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Thread: [City]Nautili, City of Shells
- Join Date
- Jul 2005
[City]Nautili, City of Shells
I'm pretty sure everything is finished with Nautili. Enjoy!
PS. The introduction is pretty long. You may want to skip it, at least until you've read everything else.
Nautili, the City of Shells
It is the city which is built of great ruined sea creatures
It is the city whose inhabitants imprison the souls of ancient dinosaurs
It is the city with a priesthood devoted to the death of mollusks
The impressive walls of Nautiliare before you, though they reach only to your chin. Mounds of tiny shells and cartilage, they glimmer pink and white and grey, like mother-of-pearl. The guards greet you, and you can smell their distinct perfumes. Their dress is dull of color, but stunning – layer upon layer of brown and black feathers. They have no requirement of you but that you offer a prayer at one of the waystones.
You have heard about these strange constructions of soapstone. The bishopae, the priests of Nautili, imprison evil spirits within them, forcing the spirits to serve those that pray and give offerings. You are not sure you believe, but the guards will not let you pass otherwise, so you buy some incense and flavored rice from them, lay them before the shrine and quietly murmur your wish – that your stay in Nautili be peaceful and learned. The waystone, this gatestone carved in the form of a fox, seems to watch you, but with what intent you cannot tell.
The guards smile at you cheerfully as you pass, but when you enter the city you hurry immediately to one of the Baths near the entrance. This buildings’ massive nautiloid shell is reinforced with basalt and marble, but the gleaming white of the polished fossil gleams still. You heard somewhere that there are more baths than people in Nautili, and as you enter these Baths, you would not be surprised to learn that was true.
The people of Nautili are usually a pleasant nutmeg or teak colour, but the demure servants who aid you, dressed in robes of gemstones, are white of skin. “Ah,” you say, with the air of a learned traveler, “you are mamluks, foreign slaves, no?”
One nods, and her headdress of topaz tinkles softly. She helps you into a jacket and pantaloons of blue and red parrot feathers, and gives you a gilded candle to burn at the waystone (a lindorm wrapped around some sort of sphere; the sun, you guess) in the changing rooms. She sprays a foreign musk on you, and you smile at her as you leave the change rooms.
Inside the actual Baths, you take off the clothes you just put on and slip into a pool of delightfully cool water. Not the salty, mineral-rich waters of the sea, this bath is fresh water covered with a layer of rose-oil. You sigh with pleasure, and graciously accept a handful of sugared almonds and ginger from a veiled mamluk.
You notice with wry amusement that the people of Nautili have placed a waystone even here, in the middle of a pool of water. The soapstone statue of a dolphin frolicking with a ring draws you, though the others did not, and you ask a mamluk what it is of and what offering it accepts. “That is of Malsha, the sea demon,” this mamluk, a rare male, explains. “He would feast on the giant unprotected nautiloids as they floated in the water, depriving the city of Nautili of their shells when they are close to death. The brave Imam, the head priest, when he was but an apprentice, swam to the deeps and confronted him, trapping him in a ring of iron. The Baths paid much to have Malsha, for any who leave a pearl by this waystone are blessed with warm, sultry weather. Sometimes,” he adds, moving to whisper in your ear, “he screams with rage during the nights, because the Celestial Bureaucracy forces all captured spirits to repair the damage they did when they were free. There is nothing he hates more than seeing a sailor return safe to his family because of a pearl left at Malsha’s waystone.” The mamluk, having confided this story to you, slips you a small purple pearl and hurries off.
More and more amazed by this culture’s intricate beliefs, you dive to the bottom of the pool and lay the pearl at the feet of Malsha. The softly undulating water makes the waystone seem to move, and you resurface quickly. A little spooked by the two-faced Malsha, you decide to leave the Baths. A groveling, elderly mamluk clothes you with practiced efficiency, reapplying your perfume and brings you the clothes you wore to the city which, he indicates with gestures, will be burnt once you remove your personal affects.
You take everything you need, and move towards the exit. A massive mamluk bars your path, bows clumsily and hands you a bill. It is staggeringly large, and seems to include tips for servants you never met, but it is within your means, and it would not do to injure your reputation on your first visit.
Now properly dressed and scented, although still obviously a foreigner, you decide to sample the city’s attractions. Hurrying through the streets, glancing apprehensively at precariously balanced nautiloid shells, you only spare a few glances at the Nau you encounter. Their dress, jackets and pantaloons covered with feathers, admirably portray their characters. Pompous, self-righteous merchants in peacock; clever, shy savants in hummingbird; and you, a hero from another land, in rosella, a raucous, trouble-making bird.
