The Vacant Lands are likely the most poorly named region in Adlatum. Originally it was labeled such by Midlanders who saw the land vacant of any civilized society. However the lands of the south are very much filled with a large variety of societies, even if none qualify for the Midlanders' view of civilization. The two largest groups of people within the Vacant Lands are the bakali and the feral elves (or Sekhnesti, also known as 'cat-folk'), but it unknown how many smaller societies and races live in the wild forests, mountains, and hills. With so much of the Vacant Land unexplored, it is possible the bakali and Sekhnesti are only a minority of the overall population. Other races encountered in small numbers include various fey, maidens who can turn into swans, large intelligent crystal spiders, short plant-like humanoids, hulking brutes with canine heads, feathered gliding lizard folk, and many more.
The cat-folk and bakali have been in conflict with each other for centuries. Nobody can recall who started the fighting, but it no longer matters. Territorial conflicts have continuously put the races at odds, and anyone from one side will likely instantly try to kill the other on sight.
Life and Society
For the cat-folk, their own take on society rarely involves another beyond their own tribe (or pride as they call it). They are fiercely territorial, and prides have often gotten into fights with each other when one encroaches on the territory of the other. There are frequent cases when one pride has good relations with another, but that usually involves the need for them to group together against a common enemy or less frequently a "favored mating" between the leaders of those tribes. Often when one member of a pride goes off to form a new pride of his own, the younger pride is see as a young child of the elder pride, and relations and mingling between them are often done with great love and camaraderie.
Within a pride, most work together to better their chances of survival in the untamed lands, but their behavior doesn't exactly mimic that of a cat's pride. Although the Sekhnesti revere the feline, they are still elven. Some still wear clothing, and so tailors are needed to work with skins. Hunters use sharpened stone and wood as weapons along with their own claws, and so weapon-makers are needed. The art of storytelling is popular throughout the Vacant Land, especially in efforts to keep the memories of their great leaders and heroes alive. So many develop bardic skills or become orators. There are also those who work to uphold their faith to the goddess Nertos and her children, the cat totems. These shamans tend to their pride's totem and lead religious ceremonies and revivals on important days and nights.
Feral elves of the Vacant Lands rarely build their homes. Few prides use skins to built skins and coverings, but most sleep in caves, the trees, or in the open with others in the pride keeping watch. The common language used my feral elves is their own variation of sylvan, not elven.
For the bakali, life is much more similar to life within civilized areas. Towns and cities have been constructed, and ruins of lost societies have been taken over and rebuilt into homes. If it were not for the tribal mentality of the bakali and the lack of a cohesive government between the spread out towns, tribes, and cities, it would be possible for a bakali nation to be founded in the western reaches of the Vacant Lands. Travel between bakali settlements is also highly dangerous. With violent wildlife both sentient and bestial living throughout the Vacant Lands, claiming that any region outside of a bakali settlement was under their control would be misleading at best.
The bakali are a very spiritual people following the lessons of Sirr'ushush and Kirk'k lettz. Most of their cities are filled with ziggurat and pyramid-style temples to both gods. Bakali from nearby tribes brave the trek to their shrines on their most holy of days to both honor the gods and celebrate with festivities. The bakali celebrations are grandiose events, filled with music, song, food, drink, and a lavish display of lights using herbs, gasses, and sparking rocks.
Most bakali commoners wear no clothing, and the wealthy often only wear clothing that denotes their station: shaman, military officer, or leader. During periods when they are not on duty, they will more likely than not strip down to their scales. There is no use of currency in most bakali settlements. Bartering is the economic practice often used. Recently settlements near the shoreline have come into contact with Corinesti traders, and also any bakali will kill a feral elf on sight due to their long running series of conflicts, the sea elves have successfully begun trade with these few towns. In these few rare locations, the concept of using silver and copper for money has just been introduced to the bakali people.
Bakali homes often use fitted stone and other natural resources as their materials. Cities also include metals such as gold, silver, and gems along with fitted stone for their larger structures. The bakali are also primarily vegetarian in their diets but are capable of eating meat when the need arises.
The feral elves favor the goddess Nertos and her children, the cat totems. According to their faith, when a pride is formed, a totem is made to honor all things feline. On any night in which a moon is full in the sky, a ceremony praising the goddess is held. During this, the leader of the new tribe spills drops of his blood on the totem and the goddess sends part of herself into the totem. The totem becomes a child of both the goddess and the tribe, forming a link between the two. From that point on, the tribe worships the goddess by honoring the child. Traditions honoring the goddess are included in almost every daily ritual.
