Isles of the Shakrim
“The difference between men and beasts is but one of form, in substance they are the same.”
– Sseehllairan Fheelariss Dael Shar Shak-Atall (the First Ever Serpente)
The Isles of the Shakrim exist at the edge of the confluence of the new world and the ages old continent of the Traazorite Empire. Reaching the nine major Isles and the uncounted smaller atolls is a challenge to mariners because of the coral reefs, ever-shifting cloud cover, volcanic rifts and other natural dangers surrounding the rocky shored land masses.
Popular or common knowledge of the Isles is scarce. Bits and pieces of their peoples and history are known to a few rare outsiders who’ve managed to penetrate the Isles’ barriers and return; and to those few on the main lands who’ve survived discovery of a Shakrim in their midst.
Lore speaks of the “Time of the Expulsions” – Shakkala Lik Dael Semperatia – as the origin of their race. Legend holds the First Men were delivered to the Isle of Shakessmai by the evil Iron Men –Dael Taralakaz – in the language of the Shakrim. The First Men arrived on the Isle of Shakessmai and were greeted by the Great Shakkamal, the two headed serpent, who lies beyond the realm of Faelon, encircling the world in its endless coils. Shakkamal took interest in these stranded men calling them the Arrivals – Dael Selekinia – and chose to aid them. Shakkamal blessed the First Men with the Kamal-a-karb, the glorious change.
Shakkamal’s encounters with the First Men lasted for an age that remains shrouded in mythology. Tales are told amongst the Shakrim of the great deeds achieved by the First Men during this Dark Age. Aided by the blessings of Shakkamal they embraced their hostile island home and adapted to its natural laws. They are remembered as the Blessed of Shakkamal – Dael Aurailis Lik Shakkamasala.
One of the Blessed lineage has ruled as the Ever Serpente – Dael Shak-Atall – in unbroken succession from the Arrival to the present day. This leader is believed to be the living embodiment of the Great Shakkamal, the two headed serpent, who lies beyond the realm of Faelon, encircling the world in its endless coils.
When the Second Men were delivered to the Isle of Shakessmai, again by the dread Iron Men, the Shakrim count the end of the First Age, the Age of the Heroic Fathers – Dael Esh Likel Kamir Shakmai. While many deeds of legend are credited to the First Age, the Blessed held a tenuous hold over only a small portion of the Isle of Shakessmai. The only true rule was the law of nature under which only the strong survive. The Second Men also found a world hostile and unmerciful. This world quickly provided two certainties – the weak found death; the strong found adoption amongst the Blessed.
The new blood of the Second Men altered the Blessed and changed them in ways both glorious and malignant. Some of the Blessed stayed apart, stayed pure. Both generations of Arrivals embraced the evolution invoked by the Great Shakkamal. The Shakrim deemed these changes the Will of the Serpente reflecting the duality that is in all things and certainly the Shakrim. Despite accepting their destiny as one people, castes emerged; those pure, the Blessed – Dael Aurailis – and those mingled, the After – Dael Segaru. Upon the mingling of the two generations of Arrivals, the Ever Serpente proclaimed the joined peoples to be the Shakrim, meaning the Entwined – Dael Shakrim,and marked the beginning of a new age.
The Kamal-a-karb took a different route with the After and their offspring. Instead of Dael Atalke-ae-karb, the snake change, the After and their offspring experienced a different blessing – Dael Karb-a-Sarj, the lizard change. The After became bound to the various lizards through the Isles. Unlike the Blessed who remained bound to the various snake species. The Shakrim believe that VInnarasa’s mischievious nature had something to do with the alteration and the After are particularly chaotic in nature as a result. The After also have a particular fondness and closeness in their reverence for Vinnarasa.
During the Second Age, the Shakrim prospered and multiplied. The changes brought about by the Entwining benefited the Shakrim more than not and they spread across the innumerable isles dominating all other species encountered. The remaining eight islands were settled and Shakrim enclaves founded on each. Enclaves are a far stretch from what humans would consider cities yet for the Shakrim they are places where great numbers congregate, society runs its course, and love, commerce and mortality intertwine for the prosperity of the race. Legends also speak of a mysterious tenth Isle known as the Isle of Mist that stands eastward and apart.
Toward the end of the Second Age the Iron Men returned. Early landings brought more arrivals yet few of the newcomers had the strength to find other than death. Lore speaks of only a handful of the Third Men surviving the Isles’ ruthlessness. These later Arrivals are named the Adopted – Dael Lasharinor, and like their predecessors they mingled with the Shakrim being welcomed amongst Dael Segaru.
