Thursday, November 23, 2017

Things I Wish They Did More With #2.

Hello again, all. Fortunately my long silence since the last post was not due to a freak bus accident, though the height of one of those death-wagons does make it feel like every other vehicle on the road is directly under the wheels when you have the perspective of a window seat. I've been busy with my second-to-last month in the semester, and all that that entails.

EDIT: By the way, I hit 3,000 total blog views earlier this month. You guys are swell. Thanks again for stopping by.

But I've come back to ramble a bit more about another thing that I'm a strange mixture of wistful and grumpy about.

This time, it's D&D 4th Edition.

Hold your cheers and/or righteous indignation a moment, Burrowers. I don't think any system is necessarily better or worse than any other, and I'm not here to spark another skirmish in the Great Edition War (despite the fact that simply acknowledging that the past arguments happened can in fact cause them once over). Though I will be picking slightly at one of the prominent ideas which came up in that debate circa 2008. Specifically, D&D 4E's similarity or lack thereof to certain video games.

It was commonly stated with wildly varying levels of convincing argument that 4th Edition's combat was designed to appeal to the video game crowd. Some even went a step forward and claimed that it was a direct attempt to compete with the MMORPG market, which then as much as now included the monolith that is World of Warcraft. I think that MMO argument is a little silly personally, because they're still too fundamentally different beasts for there to be a clear comparison between 4E and WoW. Unless you widen the conversation to include 4E-derived material, of course.

Hush, you. I'll deal with you separately someday.

I find it odd that besides Neverwinter the MMORPG, the majority of video games released during the high-point of 4th Edition support and popularity were re-releases or enhanced remakes of older games based on older editions, such as Baldur's Gate 1 & 2 or the Neverwinter Nights collection. The sole exception, to my knowledge, is Daggerdale.

Daggerdale was a real-time action RPG and hack-and-slash loosely based off of 4E the same way that Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance 1 & 2 were based off of 3E. Daggerdale included 4E-esque racial traits and class powers, as well as the Tier system which limited the initial "Heroic" level progression to 10, and would have ascended to level 30 if the game's planned expansions had panned out. They did not, apparently due to the game's poor reception and the subsequent closure of its developer, Bedlam Games.

The fact that Daggerdale (as well as Neverwinter) used real-time combat was a very odd choice to me, when D&D 4E was as tied up in the tactical, map-and-miniatures-based combat as it was at the time. You couldn't abstract combat or separate it from a grid of 5-foot squares in a very satisfactory way, unless you include conceptually similar game systems and pseudo-spinoffs like 13th Age. So why didn't 4th Edition games just go with what seemed to me like the most natural choice for a video game adaptation?

That natural choice--again, to me at least--was the classic Tactics RPG.

Though, probably a little less pixelated.

Both use grid-based movement, operate in turns, have oftentimes byzantine lists of powers and abilities which each character could use and keep track of, etc. Character orientation is often a component of TRPG combat, but that convention could be easily ignored in order to line up with 4E rules, since "facing" has been optional since 3.5E.

With a few considerations, the 4E ruleset could have been applied to a video game wholesale, serving even better to bridge the gap between digital gamer and tabletop gamer (if indeed that was the attempt). This could have produced a very good game for one, as well as potentially smoothed over some of the issues which had been caused by the rocky start of the ill-fated D&D Insider digital platform and subscription method. But trying to answer a bunch of marketing "what if"s is a little too far beyond what I'm capable of, so I'll leave it as one of the great unanswerable questions of the 2000s.

But I can at least plug a spiritual successor game which did an admirable attempt at filling the void left by that edition's peripherals.

Conclave was a TRPG created by the appropriately-named developer 10x10 Room and explicitly styled on classic tabletop campaigns. It included grid-based combat, an interesting story, scaling multiplayer with up to 3 other people, and the occasional out-of-combat plot branching which could be caused by Skill Challenges. I was especially fond of the satyr-like Trow, and the molten golem Forgeborn. Conclave hasn't received anymore content updates since its release however, so the base campaign is all you'll be able to experience. Still, the romp may be worth the $10USD, and the soundtrack was nifty.

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Looking Southward and Backward: An Ethnographic and Historically-Minded Travelogue, Part 1.

((As I cling to the seat of a bus shuddering down 9W toward the only part of New York State which doesn't count as "upstate", two things occur to me.

One is a sense of bemusement born from a simultaneous gratefulness for the presence of bus wifi, and terror at an absence of bus seat belts.

The other is that I have never given sufficient thought to the importance, frequency, or severity of travel in the universe of the ITU.

Of course I have explicitly or implicitly explained the importance of movement and migration for the nomads and semi-nomads of the world, and perhaps that is in fact the norm at this time; the vast world has been disconnected for some time, with maintained roads and traveler culture long ago abandoned.

