Hesha

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Overview

“The Sea is untameable, inevitable, unpredictable, and unforgettable. And thus the Sea shows us
what we could be, if we only yet live by her example.”

– Last verse of the Hesha song, The True Queen

Mysteries tend to dwell within the deeps of the world – beneath the surfaces in the dark. We instinctively shy away from deep woods, deep caves, and deep waters. We know there are places we are not welcome; where we are not adapted to survive. To the southeast of the known world lies a broken coastline containing thousands of fragments of land in the waters. Islands, archipelagos, peninsulas, and fjords make the Heshan lands a daunting place to those not familiar with the sea. Many consider the only roads worth using to be the currents in the water, and the most common means of transportation and travel is by boat, skiff, or ship. The Hesha have made the waters their home, but they know to stay to the surface whenever they can, for the deeps hold horrors and secrets. The Broken Coast is what remains of the former kingdom of Hestralia and the southwestern portion of the deserts known long ago as Sha’ra. These places were weighty with ancient magics and forgotten treasures even before the Calamity shook the foundations of the earth. Now, even more lies buried.

In these lands, a person’s worth is determined by their bravery, achievements, and great deeds. If you have done nothing worthy of rumor, song, or celebration, then you are too easily forgotten, and to be forgotten is truly what death is. To be truly memorable is to make a life upon the sea, moving from place to place, never staying still, raiding, treasure – seeking, fighting, and making a name for yourself. While some of the Hesha do stay landlocked, tending to trades upon the earth, they are looked upon by society with a complex mixture of disdain, resentment, appreciation, and contempt. For while these people are often performing necessary trades, they are also associated with being weak and sick, and unable to earn any sort of real glory. Thus, they can never really earn a history or legacy. 

There is a great reverence for water here, but that reverence comes in two flavors – fear and wonder. The sea is considered a dangerous graveyard and a portal to the underworld, and yet it also teems with life – fish to eat and a means of travel to enrich one’s life make it beyond precious. The sea is to be respected, for it is necessary for survival, but it can never be tamed – just like death itself. On the other hand, fresh water is viewed with something akin to worship, for it is the other side of water – life – giving with the ability to kill. To drink a little is necessary. To swallow too much is to drown. Water is seen as a means of reflection externally as well as internally, and many practitioners of the Path use water in their rituals and rites. 

 

These people are thirsty in many ways, and fame and glory are chief among them. In a place where so much focus is placed on one’s highest and most complete self, there is much weight placed on the value and prowess of the individual. Many ways present themselves in which to prove your worth, and the Hesha people do love a good knife or sword fight, sailing competition, wrestling match, or battle of wits. Wagers and gambling are as common among the canals of the sinking cities as are hustles and thefts from the unwary.

The Hesha have had to nurture this ingrained sense of bravado, for their lands are firmly under the control of the Triumverati, cultists and followers of one of the three most malevolent forces known to man. While the Kuarlites, the cultists of Kuarl: God of Blood and Slaughter, tend to hold sway to the northwest, Heshan society is dominated by the Tarranthists and the Lazarines. Lazarolth is known as the God of Death and Secrets, while Tarranthalus is the God of Power and Desire. Ghost ships piloted by necrotic crew hunt the seas and coasts for victims for their atrocious acts and rites. The seabed is said to roil with countless dead – possibly in the millions – able to be stirred to act by Malefic forces or by enterprising Lazarines. True monsters of the deep treat humans as a preferred food, and even the more standard creatures of the sea such as sharks, squid, and jellyfish are more numerous and bloodthirsty than elsewhere. Tarranthist pirate kings and queens command vast armadas and lay claim to entire islands and sections of coastline, competing with each other to pillage whatever they can get away with – earning ever greater notoriety by outdoing each other in acts of cruelty and peril. Some Hesha find it is best to throw in their lots with the most legendary of these infamous leaders, the better to be on the winning side. Others prefer to go it on their own, rather than be overshadowed by these cultist antagonist leaders. Whatever one’s allegiance, the standing of a Hesha is tied to their bravery, cunning, swagger, and honor. They are as powerful as what they can get away with. Their names are as resounding as their deeds. And in these shattered lands, your name is everything. 

History

“Beneath the waves an army grows – 
Shadows slinking between seaweed rows,
But here, above, is bright and blue,
And this as well belongs to you.”

– A Hesha Lullaby

When the Empire of the Throne of God on Earth began to show its first cracks – the invasions of the western lands, the betrayals in the north – the old kingdom of Hestralia paused and its ruler took time to examine the situation with a cool head. The country had long ago been founded by merchant lords of the sea and pirate kings. Opportunism and pragmatic strategy ran deep in their collective history and continues to this day. While a part of the Throne, Hestralia had always been primarily concerned with what was most advantageous to Hestralia – though even that may be a bit too generous. Truly, Hestralia had always been primarily concerned with what was most advantageous to the ruling powers. Being on the winning side, and doing so with style, was of great importance. For what use are principles, loyalty, and virtue if one is conquered or killed? Better to survive and prevail, and after that, of course, niceties such as ethics can follow. 

Conflict surrounded the cosmopolitan kingdom at the time. For while the Throne insisted upon troops, resources, and aid from all corners of the Empire to assist in defending the western country of Rogalia (beleaguered by Kuarlite, Njord, and Dunnick attacks from almost all sides), Hestralia’s neighbors to the northeast, the Capacionne, were dealing with sudden invasion from the Shariqyn to the east. The Shariqyn, being the one known human holdout to the expansion of the Throne, had been waiting for an opportunity to strike and take back border lands they still considered theirs, and push into the fertile lands of Capacionne. The Throne being distracted by its most towering and deadly threat to date provided just such a chance. Capacionne tried to send what aid to Rogalia and Gotha that it could, but its contributions did not seem to amount to much as it also struggled to maintain its own safety. In an attempt to send more troops and food, while still defending their borders, Capacionne asked for aid from Hestralia as well. For if Hestralia was having difficulty sparing troops and ships for the long journey to Rogalia, perhaps they would be more willing to assist their wealthy neighbor in keeping threats out that were more proximate to them as well. In short, Capacionne appealed to the self – interest of Hestralia, and offered handsome trade and resources in exchange for relief and cooperation. Though they obviously shared allegiance to the Throne, the Capacians also understood the benefit of sweetening the pot. 

The specifics of what exactly occurred next are lost to history. It is speculated that the Capacian offer and request came either too late or was intercepted. Some historians believe that Hestralia simply got a much better deal from the Shariqyn. What is known is that while war raged and burned throughout the known world, Hestralia sat and did almost nothing to raise a hand to assist or defend its neighbors, and as a result, the Shariqyn pressed on into the Throne causing further bloodshed and fracturing of the Throne’s resources. Now, it may not be fair to say that Hestralia did nothing to assist its neighbors. Hestralian ships brought supplies, at a cost, to imperial ports, but rarely any troops or manpower; mercenary groups and private fleets were contracted by the Throne, and would work for the highest bidders; and, later, accounts tell of Hestralian forces coming to the battlefield almost always too late. As a whole, however, there is little dispute that Hestralia’s contributions to the war effort were quite minimal.

When the seat of the Empire in Gotha fell to the overwhelming forces of the Kuarlite – led armies, the result was that many outlying countries called their forces back and retreated, growing more insular and attempting to protect what was theirs. Many ruling families and nobility in the Hestrali kingdom barricaded themselves in the Drowned Citadel, the ancient elven fortress mostly submerged beneath the waters within the capital city of Aquila, including much of the ruling family at the time: House Miranti. And the enemy forces did come. Kuarlite raids began in earnest through the regions of Motanara and into Etruvia. Villages and smaller cities were left to fight for themselves, and many were easy pickings for the ravenous and inhuman invading forces. However, some of the ancient and powerful merchant families among the Hestralian nobility remained outside the Drowned Citadel and pushed back. Notably, House Dilacorvo, itself a former ruling family with a legendary heritage, stubbornly remained sailing along the coasts; and sent brigades of fighters inland to provide key support to allied cities and conduct guerrilla attacks on the Kuarlites. Leonello Dilacorvo and his cousin Nicolosa Sottocorvo are particularly celebrated for their brilliant naval battle strategies involving deception, intimate knowledge of every inlet and cranny of the coastline, liberal use of artillery, and armored ships that through some feat of engineering still managed to remain quick and maneuverable. To this day, people view the crow as a sign of good fortune and consider the symbol of the crow to denote cleverness, guile, and a rebellious bravery. 

Regardless of whether or not Hestralia was in a mess of its own making, the reality was that the country was on its own. With the Throne collapsing, and Gotha overrun with enemy forces, no help would be coming to assist the Hestrali from beyond its borders. Faced with immense pressures and dwindling war supplies, a declaration of independence from the Throne was issued and Hestralia declared itself a sovereign country once again. This was a largely symbolic act, however, and it’s unclear if the other nobility in Aquila even knew about the issuance of the proclamation. 

The next order of business was tending to supplies, and thus Hestralia invaded the struggling Capacionne. The ravens sent ahead of the armies to the Capacian nobility indicated that Hestralia was coming to their aid to defend against the ongoing Shariqyn incursion. But in reality, the Hestrali forces fought against just as many Capacians as Shariqyn. After many years of battles, Capacionne ended as a vassal state to the kingdom of Hestralia, and while the forces of the Shariqyn were indeed mostly repelled, the lush lands and numerous resources of the Capacionne began to be stripped for much – needed lumber, food, and metals. This turned the eyes of Sha’ra upon Hestralia in earnest, and when the Padishah Emperor of Sha’ra was assassinated, the kingdom was blamed and found itself once again at war, and without a friend in sight. 

However, if one has money, friends can be bought, even if only temporarily. And the relative wealth of the Hestrali – Capacian lands, combined with their fleets of trading ships ensured that people very much still wanted to deal with the Hestrali. Exchange occurred frequently with the Shariqyn as well, despite the tense atmosphere and frequent attacks. The sea was considered fairly neutral territory, and the Hestrali weren’t going to let a thing as little as war stop them from making profitable trades. 

Later, when the Calamity hit, no one was prepared, and the kingdom of Hestrali was hit particularly hard. Waters receded suddenly and abruptly from the shores, as though a giant had tipped the world on its side and cleared away the waters. Then, with tremendous, surging force, what seemed like all the water of the world came rushing back to drown everything. Volcanoes erupted, the earth shook, toppling not just buildings – but also mountains. It seemed as though the very air was made of screams as half of the population of Hestralia was crushed beneath the waters as the land itself split and broke apart. Once a large continent which had jutted out into the water, the kingdom was now thousands of shards of land. 

When the dead refused to stay in the earth and the sea, it was not only terror that gripped humanity around the throat. There was joy. There was curiosity. There was deep concern. What records can be found of those times speak to the broad array of human emotions in a time of extreme change, spiritual crisis, and uncertainty. However, the deep problem that quickly became evident was that it was not merely the recently dead that came back. No. In the wake of global wars, unprecedented slaughter, and a series of natural catastrophes that decimated the population, the long dead rose as well – in numbers that threatened to overwhelm those still living. These long dead did not come back as themselves. They came back as hollowed Malefic. It is estimated that during this time, the number of dead walking the earth far outweighed the living by a factor of three to one. It is unclear in these modern days if this factor has decreased or increased. 

Many of the Triumverati took it upon themselves to lead further assaults and power grabs during these times of panic and horror. Kuarlite forces again and again attempted to overtake the city of Aquila and the ports of Hestralia. The citizens of Aquila successfully defended themselves again and again using the ancient elven defenses of the Drowned Citadel as well as more modern devices and ingenuity. But it increasingly had become clear that they were no longer planning to take responsibility for the kingdom beyond their walls. It was a different force altogether that came to the defense of the Hestralian people. The cultists of Tarranthalus seized power openly in the cities that still stood within Hestralia and the scattered remains of coastal Sha’ra. Refugees from all over the shattered coasts and flooded lands desperately gathered in the shadows of these powerful new leaders. And with each assault of the Kuarlites the Tarranthists halted and overcame, the stronger they would become. It was these cultists who would lay the foundations for Pirate Royalty, mayors, governors, and overlords that would remain in charge for countless years to follow. They were not kind, and they were not merciful, but they were strong. It resonated with the populace that those who could lead would do so, and those who could not would not. Therefore, if one had a problem with how things were run, they either had an obligation to try to take control, or keep their mouth shut. 

As the years continued to pass, more people migrated to what was now Heshan, for the various tongues and languages conglomerated in the area lead to a new pronunciation over the generations. The tantalizing allure of tyrannical freedom caused many to settle, and many to take to the seas as part of families, crews, and armadas that substituted for holdings. Not one to stay down for long, the people who stayed in these broken lands got up and did what they knew best – take what they needed. 

Ethics & Values

“The weak look for joy. I look for victory.”

– Originally attributed to Leonello Dilacorvo,
 but now a common boast

There are those who think of the Hesha as short – sighted hedonists, rash and impudent, only caring for the momentary pleasures that they can scrape from a wicked world. But as with all things, the truth becomes more complex as you dig deeper. Some of the misunderstandings surrounding them are due to their insular nature. The Hesha are incredibly family – oriented, and consider all who served on a ship’s crew with them as part of their family. That is why many Hesha believe that the reputation of a ship is based on the sum of the actions of the crew. If one of them does something dishonorable or against their code, it reflects upon the crew as a whole – just as one’s deeds and glory reflect on their own family name. The emphasis on familial and communal connections can be heard when they introduce themselves formally – a traditional Hesha surname is the name of the first ship they sailed with (and which is often the ship they were born on), followed by the names of the ships they have served on since then. In this way they carry with them their family, even if the wide waters never deign to bring them back together with them.

