Virtual Verduria The Descent of Lesuasi

The descent of lesüasi [To Index]

Lutinids (ilii)
Tritonids (ktuvoks)
Hominids (uesti, icëlani, elcari, múrtani, flaids)

Lesuniae [To Top]

There is not one species of intelligent being on Almea, but seven or more, and these do not even all belong to the same taxonomic family. They do belong to the same order, which we may call the lesuniae, after the Verdurian lesüas, referring to any intelligent being.

The lesuniae belong to a class we may call mammals (V. shomuloi), although they differ from terrestrial ones. To begin with they have an amphibian rather than an reptilian ancestry, and about half the orders are sea-dwelling, or have a mixed sea-land habitat. If the earliest terrestrial mammals can be pictured as something small, hairy, and shrew-like, the first Almean mammals were probably something like salamanders. Unlike true amphibians, however, Almean mammals do not hatch from eggs or undergo metamorphosis; instead their young are borne live. (This, in fact, is how Almean mammals are differentiated biologically from other vertebrates.) Most but not all Almean mammals have some form of hair, and nurse their young after birth.

Lesuniae are not analogues to primates; in fact, there is no order comparable to our primates-- there are no monkeys and apes on Almea.

The lesuniae in general are adapted to shallow water and to wetlands. They can breathe both underwater (not through gills but through organs in the mouth) and on land (through their noses). They eat fish, shellfish, insects, certain plants, and small rodents, and their paws are adapted for grabbing prey, scavenging through lake bottoms, and opening shells. Typical members include the Almean seal (nucha), which lives in swamps, and the sea-monkey (šipom), which lives on coral reefs, and clambers over the reefs and over small islands with as much agility as it swims.

Three separate families of lesuniae have developed intelligence: one leading to the ilii, one leading to the ktuvoks, and one leading to the remaining races, including humans. We may call these the lutinid, tritonid, and hominid lines. They branched off from the other lesuniae some twenty million years ago.

Distribution of Non-Humans on Almea

Lutinids [To Top]

There are two main branches of lutinids, the šipomi and the ilii. The former exist in many species, and have only about the intelligence of monkeys. There is only one species of iliu (Lutinus lautus); it branches off from the other lutinids at least sixteen million years ago, and appeared in its modern form perhaps 400,000 years ago. The ilii have a longer history as an intelligent race than we do; their written records go back 40,000 years (compared with 6,000 years for ourselves).

[ butch iliu girl ] Ilii are larger and heavier than humans (indeed, an iliu female is likely to outweigh a human male). Their skin is greyish or greenish, and shiny, in a way that makes them look and even feel wet even when they are on dry land. Their ears are small, pressed flat to their skulls, and less convoluted than a human's; their noses are blunt; their feet are much like flippers, and covered with rubbery ridges. They have no body or facial hair. The hair on their heads is short and spiky, and bright blue, red, or orange, contrasting luridly with their skin; the lips, nipples, and labia are purple; their eyes are gold or green. Like many sea creatures, they tend to be thick in the middle, as an adaptation to the cold of the depths; they are muscular, but the muscles are buried below a layer of fat. However, they do not at all move like a fat human; their movements are powerful and graceful.

The principal habitat of the ilii is the continental shelf, which they have settled much as men settle the land. Our knowledge of their early development can only be speculative; but we can infer that the impetus to the development of intelligence, as among earthly hominids, was the hunting of ever-larger prey. Ilii eat fish and sea-dwelling mammals, including rudimentary lesuniae but not šipomi. They avoid crustaceans and shellfish. Much of their current animal diet is the result of animal husbandry.

The bulk of their diet, however, now comes from plants, planted and harvested on the sea floor. Highly social, they have villages, towns, and cities on the sea floor, often situated on the top of seamounts. Their early tool usage has blossomed into a complex technology. At all stages of Almean history ilian technology has outmatched human. Some, considering what seems to be a more rapid rate of change in human technology, suppose that this is only due to the age of iliu society. However, ilii can be quite innovative and cooperative when necessary; from what we know of them, there is no reason to fear them being left behind by future human advances.

