SummaryFrom the ashes of the the Great Darkness arose one of Veltrona's most hated 'empires', the Baarham Dominion. Led by their Sorcerer King Ghown, the Dominion sought absolute supremacy for the baarham at the expense of all other life. To King Ghown and his loyal followers, they regarded all who were not baarham as undeserving. They enslaved those who surrendered to Dominion rule, and ruthlessly exterminated any who dared to resist. Toward what would become the last days of the Imperium, the then-unnamed baarham were slaves of dragonkind. A meek and reclusive species, they were exceptionally unremarkable even among other monsters of the era. Easily exploited and tormented, the Imperium spared them no kindness during its tyrannical rule. Among their many sad fates, one of them, having displeased his dragon mistresses, was horribly burned and mangled. Cast aside and left to die, his life became a horrific struggle to survive. The other slaves and/or servants of the Imperium scorned and drove him away. Only by the grace of his own kind was he saved at all. But, by then, a deep-seated hatred had been born, something virulent and unforgivingly evil. Determined to never be weak again, to never again have to bow his head, and to never let his people suffer, he swore revenge on the entire world. When the World Gate exploded, the cover of darkness protected his growing power. Delving into the depths of known magics, he pushed into new frontiers yet unimagined. Combining magic theory, artifice, and ruthless ambition, he crafted for his people stronger bodies. They shrugged off time itself, embued themselves with vast mana, and devised devastating magical arts. The meek people they'd once been vanished, replaced by something else. They called themselves baarham–"those who seek power", as it is most commonly translated and derided as. In their vernacular, it is more akin to "those who seek and protect their love through power". To the baarham, power was all that mattered, as no ideal could stop someone from breaking their horns or stepping on their throats. And so, two and a half centuries later, King Ghown strode forth from the Great Darkness, his Dominion forged by the baarham people. They built their capital in the northwestern reaches of Aerthen, not far from the shores of Ebalatan. Whereas many struggled to survive during the Great Darkness, King Ghown had prepared his armies, and struck quickly when the skies cleared. It created a lopsided war that overwhelmingly favored the Dominion, letting them swallow vast amounts of territory. Despite their rapid gains, the Dominion ultimately lacked the population to exploit the territory it acquired. As only baarham were recognized as citizens, all others were, at best, second-class, if not relegated to domestic servitude and slavery. While King Ghown notoriously despised everything not baarham, those who proved useful to the Dominion's ends were treated better than others. It was a system inspired by the Imperium of bygone centuries, but maliciously refined to an exacting purpose. Unlike the Imperium, the Dominion never suffered from infighting, internal disputes, or similar issues. King Ghown's overwhelming rule and mythical status among the baarham unified them with unparalleled cohesion. The practical reality of this meant that, while the Imperium was generally oppressive, that oppression differed from region-to-region. The Dominion, on the other hand, was universally hateful and horrifyingly effective at imposing its will. Over the decades, the first cracks in the Dominion's culture began to emerge. Newer and newer generations of baarham were born, diverging from the founding generation. Unfamiliar with the lived experiences of their elders, they sought out their own answers to life's mysteries. Different ideological and political factions emerged, trying to capture strong and convincing answers. The baarham at large had little culture left over from the age of the Imperium, save what oral traditions the surviving anktorlas could remember. A smaller faction, however, started to reconsider if their violent supremacy really was the only way for them to rule. Dissension in the Dominion became the closest thing to the baarham turning upon each other. Their intellectuals were rabid in exploring any idea that crossed their fancy, from the philosophical to the pragmatic. King Ghown found it useful to engender, as it motivated the baarham to creatively explore life and realize their own works. It would be from the ranks of the anktorlas that one particular baarham, Blerthorn, arose. An intellectual giant and charismatic powerhouse, Blerthorn commanded such respect throughout the Dominion as to even rival the King. He captivated King Ghown's personal attention, and the two relentlessly traded barbs in matters of policy, governance, and philosophy. Blerthorn's unfaltering stance against King Ghown led to endless conflicts in the government. Of the two, Blerthorn felt a more stable and far seeing establishment would be necessary for the Dominion. His brand of xenophobia favored baarham isolation and disregard of outsiders, something many in the Dominion began to follow as well. Despite possessing all the means to do so, the Dominion noticeably slowed its expansionism and curbed some of its most brutal activities. A number of historians would later attribute the Dominion's more 'humane' policies as originating from Blerthorn or his political faction, especially after Blerthorn became King Ghown's first, and largely only, concubine. The Dominion may have eventually mellowed out of such behaviors, even as King Ghown remained adamantly hateful of all others. Between Blerthorn or King Ghown, however, the Dominion's ultimate fate would soon be