>The Great Race

>It is a near-universal belief among the various species of Teleleli and the lands around that there was once a mightly civilisation, now lost to history, but from whom all invention derives.

This accord breaks down, however, when one moves on to the details. Were they human? If not, are their descendents one of the other intelligent species? Beasts? Are a given race slaves of the Great Race who rebelled, or perhaps animals given intelligence by their art? Did the Great Race fall in a magical disaster, the wrath of the gods, war, a gradual decline? Or did they simply leave, and if so where – over the sea, another planet, under the earth, a mist-shrouded valley or secret rooms under the city, from where they still control the world’s governments? Were they rulers of a great empire, the world, or many worlds?

One may find wise sages who will attest to all of the above. One may find others equally learned, and equally certain that the Great Race is merely the name given a succession of different civilisations, or entirely a myth. The sage Hiram Abiff states that the Great Race were not material creatures at all, but numbers. He claimed to have travelled to the Heaven of Perfect Forms, from whence they came.

However certain myths and folk-beliefs suggest to me that the Great Race may have been the Lost Tribes of Israel. If so, perhaps they travelled here using knowledge now lost, learned from the Ancient Egyptians. This would explain how the Israelites could have spent 40 years travelling from Egypt to Palestine via Mount Sinai – which works out to just over 50 yards a day. It may be that they went via these lands, leaving a portion behind who became the Great Race.

This theory, I submit, is also likely to shed light on the mysterious land of Sheba spoken of in the Bible. The reader will no doubt be aware that the black queen of that country, one of the “daughters of Jerusalem”, travelled to ancient Israel to bless King Solomon, and to give gifts of spices, precious stones, and rare wood (note that gold, virtually unknown in Teleleli and nearby lands, is not mentioned). She then returned to her own country. The location of Sheba has never been determined.

Solomon is said to have considered her as beautiful as “a company of horses in Pharaoh’s chariots”, with lips “like a thread of scarlet”, and teeth “like a flock of sheep that are even shorn, which came up from the washing; whereof every one bear twins, and none is barren among them.” Tradition holds that they had a child together. A child of the revered king in Jerusalem (or one believed to be such), would have had no difficulty being accepted as a ruler.

>The Cycle of Cultures

>Some scholars believe that cultures rise and fall in a vast and undending cycle, which they describe as follows:

Barbarism

The state where a group knows no cities or written language, although they may have many arts to distinguish themselves from the beasts, such as domesticated herds, or complex systems of kinship. Indeed some claim that the barbarian is further developed in virtue than the civilised.

Some scholars divide the barbaric mode of life into three types:

Hunter-Gatherers who have no agriculture or domesticated animals, except perhaps hunting dogs or the like.
Nomads who have domesticated animals but no agriculture, and thus must wander from place to place, since their herds quickly eat all the grass in a given area.
Sedentary Barbarians who have both domesticated animals and agriculture.

Civilisation

The state of living in cities. It is characterised by written language, and by arts unrelated to wringing a living from the soil. Where the barbarian tribe may have a single shaman, and many hunters and gatherers, the city will have an unending variety of trades. Some say that the scholar is the representative of civilisation. Others point to the merchant, the noble, and the thief (perhaps with a rhetorical questioning of what essential difference divides the three). Still others, perhaps more practically-minded, point to the fact that each city-dweller is fed by many farmers.

Enlightenment

At some point, it is said, a civilisation may develop to the point where it develops not just new devices, but a new kind of person. The inhabitants of enlightened cultures are said to be supremely virtuous. Some say that they disdain eating animal flesh as we disdain cannibalism. Some are said to watch ghouls feasting on corpses, that they may gain a horror of meat-eating. Indeed it is rumored that some cultures develop the ability to live without food altogether, surviving entirely on prana, the energy of the sun.

They are also said to possess wondrous mental powers including the ability to fly, to sense the emotions of others no matter how well hidden, and to cause those with weaker minds to be unable to move. Although magic and technology may be able to achieve all these results, these methods are expensive and unreliable.

Although some speak of enlightened beings as long-lived or even immortal, others say that, on the contrary, they have a serene acceptance of death, which gives them courage, but may inhibit their survival.

Some daring souls have claimed that a state of enlightenment is the same as godhead; either that the gods were once people, or that the gods are memories of a time of enlightenment blurred into legend.

By contrast, others claim that there is no enlightenment, only higher and higher levels of technology, each seeming godlike to those below, but in reality differing only in degree rather than kind.

Decadence

In this phase a society is said to become, as it were, the victim of its own success. Removed from the need to struggle for mere physical survival, yet unwilling to engage in higher pursuits, the people turn to ever more ruinous pleasures. The inhabitant of a decadent society is said to be physically wasted by their pleasures (yet, due to higher tolerance, most resistant to poisons and intoxicants). Finally, dark magic becomes ever more common; perhaps in a search not for power, but for mere distraction from boredom.

Scholars differ as to whether decadence follows enlightenment, or is an alternative fate to it. Others have claimed that civilisation and decadence are the same: that everyone simply denounces the present as decadence, while holding up the past as civilisation.

Degeneracy

If a civilisation falls due to its own decadence (as opposed to destruction by natural disaster, or conquest which is not facilitated by decadence), the survivors will be tainted by moral weakness and the effects of the strange practices of the decadent. They may be twisted further by inbreeding. Often they will seek dark places. In short, the degenerate resembles the barbarian in the level of technology, but is far removed in both mind and body.

