Something burbled in the seafoam. A shadow swam over rough stone and waving clumps of anemone. A flash of mottled cinnabar flesh darted to new cover.
Dirty fingers plunged into the foam, yanked a wriggling vermillion octopus from the tidepool. Tentacles sped down the tanned wrist, sought for purchase and escape. Swiftly, Ofelia brought the creature to her mouth, bit down hard on the salty bulb of a head. It seized, limpened. The red drained from it's flesh, became white.
Ofelia tossed it into her basket with the others, moved on. She picked over wave-tossed crags of shore, squinting under a blaring sun. Sweat and spray plastered her white tunic to thin shoulders. Her rough feet scraped and clambered over a ridge.
Over that rise, there was an expanse of white beach. Ofelia shaded her eyes, looked, exclaimed. A squat boat with a square sail had washed ashore, rested level on the sand. Barnacles and green locks of weed clung to the hull.
Clutching her basket, Ofelia clambered over the rocks, set foot to the hot sand. She crossed to the boat, picked around the side, found a hanging rope ladder. Some seagulls yammered from the rail of the craft, stared at the basket. Ofelia scowled at them, held it close, began to climb one-handed.
The gulls shrieked, departed as Ofelia came aboard. She looked about, found the deck quite deserted, save for some tarps and coils of rope. A hatch to the hold hung open. The girl considered it, jumped down.
There was a musty, sweet smell in the hold, like sweat and burning sugar. Compared to the glare of the beach, it was pitch dark. Ofelia stood still, waited for her sight to adjust.
Shapes clarified in the dark. Crates, bundles of wood. A potbellied stove. A tiny light, red like the butt of a cigarette. Ofelia focused on it. It brightened, flared. A set of red, pinprick eyes glittered above.
Ofelia jumped, screamed a little. Two more sets of eyes appeared. A rusty laugh sounded in the dark. Three figures came into view, sat about a squat table on stools. Thin, lank creatures wrapped all over in crosshatched cloth and leather strips. One held a meter-long pipe. Pink, sweet smoke curled from the bowl. * Dice and clay jugs lay on the table.
One, the laughing one, grinned, showed crooked cat's-teeth. It spoke fast in a flat and flowing language. Ofelia backed away. The creature looked at her, expectantly, spoke again. "No Firlesé?" it said, switching to Alagórian.
"No" mumbled Ofelia.
Another creature, on the right, spoke. "So it is a little Alagóracrab that has scuttled onto our boat." Many shiny buckles showed on her swaddled face and chest.
The first spoke again. Ofelia saw his eyes were really orange, with mere red dots deep within. "We heard you coming, little Crab" he said. Ofelia clutched her basket, frowned.
"Come, now, don't be afraid" said Orange Eyes. "It is dead sunny, and we have fresh water to share."
"You are not going to eat me?" asked the girl, licking her sun-chapped lips.
The third creature, the one with the pipe, giggled to herself. Smoke dribbled from her nostrils.
Orange Eyes gestured to a free stool. "Silly child, we traperos do not eat people. Sit." He pointed about. "These are Dido, Parai. They are harmless enough. Myself, I am Yosh."
Tentatively, Ofelia sat, placed her basket beside. She took up a jug of water, upturned it into her mouth. Dribbles poured down her chin. There was a raspy laugh. "Thirsty crab" Yosh said.
Ofelia lowered the jug, swallowed. "Thank you" she said, sheepish.
The buckled Dido leaned close, sniffed her shoulder, grinned. "How old is the little Crab?" Sharp, white teeth showed in the wrappings of her face.
Ofelia looked askance. "Twelve."
Yosh slapped at Dido's leg. "Give it a quit, wretch." He looked at Ofelia, smiled. "What are you doing on this painfully sunny strand, Crab?
Ofelia shifted. "Octopus" she said, showing the contents. Parai, the one with the pipe, licked her clothy lips. "Hmm, fried pulpos." **
"I sell them at the market."
"You are a fisher?"
"I can catch lots of fish."
"Your family are fishers, yes?" said Yosh.
Ofelia's eyes drooped. "Don't really have a family."
Parai made a sympathetic sort of hum, blew smoke, patted the girl's shoulder. Ofelia coughed. "No home?" said Yosh.
The girl shook her head.
"Nobody to tell her not to talk to strange traperos" said Dido, grinning. Yosh swatted her again.
"Listen, little Crab" said Yosh, leaning forward.
"Ofelia" he corrected. "We are traders. We depart to Empereaux with the night tide. Have you ever been?"
Ofelia's eyes went wide in interest. She shook her head.
"Would you like to?"