decided. Unwilling to change his ways, and ever continuing to push for baarham supremacy, King Ghown had no compulsions about delving into profane magical arts and horrific experimentation. For all their disagreements on many things, the secret project that eventually created the chimaera was the rock that broke the horn, so to speak. Blerthorn and King Ghown had an immense falling out, creating a schism within the Dominion itself. Blerthorn and his loyalists left the Dominion enmasse, moving westward to Lophern and Immensio, the farthest flung regions the Dominion bordered on. King Ghown, for all of his imperious behavior, simply fell silent, and seemingly allowed the dissenters to leave in peace. It created an everlasting thorn in his side as the chimaera project's reveal passed through the baarham cultural mind. By all accounts, silencing his opposition would've been the smartest move, but King Ghown's unyielding silence remained one of the strangest decisions of his rule. The departure of Blerthorn and his 'moderate' baarham left an immense power vaccuum within the Dominion itself. Sycophants immediately filled the void, creating a self-feeding echo chamber that intensified King Ghown's hateful ideology. The Dominion explosively grew in size, and even began to gain ground against enemies that had stalled out prior invasions. Decades of extraordinarily violent campaigns, unethical and immoral experimentation, and worse defined the last days of the Dominion. No one is certain who, or what, was ultimately responsible for what followed. An immense storm swept across Veltrona, almost a divine tempest unto itself. The raging power of the storm struck the Dominion's various cities with destructive power not seen since the explosion of the World Gate. Those in Nerzin who followed the Path of Cultivation later regarded the event as a 'punishment' from the Heavens. No known goddesses or divinities, though, ever claimed to have done it themselves. Regardless of who or why, the end result became the complete erasure of the Baarham Dominion. Entire cities and their populations–baarham and otherwise–were flashed from existence over the span of a few days. When the storms finally dissipated, there was nothing left of the Dominion on Veltrona. For most everyone, the baarham just simply vanished. Blerthorn and his loyalists remained hidden from everyone else, having long since disappeared into isolation somewhere. So ended the dreaded Dominion, and all the evils it had brought with it. At least, for a while. What happened to the Dominion after its apparent annihilation would only become known after the surviving baarham's later return to Veltrona. Terrible magics had sent the baarham–cities and all–into an entirely different realm. A place of seemingly endless dirt, starless skies, and eternal, dim light. Cross-referencing some very old historical documents eventually pinpointed it as possibly being Apoptosis, a realm long-dead civilizations themselves encountered at some point. Uprooted, deprived of resources, and having nothing to survive on, the baarham were immediately in peril. Though they arrived with some supplies, the Dominion fell into anarchy as they realized how hopeless the new location was. They soon discovered they weren't alone–the ruins of other civilizations, too, dotted the endless plane of dirt. They were littered with hollowed husks of beings no anktorlas could identify, seemingly frozen in time. King Ghown, exercising the furthest extent of his rule and power imaginable, barely managed to keep the Dominion together. By harnessing their vast repertoire of magic, they stymied the worst of starvation off. The baarham fell into a race against time to find new means of surviving in a place that, seemingly, was completely dead. Those who weren't frantically working on research went out into the endless plane, scavenging amongst ancient ruins. They had no time, nor care, for anything else at that point. While the recorded testimonies of the time were sealed away in the baarham vaults, one thing they found proved disconcerting. An immense, functional city–what they called the Oasis City–sprawled through mountains of dug up veltron and fallen civilizations. It ran on strange, never-before-seen magics; its metallic denizens moving and working with a thoughtless precision. These 'keepers' maintained the city and continued its expansion, ignoring any who didn't actively impede them. Amongst the keepers, however, were true forsakened beings. Twisted and deformed into indescribable horrors, they lived only at the behest of the metal keepers. A mockery of what civilization might be, they fought amongst themselves in an unending churn for dominance. The baarham's arrival in both number and power upended this delicate situation, and drew the attention of a powerful forsaken warlady that commanded them all. The warlady–her name deliberately scoured from record–revealed a long harbored plan to return to Veltrona. The key part to her plan, however, was a degree of magical talent she ever lacked. With the baarham on hand it soon became apparent their return could actually work. King Ghown struck a deal with the warlady, forging a terrible alliance that would see the Dominion and the Forsakened returned to Veltrona once more. The exact passage of time isn't clear, though contemporary calendars and baarham records agree with 'centuries' passing. Over the years, the Dominion's anktorlas worked endlessly to maintain the baarham cultural identity. Surrounded by endless evil in all its vile permutations, the constant corrosion of such a presence wore them down. Even King Ghown began to fear the baarham may fully lose themselves, for whatever that might entail. But, through those struggles, they prevailed.
