Today we resume our planned weekly series of lore updates, with a look at one of the older civilizations of Explored Space: the Merlene. A humanoid felid race from a lush, open world, Merlene are a spiritual people ruled over by an ancient line of queens. Matriarchal, the males of the species are seldom seen abroad in the wider galaxy. Those expecting a demure people, however, are often disappointed for the Merlene are fierce, proud warriors, with a code of honor that has lasted centuries, and… some whisper… a secret well worth protecting.
Massenra, the Merlene homeworld is a high gravity planet of flat terrain, blessed with endless verdant fields and fast flowing rivers. It’s early peoples were mostly nomads, hunting and gathering across the breadth of it’s three vast continents. They warred with each other, firs tin small bands, and then in large tribes, over water or game or other resources. The first cities were little more than seasonable trade hubs where merchants and warriors would congregate. But over time, with such an abundance of fertile land, even the Merlene, naturally prone to wanderlust, began to settle down and build.
Their civilization was never united. From time to time one tyrant or another would build an empire that spanned a region or even a continent, but their culture was too focused on personal loyalty to form stable national governments – sooner or later any grand empire always collapsed back into the fractious city states that made it up. As technology advanced, alliances formed, but Merlene culture remained fiercely independent and wars remained common.
These conflicts grew increasingly destructive, until, eventually, they reached their logical conclusion, and the entire people were nearly destroyed.
The Disaster and The Goddess
Although the modern Merlene look back on their fractious and violent roots as a dark and uncivilized time they were by no means stupid or primitive, and eventually their weapons advanced beyond their good judgment Records from this time are fragmentary at best, and those who originally released the weapon were either dead or in no desire to publicize their involvement, but the effects are well known. A biological weapon was released somewhere on Sharrsan the northern continent. Exactly what it’s original design was is unclear but it soon mutated to become airborne. The virus was almost totally lethal… but only to the males of the species.
The Merlene tried everything but to no avail. The plague was beyond their science to cure, and attempts to seal borders against it were invariably futile. It left their civilization devastated Almost half the population was dead. Civil order collapsed. And with only barely one in a thousand males surviving prospects of the future of the species seemed bleak. Survivors fell to warring with each other anew, this time to scrounge for the materials of survival amidst the ruins of once-proud city states.
It was into this climate that Lirinsky, the First Queen, came to power. Histories conflict on where she was born. Many Merlene contend she was not born at all – that she is immortal; a goddess, or an avatar of the divine. Wherever she came from, she began as a warlord, but soon became more. She preached to her followers that the age of strife must come to an end; that only by standing together could their people hope to survive. The wars of men had almost destroyed their world, but it was in the power of women to save it. By diplomacy or by the sword, she added one disparate tribe or city after another to a growing empire which, within a century, spanned most of the world. Under her direction a new economy and a new society flourished. A breeding program began to ensure the survival of the species, and those scientists who had survived were tasked with finding other ways of continuing the Merlene race, through cloning, genetic modification, and other technologies. Over the years and decades, many began to worship her as a goddess; the mother of the nation, and the savior of the race; a faith which helped to bind the people together in a time of difficulty and forge a single nation out of a hundred separate clans.
Official documents do not even record a time or place of death. Lirinsky had a large family, having taken many concubines in her life, and on the one-hundredth anniversary of her rule she passed the crown to her eldest grand-daughter and retired from public life never to be seen again. To this day, the imperial cult maintains that she is immortal and will return if ever her people need her. Certainly it cannot be denied that the workings of the imperial family have become inscrutable over the years, and vast estates and whole levels of the imperial palace are kept sealed away from public view.
Among the Stars
Almost three centuries after The Disaster before the Merlene received the signal. In that time, their society had evolved. They rebuilt and moved on. Their efforts to find alternate means of reproduction have born a variety of fruit and today, Merlene are among the acknowledged masters of biotechnology in Explored Space. Even today the male population is far from recovered, and a strongly matriarchal society has grown up in it’s place. Men, being scarce, are normally seen as too precious to risk in dangerous space-travel or expend as soldiers, and over time it has become expected of males to concern themselves with more domestic duties. Those who do leave home to journey among the stars are almost universally rebels, refusing to bow to the pressure of their mothers and sisters or extremely skilled and well-connected exemplars of the kind who have been granted special admission to the branches of military and government service normally reserved for women.
The disaster also forever shattered the concept of the traditional family unit, and today Merlene have a famously (or infamously) open-minded view of love, sex, and family structure; it is not uncommon for many people, with many different kinds of connections, to be ‘bonded’ in a common family, and sometimes the web of relationships that extends from a Merlene, to her bondmates, parents, and children, to their loved ones and so on can be positively incomprehensible to outsiders.
The same spirit of competition that once led to wars on their homeworld has taken them to the stars with a fierce pride. Today they control five star systems and nearly a dozen minor colonies, setting an aggressive pace for expansion that makes many of their neighbors nervous. Many fear that the warrior spirit, so long suppressed on their homeworld in the name of survival, may find an outlet in war with others. The Merlene are still few in number, since the Disaster, though, despite the success of their genetic modification and artificial fertilization techniques, and so they often prefer to do their fighting from orbit and from range, committing ground soldiers only when the need is dire. When they are, though, Merlan warriors are known as some of the deadliest soldiers in the galaxy. Not all Merlene long for conquest. however; many simply feel the call of wanderlust their nomadic ancestors once did, and Merlan can often be found in any major port in explored space, playing any of a thousand trades.
Hailing from a world almost twice the gravity of Earth they are an extremely strong people, and well known for the amazonian or herculean physiques hidden beneath their soft, short fur. Their dress tends towards the elaborate. Merlene are extremely conscious of status and honor, and seek to reflect credit on themselves and their family, and the highest status belongs to those who serve in military, or the Great Academies that still work to advance the state of Merlan science at the behest of the ruling family. Highest of all are the Royal Guard; elite servants who answer to none but The Empress. Many such agents are now spread among the stars, learning more about their neighbors, and recruiting others to do the Empress’ will.