Clans of the Highgrass Sea

Four legions.  Four legions marched into that immensity, and they may as well have marched right into the sea, for all the notice it took of them. The highgrass swallowed them up and killed them and spat back the flotsam — veterans not yet twenty years of age with the scared eyes and shaking hands of old men, terrified of open spaces, babbling ceaselessly of fields of golden grass where you wandered in circles for months, watching your comrades collapse from heat stroke or shit themselves to death from bad water. At night, the screaming of millions upon millions of cicadas, screaming that slowly came to sound like laughter.
— From A Legionnaire’s Account of the Broken Shield Campaign (Author Unknown)

It is my opinion that Empire has never truly recovered from the Veld Campaigns that closed out the Fourth Expansion, ending a glorious era of empire-building in ignominious, humiliating defeat. I would not say it left a scar on the Haciki consciousness; scarring indicates healing. Rather, it left an open and bleeding wound, one that has festered for over three centuries.
— From A Treatise on the Warmaking Capabilities of the Peoples of the Swaying Veld by Umbheki Ncele, Provincial Syndic of Outer Respite

If a traveler were dropped at the exact middle of the Swaying Veld, he would see golden, waist-high grass stretching to the horizon in every direction, with only a fat prosperity tree or a few twisted spinecrowns to break the monotony.

Welcome to the Highgrass Sea. Here, large predators such as lions, shunshi, leopards and veldwolves stalk herds of zebra, wildebeest, gemsbok, kudu, and antelope. Horned jakjadu-azu and blacktusk elephants wallow in watering holes, covering themselves in mud to combat the brutal sun. The highgrass is home to various species of enormous insects as well, including striders, colossal mantids, iwo beetles and megapedes.

The Highgrass Sea is divided between two powerful Vanni clans — the Hanujadi of Nightmirror and the Gonyamajadi of Lionreign. Ancient rivals, these clans have warred for centuries, each hoping to win a decisive victory and finally seize the central veld for itself. Caravan routes through their territories bring in a steady supply of wealth to both, and their vast, resource-rich holdings provide large populations from which to draw great hosts.

While all of the Vanni clans utilize striders to a greater or lesser extent, these horse-sized insects are particularly important in the central veld, where the creatures are found in their greatest numbers and large herds of prey make hunting on striderback viable. The insects are able to match the speed of most prey over short distances, getting their riders close enough to bring down the target with a flurry of arrows shot from short recurve hunting bows.

Jagun of Nightmirror Reach with strider mount. Art by Peter “Rojo” Parkinson

Unsurprisingly, this style of hunting informs the military tactics of the highgrass clans. The jagun of Nightmirror and Lionreign are experts at mounted warfare, softening their enemies from afar with volleys of arrows before finishing the fight with devastating cavalry charges.

Hanujadi of Nightmirror Reach

The ohun’s sweeping gesture was a question that encompassed everything — the Great Hall, the lights of the city that lay below them and the shadowed grassland that stretched to the pink rim of the dawn-touched horizon. Then, she reached down and patted one of her strider’s powerful back legs, as if the animal’s limb was the answer.
— From A Caravan of No Cars, by the Reformed and Repentant Bandit Deadtongue Taal-yub-sar-Taal

While all Vanni clans raise striders as mounts, the steeds of the Hanujadi are considered second-to-none. Over the millennia the clan has carefully bred their striders to be larger, faster, stronger and smarter. Consequently, the animals are highly prized, and the sale of sires and broodmares from the most valuable bloodlines is carefully regulated in order to prevent other clans from improving their own stock too drastically. Sale of any striders to non-Vanni is strictly forbidden, and anyone found smuggling the animals is swiftly put to the sword.

In keeping with their excellent mounts, the Hanujadi have a reputation as the best riders among the clans. Racing and trick-riding is a common pastime, and exhibitions are part of every major celebration and holiday.

Hanujad, capital of Nightmirror Reach, is the largest city of the central veld, and lies at the nexus of several caravan lines.

The Gonyamajadi of Lionreign

Catch a Gonyamajad streetrat in the act of putting her hand in your pocket and she’ll immediately engage you in an hour-long debate on the nature of reality and free will, whether we can prove definitively such things as “pockets” and “coin purses” actually exist, and how these questions should inform our thinking on crime and punishment.
Ratri Basra, Kutubi Caravan Master

The principal deity of Lionreign is Sparkshaper Gonyama, lion-headed god of light and the sun. The Sparkshaper is the patron of scholars, orators, and philosophers — as a consequence, your average Gonyamajadi prides herself on her abilities at logical argumentation and persuasion. According to the Gonyamajadi, a well-reasoned, civil debate is more satisfying then the most decadent feast and more stimulating then strider-racing.

Of course, according to the other clans, your average Gonyamajadi is a tiresome windbag who will spend an hour arguing that slippers are actually gloves just to be contrarian, and somehow come away from the conversation feeling more assured of her brilliance.

Regardless, it is indisputable that the Gonyamajadi focus on scholarship has left its mark on the clan. The Temple of the First Spark, located in the capital city of Gonyamajad, is home to the largest library on the Swaying Veld, with an extensive collection of myths, poetry, history, philosophy and legal writings. Access to this trove of materials has made the ifiran (lawyer-priests) of Lionreign singularly skilled, and scholarly Vanni from the other clans flock to study at the city’s many academies.

Of course, the Gonyamajadi are not merely a clan of squabbling lawyers and near-sighted scribes. The great Usi-Umi river runs through their reach, it’s yearly flooding creating rich farmland and bringing in goods from across the continent. These agricultural and mercantile riches fund a powerful military, one rivalled only by their ancestral enemies to the west, the Hanujadi. This host is led by an elite regiment of jagun, the Teeth of the Horned Lion (the name is a reference to the sacred Oldbeast, the Horned Lion Otutu-Odu, who haunts the hills that border Lionreign on the east). These warriors are distinguished by the lion pelts they wear into battle over their strider-plate.