Shantiahe (ʂɒntiaɦe)

Proud people of the desert

Desert folk

 

In the great desert of R'habali, the Shantiah people are stuck in the tremors of the contestation of the dimension. Once a proud civilization, they thrived in the arid Shan, living in nomad bands. Great cities were erected around the major oasis, ruled by powerful Pariahe, or chiefs.

 

The Shantiahe share a unique culture, despite being all over the continent. This could be explained by their nomadic lifestyle and the frequent cultural exchanges between the different groups, as well as the fact that they share the same survival constraint. Less fit cultures and species went most likely extinct long ago, and what is left is the winner of the evolution race. And this winner has the look of an intelligent humanoid species, with dark skin covered with a scale-like structure, able to store water for a long time.

 

For centuries they lived in relative harmony, trading between each other and fighting off the occasional warring bands. They did not have much room in terms of technological progress, as ore mines were sparse and the metal was reserved for tools and weapons.

 

Shantiah bands

 

Shantiahe are distributed between nomadic groups and sedentary cities around oases.

 

The nomadic Shantiahe are organized in groups from three to ten dozens of people, called bands or ketsh in their language. A band is usually a sole family living together. They are led by the elders that form a sort of council and are the figure of the group. Nobody takes offense of misconduct from a youngling, but any mistake from a band leader or ketshariah is a capital sin.

 

The population of a band shifts organically over time, growing and reducing at the rhythm of the people joining or leaving. It is only possible to join a band through a family link, most of the time marriage. In-family couples are totally acceptable, though Shantiahe tends to not find others from their family attractive. Ketshe are disbanded and reformed every day, only a handful stood the test of time. The power of a band is not function of its total number, but of how many elders it has. A lot of elderly people mean that this family is somewhere people like to stay until the end of their lives and is able to take good care of its weakest elements.

The cities have few permanent residents, and most of their population is made of passing bands. They stay in the oasis for a month or two before setting up a new journey. Many clay buildings are left empty for the best of their time, but that does not stop the permanent inhabitants from having a complex hierarchy and authority.

 

In the cities, the ruler is called the Pariah, and he possesses all the power. He makes laws, enforces them, and presides over the trials. It is less time-consuming than it seems, as laws are quite lax and the population little enough to have a low number of outlaws. Bandits and rivals are executed on the spot, so trials are rare. In days past, the Pariah was chosen in a match between the best hunters of the city. It turned so often into a bloodbath that the election mode changed to a deathmatch where the ruler would be the last one standing. In current days, the leader is designed by an assembly of people chosen from the permanent population and a representative from each band currently in the city. A Pariah is elected until his death and cannot be a candidate past the age of 50. Mandates are long, but younger leaders have fresh ideas while being advised by a council of elders.

 

Sustainability

 

Although it is called a desert, the Shan continent is not devoid of vegetation or animals. If townfolks rely mostly on their cattle for subsistence, nomads are more versatile. Some bands breed their livestock and use their meat as well as skins and bones to clothe themselves. Hunters chase wild beasts of modest size to feed on them like horned lizards or R'hakke. Since they cannot efficiently use the rest of the body, they make their clothes and tools out of fibers and wood. Some ketshe do a mix of both, though these ones are pretty rare.

 

Mythology

 

In their culture, Shantiahe means "Those who chose the dust", where dust could be interchanged with earth, sand, or even life as Shan is a term that encompasses many others. This denomination came from their tale of genesis, which is still transmitted through oral tradition from old storytellers to the young public.

 

Long ago, when the suns were still one, the ancestors of the Shantiah people were nothing like them. Half-dust, half-water, they shared equally the source of life. They lived in the Esher, the space in-between. Above them was Shan, the dust, and below Veter, the water. They were powerful but primals, torn between the backwash of water and the continuous flow of dust. Conflict arose and a millennium of peace was broken. Formidable armies clashed, and friends turned into foes until only a few remained.

 

The two parties, scarred and tired of this pointless war, decided to put an end to this folly and leave the Esher. Each was given a choice, the Shantiah gave their water to the Veteriah and vice versa, only keeping the bare minimum of the other element to stay alive. The former ascended to the Shan, and the latter descended to the Veter. Split but whole for the first time in their lives, they vowed to never see each other again until death draw them together.

 

Since this time, no Shantiah is allowed to go underground and risk falling into Veter by accident. Still, their bodies of dust claim water to survive, and so the Veteriahe bring up their dead to the Shan. Above the water graveyards, oases of life blossom. To return the blessing, the Shantiahe drop their dead in one of the deep chasms found all around the Shan desert, so that their brother Veteriahe can sustain their body. It is a supreme insult to leave a Shantiah corpse to rot under the sun, both to the dead who is stripped of their last honor and the Veteriahe who may starve from the lack of this corpse.

