Sarsaan: A Worldbuilding Project

Chapter 1


Standard of the Tepan Empire
Hebbez, 126 Years After the Sun went Black

Daylight was fading fast. The crowd was silent as the veteran marched toward the pyre, his torch held up high. Khamud, his superior and compatriot, watched from his podium, overlooking the hundreds who had gathered here in this field to remember those lost in a war that was graciously short. From afar, he heard the nickering and thumping hooves of a few warmbloods, and grimaced. Having made it to the pyre, the torchbearer glanced up at Khamud, as if looking for a signal to wait, but Khamud put forward his hand, signalling him to go ahead with the ceremony.

Fire swarmed across the fuel like locusts. A priest was beginning to give thanks to Ikumun and Ramidah when Zehyud made it to Khamud's side. Khamud kept his mouth shut.

Reverently, the two waited for the memorial to end. After a moment of silence, the steady drum beats returned, and a brigadier approached the smoldering remains of the pyre. He lit a torch and passed it to Khamud, who passed it to Zehyud in the same manner. Commandants emerged from the rank and file and took up torches of their own, leading the other men back over the windswept plains, and into the city. Order and restraint dissolved with the end of the ritual. A few soldiers returned to their homes in the city, but most of them crowded into the central square and the adjacent streets to feast, knowing they wouldn't see their comrades for a long time after they departed for their home cities. They roasted eruqs whole, poured beer, ate, and laughed. Before long, workers and wives came out of their houses to observe. As the streets got busier, music began to fill the air as women blew on harmonic reeds, and men strummed on jaw harps.

Khamud, Zehyud, and his retinue went straight for the central palace, cutting through the revelry and leaving a wake of brief and hurried homage as they passed. It was a gated compound, made up of rooms awkwardly appended onto the other over hundreds of years, and centered around a terraced, quartzite tower with redundant joists protruding on all sides. The two dismounted in the front yard, where an ornate, symmetrical façade stood, trying in vain to hide the chaos behind it.

"It's going to be another raucous night isn't it?" Zehyud sighed. "I know this is a time for joy, but it doesn't come to me like it used to. I take it you'll be joining your men tonight?"

"Hardly. I've been sleepless as of late. All I want is peace of mind, and I'm a belligerent drunk. But before I retire, if I could have a brief audience, I'd like a word about your arrival at the memorial."


"You were late," Khamud murmured, "as I'm sure you could tell." Zehyud seemed let down, but by the spirit more than the substance.

"I could, in fact. And I was expecting something a little more ceremonious, from you in particular."

Khamud motioned back to the outskirts of the city. "That was it: the ceremony. We couldn't keep Ramidah waiting. If you wanted fanfare yourself, you should have come before sunset."

"And pray tell, what makes you the arbiter of what Ramidah wants? Did she appear to you, to tell you to pay respects in the absence of your sovereign?"

"With all due respect, my lord, I was raised well enough to understand that no man is the subject of such a ritual, even a king among kings such as yourself. The gods outrank us. It is paramount that we live by this truth, lest they take the sun from us again. I will not accost you for being absent for my speech, but a leader is never late for these matters. In failing, you have disrespected our people, and you have disrespected the gods."

Zehyud scowled more intensely. "Who, exactly do you think you are?"

"I'm the man who won your war. And I think my words deserve your consideration."

Zehyud was livid. "You are in the wilderness, sir. Were you not blessed by every man south of Irpeksat, I would have you stripped of your title tonight. Never again will you tell a king that he does not understand his standing with the gods. Do you understand?"

"Yes, my lord."

"Good. In time, my hope is that we can come to a mutual understanding. Peace until the morning."

"Peace until the morning." And with that, the two great men parted ways. A small comitatus followed Khamud as he returned to his home. He looked up for the moons. Hara was nowhere to be seen, and Dakan was a sliver, one more night from being blackened out.

Zehyud was finishing his morning prayer when a servant, Gibay, nearly punched the sanctuary door off its hinges.

"My lord, it's an emergency! Men are at the front gates, hundreds!"

Zehyud sprung himself off the floor. "Who?"

"It's Khamud! He wants something!"

"That much is obvious," the fasted king muttered. "Get Bunsef and my children to the keep. I need to talk to Khamud before he dies for this."

He barged out of the sanctuary, commanding a few guards to follow him. He had a cloister in mind, a roost from which he could reason Khamud or his deluded followers out of this. It wasn't far, he just needed to turn down a few halls and climb a spiral staircase—only there, in the northern hall, was the man himself. Protected by a pair of stoic soldiers, he was waiting patiently, helping himself to a bowl of partridgeberries set out on a table. He seemed pleased by Zehyud's punctuality.

"I hope you don't think me rude. You shouldn't leave food out so long like this. The poor things were on the brink of spoiling."

The king's brows furrowed briefly, but his lips curled into an uneasy smile. "Honestly, shame on me for not seeing this coming."

"I understand that this isn't customary, but necessity is rude. At a certain point, I need to act in the interest of the natural order. It has become apparent to me that your character makes you unfit for the throne of Hebbez, or any city in the Union for that matter. On this pretext, I am removing you from this office immediately, and assuming total control of the Union. The armies are quite a spectacle, but they are only here to back me up. I have no intention of hurting you, or anyone here for that matter. In fact, I've already arranged plans for your exile to Bangqas. A beautiful city, if all my years there mean anything."

Zehyud was having none of it. "You're crazy! You think this is in order? You think yourself justified? I am pious! I am just!"

"Tell me how good you are when I've already known you so long. I've seen into your heart. And I'll concede, you are just. You're also noble and honest. You're clean, and you have a good sense of humor. But you don't listen to your heart. You trust others and devote yourself to them, but only when you find it convenient. You're cowardly. You're spontaneous. You always take more than you give, because in your head, our world revolves around you. I gave you many chances to prove your virtues, and for too long, you've been content with feigning them."

"And suppose I am as careless and irreverent as you claim. What makes you any different from all the other ko'iwas clawing for power? Because they're there. You don't want to think so, but they're everywhere, and they'll stick a knife in your back the minute you glance up at a passing hunitsin! Chaos! Tyranny! The Dry River's War all over again!"

Khamud snorted. Slowly, he reached out and uncurled his fingers, letting the berries roll back into the bowl. "You tell me about the Dry River's War like I wasn't there..."

"Having fought in the war, I'd have thought you'd be as familiar as I am."

"Men like me fought to save men like you who ran and hid, and came out with their swords after the fact, singing songs of their victory. I know the war better than you. It was twenty-one years of senseless, fruitless violence, fueled by the arrogance of kings who valued their pride over their allies. Arrogance such as yours is the root of all discord. That's why the gods punish it so harshly."

Zehyud shook his head. "Was it arrogance, or insubordination that caused the war?" He chuckled. "The most vainglorious blowhard to have ever walked the earth couldn't have started the war on his own. No, the war ended because great men knew we needed order, and they knew that order called for submission to a higher authority. An authority such as myself."

"And with arrogance, submission is impossible. I already know the value of order. I should know because I was the agent of order. When the Union appointed me, I turned a hodgepodge of competing armies into a single body with a single aim: something the Delta States never had. Our structure was our strength. And now that the war is done, it seems you want to put things back the way they were: a hodgepodge. A disorderly "Union", no different from what came before. We stand at the cusp of something beautiful, the fruit of my men's sacrifice. I had the good fortune to play a role in its inception, and today, I intend to finish what I started."

"You will finish something today, that much is obvious. But you will not get away with this. I will settle for exile if you order your army to stand down now. But that is as far as I am willing to extend my charity."

