Eons ago, it was said, Yamasatra was happy, watching her wondrous creatures: fish, dolphins, whales, and—most honored of all—leopard seals. The land was widely unknown to her children, seen only at the fall of the tide. The Blessed Great Blue spread across the expanse of the world undisturbed. All was well.
Then something disturbing happened. Intruders appeared, cutting across the seas in wide ships, growing larger and larger over the years. They made war with each other, leaving reeking hulks dead on the Blessed Great Blue’s floors. Yamasatra was infuriated. Who were these interlopers? Yamasatra sent her seals to observe the lands, and was disgusted with what she found. A new race of beings seemed to have grown out of the earth. They were bipedal, moving weakly about on thin stalks. They seemed obsessed with destruction, warring against the land with axes and picks, collecting the shattered remains of trees and stone. They warred with each other above all, constantly fighting over alien ideas and boastful claims of territory. Even brother would turn against brother in pursuit of greed.
Yamasatra’s fury boiled over, crashing tsunamis and hurricanes over the lands. But each time, these creatures - “humans,” they called themselves in their vulgar tongue - would return. The goddess decided the only possibility to rid this nuisance was to enlighten them, guide them from their barbaric ways. She spoke to them in the song of the Blessed Great Blue, but few listened. The men especially, it seemed, were too dense to even understand the language of the seas. But there were some who did listen. Women slowly were drawn to the shores, where they heard the Great Blessed Blue’s song and knew the joy and splendor of the deep. Yamasatra drew them together; they met and instantly knew what must be done. The women built a large platform ship, abandoned their land lives, and took to the sea, feeling the Pelagic Queen’s soothing embrace.
- Yamasatran oral tradition
Most are familiar with the story of Yamasatra, the Queen of the Seas. Hers is the youngest faith of the Continent, dating back only a half millennium or so, but still maintains a good number of adherents. Being a very isolated community, however, makes the Sisterhood exotic and often alien to most on the Continent.
According to the Sisterhood of the Pelagic Queen, many parts of nature are not of divine origin. The skies, the land, trees, land animals - all these simply occur, and thus can be very harsh. The land has existed since time began, and ever since it has caused suffering to those that dwell on it. Out of nature also came the gods who, like mortals, argued pettily over possession and authority. One goddess, however, was different. She was Yamasatra, the patroness of water. For a time the only water that existed was rain, occasionally soaking the parched earth and allowing plants to grow. The squabbling of the gods boiled over into a war between them, a battle of dominion over the trifling desert lands that bore nothing but sand and heat. Yamasatra, pure and innocent, was perturbed and decided to end the senseless fighting. With an unbridled rage, she poured down water from the heavens onto the dry and cracked soil. It is said that the firmament of the sky itself broke and gushed like a waterfall onto the entire world. In a scant few weeks, the dry land that the deities argued over was gone, drowned under countless depths of water. Then something wondrous happened: from the once inhospitable desert came life. Thousands of new creatures crawled from the depths and swam upwards, filling the new environment that now covered so much of the world. Fish, whales, crabs, lobsters, clams, sea grasses, coral, otters, dolphins - all and more swam and rejoiced that they had came into being. The gods’ amazement lasted only a short time: they had now found a new thing to fight over. But before they could act, Yamasatra staked her claim:
“Hear! That which you warred for it gone. In its place is my own creation under my own authority. This Blessed Great Blue is my patronage and you will have no part in it! Lest you soil my sacred waves, I will cause them to crash onto your lands and drown your own creations. End your fighting: the seas are mine.”
Thus she spake from the Merciful Deep.
