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    Posted: 03 Apr 2015 at 05:46
[Apaxu]

Excerpt from 'Journey Across Illyria', from the half-elf minstrel, Rakkos Meillo 

And it was then that I truly saw how they lived. How could I have been so wrong? 

Observing them going through the daily motions of their lives, how could I ever have considered these people to be uncivilized barbarians? 

There is something magical about the Apaxu, something that can be only found here, in the rolling plains and hills that surround Apaxy and Nachik. Never have I been to a land in Illyria where the vast majority of people actually lived outside their cities. 

But who can blame them? When you see the beautiful vistas that surround the country side, feel the gentle northern zephyr blow through your hair, smell the scent of the flowers that abound during spring and summer, when they cover the plains in brilliant swaths of yellow, blue and red, could you ever imagine wanting to step inside the walled confines of a dark and dreary city? 

Neither do the Apaxu. 

These people roam the plains and hills, living a nomadic lifestyle, leaving one place well before they’ve used up all the resources in that area, and moving to a new place, where they will stay for another few months. The bounties of the land are plenty, a cornucopia of game and wild vegetables that leave no Apaxu child starving. And the cities, Apaxy and Nachik? They are crude brick and mortar affairs, not exactly pleasing to the eye; these two cities are almost only filled with Apaxu during certain holy days, or when these horsemen are planning for war. 

The last time they were seen in huge numbers in these two cities was during the joint invasion by the Sultanate of Kazim and the Lannigolds. Each of these two instigators conspired to drive the Apaxu out of their cities, and the plan was then to seize all the fertile grounds between Apaxy and Nachik, land that they would devote to farming. The soil in these plains and hills are well-known to be the most fertile in all of Illyria, and crops growing in them would have provided a huge boost in food supply for these two greedy nations. 

Unfortunately for them, the tribes of Apaxu gathered in their cities, completely united after putting aside their small tribal rivalries and skirmishes in order to face the two-pronged attack. What seemed at first to be a sure victory for the Sultanate of Kazim and the Lannigolds quickly turned out to be a heavy defeat as the Apaxu horsemen launched their own attacks, led by a wise and powerful chieftain, Crow Blade. What the soldiers in that 50,000-strong combined army must have felt when they were caught in Crow Blade’s trap is anybody’s guess, but their morale must have been shattered, as they fled the field of battle, repelled only by 20,000 Apaxu horsemen. 

No one ever encroached upon Apaxu land again. 

When at war, they are a fierce, savage people, painting their faces in bold war-paints and hollering at the top of their voices. But this belies the fact that they are a gentle, peaceful people; they only go to war when attacked. They are a people steeped in old wisdom and at one with nature. Some of the Apaxu are born with mystical powers, and these almost always become the tribe’s shamans, their powers giving them insight into the natural world around them. Especially gifted Apaxu shamans even know how to coax the elements to do their bidding. It is this reverent understanding of the intricacies of nature that have seen the Apaxu come to friendly terms with the Seelie Court. 

It should be noted that the Apaxu are noble and proud horsemen; like the Tipu Khan to the north, the Apaxu learn to ride before they even begin learning to walk. While the Tipu Khan are very well-known for their impressive martial capabilities on horseback, the Apaxu seems almost beautiful when they ride their horses, as if the spirit of both rider and horse are as one, a sight that always leaves me shivering in delight at its unearthly grace.

Apaxy [Apaxu]

The original name of this giant temple complex has long since been forgotten. Now an Apaxu village has grown up and overrun this ancient site. 

The tribe's horses are stabled in ancient prayer halls, its chieftains holding court in its grand, once-sacred spaces.

Nachik [Apaxu]

The Apaxu need no homes, but they say that they revere ancient sacred places, 
and so when they need to meet they congregate around the ancient temple site here or at the ruins that they call Apaxy. Their reverence for the site seems, 
however, to impose few constraints on their behaviour. Visitors to Nachik note with bemusement that the greatest temple hall here is now a giant stable, 
stinking of horses and manure, while great altars have been adapted to provide beds for tribal leaders.

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Atagek

Excerpt from the 'The Atagek – A Detailed Study', by the Illian Scout General, Lyrana Springsooth. 

The Atagek live in the swamps and jungle of southern Kumala, which is also home to the many streams that branch out from the main Ataman River. This verdant jungle and the surrounding swamplands are ancient and remain untouched by the other civilized cultures in Illyria. Other humans refuse settling anywhere near this hot and humid hellhole. 

But yet, the Atagek seem to thrive in these surroundings, much like their ancestors before them. They are a warlike, tribal people, but they seem to be content with the way things are: there have never been reports of any expansion to the north, into the territories of the Jannu, nor have they made any attempt to expand to the east, into either our own territory, or that of the Lyrians. 

So that’s another question to ask: If the Atagek are willing to trade with us for the few iron weapons we occasionally throw them, just who do they use it against? Based upon our observations over the past centuries, it seems that the Atagek are happy to limit their warlike tendencies to internal tribal squabbling. 

Which means that we can probably list them down as a low-threat force; they aren’t likely to leave their jungle and swamps anytime soon. 

Based upon our limited trade with them, they appear to be totally at home in that hellish environment. 

I have been involved in three trade excursions into the Atagek territory, all the way down to their main trading village, Gilakek, deep within the Gila Jungle. They appear to have almost supernatural powers within the swamps and jungle; they move like wraiths across the damp and swampy landscape, their war-paints artfully applied to help them blend in with the trees and foliage, and their feet make nary a sound as they flit between ground and canopy alike. They are easily as adept at scouting within the Gila Jungle and the surrounding swamps as we are in our own forest home. In fact, if they wanted to, they could have wiped out our entire trading party, and claim the weapons for themselves. Our warriors are second to none, and there is no doubt in my mind that we would have put a good fight, but in their home environment, the Atagek have the overwhelming advantage. 

Not surprisingly, the Atagek have always treated us with a modicum of civility – they’re not exactly friendly, but at least they are happy to trade with us. They probably realize that should they ever kill one of our trading parties, their supply of iron weapons would stop, and I don’t foresee them wanting to go down that route anytime soon. And in return, they give us amber, clay and various jungle woods. This is an important trade route because these materials are all used in our own weaponry, in ways that the Atagek would never have dreamed possible. Through decades of observation, it seems that the Atagek only trade with us, and the Lyrians. 

Besides the information I have provided above, little else is known about these dark-skinned humans. Since they appear to have no hunger for expansion outside the Gila Jungle, they do not pose much of a threat to us. However, it would be prudent to keep an eye on them. One day, they might decide to unite all their warring tribes, and venture outside their hellhole of a home, with visions of conquest in their minds, armed with the weapons we have given them.