"I am not here to bargain. I would not have come this morning were I afraid of death. And maybe you have every right to kill me. But I have the support of every standing army for miles. Naygur. Abighat. Tabad Raz. Cities of magistrates who owe you no favor. Who would fight for you? Who would they blame for the ensuing chaos? And which rock would you hide under this time?"

Zehyud was quiet. The room dimmed a bit as a cloud passed afront the morning sun.

"Stand down. Let there be no bloodshed within these halls." Boldly, Zehyud stepped ahead of his guards, approaching Khamud but keeping plenty of distance. "I accept your offer with grace, but promise me this: Never will you think that this can't happen again. I've already said much of your character. But your victories speak volumes of your capacity to lead men. Someday, someone in your ranks may think himself your equal, and he may not be so merciful to you as you are to me. And he who is without mercy is no leader. I will carry the shame of what happened here today to my grave, and I can bear it. But I can't bear to see my country—your country—under the teeth of a parasite."

"I accept your resignation thankfully." Khamud paused before turning to one of his guards. "Gqaknip, escort this man to his chamber. He needs to collect his belongings. And Meyaput, make sure no one lays a finger on his family."

The two men stepped up to Zehyud and his guards. A moment of awkward resistance ensued, as though they had yet to adjust to the new status quo, before Zehyud turned around, chin up, and returned the way he came, with Gqaknip and Meyaput at his back. His own guards, shifting their allegiance, followed suit. Through the click-clack of hobnails on the red tile floor, Emperor Khamud spoke up.

"I did not take these actions lightly. My hope is that, in time, we can come to a mutual understanding."
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What is this?
Sarsaan is a worldbuilding project that I've been working on sporadically since 2014. At first, I was only really focused on the historical and cartographic aspects of the project, but along the way (and especially more recently) I have incorporated bits of vexillology, conlanging, spec evo, and creative writing.

The world is based on a randomly generated map I got from Torben Mogensen's Planet Map Generator. It's one of my regrets that I didn't base this project on a map of my own creation, but being a stubborn perfectionist, I would probably stall out trying to tweak and perfect it if I did... so maybe it's for the best. While I didn't design the physical geography of this world, the history and cultures are my own creations, and these will be the primary focus.

What's the world going to be like?
Sarsaan is, for the most part, a realistic earth-like world. While I have considered adding supernatural elements in the past, I have since decided that the scope of this project leaves no room for the explicitly magical elements you might find in a D&D campaign or any other fantasy world. However, since I intend for a large part of it to be conveyed through the eyes of the inhabitants, there may be times when the line between real life and fantasy is blurred, or when things stretch the limits of what's possible beyond what our world would consider normal. After all, why should I write about a fictional world if it feels exactly like Earth?

What format will this timeline be in?
This timeline will be a mixture of written chapters, maps, and various graphics.

For a while, I was considering telling this story entirely through characters and personal narratives, but it just isn't feasible to cover so much time and space in that format. I have also had to face the fact that creative writing is still difficult for me, so while there will be character-focused vignettes scattered all throughout, much of this world's history will be driven forward by encyclopedic chapters like you find in many other timelines — although I understand that some readers really like that format.

As I mentioned earlier, I want to convey the world from a "ground-level" perspective, in contrast to the "top down" perspective that a lot of alternate history timelines take. Therefore, you (the readers) will not get to see the whole world from the start, but new regions will be revealed as time goes on. For this reason (and because the old version of the Planet Map Generator that I used to create Sarsaan is deprecated and now only available as a command line interface that is a pain in the ass to install), I have no intention of releasing the seed I used to generate this world's map until much later on.

Why is this in the Maps and Graphics forum?
Although there will be a lot of writing (perhaps more than I am comfortable with), a big part of this timeline is going to consist of maps and graphics — which makes sense, given that the cartography was where this project started out. I used to make maps a lot more often, and it feels bad to just let the skill I built up go unused, so I am using this as a way to get myself back on the horse.

In addition, I've been wanting to get more into drawing for a while now, so I figured that putting an obligation on myself to deliver things to an audience would be a good way to pressure myself into it. I intend to include a lot of graphics (many of them hand-drawn), so that the audience can really get a feel for what this world looks like.

Also, since this isn't Earth, I obviously didn't put it in any of the proper AH forums (fora?). I feel like this is the best place for it, but if any mods deem this thread to be more at home in the ASB forum, I won't throw a fit.

How often will this thread update?
I wish I could say that I was going to post updates on a regular basis, but my free time is limited, and I can foresee a lot of unpredictability in terms of when I have the time and creative energy I need to work on installments. I don't want to promise one thing and then follow up with "Sorry guys, I need more time for this chapter! Sorry guys, had to work late this week! Sorry, guys! Sorry, guys!" And it doesn't help that I've never written a timeline before, so I have no idea what to expect. All this in mind, I'm strategically posting updates whenever they're posted. I'll try to keep the intervals sensibly short, but you may have to bear with me.

Worldbuilding TL's have been attempted before. They often fizzle out. What makes this one any different?
Given my response to the previous question, I can't promise that this project won't fizzle out as well. If it does, I will be honest and post a notice in this thread. I don't want to be the guy who advertises an ambitious project and then blips off the face of the Earth with no explanation. However, given the fact that I have at least a tentative scaffold for this timeline running all the way up into the modern era, I expect this project to see its completion in some form—even if it isn't as detailed at the end as it was at the start.

When do you expect to finish?
All things considered, it's probably going to take at least a few years. I plan on breaking it up into several "phases" that are more manageable. After each phase, I'll go on a hiatus and assess how I want to tackle the next phase of the project, maybe tweaking the format. In the meantime, I hope you all enjoy the fruits of this challenge that I'm inflicting on myself.

And lastly, don't be afraid to offer feedback! I have a lot of ideas, but everything is still elastic, and it's helpful for me to see other people's ideas and perspectives as I work out the details!
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Chapter 2

United and triumphant, the cities of Tepah began to develop a shared identity, and the core of this identity was its culture.

The Tepan worldview was dualistic, dividing the universe into male and female domains. The mountains, the sky, and the daytime were all masculine, while the valleys, the earth, and the nighttime were all feminine. Above all else, the dichotomy between man and woman was reflected in the Tepans' pantheon, which consisted of only two deities: the creator god, Ikumun, and the goddess of change, Ramidah. Beneath these two deities was a plethora of izus, demigods and half-goddesses who featured heavily in folktales, performing superhuman feats in the times long before the sun went dark. Families would often claim descent from one or more izus, the most prolific of them being Bamaat, whose alleged descendants all but comprised a sub-nation in parts of the Avel River delta.


Left: A couple of Tepan commonfolk
Right: A Tepan medicine man

With gender playing such a heavy role in Tepah's cosmology, it should come as no surprise that the social roles of men and women were clearly defined. In day-to-day life, the rule was that men used their hands, and women used their mouths — "manly deeds and womanly words" applied to the fullest extent. Men were to work, fight, and prepare food, while women were to raise children, teach them, and carry news. Young boys were expected to be seen and not heard, whereas girls were expected to be well-versed in mythology and family history from an early age. Gqahabuk, an entheogenic drug made from the leaves of a shrub, was also reserved for women, as smoking it was an oral act, and thus effeminate. Some Tepans did defy these norms, but they were almost always rural, living far from the cities where these unspoken rules were enforced more stringently.

