By Darrell Hardy for New Gods of Mankind: New Gods Handbook
You can buy the original book here. On sale till March 16th
Undines are a peaceful race inhabiting the sea and ocean cliffs around the world. Unlike the other races, they have two different forms: one they wear on land, and another they wear in the water.
On land, undines resemble humans with sleek skin ranging from silver-blue and silver-white to purples and deep blues, webbed hands and feet, and no natural hair. It is customary for Undines to let an aquatic plant, such as seaweed or kelp, grow on their scalps and infuse with the skin. This helps protect their scalps from the drying effects of the sun while on land. Undines’ eyes, lips, and mouths are larger than those of humans. Their teeth are pointed, and their eyes range from a bright, inhuman yellow to a hollow black.
In the water, undines transform into mammalian sea creatures such as dolphins, whales, or porpoises. Those who worship Plthunlos take on predatory animals such as giant squid and sharks. The specific type of creature an undine changes into depends on the individual’s origin. Those from some regions turn into smaller dolphin-like creatures while those from other regions may turn into creatures similar to whales or other larger aquatic mammals. Undines are similar to these animals, much as they are similar to humans while on land, but their skin tones, streaming kelp hair, and intelligent yellow eyes mark them as a breed apart.
Both in the ocean and on land, undines have breathing holes in the backs of their necks. They can open or close the hole at will, and keep it closed while on land, choosing to breathe through their noses and mouths as humans do.
In humanoid form, undines dress in flowing, multicolored robes for important ceremonies or when meeting with those from outside their race. Amongst themselves, they wear no more clothing on land than they do while swimming in the ocean—that is, ornamental strings of shells and pearls, and the occasional strap-belt to hold tools or weapons.
Even in their humanoid forms, undines are excellent swimmers. They can hold their breath for up to an hour and withstand water pressure and pressure changes that would kill a human. In their aquatic forms, they can swim even deeper and go half a day without coming up for air.
It is the undines’ shape-shifting ability that sets them most apart from the other races of the Known World. The transformation is relatively slow, taking several hours of exhausting effort, and requires consuming vast amounts of food (usually fish) beforehand to provide the energy needed. Undines usually transform in water, since doing so on land is uncomfortable and awkward. They can still swim during the transformation itself, when they often appear as humanoids with fins and other aquatic body parts.
Undines are graceful in every way. Their movements on land are as smooth and elegant as those in the water. Their mannerisms are fluid and courteous; everything they do has a touch of refinement to it, as if their whole lives were part of a spontaneous, yet formal ceremony. They respect wisdom above all else and constantly seek to improve their own intelligence and understanding.
As such refined creatures, undines are a peaceful people. They avoid conflict when possible, and almost never turn to war. When conflicts do arise, they are often resolved through games of thought.
Only the temple guardians of Celundynn practice any sort of violence. These temple guards practice a form of fighting using hands and feet with small sharp handheld objects such as daggers or razor-sharp shells. Due to the rise of humanity and increasing number of salamander attacks the number of temple guards has increased.
The undines have been blessed by their gods with the ability to shape the stone, coral, and other undersea substances using little more than their hands, some simple tools, and their voices. They call this talent “stone singing.” It allows them to add fine, intricate details to their buildings without compromising their structural integrity. They also use stone singing to form tools, artwork, armor, and even weapons from the bounty of the sea.
Undines love their cities.
Ancient and ornate, undine cities are found in the seas and along ocean cliffs throughout the Known World. Most cities have both underwater districts and those that are above water. Walls of stone and coral make the cities extremely defensible—especially those that lie a few miles off-shore. The cities themselves are mazes of streets, family apartments, small temples, and halls of education, debate, and diplomacy. Most cities have a thriving commercial district, usually centered on their harbors.
Ar-Celdynn is home to the largest undine population in the known world. Surrounded by coral reefs and underwater caverns, Ar-Celdynn has many natural habitats for the undines in the seas. Its capitol, Celune, is the oldest and most famous city in The Known World.
Undine cities are found along the coasts of Naalgrom, Frinth, and Raanon as well. Undines rarely travel inland. Though they are physically capable of making such a journey, they are uncomfortable being too far from the sea.
The exiled undines who still worship the rejected god, Plthunlos, have found solace in the underwater mountains called Plthunlos’ Teeth. Their vicious god has blessed them with the ability to remain underwater far longer than the rest of their race, so they can actually live most of their lives beneath the waves.
Fish are the main staple of undine diet. Even on land, they eat more fish than anything else, though they cook the fish while living on shore. Undines supplement their diet with vegetables, and their cities have communal gardens both above and below the water. While some “surface food” like bread is considered a delicacy, meat from land animals is repulsive to undine sensibilities, and it isn’t found inside their cities.
Undines mate for life in elaborate marriage ceremonies. They live with their extended families that, since they live up 300 years, can become quite large. They are a matriarchal society and the males traditionally leave their parents to live with their wives’ clans. Family lines are traced along the female side, and females are the primary inheritors.
Undines can conceive in either their aquatic or humanoid forms, but once a female is pregnant enough to affect her mobility on land, she adopts her aquatic form and remains in the ocean until the child is born. The gestation period is roughly a year and a half. Their children are born in their aquatic forms, and don’t learn to transform until their second or third years of life.
According to legend, the undine race was once united as a single nation under the priesthood of Plthunlos. Since Plthunlos has fallen from favor, his priests are outlaws and each undine city is its own independent state.
