At least you can see the boats coming. Through the winding alleysides of impoverished communities in all kingdoms, along the winding hilltop paths, people go about their day without warning of what comes. About Them. They'll wake on an unseasonably humid day and slog through their usual chores, and if they have any advance notice at all it's just that the shit they live their day to day lives in smells worse today....
Nobody expects them that far in land. The boats are, of course, worse, because then there's more of them.
There was life before the Circle. It did not create any new life, except to widen the Circle. But we all crawled away from her, that moving maw, away from Always-Danger and Only-Hunger. We left the life and light of the endless sea and the gods made places for us to hide on land, above trees, within rock. We traded infinity for rivers. At least it got us away from the Circle, but not from its envoys.
Some say the gods created and elevated the races. If this is true then something else may be elevated. In crazy D&D world we can see the half stages and dead ends of advancement and crossbreeding, so we know that whatever form the gods made us in was not our final form, was not Us Now. If this is true then other creatures may also change. Happy drinking songs suggest we all came from the sea. If this is true, then we did not leave out of curiosity. I assure you we were chased and fled, and if we did it something else can, too.
This is the Gospel of Reprieve as spread by the Carcharodemetreonites, or shark prophets.
They live most of their lives in big clusters of ships in a loose circle, worshiping at the soggy altar of their hungry gods and invoking the mouth of the ur-shark, Dei Dentemonstrum, also known as The Deep, Red Calamity, or Mouth-Mouth in the Low Tongue. Worship consists of the tending and feeding of the great frenzies they follow, catching fish by the netful each day and throwing it into the central, swirling mass of death between the boats. A throat to god herself. The Circle. They heal the sharks they find in the world, bring them to Circle, shower them with gold gifts and prayer scraps, and give them drugs.
There is a period every year, however, when the winds change so that the Circle dissolves and scatters, spreading the mission of The Deep to other seas. Still chasing after all this time. During those times the shark prophets come to shore and spread their version of the good word.
The Gospel of Reprieve states that the world cannot stand. She will break and crumble back into the sea. Even if no great magic or act of god does this, it is inevitable, for Dei Dentemonstrum is inevitable, and she will eat all the land even if we do not all sink back to the sea. Which we totally will. WHEN that happens all the living will die as an offering to the Circle. Those who offer themselves willingly when the time comes, or who serve the Circle in life and who die before the devouring of all lands, will pass through the red throat of sharp death that is the Circle and pass to the ear of Dei Dentemonstrum herself, where they may beg the mercy of eternal service and hunting on her behalf until the seas all boil away.
All we seek, say the Carcharodemetreonites, is tribute: livestock to take back for the Circle; your criminals and judged; any willing sacrifices to the Circle; any who would willingly join the order of the Carcharodemetreonites and serve the Circle, knowing that no law will reach them and all their past will be ghost; coin to help the holy mission continue and repair boats and shit; new ships; or, failing all else, the blood of your entire family.
The prophets always have attached to their person lamprey and remora. In some quantity. These never die while in their care and attached to a willing prophet or subject, and carrying a remora around on your body shows the strength of your faith. If your faith is shaken, they fall off and die, and then you're fucked. With the lampreys your blood and the blood of your line may be taken, preserved in the creature until it can be returned to the sea, and the offered within the lamprey to the Circle. This buys you and your family little pity in the frenzy to come but it buys you an extra year with no shark prophet bothering you: next year, they'll all just...KNOW that you already Gave.
They will beg all of these from any, even from other churches, because after all they will eventually have their gods drowned and eaten, too, nothing personal. They are insistent. A prophet who returns with only lampreys stuffed with blood will be shamed and will be given shit work for a year. One who returns empty handed will be offered to the Circle stripped nekkid and anointed in the blood of baitfish. God's god and everything but nobody wants that done TO them before they can choose to do it later one day maybe for sure, so these prophets...excuse me "prophets"...also preach the Bottomless Sermon.
Now I've been using the colloquial name "shark prophets" and it's true that they do presage a coming doom. They also presage a specific inconvenience, in that your interactions with them are deterministic regarding later inconvenience. But they are called that by their "missions" because seeing them is an omen presaging a shark attack.
If a shark prophet is coming that means a shark is coming.
Yes even in jungle, city, mountain.
If it helps to think of them as a Cleric then go right ahead but, simply, utter refusal of the shark prophet empowers them to summon a shark ghost, with HD and killing power which increases for each year the prophet has been serving the Circle on the water. This happens every time the prophet is utterly refused. They don't have to sic a flying ghost shark on you. They just probably will, although they can always save it for later and reward your generosity in your community, your home, or with your children.
They are also banes to rivers, lakes, and ponds, the False Promised Land. Getting nude in a body of freshwater allows them to take Manshark form in order to slay whatever citizens, guardians, protector spirits, rulers, or local lesser horrors they find within.
It goes without saying that on the open ocean their powers also include the ability to speak to, heal, and summon sharks at will, so long as they wear the ceremonial armor which marks them as Circle servants.
Some give freely. Usually all give some. The pilgrims trudge down toward the sea, the boats leave, and the danger of the open ocean increases considerably.