The Iron Men accompanying the landings of the Third Men found only death. No vessel or crew who entered the waters surrounding the Isles escaped after they stranded their captives. Absent expeditions prompted more voyages. Larger and larger Iron Men expeditions attempted to penetrate the dangers of the Isles changing from deliveries of outcasts to incursions of exploration, exploitation and conquest. Few adventurers, soldiers, zealots or conquerors returned to their own shores. Those few who did share wondrous tales of ageless beauty, instant brutality, strange beasts and priceless treasures. Eventually the Iron Men excursions ceased as tales became exaggerated into legends and few found the stomach to attempt to conquer myths of terror and death. To this day should a lucky mariner reach the shores of any of the more populous Isles a variety of grisly decaying warnings greet them. All demonstrate one promise: death waits those who set foot on the Isles of the Shakrim.
Shakrim loosely translates in Chaler as Snake Kingdom. The Isles have been ruled by a single Ever Serpente since the origin of the race. The Ever Serpente is a hereditary title that has stretched in unbroken line of succession from the first Ever Serpente. The eldest male of the current generation of the Ever Serpente’s family is always placed on the Ever Throne. The Ever Serpente holds titular authority over all Shakrim. The Ever Serpente governs from the Isle of Shakessmai, in the Enclave of the Great Shakkamal.
Shakrim families – Blessed or After – are large, typically numbering 10-12 siblings. The Ever Serpente’s family is Blessed, the pure bred members of the Shakrim that chose not to mingle with the Second Men. The remaining members of the Ever Serpente’s family rule over the major Isles usually the largest or most revered enclave on an island. Should there still be offspring from the Ever Serpente’s brood left, they are sent to foreign lands to establish enclaves or lead other service to the Ever Serpente. Lesser Blessed families are given ruling authority at the behest of the Ever Serpente, in particular if current living members of the Ever Serpente’s family are small in number. Shakrim rulers hold office for life unless removed by the Ever Serpente or contested by other Shakrim. A short list of titles extend in rank down from the Ever Serpente depending on the size of, or reverence for, the ruling position in question.
In 1008, Sseekaillan Mannelassar Dael Sataes is Ever Serpente of the Isles of the Shakrim.
The primary Shakrim heraldry is a red two pronged arrow facing upward on a field of forest green. The arrow symbolizes the forked tongue of the serpent peoples of the Shakrim. It also symbolizes the divinity of the Great Shakkamal, god of the Shakrim. This emblem also represents the duality of the uraeusanthropic (were-snake) and sauroanthropic (were-lizard) blessings of Shakkamal upon the Shakrim, who are both humans and serpents. The forest green field also represents dual themes: the pre-dominate skin color of the Blessed and the deep forests dominating the Isles of the Shakrim. It is also the personal standard of the Ever Serpente.
The Shakrim military is a mixed force reflecting the varied nature of the Shakrim, their fierce independence, and hunting orientation. Males and females may serve equally. Units and leadership are drawn up by brood, enclave and Isle. The entire range of racial variation – pure humans alongside uraeus- and sauro-anthropic next to aberrations somewhere in between – will be present. Shakrim do not striate units by breed or subspecies. Blessed tend to form elite units or specialist troop types operating in smaller numbers or individually (if infiltrating or scouting). The After tend to generate the rank and file soldiers in larger scale units.
Due to the active harmony Shakrim have with nature, armies may also be comprised of a wide variety of serpent or reptilian enlistees. These units can range from large harnessed lizards to swarms of smaller reptiles and serpents to flyers and gliders to rider mounted beasts. Additionally, all forms of part-human part beast hybrids ranging widely in intelligence and capabilities can be deployed. A small number of horses have been captured during various incursions and bred for traditional purposes.
Shakrim are capable of fielding effective operations in all climates. They prefer raiding, sabotage, specialized strikes, etc. to full open field warfare. Acclimatised to wooded and aquatic environments, they excel in operations in these settings. Cold climates present challenges given the cold-blooded nature of much their populations. In such situations, force sizes and composition can be quite limited, down to only purer human or full uraeus- and sauro-anthropic variants.