But now that a certain pasty academic has been temporarily ejected from his subscalanean office, the perfect opportunity arises for a few travelogues between now and his arrival at a certain dig site. For those of you who prefer his more researched articles, have no fear. Plenty of his parchments remain scattered upon the desk attached to his doorway, ripe for publication... after they've been sanitized of sensitive subject matter unbecoming of the publishing house of the ITU, of course.))

The Ivory Tower has become somehow even dingier, it seems.

Though we've left at dawn, with the sun's first rays highlighting the old city in full glory, the stains and crumbling patches along the tower's height are only more pronounced for it. An enormous sum of money has been reclaimed by the latest budget meetings by the Board of the Directorate to be put toward the restoration of the campus' namesake, but the estimated date of completion for these efforts numbers in the years, rather than months or weeks. In my first exchange with someone not tied to the University in several weeks, I heard the remark that some of the darkest patches closest to the tower's dilapidated top must date all the way back to the Rupture. I would scarcely be surprised if this were true.

Our party moves quickly to get the wains ready for departure, everyone but the Gertisch student being as unused to the cold as I am. Thanks to the generosity and relative bribeability of several professors not to be named, my study abroad has been furnished with three of my fellow undergraduates.

Ciudo, majoring in foreign languages and literature, shall be our interpreter during the times when Denerothi Ersuut will fail us, which I anticipated to be increasingly regular the farther south we go.

Shoring up our armament for the siege against the language barrier is or resident physician (technically only a botanist-in-training), Sarq. He is one of our precious few students of Nambarish stock, though unfortunately not of geographic origin. I must remember to inquire into the meaning and popularity of his name at a later date. I anticipate that it has its origins in the name of some folk hero, much the same way you might see ten thousand different permutations of "Haraal" walking the streets of Deneroth today.¹

Minoring in both historical ordination and Gertisch fencing, Hraela will be assisting me directly in the recording and analysis of everything we encounter leading up to and at the dig site. She has also elected to bring her training longsword with her, both to keep practicing for the semester's finals, as well as to ensure our getting along without any "man-made inconveniences" along the road. I am alarmed that Instructor Vogt has his pupils maintain their training equipment at shaving sharpness, and it is my hope that I never encounter anything which he would qualify as "battle-ready".²

We are joined by a hired retinue of ten porters, drivers, pathfinders, and other assistants from outside of the campus to ensure that we reach the Pach-Pahs in a timely fashion. What time that will be is unfortunately little more exact than the Board's estimate of Tower repairs, for the weather will play an adversarial role in our travels south.

Winter approaches Deneroth quickly. Even the Beige Trees of Citadel Grove have begun to lose their leaves in full this month, and a Denerothi winter is a wet and snowy one. But we must endure such hardships in order to reach the dig site, which is located beyond the first wave of peaks in the northern reaches of territory under supervision by the People's Anarcho-Syndicalistic Communes of Pach-Pah Yul (PASCOPPY hereafter). There, beyond the rain shadow of what we call the Near Pashels, the winter is quite dry. And in order to have an environment which is not bogged down in mud and influxes of breeding populations of Howler Ibexes, the locals must conduct their archaeological research in the dry cold.

Our wagons are just beginning to turn their wheels now, and it shall take some time and practice to get used to writing on the move. For now, I shall leave this parchment to dry and look upon the many tiers of our fair and introverted city before it is put behind us.

I feel a pang of affection for the city, and even for the University, as our path becomes set and irreversible.

Clearly I need another nip of Esgodarran Whiskey in order to wake up fully.

¹ Mind you, the total population of Deneroth is, as of last decade's census, scarcely higher than twenty thousand, to indicate the sheer inescapability of the name.

² It is a little-known fact that despite including it proudly in his resume, Professor Berchtold Vogt was never awarded the title of Éïsęnmễïster by any known or reputable school of fencing and swordsmanship in Deneroth or the sister cities of the Upper Lowlands. Nor is he known to have ever attended one.

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Ekundayo (3/3).

Click here for Ekundayo 2/3.

The pale blue lights cast long, wavering shadows across the cemetery grounds. The grass was shortened but not removed from the earth, and many graves farther back in the lopsided rows were slowly, gently being overtaken by nature. Most mounds did not possess a significant marker beyond an erected piece of wood or stone, but several off to the left were highly conspicuous in this regard.

Four oblong rises of soil in the earth were quite fresh, as were the offerings arranged around them as a group. Several sticks of resin incense still smoked, and the melted , slowly solidifying wax rivers of a few candles stood out against the dark earth. Bundles of fruit, spices, and salt were wrapped in scraps of decorated cloth, each marked by a piece of bark carved with some personal identifier of giver or goodwill, in place of an entire written message. The visual arts of the village were more robust than their textual.

