On the surface, Fuelwen's home region is tropical and balmy. In the city of Algol-nun, two hundred meters beneath the surface of the ocean, on the other hand, is warmed not by the equatorial sun, but by a ring of deep sea vents, and further surrounded by subsurface tropical kelp forests. As most other plant life in the world, kelp grows quickly.
The island of Gnala is an inactive stratovolcano. The same geo-thermal hot-spot that once powered the volcano powers a series of hot springs and the deep sea vents that warm Algol-nun. The island is small and roughly circular (15km diameter at the longest). A broad coastal plain turns into steep mountainous terrain four miles in. On the southern side, an upwelling spring fills a sulphrous swamp and pestilential, while on the (inhabited) western side of the island, a series of hot springs break through the volcanic rock and create steaming pools. The northern and eastern sides of the island are given over to wild and nearly untamable jungle, which carries all the way to the 1,100m. peak of Mount Gnalos.
The rocky western side makes it diffcult for the jungle to encroach; coupled with a well sheltered natural bay, it's a natural spot for a maritime outpost.
The Algol Trench
Gnala bay is an extension of a natural ravine called the Algol Trench that extends 24km off the coast to a maximum depth of 1km. For most of its length, the ravine is between 3-4km wide, with steep, cliff-like walls. With the hot vents in the ravine, it's a veritable wonderland of exotic aquatic organisms all the way down to its deepest point. Given the length and depth of the trench, its length provides a complete sample of all variety of ocean life.
At the edge of the bay, at the head of the trench, is a coral reef. Well mapped and marked by bouys, it poses little hazard to navigation. It serves as a rich habitat for aquatic life and blocks strong ocean currents from stirring up Gnala bay. It runs up to a spit of land on the southern edge of the bay. The reef extends down for dozens of meters.
The Nun Flats
The neritic zone extends below the reefs, and continues down to about 200m. At that depth, about 4km from the coast of Gnala, the ravine plateaus for 10km. The westernmost edge of this 10km plateau (called the Nun Flats (pronounced "noon")) ends in a sheer 300m cliff. Most undersea habitation and farming happens in the Nun Flats.
Along the flats, the walls of the Algol Trench are riddled with caves, most of which were carved by the same forces that built the island and power the hot vents. Some of the caves have powerful hot vents, and unwary cavers might easily find themselves boiled alive, lost, trapped by cave ins, or eaten by the more mysterious predators that lurk in the caves.
Gnala is the only island in its immediate region. Its undersea shelf extends for about 24km before plunging into deep ocean. Deep ocean continues until the nearest island- twelve days away by sail.
Cities and Civilization
The harsh terrain and semi-remote nature of Gnala make it an unlikely choice for a thriving industrial capital. Fortunately, it's situated not far off a major trade route; it serves as a port for major convoys between two major federations of city-states to the north and south.
Gnala was not always such a fortunate port. Thanks to the great federations in the North and South, a viable trade route exists, but those federations have only been trading for a few generations. Before that time, merchant vessels were scattered across the area as they moved from island to island. The first temporary settlement on Gnala began when a pirate fleet began using it as a base. Given the difficulties and remoteness of the island, it was of mixed utility as a base. While it was easy to keep secret, it meant long trips for hunting parties. Given the wild jungle and rocky soil, it was nearly impossible to live off the land. At most, pirates could take on fresh water and repair their ships with the plentiful wood. It was difficult for a pirate crew to live there.
The Pirate Empress
Bloodknife, the infamous pirate of lore, heard of the plight of the Gnala pirates. While most of Bloodknife's exploits are likely greatly exaggerated, there is a great deal of supporting evidence for this particularl exploit. Hiding her ship with magic, she slipped up to the barrier reef at the head of the bay. The existing pirate fleet had erected great painted timbers to mark the location, seating them in a primitive cement made from coral. Bloodknife, under cover of magic and darkness, waited until most of the fleet had departed, and rearranged the markers. She then sailed into the bay, and scuttled the one ship remaining, killing all hands. She then salvaged its colors and flew them on her own vessel.
