Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Spotlight On: Machen


Machen is one of the original Four Great Continents that breached the seas of the world of Cthun at the moment of its creation.  It is the second largest, behind Aligher, of the three surviving landmasses and home to the Machi race.  Its climate is primarily arid desert between the girdling Mountains of Madness and the capital of Leng.  The rivers flowing from the mountains render the southerly provinces, known collectively as the Somnium, habitable.  Most of the continent's agriculture is conducted in the Somnium's wheat fields and rice paddies.  In the northern provinces, orchards predominate.  Goats, hadrosaurs and camarosaurs form the basis of the continent's animal husbandry, with oviraptors and brushfowl used as egg-laying stock.

Plentiful deposits of marble, gold, iron and granite, along with the aid of the powerful alchemists of the Children of the Sun, have made Machen wealthy and influential.  Its cities are colossal, its fortresses, tabernacles and palaces the greatest of their like.


The Machi tribesmen are desert dwellers, traditionally herdsmen and hunters who travel in tribes between oases.  Their religion is simple and austere, based almost entirely on the worship of their creator deity, the faceless Maintainer.  Those who hold to the Machi faith engage in ritual prostration, prayer, water sacrifice and a coming-of-age ritual called the Hamud-dai, or Longest Walk in which a youth ventures alone into the desert in an attempt to gain oneness with the Maintainer's unapproachable essence.  If they return alive they are permitted to marry and are considered adults by the tribe.


The race of Thul, white-skinned and populous, came to the shores of Machen in 316 in a great fleet fleeing the death of the Fourth Continent.  With them they brought an imperial tradition already hundreds of years old, a powerful standing army and a state religion steeped in ritual and bloodshed.  Their alchemists swiftly raised fortifications beyond the ken of the native Machi, dark-skinned nomads who hunted with raptors and kept goats in the vast wastes of the continent's heartland.  For nearly twelve hundred years Thulhun dominance defined Machen, enforcing a rigid caste system under which the native Machi labored as slaves to the decadent Thulhun nobility.

Internecine conflict between the Thulhun houses and dynasties was common, and more than twenty families held, at some point in the Empire's history, the Peacock Throne and Porcelain Crown of Imperial authority.  Fratricide was held as an art, patricide an inevitability.  Any Emperor or Empress who seized power without bloodshed was counted a pretender and, more often than not, swiftly unseated by more ruthless relatives.  In the ninth century, dating from the Machi worship of the Maintainer through his earthly avatar the sage Moammar, the Empire entered a period of decline dominated by civil war, famine, plague and economic unrest that would continue until the revolutions of the late fifteenth century.


In the winter of 1498 Massud Madras, a Machi tribal chieftain and renowned Mulla, instigated a civil war against the Thulhun Empire after the slaughter of one of his tributary tribes for the offense of drinking at an Imperial oasis.  The massacre's architect, Emperor Azurean V, died shortly thereafter of consumption, but even his even-handed successor, Empress Nazarri II, could not allay the upwelling of rebellious sentiment among the Machi.  After a protracted war against the Unconquerable Legions, the Machi rebels were victorious at the port city of Tattva, seventy miles west of the capital, and Madras was installed in Leng as Hierophant of the People's Heavenly Confederacy.  A pogrom against the Thulhun ethnicity followed, brutal in its thoroughness and merciless in its targets.  Neither women, children nor the elderly were spared.  Madras cemented his control over the Machi people by marrying his military lieutenants to the daughters of chieftains and courting with gifts and concessions the ancient Covens of alchemists based within the cities.

In 1504, Madras called off the purges but the damage was done.  The Thulhuns had been reduced to a tiny minority, downtrodden and loathed, and Madras's Heavenly Confederacy encompassed almost all of the continent.  Religion took on a new, central role in Machi life as the faith of the Maintainer, a traditional Machi creator spirit, was institutionalized.  Though his control over the South remained tenuous, it appeared that Madras had triumphed.  Under his rule Machen began, again, to prosper.


Ahmad Levi was born 1462 in the slums of Carnassa to a nameless Thulhun whore and one of her customers, allegedly a Machi cobbler.  This unassuming start, plagued by the misfortune of his mother's race, led to greatness.  In his thirty-seventh year Levi, working as an itinerant laborer, collapsed in a quarry while suffering from black fever.  For six days Levi lay on his sickbed, hovering on the edge of death until, on the seventh day, he arose seemingly recovered and began to speak of visions imparted to him by a Divided God.  He fled his labor contract, joined a mercenary band in the hinterlands and by 1508 had amassed a group of devoted followers.

In 1510 Levi seized Carnassa by force, sacking and looting the city for a single bloody week before installing himself as its ruler.  Since then he has engaged in a long, bloody war of conquest in the South that has seen the consistent defeat of Confederate forces.  His plans remain enigmatic to the rest of Machen and even to his own generals and viziers.

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