Armaments include natural and artificial components. Artificial components generally tend toward leather, hide, scale or chain armor, and shields, spears, side-arms and bows. Just about any form of “pointy” shooting or stabbing implement can be found. A significant portion of weaponry contains a wide array of poisons and toxins. Weapons are plentiful and ever at the ready in the Shakrim climate of survival of the fittest. As a result, large military elements can be fielded with very minimal notice.
The core of the military is an irregular mass of militia assembled from a volunteer population. Missile troops are prevalent. Skirmishers are numerous and highly effective on foot or mounted. Mounted troops are rare comprised principally of light cavalry (armed like the infantry) using horses; or ultra heavy shock cavalry borne by a partially domesticated form of velozar. Shock cavalry are typically not armed with missile weapons. The Ever Serpente and higher authority rulers maintain standing armies of organised well drilled units of Blessed in which more sophisticated and consistent forms of armour and armaments can be found.
Shakrim naval forces tend to smaller lighter faster drafts. Drawn from the general population no significant ocean going vessels exist. Instead naval efforts are geared toward raiding, piracy, sabotage, etc. much like their preferred military tactics. When large scale tactics are required, Shakrim tend to swarm their opponents with thousands of smaller craft initiating boarding actions whenever possible. They then pillage and sink any captured vessels.
The Shakrim worship Shakkamal, the two headed serpent, who lies beyond the realm of Faelon, encircling the world in its endless coils who is god of survival and consumption; and Vinnarasa, goddess of fertility and healing. Religion is steeped in symbolism associated with duality. Shakrim are both human and beast. Shakkamal embodies the masculine and Vinnarasa the feminine. Shakkamal embodies the beast, predominately portrayed as a perfectly formed human male, or a large crocodile, or something in between; wearing a crown of golden leaves, the armour of a warrior and the spear and bow of a hunter. Vinnarasa embodies the human predominately portrayed as a beautiful human female, or a large hooded cobra, or something in between; wearing a silver circlet, sheer green silk robes and bearing a shimmering ivory and silver staff. Shakkamal is the father and the protector characterised as the provider and possessed of great wisdom. Vinnarasa is the mother and the healer characterised as a nurturer yet possessed of savage emotions.
A host of lesser spirits is found in reverence throughout the enclaves. They include lesser deities or offspring of the Great Shakkamal, revered ancestors or heroes, and many simple spirits of nature. Most have small homage paid to them beside the Great Shakkamal. In rare instances elements of splinter cults have been unearthed. These cults have a common theme revolving around a terrifying and evil being known as Faralaka – The Burning Man, Enemy of Shakkamal and Vinnarasa and the representation of death. Shakrim priests relate myths dating back to the first Arrivals that speak of a horrible blazing being that strode at the head of the Iron Men slaughtering the Arrivals. Tales tell of occasions when the Sun rode unusually hot in the sky and the Burning Man would return to ravage the Isles at the head of a fleet of Iron Men.
Religious days coincide with the appearance of the great constellation in the night sky. The Harraamakar (The Yawning Mouth) represents Shakkamal and worshippers see the cluster of lights as the wide open mouth of their patron. Additional holy days coincide with changes in the cycles of nature.
Burial rituals are either a “return to nature”, “endowment to the earth”, or “given to the sea”. The aged or infirm wander off into the wild to be absorbed back into the cycle of nature. Blessed have a tendency to place dead in earthen barrows where the land eventually reclaims the body. Aquatic oriented species bury their dead at sea. Rituals tend to be personal affairs distinctly lacking in ceremony or pomp.
View of Outsiders
The Shakrim view outsiders as oppressors, oppressed or food. Slavery doesn’t exist. Reactions vary based upon the presence of outsiders in the Isles or the presence of Shakrim outside the Isles.
Inside the Isles, Shakrim react with savage violence to potential or existing oppressors. Shakrim typically allow the oppressed the chance to demonstrate strength, value or survivability. Those worthy are often adopted into the broods (or eaten if they refuse).
Outside the Isles people are still judged as oppressor or oppressed. Oppressors are avoided, or killed (and/or eaten). Oppressed are tolerated, sometimes befriended, sometimes adopted or maybe just eaten.
The Blessings of Shakkamal are believed to be an unknown mystical event (or events) between a mythical being and the first men deported to the Isle of Shakessmai by the Traazarite Empire. Shakrim stem from the race of Chaalor. The resulting impact of this event or events is the installation of a therianthropic element into those stranded humans creating a race of half-human/half-snake were-serpents. Shakrim are predominately exothermic (internal body temperatures can vary widely) yet more human representations can be endothermic (maintaining a constant body temperature).
