It was a time of great sorrows, an age of war, turmoil, and wreckage. After a thousand years of glory, the mighty ecclesiastical empire of the Yorae Dynasty, with its bright greatnesses, warlike pieties, and sensuous cruelties, had largely collapsed into civil war and factionalism, tearing apart at the seams.
The Divine Dynasty Falls
The Divine Emperor (in this time, such emperors were so interchangeable and useless as to make their names irrelevant to history) sat powerless, drowned in hedonism, foulness, and evil council, a puppet, while the Yorae state slid into darkness; the loss of the Divine Sphere, symbol and center of the power of the Yorae emperors, and the inability to recover it, had unleashed horror and aftershocks of the Great Curse upon the land, and had resulted in the collapse of the Divine despot’s power.
The only notable act enacted among the thousands of scrolls of wastepaper issued from the capitol in these times was the Great Dividing Order. A particular Divine Emperor (named either Baerdu Di or Shaigon Tae, it is not certain which) initiated the total collapse of the empire, and its separation into the warring Commanderies (which Temak Buk would soon overthrow). This Great Dividing Order made the open secret of the empire’s division into thousands of states and nations into lawful reality; it decreed that the powers of the Divine Capitol and the Mandate of Heaven (the power to govern the nation) would thereafter be delegated to the various powers and nations who governed parts of the Empire “in the stead of the August, Holy, Radiant, Effulgent, Divine God-Emperor, this power to be wielded in the wise governance of the undefeated nation of the people of Yorae”. The largest amount of power was diffused to the mighty legions of the Yorae military, who had already been delegated a large amount of power to control regions as the imperial bureaucracy retreated away from the borders. Each general immediately established a military despotism over the parts of the Empire which they controlled. These despotisms were called Commanderies.
Two-hundred years of military rule, characterized by regimental paranoia and near-constant war, had begun.
Buk The Bandit
To the North, however, a power was growing.
In the years after the God-Emperor Hunwar Vai’s Great Quest and the failure to recover the lost Divine Sphere, the Empire had been forced to retreat from much of the North, defeated time and again by various tribes and nations warlike Northern barbarians (the exception to this was the territory of the Might of Gangar Clan, famously staunch supporters of the Divine Emperor).
Rising up amongst the tribes of the north were a collection of warrior clans known as the Udek.
An unruly and warlike group, the Udek had for several decades been influenced by the imperial Yorae culture to their south.
It is amongst these people that Temak Buk, great hero and recreator of Empire, would rise.
Temak Buk appeared in history abruptly during the fading days of the Commandery of Paejang, ruled by the Might of Gangar Clan.
He had been born to a family of Udek settlers; he was not a favored son of his father (known in history only as “Father of Temak Buk”), and had been sold at an early age to a neighboring clan. For unknown reasons, Buk was trained as a warrior and allowed to raid with the other sons of the clan; he is reputed to have become quite popular in his foster clan, and is said to have “commanded their admiration”.
At some point (it is believed when Buk was about the age of 17), he became the leader of his clan’s raids. As the leader of these brigands, Buk is known to have shown great skill in leadership, and once again demonstrated an ability to gather the popularity of those around him.
During this period, in one of his raids in the district of Duzang (a valley near to the modern city of Chokto in the North), Buk led his raiders in battle and defeated bandits associated with two rival clans of Udek. After this battle (which as been immortalized in Bukdek history as “The Fortuitous Battle of Duzang Valley”), Buk met with the chieftans of the two clans and demanded that they submit to his authority. These two chieftans were Ikong and Daigor, who would be Temak Buk’s staunchest allies and right-hand men for the rest of his life.
For several years, with the aid of Ikong and Daigor, Temak Buk continued to raid throughout the district, slowly expanding to the east and west. He became known to the local government (the Might of Gangar Clan) as a dangerous bandit, barbarian, and rebel (though at this point, Buk’s desires did not include rebellion).
Buk The Rebel
The North was ripe for rebellion. The end of contact with the Imperial Capitol and the apparent end of Imperial power had made the Commanderies supreme in the region. With the death of Chaergu Drogar, the leader of the Might of Gangar clan and Duke of the Commandery, and the killing of his heir in an ill-fated duel, widespread rebellion sprang up throughout the Commandery and many powerful individuals began to carve out strongholds in the power vacuum.
