Here, long after the last of the official temples to Ma-O was raised to the ground by the other stronger faiths, his worshipers would come in secret once in their lives to drop some offering, a coin or a jewel or a small piece of amethyst to replenish his strength in a small way, so that one day He would return.
The centuries rolled by and a flotilla sent by the De Madden Company arrived and decided that here would be a good chokepoint to set up a fort, as the area happened to be the Kolyma Straits (the Company renamed them) and the only safe way for the shipping in the region. From now on all non-Company shipping who wanted to sail through the Straits would pay a toll or face being turned back and if they tried to push on anyway, cannonaded and sunk. They knew that they were not the only Great Power that wanted control of those waters, and that the navy of the Kraken States might well try and take over forcibly, so they built one of the strongest castles in the region and named in Castle Seamus after the admiral that was left in command.
The worshippers of Ma-O privately considered the assassination of Admiral Seamus, but decided that his death would only cause the Company to come down even harder then before on their banned cult. Besides, it was soon clear that the Company had no idea of the secret shrine beneath the waves. So they infiltrated the Company marines and managed to place a few of their own in reasonably high-ranking positions. That way if the shrine beneath the sea were ever seriously threatened with destruction, they could act. Soon up to a third of the Company marines were secret cult members, and Admiral Seamus had not the slightest idea of it.
His fortress was mighty indeed, triple walled and equipped with the most effective catapults and cannons, fully capable of sinking even the largest warships if they dared to get too close, it’s walls covered with white limestone and a great brazier set in a tower at the top and lit by night to light the way. Decades went by and the Company prospered, and a small amount of that prosperity was secretly siphoned off, by the Company Treasurer himself no less, to fund the cult of Ma-O. Not too much, not enough to alert the company’s shareholders and accountants on the central island of Banhoesea that anything was amiss, just a little here and a little there. It was common knowledge that there was corruption in the outer reaches of the Company, but this was tolerated to a strictly limited extent.
Half a century after it was created and several years after the Admiral’s body had been burned atop a Jovian ziggurat after a death caused by old age, an aged man in the uniform of a Company Sea Wizard arrived and presented the right papers to the guards for a private meeting with the currant Admiral. When they were alone he revealed the truth, that he was actually one of the highest-ranking bosses in the entire Company, the Sea Archmage Bela Kun, and that he had come to the fortress to cast a spell that had been worked upon by his subordinates in top secrecy for decades, a spell that would reveal the identity of every member of the forbidden and dangerous Cult of Ma-O. Only here could the spell be cast.
That night he began speaking the spell from atop one of the tallest towers, but so great was the magic unleashed that Ma-O himself sensed it, and he was angry. Not only had the Archmage committed an act of sacrilege within Ma-O’s last remaining major holy place, but also he was threatening to uncover all of his worshippers all over the world so that they could be burnt at the stake. Whilst the loss of individual worshippers is no more loss to a deity then the loss of a few skin cells is to a human, to lose his entire cult would mean he or she would be left helpless and powerless. Ma-O was not having that and he decided to make an example of the blasphemer. He summoned His strength and rose from the waves in his true form, that of a massive tentacle of seafoam with the head of a crocodile, with his eyes and teeth of chunks of the finest purple amethyst.
He summoned high winds and great waves to smash against the castle, and the Archmage counter-attacked with his magic and in the short term held them at bay. The air was filled with seawater and spray and strange magics for a time. Fish caught up in it grew fingers, which would later become a delicacy in the most expensive inns and restaurants. However the power of a deity, even a greatly weakened one whose worshippers have been forced into hiding, is always greater then that of a mere mortal, even an Archmage rich in lore. Within an hour the divinely whipped up waves came crashing down upon the fortress, drowning the Archmage and permanently submerging the entire region.
Those in the taller towers had no hope as they drowned or were turned into crushed broken remains when the water smashed the towers. Those within the keep expected to die too of drowning, but by some magic they found that they could breath underwater and were not choked or chilled or poisoned by the salt water within their bodies. Those that were Ma-O worshippers decided that they must have been kept alive by His holy power. Those who were not and who now found themselves equal in numbers with those who were, decided that the Archmage himself must have protected them through his magic, as surely Ma-O would never have saved unbelievers.
A fight between them was avoided because having survived what seemed like a certain death by drowning, neither side wished to risk their lives further. It was decided to send a couple of people ashore, but when they walked up the beach they were set upon by the locals and lynched, as the locals decided that only worshippers of Ma-O could possibly have survived the catastrophe which had taken several lives.
