Far to the south, the lands that had been under control of the Ibe-Wum lizardfolk found themselves suddenly without masters. In the wake of the Sealing, the already-active volcano Tchellaryllyn experienced a massive eruption which blanketed its range and the tropical rainforest that covered its slopes in smoke, ash and debris—most of which poured north. The lizardfolk who lived on the northern slopes were nearly wiped out by the eruption, and as those were the tribes which had dominated the humans and skinchangers of the nearby plainsland, the former social order was thrown into chaos.
Many of the lizardfolk tribes fled into the plains, but between their disorderly migration and the quick onset of cold weather—a volcanic winter—they were in no shape to oppress their subjects. Other tribes fled to the eastern and southern slopes, away from the continued Sealing tsunamis and the lava-flows. Still more stood their ground against the lava, for they had long worshiped the volcano and its inhabitant–the great gestalt elemental dragon Kerythryss—and believed that the volcano would spare them.
It did not.
The humans and skinchangers of those lands were no less shocked by the effects of the Sealing. Many hundreds of fishing villages were swept away by the tsunamis, and the residents of the trading cities near the Yezadran salt marsh had watched in horror as everything not built on solid rock simply fell into the sea. They were resilient, though; having been under the lizardfolk’s thumbs for centuries, they were used to being raided at a moment’s notice, and thus well-accustomed to escaping and rebuilding. Though the volcano rained ash on them as well, they saw it decimate their tormentors and decided that the spirits were on their side.
Five spirits held prominence in the south at that time: the Great Lizard Kuumgara, who paid little attention to his people’s misbehavior and was said to sleep within the Forest of Cloud Serpents; the Scarred Hunter Ayirrakela, southern rival to Athalarr’s King of Cats title; Oega the River Wader, who still had children in the area even though many had migrated north in millennia past; Rikshanva the Croaker, the mother of amphibians; and the aforementioned gestalt dragon Kerythryss.
Gestalt elemental dragons had been around since the descent of the wraiths, though not many remained. This was not due to mortality but because they were not natural creatures; rather, they were conglomerations of two or more types of elemental that had fused together into a semblance of the shape of the original Great Spirit. As they had been assembled from disparate elementals, so could they choose to part ways, and most of the first gestalt dragons had disbanded themselves after the withdrawal of the wraiths.
However, some persisted long enough to develop a hive mind, or even a single consciousness—either on purpose or by accident. These gestalt dragons gained personalities and motivations beyond those of basic elementals, which varied from quirky to downright insane. The psychological strain of integrating more than two elements, especially if any were in opposition, made many gestalt dragons dangerously unpredictable, even if others served as advisors or even rulers of worshipful mortal populations.
As a gestalt of non-oppositional Fire, Earth and Metal, Kerythryss was a fairly stable dragon with a large population of followers. While not strictly a spirit, she had garnered enough worship that she had begun ascending in power like any entity—mortal or immortal—that had been noticed by the world. This pushed her into the realm of the beast-spirits rather than the gods, and while she could have gone to sleep and thus shaken off the creeping transformation, she was intrigued enough to allow it to continue. Already some of the lizardfolk tribes had begun manifesting heat-resistance, fire-colored scales and other ‘spirit-markings’ that showed they were becoming hers instead of Kuumgara’s—though none of that had saved them from the volcano.
Like all the other inhabitants of the southlands, Kerythryss was surprised by the Sealing. Though an elemental, she was disconnected from all of the Primals that had generated her component parts, and thus barely felt the strain of the Sealing magic until disaster broke loose. The eruption of Tchellaryllyn ejected her into the sky, from which she watched her worshipers be swept away and wondered what had happened.
Once the upheavals began to die down, she sent her worshipers out to the neighboring lands to investigate what had happened. The lizard-controlled lands had been trading partners with the magi of Yezadra, the dreamers of Shangal, and even the cultists of Nightmare and Death from across the Sea of Storms, but now the only neighbors they could reach were the Yezadrans. A great cliff had sprung up between them and the folk of Shangal, and the fate of those across the sea was for a long time unknown.
The news of the Seals, the sinking of Lisalhan and the widespread volcanic winter galvanized not only Kerythryss but all the folk of the south, for as the land closest to the equator, they were one of the only places with a decent growing-season for the next several years. While the first eruption of Tchellaryllyn had been catastrophic, Kerythryss had enough influence with both the Earth primal and the Fire primal to soothe the massive volcano back to sleep, and enough connections with other gestalt dragons to get the air around her territory cleared. In fact, the southern lands had always been dragon-heavy due to the lack of wraiths, and even the fully oppositional water-air-wood dragons came to Kerythryss’ call from the Forest of Cloud Serpents and the Festering Jungle.
With the skies kept clear by dragons and the lizardfolk temporarily cowed into cooperation, the southlanders bent themselves to intensive farming. The Shadow God’s servants came frequently to deliver supply-requests and take shipments, and what had once been a disconnected array of cities ruled by different lizardfolk tribes soon found itself in need of organization. After some bickering, it was agreed that representatives of the five major spirits would form a council, and that council would interface with the Shadow Folk, the Yezadrans, and the nomads who had begun visiting from the Desert of Aervach.
As the years passed and the ash cleared from the northern sky, outsiders’ reliance on the southern cities’ farms fell back to normal levels, and the prosperity and purpose that had united the people withered. Backed by the spirits, the council maintained control of the burgeoning populace, and as raids began from the resurgent lizardfolk tribes, new Xiroacen pirates and hostile desert-dwellers, the shaky coalition managed to hold firm. Defectors from Yezadra and a few stray Lisalhanians brought arcane magic to the south, and though it never became popular, a small arcane community managed to thrive unpersecuted among the coastal cities.
The people expanded their skillsets from farm-work to handicrafts, to city planning, to arts and sciences. With the gestalt dragons, the four local spirits and various other elementals more active than the northern powers could afford to be, spirit- and elemental-based magic and technology began to flourish, and soon it was barely a hassle for the southlanders to drive the lizardfolk raiders away. Kuumgara’s representative kept the humans and skinchangers from getting genocidal against the lizards, and as decades passed, the tensions among the settled and civilized people—even the lizardfolk—began to ease.
It was not until the councilor in service to Kerythryss declared himself the Prime Administrator that the southlanders realized they had become a minor empire of their own. Disputes and riots broke out over the declaration until Kerythryss herself came down from the volcano, announced that the councilor had acted without her permission, and roasted him to ash. The new councilor for Kerythryss meekly put forth that if they were to have a single leader, he or she should be selected by either the spirits or the people, and that none of the councilors should be allowed to hold the position.
Thus the southland was formally united under the name Zhangi-Uru, ‘Dragon’s Land’, in deference to Kerythryss and her volcano. While it would experience its share of internal conflict, those struggles were always dwarfed by the ones inflicted upon it by nature or its enemies, and even as the Desert of Aervach steadily encroached, its rulers and its councils worked hard to keep the people together and anchor their part of the world.
Next: The New Empires, Part 3: Ciritheen