Ripping open a portal to Veltrona, the Dominion and their Forsaken allies landed upon southern Immensio. There they set about voraciously harvesting everything in sight, slaughtering anyone who resisted, and conquering new land. The long-starved peoples gorged in a feast that truly reached the farthest depths of depravity. But then, one of the baarham noticed something. In a grand battle of their side against Immensio's natives, they saw others like themselves. A people that weren't quite baarham. Their magical aura and appearance weren't exactly correct, but they still seemed so close. As the battle raged on, the Dominion baarham realized that the others were the dissidents of centuries long past. Blerthorn and his moderate baarham who'd not only left, but changed themselves–they became the baatari. For all their disagreements, the baarham rarely turned on each other in violence, let alone at such a scale. They always saw each other as kin, who only had one another to trust in a world that did not care for them. The pervasiveness of this view is difficult to overstate, and is a critical reason why the Dominion maintained such a cohesive existence where other similarly brutal regimes eventually fall apart. When King Ghown learned of this, he himself went to the baatari to talk. There he found his old love, Blerthorn, mortally wounded from the ongoing battle. King Ghown had no idea who was responsible for it, a fact alone that tremendously rattled his seemingly indomitable mind. Blerthorn recounted then the tale of his own followers, and their efforts to free themselves from King Ghown's insidious hatred. A hatred so deep it'd been woven into their very blood through their magics, and took centuries of magical engineering to excise. They'd finally managed to do so a scant few decades ago, and now the baarham were inadvertently eradicating them. Soon after these two long separated lovers reunited, Blerthorn died of his wounds. It was kept from record what else was said, but King Ghown moved with a purpose few had ever seen him possess. Calling upon his authority as their timeless king, he set all baarham against their Forsaken 'allies'. In a rage so grand it shook the lands beneath and stained the sky crimson, King Ghown demanded vengeance on those who dared to harm his people. The reason may ultimately not have mattered, for there was no baarham alive who would dare to resist his command in that moment. The Dominion and the Forsaken tore each other apart in a calamitious war that reshaped Immensio's southern half. By the end of it, a third of the Dominion remained, the Forsaken were utterly annihilated, and King Ghown himself had perished. Leadership then fell to Vanzkah zahd Ghown, his daughter and heir-in-waiting who had ever followed in his footsteps. Battered and broken, the surviving baarham hadn't the strength to fight all the other nations of Immensio and Lophern rushing toward them. Not everyone had forgotten, nor forgiven, the Dominion despite the centuries passing. Those who lived and remembered them, and those descended from the survivors, all came seeking vengeance. It's only through the strategic planning and brutally cunning diplomacy of now-Queen Vanzkah that the baarham avoided meeting their end entirely. The Dominion was officially dismantled, and Vanzkah disavowed King Ghown. She promised that the baarham would never again permit such a way to guide them, and that they would do all they could to unmake his hateful legacy. Whether or not anyone believed her, as Queen, Vanzkah made good on her word. The baarham retreated into isolation, guided by the baatari. The two sides reconciled for the most part, and the baatari guided the baarham in rebuilding their lives. They hoped to help their kinswomen find new meaning divorced from King Ghown's hateful ideologies, and the legacy of the Dominion. Hence, ever since, the baarham have remained silent and reclusive, tending to their own affairs and avoiding all others once again. Though there are still some who earnestly believe in King Ghown's legacy, they've been rejected by the majority of the baarham who now follow Vanzkah.
