The Skargh Empire (Skargh: Nagharai az-Skaara) is the largest and oldest of the three galactic superpowers in the universe that is also home to the Imperium of Sidhae and the Federation of Mankind.
The Skargh Empire is the oldest known starfaring power in the home universe of Sidhae and Mankind. Having consequently built the largest interstellar empire by far, the Skargh are technically the most powerful of the three galactic empires fighting for supremacy over the Milky Way galaxy. Their advantage of size and numbers is, however, somewhat offset by human and especially Sidh technological prowess and tactical ingenuity.
As sworn enemies of both the Imperium and Mankind, the Skargh are locked in a perpetual war with its rival powers. The stalemate is further reinforced by informal agreements by each power to fly to the other's aid, should the third power embark on an all-out offensive, keeping the general hostilities down to constant skirmishes and minor incursions - perhaps the best possible outcome for all three warring sides in the absence of a realistic solution for a genuine peace.
The Skargh Empire dates back millenia before humans and their Sidh descendants, or even the Skargh themselves, attained spaceflight.
The 8th century AD by Terran calendar was a tumultuous time for the Skargh, being roughly equivalent to the later Terra's 20th century in terms of conflict and violence. Minor empires forged by different Skargh clans battled over supremacy, investing every bit of their technological knowledge to find new creative ways to destroy their enemies. Traditional codes of honour and chivalry were increasingly disregarded in favour of political expedience as mass industrialization took place. Where Mankind would experience two World Wars in their time, the Skargh were essentially locked in a perpetual state of war during this time, a situation not overly unfamiliar to them from ages before - ever since the invention of firearms, "killed by gunshot" had replaced "eaten by predators" as the primary cause of death among the Skargh. Still, until the advent of industrialization, the destruction had been kept relatively in check by a strict adherence to traditional laws of chivalry and honour. Now, however, that adherence was increasingly vaning, exacting a heavy toll on the Skargh population and their native environment as vast stretches of land were destroyed and polluted by artillery bombardment and chemical warfare.
It was in this setting that one of the Skargh noble houses discovered the means to split atoms in their pursuit to outdo their rivals. After brief preliminary tests, the house elders were quick to realize the awesome power they had unlocked to their command, but also the horrors and dangers it brought with it.
Therefore, the house that would in the future become known simply as the Royal House, decided to unite all of its rivals under their banner under threat of complete annihilation. After the Royal House obliterated a few most stubborn rivals as an example, the rest of the Skargh clans agreed to end hostilities and submit to the rule of the Royal House, also recognizing the threat that independent pursuit of such destructive weapons and their eventual use would result in. Thus, the Skargh Empire was born in 762 AD, the entirety of the Skargh race united under one banner for the first time under High King Bakrak'r the Great.
Recognizing the innate need for the Skargh to fight and wage war, King Bakrak'r and his advisors devised a system of ritualized combat to meet that need and avert future rebellion and uprisings, enforced by their nuclear monopoly. This system would become known as the Thag'r, and would define Skargh single combat and warfare for many centuries to come.
Expansion to the stars
The millenium after the unification of warring clans can be described as the golden age of Skargh civilization. Most of the cultural heritage of the Skargh was produced during this time, colossal temples and cities being erected in honour of the gods and their own builders. In the absence of dangerous competition, technological progress was slow but steady, the Skargh attaining spaceflight roughly by 1700 AD. Although the technology to construct space-capable rockets had been around for almost a millenium now, and rocket-powered delivery systems for nuclear weapons had been the decisive factor behind forming the Skargh Empire, it had never occurred to the Skargh to actually attempt a manned spaceflight by such means until overpopulation and industrial pollution really became problematic. When it did, however, the Skargh invested all their resources and know-how into a single-minded pursuit of expanding beyond their homeworld.