Over the next few weeks, when returning ships tried to sail into the bay, they ran aground on the reef. Thus stranded, Bloodknife forced each to surrender in turn, bribed or killed the captains and brought them into her service. A woman of no modest ambition, she shared with them her strategy for making Gnala the pirating capital of the known world. No longer would they simply pillage and try and steal mere riches. Ships would be captured, their crews forced into slavery, and forced to scrape a tiresome living from the tough island of Gnala.
It was a bloody and deadly regime. Carefully, she selected some slaves to become her well rewarded task masters. Within a few years, she had a trusted coterie of freed slaves that maintained order on the island. Modest farms became self sustaining, and as Bloodknife's wealth and power increased, she was able to start hiring mages to aid in carving out a colony from the island.
The ornate Goldien bathhouse was carved from basalt using powerful magics during this time. That it stands today speaks to the energy and effort that was put into constructing it.
Conquest of Gnala
When the first ships began plying the modern trade route between the Northern and Southern regions, they were easy prey for the pirate empire that Bloodknife built. The political powers of the North and South knew that this could not stand, but the Gnalan pirate fleets had become a might to rival many navies. Spies and traitors helped the lawful authorities locate and explore the island, but no one could assemble a powerful enough force to simply drive them out, at least not without great losses.
For some time, merchants merely did the best they could to protect their trading fleets, but with a long stretch of open ocean it was difficult. The newly forged relationship between the federations in the North and South rapidly became strained by the economic pressure. Finally, the Grand Paladin Gnalos, for whom the island has been named, stepped forward. Inspired by his goddess, he took on the quest of rooting these pirates out.
While his grand history involves many other, often more significant exploits, this one is of note. Over the course of years, he strode the world and gathered the resources needed to make a grand spear, blessed by his goddess. Armed with his faith and the spear, protected by Plate Armor of the Deeps, he snuck up on the island by walking across the ocean floor. It was a long, dangerous journey, but it was required that he explore the caves on the Nun Flats to find the the exotic components required for the spell he sought to cast.
While exploring the caves, he was nearly killed by an erupting vent. It was only by the swift and merciful actions of an unnamed Sahuagin hunter from Algol-Nun that he was saved. While the locals cared nothing for the plight of the surface dwellers, they saw Gnalos as a fellow hunter, and felt that he was blessed by Sekolah. They nursed him back to health. During the weeks of recovery on the bottom of the ocean, Gnalos was moved by the primitive, brutish nature of their hunter-gatherer life. With only the most basic tools, hand-hewn from rock and coral, the residents had a difficult time hunting enough food to support their population. Many elders simply lost themselves in the caves when it became clear they were more a burden than a help. Knowledge was passed orally or not at all.
They were not a kind or gentle people. Gnalos was aware that, had they not felt him blessed by Sekolah, they likely would have finished the job the vent started. Even so, he remembered them as honorable, noble savages, and promised that they would be rewarded for it.
He departed the Flats, and slipped up on the southern side of Gnala, braved the swamp and scaled Mount Gnalos. At the top, he used the spear, his prayers, and the components of an exotic spell casting. For weeks, with no food and only the smallest amounts of water, he engaged in deep ritual. At night, the pirates could see a strange glow coming from the peak, but only whispered of it as a dire prophecy. No one wanted to brave the interior jungles of the island.
At the end of his prayer, fasting, and ritual, Gnalos struck the peak of the mountain. His goddess awoke the mountain's spirit; the long sealed over caldera re-opened and fire and ash spewed forth. Guided by his goddess, molten rock and firey ash fell upon the pirate colony. Buildings and ships vanished into inky smoke. Those on land, mostly captured slaves and their taskmasters, were largely able to survive. Those on boats, most of the pirates, nearly all died in the onslaught.
With the altered balance of power, the freed slaves took up arms against their former captors. A short time later, the combined fleet of the North and South arrived, drawn by the smoke and fire from mount Gnalos. They found the Paladin recovering from his exertions in the care of the newly freed slaves. This began the modern era of Gnalos.