Demography and Population
Broadly speaking, the Dominion subdivided its military into two bodies: the various slave species used as meat shields, and the elite baarham mages who actually ran the army. Compared to almost anywhere else in the Dominion, serving the military was essentially the highest post any slave could hope for. The baarham made certain to treat their military forces reasonably well to avoid insurrection, dissertion, or internal sabotage. They learned to do so early on, as the Dominion's expanding territory made pure baarham forces increasingly impractical. When their initial slave-based armies revolted, King Ghown ordered a doctrinal shift to avoid similar problems in the future. Hence, even though the baarham considered such troops disposable, their overall treatment was impressively high quality. Given the baarham proclivity toward sophsticated and elegant design, they demanded much of those who would protect and serve them in war. It can seem rather strange how generous they were as a result, particularly compared to other civilizations. In the end, the baarham's view toward larger and grander schemes simply decided that high quality treatment would help their war machine better overall. Toward the middle years of the Dominion, higher positions of authority were created for slaves who performed outstandingly well. These faux-generals were, in some cases, even allowed at the command table of the baarham military proper. Humans were especially favored due to their versatile thinking, and often called upon to break strategy stalemates. The core of the Dominion's military might, however, was the baarham mages themselves. Deeply educated, capable in a variety of magical arts, and provided some of the richest material around to supplement their power, few forces could directly compete in their era. To ensure an overwhelming victory, baarham mages were divided into squads of six, principally four offensive-oriented mages paired with two supporters. Two-to-three squads of trained and capable guard slaves would often work in tandem to ensure their defenses. Baarham military doctrine essentially exploited having slaves hold fixed lines of defense while the mages turned the tide of battle. It made them suspectible to breakthrough tactics if the mages weren't paying attention, incapacitated, or not there at all. However, this same weakness was often used by the baarham to have the enemy concentrate their troops, and so their mages would use wildly destructive magics to catch them. For whatever the baarham lacked in elegant strategies, their shocking brutality made up for many times over. While such tactics were abhorred by others, the baarham innovativeness combining mages and martial warriors drew quite a lot of attention. The core idea of martial warriors protecting mages wasn't a new one, but their efficacy in making the two work together was ground breaking for the time. Some of the most distinctive military theories surrounding 'combined arms' across Aerthen can trace back toward the Dominion's old wars of conquest.
Most forms of baarham spirituality were abandoned, supplanted, or eroded away during the age of the Imperium, and the follow up Great Darkness. For the baarham, the lack of divine grace or deliverance from their horrific suffering became a tremendous source of pain and bitterness. Feeling abandoned by the many divinities, their gazes turned to the emerging King Ghown as their would-be savior. Some even worshiped him as a living god after seeing his powers, something that King Ghown himself tried dissuading. Instead, he urged them to venerate their own ancestors, and those who suffered and died so that they might live. Veneration of the family, particularly well-known ancestors, took off as the long-dead offered insights, guidance, and strength in dire times. Being immortal, the baarham didn't regard death as an inevitably, but an unfortunate outcome. Thus, those who died were believed to take up guardian roles in the after life. This only reinforced the insular view of the baarham, elevating filial piety and the value of family. Some of the greater baarham lineages even developed their own internal mythos, creating elaborate truths and fictions of their bloodline's accomplishments. Some figures even transcended their original lineages, becoming communal beacons of worship and reverence. Indeed, philosophical sects emerged around these iconic figures, creating lifestyles by which they hoped to emulate, build upon, and surpass. The Dominion at large ignored the faiths of other peoples, unless they dared to interfere with the baarham. King Ghown himself did not shy away from challenging the goddesses of others if they sought to impede the Dominion in some form. Whether mortal or divine, he crushed his way through them all. Slaves were largely permitted to keep their faiths so long as they remained subservient to the Dominion's interests. As a point of record, a number of baarham scholars actually extensively catalogued a lot of faiths the Dominion encountered. Not only did they acquire innumerable original texts, their refined copies were remarkably accurate as well. They did so in a broad spectrum approach to divine research and anthropology, seeking various answers on highly esoteric matters. While it's presumed their discovered answers were kept secret, the records they used were not. After the return of the Dominion and its subsequent disbandment, these records became highly valuable to many different faiths. In an act of good will, Vanzkah's baarham have ever made such records (among others) free to their former enemies. Although, there is some lingering curiosity for those who study the Dominion. The baarham's fascination with the divine is something that's easy to dismiss as an interest in a source of potential power. There have been arguments that, rather than seeking power, the baarham want to understand the divinities that abandoned them so long ago. 'Why were we, of all peoples, cast aside?' is a common enough question in this particular philosophical arena.