And these oddballs would be in luck, as most of Tepah's population dwelt in the countryside. The nation's few major cities were tightly knit, and alike in their busy lifestyle. They were hubs for the merchants, bankers, artists, scholars, priests, and master craftsmen of the empire, and key to their success was the re-invention of writing. The scholars had put together a logographic script, loosely based on engravings left behind by the ancient and enigmatic Empire of Shaalat: marks on stone, clay, and bronze, whose meanings had long been forgotten. As literacy spread and oral tradition gave way to handwriting, women found their role in the preservation of Tepan culture in jeopardy, and the uneven spread of literacy intensified the divide between the cities and the countryside.


A brief sample of the Tepan script: "Akhusekkitet tehik nahun gqefiktas gag azu pam ri, tuzuh rekuluqakintas affukiy zi?"
Translation: "A simple man like me finds happiness in the small things, what do I have to gain in forgoing them?"
As for material culture, the Tepan diet was heavy in meat. The primary animals raised for meat in Tepah were cattle and eruqs (small, domesticated ruminants with a passing resemblance to oryxes), though it was common to hunt hyraxes as well. This meat was often preserved by drying it and turning it into jerky, or by soaking it in brine. One delicacy of Tepan cuisine, called fasekkitet, was basically shredded offal (typically heart, face, tongue, tail, and feet) aged in brine. The livestock also provided milk and yogurt. In the delta, people could also rely on a plentiful supply of fish, crabs, and shrimp.

Beyond animal products, Tepan farmers also grew barley and sorghum, which were processed into bread, polenta, and beer. In smaller quantities, they grew sesame, safflower, kazeghar (a black flower bearing edible red-and-white seeds), yihegik (an edible kind of aloe), mushrooms, crowberries, and partridgeberries. The most popular spice in Tepan cuisine was made from the crushed roots of reghir, a family of plants that stored water in bitter, piquant tubers.

A popular pasttime in Tepah was wrestling. Fighters made heavy use of a unique style, supposedly invented by the izu Figqazav, in which the primary technique was to take down the opponent using throws. In the decades that followed the Delta War, the state approved of these fights, as they were both a popular spectator sport and a useful way to vent frustrations between cities. Theater, on the other hand, was always looked down upon by the upper classes, but plays, often comedies or dramas depicting the feats of izus, were still performed informally and enjoyed by the working classes.

In spite of his background as a solider (or perhaps because of it), Khamud led the nascent nation of Tepah through an era of peace following his coup d'etat in 126 ASB. With no looming threat of invasion, Khamud put young men to work building roads and irrigation systems. Food output increased, the population bloomed, and a new generation of workers were available to work as miners, traders, builders, and artists. Finance and architecture begot mathematics. Geometry was born when engineers realized they could describe shapes with numbers, marking the first breakthrough since humans started scratching tally marks in clay.

Foreign trade only added to the empire's glory. With the Delta States having been conquered, there was no one to interrupt trade between the inland and the open ocean, and the Tepans had every intention of exploiting their newfound access to the sea. Their earliest market was the island kingdom of Yamuz. There, the king in Yesid upheld his control by distributing imported grain, which was doled out to the lower classes in return for labor. The Delta States were the original source of this grain, but after their conquest at the hands of Khamud, the king was more than happy to accept Tepah as their successor, and Yamuz began a cordial trade relationship with the mainland. As more Tepans set out on bigger boats, and coinage became more popular, Tepan traders began to visit Bakrada, a large island rich in precious copper, gold, and tin, and populated by fanatical death-worshippers. Farther east, they also began to trade with cities on the coast of Lubak. As the Lubaki grew fascinated with imported wares, these cities become a top destination for Tepan goods, and as many Lubaki took to the waves themselves, plenty would be drawn to the Tepan Empire, becoming a sizable minority in parts of the north.

The Tepans also traded over land, with cities in countries that hadn't united as they had: in Ria and Dasham to the west, and in He'laq to the east. These cities were impressed by Tepah's feats, and sought close relations with the empire as they began to emulate Tepan culture.

While the country maintained a defensive army in its early days, it didn't see much action. In fact, Tepah was remarkably peaceful and stable at this time, but this isn't to say that no blood was shed. When Khamud passed away in 148 ASB, he was succeeded by his son Rayir, who, to his dismay, could not yield a son. This issue grew more urgent in 182, when, while travelling along the frontier, the aging Emperor Rayir was gored and killed by an arsinothere in musth. Rayir had appointed his half-nephew Neykhuh-Zaje as his successor, but Sitar-Agat, runaway princess and lover of wealthy merchant Khusig, challenged his claim. Going by the traditional line of succession, the throne should have gone to Sitar-Agat (and, by extention, Khusig). However, Rayir refused to give Khusig his blessing and disowned Sitar-Agat when she ran away to elope — moves the two considered petty and unfair.

Neykhuh-Zaje sought to have the two put to death for defying him, but outside Hebbez, most of the common people favored Khusig and Sitar-Agat. The former had the support of his fellow elites, and the latter had the support of rural families who had, for the most part, never heard of the man in Hebbez calling himself emperor. Neykhuh-Zaje's support, on the other hand, rested chiefly on the institutions in power: the bureaucracy, the military, and the scholarship. Impromptu militias joined forces with defecting troops from outlying cities, and the situation quickly spiralled out of control. Street fights escalated into pitched battles between organized forces. The conflict tore the nation apart for four years, but in 186, Khusig and Sitar-Agat defeated the last vestiges of the army still loyal to Neykhuh-Zaje, marched on Hebbez, and had Neykhuh-Zaje arrested and imprisoned.

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Map of Tepah under Emperor Khusig and Empress Sitar-Agat
Upon victory, Khusig launched a set of reforms to make the centralized institutions more accountable to the people, aiming to prevent any future internal conflict. These reforms were initially successful, restoring the peace that Tepah enjoyed under Khamud and Rayir. But a stable status quo couldn't prevail forever. As a nation, Tepah was growing in population, solidarity, influence, and ego. But it wasn't growing in territory. Crime increased as cities became overcrowded. Meanwhile, the Tepan Empire was becoming increasingly centralized. The merchants and artisans had exploited Khusig's reforms, gradually taking over the bureaucracy and restoring the power it had before the civil war — which backfired when Emperor Vamad purged the bureaucracy of merchant influence. Hebbez took on stronger and stronger control over its scribes, using them to bend history, education, morality, and public knowledge to their will. Many in the rural areas, where oral tradition was still in force, objected to this, but they were powerless to stop it. Anything Hebbez couldn't control through soft power was controlled by a military police force, grafted from an army that had gone too long without something to do.

The crowding and control drove many to seek greener pastures beyond Tepah's borders. Some left for Khemed, and others traipsed into the surrounding plains, establishing a patchwork of small statelets and competing with the Nhasarok tribes who had entered the region from the south. Meanwhile, Tepah's growing list of accomplishments begot not only a sense of national pride, but a sense that the Tepans were ontologically superior to their neighbors, and that the current situation — a splintered Tepan people being impeded by barbarians — was a travesty. The army grew restless, as did the monarchy, and in 279 ASB, Emperor Khi-Agvug I called for an invasion of the surrounding plains, no holds barred.

The invasion was brutal. Thousands of Nhasarok of all ages were killed for so much as being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Any Nhasarok settlements were burned to the ground, and any women were fair game for the invading forces. After all this carnage sated the empire, the traumatized survivors were enslaved and distributed throughout the empire, to form a new underclass in Tepan society.

