The Deep is an infinite plane of formless, hungry emptiness. Here and there, it seeps into the material world. Go deep enough underground, it is said, and you’ll fall into a tendril of shadow and be pulled into the all-consuming void. Several religious traditions teach that the Deep will, one day, consume all life across the cosmos before devouring itself and bringing about an end to the universe — and perhaps beginning it anew.
Despite its strong affiliation with pure negative energy, there are places where the Deep intersects with the rest of creation. These collisions results in blasphemous and terrifying forms of life. In many cases, these abominations take form in realms mercifully detached from the other planes, and spin off gibbering into the infinite black — but not in all cases. In one realm in particular, a border region where the Deep boils into the Fountain, the Deep’s seeping negative energy has given birth to an icy nightmare world known as Fathom. This yawning aquatic abyss is home to two of of the most dangerous and devious species in the omniverse: the krakens and the aboleths.
This lightless domain of Fathom lies in a perpetual state of contention between its chief tenants. The war between the krakens and aboleths — each of whom are convinced they are better equipped toward the task of keeping the denizens of the Deep from overwhelming Fathom — stretches back before recorded times. The one thing these two species agree upon is that if Fathom should be overtaken, none of the lesser races (that is, everyone but themselves) would survive. It should be noted that between the two, only the aboleths consider this noteworthy.
Krakens handle threats to Fathom by gathering a school of their brethren in direct proportion to whatever danger intrudes into their territory, and then demolishing it with their titanic combined strength. Thus far, this rather direct strategy has proven effective, and legions of explorers and would-be conquerors alike have died in the grip of their crushing black tentacles.
As the physically weaker race, the aboleths have developed more sophisticated methods for securing their survival. Their cities — gigantic membranous constructions that resemble enormous single-celled lifeforms in their layout — are hidden to naked sight by powerful illusionary magics that would baffle the brightest Black Robe. It is behind these invisible walls that burn the only sources of illumination in all of Fathom. Great mansions of genetically-engineered coral are lit by globes of magical light, and contain vast libraries of alien philosophy, mathematics, and prophecy, collected from several different worlds and several different points in time.
An idiot among aboleths would be considered an exceptional intellect among the lesser races, so when the aboleths say they have put their hundred greatest minds to work on a single problem, that statement carries significant weight. Such was the case with the Grand Equation. Every century, these hundred great sages are interrupted in their work to participate (impatiently, it should be noted) in a battery of aptitude tests to determine whether they are fit to continue their work, or if any other aboleths have surpassed them and claimed a spot in the brain trust. Such has it always been, and in the ten thousand years of recorded history since the Grand Equation’s beginning, never has a member of this group been replaced for a reason other than death.
No one on this side of Fathom knows the details of the so-called Grand Equation; mages who have attempted to scrye in to discover its secrets have either been driven to gibbering madness or died outright from the psychic backlash. From the scribblings of those driven insane by what they saw, this little can be deduced: that the Grand Equation is both a theory and a formula that, when implemented fully, will lead to complete aboleth ascendancy and mastery over all sentient races in all realms. Additionally, it is known that in aboleth society, adherence to the Grand Equation has taken the place of religion. Each aboleth has a part to play, and the Equation, like a fractal pattern, becomes more defined the deeper an aboleth dives into implementing it.
The intrusive tentacles of the Grand Equation have wormed their way into the affairs of most every sentient race, and rarely if ever do those being implemented have any inkling that they are being influenced. A popular and traditional method for steering the developmental paths of lesser beings involves an aboleth envoy traveling to the material plane, and using its innate powers to dominate the mind of a likely thrall, who will bring it a more highly placed thrall, who in turn will bring it a thrall yet more highly placed, until the aboleth becomes a puppet master of members of a royal court.
In recent centuries — scarcely enough time to grow bored, by aboleth reckoning — this classic approach has been mostly supplanted by the creation of a new slave race the aboleths refer to simply as “slugs”. Bred from a mingling of genetic material harvested from ald, ord, olom, and aboleth, each individual slug is carefully crafted into an attractive image of whatever race it will infiltrate, and is implanted as an embryo into the body of the host mother — sometimes a willing cultist who knows of and believes in the Great Equation, but most often through complicated and ultra-sophisticated teleportation magic that removes a fertilized embryo from the womb of the host and replaces it with that of the slug. It is unknown what the aboleths do with the embryos the fetal slugs replace.
Slugs are born and live their entire lives believing they are a member of their host mother’s race — as far as they know, their host mother is their mother — and there is nothing remarkable about them. After behaving exactly as they were bred to behave and achieving all in life that they were meant to achieve, slugs are gripped by a sudden and all-consuming depression. This crippling plunge in mood inevitably leads to a grisly suicide that leaves very little of their original body in a recognizable state; the most common kind is self-immolation. The puppets of the aboleths have thus fulfilled their unknown masters’ plans and neatly disposed of themselves, and the gears of the Great Equation have ground forward another step.
