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Run, men, run. Toss your heads and smell the wind. Travel far away. Thunder across the land, caravan, drive across the plains, take us home again.
- traditional Dalkun travel song
There are many conflicting stories regarding the nature of the first civilizations upon the mortal plane - some are considered fact by historians and common people alike, others are dismissed as legend. Most legends, however, are based on some semblance of truth. The people and machinery that populated ancient Dalkun-Tir is one such story, though the finer details of this civilization have been lost to time. A vast plain of steppes and sparse scrubland, the modern nation of Dalkun-Tir has long been considered a wasteland. Rock formations dot the landscape, jutting out prominently from caked and cracking clay, eventually transitioning to a small but treacherous desert. A single river flows from the Daidamese capital, weaving through the mounds and fields until it carves the desert to spread into a small river delta.
Early humans found the protection of the vast mesas of Hyan-Dar, to the west beneficial enough to choose a central location for their largest settlement, Seten-Nan. What was initially a trading outpost en route to the sea turned into a sprawling hub, growing to many times the size of nearby villages. Trade was a magnet to the peoples of the steppes, causing the city to swell and build upwards. Without a base for agriculture, the city relied on caravans passing to and from to supply the masses with food and supplies. An incredible volume and variety of metals were mined from the steppes and used to fortify the city, while stoneworkers carved structures into every rock in the vicinity. By the time of the First Calling, the ancient Dalkun empire boasted sprawling metropoles in what was to be a golden age soon before its fall.
In 1c-50, a calamitous earthquake reduced the cities of the Dalkun to rubble, sending vast clouds of ash and dust into the sky above the nation. Great scores of people were killed, especially in the civilization's height of Seten-Nan. A chasm split across the capital as the land rose and fell, forming steppes and trenches. The earthquake, speculated to be caused by the landing of the great meteor upon Bou-zuh, devastated this early civilization not only physically but culturally. The Dalkun scattered across the land and their knowledge was lost to the ravages of time. The wandering nomadic groups became what we now consider to be the modern day Dalkun. Highly resilient to the conditions around them, the Dalkun created a new culture out of necessity, as survival was difficult in the sparse landscape. The caravan became the familial unit; children were raised by the community without much record of lineage. Writing was rare, passed down among the caravan elite, while children were groomed to be useful in some way to the group as a whole.
Over time, each individual group became somewhat specialized in an economic role. By finding a niche which allowed them to survive, caravans became stronger and more suited to their environments. The dirtfarmers harvested worms from muddy piles in the steppes, while waychoppers hunted down foreign and domestic traders wandering the wastes. Colloquial terms for each role vary amongst the Dalkun, but most are generally accepted as having value within their social system. With few exceptions, the focus of each caravan was not exclusive; all caravans performed the bare necessities of survival: hunting, foraging, and trading.
Early pillaging of Seten-Nan led to a widespread proliferation of scrap metal and spare parts for homemade inventions. As the years progressed and scrap grew scarce, the Dalkun became quite handy with repurposing and tinkering. Technology was seen as a sign of superiority, and caravan markets overflowed with nuts, bolts, and rusted sheets. Ingenuity with metal replaced traditional forms of education, and most Dalkun tinkerers were self taught. Each caravan had at least one boltclanger, a simplified and partly onomatopoeic word akin to what is referred to elsewhere as a mechanic. Improvised contraptions assisted the Dalkun peoples in every aspect of their lives. The lack of a uniform, written form of language has led all surrounding nations to view the Dalkun as primitive or uncivilised, when this may not be entirely accurate. Complex social norms exist and are understood by the caravaneers; while they may be unspoken, they are followed obsessively.
Despite their reputation for raiding, some caravans were more peaceful and sought spiritual meaning to life in the wastes. Unlike most other nations, no gods or goddesses had sought the comfort of the moors over time. Ostracized by both the gods and their fellow humans, they interpreted stars and rock formations to a religious degree. Sects and cults sprang up semi-regularly, with varying levels of worship, ranging from pacifist to downright brutal.