Ilii can breathe air, and have settled certain coastal regions, usually at the mouths of rivers, and never more than about 100 km from the sea. These settlements are used largely for the exploitation of technologies impossible underwater, such as the forging and crafting of metals. In older times, and still today in the northern hemisphere, the ilii were great travelers, but they tend to avoid contact with men, and have kept a lower profile on land in areas where the human population is burgeoning. These days they acquire most of their metal from human or elcarin traders.

The ilii are the only intelligent race with full access to Almea. Hardy and fast swimmers, they are capable, with difficulty, of swimming across the Zone of Fire. In modern times they prefer to use technological assistance to accomplish the same feat.

Sinless beings?
According to the Eleďi, the ilii are unfallen, that is, without sin. Other traditions are not much less complimentary.

It is not easy to offer a scientific evaluation, since our direct knowledge of the ilii is small. What seems to be true is that the ilii have no concept of morality at all-- no laws, rules, sermons, duties, crimes, or punishments. The ilii seem to lack the gap between belief and practice which is the curse of humankind. They do not all believe the same things or act the same way; but whatever an iliu believes is right, he or she does, without exception.

This is of course only half the story; one can after all be a consistent scoundrel. Iliu also respect each other's beliefs, whether or not they share them. For instance:

It is interesting to speculate on the biological basis for such attitudes. Among humans, the hunter/gatherer lifestyle was almost as benign; many of mankind's ills began with agriculture, and the consequent evils of territoriality, acquisitiveness, class division, and overcrowding.

Perhaps their marine habitat helped the ilii avoid these problems. The seafloor fields are tended communally, so there is no great sense of territoriality, and no accumulation of wealth. It's not so easy to accumulate things underwater anyway. The sea is not as subject to climatic variation and change as the land; it's therefore a predictable environment, and iliu lives are long, with a controllable reproductive cycle, and thus no population pressure.

Tritonids [To Top]

The ktuvoks (Pristivir paludium) evolved from sharklike predators; indeed, there are a few remaining species of tritonid predators in remote areas of the sea (those untamed by the ilii). The ktuvoks however are no longer sea-dwelling, but spend their entire lives in wetlands. Only fairly extensive wetlands can support a significant tritonid population; and the wetlands must be highly saturated, preferably with standing water; a jungle such as the Rau rainforest will not do. In all of eastern Ereláe, for instance, there are only four such areas: the Nan delta and the Nasuael swamp (but from both of these ktuvoks have historically been eliminated), and two swampy areas in Dhekhnam.

[ awesome ktuvok pic ] Ktuvoks are ominous in appearance: half again as tall as a man, bulky and muscular, armed with fearsome teeth and claws, nostrils reduced to slits, large staring eyes. A frill of small tentacles rings the head like a crown; they have no hair. The skin of their chest and back is thick and heavy enough to resist a knife or arrow (though not a spear or sword). Their skin is a dark, mottled green, grey, brown, or black.

On their own, ktuvoks would simply remain (extremely adept) hunters restricted to their swampy homes. Their hostility toward other races, however, has given them the reputation of being evil beings. In the epochal past they fought great wars with the ilii, and in historical times they have created enormous empires over men. They fight among themselves as well, although they have a strong sense of racial solidarity and always band together when involved in wars with other lesüasi.

Ktuvoks remain adapted either for water or air breathing, but do not tolerate desiccation, and thus never venture far from wetlands. Alone among the lesunids, their diet is exclusively carnivorous. They are not gregarious, and ktuvoks tend to live alone (with their slaves and pets).

Their lifestyle is not highly technological; where possible they use slaves rather than tools or machines to accomplish a task. On their own they do not grow food, create art, or use metals, although they understand all these technologies and have taught them to their slaves.

Females raise their young alone, without assistance from the male; but the tritonids (both ktuvoks and their relatives) deliver not a sea of sperm but a single large sperm packet-- in effect a mass of protein which takes more than a year to develop, and which weighs more than the newborn offspring itself. Tritonid males thus perform their parental investment before rather than after mating.

Young ktuvoks normally become retainers of their parents, females staying with their mother and males going to live with their fathers... or more precisely on their estates; mature ktuvoks never live in the same household. When the parent dies, the children are well placed to inherit the parent's estate... but they do not always do so; sometimes a ktuvok with a smaller estate will suggest a trade. Theoretically the young lordling has greater resources and could resist, but the wily trader has more experience.

