Caelerethian Philosophy   
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Introduction. "Philosophie of the Molluske Race" was written by Friddriv Alav and compiled and annotated by Seth Ghibta. Friddriv Alav, an Avennorian of reclusive and decidedly eccentric habits, was a noted authority on the molluskes of Caelereth and beyond. In this, his largest, though still incomplete, work, it’s easy to see the extent to which his obsession ruled his life. Although he was undoubtedly a brilliant mind, he was not without flaws, and it should be noted that some of his ideas will strike readers as strange and even incongruous. The fragments of this text were assembled by a researcher seeking to learn more about this elusive man, and to record the unique glitter of a dedicated but sadly little known scholar.

he molluske - composed of a blob of clammy, shapeless flesh, perhaps encased within a shell of gritty armour. Yet in this simplicity it holds the mystery and promise of a treasure box, the potential of an egg on the verge of hatching, and a subtle complexity which offers a window into the minds of all sentient creatures. Whilst it is undoubtedly unpalatable for some less humble intellects to contemplate their stature as equal (or, dare I say, lesser) to such lowly creatures, my researches have led me to conclude that there is no plausible alternative to such a viewpoint.

However, I cannot expect the unprepared reader to follow or believe my assertions on this subject without allowing them a glimpse into the meandering pathways by which I myself arrived at this point. I feel I must hasten to collect my thoughts on paper, so that they are not lost on the dark waves, to be collected in the guts of gnackers.

Consider the life of a gnacker, growing all its life in peaceful immobility, still as the pebbles it so resembles, mouth agape. Imagine that all your life were to be spent catching whatever waterborne detritus should pass your way and making use of it, somehow producing from the dregs of underwater life the succulent meat and pearlescent shells that people across the world, with their penchant for such things, so greatly admire. This transformation, carried out every day by creatures many people barely even view as alive, is something to fascinate the most uninterested of countenances, and in my view it is perhaps the greatest magic ever witnessed. Who but a humble gnacker can take the effluent of a city and craft a gleaming stronghold for itself?

Thus gnackers and all shellfish derive their nutrition from other creatures, both living and dead, and use this to fashion, by some quiet and mysterious alchemy, their shells in all their fascinating and beautiful variety; shells which are ground down by the natural processes of wind and wave and rain, until they become little more than pale grit, indistinguishable from the sand and the soil.

My travels have revealed places in which the rock itself holds remarkable similarities to the shells of molluskes. It seems evident that shellfish have ingrained themselves into the very bones of the disc, whilst other creatures crawl crablike and cowering across the surface.

>Enclosed here is an excerpt from Alav’s field notes, as it was glued to the preceding page – I can’t honestly say whether it was intentionally fixed in this way, as Alav’s experiments with gnacker glue appear to have had successful and widespread results. However, this particular excerpt seems pertinent to the subject. <

"I finally managed to arrange a guide to show me around the Noarian caves today. The people here do not seem to have any understanding of my intentions – they would not believe that I had travelled so far purely to look for shellfish. Nonetheless, I was certain this unique environment must yield something notable, perhaps even some entirely new forms.

Unfortunately, it appears that the constant human and elvish traffic through this area, and the various alterations to the cave structure they have wrought, have proven too great a disruption to the marine fauna, and it is largely deserted. This is most definitely not to say, however, that it is a landscape without interest to a molluske researcher such as myself.

On the contrary, I was shown around certain caverns and chambers in which the walls were embedded with the petrified remains of ancient creatures, including several shellfish of extraordinary proportions. Some resembled fragments of trysters, but if my estimates are correct they would be perhaps exceeding a ped in length. There were other forms, multitudinous in number, like beds of small, pen-shaped molluskes growing in some ancient seabed as grass might grow in a well kempt garden. I can only imagine what might graze on such pastures.

The rock itself was also unusual in texture. I have seen various samples of limestone before, but it is only when I view it in such a massive scale that the strangeness of its textures and properties become apparent. I have taken some samples, but from inspecting the strange formations known as stalactites and stalagmites, and with some questioning of my guide over the formation process, I believe there are some highly intriguing similarities with the way that certain stationary molluskes use a specialised secretion to "cement“ themselves to rocks."