Of course, an outsider might be excused from understanding what those lengthy surnames mean – especially since they are often overshadowed by the long list of titles that most Hesha attach to their name. A name such as Bianca Rosario a Blackfly a Sabine, Wave Rider, Navigator of Storms, Wielder of Skullcrusher and Destroyer of the Blackclaw is not unusual among them, and is certainly not the longest. 

Such titles are meant to highlight the deeds that each person has accomplished and are often granted by their captains, but they do make formal introductions a lengthy affair. After all, a Hesha’s worth is often tied to their accomplishments, and few among the Hesha will give up the chance to share why their name should be remembered. These lengthy titles also represent an important and nebulous concept of the Hesha – that of honor and earning your place in society. A name illustrates the kind of person you are. A name represents the respect and esteem that you have earned in society through your own actions, and this honor is very precious, especially when it affects the people close to you. A crew that follows a captain of innumerable brave deeds is themselves more meritorious as a result. A mother who has a famous son is looked upon more favorably by society. A man’s word is only as good as his honor and his name, and Hesha take any insult to either as an injury that needs to be repaid in blood.

Examples of common given names among the Hesha are Valentina, Nezetta, Fatima, Rahil, and Salvaza for feminine names; and Santino, Lodovigo, Salim, Mishal, and Nicolo for masculine names.

The fact that titles are granted by captains and derive from ships makes it difficult for those Hesha who are born on and live on the land of the coast and islands to achieve much in society without going to sea themselves. It is common for most Hesha to serve on a ship at some point in their life in order to earn a surname, a service which is made all the easier by the lack of nepotism in society. If you cannot earn something for yourself, or live up to the deeds of your family, then you do not deserve elevated positions. It doesn’t matter who someone is, what they look like, or what gender they are, as long as they have the skills necessary for the job. This idea is a key part of Hesha culture and society, and it is considered weak and foolhardy to follow someone who isn’t the best person for the job – even if they are your captain.

The Heshan concept of time is perhaps one of the more frustrating things for outsiders when interacting with them. Time is considered to be more of a guideline, and due dates are very soft. After all, travel times can vary significantly based on storms, currents, and other navigational factors, and of course every Hesha understands that sometimes there needs to be side trips and opportunities to seize an advantage or lead. Everything arrives eventually, or it doesn’t at all, and there’s not much to be done to change that fact. As a culture, the Heshan people don’t tend to like the idea of being controlled by outside forces, and time is no exception. They refuse to be a slave to anything, and people who seem obsessed with having their day be dictated by the positioning of the sun in the sky shouldn’t be taken too seriously. Besides, there are far greater things to worry about out on the isolation of waters that can turn deadly in the darkness of a stormcloud. Knowing that one is days away from safety, and is floating above millions of malefic creatures yearning to tear them apart, does tend to make one care more about matters of practicality than politeness.

That desire for control over oneself is also at the core of the Hesha self image. They can easily be described as a fiercely independent people, especially with their focus on being a meritocracy. If your leader is incompetent, it is the responsibility of the followers to oust them. There is no glory to be had in seizing a position you are ill equipped for, but if you’re the better person for the role, by all means, take it. Freedom to choose one’s place in the world, and the freedom to go where one pleases is a value that means a lot to the Heshan people. However, like one sees in nearly all societies, there is a difference between what is the ideal, and what is reality. Many of the Hesha find themselves under the brutal and strict control of ruthless Triumverati and pirates who are more powerful than most could ever hope to be. They may be bound for generations in serving these tyrannical overlords, but that promise of potential – of perhaps someday being able to stand at the forefront, to win triumph, riches, and an everlasting name – allows many to contentedly lie in wait. Many. But not all. 

Geography & Architecture

“Never open a door you can’t close behind you.”

Hesha proverb

The Heshan people make their home among the broken coastline at the southeast edge of the known world. The land here is shattered, with hundreds, if not thousands, of small islands and peninsulas. Many settlements and fortresses span several small islands, the larger ones held together and linked by bridges and arches – but many are only accessible by boat or skiff.

Interestingly, to hear a Hesha tell of their land, they will describe many of the islands and coastal regions as quite dry, rocky, and infertile. This means that much of the means of production and materials that people need for survival must be traded or raided. However, Heshan lands often tend to be sunny, bright, and in parts almost tropical in their climate, with some notable exceptions. If there was more honor associated with living an agricultural life and tending to the soil, they might not have to take from the surrounding world as much.

But that is not the way of things.

Major Territories

Vigevano

On the edge of the infamous Black Spot and the Sea of Ink to the northwest, Vigevano is a lantern against the darkness. The island itself is considered neutral territory, with all forms of violence banned within its bounds – although the floating platforms within its bay are considered excluded from this ban and are the site of many duels of honor.

The island is old, and is built in a series of terraced steps that cascade down to the wine – dark sea below – each new generation building upwards on the ruins of the last. The business of Vigevano is trade and revelry, and crews of Hesha pack the narrow streets at all hours of the day and night – looking for another place to trade their hard – won treasure for pleasure of all sorts. But many stay to the outer regions and avoid the center – for there lies the court of Melete, the ink – stained witch. Her court holds pleasures and sensations the like of which are only found in dreams – but at a price. Those who cannot pay are marked with her ink and doomed to follow her will whenever she asks, no matter how far away they may be.

Beyond the raucous noise of merrymaking stretches the Sea of Ink, and the Black Spot – a terrifying region where the sun never pierces the clouds. Heavy fog surrounds the area even in the heat of summer, as if it was held there by the same currents that carry wrecks and corpses to the center of the Spot. The fog is known to hide hundreds of wrecked vessels whose half – rotted masts loom out of the water like trees in a forest – and it is rumored that it hides other, stranger things, beasts of shadow and liquid darkness and ships that shine with ghostly green light. There are no known villages or settlements in the area of the Black Spot, and yet sightings of strange fishermen and people persist, making one wonder what manner of people would choose to live in such surroundings.

Mirror Reef

The Mirror Reef is a disorienting place that reportedly received its name from the way the multitude of temple lights shine across the sea, reflecting in the waters to appear as a dizzying array of stars beneath the heavens above. The effect is especially mystifying to far – off ships. Others believe that it is a place of self – examination and reflection, for those who are spiritually lost may come to the Mirror Reef seeking answers from the multitudes of shrines and temples that exist here. There is also the possibility that it was named for the captain and crew of the ship, The Shattered Mirror, who first claimed this cluster of islands.

But however it was named, everyone agrees on the rest of the story. Several hundreds of years ago, a small Hesha boat managed to successfully raid a large village far to the north. The treasures they made off with were marvelous, and included an impressive idol carved from a blue – grey crystal that shone like the ice. But when it came time to divide up the share of the loot, no one felt comfortable taking the idol as their share. In fact, several crew members felt that having such an object aboard might draw its fair share of bad luck – if stealing it hadn’t done so already.

So the crew instead looked for a new home for their treasure, and found it on series of small rocky islands without much else to recommend them besides the peacefulness of the seas around them. They ensconced their idol there and returned regularly to bring it offerings, improve its shrine, and show other crews the wonderful thing that they had managed to steal. 

Soon others started bringing idols that they found as well, as much for bragging rights as any sort of superstition, and true believers built their own shrines to represent the gods and spirits that they followed. And as some members of the crew that built the first shrine got older they decided to make their home on shore, taking care of the idols that had brought them so much luck throughout their lives.

Today, Mirror Reef holds more than a thousand temples of all shapes and sizes, and the small series of rocky islands have been bridged together and expanded with both floating platforms and material brought from elsewhere. Many of the larger cults have a small presence on the island, although the lack of a natural spring and little rainfall means that they are mostly dependent on goods and tribute brought from those visiting.

Le Gemelli

“The twins stand alone” is the unofficial motto of the Gemelli islands. These islands in the middle of the Hestronne sea were once equidistant between countries in the old throne, and the people there say that the buildings from bygone ages that dot their shores are all that remain of the variety of ancient cultures who tried to lay claim upon them.

There are many more than two islands that make up the twins, but the area receives its name from the two largest land masses – two halves of what was once a great crescent before the Calamity. Between them a narrow body of water stretches, filled with carnivorous eels that can grow as large as some horses, and over which the ruler of Gemelli holds some sort of strange power. It is believed that over the years many attempts have been made to build some sort of bridge or structure linking the two island halves, but each endeavor has met with disastrous failure. Now, it is considered a rite of passage or test of bravery to try to make the swim between the islands.

Ruled over by the King Bezio Longtooth Gemelli a Asilo a Foxtail, Admiral of the Hestronne and Tamer of the Great Eels, the crews that swear their allegiance to Gemelli are known for their aloofness. Few among them partner with other ships of the Hesha, and often will raid former allies at the drop of a hat. This has not earned them many friends, and as a consequence, many other crews refuse to stay in dock near a Gemelli ship.

Thousand Cuts

To the south, near the slopes of the Carminia Volcano, are the islands of the Thousand Cuts. These remnants of the first great eruption of Carminia are marked by rich soil and treacherous waterways full of obsidian shards. 

Given the richness of the soil in the Thousand Cuts, the region contains a larger population of non – seafaring Hesha than can be found almost anywhere else. That’s not to say that they are all land – bound, however, as the Hesha from this region instead take their surnames from the flat – bottomed skiffs that they use to travel between the islands. These skiffs are large enough for families to live upon, barely, but it’s a matter of debate whether they actually count as “ships” among the rest of Hesha society. Regardless of any scoffing they may endure from more proud, sea – going Hesha, this region is responsible for the production of most of the fruits and vegetables that are preserved and taken on the lifelong voyages of many ships. 

At the southern edge of the Cuts, nearest the volcano, the Fortress of Stonereach rises from the waves. It is a nearly perfectly circular design, squatly placed on a pile of rocks barely breaching the sea’s surface so that it appears to have grown organically from the water itself. At its center stands a column of blinding white stone that stretches into the sky above. At its top, serene in her view of the sea, is the seat of Aurora, the Dawn Queen. Her beauty strikes all who see her dumb, and the bones of those who oppose her rest at the root of Stonereach. It is believed that her tower houses thousands of consorts, many of whom have not seen the sun outside in many years.

Mendinia

One section of Heshan territory, distinct from the rest by its landed nature, is the rocky northern inland area of rolling hills that borders on the region identified as Gotha. This land is a tense zone of on and off aggression. Those who don’t care to live under the rule of the Tarranthists and pirate royalty often flee to make a life here, and those who were born here tend to guard its semi – independence with bared teeth. It takes a long time to be accepted as part of the community among the hill people, and so newcomers tend to be considered outsiders for several generations. However, once in awhile, raiders and Kuarlites from the Gothic region will press southwards into Hesha, and during those times, Mendinians will gladly team up with, or hire, hardened mercenaries and fighters sent or led by their Tarranthist overlords, unified by a common interest. The Triumverati are not a united front, after all, and the Tarranthists very clearly want no encroachment from the Kuarlites in their territory. The region lends itself well to guerilla fighting, and the numerous jutting ruined towers emerging in places from the mounds and hills makes one wonder what the sands of time have buried here.

Notable Houses of the Hesha

Among the Hesha the term “House” is a bit anachronistic. But while “Armada” or “Fleet” might be more appropriate, the Hesha have kept the use of the word “House” to honor of the lands they lost. In addition, those that lead the Houses have the name of their House as their first surname followed by the ships they served on if they choose to include them. For each of the notable houses listed here there are many vassal houses that fall underneath them – as well as other higher Houses that are unmentioned.

House Shazaad

Coat of Arms: A rampant and crowned hippocamp on a field of gold and blue

Maxim: Wealth is in Blood

Before the Calamity, House Shazaad were already sailors – wealthy traders in spice and silk with established routes across the hostile sea. When the world shook and crumbled, those traders found themselves afloat, cut off from their homes, and struggled to make a new place for themselves on the waves. While the waters had once been their way of making a living, they now needed to figure out how to make a life upon them. They were some of first to claim the islands to the east of the Gemelli and to set up new trade routes throughout the changed world, connecting with the other survivors. To this day, they manage a wide swath of territory, with several small islands that they have built up as fortified oases in the middle of the ocean – a very different kind of desert. The Shazaad are well known to be traders in treasures from the sunken world, and it is suspected that they dredge the shallows according to ancient maps of the old Sha’ra desert that they keep within the family as a closely guarded secret. 

The leader of their fleet is Lord Seok Shazaad a Sabre a Zephyr, Captain of the Zephyr and King of the Lost Oasis – Collector of Spirits, Wave Dancer, and Holder of the Hand of Jabari. He long ago lost his left hand in a duel, and in its place he has a strange glowing appendage that is rumored to have strange powers.

