Tales of the Inner Sea
Inner Sea Natives: The origin of local humans is a mystery. The elves of the ancient southern Summer Kingdoms wrote of a short lived but culturally and architecturally advanced race living north of the Red Mountains. However, when elven society first began moving north of the mountains, at the height of the Golden Cities period, they found humans living in simple illiterate tribes amongst crumbling ruins. Their study of humanity seems to have been cursory, and most of the records of that study were lost during the Great Collapse. The scraps that have been recovered seem to indicate that humans were fairly well distributed along both coasts of the Inner Sea, and that their stories had a few elements in common, including tales of a great land to the north, beyond the Gates of Chaos, somewhere in the hostile great northern ocean. These stories generally say that the land was laid waste by the gods due to some transgression. Unfortunately, the stories do not settle on a single name for this northern land. Furthermore, the nature of the transgression seems to have been tailored to fit the taboos of the tribe telling the story, and the rage of the gods often took the form of whatever natural disaster most often menaced the region where they now lived. Seven Hills Academy has sent a number of research expeditions to Avanor, where the ruins spoken of by the elves of the Golden Cities are most numerous. It seems that most of these are located in areas rich in either copper or tin, and a few seem to have the remains of ancient derelict mines nearby. Furthermore, excavations of burial sites have uncovered something rather strange. There appears to have been a period where a surprisingly large number of people were laid in the ground in a short period of time. There would be nothing peculiar about the possibility of war, famine or plague leading to mass graves, but in this case the number of bodies seems far in excess of the number of people one would expect to find in the regions where they were exhumed. The current theory is that these ancient sites were mining colonies managed by some lost civilization somewhere to the north of the mouth of the Inner Sea, and that this civilization had some sort of warning of its impending demise, whether that be the rumbling of volcanoes or the dire warnings of angry gods. A large number of humans attempted to escape the disaster by fleeing to their southern colonies, but it was too many too fast and the agricultural and herding capacity of the colonies was simply overwhelmed, leading to disorganized fighting over limited resources and mass starvation. Though this is unproven, some have taken this theory a step further and suggested that perhaps the Druids of Avanor with their great stone monuments and their secretive circles-within-circles structure is a sort of survival of this lost culture. If the druids know anything, though, they are not speaking. And all expeditions beyond the Gates of Chaos to find the lost human homeland have proven fruitless.
Symora: Whether they are survivors of a the collapse of a great civilization or not, most Humans in and around the Inner Sea are descended from these northern tribes. The one notable exception is the Symorans. Currently a southern province of Annath, Symora was in ancient times an unpeopled plane crossed by traders passing between the northern golden cities and a number of human civilizations far to the south and east. The trade was a wealthy one , and it spawned at first minor cities and later mass migrations along its trade routes. The people of Symora are mostly descended from fierce nomadic herdsmen. The region was often torn by war even during the relatively peaceful height of the golden cities period. As a result, when the great collapse came it was not as great a perturbation for them as it was for either the elves or the more settled northern humans. If anything, they saw a brief increase in fortunes during the period where they were able to loot trade goods from elven lands rather than being forced to purchase them. It was the closing centuries of the Dark Times, though, when the transformation from a group of loosely related warring tribes to a people with a sense of common identity began. This was the time of the dominance of the Phoenix Clan around the Inner Sea. As masters of the eastern trade routes, the Symorans made natural business partners for the dwarves, though their instability, tribal fractionalism and tendencies towards banditry gave Phoenix some cause for concern. Rather than sending their own emissaries, Phoenix contracted the management of Symora to the clan that flew the serpent banner. Serpent clan did not descend from a standing army or navy like the other clans. They were a smaller group of dwarves that had specialized in reconnaissance and intelligence during the war with the elves. They went to the Symorans as diplomats, manipulators and spies. Their task was twofold: to help negotiate treaties and trade pacts between the Symoran tribes and other dwarves (later, primarily the Iron Dwarves and Phoenix Clan), and to help the tribes find greater peace and unity in order to increase the efficiency and reliability of trade. The specific machinations of Serpent Clan are unknown, but five centuries later, when the armies of the Magistrates arrived at their southern border, Symora was a single nation with a single identity, literate for the first time in their history (they use dwarven script even today), and they had created a new religion that fused various old Symoran tribal myths with the beliefs of the dwarven cult of the Great One (Symorans make no mention of “the deeps” – they are descended from nomads and see their source in the sky and the stars rather than beneath the earth). They achieved common identity, though, only to loose independence. The Magistrates advanced well into Annath, coming within a hundred miles of the Hall of the Archons, and Symora remained the northernmost Magisterial Province for 370 years, until it was annexed by Annath during the conquests of Scythanna. It remains under Annathan rule to this day, where it largely serves as a strategic buffer zone between Annath and the recently resurgent Magisterial Empire. Through all this turmoil, though, it remains an important trade gateway, and the old families that led the old tribes in ancient days continue to grow wealthy.
