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Tomthumbs are ubiquitous yet discreet tiny peoples. Located squarely at the bottom of Felarya's food chain like other tinies, they do their best to keep out of everyone's way, but can be found almost anywhere in the known continent. From the hostile Ixtapal marshes in the south, to the savage Jungle of perils in the north, or the human city of Negav, tomthumbs might be small but their habitat reach far and wide. They look very similar to humans in appearance and, like them, they can adapt to a variety of climates an environments. They tend to be highly social, relying on one another to survive. Scholars often apply the blanket term "tribe" to their communities, but the latter are fairly diverse, ranging from societies grounded in strict hierarchies to loose associations of autonomous individuals. Settled in Felarya since times immemorial, tomthumbs have developed an amazingly wide variety of social organizations, customs, practices, values and religious beliefs. Some of these tribes are thriving and prosperous, sometimes dividing into smaller ones. Unfortunately, however, sometimes entire tribes are wiped out by hungry predators or the various hazard of Felarya. The life of a tiny in Felarya is a very harsh one.
Tomthumbs in Negav
While Negav is primarily a human city, tomthumbs (and, to a lesser extent, other tinies) have also come to view it as a relative safe haven. Most tomthumbs tend to keep to themselves, and avoid contact with humans. Consequently, the Tomthumbs' Negav is a "world within a world", mostly unknown to the city's human residents, and subject to occasional speculations. A small number of tomthumbs live "between worlds", interacting regularly with humans.
Tomthumbs have been living in Negav for as far back as anyone can remember. Over time, humans just began to notice them, without having seen them arrive. The tiny people live primarily in abandoned buildings, in burrows dug into the earth of the city's parks, and more generally underground. Nobody is certain how many there are. Urban legends claim that tomthumbs have dug a vast network of subterranean chambers and passageways which extends under most of the city. Some paranoid humans claim that this enables the tinies to enter any home or building and spy on the human world. It has also been claimed that some tomthumbs offer their services as tiny assassins, carrying drops of potent poison unseen into humans’ homes, a suspicion that has led to a degree of anti-tomthumb prejudice. On the other hand, tomthumbs often appear in human fiction, including children’s stories. There, they are most often represented in a positive (albeit stereotyped) way, seen as sneaky yet simple and kind-hearted little beings. Some humans believe that seeing a tomthumb is a sign of good fortune. There are even humans who go ‘tomthumb-watching’, taking their children to the nearest park to see whether they can spot any tinies darting about under the bushes.
Centuries ago, Negav's rulers decided that the tomthumb population should be brought under control. They ordered the building of a tomthumb area within the city, and decreed that all tinies must live there. Tinies found to be "permanently residing" outside this segregated area would be subject to arrest, and repeat offenders would be expelled from Negav altogether. A decree ordering tomthumbs to pay taxes was quietly dropped, however, due to the tinies' obvious incapacity to handle human-sized money.
Pelnepi, the tomthumb segregated area, wasn't a success. Most tinies were not at all keen to place themselves under the scrutiny of the city's human rulers. It's estimated that the vast majority of Negav's tinies live outside Pelnepi, but the area is not entirely uninhabited. Pelnepi is thus one of the city's curiosities - a miniature town nestled within the larger human city, in the garden of the Sanctum of the Shining Star, belonging to the Cult of Minalca. It's inhabited mainly by tomthumbs who prefer a life of openness rather than secrecy, and by the descendants of those who originally moved there when the decree was first issued. Pelnepi is also ideal for tinies who want to maintain relations with humans. Lastly, there is a safety aspect to it. Indeed,as Pelnepi is under the protection of the human authorities, a raid from hungry nekos or human slavers there would be considered a crime. in practice however, the Negav Police would be very slow to address the case, so the Tomthumbs rely essentially on the Minalcan Keepers of fortune, whose abilities to cast bad luck on offenders make a strong deterrent. Moreover, the Keepers are excellent guardians, showing genuine kindness and care toward tomthumbs.
