The Shariqyn Empire is a desert power, built upon tribal allegiances, slave armies and most importantly, magic. The vastness of the Shariqyn desert makes its empire one of the largest powers in the world geographically, though its scarce water means that the majority of that land is peopled by nomadic tribes. The cities, where they can be found, are vast and luxurious, built upon the summoned water of the Great Magi, whose position within the Shariqyn Empire is all important, second only to the Padishah Emperor that rules over the disparate peoples of the desert.
The desert’s history is long, being one of the first cradles of human civilization within the world, and with it come the relics of that history. There are many times the amount of abandoned sites and ancient, empty cities within the desert as there are inhabited ones, and relics of the past emerge from the shifting sands with some regularity, sold in the crowded bazaars of the cities, or else avoided carefully until the desert swallows it up again.
The desert people follow a religion of self-enlightenment called Aab’oran, in which the practitioner attempts to form themselves into their highest and best incarnation through meditation and virtues. This ancient religion and the culture of self-reflection that has grown around it have been the fuel for a conflict between the Shariqyn and the Throne that has persisted for centuries, making them one of the last and greatest unconquered peoples who staunchly refuse the religion of the Benalian Church and stand in the way of the Throne’s mission of a united humankind.
The Shariqyn are an ancient people, and in fact, a culture composed of many different peoples. Shariqyn means “of Water”, and the Shariqyn people are the People of the Water. Sha’ra, once a highly variable region or jungles, cedar forests and swamps, is now a vast desert. Its name, which once meant “The Land of Water”, now is more readily translated as “The Sea of Land”. The desert ergs stretch out in an endless ocean of shifting dunes and standing waves. Its water-like appearance is taken as a metaphor for its spiritual significance to the people who belong to it.
In ancient times, in the prehistory of the Age of Heroes, the Shariqyn civilization had vast kingdoms and mighty cities. Uncharacteristic of those times, some records do survive. The oldest recorded Shariqyn culture, known to history as the Aa’bosaa’d Empire, learned of from engravings on tablets of clay and massive stela, suggest that the Aa’bosaa’d had seen the rise and fall of even more ancient cities before even its time.
Many kingdoms and their successors have built, occupied and rebuilt the settlements in the river valleys, deserts and jungles of the Shariqyn region. The Shariqyn way of life was to follow the scarce water with herds of camel and goats, forever moving to follow the life-giving pastures. In the most water-rich settlements, those built into the large ziggurats and great ruins near the river valleys, permanent settlements turned them into trading outposts and merchant hubs. The nomadic Shariqyn, called altariq, could not produce all of the goods they needed because of their constant movement, and depended upon the permanent settlements for these materials. In exchange, altariq guarded caravans and taxed for transport through their territories.
During the Eschaton, Benalus’ world-wide war for the fate of mankind, the Shariqyn marched under their Ba’alim against Benalus the Conqueror, enticed by High Priest Anu-Kash, the Skindancer. The largest combined Shariqyn army to ever be set to field marched West, and once victorious, returned to the East.
When the armies returned, the Ba’alim returned with them and inhabited their cities once again. One by one, they then fell, the first so rapidly that no one knew for what reason. The Fayudan, the people called it – the flood. It was Anu-Kash, the High Priest of the Shariqyn, that had betrayed them. He had returned from the West with evil sorceries, and upon returning with the armies, had spoken with the Ba’al of Thulna, a city of thousands. Somehow then, the Ba’al had been changed, changed to become Anu-Kash as well, and then the two became twenty, as the palace guard were turned, and the twenty became hundreds as the city watch was turned, and the hundreds then became thousands, thousands of Anu-Kash the Skin Dancer, the Eater of Dreams, with many faces but one soul. The Fayudan had begun.
The cities fell quickly. It was a small matter for one of the possessed to enter the walls and begin the mind plague, even after the cities began to seal their gates against all outsiders. A wanderer would come, and he would approach whatever guardian could be reached, and just as all the others, the wanderer would lean in close and whisper something in the ear. Whatever that utterance, any which heard it would be stupefied, and then a few moments later, become the Skin Dancer as well. No one was safe, except for the altariq.
“I and my brothers against my cousins; I and my cousins against the stranger.”
The nomadic desert people, the altariq, had always mistrusted the cities. They had a litany of proverbs against enclosed gatherings, gained from the numerous cursed and haunted ruins that can be found throughout the wide Shariqyn region, and legends of an even earlier apocalypse that preceded this one. Only the desert tribes, already remote and wary of outsiders, hardened to desert life by millennia of wayfaring and expert knowledge of the terrain and its resources, survived the Fayudan intact. Their religion, the Aab’oran, taught them self-reliance and caution, and once they learned of the tragedy of the city dwellers, began to shoot strangers on sight with their bows, long before they could come close enough to whisper or say anything.
Still, this state of affairs meant that the already difficult altariq lifestyle became far more dangerous. While quite adapted to the wilderness, they had always relied on the cities for many crafted goods, and to supplement in times of scarcity. They turned to their neighboring tribes of altariq nomads, but they too had become cautious and insular, and even a controlled parlay to discuss trading was dangerous. Some nomadic bands had already been taken by the Fayudan, and could act as impostors to lure in those that hadn’t. Nothing was safe, and the hazards of the ever expanding deserts and the risks of outside contact began to weather the last of the Shariqyn away.
“The sand washes away all words in time.” ~ Shariqyn saying
The Wise Masters
Though the altariq did not yet know it, this period, remembered in history as The Age of Witchkings, had thrown the whole world into darkness and chaos, conquered and enslaved by powers such as Anu-Kash the world over. While the Shariqyn dreamed of somehow escaping this corrupted and devastated world, one such group had done so. They had used sorcery of their own to create a floating, magical city that hovered above the clouds, removed from the terrible wars that ravaged the world. The city, called by its creator Danarius “Vangloria,” that which is greater than glory, was a city of sorcerers – the apprentices of the master Danarius himself, learning and experimenting with the fundamentals of the world in their splendored palaces in the sky. The city would move about the world, gathering and training new sorcerers, but its time was not to last. Even there, the war reached them.
It was with an almighty cracking noise that rang out through the sky over Sha’ra that the Shariqyn at large first were made aware of the existence of the flying arcology. While the diverse biomes of Sha’ra were steadily heading year after year toward desertification, in that era forests and jungles supported a less arid climate, and unseasonable clouds had filled the Southern skies. The sky filled with alien lights, and crash after crash was heard above. Debris began to rain down over the region like flaming hail, and great columns and spires began to fall toward the land below. The largest segment fell like a great comet toward the forested region of the Northeast, leaving a stream of night-black smoke miles long toward the crash site.
The tribes journeyed to the site of the crash to learn what had happened. The forests were burned to cinders, and the wreckage of the site of the event, whatever it was, left no survivors. The tribes, with great caution, began to explore the wreckage and carefully meet, worried as always about the Fayudan, and what a meeting with the other tribes could mean, or the risk of all being in one place should the Fayudan come. It would not be long in coming.
A group did come to the crash site, and thinking them another desert tribe, the altariq tribes cautiously allowed them to approach. When the gathering arrived, they looked very different from their possessed Shariqyn cousins that prowled the land in search of them. They dressed in robes of shining cloth, though it was shabby with signs of wear and burns, with skin pale for lack of the Shariqyn sun, their hair a range from dusky to golden. The strangers, though they did not speak their language, clearly begged for their hospitality. With great vigilance, some of the altariq accepted.
The leader of the strangers, Danarius, who had been badly injured in the crash, learned their language with incredible speed. Their early communication explained that they were people from the fallen city, that their city had been attacked, and destroyed, and that it had been held aloft by what they described as wisdom. The Shariqyn spoke of their people, their ways, the Aab’oran, the Fayudan, and what had happened to their people. When the Fayudan arrived at the crash site, the strangers, who the altariq had begun to call the Sahirim, or the wise ones, spoke magic words and the possessed were released from Anu-Kash’s hold – cured and returned to normal.
The baffled altariq and the released Shariqyn begged for an explanation to these wonders. Danarius revealed that their people had mastered the Aab’oran that the altariq had practiced for centuries – that the ancient desert sages had indeed found hidden truths of the world, and that the Sahirim were a spiritual cousin to their people, what becomes of mastering the Aab’oran spiritual state.
Over the next decade, the Sahirim helped the Shariqyn retake their lost cities, though the fighting was terrible, and the magics of Anu-Kash were vast and unexpected; fewer than one in twenty Shariqyn could be saved. The jungles and forests that had pieces of the arcology rained upon them rapidly accelerated their transition to great, arid desert. Danarius called forth water from the endless, dry desert at the site where the principle crash had occurred, and there founded an oasis temple, wherein he wrote the 142 Principles of Aab’oran, the Biraq.
The surviving Shariqyn came to this oasis city, which they called Siri (pronounced Zee-rey), the city of mysteries, for protection during the transition, where the abundant water made city life easier than could be remembered. The altariq would journey there regularly as the only source of safety and commerce. As eventually the Shariqyn began to retake the sand-filled ruins of their old cities, the ways of the people of water had been forever changed.
“Oh Siri, the sandswept jewel which never dulls, the misaha of every song. Before you, the desert was drenched in darkness. After you, it is written in the stars.” – Early Shariqyn poet
THE SHARIQYN PEOPLE
The Shariqyn are an intensely prideful people, who care deeply about the way they conduct their lives. Owing in part to their religion, and in part to their rigid caste structure, as well as the tribal nature of their disparate people, they are a blending of strict division and scrupulous hospitality. Every aspect of Shariqyn life is about knowing one’s proper place and being every bit that thing. Theirs is a life born both from a deep sense of humility, yet a life spent in contemplation of cascading eternities and their actions on the grandest of scales.
The Shariqyn world is divided into castes. Among the people are the altariq, the desert dwelling tribesmen, which are divided and treated differently than the saqim, those who dwell within the cities and are the subjects of a Shah. Amongst these saqim, though they may be born in the desert or even the Throne and taken as slaves, there are the asirim, the chosen slaves of the Shahs that form the administrative caste. The clerical magi who devote themselves to the Aa’boran, and the Sahirim, the wise masters, are themselves a caste apart. Finally, the jharad, those who are nothing, the rats who eat at the table of men.
[Caste and Class
These castes correspond directly to the Social Classes offered in Character Creation. Shariqyn Peasant is altariq, Shariqyn Merchants are saqim, Shariqyn Gentry are the asirim , and Shariqyn Scum are jharad.]
The altariq are nomads and wayfarers who travel the sands from oasis to oasis along ancient herding paths. Much due to the fact that during the Fayudan, only the nomadic altariq survived at all, the altariq are the bedrock of modern Shariqyn society. As followers of Tariq Aa’boran, The altariq are traveling warrior cults that venerate the idealized warrior. The name altariq means “From the Path” and Aa’boran Tariq, the traditional form of the religion, prescribes that one should strive to be the ideal member of their assigned caste.
The altariq consider war to be a sacred endeavor, and a man earns his honor through his deeds in battle. Most of any tribe (except the Shazaad) are altariq, who travel in circuits around their tribal land, protecting the towns inside their lands and collecting tribute from their own saqim within. It is the altariq which go to war against other tribes, and take those they capture as jharad.
The altariq’s first lessons in Sha’ra’qital, the desert art of unarmed combat, are beaten into them from the time they first begin their warrior training at age seven. By the time they finish their training and kill their first men in battle in their teenage years, they are hardened warriors with nearly a decade of daily combat training in them. Altariq warriors demand total respect from all other castes, and by tribal law they may kill any saqim, jharad or magi who does them offense.
The altariq think above all of honor and what honors they can bring to their tribe. They tolerate no disrespect from any other caste, even the asirim who serve the royal Shahs directly. The honors they earn in their life are heaped upon their tribe, and their final, greatest gift, their own glorious death, is their ultimate goal.
In ancient times, the Shariqyn would move from oasis to oasis along the herding paths that ensured survival. Eventually, the elderly and the infirm would need to remain at the oasis to rest, unable to continue. Once they recovered sickness or injury, they would rejoin the path when the next band of their tribe moved through, or if not liable to ever recover, such as the venerable elders, would remain at the oasis indefinitely, being fed from the generosity of their tribe as they periodically arrived and left that oasis. These first elders who sat and contemplated the still water of the oasis were the oasis sages, the first Aab’oran magi.
In time, small communities of those who could not travel any longer, or did not want to (this being the greater taboo), would remain at the oasis, and the population would grow. Craft began to specialize, and communities began to become strong. The altariq began calling these “saqim”, “the weak”, and demanded of their erstwhile tribesmen that they provide them with tribute. If they refused, they would reconquer them back into their place, threatening to make them jharad. For most tribes, this dominance has been successful, though the Korma and Shazaad tribes were strong enough to resist, and instead make demands of their altariq.
While altariq look down upon saqim as weak and pitiable, and make demands of their stationary tribal members in exchange for their protection, saqim form an important part of a tribe’s power. They create goods that the altariq cannot, and they serve as the slave markets for captured jharad that are the spoils of their battles. Despite their conflicting pasts, saqim are more than tolerated in their tribes; the wealth and the goods of the cities created by their study and skill have become essential to the ongoing conflicts between the tribes, and the wealthiest places in the cities have become the palaces of the Shahs as well as their asirim. Saqim, though it once meant “the weak”, now means something closer to “those who recline”, and some of the most powerful saqim are merchant princes in their own right, with palaces to rival the Shahs themselves.
Asirim, or, “the many from Siri”, are a caste of the modern age. Asirim are chosen from an early age to become the personal elite slaves to the Padishah. A candidate for asir is trained in a special school in Siri and denied outside contact. During their training, they learn the skills necessary for their role, usually including writing, swordsmanship, mathematics, history, and the tenets of Biraq Aa’boran.
Once an asir completes their training, they are given to a Shah to manage their affairs, or kept by the Shah’s father, the Padishah in Siri. Asirim manage all of the affairs of state and the politics of the realm. While they take the direction of the Shahs of Sha’ra, they owe their allegiance to the Padishah and are his personal property. It is traditional for the asirim to be inherited from one Padishah to the next so as not to derail the bureaucracy of the state, and thus despite the relatively bloody nature of the succession, the Shariqyn Empire endures minimal disruption.
Despite being slaves, they wield tremendous influence over the actual running of the country, advising the executive authority of the Shahs and the Padishah, and they are not considered jharad.
Jharad are the lowest caste of Shariqyn society, and the majority of Shariqyn are jharad. Those who are captured in war, or more rarely, born into slavery, or otherwise find themselves outcast from society become jharad, less than people, the rats and beetles of the sand. When slaves are taken, their cheek is tattooed with the word so that no one can mistaken them. If they once had a tribe, they have none any longer, and they are considered neuter of gender. One who is made jharad can never be unmade.
It is not considered murder for free Shariqyn to kill jharad, or any other sin against their atma that might apply to the harming of other human beings. It is a crime to damage or steal another person’s property, and these mores apply in the case of jharad, but it is considered unseemly to befriend one, and a perversion to bed one.
Jharad do the majority of the manual labor, unskilled, or even skilled crafts, as well as form a great number of the main fighting force in Shariqyn wars. Since jharad are not people, it is considered to be their place to be used in battle to be strategically sacrificed to create advantageous position for the altariq warriors.
Society among jharad is a society unto itself. They are generally found in small groups, either within cities among families and businesses of saqim, or travelling with altariq bands out in the desert. In the cities, jharad are housed in separate buildings within a wealthy merchants walls, or barracks at work sites where they perform crafts like the weaving of palm fronds into baskets brought by yet more jharad from another merchant’s stable. Those jharad live together and survive together. Altariq owned jharad travel with the warriors, caring for their equipment, mending their robes and preparing meals. In some bands, jharad are used in the training of the young altariq warriors, being put into a fighting pit to test their skills against real opponents, and fighting to the death. These jharad gladly take up the opportunity to slay the warriors of the tribe that enslaved them, though they are as often put to death for harming a true altariq warrior if they should prevail in the pit.
Few jharad ever try to escape their servitude. Since they are permanently marked, they can never return to their clan or escape to any other place to live as anything other than jharad, even if they weren’t taken deep within the lands of a foreign tribe, leagues away from their original homelands.
While enslavement as a spoil of intertribal war is the usual way that one becomes jharad, there are other ways as well. Any person who does not know of their tribe is jharad by default. This is usually the case of those whose parents died while they were young, forcing them to live as orphans on the streets of some city.
Even among the wide divides of caste in Shariqyn culture, there is a greater divide still, for women and men at every level are treated quite differently, for in the Shariqyn culture holds women in the highest of regards. Women are the greatest of treasures, and men who marry must lavish them in comforts and luxuries. In Shariqyn society, a man is incapable of having honors for himself – he only gains esteem in those things he gives to his wife, be they directly useful such as fine clothing, or symbolic of some accomplishment, like a stone that may only be found in the place he has conquered in war, a man’s social value is reflected most strongly in the ways he can grant these things to his wife.
Not all Shariqyn men can afford such luxuries, and these men do not marry. Instead, those of great means who have the resources to give many such gifts marry again – and yet again if they can. A man with many wives who can continue to heap fineries upon them is granted great esteem in reflection of the honor he shows his wives. The ideal husband never allows his wife’s feet to touch the ground, with her every need attended to by slaves, her body borne by palanquin to wherever she may go, and her every wish granted as easily as she wishes it.
The Shariqyn believe that the individual’s experience of the world is personal and highly variable based on the specific sensitivities of the person in question, and that women have a much greater sensitivity to the world around them. This gives them a kind of sacred wisdom that comes naturally and easily to women, and for this reason, the very status of woman is treated as synonymous with special knowledge. Treated as nearly divine, women are to be obeyed at all times, and serve as guides and judges. While they hold this status, they do not form the upper echelon of society, instead forming a society apart from men, who must see to the actual affairs of war, commerce and state. While women, especially the wives of those men, exert a tidal control over affairs, they do so by being consulted and by intervention in those agencies, rather than being a member of those groups themselves. Women never have formal employment for pay.
