Wisdom of Sorrow
Originally posted on the Ur-Braxa website.
When I was young, my schooling as a noble youth included tedious readings called “histories.” I cannot recall anything that was written (the matter of the disputes of my ancestors must have seemed of little consequence to me at the time) but I do recall the manner of writing: austere, anonymous, and asinine. Histories seemed to float without writer or reader; they pronounced the “facts” as if the past were a matter of simple observation, and as if everyone would see it the same way. Even as a child, histories struck me as pretentious. After thousands of years, I find it hard to be so sure about anything. So why in the name of Rajaat am I writing a history?
Since I am not a practiced historian, I cannot speak or write to a void. I will imagine a reader, so that I can proceed.
I picture you as a thief that has stolen into my tower, seeking treasure or knowledge. You are skilled; you have circumvented my templars, my guards, my wards, my illusions, my locks … but you are disappointed. The shelves are less full than you had hoped. Surely Oronis, king of Kurn, keeps more than these meager belongings! Your eyes light upon an open book, upon a desk, inside a bare and empty room without windows. You step into the room, curious to see what spells I might be painting into my book.
The door closes behind you, and you turn to see me between you and the closed door. The knowledge you have come to steal, I will force upon you. Sit down, thief, and listen.
There was a time called the Blue Age, when halfings were scattered on mountaintops throughout the world, since most of the world was covered in water. The area around the halfling city of Tyryagi contained many peaks, and somehow became a center of culture. No surviving documents explain how this center of culture came to dominate all halflings cultures around the globe; the halfling histories begin suspiciously at “Year one” of the “First World Age”. This is the same calendar that has been preserved through time, although we now speak of “King’s Ages”. In ages of my careful searching of ancient halfling ruins, I have only encountered one halfling inscription that suggested that there may once have been an earlier calendar: a reference to Year Nineteen of the “New World Age”. What was the “Old” World like? I have no grounds for speculation — other than the strong conviction that there was an old world age, and that its story has been eliminated from the world.
The greatest of the life-shaping experiments were carried out in Tyryagi, and the language of Tyrian halflings came to dominate the others, even though halflings filled the land above water and had even expanded cities into the depths of the earth and sea. This expansion into different areas became the source of the only recorded conflict between the halflings: “The First of Wars.”
The First of Wars
A philosophical argument erupted between the rebellious group of “Nature-Benders,” who altered themselves and other halflings (with and without consent), and the dominant “Nature-Masters,” who created insentient life-shaped creatures and objects to serve halflings, but felt that alteration of the perfect halfling form was an abomination. This “First of Wars’’ led to the first proliferation of life-shaped weapons.
The overconfident Masters were shocked to find themselves threatened by a force of horrific Rhul-Takh, reshaped halflings turned into hideous monsters.In order to win the war, and put an end to the abominations, the Masters began the construction of the their master work, the Pristine Tower. A living device originally intended to transform Rhul-Takh back into halflings, the “Pristine” tower got its name from its makers’ desire to rid Athas of the creatures and practices that sullied it. The Nature-Masters chose the place for the Pristine Tower at the equator of the world, in order to best utilize the power of the sun. The axes have since shifted; the Pristine Tower is now considerably above the equator.
The construction was carried out underwater, since at that time the ground was below thousands of feet of ocean. Because the tides wax and wane, and sometimes the steeple of crystals would have to stretch beyond clouds to reach the sun, the Pristine Tower was made of living alloy of platinum, steel, and quicksilver. The alloy left it impervious to corrosion, strong, and as flexible as an amoeba.
The research and construction took ages, and all the while, the Nature Masters were losing the war. Island after island fell to the terror of the benders, and were forced to add their strength to the Bender forces. In desperation, Masters began torturing captured Benders for the secrets of the Rhul-Takh, but the high command Masters never allowed their side to use these horrid secrets. Another, seemingly less horrid option was available: the brown tide.
Originally designed to wipe out the Rhul-Takh abominations and the life-shaped warships of the Benders, the brown tide infected the whole ocean, including the life-shaped underground city-shells.
The First Desiccation
The Pristine Tower killed the brown tide, but changed the sun and shrunk the oceans. The brown tide and the “first desiccation”, as it was called, had killed over ten times as many halflings as had perished in the ages of war. Underwater cities had collapsed or been buried in the drying earth; contaminated fish had poisoned halflings with life-shaped attachments . . . The continents as we knew them in the Green Age appeared from beneath the receding waters. The surviving halflings looked down from their mountaintops, and where they had previously seen water, saw mud, as far as the eye could see.
