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"They were like children. We all were, back then. That is the lesson to take from our history. That we must grow up as a people."
- Scholar's Guild representative Metok Chicheuilte, offering a surprisingly gentle alternative to the usual stance on the mental faculties of the last reigning Miqhs.
"FEAR THE LASH."
- Inscription upon the steel head of a pickaxe salvaged from an archaeological site in the lower northwest Taneqas region. Dated to approximately 2000PR.
Eccentricities began to develop among the scions of the narrowing bloodlines of the Pach-Pah Yul royalty, as the generations wore on. Given the cult of personality which was fostered around each such individual by that time, especially the Miqh, these tendencies were only encouraged. Thus, long strings of tragic individuals became increasingly hidden from day-to-day matters, left ignorant of how to properly go about their duties when, if even faintly, the hope had existed that they could grow and develop to be wise and competent individuals. But the circumstances of high society had become so convoluted and bloated with a combination of decadence and anxiety that the later emperors did very little which could be seen as "kingly". Still, the reigning members of the family branches remained rather docile, delegating actual work to unrelated servants and administrators, and generally keeping to their own prestige-driven affairs. Civil strife all but vanished, and unknown to the aristocratic heart of the empire, their frontiers became the first sites of cultural and economic contact with the peoples of the lowlands.
But every few generations there was born a strong and vigorous "Great Miqh", often termed "Mad Miqh" in modern scholarship, who disrupted this cycle of maintenance and gentle stagnation and substituted their own idea for the world. For example, the severe deflation of currency in the 38th century PR was caused by the removal from circulation of all copper coins thanks to two successive Miqhs having a rare yet highly pronounced copper allergy. The ruinous war which was fought to conquer the unneeded hill country south of the Pach-Pahs from its now nameless and faceless aboriginal inhabitants was declared by Gulzar Quexo Miqh in 3464PR. Evidently, she had wanted to name the place as her footstool, in reference to the concept of the Miqh straddling the world (i.e., mountains). To this day, the region is said to be so devastated and scarred that not even the ████████████████████████████ bothered to settle the land during the northward push of ███████████████.
The most infamous of the Mad Miqhs was Intli Dzonlar Miqh, consecrated in 3112PR. His love of gemstones and precious metals was legendary, and it is written that his greatest dream was to have his entire temple-palace covered in a layer of gold broken only by studs of garnet. He directed enormous sums of money toward investment in mining, which up to that point in time had been small and relatively primitive among his people. Surface mining in and around stone quarries evolved into the dedicated and systematic strip-mining of entire valley regions within half a century. Numerous styles of mining were experimented with, such that today in some areas vast honeycombs of mining chutes can be seen pocking the surface, connecting with the long-abandoned remnants of shafts and tunnels, all less than a mile away from the edge of spiral-shaped open-pit mines.
It was an invigorating thing for the wealth and economy of the empire, at first. Despite the fact that Pach-Pah religious belief generally placed the roof of the monster-infested underworld approximately one hundred feet below the surface, the quietly ailing empire was given a new purpose, and great rewards for its toil. Trade and fine artifice bloomed as the Pach-Pah people took swiftly to their new, precious medium. But there existed an ever-increasing demand for more bodies to work these gaping wounds in the mountains. Entrepreneurs and the odd ancestral digger did not provide the numbers needed. And so the eyes of the powerful and wealthy turned toward the lowest of the castes which had developed over the centuries. The urban and rural poor, and even the disenfranchised masses of untouchables descended from criminals, political prisoners, and mixed foreigners were relocated and made into miners. The mines deepened every year, and before long the laborers were carving their own semi-permanent homes into the sides of their vast, subterranean thoroughfares, miles from the entrances which their parents and grandparents had initially camped around.