The others had a long talk amongst themselves and decided what to do. The Ma-O worshippers uniamously decided to guard the site and protect it, and, by warning the others of what could happen if the site were further damaged, persuaded the others to join them. Religious toleration of all religions was decided upon, and that there would be two rulers of the Castle, one a worshipper of Ma-O and one a worshipper of Jove or Ulmania, who would command the others and were chosen from the highest ranking surviving officers.
It did not take long for the food to run out and early attempts to hunt fish were not very successful, nor were the nearby people ashore willing to trade. So it was decided after some debate that they would have to extort from the ships that were taking advantage of the fact that the castle was gone to travel through the straits for free. It was easy enough to swim up with their still strong swords and hole the bottom of a few of these ships and seize their cargos, and then to send someone to the surface and warn the captains of the others that their craft would suffer the same fate unless they paid a tax of food, fresh water and on occasion, new cutlasses. From one vessel they took a part of a cargo of tridents that was meant for the gladiatorial shows of the East, and found them useful for hunting fish for food and fending off sharks.
Their old weapons rusted within months but new weapons extracted as tribute in the early days took their place. In the extracting of tribute, they were careful to take goods only in value only to what they had once claimed under the Company’s banner, so that the merchants were not so angry as to stop going into the straits until the menace was gone.
The castle now sits several hundred feet under water, it’s towers broken but it’s walls still intact. Over time the once clean white walls have been overgrown with kelp, corals, anemones and other plants and small animals of the sea. Inside the furniture and fittings have almost all decayed away to nothing, except for a couple of golden thrones that once belonged to the Admiral and Vice Admiral and are now the seats of the two new rulers.
Below the castle is a beautiful reef-and only here in the world is the reef made not of coral but of the finest quality amethyst, with reef life that with a few exceptions is the same as that on other unspoilt coral reefs. The Company were it to know of this would have sent divers and dredgers to dig it up years ago, but any humans who get close enough to see it are swiftly murdered. To the worshippers of Ma-O, this is their cult’s most holy ground and they are prepared to do anything to keep it secret. To the others, they fear that its destruction would bring Ma-O once more in physical form to the sea. They have also come to think of it as their home, admire its beauty and do not wish to see it destroyed. Should one of them try to betray the secret and be caught the others would consider it to be High Treason and execute him or her.
One of the things found in a ship that they wrecked in the early days was a potion that causes a human to develop a fish tail for a few hours. This it was decided, would be the mark of royalty and the highest-ranking officers amongst them and so only they have tails.
Greed for Gold
One of the non Ma-O-worshippers has escaped and brings the PCs news of the amethyst reef down below. If they can dive down there and take a piece of the reef as proof, mere word of mouth not being enough, the De Madden company will pay them greatly for the information-1% of the reef itself after it is dredged, and even 1% is immense riches. But getting to the reef will be difficult and dangerous.
Also by this time the castle dwellers have had children amongst themselves and with merfolk from other areas. The happy lives of these children will be destroyed if the PCs bring the evidence back. Either they will be killed by the Company or enslaved or forced to flee into unproductive areas of the sea. Can the PCs harden their hearts and decide that the reward is worth more then the lives of these little ones?
When the PCs get down to the reef they should throw two dice and consult the table to see what dangers are down there.
3-A patrol of 1 to 6 Ma-O worshippers armed with tridents. They cannot be reasoned with and must be killed before they can alert their friends.
4-A Dunkleoustous looking for a meal. http://strolen.com/content.php?node=1211
5-A bed of Giant Mussels. Watch your step…http://strolen.com/content.php?node=1495
6-A Swan Drake that lives in the area http://strolen.com/content.php?node=1364
7-A patrol of 1-6 non Ma-O worshippers armed with tridents.
8-A baby Kraken. How it reacts to the PCs will depend on how the PCs react to it. If they attack it then it will fight back. If they feed it then it will befriend them. If they feed it and take it back to it’s giant mother that lives several miles away, then the mother Kraken might well reward them in some way.
9-1-6 Silica Sea Snakes. These appear to be made of amethyst, as if they were carved creations that had somehow come to life and escaped from some jewellery shop. Their bite, if not cured quickly, will cause the bitten one to slowly and agonizingly turn into an amethyst statue.
10-A Giant Moray Eel-like it’s real life counterpart but three times as big and even meaner.
11-A swarm of stinging jellyfish. Treat as one opponent.
12-An Ocean-living spieces of Wrapper. http://strolen.com/content.php?node=1403
A good deed
A MerPrincess has been washed up on shore during a storm and injured.She wants the PC’s to help her get back home. Should they do so they well find themselves facing trial for their lives under the sea, as some of the castle’s guardians will want them dead and others will want them spared as they rescued the girl, who is the daughter of one of the two rulers.
Comments are welcome. :)