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Irfai - Culture
Written By: Deirdre / Wyld_Dandelyon (Writer), Ellen Million (Editor)
The Irfai are a culture of sea monster-fighters who were isolated in a tiny shard after the Upheaval.

The people who became the Irfai were stranded in a tiny shard (#66) that held only sea and an archipelago of tiny islands. There were at least two distinct groups stranded here, neither of which were genetically homogenous, and they were not natural allies.

It took the survivors a while to decide they must work together. The smoke from the volcanic eruption hit the boundaries and collected within the shard. After the loss of a boatload of people determined to brave their way to the mainland, the survivors approached the boundaries more carefully and, seeing the limits of travel imposed even on the volcanic smoke, they determined that they had been isolated. They mapped out what was to become their world and set warning buoys.

The volcano stopped spewing lava as the Upheaval settled, but continued smoking for several years. That, combined with the fact that the smoke was not able to disperse quickly, meant a constant smell of ash; the survivors took to calling their little archipelago the Smoky Islands.

Their descendants made a pilgrimage toward the mainland every year for the first hundred years or so to tell stories of the world as it was before and to look for evidence that the mainland might again be accessible. When the mainland buoy finally sank, this tradition died, and the Irfai stuck close to their islands, traveling out only enough to hunt and gather the seafood they needed to survive.

In the first years, there were trapjaws, blimpfish, and a few soldierfish in the waters, as well as smaller predators, but the blimpfish soon died out due to the tiny size of the shard. The surviving humans (or one faction of them) made a point of killing off the dangerous soldierfish. They used the last of the Ancient technology to build weapons to penetrate their armor. The trapjaws survived longer, however, they had no isolated beaches to lay their eggs on, and eventually people killed them off by simply eating all of their progeny.

This doesn't mean that these waters ever became comfortable and safe -- smaller predators (predators too small to qualify as sea monsters but still large enough to pose a real danger to humans) were numerous.

Notable among the sea creatures that remained in this shard throughout are the following:

  • Sharks: one or more relatively small (8-12 foot) varieties.

  • Nastyhands: A much smaller and tastier relative of the smartarm, not as smart as its larger cousin, and more vicious -- 5-7 feet.

  • Rock Turtles: (2-5 feet) The rock turtle is so named because it had adapted to laying its eggs on islands so tiny they are little more than rocks. Instead of burying the eggs in sand, they secrete a glue-like substance, and attach the eggs to cliff-sides and boulders where they will be warmed by the sun. In the process of hatching, an enzyme is released that lets the glue fall apart and the hatchlings escape into the sea. The rock turtle is a small relative of the giant sea turtle. It is omnivorous and fierce. In ancient times, it had a very limited population, only in this area of the world. It thrived during the sundered times because it lost most of its natural predators, and because it can deposit its eggs in places that are inhospitable to humans. Like other Torn World turtles, it is omnivorous and happy to go after fresh meat.

  • Finned serpent: This creature is a much smaller distant relative of the sea serpent. Its body is red and its long fins are yellow or orange. It is venomous and quite dangerous, despite its small size (4-5 feet). Unlike the sea serpent, its lungs are vestigial, and it can only spend a brief amount of time on dry land.

  • Giant Armored Mudpuppy: (5-7 feet) This amphibious creature prefers to stay in the water, but can breathe well on land. It is omnivorous, but prefers meat and eggs to plant substances. Fresh blood can drive these creatures into a frenzy. The Irfai bred these creatures as fighting animals, betting on the outcome of the fights. Over time, human selection has led to the creatures being larger and more clever, with brighter armor than their wild cousins. There are contests on dry land, in sand, in mud, and even in pools of water. Members of this species can be a danger to children and to injured adults. In modern times, the more domesticated form of this creature is known as the fighting mudpuppy.

    Culture in the Sundered Times I:

    The Irfai became short-distance sailors, hunters/fishers, and gatherers. They had a love of sport, raised fighting mudpuppies, and had athletic and hunting contests. Most of their stories are related to these pursuits. They retained stories of dreamskates, whales, sea serpents, and other creatures that either died out in their shard or never existed in their shard at all. Their stories are told in prose (many variants exist) and sung in songs, usually with an ABAB CDCD rhyme scheme. The songs vary less than the stories, but like the stories, they don't stick to facts. These stories and songs were considered entertainment and a distinctly different discipline from history.

    One faction of the Irfai retained a strong respect for education and science; these people became their historians and healers. Since the Irfai in the sundered times had no paper, the historians developed a system of record keeping by storing knowledge in rhyming couplets which were memorized and taught to students verbatim. A few records (birth records and other things considered vital to be accessible to everyone) were written on the leather of sea-creatures, however, that resource was needed for clothing, shelter, and boat hulls, so very little could be spared for record keeping.

    During this time period, the Irfai retained a relatively realistic remembrance of what the ancient world was like. They also retained literacy, though lessons were mostly learned using styluses in the sand. However, people believed that whatever was keeping them from the rest of civilization would be short-lived, and their children would need those skills and knowledge.