You stop a young, friendly girl in heron. “Excuse me,” you ask, touching your lips in greeting, “could you show me to the theatre?”
She touches her lips to you and nods, “Yes, of course. It’s those vast, blue-grey shells with the silk banners.” Thanking her, you continue.
When you arrive at the theatre, you are amazed. Four vast shells, one on each cardinal point, have been hollowed out, and converted into viewing stands, in which crowds of Nau are sitting, watching the stage silently.
You walk up to the mamluk, and request a ticket. Glancing at the one proffered, you see it’s for prime seats, and costs more than you’ve owned in your entire life. You shake your head and give her a soapstone amulet, all you can spare. She smiles grimly and gives you a different, rather smaller ticket.
Following her complicated instructions, you board the northernmost shell and wander through the rows and rows of spectators. While at the bottom the performers’ voices are stentorian and emotional, as you wander further and further away their voices become like whispers, and then, as you take your seat at the very top of the 100-foot shell, you can hear nothing, can’t even see the performers’ lips moving. You take a spare seat next to two boys in kingfisher, one reading from a massive book, the other watching the actors intently.
You tap one on the shoulder, and as he turns you touch your lips. “What exactly are you two doing?” you inquire. “Oh, that’s simple,” the boy replies cheerily. “We can’t hear what they’re saying, so Mirith here reads from the Annotated Codex, and I get to see what’s happening! In a while we’ll swap over, and I will read.” Sitting back and thinking it rather curious, you begin to appreciate Mirith’s reading, as you would have little clue what was happening were he not.
The play finally closes, and it seems some sort of resolution was met. A torrid love story, you think it was, but wouldn’t bet on it. You follow the crowds out of the massive amphitheatres and decide to visit the Necropolis – from what you’ve heard it’s the foundation of Nau culture.
You approach Mirith, and ask him the way to the Necropolis. Grinning with amusement at your eccentricity, he drags you most of the way, explaining he lives near there. When you ask him if many Nau visit the Necropolis he looks at you with the same patronizing amusement. “Why would we visit there, sir? We can see dead nautiloids and waystones every day!” He gestures vaguely towards the shell buildings and houses.
You try to explain, mentioning the bishopae’s curious rites and the chance you could see a real binding! He rolls his eyes and replies “I saw my first binding when I was three years old, and they needed to exorcise a spirit living in my room. I wear his waystone now.” He proudly pulls out his waystone amulet and pushes it in your face. You smile at his youthful enthusiasm, but he continues.
“And every day we see the bishopae, walking around and talking and blessing and marrying and burying and cursing and praying and explaining. They’re not terribly interesting. Not like hermit crabs! Did you know they can fight to the death! Snip! Snip!”
It is not without a sense of relief that you see the city gate coming up and Mirith scampers off home. Bemused by the sudden silence, you approach the guards and explain your interest in the Necropolis. They look at you with the same condescending glances, but let you through without argument.
With a sense of awe, you walk into a narrow, sandy bay sheltered from the ocean by sharp outcroppings of rock. Brilliantly dressed figures with sandstone masks move from behemoth to behemoth, tending and speaking to vast, tentacled beings. You approach one tentatively, and it looks at you with eyes the size of your head, imparting a sense of Piscean wisdom. All these nautiloids are old and decrepit. Their flesh is an unhealthy yellow, and their shells hang lax. Just beyond the bay is a mound of fly-ridden flesh, and you cannot suppress a shudder at the thought of these wise creatures’ cadavers sitting under the glare of the sun for days or weeks.
A bishopae looks up at you and smiles in welcome. You hear, too, a voice in your mind, quiet and persistent. “Greetings, explorer from beyond Nautili.” You look in shock at the nautiloid, whose eyes shimmer with amusement.
Just then, a commotion attracts your attention. A wispy creature is approaching you with menace in its eyes. Like a bipedal crocodile with falchions on its toes, it watches you malevolently. You look in apprehension at the bishopae beside you, but he is no longer there.
In desperation, you glance at the nautiloid, but it has swum off as well. You’re standing in a bay that was, minutes before, populated by tens of bishopae and nautiloids, but now is desolate. Except for you, and this fiend.
The creature approaches you, and you start to step backwards, but while the waist-high water slows you, what approaches you seems unaffected. The fiend crows with victory, and begins to run towards you. You trip over and fall into the water, up to your head. Those falchions slip towards your neck, but the next moment the creature is a metre away, and struggling against a net of glowing tentacles. Some sort of spell, you guess, and look towards a circle of bishopae muttering under their breaths.