Unlike humans, who were left baffled by their place in the universe for much longer, the Skargh learned that there was other life out in space quickly. Upon exploring the second and largest of their four moons, Zat'Kesh, the first Skargh spacefarers would stumble across ancient ruins in a place where no life was theoretically supposed to exist, and an enigmatic species labelled only as Skath'lok ("liquid death"). Although the exact nature and purpose of these Skath'lok are unclear from Skargh records gleaned into by outsiders, it is clear that this first contact wasn't pleasant, but that the Skargh warrior spirit eventually prevailed.
The Skargh would consequently settle their home system, and discover the means of faster-than-light travel by 1803 AD, consequently embarking on a massive campaign of expansion.
If the tribalistic and feudal nature of Skargh society had been somewhat reined in during the previous millenium, they would again come to manifest in full as they expanded among the stars, independent house-funded expeditions establishing colonies away from the prying eyes of the Royal House. The technology of nuclear power had no longer been a closely-guarded secret for quite a few centuries now, the monopoly on nuclear technology being only a customary deference to the Royal House as the founders and rightful rulers of the Empire. Now, however, the houses saw an opportunity to develop and refine it independently, especially in the absence of an effective means of exerting central control. Skargh society was once again nearing the brink of total war and destruction.
The discovery of FTL drives somewhat cooled down the intra-species rivalries of the Skargh, there now being plenty of opportunity for everyone, the competition spirit of the Skargh houses being given an outward direction for now.
As the Skargh spread among the stars, they would encounter various primitive races, none of them having advanced beyond Iron Age at the time of discovery. They would swiftly conquer and enslave these races, often posing as gods. The ease with which these races generally submitted, and the reverence and worship that they accorded only served to bolster the Skargh ego and confidence in their destiny as the rightful rulers of the galaxy.
Things became somewhat more complicated when they established first contact with Humanity in 2025 AD. In Skargh history, this was the first time they encountered a species anywhere near as advanced as themselves. Although the humans did not possess FTL technology at the time, the Skargh expedition that made the first contact with Mankind mistook them for an FTL-capable race, as their existing technology easily matched their own as found on the outer colonies, and sometimes even exceeded it, some technological concepts commonplace among humans never having occurred to the Skargh. Consequently, the Skargh government was led to believe that Old Terra, then Mankind's only home, was in fact merely a fringe colony of a far greater interstellar power, a mistake the Skargh would come to regret tremendously in the later years.
Having elected to entreat cautiously as a result of this erroneous revelation, the Skargh agreed for a limited technological exchange with the humans they had contacted - which ironically represented the Eurasian Confederation led by the future Emperor of Sidhae. While a lot of Humanity's technologies seemed just as outlandish to the Skargh as Skargh technologies were to the humans, the advantage was quite obviously one-sided. After learning more about the existing technological gap and the Skargh culture, the future Emperor realized the sheer threat the Skargh posed to Mankind, and woved to unite Humanity and survive the xeno menace at any cost - even slaughtering half of Humanity, if that was what it took to save the other half.
The future Emperor was in luck, as a Skargh ship crashed that same year on the Moon near a Confed base. Quickly seizing and reverse-engineering the technologies within, the Eurasian Confederation obtained a decisive advantage over its rivals, becoming the first to field powered armor and energy weapons en masse and using this advantage to overwhelm its rivals, forming the first human world-state of Terran Confederacy in 2040. Given the sheer distance between Terra and the Skargh homeworlds, the Skargh were none the wiser, only sporadically arriving and trading in great secrecy.
By the time the future Emperor and his loyalists were forced into exodus in 2044, the contact with the Skargh had ended as civil strife between the noble houses grew, the new contacts with Mankind becoming a secondary issue to rivalries at home. By the time the Skargh realized that the humans had most probably been playing them and returned with a vengeance, Terra had already been obliterated by the fires of the Final War, the survivors having spread amongst the stars as the predecessors of the Imperium and the Federation respectively.