    Because it was essential for survival, resources were shared. People owned their personal weapons, clothing, and jewelry, and the person who killed or gathered food could bestow it on whoever he or she wished, but anything extra was shared with anyone who needed it. People who could regularly give away food, clothing, or other resources gained in social status; hoarding caused someone to lose a great deal of status and influence.

    This time period lasted approximately 270 years, before the volcano erupted again. This is when the shard border between the Irfai and Affafilalo dropped (approximately 1250 in the Empire's estimation) however, no one knew it at the time. The volcanic eruption destroyed the carefully maintained hides that held the genealogies and histories that the historians and healers had preserved.

    Culture in the sundered times II:

    There was then a period of about 50 years when the sea predators of the Irfai shard spread to the Affafilalo shard. Food got scarcer in Affafilalo, but was a little more plentiful in the Smoky Islands because the predators were more spread out. Literacy was lost during this time due to the younger people laughing at the stodgy historians. Most people refused to have their children taught letters, and hides were not made available to create new records. The memorization of the couplets went mostly underground; the healers retained respect because they were necessary, however, few people learned the histories other than the rhymes dedicated to treating illness and injury. A few of the healers tried to maintain literacy in the people, but it was soon driven underground along with the couplet histories.

    Some attempt was made to convert histories from couplets to story form so that the knowledge would not be completely lost, however, that led to people retelling the stories in a more organic fashion, changing the details to make the stories more exciting. The view of ancient times grew further and further from reality.

    The sailors slowly got more adventuresome as young people went looking further for fierce sea creatures to destroy, so they could have their own stories and songs. This segment of time finally ended when some of these young sailors were blown into Affafilalo by a storm.

    Culture in the sundered times III:

    Contact was made with Affafilalo. Affafilalo's 'streets' are all waterways, and at this point in time, they were simple extensions of the open ocean into the city. Since the Irfai traveled between their tiny islands in small boats, the city's watery streets seemed perfectly ordinary, unlike the tall buildings and crowds of people. It soon became apparent that the Affafilalo culture was very alien and confusing to the Irfai.

    The first shipwrecked Irfai sailors were given things by people who don't realize that the Irfai would find the simple goods given to them to be the stuff of legends. There were many things commonly available in the city that only were found in tales of the ancients previously -- cloth woven from animal fur and soft plant fibers, fruit, wine, even paper. This is complicated by the fact that the Irfai had no understanding of currency. From the Irfai point of view, everything in Affafilalo was abundant, and anything that was in temporary abundance was automatically shared with everyone; anything else was wasteful and selfish.

    There were misunderstandings, which led to conflict, Life at home had always been hard, and was getting much harder and the wealth in the city was tempting. The conflict was escalating, and some feared it would erupt into full-scale war.

    Then, one of the Irfai saved a small child (who happened to be the only child of one of the legates) from a nastyhand that found its way into the city's streets.

    The legate took a personal interest in the Irfai, both in gratitude for saving his child and because he saw a chance to get some political pressure off his back. The people had been demanding that he do something about the new, dangerous wildlife that had invaded the city streets. He decided he should see if he could hire some of these barbarians to train his people to protect the citizens from the new wildlife. Once the ideas of personal ownership and jobs were properly explained (along with a startling number of related concepts), a number of the Irfai were offered jobs, a treaty was eventually signed, and relations with the Irfai started to normalize.

    In Affafilalo, it had been at least three times as long since the Upheaval as it had for the Irfai, which threw further ridicule on the few Irfai remaining who remembered the original histories. However, the people of Affafilalo appreciated a good story, and the better Irfai storytellers and singers found they could make money that way. They also learned that Affafilalo natives wanted nearly all stories to inspire giggles, guffaws, and belly laughs. Nearly all of the Irfai stories came to include enough humor to satisfy the city-dwellers. Over time, humor became as ingrained in the Irfai as in the Affifalo citizens, a process that was accelerated as the people of the two groups started to intermarry. The two groups-- poetic forms and story traditions merged in other ways as well, so that sometimes Irfai stories are told in free verse, though the ABAB CDCD song form and the traditional prose conventions are not entirely lost.

    Relations between the Irfai and other nearby cities started rocky and got rockier, perhaps because there the Irfai were blamed for the more dangerous wildlife instead of heralded as teachers and heroes with experience in dealing with the creatures; their image was not helped by their friendship with the Affafilalo legates, who had not been popular in this region since they stopped threats of war by killing the ruling family of at least one nearby city. The Irfai usually just shrugged this off, saying that those folks didn't get their jokes anyway.