The bakali's faith is spread out between multiple faiths. They follow either the god Sirr'ushush or the Krik'k lettz, and they have a deep hatred of the gods Tazhek (Takhisis) and Hizhek (Hiddukel). According to their history, the two evil ones had long tried to manipulate the bakali race into becoming slaves and fodder in a greater war against the rest of the world. The revered gods then saved the bakali. Sirr'ushush saved them by delivering them from bondage, and Kirk'k lettz by showing them how to survive on their own. The bakali year is filled a large number of holidays honoring one or both of their gods. The holidays come once a month and can range from peaceful periods of fasting and meditation to nights of joyous celebration and feasting. Most holidays last a single night, but others may take the entire day or even a full week (a week lasting eight days by the bakali calendar).
According to bakali faith the gods have no gender, and they refuse to depict them in any form that leads to either male or female traits. Any such depiction is blasphemous since it gives a mortal quality to the immortal beings.
There is no unifying government for either the bakali or cat-folk. Each pride of the cat-folk and each settlement of the bakali are completely independent of each other, even if agreements and alliances form between them. Each pride is run by a leader (or alpha), who can be either male or female. The leader is whomever the pride believes is best suited to lead them for survival-sake and prosperity, but if the pride wishes to change alphas, it will often come down to a fight to have the old alpha removed. Former alphas that survive the conflict are usually ejected from the pride, forced to either live on their own or find a way to begin a new pride.
Leadership for bakali settlements can vary. Usually the leadership is passed down from father to favored son, while other settlements have the same method but with a matriarchal bent (mother to favored daughter). Other settlements have their leader chosen based on the will of the gods through signs given to the High Shaman, possibly in the form of them looking for a young one with a certain birthmark or "blessed" deformity. Some tribes have their leader be whoever is the most skilled and pious shaman, while others choose by drawing lots. For however is leader, their word is law. But upon reaching their status, the head shaman or military leader will always reminds them that without the support of the people, the servants will free themselves of their master as the bakali were freed from the gods of dark.
There is no joint military for either the bakali or cat-folk. Individual settlements and prides have their own warriors and spellcasters ready to defend or attack if the need or want arises. During times when a common enemy results in the need for a larger force, bakali villages and towns have been known to lend their arms to bolster the strength of nearby cities. When a similar situation occurs for the elves, the leaders of the respective warrior bands often confer with each other as equals.
Magic and Mysticism
Mysticism and clerical magic are popular in both cultures, especially in the form of shamanism. The practices of bakali and the cat-folk widely vary, but their devotions to their respective gods are strong. During the times when clerical magic was gone, mysticism became popular in both cultures, but now that Starfall has been undone, the use of divine magic has blossomed yet again.
Arcane magic is rare in the elven prides since most of their magic comes from their shamans. For the larger bakali communities, the use of herbs to create supernatural effects long ago evolved into wizardry. Holy men who are unable to complete a task on their own will often confer with local experts in the arcane. Bakali wizards are always seen as inferior to those who practice clerical magic, but they are still well respected since they extend the abilities of the Holy men into areas they could not reach on their own.
Major Geographical Features and Locations
Broeg'jak Isle: After the Drowning, the Pro'trok Hills was a larger region than it was before. For reasons unknown, creatures of Chaos tore into the hills and pulled most of the hills away from the mainland. Now the Broeg'jak Isle ("Barren Isle") is slowly drifting away from the mainland with currently only a quarter mile waterway separating the two. From a distance the hills on the isle appear lifeless with no vegetation or wildlife. However none who have ventured onto the island have ever returned. When one of the bakali commits a crime of unusual cruelty, they are sent across the waterway known as d'Kraga ja'Nofa ("The Edge of Hope") to finish their existence in the cursed land.
Kahkarian Wilds: The Wilds is a gigantic tropical forest in the east bordering the Midland nations of Mauritand and Hudiechia along with the southern hills in the Heskeram Desert. Home to most of the Sekhnesti in Adlatum, the cat-folk prides are spread throughout the forest but yet do not make up more than half of the beings living in the forest. Most elves live in the northern and western portions of the woods, close to the Midland borders and the areas close to bakali settlements. Between the prides and throughout the Wilds, a wide assortment of creatures and races keep to themselves or eat anything that crosses their path.
A stretch of forest extends off of the woods heading southern and west. Not technically part of the Wild, these woods are most strongly dominated by the bakali settlements.