The leaders of the Masters refused to acknowledge their mistake in releasing the brown tide, and decided that a scapegoat was required.They blamed the brown tide on the Benders. As punishment for their crimes, both real and imagined, the master leaders of the Benders were transformed into horrid insects about the size of halflings, and exiled to the barren lands far West of the Jagged Cliffs.
I believe that these transformed leaders of the nature benders are the same creatures that the Tohr-Kreen of the Savannah plains refer to as the “zic-chil”. They wandered the mud plains that gradually greened and became lush Savannah, and eventually encountered the ancestors of the kreen, whom they began to cruelly dominate - the Zic-Chil would rather say that they “civilized and improved” the kreen. The Zic-Chil “improvements” also expanded the size and strength of the kreen, who previously had been smaller than halflings. But the expanded kreen became vulnerable to the then-damp savannah, and to the frustration of their Zic-Chil overlords, never could expand beyond the drier high ground near the mountains on the western edge of the Savannah. of the Pristine Continent. Limited in area, the kreen were also confined in population.
The nature-masters also transformed lesser previous nature-benders (who insisted that their masters had not released the Brown tide) into reptile and avian creatures — officially to punish them, but actually to silence them. The surviving Rhul-Takh were not deemed worthy of being turned back into halflings; every halfling that had been life-shaped in any way was turned into something similar to halflings, but too large to live among them or complete for halfling living space. “Let them live in the new plains and mud-flats that have emerged from the desiccated sea-which was now too salty to drink. Their leaders created it. Let them live in it.”
To the surprise of the Masters, many halfings came and demanded transformation with their families. The reasons varied: various-crowding of caves, disgust with the Master-rulers or with the whole species, longing for the company of a transformed loved one . . . Some of the best and brightest, and certainly the most adaptable of halflings took the transformation, and called it THE REBIRTH. They made their demands too quickly for the nature masters to comprehend what was happening. Before the Nature masters could count the cultural loss, all the surviving halflings that possessed mastery of the sea had been transformed into what became known as the elven race. Halfling culture was not only decimated — it was broken apart and isolated.
As halfling after halfling demanded the transformation, the anger of the Nature Masters grew. They who had fought to protect the sanctity of the perfect halfling form, were required by the crowd to transform one halfling after another. They stalled. The crowd grew, and waited sullenly. They refused to transform more halflings. The crowd began to remind them of their crimes. If the halfling form was perfect, then why had the nature masters transformed others? The transformations continued – but the Masters cruelly punished the ringleaders by turning them, their spouses, and their families into vastly different races: Human, Orc, Pterran, Dwarf, Elf … wives and husbands looked at each other, and wept in horror at what they saw.
When the crowds saw this last betrayal by the nature-masters, they seized the tower by force, cast out the nature-masters, and persuaded some of the Nature-Masters’ conscience-struck apprentices to continue the transformations. The families that Nature Masters had tried to break, stayed together, and vowed to remain as one family and one tribe. This group, comprised of five races came to be known by the name of their vow: REMAN, meaning to “Remain”. Indeed, the Reman kept this vow for dozens of ages, and, as you will see, left their own mark on history.
The apprentices knew that their Masters would seek revenge against them, and against the rebirth races, so they carefully prepared a select group of people for a special transformation, into beings that would shepherd and protect the new races. The transformation was so intricate and difficult that it could only be applied to babies. The apprentices completed the preparations for this special transformation in the halfling month of Pyreas, so the transformed children were called Pyreen.
The Pyreen were imbued with powers over the elements, and natural sympathies towards all halflings and rebirth races. They were given the ability to change their appearance between the rebirth races, and indeed, had no unique appearance of their own. They were made immortal, but in the process lost the ability to beget. The apprentices chose the pyreen candidates from the many orphans from the First of Wars, and entrusted the pyreen children to Reman families.
The new races spread through the Pristine continent, and each race found its niche — or disappeared within generations. Some, like the Wemic, remained united race-tribes, while others separated into extended families that became known as “Nations”. One Human nation, Reman, mastered the waves, and established colonies on other continents, some of which had no mountains and therefore no halflings. The Pterran race was the first to master the Way, and established communication with the seafaring human nation. The Remans and the Pterrans learned that the different races often considered different spaces livable, different resources necessary, and that each race and culture had goods to exchange. Trade was born.