Abeni looked upon these mounds with quiet, somewhat confused respect. Why was she being brought to see the dead first? Once more seeking the old man's odd-hued eyes, she looked up toward him.

Grandfather Corpse was already looking back down at her, his smile lessened somewhat. But it did not vanish.

"They been missin' you terrible since the fiah. Ya maam, pah, little Dayo too." He spoke of the girl's baby brother, no older than four years by now.

The confusion intensified, and then turned to worry, as she looked back and forth between the mounds and the old man. The corpses backed off respectfully, as if they knew that they would be intruding upon a very personal conversation.

Joints creaked and groaned as the old man set his staff down, altering the angles of the shadows again dramatically. He set his flat hands with long, steady fingers upon the girl's shoulders, and he exhaled. Just as it always did, his breath smelled faintly of smoked taba leaves. He seemed to be waiting for the girl to speak first. When she didn't, he nodded his head and glanced aside once more, as if he were seeing and listening to something which she could not detect. He nodded his head upon that thin neck of his.

"Ya gotta go to 'em, Abeni. Me know it be frightenin', we awl do. But it time." With that, his hands reached past her shoulders, and he pulled the girl in lightly. One hand patted against her back as he embraced her, and then in the next moment he was twisting away on his long, scrawny legs and standing back up, staff in hand.

Abeni lingered on the three mounds for a time. She approached them slowly. She looked over the fourth, nestled between the third and the soil heaped up against the base of the fence.

She turned back to the man, tears reflecting the light beneath her eyes.

"Please... tell yuh wife me said hello, one las' time?"

"Course, sweet'aat."


Before she went and laid down upon the loamy soil, she snapped a piece of red-colored sugar candy from one of the offering baskets and popped it into her mouth. It clicked against her teeth, and the wind rustled the scorched hem of her dress one last time. It wasn't as soft as her bed, but it was close. She felt tired finally.

The old man sighed, and canted his head at an odd angle to listen again. The smile renewed itself, and he turned away. Knocking his hickory staff upon the nearest hard surface, he brought the still and silent bodies back to attention. They lined up like soldiers at attention, and then shambled forward on his instruction, clamoring through the place of restful death until they found emptied mounds of their own. The old man followed after each, packing the earth down tightly once they had clawed it back over themselves, all to the rhythmic chants of joro, jara, and joro.

Once the last particles of dirt were settled back down, he ambled over toward the gap in the fence once more. The staff extinguished itself with an almost imperceptible sizzle. With his free hand, he lifted up a length of hemp rope which tethered one end of an ancient wooden box, long and narrow, with one end wider than the other. He shouldered it upon one sagging side with a soft grunt, and then he trudged forward, back out into the mist once more.

"Ya 'erd awl dat, lub?"

The coffin knocked once in response.

((Ending this messy little amalgamation of ideas, I hope that the end of the last month and the beginning of the new has left you each with an affirmation of life. You can't have one side without the other. Happy Día de los Difuntos.))

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Ekundayo (2/3).

Click here for Ekundayo 1/3.

The girl plummeted into the fog, and into despair. Surprisingly yielding under her weight, the near-skeletal arms which reached upward cushioned the worst of her fall, and brought her down quite close to the muddy forest floor. Hardly scratching her likewise, the chipped and gnarled hands of the dead grasped her only as tightly as they needed to, in order to keep her from struggling free from them once again.

Still, she screamed and fought and kicked her feet, completely unhinging one side of the jaw of one of the dead things after she had begun the work in their last encounter. Her thrashing went on for some time, in anticipation of what was to come.

But nothing came. She gritted her teeth and shut her eyes tight, body going rigid and tense.

Still, nothing.

One hazel-flecked eye cracked open to peer around, and though she found the horrific stares of each dead eye upon her still, their owners had entered an almost placid stupor.

It then occurred to her that beyond the range of her attention, someone else had been shouting as well.

The shadowed figure strode forward in a huff, a hand deftly tossing and then choking down upon the length of a wooden staff, which then rapped admonishingly across the back of one bare skull among the huddled dead. The butt of the staff squelched into the mud again as they each groaned and turned their necks, and then a hand thrust into view. Wrinkled, mahogany-colored skin overlaid with dirt and grey-white patches of ash waved back and forth as a finger was thrust into the faces of the corpses one after another, like a mother scolding her children. A voice halfway between its natural state of measured richness and the quiver of the moment's excitement cut through the dead air.

