Mazhar Mateen sat quietly at his favorite table. As his aged hands carefully turned the page of the fragile looking tome set out before him, a faint grin touched his weathered old face. There were few things he enjoyed more now than taking up residence in the royal library of Ahgram for the day. He'd seen much in his many years. A lifelong scholar, his studies had taken him to nearly every corner of Qalia. Now though, he was content to live a quieter life. It was peaceful in the library, and it suited him well.
The old man felt a weak tug on his simple robes. Glancing down next to him, he saw a young boy stood at his side. "Sir?" the boy asked.
Mazhar frowned slightly, his dark brow creasing. He looked around the room, hoping to spot the boy's guardian. A few other robed men sat scattered throughout the area, each seemingly lost in their studies. There did not appear to be anyone looking for the child.
"Yes?" Mazhar replied.
"Are you the librarian?"
Mazhar smiled, and scratched at his short, scraggly white beard for a moment, then replied. "No, I am not."
"Oh," the boy said. "What are you looking at?"
"I am reading a history."
The boy nodded. "Oh," he said, sounding somewhat disappointed.
"Do you like history?" Mazhar asked in a serious tone, as he set his book aside.
The boy shrugged. "I don't know."
"You don't know?" the old man asked, "How is that?"
"Because I don't know any history," the child explained.
"I see," Mazhar said, nodding, "Well, we can't have that, can we?"
The boy looked confused and gave him a peculiar look. "Can we?"
The old man chuckled quietly. "No, we can't. Tell me, what is your name?"
"Well young Erol, it is a pleasant thing to meet you. I am Mazhar. Now," he said, with a slight twinkle in his eye, "pick a place and I shall give you its history."
Erol's face brightened a bit. "Any place at all?" he asked.
The boy thought hard for a moment. "How about here?"
"Ahgram?" the old man replied. Erol nodded.
"An excellent choice." Mazhar said, leaning back as the boy took a seat. "There is more to our city's history than most know of. You are in for a treat."
"Our great city has a history rich with heroes and wrought with disaster. It is often said, that without one you cannot have the other. Ahgram, as we know it, has stood proudly amidst a land in turmoil for hundreds of years. Empires have rose and fallen, the world around us has changed and we have been challenged countless times but no matter the threat, we have prevailed.
"But our story begins long ago," Mazhar continued, as the boy settled, an eager grin on his face. "...Long before the great rift was torn, Qalia was a much different place. Two vast human empires competed for dominance. The proud Qaliathari and the noble Mordebi - two peoples with strikingly similar hopes and goals but who sadly remained unable to work as one."
"Why?" Erol asked.
The old man leaned back in his chair and gave the boy a contemplative look for a moment. "Perhaps while they both had similar goals they, as a people, were simply too different. The Mordebi came from various tribes scattered throughout the west. After many years, they banded together and began to build cities. However, change did not come quickly for the Mordebi.
"The Qaliathari were a slightly fairer skinned people who constructed some of the largest and most magnificent cities the lands had ever known. They were by all accounts more advanced than the Mordebi. So it is ironic that in the end, it was war that kept the two people apart -- not against one another but a civil war within the Qaliathari Empire."
"What were they fighting about?" the boy asked.
"A great many things," Mazhar explained, "They fought amongst themselves frequently. Though much of it culminated in one particular war.
"Shidreth Ahgramun, ruler of the Qaliathari Empire was slain by a Vizier named Jathred Shazarethen. Many viewed Ahgramun as a despot and with the support of the lower classes and the powerful sorcerer Khelium Ak'Zel, Jathred had planned to assume command of the empire after the coup. Khelium, however, turned on the Vizier after Shidreth was killed.
"Further complicating the situation for the Vizier were Ahgramun's sons. Upon hearing the news of their father's death, they banded together to avenge him. Many of the empire's nobles backed the sons, as they had the 'legitimate' claim to the throne.
"A third faction then arose in support of the sorcerer Khelium Ak'Zel. Khelium believed only the most intelligent should be entrusted to lead the empire and many mages and sorcerers of substantial power rose up in his support.
"The resulting war raged on for years. Thousands upon thousands of lives were lost and many of the Qaliathari's great cities were destroyed during these times of strife. Many of the dangerous creatures from the southlands, once kept at bay by the imperial army, again made their way into the empire's lands. The Mordebi wisely chose to stay distant from their neighbors during these years."
"Who won the war?" Erol asked eagerly.
