On Amvat's Children
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Chronicle of Ulak the Drifter

Annotated by Shahrazad Keret

Sapient life often resembles the creatures it evolved from. Amvat is not the exception to this rule. Most civilizations and peoples here have based their entire culture on surviving at any cost. Thus, it must not be surprising that many of them are hostile, warlike and predatory. Attacking and capturing other peoples for slavery, consumption and ritual sacrifice is daily life for the Amvatiaa or Amvat's children. Those peoples who do not engage in the constant violence of their neighbors have discovered other ways of subsistence. Some have domesticated several of this planet's few non-carnivorous creatures, while others have laid claim to a Naaj-Kioo and learned the ways of agriculture, establishing permanent settlements.

Nevertheless, these are exceptions to the nomadic way of life that most Amvatiaa practice. Most tribes follow a pattern of movement. They travel from oasis to oasis to sustain themselves and their animals. At the end of the day, they seek the protection of the spirit-talons, against the merciless cold of the night. During the day, they are besieged by predatory animals and tribes, and must face their ever-hostile environment.

The term Amvatiaa designates a variety of tribes and species, each with their own racial characteristics, way of life, culture and belief system. While there are undoubtedly many that I did not meet during my journey, I had the pleasure of knowing those species and tribes who I would consider to be the protagonists of Amvatian history. The following is a list of these races, including a brief description of each's biology, dwellings and culture. The following is a summary of the most important races and cultures on Amvat, be they nomadic or sedentary.

The most numerous species on Amvat, the Bhalli (meaning "elders" are a hardy people. Composed mostly by poor nomadic herders, they travel from one Naaj-Kioo to another to sustain themselves and their animals.1 They are organized in numerous tribes and factions, far too many to enlist here, each with their own cultural traits.2 However, most Bhalli activities resemble those of early civilizations, being a combination of hunting-gathering, rearing cattle, and war. While many Bhalli are peaceful and even friendly, most tribes follow a philosophy based around the survival of the fittest, being more than willing to kill and enslave their fellow tribes if given the chance. There are even some cannibalistic Bhalli who subsist entirely on raiding and capturing other Amvatiaa for consumption.

Despite their barbaric habits and humble lifestyle, the Bhalli are the true protagonists of Amvat's history. They are, according to themselves, the first child-race of Amvat, and were there to presence the deeds of their gods. It is the Bhalli who carve the Daa-Xiek with their achievements and their beliefs. Theirs are the great legends and anecdotes of heroes and demigods. It is they who continue to be loyal to the ancient rites of religion and magic given to them by the Goddess. Truly, the Bhalli have every reason in the Multiverse to be proud of themselves as a people.

The Bhalli are strongly built, though most ethnic groups within the species are quite short.3 While there are many racial differences within their species, most of them have broad noses, reddish skin, and deep amber eyes. The males are completely bald, while the females have long, silky hair, which they tie in complicated knots and arrangements. Most tribes wear no clothes at all, and merely adorn themselves with rudimentary jewelry and tattoos, which have religious significance. At most, they use large cloaks to protect themselves from the suns' harshest rays during the day and to resist the cold at night.

Water is an essential element for the Bhalli. Being the source of life, the Bhalli follow a strict code regarding it, known as Juh-Lai, the Law of Water. This law stipulates the following three principles.

1. The sanctity of water. Water must be kept pure, free of contaminants that might make it undrinkable. To pollute water is the gravest blasphemy that could be committed. Whoever dares do such a thing is branded a vih-ku, a "forsaken sinner," and forced to wander the desert alone. It is a terrible fate, for these individuals are branded with a burning curse on their foreheads that makes them nearly immortal, but subject of an unquenchable thirst. They eventually go mad and become violent, bestial creatures, hostile to all life, including each other.

2. The Blessings must be shared. Water from a Naaj-Kioo cannot be refused to anyone. Except for the vih-ku, Bhalli who have claimed a spring cannot deny visitors access to water. It is a law of hospitality and goodwill that ensures that no one who reaches a Blessing will die of thirst and upholds the value of generosity espoused by the Goddess herself. Some Bhalli are more generous than others. For instance, some settlements allow their guests to fill vases and pots with water for them to take into the desert, while others give them just the exact quantity to keep them from perishing.

3. No blood must be shed near a Blessing. Blood pollutes water. It is as simple as that. To uphold the first rule, the Bhalli refrain from any kind of violence when visiting a spring. No matter what conflicts or grudges may exist between different Bhalli groups or individuals, blood must not be spilled. This is enforced with extreme prejudice by all settlements, and those that break the law inevitably become vih-ku, hated and spat on by all Amvatiaa.

In the majority of Bhalli societies, the males are warriors and tend to the animals, while the females are gifted in magic and divination,4 working as healers, priestesses, scribes5 and astronomers, guiding the tribe through its tribulations. Male Bhalli with magical abilities are an extremely rare occurrence, but whenever one is born, it is seen as a sign of good fortune for the tribe. Beyond this, gender roles in Bhalli societies are almost perfectly egalitarian, with both males and females caring for children and domestic tasks. The concept of marriage or monogamy is completely alien to the Bhalli. An individual may have as many sexual partners as they desire, and only holds the responsibility of rearing the children product of such unions.

The Bhalli have a large variety of rituals, dances and a very rich oral tradition. If there was ever any sign of culture and civilization on Amvat, I would not doubt to attribute it to the Bhalli. While they are still majorly nomadic, some of the greatest settlements on the planet's surface were created by the Bhalli, either alone, or in alliance with another species. In truth, they are a species worth the attention of any scholar or explorer.

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