The Shelled Ones
The Shelled Ones are a littoral race found mainly along the Necklace of Plenty. Since the destruction of Port Linlin they have thrived along Oksa's northern shores.
Those humans who encounter them report that the Shelled Ones are hulking crab-like creatures, walking upright but on four crab-like legs, each with three joints. They have two sets of arms, similarly jointed; one pair ending in hand-like appendages, and the other ending in fearsome claws. The whole of the Shelled One's upper body is covered by a blue-grey carapace as hard as steel. On the lower body, this carapace forms overlapping joints, and a lobster-like fluked tail hangs down behind their legs.
Their heads are small and triangular, jutting forwards slightly at the top of the thorax. Two tiny black eyes are centrally placed, and the creatures seem to find their way more with the great whip-like antennae that protrude from the tops of their heads. Their mouth-parts are complex, consisting of large feathery gathering parts, small gripping parts and nipping parts.
These brutes make occasional forays onto land (moreso in the spring), where they indulge in an orgy of destruction. They are little more than killing machines, showing no mercy to young or old alike. They do not appear to seek material gain, as they take nothing during these raids. Dealing death seems to be their only purpose.
Although seemingly unintelligent, the Shelled Ones wield weapons made of a material that has become known as Sea-bone. This looks like chalky, shell-like material but is as hard as steel and where it has been shaped into cutting weapons (pole-axes seem to be a favourite) it keeps its edge. These weapons are oddly shaped, and appear to be made as one whole piece. If not soaked in sea water for at least once a week they become brittle and crumble away to dust rapidly.
Sometimes, a smaller variety of Shelled One has been spotted. These are slighter than the others, with a smaller thoracic carapace and have hands instead of claws. They never engage in combat, but appear to be directing or supporting the others. It is conjectured that these are the females of the species.
The Shelled Ones have never been known to talk, or indeed make any sound except for the clicking of their mouthpieces which seems to be incidental rather than deliberate. "Shelled One" is a human term for them. "Crab-men" is also used sometimes.
The True Nature of the Shelled Ones
The creature described above as a "female" is in fact the standard form of the Shelled Ones, and is male. Female Shelled Ones are sedentary creatures, and actually resemble a giant barnacle. The ferocious warrior creatures that ravage the coastal villages are Shelled One males who have undergone a ceremony to become "The Shriven". They are suicide warriors giving their lives to save their females.
The Shelled Ones like to live in rocky areas just off the shore, as they are unable to survive in deep waters. Rocky shoals or coral reefs are carved and built into shelters and twisted mazes of tunnels. Food, in the form of algae, and soft-bodied animals like sea anemone and sea slugs, are grown and farmed on the walls of these tunnels. Smaller fish are encouraged by the lack of larger predatory fish, and the depletions caused by the Shelled One fishers are not enough to drive them away. All in all, the Shelled Ones find survival very easy.
As mentioned above, the female Shelled Ones are static creatures, akin to a barnacle about four foot tall. A young female is mobile, but very soon plants herself on a rock and begins to form her shell. Shelled One colonies gather the females together in one chamber, known as the Chamber of the Queens. This chamber is located deep in the colony for protection, but is engineered to give a high flow-through of water, since the females are filter feeders.
Oddly, although an individual female is near mindless, the collection of females forms what is termed a Queen Spirit. The Chamber of the Queens is inhabited by a spiritual intelligence that guides the tribe. Since it is a council all by itself, decisions are usually fair and never dictatorial, although obviously all the females have the same interest in the rest of the colony taking care of them.
The Queen Spirit is a source of tremendous magical power for the Shelled Ones, and a lot of their lives are governed by rituals for directing this power. As well as ensuring the safety and well-being of the colony, one of the major events in the Shelled One calendar is Communion - the mating season. From the second full moon of the year until the third, the male Shelled Ones compete in a month long ritual, consisting of contests of all kinds to determine who has the right to engage in the mating ritual with the Queens.
For the Shelled Ones, mating simply consists of dumping egg and sperm into the water and letting the currents do the rest, although the ritual itself becomes a great frenzied dance by the males in the Chamber of Queens, accompanied by the exhaltation of the Queen Spirit. The Communion not only produces all the little Shelled Ones, it re-affirms the unity of the Colony for another year.
Those males who won the contest to become "consorts" of the Queens remain as favoured advisors and messengers to the Queen Spirit throughout the next year.
All names given to Shelled One cultural items are approximations. The people themselves use sign language to communicate, along with subtle colour changes and some scent. The Queen Spirit talks directly to the soul.
There are rumours amongst the Shelled Ones of "The Deepest", a renegade offshoot living in the blackest depths of the oceans. The Deepest are evil outcasts, shunned by and shunning those who live in the upper and middle waters of the world. The Deepest are said to create Shriven without removing their souls, and their Seabone is of such exceptional strength (due to the pressure) that it can slice through stone as easily as through water. Fortunately, they are said to be only legend....