The Skull of Asem
Deep beneath the sands of the Kaldara desert, in a temple of the Desert Serpent god Zazmaan, lies the Skull of Asem. This skull, that once sat upon the neck of one of the most influential prophets of Zazmaan, who led the Ma’Jalis people against the Empire of Turelion, is claimed by the Ma’Jalis to be central to their freedom, and that when Asem's successor is born, the new Chosen of Zazmaan need only drink the blood of Emperor Salastar I ‘the Savage’ to gain the power to crush the tyranny of the Empire once and for all.
In the year 224AIF, the Ma’Jalis people of the Kaldara desert and the forces of Emperor Salastar were coming to the end of a long and bloody conflict, as the Ma’Jalis sought to gain their freedom from Imperial rule, under the leadership of the prophet Asem. Though physiologically a human, Asem, known as the Chosen of Zazmaan had been given potent arcane powers by the deity, and his body had been marked as a sign of his status, with serpentine features, including a snake’s eyes and fangs. The final conflict of the Ma’Jalis rebellion took place at a place called Rocksand Plateau, where a bloody battle faltered into stalemate, forcing the Emperor to accept the offer of peace talks. But Salastar, ‘the Savage’ had no intention of offering peace to the Ma’Jalis, on the contrary, he hoped to use the meeting to treacherously kill Asem, and thereby end the rebellion once and for all. When Asem arrived in the tent, the Imperial Drakes surrounded it, killed Asem’s escort and brought the Chosen of Zazmaan’s before the Emperor. Eye witness accounts state that Asem did not waver or show any sign of fear as he watched Salastar gloat over his victory, nor did he move to attack or escape, even though it was commonly accepted that he had many arcane tools at his disposal that could help him. As Salastar drew his sword to execute him, he asked Asem if he had any last words and received the simple reply: “All has been foretold.” With that Asem bowed his head and without struggle let Salastar ‘the Savage’ behead him. As Asem’s blood flowed around his feet, the Emperor was said to fall into a fit of mad rage, hacking at the body with abandon, and eventually cutting the top of Asem’s head and tipping his brain out onto the pile of gore on the floor of the tent. When Salastar emerged from the tent and proclaimed the news of Asem’s death to his army, he found that the Ma’Jalis had already left the field, but dismissing the warning from his advisors that something might be a foot, the Emperor ordered that the flesh be burnt from the skull and it made ready so that he could use it as a cup to toast his victory. Salastar’s orders were duly carried out and that night, Salastar reclined in his tent and drank his victory toast from the fanged skull of Asem, now blackened from the fire used to strip the flesh from the bone. As soon as the wine touched his lips, Salastar flew into a mad rage, killing nearly everyone with him in the tent, before slitting his own throat and letting his blood drain into the skull of Asem. As Salastar’s advisors had warned, the Ma’Jalis were well aware of what Asem's plan had been. To tempt the Emperor into slaking his baser, viler appetites for revenge and to drink, as he had been known to do before from the skull of his slain enemy and thereby seal a pact of dark magic that Zazmaan had started nearly twenty years before when the god had marked out Asem as his chosen emissary. The Ma’Jalis were quick to return and take the skull, along with the Imperial blood held within it, in the confusion following the Emperor’s death and it was spirited away back to the very temple, Bayt-Al’Raml where Asem had communed with Zazmaan for the first time. As the skull was placed reverently in a cave deep beneath the temple, the High priest of the temple issued a prophecy that Asem's sacrifice had paved the way for the emergence, one day, of the one that would finally lead the Ma’Jalis to freedom. When a child who was born under the auspices of Zazmaan comes of age, they will be guided to Bayt-Al’Raml, where they will drink the blood of an Emperor from the skull of the Chosen of Zazmaan, and tap into more power than any mortal could dream possible. Until then, Bayt-Al’Raml would slip beneath the sands, its priests warped into beings that would stand ever watchful, should its location be discovered by those who were not given leave to set foot within. Since then, the Ma’Jalis have watched for signs of blessings from Zazmaan at every birth, and long for the day when the deity will anoint their chosen champion to take on the power of a god to free the people of the Kaldara.
Asem did indeed exist and was in fact the main driving force behind the Ma’Jalis rebellion that took place between 221AIF and 224AIF. It is also widely reported that the Emperor Salastar did kill Asem by beheading him as well as the fact that he requested to drink from Asem’s skull, one of the many deeds that earned him the appellation of ‘the Savage’. Salastar did also die whilst on campaign in the Kaldara Desert, as he never returned to Meltaro, and by the time that the remnants of the Imperial Drake force that had gone on campaign with him arrived back at the capital, the next Emperor, Turael I had already been crowned. Aside from the above, details surrounding Asem's life and the myth of the Skull of Asem are more hotly debated. Many scholars have contested whether Asem had the reptilian features that his communing with the deity Zazmaan was supposed to have bestowed upon him, with many suggesting that this was made up as propaganda. Equally, the Imperial Court, backed up by the heavier hand of the Imperial Inquisition have gone to great lengths to try and quash the part of the tale where Salastar is driven mad by drinking wine from Asem's skull and kills himself and most of his military council, a fact which has led many to believe that this detail is in fact true. As well as this, those from outside of the Ma’Jalis culture do not believe the legend that wen Asem’s successor is deemed to have arrived, they can gain the power to over throw the Empire of Turelion through imbibing the blood of Emperor Salastar, that is still held in Asem’s skull, now secreted deep beneath the now lost temple of Bayt-Al’Raml. Some scholars have even gone as far as to suggest that Bayt-Al’Raml doesn’t even exist.
Amongst the residents of the Kaldara desert, all of those who are born amongst the desert sands and who are raised in a Ma’Jalis community, know the myth and it acts as both a popular stalwart of campfire entertainments and a religious tale that promises deliverance for their people from the Empire of Turelion. The myth is also well known in Turelion Province, though rather than being told as a prophetic tale, it is instead more generally told allegorically to warn people, especially children, of the dangers of hubris, gloating and unnecessary savagery. Beyond Turelion, however, the tale is little known, a fact that the Imperial Court are forever grateful of.
As the Ma’Jalis people do not have a corpus of written literature, the only official written records of the myth are the entries that surround the accepted historical events that form the foundation of the tale, which are recorded in the Annals of the Imperium. Obviously, the Imperial Annals do not contain details of the more supernatural elements of the story, as it is not deemed to be ‘history’, but instead the superstition of heat-addled brains and folklore. More widely, however, the myth appears in many books on the customs and oral traditions of the Ma’Jalis that are kept in the Houses of Learning spread across Kelbonnar, where this myth in particular is the focus of a great deal of academic interest. The written records of the myth have also sparked many expeditions to the Kaldara to try and find the lost temple of Bayt-Al’Raml, but so far all such expeditions have ended in failure.
There are far more artistic depictions of the myth than there are written records of it, primarily because the episodes of the myth are widely used to decorate items produced by the Ma’Jalis. Ma’Jalis made pottery will often be decorated with figured scenes from Asem's life, as are the fabric screens, carpets and tents that they live in. Weapons produced by the Ma’Jalis will frequently be decorated with the symbol of Asem's skull, a fanged human skull with its dome missing, which symbolises Zazmaan’s coming revenge on those who stand against his people. More widely, depictions of the Skull of Asem myth tend to be rare outside of the Kaldara and the deserts immediate hinterland. The Imperial Inquisition are almost certainly responsible for this, and any symbolism of the myth that appears more widely across the Empire is cracked down on severely.