A majority of the Shakrim, especially the After and the Adopted, exhibit no signs of therianthropy. The presence, strength and racial direction of the “were” element will vary greatly by age, purity, breeding and numerous other elements. Non-therianthropic Shakrim may possess attributes belonging to reptiles – forked tongues, slitted pupils, reptilian coloration, etc. Dormant or late triggered therianthropic can occur and stories exist of Vinnarasa blessing non-therianthropes high in her regard.
The Blessed – being the least diluted bloodline since the original Blessings were bestowed– are more frequently therianthropic and exclusively were-serpents when therianthropy is present. Blessed represent a vast array of differing breeds of snakes.
The After are characterised by greater degrees of defects in young and can produce a wide array of deviant characteristics from pure reptiles to pure humans to non-therianthropic half-breeds to pure animal strains.
Shakrim bear live young and are therefore ovoviviparous. Newborns occur in batches of 5-27 young. Blessed tend to smaller broods and After larger ones. When in therianthropic form, the Shakrim are capable, albeit rarely, to proliferate with the appropriate reptilian species.
Mating Rituals and Customs
The Shakrim greet each other by bearing their teeth, opening their mouths and speaking: “Blessed be the Great Shakkamal, the two headed serpent, who lies beyond the realm of Faelon, encircling the world in its endless coils”. The mood of Shakrim can be seen in the coloration and formation of teeth and tongue. This style of greeting reveals a physically verifiable statement of Shakrim intent.
Mating rituals are brief and simplistic. In courtship, the male states his intent to the head of the female’s brood. Gifts, accomplishments or ancestry can all be used to show the strength and worth of the appealing male. Should approval be received then the female can accept, or dispute. In disputing the female must fight the male and drive them away, or find suitors that will do so for her. Many an unwilling bride-to-be has been known to find subtler and more poisonous ways to end an interest.
Males can be polygamous or monogamous without discretion, although the Blessed tend toward monogamy. Females tend to attach to a single male with only a few rare instances of more polygamous circumstances. No significant formal rituals exist for marriage as the naturalistic bent of the Shakrim lends itself more towards simple mating.
The Shakrim remain close to nature with “frontiersmen-like” behavior pursuing hunting, athleticism, and martial prowess. Justice is at the decree of the local ruler or can be adjudicated by combat. A significant gladiatorial influence, lethal and non-lethal, runs through society for both entertainment and resolution of civil matters.
What is valued by this society?
Shakrim believe every person is the absolute owner of their own life and should be free to do whatever they wish with person or property, as long as they respect the liberty of others. They support only a minimum amount of governmental authority because they believe it necessary to ensure maximum individual freedom. Shakrim favour an ethic of self-responsibility and strongly oppose a welfare state. Forcing someone to aid to others is ethically wrong and ultimately counter-productive. Shakrim do not oppose force used in response to aggression (including preempting predicted aggression). Shakrim strongly oppose conscription because no one should be forced to fight a war they oppose.
Counter-balancing these anti-governmental sentiments is a strong connection to nature and the brood. Being part-man and part-beast, society can be characterised as animalistic. Broods are large and self-managed. They own responsibility for assignments given by the Ever Serpente, and providing for members including the elder and infirm.
In society, males and females occupy any station with certain exceptions. Males occupy ruling positions. Females occupy religious and mercantile stations.
Shakrim operate an economy based on barter, trade and service. Little exists in the way of currency with items being worth their weight rather than symbolic representation. The Ever Serpent and rulers of the nine Isles smelt their own markers. Typically made of gold or other precious metal, these items are nominated a value by the originator and can be used in payment for goods and services. They can also be redeemed with the originator in return for equivalent goods and services. Value is whatever an individual or group assigns as worth therefore a wide free market system prevails.
The geography of the Isles fall into two categories. Southern islands are comprised of limestone with level terraces and fringing coral reefs. Northern islands are volcanic with active volcanoes on two islands creating the mists veiling all the islands. One fifth of the land is arable, another tenth permanent pasture and the remaining covered in dense vegetation. Island structure is a narrow coastal plain often interrupted with high cliffs leading to volcanic rocky rugged mountainous interiors. The primary natural resource is fish. The islands have a mild tropical marine climate moderated by seasonal trade winds. Little temperature variation occurs between the dry and rainy seasons. Natural hazards include monsoons, torrential rain creating landslides, active volcanism, a plethora of wildlife, and of course the Shakrim themselves.