How could such ungregarious, uncurious creatures evolve intelligence? One clue may be that tritonids are natural predators of the (Almean equivalent of) cetaceans, themselves quite intelligent. Ktuvoks may have evolved their intelligence in the cooperative hunting of large whales (still one of their sports). Almean mythology invariably depicts the ktuvoks as the creation of (malevolent) gods, and there has been speculation that the ktuvoks are the result of genetic engineering, either by aliens or by the ilii in an earlier epoch. (It may also be relevant that observers usually describe the ktuvoks as rather cunning but not bright. They use language, but not eloquently. They may not be much smarter than the average chimpanzee-- which is to say, not unimaginably smarter than a coyote, a raven, or a dolphin.)

The one unquestioned skill of the ktuvoks is in animal training-- which extends to impressing and dominating hominids. Untamed humans hearing about this call it slavery motivated by terrorism, and seeing it call it demonic possession. We do not have the slaves' own testimony, but we know that human associates of the ktuvoks can be highly dedicated in the cause of the ktuvok polity, and rarely betray it or seek to escape it. However, ktuvoks always appeal to the self-interest of the humans they dominate; they create after all a powerful empire, much of whose material rewards go to humans; and earlier-enslaved peoples dominate later conquests, who have the hope of having slaves of their own once the empire expands further.

Some sort of mesmeric power may be attributable to ktuvoks. It is clear that this power is even more effective on animals (including those of the sea). However, the power is certainly not infallible. Those with strong countervailing ethnic or ideological passions of their own can resist it easily enough; and when a ktuvok empire suffers manifest reverses, as for instance Munkhâsh did under the combined assault of Ervëa and Attafei, its human minions do not fight to the end.

Since the ktuvoks do not travel their empire, and live alone in swamps, why do they need slaves? What do slaves accomplish for the ktuvoks?

Slaves do provide a high level of comfort: elaborate living quarters-- wet, dark, and unattractive in men's eyes, but evidently luxurious to a tritonid; high-quality food in abundance; transportation; a variety of manufactured goods. But why then the need for a thousand slaves rather than ten; why the need for an empire rather than a small holding round the periphery of the swamp?

In part the answer seems to be that large numbers of slaves are part of the status displays of ktuvoks. Ktuvoks evidently enjoy displays of submission (and even religious adoration), and females invariably mate only with the most prosperous ktuvoks, disdaining perhaps half of the ktuvok male population-- even in imperial times, when the disdained ktuvoks may be rich lords with hundreds of slaves. A sort of uncontrolled feedback loop may be in operation, driving the ktuvoks to ever greater displays of power.

Slaves are also used in warfare, either with humans or with ilii. There are reports, but few, of one ktuvok storming another's stronghold, killing the master, and stealing the slaves (and other domestic animals). Even rarer incidents of civil war are known, in which ktuvoks deploy their slaves against one another as armies. Though these episodes are exceptional, they surely indicate the stakes of the struggle which is constantly brewing among the ktuvoks. They are rare precisely because of the size and fearsomeness of the slave entourage accumulated by each ktuvok. The ktuvoks live in a balance of terror, constantly seeking out and just as constantly thwarting gaps in each other's defense; forming alliances; making new conquests; only because of their constant skill and vigilance are the failures (leading to out and out war) so few.

It is also to be noted that ktuvoks empires are always geared to the technological level of the surrounding hominids and lutinids. In the ancient wars with the ilii, unimaginably large armies of hominids were deployed by the ktuvoks. Only in Ereláe is there to be found an empire of the size and power of Dhekhnam (but the swamps of Ereláe are also the largest ktuvok habitats). The ktuvok kingdoms of Lebiscuri, where the hominids are at a hunter-gatherer level of production, are relatively modest in size, and at only a neolithic level.

Hominids [To Top]

Finally there is the family of hominids, encompassing several intelligent genera (with no non-intelligent close relatives). Unlike the lutinids and tritonids, all the hominids are fully adapted to life on land, and have lost the ability to live underwater. And unlike most other lesunids, but like ourselves, Almean hominids have sweat glands, pointing to an adaptation to running after game on the plains. Their long limbs suggest a period of brachiation in their evolutionary history.

