Friday, February 04, 2011

Baal Hamazi

The Empire of Baal Hamazi started when the Awan tribe of hunter-gatherers claim to have been contacted in an intimate fashion by the god Czernovog. Hutran Kutir was the first of the hellspawn of the tribes of the northern drylands, and was the first Prophet-King. According to myth, he was a chief's son of the Awan tribe, up in the Hamazi canyonlands, and disappeared into the maze of the canyons for five years. When he returned, he was a full-blown hellspawn, with obsidian-black skin and hair, glowing yellow eyes, and six horns on his head like a crown, not unlike the descriptions of Czernovog himself. He came back bearing the knowledge of "advanced civilization"; building massive stone buildings, writing, and social organization that was the foundation for the Baal Hamazi empire. He supposedly had 100 wives, over 500 children, and all of them were full-blooded hellspawn. Today, all of the hamazin hellspawn claim Hutran Kutir as their semi-mythical ancestor.

Other accounts told throughout what is the former territory of Baal Hamazi have different stories, although that is the classic legendary history. The scholars of Simashki believe that the legend is inherently unlikely, and that Hutran Kutir, if he actually existed at all, was probably born a hellspawn, the same as other hellspawn, but was born in a position of some power and influence. He probably learned complex architecture, social structure and writing from some of the early neighbors of the region, and most scholars actually favor time spent in Tarush Noptii. Possibly Kutir returning to the canyonlands with a vampiric advisor, even. Kutir was able to quickly conquer and marshal the resources of the Awan tribe, as well as many neighbors, forging them into the force that would found the Baal Hamazi empire, and using imported or captured slave labor to build the first city in the region, Baal Hamazi, deep in the canyonlands.

In either case, from its heartland in the canyonlands, the empire which had the same name as its capital spread throughout the so-called dryland tribes, founding other outposts which grew into major urban centers: Nashur, Baal Hishutash, Tahrah, Simashki, Ishkur, Baal Ngirsu, Shushun and Isin. Between these urban centers, much of the wilderness that separated them was also pacified, and the legendary Pax Hamazi of the past is seen as a golden age by many of the modern inhabitants of the region. As the empire grew, so too did the population of the hamazin, a now true-breeding race of hellspawn with a single physical profile: jet black skin, golden eyes, and a cluster of small horns on the tops of the head and forehead. It became fashionable to remove all hair from the head to show off these horns at one point, and that style remains in some of the successor states. The hamazin became a privileged caste (separate from the hamazi, which is a more rarely used generic adjective describing anyone from the region, including the fully human tribesmen and urban city-dwellers--now the preferred term is more often drylander) and their numbers grew.

Ultimately, some believe that the growth of the hamazin was what foundered the empire. After nearly five hundred years of relative peace and growth, there grew to be too many hamazin living in indolence, and the resources of the empire started to become strained. The humans of the region were forced to live in poverty supporting their hamazin overlords. Rebellions were becoming commonplace, and the bloody reactions to them only led to further seething tension and hatred. Haltash, Untash and Tazitta braves became a major thorn in the side of the administration, waging guerilla warfare from the bush that consumed the coffers of the empire at an accelerated rate. Rocky foreign relations with a rising Terrasa (in those days Terrasa was a new, rising power) were a source of concern. Even Tarush Noptii, once a long-time ally of the ruling class of Baal Hamazi, turned a chilly cold shoulder to the empire as it failed to pacify the warring Untash tribes, which caused the vampire's kingdom no small amount of grief as well.

An unprecedented natural disaster then befell the capital, and it wasn't hard for most in the empire to see it as a omen of the Black Prince withdrawing his favor. A major sandstorm that lasted for weeks clogged the canyonlands, burying the capital in drifts, fouling water supplies and crops, and blocking roads. By the time the much-reduced population was able to re-establish contact with the rest of the nation a month and a half later, they found that it was embroiled in full-scale revolt. Nearly every major city was under seige, much of the army had deserted, and even the heir to the king was unable to muster enough support to unite more than a small area under his banner. Baal Hamazi itself was abandoned, and the heir moved his court to nearby Nashur, where his descendents still claim sovereignty over the entire region, and they still claim to rule in "the Old Ways" as Baal Hamazi did in the golden age. This is just posturing, though, and the kings and queens of Nashur have seen a gradual erosion of their power to mere figure-head status. Today, a militaristic warlord rules openly, and is the fourth such warlord to openly run the government.

Most of the rest of the major urban centers eventually emerged intact, although independent. Political boundaries and influence shifted and moved throughout the three hundred and twenty five years since the fall of the capital to the present day. Far eastern Isin, with vampiric allies (exiles from Tarush Noptii) even made a solid run as a major successor state, laying claim to much of the former empire to the borders of the Salt Sea and able to enforce it for nearly a hundred years, before gradually waning somewhat as well. In this balkanized country, few kings or rulers of any stripe have managed to hold onto any power that wasn't local for long. Today, most urban centers are effectively city-states; ruling within their walls, and the surrounding fields and lands, but no further. Only Isin manages to claim a significant portion of the old empire.

Throughout most of the area, the hamazin have been forced to integrate more with the human castes as well; no longer can they be supported by humans kept in slavery. That was the one nearly universal outcome of the many rebellions. Only Nashur in the far north has managed to keep its humans firmly under the thumb of the hamazin. That is not to say that equality of caste is common; in most places, hamazin are still in most positions of authority and prestige, and there certainly are limits to what humans can accomplish within their governments; but less so than during the golden age of empire.

There are also much more solid and usually friendly relationships between these smaller kingdoms and the chiefs of the various tribes that live around them, eschewing the urban life of the hamazi. In fact, given the disaster that befell Baal Hamazi itself, many hamazi have also consciously reverted to the "uncivilized" state, living as their ancestors in hunter-gatherer tribes. Large groups of them have relocated to the Hamazi canyonlands, where they guard the ruins of Baal Hamazi as cursed and forbid anyone to enter. Large groups of them also live in the North Canyonlands, trying to reconnect with the way of life of their ancestors in the hope that they can win back the favor of their divine patron.

The larger tribes have few if any hamazin living amongst them, though, and are of the casually-named drylands ethnic group, as are most of the humans in the area. In the south, there has been some infusion with Balshatoi settlers or explorers, but contact with the south remains limited except by merchants and mercenaries who trade via caravan or wagon train with Iclezza and other northern cities of Terrasa, or by the descendents of those hamazin who fled in the great diaspora following the destruction of the capital city, or those who have fled south more recently to escape the cycle of violence that still plagues the area. These tribes continue to grow, because they are (usually) accepting of their cousins, the urban drylanders, who often flee life in the cities and second-class citizens to join the tribes, which are more friendly to their ethnic group, and more meritocratous in general. Many such former urban tribesmen have in fact risen to positions of great wealth and prominance amongst the tribes, and while many more have died ignobly and in poverty, many dissatisfied drylanders are always willing to take the chance and see if they can make it amongst the tribesmen.

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