The girl nodded.
"You may come with us, if you'd like. There is better opportunity in the City of Glass*** than in this sweltering fishtown." The others nodded encouragingly. Yosh grinned. "And we would benefit from the service of a skilled fisher."
Ofelia peered into the creatures' red-dot eyes. Yosh, friendly. Parai, glazed. Dido, hungry. She nodded, slowly.
The rag-folk grinned collectively. "Excellent." Yosh proffered a gloved hand. Ofelia shook it.
"What fun" cooed Dido. She stroked the girl's bare arm. "We'll make a little ragdoll of you in no time."
In the warm seaports of the South live a curious, swaddled breed of people. Traperos, they are called. Rag-folk. They are sailors and sea-goers wrapped head to toe in woven cloth.
These textile folk make an intricate art of binding their spindly frames. Countless yards of material are woven, hatched with such precision as to leave no gap of flesh, save for necessities such as sight and breath. These "trappings," so the rag-folk call them, are no mere cultural quirk. They are biologically imperative.
The skin of rag-folk is translucent, thin, and prone to dissolving under the glare of the sun. In mere minutes, a bare trapero in open daylight would be effectively flayed. For the weakness of their hide, the folk are obliged to weave a second skin. This weaving has become an art.
While simple cotton makes for basic and effective trappings, it does nothing for style. Colorful, lavish material is far preferred. Rag-folk crave soft, supple ramie; desire fine twills of serge, herringbone and chino; have no end of love for cool, lustrous silk. They give drapers no end of business.
A rag-creature's trappings reflect their origin and status. Weaving patterns, while based on certain core concepts, often vary depending on region. For instance, a trapero from Tevilla can recognize another from Ille Phe by the weave of her arms. These regional fashions are notably complex. Only very skilled weavers of trappings may emulate a variety of styles. Those with sufficient skill to create new styles are very popular indeed. †
Rare is a rag-creature who doesn't spend excess funds on cloth. For this reason, the material of trappings is indicative of social status. Rich folk wear swaddles of finest silk and cashmere. Working types may have a few embellishments of fine twill. Poor sorts would have naught but burlap and raw cotton rags.
The custom of trappings has expanded somewhat into wider Littoran culture. Designers from the Emperousiin Rue de Couture have embraced rag-folk, inspired by their wrapping styles and willowy frames. Such cultural interaction has given rise to the moniker "ragdoll," used to describe humans in garbed in trappings or adopted by rag-folk. ††
Conversely, it is not unusual for rag-folk to don typical overwear in addition to their trappings, if weather demands. The material from which these items are made, be it leather, oilcloth, and heavy wool, are uncommon components of trappings. They are too heavy, too restrictive, especially for seagoing folk.
For whatever reason, traperos have a taste for the sea. They love the flesh of fish, the danger of trackless waters, the camaraderie and libations of sailors. ††† Whether this inclination is cultural or natural does not matter to the rag-folk, for they do as they please.
Any Southern port will feature traperos aplenty. Entire crews will be composed of rag-folk, oft called pinkspitters from their habit of chewing coquelicish. These crews are the rowdiest and most troublesome available to hire, but are doubtless among the most skilled.
Traperos are well-integrated with Southern society, though they certainly hold a reputation for their raucousness, their cat's teeth, and their tendency for vague criminality. Given the prevalence of humanocentric Aveth in the South, they do face a degree of prejudice. Despite this, there are as many captains looking for skilled sailors as there are bigots. In the end, it is not the followers of Aveth who are traperos' greatest societal obstacle. Rather, it is the people of the North.
In the Coast's colder climes, people know not the artfully-woven traperos. Rather, they know their horned, bloody-toothed cousins: Ragwretches. The few rag-folk of the North‡ face no end of distrust, faced as they are with overcoming the reputation of monsters.
* Traperos are fond of coquelicot, a drug paste made from the blood of the lion poppy. It is most often smoked in long pipes. Many traperos roll it in sugar and set it in their gums. For this, they are known as "pinkspitters."
** Pulpo, or octopus, is a traditional Alagórian delicacy.
*** Upon its invention, plate glass became vogue in Empereaux. "City of Glass" was an eventual monicker.
† Of the few rag folk who are wealthy or renowned, these are among them.
†† Also, "ragdoll" has become a popular item on the brothel menus of the Coast.
††† Some scholars hypothesize that both traperos and ragwretches require particular stimuli: Flesh to eat, thrills to spike their adrenaline, and comrades to feast and smoke with. The difference between their races' cultures determines their expression and physiology.
‡ In the North, they are often known as "tatterdemalions."