Islands of Fire
The following is a sneak peek at a setting in progress for Savage Worlds. It is based on a three-part novel of the same name, originally published by the now-defunct jukepopserials.com in 2013.
WELCOME TO MOKUKAI
Islands of Fire takes place on the world of Mokukai, a place of vast and dangerous oceans, islands of dense jungle, lakes of steaming lava, and both aching beauty and savage cruelty.
Mokukai is a world rife with magic. It permeates the air, the stones, the sea. It is a powerful force that even bends the will of the gods themselves.
Legend tells of Mother Ocean and Father Sky as the progenitors of the world. Father Sky is the embodiment of all that is above: the stars, the sun, the moons, the air, and the winds. Mother Ocean is the embodiment of all that is below: the sea, all water, and all life. The two of them made love and created a countless number of offspring. These are the Gods, powerful beings that dwell on Mokukai and have claimed smaller domains for themselves. Some gods have also created lesser beings, which is the case with humans, who are said to have sprung from the coupling of the first two of Mother Ocean and Father Sky’s own children and spread across Mokukai. And there are other, more insidious, beings out there called devils, who lurk in places where humans rarely go.
The Progenitors, Mother Ocean and Father Sky, possess great mana, yet rarely become involved directly in the affairs of humans. They can be found almost anywhere, and are usually mentioned in daily prayers, though not directly worshipped. Sailors are more likely to directly pray to Mother Ocean for favors or safe passage while at sea, and farmers will often pray to Father Ocean for rain or a change in weather.
The Gods do not have physical forms, though they will occasionally manifest them as they see fit. Gods are most often bound to the land. In fact, when the Progenitors created the gods, each made a home for himself or herself and these became the islands, cradled in their mother’s bosom. Thus, almost all gods are limited to a landform, be it great or small. Large islands are usually the home to more than one god, who have joined together to create the large landmass and rule over it, though not always peacefully. The smaller the landmass, the more likely it was created by one god. Each god has a different personality, takes particular interest in different aspects of their domains, and is more or less friendly to humans.
Creations of the gods are generally referred to as demigods, though they come in many varieties and exist for different purposes. Some are simply meant to guard an area, some are created to deal with supplicants, and others exist for a myriad of purposes. In most cases, demigods are ageless, though not immortal. Humanity is the one creation of the gods that is neither of these things, though unlike most other beings, they have free will.
In dark places dwell the devils, malicious beings of chaos and ruin. Devils can be created in a lot of ways. Some are former gods or demigods who have become corrupted, some were born of terrible magic, some were created by wicked gods for nefarious purposes, while others seem to have simple sprang into existence. Many devils have a physical form, and almost all are tied to a specific place, though not all – the devil Tumatu appears anywhere that murder is in a man’s heart to offer his services, and the devil for war roams the face of Mokukai at will.
Islands of Fire follows the story of Kina and her companions, as they attempt to escape from the dark magic of Nakali and her Burning Warriors.
Kina is a young woman who is far from her home of Kotuhiwa, the largest and most advanced island in Mokukai, where she she grew a homeless orphan in the mighty city of Huka`i. Life taught her hard lessons in the muddy alleys of the labyrinthine city, but it could not crush her spirit. Fleeing the city after the death of her only love, her wanderings have taken her across Mokukai in search of a home — but more than that, for some greater purpose.
Kina is young, with long, straight and dark hair. Her skin is unmarked with tattoos.
Motua was raised in Lo`onai, where he was trained to be a warrior. When he broke a trespassing kapu, he was forced to flee to the distant island of Ku`ano`ano where he hoped to start anew. He trained to become one of the alaka`i nahele, a highly-skilledwilderness guide and scout. He was captured by raiders from Keli`anu and brought to Toko-Mua to be made into a spirit drum, but managed to escape alongside Kina.
Though he is not as muscular as many warriors, he is strong and agile. He keeps his dark hair short. He has excellent night vision, a skill developed during his alaka`i nahele training.