The fiend gives one last, savage cry and then is gone. A bishopae approaches you, a waystone in his hand. Touching his head in a sign of respect, he gives you the stone. It is a statue of a glowering wolf. “It is the waystone of the creature that confronted you,” he explains. “Take it as a sign of our respect.”
Stressed by use as bait, you thank him curtly and leave the bay. When you get back to a tavern, and set the waystone down on the table while you order some mussels, you draw an appreciative crowd. “A powerful spirit,” a drunken elder appraises, with an air of authority. “You are well lucked.”
Another man gets you a drink, for which you thank him, and are somewhat confronted when he holds his hand out for compensation. With a guileless smile, you apologize to him and explain that you’re broke, but that if he can display the contract he had with you, you would be happy to gift him with the waystone. Scowling, he walks off. You grin to yourself as the other Nau complement you on your business sense. You’re starting to get the hang of this city.
- Join Date
- Jul 2005
Re: [City]Nautili, City of Shells
Type: Metropolis Gold piece limit: 49,626 gp
Population: 30,028 Total wealth: 74,513,439 gp
Sherrif: Ranger level 15
Full-time guards: 190 Conscriptable individuals: 1,501
1. Bishopae (true neutral druids)
- hates Sisterhood
- is indifferent towards Guild of Bathkeepers
2. Sisterhood of Mikael
- hates Imam
- is friendly with the Guild
3. Guild of Bathkeepers
- distrusts Bishopae
- distrusts Sisterhood
History: Not even the Bishopae know how long Nautili has existed. Their conversations with the nautiloids have taught them only that the ancestors of the people of Nautili (they have no name for themselves, except ‘we’ and ‘us’, but others call them Nau) have been with the nautiloids as long as the nautiloids have existed, first as angel fish attendants, and then, when the nautiloids grew jealous of the land races and performed a race-wide ritual, as the people they are today.
Physical Description: Nautili rests on the shores of some massive ocean or sea, in which their companions the nautiloids dwell. The city is ringed by a chin-high wall of shells and cartilage, and the buildings inside are built of the huge shells left by the nautiloids on their death. These shells are hollowed out, and basalt and marble used to shore up holes or create different floors within the one shell. Just beyond the city walls is the Necropolis, for though no Nau has ever been buried there (their bodies are thrown into the sea) it is filled with the rotting carcasses of the dead. When a nautiloid feels age come upon it, it makes its way to the Necropolis, where it is tended day and night by the Bishopae, with whom it shares the wisdom accumulated by a century of floating upon the seas. Upon its death, its internal body is removed and left to rot, and its shell sold to furnish Nautili.
-Necropolis: The nautiloid ‘retirement home’ and temporary graveyard (permanent graveyard for their soft insides, which are pulled out and left to rot). Lies outside the city walls. ‘Churches’ and ‘cathedrals’ of the bishopae and the wayguard.
-Baths: Near the entrances to the city, farthest from the sea. Occupied by artisans and merchants.
-Soapstone Mines: Also outside the city, supplies soapstone, limestone and clay to the inhabitants. Worked mainly by slaves from neighbouring nations (not mamluks, however – they’re too valuable)
-Thespania: The cultural heart of the city, also the most expensive dwellings. Contains universities, bardic colleges and the like.
Arts and Culture: Sculpture is an art which all Nau learn. First with clay, then limestone and finally soapstone, every person within Nautili has spent a lifetime creating statues. Most of these statues are mock-waystones for the purposes of decoration, but a rare few are symbolic amulets worn by loved ones.
Other than sculpting, talking is the most common form of entertainment within Nautili. Debates, gossip and dramas all draw great crowds, and the most influential members of society are always eloquent and poised.
It is possibly this love of communication which leads to the popularity of the Baths, for these are great forums for all aspects of communication and the mamluks always form a devoted audience.
Economics: Contracts and prepayments form a large part of business done within the walls of Nautili, for experiences in the Baths teach all not to accept a service without first discovering its price. The actual trades and purchases, however, are not normally of goods, but rather services. Advice, massages, and education are all more valuable than furniture or jewelry.
The two foundations of Nautili are the waystones and the nautiloid shells. The Bishopae are responsible for both, as they trap the spirits in waystones they craft themselves, and are bequeathed the shells by grateful nautiloids. They sell these items in return for soapstone amulets, the currency of Nautili, but the cost of the item depends substantially on the reputation and manners of the buyer.
