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A strange and wondrous place on Felarya that most people never get to see, Ryzelm’oire is the largest Chlaena settlement, and probably one of the largest cities in Felarya, due to the sheer amount of ground that it covers. However, Chlaena do not share the same concept of cities and towns that other species use. To them, an “oire” simply means an event or place where people gather: it can be anything from a small celebration, to settlements that other races would call cities.
Ryzelm’oire is an impressive underwater metropolis that spans a great deal of the ocean bottom in and around the Reef of Ryzelm in the South Topazial sea. The territory that comprises Ryzelm’oire includes large amounts of open water and natural structures along the ocean floor, including twisting buildings created out of coral. It is somewhat unique among the cities of Giant Predators in that one can find species that would normally trying to devour or kill each other interacting in a relatively peaceful manner here. Aside from the occasional (and very brief !) skirmish, people of all races and species are welcome to come and go as they please, with a somewhat relative sense of safety.
Unlike Negav or other settlements, there is no defense mechanism that prevents predation or violence within the city limits. However, the Chlaenas viciously enforce the "cease-fire" rule within the city. A predator might be able to occasionally get away with a discrete snack or two, and it’s generally accepted that such things will happen, so typically a blind eye is turned to those who disappear while exploring dark and unsafe corners of the city on their own. However, flagrant disregard for the non-aggression policies of the city typically results in an offender facing every Chlaena present, and soon an entire army. Chlaenas consider someone who has violated the laws of their gathering fair game, and are free to attack them with the intention of killing, something that they rarely ever do. Very few offenders actually manage to survive such an onslaught of magic and physical attacks, and those who do wind up fleeing severely injured. Chlaenas will not chase an offender past the limits of their city... they simply don’t care what happens to the offenders after they leave. However, being severely and sometimes critically injured in the seas of Felarya is practically a death sentence in itself and Ryzelm’oire sees very few repeat offenders.
This makes Ryzelm’oire something like an oasis among the wilderness of the South Topazial Sea, where weary travelers and intrepid explorers can rest and conduct business without having to worry too much about ending in a digestive tract at every turn. However, one has to make it there in one piece first, which isn’t always easy; many giant predators of all species have developed the habit of patrolling ranges just outside the outskirts of the city, hoping to make an easy meal of prey before they get within the protected area of the city. As soon as fleeing prey manages to make it within this area, smart predators will immediately break off the chase. However, the Chlaenas don’t care what happens outside the “gathering”, so a predator is more than welcome to wait for their prey to come back out ! This often leads to odd situations where a predator, having nothing better to do with their time than wait, will go into the city and stay for a while, and eventually meet and converse with their prey while both are "protected". This sometimes leads to taunts, insults, or attempts to buy off or bribe the predator passing back and forth between the two, only for the chase to resume once the prey attempts to leave the city. The "safe zone" is considered to be omni-directional, extending outwards in what is more or less a sphere from the exact center of the city; the borders of it are clearly defined, so there is no mistaking it. It's called the “Beltline”, and it is approximately half a mile wide, and extends in a rough circle along the seabed, created by a deep channel in the rock and coral, that is filled with bioluminescent plants and bacteria. The vertical boundary is marked as well, by wide circles and lines scribed along the coral spires that reach towards the surface, which are also filled with bioluminescent material. Likewise, some of the caverns and passageways underground are marked in a similar fashion. In the dark waters of the ocean depths, the Beltline stands out very clearly, even to creatures with poor vision in the dark.
Aside from sentient beings of all races, one can find strangely shaped (sometimes very frightening, but mostly harmless) and brightly colored fishes of all types swimming around and through the streets of Ryzelm'oire. Despite being located in the darkness of the ocean depths, most parts of the city are kept dimly lit by bioluminescent lamps and globes, and occasionally, schools of free-roaming fish that give off bioluminescent light themselves. There are some parts of the city that are completely dark, and in general, most visitors would do well to steer clear of those areas. They are typically where most of the "mysterious disappearances" have been known to happen.