In 2C-282, the breaking of Ryang Tal Shi rocked not only their northern neighbors, but the Dalkun themselves. Mosech-Tan’s fight with Orvesu caused the rapid flooding of the countryside, with the waves traveling furiously southeast towards the coast. The crevasse along the Steppes quickly acted as a catchment zone, redirecting the waters towards the abandoned capital. Washing away a great deal of debris, the river now split the settlement in half on its way to the coast. In the aftermath, Mosech-Tan’s spirits were scattered across the world, while Llyrrh, seeing the opportunity for ironic justice, muzzled Orvesu. Unable to directly speak or use his power among people, Orvesu was allowed only to speak through a single prophet of his choosing. To rub further salt in his wounds, he was cast out of Daidama, and forced to watch his former subjects embrace Mosech-Tan as their patron god.
Many decades would pass before Orvesu decided to communicate with humanity again. Still bound by Lyrrh’s decree, his mind had turned slightly vengeful and more crafty. The domain that had long been sated by the freeing of prisoners was supplemented by a distaste for servitude, and a disgust at the paranoid walls for security erected by the Daidamese. It is unknown as to why Orvesu decided to inhabit Dalkun-Tir. Perhaps it was the proximity to Daidama that allowed him to gaze upon the highlands he’d once roamed. It could have been their resilience to the more traditionally “civilized” ways of his former people. It may even have been the danger they posed to the borders to their north. In any case, all factors likely combined to entice the god of exiles to choose his first avatar in the steppes.
The first avatar was chosen sometime in 2C-439. Little is known of his life prior to his choosing, but the tale of his emergence is highly pervasive among Dalkun storytellers and can be assumed to be mostly true. The ritual in which the prophet was chosen became a recurring and regular theme throughout Dalkun history. The first of Orvesu’s prophets was a young man named Zef. Having been born into a caravan of scrappers, he spent his childhood learning to be a future boltclanger. Zef had found a stash of gold in the alkaline swamps by the border of Eztapaltl, and felt this would help him take leadership of his caravan. A harrowing journey home through Khoro-Ter caught him in a great night storm, causing his beast of burden to collapse. Sliding to the bottom of a dune, he was knocked unconscious and awoke in a rock cave, buried by the shifting sands. Noticing a shimmering waterfall and a basin of luminescent water, he thirstily drank until he could drink no more. Falling into a feverish slumber, he began a transformative process known as the Cradling. It was during this dream that Orvesu spoke to Zef, filling him with the spiritual calling of the god. Voices of the first civilizations spoke out in unison, calling him to restore the greatness of Dalkun-Tir.
Upon his escape and return from the Cradling, Zef faced an unprecedented challenge. Gifted with unnatural wit and charm, he traveled the nation preaching the word of his god, calling himself the Outrider. Initially skeptical, the people of Dalkun-Tir subjected him to often seemingly impossible trials to prove his legitimacy. Orvesu aided Zef throughout, and eventually the steppes recognized the authority of the Outrider. He took upon the name of Zef Urus, from the old Dalkun language, and began promoting a return to the ways of their predecessors. This included the teaching of the old language, the study of their symbols and ruined machines, and the attempt at a written language, which has never fully been spread throughout the lands.
