The visitors are English, French, Spanish, Dutch, and Chinese. Some are honest privateers—more or less. Others are scurvy pirates fresh from bloodletting in the Caribbean or the Spanish Main. A few are even corsairs from the rich Mediterranean. The darkest souls are slavers, trading human cargo across the merciless Middle Passage. All have one thing in common—they are here because the Maiden led them into the storms, out of their own worlds and into the Devil’s Cross, a tempest-tossed region of mystery and death in the alien world of Caribdus. The natives of this world are a very different sort. By far the most dominant are the masaquani, who are nearly identical to humans, though perhaps a bit more exotic and varied in appearance. Winged atani are rare, as are crab-like scurillians and outcast half-ugaks. Savage kehana thrive in sunken volcanic flumes, or battle with the last survivors of their racial enemies, the lonely doreen.
Mysterious kraken scour the isles on some unknown quest, and massive grael harpoon deadly norwhales in the Cold Sea. Brutal Red Men roam the Thousand Isles for prey, or serve as uthroats on the most bloodthirsty pirate sloops. Caribdus is home to fantastic creatures as well. Giant crabs scurry along the reefs. Norwhales prowl the cold depths. Flocks of razor wings descend upon hapless sailors and cut them to ribbons. Here there be monsters.
Water, Water, Everywhere
Caribdus is a water world, but it wasn’t always so. It was once several smaller continents with many prosperous cities, towns, and villages. That was before the Sea Hags. The natives say a trio of witches, triplets with raven-black hair and eyes to match, were discovered working dark sorcery in the masaquani citystate of Ograpog. The three were tried, sentenced by King Amemnus himself, and bound to posts at the edge of Ograpog’s cliffs to drown with the rising tide. With their dying breath, the sisters cursed Amemnus and his beloved kingdom. As the tide rose, it began to rain. It was a mere drizzle at first, but by the time the waves finally crashed down on the witches’ heads it had become a tempest unlike any Caribdus had ever seen. The rain continued for months, covering the site of the witches’ execution in 50 fathoms of water. Whispers began that the rain would not stop until King Amemnus was dead. The people of Ograpog turned on their liege and chased him to a great ledge overlooking the ocean. The king and his most loyal guards fought over the drowned ruins of their city, killing scores of their own citizens before finally being dragged screaming off the ledge—into the sea.
The Sea Hags Rise
While Caribdus was drowning, the witches’ corpses floated in the depths, too foul even for the fish. As King Amemnus’ life ebbed in that same sea, the sisters’ death curse came true. Their horrid bodies filled with unlife and returned to the world as something far more powerful—the Sea Hags.
The Devil’s Cross
That was thirteen years ago.
Now the Sea Hags lair in the middle of the Devil’s Cross, a region of constant storms bordered on four points by inhospitable rocks that have dashed many a ship to splinters. From this damned region come their minions bloodthirsty pirates, horrors from the depths, and ghost ships filled with damned crews. No living being is safe as long as the Sea Hags and their minions prowl the Thousand Isles. A vague prophecy says a stranger will one day defeat them, but as yet, few have even tried.
The Flotsam Sea
The epicenter of the witch’s curse has created a massive hole into which the waters of Caribdus drain. For 60 leagues all around the Devil’s Cross the ocean is a slow, sinking whirlpool full of debris from the death of a world. Goods, corpses, shipwrecks, and the flora of millions of acres float upon this Flotsam Sea, miring ships that try to ply it in its soggy embrace. The Flotsam Sea has become the hunting ground of many foul creatures. A race of previously unknown ocotopoids dwell in the muck, as do hordes of drowned sailors who have risen from the depths as loathsome undead. Still, good crews can escape this dread sinkhole. A few ships from earth manage it every month.
Soon after the hags arose, visitors from another world began to arrive. The strangers claim a mysterious spirit resembling a crying girl drew them into a fierce storm. When they emerged, they found themselves in the whitecapped squalls of the Devil’s Cross. The natives call humans "visitors.” They seem to come from various lands in a world called “Earth,” between the years of 1500 to 1815.
A World of Magic
Caribdus is full of magic. Wizards control the elements, magic artifacts abound, and bizarre and monstrous creatures walk, fly, and swim about the land. Even the geography itself seems enchanted. Elementalists A few races of the Thousand Isles have learned to control earth, fire, water, and air. Earth mages help grow crops, speak with and control mammals, mend ship’s timbers, and even sunder the very land itself. Fire mages are much feared for their destructive
power. They launch balls of fire from their fingertips and are devastating to enemy ships. Water wizards are wanted on every vessel, for they can heal wounds, make sea water drinkable, and communicate with the many beasts of the ocean to aid in navigation.
Elementalists who have mastered the winds of Caribdus are the most valued of all. They can move ships even when becalmed, settle storms, speak with avians to find land, and toss aside enemy missiles with their fantastic mastery of the gales.Even visitors to the drowned lands—humans— can become masters of the elements, learning to harness wind, wave, sand, and flame for their own ends.
The ugaks practice something called blood magic that requires the sacrifice of sentient beings.
Their shamans can summon flocks of razor wings, cast deadly bolts of black energy, and it is rumored summon physical manifestations of their jungle gods. It’s unknown how the three girls who became the Sea Hags learned this magic. Most thought it was something only the Red Men could master. Octopons also seem to have some sort of black magic, though it’s possible it’s just elemental energy twisted to new uses. This is another mystery for the sages of the Thousand Isles.
Only the ugaks have gods. Other Caribduns believe in spirits and the afterlife, but do not “worship” them or have established religions. Many visitors still cling to their faith, but Earthly churches have gained few converts in the Thousand Isles.