Pelnepi is administered by a Board of Councilors, all of whom are tinies. Almost all of them are tomthumbs, although other tinies (neeras, efriii) are occasionally represented as well. Although Pelnepi is essentially autonomous, the Board answers to the Ps'isol magiocrats, who may veto its decisions and impose their own rules. Pelnepi is composed of tiny stone houses, and other stone buildings such as the Council Hall, the tallest building in the tinies' area. Most buildings sit atop an underground passageway which enables residents to flee below ground in case of an emergency. Pelnepi possesses its own verdant parks, and its own marketplace. A few small temples enable people to worship their various deities. Houses tend to come with gardens, where the tinies grow their own food, and part of the town is reserved for fields of crops – agricultural lands within a city.
Relations with humans
As noted above, a small number of tomthumbs do interact regularly with humans. Some seek human friends for protection; it is not unknown for a family of tomthumbs to live freely in a human family’s house, sometimes in exchange for small services, other times out of human’s friendship or desire to help the city’s most vulnerable residents. Some tomthumbs offer their services to humans in a number of ways. Tomthumbs are employed for tasks which require tiny people – retrieving things which have fallen into cracks, for example. Or spying, as alleged by some. In addition, tomthumbs cultivate tiny Licroa seeds, which, despite their size, are a much sought after spice used to flavor human foods. Licroa plants are so tiny that only tomthumbs can properly tend to them.
There is also a popular trend among humans to employ tomthumbs to deliver love messages to their sweethearts. For some reason, using a tomthumb messenger is considered particularly romantic. A very small number of tomthumbs have become renowned by humans. Kirip Sateem writes popular works of fiction, which are read in taverns for the enjoyment of a human audience, while Loti MiToren is a celebrated medical researcher, whose discoveries have enhanced tiny, human, and even neko medicine. Tururirahi is a highly skilled street painter, whose artwork decorates the pavements and walls of his area. He has been commissioned to decorate the inside of human homes, and even public buildings. Sateem, Mitoren and Tururirahi are among the very few tinies who are known and respected by the city’s human population, being invited to human social functions and mingling with influential humans. Tururirahi is even known to have had several human lovers. Lastly, the Cult of Minalca is known to be a benefactor for Tomthumbs, and its members often offer their help when needed.
Life in Negav protects tomthumbs from the forest’s predators, but contains many other dangers. Not least, the risk of being stepped on by inattentive humans, which, to a large degree, explains why tinies stay out of humans’ way. Arguably the greatest danger they face, however, comes from nekos. While the city prevents any large predators from entering to feed on humans, it does not keep out nekos, who have an unfortunate tendency to view tinies as delicious and sweet meals. Even Pelnepi itself is not always safe. Nekos know that they can find a steady source of food there, if they can get past the human guards. Some humans, however, are also a threat to tinies. There is a black market slave trade in which tomthumbs are kidnapped and sold as ‘pets’ or slave workers to humans who can afford them, and sometimes even as food for some of the humans who have developed a taste for tinies. Officially, trade in tomthumb slaves is a crime, but enforcement is rather lax. Tomthumbs have been known to fight back, however, and from time to time a human or a neko is found dead, pricked by multiple tiny poisoned darts…
The Alsumi are a tribe of tomthumbs living underground, beneath the hut of the giantess Milly, who acts as their protector. It's a sheltered home for them: Milly doesn't view them as food, because they're too small, and any creatures which hunt them, such as nekos, are prey from Milly's perspective. She eats their predators. The Alsumi live in a network of burrowed chambers, with few access points from the surface. These chambers are re-enforced with wooden walls, floors and ceilings. Items of comfort such as blankets and carpets are, like clothes, woven from plant materials. Chairs and beds are carved in wood. The tomthumbs also have underground fields for agriculture, where the light for their crops is provided by a unique form of lichen. This means they can spend more time underground, and avoid wandering around in the dangerous forest.
Work in the subterranean fields is measured by a "clock" – a single time-keeping apparatus of which the tomthumbs are rather proud. It consists in two gigantic (by tomthumb standards) wooden boxes, fixed together with only a small hole between them. The device is half-filled with sand. The time the sand takes to trickle fully from one box into the other constitutes "one clock", the basic measure of time. The apparatus is kept in the fields, where there is always people present to turn it upside down -"clock it round"- every time one box is empty. This is done only during the day; the Alsumi do not bother with time-keeping at night. Although some Alsumi have particular skills –in carving, for example–, all of those who are physically able are expected to contribute to work in the fields.
