« Quatschte blöde an die Zelle, kriegste schnell ne Maulschelle »The Zells, or Sugaardin, are a race of seagoing Din found all over the seas of Mundus. They crew sentient vessels known as Zellislava.
- — Kasel Rhyme
Like all Din, the Zells are immortal as long as they retain their Focus. In the Zell's case, this Focus is called The Dream. Whenever a group of Zells are together on a seaborn vessel for a great period of time, they begin to hear each other's thoughts, experience each other's feelings, and become able to communicate telepathically. Any ship on which a Dream is formed becomes a Zellislava, and becomes self-aware and able to be communicated with by its crew. As long as a Zell is immersed in a Dream, he or she will never age.
The Zells, or Zellish Elves, or Sugaardin, are a race of humanoids who favor a maritime existence, mentally and spiritually bonded to their crews, as well as to the living ships on which they sail. The Zells rule the seas of Mundus, and can be found in every maritime role, from mercenary to merchant. Though at heart they are not as warlike a people as humans are, the Zells have proven that on the high seas, they have no equals.
Zells resemble humans, but it would be difficult to mistake the two. Their ears are long and tapered, and grow longer with age, with truly ancient Zells having ears in excess of a foot in length. The average Zell of both genders stands at about 5 feet 10 inches. Males tend to weigh about 150 pounds, and females slightly less. The “Classic Zell” is fair skinned, with straight black hair, black eyes, and an aquiline nose. However, most Zells have some human ancestry, and so show diverse traits much as humans do. The Zell Focus is their Zellislava. When crewing these ships, Zell do not age aside from their ears growing.
Culture & SocietyEdit
The Zells are not a very well organized race. They live primarily on the sea in independent ships, each with its own small community and goals. These ships belong to Tribes, of which there are 42, but these Tribes do not have any sort of permanent leadership above the individual ship level. Instead, Tribes have a “creed,” which is decided upon every hundred years in a great meeting, in which all ships of the Tribe gather together (if able), and hold talks about any possible changes to their creed. If a captain or his crew breaks the creed, and it is discovered, punishment is usually meted out quickly, according to the creed, by the rest of the Tribe.
The actual culture and values of the Zells vary dramatically along tribal lines, but a constant is the worship of The Seven, who are believed to be the source of The Dream, and who are venerated almost universally by seabound Zells. Each Tribe has a “primarch,” or a member of The Seven whom they believe is first among equals, and with whom they are associated.
Many Zells have simply been assimilated into human culture (usually because their ancestors couldn’t afford a ship) and these people are not generally much different from regular humans, though they tend to be taciturn, as the natural aversion to words stays with them.
Zells throw the bodies of their dead in the water. If they have time, one or multiple Zells will "carry" the dead individual to the deep, holding onto the body and dragging it down with them to their friends in deep places. They will return, but their dead friend will not.
Zells are social animals. In their natural state, they exist in tight-knit groups that live, travel, fight, eat, and generally act together as one. The Zellish diet does not differ much from the human one, though their sense of taste is far less acute, and Zells are poor at discerning tastes unless they are very strong. This has led to most of their food being extremely pungent. They also drink (mostly) salt water, which would be fatal for most, but treasure the taste of fresh water, and consider it inherently aristocratic.
Most Elves are resistant to disease, but Zells in particular have adapted immunities to a few conditions that are commonly the bane of sailors. They cannot contract Scurvy, and their skin, blood, and bodily oils are highly toxic to insects of all sorts, making infections from mosquitoes, lice or fleas unlikely.
Zells do not mate for life, and in fact have great difficulty feeling attraction for those that inhabit a Dream with them. They are prone to short relationships in passing, either with their own kind, other Din, or humans, and the offspring are almost always Zells, regardless of the mate. However, these Zells are less "pure" and after four or five generations of a Zellish line mating with humans, they'll still look Zellish, but they'll lose their Focus and immortality. Then a couple of generations after that, and the ears will vanish too, and you've basically just got humans.
Something that doesn't disappear for many generations, though, are very weak taste buds, and an unwillingness for any insect to come within a few yards.
The Zells have domesticated their own animals in parallel to humans, and these critters have adapted well to ship life. Of course, that necessitates being part of the Dream, so that the ship doesn't idly eat them... That was the hardest part. If a Zell loves something enough, be it a cat, a human, or even just an object with significance to them, the Zellislava will stop trying to eat it. That's the first step.
Certain breeds of robust cat, too wild to be timed by humans, have been tricked aboard the Zellislava by admiring Zells, and then dominated by the psychic powers of the ship, and made part of the crew. These large furry cats stand watch on the ship's high places, and emit an unnerving wail when land, ship, or sign be spotted.