Pro'trok Hills: Literally translated to "Red Rock Hills," the southwestern part of the mainland is a dusty land scored by the harsh sun throughout the entire year. Originally, after the Drowning, the hills were known as Pro'junt ("Fruitful Hills"). The warm moist weather led to large fruit-baring plants that the bakali used for much of their food supply. During the Days of Darkness, creatures of Chaos scorched the hills and tore much of the land away, forming Broeg'jak. Today the hills remaining on the mainland are a desolate region, but the citizens of the city Thel'ock make due, bringing much meat from the animals that live in the harsh surroundings.
Tavacan Plains: Between the northern shore and the Xiaki Peaks, the land is covered in tall grass that hides many dangers. Wild animals hunt and bands of warriors from lesser-known races patrol the area. In the southern parts of the plains, the bakali have secure enough territory to maintain the sugar cane fields, one of the few goods exported from the Vacant Lands via Corinesti traders. Some cat-folk prides prowl the northeastern-most parts of the plains, while bakali patrol the central and southern lands.
Xiaki Mountains: The majestic Xiaki peaks provided many who lived within them shelter from the Great Wave during the Drowning. Even as unprecedented amounts of water poured through to drown the lands to the north, the high summits of the mountain chain were only struck with a light spray. Many of the peaks in the Xiaki chain are covered with snow and ice, and the sudden temperature change from the freezing summits to the tropical bases result in a several clouds misting over the middle of the climbs. Caves of darkness lead deep under the mountains, and they are as filled with as many monsters of various types as the rest of the Vacant Lands.
Ages ago the Junga'tek Empire extended its influence far into the continent of Adlatum, but the bakali's golden age diminished and their grand empire faded from history. Angered by the decay of their greatness, the bakali sided with the dragons during their war against the humanoids, praising both them and the dark gods who promised them their empire rebuilt. When the dragons lost, the bakali's hopes were destroyed. Only those who had the wisdom to see they were being used as fodder left the war and fled home. They accepted the fact that their empire was gone, and slowly they began to pick up the pieces of their lives.
Their period of peace did not last. Many returned home to where their villages should be to find strange elves with feline qualities roaming the lands. Neither side's history recalls who begun the conflict, but for the centuries to come the bakali and feral elves fought over territory and resources. The forests and mountains had also changed. Creatures ranging from bestial to wise now lived throughout the lands that made up the inner empire. While the bakali had gone off to fight the dark gods' war, they lost the security of their own home. With inconsistent communication between the rebuilt settlements, the remnants of the Junga'tek Empire deteriorated to a spattering of tribes living in villages and rebuilt ruins.
When the Drowning came, the settlements living on shorelines and at lower elevations were wiped out. Being on the southern shores of all of Adlatum, the Great Wave struck those villages, towns, and cities with the greatest force. Very little survived, and few ruins of the old empire remained standing. The cat-folk and other races suffered the same. Tribes living in the forest and plains were killed, and those who lived up in the mountains lived.
Seeing how the lowlands were now empty, the bakali were quick to move from the mountains in an attempt to reclaim territory in the faint hope of rebuilding their long lost empire. This lead to further conflicts with the cat-folk, but it also resulted in battles with the military of Mauritand to the north. Soon the bakali lost ground fighting against too many enemies. The cat-folk and others successful ejected the bakali from the Kahkarian Wilds, and they eventually focused on claiming lands in the central and western parts of the Vacant Lands.
The cat-folk entered a period of expansion. When the bakali reached into the Wild several other races turned to the cat-folk for help, but when the bakali were gone, the prides viewed the lands they saved as their own territories. In some places the elves were repulsed, but in others they took root. The cat-folk grew in number and became a dominant presence in the Vacant Lands.
During the Days of Darkness, creatures of darkness tormented all. The cat-folk were hunted by shadows taking the form of tall jackal-headed men. The bakali saw their lands stripped of resources, further destroying their hopes for an empire. Instead of outright killing the bakali, the demonic monsters enslaved the bakali, warping their bodies and minds into slaves bent on fighting and dying for their brutal masters. The Pro'junt Hills, which supplied the region with massive amounts of fruit, grain, and sugar, were burned away to bedrock before being torn away from the mainland, forming both the Pro'trok Hills and the cursed Broeg'jak Isle.
After the Starfall ended the Days of Darkness, both peoples entered a period of prosperity. The bakali were able to rebuild their homes and relations between villages and nearby cities were more tightly knitted. The cat-folk prospered in their own way when their females began to give birth to twins and triplets more often than not.
