Irekei Ways

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"As the Flame burns and the Sun burns, so must we. To do less is to die."

This ancient Irekei proverb forms the core of Irekei culture and philosophy. In the parched wastelands life is a continual struggle, and only those mobile enough to scavenge and brutal enough to pillage can hope to survive. The strong must prey upon the weak, and the weak must be either clever or quick to escape death. To be weak is to die - the Irekei test their children rigorously after birth, and any who cannot keep up are left to the mercies of the desert. Constant strife between Irekei tribes and the continual threat of desert predators have given rise to a brutal, militaristic culture. Most Irekei are Warriors, and every Irekei child learns the basics of knife fighting before they learn to speak.

Even though the Irekei no longer consider themselves Elves, they still boast the arrogance of the Fair Folk. In some cases they take Elvish haughtiness to even greater extremes. As the Irekei see it, the Sons of Flame live in the desert not because they are forced to but because they choose to. While most Children of the World wither in the deserts, the Irekei thrive there, a testimony to their superiority and worthiness. When the Dragon rises, only the fiercest will be spared his wrath - every Irekei believes that his highest duty is to prove himself worthy. Every day the desert tests their strength and will - if the Irekei were to live in the Greenlands, surely they would become as soft and weak as all the other peoples of the World.

The concept of khar'ika is central to Irekei thought. Khar'ika does not translate into any non-Irekei language (including Elvish): "soul flame," "blood," "heart," and "toughness" are all valid yet incomplete translations. The khar'ika is the flame of Khalikryst, the holy fire that transformed the Irekei from Elves into superior beings, and the reserve of strength and endurance that an Irekei calls upon to survive at all costs. Battle and tests of fortitude can kindle an Irekei's khar'ika, making it burn brighter, while death snuffs out the khar'ika forever (since the Turning, death diminishes the soul flame, but no longer extinguishes it). Non-Irekei have no fire in their souls, their flesh is cold and their bodies are weak. While most Irekei prefer to fight with wickedly curved blades, some Warriors walk the Shining Way instead. These Warriors, called Sun Dancers, fight without any weapons at all, harnessing their khar'ika to turn their bare hands into deadly weapons.

The Irekei are nomads by nature, roving from oasis to oasis and ruin to ruin. Every Irekei is a member of a Virakt, a tribe composed of several allied clans and family groups. The bond between Irekei tribemates is the strongest in their culture - no Devil Man would ever willingly harm or betray the others of his Virakt. Most tribes (the Irekei plural is Virakt'al) have only a few dozen members, although the largest tribes number in the thousands. Every Virakt has its allies and blood enemies among the others, although the patterns of trade, marriage alliance, friendship, and vendetta shift constantly, like the ripples on a sand dune. Every Virakt also makes a living through raiding, taking goods and captives from anyone weaker than themselves. The goods are consumed and the captives forced to serve as Jov'uus, or slaves. Only fir'khanim are kept as slaves - any true Irekei would rather die than be a thrall. Irekei build great buildings of sandstone, intricately carved with runes and decorative designs. Around these structures stretch vast awnings of canvas or silk, and Irekei of lower castes live in great tents. Ancient Elvish ruins, remnants of the Twilight Kingdom, rise up out of the desert sands here and there, and are held as sacred by the Irekei, forming the nucleus of every Devilman city.

The peoples of the outside World believe that the Irekei are all wanton, barbaric savages that eat the flesh of their enemies and drink blood. While most of these stories are exaggerations (if not outright lies), the truth of the matter is that the Irekei have a highly advanced culture, rich in history, folklore, and art. True equality exists between Irekei men and women, for any who can prove themselves under the harsh Sun are worthy of respect and power. Poetry, storytelling, and music come easily to the Irekei, and their festivals are wondrous to behold. Among the Irekei rigid protocols and elaborate systems of etiquette govern everything, from greeting to eating to declaring war. All Irekei have a highly developed sense of honor, which they see as a product of their khar'ika. To break with custom or violate tradition is to declare oneself too weak to live by the ways of the Irekei, a fate all Devil Men regard as unthinkable. Of course, it goes without saying that the fir'khanim are unworthy of courtesy of any kind. Any ruse, deception, or brutality is perfectly acceptable if used against rain-bleeders: indeed, deception and cruelty are considered the honorable means of dealing with weak beings.

War is the only time the constraints of honor break down between Irekei. Khan'jallakar, or Blood War, is one of the Irekei's most ancient traditions. Wars are not to be confused with duels: in Irekei cities fatal fights between Warriors are frequent, and governed by strict traditions. Dire insults or crimes against a Virakt can, under certain conditions (which are, again, rigidly defined by tradition) lead to Khan'jallakar. There are precise rituals for declaring a Blood War, but once declared there are no rules, and the conflict turns as bloody as any raid of the Greenlands, if not more so. Entire Virakt'al have vanished because of Blood Wars, yet they must not always end cruelly. Usually, within a few months of the Blood War's end, the two tribes are neutral towards each other again, resuming trade and possibly even becoming allies. To the Irekei, War is a passionate diversion, like wine or song, meant to be savored to the fullest, then set aside before it distracts them from the business of survival. Since the Turning, Blood Wars among Irekei have decreased in their ferocity, while the number of Blood Wars called against fir'khanim has increased drastically.

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