"Bad cawpse! Bad cawpse, all of ya. Treatin' a chil' like that what you be 'spose to help her. Now ya let the gal down, an' you make ya manners. Open ya hats now, boys."

As if by magic, each dead and vice-like grip on the girl relaxed immediately, and she felt her heels sink into the spongy earth below as she was at last let down. But the urge to flee was superseded by her sheer confusion, and there her bare heels remained for a time. She stared up into the darkness as she reached back into memory, and connected that voice with a name.

"... Gran'puh Cawpse?" She asked.

"Abeni, my sweet'aat. Forgive the old boys their behavior. Ya been so quick an' vexin' to us awl night, they gone an' got bothered... We been lookin' for ya." The sodden grass pressed to the sides around his knees as he knelt down before the girl, who was much shorter than him despite his hunched and somewhat shriveled form.

Just then, a light flared up in the figure's outstretched hand, opposite the staff of twisted hickory. It was a pallid blue light which emanated from little tongues of flame of that selfsame color, each clinging to a fingertip. They illuminated the scene immediately around them, and it cast long shadows upon the trunk of the old tree beside them. Sure enough, the familiar face of the old man with balding head and grey-tinged eyes was revealed, smiling apologetically at her. And flanking them, the old corpses now bowed their heads and groaned in unintelligible apology to the girl for getting so out of hand. She was sure of it now, one of the bodies had belonged to the old butcher's father, died last year.

Abeni had recently turned eight years old, and she'd known the presence of "Grandpa Corpse" in the village for the entirety of her life up to that point. He was the weathered old man who tended to the rites and the burial of the dead, both in her home and elsewhere. But despite his ubiquitousness across the edges of the mangroves, even to the edges of the cypresses, she knew little about him. Even the name by which she knew him was a title ascribed to the man by the observant and uninhibited youths of generations past. Of course he'd never objected. And now suddenly he was in charge of the undead, as well as finding lost children?

"Ya mam an' pah been worried sick about ya, Abeni. They ain't seen ya since the fiah, an' they clingin' to hope that you come back home 'afore sunrise, safe an' sound."

Her heart leaped in her breast as she heard mention of her parents, and she seized the old man's hand in hers despite the flames. They gave off no heat which she could feel, however. His lips split into a smile and he gave a chuckle in response, before nodding his head.

"A'right then boys, she be ready to come on back. Hngh..."

The joints in his knees and hips popped or ground softly, but the man rose back up onto his feet once more. The oxhide sandals he normally wore were gone, and his feet too were bare but for the mud on them now. The little candle flames in his fingers rose up like a group of fireflies briefly, before settling upon the end of his staff and coalescing to light the way forward. Hands held firmly, the old man led the girl forward, followed after by the quiet procession of the dead. One step at a time, they walked slowly, and the swamp gently opened up to them.

The trackless wetlands gradually became more and more recognizable, until at last they were on solid ground again, rising up past the edges of the flood boundaries where it was safe to build homes. The hard-packed road which connected their village to the next stretched out before them, leading them along the gentle serpentine suggestion which accounted for so many drop-offs or thick knots of vegetation.

She saw the whisps of smoke rising above the treeline before she smelled them. It blended into the fog almost perfectly.

At either side of the road, so many buildings had been torched nearly to the ground. Their wood and thatching had been damp the morning of, yet the stubborn spark which had begun the conflagration was persistent. Abeni saw the charred husk of her family's own hut, and the hazy smoke from its smoldering joined the smoke above. She gave a soft gasp and tugged at Grandfather Corpse's arm, and he obliged her a few steps toward that side of the path as they continued forward. Nothing remained recognizable within the hut's walls. All of their possessions were gone. But she didn't feel the pain of it, strangely- at least not yet.

Past that and other hulks they walked, until the fire's limits were surpassed, and the untouched buildings remained. They had been more widely-spaced, closer to one of the wells, and plain luckier. Abeni thought she could hear the snores coming from within them, as families swollen with homeless relatives staying the night tried to catch as much rest as they could manage.

And these too, they walked straight past. Abeni looked up at the old man's face as if to ask, but the old man's eyes remained trained on the space ahead as he gave the same assuring smile. He looked tired.

Finally, he came to a halt, and she did too. A moment later, after bumping into one another, the dead stopped as well.

They stood at the edge of the wattle and daub fence which marked the edge of the village graveyard.

((As you may have noticed, I couldn't hold an eerie note for long. But it was all for a purpose! Following up on Halloween, this post furthers the cultural mish-mashing by honoring the first "half" of contemporary Día de Muertos, so to speak. Happy Día de los Inocentes to all.))

Click here for Ekundayo 3/3.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Ekundayo (1/3).