The Skargh would only rediscover Mankind at the end of their bout of civil strife around 2095, when it and their Sidh brethren had already expanded to the stars for good. With the succession dispute that had caused the strife resolved, the Empire embarked on war under the new royal administration, determined to avenge the slight of being deceived by the puny humans.
The following series of wars, however, turned out to be a series of humiliating defeats inflicted mostly by the Emperor of Sidhae as the joint commander of human and Sidh forces. Being accustomed to fighting each other in strictly ritualized combat and having only primitives as foreign enemies, the Skargh were ill-prepared to deal with a modern military, their tactics mostly being restricted to massed frontal charges with melee weapons, and their space tactics being next to non-existent. Such was the impact of these defeats that by the time a peace treaty was signed in 2104, many of the Skargh had come to believe that the Emperor of Sidhae was in fact an avatar of Dregruk, the Skargh god of war, born in the flesh of an alien to remind his people to be vigilant and guard against complacency that had seized them. This has consequently led to the following generations of Skargh to worship the Sidh Emperor as the latest avatar of Dregruk.
War of Terra
Unsatisfied with the result of the Skargh Wars, the Skargh monarchy would enact a series of sweeping reforms mainly targeting the military and the industries to bring them up to modern standards. The public desire for revenge was also manifest in the quest to conquer the now-desolate Old Terra, the original homeworld of both Mankind and Sidhae. In doing so, the Skargh hoped to inflict the ultimate insult upon their victorious foes.
Although the war proceeded as planned, fierce opposition from both Mankind and Sidhae, who had similar goals for their old homeworld, resulted in a brief but fierce battle in the skies over Terra in 2124, only ended by the intervention of a native Terran Verlock D'Averan. His diplomatic efforts persuaded the warring sides to withdraw and recognize Terra as a sovereign entity, heralding an Age of Peace.
Age of Peace
The Skargh Empire was little different from its rivals during the following century of peace and development known as the Age of Peace. With the warring parties having agreed to a clear division of spheres of influence, open military conflicts were largely averted, and the three empires directed their expansion outwards instead. The majority of the Empire's worlds currently claimed were settled during this time. The Empire also engaged in peaceful trade and cooperation with Mankind and the Sidhae during this time. In terms of culture, this is dubbed the Second Golden Age by Skargh historians.
Even with peaceful rivalry in place, however, the Empire ever prepared for war, as did its rivals. Hundreds of dreadnought-class ships were built during this time, and armies billions-strong were raised to counter their foes. Even if rivalry between empires was peaceful in this time, it also involved an arms race that saw many of the galaxy's most destructive weapons to the present day being built.
All that came to an end in 2232, when the Emperor of Sidhae was assassinated with the aid of human intelligence operatives. As the Imperium of Sidhae consequently descended into a civil war, the Federation of Mankind offered the Skargh Empire an opportunity they couldn't refuse - to humiliate the Children of the Avatar once and for all.
Age of War
Although the Federation's initial intent had been the liberation of those Sidhae who supposedly suffered under their so-called Emperor's tyranny, it was quickly apparent that their liberation was neither liked nor wanted by the Sidh majority. The desire for the resources under Sidh control, however, quickly overrode any such scruples, and before long, Mankind was embarked on a genocidal campaign against the Sidhae , with their Skargh allies following the suit.
This led the newly-instated Empress of Sidhae to adopt increasingly drastic measures, culminating in the Omega Protocol that would see all strategically-important worlds about to be overwhelmed by the invasion destroyed. Although this tactic came at a heavy cost, it eventually paid off, weakening the human-Skargh coalition enough to be defeated decisively at the battle of Hades Gates in 2245.
In the aftermath of the Hades Gates, while the Sidhae withdrew from the remnants of their Old Imperium, human and Skargh commanders began to blame each other for the defeat, arguments devolving into skirmishes, and eventually into an all-out war amongst themselves. For the following two centuries, Mankind and the Skargh were locked in an incessant battle that eventually ended in an exhausted stalemate. The Sidhae, embarked on their Second Pilgrimage exodus, were all but forgotten in this period.