Sangok of Chuyae, a half-Yorae military officer, became the leader of the districts in rebellion and assumed the title “King of Great Dorgai”, taking on the local loyal Commandery forces with the help of Vaiwun Urai, a disgraced Imperial heir. Sangok’s rebellion quickly spread out of the Commandery of the Might of Gangar and throughout the north in a wave of violence and upheaval. At Urai’s suggestion, Sangok sent emissaries to Temak Buk, now the leader of a bandit rabble of Udek tribes, asking him to join their rebellion.
The Udek tribes under Buk’s control, from this point onward, won a stunning series of battles against the forces of the Might of Gangar Clan and the Yorae imperial forces. It quickly became clear that the rebellion in the north was mostly disorganized rabble and pompous inept nobles with a crown to steal, that King Sangok was a fool, and that there were only two real powers involved- Vaiwun Urai, former Imperial heir, noble Yorae grandee, and famous general (as well as sorceror), and Temak Buk, former bandit, barbarian, warrior king, and leader of a growing alliance of Udek clans (who now flocked to Buk’s banner). Both led separate armies, and constantly bickered, both between each other, and with the rebellion’s leaders; King Sangok was an ineffective fop, frozen by incredible indecision, and the council of nobles and local leaders which served as his regent was hopelessly torn between factions and interests. The infighting and internal conflict became so great that without the Twin Tigers (as Buk and Urai were known), the northern rebellion probably would have been torn apart by internal division and destroyed by the forces of the various Commanderies of the north.
Buk showed himself to be an innovative and effective commander, a fierce warrior, but also strikingly amoral and ruthless. Rather than imprison or punish soldiers and captured enemies for crimes or disobedience, he would have them killed; the punishments he did authorize were quite harsh.
However, he was also known to be quite caring to the plight of soldiers and common people (as long as laws and orders were obeyed), and never took on airs of nobility. He always attempted to intermix his own Udek warriors and the Yorae soldiers which composed the majority of his army, and encouraged Udek men to marry into Yorae families.
In Wusuk’s Histories of Emperors, he is described as being a friendly and un-arrogant man, even sometimes an uncouth and vulgar one, “very common in mannerisms and ways, a leader who was like the people he read.”
The New Emperor and Urai
In late winter of the Third Year of the Desecrated Graves (according to the ancient Holy Calendar of Yorae), Urai and a small army of rebel warriors, bloodied and shaken from a battle below the Pass of the Dragons (on the border with Manchudek, then an independent territory belonging to the Dragon Clan and beyond the Empire), received word that an Imperial army had bypassed Temak Buk’s army by marching swiftly through the wild Gorbok Valley and was coming to sack the city of Chokto (then seat of the northern rebellion).
Marching with heroic speed, Urai and his army made it to Chokto miraculously within a day of the Imperial army’s arrival. A desperate, seemingly-hopeless fight was put out at the very gates of Chokto. The outcome of the famous Battle of Djigun Gate was the amazing defeat of the Yorae forces, who were routed by the rebel forces.
Urai was hailed as a hero of the rebel states, now officially called The Dorgai Dynasty.
In a ceremony in Chokto, King Sangok was declared Emperor Sangok of High Dorgai. But it was an open secret that the true de facto leader of Dorgai and the rebels was Vaiwun Urai.
After this major defeat, the Yorae Imperial forces (who were, in fact, merely the various armies and forces of the leaders of Commanderies and other kings who claimed to hold the mandate of the Yorae Dynasty) would never again be seen with the awe and respect with which they had been regarded.
Throughout the territory of the old empire, provinces rose in rebellion aginst their various Commanderies. Petty kings arose and warred against each other, further dividing and weakening the “Empire”.
Meanwhile, Temak Buk continued a series of successful but unromantic campaigns, free of close scrapes and thus not capturing the imagination of storytellers. In these times, Vaiwun Urai was vastly more popular- a highly cultured and visibly charismatic man, of royal lineage, and ethnically Yorae; Buk was regarded as an uncouth barbarian and amoral ravager, despite the fact that he treated conquered peoples and cities with much more leniency than Urai.
