Dance of the Sea

Dance of the Sea

Thalassa, the Lady of the Sea, dances with the mosasaurs that are her most sacred representatives. In my concept, she is the matron of an islander people called the Oceanborn, whose culture mixes Afro-Caribbean, ancient Minoan, and Greek influences. Although the Oceanborn view her as a benevolent provider for the most part, they understand she has a fearsome wrath which they try to placate with sacrificial human offerings to her mosasaurs.

Conceptual World Map

Conceptual World Map

I haven’t settled on a name for this entire world, but I have put some thought into the cultures populating it (with the help of some scavenged ideas from earlier projects, of course). Each of the cultures labeled on this map is named for their most important god which is always based on an element from nature.

Sunborn Kingdom – A savanna kingdom of tall and slender people with very dark skin and tightly curled hair, rather like the southern Sudanese of our world. They take pride in having the world’s oldest civilization which remains a global superpower to this day. They venerate the Sun as their supreme goddess, believing her to be the mother of all existence and erecting the grandest stone temples and colossi in her honor. The Sunborn also boast universities teaching advanced science and mathematics, advanced technology rivaling our world’s Hellenistic kingdoms, and a formidable army that employs savanna creatures such as giraffes, rhinoceros, and elephants as battle mounts. Their primary influences are northern African kingdoms like Egypt, Kush, Mali, and maybe Ethiopia.

Thunderborn Jungles – Dinosaurs and other monstrous reptiles thrive in this equatorial rainforest basin bordered by volcanic rifts. The native population is distantly related to the Sunborn, with dark skin, kinky hair, and Central African physical features. However, instead of uniting into one vast superpower, the Thunderborn country remains divided into numerous smaller kingdoms with horticultural villages supporting royal cities of stone. They worship a fearsome god of thunderstorms whom they liken to an airborne black tyrannosaur, describing thunder as his roar and lightning as his teeth. Many of the wars that break out on a regular basis between the Thunderborn kingdoms are meant to collect captive warriors as offerings to the storm gods, whom they feed by mounting the captives onto the spires of their temples. Influences come from Central Africa, Dravidian India, Mesoamerica (especially Maya), and maybe New Guinea.

Steelborn Tribes – They roam the savannas south of the Thunderborn country, herding stegosaurs which supply them with almost everything they need (food, shelter, clothes, and even shields and weapons). Physically they are tall and dark, like the Maasai and other East Africans, and they like to dye their hair red with ocher. They call themselves Steelborn after the gift their volcanic goddess handed to them in legend, and to this day they produce steel through harnessing volcanic heat from the northern part of their range. Their influences include the Maasai of Kenya, the Zulu of South Africa, the Hadza of Tanzania, and to a lesser extent Native Americans of the Great Plains.

Isles of the Oceanborn – Though they share ancestry and most physical features with the Thunderborn, the Oceanborn have evolved slightly shorter physiques after colonizing the tropical archipelago they call home (insular dwarfism). They too are divided into city-states which fight among themselves for sacrificial captives, though the Oceanborn offer theirs to the giant mosasaurs they interpret as representatives of their sea goddess. Despite this propensity for internecine warfare, the Oceanborn have a reputation for being cheerful, easy-going, and hospitable, and they are proficient mariners and merchants as befits islanders. Influences draw on Afro-Caribbean, Minoan, Greek, and possibly Melanesian sources.

Fireborn Republic – This smaller continent, which is bisected by a range of volcanoes, has a dry subtropical (or “Mediterranean”) climate with scrubby vegetation supporting animals such as camels, straight-tusked elephants, and cave lions. The Fireborn people themselves have bronze skin, dark curly hair, and a “mulatto” physiognomy. They started out a collection of squabbling city-states before merging into one Republic governed by an oligarchic Senate. They believe their supreme god inhabits volcanoes, coincidentally like the Steelborn, and supply it with sacrifices picked from the losers of their recreational gladiator games. With soldiers clad in the strongest steel armor among any in the world, the Fireborn have established themselves as an intimidating superpower…even if the Senate has a habit of infighting over power. Of course, their main influence is the Roman Republic.