To improve their trading profits, the Remans found it necessary to settle territorial wars, and offered new land in other continents to help settle these disputes. When all was said and done, only four of the eight human nations remained on the Pristine Continent: 1. The reclusive Golts, who buried themselves in the great forest near Pristine Tower; 2. The battle-thirsty Tanysh, who spread across the plains of the whole continent, warring with every non-human race they encountered; 3. The artistic Melai, who were conquered by the Tanysh, and paid tribute to them, but maintained their own culture, language, and traditions; 4. The peaceful Geshur, who moved far north of the Pristine tower, and settled by a landlocked sea.
Two of the human nations, and eventually an elven nation, a dwarven nation, and the Orcish and Pterran Races banded together in a single nation with the Reman. Because of the ferocity of the Tanysh, they settled on the smallest but most temperate of the other continents. For ages they thrived and traded with the races and nations across the sea. One of their most profitable ventures was transporting other races to the third (and only other) livable continent, a narrow but long-stretching body that lays along the equator.
While the Tanysh never mastered the waves beyond a few clunking fishing ships rightfully called “junks”, they improved land-locked technologies to their limits. All creatures of the plains feared their gleaming chariots, their spears of bronze and iron. The Tanysh settled all over the plains, because their chariots made these easy to seize and defend. Mountains and great forests intimidated them, and they hated the halflings that lived above the Tanysh empire -but they never had occasion or motive to war against the little ones above. They also hated and envied the elves’ longevity, and created legends of “magic” that would extend life. (Hence the Tanysh word “magic” existed ages before it became a reality).
The Tanysh were not a solid, unified culture; they adopted customs and traditions from the humans they conquered and even from the other races that they slew. They imitated the ziggurats of the halflings, but whereas the halflings built to “join the earth and sky”, the Tanysh built to assert their dominion over the plains, and directed their ambitions towards the eternities of the skies. Tanysh dialects diverged as the empire grew, and they split and warred to re-conquer each other a dozen times in every age. Most of the time, the empirical seat of power was to the north, the isle Tanys in a lake near what is now called Draj.
After a few ages, Reman expatriates returned to threaten the growing Tanysh culture. The Remans had traded with the Pristine Continent for dozens of ages; but isolated expatriate groups now came to settle, crowded out of the flourishing second continent. They considered the Pristine Continent the “land of their first inheritance.” They did not come to conquer, but to build in unsettled areas, and build they did.
First the islands were settled. Waverly. Ebe. Malthas.
Then a few unsettled coastal areas were settled, first as trading forts, then as city-states: Giustenal, on the edge of the Goltish forest. Balic, a then-arid peninsula. Eldaarich was built on a rocky island near the elven nation of the northern forests atop goblin ruins. Other city-states were not placed as strategically, or defensively, and were wiped out.
After the Reman-esque (their languages changed over time, and they were independent from the Reman Nation) city-states were successful, more Reman expatriates moved inland to areas not thought to be threatened by the Tanysh. One of the few successful first inland Reman cities was Tyr.
Reman settlements flourished, if they were not destroyed immediately; the secret of their success was the multi-racial specialty and cooperation that they had developed on the Reman continent. Pterran druids moved the arsenic-contaminating streams that had wiped or scared off the earlier halfling inhabitants of Tyr, and established peace and trade with the halflings in the mountains and forest to the west. Dwarven architects made Tyr a wonder above and beneath ground; elves scouted out the foothills and made the way impassable to Tanysh invaders, Orcs tilled and brought abundance to the soil, and humans raised herds. This was the strength of the Reman culture; each race found its niche; none were subjugated, but shared one language and purpose.
While the Reman expatriates came as traders and settlers, they conquered nonetheless. Their culture and way of life was enticing; under Reman influence, Melai cities threw off their Tanysh overlords, and four of these cities, Raam, Yaramuke, Nibenay, and Kalidnay held their liberty. Even some Tanysh cities such as Celik became swayed by the Reman influence, and took on Reman traits such as multi-racial populations. Many other non-human races flocked to the Reman cities for protection: Gnomes, wemic, etc. (But many of the non-human races, such as goblins, had already emigrated to the equatorial continent, with assistance of the Reman nation.)