This cruel conquest marked the true beginning of the Tepans' imperial history. As they entered the 4th century ASB, they conquered the independent Tepan settlements on Khemed. Drawn to valuable mines, they later invaded Dasham and Bakrada, encouraging settlers to establish colonies there as they did in Khemed. Over the western horizon, the decrepit kingdom of Nammos collapsed, and the city of Likuz, well aware of neighborhood events, rapidly conquered most of its former territory, fearing the Tepans would try to grab it first. The Likuzi had no fondness for the Tepans, and would settle for nothing short of upending their control over the region. For decades, the two countries fought sporadic wars, with forces engaging each other in the western plains of Tepah and along the foothills of the Nirain Mountains. But the Likuzi would fail to founder them. In 395 ASB, The Tepan armies would break through the city's defenses and raze it to the ground. The survivors were forced into slavery, either sold to the surrounding cities or brought home and folded into the Nhasarok caste.

The razing of Likuz proved Tepah's superiority over all her neighbors. To the Tepans, they might as well have ruled the world. However, Sarsaan was far bigger than they could have imagined, and a deceptive visitor from just over the horizon was about to challenge their claim for the crown of the known world...
A brief update:

All the graphics for the third chapter are done, and the written portion is in progress. However, I'm having setbacks. Mainly, I got really sick last Friday, and ended up spending most of the weekend bedridden, which costed me a lot of time and momentum. Additionally, I planned on this chapter having both a historical portion and a vignette (meaning it would be as long as the first two chapters combined), but I was annoyed to find some plot holes in the vignette, so I've been trying to focus on the historical part while I think of ways to salvage the story.

Since it might still be a while before the next big update is finished, and I don't like going so long without adding new content, here is a sketch of one of the "ko'iwas" mentioned in the first chapter: an apex predator in the region around Tepah, and the basis for the chimera on Tepah's flag.

Chapter 3


Maritime flag of the Confederation of Bangani

Sampanna Sea, 8 miles from Hikimći, 293 Years After the Sun went Black

Poʿakh taxed his eyes, struggling to get crisp edges on the distant ship.

"Can't get a good look at the flag. Suppose it isn't important." He sat himself back down upon the thwart. Zuk, the hawk-eyed boy, turned around and squinted, lifting the brim of his hat out of the way.

"It looks like... a red triangle? On a white field?"

"Ah. A curiosity, then." His voice was almost lost in the noise of a hundred ospreys overhead.

"What do you mean? Can't it just be another Mukkaian city?"

"Hardly." He pointed. "Look at the sail, the foot is skewed up too far. The Mukkaian never rigs like that. That's a Nakani vessel." Zuk gazed back out across the water.

"So, it's funny we've never seen that flag before."

"My thoughts, at least. I think the net has been in long enough, haul her up." Poʿakh tip-toed across the boat as his son reached over the edge and pulled, foot by foot. Poʿakh grabbed a fistful of squishy headrope and tugged along with him. After a few more feet, silver diamonds emerged from the water, hopelessly tangled in twine. Their empty black eyes ogled as they twitched and wriggled, making the midday sun dance in a chaotic fête. He couldn't help but smile, and looking at Zuk, he was smiling too. "What'd I tell you? The birds always know." He pulled one of the fish off the net. "Keep hauling, this might be all we can take."

He turned to a basket and took off the lid. Plopping the little chip of the takings in, he heard Zuk yelp, and he nearly lost his balance as the boat jerked and rolled to the side. Ker-splosh. Spinning around, it was clear that Zuk had fallen overboard. His head bobbed on the surface, dazed.

CRACK. For a second, Poʿakh was weightless. The next, he was crashing through the face of the ocean, breathless. The fizzing and bubbling all around faded into a submarine silence. He opened his eyes briefly, the brine burning his eyes, to see nothing but deep blue. He rose back up to the surface and caught a big breath.

"Zuk!" He shouted.

"Ku!" Zuk called back.

Poʿakh collected his mind and got his bearings. He swam a few strokes to grab a passing oar, and changed course to what was left of the overturned boat. He flipped it over. After climbing in, he paddled over to where Zuk was treading water, reached out with the oar, and pulled him in.

"Did you see it?" Zuk asked.

"See what?"

"The serpent?"

He wasn't going to dwell on what the boy said. Whatever it was, it had taken out a decent chunk of the stern. Waves were lapping at the bottom boards, and the weight of the water was pushing the bow up. To make matters worse, the planks looked uneven.

Poʿakh sighed. "This hull is unsound. Might not have time to make it ashore. Our safest bet is to make for that ship."

Zuk squinted at the distant ship, which seemed to have stalled out. "What do I do?"

"Nothing you can do without an oar. Just come forward and lay low."

Zuk came forward a few steps and knelt. Standing at the bow, Poʿakh rowed, pushing hard on each side. He called out to the ship.

"Hey! You there! Hey!"

With a creak, the hatch opened into a square of blinding light. Ħosakha reached out to cover it with his free hand as his pupils constricted, and ʾAkaba's silhouette trickled down into the hold.

"Sun finally getting to ya?"

"A bit. Yagawik just sent me down to grab some oars. The winds are all but dead, and good time never hurts in this line of work. That, and we're bored. Helping yourself to the wares, I take it?" He eyed the black earthen jar in Ħosakha's other hand.

"Only the best of it. Take it out of my cut, for all I care. Ya're not worried Hikimći's gonna be overthrown by the time we arrive, do ya?"

"It can't be. Last I heard, they were still toeing the line. But with Ranlasap where it's at, it's only a matter of time."

"Ah. So, what's your plan for when all this does blow over?"

ʾAkaba grabbed an oar. "Well, assuming the merchants get their way, I think I have a shot at getting my post back. I—"

"I'm sorry." Ħosakha straightened up. "Ya mean to say ya're crawling back?"

"If that's what you want to call it."

"Ya're out of your mind! Ya think they're gonna take ya back with open arms after your whole buddy-buddy act with the kings and their little lackeys!?"

"I don't know what other options I've got. It's nothing against you or Yagawik, I've got a family. I'm not a seaman, I was only in this for the money. And once the booze is legal again, you won't need my help to deal with the port authorities anyway. I'm sorry."

"Bah," Ħosakha muttered. "I was starting to respect ya a bit. Here I was thinking ya were working up the callouses, turns out, ya were the same lazy little henpecked groveler ya always were."

ʾAkaba squinted at the oar in his hands.

"I guess I can still commend ya for your backbone. The forgery, the adventuring, flying back into the fire after it all. But ya're insulting destiny. Ya have a future on this ship, making money with Yagawik and I. Ya can go back if ya want, but if this doesn't mean anything to ya, I'd like to see them impale ya."

"I appreciate the change of heart, but if you want to help make us some money, I think you'd better grab an oar and start rowing."

"The two of you!" Yagawik called from above. "Come up here. Something strange is going on." ʾAkaba looked at Ħosakha.

"Right on cue." The towering tree of a man tucked his legs and stood himself up, nearly having to double over under the deck. The two of them climbed up and out, and walked over to where Yagawik was looking out over the rail.

"Did something happen to the fishing boat?"

"Yes." He pointed out to what was left of the little boat as Poʿakh brought it steadily closer. "Believe me, something reared its head up out of the water and sent it flying. The two men on board are alive, but it sounds like they're calling for aid."

Ħosakha spat from the crook of his maw. "Why are they out this far!?"

"Beats me."

ʾAkaba had his eyes fixed on the boat. "It doesn't matter. We'll let them on."

"Let them on?" Ħosakha had to take twice. "Are ya—"

"The port authorities won't bat an eye. So long as we play our cards right. Yagawik, go fetch some rope."