Each city is ruled by a council made up elected representatives (who speak for each clan or major faction in the city) and priests (who are chosen by Celundynn herself). This council creates and interprets the laws, which are enforced as necessary by the Celundynn priesthood. The undines are committed to the ideals of democracy. They believe that every citizen has the right to a voice in his or her government.
Undines are known for their finely crafted items made of stone, coral, and shell. Through the power of stone-singing, they can give these items extraordinary strength. Shells thin enough to be translucent are sturdy enough to be used for furniture. Weapons of ocean stone are strong and sharp enough to be used in battle, and yet are no heavier than their iron counterparts. While some undines work with wood and metal, they are uncommon, and found only where those substances are plentiful.
As an advanced culture, undines have a written language, which all their young are taught to read and write. They do not write lightly, however. Writing is a sacred task, performed mostly by priests and the elders of the clan. Paper is uncommon among the undines, and “writing” is actually a form of intricate stone-singing. Their words are carved into stone tablets or into the walls of the temple to serve as reminders for generations to come.
Instead of relying on the written word, undines have developed amazing memories. They have an excellent oral tradition. Their history has been passed down, virtually unchanged, from one generation to the next for thousands of years.
Undines have several different relationships with the elder races. Salamanders are still not tolerated within any of the undine groups, but they are not attacked on sight (except by followers of Plthunlos). Gnomes have good relations with the undines, who often trade food and materials for gnome-crafted weapons. The giants are ignored unless they threaten one of the temples, in which case the Temple Guardians are called forth. Relations are also cordial with the nymphs of the woods; they share no trade, but a mutual enemy in the salamanders. The sylphs have been known to interact with the undines, and often live in the same cliff faces they do.
Humanity is treated with kindness or even sympathy—like for a lost pet searching for a place to live. Most attacks made by the humans are quickly forgotten as humans have yet to do any real damage to any of the undine temples. On occasion trade will occur with friendly tribes who show progress in thinking. Very rare is a human actually allowed to visit one of their temples.
Beliefs and Gods
Undines recognize two gods as the mother and father of their civilization: Celundynn, Goddess of the Ocean Waters and Cliffs; and Plthunlos, God of the Ocean Depths. Other gods (such as Gnorr, Lord of the Earth) are recognized, but not worshipped.
Celundynn is currently the only god allowed to be worshipped by the Undines. All other gods, including Plthunlos, are outlawed with the punishment of excommunication from the group. There are a few social outcasts who do worship the Father of the Deep, but are too violent to be let back in to society. This schism of gods took place hundreds of years ago just before the Battle of Dragons.
Celundynn is the goddess of peace, prosperity, the shallow waters and the shore. She was the partner of Plthunlos for many years until just after humanity came to the Known World. It is said their relationship was at odds for millennia with neither side giving way. Plthunlos wanted the undine tribes to leave the shores and isolate themselves in the deep. The priesthood of Plthunlos encouraged this action by telling every undine this is the way life will be. Celundynn and her priesthood broke off relations with Plthunlos and his rival priests. Eventually the goddess of peace won out and all those who still followed Plthunlos were asked to leave. Disgusted, the priesthood left to deeper waters to create their own lives. Very few non-priests joined them, as most Undines were tired of war, embracing the wisdom of Celundynn.
Plthunlos is the God of the Ocean Depths, Sea Storms, and Battle. He is a purist God with thoughts that only the undines are fit to rule the earth. Social outcasts who do follow him are violent warriors who go into berserker rages in battle. His followers stay away from those of Celundynn but will go after anyone who is not undine, making war in his name. Often attacks from followers of Plthunlos are mistaken as attacks from Celundynn’s followers, with humans and other races not understanding the difference.
The Great Tournament: Once every 10 years, undines from around the Known World converge on one of their cities (the city changes each time) for a month-long competition known as the Great Tournament. Challengers in the Tournament compete in contests of athleticism, knowledge, and wisdom. While the contests vary slightly from one Tournament to the next, traditional challenges include swim races, wrestling matches, diving contests, history quizzes, logic puzzles, and feats of creative engineering. Each city-state is allowed to send 50 undines to represent it at the Tournament, and competition to being one of those 50 is fierce. The winning city-state is given honor for the next 10 years, and the winning teams are rewarded beyond measure by their sponsoring cities.
Stone-Raising: An advanced form of “stone-singing,” stone-raising allows a large group of undines to literally sing a building into existence. The process is exhausting and takes a day or longer, depending on the size and complexity of the building. In general, a group of a hundred or more undines gathers on a patch of stone or coral in a rough circle around where they want the building to appear. They then join their voices in the mystical song of creation, and “call up” stone or coral from within the circle, slowly shaping it as they wish. A circle of stone-raisers needs a strong leader who not only leads the singing, but creates and maintains the vision of the finished building. Experienced leaders are highly valued.
Song of the People: Education is a vital part of undine culture. A core component of this education is the Song of the People, a series of epic songs and poems that detail the history of the undine race. This is the root of undine oral tradition. When an undine is finished with his or her formal education, he or she must recite this history (which can take days) in order to “graduate” and be accepted as an adult and a citizen.
Peace of Celundynn: Shortly after the exile of Plthunlos, the undine city of Prothe was destroyed by underwater seismic activity. There was a terrible rumbling, a fissure, and suddenly the water was boiling, the city was flooded with magma, and Prothe was little more than a memory in a matter of hours. To prevent this from happening again, Celundynn blessed her followers with a powerful ritual that can relieve the pressures of the ocean’s floor before they erupt. Today, when an undine scout sees steam or other signs of impending seismic activity beneath the waves, he or she immediately reports it to the temple of Celundynn, and the God’s priests go perform the ritual over the site.