The Remans rapidly settled all along the eastern coast and the great gulf, dividing the Tanysh tribes in two groups, the northeastern ones, the properly “Tanys”, with the stronger cultural roots, and the southwestern Tanys, or “Zethi”, gathered around the ancient city of Zethir (far south of Celik).
Tanys and Zethi fought the Tyrians for a long time, but the Tyrians — although not unified — were strong enough to withstand both groups of attackers. The Tanys were the first in gathering, making a solid nation whose gleaming chariots still terrified its enemies. The Zethi were not as successful — although a big group of them settled at the shore of the pink river, Zethi was not as big as the Tanys nation, or as powerful, and a lot of nomadic groups remained broken off from the Zethi nation, scattered throughout the southern region, trading with the elves, the dwarves, the gnomes and the other races of the south.
“And then there was Rajaat.”
It was the Pristine Tower that disfigured a baby pyreen’s body, and later, his adult mind, gradually eroding his personality away in self-hatred until he became Rajaat, which in the nature bender language meant, Wiped Clean. The spirit of that tormented pyreen passed long ago into the grey, while the spirit of the Pristine Tower raged across Athas in the twisted pyreen’s body, seeking to wipe Athas clean of everyone except for the Tower’s original creators. Most of the Pristine Tower’s power and all of its consciousness passed with its spirit into the hollow — this is why Rajaat could not get out by himself, but was quite powerful once he was out. The whole labor of the inhabitants of the Pristine Tower is to bring back the spirit of their most powerful creation. Only the Makers, the most powerful and ancient of the shadow-halflings, know the secret of Rajaat’s true connection to the tower-and these may be said to be Rajaat’s masters, although personally they are weak in every way but knowledge and cunning.
Rajaat, the soul of the Pristine Tower, is the source of the changes in Athas that it most despises. The Brown Tide. The changing of the sun. New races. The changing of the sun (again) The Desiccation. The impoverishment and fragmentation of the surviving halfings. The dominance of the human race. The Changing of the sun (yet again!) Perhaps the terrified gods fled in fear, leaving the Grey to hopefully, eventually finish Rajaat off. Perhaps the pyreen are the ones who wait to tell the old gods — it is done; Rajaat is dead; you can spare this poor planet. Meanwhile, everything Rajaat does to undo its last blunder, makes things worse, its self-hatred more intense.
Quite interesting. I once proposed a group of undead advanced beings called the “Crimson” who were the results in Rajaat’s third attempt at making an advanced being. First he tried the Black, and got the Shadow Giants. Shadow Giants were unsatisfactory because they lacked the destructive power for the sort of task he envisioned. Second, Rajaat began work on preserving magic. He managed to create some sort of proto-avangion, but only one – no other halflings were able to make the transformation, and the one that did rebelled against his purposes and escaped. So Rajaat turned to other sources of power, even though he found quickly that halflings would not be able to wield these powers. Rajaat turned to human subjects, reasoning that humans seemed the most malleable of the rebirth races, and dumb enough to deceive. He tried Necromantic magic, and created the Crimson. The Crimson were unsatisfactory because they were bound to a specific place; Rajaat wanted his champions to roam the world. Defiling was his last resort; after all, Rajaat wanted to restore the Blue Age. The rest is history. The wanderer asserts that the “changing of the sun signaled the commencement of the cleansing wars.” Accurate but misleading: armies first have to be gathered, and this takes time; the work of the cleansing wars began in whispers. The Champion Albeorn confirmed the rumor that elves had begun to die of age. Humans, (particularly the nobles of Tanys whose ambitions are expressed in their ziggurat architecture) had long resented the extreme longevity of the elves, and had long tried to pry the “secret” from the elves; Albeorn told the Tanysh that the secret of elves’ long life had been that they had tapped the life of the sun, and that the elves had carelessly wounded the sun, and destroyed the one source of immortality. Hatred mounted, and the skirmishes began, and when the elves began to retaliate (which they did, devastatingly) the remains of Tanysh empire joined Albeorn’s cause. . . . .
But this is not the story of the cleansing wars. The work of the cleansing wars could only be carried out by a unified culture–no Champion could motivate a mixed-culture to xenocide, so each of the Champions drew a following from a specific culture, and took its army from continent to continent, wiping out the races. This is why the other races never managed to unite against the threat-it happened in waves. One decade Albeorn is assaulting the elves in the Kurn area, Borys is killing dwarves in the equatorial continent, and Gallard is killing the gnomes south of Celik, so why should the elves in the Celik get involved? But the next decade Albeorn “retreats” to the south, and offers his troops the chance to “settle” in some choice areas that happen to be inhabited by elves, whom his troops dislike anyway . . . you get the idea. This is why the wars took so long!
