Appearance
The Eshal are an amphibious race, akin to soft fish, in the sense that they do not have scales, or bony extrusions.

The Eshal are an amphibious race, akin to soft fish, in the sense that they do not have scales, or bony extrusions.

Locomotion within the water is primarily driven by the large paddle like tail. The limbs, which are small in comparison to the limbs of the Anura are kept tucked up close to the body. Within the water, the Eshal are more than capable of breathing water indefinitely. If changing from salt to fresh, or fresh to salt water they have to make a slow adjustment period or suffer a sort of chemical shock if they try to make the change too quickly.

Locomotion on land is dealt with through small fore and hind limbs. Each forelimb ends an a manipulative webbed hand that has seven digits, six ‘fingers’ and a grasping ‘thumb’. Breathing air is possible, but only as long as the Eshal is able to retain a high percentage of moisture. Drying out is lethal to them as it is to the Cuada, and the Anura as well. As a rule of thumb, anything bad for a frog, will be bad for these three races. Thus, when exploring the surface, the Eshal often wear all-enveloping loose cloaks made from kelp which are meant to shield them from the dehydrating rays of the sun.

The average Eshal is twelve to fifteen feet long, and carries itself two to three feet from the ground. On land they are quick, and efficient hunters, their wicked spiked teeth making short work of small mammals and other denizens of the wrack. In the water, they prey primarily on fish. The head is large and well developed with enlarged jaw muscles, and a larynx that is sophisticated enough to work both above and below water. Their large gaping maws allow them to close their mouths over most prey species and swallow them whole with the exception of very large fish. Barbs protruding from their forelimbs enable them to snag fish on their limbs. All Eshal possess an extremely keen sense of smell, enabling them to detect prey in the water very easily.

The Matriach and her children

The Eshal are ruled by a supreme ruler called the Emperor. He and his siblings are the offspring of the Matriarch. Worshiped as a Goddess by the Eshal,only the brood of this being are able to occupy the throne of the Brave People.
Deep beneath the vaults of the massive, submerged palace of the Emperor, lies the bloated behemoth that the Eshal so adore. Measuring five hundred feet from massive snout to gargantuan tail, she lies in an almost comatose state, slumbering in the massive cavern that she never leaves. It would not be an exaggeration to call her the life-giver of the Eshal for without her, their glory would not exist. She is old beyond the reckoning of time, predating the history of her people and is revered as a priceless gift from the Gods Of Water.

When the current emperor dies, a great sacrifice is held. Hundreds of bound slaves are led by priests into the cavern of the Matriarch. There they are bled by the late Emperor’s sibling. It is then that the Matriarch awakens, pulled out of her slumber by the rich, tantalizing scent
of spilled blood. With her gaping maw, she devours the sacrificial victims. As their mother sates her voracious hunger, her surviving children, the brothers of the deceased emperor, proceed to incite themselves into a religious frenzy and then with suicidal abandon, proceed to hurl themselves into the jaws of the Matriarch, joyful that they will now join their late sibling in the land of the gods. When her hunger is finally appeased with the flesh of her own children, she lays a clutch of eggs, before lapsing back into her endless slumber. Her new progeny is collected by the lesser priests and watched carefully by them. The first hatchling to emerge is declared the Emperor and the rest are selected to become the High Priests that conduct the sacred sacrifices and help their elder brother and lord govern his vast realm. It only takes a week for the hatchlings to mature and take over their duties.

Language

The Eshal have a uniqe means of communicating with one another. Due to their absence of vocal chords which limits their verbal communication to the crudest and limited exchanges, Ehsal biology has provided the Brave People with an alternate means of communication. Eshal are capable of suffusing their bodies with a dazzling variety of luminescent colors that range from a soft peach to a bright electric blue. Subtle differences between the various gradations of color that an Eshal can produce often convey very different meanings. Hence an Eshal that turned a murky yellow is indicating that he is hungry in contrast to an Eshal with a somewhat brighter shade of yellow who wishes to signal the fact that his appetite has been sated. The knowledge of the meanings attached to the various shades of color secreted by their hides is purely instinctive, stemming from a deeply rooted biological trait.

Society

Eshal society is extremely hierarchical with supreme authority resting in the hands of the Emperor and his siblings. Claiming to share an innate bond with the Matriarch, they are revered as the speakers of her will and are hence obeyed unquestioningly. Indeed, they are worshiped as demigods in their own right with annual sacrifices offered to them annually. Since the Matriarch herself is regarded as an important deity who outranks even the mighty Gods of Water in terms of divine authority, it is only natural that her offspring are given an important role in running the empire.