Eventually, both sides relented as it became evident that neither had the resources to defeat the other. This stalemate benefitted the reemergent Sidhae eventually.
The Sidhae returned with a vengeance in 2549. Within a week, over 50 Federation, and 37 Skargh systems were invaded, most falling merely a week or two later. Just like their human counterparts, the Skargh leadership were at first shocked profoundly.
Unlike with humans, whose conquered populations were subject to a case-by-case evaluation, the conquered Skargh populaces were invariably subject to wholesale extermination. For this reason, the Skargh decidedly showed stronger resistence than most human worlds, eventually losing fewer and retaining sovereignity over more worlds than Mankind.
All that being said, the Skargh did adapt to the new challenge rather spectacularly, mounting the first effective response considerably sooner than humans, and consequently losing much less worlds to the invading Sidhae. So effective was their response, in fact, that the majority of SIdh operations past 2560 focused on capturing Federation's worlds rather than those under Skargh control. Admittedly, one of the reasons was the population value - any Sidh-controlled human world had the potential to yield millions of converts every year, while every Skargh world could produce nothing more than slaves at best.
By 2583, it was apparent that the initial Sidh blitzkrieg had ground to a halt. Consequently, establishing a peace treaty satisfactory to all sides became imperative. After some deliberation, all three sides came to the same conclusion that maintaining limited conflict was the most optimal solution. Consequently, it was informally agreed to maintain a perpetual limited war, as the differences between the three nations were deemed to be irreconcilable, and neither side was prepared to make the the sacrifices and concessions expected of a true peacemaker.
Government and politics
The Skargh Empire is a feudal monarchy similar to the kingdoms and empires of Medieval and Early Modern humanity. Such a model of government derives in part from the technological difficulty of maintaining sufficient communication to exert direct central control over interstellar distances, significant power consequently having to be deferred to local authorities. Skargh civilization also never underwent some of the events that transformed Mankind, specifically the Western world, and set it on a path towards industrial civilization. Consequently, Skargh society and government remains rooted in heredity and tradition as time-tested and highly stable foundations.
High King and the Royal House
The sovereign ruler of the Skargh Empire bears the title of Naghash (pl. naghashir) - literally "great lord", more broadly, "sovereign". Although sometimes translated as "emperor", outside (i.e. human and Sidh) sources prefer to render it as "high king", in order to stay faithful to the original meaning and to avoid confusion with the similar royal title of the Sidh emperors.
The Skargh use of naghash is not exclusive to their own monarch, being applicable to any autocrat, and more broadly, any head of state. For example, the Emperor of Sidhae is accordingly known to the Skargh as Naghash az-Sidhir. The derivative term nagharai denotes the realm of a monarch, i.e., a kingdom or empire, and more broadly, any state.
All high kings (and more rarely, queens) have hailed from various branches of the same dynasty since the foundation of the Skargh Empire in 762 AD. This dynasty is known simply as the Royal House. The throne of the High King is formally held by the head of the house, although more often than not the most capable and respected member of the house will rule the empire in all but name - just as with humans, the Skargh too have plenty of inept and incapable monarchs in their history, with more capable men ruling the kingdom in their name. Other members of the Royal House hold key government offices, most important being that of the Chancellor, which is unique in being available exclusively through merit rather than birthright as a way to ensure that even a completely incompetent king cannot run his country to ruin without someone being there to minimize the damage. The Chancellor does not necessarily have to be a born member of the Royal House, or even a nobleman - an exceptionally competent and capable commoner might be chosen for the job as well, although that will automatically include his ennoblement and customary adoption into the Royal House.
Although the Royal House maintains a monopoly on certain key government offices, others are open to members of other Houses. Nobles of other prominent houses will expect to be granted a place on the high king's Privy Council, the equivalent to the government's executive arm.