Following the flooding of the crevasse and the creation of a river to the sea, the crumbling city of Seten-Nan had once again become situated on an accessible trade route. Within a few years of his recognition, Zef led the Dalkun caravans to repopulate the city, ensuring it would be rebuilt by a population representing the many different peoples within the wastes. Scavengers stripped old broken machinery and repurposed them, setting up markets around the city. Scrappers melted down useless and useful metals into new sheets, workable into various uses by wrenchmen. Hustlefolk acted as middlemen, controlling the stalls and waiting for new caravans to enter the now chaotic shanty towns and temporary slums. A group of learned Dalkun known as the preachmen walked the streets, shouting insults at the Daidamese, who they were taught were at fault for the downfall of the original Dalkun civilization. Within a year of the re-founding of Seten-Nan, the first Outrider ventured into the depths of the inner city, never to be seen again. It is presumed he died there, alone and having served his purpose. Within five years, confusion had set in amongst the populace. Before any preachmen could take up arms and seize control, a wandering man with a shorn, scarred head, and flowing beard appeared from the west. His name was Kal and his skin was marked as Zef’s had been. He claimed a mysterious dust storm had sprung up, forcing him to find shelter in a secluded cave. Shouting that Orvesu had not forgotten the Dalkun, he announced himself to be the new Outrider. The trials began anew, and the tradition has continued since.
In 3C-419, a man named Arza Khaz appeared, claiming to be the seventh Outrider, performing miracles in the western regions of Dalkun-Tir. By this time, a caravan had been formed which was dedicated to seeking out and testing the mystics who claimed to be prophets of Orvesu. Quickly traveling to the eastern shores, these “followmen” were unconvinced by the fraudulent candidate. A haggard traveler emerged from the steppes on the third day of the trial, and accused Arza of falsehood and heresy. The followmen insisted on a duel, and the traveler quietly agreed. The fight was intense, as Arza was a skilled sorcerer. After four hours of fighting, the unknown accuser stopped in his tracks and began to chant. The ground beneath Arza collapsed, and the false outrider plunged to his death, into a newly formed chasm. Turning to the followmen, he told of his ascension ritual and was accepted as the true seventh Outrider.
Taking the name of Mes Gerel, the seventh Outrider preached that the Daidamese had lost their identity, and that they had allowed themselves to militarily weaken. This launched a series of prominent raids against the Tongil Front, and the capturing of Daidamese territory along the northern Steppes; the hatred of Mosech-Tan had elevated to new extremes as caravans arose with the sole goal of raiding Daidamese border towns and trade routes. After roughly two centuries, the Daidamese managed to reach a brief period of unity under the Lance Maiden and attempted to regain their captured territory. Outrider Tolon Gara led his most skilled warriors to battle against her, leading to her death at the battle of Cao Yuán.
At times, it seems the Outrider’s appearance is a haphazard pattern; with cases with mere days between their succession, and others that were separated by decades. Each had their own methods of leadership, but a common goal between them. The word of Orvesu was verbally spread, while the stragglers and outcasts of the rest of the continent were taken into the fold. Often, foreign exiles would find themselves on the plains, being greeted by a strange figure in ceremonial robes. Occasionally, convicted Daidamese would brave an escape southwards, only to be captured by resentful Dalkun caravans. The Outrider would usually request their freedom from the nomads, and integrate them into an accepting caravan. This practice is met with some resistance even today, and the fate of Daidamese exiles is often determined by the winds of chance. The Dalkun believe Orvesu has a plan for them - one that involves the downfall of Daidama and a conquest against the people within their towering cities of metal and stone. Each Outrider, according to the caravans, completes one piece of their god’s puzzle. Their legacy may not be evident, but one day the final piece will be laid and Orvesu will reclaim his homeland, leading the caravans into the fertile lands to the north. Often, these prophecies include depictions of an earthquake, swallowing the cities of Daidama whole in an ironic reversal of fate.
Most of what has occurred during the Age of Uncertainty has not directly affected Dalkun-Tir. To the Dalkun, both the Second Calling and the fall of Eztalpaltl passed by without so much as a blink of the eye, such was the irrelevance of the outside world to their day to day lives. Some territory was gained when Outrider Sainaiz Yesun led an expedition to search for survivors, but otherwise found only desolation and twisted abominations. However, a greater treasure was soon found among the fallen ruins: machinery and marvels from the fallen cities of the alchemy nation. What the caravans of Dalkun-Tir can discover or achieve with these devices is unclear; such a task may require the full attention of a new Outrider. Whether or not this is in Orvesu’s plan remains to be seen.