ONESI: Upon the Fallen Update 1: Sunrise HE 3196 - HE 3500 Maps: Spoiler : Geographical: Spoiler : Cities: Spoiler : Climates: Spoiler : Key: Of all the regions of the known world, the Elka’tar mountains are perhaps the most inhospitable. The indifferent grey peaks scrape the sky, piercing the clouds. Only the hardiest wildlife survive, and, hunting these, only the hardiest people. They trudged through the snow, wind, and ice that characterized their home along ancient trails, blazed thousands of years before. While the tribes of the Elka’tar lacked mastery or even exposure to the bronze of lower latitudes, they refined other arts instead. Ceramic arts, fired in small communal kilns which serviced the semi-migratory bands, came into their own as a distinct feature of Elka culture. While such kilns could not produce the impermeable vitrified works common further south, they were remarkable for their incorporation of high quality clays and stylized multicolor designs, depicting scenes of mountain life and the incredible beauty of the Elka’tar. The works of the snowcapped peaks were never widespread in cradle trade networks as Némori ceramics, but carried their own merit at least in the domestic sphere of the mountains. While the lifestyle of seasonal hunting along ancestral paths was simple, and carried the Elka through millennia, it was by no means an easy way to live. Hunting and gathering had brought the Elka, the northernmost of the First Men, to their domain, but pastoralism kept them there. In the valleys, in the sheltered vales where the sharp fanged winds and endless snows did not reach, small villages grew. Sheep and goats, kept in dry stone pastures, allowed the population and development of the region to rise. This shift from semi-nomadic lifestyle to sedentary was also accompanied by a southward migration, as the warmer climes and slightly more forgiving temperatures and vegetation of the southern Elka’tar allowed for larger flocks to support larger populations. In some cases, permanent settlements survived on agriculture, but even in the southern foothills of the grand northern mountains these were few and far between. As populations increased, so did specialization. A priestly class emerged, and the institutionalization of Elka religion focused on the theological questioning of deities and divine problems, while simultaneously guiding the lay in lifestyle. Meat preparation ceremonies were particularly elaborate, often including entire villages in order to ensure maximum use of all parts of the slaughtered animal. These rituals diverged over time from village to village, as there was no central hierarchy, but the broad tropes remained the same across Elka lands. Along with the new priestly classes emerged a large warrior class. Arising from the roots of the old hunters, large bands of Elka warriors sold their allegiance to Elka villages and even foreign cultures, particularly the Shando who now occupied the lands to their immediate south. These mercenaries distinguished themselves by operating in large bands, and also for their pre-battle rituals. Consumption of human blood and hallucinogens featured prominently in these ceremonies, and as far away as the marshes of the Hebuttar the name Elka was accompanied by an air of infamy. However, this was partially due to the tendency of these mercenary bands to turn to raiding when pastoralism and murder for hire could not support them. And, while waves of this pillaging occasionally crashed upon the northern Shando they were mostly regulated to the Elka tribes themselves. By the time of the southward Elka migration, the Hill Shando who sometimes found themselves at the point of a mountain man’s spear were generations away from the Shando tribes of the forests and riverbanks further south. Conical houses dotted the peaks and vales of their territory, supported by the agricultural yield of terraces. Their exquisite jewelry, seemingly woven of gold and silver threads, was traded for bronze tools both in the markets of Mirrepon to the West and on the banks of the lazy Ararata to the East. These loads were carried by horses, by now diffused throughout all the Shando societies. The shining river itself changed as much as the cultures it sustained. The stone weirs of past millennia grew and grew. The Shashando, as the rivermen called themselves, raised megalithic dams in the Ararata, changing the course of the river into a series of wide, shallow oxbows which more easily facilitated their fields. Villages rested on stilts above the weakened waters, linked to the crops which grew along the banks by networks of bridges and by small boats. Agriculture, rather than fishing, supported Shando communities. While the fishing and the weirs that had sustained the populations of the region in more ancient times remained (like the domesticated otters which characterized the culture), fields of millet, wheat, and barley produced far larger settlements. However, these populations remained decentralized. On occasion, warlords from one settlement or another convinced or coerced enough groups together to produce some sort of larger confederation, even reaching the lands of the Kadettar to the South, but these did not often live much longer than their creators. Some tropes of Shando culture remained in the areas influenced by these confederacies, though, most notably the domesticated otter and the weir, which found their places among the Kadet’st societies living along the lower Ararata. Other echoes of the Shashando were felt in the Kontur. The Ararata, which once carried the spring melt from the peaks of the Elka’tar to the shores of the Telesejiya, was stifled by the great stone dams upstream. Hebut’st villages, abandoned by the marshes which occasioned