House Dilacorvo

Coat of Arms: A black crow spreading its wings on a purple field

Maxim: Never Let Them Forget

The armada of the Dilacorvo has been sailing longer than history can remember. And for as long as their flag has been unfurled, they have been known for their cunning and their fearlessness. It is said that they believe themselves to be the true kings of the Hesha, and certainly they insist that any ship that enters their waters swear loyalty to them and pay them tithe – although they are careful to keep the tithe low enough to still encourage people to enter their waters and trade with them. Their ships are unmatched in maneuverability, and their naval tactics are as brutal as they are innovative.

They are led by King Luzzano Dilacorvo a Iron Dove a Ulato a Blackest Night, Captain of the Blackest Night, Admiral of the Dilacorvo fleet the Corvidia, known as the Wise, Eater of Lightning, Keeper of the Hidden, Silver – tongued, Beloved of Crows. He is a strange man, with eyes darker than a raven’s – dark enough to demand silence and fealty from all who meet his gaze. He is known for his flamboyant dress, his speed with the blade, and his mood swings as sudden as the changing winds. 

House Montara

Coat of Arms: A goat striding two green peaks atop a field of blue

Maxim: We Stand Unyielding

Located in the northern inland Heshan hills, House Montara claims primacy among the practical, diligent people of the highlands. Over the generations they have focused their efforts into fortifying their corner of the world into something that could stand on its own, without needing any alliances or to kneel before anyone – Triumverati or otherwise. They expanded what farmland they had by cutting terraces into the mountainside, filling them with root vegetables, vine fruits, and trees. Their freshwater sources of water are well guarded and walled off. Yet the most celebrated inhabitant of the highlands are the mountain goats that are herded and raised there. Providing meat, milk, and hides, they are almost revered among the locals, and House Montara is credited with first bringing them into the region long ago after trading with Seravia. The brightly dyed woven wool fabrics of their region are also quite distinctive and valued in trade.

To this day the people of House Montara are one of the few Houses of the Hesha that are primarily landbound. While they do possess a small fleet, it is far – off and primarily used for fishing and periodic travel. They do, however, serve a valuable purpose to the rest of Hesha lands in that they facilitate most land – based trade. The Nemien, not being people of the sea, bring many Heshan goods overland to all corners of the world that may not have ports the rest of the Hesha can access. They primarily stop in the Mendinia region to provide needed supplies and take on what the Hesha will trade to them. Thus, House Montara and the rest of the inland Hesha ensure that trade flourishes everywhere, while also serving as a stalwart and populous buffer against any inland invading forces. Thus, while they are not afforded the same respect as their sea – loving counterparts, they are widely acknowledged as strong, brave, and valuable nonetheless.

House Montara is currently led by Lord Alessandro Montara, a man of great height and wild untamed curls. While he is captain of some distant Montara warships, he prefers to go by the title of Lord and only that title – if only because it annoys other Hesha. 

House Gemelli

Coat of Arms: A crescent moon in a dark sky and reflected in a pool of blue

Maxim: Every Sun Must Set

House Gemelli is antagonistic to most other Houses and leadership, with their only reliable loyalty to those within their organization. But the strength of their fleet, their famous luck, and the strange power the rulership of Gemelli seems to have over the carnivorous giant eels and other sea creatures that live in their waters, make it difficult for anyone to mount an attack against them. Many fear the sight of one of their red – hulled vessels bearing one of their crescent flags. The House takes the stance that anyone not allied with them is a rival to be defeated, and anyone allied with them is only temporary. Betrayal is inevitable, and the only ones you can truly trust are your own blood and followers. Some would call this wisdom, while others would call it paranoia. 

While the specifics are unknown and secret, it is widely told that any Hesha wishing to become part of a House Gemelli crew on their fleets must pass a series of tests, and that these tests are designed to test fortitude, loyalty, and perhaps even immoral devotion. Regardless of their contents, they are surely difficult and deadly, for many have perished, failed, or refused to complete the tasks, which leaves them lacking in face and friends for quite some time.

Their leader is King Bezio Longtooth Gemilli a Asilo a Foxtail, Admiral of the Hestronne and Tamer of the Great Eels. Despite his relative lack of titles, he has remained in a leadership role for as long as most people can remember. It’s rumored that he is not the first of his name, but rather a son, or even grandson, of the original King Bezio and merely pretending to be his elder. Regardless of his age, he keeps a harem of fanatically devoted wives who have borne him many children who have gone on to strengthen the fleet and forces of House Gemelli. 

House Fiorescuro

Coat of Arms:A white, five petaled flower on a field of black

Maxim:Believe What You See

This small fleet of boats travels in the area near Vivegano, and while they claim no obvious masters besides their Admiral and captains, they are believed to be at least allied with Melete, the ink – stained witch. This may be a possible explanation for some of the strange occurrences said to be associated with the fleet – skeletal birds bearing messages to and fro that also seem to carry with them the fog of the Black Spot, haunting melodies from the ship’s singers that seem to command the attention of onlookers, and a crew that seems to have a larger percentage of ritual healing scars and augmentations than others.

They are a mysterious House, known for their skill in hunting the creatures of the deep and fishing in waters that many others deem too dangerous. Some say that they are specialists in hunting the malefic creatures of the sea and harvesting them. This would certainly explain the heavily battle – scarred crew and their overabundance of maims. However, this House is also known for its reserve, and quite unusually for the Hesha, they are not as prone to boast of their deeds. They instead allow their actions and appearance to speak for them, and often adorn their ships with an enormous amount of trophies, as well as their own bodies with gems, bones, pieces of monsters, and Malefic tokens. 

The Admiral of the Fiorescuro fleet, sometimes known as the flowers, is Lady Martina Fiorescuro a Lunaria a Flying Cloud, Captain of the Lunaria, the Walker of Moonlight, Scourge of Whales, Sharkscarred, the Eagle – eyed. Few have spoken to her in person, but she is generally described as ragged and cold – with muscles and disfiguring scars that show her personal experience in wielding weapons of war and tools of the hunt. 

House Batalik

Coat of Arms: A gold coiled snake on a green background

Maxim: Carved in Stone

The Eastern peninsula region of the lands of the Hesha are full of rivers, swamps, marshes, and everglades. The vegetation – filled water, mangroves, reeds, and moss cover a landscape strewn with forgotten ruins gradually being consumed and hidden away by all of the greenery. The crew of House Batalik is more commonly seen in flat – bottomed boats patrolling the rivers and waterways than they are at sea. They excel at both fishing and fighting with poles and spears, and they have a reputation for being fearless explorers. Many an expedition has been led by House Batalik for no other purpose than to attempt to find forgotten cities and lost knowledge. 

The settlements and dockside towns they lay claim to are often build on wooden poles and planks over the water, and while they do not appear to be wealthy, there are persistent rumors that they actually have hidden a resplendent palace of wonders deep within the swamps that is only for the eyes of the deeply loyal and truly initiated. 

This crew and the people associated with them have a reputation for speaking in riddles and a certain reluctance to invite outsiders into their territory. They are more than happy to accept invitations for jobs, meetings, and journeys elsewhere, but they are not keen to return the favor. 

They are currently led by a person called the Greenspeaker. It is known that they are some kind of Triumverati cultist, but it has not been confirmed to outsiders which deity they are devoted to. The only eyes who see the Greenspeaker are those of two attendants who hear the orders and wishes of the Greenspeaker and relay them to the crew. Otherwise, their appearance in public is in a shrouded litter, or covered in draping, loose fabrics which conceal all features.

House Veladria

Coat of Arms:Two upturned hands cupping the sun on a purple background

Maxim: No Apologies

The leader of House Veladria lays no claims to royalty, and the Hesha do not have formal nobility structures such as barons, dukes, and lords. Yet the Duchess Hamiah Veladria a Mute Witness, Admiral of the Gloria’s Lament, the Cruelest Tongue, Lover of Fortune, Mother of Teeth, Sharksmile, the Beacon Upon the Blackwater, claims the title nonetheless and none question her. An open and unrepentant Tarranthist, the harsh laws she imposes upon her crew and holdings seem particularly sadistic. For example, if she is not greeted properly in the morning by all who encounter her, the offender is to be buried up to his neck and covered with biting ants. If someone if caught taking more than their fair share of plunder or “taxes”, they are sealed in a barrel and tossed into the water with a buoy to mark the spot. They are generally left long enough to die at least once, if not more, and their family or crew is responsible for paying for the costs of the barrel. The list goes on, and over the years the Veladrian laws have only become more cruel and unusual, as if testing whatever limits the crews may have. 

The Duchess has a spouse who is also her son, and he is nearly a match for her in terms of depravity, though he is less often seen. They have been witnessed dining together on the flesh of those who have offended them, or broken a law, and if the corpse in question is returned to life, the Duchess likes to have them branded with the mark of her mouth to show that she has eaten and consumed them. It is believed she likes to keep track.

House Veladria also has a voracious appetite for human trafficking, and when they spy a ship or port with valuables they crave, it is fairly common for part of the crew or population to be seized as well, for human labor, flesh, and parts, are in high demand the world over.

Population

“Honor is simply defined by the level of acceptance you have for the consequences of your actions.”

– Mualla a Restless Reflection, 
The Mountain, a Seer

It has been many years since the ancestral lands the Hesha hail from sunk beneath the rushing waters, and the people who survived are an amalgamation of refugees from all parts of a lost world and tend not to divide themselves based on their little – known ancestry. For when records and cities are submerged, caved – in, and destroyed, little remains to prove a bloodline or heritage. During the Calamity and wars of history, it is estimated that the lands that now make up Hesha territories lost anywhere from one half to three – quarters of their people. With the long centuries to follow, and the difficulties with mortality, the numbers of inhabitants of these fragmented regions has dramatically increased. Even so, with the incalculable numbers of risks, Malefic, cultists in the region, not to mention the dangerous living to be had here, the numbers have never been quite able to recover to what they once were, even as much of the world festers with overpopulation.

Obvious social stratification occurs between those who can lead through their bravery, recklessness, and panache and those who follow or who are less skilled, with less deeds and titles behind their name. However, the largest gulf in social esteem among the Hesha comes down to whether they are bound to the sea or to the land, and to which armadas they owe loyalty to. As a general statement, the Hesha only want to follow those who have proven, and continue to prove, they are strong enough to lead – that they have the force of personality and ability to inspire such an independent people to take the knee. Of course, everyone has a choice, but it is a strange contradiction in ethics that most Hesha are drawn to those leaders who make them feel as though they have little other choice but to join. 

Those that make their living on the land, who toil and work for their food, are generally looked down upon by those who are seabound. It is considered superior in Hesha society to be seabound, and among the Hesha the seabound will typically be the only ones who acquire surnames or titles. But at the same time those Hesha who live on the water depend on the landbound for the things they make, for their water, for the food they grow, and for the safe place they provide to anchor through the storms.

The land is also where the seabound leave their badly injured, ill, and elderly – those among them who can no longer put up with the dangers of the open ocean on an ongoing basis. Everyone has someone they love who has had to go to land, and as such those Hesha who live upon the waves often feel somewhat protective of those who remain on land even if they don’t always admit it to themselves.

Power Structure

“Don’t lie to yourself that we’re all the same. We’re not. It’s an obvious truth. So, why then do you espouse that we are somehow equal? We’re not. Some of us are fighters. Some of us are content to be sheep and cattle and accept their fate. 
Some of us just simply shine brighter. You know this to be true. It’s so true that it’s something you’ve accepted without even thinking about it. Why else do we have Kings? Leaders? Why do we follow them?”

– Chiara Gemelli a Foxtail a 
Cassandra’s Revenge, The Sparrow

An inherent contradiction in the culture of the Hesha people is that for all of their fierce independence and bravado, they are firmly under the thumb of Triumverati powers. There are few islands that are not claimed by a Tarranthist pirate king or queen, and each call the seas around them part of their territory. The rotted hulls and sails of ships piloted by horrific crews of hollow husks and skeletal officers are sadly not an uncommon sight either. For the reclusive Lazarines also dwell in pockets out upon the waters. While the followers of the umbral god of death and secrets seem to care little for territory and holdings, they nevertheless cause terror and tragedy wherever they sail.

But the ocean is wide – and there are fish who escape the grasp of the sharks. Some do so by being beneath the notice of the great self – proclaimed royalty and their armadas, others do so by being clever. Many simply align themselves to whichever lord seems the least onerous and pray that they remain useful and in their good graces. A few make enough of a name for themselves that they establish their own following, though these climbers and graspers often can only accomplish this through at least one challenge or mutiny in their lives.

Loyalty in Hesha lands is displayed primarily by the colors flown by your ship. While each ship is expected to only fly one set of colors (and while many of the armadas forbid the flying of other flags on pain of torture) it is not unusual for crews to owe loyalty to multiple armadas, or at least possess the flags for each. Those that change their colors typically do so depending on which port they’re nearest, or what flags the ship heading towards them is flying.

After the kings and queens, the real power in Hesha society lies with the captains. They do not typically own their own ship – ships are thought of as belonging to all of the crew, and are often built by a cadre of like – minded individuals – but they are the voice of authority on them. Many within the Hesha ascribe a kind of spirit to their vessels, thinking of them as living breathing creatures that can choose to turn on their crew if not kept placated, and the captains are seen as that creature’s voice. Many a Heshan ballad has been composed featuring a ship as the main object of affection and devotion, remaining loyal to those who are loyal to it, and turning on those who abuse it.