Female children grow up mostly the same way as male children in their early lives. Once male children are weaned they are raised mostly by their father and the family jharad, depending on caste – altariq don’t recognize formal fatherhood, they are the child of the tribe. Girls are raised mostly by their mother and with any sisters they may have, largely aside. Mothers handle the discipline of female children, while fathers handle the boys. Girls grow up mostly in the company of their mothers and other women until age fifteen, when a public ceremony is held to introduce them to society and they are formally recognized as adults.
The role of women is different in every caste of the Shariqyn culture. In the cities, entire industries cater exclusively to indra’saqim, the wives of powerful merchants and masters of trade. Only female clients are allowed in the indra’suq, great indoor markets where women spend their enormous wealth. Saqim men operate their shops and present their goods – silks, spices, jewelry, scented oil – or services – fantastic cuisine, rare tea, entertainment or body services such as massage, performed by highly-skilled jharad.
Indra’saqim are highly educated and spend much of their time reading and discussing what they read with their peers. While women are never employed, it is considered honorable for a man’s wife to perform those hard tasks which she finds personal satisfaction in. As highly educated as indra’saqim are, they often find satisfaction in producing the highest quality of goods, though these are rarely ever sold for commercial gain and are instead usually kept or given as gifts to peers. Whereas the indra’saqim of a master of pottery may sculpt, fire, decorate and glaze a masterful urn, she would never be seen doing the work of her husband’s jharad and mass-producing basic crockery to fill an order. In the same vein, many written works of the highest quality are penned by female authors, and indra’saqim produce many of the foremost ideas in academic fields.
In the nomadic lives of the cult-like warrior bands of the altariq, the role of women is most honored in that only they may provide the tribe with additional warriors to establish their future greatness. As warriors are born, grow, and then undergo their training, they do so with the knowledge that their battles and those they kill go to honor the indra’tariq that brought them into this world to become warriors.
While the altariq venerate their women, they do not marry as saqim, asirim, or even jharad do. Instead, the indra’tariq are sister-wives in the great harim. When a young altariq finishes his warrior training, passes his final tests and takes his first life in true battle (the jharad that he kills in training exercises do not count), he becomes a full altariq warrior and gains access to the harim. There, it is the custom of the warriors to boast of their brother’s accomplishments to the indra’tariq who decide which men they will take to their pillows.
Since by their nature the altariq spend little time in the cities, and when they do, they never bring the great harim anywhere near the city for fear they could not protect them, Indra’tariq have very little contact with other castes, save the jharad that serve the warriors as battle slaves, and those which attend to the menial needs of the harim. Literacy is rare among altariq in general and all but unheard of in the harim, and the indra’tariq are referred to in pitying terms in writings by indra’saqim, who find the idea of “brides to the tribe” to be beneath the dignity of women.
The asirim are selected as children to become the honored servants of the Padishah. While in his service, an asir is afforded many luxuries, but there is one that is denied him – marriage. While it is easy to forget given their station, authority, and the trappings of wealth about them in their lifestyle, asirim remain still slaves, even if they are slaves to the most powerful man in Sha’ra. As slaves, they are property and may not own property themselves – they sleep in beds of feather and silk, but the bed is not their own, merely the palace of the Padishah held in safekeeping by his loyal asir while he sees to the affairs of state for his master.
The indr’asirim do exist, however. Indr’asirim is nearly synonymous with indr’atma, the powerful female magi that are a key social, religious and political force in the Shariqyn Empire. The indr’atma select their initiates through secret methods, and then retrieve the children to study in Siri in special schools that the sisterhood runs. These indr’asirim receive training not only in letters and academics, but in the secret arts of the indr’atma, emerging after their training as the formidable and feared sisters of their order.
It is an atrocious act to enslave a woman. In the slave pens and barracks, however, there remain many female slaves. There are several cases when a woman is made jharad. First, those women improperly made jharad by force in wartime against the custom of the land. When a band is overtaken in war by an enemy tribe’s altariq, those who are not killed often become jharad. It is considered to be an atrocity for a woman, even those of another tribe, to be made jharad, and is usually not done. Instead, they are taken as wives into their conquering tribe. In some rare cases, women are still made jharad, and these indra’jharad, the product of an atrocity, cannot be unmade, but are taken into wealthy households and prized above all other jharad, the personal slaves of powerful women.
It is against the teachings of any form of Aa’boran to enslave a woman, but it does happen, either for greed or for malice. Indra’jharad are still sought after as high status slaves, but altariq who care little for atma or spiritual purpose must still try to obfuscate their actions and find some contrivance to sell Indra’jharad without implicating themselves in the crime of creating them.
The status of jharad necessarily means that they are without tribe, and also without gender. Those who are born into the jharad caste from indra’jharad mothers are born into slavery and are simply jharad. The same is true of those children who are orphaned and have no known tribe to take them in. Jharad that can bear children are prized by their masters, for they create yet more jharad which can be kept or sold to others.
Capital punishment for grievous crimes can also result in a woman being made jharad. For most crimes, a woman cannot be held guilty – instead the man that is responsible for her care, either her husband or her male family members, are punished instead. However, for crimes too terrible to leave the criminal unpunished and free, such as serial murder, a woman will be made jharad instead of taking her life. Whether the men in her life are put to death, made jharad, or even spared, is up to the asir, shah or other authority who judges the case.
Aa’boran and Magi
Clerics make up the classes that surround the royal household of the Padishah. These “men of the pen”, the highly educated, are the most prized of advisors, scholars, teachers, and sorcerers. The Magi are the dedicated practitioners of the Aa’boran who devote themselves to its study and become honored and revered by their peers. The status of magus is not in every case a caste unto itself, but more of an honored profession within one’s caste, though the distinction blurs the further one walks along this path.
The Magi’biraq, the Sahirim, and the Indra’atma together make up the political camarilla that surround the Padishah and his sons, the Shahs, and have influence in every part of the politics of the Shariqyn Empire. The magi’tariq minister to the altariq warrior nomads, and to some saqim in the cities.
The venerable elders who were forced by age and infirmity to remain at the oases along the herding paths in the ancient times of the Shariqyn sat there to contemplate the still waters of the oasis. The oases of the Shariqyn desert are thought to be fed by underground rivers which flow beneath the desert sand. As the world above shifts and changes over time, these waters are forced to the surface, and the conditions for life emerge. The oasis is a metaphor for the nature of this reality. Much like the water of the small oasis in the trackless desert, the conditions for life are rare and precious. Water itself is a metaphor for the possibility of precious life and all the possibilities it brings, even in spite of the overwhelming majority of death.
Many choices and paths exist through the desert, but life can only endure by moving from oasis to oasis. The paths are known and taught, the wisdom of the desert inherited from elder to child. The right path, the right way through the desert, the tariq, means being a living embodiment of your caste – altariq walk their path as a warrior and protector of the tribe, even jharad must strive to be the best slave they can.
Living, however, is not just about this life. The purpose of this life is to achieve atma, the perfect self. The oasis is a metaphor for this world, but it is also understood that there are other worlds than this, and other choices can be made. In some versions of the life one lives, they make poor choices and achieve only failure and dishonor, in others they achieve greatness and perfection. Like the oasis, all of these possibilities are connected through a secret path of water that connects every one of them, and like these oases, an individual too is connected to all their other possible selves. Through meditation it is possible to commune with these other selves and locate the atma within, that highest and best self.
Meditation acknowledges that the mind exists in Heshiyah, “the outside” of this world, and using the Aa’boran, it can travel the outside along the currents of time and place until it is drawn to the path of the atma. Touching atma, one takes back with it the enlightenment that one may, always has, achieved, and can act in one’s own world with wisdom and greatness. When a Shariqyn acts in accordance with their atma, they become closer themselves to achieving atma. This does not mean that this version of their life also achieves atma – instead, they move their entire world, their entire reality closer to that world in which they already did achieve atma and always had. Time and space are illusions that can be transcended with the power of the mind.
When the Sahirim arrived during the Fayudan, Danarius revealed that he and his tribe had already achieved atma, and that he would teach any who would learn, writing the Biraq, the 142 principles of Aa’boran, it sparked a spiritual revolution. That a Sahir could demonstrably use their will to affect reality, transcend time and space, to hold within their palms the reigns of the world, and that they used this power to defeat Anu-Kash, Eater of Dreams, and save the Shariqyn from total destruction, was proof enough of their attainment of atma.
The Biraq, or “the mirror”, reinterprets Aa’boran. It states that the traditional principles were correct, but did not go far enough. This world is indeed many worlds, and all of them exist simultaneously, branching endlessly from every conscious act of free will. Every possibility is represented in its own shard of space and time, and this world, whichever the practitioner finds themselves in, is one such place. Meditation allows transcendance because it alters the mind, and by spending time deepening the power of the mind in your own time and world, you may achieve more and more through the application of the mind until the acts of meditation transcend physical space and time.
Danarius explains that the nature of atma and of the seductive power that it represents resides not in a single atma that awaits at the end of one path of innumerable choices, but in superposition over every choice one makes, acting as a kind of “other choice” that lies outside of the entire decision space. Danarius’ texts extend the metaphor of the oasis and its rippling, waved surface to explain the importance of wave amplitude in linearity, like a duck swimming across the flat planed surface of still water and leaving ripples that touch other ripples from other ducks, colliding, forming greater and greater waves of probability.
The revelations of a deeper, perhaps greater and truer Aa’boran was tempered by the difficulty that the desert nomads had in understanding its precepts, concepts and applications. The Biraq was Danarius’ attempt to explain his learning and to guide any who wished to understand, wherever they began their path, toward atma. When Siri was founded upon the wreckage of his arcology, he opened the first madrasa, the school of higher learning where any could learn to become a magus.
The Temple Madrasa
In modern times, the magi’biraq are those who have completed study in the madrasa. While the first of its kind in Siri is still the largest and most prestigious, there are now madrasas in every major city. The madrasa is the place of higher education for Shariqyn. Students learn not only the Biraq and how to interpret it, but all of the other academic rigor which is considered to be essential to achieve true understanding of the underlying principles.
Most of the students at madrasa are saqim, and indra’saqim learn there as well, taught by female teachers. It is mostly unheard of for altariq to remain in a city long enough to attend madrasa, but occasionally asirim attend them on the direction of their masters to gain additional training, and there are even cases when jharad attend them. In this last case, it is usually because a magus’biraq of the Temple hand selected a jharad to do so, purchasing them from their old master and sending them to the Temple for training. These do remain slaves, though they are slaves to the Temple and most consider duties of educating and teaching a life far superior to carrying water or hauling bricks. Some rare jharad have even gone on to become a Sahir, having the special designation of Jharad’sahir, whose lives are owned by and devoted wholly to the Temple.
Graduating as magus’biraq is an honor that sets one apart as the elite intelligentsia of the Shariqyn, and the well-known and oft-cited scholars hold a place in society of celebrity. They are invited to the courts of Shahs and other dignitaries to be advisors or to do personal academic research funded by their patrons, writing books and manuscripts to try to move the interests of society forward. Many of them remain at the madrasa, passing on their learning as teachers.
The Temple madrasa, funded and operated by the greater Temple of Water, also serves as the pool for those who might be brought into the inner temple to achieve the higher mysteries of Aa’boran, becoming Sahir.
The Sahirim, or the wise masters, are those who have achieved magus’biraq status and then were accepted into the Temple of Water’s first circle of mysteries and beyond. During initiation, they undergo sacred rites, and ascend to a higher state of being. Sahir is considered to be a sacred state, having approached the atma, and this state sets them apart as their own caste, above all others, even above women. Both men and women become Sahir, but doing so means one is above either status, and Sahirim are in some ways considered to be a distinct gender, such that male and female Sahirim are on equal standing, measured instead by their attainment of the mystical secrets of the Temple.
While the Sahirim are one unified faction, they have several roles within the Temple. Some of them are Sages, remaining close to the Padishah and the courts of the Shah in order to guide, council, and protect the leaders. The blessings of a sage can banish poisons or clear the mind, which are a constant threat in the draconian world of the Shahs, and the princes of the desert are often taught by a Sahir sage from a young age to rule with wisdom.
The Sahir Navigators assist in the land travel across the trackless desert, able to see and manipulate the flow of time, places, and events, to ensure safety in travel and war. Navigators convene in council and offer the same guidance to the Temple and to Sha’ra as a whole, guiding events toward the best possible paths.
Sahir monks rigorously study in monastery temples, for they are selected as candidates to possibly achieve Danarius’ legacy and attain his enlightenment. In their Temples, the Monks practice and train endlessly, on a strict regimen of nutrition, meditation, study and training, mastering their own form of sha’raqital, the rudra’qital, or “storm combat”, using it to attain deeper levels of control over their power and direct the flow of that power into their martial art. The Monks try to live as close to the teachings of Danarius as possible, to one day reproduce his god-like ability and create a new world.
Ultimately the goal of every Sahir and their organization as a whole is to recreate the success of Danarius and achieve his power through his enlightenment. Much of the Biraq is not well understood, even by the Sahirim, and they no longer have Danarius as a teacher. While the beginning principles are enough to attain the power that is common to them, the more advanced and esoteric later principles are mysterious even to the Wise Masters. Their work is to experiment with reality, travelling this world and others, trying to pare down the possibilities and apprehend the full truths of the Biraq, the Aa’boran, and the world. The work continues, even as more practical concerns and politics demand their attention.
While the Biraq taught in the madrasas of the city is popular among the wealthy and the educated, its acceptance is far from universal. The traditional form of the Aa’boran, now referred to as Aa’boran Tariq to distinguish it, is the original form of the religion that was practiced by altariq before the coming of the Sahirim. The rejection of the new form of Aa’boran has many causes, but one cause most of all – Aa’boran completely forbids the use of sorcery.
The cultural taboo against hubris is powerfully ingrained in the Shariqyn. Traditional Aa’boran teaches about the strength of community and tradition, and that in walking the path that is laid out for you by fate, one should do so within the bounds of that community and those traditions. A given person was born into a community, a tribe, a set of parents, in a specific way at a specific moment, and these things define the path that is laid before them. Those born to altariq parents are altariq, and they must be the best warriors that they can be. It is their atma. Those born jharad should be the best jharad they can, those saqim the same, from the lowest jharad rat to the mightiest Shah.
Certain acts, wicked acts that prey upon others, weaken the community as a whole for the sake of an individual, and because the origin of the individual, and thus their atma, is contained by the community, it damages one’s own atma to damage one’s community. Acts such as murder and theft weaken everyone while some acts harm your path to atma more directly, such as the weakness of lies and broken promises, addiction to drugs or wine, but especially the weakness of hubris.
Hubris means to consider oneself already the greatest, and is the cornerstone of weakness because it presupposes that one have already achieved what has obviously not been attained. To reject hubris is to learn from one’s masters and betters, to seek the best path, respect the different ways of others, and most importantly, to reject those things which are abhorrent to reality itself. It is known to all Shariqyn that the ancient desert contains ancient evils sleeping below, and that there are Jinn who would offer anything to be freed from their prisons. These wicked forces are beyond the world, and so are by definition against the atma. Thinking one so great as to be able to move against the atma while also walking toward it is the highest hubris of all.
Shariqyn characters do not use the “Heresy” sin like characters of the Throne cultures do. Instead that sin is replaced with Hubris, whose sins are as follows:
Refusing to patiently hear the advise or opinion of anyone who offers it
Disrespecting or insulting the values of other cultures than your own
Making a pact with or using powers that are supernatural in nature, including the use of arcane sorcery
Sahirim’s initiation rites are understood in Aa’boran Biraq to attain a higher state of being that makes the act of sorcery non-hubristic, but the altariq, who almost exclusively follow Aa’boran Tariq (at least while remaining altariq) do not agree. Tension between the two groups and their magi have boiled over into violence on many occasions, and even lead to civil war in the early modern age when the Sahirim were taking direct control of the government and the Padishah himself was Sahir.
Magi’tariq today are much closer to the oasis sages of old than to the pristine clerics in their palatial temples. A magus has no formal power authority in his community, but tremendous informal power. He guides his tribe in moral matters, assists in public and private ceremonies such as marriage or the claiming of jharad, and is considered a pillar of the community while also performing his own assigned path, such as being a warrior. Acting as a tribe’s magus is considered a part-time affair in times of need rather than a full-time profession.
Magi’tariq are rarely found in the cities, though there are saqim who follow the traditional Aa’boran and try to be the best merchants and tradesmen they can (or at least use this as an excuse when haggling to dig deeper than a desert spider), and many jharad follow Aa’boran Tariq (and indeed, are encouraged to by their Biraq masters who believes it keeps them in line better). Asirim are almost always Biraq, however the Shahs themselves, as often living amongst their people as altariq as living in city palaces, are most often Tariq. It is a schism that runs through the religious body politic at every level, from the lowliest, to the most revered, such as the exalted indr’atma.
The indr’atma are as ancient as the Shariqyn, dating back before the Fayudan, where they practiced their arts for the Ba’al kings of old, and some say even longer. They are a sacred sisterhood of all female magi who embody the role of women in all their power and glory. For centuries they have been a fixture in the highest places of power, be they at the side of the Ba’alim in thrones of gold, the oracles of the Shahs, traveling to their mountain temples to learn their fate, or in the palace of the Padishah, an indispensable part of the halls of power – they have always been there.
The indr’atma have a special place in society as the leader of women of all castes. Almost all of them are the daughters of indr’atma mothers, trained from an early age in the secrets of their cabal. This has been true since ancient times, and remains true now – the girls taken and raised almost exclusively within the indra’madrasas of each tribe in Siri, not seeing outside contact until they are young adults.
