Naje held unto the her boat. It was midday, but in the bayous of the Guey territory the cypresses dimmed the sunlight somewhat. It was enough for her purposes. Crawdads were compelled into the net, rising from the muck. Once the cache was filled, she rowed to the docks. Upon landing, a few fishermen gave her dirty looks. Their catch was less plentiful, most having to resort to necromancy to get some fish and shellfish. So, with her mostly fresh, mostly living menagerie within her net, Naje would surpass them in gaining the cacique’s favor. She kept a few crawdads for herself within a small wooden box, then delivered the rest of her catch to the local noble, Dita. “Cunning as ever” the older woman said, “At this rate, you might actually get your own lands, your own part of the bayou.” Naje nodded politely. In truth, she basically pretty much owned the lands and waters as it was, regardless of what her superiors thought. But recognition would be sweet. Naje headed home for the day, a circular straw house with a conical roof. She cooked the crawdads along with some peppers and tomatoes she kept in her personal garden. Lighting some herbs, she allowed her mind to relax. Soon, she’d be prommoted, and her already relatively luxurious life would be made much more decadent. That is, if she survived the night…
Aqalax is a plane governed by a large continent, that resembles the jaws of a crocodile. It is said that, in the first era, the Wakynian spirits killed a primordial sea monster, and made the world from its corpse. In the first era, the sun was dim, and it ended with hordes of horrors devouring the people, the survivors of which would become the Tzina batfolk. In the second era, the sun was luminous and nourishing, granting great forests and metropolises. This era ended with hurricanes, and the survivors became the Sasquatch. The third era had a bright but cold sun, and ice sheets spread across the land. It ended on a massive flood, the survivors becoming the Ahuizotl. The fourth sun was bright but scorching, allowing little to grow. The people begged the heavens for water, and their prayers were answerred by rains of fire; the survivors became the Coyote folk.
Today, the current era is ruled by a sun that’s relatively normal by the standards of the multiverse. Some argue this era ended with the Phyrexian invasion, that tore nations asunder and polluted the earth and seas, but the sun still stands the same, and the people are left to rebuild and restore what was taken from them.
There are over a thousand human nations across the continent of Aqalax, but five in particular stand out, having made a fivefold alliance:
- The Wi (green/white) spread across the vast praries.
- The Malina (white/blue) navigate the frozen waters of the north
- The Guey (blue/black) take to the swamps in the southeast
- The Sha (black/red) wander through the mountains and badlands
- The Gagaan (red/green) keep the ancient forests to the northwest.
The Wi patrol the praries. They do have their own cities: Lowan in the northeast near Malina and Gagaan lands, Dowan in the heart of their territory and Nowan at the border with Sha territory, with Dowan in particular being the capital. Many members of the tribe, however, lead nomadic lifestyles, setting caravans pulled by dogs and the megafauna of the plains like sloths and mammoths. This is alledgedly in order to keep close harmony with the beasts they hunt for sustenance as well as to act as peacemakers between the tribes. More cynical voices see this as an excuse for expansionism, particularly the Sha who have endured multiple assaults on their lands on the part of Wi armies.
Like all tribes in the fivefold alliance, the Wi revere the sun above all other spirits. In particular, they feel like this era’s sun is meant for them, and indeed solar magic comes to them more easily than most other tribes. They, however, also hold a deep spiritual bond with the megafauna of the plains, since they are vital for their sustenance. While the cities practice maize, squash and bean (the three sisters) agriculture, the nomadic bands still depend on hunting for most of their needs, and even the settled populations make their dwellings and clothing from curated hides and use bones and tusks to make tools and artefacts. Hunted animals are honoured, and their spirits can be called upon to help defend the living, provided they are warranted respect and devotion.
The Wi are ruled by an emperor,, this role currently filled by Maka Wakan, a veteran from the wars against New Phyrexia. Sleeper agents have caused the deaths of most of the imperial court, and for now the knightly orders — one for each city — hold the positions right beneath the emperor. To signify a rank in the army, soldiers wear eagle feathers on their hair, starting with one for lowermost ranks and ending with a crown headset for the emperor. The more honour one has in military campaigns, the most likely a prommotion is, but they can also happen in response to moments of great heroism such as protecting against horrors or wild beasts or striking lasting peace treaties.
The Wi were the ones to set the fivefold alliance before the phyrexians arrived, and ironically are also the ones most blatantly violating it, pressing into Sha lands. So great is the animosity between the two tribes that Canpaza, the general leading the Nowan knights, has become a warlock horror, feared even by his troops, who are tested between loyalty to their greatest knight and common decency.