Puponawai Toatu`ome Huma`o, a.k.a. “Pupo”
Pupo was raised in Kilakila on the island of Pelanu, where he was taught by his father, a ghost hunter himself, in the arts of finding and trapping ghosts. He traveled around Mokukai for many years, plying his trade, until he ran afoul of a powerful devil called `Imu`imu which took offense at his attempts to banish it from the world, and now seeks vengeance. Popu was forced to flee to the Teeth, where he hides using a ghost traps and an enchanted shark jaw which hides his presence.
Pupo is middle-aged, with long hair beginning to gray which he keeps tied back with a cord. He is tattooed, but not ceremoniously. He wears a tapa malo.
Hekalo is a kapua, sorcerers who twist the fabric of mana to create miracles the likes of which only the gods are supposed to be able to perform. Because of this, they are reviled by the gods who consider them a direct threat to their sense of supremacy and dominion over humanity. Most kapua keep their knowledge and ability secret to avoid detection and prevent the wrath of any local gods being delivered upon them. But faced with the death of his lover, Mai, Hekalo crossed the ocean to the haunted island of Makoahiva in hopes of asking the god To`o to bring her back from the Lands Beyond — the final resting place of the dead.
Hekalo is lean and wiry, with narrow features and skin that is so pale it almost has a bluish cast.
Little is known about the cruel and tyrannical leader of the Cult of the Ebon Flame. With the help of the mysterious pahi and her dark magic, Nakali rules the fearsome warriors of Keli`anu and is building an army of ghosts. Her elite fighters are the Burning Warriors, a corps of men and women who are immune to fire.
Nakali’s most trusted adviser and personal kupuna, Meke`u is charismatic, practical, and diligent. Though he is still healthy, Meke`u is aging and has a salt-and-pepper beard. He is very handsome.
Many moku, or nations, comprise the world of Mokukai. Almost all of these are human nations that share similar customs and language, though some regional variations might exist.
Howe’a is a loose confederacy of several moku with different rulers and a long history of uneasy peace. Formed from the islands that cluster around a central cinder cone of huge proportions, the nations of Howe`a are the most advanced in all of Mokukai. They are centered around a largely uninhabited, feral island from which the archipelago receives it’s name, an island that also has the distinction of being considered the origin of humanity. Howe`a island is an active volcano which lights the night sky for many miles with its fiery glow. Along the jungle-covered slopes of the central mountain course rivers of lava. The goddess Pele lives in the fiery caldera at the peak. She cultivates terrible monstrous animals in the lowland jungles as pets.
The most isolated of the Howe`a archipelago, Ikemua is sparsely populated due to its dry and rocky terrain. Most of its inhabitants live on the southwestern side of the island where they can take advantage of the westerly winds. It also gives them the greatest distance from the small island of Ikemua Iki, a windswept and rocky place that is said to be haunted by a bloodthirsty devil who was banished there after killing a god from Lo`okapo.
Apahana is a refuge of kaua, a flat and rocky island chain dotted with the ancient ruinsof a forgotten culture that is said to have lived there before being wiped out by the Howeans. Though it is generally considered under the jurisdiction of Heka, it is considered kapu because of its history of warfare, so no one dares set foot here other than outcasts. They have constructed a miserable existence in the sticky palm forests and sail out to the unnamed reef to the southwest to fish for a rare form of tuna.
Heka shares some of Howe`a’s volcanic energy, though this is expressed mostly in a single active lava vent along the west side of the island and frequent earthquakes. The people of Heka struggle in this hard environment, and the uncertainty has made them distrustful and warlike. The last few centuries have seen the rise and fall of Heka’s aggressive ambitions. Every decade or so a disaster on the island leads them to raid their neighbors for supplies or slaves. At the moment they are ruled by a young ali`i who craves conquest, but whose hand is stayed by the voice of reason provided by an elderly kupuna. When she dies, Heka might engage in another series of bloody raids.
Smallest of the major islands of the Howe`a archipelago, Ava`a is almost all mountain. A long and incredibly steep wall of verdant cliffs catches the rain on the southwestern coast, making that long stretch one of the wettest places in the entire island chain. Taro and rice grow well here, and the small towns are able to easily provide for themselves. Settlements are few on the other side, as the rain shadow makes the leeward side almost too dry to support human life.
