The Axle (with notes on the Dunloc)

[Early draft for a worldbuilding project I’m working on. The one paragraph brief of the world, and notes on the first of four cultures that inhabit it. I will probably post the whole thing here when it’s done, but I thought I’d post just a bit of it today.]

The Axle
The Axle is a cylinder made of a strange rock that does not always adhere to the physical laws that govern other matter. As far as anyone can tell, the Axle goes up and down forever; from the fathomless depths of the sea to the endless sky. Just over 500 kilometers in diameter, the only break in the titanic structure is an area around sea level called the Sundering. Below on the water there appears to be an island, roughly 200 kilometers across (The rest of the Axle’s with hidden below the waves), and above, like a colossal sword of Damocles, the broken shaft of the Axle hangs almost 400 kilometers above. Between the broken shafts of the Axle, shards of the missing length hang, suspended in the air (though some are similarly suspended below the water). The world that turns (literally) around the Axle seems to be an endless sea. No other land, no inhabitants beyond the immediate area surrounding the Axle. Just the Axle. Only the Axle.

People of the Axle
The Dunloc

Those who dwell in the tunnels and caverns that permeate the Axle are known as the Dunloc, or inner folk. The Dunloc are shorter than the other peoples of the Axle, with nearly bone white skin and wide eyes adapted to seeing in very little light. Experts at surviving on very little, they thrive within the Axle in even the deepest places where Sundermen and Mirloc could not imagine living.

Believed to be the first people of the Axle, the Dunloc have very little knowledge of their history before the Sundering. Then are aware that there must have been Dunloc in the Axle before then, as Dunloc ruins have appeared above ground in the Sunderlands that clearly pre-date the cataclysm there. Most believe that writing was simply not invented until after the Sundering, as therefore no records would exist of any time before. Since the Sundering, the Dunloc have dominated the political landscape of the Axle. Great empires have risen and fallen all along the axle, but in the Sundering, the greatest has been the Nakan Empire. Pushing back the Uulan Dunloc who came from the upper Axle, the Nakan ruled a vast stretch of the lower Axle, and the Sunderlands for over half a millennium. When the Sunderlands were lost, Nakan fell into decline, as did most Dunloc powers with the rise of the Sunderland League.

The interior of the Axle is a sparse place. Even after generations of tunneling and alchemicaly converting rock to arable soil, food and livable space are precious things Inside. For this reason, Dunloc communities tend to be very tightly knit. Most decisions in a Dunloc settlement involve the whole community. It’s not uncommon for neighbors to know and share very personal information about each other. Traditionally, the community/town/state is more important than the individual. An understandable conclusion when a single irresponsible digger can cause a cave in costing many many lives.
Food is central to Dunloc culture, as foodstuffs can only be grown using alchemicaly fabricated soil and light. An offering of food to another is a gesture of deep significance to the Dunloc.

“Eat freely from my table.”
-Dunloc phrase of gratitude

Meals are sacred things with many rituals and prayers, thanking God the Mover for the table’s bounty. The reverence of food tends to diminishes (but does not disappear) the closer to the Sunderlands a community is, where food is more plentiful.
Dunloc are often criticized by other cultures for their apparent ignorance of personal space. Many Sundermen, and especially Ro’pan, find that Dunloc stand uncomfortably close during a conversation. A great deal of touching the other person’s body, head, and arms is also considered normal in Dunloc conversation except when speaking to a total stranger or enemy. Dunloc, therefore, find outside folk very distant and cold in conversation.

Living in the tunnels and rough caverns inside the Axle, the Dunloc have never had much use for ranged warfare. Dunloc warriors are masters of hand to hand combat, utilizing machete like short blades and knives (often with a small buckler). At war, Dunloc favor siege tactics. The first lesson taught to Dunloc generals is patience, waiting for just the right moment to strike, and knowing the right moment to do nothing at all.
Because cities inside the Axle are often designed to be self sufficient, sieges can last months or even years, until a well timed raid can break the besiegers or cripple the besieged.

Dunloc excavators are second to none, naturally. Life inside the Axle is dependent on tunnels that won’t collapse or cave in. Dunloc architecture is simple and utilitarian, and when seen [above ground] looks almost amateurish and unimaginative. This is a key feature though, as Dunloc buildings are designed to be easily and intuitively navigated with little or no light if necessary.
The true mastery of the Dunloc lies in alchemy. Dunloc alchemists discovered long ago that Axle rock that was permeated with the right minerals could be transmuted into any number of things. Using their alchemical knowledge, the Dunloc are able to fabricate soil and and generate light to grow crops in their caves and to create strong but light weight metals to trade.
Because of the problems of fire in small spaces with tricky ventilation, food that requires cooking is heated with exothermic alchemical reactions. Lights are created in a similar fashion. Dunloc near or on the surface who cook with fire and mockingly referred to as “Sunlocs”.
The Dunloc have also become very adept at using Sunfire acquired through trade with Mirloc. The Dunloc’s most famous scientist, Kayga lo Nakan, invented the compact sunorb that is used by those who can afford them all over the Axle today. The largest alchemical academy in Nakan bears his name (Acalum Kayga -> “Kayga University”)

Dunloc languages sound strange and guttural to outsiders. Inside though, the vibrations and echoes of the tunnels gives the harsh tongue a softer, musical quality.
There are three major languages among the Dunloc: Nakal, Takal, and Uulow. Nakal is the language most often heard in the areas surrounding the Sundering, and is the current language of trade, science, and diplomacy inside the lower Axle. Uulow is the major language spoken in the upper Axle, and is far less common in the Sunderlands. Takal is a language of the deep, deep Axle, and is rarely heard at all outside the Axle.

Dunloc communities have a strong democratic tradition. In the smaller Dunloc communities, the whole settlement might vote on decisions before acting. In larger settlements, and Dunloc nations like Nakan, representative democracy is a favored. Dunloc authorities can be slow to react to change, often demanding lengthy discussion for every issue.
The Dunloc’s tendencies of collectivism can also make them fiercely patriotic, which has helped keep Nakan’s empire from completely disintegrating after it’s many setback over the last century.

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