Captains can be removed from their position should they be challenged to a duel and lose, but only if the crew supports the change. After a duel has been completed, it is typical for the victor to call the crew to the main deck and announce what has happened, in case any member of the crew was unclear on the matter. Most often, the crew seems to know about the pending duel long before it occurs, but surprises do periodically happen. The victor explains why the challenge was delivered, and why they are the better person for the position. The individual crew members then either face the challenger or turn their back to him – and a challenger who does not receive the majority of support from his crew only has a couple of options. They can remove their challenge and allow the captain to retake his vessel, or they can dismiss the crewmembers who disagree with them and try to sail the vessel with those who do. While technically a crewmember may challenge their captain to a duel at any time, it is generally considered bad form to do so unless the ship is at port.

Those who fail in challenging a captain, or who fail to get the crew’s support, are often relieved of their service with disgrace. They are burned out of the ship registry, leaving only a black spot where their information should be, and are not allowed to use the ship in their surname. Some of the more rigorous ships will give disgraced crewmembers an actual black spot in the form of a brand to show all what they have done. Of course, failing in a challenge isn’t the only way to be disgraced, although every crew handles it a bit differently.

If someone wishes to leave a crew for another, it is typical to petition the captain for permission to leave. Most ships have a ritual where you leave one crew and are signed onto another, although that ritual is more a party than religious ceremony in most places – especially if the crews of each ship are close. 

Some ports, islands, and inland villages are run by those who are not sea-faring royalty, although the political structure is similar in that those who have earned or seized loyalty and power rule until they are deposed, if they are ever deposed. While those who dwell primarily or exclusively on land are looked down upon, they also have pride, and will not take orders from those not fit to lead. Many more agricultural communities will either have a mayor-figure or a village council of respected community members.

Law

“There are no laws on the water except those that you agree upon.”

– Hesha expression

From the outside, Hesha society may appear to be a lawless anarchy. And while it is true that they lack a central form of government, laws and rules of society are still abundant – they simply vary depending on which territory you are in, or whose ship you are on. Laws also may change frequently depending on the whims of each local leader, and there are Hesha who make a good living simply by stationing themselves near the docks and informing incoming ships of the current state of the law. 

That said, there is an underlying sense of honor in Heshan society, and there are certain rules that are universally considered taboo. The Code of the Sea is short, and agreed by all to dictate what is acceptable behavior regardless of where you currently are. Its tenets are as follows:

  1. If your crew or family is about to wage battle, you are expected to be armed and among them. 
  2. If you are severely injured or maimed in battle, it is your crew’s responsibility to tend to your wounds and ailments, until you are recovered or as good as you are going to get. 
  3. If you have provided food and drink to someone, and thus supplied them with hospitality, you are not to harm them while they are in your care. 

The last rule in particular has many superstitions and stories surrounding it, and it is firmly believed that the evil eye and death will follow after those who break the code of hospitality, for they, and sometimes their family and crew will be surely forever cursed.

Disputes between individuals are often settled by official duel. While treachery and backstabbing do occur, they are looked down upon as a sign of weakness or reaching for something you couldn’t take properly. Duels are considered the proper way to settle disputes of power and insult. However, there is a socially acceptable threshold for what constitutes a reasonable issue for a duel, and to duel over things considered too trivial is to potentially become a subject of scorn. After all, the process of an official duel at port typically involves scheduling it, announcing the reason for the dispute to the public, and having the duel witnessed by either seconds or members of the local leadership. One who attempts to go through the motions without having a good reason will often find themselves laughed out of town before the actual duel takes place. 

Duels at sea can be quicker affairs, especially as the audience is smaller and the news travels much more swiftly on a ship. However,whenever possible,crews prefer to have their duels conducted on land. Too much blood of the crew spilled on deck could give the ship an appetite for it, among many other superstitions. 

The generally agreed upon rules for duels are that:

  1. They involve the challenger (the one who initiates or calls for the duel) and the defender, as well as their respective “seconds” – close friends or allies. No others should be involved in the duel.
  2. The duel may be fought in whatever manner the defender chooses: fists, swords, pistols, riddles, racing, etc.
  3. The challenger may choose the manner in which the duel is concluded: to first blood, to the death, three shots or stabs, the first shot (even if no one is injured), etc.  
  4. The seconds are responsible for coming to an agreement on choosing the time and place of the duel and starting the process of announcing the duel and gathering witnesses. They also are responsible for inspecting the opponent’s weapon and ensuring that the weapon choices are fair and equal. 
  5. It is common, but not mandatory, for the seconds to also attempt a nonviolent negotiation on behalf of the duelists before the duel is actually scheduled. If there is a way to resolve the issue with apology or compensation, they may attempt that first.

The armadas, islands, ports, and regions that are controlled by Tarranthists, perhaps surprisingly, tend to have some of the strictest laws and punishments. While Tarranthist philosophy is that a person’s power is illustrated almost exclusively by what they can get away with, this measure of power is rendered somewhat meaningless if there are no boundaries to press against and no strict laws to flout. Thus, if one is to gain respect or cultist power among Tarranthist society, they must engage in a fair amount of high risk, high reward activity until they position themselves to somehow be above the law.

Economy

“Do not mistake ‘Difficult’ for ‘Impossible’.”

– Hesha proverb

Among the Hesha, it is generally considered a sign of fragility or impotence to toil and work with the soil or be tied to the land. This may seem hypocritical or contradictory when a life of farming or manual labor is immensely hard work. However, this stigma comes from the fact that when one is tied to the land, they do not have the chance to earn a name for themselves or to access opportunities for daring deeds or treasures. This is not to say that the Heshan people don’t engage in trade – they absolutely do. However, they are primarily middlemen, whether they are moving goods through stealing or bartering, and thus they would state that they don’t create many products themselves.

The average Hesha may not even necessarily be aware of how much their region actually produces, but the truth of the matter is that they do still create. Their sowing, harvesting, and crafting trades are simply done quietly, and with a measure of shame. The focus is on the adventure and prestige of the sea trade, which the Hesha almost exclusively control throughout much of the former throne, and their ability to transport goods, people, and messages is always in high demand. They typically barter their services for all kinds of needed goods. In particular, leather and wood are in high demand from Seravia, as leather makes the most resilient clothing and armor at sea, and wood is difficult to come by and needed for ships. Food and alcohol are also welcome, but the Hesha are also fascinated by miraculous and strange objects that may have a story or mystery behind them. Anything that can add to their presence and give them an appearance of well – traveled wealth tends to be appreciated.

As a coastal environment, the Heshan territories possess an abundance of sand. While this is not a terribly valuable commodity on its own, the Hesha then turn this sand into some of the sturdiest and most beautiful glass in the world. Hesha glass is a desirable and hotly traded commodity that is difficult to duplicate. The salt that the Hesha are able to produce also gives them an advantage in trade, for it is a commodity that is so useful, it forms the basis for most barter economy. Flavoring, preservation, tanning, chemical processing, cleansing, rituals, and countless other uses require salt. And the Hesha are able to harvest quite a bit of it, though working in this profession carries with it the same sort of stigma as any manual labor based on land. However, without their salt, the Hesha might be in a less advantageous position to bargain from, though certainly they have other well – advertised uses and talents.

One of the well known service professions of the Hesha are their mercenary crews. Many Hesha are trained to be at least competent in a fight, and martial services and protection are available to all for a price. Even working in a landed town can be seen as more honorable if one is in the employ of a mercenary company that allows for displays of prowess and combat capability. Mercenary groups and crews can be hired for all sorts of business: attacking rivals, protecting assets, offering escort and safe passage, defense of a city during an invader attack, and so on. Some Hesha even run protection rackets on naive foreigners, offering safety in the face of threats that they often manufacture.

Notable Mercenary Groups

This is by no means an exhaustive list of the various mercenary groups and crews of the Hesha, as it is very likely that hundreds exist ranging in sizes and purpose. The one thing they claim in common is the constant search for opportunity and distinction.

The Jadeglades

Most often stationed near the Thousand Cuts as a home base, they style themselves as a lifelong mercenary group, tending to take in the very young and the disenfranchised to train in their ways and mold into their version of perfect mercenaries: ones without pity. It is reportedly very rare for them to take in anyone that has already served in another mercenary company. 

Shrouds on the Water

This company operates primarily out of Mirror Reef, and the contracts they tend to take are usually ones of religious conflict. If two temples are feuding, they can be hired for protection or infiltration. If a particular group has been marked with disfavor by one of the gods, The Shrouds can be hired to be the agents of that disfavor. They claim that they are protected from all divine retribution as they are grey agents, taking no side and worshipping no god above others. That being said, many still believe them to be a cursed company whose lives are surely marked by misfortune. 

The Blackjacks

This storied company claims a very long lineage and history, and calls no port their home. The Blackjacks are the most well – known mercenary company in the foreign lands outside of Hesha territory, and they are known for taking contracts with anyone who has the necessary funds, regardless of how distasteful the job may be. Their primary focuses are direct conflict and protection, as there is nothing subtle about them. They tend to be loud, well – armed, and only take in recruits who are battle veterans in some way. For many mercenaries, the Blackjacks are seen as a prestigious place to land once they have served their time elsewhere in other companies. 

The Maidens

Despite their namesake, The Maidens are not all women. This well – traveled mercenary company based out of Le Gemelli names themselves for their practice of taking no spouses, and instead being wedded to war. They are a particularly violent group, and the sight of their flag: a black dove stark against a white background, inspires deep concern if not outright fear or horror. It is believed that they still take lovers from within the company exclusively, and to be caught in a relationship with an outsider is a most unforgivable act.

Silent Prayers

Most members of this company hail from the Vigevano region, though their black ships will take on missions to nearly any corner of the world. The Silent Prayers are a group particularly steeped in mystery and rumor. No one can claim to have seen a full attack from them, and yet their targets never seem to escape either, and are reputedly always found mutilated, maimed, missing, or catatonic with no signs of struggle. This has lead to the common belief that dark magics and occult rituals are how the Silent Prayers accomplish their dirty work. 

Golden Lotus

Primarily a land – based company calling the region of Mendinia their home, the Golden Lotus are famous for their smuggling abilities and guerilla tactics. If something is needed to be snuck into a port right under a captain or boss’s nose, they are the ones to contact. Rather than swords or firearms, their primary means of waging conflict is deadly traps and poisons. They have taken the lotus as their symbol, for its shallow roots and how it flourishes in inland still – water lakes.

Natural Resources

“If apologies and reassurances could dull pain, no one would have invented wine.”

– Hesha proverb

Despite the obvious mundane dangers of the sea, as well as the more terrifying malefic ones lying beneath, the waters of the Hesha are their most accessible source of food and natural resources. Nets and fishing apparatus are standard gear on nearly all sailing vessels so that no one need worry about food stores running out, as fish are plentiful. The Hesha also commonly catch clams, crabs, and other shellfish; squid and octopus; shark, and numerous other edibles that the ocean offers. Seaweed can also be harvested for food, and sea grasses are often taken from the shallows for weaving. For the particularly bold ships, or those that are outfitted with heavy weaponry and armor, even more valuable prizes can be had. Whales provide blubber and oil that can be used as fuel, as well as ambergris and high quality bone. Giant eels are also a dangerous but delicious source of food and bragging rights. The oceans also produce sea monsters of all types that have developed an oft – sated appetite for human flesh. Kraken and sea serpents, undead monsters, and sharks of immense size are constantly on the hunt, giving the Heshan Sea its terrible reputation. Stories are also told of mermaids with teeth like anglerfish and sirens with the faces of loved ones lost long – ago; ghost ships and ghouls walking on the floor of the ocean. These, too, are also a resource in a way. For there is a thriving market throughout the known world for Malefica – the body parts and components that come from hunting down Night Malefic creatures. Said to have medicinal and magical qualities, they are a prize for seasoned, and particularly foolhardy, hunters. 

Salt harvesting is also of obvious value, and many a pirate and port royalty are said to be extremely salt – rich. The sunken ruins and riches of the old Throne Empire and Sha’ra also lie in wait under the water to be plumbed and explored by enterprising crews and seekers who are willing to risk the crushing population of deadly and restless creatures below. There are even families among the Hesha who specialize in free – diving for underwater treasure, relics, and pearls. Poorer families might use upturned pottery as a diving bell to increase their time underwater, while better off ones will make use of the glass widely produced in Heshan lands. Treasure hunting is a popular pastime among all hotheaded Hesha looking to prove themselves with an adventure, especially over the lands that used to be Shariqyn desert. Those flooded lands in particular seem to provide objects of mystery and strange qualities.

Other than glass, the land also produces many useful resources, both for consumption and trade. Yams, spices, cassava, rice, coffee, palm, tobacco, tea, beans, coconut and fruits such as bananas are common. However, in the southern islands that get more heavy rainfall, the soil tends to be acidic and does not produce much without assistance. Further inland, in Mendinia, where the soil is richer and less people ply their trade at sea, lemons and citrus are commonly grown, along with millet, wheat, grapes, olives, potatoes, and leafy vegetables. While the occasional livestock herd is kept, it is mostly for dairy as cheeses are popular among the Hesha for their long shelf – life. It is said of the Hesha that were they to stop grasping for what the rest of the world owns, they would find a paradise in their own yards. But the Hesha themselves, knowing firsthand that anything but an earned name can be taken or lost, would not be so quick to agree.  