((In an effort to move away from the scattered parchments piled up high on the desk of Roberick Litte's office-bedroom for once, I've attempted to get into the spirit of Samhain-Saints-Oween Eve. Of course I'm garbage at writing actual horror, so my goal for this piece is closer to instilling a temporary sense of vague discomfort.))

The quick, damp slaps of bare little feet through the mud broke the uncharacteristic silence of the mangrove forest. The fog had killed the stars and moon hours ago, and the frantic patter of feet halted frequently as their owner slipped upon the spongy earth or fell between the overlapping snarls of roots which formed little islands in the swamp.

The girl with the scorched and tattered dress was small and quick, but the sounds she made as she thrashed through the water and trees drew them ever closer. Her shins were scraped by the ground and her cheeks slashed at by passing branches, splashing her brown skin with a raw and bloody red in places. But still, she ran on. She had to.

She had to get away from them.

The ones who reeked of earth and death. Gaunt old things, with lolling heads and a lurching gait. They shambled on two legs or crawled on all fours, but they never seemed to tire, unlike her. Again and again, the swamp turned her around or snagged her, and there they were again- gangling limbs stretched out toward her and gnarled claws groping blindly. There may only have been three, but there may as well have been three dozen. She'd lost track of how many hours it had been already. Shouldn't the sun have already risen?

Did she even remember the last time she had seen the sun?

Skidding to a halt at the edge of a river, the girl craned her neck and twisted it around, looking up and down the length of both banks. The curtain of grey hid the far side from her, but the sounds which touched her ears from that direction were enough to turn her away. Another one had gotten caught in the mangrove roots, she thought, and it was breaking through either wood or bone in order to free itself. One had cornered her minutes or ages ago, only to become trapped amid the slimy old husks, and she had kicked it so hard in her escape that its jaw had unhinged on one side.

Now, as before, the guttural, half-choked groans reminded her of a dog being strangled. It always went on for too long, but this time it was without end.

Revulsion filled her and made a shiver wrack her body as she thought she heard some deeper familiarity in those noises. But the rasp of long-fingered branches behind her wrenched her attention away from it. She'd stayed still too long.

Its distended paunch looked bloated and hard, but the rest of it was loathsomely thin, so that it looked like little more than grey-mottled skin stretched tight over bone. The dull ambient light reflected off of the almost glossy clot of dark, blackish blood which anointed its caved-in temple, and a break somewhere along its spine ensured that this horrific side profile was always tilted and aimed at her. No matter how violent their first deaths may have been, nothing seemed to stop them. One listless, milky eye swiveled in its socket until it settled on the youth, and then its mouth opened wide- unnaturally so.

A dry hiss came first, stopping and starting as it gave a glottal stop to voiceless words. But then the death rattle rose up from its throat and echoed high throughout the dripping canopy, eliciting cries in response from elsewhere in the darkness. They were much closer than even she had feared, and coming from every direction. She hadn't been escaping. She'd only been hedging herself in deeper from the start.

It didn't dawn on her as she stood there, transfixed by the dead thing's gaze, that it had stopped in its tracks as well, so that not even its exposed knee joint clicked and ground as it audibly had before. All she knew was the stab of terrified instinct at the base of her skull, and it screamed at her to move.

So her feet pounded upon the earth, root, and stone again, and in response the thing's screech was cut short with a sound of alarm. She dove into the trees through a space too narrow for them to pass through, but now the cracking and yielding of roots was at the back of her neck. A sob passed her lips as she scrambled forward from the convergence of tattered things blindly.

Up ahead was another tree. It was massive, towering above the mangroves all around it. It was an ancient thing, broad-trunked even before the rivers had swelled and flooded the deltas. Its roots dug deep rather than lacing across the surface. It was also dying, slowly poisoned by the land to which it no longer belonged. But it was still standing, and that was enough for her.

Dress hiked up about her knees, she clamored up against the giant and reached out for a handhold. The rotted bark gave way before her fingertips, but in a moment she'd found purchase elsewhere. She pulled herself up, higher and higher, legs propelling her desperately upward with barely enough time for her hands to hang on. The thump of bodies against the base of the tree came as they reached her, but she only felt the dead air shifting and billowing slightly below her toes as their flailing arms reached in vain.

Inch by inch, she savaged the side of the tree with broken little nails until the light of a hundred glinting stars exploded behind her eyes. To her dismay, they were not the stars in the sky. The torn bits of scalp and curly black hair upon the crown of her head told her that she had struck the underside of a bough. She grabbed a hold of it, and pulled herself upward.

Seated upon the branch, she could see them in the mists down below faintly. But by their motionlessness, she knew that they could see her perfectly. Her eyes tore away from the awful shapes and looked to the edges of the clearing, seeking any way out of this self-made prison. The limbs and roots of trees all melded together to create a twisting latticework of mud and weeping canopies, save for the ugly gash where the shambling things had forced their way in. It existed only for a moment under her view, before it too was filled up by something.