Now, in secret, Buk called the leaders of the greater clans of the Udek. Meeting with them in the Duzang Valley while his lieutenants Ikong and Daigor led the army to a mild victory at Chaknijok Hill, Buk conferenced with them for over two weeks. This was the famous Meeting of the Golden Pavilion, and after this period, the Udek clans formally and secretly swore fealty to Temak Buk. He was hailed in all the clans as the new over-chieftan. In a secret ceremony, Temak Buk was made Overlord of the Udek. All power amongst the tribes now was centered in him.
The Promise of Sangok and Urai’s Blunder
High Dorgai continued to expand; the military exploits of Vaiwun Urai and Temak Bun allowed many thousands of petty states and kingdoms to be absorbed under the banner of High Dorgai.
In the spring of the First Year of the Bright River, Emperor Sangok made a great proclamation from the temporary capitol of Chokto. Sangok thanked Vaiwun Urai and Temak Buk, his two great generals, for their contributions to the glories of High Dorgai. He then proceeded to make a promise- he offered up on the table the Imperial Commandery of Yogujuk. Whoever could capture this province first, the Emperor said, would be the sole ruler of it, forevermore.
The latent rivalry between Vaiwun Urai and Temak Buk now blazed into light. Marching their armies hard across the northern plains, legend has it that each conquered nine kingdoms on his way.
Vaiwun Urai, however, had the advantage, and marched through settled fields and farms into Yogujuk, coming in from the west side. Temak Buk was delayed, forced to march his army through the grey deathland of the Jagdu of Nershak, a land poisoned by the touch of the Great Curse.
Urai marched into Yogujuk in glory, and defeated the Yorae army along with it’s commander, the lord of the Commandery, Binwar Dzai. The 50,000 soldiers of the surrendered army was taken into the custody of Urai’s camp.
It was at this point that Vaiwun Urai made the greatest mistake of his life. Bringing the defeated Binwar Dzai into his tent, he demanded the Commander’s fealty. But Dzai was of old noble Yorae blood, and Urai, though of imperial lineage, was disgraced by his line, dishonored, and a rebel; lest his honor die, Dzai could not bow to the Dorgai general.
Urai was likewise a noble, and the insult stung him deeply. In high fury, he had Dzai beaten with his own standard-staff and then crucified. And then, fatefully, he went before his lieutenants and commanded that the soldiers of Dzai’s Yorae army all be executed.
As Temak Buk marched into Yogujuk, the roads were lined with crucified Yorae soldiers.
The horror of this massacre was not lost on the people of the Empire. Though previously Temak Buk could not boast of the popularity of the dashing, noble imperial heir (it did not hurt that he was Yorae rather than an outland barbarian), from this point, Urai had earned the enmity, hatred, and loathing of the people of the central Commanderies (Yogujuk, Talbuk, Dugurng, and others), and his dealings with other Commanderies and kingdoms would forever after be tinged with fear, distaste, and a quality of uncertainty.
The Division of High Dorgai
Within months, the illusory Dorgai nation would come to an end.
At the Feast of Mrukorg Gate, in Chokto, in which all the officials of the Dorgai nation were gathered to celebrate their control of almost all of the northern and central empire, a great argument began between the Emperor and Vaiwun Urai. Urai, jealous of Buk’s successes and new popularity, and fearing a backlash against himself, demanded that the Emperor recognize him as the Overlord of High Dorgai; he expressed that the Emperor had insulted him by elevating a mere barbarian to such great heights of honor in his nation, and stated that he suspected (correctly) that Buk was using this only as a springboard for his own conquests. The Emperor refused, fearing (also correctly) that Urai sought to overthrow him. Urai left the feast in a rage.
But the Emperor had underestimated Urai’s control of the army and apparatus of state, and within a month, Urai returned to Chokto, this time overthrowing the Emperor and sending him into exile in the south; the nation of Dorgai had come to an end. He was not, however, powerful enough to control the nation, unable to control eastern and southern portions of it, he assumed the title of Overlord of Western Dorgai and Heir of the Throne.
Meanwhile, Temak Buk and his Udek tribes, along with Yorae vassals and other Imperial supporters, took control of much of the eastern half of Dorgai territory. He began to make entreaties to various states around him and other Commanderies for support against Urai, who he sought to portray as a haughty warmonger and a menace; he tried to show himself as a peacemaker who sought to re-unify the legitimate Yorae Dynasty state. There was not yet, however, a formal split between Urai and Buk; Urai made a show of “granting” the territory to the Udek leader, in the same fashion that he granted other territories to various leaders.