Diet & Dining Customs

“The mark of true sorrow is a person eating alone.”

– Common Hesha saying

A fair amount of variety can exist between the islands and peninsulas of the Hesha lands, but many islands simply don’t have the soil or the room for agricultural production. That is often left to the larger land masses or inland areas. Many landlocked island families grow what they can in the small spaces between their homes or by hanging planters from every available overhang. Herbs and flowers such as parsley, basil, cumin and saffron are common. Even Heshan ships have small pots and containers filled with growing sprouts and herbs, but they are limited in their variety due to the high salt content everywhere on a ship. In landed areas where multiple generations of the same family live near each other, they will build their houses so close together that they are almost touching, with a garden courtyard hidden between them.

It is rare that any one family will grow enough to feed themselves all year. They have to trade, barter or take what they need from others. The main areas in Hesha territories where you could make a living as a farmer is on the Thousand Cuts and in parts of Mendinia. Aurora, the Dawn Queen within the Thousand Cuts, accepts food donations and other goods from the residents in exchange for her protection, and a fair amount is traded to other Hesha. Periodically, as is to be expected, raids for food do happen, and the Dawn Queen is generally more displeased with the people under her protection who failed to hold on to their supplies. Theirs was the weakness, and theirs is the punishment. 

The Heshan people are fortunate that they have a warm, humid climate, so even with the limited space they are able to grow what produce they can all year. Common food items that make it onto ships due to their storage length are olives, onions, eggplants, garlic, peppers, lemons, potatoes, carrots, coconuts, beans, hard cheese, and various flours. On Le Gemelli there is a vineyard that produces grapes that make a sweet wine, while Mendinia produces wines that are more complex and dry. Not only do they use wine for drinking, but they also frequently use it in their food. Almost every dish has sauce, and combinations such as sweet and spicy or sour and salty are common.

Seafood is obviously a staple of the Heshan diet. Common fish are mackerel, swordfish, octopi, eel, sardines, and giant clams. Some particularly brave ships will hunt whales, which brings in a substantial amount of meat and fat for cooking. On occasion they do eat meat, usually only for special occasions. Most common is goat, lamb or chicken. Heshans use slow cooking methods for their meat, making the meal an all day event. They will cook soup at a low heat for hours, or dig pits that they will slow roast an entire animal inside.

Another common cooking technique is wrapping food in banana leaves, and covering it with heated sand. It only takes a few minutes to cook, and because sand retains heat well requires less resources to cook then a wood fire. This is particularly popular on ships, where they can reuse the same sand again and again by building a small fire within a metal barrel of sand and do not have face the fire hazards of an open cooking fire at sea. They use this same heating technique to make coffee and tea, which is sometimes consumed in the afternoon with small dessert. Common desserts are stewed pieces of fruit, like pears or berries. Or nuts and chocolate with honey when they can get it.

Meals are considered something to be shared, to bond over, and to tell stories around. On land, the whole family, across all generations, will gather together to eat almost every day they are together. They generally eat out of clay, palm wood, or glass bowls, and the food is prepared in portions meant for sharing. Over the meal the family bonds, exchanging stories about their day, strategizing, and problem – solving. On ships, the entire crew, except for whoever is on lookout, will come together to eat dinner. The crewman usually carry their own bowl, cup and spoon in a small bag on their belt. Dinner on a ship is a social affair, where they will sing and tell stories late into the night. It is considered ideal if someone else speaks of your deeds and accomplishments, but there is no shame in talking yourself up. 

Fashion & Dress

“Always be sure that you’ll make a pretty corpse when the screaming and drowning and stabbing begins. How you look at the end is how they’ll remember you.”

–  Emiliano a The Mediator of the Jade Glades

The dress of the Hesha is eclectic and colorful; for they wear a tapestry of the cultures they have collected. From the tropical ports in the south to the far reaches of the north, they wear elements of it all. While many variances exist, and the result is a hodgepodge of styles from the world over, there are certain qualities that Hesha clothing has in common. 

When one is climbing on rigging, or fishing in bad weather, practicality is paramount, and superfluous garments are a hindrance. The common worker’s garb consists of a sturdy pair of leather boots, trousers, and a tunic. Many Hesha will wear multiple belts with tools hooked onto them, as a way to keep their hands free as they work. Some will cover their necks with kerchiefs to ward off the sun’s harsh light. There may still be a hint of frippery about, with a bejeweled finger here, or a multicolored scarf there, or a hat that is larger than what may be necessary. It is difficult to take the peacocking entirely out of the Hesha, after all. Overall, heavy metal such as platemail is not often seen or incorporated, as it may simply turn a body into an anchor if one was to go overboard, and is very impractical for working in, or fighting in, the confined spaces of ships or crowded ports. When leather can be obtained, it and silk or other cloth are the preferred armor materials to be worn. Essentially, one needs to be able to move freely, not sink immediately, and be able to be rather rough on their garments.  

Once away from their work, or at special occasions, the Hesha favor dramatic clothing: bright dyes, exotic fabrics, and trinkets symbolizing exploits and victories are all popular statement pieces. They are known to incorporate anything that piques their interest from other cultures. One will see a myriad of trends, both in and long since out of style, from all across the known world, and yet the Hesha wear their medley of clothing with pride. This is because they are wearing their travels for the world to see; every scavenged item is a part of their own personal story. One would most commonly see this style of attire on Hesha who have docked their ships, and have come ashore to relax and attend to errands and family business.

A noteworthy aesthetic choice of the Hesha is the gender neutrality of nearly all of their clothing. Both men and women often wear trousers, adorn themselves with precious gems and metals, don cosmetics, and might wear their hair long. One wouldn’t be hard pressed to find a Hesha man in a woman’s gown or flowing dress for a night at port, and women also wear dresses or skirts if it suits their personal preference, but there are none so fancy as to cost a lady the upper hand in a fight.

Salgothic silk is prized for its rarity, ability to hold color, and (for those who can afford a lot of it) for making durable and lightweight armor. Furs from the north, while uncommon, are coveted and often fought over, more often for decor and accessories and trim – as even the winters do not tend to be cold enough to make fur appealing to a hardworking Hesha. One fabric unique to the Hesha is fish leather, which is easily made on board ships away from port. This unique leather can be used for boots, bags, and coats. It is relatively waterproof, and can be made from a variety of fish, resulting in thousands of beautiful colors and textures. 

The Hesha also show their love of varying colors and texture in their jewelry and accessories. Much like magpies, although they might loath the comparison, they gather things that glitter and glimmer, often plucked from bodies or pockets. Piercings of the ears, nose, and brow ridge are quite common, while other Hesha may have more intimate jewelry hidden beneath their garments. Jewelry is also often a way to carry a Hesha’s wealth on their person. When they die, their treasure is passed down in their family, and kept secret, worn with pride, or traded for the families’ needed expenses, depending on the person. The acquisition of baubles that can be traded after death is one way a Hesha can provide for their families after they are gone. Captains, and aspiring captains, are often seen with opulent hats. These can be made of fish leather, mammal leather, or wool. Feathers, bejeweled hat pins, and silk scarves can all be seen, and the styles are as varied as their owners. 

Yet another striking element of Hesha fashion is their use of cosmetics. Both used for practical reasons and aesthetics, makeup is quite common. Smudges of black charcoal beneath one’s eyes can cut down on glare from ambient light, while also highlighting and drawing focus to the eyes. Some Hesha wear the face makeup of the Salgothic, which protects the skin from sun damage. Lip stain can be used to enhance an appearance of beauty while also providing moisture to sun – scorched and salt – dried lips. Just as with everything else about the way they look, the Hesha blend function and fashion in a way that sets them apart from the others.

Education

“Okay, on my mark, we’re going in. You trust me, right?” 
“Sure I trust you. I trust you’re going to get us killed, asshole.” 

– Exchange between Emil and Saban
of the Blind Albatross, shortly before
the boarding of The Hooded Lady

There is no systematic model of schooling among the Hesha, and many among them are only literate enough to be able to sign their own name into a ship’s registrar. Pictures and types of sign language are far more common means of communication than writing. The daily life of most Hesha are, after all, much more concerned with practical work, sailing, and being skilled enough to take what they need, rather than reading and writing and other scholarly pursuits.

However, the Hesha still manage to keep complex mathematical records despite their illiteracy, mostly through the habit of keeping tally nets or cords. Each cord contains smaller pendant cords with clusters of knots that represent numerical information, with some complex tally nets containing  further pendant cords which are attached to these primary pendants. The number, type of knots, and knot and cluster spacing, as well as the overall cord array and color of the individual knots, all convey particular information which are used for record keeping and mathematical calculations. But even this system isn’t formally taught, per – say, it’s simply absorbed by children growing up in the society through their families and crews. 

It is considered good fortune to be born on the deck of a ship, and many Hesha children are raised aboard – learning the trade of their family, the crew. Children are generally raised by the entire crew, although if they are interested in a particular trade or skill they may try to become an assistant or apprentice to a specific crewmember as they grow older. It is typical for children to petition their captain for a transfer to a different ship when they reach their teen years, and often crews will trade teenagers to widen their exposure to the world.

A few trades exist which are handled a bit differently, and those are the roles of ship doctors and priests. Those Hesha who find their calling amongst the various priesthoods and cults available in these lands will journey to the temple of their choosing and apprentice there for a period of five to ten years minimum. Once they have been properly trained in the methods and mysteries of their order, they are generally free to move about the world, depending on the specifics of their role and religion. Meanwhile, doctors on Hesha boats are a mix of several different roles, they may also act as priests and chaplains as well as medical personnel – seeing to the emotional and physical needs of the crew. It is an important role, and as such is traditional for ship doctors to apprentice themselves to at least two different ships for a period of no less than five years, and often up to fifteen or more. Ship doctors are also notorious for not accepting apprentices the first time they are asked – as many of them believe that making candidates ask multiple times shows their dedication to the task at hand. 

Medicine, Science, & Technology

“I’m not dead?…Praise the gods, I’m not dead!”
“Hmm, now, whatever gave you that impression?”

– Amadea The Toothless’s last words with
 the ship’s doctor, post lost duel and
 attempted mutiny

A life atop a moving ship is a hard one, and it comes with sacrifices. Too often the sea requires that those who traverse her give up something of themselves to maintain their grip on life, fingers lost to carelessness or fighting, teeth lost to scurvy, a hand or foot lost to a spiky maw or the unyielding march of infection. However, the Hesha are a resilient people – and their doctors have many solutions.

For some doctors, those solutions are practical first aid. It’s common for ship doctors among the Hesha to be called Steamers, because of their tendency to cauterize wounds to stop bleeding and their tendency to demand hot water to clean off any suspected taint from their patients. Oftentimes a Steamers’ room is the cleanest place on a ship – which may be due to the belief that a quiet space can quiet the mind, and thus the hands. When a space is kept clean and clear, the mind has less to occupy itself, and thus is more often at peace; and if there is anyone whose mind you would want to be at peace – it is that of the doctor stitching your body back together. The Humors theory of medicine is also prevalent among the Hesha, and thus much treatment revolves around bleeding, purging, or otherwise trying to balance out what ails you when you are sick.

There are even a few ships circling the waters that are hospital ships, manned almost entirely by doctors, assistants, and healing patients. If a ship is deemed too dangerous or ill equipped to tend to their ailing or dying crews, and they are too far out to sea to make it to port, a hospital ship may seem to be a beacon of hope appearing on the waves. It is considered extremely poor form and the mark of an incredibly weak or desperate person to attack or raid one of these ships. 

But many other doctors have turned to a darker path in order to ensure the survival of their patients, including that of Lazarolth. These Stitchers, as they are sometimes called, have found a way to harvest the malefic creatures that abound in the sea among them and use them for a new and noble purpose. They mix fluids and bits gathered from what monsters they encounter, into limbs and tools that they stitch onto living creatures. These prosthetics are rumored to function even better than the originals – although they often come with odd side effects that there are mixed opinions on. It’s even been rumored that some Hesha will strike off their own limbs in order to receive better ones from a Stitcher, assuming they can pay the price. 

It is not uncommon, therefore, for Hesha to bear the marks of at least one stitching – and many among them have hands, feet, or eyes that appear monstrous or strange. Such Hesha often have the benefit of getting along slightly better with Outlanders, and this practice contributes to their inclination to keep their tainted children among them rather than sending them away. However, this does mean that these Hesha may have more difficulties trading with other cultures, and thus may have to stick to pirating, or stay on the ship when they enter a foreign port. 

Some Stitchers have taken their art to new heights. There are some ship captains that require a vessel be stitched to their sailors’ chests that is said to keep them from their final death. Filled with glowing fluids and with strange marks upon it, those who wear them will not turn to malefic but return to their bodies again, and again, and again. But these men and women have dark, hooded eyes, as well as a malaise that implies that while they still inhabit their bodies, their souls may be exhausted by the process. Some even wonder if whatever is being called back to life may not be quite the person who died in the first place. 

The Hesha believe that the health of one’s mind is also tied to the health of one’s body, and thus doctors may also sometimes serve as a counselor or ready ear to listen to tales that may not be best for public consumption or that might be damaging to one’s reputation. Seers, as well, can often be consulted to interpret dreams, attempt to allay fears about the future, or lay the past to rest. Thus, doctors, seers, or their assistants are often dealing with trauma and fear before it can blossom into mutiny or panic. This role is considered just as important as their other abilities – as physical wounds only tend to kill the injured, while emotional wounds can end up killing a crew.