Many tribes have their own favored animals. The Tesshechti favor huge dogs, whereas the Chiii tame birds to follow their ships, and at time deliver them fish. The Bomacks tame great peacocks, who mast in their riggings and communicate their sightings to them. The Dakonats famously train lion-seals, who scout the coasts for them, and nest in the spinning blades of their ships, kept safe by the will of the Chaos Gods.
The Sethites, alone of the tribes, have accepted humans as their favored pets. Most ships keep a human on board, often without ever explaining to the human why they have abducted him. They are often released at an advanced age, left on a dock with their cumulative pay for their years of service with no explanation as to why they were taken in the first place, and replaced by another.
Cannons exist, certainly, but the technology to effectively mount them on ships is still formulating. A few top-end ships have them, but the majority of fighting on ships is done with arquebuses, bows, and boarding actions.
Even those that are equipped on boats are very hard to aim and reload, because the protocols and proper mountings have not yet been developed. Generally a ship with a cannon will have it on the nose, and will endeavor to get as close as possible before discharging it point-blank and then ramming.
The Zells find this whole affair distasteful because it is so destructive. Traditionally they resolve disputes between vessels with archery duels between champions, who stand on the bows of their ships and shoot at each other as the two close, like a slow-motion joust starting from almost a mile away. In less dignified wars, they still prefer to keep their distance and shoot from afar, rather than boarding. Given what it's like for a Zell to step onto a ship of an opposing god, this is not at all unreasonable.
Probably the majority of Zells think of non-Zells on the water much as men think of Zells who stumble onto land. Awkward, ill-suited for their environment, and kind of cute in a dumb, giraffe-slipping-on-ice way. It doesn't really bother them that there are mortals floating around, as long as they remember whose ocean they're on.
Another group, smaller but still substantial, dislike and resent the other races invading their waters. They would much rather the sea belong to the Zells, and everyone who desires something transported by sea contract with a Zell. To this end, they are frequently curt and impolite to landfolk, and generally treat them the same way wealthy townsfolk might treat gypsies and tinkers.
The last group, the Fleets, hold the same opinions as the second group, but much more vehemently. Fleets led by the Admiral Princes generally form to shut down all non-Zellish maritime activity in their waters, allowing only those who pay a heavy toll (and eventually, not even they) to pass through. This last group, though the smallest, are still made up of a huge number of very experienced, and sometimes very large and powerful ships that can project power effectively through a large area of sea. Many of the most important trade routes are controlled by these Fleets, and at times the pressures they have exerted have changed the fortunes of nations.
Generally they do not see non-Zellislava ships as being related to their sacred vessels. They tend not to refer to them as ships, preferring evasive terms like "skiff," "raft" or "barge" to something that might imply that something made by a landborn could ever constitute something even in the same general category as the Zellislava.
Ballistae, and devices not far removed from the Roman Scorpion, are both used on some vessels.
Pagan Bounty HuntingEdit
The Zells involved in the war are usually competent fighters. Their advantage is that they generally have better equipment and better organization than their pagan rivals. They also generally have the strategic initiative because of their strength at sea.
Now that said, humans learn from their mistakes better than Zells do, it's just in their nature. A human who witnesses a string of battles with the Zells will quickly realize two things:
- The Zells always assume that human warriors will sacrifice themselves to protect their civilians.
- The Zells always assume that the human objective is to get out alive.
So if you invert this, if you're, say, willing to use a village as bait, and your objective isn't to get away or protect the children, but to kill fucking Zells, then you'd rack up a big kill-count very quickly, because the Zells would fall into that trap four times out of five.
As the pagans become more and more desperate, this strategy has become more and more common, and it's something that's worrying to the Zells not only because lots of them are getting killed, but also because it's essentially suicidal behavior on the part of their golden goose.
Probably the best known Zell is Rade Sark, but he's far from the only one of note.
One of the leaders of the Dakonats, specifically of the Branded Zell tribe. It was her daughter, Dahaka The Black, who married a Krajini Prince and mothered four generations of Zellish royalty to rule the island nation before eventually human blood reasserted itself in the line. Shahaka is one of the oldest Zellish women alive, and is consumed by a loathing for humans (specifically the Norsemen) that puzzles everyone, even her close associates.
One of the oldest Zells period, and he looks his age due to frequent trips to the land. Radovan is the current King of the Tattered Sea, the only true Zellish Nation. He rules from his "Twirling Court," a massive Zellislava that sits immobile over a permanent whirlpool in the Tattered Isles, ever-spinning, and invincible to assault. Nobody is quite certain which of The Seven Radovan follows, as he hasn't mentioned it, and skillfully evades the question whenever it is posed. This has allowed him to gather a multi-tribal group that has the power to control The Tatters, and thus all trade on the interior coast of Vosca.