The sacred indr’atma can be found as a cornerstone of the court of every Shah, and especially the Padishah in Siri. It is said that in their training, they learn the interior secrets of the world, and have unlocked the sacred feminine power that gives women their strength. They do not practice sorcery, per se, as one of the Sahirim would, working words and signs of power into direct control of the world, but instead conspire with atma itself, able to know its every flow and pull, and thus know the future. They can call forth a truer power sleeping in things, in people, and in the world itself, and are not to be trifled with.
The place of indr’atma in Shariqyn society cannot be overstated. It is, by custom and law, death to strike or physically impede an indr’atma. As magi of the Aa’boran Tariq, exalted on the path of womanhood, they have the power to declare any man jharad if they give them offense. They act as a check on the power of the Sahirim in the high courts, for even the Wise Masters cannot show them disrespect, though as they are not (spiritually speaking) men, neither can an indr’atma sister declare them jharad. Still, the indr’atma are understood to literally know the future, and even without their prodigious cultural power, any powerful man would be a fool to eschew the council of such an adviser.
It is in this way that the indr’atma sisterhood has steered Shariqyn society through its men since ancient times, ever present at the side of Ba’al and Shah alike, since the legendary Kashira who began their group first reigned. It is customary in traditional families and in the courts of Shahs for the indr’atma to perform a foretelling before a marriage match is set, and thus most marriages and thus alliances – both within and between tribes – are at the direction of the sisterhood. Their critics (though few would publicly or openly criticize an indr’atma), wonder how much foreknowledge they truly have, for the reputation of foreknowledge is as good as the real thing for commanding obedience.
Education in the Shariqyn culture is given incredible importance, and literacy rates are higher for the Shariqyn than any other human culture. Formal education begins at a young age for saqim and asirim, which attend schools funded by the Padishah and the Temple. While all Shariqyn are provided with a basic education, it is the availability of higher education in the form of the madrasas, as well as the high demand and pay for such scholars that makes education so paramount.
One of the most distinct aspects of Shariqyn education is its emphasis on the personal relationship between master and student. While the Shariqyn educational system does have standards and curricula that are considered broadly addressed before an education is complete – broadly, the exterior studies of natural philosophy that describe the world, the interior studies of the spiritual nature of the world which describe its metaphysics, and the Biraq which seeks to bridge the gap to achieve harmony – the actual learning is a personal journey that is walked by each student with their master as the guide, spending long days with them in discussion, personally directing their research to specific books and passages in the academic literature, and finally proclaiming them as magus’biraq in their own time. These intense mentorships are relationships that last all of the lives between master and student, and because of their depth, are always between those of the same sex unless the pair are already married.
Graduating madrasa as a magus’biraq enters the scholar into an academic lineage, and the works they author as a magus will give credit to the master who awarded them the status. Some of these genealogies are very prestigious, and as the intensity of the mentorships demands much time and attention, masters can take on only a few pupils at a time, not taking more for several years. As a result, competition for places as a student for a highly successful teacher is fierce, and a whole secondary industry of more advanced pre-madrasa training has emerged to make the best possible candidates. Wealthy saqim families generally have at least one existing magus in the family, and in the wealthiest families a reversal back to traditional forms is occurring, where students are taught exclusively in the home by their highly-educated mothers or their sister-wives.
The Shariqyn language, Shariq’a, as it is understood today is actually the coalescing of many languages. Before the Fayudan, each Shariqyn tribe maintained its own separate language, but after the catastrophe, when the new site of Siri would become the only safe refuge in the desert against Anu-Kash, the closer living conditions began to invite the languages to coalesce. A pidgeon of all of the tribal languages had become necessary for daily life, and when Danarius created and distributed the Biraq in that same blended language, the importance and longevity of that document solidified the language as one forever.
Since each tribe still spends the majority of its time interacting only with other members of their own tribe, the tribal dialects of these languages still have a number of quirks, accents and idioms that clearly identify one as a member of one tribe or another to any native speaker.
Depending somewhat on the particular tribal dialect, Shariq’a has many loan words which come from the Hestra spoken by Hestralian merchant traders coming across the sea. Concepts that don’t otherwise exist strongly in Shariqyn culture, such as “god”, “guild”, or “pistol” are adopted as they are or gently modified for the Shariqyn speaker. Similarly, some Shariqyn words have made their way into Throne language – ghouls, the name for a variety of necrophages common in the Throne certainly originates from the ghuls that haunt the ancient ruins of the desert. Shariqyn language has old ties in the Throne, with the names of the holy covenants of each Archangel, such as the Mithrihim warrior priests, the Nuranahim exorcists, being Shariqyn words in origin – the many of Mithriel, and so on.
The script itself is read right to left, and has a delicate, scrollwork quality to it. It is believed that the written form of the language has roots in the script of the elves, which points to early interaction with their Eastern neighbors some time in ancient antiquity.
Shariqyn nobility all hail from a single family, the House of El-Baz. This family has ruled Sha’ra for two hundred years, passing on the title of Padishah Emperor, Shah of Shahs, to each subsequent generation. The Padishah himself has no tribe, renouncing his own tribal affiliation by taking on wives from every other tribe when he comes to power (as chosen for him by the indr’atma). He then fathers sons with these wives, which then become the Shah of each tribe, one of which will likely succeed his father upon his death.
These children are usually sired very close together shortly after the assumption of the mantle of Padishah, and they tend to be of very similar age, and raised together in Son’saray, the imperial palace in Siri before returning to the tribe of their mother as Shahs when they have come of age. There is no assumption of primogeniture in the succession; instead, the Padishah hand picks a successor from among the Shahs, or in some cases, the shahzada, his grandchildren.
The process of succession is a famous setting of intrigue in books, plays, and histories, and the Shariqyn love to speculate about the succession, but for the bloodlines of the Padishah, the game is deadly serious. Upon the succession, the new Padishah has every surviving member of their family that are not their direct lineage killed, usually by strangulation with a silk cord. These rivals cannot be allowed to survive, for they will rise up and betray the new Padishah in order to take his power. This draconian practice has been in place since at least before the Fayudan. Some dynasties that came before the House of El-Baz, such as the Bensaïd and El-Akkad, tried to abolish the practice late in their rule, moving over time to a more defined succession, and saw their dynasty enter decline and be overthrown. It is now common wisdom that the practice cannot be overturned without inviting disaster.
The Mieraj, the time of ascension of the new Padishah, is a tumultuous time in Shariqyn politics. In the years leading up to the Padishah’s death, if illness besets him or his age begins to trouble him, the shahzada, “blood of the Shah”, of every tribe who believe they might be considered for the succession begin to campaign for their father or grandfather’s favor. The Mieraj has no official commencement, instead a cultural moment that everyone can feel picking up ever more momentum until none could deny that the Mieraj is upon them. It is often a time of lavish spending on civic projects, monuments, dedications of libraries or facilities, or the striking out to war against rival tribes or foreign powers, each wishing to demonstrate their strength, skill and leadership potential for the coming moment.
Some Padishahs make their choice of successor long in advance, but it would be foolish to announce it, for it would certainly mean their immediate assassination by one of their rivals, or indeed, that he himself might be assassinated by his own pronounced successor whose ascension were assured. This means that while there may be hints of the Padishah’s favor, his every action is up to interpretation until he makes his final announcement of succession, usually on his deathbed.
Since a Padishah typically has dozens of wives, and his sons are themselves powerful men with many wives, the shahzada typically number in the hundreds throughout Sha’ra. In practice, very few of them have a real chance of being named the next Padishah, however, since if anyone but their father is named Padishah it will mean their death, they are highly incentivized to participate in the Mieraj, at least on behalf of their father. As the Mieraj wears on, most of the shahzada will kill one another before assassins ever have to come after the succession. Killing one’s likely rivals early on in the great game is a well-used strategy.
The role of the wives of the Padishah in Mieraj, at minimum selected by the indr’atma, but quite often indr’atma themselves, cannot be understated. Much as true wars are won by the logistical victories that beget battlefield triumphs, the way the great game plays out is as much due the designs of the indr’atma sisterhood than any other factor. As the ones closest to the Padishah in his private moments, it is they who know his private thoughts or the details of his health – indeed it is they who prescribe and provide his medicines – they are in position to give early information to their own sons to make preparations and confer advantages. As well, they know who the Padishah might favor, and can steer his favor to those they believe worthy, or at least those they favor for their own ends. Though they each have their own interests and their own favorites, usually their own sons by the Padishah, the sisterhood is larger than just those wives, and they act together to steer the great game. The next Padishah will almost certainly be one that is acceptable to the aims of the sisterhood, just as the current one is, and the last, as their choices compound through history. For the indr’atma, Mieraj never ends.
Because of the turbulent nature of the succession, it sometimes happens that the Padishah dies without declaring an heir, or that his choice is killed immediately before they can properly assume the throne. For this reason, as a matter of tradition, the actual action that designates the official transfer of power and the assumption of the title of Padishah is to sit uncontested upon the physical throne of the Padishah in Son’saray, collect all of the official seals of the asirim of the palace bureaucracy, and then reissue the seals in one’s own name. This act transfers ownership of the asirim from the old Padishah to the new, who then begin the process of reissuing the seals of asirim throughout Sha’ra. Asirim whose ownership has been inherited in this way who serve or associate with shahzada who yet live are duty bound to kill them or at minimum issue orders for their arrest if they cannot be located. This often comes as a surprise to those shahzada who have old information about the progress of the Mieraj, and didn’t realize that the game had nearly ended.
Some shahzada, especially late in the great game, take the opportunity to flee Sha’ra all together and try to make a new life elsewhere in the world where the new Padishah’s assassins will not find them. Hestralia is a favorite destination for these expatriate princes, where they can bring much of their wealth and live out their life in some level of luxury. This is, of course, the first place assassins will look for them after the Mieraj is complete, and those who choose Hestralia for their place of exile are either very confident or not counting on a long life. The farther afield an errant Shariqyn prince travels, the less likely they are to be found or for their newly empowered brother to even bother sending assassins to kill, and thus some go as far as Njordr to live out the remainder of their life in dignity and peace, with perhaps their household and servants.
The final step of ascension, the official act that brings Mieraj to a close, is the minting of new coins. These coins are minted with the name of the new Padishah declaring themselves such, and the city they are minted in. These act as a sort of proof that the Padishah had indeed conquered and owned the city in question during the date listed, and as they are coins, they spread far and wide rapidly, serving as an effective notification to everyone who sees them of the identity of the new Padishah. The following years see the consolidation of power under the new ruler, the extinguishing of any holdouts, and the final assassinations of the remaining shahzada wherever they have fled. New wives are selected for the Padishah, and the asirim maintain the existing bureaucracy while the Padishah’s new sons come of age.
The choosing of new wives from each tribe is usually enough to mollify the altariq. However, there are some cases where the new Padishah, whoever it turns out to be, is completely unacceptable to the altariq warriors of a tribe or tribes, and they remain at war. Because it is understood that this will occur, such candidates usually do not successfully become Padishah. This includes most notably any shahzada who have joined the Temple of Water and become Sahir.
The Wise Masters of the Temple have the absolute obedience of their subordinates within the Temple, and the idea of the council of Wise Masters having control over the Padishah is unacceptable to the altariq. Early in the rule of the El-Akkad dynasty, such a thing occurred, and while there is no law explicitly forbidding it, for the Padishah the front from which all law flows, the terrible civil wars that followed have effectively demonstrated the incompatibility of Sahir and Padishah in one. As a result, some shahzada deliberately seek to become Sahir and thus signal to their family that they are opting out of the Mieraj all together, and do not wish to be considered a threat. This often does work, so long as they are not caught assisting some other contender for the throne, or do not appear to have the favor of the Padishah to be chosen as successor. The complexities of the great game, however, sometimes can turn this on its head – a rival may spread rumor of the Padishah’s great favor for his Sahir grandson’s path toward atma, or intimate that his works benefit overmuch some other contender, hoping that the outrage that is sparked invites their assassination, or at least their distraction.
Shariqyn names are a composite of the most important pieces of information about the bearer’s life, and are in several parts. First, the name of their tribe, the most important designation of their role within greater Shariqyn society, and the first “friend or foe” identification that must pass someone’s lips when introducing themselves. Second, their caste within their tribe, to express their role within society. Third, their given name, spoken by their mother after their first meditation holding their baby, which is believed to have insight into their child’s life and atma. Fourth and lastly, the name of their father, who contributes his own name in this way as he contributed his own unique circumstances, background, and atma to the creation of the child, set with an ibn, meaning “child of”. In some cases, a fifth piece is appended, which is a nickname or honorific they have earned through personal renown in their life, often prefixed with an al- , meaning “the”.
For example, a Shariqyn merchant from the Shazaad tribe whose given name were Kahji and whose father’s name was Omar would be introduce himself as Shazaad Saqim Kahji ibn Omar . If Kahji were a famous fighter, he might be called Kahji al-Nafar, “The Warrior”, or have that last appended to the end of his name.
Occasionally, especially when dealing with outsiders or in very informal situations, Shariqyn will use a shortened version of their name for simplicity. In this case, they will simply say their tribe and their first name, such as Shazaad Kahji. Clanless Shariqyn, jharad and asirim, instead speak their caste and their first name, such as Jharad Rahar, or Asir Kharan.
Shariqyn also use the terms “child of” and “parent of”, for metaphorical purposes in regular conversation as an idiom of speech. One might address a recently arrived traveler from afar as “Father of Many Steps”, or someone whose life was defined by war as “son of battles”. These are used with great frequency in everyday conversation, especially with strangers for whom the speaker does not know their given name. Addressing a barkeep as “father of libations” or a drunk as “son of many cups” are common occurrences.
Warriors born altariq have no distinct father of their own, since indra’tariq harims are the wife of the entire tribe at once, taking different lovers all the time as warriors rise and fall in their esteem. They are raised as a son of the tribe, equally taught and cared for by all warriors, and so substitute their mother’s name in place of their father’s name in the pattern.
Aside from the ongoing inter-tribal conflicts, border conflicts with other powers are a constant source of additional strife. To the west, the Throne of God on Earth has been in a cycle of war and truce for centuries. The Throne’s mission to make a single humanity necessarily means they must conquer or otherwise absorb Sha’ra to accomplish it. This state of affairs has gone on without resolution for in perpetuity in part because neither the Throne or the Shariqyn Empire seems to have the offensive power to support a permanent destruction of their neighbor, and in part because neither party has the will to totally destroy the other. In the case of the Throne, they believe that the destruction of an entire culture of mankind is unacceptable to their mission, and has a responsibility to convert the heathen Shariqyn rather than destroy them.
For their part, the Shariqyn are almost totally uninterested in conversion to the Benalian Church of Lethia, but as well have no other particular need to conquer and absorb the Throne. The Throne represents a tribe apart from the intertribal conflicts, an outsider more outside than any Shariqyn. It is not difficult to incite the tribes to unite against a foreign invader, and the Capacians who primarily lead any holy wars into the desert by way of the Order of the Dragon are ill suited to permanent conquest. For now, the Cappacian-Shariqyn border is the subject of occasional insurgencies by either side, intervened by periods of calm and trade when commercially expedient to do so. As the tribe that shares the border with Capacionne, the Korma maintain the most animosity with the Throne.
Its other borders are no less dangerous in different ways. To the South, where the deserts finally give way to jungles, a different kind of intertribal war plays out. Those lands are thick with Orc, who travel around it in great mobs, riding enormous tusked beasts called Gaja. It is there, in the wet, black mud of the jungle, that the spice shoots grow. The Alhind tribe send hunters into the jungle to gather it, avoiding the detection of the Orc, who also seek it for harvest. Spices sell for extraordinary prices, and the Alhind’s great wealth comes from having reliable access to the spice fields. The territorial Orc become angered when they encounter humans in their jungles, and if antagonized enough will mount counter-attacks. The motivations of Orc are not well understood, but when angered, their hordes can spill out well into the lands of other tribes. It is rumored from those hunters who have gone far into the jungles that the Orc have great cities and castles of stone, and that their numbers may far outnumber those of the Shariqyn.
In the Northeastern border, near Siri, the desert gives way to cedar forests, and then into evergreen forests and mountains. Through those mountains lies the land of the elves. While no humans are permitted to enter the elven lands, the elves do send envoys to Siri. The Sahirim speak regularly with elven ambassadors, hoping to better understand the nature of reality from their perspective. While the Shariqyn certainly do not consider the elves a threat, their powerful kingdom’s preferences in matters political is to be ignored at great peril, and the Padishahs are loath to insult such an important ally. Elves trade in goods that are not made by human craftsmen, such as silks and cosmetics, which are used and sold in Shariqyn markets or taken overseas to Hestralia. Even more ordinary goods such as vases, artworks, jewelry, and weaponry that are brought by elven merchants are always of highest quality and are found in the houses of wealthy Shahs, saqim and asirim. In times of war with outsiders such as Orc or the Throne, Shariqyn forces have been known to be guided by elven scouts or provided for with elf made provisions to see their allies through a difficult time.
There are threats from within Sha’ra as well. The place of jharad is so ingrained in society that there are no serious movements to abolish the practice of slavery outside of academic theory published by some indra’saqim writers. There has, however, been a major challenge to the idea in recent times from the jharad themselves, who for the first time since the Fayudan have been seeing somewhat frequent and organized revolt. The prevailing idea among the slavemasters is that Benalian Priests from the Throne have intermingled with the jharad, perhaps even becoming jharad themselves to get close to the others, and spreading the tale of their prophet and his war against slavery. Jharad converts are becoming more common, with words that sound like they could be from the Lethian Testimonium on their lips as they die, but some scholars who have studied the Benalian holy texts as an academic document say that there is more to this insurrection from within.
Shariqyn tend to be olive complected though their diverse heredity sees tones from darkest to lightest. Hair colors are typically dark, though many retain the cornflower or straw color that was common of the Sahirim when they first arrived in Sha’ra.