Ħosakha waited uncomfortably as Yagawik went down into the hold and came back with a coil of rope. When the flotsam was close enough, ʾAkaba cast a stretch down and pulled them up, Zuk first and Poʿakh second.

"Are we just gonna leave the boat?" Zuk looked at Poʿakh, as if this was a procedure he should be familiar with. Poʿakh wasn't responsive. He seemed to be staring off the other side of the ship, restlessly. ʾAkaba came forward.

"Might I ask your names?"

Poʿakh glanced up. But instead of making eye contact, his head rolled up until he was looking at the flag hanging limp on the mast.

"My son and I, we were wondering about that flag of yours."

"It doesn't surprise me. Many haven't heard of Bahutsun. It's a humble city. But we are skilled glassmakers. And we grow—"

"Balderdash!" Poʿakh laughed. "Been about this sea for twenty-three years, there is no such place. Never has been!"

"Ku, please." The boy was more present, but at the same time more hesitant.

There was a thump against the side of the boat, and the five of them were jolted.

"Yagawik, what did you say overturned the boat?"

"It wouldn't have followed us here, would it?" Zuk asked.

Another knock.

"Wouldn't ya know it?" Ħosakha placed his hand on ʾAkaba's shoulder. "Your little rescue ploy doomed us all!"

"It's not going to happen again." Poʿakh was resolute. "There has to be something we can do."

"I'll tell you what we're gonna do." ʾAkaba started. "We're gonna keep calm and quiet.

"I'll tell you what we're gonna do." Ħosakha grabbed Poʿakh around the neck. "We're gonna give the hungry freak what it wants."

"Ħosakha!" ʾAkaba shouted.

Poʿakh was punching him on the arm to no effect. "It's the two of them or all of us. Am I the only one here who can make hard calls for the greater good!?"

ʾAkaba saw Zuk's eyes ticking back and forth in terror. He pulled out his dagger. "This is too much. You're going to make things worse."

"Ya're soft. Usanim doesn't sic sea monsters on the salt of the earth. These men are wicked, cursed. Ya're interfering with some divine judgement, with fate, and it's bad luck. What needs to happen is ugly, but it needs to happen. Yagawik knows what I mean."

"Absolutely not." His voice was stern. "Ħosakha, even by your standards, this is uncouth."

Ħosakha huffed. "So, this little guy got into your head, now? Ya're like him now? Are ya going to the courts and beg for a little office when this is over, too?"

"Ħosakha, what are you talking about?"

"So the little son of a bustard never told ya? He told me he wants to go back to the administration, even after they left him in the lurch." ʾAkaba didn't speak up.

"You're lying. Now let him go."

"He's a liability. He's putting the ship — your ship — in danger! You saw what that... thing did to this bastard's little dinghy. Ya're next if ya don't set things back the way they were."

"Ħosakha, this is murder! Since when were you the one who had to carry out the will of the gods? It's the money, isn't it? You think luck — you think the gods are on your side now that you're helping the little guy get his fix?"

"My balls, the eruq sees another one in the trough, doesn't he? Captain "Big Boat Boy" Yagawik thinks I'm the one losing touch. I don't think I even know you anymore."

"Likewise. I used to think you were ambitious. Hardy. Reliable. You had a great future ahead of you. But since the start of this operation, you've grown no less caustic, no less selfish, no less... alone. Maybe I was wrong when I saw a good man in you. Or maybe, you'll let this poor man go."

Ħosakha sizzled quietly. Attentively, he shifted with the rocking of the boat. One nod. Another nod. No disturbance of any kind. He released Poʿakh, who fell to his knees, weak. "Ya know, I don't need either of ya. I have a boat. I have all the connections. I did this on my own before, and I can do it on my own again."

He picked up an oar and walked to the port side to begin rowing by himself. Zuk dropped down to help his frazzled father to his feet. ʾAkaba's timid hand sheathed his dagger.

Yagawik turned his attention to the fishermen and exposed his open palms. "Are you alright?"

Poʿakh seemed more present than before. "Better, just hoping the worst is over." Zuk had all but frozen up.

"We're sorry, we'll keep an eye on him for the rest of the trip." ʾAkaba was wilting. "Yagawik, if you'll excuse me, Ħosakha shouldn't be pushing the ship by himself." Dodging eye contact, he picked up the other oar and went to the starboard side.

Yagawik offered to let them spend the rest of the trip in the hold. Somehow, they needed little convincing. There, he furnished them with biscuits and dried fruit, which they were more than happy to accept. Noting that they were tired, he left them alone and came back to check on them after about an hour. By then, they seemed to have settled in to the new surroundings.

"Land is in sight. ʾAkaba's going to fudge the manifest and list you as passengers, but if you help unload, he and I have agreed to compensate you."

"Very well." Poʿakh sounded much more firm and calm than he did an hour ago. He motioned to the cargo all around. "I take it some of this is hipa'a?"

"You're a sharp man. Yes, with all the patrols and cut-throat competition, the ports are actually safe by comparison, but we need to run some more... legal cargo to avoid looking conspicuous. That was Ħosakha's mistake the first time around. Our mission doesn't trouble you, does it?"

"Nothing wrong with making a living. So Bahutsun isn't real, is it?"


"Knew it. If you don't mind me asking, what's the outlook on this operation of yours?"

"Bleak at the moment. I'm sure Ħosakha isn't coming around, and in spite of my hopes, ʾAkaba has his mind made up. That leaves me... It's a shame. We were going to be a great crew. I guess I get to thinking something's the rest of my life, and then it's over too soon."

"Is it safe to assume you'll be needing more hands?"

"I'll need all the hands I can get."

"We'd like to join you, my son and I."

"But—" Zuk started.

"We don't have a choice. Don't think any pitch would have fixed the boat. Can't afford a new one. Lost our good nets, too. It's this, or what else?"

Yagawik was surprised. "I like to hear it. I take it you will need to get things in order at home, but you can find me in the city square tomorrow night." He looked at Zuk. "It seems to be like you have an adventure ahead of you. Do you think you're ready for it?"

Zuk bobbled his head in affirmation. Too much was happening. Worry, excitement, confusion, pressure: they all took turns pushing him fore and aft. He fixed his mind on the rocking and took a deep breath.

Just don't get to thinking it's the rest of your life.

For something so simple, water is remarkably two-faced. Without it, life dries up and falls apart, but in excess, it can take one's life away with matching ease. It's fluid, often invoked when speaking of change, and yet, to control it on any meaningful scale is a formidable feat. To fight water is futile. And those who live on the sea are perhaps more intimate with this powerful element than any mortal man or woman, not just knowing how to treat it with the respect it commands, but how to collect the fruits of a reverent friendship. Where others see an endless expanse, they see a fertile deep. Where others see a wall, they see a road.

Having mastered irrigation, the power of water was not lost on the Tepans. However, they were primarily focused on building a land empire. Time would show that other cultures' greater interest in seafaring would make them much more skilled at sailing, and one nation would threaten to blow them out of the water, quite literally...

On any day, any able Tepans could have dropped the tools of their trade and marched east, their homeland to their backs. This would have been ill-advised, as such trips usually require more careful planning, but hypothetical Tepans were never burdened by the same pragmatic concerns as their tangible cousins. After a few days, the local tongues would dissolve into nonsense. After a few weeks, outcroppings of cedar trees would begin rising up out of the grass, later subduing it and swallowing the sunbeaten travelers. And somewhere along they way, they might realize that every day spent walking away from home would be another day spent walking back. Were they to continue walking for about 35 days, they would come upon the eastern edge of the continent, a rocky coastline lined with cities and cycads. This was Bangani.