    Culture in the sundered times IV:

    Almost 100 years after the shard dropped between the Irfai and Affafilalo, the shard line between them and shard #14 dropped (approximately Empire year 1345). The weather got a little worse, and the unpleasant sea-life got a little larger and more varied. The Irfai gained a few new stories about encounters with new monsters, but this period of time, about 20 years, wasn't long enough to create any big changes. Also, at this time, pirates started to set up home bases in and near the old city, hard times making it relatively easy for them to draw recruits from the city, other places on the mainland, and the Irfai.

    Early Modern Times: In approximately 1365, by the Empire's reckoning, the barrier dropped between shard #12 and the now-combined shard containing the mainland and the Smoky Islands, in a flurry of storms and deadly weather.

    Once this barrier fell, the weather took a dramatic change for the worse. The constant winds, dramatic tides, and frequent storms made the Smoky Islands less and less habitable, and it didn't take long to recognize that it wasn't just a series of freak storms, but a settled new pattern. The more traditional Irfai started to argue about what to do -- they didn't want to simply move to Affafilalo; they saw that as a method of cultural suicide. Besides, the weather was also wreaking havoc on the city, which was built out into the ocean during the sundered times.

    They hung on until the barrier to shard #30 dropped in 1369. The line of mist that had been visible in that area for as long as anyone alive could remember resolved into a chain of larger, sturdy islands, and the Irfai sent explorers to see who lived there. When they found ruins, feral goats, and a land more hospitable than their own, they packed up and moved, naming their new land the Mist Islands.

    The Irfai continued to trade with the remnants of people in Affafilalo when the city was abandoned.

    The drop of this barrier also brought a huge influx of sea monsters into the area. The Irfai (at least the youngsters) were initially delighted--now they could fight huge monsters like their epic heroes!

    With a combination of inspiration from their oldest (and wildest) stories and songs, bravery inspired by youth and daydreams, and desperation, the Irfai started trying to extrapolate from their skills at hunting man-sized predators to develop the skills to fight monsters the size of some of the hotels in Affafilalo.

    They lost people, of course, but they had some notable early successes, likely a combination of luck and running into monsters that were disoriented or had been injured in the storms that drove them into new waters. The winners came home to their people--a people much in need of cheer by this point--with new stories and songs that helped cement an attitude toward fighting monsters that the Duurludirj find reckless, irresponsible, and disrespectful. The Irfai, in turn, claim that the Duurludirj have no sense of humor and don't know how to enjoy life, much less properly celebrate their victories.

    The antipathy between the Irfai and the Duurludirj which started at this time also has roots in what might be called historical accident--due to the sea barriers dropping significantly earlier than the land barriers, and to the presence of pirates (who drew rogues from the Irfai population as well as from the other populations in the area), the first contact between the Empire and anyone of Irfai descent was Duurludirj contact with pirates. This, along with the love of jokes picked up from Affafilalo and the Irfai tendency to glorify fighting sea-monsters as a personal heroic journey (to say nothing of their willingness to exaggerate), led to some pretty strong prejudices on both sides. The Duurludirj were not inclined to train Irfai as warsailors, and though the Irfai may have secretly taken notes of Duurludirj practices, they were not inclined to admit it. Since the Empire took over Affafilalo, and Empire inspectors certified that the Irfai do not have a culture of piracy, these prejudices have started to die down, but the cultural differences remain, and relations between the two ethnic groups are 'interesting'.

    The original people trapped in the shard were diverse, from a variety of sociological and ethnic groups. By the time they contacted the people of Affafilalo, the majority were of medium to tall height, with golden to golden-brown skin and hair that ranged from platinum or strawberry blonde to to bright carrot-red, and blue or grey eyes. People with paler or more olive-toned skin, brown or black hair, and brown, hazel, or green eyes were also present in the population, but by the time they had intermarried a few generations with the Filaloi, the image of Irfai being tall blonds and redheads with blue or grey eyes was so well-entrenched that Irfai who did not fit that stereotype were usually assumed to have Filaloi blood even by other Irfai.

    The Irfai under the Empire:

    The Empire annexed Affafilalo in 1447, after the Raalyan and also after the other cities in the area, which (being functional cities still) caught the Empire's attention before they realized that there was still significant (and problematic) activity in the ruins of Affafilalo. Once the Empire took over, they turned it into a university research town and tourist destination. The people in Affafilalo denied that they were the source of the pirates and called the Irfai pirates, an assessment that the first Empire officials in the city assumed was correct.

    In 1450, five Irfai elders traveled to Affafilalo to complain to Empire officials that they were not pleased with being blamed for piracy in the area. The Empire sent investigators and cultural scientists to visit the islands, and saw that the boats there (mostly small, traditional coracles) did not match the make of the pirate vehicles. In addition, despite spending months searching, they could not find any pirated goods or evidence of the type of wealth that such goods might have bought. The Irfai living in the Mist Islands officially became part of the Empire in 1452.

    By this time, no one lived on the storm-scoured Smoky Islands, though they might have been used as a temporary hiding place by pirates and smugglers when the weather wasn't making them more dangerous than the Empire's Navy, a situation that persists into the present day.

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