Men almost always wear beards, except for jharad and asirim, who tend to be kept clean-shaven to denote their status as slaves. A shaved pate is also common for both of those castes, though less of a standard than a shaved jawline.
As a desert people, food scarcity defines much of their culture, but that does not suggest that food itself is scarce. The Shariqyn people have been practicing irrigation-based desert farming for as long as people have lived in Sha’ra, and have become extremely efficient at getting the best use out of those bodies of water that are available.
Irrigation projects work best on a large scale, digging thousands of irrigation ditches at once in a centralized plan instead of each farmer digging their own, which may interfere with their neighbors. Shariqyn historians believe that this is one of the primary reasons that the authoritarian powers of the Aa’bosaa’d Empire originally taking hold as powerful centralized governments. Many of the original wells and irrigation systems from that time still exist today, carefully maintained or restored throughout the ages. Only in modern times, with the rise of the Padishahs and central government in Siri and gatherings of jharad in greater numbers than have ever been seen historically, have such projects again been attempted.
The greatest cities, built along the Jida river, have irrigation systems that go on for leagues in both directions, and there are ancient tunnel aqueducts built into the mountains of Korm that carry ice melts for hundreds of miles.
While water scarcity has long since been the defining fact of life for Shariqyn peoples throughout history, the coming of the Sahirim changed everything. The Sahirim’s most famous and important power is to be able to call forth water from the very air and sky, to bring life with them where life would be otherwise impossible. The ability to call forth water from the desert and create new wells and oases essentially anywhere lead to a population explosion like the Shariqyn had never before seen after the Fayudan, which helped their population recover after being devastated. In the modern era, a deep cultural appreciation for water, the knowledge of water efficiency engineering, and the advent of the ability to summon water from the world itself has lead to a modern Shariqyn population that rivals the largest human nations like Gotha in size.
Common Fruits: Melons, cherries, dates, figs, olives, citrus fruits, cactus pear
Common Vegetables: Peppers, eggplant, chard, squash, root vegetables, beans
Common Meats: Lamb, chicken, mutton, goat, camel
Common Dairy: yogurt, halloumi, sheep’s milk
Common Recipes: Falafel, hummus, kebab, pickled vegetables, tabbouleh, kibbeh, dolma, couscous. Food is typically spiced with cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, cumin, coriander, thyme and sumac.
“Within the sand is the memory of the mountain.” – Shariqyn saying
The Shariqyn are a diverse people of many ethnic subgroups, and this is partially due to the great diversity in the geography of Sha’ra. While many outsiders believe that Sha’ra is simply one vast desert, the truth is far more complicated, having nearly every biome somewhere within its borders, from steamy jungles, to great forests, to high mountain glaciers.
The desert does, however, dominate the landscape. Where once Sha’ra was teeming with variety, every year the desert creeps a little bit farther out from the center of the country where it is deepest. The entire center of the country is more or less impassable, locking each tribe into dealing with its adjacent neighbors. Only the Hura know the secrets to pass the deep desert, and they rarely deal with outsiders. It is otherwise an indiscriminate executioner, the intense desert heat and the lack of water or oases meaning a death sentence for any who attempt to cross it.
It is said that somewhere within the deep desert lies scores of ancient ruins, where the sand turns black as midnight. There, an ancient civilization lies buried, with its ruins long swallowed beneath the dunes. The telltale blackness of the sand marks where it lays, but few dare to brave an excavation. It is well speculated that the ancient ruins, whatever they are, are full of curses, monsters, or other horrors, but whatever the supernatural dangers, is known is that Al-ghūls haunt the area. Only the Khonsur tribe dares the ruins, if they are to be believed, bringing back treasures and relics that historians will pay handsomely for, genuine or not.
There is much mystery surrounding this civilization. The few writings that have been recovered from the ruins describe aspects of ancient worship, knowledge and secrets.
The perimeter of the region is where the diversity lies, from the arid badlands of the West, the high mountains of the North, the steaming jungles of the South, to the temperate forests of the East. Each region has spawned its own cultural needs and customs, and the tribes which control them are steeped in those traditions.
PLANTS AND CLOTHING
Shariqyn grow and enjoy coffee, a bean roasted and brewed to abate hunger, give energy and suppress appetite. As the coffee brew yields an alternate mental state, it is thought of as sacred to Aa’boran, and useful in a form of ongoing meditation throughout the day.
Shariqyn clothing is loose, flowing, and is made to cover most of the skin to avoid exposure to the hot desert sun. The basis of clothing for both genders is a loose tunic or kaftan, loose trousers and a headdress. The exact details of this vary widely depending on the gender and class of the owner. Jharad usually wear undyed khaki, and often only trousers and loose headwraps, leaving their backs bare. Altariq robes are traditionally black, with a heavy headwrap or turban that includes a veil to cover the face. The veil keeps sand out of the face when travelling, and obscures the identity of the warrior. The indra’tariq, while rarely seen by outsiders, usually wear garments of silk, cut to be revealing in the dim light of the harim tent, and quite away from the blasting sun.
By far the greatest variety comes in the clothing of the city-dwelling saqim, whose men compete with one another for status and to impress others with their wealth. Saqim clothing is characterized by explosions of colors, rich embroidery, and of the finest materials they can afford, from linens and wools up to silks imported from the elves. Whatever the saqim can afford, his wives must be given one step greater, and it is with the indra’saqim that fashion truly comes alive. Some of the wealthiest indra’saqim’s everyday dress would put to shame the finest of any noble lady short of royalty, usually consisting of flowing, colored garments, ribbons or other adornments for the hair, and slippers of silk. Many of the women of the city take great pleasure in a decorated appearance, and there is a thriving market for perfumes, soaps, the most subtle elven cosmetics, and most especially jewelry.
Regardless of caste, jewelry plays an important role in clothing. Most jewelry is worn for symbolic reasons, and it is customary to find, give, make or buy a new piece of jewelry at minimum once a year to remember the life of events of that year. Jewelry such as rings, earrings, or necklaces are given as gifts after major events, such as the winning of a battle or the closing of an important transaction. Both men and women use jewelry in this way, though men often bestow jewelry on their wives as frequent symbolic gifts because they contain personal meaning and also have such an obvious and measurable value by sight based on stone, size, and setting. Such is the cultural ubiquity of jewelry that even jharad wear meaningful pieces as some of their only possessions, usually in the form of rings of clay or wood.
Asirim favor the color red in their garments, which are usually of an understated presentation but of the highest quality craftsmanship. The color red, worn on their robes, embroidery, head-coverings or other personal affects, is the color of the House of El-Baz, and serves both to represent their loyalty to the Padishah and as a highly-visible warning to all who behold them whose business they are on. Some altariq warriors are sent by their tribes to Siri for special training in the Asir Madrasas, to learn the deeper arts of command, writing, tactics, logistics, siegecraft, and other skills. These warriors wear red headwraps and veils to indicate their enhanced training, and their association with the Padishah.
Sahirim wear the color blue in their garments almost exclusively, using other colors for details, embroidery and accents. The traditional robes of a Sahir are descended in style from the robes of the first Sahirim who came with Danarius, but have undergone significant evolution since that time to become more similar to the mainstream Shariqyn fashions. These robes are usually of heavy blue cloth, but with a deep hood instead of a turban or headscarf. Like other Shariqyn, they wear a great deal of jewelry, though these are as likely to be functionally enchanted as sentimental.
Indr’atma sisters tend to wear white; either white robes, white embroidered caftans, or even sheer white diaphanous silks. White is a color of purity and cleanliness, which invokes the Shariqyn feminine ideal of being above the world and all its dirt and labors. When they appear in public in their Indr’atma whites, they are spotless as the day they were made, causing them to be instantly recognized for their station. In some places, even causing an Indr’atma to become dusty with the grit of the desert is considered insult enough to call for their lives.
Shariqyn garments are unique to Sha’ra in one additional way, which is the Shariqyn textile plant called cotton. Cotton can be grown in great quantities through carefully irrigated farms, and has roughly the durability of wool. Cotton is mostly produced in the western regions, especially the Badlands of Korm, where emphasis on learning and machinery has made the otherwise labor intensive practice of processing cotton more bearable. Cotton grows poorly in climates less similar to Sha’ra, though Hestralian merchants have been bartering for many decades to purchase seeds to grow in Hestralia for the Throne. The Shazaad Shahs have instructed the saqim who export it to not sell the seeds, to profit from the monopoly that they have on it.
GEOGRAPHIC EFFECTS ON CULTURE
Certainly the extreme desert environments have shaped Shariqyn culture more than any other factor, but not only through scarcity, but through isolation. The tribal politics that have existed and persisted in Shariqyn life since the beginning are a result of the competition for the most arable land and access to water, as well as the relatively low populations that the region has historically supported. The combination of resource scarcity and the high cost of losing even a single member of a small band of travellers has turned the Shariqyn into above all, a cautious and tolerant people.
Those tribes who have found their geographic niche tended to learn the best ways to live there and remain there indefinitely, nomadic within their region but rarely venturing out. Most of the people that any given Shariqyn ever encountered were members of their own tribe, and the knowledge that other, hostile tribes were out there meant that it was critically important to stay unified as a single people within a given group. Shariqyn widely believe that among ones tribe, bygones should bygones, compromises should be reached, and one should deal honestly and fairly, expecting the same in return. The same sentiment goes almost entirely the oppositely when dealing with members of other tribes, with which it is assumed that they will cheat you, rob you, kill you or enslave you if given the chance, so it might just be best to do the same to them first. Only the Khonsur, which have no real tribal homeland, are cautiously allowed among other tribes for longer than it takes to do business, though they are never to be trusted.
By far the most important resource in Sha’ra has always been water. It would not be an overstatement to say that every serious Shariqyn war for most of its history can in some way be traced back to water security. With the coming of the Sahirim, this has been less and less true, as water can be created anywhere that the Wise Masters deem it so, though it is never forgotten that what the Sahirim grant they can as easily take away. The Jinn gift of endless water is to some a yoke that puts whoever accepts it to the plow. Just as the magi maintain that water is a direct metaphor for life, it is so too a metaphor for power.
Second only to water are the spices that can be foraged from the South. Spices are valued not just in Sha’ra, but in their sometime commercial partner of the Throne, and can be sold for incredible profits, despite the dangers in harvesting them from the jungles. Even the elves will buy the spices that Alhind saqim deal to their envoys, making them all the more valuable in trade for elven exotics.
HAZARDS OF TRAVEL
War and slavery are constant facts of life in Sha’ra. Tribal rivalries stretch back to before recorded histories, though they do change over time. The exact domain of any one tribe is poorly defined, perhaps because of the shifting nature of the desert, and skirmishes between rival bands of altariq are had with unsurprising frequency. Villages and towns are not built in places that cannot be defended, so they do not change hands frequently, but when they do, the resulting influx of jharad pushes the economy everywhere within the sphere of the victorious tribe, from the slave market outward to every other enterprise that makes use of them.
Part of the reason that tribal rivalries persist for so long is because despite the desert being vast, its relative resources are scarce and precious. The well-understood pathways of the desert are generally around its perimeter, with the deepest part of the desert almost totally uninhabitable. Only the Hura tribe dare to live in the western deep desert, where the heat makes it impossible to survive in the day without shelter.
In the eastern center the desert is much colder, but it is the stronghold of al-ghūls. Little is known about Al-ghūls, or sometimes just ghūls, save that they are dangerous and deadly. Sometimes they are described as monsters, sometimes as men, sometimes as monsters who take the shape of men they have killed. They wear robes and veils similar to an altariq, but black and heavy to hide their features, often tattered and worn from the desert sand.
The stories that have them as monsters say they haunt graveyards and other places of death, digging up the bodies to eat their meat, and can take the form of a jackal. They lure wayfarers into graveyards or secluded ruins and then kill them there, drinking their blood, or sucking out their last breath, or in some stories, performing a funeral rite for their victim to drink the spirit of their final water on its way to Heshiyah.
These last accounts mostly appear in stories that depict ghūls as human. Some stories suggest they are Shariqyn following a form of Aa’boran Tariq that venerates the path of the jharad, that ghuls are escaped slaves who are acting out against their old masters. They even suggest they practice a hidden form of sha’ra’qital that is destructive to the spirit instead of uniting with it. No one has ever captured one to find the truth, for it is said that they can disappear at will, or vanish from confinement.
The famous desert lions are also a concern nearly everywhere within the Shariqyn world, with varieties from slim and sleek black cats to massive and powerful maned cats weighing hundreds of pounds. Lions have always been the symbol of kingship in Sha’ra, and the Padishah wears a lion’s pelt when at formal court. It is recorded that Danarius gave a lion to the ruler of Hindra after the post-Fayudan reunification, which is thought to be a symbol of their re-entry into the new Shariqyn empire.
Travel in Sha’ra is done on the back of Shariqyn horses, which are a faster cousin to the heavier Gothic and Capacian breeds. Shariqyn horses roam the wild in herds, and altariq, especially of the Rakib tribe, catch them, break them and train them for riding. A wealthy band of altariq will have nearly as many horses as they have warriors, while Rakib bands often have twice as many. Warfare upon horseback, especially horseback archery, is essential in the desert, to make best use of speed when travelling is so dangerous.
Shariqyn horses are not beasts of burden, and they do poorly with heavy packs and cargo. For this reason, the beast of choice for saqim is usually the camel, a hump-backed beast that can endure great periods in the desert with little need of water, and can carry burdens for great distances. These beasts are more economical for long treks for trade, but they are cantankerous and surly, requiring specialized handling.
While they are far too rare and expensive to be used for basic trade, the mighty gaja of the Southern Alhid tribe can be used to carry tons of cargo if put to it, as well as used in war to trample the enemy underfoot. They require a great deal of food and water, making their use in desert battlefields limited, but in their native jungles, they make the Alhind tribe a terror to face in battle. Only the Orc, from whom they originally took the gaja in the first place, are unafraid of the beasts.
A specialized desert vehicle has been used for hundreds of years, called a sand-sailor. The vehicle, built like a chariot or carriage with a mast and sail, can be build of many sizes, from personal to fitting as many as thirty people, and with a modest wind can reach speeds that double that of some of the fastest race horses. These have seen uses in everything from trade to war, though only the Evren tribe uses them regularly for the latter. Most often they are used by Sahirim, whose navigators can cause the crafts to operate even without wind and at incredible speeds. Sahirim use these to travel the desert and undergo their affairs on behalf of the Temple.
SHARIQYN PEOPLE IN OTHER COUNTRIES
The Shariqyn and the Throne have had a difficult relationship over the course of the Lion Age. There was already a long history of military conflict between the Shariqyn and the Capacian peoples, especially the Aquitani tribesmen that would roam the badlands on horseback. When Capacionne joined the Throne, it would be a long while before the Throne showed any interest in pushing yet farther to the East. In that time, trade with the newly forming empire began to increase, and a reliable network of trade routes formed overland between the Badlands of Korm and Capacionne, then over sea between Shazaara and Hestralia.
In order to facilitate their mission to convert all human peoples to their religious faith, the Benalian Church’s primary figure, the Pontifex of Holy Lethia, issued a command in their Lion Age 376, that Shariqyn peoples who act within the laws of the Throne and come with peaceful intentions are allowed to freely come and go from the sovereign lands of the Throne without violence or persecution. It was thought that in this way, the inherent grandeur and virtue of the Throne would win over the Shariqyn, as they could see the merits and advantages of the Throne’s way of life over their own.
Despite this Pontifical edict, intermittent stops in trade have been called due to periodic declarations of war between the two powers. Still, Shariqyn have been a more or less frequent sighting everywhere in the Throne for most of its history, due to the caravan based trade routes that take long circuits across the Throne. It can take years to travel the entire trade road, and there have been cases when Shariqyn traders entered the Throne, war was declared and the border closed, only to have the conflict end before the traders returned home to Sha’ra. Consequently, Shariqyn, at least saqim, have been a familiar idea in the minds of Throne peoples as far away as Njordr and Dunland.
Asirim and altariq have less direct cause to tour the Throne as saqim, however, there are diplomatic missions to the inferior courts such as Fenristadt on a frequent basis. These parties generally do bring altariq into the Throne as bodyguards, and even forces as large as a few hundred men have been tolerated accompanying Shahzada if they should come to the interior. Jharad, the Shariqyn have learned, should be left at home, as the lion faith abhors the practice of slavery. However, for this same reason, jharad who do escape their masters and find their way to the Throne find themselves free men – at least in practice – the stain of jharad remains with them all their lives, and can never be removed. Other Shariqyn who encounter them in the foreign land treat them as their caste is treated in the land of their birth – with disdain – especially for deceiving their new countrymen into accepting them as people.
The elites such as Sahirim, Shahzada, and Indr’atma, all have their own business in the Throne as befits their personal needs and means. Many Sahir are capable of bending the distance between one place and another, able to visit other lands – other worlds, even – with a practiced act of will. This relatively low barrier to travel means that after saqim, it is perhaps the sahirim that are most often acting in foreign lands – though few draw attention to themselves. Shahzada are as often fleeing the Mieraj as scheming some advantage in it, and Indr’atma sisters have their own reasons and go where they please.
Shariqyn are as likely as any other race of man to be allowed within the settlements of dwarves, elves, or orc – not at all. It’s possible some industrious sahir might brave a sojourn in secret, but if so, it has never been publicly known.
Shariqyn art makes use of their most abundant natural resource, the desert sand. The oldest surviving arts are sandstone frescoes depicting the brutal military victories of the Ba’alim, which are themselves propaganda pieces. These show the relevant Ba’al presiding over some gruesome battlefield, the heads and bones of his enemies about him in mute tableau, and proclaims his victory over an enemy in script, denoting the date and the number dead, while promising a similar fate to any who oppose him further.