It was bent and narrow, but walked with far more control and purpose than the dead. It had a liveliness that made her breath catch in her throat. Could it be? No, of course not. She didn't even have time to think the words. The glimmer of desperate hope became stillborn as the things of rot down below turned to behold the newcomer, only to regard it with more mindless moaning before returning their gaze to the girl. The figure halted, seeming content to do nothing.

She hid her face away. It might still be a dream. If the sun came out and she opened her eyes, they would be gone, and this would all be over. She clutched at the blackened, ashy patches on the hem of her dress and wished she hadn't gotten lost. She wished for a lot of things. She wished that she didn't hear the groaning of the wood underneath her, or the thunderous crack as the bough suddenly gave way.

The gangling limbs and rattling cries rose up to meet her, as she plunged back down into the fog without a word.

Click here for Ekundayo 2/3.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

A Lowlander's Gloss of the Rise & Fall of the Pach-Pah Empire, Part 5.

Click here to view Part 4 on the Pach-Pah Empire

"I call to order the 298th Grand Resolutions Council, and the 2,980th Convening of the Large and Small Workers' Assemblies!"
- Officiator Thonapa Namdol, at the most recent overlap in annual and decennial meetings between the loose governing bodies of the People's Anarcho-Syndicalistic Communes of Pach-Pah Yul, 293 AR

- An election season leaflet from Pansech Province, circa 246 AR.

The last Miqh Pach-Pah was buried without blessing or ceremony (but also without further insult or defamation) in an undisclosed location in one of the gardens of his palace. The bodies of his advisers would hang over the broken gates for some time in cages gilt with all of the precious stones and metals which they had fostered the mining of. The empire without an emperor entered a deep and extended period of mourning and protracted activity. The Pach-Pahs vanished from international commerce and society almost entirely as they attempted to piece their homes and lives back together, to say nothing of the internal struggles of understanding who and what they now were.

With the collapse of the semi-divine cult surrounding the Miqh, those with faith shaken yet unbroken turned in greater numbers and in greater piety toward the other gods of the mountains. They threw themselves upon the mercy of the deities of right conduct and justice, and prayed for those who had been lost to the underworld. A deep, collective sense of grief, guilt, and catharsis kept them united, where once the ties of common government had done the same.

This marked the point in time when the gods of the underworld were also venerated. Prior to that, stretching as far back as the early period of Pach-Pah history, those of the deep and dark places had been feared and warded against. Evil was associated with them, and they were only appeased in an attempt to ward off misfortune. Now, the fear remained truer than ever, but it was laced with a desperate hope that those whom they had taken into their keeping were being treated well. Indeed, the living hoped that the same could be had for themselves, if a buried death awaited them in the end. the practice of digging architecture entirely below the surface was abandoned in the same decade as the Collapse, save for when a temple dedicated to the gods below needed building.

The surviving instances of nobility throughout the provinces remained in the custody of various groups of revolutionaries for some time, but further spilling of blood was out of the question, now that everyone had seemed to finally "wake up" from the illusion of bloated royalty. The memoirs of former governors and their children are well-documented in the following century, as they attempted to reintegrate with those whom they had stayed above and separate from. Progress was slow, and famine was frequent in those regions where infrastructure had been damaged the most heavily. But in their reduced state, the people of the mountains consolidated, and experienced a measure of regrowth.

Eventually the question of "what next?" was difficult to ignore. And unlike the aftermath of our own experiences of disaster, vast gulfs of distance between major players did not prevent the highlanders from achieving greater cooperation once again. In the first of many summits to come, the representatives of each former province met at the base of the peak where the ruined imperial palace once stood. With each was an entourage of representatives of each industry found in that province, for over the course of the empire's history, its people had undergone quite a significant degree of specialization into various disciplines.

The various members of each regimented form of livelihood, whether they were the heads of valley ranches or of stoneworking groups, quickly found themselves in agreement about what their respective peoples needed and wanted for the future. Of course they did not agree so readily with each other group's decisions, and bickering ensued. It was only by taking on a role of arbitration did the representatives of each province at large manage to instill a state of quiet order, from which the first rough agreements on group policy were drawn up. Each industry would work toward both representation and self-regulation, and each regional government would work together to maintain a level of cooperation and public welfare between all moving parts. "Solidarity Without Kings" became something of a rallying mantra for the Pach-Pahs.