Gilakek [Atagek]

Gilakek stands on an artificial plateau, faced with pale stone, white walls rising from the jungle canopy. 
The administration of the city is said to be split - unevenly - between two lodges, the Jaguars and the Eagles. 
The Jaguars are currently the dominant force, and visitors, who would expect the warlike Atagek to be constantly squabbling, 
report with surprise that the Eagles seem to accept their lesser status. This divided society is, by all reports, surprisingly harmonious.


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Azure Throne

Excerpt from "The Peoples of Illyria" by Historian Cardale of the Empirium. 

Once Empress Cymbeline had secured her powers in the capital city of Azuria, she turned her attention to building up the harbour at Tarponsea in order to capture as much sea-going trade routes as possible. 

The great trees of the eastern jungles were felled to provide vast timbers to the shipwrights - who themselves had been inveigled, bribed, blackmailed or otherwise coerced to work ceaselessly and without rest to provide her the navy she felt her reign deserved. 

Using the expert skills they had developed whilst sailing across the great lakes of Northern Azura - and even into Lan Larosh - the Empress' shipwrights designed many innovative and unique hulls, capable of carrying large cargoes both up and down the coast as well as around Tallimar, and the maritime skills of her subjects were much in demand. 

To this day, no one has quite identified how the fire at the Tarponsea docks first began. One thing is fairly certain, however - it was not natural, and it was not accidental. 

Witnessess described the fire as akin to a "living thing" that "appeared to jump from ship to ship" until not only the bulk of the fleet (who were almost entirely docked-up and secured against a storm that threatened on the horizon), but also the shipyards and workshops themselves were utterly destroyed. The cinders from the firestorm rained down on the surrounding lands for days to come. 

This event was to prove a watershed in Empress Cymbeline's rule, who - even before the fire at Tarponsea - was described by most observers as "volatile and ruthless".

Azuria [Azure Throne]

The imperial seat of the Empress of the Azure Throne, visitors to the city may tell of its vibrant markets, its beautiful gardens, 
its famed shipyards. But most most tell of its dramatic public executions, where justice and spectacle are brought together for one bloody morning each month.

Tarponsea [Azure Throne]

Built to the south of the capital at Azura, Tarponsea was intended to be home to the Throne's fleet. But access for 
shipping has also been a lure for merchants, and the city has thrived on the bounty of the forest and the sea. 
Now it is often said that Tarponsea, not Azura, is the most valuable of the Throne's possessions.


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Barbarians

Excerpt from A History of the North - By Sister Ilsa Engladottir of the Order of Allembine, Under the reign of King Jerist of Illyria. 

The tribes of men inhabitating the fierce wilderness of Kal Tirikan is as wild and untamed as the land they inhabit. Having no unifying social order or culture, reports of their presence in our ancestral lands exist in the very earliest sources available to us on the history of our great land. 

Described by the first royal scribe, Ragnhildr Haugdissdottir, as "A savage race of strong similiarity to our own in all but intelligence, they raided our settlements not for gold or slaves, but for the scraps of our tables, causing great misery and death as if they were but savage beasts." 

According to later sources, they exist in small scattered tribal groups, feasting on raw flesh and the milk of goats. To this day the barbarian tribes of Kal Tirikal send raiding parties into Meilla and the Norweld. 

Small groups of them have often been observed acting in cohort with Northmen war bands, the Northmens lust for gold and wealth foreign to so base a creature that it cannot recognize the inherent sacred nature of gold or silver, it is thought the Northmen have made some efforts in taming these wild men so as to unleash them upon us the holy like wild animals. 

Under the rule of King Lentas of Illyria, the first great cleansing was called upon the tribes of Kal Tirikan. 

Rallied under the banner of the Guardians of Zera, those of true faith gathered for the great cleansing. 

Matching through the Norweld and into the very heart of Kal Tirikan they laid waste to the barbarian villages, burning the forests and slaughtering the creatures upon whos flesh the wildmen would feast. 

Relenting to the cowardly nature of the wild beasts they so resemble, the barbarians dared not meet the godly in open battle. It was said after the campaign that not a single tribesman, woman or child was found with a wound to their front, all having either been trampled under hoof or cut open with their backs turned in flight. 

Culminating the campaign, five Arch Magi of our King laid a curse upon the land, ensuring it should never again flourish and give life to the savage barbarians which for so long had threatened the peace of our people. 

To this day the cleansing is repeated by the order of the Glove and the Sword once every five years for one full season of campaigning. 

The sound of horses hoofs can once again be heard over the now barren dirt of Kal Tirikan as the tribes are culled, paying vengeance for all that they have inflicted upon our empire serving as an example to any who would dare oppose the blessed rule of our King.

Gorn [Barbarians]

Gorn is the seat of the rulers of the Barbarians, a place where warlords rise to power, briefly rule as kings, and then die bloodily. 
It is a city which celebrates heroism and strength, but it is quite devoid of art, culture, beauty or refinement. 
Visitors report that the main pastimes are drinking, brawling and hunting, but recommend that strangers do not attempt to compete with the locals in any of these

Garr [Barbarians]

The Fighting Pits of Garr are famed throughout the northlands, and even the Barbarians' own warriors compete in the Pits for the thrill of combat. 
Of course, not all fighters are volunteers.
For those who delight in bloodsports, there is no finer source of entertainment. But the unwary visitor to Garr might not enter the Pits 
only as a spectator, for the only punishment for any crime in Garr is the same; whether the crime be to cheat a customer, insult a warlord, 
or steal a purse - the punishment is always to be sent to the Pits.


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Council of Illyria

Extract from A Fulle and Compleat Account of His Ruling Majesty's Ongoing and Truly Glorious Age of Wisdom by Gavyn Tawbury, Court Historian to the Library of Illyria 

The Eighth Monarch in the Deyrik-Groensen lineage, His Majesty King Sigurd of Illyria is usually referred to as either "The Just" or "The Samaritan" for both his boundless wisdom and his generosity of spirit. 

The eldest of the three sons of the revered King Drendor (blessings be upon he who now resides in the celestial Ancestral Lands) King Sigurd was called to his rule in the year 1012, at the tender age of 15. 

Worried that his son might be too young for the responsibility, Drendor - who was ailing rapidly at the end - signed into law the Royal Council Act of 1012 to ensure that in his absence his son would be guided by the wise through the traps and pitfalls of Royal responsibilities and duties, and ably assisted through the challenges he would doubtless face from outside as well as within the Middle Kingdom. 