The works of the modern age are far more peaceful in their elements. Some of the finest works of arts produced by the saqim are of glass. Tempered or refined glassworks are formed into vessels, tableware, windows, mirrors, and of course, jewelry. Glass settings in necklaces, rings, circlets and other jewels are prized for their delicacy and intricate craftsmanship.
Shariqyn have always had a fascination with mirrors, from the earliest days of the oasis sages, to perhaps even earlier, as black mirrors of polished obsidian or some other volcanic glass have been found in some of the oldest desert ruins. Mirrors have always been used as part of Aa’boran to reflect upon one’s own nature, with the meditator gazing into their own reflection for hours at a time, seeking to come to know themselves. If they see beauty, they strive to become that beauty, while if they see ugliness, they seek to eradicate that ugliness through self-learning. Mirrors have always been thought to have a transformative power, to aid transition through atma, and the Biraq written by Danarius is itself the Shariqyn word for reflection.
Mirrors in Sha’ra are made through a process of blowing glass into bubbles, then spinning it rapidly on a rotating plate until it flattens. Mirrors of small size can be more easily created flat, which ensures a high quality image without distortion, but large mirrors are far more difficult and only possessed by the wealthiest indra’saqim and Shahzada. The smaller mirrors, however, do see fairly common use.
The abundant sun means that many buildings are designed to avoid direct sun exposure and keep cool, and the interiors of the buildings do not have exterior windows. Instead, to get light, they are designed with mirrors positioned carefully throughout the construction to harness outside light and direct it into specific shafts within to provide ambient illumination. Some public buildings, designed for beauty, even design displays of crossing light and pattern that shifts throughout the day to create shapes and designs in coordination.
Pattern work is an important part of all Shariqyn art. Few works of Shariqyn artwork depict people, objects or animals, instead focusing on the creation of beautiful pattern and design. Works of pattern are to depict the atma, the winding path of a personal and spiritual journey toward a perfect self. Circular diagrams of astounding intricacy, halqa, are created that depict the universe in microcosm. They are used to focus attention, create a sacred space, and as an aid to spiritual meditation.
Some halqa are made deliberately in impermanent sand through drawing, raking, and carefully dropping the sand into place. Magi create them as a form of meditation, contemplating their atma as they work to create the halqa, sometimes in as few steps as possible, or with as few errors and revisions as possible, even clean motions that waste nothing and create the path of the atma as perfectly as possible. These sand halqa are staggering works of great beauty, and some take many days to create, only to be blown away by the wind as it comes. That, too, is atma.
Now that water is more plentiful, gardening is seen as an artistic style for wealthy saqim. It requires staying in one place for long periods of time as well as water to waste on beauty, but those who can manage it are held in high esteem. The most beautiful gardens in the world are said to be in Siri, which contains an enormous public hanging garden that blooms with fragrant flowers all year long.
Shariqyn music uses string, percussion and wind instruments, but does not use chords or harmony in the western sense. Instead, quarter tones build and build, often over the course of one to three hours, daring and teasing until a long awaited crescendo.
Shariqyn music is constructed of two parts – misaha, literally, “space”, and zaman, “time.” The misaha sets the color or the mood of the piece, and is a language of its own to Shariqyn listeners. Specific misaha represent certain emotions, seasons, places, events, people, or become strongly associated with them over time. Shariqyn musical theory recognizes hundreds of misaha, of which around 30 are common. The musician sets up this framework and then improvises within it to create his or her own statement. Zaman sets the meter of the piece, and generally last around 30 to 45 seconds before beginning again. The two act together to build the musician’s narrative through the music, constructing a story purely through music by introducing a misaha, describing it through zaman, and transitioning to another misaha as the piece continues.
Shariqyn music is said to be able to invoke any emotion the musician wishes, from joy to sorrow, to excite people to dance or to put listeners to sleep. It is most desired by those who wish to achieve the deeper states of meditation, guiding them deeper and deeper using the misaha to draw the path inward, and the zaman to step along it.
String instruments are the most common and notable feature of Shariqyn music, making use of a zither called the qanun which sits on the lap of the musician and contains multiple sets of strings, plucked one at a time. A long necked, four stringed, pear-shaped lute called the oud is used quite commonly, and its masters can coax even the largest misaha and zaman from just four strings, tuned to quarter tones.
Finger cymbals are used in dance, perfected by the indr’atma who are said to be able to produce full Shariqyn ballads with only the finger cymbals as the zaman, and using the movement of their bodies as the misaha. These dances are uncommonly seen by most Shariqyn – to see an indr’atma perform is a rare honor for the most powerful who make their acquaintance – it is said that even without the cultural familiarity that the misaha calls upon from a lifetime of associations, those who see them dance understand every rhythm and the truths held within.
Sha’ra’qital is the martial art of the Shariqyn. While its practical use is well documented, its purpose is primarily spiritual in nature. Sha’ra’qital is the art of unifying the body and the mind to one purpose, using physical actions to call upon mental ones, and mental actions to call upon physical ones. Sha’ra’qital users enter a trance as they fight, diving deeper and deeper into a meditative state which allows them to act perfectly, instantly, with the will of the atma. The art is said to grow more and more powerful as the spiritual strength of its user grows. Thus, the art requires great discipline as well as wisdom to master, and there are some that dedicate their lives to the practice.
Many different forms of the art exist, practiced and maintained as distinct schools of the art by those who practice it. The altariq are trained in Ramal’qital, “sand combat”, which emphasizes quick, brutal attacks that disable or kill their opponent in close quarters. Altariq warriors begin this training so early, that as adults, nearly all of them have mastered how to kill a man with their bare hands in seconds.
In the Temple of Water, monks train in Rudra’qital, “storm combat”, which is said to harness the power of mana to strike directly at the spiritual essence of a person. These arts focus on unpredictable attacks that slip effortlessly through defenses, and are said to be able to seal away the ability for sahirim or foreign magicians to harness their power, or to deflect spells with harnessed will.
It is known that the indr’atma also practice a form of the art called indra’qital, though exactly what it is and how it works is not well known, as most of the sisterhood’s secrets are withheld, and the indr’atma rarely have cause to fight in the public view. It is said, however, that for the indr’atma, Indra’qital is not just a martial art, or even a philosophical practice, but an entire discipline whose depth is unsounded – that they can go within the trance to other places, other times, to see and know things no other can know, and to take and wield the energy not just from their opponents in combat, but from the world and its things. What any of that means is unknown to outsiders of the sisterhood, though truly their confidence seems to give the rumors some credit.
As Sha’ra’qital has a spiritual nature, so too is it thought to have a right and a wrong path. The Aa’boran trance that is invoked and deepened with spiritual understanding can be walked against what is right. There is an infamous and expelled art of Sha’ra’qital that is said to invoke madness instead of grace in those who practice it, burning away enlightenment and replacing it with darkness as the user enters a death trance. Agni’qital, the forbidden technique, is not taught in any known Temple or school, and in truth may be nothing but a story, but inspires fear all the same. It is sometimes said that there are cults of killers who use it, or using it turns you into a ghūl.
Al-Khem, the Black Art
While there are several differences of opinion about the nature of the civilization buried beneath the black sand of Alzolam, the popular conception is that it is called Khem, which may have meant “black” or “blackness” in its own native tongue. As Alzolam is by far the most dangerous place in Sha’ra in its capacity to see its explorers never return, even more dangerous than Hindra, knowledge that comes from this cursed place are also considered cursed, and such techniques are called Al-Khem, the Black Art. While not much is known about the civilization due to the rarity of those who return with findings, what findings there are show an impressive grasp of certain physical arts and technologies, some of them even more advanced than any culture to date, such as Al-Khem liquids and powders that react to corrode metals, or strengthen them. It is rumored that some of the rare Khonsur saqim experiment with these reagents in secret.
It is generally believed that this culture made use of sorcery, working magics through the binding of Jinn, must have conducted dark magics, and that these acts of evil ultimately lead to their destruction. The Khonsur tribe deals in such Al-Khem, as well as trinkets and artifacts from the original Vangloria arcology, and sometimes it is anyone’s guess which is which. Anyone who has seen the arcana, magical scrolls that the Sahirim use to record and work their magics, could recognize the coincidence of symbols, further strengthening the altariq argument that Sahirim are, far from achieving atma, are dealing with forces of evil beyond their ken.
Religion shapes a great deal of the fabric of Shariqyn life. Be it the ancient traditions of the Aa’boran Tariq, or the eternal mysteries of the Aa’boran Biraq, Aa’boran has proved a cultural touchstone for the Shariqyn people and despite the tribal blood feuds and caste differences, the Aa’boran transcends all levels and all castes of Shariqyn life. Still, the schism between the Biraq and Tariq sects of Aa’boran are the cause of tensions that have not yet fully played out.
AA’BORAN TARIQ ORTHODOXY
Aa’boran began as taught by the oasis sages, wise elders who chose to contemplate the universe instead of continue on the path. Since those earliest days, and especially since the advent of the Sahirim, the magi of both sects have taken a more active role in greater society. Magi’tariq is now a role that is thought of less as an honorable way to spend one’s dotage and final years, and more of a degree of cultural authority that someone suitably interested may take up.
Magi’tariq appear almost exclusively in altariq bands, and fill the role of a wise councilor rather than a leader with official power. More or less anyone can become magus’tariq; though it is traditional to receive instruction and training from those who come before, it is not strictly required and a band who loses their magus will typically find someone to take up the mantle after a time of contemplation.
Magi’tariq are chiefly concerned with changes and milestones of life paths, presiding over births, deaths, marriages, pronouncement of full warrior status, the claiming of jharad, declarations of war, and ascension of leaders. These duties are derivative of their primary duty – to make their own dedicated progress toward atma, and to help guide the path of their tribe and band toward their own, which often means admonishment and correction for acts that pull the soul away from atma.
The basic idea of Aa’boran Tariq, or “drinking the water of the path”, is that each caste has a path that they follow. The metaphor of the well-known and traveled herding paths from life-giving oasis, through terrible and murderous desert, and again to life-giving oasis, is extended to represent the whole of the tribal knowledge of what is right and wrong, and the best way to live. An altariq warrior must live within certain boundaries, along a certain path, and this tribal knowledge is expected to be guarded, maintained, and lived by within the tribe. The magi help to guide this process, and they are understood to be experts, but they are not an authoritarian figure, and have no right to punish one for their failures to follow the path. The tribe’s Shah may cast out a member of their tribe, and a magus will preside over this event, declaring them jharad, but they do this on behalf of the Shah and the tribe’s will, not as a cleric of religion. Ultimately the standards of when one is upon or not upon the path are enforced by the collective community, and while the magi’tariq have an important say in whether this is so, the mores of the given tribe or band have the final power over the character of the judgment.
Descending as they do from the relatively few altariq who survived the Fayudan, all of the tribes hold essentially the same views as to what constitutes the right path. However, even though the tribes are consistent with one another, the correct path changes depending on the caste. Saqim are not held to the same expectations as warriors, and jharad different expectations than Saqim. Shahzada such as the Padishah and his family have yet a different path set out for them. Asirim and Sahirim are too new of concepts to have their own traditional path within the Aa’boran Tariq, and almost all of the asirim and every Sahir follow Aa’boran Biraq in any case, so there is little urgency to see it defined.
The vast majority of those who dwell in the cities follow Aa’boran Biraq, which offers more to the saqim and asirim who dwell there in terms of personal meaning and development, it is by no means an island away from the traditional sect. Jharad follow the Aa’boran Tariq almost exclusively, which teaches them that their role as a tribe-less slave has meaning in its suffering and toil, and that those who are obedient to their masters and excel in their craft strengthen their soul toward atma. The jharad tariq teaches that having choice taken away is, in fact, a gift, and that the lack of freedom in fact makes one free of outside expectations, instead able to focus completely on the inner choices within the mind and spirit. Jharad magi’tariq exist, and are in fact, encouraged to exist by their masters, who often grant them more respect, more lenient duties or additional rations. Jharad magi’tariq are usually allowed to spend much of their time ministering to the other jharad in their master’s stable, which is thought by most saqim to be worth the loss of a menial worker in the increased order and output in the rest of their slaves.
The jharad are not alone in the cities following the Aa’boran Tariq. While it may seem to some as though the tariq sect is for the poor and biraq for the privileged, this is not the case. The Indr’atma follow the indra tariq, walking the path of the sacred feminine, and occupy the highest tier of society. As well, those Shahzada who live among their altariq rather than in the cities – about half, depending on tribe – usually are of the tariq sect of Aa’boran.
AA’BORAN BIRAQ ORTHODOXY
The Biraq as a document is Danarius’ attempt to describe the fundamental nature of greater reality and the place of human beings within it. It is as much a cosmology as it is a guide, with each of the 142 principles within as a single entry that helps explain the greater whole. Danarius strongly endorsed higher learning, knowing that rigorous academic education was necessary to understand more esoteric ideas.
Faithful Shariqyn of the biraq sect, which claims the vast majority of saqim, asirim, Shahzada, and all Sahirim, seek out education as a matter of spiritual need as well as practical. Few can deny the many practical benefits of a competent education, but the primary goal of Aa’boran is still spiritual in nature, and practicing Shariqyn find great personal meaning in the development of their minds.
The primary difference between the biraq and tariq interpretations, aside from the former’s much more robust description of the inner workings of the world, is the emphasis on enlightenment through a personalized path of virtue rather than as a member of a community. Aa’boran Biraq teaches that those virtues which contribute to being a member of a community, such as refraining from doing others harm, are useful to the self in that they promote inner peace and harmony, that hateful actions disrupt the individual’s interior transition toward atma, not that the act puts one on a causal path away from right action. As well, the drawing nearer to atma, as well as its actual attainment, can be deliberately induced with repeatable, teachable steps, and this progress can be measured by one’s degree of control over fundamental factors of reality because totally attaining atma gives one total control.
The obvious place to look for the strictest adherence to Aa’boran Biraq is then of course the Sahirim, who act as the high magi of the sect. Many practitioners of Aa’boran Biraq seek to become Sahir, though few have the temperament to do so. It is not totally known to any except the Sahirim themselves what life is like in the interior of the Temple, but it is understood to be rigorous, challenging, draconian, yet of course, enlightening. While many do dream of further spiritual enlightenment, many more still are content to more casually explore the wonders of life and reality through stimulating discussion with friends and neighbors at the local madrasa, rather than dedicating their life to the actual achievement of perfect self.
Even those who are more casual in their pursuits might be no less zealous. The Biraq makes clear that even though being Sahir means that in this version of events one’s self is close to attaining atma, even the most powerful Sahir that is present in this world has not attained it. It takes a variety of experiences, both good and bad, difficult and gentle, that aggregate into the attainment of atma, which occurs in and forcefully creates a “new” point in the possibility space of the universe. Only Danarius himself had that specific point be “this” world, achieving atma before departing, or in some conceptual models, departing to achieve atma, from this world and to this world in a continuum.
Because the Shariqyn abhor hubris, which as a cultural value includes the aversion to disrespecting another’s way of life, to a degree the differences between the two interpretations of Aa’boran are allowed to remain simply differences of opinions. There are very real structural tensions, however, between those who believe that the traditional path is best, and those who make use of and benefit from what altariq view as sorcery; heinous use of destructive, evil power like Al-Khem. In short, ideas of each other’s hubris grant both tolerance and condemnation, the resolution of which are still developing.
For their own part, the Sahirim, which have an ever tightening hold over the Shariqyn culture and people as the populations of the cities expand and the altariq become ever more water fat on Sahir-made wells, have done little to abate the threatening posture that the altariq see in them. The Temple feels it has nothing to be ashamed of in its ability to grant gifts and wonders to the people, who are indeed the People of Water, their own people to protect and shepherd.
Neither the altariq or the Sahirim are powerful enough to completely oust the other from power, and nor do they want to. In the end, the Shariqyn military and economy could not function without altariq, and the Shariqyn’s enemies would crush them without. Likewise, the Sahirim and their wonders are equally invaluable, not just for their water, but even a hardened altariq warrior knows that their enemies within the Throne have Sahirim of their own – wielding flame and stone and thought, another Fayudan well beyond their power to prevent seeming ever more a real possibility without the Sahirim to counter it as they once did. Despite the tensions, played out across caste and religion, they each need one another, for now.
The Shariqyn have always been a tolerant people, being made as they are from many different ethnic groups. They welcome different ideas and expressions of religious thought, willing to be humble and admit there might always be a better way. For this reason, there has always been a great deal of variance on the fringes of society in how religion is practiced.
Aa’boran Tariq sees converts from biraq mainly in the form of saqim who are unfit for their caste. Perhaps being poor at one’s craft, or frustrated at being unable to afford a wife, sick of living without honor, they leave the city to join the altariq of their tribe and become warriors. True altariq are raised from early childhood to be killers, and have many years of the deadly arts behind them by the age these former saqim join them. They try to adapt as well as they can, some finding the rhythm of their old skill at weaving, the precision learned as a jeweler, or some other remnant of their past life beneficial in their new lifestyle. Others never manage to become better than second rate warriors, but it is still thought of as respectable to disdain the weakness of saqim and become a true man. These altariq sometimes manage an unusual hybrid of Biraq and Tariq ideas, muddling the two and crossing the ideologies.
Since many ideas of biraq are difficult to understand, it’s natural that confusion and misunderstanding arise from their study, and these are sometimes perpetuated. Some otherwise well-accredited scholars of prestigious academic lineage espouse the idea of reincarnation as a component of Aa’boran Biraq, finding the idea that after death one lives another life an easier way to understand the concurrence of multiple, even infinite lives. Other ideas suppose that since Sahirim can manipulate time, that very fact means everyone has already and always has achieved atma, through cascading unlimited intervention. The intricacies of dealing with theoretical models of multiple concurrent realities and how those realities touch and interact with one another are difficult, even for the most learned Sahirim.
