THE MAGICAL AGE
The discovery of Glowstone led to a series of dramatic changes in Arkhemia. Having finally discovered a means to combat the Dragon scourge, men climbed out from its underground hideouts and fought for the surface. Ambitious Surface Runners became Dragon Hunters and a new industry emerged, dealing in the remains of Dragons. Everything from scales to bones could be sold for a small fortune. Even dried Dragon meat became a delicacy capable of fetching phenomenal prices. Nothing, however, could compare to the value of Dragon blood. What little is known about the discovery of Blood Houses is a well-kept secret of the Academy of Magi, but the advent of Magic would turn the world upside down.
The Guild of Dragon Hunters
As the Dragon Scourge was slowly pushed back and the kingdoms of men crept back up to the surface, Dragon Hunting Companies found themselves in increasing competition with each other. The Dragon population dwindled but the number of Hunters seemed to grow with every year. Companies fought each other for Dragons and became even more territorial than their prey. It didn’t take long for many of them to realize it was more profitable to cooperate by associating with each other. Dragon Hunting Guilds emerged everywhere, monopolizing the trade in entire regions. Those who refused to join up (and pay their share), Freelancers, as they became known, were quickly dealt with. But the peace brought by this coalescence was a short-lived one. Wars erupted between Regional Guilds. For nearly a decade, more Hunters died in skirmishes with rival Companies than actually Hunting. The Academy of Magi, fearing this conflict could jeopardize their precious supply of Dragon Blood decided to intervene. In 1522 Before Unification (BU), the Consensus of Saggad was signed. A document drafted by the Academy, granting a monopoly on the trade of Dragon Blood to the Dragon Hunters Guild of Lamash. Nine out of every ten regional Guilds signed the Consensus and joined the newly formed organization. The ones that did not were out of business within the year. Or worse.
The Academy of Magi
While historians tend to divide Arkhemian history into two great eras, the period that separates the Pre-Magical and the Magical ages, could be considered an era onto itself (albeit a much smaller one). This was a period of near constant warfare. Between men and Dragons and between men and other men. Powerful city-states expanded, annexing smaller neighbors and forming the basis for what would become the great kingdoms that fought the unification wars. It was also during this time that the very first Mages came to be.
At first, Mages were rare, odd men and women, keeping mostly to themselves and dedicating their lives to the pursuit of Magical knowledge. Their extraordinary abilities, however, did not allow them to avoid the conflicts surrounding them. Monarchs sought to enlist their services and while some welcomed the life of privilege that came with being a king’s advisor, most saw this as a sort of servitude beneath their talents.
The very first school of Magic was founded in Saggad in 1673 B.U. and it became a beacon for Mages across all of Arkhemia. Soon, its library became the largest repository of knowledge in the world. Graduates from the School of Saggad returned to their homelands vastly more knowledgeable than their local predecessors and decided to open their own versions of the School, following the curriculum of their alma mater. The network of Schools of Magic formally became the Academy of Magi in 1605 B.U. both as a means to better organize their collective pursuit of knowledge and as a political statement to every Monarch attempting to use Mages as their personal tools and weapons. As proclaimed in its founding documents, the Academy was to be a place for learning. No matter where its schools were built, they would remain neutral in the wars of men.
While the Academy’s statement of political neutrality is widely believed by most, there are some who believe the unification of southern Arkhemia under the Arreline Empire was, in truth, orchestrated by the Academy as a means to achieve lasting peace in the continent.
THE PRE-MAGICAL AGE
Arkhemia is who knows how many thousand years old. The only thing that people know for sure, is that one day, their ancestors were driven from the surface by the great Dragon scourge. The ancient tribes scattered across the world, digging their cities underground. Famine and disease became everyone’s neighbor. And even though venturing outside was so dangerous, life without the surface is simply not possible.
Dragons tend to ignore crops, unless people are working on them. For that reason, every time farmers go out to plant, maintain or harvest a crop, a group of Watchers is deployed in the surrounding vantage points. These lookouts are trained to spot Dragons at great distances, so that they can warn the farmers in time for an escape. It's never a question of if a Dragon will show up, but when and by whom it will be spotted.
After pushing the humans underground, the Dragon scourge had one other major effect on Arkhemia - it ground trade to a complete halt.
It is uncertain when, but at some point, brave groups of men and women decided to venture the surface. They developed techniques that allowed them to safely cross great spans of terrain in as little time as possible. It was a physically demanding and still deadly task, but the rewards were significant. These groups became known as Surface Running Companies, and were the only means of communication between underground cities.
Mostly isolated, each city was its own state and no king was able to rule beyond his own tunnels. Still, the languages, traditions and religions of the ancient tribes remained fairly unchanged.
Surface Runners travelling the southern half of Arkhemia would find the Thepians and Candians to the northwest; the Arrelines in the north; the Samehrians in the center and to the southwest; and finally, the Akhamis to the southeast and the Cyrinians to the south.
Thepians, Candians and Arrelines share the same language, despite their different cultures and religions, which suggest a similar origin of these three tribes. Not much is known about Thepian and Candian religion, but Arrelines prayed to mother Ava, the dawnstar, and daybringer. This monotheistic cult was based around the belief that Arkhemia is an accident of creation and that, unlike the other deities, Ava could not bring herself to ignore the humans that lived there, and became humanity’s caretaker.
Samehrians and Cyrinians are very similar cultures, with the Cyrinian language being mostly a Samehrian dialect. Both of these peoples pray to a polytheistic pantheon with hundreds of different deities (Cyrinians tend to name their gods slightly different from their Samehrian cousins, but otherwise nothing changes in these two religions). They believe that everything was created by a different, specific god or spirit, including emotions (a god for each emotion), fruits (one god for each, plus the god of its corresponding tree) or types of wind (which includes burps and farts).
Finally, Akhamis follow a strange, sometimes repulsive religion - The cult of Fyr. The religious interpretations of the Akhami Sacred Tablet vary significantly, but at its core, Fyr is a goddess of fire, dragons and death. To some Akhamis, Fyr is actually a Dragon herself. Among its many different sects, rites can sometimes involve human sacrifices, depraved sexual acts such as incest, among others. It is, however, worth noting that these extreme interpretations are a minority, and most followers of Fyr reject these practices.