As an aside, it is worth noting that many of the pirate ships were out of port. Bloodknife herself was off the island when this occured, and when word reached her of the events, she took refuge with the Garland pirates.
Gnala remains a harsh and unremitting environment. The jungles and swamps hold many dangers, from predatory creatures to simple disease. The jungle will quickly swallow any farm and it is nearly impossible to keep livestock safe. The Nun Flats, on the other hand, were a fertile terrain that the Sahuagin were familiar with. Paladin Gnalos negotiated the first trading agreement with them; food for metal tools. The Sahuagin traded kelp and the meat of giant sea creatures- whales, giant squid, etc. and kept the islanders fed.
The islanders, at first reluctant to trade with these mysterious and dark water dwellers, rapidly saw the benefits of the arangement. Even so, the volcanic island was poor in natural resources. As a result, Gnala is entirely dependant on imports for nearly everything they do.
Gnala imports raw materials, ore and the like, in bulk from its trading partners. There, skilled smiths use smelters and forges powered by the island's latent geothermal energy to convert this raw ore into finished goods. Gnalan craftsmen are well respected througout the region. They then trade these finished goods back out to surface-dwelling trading partners for more raw materials, or with the Sahuagin for more ore.
The city has one more source of income: tourism. The hot springs are said to have powerful rejuvenating effects, and if nothing else, are relaxing. With long stretches of sunny beaches, warm weather and exotic natives (the Sahuagin), many of the more urbane and wealthy citizens of the more populous islands take the journey to Gnala.
The permanent structures on Gnala have been magically hewn from the basaltic rock that makes up the island. When painted in light colors, the rocks reflect the sunlight and draw heat from inside the buildings, behaving almost like air conditioning. This sort of architecture is limited to public buildings, government offices, and the like.
Most people live in simple shacks. Given the tropical climate, the main reason to be indoors is to be protected from insects. Most of the simple buildings carry basic warding spells to keep insects out. Even many of the wealthier residents live in one room huts.
Gnalan government is run mostly by the merchants. The Smith's Guild and the Trader's Guild are the two main competing political factions, and even when competing they agree on most things. Each maintains its own private police force, and citizens merely pay tribute to one, the other or both for protection. While the situation is ripe for abuse, the external influence of the Sahuagin provides a check on any abuse; they remain predatory hunters, and weakness and internal strife might entice the Sahuagin to try and take the industrial base of Gnala for themselves.
Essentially, it's a corpratist feudalism kept honest by external factors.
In contrast to the harsh environment of Gnala, Algol-Nun is a temperate paradise- if you can breathe under water, anyway.
There's not much known about the history of Algol-Nun. Given the difficulty of preserving records, especially under water, there is very little recorded history prior to the Conquest of Gnala. Today, the Sahuagin store records in Gnala's library, and a few Sahuagin even contribute effort as scribes to help keep the library functioning.
Most information we have comes from the oral tradition.
Before men walked the Earth, the Sahuagin swam in the seas. Blessed of Sekolah, they hunted, free and fierce. They were intelligent, vicious predators. Smart enough to fashion tools, strong enough to use them against even the largest prey. For countless generations, they were a nomadic people, following the pods of the great cetaceans.
Bal-Sekolah (Betrayer of Sekolah) saw that his people hungered, and that in their hunger, they would hunt the great beasts to extinction. He blessed the sea floor and kelp sprung forth. He taught his people to farm, and build cities. This angered the god Sekolah, and he tore apart the sea floor to punish Bal. The Sahuagin turned away from the betrayer and returned to their nomadic ways, while Bal-Sekolah sat in the destroyed remains of the First City. As he feared, their hunger killed all the large pods. Even the Leviathans vanished under the teeth of his people.
With hunger in their bellies, they returned to Bal-Sekolah. He compromised with them, and with Sekolah. His people should hunt, as it is the right and just thing to do. But that hunger must be tempered. They must be as wise as they are cunning, and they must not be ruled by their hunger. They would settle into villages.