The Empire was now split between the four Great Rebels, as they were known- Vaiwun Urai, Temak Buk, Yagang the Red (who had cobbled together a weak state from the Commanderies of the southeastern plains stretching into what is now Ozhun), and Lasai Dor, a religious leader who controlled the southwestern coast.
That winter, in a great ceremony, the Udek people (under various clan leaders as well as Buk’s representatives Ikong and Daigor) and the leaders of various Yorae communities and citizens of Temak Buk’s Eastern Dorgai state, and the emissaries of a few odd kingdoms beyond Buk’s formal sway, held the great Conclave of Yun Drukai. Temak Buk was officially hailed as the leader of and legitimate ruler of the people; in recognition of his greatness, the combined Yorae-Udek people renamed themselves the Bukdek, the People of Buk.
Soon after this, the scramble for independent and unclaimed territories ended and the two owners of the Empire began to eye each other’s territories. Urai had a much larger portion of the old Empire. Within his portion, he focused on establishing establishing a strong system of agriculture, reforming the Bukdek clans into a strong bureaucracy, and creating an army.
After a few months of waiting, he sprung into action invading Yogujuk from the southeast after smashing Yagang the Red and conquering his territories (though Ozhun was abandoned as being a potential over-reach). Occupying Nasak, the Bukdek leader launched a war which would topple the old order and bring him to the throne of a new empire.
Though Vaiwun Urai was far superior to Temak Buk in terms of troop numbers and training, and widescale military experience, Buk was a more inspiring singular commander, and Urai was at a political disadvantage. By now, Urai was seen as a dangerous and violent arrogant traitor, and Buk as a righteous warrior of the common people. Though Urai defeated the Bukdek forces in battle after battle, each defeat inexplicably drove people to Buk’s side, and widespread popular rebellion exploded through Urai’s Western Dominion.
When, at the Battle of Yuk Dajang, Urai finally was beaten (trapped between a force of peasant rebels and district guardsmen under the rebel lord Gaidar Dunak on one side and those of Ikong and Temak Buk on the other), his spirit was broken. A string of catastrophic losses for Urai followed- he was finally beaten back into the refuge of Lasai Dor’s rebel religious state, where he committed suicide by drinking poison.
Within a month afterward, Buk’s armies swept victorious over Lasai Dor’s weak religious state and conquered the remnants of Urai’s short administration. The last of Urai’s generals to be defeated, Raijang the Merciful, was captured after the Battle of Gokduz River in the North; many of Urai’s generals were never captured, however, and escaped into the wilderness and turmoil to become bandits and petty rebels for decades afterward.
But for all intents and purposes, the dominion of Temak Buk, and of the Bukdek people, was now established over the entirety of the old Yorae empire.
The Bukdek Empire
In the summer of the Year of Golden Banners, Temak Buk proclaimed himself First Emperor of the Buk Dynasty. He commanded the capitol to be established in the near-center of his territory, in Yogujuk, beside the Great Lake of Yogujuk (renamed the Sea of Temak) at a site sanctified by a Bukdek priest as Yogol Buk (Heaven-Earth of Buk). He proclaimed that the Mandate of the Gods had passed from the Yorae Dynasty and on to a new dynasty, his own dynasty of Buk. He tried to portray his dynasty as being a legitimate continuation of the Yorae Dynasty, and to this end, the early Bukdek Empire incorporated many rituals and cultural elements of old Yorae culture which have now become ingrained and transmuted into Bukdek tradition.
When the Emperor Temak Buk came to power, he re-centralized the Empire on the model of the original Yorae God-Emperors (who themselves had created their empire on the model of the long-ago Invincible State of Han). He removed his greatest political opponents by killing off the vassals and commanders (either set in place by the old Commandery system or by Vaiwun Urai) and granting their land to Bukdek warriors and nobles (who would become the cataphract upper class, who were gradually phased out of political power under later emperors) or, for the more agreeable vassals, relocating them to the capitol, where he could control them. Political dissidents and rebels who remained among the peasantry were eliminated in a brutal (but widely popular) Empire-wide crackdown known as the Great Fire of Justice. Later in Buk’s reign, peasant rebellions would be smashed mercilessly (most infamously in the Rebellion of Unbroken Rushes, in which many thousands were massacred in the city of Barok); having been part of an empire-toppling rebellion, the First Emperor had no desire to see his own winnings go to ashes.