Fighting between the two dominant cultures continued after the Starfall without much change. However the cat-folk are beginning to make additional enemies. Timber companies from Mauritand have begun to press into the forest to supply the homeless with homes north of the border. Sekhnesti prides have taken this as a great insult and incursion into their own territories and have begun striking back both at the timber companies and the towns neighboring the Vacant Lands in Mauritand. A few prides have also marked their territory just across the border in the woods and mountains of Hudiechia where they are not always wanted.
Corinesti traders have also made successful visits to bakali settlements on the shoreline. A couple of towns and cities have opened themselves up for trade. The Corinesti have seen a great economic potential for using the bakali as a cheaper source of precious metals and sugar to supply the rest of Adlatum. The bakali of these settlements are learning how much the rest of Adlatum desires the metals they have easy access to, and they seek to gain a wealth that can be used to rebuild their glory of old. Unfortunately, the three current rulers of the largest cities of Baccaneesh, Drazhchok, and Tre'thioc all believe their homes should be the new seat of power of a unified bakali state.
Although the cat-folk are extremely territorial, they have no permanent settlements constructed. The lesser known creatures living in the Vacant Lands also have nothing that can be deemed a town or city. As such, the bakali are the only people of the Vacant Lands who officially have major settlements.
Baccaneesh (Metropolis 49,850): Located in a wide bowl valley high up in the Xiaki Mountains, Baccaneesh is the oldest continuously populated city of the bakali. Claiming to be the lost city of Vejeneesh, capital of the Junga'tek Empire, many bakali live in the city and surrounding towns. Two giant ziggurats sit side-by-side in the center of the city, one to house the ruling family and the other as a temple to both of the honored gods: Sirr'ushush and Kirk'k lettz. Bartering is the common form of trade here, and slaves are often used as an acceptable form of payment.
Drazhchok (Metropolis 42,900): The smallest of the three cities vying to be the capital of the "eventual" remerging of a bakali empire, Drazhchok is the center of military strength for the bakali. With the cat-folk living in vast numbers in the Kahkarian Wilds and the nearby mountains of the Xiaki chain, the need to know how to fight to survive is greater for those who live in the surrounding lands. The neighboring settlements are still independent of Drazhchok's rule, but often they request assistance from the warriors of Drazhchok, who are known to be the strongest bakali in Adlatum.
Drazhchok's current ruler, Je'reka has noticed that several of the nearby coastal towns have begun trading with sea elves from afar. Seeing this as a threat to their dependence on Drazhchok, he has begun to deny military help to those settlements.
Trel'ock (Large City 21,090): Formerly one of the greatest cities of the bakali, the Days of Darkness brought the city to almost total ruin. The hills surrounding Trel'ock were blessed with groves of oversized fruit and valleys of tall stalks of grain, but the horde of Chaos burned the large to bedrock, leaving only dust where live thrived. Many bakali refused to cower to their destroyers and marched off to fight. An army of over forty thousand bakali was wiped off the face of Krynn in a single night. With the surrounding land laid barren, many fighters left the waste to find homes elsewhere.
Those remaining discovered their hills were teeming with monsters perverted by the hordes, but they also discovered the beasts were still edible. The survivors put their vegetarian habits aside and hunted, turning what was meant to kill them into the only chance at survival. Water not collected from rare rainstorms is manually collected from the ocean from buckets lowered down the cliffs before being brought back to the city and surrounding towns. There the water goes through a purification ritual to remove the salt, making it drinkable. People all over the Vacant Lands believe the warriors of Drazhchok are the hardiest people of the bakali. The people of Thel'ock know better.
Tre'thioc (Metropolis 47,500): Instead of focusing on military or historical prestige, Tre'thioc has built itself as a center for bakali life by focusing on faith. Five temples to Sirr'ushush and Krik'k lettz corner the outer ring of the city, and a massive amphitheater sits recessed into Tre'thioc's center. Although initially meant to be a religious center, the grand and inspiring sermons inspired many bakali bards to come to perform and tell their tales, play their music, or display any other art created. The city was nothing but abandoned ruins after the Drowning, but since then the city has become a thriving metropolis of gold and stone.
The Corinesti who first visited Tre'thioc were shocked by the abundant amount of gold and silver used as simple adornments on even the most humble of homes. When trade began between the peoples, the bakali of Tre'thioc were surprised by how much the sea elves desired the common pretty material. Since then, the bakali have grown much wiser in how much wealth their city has. The bartering system was soon replaced by coinage, and by selling their metals along with sugar imported from tribes north of the mountains, Tre'thioc is the fastest growing city under bakali control.