Some ships employ priests, and others simply use their doctors as a priest as well. Religious services may be offered to those struggling aboard their boats, but any practitioners of the Benalian faith have to tread especially carefully and be very aware of the sympathies and loyalties of their crew, for many Triumverati – led crews will not tolerate the presence of such a crutch. Thus, as a result of belief and practice, many doctors and priests spend time speaking in – depth to those around them, getting to know them and inviting them to open up in a safe place about what might be troubling them. Because of their intimate knowledge of the crew and life – saving skills, many doctors are often considered to be just below the captain and first mate in terms of rank. 

In terms of technology, the Hesha are somewhat stagnant. Their lack of emphasis on education and a lack of value placed on work that does not bring glory means that not many Hesha dedicate themselves to innovation or invention. Most of the innovation occurring in seafaring technology has halted to what was commonly available at the time of the Calamity. Anything more experimental or that was in development at that time has been lost. And thus, the ships of the Hesha are primarily sail and oar – powered. They do prefer carrack and clipper ship designs for their long – distance fortitude, spacious holds, and multiple sails, as well as their speed and maneuverability, respectively. The Hesha do have an appetite for the firearms and mechanic advancements of the Seravians, but those are high prizes to be stolen or won, as most Seravians in possession of such machinery are not willing to part with them. Explosives are also considered a miraculous weapon, and also a last resort due to their extreme value. Black powder is hard to come by, and is also generally only grudgingly traded by Seravian port towns at a high cost. Guns are the most practical use for it, but cannons and shrapnel explosives are also popular weapons of war for those who can obtain or make them.

Religion

“There is a point in your life where you have to ask the question, ‘Do I serve the gods, or do the gods serve me?’ And maybe at the end, it doesn’t matter which way it is. All I know is that I’m going to make them look at me. I’m going to call down their gaze and make them pay attention.”  

– Devrim a Seahawk, Priest of Tarranthalus

Heshan lands are firmly under the thumb of the Triumverati. While there are few Kuarlites among them, the followers of Tarranthalus hold sway in almost every major port, and the followers of Lazarolth are ever lurking at the edges of society. They have been merciless in their assault against any remnants of the Benalian faith, not just with actions, but also with propaganda and shaping of social mores. Nowadays, even unreligious Hesha find the idea of the Benalian faith distasteful and corrupting. One should never place their faith in a god who demands unearned servitude and that its followers deny their desires. It’s a way of living that weakens the practitioner and shifts the focus away from bettering oneself and onto interfering in the lives of others. Every church left standing in Heshan territories after the Calamity has systematically been defiled and repurposed. After many generations, the only way for Benali adherents to survive was to hide or evolve and change into a fusion of local beliefs.

The few remaining followers of Benalus have divided themselves into groups that work separately from one another, for their purposes have diverged. Due to oppression and prejudice, it is difficult to determine how many followers are still practicing in Heshan society. There are very few priests who publicly declare their beliefs, and fewer still who are left alone to practice. It is common for priests, once discovered, to be scorned, run out of town, or even to disappear. Therefore, almost all priests spread their teachings through an apprenticeship based on a relationship of absolute trust. They acquire students, usually no more than two at a time, and pass along their knowledge in secret.

The first group of priests are known as the Sanctum. They follow the angel Nuraniel and the nameless Saint, and their charge is to hunt Malefic wherever they can. There are many malefic in the waters that surround the Heshan islands, and they work tirelessly to lay them to rest. The core of their beliefs is that there are no wrongs that cannot be righted. Despite their efforts, the malefic run rampant. By Heshan standards they are especially at odds with society because while they attempt to accomplish many great deeds, their names remain short and they place most of their focus on others rather than themselves. They travel widely, hopping from ship to ship, but they do not brag about their accomplishments or their past connections. Because of this, many are mistaken for landbound. Their lack of reputation, however, does provide some benefit. If you are no one, than it is difficult for your movements and accomplishments to be tracked by those who might wish you harm.

The Melandim are followers of Melandiel. The Melandim eschew worldly possessions, and believe it is their duty to spread the word of god. Their belief is that anyone has the potential to be a person of great power and faith, even to become a saint, but that is where any overlap in philosophy ends. They rely on the generosity of others, and there are very few Hesha who believe in giving something away for free. The few that exist are usually homeless, and work small jobs on the docks. There are very few crews that would accept someone on board who desires no material reward. Their very presence can bring bad luck and undue attention from their overseers. Due to this, most become landbound and are forced to move from dock to dock as they quickly outwear their welcome wherever they go.

The Cyanites are followers of Cyaniel. There are unsubstantiated rumors that they are the most numerous of all of the priestly sects. They are one of the more secretive orders, and are viewed by many to be the assassins of their god. To outsiders, the targets of a Cyanite can appear to be random, leading Heshan mothers to whisper ghost stories to their children about well organized groups of priests practicing their trade in large underground temples. If you are not well behaved, a Cyanite might come for you. In truth, Cyanites do not choose their own targets. Instead they perform a vision seeking ritual, which includes hallucinogenic drugs, to obtain the names of their targets which they believe are chosen by god. 

In Hesha, Cyanite beliefs have evolved the most and are very different from the beliefs of Cyanites you would find in other cultures. They believe that before the calamity, we were reincarnated. We were reborn into new bodies and when we died, our souls grew and learned from each experience until we became our own perfect self and were allowed into heaven. They believe that we are now being tested, and that we must become our own perfect self within a single body. We die and are reborn, but it is into the same flesh. This makes the lessons we must learn much more difficult. They believe that it is their sacred duty to make sure that the evil and the weak should have their current incarnations cut short, in the hopes that they will be closer to enlightenment in their next life. Death, to them, is the start of a new life.

The Sepharihim are followers of Sephariel. No one has seen a Sepharihim in Heshan lands in many years. It is their duty to hunt down heretics and to combat the Triumverati. Due to this, all those suspected of being a Serapharihim are taken in by the local overseers and never seen or heard from again.

The Mithrites are followers of the angel Mithriel. They believe the world was filled with darkness once before, and that through courageous acts Benalus became his own perfect self and captured the attention of god. They do not know what sin we committed, but they believe that we failed god and that caused god to turn away from us. They seek to emulate Benalus, and hope that their daring acts of bravery will cause god to turn back. They are warriors, who fight righteous battles in the hopes of obtaining the same enlightenment Benalus reached. To them, glory is not something to be ashamed of – it is something you should embrace. Only through being a true hero to mankind can you save them. Of all the priestly sects, they are most commonly found on ships; traveling far and wide in the search of their righteous battlefields. There are many famous captains who people believe may have been Mithrites.

Lastly, the Lurites are followers of Lurian. Through strange rituals, they are able to heal and replace lost limbs and heal wounds and maims that seem mortal. With the appropriate tools and prayers, they can preserve almost any life. Not everyone appreciates being saved by a Lurite, however, especially when they emerge from a ritual with human limbs that are not their own. Lurites are a somewhat uncommon sight, and are usually found on ships where they frequently act as the only healer on board.

Those who do not follow the Benalian faith usually fall into one of two groups. The first are those who believe in the world of spirits, and the second are Triumverati cultists or various other cultists.

The first group believe that through ritual and prayer, that they can appease the spirits and live happier, healthier and safer lives. Many of these rituals involve leaving offerings or tributes at the shrines and temples in the Mirror Reef. To them, it is more important to fulfill the rituals than to live a moral life. Oddly enough, some of the spirits they worship were once Benalian saints. Those that weren’t were added over the years as more and more shrines were added to the city of temples. The origin of these new spirits are unknown, but myths have grown around their shrines and the objects that have been left.

The most popular spirit is Saint Karas. She is the Saint of Lost Causes. It is said that when the world was burning, that she was a good Benalian woman who refused to give up her faith. She was put to death, and her body dumped into the sea. She was swept back into shore, and her followers buried her on an island with the few belongings she carried.

Her temple is unusual. It is built out of a burnt ship. Long after she was buried a thief came to shore in the night and stole her relics. When he tried to leave the island his boat was struck by lightning and burned. Her relics burned with the boat, strangely melting and fusing with the wood and metal parts of the ship. Followers of Saint Karas will come to her shrine and burn small boats made out of tinder in her honor. They will then pray to her, and ask for her help in overcoming difficult circumstances. If done correctly, they believe she will assist them.

Not all of the spirits are as friendly as Saint Karas. When spirits are angry they wander and possess the unwilling. To prevent this from happening, many people will come to the islands to leave tributes in the hopes that it will appease the spirits and keep them on their islands for a little longer. Tributes can include pieces of food, carved wood, blood, treasure, or whatever particular item is known to appease a particular spirit.

Another common belief for those who believe in spirits is the story of Kemat, Aegos and Tharos. Kemat was the daughter of the God of the Sky, Wind, and Storms: Aegos. Unlike her father, she could not fly. She was a landbound creature, although a beautiful one with a gentle heart. Her father would leave her on land as he flew about, receiving the prayers of the people. Where she walked grass grew and trees sprung from the earth. One day, she was sitting by the waters edge, waiting for her father’s return, when she met Tharos, the God of the Sea. They spoke for a time, and day after day she returned to him until they fell in love.

When her father returned and discovered that she had fallen in love with a sea creature, he became angry. He had always been forced to compete with Tharos for the affection of man, and now he had to compete for the affections of his daughter. He was wrathful god, and in a rage he tore Kemat from the earth. He ripped at her flesh, tearing her apart and threw her into the sea.

Tharos tried to catch her but she slipped through his fingers. In despair, he screamed at the sky. Tharos and Aegos fought, and where they fought storms erupted tearing apart the land. As she sank, her fingers turned into sharks, her hair turned into eels, her ribcage into the Kraken of the deeps, and her legs and arms into white whales. It is said that her head fell right into the center of the Black Spot.

Kemat, however, is a god and could not die. She watched as everything she cared about was destroyed. She watched as her body swam away from her, and her lover and father fought. The destruction of her beloved home caused her to go mad, and where once she caused flowers to grow – now she only Devours.

The Hesha believe that you must make sacrifices, tributes and prayers to appease these gods. To prevent storms you must appease Aegos. He demands prayer and song. His followers will frequently have windchimes outside their homes, so he can hear the gentle melody every time he travels by.

To have clear water and gentle waves, you must appease Tharos. He became hard after the loss of his love, and now demands blood and sacrifice. His followers will always pour the blood from fish and animals they slaughter into the ocean. When they want something from him, they will give him their own blood or sacrifice something to him. For extreme requests they will sacrifice part of their reputation to him. They will tell him a story, and then no longer claim it for themselves.

Unfortunately there is no appeasing Kemat. Those who believe in her stay far away from the Spot, and her endless hunger.

The second group are essentially all other believers and followers of the Triumverati. If there is any other cult to be found in the world, there is generally at least a small branch of it within Hesha’s domain. The influence of Lazarolth and Tarranthalus are very pronounced here as well, for there are more cultists here devoted to these deities than anywhere else in the world.

The followers of Lazarolth, the God of Death and Secrets, are predominantly seafaring and make no particular port their home, though it is certain there are unmapped islands and forgotten inlets where they establish worship sites. Their boats are notable because they bear no markings or identifying banners. One particularly noteworthy fleet is led by Commodore Amit Endrizzi, no claimed titles to his name. The ships are crewed by a combination of cultists and the trapped dead, and their eerie ships sail the seas, boarding any ship slower than them. Once boarded, they will exact their price – be it bodies or pieces of information, no one else knows. For that reason, there are some forward – thinking captains who will keep a secrets journal, so they will have a piece of information readily available in case they have to pay the toll.

If these cutists have a mind to commit atrocities or gather the entire crew up for sacrifice on these boarded ships, however, there are few who can stop them. And many a ship that has ventured out too far into Lazarine waters has been found later listlessly drifting on the ocean, unmanned and silent.

The followers of Tarranthalus, the God of Power and Desire, are found on the land and sea, and theirs is the hand that guides the Hesha most. Their teachings are appealing and fit well within the framework of society. Take what you want, gain power and glory, have a story worthy of fame and followers, be remembered forever. There are hundreds of different Tarranthists cult branches, families, and crews, each pushing their own vision of success. The one thing that ties them all together is their tendency towards excess and their fervent belief that might makes right. The truly powerful ones are responsible for some of the most sickening displays of decadence and disregard for human suffering known in the tales and songs of the Hesha, while the younger and newer cultists may simply be famous, storied captains known for their implausible victories and deeds. 

Folklore & Superstition

“Only the gods, whores, and your mother can’t be fooled. The rest are fair game.”

– Common Hesha Expression

The ocean is volatile and unforgiving. It can shift in a moment from clear and gentle to tumultuous and deadly. It is said that when the wind changes or the water becomes violent that Tharos, the God of the Sea, or Aegos, the God of Wind and Storms have been angered. The Hesha spend much of their lives trying to either appease these gods or praying that their own skills are up for the task. Not everyone believes in these spirits; however, they cannot deny that offerings and prayers cannot hurt to bring safer voyages. Therefore, few Hesha will take to the sea without performing certain rituals.