their founding, migrated south and west to the swamps still fed by the Khanuren. The farms which fed some Kadet’st tribes also shrank or moved, heading west towards the Bezebek and the Némori. Some of these groups opted for a different path: north, spears in hand, towards the Shashando who had altered the Ararata in the first place. A series of short-lived despots established themselves over shifting arrangements of Shando and Kadet’st villages among the man-made lakes. The Kittut’st were unique among the cultures of the Kontur for their seaward focus. Their fishing and coastal trading was unaffected by the diminished Ararata, and their range spread along the coast far to the south. This brought them into increased contact with the Juakeh traders, with whom they fought, traded, or coexisted depending on the year or, indeed, the season. Perhaps inspired by the ship men of the south, Kittut’st merchants occasionally launched their own trading expeditions. These did not have the same range as those of the Juakeh, but could and did sometimes find their way as far as Yanga, bearing loads of salt and Némori manufactured goods. The Kittut’st, however, were unique among the Kontur cultures for their southeastern mercantile focus. Most of the southern littoral fell under the sway of a very different mercantile power. Despite a profound lack of political centralization, the extreme population of the Némori and the incredible economic power and reach of their merchants assured them a dominant place in the economy of the littoral. Némori merchants kept the markets and polities of the Ararata and the Kontur stocked with bronze and fine ceramics. However, their influence remained even after their boats departed. Writing, an advance created and propagated throughout the littoral by the Némori, was key to the lasting hegemonic effect of the culture. The prestige of being the only literate culture in the region was immense, and scribes resisted all attempts to introduce an alphabet to Némori script. Even so, the initial pictographic system was eventually supplanted by a syllabic one, reflecting combinations of consonants and vowels in characters, which, combined in vertical strings, formed words. Writing facilitated the development of rich poetry, which became the main formalized language of the Sisters. It also facilitated the development of a far more practical aspect of Némori culture. Contracts, or atjinu, created written and codified agreements which often lasted generations or more. These bound farmers to the land, rizu nobles to city states and larger alliances, and other peoples to these. Such was their importance that a subcategory of scribes emerged, charged only with the interpretation of older atjinu codes and mediating conflicts which arose regarding their implementation. These !-nié filled an important role in Némori society, preventing the complete dominance of the rizu and ensuring that the Wheel was balanced and continued to spin. The strength of atjinu relied on dutiful obedience of their terms. While there was generally little direct consequence for a violation, the proof or accusation of such was so powerful as to be able to destroy the reputation of entire city states or rizu lineages, and lead to invasions and seizures of property and territory as a result. Like Némori writing in its purest form, atjinu soon spread beyond the riverbanks. Enterprising rizu often found it in their interest to exchange rights of command and leadership in certain foreign communities for trade rights and integration with the Némori system, or otherwise used economic dominance to peacefully wrest control from their previous owners. These bonds, when formalized, were codified with atjinu, allowing the integrated peoples (generally Hebut’st) a manner of recourse in cases of mistreatment. However, when such agreements were made they represented a formal lease of authority to rizu lords outside of the traditional Némori sphere. With atjinu as their spear, the rizu expanded the Némori wheel throughout the southern littoral. This peaceful expansion was concentrated in the north and east, as Némori merchants gained undisputed access to the Telesejiya through the Hebuttar and absorbed the Kadet’st and the Kadettar plains to their north, in some cases reaching as far as the southern fringes of the Shando. While this expansion was stable and generally amicable to both sides of the arrangement, it was slow. It was the result of individual members of the rizu gradually integrating the natives of those areas, community by community. Hebut’st palisades fell not to bronze-clad rizu warbands but to economic pressure, the advantages of contractual protection, and the goods of a stable and productive population hub. Kadet’st warlords, on the other hand, were drawn into the ranks of the armies of the Némori city states. In exchange they were offered rich plots of land away from riverbanks throughout the Némori sphere. Over time, the riders became a common sight throughout the Sisters as rizu warlords bought or contracted their service in internal conflicts. The advent of atjinu was accompanied by another important development. As the contractual web became more and more tangled, and transactions more and more complex, roughly standardized currency was implemented. In the interest of maintaining control over the supply, the rizu merchants who propagated the innovation created their money from finely crafted and colored pieces of porcelain. The soft pinks, yellows, and teals of the porcelain blocks rode the tides of Némori trade to prominence, and were familiar in markets from Mirrepon to the Juakeh. Members of the rizu also drove Némori influence southwards, but this was not the bloodless contractual expansion seen in the north.