The Neanderthal saga
This is a draft for the neanderthal civilization, adopting most of the ideas discussed in the past about a mysterious, menacing and potentially strong neanderthal race living on Thalassa.
Here is a world map showing the location for the largest lands settled y neanderthals in the present era. Many known neanderthalian enclaves scattered across the world are also shown.
A full resolution image can be downloaded here
Neanderthals are a very ancient race, even for the standards of the Edge pocket plane. They first arrived on Thalassa about 216000 years ago, brought there in large numbers from a world they called Enn'Gis by a set of multiple major gates which opened during a planetary alignment on the Edge mundane plane. The extraplanar gates scattered the neanderthals across Thalassa's landmasses, even if the largest concentration of this people was dropped in the temperate belt of the southern continent.
Rise of the neanderthals
Neanderthal groups were more accustomed to colder climates (Thalassa was then experiencing an interglacial warm phase) so they retreated to isolated areas along the mountain chains and in high-latitude territories. In particular the sub polar mountain chains in the southern continent proved to be an ideal habitat for this race, where the neanderthal thrived. Their civilization soon scattered into a multitude of slightly different cultures, helped by the climatic and geographic insulation provided by the sub polar mountains. Most contacts among distant tribes were kept by people accustomed with magic and shamanism; those people, cultured and respected due to the common benefits produced from their job, became more and more prominent as generations elapsed. About 195000 years ago a shaman discovered a way to reliably speak with the spirits of neanderthals' dead ancestors up to their arrival on Thalassa: he taught this technique to other wisemen and soon the whole society was forever changed. The discovery started not only a whole new way of studying the past, but also a new way of life, as living neanderthals were able to get the aid of their dead in solving everyday problems. Neanderthals' sages compiled a huge and accurate generational history of their whole people, a story that was transmitted orally and with the aid of mnemonic sigils. A golden age for the neanderthal ensued, enhanced by the beginning of a global ice age around 184000 years ago. The expanding taiga and tundra enabled the neanderthals to spread and colonize previously unhealthy territories, and to contact most of the isolated enclaves lost since their initial diaspora in the southern continent.
The first golden age
This so-called First Age of Neanderthal reached its cultural peak around 167000 years ago, where exploring parties in the southern continent discovered a way to enter the high-magical field area above the south pole which was mostly empty from intelligent creatures at the time (for further details about how magic works at the Poles see here). In a few decades the neanderthals living here were able to build a high-magic civilization which was seen as a cultural landmark from most of the interconnected colonies in the southern continent. Unluckily such a cultural focal point revealed itself to be relatively short-lived: starting 1000 years after its foundation, and lasting for about two millennia more, a natural process of polar magnetic inversion disrupted the high magic field, collapsing the polar civilization and its high-magic achievements.
Even in this tragedy, a powerful shaman fleeing crumbling culture of the South Pole managed to adapt a long range communication spell to the average intensity of Thalassa's magic field found outside the Poles. She called this spell Ayloo, or "windwhisper" and it proved of immense usefulness for the whole neanderthal race, as it enabled to easily connect faraway groups and lost tribes. In a few generations most of the neanderthals of the southern hemisphere was able to exchange information and lore across whole continents. When this spell became of common use among spell casters, just a few scattered tribes in the northern continent were not part of the Divja (the People), as this global neanderthal civilization called itself.
With the availability of the sum of knowledge of most living and dead people, the neanderthals managed to further enlarge their habitat, spreading into the temperate regions of Thalassa and trying to settle even the tropical belts.
Limit to the expansion and the Retirement
This golden age lasted for many more millennia: a decades-long invasion from cold creature due to the eruption of a super volcano in the chinese-like southern continent around 150000 years ago was nothing more than a nuisance, while the long lasting war between the neanderthals and the lizardfolks for the possession of the tropical lowlands turned into a stalemate when a race of intelligent dinosaurs sided with the lizardfolks to prevent their extinction.
The end of the ice age, starting around 119000 years ago, pushed the neanderthals back from the sub-tropical and dry lands they conquered and sparsely settled in ages past, but this drawback did not affect their global culture as a whole. In truth, the increasingly warmer climate halted every progress the neanderthal race could possibly gain and diverted all the energies of this race to the preservation of what they already conquered. In the long period such a strategy would have proved itself too expensive, especially when unpredictable cataclysms hit some communities and required a diversion of resources to mend damages.
One of such cataclysms was the Great Flood of the southern continent when, around 115000 years ago, the final melting of a large ice wall poured huge volumes of water from a sub polar landlocked lake into the nearby sea, damaging or submerging all seaside neanderthal communities in a large region. Most of the smallest and less defensible settlements were never built again, and other races moved in in the abandoned areas, increasing their territories at neanderthals' expenses.
