From The World and Everything In It
Introduction to the Polupode Folk
There are several realms of Polupodes around the Inner Sea, the most notable of which is that off the shores of Auntimoany. Polupodes are a highly intelligent race of cephalopods that inhabit various regions of the world's oceans. There are many kinds of cephalopod that are not, strictly speaking, intelligent but are merely clever. The more intelligent ones have devised what can only be accounted a culture.
In the Inner Sea region, it has long been known that polupodes can devise and make use of tools, notably hewn coral and stone tools, bone tools and tools made from mariners' jetsam and flotsam. It is not unusual to see polupod herders guide and corral flocks of fish or to repel attacks of marauding hunters.
Ever since several highly potent and unstable magical articles were dumped into the harbour at Auntimoany (see Books and Printing), the polupodes in that particular region began to develop a much higher culture and at an alarmingly rapid rate. Simple herders shortly became fish-riding knights, wearing mother of pearl armour and conch shell helms, bearing coral tipped spears and living in coral and stone castles.
The extent to which this rapid rise of cephalopod civilisation has spread is not known, though some philosophers aver that in due course of time, the cephalopods will eventually devise out-of-sea ships and storm dry land to hunt down unwary Men and Daine to satisfy their demand for exotic delicasies. A small group of thinkers, led by one Duokuklides of Alixaundria holds that due to the flaccid nature of cephalopod heads, their brains are not squeezed by their skulls and they are thus capable of accomplishing mental feats far in advance of ours without fear of brain inflammation (mental exertion being the root cause of headache). They further hold that their flaccid heads allow for rapid and massive brain expansion, allowing the rise of races of super-intelligent super-polupodes, poised to take dry land and sea alike by storm, driving Men and Daine to extinction or perhaps a waterlogged slavery, toiling away in the fearsome and crushing depths of the polupodes' undersea kingdom. Ultimately, they will devise a way to flood the dry land again as it once was long ago, creating for themselves a veritable paradise of shallow seas.
Several (thankfully small) civic groups in Auntimoany are beginning to demand the city devise some sort of Cunning Plan to counter the Polupode threat. At least one of these groups has claimed to have designed a kind of Underseaship that they propose to send to the depths with an Ambassador of some sort. But it seems they got beaten to the punch...
The Polupodes, whose empire spans the waters off the east coast of Auntimoany, do indeed speak a language, but it's a signed language rather than a spoken one and also has a written form (knotted in strings, really). For a long time the whole Question as to Polupode intelligence was never satisfactorily answered. Deep divers -- mollusc fishers or treasure recoverers, and most of them Daine and therefore not entirely trusted -- have often told tales of many-tentacled knights riding upon fishy steeds and carrying lances and wearing conch shell helms, doing chivalrous contest for the affections of the ladies. But who would believe such tales? They're just bloody big octopuses after all!
It wasn't until several years back that an "outer-sea ship" broke the surface of the City harbor and came churning over towards one of the fishmongers' warehouses, lowered a davit and in broad daylight snagged a couple cases of choice morsels that people began to think on their water-dwelling neighbours as actual people and not just a source of seafood. After all, if anyone could be so cunning as to nick a case of fresh fish from under the nose of a fishmonger, then they can't possibly be just a bunch of dumb animals! Since then, the philosophers of the Eastlands have largely, if belatedly, concurred with the popular opinion that Polupodes are People too!
Some notes on polupode culture
- Polupodes have very sharp eyesight, can change colour at will, have statocysts that allow them to detect and interpret the effects of gravity and inertia and are able to see not only with their eyes but also with various kinds of receptors in their arms. Many are able to bioluminesce -- they use this capability for communications, predator startling and avoidance, courtship, & camoflage.
- Polupodes commonly wear a decorative net upon their heads. The netting is woven from a kind of seaweed fibre, and often times the nodes are decorated with bits of shell or fancy knotwork. Each segment of society wears a distinctive kind or style of net cap. Fishherds wear a distinctive pattern of net cap that is often decorated with fish fins, and they also carry long spears and shark-tooth sickle knives. Coralmen and masons also wear distinctive styles of net caps with many complex and beatiful knots and they also carry bags for transporting tools and materials.
- Rulers are signalled by a gem and coral encrusted net worn upon the head. The size, quality and number of stones and corals indicates the rank of the wearer with dearer stones being worn by higher ranking members of court. Corals from far distant waters or that are not native are accounted more valuable and therefore more highly regarded than local varities.
- Towns and strongholds are built of stones and coral blocks. The blocks themselves are fashioned by regular masonry techniques, but polupode masons seal the blocks together with a specially bred coral species that grow between the blocks and seal them together with an extremely effective bond. Small stones may be transported in sacks slung on large fish, but most heavy lifting and transporting is accomplished by using tame whales.
- Polupode culture (the modern) is closely akin to the classical Rumen / Teutonic cultures of the Eastlands. Elements of their cultural revolution came from the books printed experimentally in Auntimoany just before the "Monsters Under Thy Bedde" incident. Story and fable books thus provide the basis for a chivalric culture of knighthood and errantry combined with overtones of Atelante and classic civilisation. It is thought that the printing presses used to make the ill-fated books are discharging magic, perhaps amplified in some way by the water, and this discharge has caused animals that were otherwise content to herd crabs and spear the occasional fish to become, well, People.