The people here spoke Nakani, and they held most of the same beliefs as the other Nakani people to the north and west. According to these beliefs, the world began as an endless sky, with no sea or land. It was populated by primordial gods, depicted has having fish- or snake-like lower-halves and bird-like wings on otherwise human bodies. These deities coexisted peacefully, until the vengeful god Igudo killed his brother Kirapani over his love for the goddess Sagoda. This original act of ungodly sin triggered a cycle of violence, escalating into a cosmic battle that left them all dead. Their bones hardened into stone, their flesh dissolved into earth and sand, and their ichor spilled out and became seawater — from the death of the gods came the birth of the mortal world.

The spirits of the gods would haunt their rotted, interwoven remains. Seeking justice, they punished the ghost of Igudo and chained him to a star, bound for eternity by chains forged from the fabric of time itself. But this did little to quell the cold that plagued them in death. Seeking a new start, they breathed life into the world, filling it with plants, fish, birds, beasts, and men. Unseen, they would shape the circumstances of their creations, pulling the strings on the natural world to help or hinder them as they saw fit.

These deities existed alongside a bestiary of supernatural creatures. The most important among them was the Forest Serpent Azopikihay, an amphibious, shape-shifting serpent that lived in service to Ćozaħad, overseeing the forest and the hunts of mortals. They also spoke of creatures that lived in the earth, such as the ćuzaghiʿiś, an undead, bronze-scaled dragon that resembled a bird or a crocodile, and emerged from the ground in the night; or the agotibisud, a small horse that burrowed like a mole and grazed on plant roots from below.

Though the Nakani deities were numerous, a handful were worshiped more often than the rest. The main five were:
  • Ćozaħad, a hermaphrodite deity of beasts, hunting, and herding
  • Dibiwiga, a goddess ruling and inhabiting the mountains and the hills
  • Sagoda, the fertility goddess, and the main deity worshiped in the northeast
  • Śusado, the god of plants and harvest, and the patron god of farmers
  • Usanim, the god of the ocean, and the patron god of sailors, fishermen, and merchants
Being both creations of the gods and inhabitants of their remains, it was right that the Nakani not only worship them and show them gratitude, but that they comfort the dead gods by using their gifts to the fullest extent, whether that be through art, music, the construction of monuments, the raising of large families, or the protection of others. It was only through human flourishing that the gods could restore the glory they had in life. In the Nakani world, the cardinal sin was to mar creation and the well-being of others in pursuit of selfish want.

And so, the flourishing of the Nakani people showed in their craft. People of all social classes wore colorful wool or linen clothing, and it was common for both men and women to wear jewelry if they could afford it. It also showed in their monumental architecture, which often took the form of large, rectangular structures made of mud brick, granite, and breccia, supplemented by large beams of wood. The exteriors were decorated with a mixture of angular geometric forms and plant-like motifs resembling palm trees and sedges. Residential homes were more humble, resembling blocks of mud brick. It was also common for Bangani cities to build obelisks as demonstrations of their power, and these stone spires could be found anywhere from city centers to roadsides in desolate frontiers.

The people of Bangani ate a healthy variety, raising eruqs for meat and cheese, growing barley to bake bread, and cultivating orchards to harvest juniper berries, beechnuts, almonds, and figs. However, living along the coast, the most important staple of their diet was fish. From the sea, Bangani fishermen hauled out a seemingly endless bounty of sturgeon, butterfish, longfins, and flatheads. Aided by the calm waters, fishermen became world-class sailors, building up the courage to travel far and wide, and to acquaint themselves with cities and islands hundreds of miles from their home ports. Some began to ferry goods back and forth, and a mercantile class evolved as they turned their side gig into a calling. They extended their range, fated to discover a new continent 400 miles to the east: this was Kendria.

Around 275 ASB, word began to spread of a very special elixir from across the water. Called hipa'a, it was made by fermenting privet berries—though the producers were shy to share the specifics of their recipes. The spirit was instantly popular. Within a decade, the entire coast was drinking itself stupid. The merchant class accumulated wealth and forged personal connections, becoming, in many ways, more influential than the political leaders of the day. Needless to say, it wasn't long before the royalty in the cities began to want their power back.

In 293, the kings of Samud, Ranlasap, Yamaka, Isirik, and Wikiću came together to impose a ban on all hipa'a, in order to prune the new class of aristocrats. This made a lot of people very angry. Within two years, the common folk of all five city-states had sobered up and taken up arms against the kings, funded by the overflowing pockets of the aristocracy. In short order, they overthrew each monarchy and sent each of the royal families into exile, most of them scrambling for the independent city-states in the north, or for Rupogan in the south — the Bangani Revolution was a flash in the pan.


A couple from the Bangani merchant class
In the monarchs' absence, the merchants took control of the major cities, with only personal acquaintance binding them together. In 302, delegates from each city would meet to draft a formal legal framework, merging them into the Confederation of Bangani and declaring the largest city, Ranlasap, to be the capital. The kings of the surrounding towns had to make a choice: either accept the merchants as their overlords, or be deposed. The former was preferable; the towns were more or less vassals before the revolution, so accepting merchant rule was, in essence, a return to the status quo.

Resisting towns and islands met with force. The aristocracy appointed commanders to direct the army and the navy, which were, at the time, disorganized and poorly disciplined. Soldiers of all ranks were trained in awiggaru ʾugaćatos, a traditional Nakani staff-fighting technique that emphasized mindful footwork, precise stabs, the sparing use of strikes, and an elaborate set of defensive maneuvers based on the opponent's posture and physical condition. Unable to mount a strong defense, these towns folded quickly.


With control consolidated, the merchants established a council, the Nabazitik, where they voted on matters like budgets, diplomacy, and laws. Consensus was rare, and the body was typically divided into fluid and fleeting coalitions centered around popular figures, pressing affairs, and powerful families. Their administration was indirect, as they vetted and appointed volunteers (typically tradesmen) from the middle castes to manage and report on domestic matters. Religious concerns were treated the same way: priests were chosen, and then left to their own devices. Executive power mainly rested in the hands of these "appointees", with a president elected from the Nabazitik only serving a ceremonial role. The appointees could exercise some power over the merchants by throwing their support behind their preferred coalitions and offering their testimony as leverage.

The system of appointees was built on the Nakani social structure, in which people were loosely arranged by their line of work. Higher castes were led by the appointees, whereas lower castes gathered into small, informal cliques administered directly by the Nabazitik. Being the origin of the merchant class, the class of fishermen found itself in the unique position of living in humble material conditions in spite of their cliques enjoying strong personal connections to the Nabazitik, and the political privileges that came with them.

Under the rule of the merchants, the Confederation of Bangani would build an extensive trade network and a busy shipbuilding industry, bolstered by a sizable population of woodworkers, metalworkers, clothmakers, and jewelers who exported their products across the Sampanna Sea. All this commerce called for extensive record-keeping. The merchants adopted an abjad of 23 letters, written in a boustrophedon style so that alternating lines went in opposite directions.


The Bangani abjad, in its traditional arrangement


Short sample of the Nakani language: "Ram baħaśu, ha kotiʿun ʿućoćanxatik tuhasuʿa."
Translation: "It would surprise you, the fruit that this soil used to bear."
In some directions, the trade network extended as far as 2000 miles. Some traveled south along the coast of the home continent, Baratica, and into the tropics. The native hunter-gatherers here were interested in the Bangani, who sold them goods from all over the Sampanna Sea in return for leather and ivory. This long stretch of coastline, which they called "Yampa", became well-known for hosting a melange of strange beasts. Sailors came back with reports of armored arsinotheres, predatory cattle, and hyraxes swinging from mushroom-shaped trees, among other oddities.


