|Avg. height:||6.8 ft. / 210 cm|
The iliî are an intelligent species whose chief habitat is the continental shelf. They were the first species to develop civilizations; their written records go back 40,000 years.
From the human point of view, they are a mysterious, even holy species. Most humans go their entire lives without seeing one. An encounter with one evokes many emotions: joy, fear, religious awe, even titillation, since the iliî normally wear no clothes. Even those who trade with the iliî never find the experience to be routine.
From their own point of view, they are the oldest Thinking Kind— after purely spiritual beings— and the dominant species of Almea. Our impression of Almea would be very different if we had full access to ilian sources. By all evidence they are more advanced, socially and technologically, than we are.
Philological note: The Verdurian word iliu [ˈi li ju] was borrowed unchanged from Caďinor and ultimately from Cuêzi. So far so good; but the plurals are respectively iliî, iliui, iliū. As Verdurian is the best-known language in Almean studies, its plural may be used; but in specialized contexts such as the Count of Years I use the Cuêzi form. The Verdurian adjective is ilë, but this doesn’t work well in English; I use ilian instead.
Other names include: Ax. migume 'water-man', X. maysu, Ṭeôši mûžume; Meť. bostumi, Keb. boḣtum 'sea-dweller', Old Skourene ṭailuadni 'they want to keep living in the sea', Tžuro čailan; Uyseʔ themram ‘blue person’; Lé dlé; Munkhâshi tujno 'paddler', Dhekhnami shuzhno; Flaidish naupel ‘ancient one’; Elkarîl nxilmech 'dawn-walker'.
The iliu settled the entire eastern littoral and Kebri. The ilian name for the region, according to the Cuzeians, was Melāsiu. Settlement was light, and nothing is known about its particular character.
The iliu abandoned the littoral by about -2000, and left Kebri at about the time of the Eastern invasion. (They left some impressive ruins on the shores of Lake Fugaaźi in Kebri, near present-day Boḣtundu, whose name means ‘iliu city’.) Today they remain on land only in Telarsanië, but they still populate the continental shelf off the littoral.
Iliî are imposing beings; even an iliu female (Ver. ilisea) outweighs most human men. Their adaptation to the sea is unmistakable: they are protected from the cold by a layer of fat, giving them a bulky appearance on land. (This impression is misleading; their movements are not those of a fat human, but are quick, strong, and graceful.) Their skin is almost reptilian, shiny and wet-looking even when dry, smooth and cold to the touch. Their feet are large, without separable toes or toenails, and are covered with rubbery ridges; in conjunction with the powerful legs, they act as flippers to move the iliî quickly through the water.
Their skin is blue, gray, or green; the lips, labia, and nipples are purple, and their eyes green or gold. Their hair is bright blue, red, or orange; they have no body or facial hair. Their ears are small and flat, their noses blunt. They have wide mouths which are opened underwater; their oxygen-extracting organs are located inside the mouth.
Reports of ilian sexuality tend to fantasy or even horror; some stories allege that a man who sleeps with an ilisea will experience pleasure so great that it kills him; others say that he will sleep for a year and a day, or turn into an iliu or a šipom. The more sober accounts agree that the iliî enjoy great sexual responsiveness. For instance, both sexes have additional muscles in the genital region which intensify pleasure during sex. (For the females, these are also a defense mechanism; there are tiny, sharp scales along the outside of the labia, which can be shut tight if desired, preventing rape or administering a drastic punishment for it.) Milk and saliva have a sexual role for the iliù, and are produced (with a distinct taste) and shared during sex.
Iliî have mental abilities that verge on the telepathic. They are able to create visions that others may share; humans who have experienced these (such as Beretos) state that they are indistinguishable from reality. These capabilities are greatly exploited by ilian art— sharing a vision is a very literal thing to them— and have applications as well in sexuality and (as the Count of Years reports) in war.
Iliî live as long as a thousand years. Children mature in about fifty years, but even so, they comprise only a small portion of iliu society.