I have already mentioned the extraordinary capability of shellfish to build castles for themselves, each more perfect and beautiful than any ostentatious merchant’s kilv, and each apparently made of little more than the scrapings of algae, flesh, or filtered effluent that makes up the creature in question’s diet. How is it possible to build armoured turrets of bone white using the blood and flesh that a parasitic limpet eats? How can a tryster construct its flowerlike palace from only invisible floating waste?

Could this be some form of magic that the mages have yet to unlock? My discussions on the subject with those magicians I have come across have been fruitless. No such person has greeted my ideas with anything more than ridicule, and often they have been angered and affronted by the inference that molluskes practice magic unknown to they, the "higher beings“. They retaliate with angry curses, cynical laughter, or pointedly ignore my presence. They say I am mad-

>The page is torn off at this point, and the notes for some time are in disarray, many badly damaged. Alav seems to have been in some confusion as to how to express himself, and I’m afraid that, given the situation, I had to resort to educated guesses. Therefore any inconsistencies in the ordering of the fragments (if not the fragments themselves, which I have not altered in any way) I take full responsibility for. <

I cannot find any conclusive means by which the shellfish and snails can form their shells. I can only assume it is a process beyond my intellect to discern. Yet my argument still stands. The things that molluskes do to please themselves and to continue their ways of life are so strange and impressive that they cannot be the simplistic, uncomplicated creatures they are commonly assumed to be.

If I cannot discern the means by which molluskes build shells, I can at least have a clearer idea of how they build that most nebulous of treasures, the item for which so many of our shellfish are harvested, the pearl. A staggering amount of effort is put into harvesting pearls, mainly from oysters and trysters, though most aquatic shellfish produce them occasionally. Formed by the coating of a small irritant particle with nacre, or “pearlfather”, they are in effect little more than a reaction to small intrusions on their tiny, intimate world, on behalf of the molluske concerned.

Yet for we, the supposedly “higher beings”, they hold the attraction of being rare, shiny, and hard to obtain, and so we build them up in our imaginations, carefully allowing ourselves to forget that they are formed of the diseased secretions of a dying molluske, and instead telling ourselves that they are a hidden treasure created by the bounty of nature for our benefit. One can only wonder what the molluskes' view could be. Are these iridescent beads made purely for comfort, or is there also an element of control? Is it not a basic urge of all living things to alter the things they come into contact with? To absorb them or transform them, even for a short time, into something that can be seen as beautiful? Maybe I am being overly fanciful, viewing things from my indelibly human perspective. Pearls belong, after all, to the molluskes, how can my view match theirs? It is very hard to think straight…

Pearls, as has been confirmed by various attempts to farm them, take a very long time to grow to a “useful” size. This of course requires molluskes themselves to have considerable life spans, which they do. I have measured shells that I estimate are older than I, and some that are older than any human could hope to live, but still apparently strong and healthy. In truth I cannot guess how long a shellfish could live, as I expect it varies greatly with the species and conditions. Sadly the majority are caught or killed before reaching the great ages they have the potential for. What do they do for all this time? When trees grow to great size and age, we tend to give them characters, talk of them with reverence and even speak of them as “wise” and “noble”. I see no reason why this should not also, perhaps even more so, apply to molluskes.

So, despite their appearances, it seems shellfish are considerably more complex than commonly assumed. Certainly they exhibit complex behaviour, if only one is willing to search for it. My observations of gnacker colonies have raised some fascinating questions, for instance, the way they react to threats. The investigation in question was carried out on a community living in an isolated rock-pool, so I was able to study them at close quarters, and introduce various new experiences to them to see how they reacted. I would enclose the research notes but I can’t find where they have gone… they are stealing from me, I am certain. They are no longer content merely to watch and laugh….

The experiment. My aim was to find out how gnackers use their eyes, which, as you know, gaze from a small transparent section of the shell. No other shellfish have eyes like this, as far as I know, so why gnackers? They are, after all, perfectly mundane examples of marine shellfish, in every other respect. I began to wonder if perhaps they used the eyes to see predators approaching. To this end, I made several silhouettes which would create shadows and dark shapes analogous to those created by a large fish or other potential predator. And as I expected, whenever this was introduced to the molluskes they bunched up their colonies by shortening their anchor fibres, and any with open shells rapidly closed them.