The Malina reside in the northernmost reaches of Aqalax, in the frozen islands and fjords at the tip of it’s “jaws”. Sitting upon waters rich with fish, shellfish, marina mammals and birds and seaweed, the Malina have countless port cities, the most relevant of which being Aarluk, a massive built resembling a titanic inuksuk. Here, academics from all cities gather to discuss matters of politics and science, archiving discoveries and discussions in a floating wave of script resembling the northern lights. The elders within Aarluk hold the greatest authority within Malina society, but the culture as a whole very very collectivist, sharing resources and knowledge freely.
Like other human cultures, the Malina worship the sun, which is worshipped both for making the oceans rich with life as well as enlightening the mind. The Malina however also hold ancestral spirits and knowledge within the northern lights with reverance, and their magic often takes the shape of bursts of aurora. Many wear ivory or wood snow goggles in order to both protect the eyes as well as to scan the auroras for information.
Traditionally, the Malina have been traders with most human and non-human cultures of Aqalax, though holding some hostility to the conservative Gagaan and murderous Ahuizotl. The New Phyrexian invasion, however, forced them to become more insular, staving off the invasion in their remote realm. This tainted them with a reputation for cowardice after the invasion was over, something that the Malina are deeply trying to fix in order to maintain good relations.
Others have taken the invasion as means to perfecting themselves. The researcher Aqpik has reversed engineered phyrexian technology, and sees potential in using it to change the human condition…
The Guey conquered the southeastern wetlands and tropical islands. They are a monarchy lead by a cacique, and hoard their wealth and power through trade with the other nations. Though dysmal, their lands are prime sources of seafood, timber and even gold, and by taking advantage of their natural wealth they built the great city of Tiburon, its gates the jaws of a massive shark. Unlike other nations which might seek power through conquest, the Guey spread their influence through trade, and so almost all other civilizations have Guey embassies.
Like the rest of the fivefold alliance, the Guey worship the sun foremost, seeing it as a symbol of power and intellect. In particular, they have a tripartite notion of it: the sun in the sky, the sun in the underworld and the sun as ruler. The former grants light and life, the second death and disease, and the third is embodied as the monarch, which naturally justifies the power of the cacique. Beyond ancestor worship, the Guey have little respect for other spirits, and in particular use the magic of the underworld sun to control forth horrors such as the star skeletons known as tzitzimime, as well as practise necromancy.
The Guey were the most severely affected by the phyrexan incursions, losing their island territories to them as well as the ruling cacique. In the aftermath of their malfunction, they quickly restablished the pecking order with noveau rich, and a new cacique, Hura, stands in the Guey throne. They still consider themselves rather vulnerable, especially in the light of the Wi attempts on Sha territories, and the surviving ambassies try their best to maintain public relations with the other tribes.
The Sha reside in the arid canyons and mountains of the south and center of Aqalax. Though practising “three sister” agriculture, they are largely nomadic, following their whims in hedonistic ecstasy. Settlements are usually brief and quickly abandoned, though some may see repeated use across the Sha’s migrations. Many are marked with bonfires, which serve as ritual and recreational sites. Some flames keep burning well after their lighters have left.
Sha society has little in the way of hierarchy, with shamans having special respect. Yet not even they can dissuade the larger group; confrontations, from the amicable to the deadly, settle disputes among the clans. It was this disorganization that allowed the Sha to fight against phyrexian invaders, who were often confused by their individuality. After Norn’s death, the Sha were quick to dismantle the mechanical abominations, using their metal to forge new weapons and trinkets.
The Sha revere the sun’s brightness and heat, seeing it as dynamic and emblematic of life to its limits. They see it as a justification for their hedonism, for sunlight brings both life and death, love and war. Of the tribes, they are the most ostentatiously decorated, bearing bright red, blue and black paint marks and equally colorful outfits, often adorned with horns or claws. They greatly value works of art, and the rock facades of their homelands bear extensive paintings.
After the invasion, Wi expansionism has broken the alliance between the two clans. The Wi claim that the Sha are irresponsible and do not manage their lands, seeing it as a holy crusade to impose order in their chaos. The shamans and warriors of the Sha have valiantly faced against the Wi hordes, but the same tactics that confused phyrexians do not seem to be working on them.
The dense and lush forests of the northwest are home to the Gagaan, their large settlements built in harmony with their natural surroundings. Of the fivefold alliance, they are the only ones to not practise agriculture, their forests being so full of resources across the year that they do not need to cultivate anything.