- Yamasatran oral tradition
Most of the gods backed off, allowing the patroness to rule unthreatened. A few foolish, however, deities sent their creations to wage war against the seas. The Desert King sent armies of camels, snakes, and sandworms to the coast; the Queen of the Mountains rallied dire bears and stone giants; the Sky God invaded with eagles, wyverns, and osprey; the Savannah Princes marched out their elephants, rhinoceroses, and hyenas. As the enemy armies began to stampede into the shores and waters of the Blessed Great Blue, suddenly springing out of the water came a new creature: the great seals. None had seen anything quite like them before. Though they swam as well as the dolphins and octopodes, they breathed air and walked upon the land like terrestrial creatures. Their fangs were sharp as the cats’, and they fought with the fury of the bears. Many animals fled in fear; the few that stood their ground were swarmed by the throngs of seals that served the Queen. The Pelagic Queen blessed the seals for their courage and from that day forth they became her royal army and most sacred of beings.
For a time, all was well. The gods knew the seas were off limits, Yamasatra ruled peaceably, and the oceans flourished. But as fortune would have it, a new destructive and even stupider race reared its ugly head: humanity. Petty, destructive, and territorial as the gods, they also had considerable intelligence and ingenuity. Soon they created war crafts and vessels that could carry them across the sea. The Queen was enraged and fought back with waves and winds, but the mortals always seemed to rebuild. Yamasatra finally saw some potential with them, if only they could be enlightened. She sang to them in the song of the Blessed Great Blue, but most were too loud and thick-headed - particularly the male of the species - to hear. Some did, however. Many women wandered from their towns, villages, and families to the coasts, enchanted by what they heard. Pleased, Yamasatra gave them an order:
“Build!” the waves whispered. “Build ships of peace and harmony! You cannot live beneath the Blessed Great Blue, but I will suffer you to live upon the waves. There you will find enlightenment, for the seas are peaceful and the depths have mercy.” And so the women built, harvesting the trees and creating vessels. Guided by the blessings of the Pelagic Queen, they were strong and seaworthy. Without sadness or regret, the women boarded the ships and left their land lives to begin anew.
- Yamasatran oral tradition
On their floating convents, the women created a new monastic order dedicated to Yamasatra, the Sisterhood of the Pelagic Queen. In prayer and meditation they can hear clearly the song of the Blessed Great Blue, and Yamasatra’s voice brings them enlightenment.
Sisters of the order live exclusively on huge ships, floating monasteries in the ocean. Few know how many exist: some say hundreds, other less than a dozen. It is difficult to keep track due to the Sisters’ keen navigational skills, their knowledge of the seas allowing them to sail much more quickly than your average vessel. The floating monasteries themselves are a wonder. They can sometimes be as wide as an acre and several stories tall. Though they normally remain anchored or drift carefree in the deep, massive sails can be deployed to allow surprisingly swift travel. These ships are of masterwork design, many hundreds of years old without even a leak. Their build is necessarily good, as the Sisters loathe the land and only step foot on it if absolutely necessary. The great ships were not always so: when the order was first founded, the Sisters used abandoned vessels sloppily repaired. These often sank, due to both their poor quality and the Sisters’ infamiliarity with the oceans. Over generations, however, their skills were honed to create nearly invincible vessels.
The monastic Sisterhood is exclusive to women* and is strictly celibate. Though this keeps their numbers smaller than the other faiths, it does not weaken their size. The Sisters yearly take their monastery vessels to a tropical archipelago distant from the Continent to seek out young women for new recruits. These islands vary culturally: some tribes see the Sisters as chosen ones, living saints, and will send their daughters off to find favor with the gods; other island cultures consider the Sisters demons, and they send their virgin daughters on rafts as a sacrifice to appease them. The Sisters have also been known to recruit castaways from derelict vessels, offering female survivors the choice to join Yamasatra as a nun or as nourishment for the Great Blessed Blue. Male castaways are usually ignored unless they interfere, something they will immediate regret doing as the Sisters see men as a barbaric thread unworthy to tread Yamasatra’s sacred realm. On joining the Sisterhood, a nun will be given a new name taken from an ancient island language considered to be the common tongue of the ocean.