With the marriage and union between the Dongyal Miqh-ma Quya (roughly analogous to "empress dowager") and her nephew Kunak Poma, the last man in the almost unbroken line of purported seventy-seven Miqhs was born in 2704PR.¹ Langdah Umaq Miqh Pach-Pah, heir to a dizzying list of hereditary seats and titles², was the result of a tangled family tree, grown through a reproductive bottleneck, opening up into a thimble with one hole poked in the top. Beyond his closely-related parents, Langdah Umaq's paternal uncle was also his grandfather, and the father of that man was simultaneously Umaq's grandfather and great-grandfather. All eight of his great-grandparents were the children of only two great-great-grandparents, who were themselves the products of many cycles of brother-sister marriage originating with the Mad Miqh Intli Dzonlar Miqh himself. Umaq's rule was consecrated in 2698PR at the age of six when his mother and father had died within several months of one another due to what are described in the chronicles as seizures and an attack of the liver, respectively.
Even prior to that age, Umaq was made well aware and regularly remound³ of his own heritage, excellence, and purity of bloodline. He was seated in his court weekly by his anxious cadre of advisers to hear the refreshing of oaths of fealty given to him by those few remaining provincial kings and chieftains who had not been subsumed within the overwhelming single bloodline of the Pach-Pah nobility. Then, once he had heard the praise of these people (who were by this point kept as royal hostages in the capital city, communicating with their home provinces only through messenger), the Miqh would then dismount his ornate throne festooned with silks, beads, and jewelry, turn to face it, and then rehearse the oaths of fealty by himself, for himself, in the names of the seventeen provinces of which he was also governor. He would then bless himself as his own high-priest, and then depart upon a litter guided by his own voice and direction, as the chief attendant to his own royal personage. His very name was like a mantra to him.
Modern re-imagining of those days often casts the government of the entire empire as being an absolute self-parody, and as a case of grand ignorance allowing for the widespread practice of monstrous cruelty. The Earth itself is commonly anthropomorphized as a mother sobbing under the cuts and infantile howls of her own children. but it is impossible to say exactly what the common surface-dwelling man or woman felt about their homeland in the twilight years of the empire- before the revolution, at least.
By Umaq's time, the population of the massive under-kingdom of the Pach-Pahs outnumbered the surface. He was not one of the mad emperors, but his advisers (and most everyone else, for that matter) had become so deeply invested in the way of things that any policy or decree enacted in Umaq's time was liable to be one giving greater freedom to begin mining operations, or more strict insurance against runaway laborers. As the centuries passed, the original houses delved by huddled little mining families had expanded outward into underground towns and cities complete with foreman-governors, and living memory of sunlight and fresh air quietly died out among the dusty masses. With a profound darkness before them and the cracking of their masters' whips at their backs, those who had become little more than slaves could do nothing but press on.
The highly ritualized and religious practice of shipping loads of ore up to the surface was an affair which took months of constant travel along roads of steps and rails, yet news and knowledge from the surface spread even more slowly. After a certain depth, the miners were no longer providing metal and stones for their emperors and markets. They were sacrificing them to the dour and demanding gods of the above-world, and placating the lashes of the overseers who had become instruments of divine wrath. We can only speculate now how these people lived, loved, buried their dead, or governed themselves in the absence of any royal families willing to send their scions into the benighted underworld.
One million candle-lit stories of hardship, artwork, exploration, and ingenuity set against ever-increasing quotas and vanishingly thin resources are lost to history, thanks to what was about to come.
¹ At present, the scarcity of records detailing the names or reigns of various Miqhs following the widespread destruction of chronicles and monuments throughout the Pach-Pah Yul has resulted in only twenty-four emperors being confirmed and identifiable.
² The full list of titles attributed to Langdah Umaq Miqh Pach-Pah, as recovered from numerous royal archival fragments, is currently being translated by a most gracious graduate student of the Linguistics Department, and is sure to be available for citation at a later point in this piece as soon as it has passed routine censors.
³ After being alerted by the Committee for the Conservation of Language no less than eight times in the past year of my repeated use of "remound" as opposed to "reminded", I have been well and truly motivated to make "remound" a dedicated part of my lexicon, and I shall share its aesthetic practicality elsewhere, when before I'd have done nothing to propagate its use. All thanks go to the CCL.
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