In order to revitalize the devastated economy, the new Emperor initiated a new economy plan, largely the brainchild of Dukshung the Great Economist, the Emperor’s personal sage and mind-mage. Buk’s plan reduced taxes and in many cases, eliminated the corvee system of mandated labour to encourage trade. Many sages of agriculture, natural philosophers, and other thinkers were “encouraged” to move to the capitol (kidnapped) and commanded to devise improved forms of agriculture (a surprisingly successful program; it was later expanded into what would become the Imperial Cloister of Wisdom, the state academy of sages located at Barng Diyuk).
The Emperor’s policy also extended to subduing unruly kings and barbarian tribes beyond his borders. His previous attempts to incorporate old Udek clans into the existing Yorae culture became largely successful during his campaigns against the petty kings on the borders of the Empire and against the Jjekki, who invaded the North in the Years of the Bold Blade.
Though the Jjekki were repulsed, they invaded again, near the end of Buk’s reign; this time, the aging Emperor, having spent much of his reign digesting the old Nine Classics of the Yorae Philosophers, and learning the religions of his Empire, decided on a path of diplomacy- a few clans of Jjekki were allowed to settle in the North (these became the farmer-clans now known as Earth Jjekki), and many other clans were appeased by having noble daughters married to the xanyyu, the princes of Jjekki clans.
The Emperor’s policies were quite lenient in most cases, but to lawbreakers and those who opposed his rule, he was astonishingly cruel; he brooked no defiance. His brutal crackdowns and torturous punishments were legendary, and have been continued for almost all Bukdek Emperors.
The Emperor also was adept at playing his vassals off against one another; not satisfied with weakening them, he often rendered the component lords of his Empire powerless by using his techniques of statecraft.
Finally, the Emperor created a small corps of spies and assassins which he called his “hidden fist”. Future Emperors would mold this corps into what is now known as the All-Seeing Eye, the formidable spy network of Emperor (from whom none in the Empire are safe).
Temak Buk is venerated in many parts of the Empire as a god on earth. Legends about him proliferate; he is a hero to the Bukdek people, and volumes have been written of his virtues and adventures.
It is interesting to note that when the First Emperor founded the Buk dynasty, he claimed the Mandate of the Gods, but never claimed to have descended from the gods, as the rulers of the Yorae Dynasty had, nor did he claim the title of God-Emperor. He was a man without airs, and despised the decadence of his vassals.
Vaiwun Urai’s main problem was his arrogance. He was almost totally unable to accept wise counsel or criticism; he had an inability to delegate, not trusting the abilities of others, and he did not know how to utilize his trusted subordinates. He expected complete loyalty without understanding that few soldiers fight without expecting something in return. He was often overly cautious and wasted time overpreparing. Finally, he often failed to recognize political threats and potential rebellions.
Temak Buk, however, was bold and manipulative. He knew well how to manipulate peers and subordinates, and was reputedly a master at political mind games (totally at odds with his warrior upbringing). He was magnanimous in winning over lords and commanders from Vaiwun Urai, and lavishly handed over territories and commanderies, yet as emperor, knowing their disloyal and power-hungry tendencies, he quickly turned his imperial fist upon them, quelling them. He used them as examples to inspire fear- some were paralyzed by this fear, and for others, it sought to root out corruption amongst the First Emperor’s vassals.
One of his strongest suits was his ability to make decisions based on the counsel of others, having an uncanny ability to know which counsel was wise and which was not. He was adept at gathering allies and at delegating power to others, having an instinctive understanding of who his potential friends and enemies were. Wusuk’s History of the Emperors describes him as knowing “the golden words which were the key to each man’s secret heart”.
Temak Buk knew when to appeal to the common folk, having been common himself, and even a barbarian, and was a true popular monarch- he retained great popularity among most of the people even when he smashed the rebellions of the few who disagreed. He was beloved for having lifted himself out of the poverty of barbarism and common origins into the might of the imperial station.