This is not to say that the Gagaan are not civilized. As a matter of fact, the city of Kayaani dwarfs even the Wi cities put together, though it is hard to see from above due to seemlessly incorporating redwood forests amidst the settlements. They are also found of using jade for their decorations, armour and weapons, and within Kayaani there is a “museum” that collects artefacts from all over Aqalax, deeming them too dangerous to be used by other tribes.
The Gagaan default to their elders, and indeed their society is collectivistic, sharing food, technology and knowledge. It was the communal strength of the people that allowed them to rally against the Copper Horde’s beasts, which now lie as broken ruins within their “museum”. Each spring, groups of children pass complex rites in order to be accepted into adulthood, officiated by a druid.
The Gagaan worship the sun as it relates to life. Their view of the world is that of a dichotomy: the lush forest and the uncharted waters, with the sun being the glue between both realms. Besides the sun they venerate the spirits of the land, and are in particularly good terms with the Sasquatch, whom they view as ancestors.
The Gagaan normally think little of the other clans beyond their potential for harm, but are particularly appaled at the Malina, whom they view as irresponsible. Still, tensions haven’t risen to actual warfare, yet.
- Wakynian (red/white): The closest analogue Aqalax has to angels, the wakynian are storm spirits that swore to protect humanity against dark threats like the Ahuizotl or horrors. They bear the likeness of warriors wearing eagle or pterosaurian masks, flying on feathered arm-wings and bearing lightning as weapons. At times, these beings may get overzealous, and their own chaotic nature make them rather flimsy allies. Humans try to curry favor, particularly in times of war, but their aid is by no means guaranteed.
- Ahuizotl (green/blue): Otter-like humanoids with a tail ending in an extra paw, these creatures build great underwater empires across the waterbodies of Aqalax. The greatest of these is Alabalcan, located in the sea between the continent’s “jaws”, whose pyramids surface as islands. Ahuizotl are highly hostile to other races and attempt to drown them; why this is, nobody knows. Thus, they are the frequent targets of the wakynian, who bolt them with lightning. The ahuizotls’ own counter magic however ensures this is a stalemate, often creating powerful and dangerous storms in their wake.
- Tzina (white/black): The ancient batfolk live in the ancient jungles to the south of Aqalax, where they built empires across the ages of the suns. Most now lay in ruins, but a few remain, most notably Tohilcantlan. They view the other sapient races aside from the wakynian as youthful compared to them, and have at times attempted conquests further north, the latest stomped by the phyrexian invadors. Currently occupied in restoring their social order, the Tzina throne still lays empty, with three candidates vying for control of their empire. The Tzina see value in blood, and perform self-mutilation and, when availiable, sacrifices of other races.
- Coyote (blue/red): The wandering coyotefolk wander across the territories of the Wi and Sha alike, being particularly appreciated by the later, whom they view as kin. They travel in bands, performing at the request of the tribes. At times, they serve a critical role, being often the only ones allowed to ridicule local rulers and get away with it. Othertimes, their pranks get excessive, and although protect by the fivefold alliance local skirmishes do happen.
- Sasquatch (black/green): The Sasquatch wander the northern forests, protecting them against potential trespassers. They have a special bond with the Gagaan, whom they see as younger, misguided siblings, but other human tribes are met with death and dismemberment. Sasquatch normally live in small bands of 12 members or less, enjoying the company of other sapient beings less than other races.
- Horrors (all colors): Many ancient evils stalk Aqalax. The most horrific of all were former humans or other sapient beings, that due to dark magic, cannibalism or just sheer sociopathy have become less than human. Many are indistinguishable from normal humans and other races, simply lacking eyes. Others are horrific amalgamations of flesh, antlers and jaws. Many willingly joined Phyrexia, becoming even more of a blight until Elesh Norn died. They quickly regained their numbers soon after, however, especially in the ongoing Wi/Sha war.
*** Naje heard a scream. This was not going to be a peaceful night. Human voices met with horrific gargles and other indescribable sounds, but that did not phaze her. She grabbed a pot, filled it and placed within it a bone from her grandmother, a fern leaf, and some of her own, dired blood she had stored for such an occasion. She chanted to the sun, resting beneath the earth, like a fire sweeping from benath and then within. Her eyes glew purple like the earliest shades of dawn, and swallowed her potion with no hesitation. Her door broke down, revealing a man no older than thirty. Or rather, what appeared to be a man, except lacking eyes, just empty, bloody sockets. He held a lance made of bone, and slowly approached her. No sooner had he stepped, Naje extended her hand, and a furious light burst from it, incinerating the “man”. He screamed, gnawing mouths appearing on his belly, soon dried and malformed as the light consumed them. When the light finally faded, Dita and an entourage of warriors entered Naje’s house. The young women snorted. “How about that prommotion?