Despite his youth upon his Ascendancy to the Throne, King Sigurd's wisdom was by now unparalleled throughout the lands and he needed little help from the Council to prove his worthiness to Rule, enacting many laws in his early years to consolidate the beneficience and munificence he has always shown to those peoples of the Middle Kingdom who rightly accept his wise and just rule. 

In 1019, His Majesty appointed his brother the Lord Grendam to watch over The Western Realms on his behalf, and his youngest brother Porthur was similarly dispatched from King Sigurd's Seat of Rule at Centrum to oversee the Duchy of Keppen, in order to ensure that the Kingdom's fine arable pasturelands were utilised most effectively on behalf of all its people. 

Our noble King continues the traditions of his forebears, regularly dispensing gifts to all who would seek to settle in the civilised parts of Illyria that truly count for something.

Centrum [Council of Illyria]

The grandest city in all Elgea, Centrum is the seat of the Council of Illyria. It contains the palace of King Sigurd, 
proclaimed King of Illyria by the Council (although considered merely King of the Middle Kingdom by some). 
It contains the greatest barracks in Elgea, home of King Sigurd's Praetorian Guard. And it is a centre for commerce and intrigues which reach across Elgea

Hastelbury [Council of Illyria]

Hastelbury enjoys an idylic location. With clear waters on three sides, and fertile plains all around, 
it lies in peaceful lands between the Middle Kingdom and the holdings of insular Dwarves and Halflings. 
Nothing seems to threaten the tranquility and prosperity of the city. Yet despite its apparent security, 
the city nonetheless maintains mighty walls, well-appointed turrets, and finely-drilled guards. 
Many visitors find the combination of plenty and security an appealing combination

Trottingham [Council of Illyria]

In the heart of the Middle Kingdom, Trottingham has enjoyed peace and prosperity for many years. 
It has no particular cultural highlights, no remarkable buildings – although the city walls are very imposing – 
and it has been described as 'the most normal city in Elgea'. Travellers report that it is normal to the point of tedium; 
but most of the locals are quite happy with a little dullness in their city, given what passes for excitement in many other lands.


Pellimont [Council of Illyria]

The city of Pellimont has been a loyal supporter of the Kings of the Middle Kingdom – more recently known as the Kings of Illyria – 
since the first king was crowned at the dawn of this Age. Throughout this time, its loyalty has never wavered, 
its great walls have never been breached, and its leading families have built up glorious histories of service to successive monarchs. 
The locals note with pride that the three most recent commanders of King Sigurd's personal bodyguard were all born in Pellimont.


Woodsedge [Council of Illyria]

A strong city, steadfastly loyal to King Sigurd and defended by huge walls, Woodsedge is notable as the home of Aunasta, 
Arch Mage of Illyria. The enchantress was appointed by the Council of Illyria to oversee all magicians everywhere, 
but since almost no one acknowledges her authority, she is, in practice, simply the court magician to King Sigurd.

Tundale [Council of Illyria]

The people of Tundale like to think that they have an edge to them – that they are sharper, more resourceful, 
more pragmatic than most of King Sigurd's subjects. This is most likely due to the city's location, for while most of 
the Council of Illyria's strongholds stand in peaceful lands amidst fertile fields, Tundale looks out across a rough 
landscape of broken hills, towards violent Factions not far to the east.


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Crimson Dawn

Excerpt from Mercenary Groups of Illyria, by the retired general, Thomas Lannigold 

Those who believe Barbarians are stupid, aggressive brutes should look no further than the mercenary group Crimson Dawn to see that assumption brutally dispelled. 

These cold, hard men might eschew what they see as the “morally corrupt” cultural trappings of the “soft” southern kingdoms, but this in no way makes them any less intelligent than us. Not as cultured, refined or honourable, maybe, but one should definitely never underestimate their base cunning. 

And none showcase this trait more than Crimson Dawn. 

These are Barbarians that are even more vicious than the rest of their kin. Any time you meet a Crimson Dawn mercenary in the field of battle, you should be very aware of the fact that he has a minimum of five years worth of battle experience. Whether it be fighting against the marauding monsters from the North, or in their frequent skirmishes against the forces of the southern kingdoms, the Barbarians you face will be the best of the best, an elite killing unit that will not hesitate to make a corpse out of you. 

From the intelligence we have gathered about them over the years, they appear to be a very competent mercenary group. In fact, they are among the best out there. They appear to charge buyers exorbitant amounts for their services, but they are very rarely ever on the losing side. 

They appear to be well-versed in the ways of battle. This ruthless mercenary group seems to have every unit type possible: cavalry, archers, melee units, siege specialists, scout and ambush units…I have personally seen a few magic-users within their ranks as well. 

Back in the Winter of Northernbite, I led our Northern Vanguard into Kal Tirikan, to Holback, where we planned to root out a bandit camp that had been giving us trouble for over a year. Just before we arrived at Holback, we were attacked by Crimson Dawn, no doubt hired by the bandits to keep us away from their hideout. 

They emerged like wolves in a pack, attacking from all sides. If it weren’t for the collected wits of both myself and my right-hand man, Elgars Larrenbac, we might have lost far more men than we did. As it was, we lost twenty men before we could even begin to regroup. 

It was the first time I witnessed the leader of Crimson Dawn in the heat of battle, the large giant of a man known only as Honehn. His face was decorated with red war-paint, and his massive presence on the field could be felt by all. This man fought like a demon, a beast in battle, with his twin axes swirling around in arcs that only brought death and destruction. Elgars would have been cleaved in twain had I not pulled him back from the heat of battle. 

In the end, we managed to retreat safely to a higher vantage point whereupon our elite marksmen begin to make their presence known. After suffering a few casualties themselves, the mercenaries did a most inexplicable thing: they fled the battle-field. 

Until this day, I’ve never worked out the reason as to why. 

The foolish ones say that Crimson Dawn fled because they realized that we had a tactical advantage. We did, but it wasn’t an overwhelming advantage, and I am very sure Honehn and his men knew that. 

Some say that our marksmen shot down Honehn’s brother, but I believe that would have enraged him and made him press the attack. 

Others joke that Crimson Dawn’s price was so expensive that twenty minutes of battle were all the bandits could afford. 

I believe that Honehn assessed the situation, was not willing to put any of his men at risk given the circumstances of the job, and thus fled the battle. 

I’ll never know the real reason, but if that was truly the case, then the Crimson Dawn leader is a man after my own heart, and I salute him.