The empire is divided into four regions, with the emperor ruling the central one that contains his capital as well as vast plantations of sea-weed and kelp that are manned by his merfolk salves. Adjoining his vast estates are located the small adjoining plots of kelp and sea weed run by thousands of Eshal smallholders who render their lord a yearly tribute of kelp and fish as well their labor which they employ in enlarging his already massive palace. His brothers similarly govern and rule the surrounding regions of the empire from their own provincial capitals and also maintain their regime via the exaction of kelp and fish from the local peasantry as well as labor for the erection of defensive fortifications.

The emperor and his siblings perform both and administrative and religious function. Reflecting the dual nature of the Eshal empire, their palace complexes are also temples which collect kelp and sea weed as well as fish in order to feed the thousands of staff and slaves who carry out the duties associated with annual rites dedicated the various deities of the Eshal pantheon. As regional rulers, the Emperor and his siblings, are expected to personally supervise the bloody slaughter of hundreds of merfolk slaves on these occasions since they are believed to be the intermediaries between the Brave people and the Gods of Water. Only they possess the authority to intercede with the gods in order to ensure that the divinities regularly sacrifice themselves in order to ensure that the submerged world of Tarrod continues to exist.

Although the Cauda priests that form an integral part of the entourage of an Eshal prince of the blood , play an important role in facilitating the interactions between the gods and the Brave People, the sons of the Matriarch play an even more important role. The Cuada may serve as the physical vessels via by which the Gods personally appear to their adherents, but only the sons of the Matriarch possess the authority that compels the very gods themselves to shed their own blood for the continued existence of Tarrod.

The Emperor as the eldest son of the Matriarch, is the only individual who can command the most powerful gods to sacrifice themselves. It is at his hands that a selected few among the Cauda elect to lose their lives to the bloody sacrificial flint bade in order that the gift of their souls will placate the gods of water who will only agree to offer their own lives with the guarantee that their elder children will ensure their subsequent resurrection by reviving them with their blood. The souls of the slain Cauda in their turn, are revived by the blood of the merfolk captives and thus reincarnate themselves in new forms among the un-hatched progeny of the Cauda. The Emperor and his siblings are also subject to a similar process of reincarnation since upon their demise, their souls return to the Matriarch who serves as a repository to hold them until they can once again be given new vessels in the form of her next clutch of hatchlings.

Peasantry and royalty

Eshal society largely consists of peasants who cultivate their own plots of seaweed and kelp in addition to constructing mud fish traps that provide them with a constant source of fish. They also raise certain aquatic beasts like the Ranchowen and Great Serpents. They are a largely self-reliant people with the exception of wandering artisans who wander from place to place selling their craft products which range from coral carvings to bone tipped spears. However despite being overwhelmingly peasants, most Eshal males are also warriors.

Extremely aggressive, Eshal males produce massive amounts of testosterone from the age of five years onwards, resulting in irate dispositions that are quick to resort to violence. These are put to good use by the warriors of the local royal lord whose underlings personally supervise a training school for young males. Within a small mud and timber compound in each village, young adolescent males learn how to use a variety of weapons. In times of emergencies and war, these young males will be summoned as an armed levy by the reigning royal lord. In addition to participating in large-scale wars, young Eshal are also regularly led on raiding forays against Curd and Anura tribes by the local War Chief who serves as liaisons between them and the royal court. It is he who urges young Eshal males to unleash their compulsion for violence against non-Eshal foes rather than against each other.

Another outlet for relieving their rage is the annual mating rite when Eshal males search for females to add to their harems. Polygamous by nature, Eshal males often seek to accumulate as many healthy females as they can to procreate with. During the annual mating rites, Eshal males gather to challenge one another to savage duels. Everything from their barbed teeth to stone daggers is employed against competitors or rivals. Consequently, fatalities are not uncommon. The victims’ widows are subsequently incorporated into the harem of the victor.

However, Eshal males are also expected to be capable of more than brute violence. Due to carefully selective breeding, there are certain individuals among the Eshal who have produced generations of male offspring that serve as the administrative staff of the emperor and his siblings. Differing somewhat physically from the other Eshal, they tend to be slightly more diminutive and lack the heavy musculature that is typical of most Eshal. Instead, they possess slightly larger crania and possess more narrow and pointed arm spikes. These individuals are tasked with making records that consist of knotted cords of seaweed which signify different numeric values.