Permissive and flexible as the faith of Aa’boran is, there are some forms of its practice that vary wildly from the common interpretations. An aberrant form of Aa’boran Tariq suggests the idea that individuals have no atma of their own, instead the group has a “collective atma” that it achieves as a cohesive unit. The size of the group in the theory of collective atma changes, with some interpretation being one’s family line, others being ones band, others the whole tribe, and still others all of humanity having one single atma to achieve together.
A similar notion comes in the form a “world atma”, that people do not have atma but instead the world itself does, and that people who act within the world can take action to draw the world closer or further from its own atma state. This model is used to explain the existence of supernatural events such as monsters or curses which appear in some cases of terrible tragedies. The idea supposes that if the world itself were to achieve a personal collective harmony, that a universal paradisaical atma would prevail.
Another form of extant Aa’boran, called the “selfless atma” believes that atma is achieved through helping others achieve atma. Adherents of this idea, basing their theories in biraq principles, believe that it is their duty to murder wicked people in order to cull their wicked selves from the greater continuum of that person’s possible lives. In doing so, they ameliorate the entire essence of that person across every other world, thus increasing its nearness to atma. In doing this, and especially in doing this in great numbers, as it is simultaneously recognized that murder of another is destructive to one’s own path to atma, that a net personal gain is created, and that those who kill enough wicked individuals may earn their own enlightenment while helping to do so for the greater cosmic self of their victims.
There are whisperings of a secretive religious movement, for whom the state of jharad is seen as an exalted status. They believe that just as no man can sin against jharad, so too by the conclusion of the same principle can jharad do no wrong against man. This group, spreading in secret through populations of jharad, believe that all morality is constructed for the purpose of control, and that their oppression has freed them from morality itself, exalted to do as they wish, enlightened in this world, jharad’atma. This interpretation is considered extremely dangerous by those who own jharad, and cruel punishments and examples have been made of those who seem to espouse it or spread it. This seems to only embolden them further. Most who care to blame the Hura tribe for this sentiment, but the Hura themselves are characteristically silent on the matter.
Not all forms of religious unorthodoxy in Sha’ra are forms of Aa’boran. Its nearness to the mighty religious power of the Throne has had its influence over the centuries, and there are quite a few who have converted to the religion of Benalus the Prophet. These Shar’aslan, or “desert lions”, are allowed to remain and live within Sha’ra, though the Padishah demands a higher tax rate of them. Most, however, leave Sha’ra to enter the Throne and be welcomed with open arms as living proof of the Benalian mission to convert all of mankind. These converted Shariqyn are generally treated well within the Throne, though in some places, ironically Gotha itself most of all, bigotry is still quite common.
Sidebar: Desert Lions
Desert Lion is a Shariqyn perk available to describe a Shariqyn who has converted and acclimated to life in the Throne and Benalian faith. Desert Lions lose the Hubris sin and replace it with the Heresy sin that is common to other Throne cultures by default.
Sha’ra is an inherently magical place, at least as far as its stories go. Because of the high rate of literacy, there are many stories and tales recorded and in regular distribution. These stories often feature magical creatures, spells, enchantments, curses and legends, and there is a thriving market for fiction that plays up these wonders. The Shariqyn themselves think of themselves as living in a magical land, and truly, they do. Magic is more common in Sha’ra than in any other human land, thanks to the high status and quantity of Sahirim, and the frequency in which strange things turn up out of the desert.
Magical Wonders – Certainly many magical wonders can and do turn up in the markets of Shariqyn cities. Some are found in the desert, revealed from the shifting of the sands. These may be previously lost be a traveller or altariq warrior, but some are said to have come from the original wreckage of Vangloria. These are those which don’t seem to conform neatly to those things that Water magic is thought usually capable of, such as flying carpets, or the tablets of destiny. Still other things are claimed (truly ot falsely) to be Al-Khem, brought up from the black sand ruins at great personal risk or expense. Others are simply the industry of Sahirim, creating tools and enchanted items to help them or some lucky Shahzada in their work. Many, many stories exist of magical wonders, some of them undoubtedly false for their incredulity or power, but those are the best stories, most repeated.
Giant Birds – Shariqyn legend is full of various kinds of enormous birds. The Roc, a great eagle-like beast of the high mountains is said to be large enough to carry off a horse, or even a gaja. Rocs mostly are heard of in the Southern jungles, but they have been reported seen as far north as the Badlands of Korm. Other great birds, such as the Phoenix are said to exist in the Great Desert, and have wings of fire. It is said that their flapping is what creates the terrible heat of that place, but it has healing powers for those it favors, which tales hold is how the Hura manage to survive there. Other great birds such as the Ziz of Shazaara, are said to be large enough to block out the sun with their wings, or the Simurgh of Rakhban, who is said to be a benevolent god-like creature with all of the knowledge of the earth.
Lion Monsters – Manticores and griffons, hybrid beasts that have lion features crossed with other beasts such as a manticore’s scorpion tail, or a griffon’s eagle wings, are common in tales of the deep desert. Supposedly these creatures stalk the sands, and make their nests beneath the dunes. Most regions report seeing such creatures from time to time, such as the Anzu of the Great Desert, or the Sphinx of Shazaara, which is said to wrest the secrets from the minds of its victims. All of these creatures involve a hybridization of the lion, and it is thought by some to be the consequence of the spread of Benalian faith into the desert, or caused by the conversion of Shariqyn to that religion.
Elementals – Creatures of living mystical power, elementals are roughly humanoid and are considered to be in some cases extremely dangerous, and in others totally docile. Said to be found in the deep desert, they wander among the sands as if searching, or in some cases merely stand perfectly still, as if unaware. Some places are even said to have had a stone building built around an elemental for the safety of others. Some elementals will speak with those who attempt it, and have various personalities. It is thought that perhaps that these creatures are in some way a relic of Vangloria, trying to guard the scattered fragments of the ruin, or locate their charges and kill any who would trespass upon rooms or vaults long destroyed.
Broken Mirrors – Just as mirrors are thought to be a useful tool of meditation to draw closer to self-understanding and atma, so too can gazing into a broken mirror draw you further away from atma and send you on the wrong path, ruining your life.
Jinn – Jinn are bodiless, malevolent entities that can be found in hidden places. They can take on many different forms, including storms, monsters, beautiful people and loved ones, but they are universally considered to be a force of destruction and hatred. While Jinn are extremely powerful, they are also limited in many ways, and cannot complete certain desires they have without assistance. They must be carried from place to place, either bound inside of an object or allowed to enter a person and control them. Jinn can do almost anything that they wish to on behalf of the one assisting them, but only if they wish, and their gifts, in stories at least, always come at a price or backfire in the end.
Jinn appear in many Shariqyn stories and legends, almost always as a hazard or villain, though occasionally as sympathetic or at least not outright evil. It is said that there are secret arts to bind a Jinni (the singular form of Jinn) to one’s will, or trick them into serving you, and that the royal masks of the Ba’alim of old had bound powerful Jinn to them. Anu-Kash himself was said to wear all of the Ba’al masks of the kings he conquered and this allowed him incredible power.
Ifrit – A class of lesser Jinn who are attracted to places of death, blood, or violence. They hunger for the water of those they encounter, and are thought to live deep within the earth and come out only at night. It is said that they have their own tribes, Shahs, and laws, and can marry, even able to marry a human being. Some say they are the failed atma of the hubristic, doomed to exist unfulfilled unless it can level itself by murdering the wicked, taking revenge for human murders, or in some way redeeming its pitiful existence, and that they will not harm the truly virtuous.
Whistling – Whistling at night is said to call forth monsters or draw the attention of ghuls or ifrit, or in some cases, create sandstorms.
Protection from Evil – A dye produced by the henna tree is used to decorate the skin or hair. It is said that drawing sacred designs on the body will create wards that protect the wearer from evil. The indr’atma use henna extensively, and it is believed that they do this to emblazon the path of atma into their being, making them impervious to harm, physical or spiritual. It is also thought that wearing the color blue creates a similar effect, protecting against curses and other evils. Men, especially altariq, wear veils covering their faces at night to protect against evils by providing anonymity.
The Shariqyn have many traditional holidays, practiced throughout the year, with some tribal variants.
Lilh Kharif, Night of the Fall
Celebrated in late summer, the final night of a month long celebration of a pilgrimage to Siri, the City of Mysteries belonging to every tribe, celebrating the fall of the original city of Danarius.
Lilh Akonah, Night of Masks
An early autumn celebration reenacting the Fayudan, where everyone wears identical masks. Only one of them is the true Anu-Kash, and it is up to the village or band’s children to find the real one without being whispered to.
Lilh Rajul, Husband’s Night
Celebrated in late Spring, on this night wives honor their husbands with a special gift or ceremony thanking them for honoring them for the rest of the year. It is typical that a wife will have something commissioned or created artistically, and husbands often cherish these gifts their whole lives.
Lilh Al-hanna, Night of the Henna
In the evenings leading up to marriage, a woman’s female friends and family bring her gifts to start her new life and put henna all over her body to give her blessings for her new life.
Lilh Adwa, Night of Lights
Celebrated at midwinter, candles, torches, lamps, and every other light source are lit to celebrate the triumph of light over darkness, knowledge over ignorance, compassion over hate, and hope over despair. Preparations for this night extend for several weeks, and in large cities the entire city is lit with lights and can be seen for miles away. Some cities even use black powder and dies to create explosions in the air to color the sky. Gifts are traditionally given on this day to one’s friends and loved ones.
The Shariqyn concept, “al-atma”, which translates something like “it is fate”, is a common Shariqyn saying, as well as a cultural notion that pervades every level of society. A Shariqyn will use this phrase to suggest that whatever happens is outside of his or her hands, and in the hands of atma, in essence, “whatever will be, will be”. In practice, this phrase and its attendant idea are used primarily as a form of disengagement of responsibility to the subject at hand. One might say “I will be in attendance and on time, al-atma”, remarks that the speaker will be punctual, probably, unless something happens to make it otherwise.
The attitude of al-atma is chiefly used by the general public to suggest that responsibility for this lies elsewhere, such as “the road will one day be fixed, al-atma”. It lays the foundation for a general disassociation for responsibility that those things which directly affect one’s self and one’s own family are their own responsibility, and everything else is perhaps the Shah’s, or perhaps a Sahir. If it comes to one’s self to fix the issue, al-atma, they will be presented with an opportunity to do so.
COURTSHIP AND MARRIAGE
Women who reach the age of fifteen are presented to society as an adult woman. At this ceremony, called indra’sabah, literally “the morning of womanhood”, all interested men introduce themselves formally to the woman, and recite a modest list of their most prominent accomplishment and resources. A woman chooses her own betrothed once she is an adult, but it is rare for her to do so at this ceremony. Instead, the indra’sabah, traditionally overseen by a magus, declares her an adult and ready to begin her adult life and is allowed by her mother to begin to make her own life decisions and have an external social life, perhaps attending madrasa if their family can afford to.
Typically, after the indra’sabah, any would-be suitors will try to befriend the woman. As many of her suitors who are capable of affording a wife are much older than she, they typically will gently insert themselves into the life of her family by being a regular presence in the periphery of the family’s life, bringing gifts or advice and becoming a friend. This time is very important in the life of the entire family, for it is considered to be in ill taste to befriend a family simply to court their daughter alone, and those wishing to do so are courting a long-term relationship with the family as well.
When a woman is ready to begin accepting courtiers formally, usually around age eighteen to early twenties, but sometimes much older, she declares indra’zahira, “the noon of womanhood”, a ceremonial party where her suitors come forth and make offers to her. Ultimately only the woman can decide when and who to marry, and why. Sometime after indra’sabah and before indra’zahira, many women fall in love with a suitor, and the indra’zahira, is simply a formality. Typically in these cases he will be called to speak last, with every other suitor making their claim first so that they can be formally denied in favor of her love. In other cases, a woman simply wishes to become married and start the next phase of her life, and will truly judge the worthiness of each suitor at that time, most of whom she already knows, but some perhaps from other tribes or from higher stations.
The woman selects in private, and speaks to her father (or eldest brother, if the father has died or cannot attend), to negotiate a dowry. The dowry proves that the man has the means to support a wife, and is negotiated by the father on behalf of the mother, for whom haggling is far beneath her. Once the negotiation has reached a favorable end, the dowry is given to the woman’s mother as a gift from the husband in thanks for raising their daughter.
Wearing a special piece of jewelry, the wedding ring, men who are married see an immediate increase in their personal status. They are trusted and respected as senior men, and it is considered rude to dishonor a married man by serving an unmarried one first at dinner, or other small courtesies. Men wear a ring for each wife they have, in extreme cases using other means such as a necklace or beard-jewelry, and are given proportional respect. Men can only have honors in their ability to upraise and honor the women they are responsible for, and those who can do so are honored in proportion to that ability. While it is crass to literally compare the amount of wives one has, that is more or less exactly what occurs between men to determine their overall status.
To properly maintain and enshrine a wife, a man is expected to give her expensive gifts of fine goods. It is permissible, though discouraged, to occasionally give her coin, but the form of the gifts a husband gives are as important as their value in wealth. Husbands wishing to give their wives a way to spend money as they choose are encouraged to give jewels or jewelry that may be easily sold at the indra’suq.
The exact amount of wealth that is bestowed upon the wife, at minimum monthly, is debatable and changes depending on the overall station of the family. Some standards say it should be everything that is left over after basic maintenance of the home and livelihood are accounted for, but this standard fails at the upper and lower extremes. Some men’s profits may simply be small, too small to impress anyone, and these men do not marry for they can rarely muster a dowry. Other men, powerful merchants with great enterprise, may keep their wife in luxury with but a portion of their incomes, and these men are encouraged to marry again.
Some gifts to a wife are not monetary in their value. Especially used among altariq, they are instead symbolic of some accomplishment, usually violent, that they did in their wife’s name, such as killing a foe in battle, especially if that person has ever dishonored or demeaned his wife. The ultimate standard is that their wife is impressed and satisfied with the amount that she is given, and while some may judge based on display, the amount is ultimately a private affair between husband and wife.
A woman holds the ultimate right to declare herself divorced at any time. A man whose business has failed or who becomes injured, unable to support his family, or who is incapable of producing children is likely to find himself divorced, in a ceremony called indra’zalaam, or “the woman’s darkness”. The most usual case of this event is the death of her husband, and it is a time of mourning. However, this declaration is not automatic. Some women refuse to end their marriage after their husband’s death, especially in the case that he left enough money to ensure the survival of his family long after his death. In this way, she remains married to her late husband, and he continues to gain honor in the support of his wife even after death. A husband who can accomplish this all the way to the natural death of his wives is granted the highest posthumous honor in Shariqyn society.
The Shariqyn are in every respect a trade empire, with trade routes and networks that are scrupulously maintained over hundreds, sometimes thousands of miles. Most Shariqyn men can haggle furiously, having an excellent understanding of the fair value of goods, and saqim make every effort to maintain constant contact with their partners elsewhere.
Shariqyn trade is so powerful because they have access to markets and resources that no one else has. To the Throne they can deal elven silks, dwarven machinery, exotic spices, as well as their own goods which are produced inexpensively, yet still with great skill, by jharad. To the elves they can trade their own spices and Throne coin, which elves accept in trade for their goods, and within their own country they can trade the diverse goods of the various Shariqyn regions.
Despite the ongoing tribal feuds, trade is generally allowed, even with one’s enemy. Trade caravans are heavily guarded by altariq, and are difficult, if tempting, to plunder. A raiding party of altariq warriors that is desirous of foreign goods often considers it cheaper to pay in gold than in blood, and the Padishah is very jealous of his spice profits, and may be angered into acting directly if there are significant disruptions in production.
Hospitality in Shariqyn culture is a matter of honor. The actual serving of meals is a specially important time, and the host will serve each person in attendance with their own hands, in order of status – first their own wives, in order of marriage, then the wives of any guests, then the male guests, and then their own children, daughters first. Being the host of a meal that was provided entirely by one’s self entitles them to their guests attention, and by tradition, the host may ask for a service or boon from their guest. The guest does not have to agree, but they must listen, and it is considered to be extremely rude to accept hospitality and yet refuse a request made over the meal if it is a reasonable request within their power.
For this reason, even in a public setting, it is unheard of in Shariqyn culture to split payment or cost for something such as a meal or service, instead men will fight valiantly to be the one to pay in order to demonstrate their wealth and character. It is considered especially honorable for a man of fewer wives to pay for or serve the meal to a man with more wives, especially if all of the wives are present.
While individual Shariqyn meals are usually fairly basic affairs, a banquet for guests is much more elaborate, with multiple courses. Banquets usually begin with pre-meal snacks, usually dried nuts and seeds, followed by side dishes and salads, then two main courses and desserts. A guest would give offense if they do not eat of every course. These affairs usually take their guests personal preference into account, seeking out their guests preferences beforehand to be able to order and prepare their favorite foods. Shariqyn hosts are known to insist that their guests stay longer, and offer them a place to stay the night if necessary. The ability to provide all of this using advanced planning is considered a high virtue.
Shariqyn military affairs vary heavily in style and emphasis by tribe, however, they are still always made up of altariq as the backbone of the force, usually with jharad shock troops and an elite corp of asirim protecting the Shahzada in command. Each tribe then places its own emphasis on this, such as the Alhind use of war gaja or the Hura tribe’s almost exclusive use of stealthy skirmishers and their total lack of jharad forces. The Rhakib use almost exclusively cavalry forces, with all of their altariq mounted. The rare times the Evran go to war, they primarily use Sahir sorcery and sand sailer vehicles to cut deeply in one single decisive battle. Korma forces use siege machinery with greater frequency, and Shazaad armies swell overwhelmingly with jharad warriors. Khonsur rarely go to war, for they have and hold no real territory, though they still play a role using espionage and assassination, and use skirmishers to defend the areas they are using.