Hohnsval [Crimson Dawn]

The Barbarians of Hohnsval stand out in two ways. Firstly, in a region where cavalry troops are rare, 
they have emphasised the importance of horsemanship; they do not need to hold land, they say, 
they need only move fast and kill well. Secondly, while the main Barbarian tribes seem keen upon violence as a way of life, 
these men and women have turned it into a means to make profit.

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Duchy of Keppen

Letter to The Council of Illyria by Relbit Miller, Chief Administrator to the Duke of Keppen 

My Lords & Ladies, 

Lord Porthur, the Royal Duke of Keppen, extends his warmest felicitations and greetings to you all. 

The autumnal harvest has started poorly. Although sufficient grazing land has been cleared and enough hay will be stored for the winter's continued production of cattle and horses to continue to support many of His Majesty's peoples, His Lordship wishes to bring two matters to your attention: one pressing, and the other less so. 

The pressing matter is the appalling condition of two of His Lordship's residences. 

The Winter Hunting lodge is in such a terrible state of disrepair that His Lordship feels unable to entertain even the meagrest of local dignitaries this season, let alone any visiting nobles who would, doubtless, be frankly shocked to be asked to overnight in the buildings. 

The Summer Palace is similarly in a woeful manner - although His Lordship acknowledges that there is most of a year before he takes up his Summer Residency there - and the repairs are therefore less pressing. These repairs mostly concern the quality of guest furnishings in the East wing. 

Regarding the Winter Hunting Lodge, as a most urgent request, the Duchy of Keppen requires large quantities of construction materials - especially stone to replace the existing wood (which is surely rotting away apace) as well as gold to pay the artisans to carry out such pressing works as may be required. 

His Lordship feels that, with such a terrible state of affairs created by this situation weighing so heavily on his mind, that he may not be able to give his full attention to the autumn harvest; and many peasants and serfs might be forced to tighten their belts this winter as a direct result. 

The less pressing matter is that the accursed Goblins to the Northwest are making raids into His Lordship's Sovereign lands. 

Several villages and towns on the borders have been put to the torch, and many have been slain. As I need not tell you, this might have some repercussions on the Council's production and commercial activities in these areas. 

Could not the Council send an urgent missive to our brother, Lord Grendam of the Western Realms, requiring him to take action in keeping with his greater responsibility for the safety of the West? It is most inconvenient for the Duchy of Keppen to keep a garrison so far away from the more civilised center at Kepsburg. 

In expectation of your speediest reply, 

The Honourable Relbit Miller 
For and on behalf of Lord Porthur, the Royal Duke of Keppen.


Riverpass [Duchy of Keppen]

This heavily-fortified and strongly garrisoned city holds the frontier of Keppen against its enemies. 
The duchy is in a state of constant war, fighting both the Sundog Gith and the Undying Flame to the north and west, 
while to the east, the duchy's fertile lands are shielded from their foes by the forces of Riverpass

Kepsburg [Duchy of Keppen]

The principal seat of the Duke of Keppen, Kepsburg, is not only the seat of ducal power but also home to the marshals of the duchy's armies, 
the site of the ducal treasury, and the headquarters of the Duke's spy network. All power in the duchy, although certainly not all trade, centres upon this huge city.


Shurthorn [Duchy of Keppen]

While the cities of the west focus upon the duchy's war with the Sundog Gith, Shurthorn remains untouched by the conflict, 
and devotes its energies to trade and, visitors report, decadence. The young noblemen of Keppen may head west to Riverpass for military glory, 
but they come here to relax and to party. Beer from the Tinkers, cider from the Halflings, and gold from the noblemen's 
own purses fuel the city's central district; Shurthorn has developed a reputation for its fine alehouses, bawdy theatres and pretty dancing girls.

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Forbidden Empire

Word of Li Lon Go, Third Adept of the House of the Tranquil Waters 

In the beginning there was a time of peace. The Divine Land of the Five Ranges was governed by many Daimyo who respected and feared the Gods and dared not wage war upon each other. The Gods, although happy to be worshipped, felt that there lacked a cohesion to the races of men and believed they could be much greater than they were. Mankind so far was a disappointment. 

A great debate arose between the six Gods of the Upper Circle on what to do about it. Zao Kesh, the god of Wind and Horses, argued that the mountains were irrelevant and the men of the plains should rule. Ten Kulch, the God of the Black Bile, argued that all man should only worship him in his vile ceremonies. The reclusive Taolin Vu, God of the Heights and Eagles did not participate much in the dialogue, only to add that all the mud-crawlers as he deemed the valley people, should respect their natural superiors, the mountain dwellers. Tamarinda Laka, the Goddess of Knowledge and Peace, tried her best to keep the argument civil, but secretly instructed her devotees to prepare distant mountain strongholds to preserve the ancient knowledge, should the Gods not come to any agreement and bloodshed ensue. Wen Babo, the God of Music, Archers, and Thieves, wanted gaiety and art spread throughout the lands. 

Ultimately, however, the argument was decided by the great Lao Te Shin, First amongst the Gods. He avowed that each God may have their own area and Race of men to follow them. To Zao Kesh, he gave the Plains of Keshalia and the Horse Nation of Tipu Khan. To Taolin Vu, he allocated the mighty Mountains of Taomist and the mountain men of Kanchalka. He banished Ten Kulch to perform his bloody rites in his desert fastness of Kajadum, far to the South and named his followers the Hashashin. Tamarinda Laka did not wait to be given a land or people. She retreated to the distant mountains of Tamarin, far to the North, with her warrior monks, the Tien Zao, to the fastnesses they had prepared in advance. For himself, Lao Te Shin kept the most fertile valleys of Laoshin, the breadbasket of the world, upon which to build his great cities. These cities were to be known as the Forbidden Empire. He curtly told Wen Babo that he deserved no land, but could be worshipped in taverns and other houses of ill repute. 

For many centuries, the Forbidden Empire grew to encompass vast stretches of land, ruled by a human Emperor, Beloved of Lao. As the Forbidden Empire thrived, so Wen Babo's bitterness at not having his own kingdom grew and he plotted to take his own. 

In the Year 379, the great Emperor Han Se died and his son, Se Wu, succeeded him as Beloved of Lao. Se Wu was eager to follow in his father's footsteps, marrying a lady of high station and noble family, Bien'Pha Ba as his First Wife and having several strong sons to protect his dynasty. However, he soon fell madly in love with Shao Tia, a courtesan of low rank who worked at one of the Lotus Houses. Unbeknownst to Se Wu, Wen Babo had cast a strong spell of infatuation on him, so he was not in control of his passions. 