Some scholars say that degenerate populations that do not die out evolve back into human form, beginning the cycle again. Others claim that degeneracy is a permanent change; the survivors become literal beasts, prowling mute and uncomprehending in the ruins of their works, which finally crumble to dust, unremarked and unlamented – for who is left with tongue and brain to remark or lament?

Comparison to the Life of an Individual Person

Some say that the rise and decline of a culture is like the age of a single person. Barbarism is said to be childhood, civilisation is adulthood, enlightenment is old age, decadence senility, and degeneracy death.

Alternatively enlightenment may be compared to one who gains the wisdom of age, and decadence to one who attempts to recapture their youth.

Non-Humans

Some claim that this cycle applies to humans only. Species such as dwarves and elves are said to have reached an unchanging state, although perhaps they were subject to change in the past. Others claim that non-humans are subject to the same rise and fall as humans, but on a vastly slower scale. Yet others say that humans and those kindred who resemble them may have once been a single species, until one branch fell into degeneracy then rose, or conversely became enlightened then fell. The so-called Ancestral Dwarves and Elves are claimed as evidence for many of these theories.

There is also disagreement as to how a group moves from one state to another. Some say that this is a natural development, while others argue that a group can only be uplifted by the gods, or by the technology or magic of an advanced species (although this raises the problem of how the first civilisation arose).

>Technology of Teleleli

>The traveller who ranges far may encounter any kind of technology and culture. However in Teleleli and the islands around the prevailing level of civilisation is comparable to that of the Dark Ages, with some noteable exceptions:

  • Due to the presence of underwater civilisations and treasures, diving suits have been developed to a high standard.
  • Map-making is almost unknown. Places do not always keep their relative positions as they do in our world, although I do not know whether this be cause or effect. The stars are somewhat more reliable, but less so than in our world. Nor do compasses work.
  • Robotics has been developed to a more advanced stage than in our world. However, as with much of the sciences, it is generally secret knowledge held by individual wizards or craftspeople, or lost to the ages, rather than a shared art. Robots are often made of unusual material such as wood; a necessity due to a scarcity of metals, and a possibility due to magic. For example the grandma scientist Agnes Goodwife knits robots from wool. Her arch-enemy Madame Zed is an evil grandma scientist, who sews raggedy androids. It is possible that some of these creations may have made their way to our own world. My thoughts are drawn to the chess-playing Mechanical Turk of the 17th century, and of the strange case of Doctor Joseph Bell, that ‘tireless’, ‘cold’, ‘machine-like’ individual who provided the inspiration for the fictional Sherlock Holmes.
  • The catapult has been developed to a fine precision unknown in our world. However, since the obscure mathematics necessary to use them is the monopoly of the gnomes, it is used for transport rather than war (nets being set up at destination points to catch travellers). The exception is a giant catapult in the centre of the city, which is used for executions. This is reserved for the worst criminals, since many religions hold that an evil-doer must atone by spilling their own blood, and this method of execution draws no blood.
  • In matters of hygiene the Telelelenes are more advanced than the Dark Ages. Most houses are connected to the sewerage system. There is a built system of water supply, however it delivers water to wells rather than directly to homes.

The most advanced weapon is the crossbow, and the reader should hope never to see such a thing, since it will be wielded by the chief guard of some wealthy noble, or the assassin sent to kill them.

The best weapon to which the traveller is likely to have access is the “you-me”, or longbow.

One wonders at times whether more modern devices have not found their way here, or been invented by some insane wizard or secretive dwarf, and been treated as items of magic, or wonders of the Great Race, which in the minds of most is the same thing. For example, was the legendary Staff of Burrowing Doom some kind of rifle? If we could examine the remains of one of the Three Princes on the Mountain, the victims of the fabled Wand of Maggots (or Wand Which Brings Forth Rot), which caused deadly parasites to blossom within the body like maggots in meat, would we find not maggots but bullets?

Because of the scarcity of metal many swords in Teleleli are made of forms of glass or ceramic, much harder than those known in our world. Some ‘swords’ are really wooden clubs, with teeth set in them to make them sharper; often those of sharks or crocodiles. It is said that the fiercer the beast was in life, the better the sword. It is also said that the one who kills the animal to make the sword should never use it, since the spirit of the beast will take revenge. A sword is said to be helpless against the species its teeth come from, unless the animal was unusually evil and vicious. Thus warriors will carry two swords, with teeth from separate species. Rumour speaks of magic swords which use the teeth of vampires, dragons or the like. Other rumours speak of a doom which is on the world; that one day all the animals will rise and kill, and no sword of teeth will allow itself to be lifted in defence.

I could find no-one who admitted to making or owning a sword made with teeth from more than one animal. The idea of doing so has a strong, but ill-defined, feeling of ill-omen about it.

Another reason to avoid metal swords, for those who would travel to the underworld or other magical lands, is that such weapons tend to be effected by the presence of magic, eventually developing a will of their own.

Armour is often constructed of bamboo, or the same glass and ceramic used for swords, although the tropical climate does much to render armour of any kind impractical. For further information the traveller should visit You’ve Got Mail, or another armoury.

This lack of precious metals might be explained by the belief of the ancient Germanic tribes that dragons harden their otherwise soft underbellies by sitting on piles of gold, absorbing its royal essence (and thereby gradually turning the gold to silver, and finally copper). It could be that some wise king of the Great Race saw the connection, and banished gold using some unknown power.

And indeed some say that Zam-Zammah, the great green-bronze dragon from out of space, declared Teleleli too poor to conquer and, on being told that it was the greatest and richest city in the world, moved on to parts unknown. But others say that Zam-Zammah was not an animal, but a machine of war come to life. And still others say that dragons are liars.