This infiltration tactic has proven effective and efficient for many years, and the aboleths have ruled it an unmitigated success… until very recently, when certain slugs began to gain self-awareness. What caused this is unclear; what little evidence of this awakening that’s been gathered suggest either an error in the Great Equation (unthinkable to the aboleths) or a fundamental change in the laws of physics, at least in this branch of the omniverse.
Whatever the case, the results are consistent. Somewhere during a slug’s development — usually in late adolescence or early adulthood — a mysterious stimuli interrupts a slug’s false-life, and triggers a shocking change: an awakening into their true nature, a change that manifests in a way that reveals the slug’s aberrant heritage (see “physical description” below). This first transformation is involuntary and horrifying, both for the slug and any witnesses. Should the slug survive — a number don’t, as their minds break with the trauma and their suicide programming kicks in — its world has been shattered. The person it thought it was was but a mask that has fallen away, and with it fell most of the memories its aboleth masters encoded into the slug at its birth.
Always disoriented, and carrying only scattered fragments of what it once knew and who it once was, these lost souls do what they can to survive. Many times, the sudden appearance of a strange looking creature in the midst of humanoid society results in the unfortunate slug being murdered on the spot by adventurers or a terrified populace. Enough of these awakened slugs have been encountered, however, that the humanoid races have christened them “deeplings” — a name first coined by Jendril (better known as the Wicked Prince), a Black Robe of surpassing power, after he manage to divine the slugs origins after a lengthy vivisection.
Meanwhile, the great aboleth sages who steward the Grand Equation will not say one way or the other whether the emergence of awakened deeplings is all part of their plan, or if it represents the biggest ever ripple in their scheme. This ambiguity has left their lesser aboleth kin feeling a keen and alien discomfort.
While in their humanoid guise, a deepling always appears as an exceptionally attractive and confident member of its mother’s race. Its bearing and intellect usually carries it far enough in life that it can afford expensive and custom-tailored garments, which it wears well enough to cause envy among its peers.
In its natural form, however, a deepling’s flesh becomes translucent and gelatinous, and its figure becomes stooped and androgenous. Its facial features warp into two large black eyes, two slits that serve as nostrils, and a thin line of a mouth. Like their aboleth grandparents, they are hermaphroditic; deeplings are only male or female in their mind insofar as they’ve been programmed to believe. These personal perceptions often continue throughout a slug’s life even after it’s awoken, and is reinforced by their eventual ability to resume their old humanoid forms.
Deeplings identify themselves by their gender before their first transformation, and use the corresponding pronouns.
Deeplings have no society of their own. They were spawned with the sole intent of driving their host societies in some impossibly convoluted and long-sighted plan as part of the Grand Equation. After their first transformation, deeplings are almost always driven away from the places they’ve called home.
Deeplings’ relationships with the various humanoid races could be described as rocky at best. The people who knew the deepling while they were in disguise — “dormant,” is the term the deeplings prefer — often feel betrayed, or even refuse to believe that the deepling is indeed the same person they’ve always known, feeling instead that it is a strange monster that has taken that person’s place. In many ways they’re correct, as the deepling always feelings a deep sense of confusion as its free will asserts itself, and many of the relationships formed at the behest of the aboleth programming begin to slip as they reevaluate their opinions of various people they’d never have gotten close to if they had their own say about it.
Deeplings discovered in dwarven society are in for a hellish reception. Dwarven alchemists are always interested in unusual physiologies, and won’t hesitate to make an experiment out of a false dwarf that’s perceived to have betrayed the trust of the clan. Those who fall into the hands of the alchemists are lucky — dwarven priests view the Deep as the greatest threat to the Underkingdom, and deeplings therefore as literal hellspawn.
Humans treat deeplings little better than dwarves, though they usually simply resort to imprisonment and eventual execution after a long interrogation. Newly awakened deeplings can seldom provide useful answers during such a questioning.
Elves are wont to simply place the deepling under house arrest for the remainder of their life.
Gnomes are the only race that a deepling has any hope of remaining among when it first changes, as the bonds formed while hunting and guarding the forest run deep and strong.
No deeplings have ever been placed amongst the halflings. It’s unclear why this is the case. It is theorized that either the Great Equation doesn’t account for halflings, or doesn’t deem them significant enough to factor in..
Any deepling who appears among orcs will often be granted a swift and brutal trial, after which they will be made to defend their honor in a clash of arms. As shocked and confused as a recently awakened deepling is, this seldom ends well.
The only deepling ever to appear among ogrekind was promptly salted and eaten.
Alignment and Religion
Deeplings mostly follow whatever religion their parents do, though those who survive their initial awakening may find themselves questioning their old faiths. A very rare few even try to find their way back to their aboleth masters, adopting the Great Equation and seeking to serve it in spite of their brutal expulsion from all they’ve held dear. Of those who seek out their masters, a number (deemed of suitable mind) have been accepted as servants and agents. At least in this, they retain a sense of purpose. All being equal, deeplings tend toward neutrality. Those who now knowingly serve the aboleths are most often Neutral Evil.
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