But the hunt was still crucially important. Sekolah would destroy them if they turned away from the hunt, or even suggested it. So Bal-Sekolah and the city dwelling Sahuagin created the tradition of The Trial. Those that could complete a great quest given them by Sekolah could return and join the hunt. They would never have to harvest plants or grow old in the confines of a city. They had earned the right of the hunt. All those that could not complete the quest were welcome to work the land as a Falkah (toothless).
It's difficult to state when the Sahuagin settled in the Algol Trench. Given that the oral histories of the region tell of earthquakes and the eruptions of Gnala, it is likely that they settled in the region back when Mount Gnalos was still an active volcano- over 15,000 years ago.
In those millenia, little changed about Algol-Nun. It was primarially a tribal village, focused around supporting the hunting parties that would venture out and return with large, much celebrated kills.
Culturally, there was no xenophobia among them. They valued hunting skill and prowress more than anything, and any being that could display that aptitude was welcome among them. Outsiders that didn't display the prowress weren't shunned- they were hunted and eaten as prey.
Many of them mated with sharks, producing half-breed children that knew nothing but hunger and hunting. Few of them had the wisdom or intelligence to complete Sekolah's quests, and simply wandered the seas alone. Other half breeds are not uncommon, but always with predators.
Algol-Nun is not the only undersea settlement in the region. Dozens of similar villages are scattered across the basin between Gnala and other islands in the archipelago, some Sahuagin, some Aquatic Elf, and some Trident.
Culturally, the Sahaugin settlements were all very similar, and the main bone of contention was always over hunting grounds. Tribal warfare was bloody, but highly ritualized. It embodied the spirit of "nothing personal, just business". Two tribes could be cutting each other's throats one week, and the next they would band together against a third tribe. Grudges were unheard of, and combat was viewed as an honor to Sekolah. Dying in tribal warfare was a worthy death.
This warfare was formalized into a sport called luqash. Played with spears and aquatic crossbows, it was a brutal, energetic sport that blurred the line between "play" and "war". When adults play, accidental deaths are not unheard of. Children usually play with under-powered crossbows, but that only restricts the lethality of the game. Many a child has been maimed in play.
The battle between different Sahuagin tribes isn't the only regional conflict. Aquatic Elves are the natural enemy of the Sahuagin. These battles did not have the sense of formalized violence that battles between Sahuagin have; battles between Sahuagin and Aquatic Elves are battles for extermination; each seeks to wipe the other off the face of the world. Even so, these battles have taken on the same cyclical cycle as tribal battles. Once per generation, on average, the local Sahuagin band together to wage a massive campaign on the Elves, or the Elves wage their own campaign.
Given the tendency of the Sahuagin to eschew permanent structures, it's difficult to estimate how often Algol-Nun has been razed in these conflicts. The Aquatic Elves, more prone to building great undersea castles and cities have rebuilt many times.
After the conquest of Gnala, things changed quite a bit. Now that Algol-Nun had access to better tools and the ability to store knowledge, their power under the sea increased significantly. Obviously, their better and more powerful weapons changed the military balance. More subtly, the ability to store records for long periods of time allowed them to rapidly build great amounts of knowledge. Their spellcraft advanced significantly. They were able to record the guiadance and prophecies of Sekolah, which brought them his favor. The tenor of the tribal wars rapidly changed- within a generation, the citizens of Algol-Nun eradicated every Sahuagin tribe that challenged their might.
Now, they control a huge swath of ocean, including the best hunting grounds. Other Sahuagin villages have attempted to balance power by bargaining or steeling tools and weapons from surface dwellers. That didn't accomplish much, in the face of superior spellcraft. Algol-Nun is now the dominant subsurface power within a hundred kilometers. Several small tribal parties exist inside this sphere of influence, but they're very careful to avoid Algol-Nun's hunting parties. Unlike the era of tribal warfare, now there is a "grudge" mentality, and a few of these smaller villages will attempt to ambush hunting parties, sometimes with great success. Many of them have returned to the nomadic lifestyle, and in the massive volume of ocean, they are able to perform hit-and-run attacks and escape. They pose a constant threat to Algol-Nun hunting parties.