Pay your bill

It is believed that if you go to sea owing debts to a brothel or gambling house, that you will be cursed with bad wind, which will cause your voyage to be much longer. To be in debt to one of these establishments is considered very different than stealing or taking what you need. There are tales of crews experiencing so much bad wind that they starve to death before reaching their destination. It has become customary for some captains to ask all of their crewmates if they have paid their debts before allowing them on board.

Poured water

When someone is leaving for a journey, their family will see them off. As they leave their home, their family will pour a glass of water on the ground. It is believed that this will help them have a smooth journey and will return home.

Spilled wine

If you are leaving on a new ship, you need to make sure you have made the keel and deck wet before it departs. If you don’t, you will have bad luck for the entire journey. It is common to spill wine on the ship to bring good luck. Those who are particularly superstitious don’t believe wine is enough and will spill blood instead. It has to be human blood, so most will cut their hands. There are stories of particularly violent crews who will take on slaves to sacrifice for this purpose.

Black Cats

Rats are a serious problem on ships. They can eat and destroy stores of food and chew through sails and ropes. Having a cat on board helps protect the ship from rat infestations. It is believed that black cats are especially skilled at this, because they can hide from malefic creatures in the night. This makes black cats especially lucky. Most crews will have a cat on board, and most want that cat to be black.

New names

It is considered very unlucky to rename a ship. However, there are times in which the bad luck attached to the name of the ship outweighs the bad luck of renaming the ship. When they do need to rename the ship, they perform a complicated renaming ritual. First, the ship must sail in a tight zig, zag pattern with an equal number of zags as there are letters in the ship’s current name. After the last zag the ship must immediately turn and set a new course toward a port, effectively, severing the connection with ships name. It is forbidden for any crewmember to use the ship’s old name on this leg of the journey, and upon making port the new name is declared, registered in port logs, and the additional rituals of creating a ship (repainting, boarding for the ‘first time’ etc) will be performed as if the ship is new.  

 

Saints

There are many prayers and rituals to Saints and Spirits which the Hesha do before and during a voyage. Before they leave, they will stack stones and say a prayer to Saint Marius, the Saint of Navigation, to avoid getting lost. During storms they will pray to Saint Novara to calm the storm, and prevent fires from lightning strikes. It is believed that Novara has the ear of Aegos, and can calm his rage.

Lucky charms

Almost all Hesha carry at least one lucky charm on them. Common charms are pieces of iron. It is believed that touching iron brings good luck. Frequently, if someone has said something they do not want to happen they will touch a piece of iron to prevent it. Another common luck charm is a blue turquoise glass eye. It is believed that it protects them from the bad luck of other people’s envy. Other charms abound, and are borrowed heavily from other cultures as well. Metal and wooden carved hands are considered luck for thieves, and acorns are considered to be protection from lightning and impotence. 

Fresh water

It is believed that when you die, your soul goes to the closest body of fresh water near where you perished. Most Hesha will carry a small vial of fresh water on them at all times, so they know where their soul has gone. They can never drink this water, even when otherwise low on water, because of the belief that their soul might be lost should they die.

Kostya

A common tale among the Hesha is the story of Kostya, whose ship name and titles vary with retellings. It is said that one night, when he was supposed to be the lookout, he became bored and began to whistle into the wind. The wind picked up, and a storm began. The crew rushed about, but the strong winds blew them far off course and they became lost on the oceans. There were thick clouds blanketing the sky, and they could not see the stars to navigate their way home. For many days and nights they waited for the clouds to clear. Again, on a night when Kostya was on lookout, he saw women swimming near the edge of an island. He called down to the men and they sailed towards the islands. Unfortunately, Kostya had not noticed the women did not have reflections in the water. As the ship got closer, the women sang to it, slowly luring the ship closer and closer. When they got close enough Kostya leaned over the edge of the ship, and the women pulled him in, consuming him whole with their long, gnashing teeth. If you see women swimming in the water, make sure they have a reflection. If they do not, steer clear of them and avoid listening to their alluring songs at all costs. Also, do not allow a Kostya on board. The name has been bad luck ever since. be foolish and stop for sharks that follow ships. They are bad omens, and herald the arrival of the hollowed dead.

Golden Fortune

Another common tale is the tale of the Golden Fortune. The ship had sailed far into the old ruins of sunken Sha’ra, and was sailing home with a large bounty on board. They were nearing Heshan waters when they noticed a shark following the ship. They stopped, and decided to capture the shark for a meal. Soon thereafter another shark appeared, and then another and another until they were surrounded by dozens of sharks. They tried to continue sailing, but the sharks were so close and so numerous that they could hardly move. It is said, another ship appeared on the horizon. The crew of the Golden Fortune celebrated, hoping that the ship would rescue them from the sharks. The ship had no banners, and as it drew closer they saw no one on board. The empty ship came to a stop next to them, and the sharks surrounded it as well. All day they sat, staring at the empty boat and the sharks below. When the sun set, the crew of the empty ship appeared. They were ghosts and other undead. That night every member of the Golden Fortune was killed, the banner taken down, and it became the newest member of the Lazarine fleet. Do not

Holidays

“I assure you, things can always…always…be worse than they are now. So enjoy your current misery or joy. ”

– Marco Daivari, famous actor and dueler

Much like their art, the Hesha use their holidays to celebrate and commemorate their victories and their defeats. Throughout the year, they gather together to tell stories, drink and dream of a better future. Each of them strives to stand out and to make the biggest impression. At each holiday they dress extravagantly, wearing their brightest colors, the biggest feathers in their hats and as much jewelry as they can fit on their fingers, wrists and neck. For them, the holidays are a chance at fame.

Sanawat Anni

The Hesha ring in the new year by celebrating Sanawat Anni. The celebration begins at nightfall. Once the sun has dipped below the horizon, the landbound will gather at the ocean’s edge and the seabound will all gather together on the decks of their boats. They will tell each other about the things they want to accomplish in the coming year. These proclamations can vary from dreams of being married to winning a duel or finding a beautiful piece of treasure. Those few who are literate will write it on small slips of paper, but most will draw simple pictures of what they want or simply repeat their wish over and over again as they light their lanterns. Once all the lanterns are lit, they will be placed in the water or released into the air to float away.

They watch the lanterns as they drift further and further away. It is a silent moment as they focus their thoughts on the future. They share their dreams like this either as a prayer to one of the gods asking for assistance, or as a declaration to the universe of their intentions, essentially telling fate not to get in their way. Once the lanterns have drifted away, they will toast in the new year with wine and retire after sharing a few stories.

Festa del Sole

Festa del Sole, the Sun Festival, occurs in early summer. The event begins the night before with large stacks of wood being put together. At midnight, a bonfire is lit. The fire is maintained the full day, until the following midnight. It is believed that they are giving strength to the sun, and are asking for calm summer skies to carry through the rest of the year as much as possible. To most Hesha, however, the Sun Festival is a day to drink, a day to duel, and a day to see who can jump over the fire.

Most duels in Heshan society are declared over insults to honor; however, during Festa del Sole duels for fun are encouraged. These duels are not to the death but are frequently to first blood, first to step outside of a circle, or first to laugh or lose their cool. They will duel throughout the day, usually drinking wine and telling stories between battles. The person who wins the most duels, or is the last person standing, can declare themselves the Champion of the Sun for the year. They will add it to their introductions. While considered by many to be a tongue – in – cheek title, it is still something that carries weight. It shows that they are skilled and have restraint.

Teatro Kele

The Autumn Festival occurs over a three day period to celebrate the first wines of the season. Most of the ships come into dock, making the islands and shore feel overcrowded. Each day the community puts on a play, drinks wine, and eats together. While families normally share meals together, for the Autumn festival they interact more with their neighbors and will share meals with people outside their family unit or crew.

On the first day casks of wine are pulled out onto the docks and uncorked. The play on the first night is a comedy, and the traditional food that is served is roasted eel. The second night the play is usually a historical piece. The traditional food is slow roasted boar, cooked inside a pit in the ground. On the last day the play is a tragedy. The traditional food is an onion soup, served with fresh baked bread. On the smaller islands, the plays are short and the meals are small. However on more populated islands, especially on Vigevano, there are many plays that run all weekend and the food and wine is more plentiful. However, the entrance fee is usually much more substantial.

Crews will donate to theatres in the weeks leading up to the Autumn Festival in the hope that they will put on a play about their exploits. It is at times like this, that it is very profitable to be a director or playwrite. Between plays, wine, food, and socializing, Hesha will play games and gamble. It is said that more treasure is won and lost during Teatro Kele than any other time of the year. 

Parata Fallita

In late fall as the nights are becoming cold, the Hesha celebrate Parata Fallita, or the Failure Parade. They build dolls, known as fallas, that are usually satirical representations of each other, out of flammable materials. Some, if they are feeling particularly wealthy, will put a small amount of black powder inside their creations so they will blow apart when lit on fire. They gather together in their family groups, or their crews, and parade their creations around. They will then come forward, and tell an embarrassing story about their chosen target.

The stories are about failures from that year, usually told in a jesting manner. The stories are about things like mistaking a particularly large pile of debris for a kraken, or accidentally falling overboard into a pile of dead fish while trying to woo a woman. At the end of each story they will cheer, and drink, usually ending the night in an inebriated state. Once the last story is told they will pile all of their fallas together, and burn them. They cheer as their failures are burnt and forgotten.

Traditions

“Water washes away weakness and doubt.”

– Common Hesha saying

The Hesha live and die by the sea. It is their life blood, and is the source of what is needed to live, as well as the source of so many things that can kill. They believe that they are born from it, and in the end it is where they return. Because of this, many of their traditions and practices revolve around the water. 

Weddings

In Hesha, there is no set guest list for a wedding. They are publicly announced, sometimes less than a day before, and whoever wants to attend is welcome. There are no gifts given to the couple, instead every guest brings a small cake, cookie, or pastry. They pile them up, and at the end of the wedding when the party begins each guest will take one treat from the pile.

The wedding ceremony itself it short and simple. The couple will stand before a solemniser, or a vow master, with a small box held between them. With each sentence, they will each place a small token into the box. The tokens are frequently old coins, beautiful stones or pieces of jewelry with sentimental value or history. There are six sentences total, so at the end there are 12 tokens placed inside the box. It is sealed by the solemniser, and stored for one year. Marriages in Hesha are temporary, and at the end of the year the couple will return to the solemniser and either retrieve their tokens or reaffirm their vows for the next year.

While many variations exist, and it is common to create custom vows, the standard vows for a Heshan wedding are: I take to you to be my partner. To share in prosperity and in hardship. To protect and care for. To share in laughter and pain. To support in times of failure and times of triumph. We leap at the flow of the tide together, and withstand the ebbs together. 

After the short ceremony a party is usually thrown. A bottle of sparkling wine or other alcohol is opened with a saber. The couple then dances. The dance is awkward, but fun to watch. The head of household is decided on during the first dance. The first one to successfully stand on the other ones feet is considered the dominant party.

Once the foot stomping dance is complete, normal dancing begins. Drinks are poured, and people will celebrate late into the night. Loud merriment and wooing of potential partners among the guests are considered to be good luck for the married couple. The party comes to a close just before dawn, when a bowl of onion soup is served. It is believed that the soup helps stave off hangovers.

After the wedding is done, some Hesha couples will journey to a nearby body of freshwater and collect a sample. It is believed in Heshan areas that when you die your soul goes to the closest body of freshwater, so many Hesha believe that if a couple carries vials of water from the same source, their souls will stay together in death.

Birthdays

Birthdays, much like weddings, are large events where everyone is invited. There is no specific guest list, start or stop time. In Hesha, exchanging gifts on birthdays is rare. Close friends or family might give something small, however the most important part of a birthday celebration is giving your attention to the guest of honor.

During birthdays, guests show their affection by telling stories about the person, sometimes playing games such as telling a true story and a lie, and the other guests trying to determine which is true. Common birthday treats are lemon tarts, bitter chocolates, stewed pears or berries and coconut pie. The treats are usually small, and are not eaten every year.

If they are able, the family or crew of the celebrant will hire an actor or dress up themselves as a monster or foe that stalks the celebrant on the day of their festivities (though some will start in the days preceding). They will attempt to scare the celebrant, and will culminate the stalking with a mock battle that the celebrant is intended to win by smacking the foe with a scarf or pie, or some other comical and nonviolent resolution. 

Funerals

Most Hesha carry a small vial of fresh water on them, so they know where their soul has gone. Ideally, when they die, their body is moved to a holding area, and sealed inside. A guard is selected to stand watch. Crew or family hold a vigil outside the holding area overnight until dawn. At dawn, the room is carefully opened and they look inside to see if the corpse remains or if the person has come back. At that point, if they are a corpse, flesh is just flesh. The body itself holds no importance. The fresh water vial and other personal effects are taken from the body, which is then given a sea burial. It is common for ships to drop bodies near sharks so they cannot be scavenged by Lazarines. Burying the dead is considered bad luck, so sea burials are performed both by seabound and landbound Hesha.

Once the body has been put to sea, the personal effects and vial of water are returned to the family. What happens with the personal effects vary family to family. Some distribute the wealth between them, while others will use the jewelry to pay for a large memorial party where the deeds of the deceased will be shared and remembered. What happens with the vial, however, is consistent across all families. They believe that the soul of the deceased resides inside the water, and they return it to the same fresh water outlet it was taken from so that their soul may be at peace.

