, and often leave their mates within days of first laying eggs, though a male and female can sometimes grow fond of one another, and remain mates for life. Such relationships are rare and considered a good blessing among the community it forms in. Shuul do not engage in homosexual activities, the practice being entirely alien to their minds.
Developing an acute resistance to mental afflictions, most Shuul can go through their whole lives without developing any noticeable issues to their minds, though Shuul that take physical trauma their heads, especially when they are young, can risk developing illnesses like depression, dementia, alzheimers, and schizophrenia. These ill minded Shuul are often culled by their communities if their afflictions become apparent.
The Shuul mindset quickly changes when confronted with a surface dweller, and an almost primal sense of distrust and wariness kicks in. Shuul are naturally keen to avoid the questions of a surface dweller and probe them with their own, refusing to interact outside of the boundaries it wishes to as its foreign, aquatic brain attempts to operate on the same mindset as its partner. Though their distrust is almost universal, they do not shy away from conversing with and making deals with surface dwellers when they must, and over time, these brief interactions can break the mold for that individual only.
Pel’Shuul and Cor’Shuul can, with time, grow to trust and acknowledge surface dwellers as more than viable trade partners, knowledge bearers, and living conversations, perhaps forming what could even be considered by both species to be friendship. A friendship between a Shuul and a land dweller, however, will never become more than a friendship between two different species with two very different ways of thinking and seeing the world, and a Shuul will never be compelled to abandon its life, nor the sea, for the alien world of the surface.
Kth’Shuul cannot form these bonds with surface dwellers, and as such, always come off as aloof and harsh in their dealings and conversations. Their minds, developing in black abyssal trenches at crushing depths, cannot understand or empathize with beings that dwell above the waves. To the Kth’Shuul, surface beings are simply a means to an end, a living catalyst for them to reach whatever goal they may need in their brief visit to the surface. They can form partnerships and alliances with landlubbers much like their kin, but will never see their partners as equals, and will be sure to drop them once their use has expired, or their convenience run out. Out of all the Shuul breeds, Kth’Shuul are by far the most distrustful to the land races.
Water Breathing: All Shuul are aquatic creatures, with their bodies adapted entirely to living and surviving in underwater environments. Due to this, every Shuul possesses a set of gills rather than lungs, and as such can only supply oxygen to their bloodstream through direct contact with water. This is circumnavigated by placing one or more sputes into each set of gills, amphipods bred specifically to act as living filter for prolonged time on the surface. Shuul could also possibly breath on land via assistance with magic, but any sort of magic that could provide that aide is unknown entirely to them.
Piscine Regeneration: Shuul have advanced regenerative properties much like the fish they share the sea with, especially when compared to the races which dominate the surface. They are able to entirely regenerate lost limbs back to their full functioning capacity without leaving any remaining scar tissue, though this process is by no means immediate, and serves no direct advantage in an actual battle, only the aftermath.
Aquatic Locomotion: Shuul are superb swimmers, and are easily capable of swimming twice as fast as even the most accomplished of land-dwelling swimmers. Shuul which have tails are at an even greater advantage in the water, and can dart through the sea at up to 25mph in ample conditions. Opposing currents, such as ones moving downstream on a river or violent tides, do not hinder them in nearly the same way they would a landlubber or a boat.
Scales: Scales cover a Shuul’s body in place of skin, aside from some softer patches located at their neck, stomach, palms and feet. These scales offer some protection against light slashes and blunt trauma, though they are nowhere near as effective as conventional armor. They are also prone to drying out, and will begin to flake and crack if they become dehydrated, nullifying their protective ability and also causing the Shuul a large amount of discomfort and pain.
Bioluminescence: An ability some Shuul, primarily the Kth’Shuul, have. Bioluminescent lights and markers can be found all over a Shuul’s body, though typically they form on the ends of lures, barbels, or fins. Patches of glowing skin, and lights forming inside their mouths, are sometimes seen. Bioluminescence is used both as a tool to shed light, capture prey and help form a basis of non-verbal communication, with many Shuul able to control the flickering and flashes produced by their glowing features.
The Shuul, I hope, will bring some interesting RP and focus to the ocean, which from what time I’ve spent on LOTC, seems to be a largely untapped source of world-building potential. We have no obvious answer as to how a civilization would form entirely underwater, and I would hope that by making a species which, rather than entirely relying upon tools and metals to run their society, utilizes other aquatic creatures to fulfill the needs of their people in a sort of advanced, aquatic husbandry. The deep sea really is alien, and I looked to make a race that reflects the strange, isolated, and foreign nature of the world’s aphotic depths, while giving coastal communities, cities and nations a new set of entities to interact with, ones who seek to deal with and exploit them in manners not too dissimilar from the Deep Ones in A Shadow Over Innsmouth. I have never submitted lore to LOTC before, and I’m completely open to any kinds of feedback or constructive criticism.
I have never played WOW or Hearthstone, and didn’t know what a Murloc was until the people I shared this with mentioned them. Love those little fellas.