Se Wu caused great angst in the Imperial Court by taking Shao Tia as his Second Wife and promptly having several sons by her. Tensions mounted in Court as the sons of the First and Second Wives grew to maturity, ultimately resulting in a failed attempt at poisoning and open warfare. The Court split between the two factions, with Bein'Pha Ba and her powerful Southern nobles on one side and the emperor and his courtesan on the other. Great was the blood that flowed down the rivers and for many years the crops failed due to neglect. Finally, Lao Te Shin awoke from his great sleep to find his beloved land divided. Realizing, with great humility, his mistake in not giving Wen Babo his own homeland, he granted Wen the Northern half of his kingdom and the people who followed Se Wu and Shao Tia to him. Thus was founded the Wen Kun Dynasty. 

The Southern half of his kingdom remained under his control and Bein'Pha Ba's progeny went on to inherit the Imperial Throne of the Forbidden Empire, being the Beloved of Lao to this day. Lao Te Shin vowed never to neglect his people ever again, and both the Wen Kun Dynasty and the Forbidden Empire have tensely existed peacefully, yet warily, for centuries next to each other, with only a few minor border skirmishes.

Baolan [Forbidden Empire]

Serene at the edge of a still lake, sunlight glittering on its roofs, Baolan resembles at a distance a giant, opulent palace. 
But the Forbidden Empire are masters of drama and dignity, of crafting appearance to disguise reality. Before the low walls are deep, 
wide ditches which no army could cross but which the city's architects have ensured cannot be seen from the approach roads. 
The glittering roofs are an illusion made by the royal masons, who set tiny mirrors into the buildings' tiles. 
And the slums in which most of the population dwell are not evident until one strays into their midst.

Shingeng [Forbidden Empire]

Safe behind its massive walls, Shingeng stands upon the edge of the world, or so its people say. 
All civilisation lies to the north and east. To the south and west, they say, are only bloody hordes, 
who have neither manners or morals, nor any hope. Visitors report that they are welcomed with some reserve, 
but that once they prove that they are not entirely uncouth, the locals become more friendly, 
and it can be extremely pleasant to stay in this cultured, affluent city.

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Fratri Hominis

Excerpt from 'The Birth of Civilization', by Gron Drak Skullsplitter, court bard to the Pax Orcana. 

They proceeded on down that long, straight corridor, their weapons ready to slash at any foe that flew out of the darkness, their shields ready to stop any arrow. 

The air down there was musty, older and more ancient than time itself. 

The darkness was almost oppressive in its presence, and their lanterns and torches barely lit up the passageway. 

And it was thus that they entered into the chamber with no small amount of trepidation. 

Surprised gasps echoed across the vast chamber they found themselves in as magical globes of light suddenly burst out with a bright dazzling amber light, illuminating the strange sight before them. 

A colossal grey man sat on a similarly-sized majestic throne, both built completely from solid grey stone. The band of heroes figured the statue to be more than fifty feet in height; if the colossus had been built standing up, its head would have certainly reached the chamber’s incredibly high ceiling. 

The grey colossus had the proportions of a human, even though most of its facial features were shrouded by the helm it wore. It was bare-chested and wore little except for a mail-skirt, vambraces and battle boots. The details that went into the throne were amazing; and the colossus sat there, stern and dignified, as if poised to give judgement. A huge sceptre laid in its lap, but both the hands rested on the throne’s armrest. 

Both the colossus and the throne it sat started to give out a bluish, soft glow. And then a strong, booming voice spoke, filling the entire chamber with echoes that reverberated from wall to wall. 

"Long have I sat here, waiting for the coming of Man. Millenia have passed, and Man have finally come, like a suckling baby from its mother’s womb. The day of Man’s ascendancy is close at hand. Let the other races feel the wrath of Man for taking what is so rightfully his, and let them know that their golden ages are now long since gone, nothing more than fond memories in the shadowy past. As their stars fade, so too shall the star of Man rise into the Heavens, their glorious conquests and deeds immortalized in the annals of history. Let them bring glory to the land and nations of Illyria, and when their kingdoms prosper and their word rules the land, let them join me in godhood, and both father and child shall be rejoined again." 

As it recited the last words, the glow around both colossus and throne started to fade, and then within seconds, it was gone. 

They waited and waited and waited, but the mighty grey colossus was now silent, forever. With these prophetic words in their heads, the heroes made their way out of the underground complex. When they finally made it out into the sunlight, their numbers were halved, but their resolve was even stronger. The surviving heroes travelled across the lands, spreading the word of the grey colossus to the people. They called for action against the other races of Illyria, to cleanse the land of them and to send them all to the farthest regions of the world while the humans thrived and prospered on what was rightfully theirs by heavenly mandate. 

The people heard these prophets, and they came to love the message. 

Why would they listen to such honeyed words? For centuries they had to endure the gruelling wars that raged on between humans and the other races. Many times the humans suffered great casualties and losses in these wars, devastation that took them many years and decades to recover from. They were tired of losing, tired of sharing with the other races of Illyria. 

And so these prophets continued throughout the countryside repeating the words of the grey colossus to kings, princes, commoners and paupers alike. 

And such was the birth of the Fratri Hominis, now the greatest menace to plague the world, and enemy of all civilized nations.

Dolentis [Fratri Hominis]

Beneath their white star banners, the yellow-cloaked guardians of humanity's racial purity stand watch at the gates of Dolentis. 
Non-humans and those who they suspect to be of impure blood may be allowed to enter the city but they face a range of laws and sanctions, 
designed to protect the human population from contamination from their degenerate ways. Many regard those turned away at the gates as more 
fortunate than those who were allowed in but obliged to live under the laws of the Fratri Hominis.

Veritas [Fratri Hominis]

Veritas stands on the front line, as the Fratri Hominis see it, between the fledgling civilisations of humanity, centred to the south and west, 
and the hordes of impurity, barbarity and destruction which reside to the north and east. Here, beneath their white star banners, 
the yellow-cloaked guardians of humanity train and plan to make a stand against the Greenskins of the east, 
and any others who might threaten humanity's rise to dominion over Elgea.

Doloria [Fratri Hominis]

Doloria stands as a beacon to hope for humanity's future... or, depending on one's perspective, it stands as an insult to every Elf, Orc, Dwarf, Gnome, 
Halfling and Goblin on Elgea. Here, defended by their elite corps of Purifiers, the rulers of the Fratri Hominis draft the laws which they hope 
will one day govern the continent, which will keep humans safe from the other, degenerate, races, by reducing all others to the status of slaves. 
Here they train their armies, to protect humanity from the hordes of Greenskins to the east. This is the seat of power of the Fratri Hominis, 
and it is a great shame, say their many enemies, that the walls of their huge stronghold defy any possibility of conquest.