It would be a dizzying and frankly impossible task for an indigenous expert on political history of the Pach-Pahs to produce a comprehensive and all-encompassing list of the various changes between that point and now, and being that I have neither the blood ties nor the training to do so, it would be doubly so for me to attempt. But I can say with confidence that, despite nearly three thousand years of time passing, the Pach-Pahs have maintained a remarkable degree of faithfulness to that first council's resolutions. There have been many changes, transformations, and upheavals since, with more than one Trade War or would-be monarch inflicting themselves upon the people of the mountains. But in the spirit of perpetual revolution, each of these challenges has been met, dealt with, and then spun to resemble that old precept.

Before my more aristocratic readers tear this document up in a white-knuckled rage, be aware that though they constantly push against it, hierarchy is difficult to avoid entirely within this patchwork blanket of industry-communities. Furthermore, a continued and heavy emphasis upon family lineage among all Pach-Pah groups maintains a somewhat clannish divide between larger industrial groups, as well as a fairly consistent and conservative outlook on (albeit recently-created) tradition.

This, as well as limited international trade, has occupied our southern neighbors since before our own empire was divided. All things considered, they have done remarkably well for themselves. And I dare say that we have many lessons in adaptation, damage control, and human spirit to learn from them.

On a more scholastic note, I would also like to take the opportunity to push the support for Pach-Pach archaeological research. The discipline has its roots in the mountains, yet has enjoyed relatively little adaptation to the lowlands, even in regions as fixated upon its past as the denizens of Deneroth.

It is with determined optimism that I state my recently-approved budget¹ for an expedition into the mountains to accompany one such archaeological project will generate enough northern interest in the practice that Deneroth or even Nambar may soon host their own departments of history-through-earth-sifting.

¹ The initial offer of ten pounds of electrum is barely enough to cover the costs for equipment and non-university personnel, let alone the need for transportation and lodgings over a four-month period. It was quickly expanded to twenty-five pounds once I pointed out to the treasurers' council that they and everyone else on the University's campus would be free of me for a full quarter of the year if the funding was sufficient.

Saturday, October 21, 2017

A Lowlander's Gloss of the Rise & Fall of the Pach-Pah Empire, Part 4.

Click here to view Part 3 on the Pach-Pah Empire
Click here to view Part 5 on the Pach-Pah Empire

"I pity the last emperor. Had he known what the world was like outside of his own guarded existence? What might he have done, if given the opportunity to experience humanity?"
- Gyalchup Inti, offering a revisionist perspective which has gained traction over the past century-and-a-half.

"The champions of the revolution butchered the advisers of the Miqh only because they could not lay their hands upon him personally. Theirs was the crime of denying the just their deserved vengeance; all others laid upon Umaq the Deserter."
- Dema Jortli, offering an opposing view.

In the twenty-first year of the Miqh Pach-Pah's reign, the land to its north was overtaken by the most immediate effects of the Rupture.

But it may come as a surprise to my audience to find that the Rupture was not the only horrific event to attack the world in clearly written history. In fact, the lands of the south felt something of much greater magnitude than what would become known to us thousands of years later. This is of course a matter of perspective. This is by no means an attempt to diminish the magnitude of the hardship which our forefathers had faced, and I would sooner be struck dead than dishonor the Eternal Scholar Laizij and the memory of Haraal.¹

Now that the precautions are out of the way, it is time to understand the fundamental difference between north and south when it comes to experience of the Rupture and other Rupture-like Events. In the north, it was a gradual affair, with death and affliction spread out over a great period. Likewise, it was a time of cold, and stillness of the earth. But in the south, past the beginnings of the Pach-Pahs from whence the smoke and ash had first arisen both times, the greatest magnitude of destruction and human suffering came within the first days- nay, hours. And they came in fire, and in a violent animation of the land beneath one's feet. It was a time in which the people of the Pach-Pahs were irreparably damaged in number and in spirit.

Today, the warning signs are obvious. But in that historic moment, the chain of volcanic eruptions which awoke the ancient sleepers of the mountains were quite unexpected. The sacred peaks of their homeland turned into pillars of flame and toxin, spreading mass confusion and collapse of basic functionality across the empire. But the pain in the earth came from much deeper than the reactivated mountains. Earthquakes rent the underworld asunder, grinding the crusts of the world against one another irrespective of the structural integrity of the deep-delved mines or the density of the populations living there. Once again, we have no concrete knowledge of what the mining cities experienced in their final hours, but speculation has been refined over the years. Some tunnels collapsed. Others were rent open and exposed to yawning abysses or lakes of churning, molten earth. Others were taken by the intrusion of noxious fumes from smaller tears on the world around them. All were destroyed.