Aquatic Elves, and Tridents, on the other hand, no longer exist in this basin. Within Algol-Nun's sphere of influence, no trace of either of these water dwelling races remains. While the Sahuagin aren't known for taking prisoners, some of the Falkah dubbed themselves "Sahal" the, Sahuagin for pilot fish. They would lurk around the outer edges of the battle to capture escaping Elves. These captured Elves were traded as slaves with surface dwellers, or sold to Tridents.
Algol-Nun has slowly become dependant on Gnala for their great subsurface power. Their main export to secure this is foodstuffs, which Gnala has become entirely dependant upon. While the surface dwellers are aware that the Sahuagin are a potential threat, the reality is that the trading supplies that power the Gnalan and Algol-Nun economies would vanish if the Sahuagin raised arms against the islanders.
The citizens of Algol-Nun have adopted the coins of Gnala for trade internally, although they do still use polished coral and shells for some things. They maintain their own industry of traditional crafts for their domestic needs, and do trade some of those with the surface dwellers- mostly the tourists that visit Gnala. Some of the more enterprising Falkah use specialized spells to give undersea tours to the surface dwellers, instead of farming. Occasionally, there are unfortunate "accidents". Local islanders mistrust the Falkah for this reason, but the more disreputable islanders often supplement their income by sending tourists their way.
There isn't much need to erect buildings in Algol-Nun. For the most part, there's a distaste and distrust of walls, heavy armor, and anything that puts a large separation between a Sahuagin and the elements. The handful of buildings that do exist are almost entirely public buildings, usually storage sheds for food. Here, they serve a practical purpose- keeping vermin out and food fresh.
For the protection of private belongings, many families have built storage sheds. Wealthy families will sometimes hire guards to protect their sheds, but this is considered a practice for Falkah. Strong hunter families will defend their stores themselves, as a matter of pride. The strongest and most vicious hunting families won't guard their sheds, and will often leave the doors open. It is a statement of their power, summed up in the common phrase: "We do not fear thieves. Thieves fear us."
These buildings are usally built from cement made from ground coral, occasionally strengthened through the addition of stone.
Despite the rapid growth of Algol-Nun, the strong community ties remain. Citizens sleep together in the open "air". The largest example of architecture is the town square, a broad plain carved from the rock and leveled at great expense and effort. West of the city is a massive carved ampitheater, which serves as the Temple of Sekolah. The clergy sleep in the caves nearby, an exception to the normal habit of sleeping in the open.
There is no cultural expectation of privacy. Sahuagin are naturally light sleepers, and a large number of them swim while sleeping, like sharks.
Algol-Nun maintains its tribal nature in government. Decisions are handled by the elders and the clergy. The basic unit of society is the extended family.
Unlike the humans on Gnala, the Sahuagin have instituted a public schooling system. All children too young to take their quest are educated in the mechanisms and values of Sahuagin society, namely how to hunt, rear children, and so on. Children of Falkah, though not officially outcasts, are often treated poorly in this environment. The stain on their parents does not transfer to them in any official sense, and they are welcome to take the quest themselves when they come of age, at which time they become full citizens.
Some members of the younger generation spend a great deal of time in the Gnala library. The wiser elders encourage this, for they understand how much Algol-Nun's power depends on the accumulated knowledge of generations. The islanders also encourage this; payment for the library's services usually takes the form of scribe services. That means a high degree of literacy among both the islanders and the local Sahuagin.
The coming of age quest is a key point in any Sahuagin's life, and the distinction between a Hunter and the Falkah is dramatic. While Falkah arguably contribute more to the tribal village, they are considered an underclass. The clerics grant the quests according to the guidance of Sekolah, but that doesn't mean each quest is the same level of difficulty. While it would be a great cause for shame if it were ever discovered, some families are not above bribing the clergy to get easy quests for their offspring.
These quests are difficult and often require great expense. Falkah, already poorer than the hunters, often can't afford to send their offspring out on quests. This is an automatic failure, and as a result, being Falkah tends to run in families.