Edar: Return of Akolo
When dragons ruled the world, one race chose to escape from their sight. No where on land was safe, and a ship at sea could easily be burned by dragon fire, and dragons were indisputably kings of the sky … so the race called Gnomes chose to make the murky lands under the sea surface their new home. It took only a few years to develop the first successful submersible habitat, the Gnomes being a very clever race, and slowly but surely they slipped beneath the waves.
In the age of Man, they were not seen at all. The age of the Elrori was there and gone in a flash, and they did not feel the wages of that war. In this, the age of Dwarves, they have in fact surfaced a few times to see the world’s progress, but they have always found the world wanting. Some adventurers claim to have met them out at sea, and found them to be very curious about but also very suspicious of the Above World as they call it.
The first Gnomes to disappear under the water piloted vehicles they named Link ships, cigar-shaped craft that were self propelled and could dive to great depths. Each had a steady supply of fresh air produced through magic, which could be diverted to bags that would cause the vehicle to raise and lower. Food was also gained through magic, or by Gnomes exiting the vehicle in special suits to gather fish in nets. In this way they became completely independent of the surface, with several side effects including losing much of their ability to tolerate the naked sun and becoming quite a bit paler than history describes them.
Their ships are called Link ships because that was how the first to leave the Above World envisioned them becoming, as links in a greater structure. All Link ships have six sturdy doors leading out, three of which are two-stage airlocks; at the top, right side and front are the single-stage doors, while the bottom, left side and back are the two-stage airlocks. When desired, two Link ships can dock with each other to trade provisions and crew, and so form whole colonies in this way, a multitude of Link ships attached by the various junctures to form a massive base. When less than ten Link ships are connected it is called a pod, ten or more ships makes a colony and structures with over a hundred ships are called cities.
Modern gnomes live partly in their Link ships, and partly in the permanent underwater structures on the sea floor that they have created over the years. The first to leave the Above World were fearful of creating any permanent home, knowing that it would only be destroyed by some passing aquatic dragon and their best protection would be in moving about. But with knowledge of the passing of the age of dragons has come a relaxing of these standards, and now such underwater towns can be seen here and there on the sea floor. Most are made of old Link ships that were taken apart to create the underwater domes, while the more fancy sort are simply large bubbles of air created by powerful spells.
All Link ships and underwater structures have special magical instruments known as Echo Stones, which they can use to contact one another in a manner quite similar to the sort of underwater sounds used by whales. In fact the idea is simply that the device sends out a sound that is nearly indistinguishable from whale calls, which is then de-coded by nearby ships and replied to in the same manner. The code was built from the Gnomish language, and these days the two are nearly indistinguishable; all Gnomes speaking Gnomish tend to sound somewhat like a chattering dolphin, and if they can speak Common at all it will often be with a very ancient sounding dialect.
Almost all Gnomes use magic, and quite skillfully; those with the most magical talent become wizards and artificers while those with additional schooling in weapons become magus. Their entire society is almost entirely dependent on magic, for everything from food and air to fresh water and disposal of waste. It is not uncommon for a Link ship to be enchanted with space creating spells, so that a ship will be much larger on the inside than it is on the outside. Their scrying ability is also top notch; due to their fear of dragons they mastered divination spells to have some early warning of such a monster’s approach, and now use it to sense the surface world or farther.
Over time, a strange system of beliefs came to dominate the Gnomish culture. Those beliefs say that the world’s oceans, while wondrous, are not the true destiny of the Gnomish race. In fact, their destiny is to someday inhabit the Ocean of the Sky, otherwise known as Space. Scrying and careful use of teleportation spells shows that they will need to make their Link vessels much stronger before that day can come, perhaps using metallurgy and advanced engineering unknown even to the modern age, but when that day comes a large majority of the Gnomish race is ready to set sail for the stars.