"They rejected the god Sajuuk and fled into the desert long ago." -Jonas Baer.
When we talk of the costs of war on Kharak, the usual topics are the loss of farmlands to shattered sand walls, the destruction of Saju-Ka, or the resulting banishment of Kiith Gaalsien, their collected wisdom and art gone forever. But there is a price that very, very few scholars are comfortable talking about: a loss of entire peoples to the wastes, not only in body but in mind. Some families did not just abandon fields and farms, but left behind all faith in civilization and rule of law. They lost their souls to the sand.
During the darkest days of the Siidim Dogma, when entire small kiithid were declared “Gritiidim” and forced from their holdings, many family groups simply picked up whatever supplies they could and fled. While some survived long enough to be absorbed by the Gaalsien during the Heresy Wars, many died or simply disappeared in the deep desert.
As the wars ended and the Age of Reason brought stability and growth to a ravaged world, the disappearances continued. Some were attributed to bandits, others simply to acts of madness. After the Gaalsien Exile, a de facto explanation slipped into place; any small settlement abandoned or destroyed was attributed to the acts of religious fanaticism. For centuries this explanation served to placate the fearful and bereaved. No one liked to think that a family could be seduced by Gaalsien Prophets and join the exiles… but it was a familiar pain and a loss that we could understand, discuss and eventually accept.
Unfortunately, the truth is sometimes darker than we imagine.
Over the last hundred years of increasing aggression from the Gaalsien, our Intel units have come to know the enemy much better. They have captured many prisoners, intercepted communiqués and even exchanged information freely with the Raiders, when situations arose that threatened all the peoples of Kharak. Through that long painful line of communication runs a single thread that many tried to deny, until the proof was unavoidable.
In 1024 a cryptographer named Masaar Manaan brought a carefully prepared report to his superiors, based on single-word recognition in broken Gaalsien codes. One word in particular stood out, as it was often related to small action casualty reports and small community raids. Masaar’s superiors brushed off his report initially, thinking he had merely stumbled across another Gaalsien term for the Coalition. When he pressed the matter, it was even suggested that he had been unduly influenced by his Manaani heritage, and the old Traveler’s tales of monsters that rode with the storm.
But the young officer had been classically trained as a linguist before joining the Coalition Intelligence Arm, and stubbornly argued his data. He could demonstrate that in 500 confirmed Coalition/Gaalsien events, the term Faagan was used in all 500 references. But in another 150 reports that had no correlation to known Coalition action reports, the term “Khaaneph” was used. Masaar thought it was clear that there was another hostile force operating out in the wastes. Fortunately for settlements on the fringes of our civilization, he fought to make himself heard.
Early in 1026 Masaar was put in charge of an intelligence task force dedicated to the question. Was there was a new force operating alongside or against the Gaalsien Raiders? What he eventually found was truly disturbing.
The first discovery was that “Faagan” and “Khaaneph” were not synonyms from different Gaalsien dialects ― the two words meant completely different things in all Gaalsien dialects. “Faagan” was the standard term for the Coalition, “the Bound and the Blind”. Translated loosely, Faagani are “Blind Followers of a False God”. The Faagan is the extended rope which runs from one family member to another in a howling sandstorm, and allows them to continue following their leader and cling to one another even when they cannot see or hear for themselves. The Gaalsien consider Coalition kiithid to be deluded and misled, dangerously so, but they still classify us as “believers”. They see Science and Logic as just another set of deities, and in their minds we are an enemy that can be redeemed if we could simply grasp the rope which is attached to a better leader, and follow a true path to redemption.
The Khaaneph are something else altogether.
Derived from a very ancient word, “Khaaneph” literally means “Godless”, a thing that the Gaalsien mind can barely comprehend. To be Khaaneph is to believe... in nothing. No God. No law. No justice. No Kiith. “Khaaneph” is a person with the soul of a beast. If the ties that bind us to our shared humanity are a rope... a Khaaneph has willingly drawn a knife and cut the cord.
The Gaalsien believe that the Khaaneph roam the wastes where even the boldest raider would fear to go. When word spread that the Coalition was ready to acknowledge the possibility that the Khaaneph existed, the Gaalsien-Sa allowed certain records to be shared discretely with Masaar’s task force. Over a period of three years of painstaking research and cross references, Masaar was able to piece together a picture from the darkest fringes of Kharakian History.
Not all of the Gritiidim had been assimilated or destroyed. Many struck out on their own and many died... but some didn’t. They survived, first by looting the ruins left after battles, and later, when things began to stabilize, by preying on each other. To be Khaaneph was to have no goal except for survival, no belief past the need to remain alive and no loyalty but to oneself. Khaanephi would spare one another only to the degree that a rival group was stronger than other available targets.
The Khaaneph lived on in the empty spaces where the major powers could not, for hundreds of years after the Heresy Wars. While we reveled in our new world of Reason, they massacred small settlements and ambushed unwary caravans. They took everything. Every scrap of cloth and metal could be used to keep some other machine working. Every child could be brought up a warrior. Every corpse was food, and raw materials.
We have been breeding monsters at the edge of our society for hundreds of years without even noticing them. Only the Gaalsien took note, because the Khaaneph preyed on them more often and more openly than any other kiith.
As we stand on the edge of more chaotic times, with war threatening every civilized holding, and deserts rising to flow over every barrier... the Khaaneph have only increased in strength. Raider fleets composed of fast-moving vehicles have been photographed by recon aircraft racing along the edge of storms.
There can be no doubt that in the coming years, the Coalition military will have to engage the Khaaneph and deal with whatever non-standard tactics they have mastered. Where Kiith Gaalsien will throw its power in such a conflict remains to be seen. There have been dozens of other situation papers written about the Khaaneph in the years since Masaar Manaan first raised the alarm, but none of them have yet to surpass the tone to his concluding paragraph.
“Without a doubt, every person reading this analysis can remember unruly nights as a child when your Family Sa would place you back in bed, perhaps a bit firmly, and explain to you in a hushed voice that troublesome children would be left out on the wall for the Gaalsien to steal away in the night. Now stop for a moment and think about the monsters the Gaalsien have been using to frighten their children since the fall of Saju-Ka! Think hard on that. If there is one thing I have learned, it is this: we are not the only ones they fear.”
- ↑ Homeworld: Deserts of Kharak Expedition Guide