Human Visitors to the Inner Sea: Although the bulk of humans in the Inner Sea kingdoms are descended from either the Symorans or the mysterious native tribes, various human visitors from other lands are also common. A few of the most common are listed here:
Nok – The Nok are a dark skinned people from jungles and forests beyond the Eberit desert to the west of the Inner Sea. Their tales say they once commanded a mighty empire larger than the whole of the Inner Sea itself, but today their people live under the rule of tyrannical giants. Most Noks encountered near the Inner Sea today are members of a cartel that smuggles gemstones and other precious natural commodities out of giant lands and trades with the dwarves. Some of these have recently taken to smuggling out humans as well, using the wealth made from the gem trade to found small immigrant communities. The Nok are also one of the few cultures known to often brave and survive setting sail on the great northern ocean.
Parth – The parth are believed to be distantly related to the tribes of Symora. However, although their languages are related and their laws have certain superficial similarities, their societies could not be more different. Where the Symorans retain something of the chaotic spirit of their nomadic ancestors, the Parth are an extremely rigid and hierarchical society. They are ruled by a council of wizards called Magistrates – it is from their language that the “common” trade language of the inner sea borrowed the words “mage” and “magic,” but in the parthish tongue these words mean power in the broadest sense possible and imply both arcane adepthood and absolute political rule. The will of the magistrates is carried out by two organizations: the priests of the cant, who serve as generals and higher officers in the military, and the brotherhood of light, an organization of domestic spies and secret police from which many of the magisters are raised. The empire of the Parth is currently in its third iteration. Early in the Golden Cities period, humans from the Callas Mountains migrated west into the southern reaches of what had been the old Summer Kingdoms, now largely empty following the wave of elven migrations. They settled in the ruins of the elven cities and over the next several thousand years their people and culture slowly spread across the lands to the south and west. The first Parthish empire waxed and waned naturally – or so it appears from the fragments of history we have, now, many millenia later. It was during the rise of the second Parthish empire, though, in the waning days of the Golden Cities period that the Council of Magistrates first came to power, bringing with them their strange mixture of religious law and magical control of their people. The second parthish empire was a force to be reckoned with. They reconquered in centuries all the land that had taken their ancestors millenia to incorporate, and by the early days of the current era they had added Symora to their holdings and were harassing Annath and the dwarven strongholds in the Red Mountains. Their power – some would say reign of terror – was ended by the armies of Scythana, a wood elf from the Callan Wilds who was sold by her clan to Annathan slave traders but wound up leading their armies against the Parth. Her story makes a wonderful tale by itself, but as far as the history of Parth is concerned, what concerns us is that she led the armies of Anaath on a campaign of conquest the likes of which the world has never seen, conquering Symora, Parth and Carcosa and declaring herself “Queen of the Lands of the Sun.” Her empire was short lived, however. She was struck by a strange madness while leading her armies into strange southern lands beyond Parth and died five years later, early for a wild elf. After her death, her empire split into three parts. She had two sons and a daughter. Her daughter officially took control of Anaath itself, but was forced into a sort of hereditary military figurehead role by the Council of Archons. Of her two sons, one became ruler of Carcosa and the other ruler of the southern kingdoms. Carcosa is ruled to this day by descendants of Scythana. The same could be said of the southern kingdoms as well, but they have been gradually whittled away in recent years by a resurgent Parth, which has retaken most of the lands once held by the second empire.
Others: Due to the recent rise in wealth of the Inner Sea kingdoms, there has been an influx of humans from far lands: Strange men with pale hair from lands east of the Callan Wilds that are ruled by the Great Wyrms of the Dragon Isles, citizens of vast empires beyond the jungles south of Parth, exotic traders from the cities and nations along the old roads traveled by the Symoran caravans, and others whose point of origin is a complete mystery. Little is known about the home lands of most of these travelers, but they can be found in every major city from the Red Mountains to the Gates of Chaos.