Flatlanders

The other people of Tygan named the Flatlanders for the temperate, level lands beyond the ice fields, a landscape of fertile grassland and scattered bush teeming with animal life. There was never much debate about the name because very little is known about the Flatlanders’ origins. There are a few facts and many rumors, but no clear answers. One suggestion is that the Flatlanders are simply a tribe of humans that had no contact with the outside world, but tests confirm they have some elven, dwarvish and even orcish descent. The science makes the Isolation hypothesis impossible one way or the other. The precise reason for the Flatlanders’ mixed blood remains a mystery. One promising theory suggests that each race had an encounter with the plains-faring people some time ago and the newcomers simply stayed, interbreeding with the Flatlanders and contributing to the gene pool.

The Flatlanders learned many of Tygan’s languages before contact with the outside world. While it’s not clear how they did so, some anthropologists believe the Flatlanders gained a basic understanding of linguistic patterns in the outside world from visitors or lost explorers, and were able to use books scavenged from lost expeditions to fill in the gaps. The Flatlanders were already fluent in most languages when they first met representatives from larger outside powers.

The first recorded encounter with the Flatlanders was via elven settlers. After a small exploratory force breached the ice fields and found the Flatlands, they noted that the ample food and level terrain was a perfect place to found cities. The hierarchs of Haiden sent a full expedition to colonize the Flatlands under the leadership of Jarvah Krendell, chosen for his fame and influence stemming from his expertise in slave trading. A Flatlander hunting party broke off their chase to greet Jarvah and his colonists. They were friendly enough to give advice about the land for free, and offered to help construct a colony in exchange for some of the exotic food Jarvah brought with him. For his part, Jarvah was impressed by the Flatlanders’ upper body strength and uniform fitness, and he immediately sough to exploit them.

One of the Flatlanders was interested in seeing Jarvah’s ship, which gave Jarvah the opportunity to separate him from the group. Jarvah told the Flatlander he would ride in a cage because there were many predators between them and the ship, and he didn’t want his guest to be hurt without steel armor. Jarvah even offered to have a suit commissioned once the Flatlander was on the ship. Of course all of this was a ruse; Jarvah truly just wanted to send the Flatlander back to Haiden for appraisal. When he realized he had no way of leaving the cage on his own, however, the Flatlander caught on to the trick and picked his locks, escaping when a herd of wild cows ran through the middle of Jarvah’s caravan.

Jarvah was furious, and immediately gathered a party of soldiers to find the tribe. He came upon a young girl hiding in a narrow crevice between two rocks and took her hostage, placing his dagger at her throat and demanding the rest of the tribe reveal themselves. A poison dart buried itself in his neck and he died in seconds, so shocked that he didn’t follow through on his threat. The rest of the Flatlanders had camouflaged themselves beneath sheets laced with bushes and twigs, and immediately ambushed Jarvah’s party. Using staves and clubs they incapacitated the soldiers, but didn’t kill any of them. They left immediately after reclaiming the young girl. The elven party’s wizard started a brushfire as soon as he could and the elves left the entire area to burn, convinced they’d killed the Flatlander tribe. This expedition gave up and returned home to Haiden. When the elven hierarchs sent a larger force back to resettle the area, they found no evidence of bodies in the area of the fire, and scouts later reported members bearing the tribe’s marks alive and well.

The elven hierarchs painted the Flatlanders as savages for what they called ‘the brutal, unjust and careless murder of our people’s ambassador.’ Ironically, only Jarvah’s journal and those of his party told a different story, for which they locked in archives for thousands of years afterwards. Future attempts to settle in the Flatlands were violent, with the elves attempting campaigns of genocide against the Flatlanders to subjugate them or at least exterminate them. One elven commander stated ‘I’ve never met a disobedient corpse!’ The Flatlanders had the home field advantage and knowledge of the outside world thanks to the books they’d scavenged and the people they integrated from elsewhere. Knowing not only the land but the favorite strategies of the elves, and having no permanent cities, they were able to fight the elven troops in a way that larger groups elsewhere in the world couldn’t. It didn’t help that any elven reinforcements had to be shipped thousands of miles from Haiden through the ice fields to the Flatlands.

After one particularly bloody battle in which an elven force managed to find and slaughter an entire tribe of Flatlanders, three Flatlander tribes worked together to draw off the forces of a central elven outpost so a few of their members could poison its water supply. Only a few of the outpost’s troops caught on before it was too late, and the Flatlanders quickly killed them. The outpost turned out to be the hub coordinating elven efforts to colonize the Flatlands, and without it each group of settlers was cut off. When the elves realized what had happened, they were forced to retreat and regroup. Some historians debate whether the Flatlanders knew the outpost’s significance and deliberately chose it, or the poisoning was simply a lucky accident.