Cloudborn Empire – So named because they once believed in a godlike Heaven, the Cloudborn Empire has since changed to an atheistic, humanistic official ideology. Nonetheless, they are the only nation in all the world to harness steam power, which they use for their gigantic junks that can travel through air as well as sea. They are also the only nation to use gunpowder technology. Though they dominate the entirety of their temperate island continent, the Cloudborn got their start in the forested western regions before expanding to the prairies of the east, wherein they assimilated the bison- and elephant-hunting horse-riders known as the Earthborn. You could say the Cloudborn are steampunk imperial Chinese whereas their Earthborn subjects in the east are based on Great Plains Native Americans; all have light coppery skin, straight black hair, and epicanthic eyefolds that give their eyes a characteristically narrow “Asian” look.

Stoneborn Tribes – Their southern continent has a semi-arid to arid climate except for the swampy jungles of ferns and club mosses along its northwestern coastline. Ancient lineages of amphibians, reptiles, and pre-mammalian synapsids dominate the megafauna here, though there is an abundance of large venomous insects and arachnids as well. The Stoneborn people have dark skin, curly blond hair, and prominent brow ridges, and they claim to be descended from the eggs of a rocky Dimetrodon goddess. Stoneborn societies range from foraging nomads in the desert to sedentary sago farmers living in reed-hut villages in the north. Their culture incorporates influences from ancient Sumer in Mesopotamia and Aboriginal Australia.

Iceborn Clans – They are big, stocky, and fair-skinned people who dwell in the world’s northernmost continent, which is topped by a polar glacier wherein their grim, aloof god is said to reside. Most live as hunters and gatherers on the open tundra and in the conifer forests, hunting mammoth, steppe bison, and woolly rhinoceros and competing with saber-toothed cats and dire wolves. However, a few along the forested coast have settled down in timber fishing villages and supplement their subsistence with summertime raids across the southern sea. By virtue of their physical strength and legendary ferocity, the Iceborn are both feared and valued as mercenaries by the more southerly nations, who in turn may raid them for slaves. The Iceborn cultures draw on ancient Germanic (especially Norse), Celtic, and Cro-Magnon European influences.

The Hisborian Peninsula

The Hisborian PeninsulaThis map illustrates the peninsula of Hisboria, the setting of a short fantasy story I have just finished titled The Gift of Empire.

As fans of medieval history might guess from the geography and labels, this setting was inspired by early medieval Spain. In the northern area there are a number of petty kingdoms who squabble among themselves, whereas the whole southern area is dominated by the Mourish Empire whose capital is in Kardabou. The Mours actually represent a splinter off the even larger Empire of Nyagadu which invaded from across the southern sea, bringing with the hallmarks of their foreign civilization.

Obviously my Mours are partly based on the “Moorish” Islamic conquerors of southern Spain, but actually their culture and even physical appearance more closely resemble that of sub-Saharan West African people than anything Islamic or Arabic. For example, their “idolatrous” religion venerates a pantheon of divinities similar to the orishas venerated by the Nigerian Yoruba.

As for the story itself, it’s about an ambitious King of Oragan who receives a gift from the Mourish Empire, but this gift isn’t nearly as generous as he first thinks…

Priest of the Spider

Priest of the SpiderThis Akhiptan Priest serves a divinity represented by the Spider, which in Akhiptan culture is associated with magic, technology, and mischief. The circular scars on his face are meant to emulate spider eyes.

Moving on to the history of the real world, there never was a full-blown spider god in ancient Egypt as far as I know. However, the spider’s spinning ability was sometimes associated with the goddess Neith who patronized weaving.

The Three Continents

The Three Continents

Originally each of these lands was going to be the homeland of one culture ripped off from the real world (e.g. Norse, Egyptians, or Greeks), but then I decided I would enjoy more creative freedom if I scrapped the Counterpart Culture idea this time and populated these lands with more original (or at least less obviously derivative) societies.

If it isn’t obvious from the color scheme, Norheim has a chilly sub-arctic climate with conifer forests and steppes, Aridia is mostly desert and Mediterranean scrubland, and Uzuri has tropical rainforests and savannas. The indigenous people of Norheim have white skin, the Aridians tend to be olive-brown like Arabs, and the Uzurians are black people.