One of the more interesting places in Ryzelm’oire is The Bazaar, which is a massive open-water marketplace, where one can find creatures of all shapes and sizes gathering to engage in trade and commerce. One can find everything from polished and shiny (but worthless) stones, to priceless gems, to ancient magical artifacts ! Beings of all species are welcome to come and buy, sell, or just browse at any time as long as they confine their aggression to their negotiations. Out of all the places in Ryzelm’oire, this is the one where the non-violence policy is most strictly enforced. Practically the instant a fight breaks out it, and the lives of the responsible parties, will be ended swiftly and mercilessly !
Money holds no real value among Chlaena society, so all trade in the Bazaar revolves around barter, which means that there is no fixed "price" for anything. Those who bring interesting and unique items, or things that the Chlaena are unlikely to have encountered before, often unexpectedly find themselves with a great deal of “purchasing power” in Ryzelm’oire. Something as simple as a diving wristwatch may hold a great deal of fascination for a particular Chlaena, allowing a human visitor from the surface to acquire a very ancient tablet of magical spells, or a handful of valuable gems collected from the ocean floor. However, for their part, most Chlaenas are very cunning merchants, and typically try to get the best price they can... however, due to their unusual mindset and value system, this "best price" can sometimes be fairly worthless, or impossible to match from the buyer’s perspective.
It is not uncommon for multiple barterers to conflict over a particular item. Such conflicts are typically resolved in an auction-like manner that can get fairly intense. Once a Chlaena puts “a tentacle into the waters”, so to speak, their pride is at stake; failure to acquire the desired object is mildly shameful. This can lead to quite a bit of ribbing and insults being slung back and forth, although it never escalates into violence (not among Chlaenas themselves, anyways). Being suddenly wooed by multiple huge Chlaenas can be somewhat disturbing for visitors, and it is not uncommon for a Chlaena to quickly snatch up or drag off a buyer of another species to where they have their goods on display, which can sometimes be misinterpreted as an attack by people unfamiliar with Chlaena behavior.
Moreover, Chlaenas do not recognize the concept of being “cheated” the way merchants of other species would. It is expected that a person will try to get the best deal for themselves as they can, and someone who overvalues shoddy or broken merchandise has no one to blame but themselves. For their part, Chlaena are bluntly honest merchants: while they will not hesitate to “sell” broken and non-functional items, or items that they know little about, they will always be truthful about it if asked. “Does it work ?”, “Is it broken ?”, “Do you know what it does ?”, “Do you know how it works ?” are questions frequently asked by experienced visitors. While Chlaenas do not recognize the concept of being “cheated”, they definitely recognize the concept of theft. Stealing something from the Bazaar is the second fastest way to get yourself killed in Ryzelm’oire as, from the Chlaena perspective, you are violating the Laws of their Gathering just as if you had tried to kill or eat someone ! Some of the items offered at the Bazaar can be bizarre. "Objects" to Chlaena include living creatures and beings as well as inanimate objects. Strange fish with unusual properties, sentient beings who had the misfortune to find themselves highly valued by a Chlaena and offered up for trade to other predators, strange symbiotic creatures and living coral weapons and armor crafted by the Shapers can all be found at the Bazaar in addition to the usual assortment of valuable jewels, metal ores, magical items, scrolls, and other things you would expect to find at a bazaar. Practically anything one can imagine might eventually find its way into the Bazaar, and this includes you, if you aren’t careful about where you go and what you do outside of the city !
The Spires are twisting towers of coral that reach miles towards the surface, standing out as the tallest structures in Ryzelm’oire. There is a large amount of distance between each Spire, as each one is the residence of one of the Great Houses of the Chlaena population of Ryzelm’oire, and each can be considered a castle in and of itself, exerting a certain amount of influence over an area of the city.