— So... they eat their dead?   — No, that's just water. Regular water. The whole thing about the consumption of deads from a subterranean sister civilization is just in their oral tradition.   — That's messed up.   — Heh, gotta respect primitive cultures.
 
Shantiah man by Rumengol via Artflow.ai

Humanoid in the desert

 

One could argue that it is strange for a biped whose main strengths are wits and tool manipulation to be the best fit in an arid land. A consensus was found by a couple of researchers from the I.D.E.A. They suggested that the Shan desert, or at least part of it, was once a lush forest that would have favorited this kind of body with hands gifted of opposable thumbs. A catastrophe occured that resulted in a biological bottleneck, killing most of the arboreal species that weren't swift enough to adapt. Their scaly skin or, less visible, their long Henle's loop would then be a byproduct of this adaptation over a very long period of time.

 
Shantiah people by Rumengol via Artflow.ai
 
 

Mines

 

In Shantiah culture, going underground is an insult to the ancestors and a blasphemy. No one in their right mind would willingly go down a mine, even if their life is at stake. Hence, mining work is for the outcasts, traitors and nameless orphans unwelcomed in any band. They do not form one of their own, for they are banished from entering a family. They gather around the rare mine shafts and dig the earth, extracts the precious minerals and trade them for food and water. Although they are not physically branded in any way, they gave up their shantiahli, what make them Shantiahe, the first time they dived in the depths.

 
Shan desert by Azzedine Rouichi via Unsplash
 

In regards of Shantiah genders

 

Shantiahe are, like most species in R'habali, hermaphrodits. They possess both male and female reproductive organs, and every one of them is able to bear children. As a result, there is no sexual dimorphism in the species, hence no genre distinction in their language or their society. They do form couples for life, but the bearer of the fruit of their union is usually the stronger of the two, since only a robust body could give birth to a healthy child. The mere concept of "male" and "female" was introduced by Terran settlers, who wrongly assigned genders to Shantiahe based on clothing and haircuts, according to what looked more masculine or feminine to them.

 
Shantiah people by Rumengol via Artflow.ai

The song of Jallr'hali

 
Hear me, child, hear me, friend   As I tell the story   Of he who conquered Suns   Of the first hero's glory   Who led us to the end
— Beginning of the song of Jallr'hali
 

This song, a tale of past glory, tells the story of a time the Shantiahe almost became united under a unique ruler. Jallr'hali was the only child of a modest ketsh. He grew up among a loving family, but he was destined to do great deeds and he was aware of that. At a young age, he mastered every weapon and martial style. Wielding his two signature daggers, he bested the Pariah of the Starfall Oasis and overthrown him then took his place.

The death of the great Pariah fit his legend. He fell on the battlefield, surrounded by four armies and separated from his own soldiers. Standing gloriously on a pile of corpses, he was swallowed by his foes when a Desert mouth opened at his feet. His leader was taken away, and the empire he spent his life building crumbled in decades before nothing was left of it. The last verse of the song is one of hope, that Jallr'hali lies in the Esher, awaiting for a time his people would need him again.

The young Pariah gathered an army that he led through the desert, subduing the other cities and integrating every ketsh it encountered. Before age 40, more than half the continent was united under his leadership. The song has multiple verses on the many trials the hero endured, the alliances he made, and the terrible monsters he brought low. It tells how Jallr'halli stood at the top of the world, his two feet resting on the Sun Splitter.

 
Our dear hero is not one with death   Trapped in the Esher he is waiting   Ready to answer Shantiahe's calling   Then Jallr'hali will return once more.
 

Exploration of R'habali

 

The first explorer to set foot in the dimension was Limel Szird, in the middle of the Shan desert. He noticed nothing of real interest, until his first encounter with the Shantiahe. He saved a band from an attack of Dirk-Krakk, one of the most dreaded predators of the desert. Wielding his twin daggers, he vanquished the beast effortlessly under the astonished gaze of the ketsh. He wore an integral light suit and his face was masked in a way that only let his eyes visible, so the indebted people could not notice his strange facial features, especially his smooth skin.

 

Thanks to his cutting-edge translator and the fact that the structure of Shantiah language was close to some already known to the I.D.E.A., the explorer was able to overcome quickly the language barrier but struggled to get why they were celebrating him so vividly. It was only after listening to the song

of Jallr'hali that he understood the band believed he was the legendary hero returned from the Esher to lead the Shantiahe into a new era. Hesitant at first, Limel Szird gave in to the role and assumed the title of Jallr'hali for a time, until he completed his exploration. By then, he had already gathered thousands of followers in his wake. He used his mastery over portals to survey the second continent, Fanyr, at night, but did not indulge with the indigenous people. Being a messiah of half of the planet was more than enough for him.