What I didn’t expect was to see that even those which were completely surrounded, effectively blinded, by the other gnackers clustering around them, reacted. On further investigation the reason for this became clear. When those on the outside of a colony detected danger, they pushed their circulatory valves out of their shells, and seemed to blow jets of water at their neighbours before closing their shells properly. On feeling the water jet, the central shells also blew water at their neighbour and then closed, so that news of the threat travelled extraordinarily quickly through the entire colony.

If gnackers did not warn their “blind” neighbours, and those neighbours were eaten as a result, a hole would open in the centre of a colony, exposing more shellfish to predation. Thus it is in the interests of all to communicate danger, even if this means that individuals have to keep their shells open for slightly longer. It is incredible, really it is. Intelligent behaviour, an example of selflessness and communal thinking more perfect, I could not hope to imagine.

There are other puzzling behaviours which seem to whisper of strange and subtle intelligences lurking among the molluskes and their relatives. Of those that I have endeavoured to study, only a few lived up to my expectations – my methods are haphazard at best, I cannot deny that. Among those not quite so closely related to the quietly beautiful bivalves, such as the cephalopods, I found some intriguing contrasts, such as that between the kraken and the cuttlefish. The kraken is an inordinately variable creature. On one day it will travel the maze with perfect ease, and on another it seems not to even know where it is. At times it sticks itself to the bottom of the tank and sulks, or maliciously destroys all within reach. I wonder sometimes if it is mocking me, breaking my equipment and laughing at the importance I place on such toys. How can this spoiled creature, so different from the noble gnacker, be yet a close relation? It seems to possess all the failings and inconsistencies of humanity.

The inkfish, on the other hand, though still occasionally showing the frailties of temperament to which mobile life is heir, is still of a much more stable outlook. Perhaps this is because it, unlike the Kraken, has the benefit of an internal shell. This bears thought; if man were born with a shell, like a clam or gnacker, would he too have the benefit of their outlook on life? It is notable how humans constantly try to create an artificial shell: suits of armour, clothes, and shoes, all are barriers between ourselves and the world. Even more so, castles and houses are nothing more than attempts to create something like a shell for ourselves, where we can be safe. Are we blindly striving for the blissful passivity of the shellfish? An inkfish gains some of the benefits of the shell, yet their exterior is still vulnerable. Perhaps this is why, though more stable than the kraken, they still sometimes show fear, anxiety, and ambition, things the gnacker and the barnacle never seem to be troubled with.

I am sure, I cannot help but be sure, that some, if not all, molluskes are intelligent, albeit in a way which is different and strange to we, the creatures of fleeting fashions and constant hurrying from one fragile wish to another. I have spent many years trying to understand the way that molluskes must see the world, and although my view is fallible and clouded by the petty demands of the culture I grew up in, I believe I am close to true understanding. That, after all, is what a true researcher craves, more than empty knowledge, which is but a gateway to the deep and fundamental truths that understanding of a subject brings.

I will try my best to explain. A molluske never has to hurry. If it acts quickly, as does the gnacker on closing its shell to a potential invader, it does so at exactly the right moment, after dutifully fulfilling an obligation to its neighbours, who in turn, do not panic. For sedentary shellfish such as the tryster, there is no need to move, ever, other than the slow graceful gaping of shells, welcoming with a contented smile the bounty it harvests from the waters. Everything they could ever require is brought to them. It is as if the world is built for their convenience. For those molluskes, such as slugs and snails, and even the kraken, which do move around freely, life is closer to ours, but still holds some of this unhurried, accepting approach to the world. Slugs are never scared of anything, I am sure of it. Fear is a result of stressful, undignified lives.