Privacy is not a major concern. Individuals and families live in dug-out chambers with no doors, leading out into corridors. Other than sleeping chambers, and very large rooms given over to agriculture, there are communal workshops and large chambers designed for tribal debates, celebrations, and other activities which involve the community as a whole. There are also communal bathrooms, where water from containers is poured into stone baths. Baths are taken cold, as the Alsumi avoid lighting fires in their enclosed, wooden rooms and passageways. Although they wear clothes most of the time, there is no privacy in the bathrooms, where it’s considered quite natural to be naked in public. Unlike members of some other tribes, Alsumi have only a given name, no family or clan name. A relatively small tribe, in fact, the Alsumi are not subdivided into clans. Their "government" is informal: a very loose council of people who are popularly regarded as wise enough to take decisions. There are no formal elections; tribe members make it clear to would-be council members whether or not they enjoy wide support within the tribe.
Alsumi art focuses, to a large extent, on wood. It includes wooden carving and sculpture (friezes, statuettes); wooden slabs are also used as support for painting with natural pigments. On a set, regular basis, the tribe also builds a lianno - a musical instrument and a work of architecture rolled into one. It is constructed outdoors, in the forest, while Milly watches on to keep predators away. Building it is an occasion for much excitement, as almost all the tribe takes part in making it. Its design –unique to the Alsumi, and a source of considerable pride– was conceived several generations ago, and has been faithfully reproduced ever since, with minor improvements only. When completed, the lianno stands almost forty centimetres tall. It consists in an intricate pattern of hollow tubes, layers upon layers, fixed to one another in a cross-crossing design. Some of the tubes have holes bored into them in carefully chosen places. During construction, the ends of the tubes, along with the holes, are fitted with plugs, which are only removed once the entire instrument is completed. When that happens, the spring breeze whistles gently through the tubes, which transform the rushing air into soft, delicate music – the greatest wonder of Alsumi creativity. The tribe gathers round, and listens, smiling as the music whispers with the breeze, its ethereal tune caressing their ears and lifting their spirits. Because Milly loves its music, the Alsumi consider it to be, to a large extent, their gift to her. The lianno is made of shranja, an easily carved, wood-like substance which also happens to be edible. Once the lianno is complete, and left outside unsupervised, it is either eaten by sentient predators or animals, or simply left to rot and deteriorate within a few weeks, before a new one is built several months later.
The Mukuen are a tribe of tomthumbs who live on the banks of the Lake of illusions. They are one of several tribes living in the area. Their tribe is divided into clans, which are themselves subdivided into families, but everyone mixes pretty much freely. Since most other sentient peoples in the area desire to eat them, the Mukuen keep mainly to themselves. Safety requires them to sleep underground, and they have dug out homes for themselves, consolidated with wooden walls, floors and ceilings, and furnished to provide relative comfort. These underground rooms are little more than dormitories and storage areas, however. Tomthumbs, like humans, have evolved to live above ground, craving fresh air and sunlight. By day, they stroll round within the bounds of their territory. While children play, adults till the soil for agriculture, or hunt creatures –such as insects– minuscule enough to be eaten. In the tribe’s gardens, Cool Oxalis and Sogram Tastimus are nurtured and flourish. Occasionally, they go fishing, to catch fish so tiny that other species ignore them completely.
Boats are one of the Mukuen’s greatest sources of pride. Although they are rarely used, they are little masterpieces of workmanship and artistry. Solid, well-balanced, functional yet comfortable, they are intricately decorated with carved scenes and figures depicting images from popular stories and ancient legends. They are, of course, truly tiny, suited to their makers, and this particular aspect of Felaryan art remains mostly unknown to other sentient species.
Mukuen names comprise a given name, a family name and a clan name. Examples of Mukuen names are Deme seMalat loReem (female), Rutche saIngon loTavan (male) and Ethil saDares loTavan (male). The first part is a personal, given name. The second is the family name, with a sa- prefix for men and a se- prefix for women. The third part is the clan name, with a lo- prefix for men and women alike. The tribe is governed by a loose council, which gathers only when there's an important decision to be made. Each family selects a representative to a clan meeting, and the clan meeting selects one or two of its attendees to go to the tribal council, thus ensuring that every clan is represented.