Agriculture & Industry
The Dominion's economy as a whole ran off of slave labor for the near entirety of its raw resources. Everything from farming, mining, lumbering, and anything the baarham considered too menial to do they delegated downward. A suspiciously draconic mannerism, but no one valuing their life would ever make that comparison in front of a baarham. Dominion administrators subdivided the vast majority of controlled territory into various districts. These districts were broken down into various regions that were generally designed to best exploit the local environment. The exact details for doing so varied among the regions. The slave populations, for the most part, were divvied up into land work, hunting, and fending off the Relentless Herds and Packs. Mining-worthy regions had more direct oversight, as acquisition of metals and crysium was of critical interest to the Dominion. All other materials were collected at regional hubs, processed, then shipped to baarham-populated cities for use. On the surface, the Dominion's treatment of its slave populations could be called 'generous'. Adequate housing, food, medical oversight, and more were staples of their implementation. However, the baarham had a particular view toward long term conditions. They were careful to adjust and balance their operations to ensure a delicate meeting of 'extraction' vs 'sustainability'. So long as warm bodies were available to do the labor, they made certain the labor would be done. In the end, their brand of cruelty was an overwhelming system that ruthlessly ground away those it needed for fuel. Something the Dominion was quite fine with, especially if recent conquests provided even more bodies to do so. If uprisings or other problems arose, they simply strip mined the entire region barren, then seeded for regrowth that'd take a couple decades. Few species ultimately proved able, let alone willing, to try and stand against Dominion oppression. As to their industrial power, the baarham of the Dominion had not only incredible talent, but often vast resources at their disposal. They adopted numerous draconic technologies, using them as a basis from which to grow during the Great Darkness. After their emergence, the baarham branched out in their own, more unique ways. The development of Machkin Technology in particular was one of their pivotal hallmarks. By creating self-running machkinery, the baarham could make up for their general lack of numbers. King Ghown invested massively into the field as a result, ordering the creation of enormous mega-smelters, metal processing facilities, and more. As their machkinery expanded, the 'second class' citizens of the Dominion were trained in the maintenance and operation thereof. As only proper baarham were educated in the complexities of machkin creation, it created a large technological gulf between them and their slaves. Although, that didn't stop endlessly creative and inventive minds from studying second-hand and copying machkin methodology. Considering the time period and their contemporaries, the Dominion had one of the strongest industries on Veltrona. Ultimately, its failings came down to Dominion policies regarding usage, as well as the rather lopsided nature of their infrastructure. Despite that, it overwhelmingly amplified their military strength, and is widely believed to be the reason why the baarham were so successful. When the Dominion itself was flash-annihilated in their great expulsion, almost all their industry was destroyed as well. Despite their later return to Veltrona, the baarham lost a significant amount of knowledge for powerful machkinery. While some of their original inventive minds remained, efforts to remake that machkinery haven't been fruitful. At least, until Khaaestra zahd Machkin, the Grand Architect came around, that is.
Knowledge is power in a very real, literal way, and the baarham cherished this truth above all others. Their greatest minds, and even King Ghown, paid extreme attention to how the Dominion's baarham received their educations. One of the very first problems they tackled was the widespread habit of families hoarding their knowledge. By safeguarding secrets, innovations, and other novel concepts, most believed they could build a base of power. For the Dominion, ensuring all baarham could grow to the heights of power was a vital goal. They eventually devised a complete circuit, encapsulating education at many of life's critical stages. It would guide a newborn baarham's education from when they could first read, to when they would pass standardized education decades later. From there, various topics branched off, creating sub-circuits handling those particular concerns. Every baarham not only received education, but had government-supported benefits in doing so. Families that contributed valuable knowledge would even receive bonuses or support in educating their current and future offspring. This model ensured a common standard of education that easily fed into topical areas of concern for the Dominion. It also meant most baarham had a surprising degree of flexibility for pursuing areas of interest. Doing so would enrichen the baarham as a whole, and grow the Dominion's intellectual might even further. Truly esoteric and specialized fields largely fell down to the tradition of seeking out scholars and mistresses specialized in those fields. As the Dominion-era baarham rejected all others not of their kind, they weren't able to capitalize on this idea very well. Most of their efforts involved acquiring others' knowledge, comprehending it, then rewriting it to suit the Dominion's interests. In some ways, it was among the greatest efforts of intellectual thievery in known history. But, it did also preserve a lot of knowledge that would otherwise be very isolated, or even lost. So, many scholars praise and curse the Dominion's practices in the same breath. The fundamental model of education the Dominion created ended up becoming highly influential to the rest of Aerthen at large. A number of civilizations directly impacted by, or aware of, the Dominion invariably copied their educational model. It proved highly effective when properly utilized, and those that paid attention to its operation reaped enormous benefits. However, since Dominion education assumed a tremendous amount of unconditional support from the government, it made it diametrically opposed to privatization. Most everyone else nominally adopted and modified the education model to suit more biased and personal interests as a result. The most common form that emerged was individual territories or regions of civilizations creating 'micro-circuits'. Although, depending on factors, education may have been limited to certain social classes.