"Nobody wins in such a war, young Erol," Mazhar replied, smiling patiently, "but in the end, Fassethi Ahgramun, eldest son of Shidreth regained control of the empire. Vizier Shazarethen and the sorcerer Khelium Ak'Zel were put to death, along with their followers."
The boy's eyes widened. "All of them?"
The old man nodded seriously. "Just about, yes. It was a very unpleasant time in our history. Fassethi's first act as leader of the Qaliathari Empire was to rename it the Ahgramun Empire and he began construction on a new capitol city, which he called Ahgram."
"That's us!" Erol chirped excitedly.
Mazhar grinned at the boy, and shook his head slightly. "But there is much more to our story, for it was not the Ahgram you and I live in today."
"Then what happened?"
"The empire could not withstand another prolonged civil war. Fassethi was not like his father, and he knew this. He instead concentrated on rebuilding the imperial army and driving back the beasts, which had began to invade his land. The citizens of the Ahgramun Empire soon grew to love their leader and he ruled over the beginning of an age of prosperity for his people. For many generations his descendants lead the empire justly and fairly. But as with all things, it would not last..."
“The Breaking?” Erol asked quietly.
Mazhar nodded. “Civil wars and conflicts with other races scarred the will of even the strongest, but it was not until the sea rose to swallow the Mordebi and Ahgramun Empires that they were truly tested. Earthquakes ripped through the lands, tearing the earth apart. Homelands were split asunder and dragged into the dark water as giant waves reached out from the sea, snatching the very life from all they touched.
“The entire face Qalia was dramatically altered and much land was lost. On the western coast, the rising water and sinking land resulted in the disappearance of pristine white beaches forever. The dense wilderness now met with the sea, forming a nearly impenetrable wall.
“In a violent earthen shift, the plains in the east plunged hundreds of feet below water. The lush northlands, home to the human empires were perhaps hit the hardest. No amount of force could have saved the humans from the massive waves that swept across their lands.” The boy listened intently as Mazhar continued. “The initial waves claimed every living thing from the coast to the desert and in the earthquakes that followed, more continued to smash the fertile land until it eroded entirely, leaving only desert scrublands to border the sea.
“The human empires were devastated. What few survivors remained had no homes, no food and no hope. With nowhere else to go, remnants of the Mordebi and Qaliathari empires took to the wastes to the south. They formed small clans and wandered constantly through the desolate lands, frequently warring with other clans for food and water.”
“Why couldn’t they just farm?” Erol asked.
“They tried.” Mazhar replied. “They tried very hard. But the land was barren and the damage caused from the Breaking would take years to heal. Gradually, a number of modest settlements began to form. Some did eventually take to farming, though their crops were meager. Other settlements served merely as resting points between raids. What little ruins remained of the old Ahgramun capital were hit constantly for supplies.”
The boy started to say something, but stopped himself short. The old man looked down at Erol. “What is it?” he asked kindly.
The boy shook his head. “I’m sorry,” he apologized. “I don’t mean to interrupt again, but why didn’t they just build the old city back up instead?”
“Never apologize for asking questions,” Mazhar said with a grin. “That’s how you learn. And some did try to rebuild the city that was lost, but the unfortunate truth is that there were too many others determined to work against them for reasons only they will ever know.” He stopped, noting the somewhat disappointed look on Erol’s face. “However,” the old man continued, “after many years of failed attempts, several groups of Mordebi nomads forged an alliance and began to construct a permanent settlement in the tumultuous Gahren Plains.”
Mazhar paused for a moment as the boy brightened up, then continued. “For several years, it looked as if they might actually succeed. But one day a violent earthquake shook the city and dragged in back down beneath the earth. The distraught Mordebi clans took this as a sign that they had angered the Gods and returned to their nomadic lifestyles.”
“What do you think, Mahzar?” the boy asked, grinning.
The old man returned the grin. “I think,” he began, “that perhaps the Mordebi were a bit too superstitious. Quakes such as the one that struck them were not entirely uncommon in the century following the Breaking.”
“Why is that?”
Mazhar leaned back in his fair, a contemplative look on his face. “Well,” he began, “imagine that you drop a large rock into the river. What happens?”
“It makes a splash,” the boy answered confidently.
“Indeed it does,” the old man nodded, “but after that splash, does the water not continue to ripple for a time afterwards?”
Erol frowned and thought for a moment. “I understand what you are saying now,” he said finally. “The earth was still healing.”