Typically, a Spire does not receive uninvited visitors; if you go there, you should be aware that you are entering the territory of a particular House, which has the right to deal with you however they please. However, many Houses adopt or employ beings of other races as guards or servants. While being in the employ of a House can be very profitable, and offer some security within Ryzelm’oire, one might find themselves involuntarily dragged into dangerous political power struggles between rival Chlaenas. Moreover, Chlaena Houses expect loyalty and efficiency; being “Employed” is not the same thing as being a “Guest” in a House; if you betray the House, or continually prove yourself a failure, you can expect to be soon eaten and replaced ! Being employed by a Chlaena House basically means that you become one of that House’s “Valued Objects”... and as long as you’re doing your job correctly, members of the House will consider you a useful object rather than a snack. This sometimes leads to strange situations where a Chlaena barely deigns to acknowledge the presence of an employee, unless the Chlaena requires something of them, allowing the employee to gain a great deal of insight and information about the inner workings of the House, including valuable secrets, just as if he wasn't here ! However, Chlaenas tend to be very demanding of their employees, and even younger Chlaenas take a great deal of enjoyment in bossing them around. This can often lead to unfortunate individuals being run ragged to entertain the whims of a particular Chlaena who has decided that person is their favorite "toy". Houses have a rigid internal hierarchy however, and the demands of the Head of the House, or any of the Elders, takes precedence over anything else.
Each Spire is a labyrinthine maze inside. There are corridors going every which way, spiraling slides that run from room to room, and passages that gradually grow narrower until only a Chlaena is capable of squeezing through the exit. Entire floors and sections of the Spire are kept totally dark, requiring some sort of vision in the dark or light source to navigate, while other areas are dimly lit by bioluminescent globes or lines drawn along the ceiling, floor, or walls (Chlaena make no distinction between the surfaces). In addition, the territory of each Spire extends underneath the sea floor for some distance, with a network of tunnels spreading throughout the city. These tunnels connect to the tunnels of other Spires, providing a method of travel underground between Houses, but also go out into the "wilderness". The Underground of Ryzelm’oire is a very dangerous place, where all sorts of dangerous and predatory creatures roam.
For this reason, the "safe zone" of each House’s underground tunnels are clearly marked with bioluminescent drawings, and the entrance to the underground network is always under heavy guard to repel intruders and dangerous beasts. It's quite possible that someone who hires themselves out to one of the Houses will find themselves stationed on guard duty in the tunnels, though the Houses only rely on those who have proven themselves in battle to entrust with such a dangerous task. Those chosen to guard the underground tunnels are expected to challenge any being who approaches the House from the tunnels, and attack them if they refuse to properly identify themselves. As such, they are typically very heavily armed, and provided with the best equipment, armor, and weapons that a House has. They also are granted a special distinction within the House, considered a sort of elite guard that answer only to the Head of the House, the Elders, and those appointed over them by the aforementioned.
As one might imagine, this means that one who attains this status is highly valued among Chlaena society. Typically, once you prove yourself capable and qualify for a position guarding the Underground, the position is for life. On very rare occasions, you might be "traded" to another House to cement an alliance, but you are more or less set for the rest of your life. There are only two options for "retirement": death, or fleeing the city... although very few manage to do the latter successfully. Or want to, for that matter, as these elite guards have it pretty good for non-Chlaena living in Ryzelm’oire, all things considered. There are certainly worse fates that could befall one in the city.
The Catacombs are what most non-Chlaenas call the Underground of Ryzelm’oire. This "wilderness" consists of a massive network of underground and underwater tunnels and caves; places that are extremely dangerous to traverse, even for the most powerful Chlaena. There are strange beasts who live there and prowl the underground, as well as various sentient predators who try their luck hunting for prey down below. The Catacombs are not considered part of Ryzelm’oire, and as such the laws of the city hold no sway underground (beyond the territory beneath each Spire). This means that most of the zone is completely lawless, and a great deal of violence and predation takes place here. Because the tunnels also serve as a transportation network between Houses, envoys and small caravans frequently pass through it to conduct secret dealings and alliances between Houses. Those who find themselves tasked as elite guards are often assigned to escort important figures within the House on secret missions, or attempt to intercept messengers or emissaries to another House to destroy potential alliances. The Catacombs are a very dangerous place for anybody, and in certain areas, the bones of giant predators litter the tunnels...