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Guardians of Zera

Isiriana Elissede, of the Elven trade house of the Silver Arcs, Lantellyn. 

Girded with well-wrought swords, clad in steel, long pikes in their hands, the Guardians of Zera look out from their strongholds, staring ever northwards, vigilant lest the heartlands of the Kingdom of Illyria be visited by some dread menace from the snowy north. 

On each piece of their heavy armour, an accent in bronze or gold, their ancient symbol is emblazoned, a pair of Phoenix wings rising to enfold a stone tower. In their hearts they remember always that they are charged with the sacred duty of protecting the legacy of the ancient city of Zera, a city which fell in the First Age, and whose ruins none can now locate. 

Civilization, they believe, depends upon their readiness to fight whatever foe may come, to persevere in the memory of the valiant souls who have stood as they stand for one hundred generations, since the First Age. 

This is all very gallant, most heroic, befitting of an epic poem which might invoke both admiration and tragedy, and had their plight been a work of verse fiction, had their calling been imagined as instruction, then this would be most edifying. Yet this is no flight of bardic fancy, but the real fate of a proud people, and their plight, to my mind, is pitiable. 

They guard against threats from the north, yet it is hard to see what dread menace there might be beyond those horizons. Their histories tell, in dreary prose, of the blood and savagery and ruin wrought when the Northmen swept down from the snowy wastes, but that was over four hundred years ago. 

They sneer at the Fyrgis, insular and crude, skulking in their stinking marsh, but the smell of a swamp is no threat to armies atop the towering walls of Marston or Dunbar. Their ponderous oaths, repeated at all feasts and gatherings, intone that they will keep Humans safe from the cruel Orcs, in words which go back beyond the dawn of the Second Age, though now it is rare that an Orc be seen from their lookouts, and if one comes then it is most likely in peace, as a trader, granted easy entry to their markets. 

The Guardians of Zera might have been heroes in another age, but now stand as relics and reminders, ready to fight battles long forgotten, for causes not of our Age, in the name of a city of which no trace remains.

Marston [Guardians of Zera]

The Guardians of Zera consider themselves guardians of human civilisations against the primal barbarity of the north. 
Their strongholds' walls are formidable, and their armies renowned for their discipline. But Marston, the southernmost of their holdings, 
is also a centre of commerce and diplomacy. It is here that their commanders hold council, and here that foreign diplomats are received. 
And traders of all sorts, even those from the barbaric north, are also welcomed.

Dunbar [Guardians of Zera]

The Guardians of Zera hold themselves to a strict code of discipline and selflessness, hoping that through their steadfastness and skill at arms, 
they will be able to protect their people - and those to the south - against whatever menaces might emerge from the north. 

Whether the threat be from Ogres or Northmen, the Guardians stand prepared. But they are also pragmatic, and so a northern merchant, 
no matter how ragged his demeanour, or how barbaric his tribe, is as welcome as any other in their city – as long as he abides by the laws of civilised conduct.


Edited by GM Rikoo - 16 Apr 2015 at 20:37
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Hashashin

From the journal of Saxil of Tundale, diplomat in service of the Council of Illyria. 

Of all the cultures that I have seen, it is only the Hashishin that has truly terrified me. 

In Kajadum, I stood before the Great Sage - their nameless master - to seek the return of some prisoners. I had been sent by the Council of Illyria, because the Lannigolds had appealed for the Council's aid. 

Naturally we were inclined to assist this powerful house, as valued allies and loyal subjects of His Majesty. It did not occur to me until I arrived that the Lannigolds had simply been too scared to confront the Great Sage themselves. 

For years, Lannigold subjects had been the victims of kidnap by the Hashishin. Now, a trade caravan, including a young nephew of the Lannigold patriarch himself, had been seized. The Lannigolds wanted their people returned, and especially their young kinsman. 

I met with the Great Sage in his audience chamber. It was a sparse room, the least impressive chamber in which I have ever met a great leader. It had no carpet, no drapes, no works of art, only a great glowering idol of their fanged god, Ten Kulch. The idol, as their custom demanded, was caked with blood, some still damp, in which it is bathed each dawn. I did not ask what sort of blood it was, nor where it came from. 

The Great Sage sat cross-legged on the bare floor, a thin, grey-haired man with a quiet smile and a soft voice. I explained that His Majesty, King Sigurd, requested the return of the Lannigolds. I was tact incarnate: I threatened without being threatening, begged without being obsequious, was humble without acknowledging inferiority. The old man smiled and nodded as I spoke, picked at a bowl of sugared almonds, and watched birds feed from crumbs that he scattered on his windowsill. 

After a while he called for a servant. He told her,
 "This man has come to take you away from the loving embrace of Ten Kulch. If he takes you back to the Lannigolds, you will never again feel the breath of your god, and when you die you will not sit at His side in paradise.” 

Tears welled in the woman's eyes, and without a word she drew a dagger from her belt and plunged it into her own chest. She fell to the floor, coughing up her life's blood, dying slowly, crying and smiling as she did so. I begged the Sage to save her, to call for a physician. He smiled softly and asked if I would care for a sugared almond. 

When she lay still, he called for another servant, and spoke again, 
"This man has come to take you away from Ten Kulch..." That servant, too, killed himself, and when the Sage called for a third servant I begged him to stop. 

"So you withdraw your request? Very well. By coincidence, I can foretell that two of your own followers will chose to stay here, in the embrace of Ten Kulch. The great god has lost two servants today, and will take compensation." 

I blustered that he could not take my entourage, but I was pale and felt nauseous, and did not make a convincing argument. He brushed off my objection: 

"I take nothing. They will give themselves joyfully. They will choose to stay of their own accord, freely, out of love for Ten Kulch. Any who feel his breath cannot help but love him. Perhaps, one day, you too will know his love?" 

He sat there, smiling softly, while the blood of his dead servants oozed across the floor to pool around his feet and legs. 

True to the Sage's prophecy, two of my followers announced, the next morning, that they had chosen to stay at Kajadum. I left swiftly, and a week later, organized the kidnap of the young Lannigold, to return him to his kin. I shouldn't have bothered. The day that the youth was returned to his family he denied his house and his heritage, and the following day he killed himself. 

Any who are taken by Ten Kulch are forever the thralls of this bloody god. 

All of the other cultures that I have dealt with, the Orcs and Gnolls, the cold serpentine races and many murderous greenskins, they might threaten me, torture me, beat me, defile me, kill me. These thoughts do not delight me. But only the Hashishin can take my mind. Only the followers of Ten Kulch can steal my soul.