The home of the oldest still-active town in Howe`a, Lo`onai is a fertile island that is known for its many taro fields and fish farms. Traders from Lo`onai sail every month to the sister islands to barter off surplus, and this has caused them to be a relatively wealthy moku. To protect their island, they have constructed several watchtowers on high points around the island, and small stone forts at the most accessible beaches.
Known as the seat of learning in the Howean archipelago, the people of Lo`okapo prides themselves in having the greatest number of kahuna and even a series of interconnected buildings which serves as a repository of knowledge. The kahuna kalai wa`a in Lo`okapo are considered master craftsmen, making canoes that are not only functional but beautiful, sought out by ali`i from all over Mokukai.
The lonely island of Maku`ua seems like prime real estate: It has great weather, ideal terrain for farming, and reefs rich with fish. But settlements don’t last long there because the island is the home of a colossal and violent devil. Once a god, Toru-aka-mutu became greedy and betrayed the other gods of the island and slaughtered them all. For a hundred years Toru-aka-mutu was worshipped by a small civilization of people who erected strange temples to him before they all vanished without a trace. To this day, travelers rarely go much farther than Maku`ua’s beaches if they have to stop over, don’t stay long, and refuse to read the inscriptions on the various ritual stones left around the island.
Despite being blessed with two sheltered, natural harbors, Ku`ano`ano’s people are notknown for their penchant for seafaring. They are a strange people who consider displays of emotion to be kapu, and adorn their bodies with piercings, ritual scars, and tattoos. Music, other than drumming, is kapu. The people of Ku`ano`ano are master drum makers, and are said to be able to infuse their drums with a dark magic that summons the ghosts of those who have been sacrificed and their blood used to stain the drum heads. Even the gods of Ku`ano`ano are strange, known for capriciousness and bizarre demands.
The towering, mountainous Keli`anu was settled originally by relatives of the same people who put down roots in Ku`ano`ano, and are a similarly unpredictable lot. The god of that island is either weak or impassive, and as a result the island is infested with devils. The people of Keli`anu bother little with their absentee god, instead revering the dangerous and wicked spirits that dwell in the festering jungles. They are also known to be masters of dark magic – Keli`anu produces more kapua than anywhere else.
Lohoke`a (The Teeth)
In the far eastern expanse of known Mokukai there is a vast shallow sea. For hundreds of miles, the sea here ranges in depth from five fathoms down to ankle-deep, an undulating submarine desert broken only by occasional isolated reefs. In the middle of this sea are the tiny islands of Lohoke`a, also known as the “Teeth,” a reference to their shape. These limestone islets, none much bigger than a town, rise out of the turquoise water like pillars, sometimes worn away by the waves until they are supported by narrow trunks of stone or feature caves at their feet. Few come here, as the Fingers do not offer much by way of solid land to support human life, though they are a haven for birds and fish. Travelers who return from passing through the Fingers sometimes report seeing strange stone shapes on some of the Fingers which appear man-made, though there are norecords of settlements out this way.
The people of distant No`okewa are insular and half-mad, the victims of their environment and their own blind faith. Settled only a few hundred years ago, the original people found a cool and misty island upon which great and strong pines grew. Fierce winds whip from the south, bringing endless cold rains, yet the trees gave shelter from the harsh elements. Then, a hundred years ago, a mad ali`i declared that the gods of the island demanded to be honored with a towering pyramid to be constructed of wood. For the next several years, the hapless maka`ainana and enslaved kaua labored to cut down, strip, and haul the towering pines to the location designated by the ali`i. There they began to create a structure made of wood unlike anything seen elsewhere in Mokukai. The mad ali`i survived several attempts on his life as the people grew more desperate and more exhausted. At last, when there were no more of the grand trees left, the pyramid was complete and the ali`i climbed to the top and declared himself the god of No`okewa. Incensed at this blasphemy, the real gods struck him with lightning, setting the pyramid afire in a blaze that could be seen everywhere on the island. Now, without the trees for protection (or for the means to leave the island), the people of No`okewa huddle in caves and fight one another for survival. Anyone who visits the island is quickly murdered for his possessions. The No`okewans particularly crave canoes.