By 111000 years ago it was clear that the neanderthals had to abandon their most exposed territories in the temperate lands if they would keep a secure lifestyle in the sub polar and mountainous lands. The 3000th neanderthalian generation since the arrival on Thalassa - which lived around this time - was believed to be the last to benefit to the full extent of the sophisticated culture of the First Age of Neanderthal. They were the main responsible for the Gu'lahr, the ordered Retirement to most welcoming (from neanderthals' standards) and protected lands on Thalassa. After the Retirement neanderthals just lost minor territories, while holding the bulk of their culture intact. It was an age of refining and mastering of techniques, including the study of magic. It is believed that in this era the average spell caster fraction in neanderthal societies increased from 1 to 100 people to 1 to 20.
The Second Age of Neanderthal
After a very long hiatus of about 34000 years, the 4000th neanderthal generation was strongly persuaded by omens and other shamanic signs that a new ice age was about to begin and that they have to pave the road for a renewed golden age for their race. Exploiting on the cultural treasures of their people, long preserved after the Retirement, many of the 4000th generation neanderthals became daring adventurers, explorers, accomplished warriors, powerful shamans and leaders. About 74000 years ago they started to reclaim the most important abandoned places of their former civilization. About a millennium later, as predicted, a long and harsh ice age hit Thalassa, and the neanderthals were ready to exploit it. While other intelligent races withered and retired in secluded enclaves or became hidden races, the neanderthals advanced across the temperate regions of both hemispheres, claiming many lands and killing or driving away the original populations.
This new Second Age of Neanderthal lasted for 38000 years, and it was signed by the long Reelak (the War Against All), started by the 5000th neanderthal generation (the so called Generation of the Fist) about 40000 years ago. It is believed that the aggressiveness of this generation (and of their sons, and grandsons) began when many of their foreseers predicted an ending to the ice age in just a few millennia. The leader of the Children of the Fist managed to persuade their comrades that it was their destiny to take as much advantages as possible for their race until there was enough time. This war, which, once started, lasted for almost a millennium, was fought also against the first human groups that at that time had just begun to arrive to Thalassa through the gates.
The Decline and the present time
The Reelak war consumed most neanderthals' resources and dissipated much of their aggressive power: on the long term its toll was a net loss for the race, as the impending end of the ice age favored creatures living in temperate lands. The appearance of a sixth Grand Comet about 36700 years ago was interpreted as a bad omen for the neanderthals. Contemporary generations tried to organize a new Retirement, but most of their efforts were impaired by the same populations they harassed and persecuted in the past, vengeful for what they had to suffer by the Children of the Fist and their descendants. Humans, in particular, proved very competitive and did not leave any respite to neanderthals during their retreat to their mountain sanctuaries. The neanderthal started to lose more and more ground, as many of their secure territories were conquered by humans and other races: hundreds of tribes were displaced or utterly exterminated in the following millennia.
The more exposed neanderthal groups tried -in desperation- to learn the warfare tactics of their enemies: some tribes actually managed to master them with successful results and to repel the invaders. In the following millennia they managed to build bronze-age, or even iron-age, cultures, sometimes even trading with their former persecutors. Such Jolo'de ("Aberrations") are seen with suspicion by the most conservative members of the race, even if they are tolerated mostly thanks to their not-too-large numbers (as their numbers grow, suddenly neighboring races feel menaced by these "civilized savages" and start some kind of crusade trying to wipe them out).
Anyway, the lowest point of neanderthal decadence was reached about 6500 years ago, when two large groups of neanderthal tribes fought between themselves over natural resources during a colder than usual year. The war caused almost 15000 victims and it was aptly named Bru'l'owà, "The Shame" by the other neanderthals, as it never happened that neanderthals killed their kin in such large numbers. Both tribal groups were exiled and forced to live as nomads in the lands between true neanderthal territories and the lands of the other races. Many barbarian tribes living in the southern continents trace their origins back from one group or the other (becoming the so-called Yrema - "Fallen" - tribes).
Now neanderthals are a dispersed, while still strong, race; the bulk of them is scattered among a dozen of large territories in the southern sub polar lands, each one inhabited by dozens of tribes each one possessing its own ancestral costumes and traditions. Outside such territories there are dozens of smaller enclaves (each one made of just 1-10 tribes) scattered throughout Thalassa, especially in the coldest and most inhospitable lands. Many communities live in a millennia-long isolation from the rest of their civilization, their windwhispers long gone: some of them reverted to barbarism, while others, in order to survive, assumed so many costumes of the nearby communities that they would barely be considered part of mainstream neanderthal civilization anymore.
The most respected neanderthal sages and seers predicted over the millennia that the whole neanderthal civilization would last until the 10000th generation will be born, which is still tens of thousands of years away. The future promised to the neanderthals is so long that there is for sure room for at least another golden age ahead. There are many, among the most illuminated neanderthal leaders, who actively try to organize an effective resistance against external aggressions and disruptions, in order to be ready for (or trigger) such an era of prosperity. Moreover, as long predicted, a new ice age for Thalassa has already begun: if the neanderthals manage to repel enemy intrusion and unify the bulk of their race they could really come close to a Third Age of Neanderthal.
We left our old worlds, each of us. This is it. We can't go any farther. This is The Edge.
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