A Beginner's Guide to The Septs of the Tau Empire
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First off, what is a Sept of the Tau Empire? Well first off you have to understand the governmental structure of the empire. The Capitol of the Tau Empire is their home world T'au. Here is the high council of the ethereals and the central government of the whole empire. The empire is too large to be directly run from Tau itself, so the Empire is divided into roughly 20 Septs. These are areas of Tau space governed by particularly important and often largely populated worlds known as the Sept worlds. Sept worlds are not the only world in their Sept; they are the effective local government of that area, much like an imperial sector. For example the planet of Vir'la can be found in the Vior'la Sept which is governed by the Sept's eponymous world Vior'la. A Sept world is the central point for that area of space, here is the Sept's own ethereal council, caste academies, harbours, barracks etc.
A possible comparison to make would be to the USA (cliché I know). While the central government of the nation lies in Washington D.C. the country itself is divided into states, each with their own capitol and government. The relationship between T'au and a Sept world is similar to the relationship between Washington and a state capitol.
The Tau Empire has undergone 3 phases of expansion in the last 2000 years, known respectively as the 1st, 2nd and 3rd sphere expansions. This is a period of rapid but often short expansion that claims a number of new worlds for the empire. Some suggest that the most recent Third Sphere expansion took less than 10 terran years. These expansions are pioneered by Colonisation Fleets. These are fleets raised in the elder Septs, from those Sept's citizenry. A Colonisation fleet is not just a military force. It is a form of migration, There will be Earth caste to build the cities, Water caste to make treaties and deals, Fire caste to protect the colony (and in certain circumstances conquer it as well) and of course the Air caste to get them there.
When a planet is colonised it does not automatically become a Sept world, when the 3rd sphere expansion came to an end, roughly five new Septs had been created. The new Sept worlds were worlds that showed particular promise or where particularly successful. It may also depend on the size of planet, and how large the fleet that colonised it was. However each Sept world has particular traits and culture that set them apart from each other. For example Dal'yth is known for being particularly cosmopolitan, while Vash'ya is particularly famous for its Air caste academy.
First Phase Colonies
Second and Third Phase Colonies