Eshal scribes are regarded as an exclusive caste who only rank below the Eshal royal lords and the Cauda priests in terms of the prestige that they command . They are only permitted to mate with females from other scholarly families in order to ensure that their genetic bloodline remains untainted. Like the emperor and his siblings, they are also priests since they perform ceremonies within the temple complexes of their imperial masters. Sacred chants used to invoke the smaller deities who serve the main gods are memorized by them. However despite the intellectual nature of their tasks, they like other Eshal males also receive combat training and are proficient in using weapons. During times of war, they serve as junior officers and carry bone or coral totems that represent the deities whom they serve.

Despite the rambunctious nature of the Brave People, they are not as grossly neglectful of their children as the Lurdi. Emerging as slimy, miniature versions of their parents, young Eshal are often spawned on a regular basis, the time of their hatching typically succeeding the mating rites by a few months and hence coinciding with the spawning season of the fish that the Eshal eat. The brood usually comprises of ten eggs which consist equally of males and females.

Any offspring that exhibits signs of physical malformation are immediately sacrificed to some deity or other in order to ensure that they will reincarnate in a healthier from. Their corpses are then eaten by the strongest females and males in order to ensure that their next physical forms will be generated by the strongest adults in the community. The remaining healthy offspring are quickly placed in a communal nursery where females from all the resident families take turns feeding them with fish and seaweed from the village fish traps and plantations. Once they are deemed robust enough, they are then thought to labor in the communal fields and fish traps. They are not taught to distinguish between their own biological parents and the other adults since they like all the other juvenile Eshal, are primarily part of the village shoal which in turn is part of the main shoal, the term that they use to describe the empire.

Eventually, as they begin to physically mature, females are increasingly segregated from males and placed among older females who will teach them sacred rites associated with mysterious female reproductive energies that are not worshipped by male Eshal. These energies are seen to stem directly from the Matriarch herself and hence only females can participate in the religious rites associated with honoring the Matriarch. In a sense, all females are seen as lesser versions of the Matriarch due to their egg-laying capability and are thus treated with some deference by all males, since it is believed that any injury inflicted on a female will hurt the Matriarch herself due to the psychic link that she shares will all females. Whenever a female perishes, a new sacrificial victim must be fed to the Matriarch in order to help repair the damage wrought to her, hence ensuring constant raids to feed the Matriarch. Thus, due to this powerful religious belief, female Eshal are forbidden to ever participate in war.

Eshal material culture

Most Eshal dwellings are simply large, communal mud mounds with a single curved entrance within which the entire village population resides when asleep. A single stone trough is the only utensil in existence and is used to hold the regurgitated fish meal from which all members of the village help themselves. Nursery crèches are similar in design but are somewhat smaller. However, such simple structures are nothing like the vast palaces of the emperor and his siblings. Their administrative and religious seats of power are vast, rectangular buildings erected from vast masses of coral quarried by teams of Eshal peasant levies.

The irregular shaped masses of coral are reduced into rectangular block by skilled Eshal artisans who are paid generously in gold and captives by the high lord. Often reaching to a height of fifty meters, these structures sprawl across the expanse of riverbed, often encompassing vast miles that are enclosed by formidable walls erected from submerged boulders and other rock formations. Massive square doorways lead into these buildings within which vast idols made from stone and gold are displayed prominently. Positioned before each idol is a great stone alter on which captives are sacrificed. These alters are often inlaid with precious stones and pearls and are sculptured to resemble the outstretched, grasping claws of the Eshal goddess tasked with delivering the souls of sacrificial victims to the gods.

The idols themselves are often bedecked with gold and pearl chains. This vast space is the central precinct within which sacred rituals take place. The personal residences of the lord and his mates and other dependents are located within the smaller blocks adjoining the central precinct, while his most humble servants live in classic dome shaped Eshal mud mounds located close to the dwelling of their lord. The lord for his part dwells in one of the largest secondary blocks which contains elaborate carved coral throne inlaid with pearls and gems. Various other coral formations are sculptured to resemble the form of various animals and mythical beasts. These often have a flat surface which is used to support the gem inlaid coral troughs of the lord from which he and his family dine from during the daily mid-day feeding. The largest block of all contains the royal crèche where the emperor’s offspring are raised by his servants who feed them a diet of the most rare fish and crabs until they are old enough to join the rest of the family for the daily meal.

External relations

The Eshal have always been at war with all their neighbors and have reduced most of them to status of defeated rivals, despite the fequent Anura and Curd uprisings. In the past few decades however, human voyagers have seized the outermost fringes of Tarrod from the empire, using deadly steel weapons to lethal effect against the Eshal warriors. However, the perpetually submerged interior has proven impossible for them to conquer. Hence, the empire has largely survived, although the memory of the defeat of imperial armies by invaders from beyond the Vaet ocean, has encouraged some very ambitious imperial war chiefs to revolt against the emperor.

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