The Shahewi are an isolated tribe of tomthumbs living far out within the Akaptor desert. Their community is fairly small, and they are said to have survived in their harsh habitat for centuries. The Shahewi themselves say that their ancestors came from elsewhere, and traveled over the desert’s magic sand by laying large wooden planks over it – a movable footpath. They eventually befriended a cactus dryad, Lueri, and set up camp beside her. There, they built a small wooden village, set on planks to keep off the sand. The tomthumbs’ relationship with Lueri is mutually profitable. They provide the dryad a welcome company, while Lueri eats wild animals and other predators who attempt to attack the village. Because she prey on travelers, very few strangers ever get to talk to the reclusive Shahewi. How exactly they survive is something of a mystery. They appear to have little or no access to food or water. Few people know that they actually live by making use of the desert’s unique properties. Stepping out onto the dreaded sands, skilled, tiny hunters travel back far into Felarya’s past, where they gather food and water to bring home. They do not stray far, however, and do not appear to have explored Felarya’s past beyond a minuscule area.
The Quanob are one of the relatively numerous tomthumb tribes inhabiting the Grove of carnivorous plants. While the whole area is deadly to humans, it is much less so to tinies. They are small enough to not triggers many of the vegetal traps around them, and any predators big enough to worry them are generally quickly devoured by the plants. Thus the grove is, paradoxically, something of a safe haven, at least parts where the plants have grew huge.
This is one of the few places on mainland Felarya where tomthumbs actually build villages and live in full sight, rather than hide away below ground. Quanob homes are woven from tight-knit plant stems and strips of leaves, coloured in natural dyes which give their walls striking and beautiful patterns of colour. Indeed, Quanob architecture is considered unique, although it is little known to the world beyond the grove. The Quanob, and neighbouring tribes, have also developed a form of writing, and use clay tablets to write on. Poetry circulates between tribes on these tablets, and is an important item in reciprocal gift-giving. Gifts of written poetry are considered central to maintaining friendly relations between tribes. Once acquired by the Quanob, a poem offered by another tribe will be read in the evening to the assembled villagers, at a time deemed auspicious by elders. Poetry readings are one of the highlights of Quanobs’ daily lives. The Quanob are sedentary agriculturalists, growing crops with little fear of being disturbed by predators. They believe in a single, beneficial spiritual presence. It is not viewed as a creative force, nor is it considered sentient, but the tomthumbs believe they can attract its beneficent effects through appropriate rituals, and by leading good lives – most notably by helping one another out. They form a peaceful, friendly and generally happy people.
Mathreemi Tribe (destroyed)
The Mathreemi were a tribe of tomthumbs living on a small, isolated island in the Topazial sea, out of sight of any other land. They were thought to have lived there for many generations. They shared the island with peaceful herbivorous creatures and a number of other very small animals. They had no natural predators, and were the island’s only sentient inhabitants. Protected by their isolation, they constructed stone buildings, wove tapestries, tilled the soil and fished for food in the ocean. Sundials marked the time and guided their daily lives. They believed in a small pantheon of gods, but paid them little attention, believing that the gods played little part in the lives of mortals. Mathreemi society was structured around hereditary, endogamous social classes, and governed by a fairly large assembly of ‘aristocratic’ leaders. However, these leaders governed in close consultation with the ‘lower class’, and the daily lives of members of the two classes were essentially alike. Both took part in necessary activities such as agriculture and fishing; they also mingled socially, ensuring that the class distinction was, in fact, very slight.
The Mathreemi were wiped out when a group of nekos from the mainland heard about them, and travelled to their island, successfully braving the perils of the ocean. The nekos feasted on the unfortunate tomthumbs, devouring every single one and then lying back on the warm, pleasant island to soak in the sunlight while they digested their large meal. Today, the island remains uninhabited, the stone homes lying empty. Stone slabs dotted around the village are inscribed with writing, but the Mathreemi’s alphabet was unique, and has never been deciphered, so the meaning of the texts –or indeed the purpose of the slabs– is unknown.
- credits to Ravana3k and French-snack for the Tomthumbs, to Timing2 for the Verdoya tribe, and to French-snack for the Thomthumbs lore an other tribes.