In this utter ease of life, I believe that I can see a beauty unlike any other. In our society life is a battle, one which we inevitably lose, taking with us a great many other small lives, none of them holding any more worth than the others. We search desperately for nobility of purpose, for great endeavours, like bored children wanting to be given a small task so that we can feel important. Molluskes know no such triviality. They have no need for purpose. The aim of life is immaterial, the only pleasure not in achievement but pure experience, in a glorious passivity by which one can regard the full panoply of life as one might watch the world from a dream, detached but inspired towards a vague, perpetual awe. There is a whole other side to life, which I am immensely grateful in beginning to discover, which is opened by this “molluske philosophie” of detachment and faith that the world will provide. Is there not a marvellous integrity to the purity of faith that believes, and is right in believing, that everything it could possibly require will be brought to it as a matter of course?

The final stage in my enlightenment came directly from an experiment – I had been studying the habits of the parasitic limpet, a very interesting member of the family. I allowed one to attach to me – causing a fierce pain of the like I have not elsewhere experienced, sharp and visceral – I became intensely aware of the movements of the limpet’s mouthparts through my flesh. This in turn inspired a grisly fascination which, aided I think by substances released by the creature as it burrowed, allowed me to forget the pain and watch with the passiveness I required. There was remarkably little blood, considering that within ten minutes it had embedded itself so firmly in my leg that I could not dislodge it and it seemed immune to any pressure I put on it, though I couldn't say the same for myself.

Eventually the pain returned, as the creature settled in, and soon became too much, despite numbing it with liquor. I believe that my being a terrestrial creature made the limpet’s usual method of feeding more laboured, forcing it to feed more aggressively and thus cause greater pain. In the end I took a long blade and cut the creature out of the well it had made, as task that was, in itself, difficult, involving copious bloodshed and dizzying pain. When the molluske was finally removed, and I was able to rest, shakily grasping the dying shellfish in my hand, I was overcome with a terrible guilt of the like I have never felt before. I realised, with a clarity that astonished me, that I had wilfully placed my comfort over the life of another creature, killing it for no reason other than it hurt me. I have another leg, do I not? But the limpet cannot live in any other way. Why did I not just give in? If life is such a struggle, then maybe that is all the proof I need that it is not… feasible, in the long term. Molluskes live a life without struggle. Why can’t I?

>There appears to be a long gap between this fragment and the next, but all the other notes were illegible or impossible to make sense of.<

The past few weeks have made me feel very old. I cannot believe I will finish this task in time to see its result. The wound in my leg is beginning to smell, but I cannot call for help or they will hear me, and come… Increasingly I cannot believe I will finish it at all. The only thing I can be sure of is that I had the germ of the truth, for a while, and somewhere among these notes it survives. I do not know if I still have it, it’s so hard to concentrate and I wish only to sleep, though when I do I am roused by terrible nightmares. I have a recurring dream, which I will describe here, as it seems to illustrate better than reasoned arguments the core of my ideas.

I dream I am a creature made of some soft, pearlescent material, walking on the bottom of the seabed. It is vast and empty and very lonely, and the light comes down in streamers from the surface of the waters, far above. After a while I look down at my feet and realise that they are sinking into the grit of the seabed. I try to pull them out, but they sink further, sending up tiny puffs of sand in the clear water. With every slightest movement my feet sink further into the seabed, and I begin to realise that my skin is changing. As the grit stirred up by my movement scrapes at it, the beautiful pearlfather sheen is roughened, ground down, until it becomes white and chalky, and begins to flake away. Soon the water is opaque with the smokescreen of grit and chalk, and I can’t see anything but can only feel myself sinking, wrapped tighter and tighter still in the weight of gravel and rock, until it slips over my eyes, and I can’t blink or even breathe, only lie immobile in the crushing blackness under the seabed, which is the same as me: I am in its bones.

Terrifying though the dream is, it offers an uncanny representation of the lifecycle of our earth, claiming the bones and shells of the dead as its own. There is, therefore, immortality, of a kind, at least for shellfish. I feel very tired, and the wound left by the limpet stinks of decay. I wonder if I will be absorbed into the earth. I think I would like that. I can see, now, why we place so much stake on burial rites and ceremonies. Not merely to prevent unhygienic bodies from causing problems, but because it does matter what happens when we die. And in this small, but permanent act, we can have some control over that.

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 Date of last edit 14th Rising Sun 1669 a.S.

Essay written by Seth Ghibta View Profile