One million unknown and unknowable lives were snuffed out in the time it took the Miqh Pach-Pah to return from his rudely-interrupted tour of the gardens where imperial chewing leaves were grown. He was immediately evacuated to the gold-foiled, jewel-studded palace which was the home of his family for generations, and the entire area was placed on lockdown by the largest contingent of trained and professional soldiers in the empire. In the scramble to ensure the safety of the royal personage and all other courtly matters, the cadre of senior advisers forgot or neglected to attempt to send messengers across the empire to ascertain the degree of damage and the need for allocation of resources.

This deathly silence was taken as absolute contempt for the people of the empire, and the insignificance of their suffering in the eyes of the elite. The resentment which had festered among them for generations found the only way it could vent at long last, in which the same way that the earth Herself was venting her divine upset. Fury swept up the hearts of those overtaxed farmers and artisans, those underfunded provincial governments not blessed with membership in the "Great Family", and those precious few miners close enough to the surface tunnels to escape the abject destruction faced by their kinfolk. This motley collection of the disaffected and downtrodden joined together, all differences of province or class melting away under the red-hot glare which all affixed to their shared foe.

They took up hammers and wood axes, grain sickles and clubs, shepherd's staves outfitted with spearheads, and the looted weaponry of the countless imperial regiments who either defected from their generals, or simply turned tail and dispersed across the mountainsides. Where order was strongest, the rebels organized themselves into communicating units and overtook the existing administration of a region with its governors placed under house arrest. Where order could not be found, their fellows tore down the opulent capital buildings of their homes and hewed their occupants to pieces. Where imperial order was strongest, these atrocities were met in kind, and often redoubled several times over. The masses had righteous indignation on their side, but the military still had disciplined ranks armed with iron, armor of quilted cloth, and broad shields of wicker and wood. It is said that the imperial guard stationed in the city of Pachuxo were defeated only once "the blood of their victims had ran like a river around their knees, tripping and dislodging them".

Quickly, groups of rebels linked together upon the high, narrow highways between terraced cities following their victories, and the rebellion started to become a revolution.

During all of this the Miqh was limited under guard to his bedchambers, which while several hundred feet in all dimensions, was effectively a prison cell within the complex of the imperial palace. He sat there alone and confused, for he had no wife or children, and over the early years of his rule, he had been divided from his closest relatives. When there came the sounds of many people closing in from a distance, the guards posted at his door told him nothing. When the sounds became a commotion, and thumps could be heard coming from the grand entrance hall, his retainers abandoned him. It was only once the resounding crash of two gates filled the palace, that he was again met with company.

But they were not his guards. And surprisingly, they were not his unexpected visitors, either.

They were his senior advisers.

Langdah Umaq Miqh Pach-Pah was by all accounts a fairly placid Miqh, a product-as-representative of the decay of his empire rather than an active demonstrator of it. While the list of arrests and executions under him were numerous, they were all at the behest of his advisers, and merely had his seal of blindly-given approval for each. Likewise went his decrees, and any amendments to the convoluted first attempt at a codified body of law first attempted by his predecessor five generations earlier. It is known that those quietly opposed to the workings of the royal family belittled and dismissed the man, often deriding his slurred speech and unusually shaped head in private. But it is unknown how badly he was hated by his own empire. That dubious honor is relegated to the chief advisers to the Miqh, and it is telling (in my eyes) that their names were stripped from history, rather than their liege's.

And so it comes as no surprise that, faced with imminent capture by those whom they had wronged for so long, the wizened old men who had raised the Miqh as their ward and puppet fell upon him with rods of oak and ropes of silk. They detained him and strangled him, and then lifted up his body to present to the triumphant invaders mere moments behind. Before they could begin to utter their first false words in support of the revolution, the crowd fell upon them in turn. Each was stripped of his robes and marks of rank and dragged screaming from the ruined gates of the palace, where such detailed punishments as recorded in the Codex of the Revolution are detailed and illustrated.

In a dozen battles, the surviving titles of nobility of the Pach-Pah Yul were reduced by half, either through renunciation or through attrition. In the murder of a single frightened monarch, the second half vanished.

The memory of the final Miqh remains a controversial one today, with each generation of reflective Pach-Pah men and women treating him, his advisers, and the revolutionaries slightly differently. I could not begin to offer an overview of that debate, for it would be an even greater disservice to the topic than this gloss is to the many sources of history which I've attempted to synthesize thus far. But one thing is certain.

While they attempted to wrestle with the possibilities and consequences of their new identity, the people of the former empire had an immense amount of rebuilding to do.

¹ Just as I would never threaten to censor or bar from publication another honest scholar's work simply because it does not lend itself entirely to the established narrative of an institution. I look forward to our next "sanitization" session over brunch, Senior Editor Adelbramp. Do be sure not to misplace your black marker again the next time you █████████ behind the curtains of the ██████████████████.