The legislative authority over Skargh Empire rests solely with the High King, who issues laws by decree. Although technically the High King alone has the authority to issue Empire-wide laws, in practice the creation of laws is mostly done by the councilors, their proposed legislation merely being given royal assent.
Although the king formally commands absolute authority, in practice he defers considerable power to the noble houses. In the present day, Royal House is no longer the most powerful or influential dynasty of the Empire, ruling merely by birthright and time-honoured tradition rather than supreme strength (something that other houses have sought to exploit on more than one occasion). The noble Houses aren't just single extended noble families, but rather large clans of related families with common ancestors.
There exist hundreds of noble houses in the Skargh Empire, although fairly few are powerful enough to compete for power on an Empire-wide scale. Rivalries between the houses are commonplace and tend to be quite intense, the intrigue, scheming and backstabbing in Skargh courts rivaling that reported among Byzantine and Renaissance Italian nobility.
As in every feudal society, vassalage is a cornerstone of Skargh administrative hierarchy. Lesser nobles will enter vassalage with more powerful lords, being granted fiefs and protection in exchange for their services, whatever their lord might require of them. Although not formally part to this system of patronage, commoners practice it likewise, seeking out a lord to be their patron if they don't have one already. Every Skargh is expected to have some form of liege, it being considered shameful to be masterless.
Some of the most powerful Skargh noble Houses are:
- House Ythrengaar (Iron Skull) - currently the arguably most powerful house of the Skargh Empire. A militant but pragmatic house, the Iron Skulls prefer to strike a balance between the use of military power and diplomacy. While no doubt aggressive and expansionist, the Iron Skulls are nonetheless willing to stay their hand, compromise and at times even concede to the enemies of their clan and the Empire if it serves a purpose in their bigger scheme of things. They aren't above using subterfuge, trickery and other underhanded methods if it serves their goals, but outwardly strive to maintain an reputable image.
- House Falak'har (Blooded Hand) - another contestor for the most powerful house's status and sworn rivals of the Iron Skulls. Considered agressively militaristic and expansionist even by Skargh standards, members of this clan truly live up to their name. Were they to decide the Empire's policies, the Skargh race would no doubt embark on an all-out holy war against their rival species. Falak'har represent the ultra-conservative end of the Skargh political spectrum, being rigid traditionalists and strictly adhering to the traditional warrior codes of conduct.
- House Baharta - a powerful house known for exercising "soft" power (at least by Skargh standards), preferring subtle influence and political solutions over outright military brawn. Although such approach might seem unusual, and some would even say downright un-Skargh, few dare to accuse Bahartas of being cowardly or lacking in honour, as such accusers would then have to deal with the wrath of the entire Clan. In keeping with the ways of their totem animal, Bahartas are fiercely protective of their own and will treat a slight against one member as an affront to them all, mercilessly persecuting the offender until the trespass is avenged.
- The Royal House - the original founders of the Skargh Empire, the Royal House has seen better days, their positions weakened by a rather long succession of weak and mediocre leaders. Still, they remain the formal ruling dynasty of the Empire by birthright, and therefore a force to be reckoned with even under these circumstances.
- House Orotar (Gilded Ones) - the Orotar are a unique house in that most of it's members are ennobled merchants rather than warriors. Although despised by other houses as vulgar "new money" who have bought their way into the ranks of nobility, the Orotar are nonetheless a power to be reckoned with even by the most powerful noble houses, if only for their extensive involvement in commerce and finance. A house running afoul with the Orothar can easily find their revenues dropping catastrophically as the Gilded Ones exert their influence to effectively place their rivals under an embargo. Merchants who continue to do business with a house censured by the Orothar often tend to find their warehouses mysteriously explode and their ships become favoured targets for pirate attacks. Furthermore, their wealth means that the Orothar warriors are consistently equipped with the best gear and given the best training that money can buy, it applying equally to house levies/mercenaries and the warrior-merchants themselves. For these reasons, the traditional noble houses grudgingly accept the Orotar as their peers if only as a necessary evil.