Nautili has two castes outside the class system, the mamluks and the bishopae. The former are white slaves, highly valued and well treated signs of wealth. The latter is the priesthood of Nautili, those who defend against evil spirits and protect the great nautiloids. In the class system are the ranks Commoner, Artisan, Peer and Master. The ranks of Artisan, Peer and Master can only be bestowed by someone of a higher rank (or same rank, in the case of Masters promoting other Masters) and, mindful of maintaining their power, they do not do this lightly. Promotions must be recorded with contracts, and the one who promotes you is in part responsible for your misdeeds. Only the bishopae may demote someone – it is a soul-destroying act. One’s rank is displayed by one’s clothing – certain birds’ feathers are restricted to certain ranks.
Religion: There is one religion in Nautili, not because others are persecuted, but because no Nau has been tempted to change. Nautili itself is separate, isolated from the outside world, and the few brave missionaries that approached it were ridiculed in the streets. “How,” the Nau asked, “can you tell us that the nautiloids are not worthy of our veneration? What will we live in if we do not trust them? Caves?” Even more ridiculous seemed the missionaries’ disgust at the waystones. “You say we should not pray to evil spirits,” the Imam famously countered “what should we pray to, then? The stars?” This reference to an ancient legend among the Nau saw the missionaries laughed out of the city.
Government: The city of Nautili has no formal government. While your rank has some affect on your power, it is primarily social. The wayguards, those warriors devoted to the waystones, are vigilantes maintaining order in the city, and the bishopae dictate morals and ethics, but the Nau are essentially happy to let each person decide what to do with themselves. If a road is broken, and needs fixing, a Nau may call a local commune, and ask for aid or money. To refuse would be to encourage social ostracism and would demean oneself in others’ eyes.
Despite this, the Nau retain an economic system. Although they give freely (if reluctantly) to public works, they have a strong sense of self, and cannot accept giving someone something they do not deserve.
The city of Nautili tries to remain as separate from the rest of the world as possible.
Crime: Nautili maintains a convincing façade of culture and peace. The bishopae have successfully created, through profuse slavery and religious dogma, a nation of people who are happy with their lot. While the fish flow from the seas, and the waystones continue to do as they are asked, most Nau are happy to focus on their individual lives.
This simple, productive life hides a very successful, and very dangerous crime syndicate.
People sometimes wonder how there can be so many evil spirits, for it seems their numbers are steady despite the evil spirits that are constantly being bound in waystones by the bishopae. The truth is that these new spirits are reincarnations of old ones, which are released from their soapstone prisons by zealous entrepreneurs.
Calling themselves the Sisterhood of Mikael, these Nau and escaped mamluks steal any waystones they can get their hands on and shatter them. While the spirit is still dazed, they enchant it and force it to take up residence in another item – a ring, lamp, basket. It’s the same technique used by the bishopae, but while the bishopae bind the spirits in strong, eternal soapstone, these bootleg operations are done with rushed rituals in weak, unworthy vessels. Despite this, the power in these items is great, for the spirits within may be called upon and forced to do any duty within their power without reward or bribe.
What the Sisterhood does not reveal to the outsiders they sell these items to (and they are one of the few organizations that trades outside of the city – the bishopae would catch them if these items were sold to a Nau), is that if the spirit is called upon too many times, it will escape, wreak vengeance on its master, and return to plague the world.
The Monument: Within the centre of the city stands a mighty soapstone obelisk 100 feet tall. Carved within it are the representations of several nautiloids – the vengeful Mother-of-All whose spittle birthed the will-o-wisps, and the caring Father-of-All, who takes the nautiloids as they are born to keep them from their jealous mother. Also shown are the four primordial nautiloids, the Tide of the South, the Tide of the West, the Tide of the North and the Tide of the East, whose monstrous shells now make the Great Theatre. This mighty monument is in fact the city’s largest waystone, for it contains the great scourge-spirit Laisha who, five hundred years ago, performed a mighty act of magic that dominated every mind in Nautili.
Only the Necropolis, outside the city walls, was untouched, but to capture the spirit hidden within a city of fanatically loyal guardians would be impossible. Therefore, the Imam of the time suggested a course of action that was phenomenal, incredible. He asked the nautiloids to create a waystone that would be able to affect the spirit wherever it was, within the city or a hundred thousand miles away. When he made his request, the nautiloids floated away without replying, and he feared he had offended his only allies by asking too much.
The next day, on the shore, the Imam found a pillar of soapstone with beautiful, wondrous carvings. His bishopae performed the binding rite, and held their collective breaths until the screaming Laisha was drawn, metre over desperate metre, into the waystone. With the compulsion lifted from the Nau, they carried the monument from the beach and placed it in the centre of the city. The Imam himself made the waystone’s sacrifice, by plunging his dagger into his heart. No one knows what prayer the Imam made, and no one knows if Laisha fulfilled it.