The elves turned to fliers like griffins and rocs ridden by wizards to destroy the Flatlanders, and believed they’d had some success after a number of strafing runs. But when settlers attempted to come back, the Flatlanders inevitably returned to meet them. The Flatlanders became so effective in night raids and daytime ambushes from camouflage that they seemed nigh untouchable, so much so that the elves began to call them just ‘demons.’ After dozens of unsuccessful campaigns started to strain elven budgets and the patience of the general public, all plans to settle in the Flatlands were scrapped. Any Flatlanders captured in the campaigns or in the future were exploited both for slave labor and the sex trade by the elves. The latter often resulted in illegitimate births, most of which were killed shortly after to prevent what one hierarch termed the ‘dilution of elven blood by dissolute savages.’ All of these unwanted half-breeds that weren’t killed on the spot were shipped back to the Flatlands. The Flatlanders embraced them as lost brothers and worked carefully to make sure that every half-breed found its way to his or her respective tribe, further adding to the mixed blood of the Flatlanders.

True, civil contact with the rest of the world did not begin until after the First Great War shattered elven dominance and the outlaw of the slave trade. An elven hierarch tried to argue that Flatlander descent was too mixed for them to be considered human and so could still legally be enslaved, at which point a Dwarven representative said “Since you keep shipping your blood over there, I guess you mean they must be elves!” After an extensive debate that some pro-slavery hierarchs tried to quash, Flatlanders were classified as human under anti-slave laws and thus granted the same legal protection. Later encounters between the nomadic people and the city-dwellers were more peaceful, and they began regular contact with humans, elves and dwarves.

Flatlanders are well-built almost from the moment they’re born. They’re known for adrenaline and long-lasting energy. While they can’t run as fast as elves over short distance, as endurance runners the Flatlanders are unmatched even by other humans. They have slightly tan skin, but their most distinguishing feature is that every single Flatlander has amber eyes, a trait that stays dominant even in children with a non-Flatlander parent. Some rumors suggest they acquired them through magic, though anthropologists point out that there’s really no reason to do that and it’s probably just a benign mutation. The bones of Flatlander’s feet are much thicker than those of a typical human. This suggests a much longer time without footwear in early history. Both male and female Flatlanders are have better-than-average upper body strength relative to their level of activity, and are known to be able to handle heavier weapons for longer periods than other people.

The Flatlanders are uniformly nomadic, having no towns or cities and seeing no need for them. They are a hunter-gatherer society that lives on what the Flatlands readily provide and uses the stars to navigate from one rest area to the next. The Flatlanders have a lot of free time, and they use this both to observe the world and to weave their knowledge into elaborate stories and fables, most of which are based on real-world events. The Flatlanders are fully aware of the outside world and openly, though cautiously, curious about it. Some of them leave home and attend university in a foreign country, sometimes achieve genius levels in academia, and then return to the Flatlands to bring their knowledge back to their people. Many of the famous Flatlander scholars walked this path.

The Flatlanders never waste anything. They strip hunting kills down to the bone, eating every last piece of meat and using the bones themselves to make either art or armor. They often sell these pieces to travelers, but never in exchange for money, which after all they would never use. Instead the Flatlanders barter for weapons, longbows or spears made from stout non-native oak being particularly prized, or other hunting supplies such as herbal lures and nets. Museum curators from other lands often bring goods to trade for Flatlander art, which is highly revered and holds a place of honor in entire sections of several Art and Natural History museums. No names are attached because the Flatlanders never bother to provide the name of the artist. For them the exchange is not about fame but bettering the tribe as a whole. Scholars have nevertheless narrowed the artists down to certain lineages since certain families tend to pass on methods, be it the set of a stitch or the particular sweep of a brush stroke.

The Flatlanders never write their literature down, instead passing it down through the generations by word of mouth. In spite of this, the stories are seldom changed or twisted with each retelling, beyond superficial differences such as a different choice of adjective or verb to enhance an effect. Scholars attribute this to the Flatlander’s attention to detail and respect for the traditions of their tribes.

The Flatlanders were among the only races not to suffer during Assylyl’s reign because he never went to the Flatlands to feast, doubtless because there were no large cities to for him to dominate. Many people fled to the Flatlands when it became clear that Assylyl was ignoring them, and the tribal people welcomed them. The survival techniques of the Flatlanders proved beneficial for many, and a number of soldiers traveled there was the war progressed to learn the Flatlander’s ways. They took this knowledge back to occupied or embattled areas of Tygan to aid in the war against the Followers, and many of Assylyl’s troops vanished without a trace due to Flatlander ambush tactics. Many of the Flatlanders left home to assist in the fight against Assylyl, while some stayed home and set up hidden caches and hideaways to prepare for the Far One’s arrival. But Assylyl never reached the Flatlands, as Davies defeated him before he could turn his attention to them. After Assylyl’s defeat, many of the refugees decided to stay, integrating themselves into Flatlander culture and tradition.

The Flatlanders themselves are now more actively involved in dealings with the outside world, but still maintain their traditions and culture as they have done since before the first cities. While much of Tygan has come to admire the Flatlanders for their culture and their sacrifices in the war against Assylyl when they had the option of staying hidden, they are still victimized by bigots, and have been known to be victims of black market sex and slave trade.

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