Shariqyn militaries do not have any formal knight caste or military professionals. Instead, individual warriors rise to prominence within their tribe. These warriors, called Amir, are warlords who men of their tribe will follow into battle. While these are sometimes Shahzada, they are as often not, and warriors will follow any man of their tribe who can offer them honor and glory. Amir can come from any caste (while generally not jharad, it is not unheard of for a warrior slave to rise to such prominence), and can be a man or a woman, called Amirah. As their conquests become well-known, warriors of the tribe flock to their banner for a chance to win glory, treasure and slaves for their tribe. As long as their conquests increase, they will continue to draw warriors in greater number, though if they suffer defeats, their host will quickly evaporate for a new commander. This eminence-based authority has been the rule as far back as any can remember, and it has served the Shariqyn well in keeping the status quo as it is.
It is hard to overstate the presence of magic in the lives of Shariqyn. More than any other human culture, magic is a part of their lives. As a desert people, water is life, and the Sahirim of the Temple of Water are givers of that life. Every aspect of culture is touched by the need for water, and thus magic is a part of everyday events. The Aa’boran itself is affected by and touched by magic, especially the Biraq, but few can say how much the “path” that is walked by the altariq has been changed when the path itself is to and from oases created by sorcery.
Sahirim themselves are treated as holy figures, exalted among all people, though it is understood that the Throne and the elves have their own kinds of magicians. It is understood that the magicians of the Throne are working against the Shariqyn, and that the Sahirim work to counter this. These “guild” magicians are guilty of the highest hubris, even as the Sahirim are above it (or not, depending on one’s feeling on the Biraq). The elves are seen to be innately magical, and certainly doing whatever magics they do entirely differently than either the Shariqyn or the Throne, and so few are ready to condemn them for their magic or decide whether or not it is hubris for an elf to use magic.
REGIONS AND TRIBES OF SHA’RA
The Badlands of Korm
The Badlands of Korm form the northwestern border of Sha’ra, characterized by canyons, ravines, and long stretches of flat, cracked clay earth without water. The region was the ancient home to a dwarven people that have long since gone into decline. Ruins of their works can still be found in many places, most of any significant size haunted by Orc or clever traps. A few facades of ancient structures can still be seen, high upon the cliffside of the Alskorm mountains which form the northwestern edge of the Badlands. From those places, stone aqueducts, some hundreds of miles long and suspended dozens of feet high, ran water from the high mountains throughout the surrounding land.
Korma historians believe that mankind settled alongside the dwarves in their early times in this region, and the dwarves instructed them in the art of writing. These early men found the dwarven writing system to be difficult to use and did not well represent their speech, and so changed it to their liking to better represent their tongue. The earliest records of the region, recorded on fired clay tablets and stela, still have language similar original cleft-form of that era.
The dwarves eventually left the area, retreating into the Alskorms, their great stone aqueducts finally running dry, but their mark upon the people has ever been felt. Their techniques of stone masonry were studied, copied, and reproduced, and the Korma tribe has had great success in crafting storied monuments to their own ascension.
Most of the cities of the Badlands are supplied by wells, drawing from a source below the rocks. The largest city of the region, Qen-Kormria, is built upon the entrance to a cave system that accesses an aquifer with channels and tunnels that rumors say connect to many other places. The city is a sprawl of flat sandstone roofs ringing an enormous fortress. The fortress of Heart-Hollow was built only in the recent decades, and was built to be the permanent repository of books and learning by its late Shah, Korma Saqim ibn Rashid Takis, as well as supposedly to house a powerful magical wonder of the ancient tribe.
Of all of the tribes of Sha’ra, this region has the greatest animosity for the Throne. The region is in contest between the Korma tribe and Capacionne, and its border has changed many times over the centuries, each with a bloody war that has instilled a new generation with hatred for their foreign foe. Qen-Kormria itself has been taken twice in the last thirty years, though the prevailing notion is that the artifact that the fortress was protecting was taken elsewhere before it fell by twin daughters of the late Shah.
Despite its arid landscape, the Badlands are one of the most populated regions of Sha’ra, second only to Siri and Shazaara. Long ago, when the Sahirim created new sources of water for the Shariqyn so that they might thrive more easily, they took special care to restore the Badlands which had for so long suffered. The resulting population explosion over the next centuries meant that the cities became powerful and thriving, far more powerful than their altariq, who were no longer able to demand tribute of them as they once did, and instead the altariq are dependant on the cities for support that they have grown accustomed to. The Shazaad tribe to the South also has this arrangement, but the Korma saqim autonomy is relatively more new and quite different.
Perhaps due to the need for a highly militarized state to contest the incursions by land of the Capacians, the Korma have developed many military technologies to compliment their traditional altariq militaries. This has resulted in a series of huge, sandstone walls which protect the Badlands from invaders to the West, which are equipped with machinery made in nearby Melkir to move them piece by piece to allow entry, as well as large-scale siege equipment such as trebuchet and ballista to fling the abundant boulders of the region at knights who may dare their range. These walls have to be garrisoned to be effective, which means that nomadic altariq must be stationed there at all times. This requires a delicate relationship with the tribal heads, who see this as an affront to their tariq way of life. An agreement was reached with the Shah that each band takes a turn at the walls, and it is part of their overall trek of the Badlands to search for water. Each wall always has a ceremonial oasis of fresh water, which each soldier takes from as they begin their watch.
For their part, the altariq, equipped with high quality weaponry from Melkir forges and destroying invaders when they come by the hundreds with heavy weaponry, have grown accustomed to this different kind of honor. Over the centuries, time on the wall has become the most honorable of all of a warrior’s duties, and they largely accept the direction and orders of the Korma saqim who are the true power of the region.
Blood Feuds of the Korma Tribe:
Shazaad – The decadent Shazaad to the South have ever hungered for more riches. The think the Korma weak in their distraction defending the land border, and while they would never wish the expense and responsibility of guarding it themselves, they are happy to raid the Korma production centers and supply to weaken them without making them fall. To the Shazaad, the Korma are the goat that they milk instead of slaughter.
Hura – The deep desert men have little and covet what the Korma have. They steal their jharad, especially those captured from their Cappacian enemy, and set them loose within the Badlands to cause havoc while they raid for food from the Kestuli Plains and other regions. The desert rats are little better than jharad themselves in their poverty, but are no real threat to the great cities of Korm.
Capacionne – The armored, horsed men of the west are foreign invaders of the worst kind. They seek not only to steal, but to upend and destroy all of Shariqyn culture. The Korma tribe is the strong bulwark against this evil, the only tribe strong enough to hold back the wetlanders and their oppressive lion god. The great darkness of the Capacians, and the black emperor whom they serve, is challenged only by the light of Korma and its protection of the most powerful resource there is – knowledge.
The Tribal capital of the Badlands of Korm and the Korma tribe. Home to the the largest museum and library of history in Sha’ra, and a madrasa erected to study history and the techniques of the ancients.
A trade town at the base of the Alskorm range where there are a number of ancient ruins of debated origin and the study of history and machinery thrives. Many of the machines devised in Qen-Kormria are produced by craftsmen in Melkir for use in the military.
The Kestuli Plains
A large plain famous for cotton production, and the breadbasket of Korm. In the Badlands, the coincidence of flat land with a water source is very rare. In order to irrigate the region for production, hydraulic pumps and pipes from a far away aquifer draw water through gravity powered mechanisms to put water directly into the root structures of the plants below ground, avoiding evaporation from the sun. Cotton is then spun in specialized wheel roller to separate the seeds from the fibers, and goes on to produce garments for all of Sha’ra
Shazaara is a region of western Sha’ra that is by far the most water rich. It contains the great Jida river, the grandmother, which has been a constant of Shariqyn life since long before the current empire. It also contains a broad coastline which borders on the Hestronne Sea, granting it untold wealth. Shazaara, literally “the desert of kings”, was the seat of power of the Aa’bosaa’d Empire and the great cities which ran up and down the Jida as it meandered its way to the sea.
After the Fayudan, the cities still stood, inhabited only by the ifrit of those who suffered in that apocalyptic war. It was here that Shariqyn life naturally fled back to once the tribes had recovered in Siri and sought to return to their old life. Most of the tribes of Shazaara were totally wiped out, and the Shahzaad, at the time a rough name for any of the many tribes of Shazaara, returning to the abundance manifest by the vast availability of land, buildings and water, had no reason for several centuries to war with each other, instead simply becoming a single tribe, the Shazaad.
By now, grander and greater than ever before, Shazaara is the western jewel of the Shariqyn, second only to Siri itself in its grandeur. When those of the Throne think of the Shariqyn empire and its fabulous cities and wealth, the subject of poems, stories and tapestries of that exotic land, it is Shazaara they think of. Indeed, that is largely because Shazaara is a mighty trade power of its own, launching a merchant fleet from its shipyards to trade silks and spices in Hestralia and beyond. Unlike the Throne, Sha’ra welcomes foreigners openly, and the region has many Throne expatriates who have set up a new life here.
One of the most stark displays of this foreign influence is the city of Akah, which has the largest Benalian population outside of the Throne proper, and where a cathedral has been built by Melandahim priests to preach to the Shariqyn. Many Shar’aslan make their home in Akah, and they have a Shariqyn Archbishop who preaches the Sanctae Viae, the book of the virtue of pilgrimage, which resonates with the altariq.
The cities are the true power of Shazaara, and the Shazaad altariq are the most like saqim of any tribe. For these altariq, the path is upon the sea, and their journey across the hostile sea of land to find water has inverted to be the trip across hostile sea of water to find life-giving land. Sailors, they make the circuit from Durnith to Aquila to Castello, then home. There are still many Shazaad altariq who travel the desert, but even this is from city to city, not lonely oasis to oasis, for every oasis in this region has thick walls to surround it, a palace built around those walls, and a city built around that palace.
Blood Feuds of the Shazaad Tribe:
Korma – The Korma tribe, envious of the vast wealth of the Shazaad, are cowards who hide behind walls when they should be seizing the world as the Shazaad have. In the great jeweled cities of Shazaara, the Shazaad grow numerous and powerful, and they would share this wealth with their people, but not with the Korma. The dusty northerners have antagonized the Throne to the point where war with their people is inevitable and constant, disrupting the wealth of the Shazaad, and making peace and prosperity an impossibility. It is better if they died, their tribe ground into the dust of the badlands, and Shazaad hands of welcome be reached across their forbidding walls.
Rakib – With the comparatively small forces of altariq in Shazaara, the Rakib tribesmen find little trouble in taking what they wish from Shazaad saqim. It is vexing in the extreme, but the sheer speed with which Rakib can conduct an attack, far, far within the borders of Shazaad territory makes anticipating their attacks impossible, and the Shazaad simply do not have the numbers to guard every caravan strongly enough that it can be protected. In this way, though the Shazaad have largely cowed their own altariq, the altariq of the Rakib demand tribute from them in their place. Efforts are made to hire mercenary forces, even from Hestralia or Njordr, to combat them are sporadic, but do seem effective for a time. The difficulty is that the Rakib do not build cities at all, travelling instead with all their possessions, and so in true altariq fashion, they are a constant threat that only the unlikely event of total extermination could ever truly end.
Durnith, Mother of Laws
The largest city in Shazaara is Durnith and the seat of the Shazaad Shah, where the Ba’al Artacraxis the Wise is said to have written the first binding law upon a giant stone stela in the center of the city. This draconian set of laws, surviving today, gives an early look to life in the Aa’bosaa’d Empire, but it could not be further from the truth of the modern day. Durnith is considered to be an extremely liberal city, where the asirim who govern it do very little to regulate behavior outside of violations of other’s property or bodies. Buildings erected as the Temple of Laws where asir magistrates hear cases and disputes are throughout the city in its districts, and the success of these courts, which are mostly matters of financial liability and where penalties are usually monetary in nature, engenders a trust in the law from the general population that makes Durnith one of the lowest crime cities for its size in the world for its enormous population.
A city on the upper Jida, it is the forward outpost of the Shazaad inland forces. Here, the Shazaad altariq make camp and resupply for raids into the desert against the Rakib, or more to the point, to defend against the Rakib, making priority caravans and trade more difficult to attack. Az-Zarqa has strong fortifications and can hold against a siege for a decade if it must, and so it is a reliable bastion of the easternmost Shazaara.
Perhaps the most cosmopolitan city in the world, Akah is a tumultuous blend of East and West, with Temple Madrasas competing with Gothic churches for command of the skyline. By local law, Throne trade guilds can operate here under their Imperial charters, and local Shariqyn saqim must do the same. This creates a strange blended commercial profile that has saqim joining guilds as apprentices and journeymen, but still maintaining external trade networks unprotected by the guilds in greater Sha’ra. A symbiosis occurs where trade flows through the guildhalls from East to West and back again. Hestra, Gothic and Shariq’a compete in the streets to be overheard, and business and restaurants catering to Throne tastes and sensibilities are not hard to find. Gothic priests guest lecture in Shariq’a in the Temple madrasa, or debate with Sahirim in the suq. For their part, the Church of Lethia seems highly supportive of its venture in Akah, and is committed to seeing a peace work there. The Shazaad asirim and the Melandahim Archbishop work closely together to ensure cooperation.
The Forest of Thulna
The coast of Shazaara falls off into the sea into shallows for an great expanse, where a forest of mangrove trees twists a natural barrier along the shore. These trees, some of which have been cut back and dredged to create shipping lanes into the largest port cities like Durnith and Akah, make landing a vessel any larger than a skiff upon the Shazaara coast impossible. This has proved a powerful defense against naval powers like Hestralia and Capacionne, since it effectively prevents unwelcome landing on the coast by military craft. It has been no impediment to trade, since with a concerted effort they can be removed, and so is thought by the Shazaad to be a treasure of their land.
The Forest of Thulna is not without its darker side, however, for the mangroves are thick and it is difficult to travel within without becoming lost from the constant maneuvering. While the forest once held villages and even a lost palace, rumors abound of places where ifrit or jinn lure travellers in, only to become lost in another world, or hunted by piscine ghuls. It is told in Shazaad tariq folktales that the forest exists to protect Sha’ra from the poison water of the sea, and that travelling the sea is a gateway to Heshiyah, and the forest of Thulna is the gateway to that dark place outside the world.
The steppes of Rakhban are a trackless wasteland of high desert, with extreme changes in weather in the season. Rakhban summers rival the Great Desert, and its winters the chill of Kimshir. Leagues of featureless red limestone covered in light gravel, where what little rain falls gathers in salt flats and where herds of wild horses run are where the Rakib call home.
The Rakib tribe are horsemen through and through, and have very few saqim or asirim. When a man becomes a full altariq warrior, he is given his first horse, but he will have spent his entire life on horseback, since days after his birth. Horses are in the very spirit and blood of the Rakib, and their earliest legends tell of a horse deity granting them the knowledge to ride, and is the founding sire of all the horses of the steppe. The Rakib travel almost entirely by tent and yurt, carrying everything upon their horses and making camp in locations of shelter each night.
Despite being almost entirely altariq and following their oldest tariq customs, the Rakib do have their own trade, chiefly from the capture, breaking and training of wild Shariqyn horses. Unlike other tribes, horses that are raised by Rakib are considered literal members of the Rakib tribe, and treated with the same rights as any other altariq, called hasan’tariq, the horse of the path. They are brought inside the tent with the family during the night, are treated as warriors once they are trained for war, have their own hasan’harim, where they are bred with the indra’hasan mares, and they are named by their lineage, reciting the names of the horses who came before when they are addressed formally.
It is the indra’hasan, however, which are the most prized warriors, for they among all horses are stealthy and disciplined, as well as strong and powerful. The Rakib emulate this, and among all tribes, the Rakib tribe honors and supports female warriors more than any other. Like the indra’hasan, the indra’tariq are stealthy, graceful and powerful, and they are trained in ramal’qital like any other altariq warrior, and those Rakib women who are also indr’atma lead them into war with their indra’qital to aid them as well.
Perhaps no tribe is as feared for their warrior prowess as the Rakib, whose only limit to their plunder is their appetite, which given their lack of permanent dwellings, is somewhat less than those of other tribes who make cities. Rakib warriors are legendary horse archers, and while their numbers of warriors are great, especially since they are nearly doubled by the presence of indra’qital warriors among them, their ability to travel vast distances in short amounts of time multiplies the power of their army manifold, for they can attack three distant targets with a single army easily, when any other tribe would need three.
The Rakib rarely partake in actual war, instead controlling vast tracts of land and demanding tribute of other tribes such as the Shazaad or the Alhind. It is said by some that they have extensive cave networks hidden in the steppes that are full of stolen treasures that they have no way to spend, waiting for a day when the Rakib Shah needs to barter for some favor with someone who cares more about gold than he.
Blood Feuds of the Rakib Tribe:
Shazaad – The Shazaad tribe hide within their cities, hoarding wealth. Every Rakib warrior is worth ten of them, and so they are still outnumbered, slow, fat, and weak. Their decadence is an affront to the Shariqyn tariq from which all Shariqyn descend, and it is that they have forgotten this that they have been made feeble. It would be no matter, making more lame saqim to collect tribute from, except that they have forgotten the Fayudan, and the Rakib remember disasters brought on by their cousins can imperil all of them.
Alhind – The Alhind dare the jungle, and it has made them brave, but they are just as savage as the Orc they hunt. Generations of conflict on the border of the steppe and the jungle, and the spice wealth it brings, have embroiled the Alhind and the Rakib into countless battles. The Padishah himself has intervened upon the Rakib for doing as their have always done for millenia, corrupted as he is by the spice and gold. With the spice comes a hollowness that cannot be filled with more spice, and it infects the Shariqyn, bringing fatness, decadence and foreigners.