The Bubble is a collective term for several large coral spheres located near the center of the city, rising up off the ocean floor on thick stilt-like angled pillars. Each stilt is hollow, containing stairs that lead from the inside of the bubble to a small underground passageway that slants upward and exits onto the street. To get inside, you have to go down at an angle, and then upwards along the stairway in a passage that is much too small for most large predators to fit through. Even Chlaena are not capable of making it into the bubble, due to rows of pointed coral ‘studs’ that face backwards along the passage to the streets; a Chlaena who tries to squeeze in to the passage will get painfully caught on the studs, and will eventually have to back out of the passage, which is the only way they can move. These protective measures were added by several skilled Shapers after the entire population of a bubble “disappeared” overnight.
The inside of each bubble contains breathable air, thanks to oxygen generated by the algae living within the walls of the dense coral structure. In addition, it is kept fairly well lit by several small bioluminescent orbs, which provide light that can be adjusted by shaking the orb to make the algae inside glow more brightly. There are a few basic amenities, including hallways that branch off into large circular rooms containing flat areas one can sleep on, and small tables; it’s recommended that those who decide to stay in a bubble bring their own sleeping bag (or tent) and supplies, because that is as far as the amenities go. In addition, the air here is much less pressurized than the water outside of the sphere; Deep Magic enchantments provide protection from sudden decompression to those who enter a bubble, but those who wish to exit should be warned that they require some method of their own for surviving the crushing water pressures outside, whether magical, biological, or technological. Many first time visitors to Ryzelm’oire have been crushed like a grape due to not making the necessary preparations for a stay in the bubble... or any visit to the city at all, for that matter. While the bubbles are the safest place in the city, this is also the only place where theft occurs with any frequency, since it’s away from the watchful eyes of the Chlaenas.
The Shapers’ Guild is where the Chlaenas artisans called Shapers practice their craft, away from the prying eyes of others. It is a large octahedral building made out of coral, that extends both above and underground. From the ocean floor, it appears to resemble a pyramid, but what you see is only the top half of the structure. No one knows exactly what goes on inside, but rumors run rampant. Everyone has their own story or conspiracy theory about what the Shapers get up to while nobody’s watching them. Entry into the building is strictly prohibited and the only people who regularly go in and come out alive are Shapers and their guards and/or servants, none of whom are willing or capable of talking about anything that happens inside. Like the Spires, the guild is connected to the underground, however it is also heavily guarded by both actual guards and strange and fearsome beasts created by the Shapers themselves.
The Shapers possess a unique form of biological manipulation magic, which they do everything in their power to keep a secret. So far, no one who is not a Shaper has ever learned the true nature of the magic or how it works. Their products, however, have proven so invaluable to Chlaena society that most people just don’t bother asking questions. Shapers have the ability to shape coral while it is still living, to create everything from buildings to furniture to jewelry... and even armor and weapons! In addition, they are also known for creating strange symbiotic creatures and parasites, which attach to a host and provide unusual abilities or mutations... sometimes at a heavy price. Shapers consider what they do a form of art, and they place little interest or value in “crude things” like a finely constructed metal sword, or a hand-carved wooden chair. Their only tools are their magic and the biological elements of life like blood cells, DNA, RNA, etc. Shapers possess an unusual status in Ryzelm’oire; while members of any House, or even unaffiliated Chlaena can become members of the Shapers Guild, membership in the Guild takes priority over any loyalty to a House. This gives the Guild quite a bit of political and economic power in the city, but to be honest, they seem fairly disinterested in such things and instead strive towards honing their "art" to perfection.
According to persistent rumors, the Guild is responsible for many of disappearances that happen in the city, and that if you try to sneak into the Guild or otherwise fall into their hands, you might find yourself becoming... something else. Other rumors say that many of the dangerous creatures that prowl the Catacombs are escaped creations of the Shapers’ Guild.
Here's a few examples of things that have come out of the Shapers' Guild.
