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A Brief History
Beneath the surface of the Atlantic Ocean and the Caribbean Sea, in the area commonly known as the Bermuda Triangle, the ruins of Atlantis lie buried. Protected and obscured by twelve thousand years of sediment and erosion, the ruins lie in a hostile place - dark, cold, and filled with enough pressure to crush an unprotected man like a paper cup.
Yet there is civilization in the deep, people living off the remains of the past and the rubbish of the present, hiding in air-filled pockets resulting from varying combinations of natural formation, elbow grease, and secret Atlantean knowledge. They trade and war with one another, with the Tritons who sacrificed their humanity for fins and gills, all unknown to the surface.
When Atlantis fell, most of its inhabitants died. They were a people of great hubris and arrogance, and even in the face of evidence many refused to believe that their great island would sink. Most of those who did remained on the island, stubbornly insisting their civilization's glory and learning would solve the problem. And so they were all surprised when the island, drained of the Radiance that held, fell prey to a volcanic explosion, and collapsed beneath the waves.
Of the survivors, the majority fled to the coasts of Africa and the Americas, where they were eventually lost amongst the civilizations that took them in. However, out of desperation or stubbornness, some stayed behind. A few chose to adapt to the waters, sacrificing their humanity in exchange for fins and gills; others, more plentiful, banded together, creating air-filled Edifices that have lasted to this day. Both tried to keep their civilization alive, but they were too few. The lines of communication fell, and their society collapsed.
The ancient world was full of Radiance, awash with magic and wonder. The Atlanteans, however, discovered not only how to use it, but how to abuse it. Their industrious science used Radiance much faster than the world could replenish it, and eventually nature took its revenge. The stopgap measures the last generations of Atlantis employed were too little, too late, and soon the entire civilization was forgotten.
Estranged from their neighbors, the people in the Edifices diverged in both tradition and law. As time passed, and generation succeeded generation, much of the knowledge of ancient Atlantis was lost. What remained was either the subject of necessity, such as the Sacred Geometry necessary to keep the Edifices standing, or kept alive through chance. Bloodlines grew thinner and more inbred; resources grew scarce. No small number of Atlantean children fled the Edifices for the Tritons as the centuries passed. Those that remained grew weak and alien, twisting in the Radiance.
Triton is the name those Atlanteans who took to the water chose for themselves. Their transformation was a result of a powerful compact with the mysterious, alien things in the deep, a transformation that could be reversed, or given to others. Where the Edificers learned their Sacred Geometry, the Tritons kept the art of Shaping alive, and learned to blend the ideals of Atlantis with the drives and needs of the deeps. As the Edifices stagnated, the Tritons thrived, and to this day there remains a bitter resentment between Tritons and Atlanteans.
In the 1500s, ships from Europe and Africa began heading through the Triangle in significant number, carrying sailors, colonists, criminals and slaves. This increase in traffic did not go unnoticed in the Atlantean city-states. Desperate for new blood and resources, many Atlanteans took to raiding ships for plunder. Soon, for the first time in millennia, there was a consistent surplus underwater, and societies based on scarcity struggled to catch up.
Enterprising Atlanteans soon realized the value of their plunder. The tools the surface world had developed while they had hidden in the depths were astounding, and the value of humans themselves went far beyond breeding stock; when they were not breeding, they could be put to work. Given the rate at which humans bred amongst themselves, a slave market soon developed, with the native Atlanteans comfortably on the top of the pyramid.
They embraced luxury with fervor, for they had starved for thousands of years; decadence came quickly. For the first time in millennia, they had the upper hand over the Tritons, and were quick to abuse it. They held pogroms, hunting them, capturing them and then banishing the alien presence that allowed them to survive the crushing depths, then enslaving them. Few of the Tritons were grateful.
Ten thousand years of genetic drift, inbreeding, and the effects of Radiance did not leave the Atlanteans untouched. Despite their longevity, Atlanteans are often frail - few among their numbers are renown for their stamina. Standing no more than five feet tall, their teardrop-shaped heads sport large black eyes over mere slits where a nose should be. Atlantean fingers tend to be overlong, and their skin is oily and gray. Finally, they sport odd enhancements or growths, remnants of their demonic legacy. Despite their infertility, they breed true when using a human as breeding stock. It is not surprising that they would differentiate themselves from their breeding stock, and treat human slaves as cattle.
Over time, the Atlanteans in their city-states grew careless. The slave populations grew faster than their own, and as it expanded, it became progressively harder to control. The idea of abolitionism came down from the surface, and spread despite Atlantean attempts to quash it. Tritons were eager to help the process, and unlike the Atlanteans, humans had no taboo against Shapings. In addition, mankind took naturally to the Radiance, and found it eager to serve.
The first successful slave rebellion was in 1816; also the most violent, it left no Atlanteans alive in the entire Edifice. Unfortunately, the slaves did not know how to bind the Edifice to their service, and they all died as the demon rebelled. Nevertheless, other uprisings followed as the word spread, each one learning from the mistakes of the last. Eventually, most Atlanteans chose to free their slaves rather than risk revolt and possible slaughter.
The days of slavery are mostly past; there is a small black market, mostly supported by a few backward city-states and corrupt Atlanteans everywhere. Humans are more in the majority than ever, but the Atlantean minority has generally remained both rich and powerful (in part because they've kept most of the Edifices bound to themselves).
By general consent and cultural inertia, contact with the surface world is extremely limited - those in power fear what would happen if their existence would become known. There is only a single group, a Guild, allowed to go to the surface, and they police themselves carefully. In other words, for those lost at sea, it's generally a one-way trip down. On the other hand, with the discovery of the underwater city "Eden" off the coast of Cuba, the secrets of the Triangle may be close to being discovered.