To the south and east of Quelosq lies a dense swamp created by the flow of The River. It is materially poor, swarming with mosquitos and teeming with disease. It is also the home of the Krotem, the crocodile men. Krotem are around seven feet in height when fully upright, but they usually stand hunched over at a height of around six feet. They have stocky, thick legs, long, thick arms, and a large tail that drags behind them. Females are usually larger than males; when measured from snout to tail, an adult female Krotem can measure around 12 feet long. Some of the larger members of the race tend to knuckle-walk to move around to counteract their massive weight. Krotem greatly resemble crocodiles, with a long, thin snout, large teeth, green reptilian eyes, and a scaly hide. They can range anywhere from khaki to nearly black in color, but are usually various shades of brown or green. Despite their appearance, Krotem are omnivorous, although they greatly prefer meat.
The Krotem live as a collection of small feuding clans, bickering with each other over what little resources are available. Clan leadership varies between clans, but most are lead by a matriarch, the Keshar, or Broodmother. Decisions about where to move, where to fish and hunt, and who to fight are made by the Keshar. If the Keshar leads well, she is given first pick of food, mates, and bed, but, if she does not, she is overthrown by a challenging female and eaten by her clan.
The Krotem live semi-nomadic lives, following food supplies as they move around the swamp and supplementing their diet with wild rice that grows in the marshy areas. They live in long huts constructed of reeds woven together around a frame of wood and bone, which can be broken down and quickly moved should the need arise. When placed, these huts are usually partially submerged, with entrances on land and one in the water. Krotem live communally, so only a few huts are needed to house the clan.
Because the swamp has so few resources, the Krotem have adapted to use whatever they can find. Their clothes are often made of reeds and grasses woven together to make robes and tunics. Their tools are made of acacia, rattan, bone, stone, reed and papyrus, and what bronze and iron they can dredge up from the bottom of the swamp. They use axes and adzes, spears, clubs, and knives for working, hunting, and fighting, with shortbows and blowguns also being popular. Stronger materials are rare, as they are usually found on outsiders, who rarely have cause to enter the swamp.
Krotem can move quite fast when they need to, and can even outpace a horse at close distance, but they cannot maintain such speeds for long and thus prefer to move slowly. When hunting, Krotem slowly stalk their prey, inching closer and closer until their target is unable to escape. Krotem are adept swimmers, which they utilize in their swamp home to hunt and move. They also can hold their breath for up to an hour, which allows them to even more effectively stalk their prey.
Unlike many of the other intelligent races, the Krotem extensively practice cannibalism, both on adult and young Krotem. Female Krotem usually lay about 8 to 10 eggs in a clutch, and can lay eggs twice in one hatching season. Just before hatching, she places the eggs into her mouth and submerges herself into water. The young that fail to swim out of her mouth are typically eaten. Although Krotem grow quickly, their first few weeks are especially difficult, and it is not unusual for about half of the surviving Krotem to be eaten. Of the remainder, those that fail to become strong enough to pass the Krotem rite of passage, the Irkhan, are eaten by their clan. When clans go to war, those warriors that are captured in combat are taken back to the Keshar to be eaten by the whole clan. This is a fate that most Krotem try to avoid by fighting to the death to avoid capture, but it does happen.
During times of hardship, Krotem clans test their mettle and harden their members by engaging in the Hak'har, an intensive slog to the center of the swamp, a dark grove where their goddess Sebek resides. Those that fail during the journey are eaten by their clan. When they reach the house of Sebek, they sacrifice two of their weakest members to Sebek to gain her favor and help the hard times pass.
The goddess of the Krotem, "Sebek", whose name means literally "The Crocodile", is a massive crocodilian, covered in scales as hard as rock and armed with teeth and claws like adamant. She is large and indolent, rarely moving except to care for her young or feed on offerings of meat and Krotem given to her by the various clans. She is attended by albino Krotem, who are carried at birth from their clans by the bravest Krotem warriors to be trained in the priesthood. To harm a priest is to incur Sebek's wrath, and those who do commit this crime are swiftly and mercilessly punished.
Although the name "Sebek" has always been applied to the Matriarch of the Swamps, and although she is revered as a goddess, this name has not stayed attached to the same individual. Sebek can live indefinitely, but she also lays eggs, which hatch into younger versions of herself. This clutch of "Sebeks" fight amongst each other from the moment they are born, using brawn and trickery to gradually kill each other off until only one is left. This individual then grows unhindered, gathering her strength, until she finally challenges her mother in combat. On that day, the calm of Sebek's pool is disturbed as mother fights daughter. Should the daughter succeed, she kills and eats her mother, gaining her strength and assuming her position as goddess of the swamp. If the daughter fails, she is eaten, and the process begins again. Sebek can live indefinitely, and so she can survive this process countless times until she is finally slain by a worthy child.
This process has greatly influenced Krotem thinking. They draw their cannibalistic practices from it, they use it to measure the passage of time, and they infer a belief in reincarnation from it. To the Krotem, this process demonstrates that life and death are forever linked together. In the swamps, dying plants and animals provide for new growth, and even gods die to give birth to stronger gods. Krotem who leave the swamp often find the constant gods of the southern plains to be strange by contrast.
Krotem measure bravery in a variety of ways. Krotem warriors who are successful in the hunt, killing large game and successfully leading hunting parties, are revered, as are Krotem warriors who have slain and eaten many in battle. The Krotem believe that they can gain strength by eating their enemies, and so warriors who have eaten more foes are often treated with more respect. However, the ultimate test of bravery in a Krotem warrior is one rarely taken, a test called the Url'u'rik. Sebek has a habit of sleeping with her mouth open, and the bravest of warriors will proceed to venture out from their clans, alone and unarmed, and attempt to sit in Sebek's mouth as she sleeps. The test is difficult, as the swamp is teeming with danger, and lone Krotem make for an easy target, but, should the Krotem make it to Sebek's pool and avoid being eaten by the goddess, the rewards are great. Krotem that succeed in this challenge are awarded a token by Sebek's priests, an ornate bronze spear, and, upon their return, they are often given the highest of status in their clans. Such warriors almost instantly become leaders in hunting and war. Because of this, the Url'u'rik is often used by warriors as a way to gain recognition in their clan if they have not succeeded in the hunt. Although many fail on the way or are eaten by Sebek, those that succeed typically get the rewards they sought.
Common names (Names are gender neutral): Ahtah, Essur, Indar, Gedek, Kada, Kratuk, Sebor, Tanak, Thork, Ursk