 

Thanks to the unexpected popularity of the explorer, the first Domini pilgrims had no issue settling in the Shan desert. The I.D.E.A. even as "The smoothest contact in an inhabited dimension in the history of the agency".

 

The settlers cohabitated with the Shantiahe at first, but when it became clear that this culture had nothing of worth to give to the Dominium, the relations worsened. Then, Otto de Férinay was put in charge of the dimension as its governor. Otto is an unlikeable man, with boundless disdain for non-human people, and viewed the Shantiahe as an inferior species not worth the trouble of friendship.

 

He forcefully expelled them from the cities, and drove them to the most inhospitable part of the desert. The clay cities were replaced by megalopoleis in the style of Terra, barely keeping the water sources around which the original cities were built. Only a handful of buildings were not destroyed, to be used as a touristic attraction. Shantiahe are denied entrance into the main cities and the slums full of beggars are put out several days after they are assembled. In the first decade, many ex-city-dwellers died of starvation and exhaustion in the unforgiving desert, the few survivors had no choice but to stick together, forming non-traditional ketshe with people from various lineages.

 

Nomads fared better, which is not to say well. They suffered as well, their population dropped significantly. They too changed their way of living. Several ketshe merged together in order to survive, only the strongest managed to stay true to their tradition. They used their knowledge of the desert to find new ways. They do not travel as much as they used to, the camps stay in place for a longer time. Sheltered in craggy hills or in the reassuring embrace of mountains.

 

Not all of the Dominium settlers liked the main cities or the ideology of the governor. Some founded colonies in the heart of the desert and managed to live in relative harmony with the Shantiahe, supplying them with food and tools in exchange for help with the hazards hidden in the dust. The small colonies welcomed the indigenous people, which opened their scarred hearts once again, albeit with some trust issues. Even if they are now trade partners, it is not that easy to befriend those who once took all from you.

 
Your kind came to our land, Sheneshiah, and robbed us of everything we had. It wasn't much, mind you, but we cherished our freedom and the desert wind. You replaced our great cities with even greater ones, but they are not from this world. Your metal buildings and we both cry our homes, and weep at the thought of a past long gone, all because you stumbled onto this land by chance. You banned us from our fertile grounds to the unforgiving desert. Our people die in number every day, be it at the hands of yours or from exhaustion. And yet you want us to forgive, because it wasn't, especially you but your kind. Do you understand how hypocritical you are, Sheneshiah?

Shaken beliefs

 

What took the greatest blow from the exploration was the Shantiah mythology. Before that, nobody thought of questioning the beliefs, not even the outcasts mining in the deep who never saw anything but rocks. But these strangers, laughing at their religion, digging the ground without exposing the Esher, challenged the ancestral tale of genesis. Genuine believers remain, but the Shantiah religion is now just a bit more than oral tradition and bedtime stories. They did not deny their holy grounds or mythical figures. Now more than ever, the desert folk hang desperately at every bit of their culture that has not been crushed yet.

 

 
 
 

Relationship with rebels

 

Rebels are those who refuse to live by the standard of the I.D.E.A. They try to free themselves from the shackles of the Dominium, either by living in their own dimensions or by fighting directly the megacorporation on contested dimensions. R'habali became one such dimension when the desert colonies declared their intention to stand on their own. The Alternative joined the fray with the first skirmishes, sending troops and manpower to support the war effort.

 

The Shantiahe got stuck between two fires and aligned with the less harmful of two evils. The government uses them as easy scapegoats to launch vendettas after sabotage or terrorist attack, whereas the rebels just ask for food and hideouts. The situation does not please everyone, however, and many ketsh opted out of the war, choosing no side and refusing to tread with anything related to the outsiders who took over their world.

 
Shantiah people by Rumengol via Artflow.ai
 

Views on Limel Szird

 

After the realization that the Terran were no godsends and that this new civilization will not lead them to a brighter future, the image of Limel Szird as the messiah wavered. He disappeared right after the first settlers came in, never to be seen again. Some thinks that Jallr'hali betrayed them to serve what they call the "mechanical beasts", others understands that he was nothing but a fake, and hate the man while hoping for their true hero to return. A last faction believes that the invaders captured him to prevent him from sparking a war, and that he would come back to lead them again.



Cover image: Shantiahe by Y K via Unsplash

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