Though iliî are seen rarely by men, they are not rare; they are the second most populous of the Thinking Kinds. Their chief habitat is simply out of reach: the vast expanses of the continental shelf. There, they build their towns and cities (often on seamounts); they herd smaller fish, hunt larger ones, and grow sea plants.
They have also settled various coastal regions, largely for the exploitation of technologies which cannot be pursued underwater, such as metallurgy and chemistry. Since elcarî and humans have developed these technologies they acquire much of what they need by trade, and their land enclaves have dwindled.
Unfortunately, their written records are unavailable to us— their language, Eteodäole, has never been mastered by any humans. Nonetheless, it’s clear that in the ancient past they were the dominant species on Almea, and fought a series of wars with the ktuvoks. Simplified accounts of these wars appear in human mythology; the least distorted of these is the Cuzeian Count of Years. From these accounts it appears that the iliu had very high technology, probably far beyond our own. Very likely they still have it; the apparent simplicity of their lifestyle seems to be a conscious choice. Our own culture is so fast-changing and so dominated by technology that ilian attitudes may seem baffling or retrograde. But it may be that we are technophilic because, after all, machines are new to us. The iliî likely passed our stage of development 30,000 years ago; if they were ever obsessed with computers and nuclear weapons, these technologies are as far in their past as fire is for us.
The illustration is an update of the Iliu unit from my Almea Civ2 scenario, and is in turn based on a tantalizing 2000-year-old Skourene drawing that shows an iliu holding what certainly appears to be a rifle— and, if the artist can be trusted, not a projectile weapon but one that emits some sort of destructive beam— of what kind, we cannot say.
In most human traditions the iliî are numinous beings. The Meťaiun and the Bé considered them gods. The Skourenes taught that a righteous man might be reincarnated as an iliu. The Cuzeians, who believed that their religion was taught to them by the iliî, declared that the iliî are without sin. Only the flaids insist on their capacity for evil (and they insist as well that ktuvoks can do good).
Certainly the iliî live harmoniously. They have no poverty, and never commit violence on one another. At the same time, they seem to have no explicit morality— they don't need it. The tragedy of being human is that our behavior falls far short of our beliefs; this is not true of the iliî. They don't all believe the same things; but what they do believe, they act on. Thus they have no need of rules and laws, sermons and exhortations, duty and punishment.
From a more hard-headed evolutionary perspective, we might speculate that ilian lives are so harmonious because there are no pressing reasons for conflict. Food is raised communally, so there is no great sense of territoriality. Population is stable, so there is no overcrowding; the underwater environment is relatively predictable, so there are rarely the sorts of ecological reversals that trigger crises in human society; it also discourages wealth accumulation and the conflicts this brings. Perhaps even the long lives of the iliî affect their behavior: an iliu won't have successfully reproduced unless his children outlive him, a matter of hundreds of years. This trick is easiest to pull off in a community without violence.
It should be noted that ilian society is not without competition; they enjoy games, for instance, and in some iliu societies a young male must compete with others to win the love of a maiden. Such competitions are tests of skill, both physical and mental, but do not involve physical fighting, nor (it seems) rancor.
The iliî are not free of conflict and arguments, of sadness and grief and frustration. But then, these things are not sins. As the flaids point out, neither misfortune nor unhappiness are evil. Evil is an action, though it can be a mental action.
Few human societies have much contact with the iliî; even in societies whose religions derive from them, such as the Cuzeians and Qaraus, contact with the iliî was not extensive. Not surprisingly, they can be seen as standoffish, and some even blame them for the evils of human society. Why, for instance, don't they come in with plasma rifles blazing to free the oppressed of Dhekhnam?
As it happens some humans have had the chance to ask the iliî directly, including Beretos, who recounts the answers he received in In the land of Babblers, and Xayu of Xurno, who tells her story in A diary of the Prose Wars. The reader is referred to those accounts; a bald summary is that the iliî simply believe that humans must solve their own problems, and that the sort of interference in human affairs that would be necessary to prevent all evil would be infantilizing, if not tyrannical.