Artist’s Impression <http://plus.maths.org/issue4/henwood2/nautilus.jpg> (amusingly a stereo)
Power Struggle 1: The conflict between the bishopae and the Sisterhood has been a quiet war for a decade, but recent events have drawn the event into the public eye, and the Imam is furiously trying to rectify matters.
A month ago, in foot high letters of red ink upon the sacrosanct monument, a threat was written. The Imam was to renounce his position or the Sisterhood would use the biggest waystone at their disposal, binding it within a fleet of ships which they would sell to an expansionist neighbor.
Hundreds of citizens saw the warning, and the existence of the Sisterhood could be hidden no longer. Now the Imam uses every power at his disposal – the bishopae, the Wayguard, every prayer at every waystone, to hunt down the elusive Sisterhood. Already three elite Infiltrators have been found and thrown to the nautiloids, and one Ritualist took his own life when he was discovered. Debate rages in the Baths between those who think the Imam is abusing his power in his desperate attempts to destroy the Sisterhood, and others who think no amulet or stick of incense should be spared in the hunt for the Sisterhood.
Mistress Tama, co-leader and Master of Infiltrators; female CN human Rog7
Mistress Kali, co-leader and Master of Ritualists; female LN human Sor8
Standard Infiltrator; female CN human Rog3
Standard Ritualist; female TN human Wiz3
Imam, leader of the Bishopae; male TN human Druid10
Yalsii-kikos, Herald of the Nautiloids; NG nautiloid Clr5 (use aboleth statistics for nautiloids)
Standard Bishopae; male or female NG human Druid4
Power Struggle 2: Two weeks ago, the merchant and Master Haid was relaxing in the Baths when she encountered the most beautiful man she had ever seen. Snatching the mamluk within her arms, she carried him to the Keeper of the Baths and offered the Keeper a hundred amulets of soapstone for the man. He refused, saying that the man was good business, and that it was rare enough to get a male mamluk not sent straight to the mines, and that, finally, he would not sell the man.
Haid was devastated, and later that night her personal guard attempted to smuggle the mamluk, whose name was Naolidan, from the baths. Before they could make a clean getaway, however, they were confronted by the Keeper and his bodyguard. Many of Haid’s men and women were killed, but Naolidan escaped successfully.
Now the Keeper’s and Haid’s allies fight a quiet, savage war in the tunnels and alleyways, good men dying for the sake of love and freedom.
Haid, merchant and supplier; female CN human Brd5
Naolidan, freed mamluk; male TN human War3
Standard Guard; male or female LN human Fig2
Keeper of the Baths; male LN human Ari8
Standard Bodyguard; male or female LN human Bar2
Standard Mamluk; male or female TN human Exp1/Brd1
Adventure Hooks: Nautili is a subtle city, though confusing and alien. Few within its walls believe in violence, but rare is the visitor who is not milked dry of every possession, or the merchant who hesitates before striking a deal that would destroy a rival’s livelihood.
[list][*]Elemental Vengeance: In Nautili, only the mamluks are not dressed in cloaks, robes, jackets and pantaloons of fabulous, iridescent feathers. It’s always been a mystery where the merchants obtain all these feathers, but the secret has been revealed.
In a musty, seemingly abandoned warehouse, lies a portal to the Elemental Plane of Air. Around the portal is the decaying stench of hundreds of birds who were plucked bald while they still lived. Now, finally, the djinn have decided to protect their own, and invisible stalkers have been sent with orders to kill any creature wearing feathers.
The PCs must stop this retribution, somehow. Might they negotiate with the djinni caliph? Dress as mamluks and slaughter the invisible stalkers, who are forbidden to attack those without feathers? Change a long-standing custom because of a few merciless murders? Abandon the city to suffer the curse of the nautiloids for their cowardice?
[*]White People have Rights Too!: The PCs are mamluks, captured by a slave trader and sold in one of Nautili’s bazaars. Although they are valuable, honoured even, and cared for, the desire for escape burns within their veins. How will they escape their owner’s manse with guard dogs prowling the gate? And then, in a city where they are branded as slaves by their shimmering clothing? Buy clothes from shops forbidden to sell it to them? Get out of gates manned by guards suspicious of all free non-Nau, and forewarned of the PCs’ escape? This is going to be one great escape.
- Join Date
- Jul 2005
Re: [City]Nautili, City of Shells