Temple of Dreams
Located squarely in the "palm" of Dark Claw Reef, the Temple of Dreams is the destination of most travelers who venture out to the reef. The Temple is an unusual building that was obviously not built by Chlaena tentacles; it is constructed out of stone rather than coral and appears to be ancient, with parts of it lying in ruins. Broken chunks of stone pillar litter the reef, upon which faded engravings can be barely made out. The language they are written in is unknown, even to the Chlaenas who currently keep the Temple. The Temple ruins stand out among the gloomy background of Dark Claw Reef, and seem to radiate a sense of foreboding. The darkness of the reef often seems to shudder and flow around the Temple as though it were as fluid as the waters of the ocean surrounding it. Most creatures only travel to the Temple if they are in dire need, and otherwise avoid it completely. It is not considered part of Ryzelm’oire despite its proximity to the city, and the cult-like group of Chlaenas who maintain the Temple are regarded with great suspicion by other denizens of the depths.
Most members of the Cephaloid races are incapable of dreaming; when they sleep, they sleep without being disturbed by nightly visions and terrors. Typically, to have a dream or nightmare is seen as an ominous portent among Chlaenas and their relatives, and they have a great deal of superstition regarding such things. At most, the average Cephaloid will only dream once or twice in his or her entire life. The sole exception to this rule seems to be the Dreamers. Chlaenas, Cecaelias, and other Cephaloids who are blessed… or cursed, depending on who you ask, with frequent dreams and unusual abilities. They seem to worship a being they identify only as the Queen of Darkness, who they say reigned over all the lightless ocean depths of Felarya long before the first Cecaelias and Chlaenas were born. The Dreamers are uncertain as to the fate of their Queen. They claim that she is not dead, but left her kingdom long ago and never returned. They also say that the Temple of Dreams is one of the last remnants of her ancient kingdom, and have pledged to keep it secure until her return… however long that may be.
All Dreamers are considered insane by Chlaena standards. Being constantly afflicted by dreams and nightmares just can not be good for the mind, and it definitely shows with the Dreamers ! Dreamers tend to be somewhat spacey and absent-minded, as if they were permanently halfway asleep or just not there mentally. Despite this, they often display very keen insight into the thoughts and problems of other beings; more evidence pointing towards their insanity, from the perspective of the typical Chlaena. They are Chlaenas who don’t think like Chlaenas, which makes them very suspicious. The average citizen of Ryzelm’oire trusts Dreamers even less than they trust the Artisan’s Guild, and some of the rumors about what they really do at the Temple include things like living sacrifices… for starters. The Dreamers are also mistrusted for their strange abilities. Most of them do not use Deep Magic heavily, but have some other strange power involving dreams. A Dreamer can be considered a type of Priestess or Oracle (male Dreamers are just as common as females), who use their great understanding of dreams to help those who travel to the Temple for guidance by interpreting their dreams and pointing them in a certain direction. However, it is also said that Dreamers are able to glimpse visions of the future in their own dreams, project their spirits while they sleep into the dreams of other beings, communicate with others over long distances, and even trap others in a deep sleep from which they can not awake on their own.
Like other Chlaenas, Dreamers rarely seem to be outright malicious, but it is clear that they have their own goals and motivations, which are just as incomprehensible to the average Chlaena as their own behavior is to humans. Upon joining the Temple, most Dreamers find themselves severed from contact with their former House (of course, unless the House winds up reluctantly having to go to them for assistance), but most of them seem not to be bothered by that at all. Out of all Chlaenas and Cecaelias, Dreamers are most likely to travel afar, even onto land, in pursuit of their mysterious goals. If you encounter a Chlaena on the mainland, chances are good that he or she is a member of the Dreamer cult. Interestingly, a clever human who recently visited Ryzelm’oire is said to have begun a popular trend among the Chlaena, selling protective charms called “Dreamcatchers” to protect them from dreams and Dreamers entering their sleep. He quickly made quite a bit of wealth at the Bazaar doing so, and many other traders, both foreign and native, started selling the items as well. There is a lucrative business to be had in supplying such trinkets to the Chlaena Houses that focus on trade... but getting shipments down to the city intact is neither safe nor easy.
- Credits goes to TheQuantumMechanic for the idea and design of Ryzelm’oire.