A dragon tree, one of many that littered the Yampan landscape


A battaw, a primate introduced from southern Baratica; though they were incapable of speech, they appeared to be relatively intelligent, capable of learning spoken commands, and while this made them popular as pets, their cunning made escapees a stubborn nuisance
Others mentioned an island off the coast, which they called Ular. Being surrounded by coral reefs, it became notorious for shipwrecks. However, some managed to map out the safe areas and weasel their way in, only to find few goods of value. Further south, the savannas transitioned into rainforests. From this more lush coastline, which they called Go’a, they imported exotic wood, and a local staple crop called seir, a root that intrigued the Nakani palate with its earthy, citrusy taste.

Some kept trading with Kendria to the west, along the sunny coastline the locals called Mukkaia, and returned with hipa'a, grains, fruits, and vegetables. Exploring the locals' habits more thoroughly, they discovered that the Mukkaians kept cats, and these quickly became a popular pet in Bangani.

Some traveled north, to a forested coastline they called Abinar, where the locals dealt in timber, lead, and captured slaves. Being newcomers to the concept of large-scale slavery, they quickly found a way to justify their involvement, painting the Abinaric slaves as primitive, violent red-heads who lacked innate creative potential, having been forsaken by their true creators. At first, these slaves were only bound for foreign markets, but as time went on and the frequency of slave rebellions didn't climb the way they expected, the Bangani warmed up to importing some for themselves.

Still others traveled east, making first contact with the Lubaki and the Tepans. Initial relations were cordial, and the two began trading rugs, tools, furniture, and other handmade goods. When they found out that Bakrada was a plentiful source of metal ore, their interest in this particular region only grew.

The Bangani trade network had a deep impact on all the cultures around the Sampanna Sea, as they began to exchange crops, animals, technologies, and beliefs. All of this spurred on population growth and state formation. But the main benefactor of this trade network was certainly Bangani. Fueled by trade surpluses and improving their designs for war galleys in the early 4th century ASB, they established themselves as the hegemons of the Sampannic World. Their first display of power came in 313, when they intervened in a civil war in the Rupoganese city-state of Tshiffuziħ. The city had been a destination for nobles and loyalists fleeing the Revolution, and, as in other Rupoganese cities, many of them had become administrators and courtiers with a strong influence on foreign policy. They feared the growth of Bangani's influence, and, with the support of inlanders who stood to gain from reduced competition, imposed tariffs and other measures to keep the Nakani merchants out. This met stiff resistance from traders and poor urbanites who had grown dependent on the inflow of foreign goods. Backed by an army of mercenaries hired from Samud, the merchant Pićićifi gave the king of Tshiffuziħ an ultimatum, ordering that he purge the Kamanabora family from the courts. The king declined, called his bluff, and attacked. The Nabazitik moved in to protect their interests. In turn, the other Rupoganese cities moved in to come to the king's aid, but the Bangani forces routed them all, and the Confederation converted the conquered kingdoms into a circle of puppet states.

This would begin a pattern of colonization, where Bangani would either conquer established cities or build new ones anywhere they saw something to gain. In 333, they brought the island of Iratuk under their control. In 339, they pacified the hostile Mukkaian city-state of Giuka. Looking to get a foothold on mainland Kendria, they annexed the city and renamed it Tazi'ambah, encouraging citizens to settle there and incorporating it into the Confederation. Shortly thereafter, they extended their control to the Mukkaian cities of Girki and Noakinti. In 376, they built Kalahanta in the tropics of Kendria, and it quickly rivaled the cities of the homeland in size. It came to control the surrounding land, which filled out with farms to grow fruits and grain to ship back to the homeland, along with metals from a blooming metallurgy industry. Between Mukkaia and Kalahanta, the Podam Desert had little to offer, but in the early 5th century, Bangani established penal colonies along the coastline to act as footholds.

Bangani's reception was mixed. Some towns and tribes were awestruck by the Confederation, and began to follow their example in hopes of earning their respect. The kingdoms and the larger cities, in contrast, were threatened, and the largest among these was the Tepan Empire. For a long while, the distance between them was enough to keep the peace. But in the early 5th century ASB, the island of Bakrada became a point of contention. Ever since Bangani merchants set foot on Bakrada, they had been intensely interested in the island as a source of metal ore. However, Tepah was colonizing the island, and had subjugated the ruling Irsak clan as a vassal. They considered Bangani's presence on the island to be a violation of their sovereignty. The Nabazitik, weighing the risks of Tepan enmity against the rewards of Bakradan business, conceded and withdrew from the island.

But they were not to go home. Hoping to maintain an indirect connection to Bakrada, they established a colony on nearby Khemed, another island with Tepan colonies. To Emperor Ulfeg II, this was a repeat offense, and he intended to handle it the same way. Only this time, the Nabazitik would not leave the island, believing that if they gave another inch, Tepah would take another mile.

Their grasp on the situation was tenuous. They treated their colonies like outposts, and assumed the same of Tepah, so it seemed absurd that they should have to vacate the entire region to placate them. In reality, the Tepans treated their colonies as bastions to launch further conquests, and assumed the same of the Bangani; through this lens, the Nabazitik was clearly provoking them. At the same time, the Bangani were used to dealing with much smaller adversaries, and thought that they could use the same techniques to put Tepah in its place. And so, in 429 ASB, they responded to Ulfeg's threats by building another colony.

And that was where they crossed the line.

hhhhh remind me to write shorter chapters in the future...
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In 429 ASB, Bangani built their second fort, Zutiħawaziʾ, on the island of Khemed. Immediately upon finding out, Tepan emperor Ulfeg II sent admiral Hakvigq Geyagh, who, on the emperor's orders, turned the little outpost into a lifeless husk. It was a war.

Ranlasap expected something of the sort, and was ready to retaliate. Within a ten-day, Bangani galleys arrived at the site of the lost fort to find a fleet of Tepan boats patrolling the surrounding waters, tasked with guarding the island from any new incursions. But there would be no contest. The arrivals descended upon them, and the Tepan navy, pitifully outmatched, was decimated. What was left scrambled back to the port of Fibeleg, bearing grim news.

Without a navy, the situation for Tepah looked hopeless. However, they were not too proud (if just barely) to seek aid from the city-states of Lubak. Tepan emissaries were well aware that the Lubaki cities were on friendly terms with Bangani, but their relationship with Tepah was older and deeper, and with promises of generous compensation, the Lubaki agreed. This was a wrench in the works for the Bangani, who had, as a secondary goal in putting colonies on Khemed, sought to build a tighter trade relationship with the Lubaki. Though the Lubaki declared war on Bangani, they did not share in the Tepans' bitterness. Whereas the Tepans saw the Bangani as grabby, anarchic plunderers, and the Bangani saw the Tepans as fractious, tyrannical barbarians, the Lubaki and the Bangani saw each other more like honorable equals — dignified, but simply brought against each other by circumstance.

In peacetime, the Lubaki shipbuilders had familiarized themselves with Bangani war galley designs, and having this knowledge, they built vessels that outclassed those of Tepah, and could rival those of Bangani in combat. In addition, Tepah had the better army, along with the benefits of proximity and a more centralized command structure. Thus, for the Tepans, victory hinged on getting boots on the ground in Khemed — and for the Bangani, it hinged on keeping the Tepans off.