Calendar

“We are all living in the ruins of history, and suffering every consequence of every decision already made for us long ago. That’s why I don’t bother learning to read the stuff. I’d rather be surprised.”

– Gaspare Shazaad a Stolen Prize, 
The Unfading Star, Keeper of the Flame

The Hesha calendar is markedly different from other cultures’ in that it is a lunar calendar, though they do share similarities with the Nemien. The passage of time is marked by the phases of the moon and the journey of the stars across the heavens. For the Hesha, a single month is understood to be the time between new and full moon. At the beginning and end of the month, when the moon is either new or at her fullest, the tides are at their most dichotomous, which the Hesha mark as times for caution and planning. In contrast, when the moon swells to half full, the tides become more even as well, and this is considered to be a more auspicious time.

The year is quartered in the Hesha calendar, the first quarter is measured in the time between the first new moon of the longest night – and the new year celebration – until the first leap tide. During a leap tide the ocean levels are higher than any other time of the year, allowing ships to move farther inland than any other season. This is known as the season of planning. This is considered the ideal season for contracts to be drafted, crews joined, marriages begun, and courses to be charted.

The second quarter is the time between the leap tide and the first Apogee tide – and the subsequent Perigee tides (a short two week period separates these tides). This is a period leading to the lowest tides of the year – and the closest and largest Moon. When the moon is high and bright in the sky, the Hesha will scour the newly revealed sea beds for food, treasure, and relics. This is known as the season of gathering, and it is considered a lucky time to hunt, plunder, and trade – not only for spoils and artifacts, but also for needed supplies for ships and ports.

Soon after the Perigee tide, the seas return to their normal pattern and the calendar enters its third quarter. During this season of charitable tides, the Hesha will often take advantage of the fair weather and long days to travel the seas at great speeds, reaching far off fleets and land. This is considered an ideal time for exploration, trying new routes, and taking larger risks.

The fourth and final quarter of the Hesha year leads up to the final Perigee tide of the year. The moon is once again at her largest in the night sky, and the tides recede from the shore. The final full moon of the year is known as the Stolen moon. During this moon, it is traditional for the Hesha take to the sea beds on foot, for a final harvest of shells, shellfish, treasure, and to revel in the exposed sand. In some areas, old ruins are more revealed than before which stirs up feelings of wonder, melancholy, and mortality in many Hesha. Before the ancient stones slip below the waves as the first new moon arrives, and a new year begins, people will bury reminders of secrets and regrets they wish to let go of, as well as apologize and confess to those they harbor regrets concerning – and thus attempt to put a peaceful end to grievances they wish to not carry into the next moon.

Some years there is an extra moon, a 13th moon, and when this 13th moon is the stolen moon, large numbers of the community will gather for very special versions of this celebration. Religious rites are thought to be more powerful, declarations of oaths are stronger, and all may and must be forgiven on this night for things they apologize for. 

The Hesha also have names for the months which correspond to the constellations of stars in the sky. While other cultures have months such as Ianuarius, Februarius, Martius, and so on, the Hesha corresponding months are as follows: Dorado (The Swordfish), Arnabi (The Rabbit), Vela (The Sail), Thuban (The Water Snake), Corvus (The Crow), Lupo (The Wolf), Draconis (The Dragon), Diren (The Shield), Yunus (The Dolphin), Lacerta (The Lizard), Eridani (The River), Aquila (The Eagle). 

Art & Recreation

“Our final death does not come until our name is spoken for the last time. We are only truly gone when we are forgotten.”

– Amato Basri

Capturing a person’s story, their victories and their defeats, is at the core of Heshan culture. Almost all of their art revolves around preserving that memory. It is every Hesha’s duty to express themselves as much as they can in order to leave that mark. To sing, to dance, to make music, to paint and create with their hands. They strongly believe that the more people who know a song, or who have seen a piece of art, the more likely it is that they will be remembered when they are gone. They sing loudly and frequently. They cover every inch of their homes, public spaces and ships with color and stories. Each Hesha hopes and dreams that their story will live on forever, long past the crumbling stones and sunken cities they are surrounded by.

Traditional Art

The divide between land – dwelling and seabound Hesha is seen clearly in their art. While those who travel the seas need to have mediums that travel easily and can survive exposure to sea air, the land – bound can set up workshops and theatres, and have far more stationary artistic expression.

A favored medium of the land – bound is stained glass. Sand is readily available, and Heshan colored glass is famous throughout the world. Artisans spend countless hours cutting and soldering glass together to create geometric or scenic designs. Typically, large panes of stained glass are created which can be installed in buildings and ships, but smaller panes also are used as ornamentation in regular windows or are hung in the sun outside a home to shine brightly and add ornamentation. Glasswork, however, doesn’t end at creating these displays. Many artisans also create smaller objects, like dishware, special boxes, vases, and jewelry. This makes glassware a common household commodity.

Another popular form of art amongst the land – bound is theater. While they may not sail for glory, some are lucky enough to capture it upon the stage. While the plays they perform tell the stories of other famous Hesha, there have been a few actors who have risen even higher than the buccaneers they portray. There are small theatres throughout Heshan territories, with the largest being on a floating platform near Vigevano. Some fleets of ships are fortunate enough to hire actors to come aboard on long voyages for entertainment, but most of the higher production plays must occur on solid ground. 

Theaters provide other entertainment besides plays. They also present dance and song, with some play productions incorporating all three elements into very popular shows. The most popular form of dancing is Camenca. It is known for its emotional intensity, broad upright posture, rhythmic stamping of the feet and expressive use of the arms and legs. The dancers are frequently joined by a stringed instrument player. It starts slow, but builds into a quick, complex series of kicks and spins that shows off the power and speed of the dancers. It is beautiful as it teeters on the edge of violence. Camenca is widely practiced by both the land – bound and the sea – bound.

Another form of art enjoyed and shared by Hesha, regardless of their status, is painting. Canvas is generally reserved for sails and shipping bags, so most artists paint on wooden panels inside homes, businesses and ships. The preferred subject for paintings are of people, famous battles, monsters and creatures of story and myth, and visions of the past. The colors tend to be bright and in stark contrast against dark, charcoal backgrounds. In older ships and homes, every panel inside might be painted again and again to capture the most up to date stories. If someone leaves a crew in disgrace, any panel they were depicted in will be painted over immediately.

While both the land – bound and the seafarers share the same dance and painting styles, they diverge once again in their night to night music. Guitars and other stringed instruments are the preferred choice on the land. The performers will usually sit or stand in a public space, tavern, or theater, and sing. The songs tend to be romanticized tales of bygone areas, love songs, or what happens out at sea. The most common instruments on the sea, however, tend to be small hand held wind instruments, tambourines or squeeze boxes, and drums. The songs are fun, with descriptive verses and choruses that are simple to sing along to. The music is high energy, often lewd, and often includes audience participation.

Crafts

The world is a dangerous place, and the corner of it that the Heshan people occupy is no exception. They live where weather patterns or moods can shift in an instant, attacks can come from any angle or rival, and the waters and coast teem with Malefic entities. This means they choose to occupy themselves with things that allow them to stay alert, and keep sharp objects on hand. This has made carving or whittling a favored past time. They tend to fiddle with whatever it is that they have on hand, be it driftwood, bone, or ivory.

Pieces of driftwood are constantly floating to shore, or being swept into the drag of a ship. The Hesha collect these pieces of wood, and separate out the useful pieces that can be repurposed, and the smaller, worn pieces that are perfect for carving or stacking into interesting designs.

The ships that are large enough and outfitted properly will hunt whales where they can. When they haul the whale on board, nothing is put to waste. The meat is cut away and the fat saved for cooking. This leaves large chunks of bone and cartilage, which is cleaned and saved for scrimshaw carving. The smaller pieces of bone are turned into useful things like knife handles or dice, while the larger pieces are frequently put on display or even used in construction. Artists will commonly engrave images of their ships onto the bones and teeth.

Another common craft are fish prints. After fishermen catch a fish that is particularly large, or that boasts an interesting shape, they will coat one side of the fish with squid ink and press it onto fabric. This allows them to brag about their catches, while still being able to eat them.

Recreation

The famous Hesha bravado extends into their recreational activities. Many of their sports are dangerous, and have mortal results. Being successful at a dangerous sport gives them bragging rights and multiple chances to bring achievement to their name. These activities range from boat races through rock filled waters, to archery or gunslinging competitions, to duels on small floating platforms in shark infested waters. The more risk, the more spectators, the greater the glory.

When they are not risking their lives in sports, they are risking their treasure in games. Throughout Hesha territories there are thousands of gambling establishments, and as many ways to make wagers. While most ships have a rule against gambling on board, during their shoreleave many find their way to the gamblings halls. Popular games include Ludo (a dice and board racing game), Knucklebones (a jacks game played with literal knuckle bones from animals), Hazard (a complicated game of dice), and Gecit.

Gecit, while the simplest of the games, is the most popular. It is played by at least two players, although there is no limit on the number of players who can be involved, with three dice. The caster throws the dice, and every time he throws under ten he, and the other players, lose their entire stake which goes to the bank. Every time he throws above a ten, he wins and the banker must double his stake and the stake of everyone who risked their treasure. When the caster throws a ten, it is a draw and he may throw again. The dice rotate between the players, each one taking a turn as both the caster and the banker, until they have nothing left to bet or they call it quits

The View of Others

“When the sky is falling, you can’t take shelter under promises.”

– Hesha Proverb

Given how the Hesha look down on those who spend their lives on land, it is little wonder that they see themselves as somewhat separate from the other cultures that they encounter. This belief – and their insular, crew – first mentality – no doubt makes it all the easier for them to steal from and take advantage of those from different lands.

That’s not to say that all interactions with others are antagonistic – after all, the Hesha do quite a bit of business with the landbound. But there is a wariness, a distance, between the Hesha and those that hire them. It is hard for Hesha to understand the values of their landbound neighbors, and they struggle with the idea that people would follow leaders who aren’t the best suited for the job or object to someone stealing an item that clearly wasn’t well protected in the first place. Meanwhile, employers often take care to detail every last term of their contracts with the Hesha out of fear that any slack will be used to hang them out to dry.

The culture that they are perhaps closest to is the Nemien. Some of this comes from a shared background – as both cultures trace their lineage to the lands lost to the waves. But the Hesha also see a kindred spirit in the Nemien, seeing their nomadic travels through the wastes as analogous to their own journeys over the sea, and the two cultures enjoy a robust trading partnership.

Given the fact that most of their queens and kings belong to the Triumverati, the Hesha do not send their tainted children to live with the Outlanders as many other cultures do. Children who are born marked often find their way into the service of captains or lords that can make use of their natural talents or terrifying visages, although some ships do still see children born with the taint of the Triumverati as unlucky. Most Hesha have no problem interacting with Outlanders and enjoy plying them with drinks in order to hear stories of their great deeds, as well as sharing their own. 

Despite Seravia’s lengthy coastline, the Hesha are not particularly close to them. They do often trade with the Counties and are regularly seen in Underwode, but they have a hard time hiding their dislike of the counts, their oppressive system of governance, and the fact that no one in Seravia seems to want to think for themselves. It doesn’t help that that Hesha ships are more than happy to smuggle passengers out of Seravia for the right price (or simply to stick a finger in the eyes of the authorities). Of course, in recent years such smuggling has become less common as rumors have spread in Seravia about how the Hesha only pick up passengers in order to use them as food sources and slaves – rumors that may have some truth to them for certain fleets, but don’t make it any more comfortable for the Hesha to act within Seravia. 

The Gothic people are both familiar and strange to the Hesha. On one hand both cultures share a sense of honor and commitment to personal strength, but on the other, the desire of the Gothic people to stay within their small communities and never venture outside is deeply confusing to the Hesha. There is also animosity between the Kuarlites and the Tarranthists, so there is always the potential for negotiations to turn sour, depending on the parties’ allegiances and beliefs. The Gothic habit of hiding their faces under masks also seems strange, after all, how is anyone to remember your deeds if they can’t remember you in the first place? To most of the Hesha, the Gothic are a puzzle, intriguing and off – putting at the same time.

The Hesha only really interact with the Salgothic enclave of Aquila, although not as often as one might expect from an island community. It may be because of old grudges and the fact that the Hesha cannot forget that Aquila closed its doors to them when they most needed help, or it may be the fact that the Salgothic’s way of hiding and barricading themselves away from threats marks them as cowardly and weak in the eyes of the Hesha. Or it could be the way the Salgothic cling to a misleading and backwards religion. Or it could be because of the way the Salgothic always seem to act as though they are better than anyone else, despite having done nothing to earn it. Out of all the cultures, the Hesha seem to disapprove of the Salgothic the most. When combined with the Salgothic magpie tendency to lay claim to anything from the old Throne, the Hesha typically charge them triple what they would charge anyone else.

Rumors and stories whisper that near the south of Seravia, far to the north, and dwelling deep in forests most Hesha would not bother entering, there is another group of people who make their homes hidden and isolated. Such strange tales are often written off as poor attempts at storytelling. After all, who would be so craven as to keep their very existence a secret? Who would want to be forgotten?