The most primitive are the icëlani (Fugax silvestris), who live in forests. They are without technology, agriculture, domesticated animals, or writing, and their arts and language skills are rudimentary. Although they are sometimes called 'nymphs' or 'elves', a better interpretation is that the icëlani represent something close to the form of the first hominids from which their brothers have diverged-- they are a sort of living australopithecus. On earth, these primitive hominids were out-evolved and disappeared; but on Almea they simply retreated to the forests. In effect they occupy the ecological niche the apes occupy on earth (but with appreciably greater intelligence, inasmuch as they certainly have languages, though primitive ones, and make and use permanent tools, including spears). They are small and wiry, very pale, and usually golden-haired, though by human standards their appearance is spoiled by a protruding jaw and low receding forehead.

[ pretty almean girl ] The uesti (Urestu planitiei) are close to terrestrial humans in appearance. Transported to Almea, we would notice differences such as a good deal less bodily hair, a different musculature with more surface fat, wider hips, flatter noses and ears, very large eyes, and less prominently colored lips with no top indentation. Uestu feet would seem quite strange to us: rather wider, with four rather than five toes much less separated than ours. The females' breasts are small by Western though not by Asian standards; the males' penises smaller, without a glans, and lightly ribbed.

Some uestu skin colors would be familiar to us: Verdurians would look much like mestizo Hispanics or Arabs; the Xurnese and Skourenes to their south would look like Caucasians; the Nanese near the equator are brown-skinned; the people of Téllinor would look Amerindian. Other colors would be more unfamiliar: the Dhekhnami and Monkhayu have an ashen cast; the Uytainese are a dark olive color, almost bluish; the little-known people of the northern hemisphere have golden skin.

On Ereláe, hair color is usually compared to bread, ranging from a dark blonde to dark brown; uesti of Arcél and Téllinor are known for glossy black hair; elsewhere reddish and maroon shades are found.

Due no doubt to their aquatic heritage, uesti have an even poorer sense of smell than we do; as compensation, their sense of taste is superior, and they are more sensitive to movements and vibrations of air: an Almean blind person is able to walk unaided, on flat ground outdoors, without running into things. Uesti are also less well adapted than we are to dry conditions; they cannot endure as long without water, and they do not thrive in very dry climates, or in the thin air of high mountains. On the other hand they are more resistant to damp and more tolerant of high humidity. And though they cannot breathe in the water, they are excellent swimmers.

The flaids (Urestu magnocapitus) are related to uesti; they are taller, with large flat heads and large feet. They are only found on the island of Flora north of Verduria. They are the only nonhuman race to regularly mix with uesti (indeed, they are well known as traders and manufacturers).

They are peaceable and even sedentary in character, but pirates, bullies, and tricksters have learned not to mess with them.

The elcari (Nanus fodiens) are the intelligent race farthest removed from the aquatic origins of the lesunids. They are well adapted to deserts and mountains; hardy and thick-skinned, they can last for a week without water, and their large noses contain physiological adaptations allowing them to breathe without losing moisture. [ elcar and murtany ] They are small, like the icëlani, but more muscular than a man; indeed, lacking even the amount of subcutaneous fat we have, they have a knotty and ropy appearance, male and female. Their ears are large, and they have little hair. They have small feet with widely separated, agile toes, and powerful ankles that make them quick and sure-footed even on steep or shifting ground. Their skin is a leathery brown, their hair brown or black, except for those elcari adapted to high cold climates, whose skin is reddish and whose hair is white.

The múrtani are sometimes classified (certainly by all Almeans) as a separate species (Nanus perfidus), but this is biologically inaccurate, inasmuch as elcari and múrtani are interfertile. They share the same adaptations to desert and mountain life, and their appearance is similar, differing only in superficial features: larger, pointed ears; a bluish cast to the skin; a more elongated face with a sharp chin and hornlike knobs at the top of the skull. Other differences from elcari (clawlike fingernails, baldness, pendate earlobes, scarification) are cultural and not genetic.

The gdeoni or giants (Gigas fragorivox) are very large hominids, at least twice the height of a man, who once lived in the plains and savannahs, their large size apparently serving them for hunting large game. It is not known whether any still survive, and some authors have claimed that they are creatures of legend. Almeans also speak of kušaki or ogres, which bear something of the same relation to gdeoni as múrtani do to elcari; but their historical nature is even more doubtful.

© 1997 by Mark Rosenfelder

Virtual Verduria The Descent of Lesuasi