Kajadum [Hashashin]

A dark, brooding fortress in the hills of Zanpur, Kajadum presents a forbidding aspect to those who approach. But the gate guards are eager to let you in, 
the market administrators intensely keen to help you, and servants distraught if they cannot assist you. And the gardens are terribly pretty, 
the fruit succulent, the meat tender. Everyone here is so intensely nice, and the inside of the fortress so beautiful, 
that some visitors describe it as the most wonderful place they have ever wanted to flee from. Other visitors, by contrast, decide that it is such a wonderful place, that they never, ever want to leave.

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
 Jannu

Excerpt from 'Journey Across Illyria', from the half-elf minstrel, Rakkos Meillo 

You would expect there to be a lot of similarities between then Jannu and their eastern cousins, the Apaxu. 

There are a few similarities. 

The Jannu, like the Apaxu, are born and bred as horsemen. They have a very healthy respect for nature, and are very spiritual people. And like their eastern cousins, they prefer to live a nomadic lifestyle, unfettered by the chains of urban living. 

But that’s where the similarities end. 

The Jannu, to put it nicely, are a very untrusting lot. 

They are like dwarves in that aspect; dour, taciturn, and prone to never forgetting slights, no matter how small. 

They roam the plains of Kumala, moving from one place to the next in the blink of an eye. Their solitary trade hub, Jarru, seems more like a small village rather than a bustling trade city, and the other "cities" they lay claim to are all of similar size, seeming to be outposts, rather than any true attempt at settlement. 

Unlike the gentle peace-loving Apaxu, the Jannu seem more in tune with the darker aspects of nature. Death, famine, and destruction, they seems to almost celebrate these events; the single Jannu I managed to speak to in my travels told me that these nomadic horsemen viewed such events as necessary for the survival of all the races of Illyria. A death means that a birth will be on the way, famine now means that the crop yield next season will be bountiful, while destruction is a must for any rebuilding to begin. To the Jannu, nature takes no sides, and is always in balance with the world. 

As nomadic horsemen, Jannu live in tribes, led by a chieftain, and a shaman. And like their eastern cousins, the shamans of the tribe are often those born with mystical powers. The shamans of the Jannu are fonts of great wisdom, but incredibly eerie to meet face-to-face. They paint strange markings and symbols on their faces, carry around skulls and bones (not all of those belong to animals) and most of them take black ravens for familiars. 

The misgivings the Jannu have for all outsiders is not altogether misplaced; over the years, they have been deceived more than a few times by the Western Lords, and skirmishes with the Illian along their eastern borders is not uncommon. The fact that neither of these two kingdoms have conquered Jannu lands is a testament to the incredible skills of the Jannu with horse, spear and bow. 

To watch a Jannu cavalry unit riding towards you, the sound of thunder carrying across the plains, with javelins ready to be hurled and spears ready to thrust, is to know blood-chilling fear. 

The lone Jannu that I spoke to had these words to share with me: 

Stay away from our sacred lands, 
And our hunting grounds, 
And from our beautiful land, 
Leave us to our life, 
Leave us to our horses and plains, 
Greet us not with honeyed words, 
But those of truth and honesty, 
And earn our trust, 
But remember this, 
Our trust, the trust of the Jannu, 
Once lost, 
Is lost forever.


I told him those were wise words, he nodded solemnly, and I hastily made my way out of Jarru. I’m not sure about all of you, but I don’t intend to ever cross paths with the Jannu, much less give them a reason to hurt me.

Jarru [Jannu]

The Jannu did not build their desert stronghold. They are horse people – wanderers, fighters, hunters – not stone and mortar builders. Their ancestors found it, they say, 
at the beginning of the present Age, sand-blown and echoing with death. It took their Shamen a hundred years to drive out the ghosts. Now it is a focal point for their tribes, 
like a stone oasis to which they all wander from time to time, to meet and trade and swap rumours.

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Kadu

From the journal of Saxil of Tundale, diplomat in service of the Council of Illyria. 

The markets of Metaki and Matombo are open to all, but traders rarely relish their visits. In the bazaars, locals barge rudely past outsiders, and it is said that their witch-doctors will cast cruel curses upon any who push back. Kadu warriors sneer at outsiders, and brandish their spears in exaggerated menace if approached. 

The courts of the Kladu king and his chiefs, however, are usually off-limits. 

For myself, I only gained access to their King by dint of having befriended a local trader, who agreed to act as my representative, and also due to my journey having taken me to the Skarakar. The Kadu have skirmished with these creatures for years, and were eager to know what I had learned on my mission, and so invited me, through my local ally, to approach the King's compound. 

My local guide was invaluable. As we approached the compound, a tall, muscular warrior leaped from the doorway of the royal hall, spinning his spear in menace, turned a somersault in the air, and then charged at us, skipping sideways to avoid a collision with me. My guide, unfazed, lunged forwards a few steps, then darted sideways and knelt, picking a twig from the floor, brandishing it at the warrior and then casting it aside. The warrior stepped back, roared with glee, and gestured for us to pass with a swing of his spear. 

My guide explained that the aggressive greeting was mere local formality, and his response, in taking a twig to signify a spear and casting it aside, represented his acceptance of the warrior's strength and promised that we were not enemies. It was more energetic than shaking hands, but worked as a display of friendly respect in much the same way. 

Several more such encounters occurred as we approached the hut, with a similar mix of bravado and ritual, until at last we passed into the royal hall, where amiable discussions commenced. 

Back in the market later that afternoon, I remembered our approach to the royal compound. I was menaced by a rough local warrior, but instead of backing away I lunged forwards, stepped sideways, knelt, and then grasped and cast aside whatever detritus came to hand. The warrior roared a laugh, and stepped back, rejoining his friends, who now smiled at me. 

I repeated that behaviour several more times that day, and by evening, the local warriors and also the local traders were smiling and laughing with myself and my entourage. A local war-leader, who commanded a phalanx of warriors (or an Impi of warriors, as they call their battle-formations), invited me to his home that evening, where I was liberally plied with some sort of vile-tasting fermented milk. It was a fantastic evening, and by the end I had given away my own cloak and boots to my new friends, and found myself the owner of several bizarre gifts, such as a shell-encrusted spear, a medicine bag to keep my unborn children safe from some incomprehensible local spirit, and a model of a crocodile which I vaguely remember being very important in some drunken way.

Metaki [Kadu]

The smaller of the Kadu's two strongholds, Metaki is often referred to as the spiritual home of the Kadu people, and all Kadu aim to make the 
journey here at least once in their lives. Foreign visitors often arrive, therefore, expecting some kind of temple complex or pilgrimage centre, but leave bemused, unable to find even the most paltry shrine.