- It is safe to say that there are worse things lurking in the deeps than the relatively benign polupodes! That is to say, other worse things than the already suspected worse things inhabiting the deeps -- sea serpents and leviathans and the like.
- Polupode governance is hierarchical and feudal in nature. The emperor rules large territorial waters and grants satrapies to local rulers. These satraps might be responsible for quite small to fairly large waters. In turn, they owe warriors and tributes to the emperor. Emperors are not despots, as there is also a Senate which determines general national policies and treaties, and a court that determines legal cases. The emperor may at needs overrule the Senate and also serves as the judge of last resort, but the Senate may strip the emperor of power if authority is unjustly used or abused.
- The arms of the kingdom closest to Auntimoany is a stylised plupode with an Eye in the centre.
- Polupodes communicate via body language -- colour changes, body attitude and most importantly, gestures. There is no vocal speech as the speaking races use, but they do use a kind of sign language. Various systems allow for relatively simple or considerably complex ideas to be communicated. Increasing complexity of speech requires sign systems that use all eight of an individual's appendages. Simpler systems allow as few as two arms to be used for talking -- and this allows an individual to carry on as many as four separate conversations at once. Polupodes are true multitaskers!
- Arts include coral sculpting, stone carving and weaving. There is no painting and no writing.
- Polupode scribes skrieve the histories and anals of their world by a system of knots, cords, shells and other bits woven into a loose netting. These woven records are reminiscent of woven headdresses and are indeed made in similar fashion. Records are kept hung upon racks in the Library and may be brought out for public inspection and official interpretation. Any given record is divided into eight sections and information is encoded along the intersections of the strands of that section from the center to the outside. The first section points down (towards the floor) and the scribe reads each section and interprets it before turning his body to read the next section. The system is a mnemonic device rather than true writing, though it is a highly standardised system rather than ideosyncratic. Thus, scribes who speak the same or closely related language may with a high degree of accuracy read and properly interpret the records crafted by another individual. The mnemonemes recorded can be as simple as "swims towards the light" (i.e., rises towards the surface) or as complex as a whole narrative subunit such as a well known heroic or mythical episode. It would be as if a single "word", say balomolab stood for whole fable of Balaam his Donkey.
- Modern Polupode history begins in 1349 when, as has been mentioned, a magically hypercharged printing press and copies of magic-tainted books were dumped into the waters off Auntimoany. It is thought by some of the Wise that the water itself is responsible for magnifying the residual magic that has been leaking from the rubbish since. It is unknown exactly how widespread the effects have been, but it is known that many kinds of sea creatures were affected, and of them all, polupodes the most. It is strongly suspected that this is because polupodes were already a very clever and nearly intelligent race.
- Polupodes can climb aboard ships (especially fishing vessels) and docks to seek prefered food (crabs in traps and holding buckets are favourite targets). Since their Awakening, they have taken up the, mm, sport of recreational cliff climbing, even high out of the water, and of diving back into the water. Raiding parties have been seen, usually at night, stealing along the quays where the fishing vessels put in, individuals of which manage to get in to the fishmongers' warehouses to take choice food. Locals tend to ignore them (after all, it has been known for thousands of years that polupodes are clever and can climb aboard a fishing vessel to seize dead or dying crabs), thinking: "it's just a couple polupodes sneaking off with some fish. Nothing unusual about that!" and thus the whole incident is conveniently rationalised away. Meanwhile, the subconscious is left thinking: "Just a minute! Make that a couple helmet wearing polupodes carrying pikes, carefully looking about the docks as if keeping watch while several of their mates, carrying net bags are purposefully opening the fishmonger's warehouse door, slipping inside, carefully selecting only certain kinds of crabs and then putting them in the sacks, tying the same closed tight; then the whole lot of them are nonchalantly walking back to the pier where they're slipping back into the dark water below; and I am sure that one of the buggers with a pike just saluted me."
- Polupodes have long had domesticated crabs, shellfish and herds of swimming fishes, and have not been afraid to tame whales or fight sharks. They have also had a long-lived folk tradition. Since the fourteenth centry, what has evolved is their material culture -- building towns, scribal records, religious or spiritual ruminations and the like.
- Since polupodes can not live long in fresh water, they make sacks out of fish hides and make and store hypersaline water in them for journeys into rivers or streams. Typically, these devices are used by hunters on the lookout for fresh water crabs and crawdads.
- Polupodes breed and raise special jellyfish which they connect in both serial and radial fashion to create a kind of communications webwork. These jellyfish typically have one extremely thick, extremely long tentacle with fibres at the end that intertwines with the fibres of one of several short tentacles of the next jellyfish in line. The translucent body of the jellyfish is capable of biolumescence, and is able to vary the patterns of colours and images presented upon its hide depending on the chemo-electrical signals passed from one jellyfish to the next. Each jellyfish has its own unique chemoelectric or somatic signature and once connected to the webwork becomes known to all the other jellyfish in the web. By this means, polupodes can contact each other and communicate long distance by instructing the jellyfish to contact a certain other jellyfish in the webwork. The polupodes interface with the webwork by touching their own appendages to special interface tentacles of the terminal jellyfish. Many polupodes now have access to the jellyweb in their own homes and places of business.