On board their convent ships, a Sister’s life is simple. Each morning, evening, and at times throughout the day, they join together in prayer, singing ancient hymns adoring their goddess. The rest of the time is dedicated to work and study. There are many tasks in maintaining a fully operating monastery: some navigate, others cook, still others keep watch, and some teach the youngest Sisters the ways of Yamasatra. While they do not work or pray, they meditate in silence, listening closely for the Queen’s song. Aside from the nuns, leopard seals also dwell on the ships. The Sisters consider them sacred, the chosen of the Pelagic Queen. Every vessel is designed with a large open gate on a partially submerged section of the ship, always stocked with fresh fish and moist sand. Leopard seals dwell in these holds, coming and going as freely as they wish. Some only come to feast, but others have made homes in these well-stocked and welcoming ships and remain for generations. The Sisters consider them a blessing; some are even trained to retrieve fine fish and clams for communal feasts.
The Sisters keep a complex religious lunar calendar. Experts at navigating by the stars even without assistance from a sextant, they record precisely the movements of the constellations and stars. The year is divided into 14 months, and each month into four weeks that are dedicated to an aspect of their faith. The first week is for Yamasatra and all her roles; the second is for the Queen’s works, especially the Blessed Great Blue; the third week is for virtues; and the fourth for holy beings (seals, whales, squid, etc.). Every day of the week is further dedicated to individual things. For example, a day in the first week is dedicated to the Wrathful War-Queen; a day in the second is for the Bounty of the Seas; a day in the third, Chastity; and a day in the fourth week, the Great Sharks. On the new year of their calendar, the Sisters throw a huge feast and many of the monasteries float together as one, one of the only times they do so in the year.
*Note: In worlds where the are many sentient humanoid races (elves, dwarves, etc.), any female of such races may join the Sisterhood.
The entire Sisterhood is headed by the Abbess, the wisest of all the nuns. She leads from the largest and oldest of the monastery ships, known simply as the Abbess’s Dwelling. The Abbess’s prime duty is to meditate and listen for Yamasatra’s instruction, relaying important messages and guiding the Sisterhood to follow the Queen’s divine will. The ships operate largely independently of each other, but when the Abbess gives a request and sends it out to the other monasteries, her suggestions are followed closely. Each ship is headed by an Eldest Sister, again the wisest and usually oldest nun. When they reach a frail age, an Eldest Sister will often retire and appoint a successor. On each monastery, the Eldest Sister appoints tasks to the others and they are followed with little complaint or question. The Eldest Sisters of all the ships annually come together on the Abbess’s Dwelling to meet with the Abbess, discussing important events and instructions for the coming new year. In times of emergency, the Abbess will call together the Eldest Sisters for advisement. At the abdication or death of an Abbess, the Eldest Sisters will meet and elect a new Abbess, usually from their own circle.
Due to the aloofness of their order, the Sisterhood of the Pelagic Queen has little formal relations with the mainland. The Imperial Church of Modoaldus has long considered the Sisters paganistic heathens and does not bother with an attempt at relations, preferring instead to spread rumors of evil and secret rites among the oceanic order. For their own part, the Sisters largely ignore the Modoals and dismiss them as simplistic and dull-headed - the epitome of terrestrial men.
The Dalraaenites have historically kept a distance from the Sisterhood, not being quick to condemn them but still being wary. The Yamasatrans, being henotheistic (that is, acknowledging many gods but answering to one), accept the Dalraaenites as the greatest of the terrestrial religions; still inferior to the pelagic faith, but the best attempt at holiness on land. In the years leading up to the Sectarian Wars, Abbess Shai-Jin was known to have contact with Judicator Corgess Ahrgan discussing the possibility of a peaceable union between the two religions. Whatever attempts made were cut short at the outbreak of war following the Cedanti Synod.
The Cultus of Vautu sees the Sisters as witches worshipping the sea and wish to bring chaos against the waters. The Sisterhood recognizes the deity the Vautuans worship as evil and maintain aloofness, but the patient Sisters do not jump to condemn quickly. Their religion allows that even wicked gods have usefulness, and the Abbess has conceded that, if it were an absolute necessity, the Sisterhood may cooperate with the Cultus. Such an alliance would be short-lived, however, and a means to a greater end: the Sisterhood would be happy to see the Vautuans crushed under the Eternal Waves.