Kilakila is the collective term for a long archipelago of small atolls and volcanic islands that stretch for hundreds of miles in central Mokukai. Many of the islands are flat ringsof sand and brush with a central lagoon – very lovely, but not capable of supporting settlements. Most of the Kilakilans live on one of five larger islands scattered through the chain. Conflicts between moku are rare but not unknown. Each major island is home to a handful of gods, while the smaller islands in the archipelago are home to solitary gods or devils.
Savage Tonu`ia is a land avoided by most seafarers due to the terrors that live upon it. The gods of Tonu`ia are locked in an ongoing competition to impress one another with larger and larger beasts. Reports of crabs the size of huts, massive carnivorous birds, insects as large as a man’s hand, and snakes that stretch out along the length of an entire beach are enough to keep most of the curious away, but mariners passing by recently reported seeing a wild boar that was taller than the treetops. It is said there is a village of warped, twisted giant humans somewhere on the island as well, the failed experiments of the gods of Tonu`ia.
Though sailors from different lands know this strange feature of the ocean by several names, it is most commonly called “The Mouth.” Some believe it is the great Mother Ocean’s own open maw. The Mouth is a vast whirlpool that can draw in unwary canoes from as far away as fifty miles in any direction. At the center of the rotating current is a wide vortex that is so deep that the rocky bottom of the ocean itself is exposed nearly a mile down. The remnants of hapless sailors rots in the exposed mud. None who fall into The Mouth ever escape.
The largest landmass in all of Mokukai, Kotuhiwa also boasts one of the most advanced civilizations. Settlers found the northern stretches of Kotuhiwa to be great farming land, as it is warm but not hot, and enjoys very regular rain cycles. Kotuhiwa grows cooler and cooler toward its southern end, marked by snow-capped mountains and warm but temperate forests. Though it is known for its warriors who have studied and perfected the art of war, Kotuhiwa has enjoyed nearly one hundred years of peace. Several distinct nations call the island home but have ceased centuries of conflict, reaching a state of detante. It’s abundant resources have allowed humans to flourish and reach population levels never before seen in Mokukai, leading to the formation of large towns. At the head of the northern bay is Hotomua, a city of such size it could rival some of Mokukai’s atolls. Thousands of people live in this sprawling city, build on the conflux of two rivers. Stories of strange weapons sheathed in a type of shining stone have come out of Kotuhiwa, though most in Mokukai consider these rumors fanciful.
Kotuhiwa’s sister island is Papu, a cold and windy place that is home to few humans. Strange versions of more common animals can be found here, leading many in Kotuhiwa to consider the island cursed by devils that like to twist living beings. At the center of the island is a mountain so tall that it compared to a knife sticking into Father Sky’s back. Some believe the only way to physically meet Father Sky is to climb to the peak of this mountain and leave Mokukai behind.
Somewhere between Kotuhiwa and Aiku`anu is a stretch of empty, open sea with currents that move in a languid circle. All manner of flotsam from across Mokukai gets caught in the currents, growing more and more thick as one draws closer to the center. It is said that a strange island made only of floating debris can be found if one makes it to the center, and this island is home to terrible creatures and the restless dead. Sailors rarely brave Rorutoku, instead going hundreds of miles off course to stop off at Holuatao`o instead of chance becoming lost here.
The open ocean southwest of Howe`a is broken up by a cluster and chain of small islands called Holuatao`o. Most of the islands of this archipelago are small volcanic outcroppings with protective reefs, though they grow older as one heads west, where the islands become atolls before trailing into sandbars and seamounts. The eastern end of the island chain has the largest and youngest islands, and is home to a dozen different nations who live on the moku. Forever locked in cycles of war and peace, the people of Holuatao`o are skilled warriors and mariners. Holuatao`o is also known for its masters of the art of the tattoo, some of which have learned how to channel the power of the gods into their creations, so it is not unknown for ambitious warriors from all over Mokukai to make the journey here with offerings of treasures in exchange for one of the magical tattoos.