And so, the war on the seas began. The Nakani mastered the art of tying burning oakum to arrows and firing them at opposing ships, aiming to just set them ablaze and be done with it. Meanwhile, the Lubaki preferred the strategy of ramming enemy ships. With Lubak's ramming galleys keeping the Bangani busy, the Tepans launched smaller, quicker galleys to get men onto the island. Their size and speed made it easy to dodge direct confrontations, but it became apparent that they weren't building up their forces on the island fast enough, and as winter set in, the rough weather made this strategy more perilous.

The following spring, however, Tepah found a way to jockey its military might on the waves. They crafted a narrow ramp, with hooks shaped to latch firmly onto the gunwale of a Bangani vessel. By coming up to a Bangani war ship and planking one down, Tepan soldiers could quickly and efficiently board, bewildering a navy that was ill-prepared for such a tactic. The Bangani tried to counter by launching incendiaries at the oncoming Tepans, but this only slowed them down, and their iron grip on the sea continued to melt away. The Tepans' cunning scheme gave them the opening they needed to send a more substantial presence to the island. Tepah had successfully opened up a new front in the war, one where Bangani's dominance was in question.

It was at about this time that a high-ranking Tpean general stepped ashore. An eccentric man, he swapped aliases on an almost weekly basis to confuse his enemies. As sources could never really agree on what his true name was, later generations would come to know him as "Nameless". Upon his arrival, he established a clear chain of command for the rag-tag platoons and armed settlers that were holding fast, and affirmed the inland colony of Ebedez as a rendezvous point and base of operations. He also understood that the support of the natives was critical to win the war. Perhaps overreaching in his authority, he promised the native Khemedish the same rights as the settlers from the mainland, provided they support Tepah against Bangani. In treating them as more than a conquered people, he more or less singlehandedly shifted the Tepan administration's attitude in their favor.

Though the Nakani prided themselves on their prowess at staff-fighting, there was a stark contrast between hand-to-hand combat and infantry warfare, and a row of crushing defeats in the northwest corner of the island made this painfully apparent. Not knowing how to counter a threat of this nature, the Nabazitik hurriedly sent over scores of poorly trained recruits, banking on quantity over quality until they could get a grip on the situation and devise a better defensive strategy. With their original colony, Tazićuru, under threat, they planted a new fort, Zoʾoćig, in the east of the island, to serve as a more secure base of operations.

War of Khemed JPG.jpg

For years, a lopsided war burned on the rocky hills, ashen valleys, golden pine forests, and vetiver grasslands that covered the northern half of the island. Sometimes, this took the form of pitched battles, where Tepan commanders like Nameless countered the size of the Bangani armies with discipline and coordination. Other times, this took the form of guerilla warfare, as Khemedish fighters made use of their grasp on the rugged terrain. The Bangani commanders grew desperate, and to the chagrin of the Nabazitik, their measures grew ham-fisted. Coming to distrust the native Khemedish, they began capturing native men as slaves to keep them from becoming more manpower for the Tepans. This only served to strengthen the solidarity between the natives and the settlers, sealing their failure to win hearts and minds.

As Tepah got the upper hand and moved to take Tazićuru, Bangani switched strategies. On land, it switched to a strategy of containment and attrition, putting up fortifications at the two strategically important isthmuses nearly dividing the island. Meanwhile, in the still-intense maritime theater, they took on a more offensive strategy. Instead of trying to counter the Lubaki galleys with more powerful ships, they opted for speed and made a habit of ambushing slow transport ships (and the Lubaki galleys protecting them) with small, narrow galleys staffed with skilled archers launching incendiaries. With the influx of reinforcements drying up, and territorial gains coming to a sudden halt, the situation for Tepah began to look ominous.

When at last the Tepans did break through the first isthmus, the Nabazitik sacked the general responsible and replaced him with one named Śiʾogu. He was an attentive and steadfast leader, putting up some of the best defenses that Bangani had made up until that point. Gleaning as much as he could from Lubaki informants, the remodeled the Bangani army in the image of Tepah's, and began training soldiers with the same techniques.

A battle of the minds began. Nameless made a point of keeping the fighting on land as much as possible. He would toy with Śiʾogu's fortress mindset, forcing him into situations where this was to his detriment and gradually whittling away at their numbers. Śiʾogu eventually wised up to this, and stuck to positions he knew he could defend. For a while, the two sides were trapped in a stalemate, as neither leader wanted to put their forces in a vulnerable position. Eventually, the Tepans withdrew to Tućukh, and Śiʾogu, wanting the city back, went on the offensive, overcorrecting for the way his defensive strategy failed him in the past. But this would prove to be a mistake. The Tepans had brought the Bangani onto their turf, and were able to goad them into a vulnerable position, taking out substantial numbers of them and allowing them to advance to the now understaffed fortress at Bahwaziʾ. Śiʾogu lost the ensuing Battle of Bahwaziʾ, a defeat that costed him his life.

The defeat at Bahwaziʾ put it all over. As the Bangani withdrew, their lines spread out too thin, and coordination between commanders grew difficult. As defeat after defeat kept chipping away at their numbers, more locals took up arms beside the Tepans, with plenty of persuasion from their fellows from across the island. After a few short years, the Bangani had withdrawn into the pale of Zoʾoćig, where the Tepans and their allies began to besiege them.

In a last ditch effort to save Zoʾoćig, Bangani began recruiting mercenaries from Kendria, but it was no use. Unable to execute a successful landing anywhere else on the island, they couldn't get troops into the positions necessary to break the siege. Patrols around the island were now not only futile, but dangerous, given the amount of skill the marauding Lubaki now had at countering the Banganis' maneuvers. With nothing to show, the pro-war factions in the Nabazitik fell apart. In 451 ASB, Bangani abandoned its last foothold on the island, and the Tepans marched triumphantly through the city gates. After twenty-two drawn-out years of fighting, the Tepans had won.

With the war over, General Nameless would retire and live out the rest of his days on the island he conquered.

Though all the belligerents welcomed the end of hostilities, the human and monetary costs of the war were heavy, and both Hebbez and Ranlasap would have to spend the next few years working out a plan to recover...
In the introductory post, I said I would post a notice in this thread if the project fizzled out. It's been at least four months since the last chapter, and though I've been consistently nagging myself to continue working on the next chapter, the pace has been so slow that I need to acknowledge that something isn't working. Is the project "dead"? Not quite. Do I need to rethink my approach? Absolutely.

I think starting this thread was a mistake. I pictured myself working linearly and posting chapters on a regular basis, but in doing so, I took a hobby of mine and turned it into an obligation. I thought having eyes on me would motivate me, but it inhibited me instead. Worldbuilding isn't fun when you constantly feel like nothing is you make good enough for your audience. What's more, I put emphasis on written content, in spite of knowing that I find writing tiresome.

So, where do I go from here? I've considered just cutting out the writing and making an atlas of maps, but I don't want to do that. Maps should tell stories. The whole reason why I pressured myself to write was because I didn't want my maps to be just lines, shapes, and colors — I wanted them to mean something. But I need to find a balance between written and visual content that's enjoyable for an audience without overwhelming me. I think the best course of action is to write more casually and alinearly, and let the timeline evolve organically.

With that in mind, I'm putting this thread on an indefinite hiatus. I can come back to this thread and pick it back up if I have more written content to present. If I decide to take some other approach, I'll post a notification here instead.

But I'll say this: This project has been following me around for what feels like forever. I want to be done with it, but I've grown too attached to give it a crap sendoff. I need to make this bear fruit, one way or another.

For thread tax (and to prove I haven't been completely idle), this was going to be the map for the uncompleted Chapter 5:

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