Ruins of Tamur
The long abandoned city of Tamur, the ancient capital of the Rakib ancestors, has never been retaken. The wind howling through its marble and sandstone temples and pillars is the only song left of those ancient Rakib who dwelt within its crumbling walls. Once, Rakib altariq guarded trade caravans that passed through Rakhban from Kimshir carrying silks and treasures, and the city grew incredibly wealthy. The city had its own language, Tamurian, and had tombs that stretched skyward as towers for the honored dead. Now long gone rites to consecrate the dead are found everywhere, and no one knows to whom these prayers are spoken to. Sahirim sometimes come to these ruins, pondering the ancient past, but for the Rakib, it is only a place for the dead now.
The Great Desert
The Great Desert fills the entire central area of Sha’ra, and is so vast and hot as to be considered impassable, making it an obstacle that must be navigated through or around in any long-distance Shariqyn travel. It is said that nothing can live within the deep desert, and that there is no wildlife, plants, clouds, or oases. The fine, powdery sand of that place blows endlessly in shifting winds, and that the dunes never stay in place or order, making navigating with them an impossibility.
And yet, despite that, the Hura tribe accomplishes this, live within, and make their homes and families there. The Hura are an oddity amongst the Shariqyn peoples, not only because of their relative isolation and rarity, but because they do not take jharad. It is said that the Hura themselves descended from jharad who escaped captivity in great numbers, fled into the desert where no one would dare follow, and somehow survived there. Centuries later, they are a people of unknown numbers, yet of clear strength.
Their altariq, such as they are, do emerge from the desert, and they do so to raid the slave pens of wealthy saqim in the cities, especially those of the west in Korm or Shazaara. These they either let free within the city, where riots and rebellion often take place, or they return with them to the deep desert to become Hura. Hura are renowned for their stealth and agency, able to infiltrate other tribes and cities, walk among the natives and do their work. Hura are generally very quiet, reserved and stoic, and usually go unnoticed in a crowd.
Many of the other tribes think of the Hura as scum, or criminals, or simply some kind of upjumped jharad, but their long history, and conspicuous lack of jharad tattoos, their declaration of themselves as of an obviously real tribe, Hura, literally “free”, means by tribal law they are not actually jharad unless made so, and so their actions raiding and taking jharad from other tribe is in truth no different than the actions of any other inter-tribal warfare.
Within the Great Desert, the Hura live in cool caves beneath the surface, carved or eroded by wind into the hard rock of the interior mountains. It is said that they have special meditation to fast without water, and that they can live for weeks at a time off a single cup, such that they can steal this water when they emerge from the desert. Other sources say that they steal great quantities of water, and somehow return with it to the desert, where it is stored in underground caches. There are still very many ruins that emerge from the desert, and the largest of such are easy for the Hura to continue to excavate and expand into interior dwellings. Some estimates suggest that there may be as many fifty such places in use in the Great Desert, and that each of those may house as many as three thousand Hura saqim. If that is so, the Hura are one of the most numerous of all of the tribes, despite their apparent scarcity.
Blood Feuds of the Hura Tribe:
Korma – The Korma tribe are thought to be the tribe that the original Hura may have fled from in their exodus as jharad, if that story is indeed true. Whatever the truth, the Hura have an intense dislike for the Korma and their exploitation of others to die in their wars with their foreign foes.
Shazaad – The Shazaad are by far the most powerful slave market in Sha’ra, and their incredible monetary success was built on the backs of jharad. The Hura seem to believe that the Shazaad do not deserve their wealth and success, and they are the preferred target for raids. That this fuels yet more slaving to replace the ones that are taken ensures that this war is perpetual.
Hibanya Erg – The site of the creation of the tribe, a great series of dunes that surround a deep creater which can be used as one of the only navigable landmarks in the desert. It is said that this site filled with water upon the Hura’s first passage into the desert, when the punishing, murderous heat threatened to kill every one of them.
Karnaka – A temple dedicated to a long forgotten deity of old, its statued halls still stand in mute vigil, even as hundreds of Hura saqim make their suq within.
The mysterious Hindra jungles are almost completely unknown to any in the world outside the Alhind tribe. Steamy, thick and noisy with birdsong, the jungles are in stark contrast to the deserts and crags that dominate most of the Shariqyn landscape. Water flows freely in the jungle, and there are many rivers and estuaries where clean water flows from far off mountains, and the plants and trees grow mighty, with thick vines carrying water that can be cut for sustenance.
Despite the presence of abundant water, however, the jungles are considered one of the more inhospitable places for a Shariqyn to choose to live. The jungle has never been, perhaps cannot be, dominated by mankind. It is Orc who rule there, alongside beasts the like that are not seen anywhere else in the known world. In the Hindra, there are not just the enormous, tusked gaja that have made appearances elsewhere in the Shariqyn empire in times of war, but great beasts of every nature. The ahool, a gigantic bat with a twenty-nine foot wingspan, enormous, savage men with black fur covering their body, who some believe a cross of Orc and man, ferocious cats larger than any desert lion, and even enormous bees that pollinate colossal flowers have been reported.
These reports come from the spice hunters, who must infiltrate the savage land and dare the presence of any of these creatures and the Orc who truly rule there. The spice shoots only grow in the black mud of the Hindra, and have resisted every attempt to cultivate them through farming. The Orc gather them as well when they sprout, so the competition is fierce and hunters must often do battle with colossal Orc to get their prize. The hunters who have traveled the farthest through the jungles report that the Orc have their own colossal cities and temples, an entire empire built into the sides of the cliffs and mountains, and dared go no farther.
The Alhind are unique among Shariqyn tribes in that they were largely left undamaged by the Fayudan, relative to the other tribes, perhaps due to the dangerous nature of their environment. The result is that the Alhind kings of old did not journey to the crash of the Vangloria arcology and were not a part of the first stages of the reunification. Danarius is said to have journeyed there to meet them and befriended Singh, the king of Hindra, giving him a captured desert lion. Danarius stayed to become his teacher, and the Alhind king joined the new empire as the first Padishah.
The cities of the Alhind are grand affairs, with great towers and expansive architecture, the buildings of Hindra are some of the largest in the world, and Danarius is said to have taken inspiration from their designs when he returned to oversee the construction of Siri. The architecture of Hindra remains one of its most notable features, especially the temples and stone monuments. Flame-like shapes and stone towers are omnipresent in the buildings, and some of them are millennia old.
Alhind themselves are perhaps the most unlike the rest of the Shariqyn since they kept a much stronger hold on their original royal culture after becoming Shahs. The traditional Alhind culture decries the caste system, and the terms altariq, saqim, asirim, jharad and others were not widely used, though over time they have become more so as the Alhind became more integrated into Shariqyn culture after their king became the Padishah. They still do not widely differentiate between altariq and saqim, but do recognize asirim and jharad, and do participate in the slave trade, though usually only to purchase. The ability to use slaves to do some of the most dangerous work of spice hunting was too potent to pass over, and the increased ability to generate much more wealth by trading spices to the rest of the empire has created only the need for more slaves and the ability to purchase them more easily.
Blood Feuds of the Alhind:
Rakib – The rivalry between the Alhind and the Rakib is well known. The Rakib have for centuries disrupted the Alhind spice wealth, even in some rare occasions going so far as to venture directly into the spice fields to harvest it themselves. To the Alhind, the Rakib are thieves and marauders, stealing their people as slaves and are a scourge to be eliminated.
“The Border of the Forest”, is the capital of the Hindra tribe, dating back to ancient dynasties. The city is come to a number of statues and temples devoted to the beast deities of the jungle, though those faiths are a small minority in modern times against Aa’boran. The royal palace and tomb in Agravan is one of the largest buildings in the world, created to house the remains of the wife of the first Padishah.
The Kimshir mountain range in the northeastern areas of Sha’ra contain some of the tallest mountains in the world. While remote, the region was totally devastated by the Fayudan, which seemed to have made special efforts to reach into the mountain temples above, perhaps because they were so perfectly remote.
The Evren tribe were one of the smallest, and last to leave Siri after it was constructed. Staying the longest with Danarius, they were devoted disciplines of the Biraq and took easily to the high-minded principles of his reinterpretation of Aa’boran. The first madrasas of Siri were created by the Evren pupils of the Wise Master himself, and the first generation of new Shariqyn Sahirim were predominantly Evren.
With their original home in Shazaara far away and largely occupied, they instead went northeast, into the Kimshirs, and occupied the vacant temples. There, over the next several hundred years, the Evren tribe turned the Kimshir into the spiritual seat of Aa’boran, such that the Temples of Kimshir are now one and the same with the Temple of Water.
The Evren tribe which has made Kimshir their tribal home live in the highest altitudes, where the air is thin and mists rise over snow-capped peaks. The majority of all Water Temples anywhere are in Kimshir, and there are huge temple complexes devoted to the spiritual training of monks, spending their days in ruda’qital trances and exploring the limits of the world.
Evren altariq are primarily herders, cultivating goats and other creatures suitable to the mountains, while the saqim who do not go into the higher arts of the Temple are often artists, poets, philosophers and authors. Jharad assist with the herding and act as messengers, taking the long, high mountain treks from temple to temple and village to village carrying news and supplies. Given the closeness to Siri, asirim are common as well, using the Kimshir as a place of retreat to work on sensitive plans and documents, away from the spying and politics of the imperial court.
If elves are to be found anywhere besides Siri, they are usually found in Kimshir. The elves cautiously revealed that they were once friends with the people of Kimshir from long ago, and that they look kindly upon the contemplative and kind people of the Evren. There have even been cases where elven envoys have come to watch the trials and training of the monks with great interest, or use the monastic environment for their own personal meditations.
Blood Feuds of the Evren:
Shazaad – Despite their great distance, the Evren bear a strong grudge against their erstwhile cousins in Shazaara. While their physical distance on opposite sides of the Great Desert mean that they rarely clash in violence, the Evren bear the Shazaad serious enmity over their lifestyle and conduct in their cities, which they express in every other way, usually by blocking their aims in the Padishah’s court, or by writing critical works against them for distribution in Shazaara. While the Evren claim to abhor violence, there are more than enough cases of violence to reveal the lie when it comes to the Shazaad.
Temple of the Sky
The Temple of the Sky is built nearly upon the peak of the highest mountain in the range. The temple collapsed under construction three times after reaching a certain stage, until a banishing ceremony was performed to clear away a spiritual obstruction. The Temple, built essentially at the top of the world, is a testament to human will, and its ability to overcome impossible obstacles. In the teachings of the Biraq, nothing is impossible with sufficient will, and monks come here to meditate on the wisdom of the atma.
Temple of the Song
The Temple of the Song is built into a large, at times narrow cave complex, that causes the wind to blow through with high intensity. Aa’boran monks have built a series of wind traps and channels which encourage the air to whistle through at tones and harmonies using clever devices affixed to the rock. The position of these also may change on hinges due to the wind, and so the music they create together is ever changing. Monks use this place to understand the meaning of cycles and pressures.
The Khonsur are unique in the tribes of Sha’ra in that they have no distinct territory that they call their own. Likewise they are tolerated in the land of any tribe, for they are small and seen as too weak to be a serious threat. While tolerated, they are still watched carefully, and only so long as they have business or trade. No other tribe gets this dubious honor, but no other tribe can offer what the Khonsur can. Only the Khonsur are brave or fool enough to dare the cursed places, the many, many places of Sha’ra that are forbidden to any with sense, the ancient ruins, the haunted caves, the high places, the low places, and most notably, Alzolam.
Alzolam, the Black Desert, is a place of legend and mystery. While many explorers have ventured within its range, almost all (save perhaps some lucky Khonsur) have never returned, most killed by Al-ghūl, others cursed or driven mad, only to take their own life in the desert. However, if any are said to “own” this land of darkness, it would be the Khonsur, for no others would want it.
The Khonsur can be found in every corner of Sha’ra, usually selling their wares – trinkets, baubles, magical knick-knacks, most of which are suitable chiefly as toys or gifts. The most respected Khonsur saqim keep the best things they find, using them on their own behalf and profiting from the output. There are tales of Al-Khem draughts that can liquify metal, or rings that can keep the wearer cool anywhere in the desert – tools to find better plunder still. Legendary Khonsur raiders are said to have magical weapons that can strike through time, or cloaks that reflect magics. Some are thought to be able to read the ancient scripts of the Al-Khem scrolls they recover and reproduce their ancient arts, while others insist that if that were so, there would be great effect in the economy that would spark a revolution.
Khonsur defy any standard description, other than their mysterious ability to dare these ruins and curses, and the general mistrust placed in them because of it. They are characterized in stories as dirty, dark, mysterious, rakishly handsome or very ugly, bearing a cloak full of worthless frauds and forgeries of magical items to swindle the money from others.
Blood Feuds of the Khonsur:
Unique again amongst tribes, the Khonsur bear no blood feuds and none are borne against them.
Al- – Prefix meaning a formal “the”, used to denote something is the official representative or strongly associated with the subject.
Indra- – Prefix meaning “river” and “woman”, literally the source of life, the Shariqyn word which designates something as feminine.
-im – Suffix meaning “the many of”, used to denote plurality
-qyn – Suffix meaning “each and all”, used to denote an entire population.
Aa’boran – Literally “Drinking the Water”, the Shariqyn religion of seeking self-perfection or “atma.”
Aa’bosaa’d Empire – The oldest recorded Shariqyn culture.
Al-ghuls – Also called ghūls, they are mysterious monsters who sometimes resemble men and dwell within a stronghold in the eastern, central desert.
Alhind – One of the seven Shariqyn tribes. They reside along the borders of the orc-filled jungle and harvest spice shoots from within.
Altariq – Nomads and wayfarers who travel the sands from oasis to oasis along ancient herding paths.
Anu-Kash – The Shariqyn Witch King who brought about the Fayudan.
Asir Madrasas – An elite school where asirim are trained from a young age.
Asir/Asirim – Literally, “The many from Siri”, The elite slaves to the Padishah, chosen at a young age.
Atma – The personal and spiritual journey toward a perfect self
Ba’alim – Literally, “The many lords”, the ruling powers of the Aa’bosaa’d Empire.
Bensaïd – A dynasty that came before the House of El-Baz.
Biraq – Danarius’ written account of the 142 principles of Aa’boran.
Danarius – The leader of the fallen city who became a Shariqyn prophet and guided the people, teaching them the principles of Aa’boran.
Jinn – Bodiless, malevolent entities that can be found in hidden places
El-Akkad – A dynasty that came before the House of El-Baz.
Evren – One of the seven Shariqyn tribes.
Fayudan – Literally, “the flood”, when Anu-Kash, the High Priest of the Shariqyn, betrayed the people and unleashed a mind plague that devastated civilization.
Gaja – Giant tusked beasts used for riding, transporting cargo, and sometimes in war.
Harim – The “brides of the tribe” in an altariq band, who carry children for the warriors of the tribe.
Heshiyah – The outside of this world.
House of El-Baz – The current ruling family of Sha’ra.
Hura – One of the seven Shariqyn tribes.
Indra’madrasas – Schools where the intr’atma are trained in seclusion from the time they are girls until adulthood.
Indra’saqim – The wives of powerful merchants and masters of trade.
Indra’suq – Great indoor markets where married women and their daughters spend their enormous wealth.
Indra’tariq – A sister-wife in the harim of a nomadic band of warriors.
Indr’atma – The powerful female magi that are a key social, religious and political force in the Shariqyn Empire.
Jharad – Those slaves which are the lowest caste of Shariqyn society are also are the majority.
Khonsur – One of the seven Shariqyn tribes.
Korma – One of the seven Shariqyn tribes.
Madrasa – A school or academy.
Magus / Magi – Dedicated practitioners of the Aa’boran who devote themselves to its study and become honored and revered by their peers.
Magi’biraq – Magi who have completed study in the madrasa.
Magi’tariq – Traditional sage of Aa’boran.
Mieraj – The time of ascension of the new Padishah
Padishah – The Emperor and patriarch of the ruling house of Sha’ra.
Rakib – One of the seven Shariqyn tribes.
Rudra’qital – Literally, “storm combat”, a form of sha’ra’qital (unarmed combat) practiced by monks.
Sahirim – The wise masters who achieved magus’biraq status and then were accepted into the Temple of Water’s first circle.
Saqim – The Shariqyn who dwell within cities and are the subjects of the Shah.
Shahs – The leaders of the seven tribes, usually sons of the Padishah, but sometimes grandsons.
Shahzada – A term for anyone, man or woman, who is a blood relation to the Padishah.
Sha’ra’qital – The desert art of unarmed combat.
Shariqyn – Literally, “People of the Water”, who live in Sha’ra.
Siri – The oasis city, home to the Padishah.
Son’saray – The Imperial Palace located in Siri, home of the Padishah.
Shazaad – One of the seven Shariqyn tribes.
Aysu – Moonlit water
Banu – Lady
Cansu – Soul or life water
Damla – Water drop
Esen – The wind
Fahmida – Scholar
Gizem – Mystery
Hulya – Daydream
Ilknur – First light
Jale – Dew
Kader – Fate/destiny
Lutfi – Gentle and Kind
Melten – Sea wind
Nehir – River
Owaria – Well that provides drinking water
Parang – Gleam of a sword
Qanaat – Patient
Rawaa – Refreshing water
Sabna – Water drops on leaves
Tahire – Pure, virtuous
Ula – Jewel of the sea
Vruja – River
Wasilah – Inseparable friend
Xeres – Caring
Yagmur – Rain
Zubeyde – Elite
Aydin – Enlightened one
Baqi – Eternal
Celik – Steel
Danarius – Namesake of the Prophet
Ekran – Brave man
Feridun – The third
Gursel – Flowing water
Hikmet – Wisdom
Iskender – Defender
Javaid – Eternal
Kudret – Power/might
Latif – Gentle and kind
Mahzun – Sad
Nadim – Drinking companion
Omeir – Long-living
Payam – Message
Qasim – One who shares
Rowab – Flowing water
Shajal – Clear mind, full of water
Tevfik – Good fortune
Utku – Victory
Vedat – Love
Waqur – Calm, dignified
Xavion – Warrior
Yasir – Wealthy
Zaman – Time, age, era