A smile spread across Mazhar’s lips. “Very good,” he said. “And in the years that followed, the human tribes were once again plunged into perpetual war with one another. Thousands died as the clans raided rival settlements.
“It was during one such raid that a young Mordebi boy named Bahman Fendir witnessed his father, the clan’s chief, and three of his uncles brutally slain at the hands of Qaliathari invaders. The boy was badly wounded, but despite the loss of his left hand, he managed to stay alive. For many weeks, he lay sick and feverish in a makeshift tent while those around him made a meager attempt to rebuild what had been destroyed. Gradually, he regained his strength until finally… he emerged from his tent as the new chief of the clan.”
“Then did he get revenge?” the boy asked, rocking back and forth on the floor.
“At first, that was all he wanted,” Mazhar answered. “He swore he would avenge the death of his father and uncles, and that those who had a hand in their killing would pay dearly. His clan was weakened though, and in no shape for another war. Instead, Bahman decided to rebuild their village, and wait… for raiders would come again.”
“And they did, didn’t they?”
“The young chief proved to be right,” the old man said, nodding. “It took only a few short years for a group of marauders to sweep into the village. In those years, Bahman had grown into a large, powerful man and his clan had become strong. This time, they were ready and they fought back. When all was finished, not a single raider was left alive. Convinced that his tribe was strong enough, the chief decided it was time to repay those who had slain his father all those years ago.
“They started with wandering raiding parties, attacking during the night while many were asleep and killing them to the man. In their wake, they left a trail of devastation.”
Mazhar, much to the delight of Erol, went on to describe many of the fierce battles, making special note to not say anything too disturbing to the young boy. “For several months,” he said, “this continued. Even with only one hand, the Bahman was a fearsome warrior. He continued to gain power as rival after rival fell to his attacks.
“Then, one night while planning a raid, one of Chief Fendir’s scouts returned to him with news. He had located a village several of the defeated raiding parties had originated from. With their warriors all dead, the village was defenseless.”
The excited look began to fade somewhat from the young boy’s face. “What did they do?” he asked, a hint of concern in his voice.
“The decision was not a hard one for Bahman to make, and plans were quickly made to attack the village.”
“Attack the village?” Erol said, taken aback. “Why? I thought you said they were defenseless?”
“They were, and you said it yourself young Erol: Fendir wanted revenge. The following night,” Mazhar continued as the boy took on a look of disgust, “the chief and his clan swept into the village. The ensuing battle was short and one sided, and very violent. As the sun rose, Bahman walked through the broken wreckage of the village, searching for anyone left alive. In one small hut, he found a young boy huddled frightened in a corner.”
Now Erol looked angry. He said nothing, but sat firmly planted on the floor in front of the old man, a deep frown creasing his brow. Mazhar continued.
“The boy grasped a small blade tightly in his shaking hand as Bahman drew his sword and approached. As the fearsome chief drew nearer, he closed his eyes and looked away, seemingly resigning himself to his fate. He hoped for a quick death—.”
“—I don’t like this story anymore,” Erol said bitterly.
The old man gave the young boy a reassuring smile. “You didn’t let me finish,” he chided gently. “The boy wished for a quick death…but it never came.”
Erol perked up a bit at that. “Oh?”
“Instead, the boy heard a soft thud in the sand next to him. He opened his eyes to see the chief’s weapon lying on the ground. Bahman looked down at the boy, deathly pale as he realized what he was about to do. He had become what it was he had set out to destroy.”
“No fair!” Erol exclaimed.“You knew that was going to happen.”
Mazhar grinned and continued the story. “He left the hut with the boy in his arms and his sword still on the ground. From that point on Bahman had a new goal. Rather than conquer, he would unify. You will like this part, young Erol—the chief established a permanent settlement in the ruins of the old Qaliathari capitol and named it Ahgram, in honor of the ancient city that had once stood there.”
“Did it last this time?”
The old man nodded. “Indeed, it did. He offered protection to all of those who sought it, and established a trained militia to defend it against raiders and marauders. Before long, Ahgram had begun to resemble a small city. Trade between it and the surrounding settlements began to flourish, even with the presence of bandits and rogue groups who would take years to dig out. But by the time Bahman Fendir died, Ahgram was clearly the seat of human power.”
“What happened after he died?” the boy asked.
“The chief never had never married, nor had he ever fathered a child – but he did leave an heir who would become the first king of the new city.”
Erol scratched his head, confused. “How is that possible?”
Mazhar flashed a quick, wily grin. “I’ll leave you to figure that one out.”