The walled village of Hulasz-Arat, Jewel of the Lastrides, depends from a curve in that august river like a brilliant pendant. Here, the granite halls and ramparts, bound with bronze, have seen generation after generation of men die in defense of this holy site, their blood and bodies despoiling the fields and waters of the River Lastrides. The cycle of death and conquest ended just over twenty years ago, when Sheikh Vassad bar Hemali of the Hazzakh tribe took Hulasz-Arat at the behest of Emir Sulgo bar Wazi, commander of the forces of Melekh Lemesh the Inviolate. Today, peace has found its way to Hulasz-Arat, though her people know not what to make of it.
The Hazzakhi, like so many conquerors before them, have taken the top rung of Hulaszi society for themselves, and work constantly to acculturate the Hulaszi to their ways, encouraging intermarriage and the veneration of their strange, foreign gods, even going so far as to suggest that the old gods of Hulasz-Arat were not gods at all, but demons sent to lead the Hulaszi astray from the true path of the Hazzakhi gods. The Hulaszi, however, are used to conquerer; they have seen centuries of them come, rule awhile, then fall to the next conqueror and treated like Hulaszi themselves. This is how the Hulaszi culture has survived: through a collective myth that their culture will survive all storms, all hardships, absorbing the fallen once-mighty and outlasting all others. Which is precisely why the longevity of the Hazzaki "occupation" of Hulasz-Arat sticks in the craw of Hulaszi purists: they have had no new conquerors in a generation, and now their children are becoming as much Hazzakh as Hulaszi.
The Hulaszi may not have to wait long for a liberating conqueror, however, and dreams of a Hazzakh state in Hulasz-Arat may indeed be doomed. Abroad, Melekh Lemesh the Inviolate maintains an uneasy peace with his two chief rivals, Sultan Gyusef Skezzet of Thego and Ur-Shah Belnerub VI of Erszan, that shows signs of fracturing. Lately, the Ur-Shah accused Melekh Lemesh of supplying weapons to the pirates plaguing the Erszan coast, a charge which the Melekh vehemently denies. All the while Sultan Gyusef (who would like to be remembered as "Gyusef the Great") masses troops on both the Melekh and Ur-Shah's borders, citing the current dispute as "indicative of continued instability in [his] neighbor nations." War seems likely, if not unavoidable.
People & LandHulasz-Arat is encircled, on both sides of the River Lastrides, by steadily-improving fields, the growing fecudnity of which the Hazzakhi conquerers see as vindication of their rule (as if it were ordained by their gods), while it sticks in the craw of Hulaszi nationalists. A wide variety of grains are grown here, as are fruits such as dates, olives and grapes slightly too sweet for wine appreciable to most non-Hulaszi. Some few shepherds and cattlemen call Hulasz-Arat home, but most livestock found in the city is goats and poultry, kept as much for milk and eggs (and perhaps even as pets) as for meat. Most flocks and herds in the area are tended by the nomadic halflings of the region, the Paszsimmir, who cleave close to the mountain passes, known to have odd habits and customs. Many dwarves have come to Halasz-Arat over the ages, oft as not to curate or mererly appreciate the vast endeavor that is the granite work and bronzework the town is famous for. Dwarves are universally respected, widely seen as Man's truest ally in the wars that freed him from the Elder Races a millenium ago.
A few years ago, a bizarre storm washed a ruin of gold-limned wood down the Lastrides to the banks near Hulasz-Arat, bearing with it a collection of refugees from an unknown land. It turned out that these cast-away wretches hailed from the Dreaming Dimension, and the very real storm that had rocked the town had also been felt in the land of sleep, where the nightmarish hurricane tore an elven noble's barge to shreds. Without a home, the Sheikh offered the refugees respite in Hulasz-Arat so long as they swore to keep his law. Since then, the brief refugee solidarity has fled before the calcification of the elves' strict caste system; those of noble birth have little to nothing to do with the underclasses.
The Hazzakh are in truth not too different from the Hulaszi. Both descend from the same stock of southern men who entered these lands in victory after the defeat of the Elder Races. After two decades, the two cultures have grown closer, with even some Hazzakhi foregoing their traditional shaved heads to wear long, bronze-banded braids down the backs in the Hulaszi manner. Some Hulaszi youths have even adopted the Hazzakh fashion of wearing brightly-woven shawls weighted with copper rings. Stark divisions remain, such as the Hazzakhi refusal to invoke the old Hulaszi deities in affairs of state and the Hulaszi insistance that it is the Father of Owls, their own deity, not Gussadagol the Devourer who ushers in both the fall of night and the visions of seers and prognosticators. The merit of the different cultures' musical traditions is a source of bitterness between them, though outsiders rarely can tell the difference.
Again, I've probably written way more than I should have on a few niche topics rather than give a solid overview of the setting. Next time, we'll get into the folklore and geography of the area around Hulasz-Arat, along with the threats that loom nearby.