Drawing the curtain on the wars, let’s examine the formation of the new cultures:
Albeorn abandoned his army, and took the appearance and name of a slain Balican general that had opposed Albeorn’s siege of Balic, rallied the routed Balican troops, and easily destroyed his own former army (without visible use of magic). When the ruler of Balic was assassinated a few weeks later, “Andropinis” killed the “assassins,” mourned loudly, and ran for election. He was elected for life, which for some reason lasted longer than the voters had anticipated.
Lalali-Puy similarly left her army to shift for itself, and appeared as a goddess to rescue the Gulgans from the armies and hungry refugees. Uyness seized Raam with her army and templars, but over the centuries, her shoddy rulership has provoked revolution after revolution, and she has had to change her identity and start over in order to restore a measure of peace. “Abalach-Re” is the eleventh of her identities, and the one that has lasted the longest: the I-am-the-Grand-Vizier-representative of-a-great-blue-four-armed-god scheme seems to be the least idiotic, and most successful of her power schemes.
Both Keltus and Tectutitlay led armies who were Tanysh in distant origin, but had separated from the Tanysh nation and (with the help of Reman sailors) migrated to the equatorial continent. Keltis (his first name is lost in history, and his origin is unknown) led the Kel Tan (who had lived more-or-less peacefully there until stirred up by Keltis against the sea-going lizard-men) to settle in Kurn, the most defensible and intact of the elvish cities sacked by Albeorn. Tectuktitlay settled his army on an island in the middle of a pristine lake, and built his city. Gradually, global desiccation and poor city planning turned the lake into a mud flat.
Eldaarich was resettled by Daaskinor’s army, also previously from the equatorial continent. (Daaskinor would have preferred to isolate his city there, but the cleansing wars left that continent too desolate and desiccated to support life.
Gallard returned his Melai army to their city of origin, married, named an imaginary “son” after the city Nibenay, faked his own death, and made himself his own heir. Gallard’s “son” Nibenay was closer to the Melai people and was able to govern them in relative peace. The change in identity made it easy for Gallard/Nibenay to shake off his old military commanders that were running the city and establish a new order of government.
Kalak appeared as if out of nowhere, seized power inTyr, and held it with an iron fist. Tyr still resembles Balic culturally-the vestiges of democracy somehow were ingrained in the culture, but they have forgotten how to apply them, and Tyr’s council has a tough road ahead.
A growing village named Urik asked Hamanu to be their king, in order to help them in a skirmish with a neighboring village named Eridu.
Just as Nobles speak the city-language, and the commoners speak “common,” Nobles tend to try to preserve the ancient architectural styles, but trade dictates that the cheapest and best ideas proliferate.Balican/Tyrian noble villa-constructions proliferate all over the tablelands, as does the adobe construction…
Today, the equatorial continent makes the tablelands look like Eden. It is filled with interesting ruins and undead. The sorcerer-monarch sometimes travel there alone to reminisce or loot.
The former Reman continent has become a place of horrors. Unnatural volcanoes spew ash into a nearly continual cloud; weekly rains provide clear skies for a few hours, but mix with the ash to create a layer of cement. Permanent building and growth is almost impossible. A few survivors hold onto what they call life. This continent received Rajaat’s personal attention, since it is here that inter-race solidarity had to be destroyed, and memorably.
Rajaat stimulated volcanic activity in the land, and twisted a few gentle pterrans into a horrific new creature: the firenewt, who were given an uncontrollable urge to kill humanoids of all sorts. But over the ages the leaders of the firenewts have come to recognize that if they were successful in killing all humanoids on the continent, that they would lose their purpose for living. So they force their troops to perpetually prolong their cat-and-mouse game. Reman Orcs were long since wiped out, and Reman humans have interbred with elves to the point where they are considered one race (and would take offense at being told they were “half-“ anything!) Only a handful of dwarves survive, and these the other Remans treat as serfs, of course if they got a chance the Remans would kidnap dwarves from the main continent - they are very valuable diggers, which is very useful in a world where everything gets buried in cement every few weeks, and only the fast-growing bamboo like plants break through the surface of the cement.