Matombo [Kadu]

Matombo is not so much a city as a sprawl. The Kadu wander the lands, herding cattle, and do not relish being penned in like so many livestock. 
So, when they came together here, they did not build a single enclosed city, they simply threw together a sea of huts and animal pens. Visitors recount, without much relish, 
the pervasive smell of cattle, the arrogance of the Kadu warriors, and the seemingly endless distances one must walk to get anywhere here.

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Kanchalka

Isiriana Elissede, of the Elven trade house of the Silver Arcs, Lantellyn: 

On my first trade with the Kanchalka, the preamble to the negotiations lasted for three days, and in the end I exchanged only a painting for a song. 

I had approached the estate of an outlying Kanchalka nobleman, his home on the edge of the spires of the Taomist mountains. To reach his house, I climbed far above the valley floor below, where his peasants toiled, and ascended steps hewn into the rock of the mountains, crossing from one outcrop to the next, over simple stone bridges, until at last a swaying rope bridge carried me over a three hundred foot drop to his front door. The view from his porch was inspiring, for the mountains of Taomist stand like splintered shards, where sometimes spires of rock can be seen to protrude from a blanket of cloud, and at other times thin wisps of mist curl about them. 

The people of Kanchalka speak of the gods as the Lord of the Heavens, and they say that they dwell in the sky. For them, these mountains are the Stairs to Heaven, the stepping off point between the home of the gods and the mundane world of Illyriad. They are privileged, they believe, to live in the place between these two worlds, and it is not mere rhetoric to say that they believe that they are above the rest of us. 

The porch that I stood upon hung from the edge of a sheer cliff, and the house beyond sat near the summit of one of the mountains' spires. Beyond the heavy front doors was the nobleman's home, but also the village's shrines - to which the peasants had to climb on feast days - and a funerary temple. It is the people’s custom to expose their dead on the highest peaks, with no burial nor pyre, so that they will be consumed by birds who will carry them to heaven, and so these high houses also serve as waystations on the road to eternity. 

The steward of the house welcomed me without enthusiasm and gave me leave to stay, and for two days I stayed in that remote house, seeing the nobleman and his family only at mealtimes, when they would sit in silence or talk quietly amongst themselves, occasionally addressing me as if as an afterthought. It seemed that they had no desire to get to know me but were prepared to become accustomed to me. 

The third day was spectacularly beautiful, with a clear blue sky, and sun which burned away the morning mist to offer an uninterrupted view across the mountains. The air was chill, but the sun was warming, and a servant came to ask me if I would join the nobleman on his veranda. There I found him, overlooking the mountains, sitting on a low stool with an easel before him, brushing pale paints across his canvas, the pigments so watered down that they carried almost no colour. He did not acknowledge me, but continued to paint as I sat silently nearby, and as I watched him I realized that he did not seek to render a realistic view of the peaks before him, but rather he sought to paint the light, and to capture the feeling of the day. The view was recognizable, of course, but as he applied wash after wash of watered paint it became clear that a mere likeness was not his aim. The work, as it developed, had an emotional sophistication which I have never before seen in human art. Instinctively, I drew my flute from my shoulder bag, and I began to play, taking the tune of a well known Elven song in praise of the summer and letting the view infuse my music, adapting the tune in response to the scene, and we sat there for the remainder of the morning, meditating together in paint and sound. 

When he finished painting, I stopped playing, and we had lunch together, during which we barely spoke. At the end of the meal, he took his painting, now dry, and presented it to me as a parting gift, saying that I was free to go, and saying that he would write to me in Lantellyn. 

Six months later a letter arrived for me at our trade house, saying simply that the nobleman's steward would be willing to discuss the sale of their latest vintage of Plum Brandy. And so it was that from three days of quiet company, and the exchange of a song for a painting, I began to trade with Taomist. 

Damquka [Kanchalka]

Guarded by deep ravines, ancient walls and the Mountain Guard of the Kanchalka court, the city of Damquka has been a pilgrimage centre since the Second Age. Local lore tells that it is through the mountains of Taomist that blessed souls 
ascend to heaven, and even the most sceptical scholars confirm that the altars of the city's Temples date back even to the First Age.

Qainaqangma [Kanchalka]

On the edge of Kanchalka territory, the Mountain Guards of Qainagangma see themselves as the guardians of the civilised east against the brutal hordes who roam beyond their lands. To the west are the Sma Uruk, and to the south, the 
Crimson Skulls. This lonely mountain seems, for its defenders, a solitary beacon of civilisation.

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Kingdom of Larn

From the journal of Saxil of Tundale, diplomat in service of the Council of Illyria. 

It took two hours to get into the royal audience chamber. Between the palace entrance and the throne-room were seven gates, each dedicated to a different god, to whom prayers had to be said before proceeding. Then there were three antechambers, where servants ritually washed our feet, hands and faces. So, we would approach the royal throne pure in soul and body. 

Once inside the audience chamber, formality continued. As I was not well versed in their etiquette, I had been told to speak as little as possible. So, I was told to deliver the traditional short greeting to the monarch, and then hand over a letter detailing my mission. This itself was a challenge, as the short version of the formal greeting took a quarter of an hour to recite, and it would have been considered disrespectful to read it from notes, so I had spent two days memorizing it. It began, “King of Our People, Hand of Order, Our Hope in Continuity, Our Champion of Peace, who weeps first amongst us...” and then went into a long list of villages, dominions, previous kings and their achievements, and so on. 

At last I handed over the letter. There had been a series of nasty pirate attacks along the south east coasts of Illyria, and the Kingdom of Larn was well-placed to help strike back at this threat, so my parchment outlined the menace and suggested cooperation. The letter was handed to an adviser, who read it silently and then handed it to the king. While the sovereign read the text, the adviser began to recite facts and figures, most from history rather than current events, regarding coastal piracy. Then the king spoke, muttering a few sentences about the perils of the sea, the will of the gods, the tragedy of war, and so on. “To strike out against even the greatest aggressor is to embark on a course which will lead only to more widows, more orphans, and more sorrow. All should weep at the merest suggestion of bloodshed,” he concluded. Then three other advisers offered an opinion, somewhat impeded, I deduced, by the court etiquette that they could only use phrases which the king or the first adviser had used, so that they simply echoed his sentiments. 

We left the palace and returned to our lodgings. It seemed that we had failed. “All should weep at the merest suggestion of bloodshed” sounded like a flat refusal to fight. But a few minutes later a sedan chair and eight bearers arrived, saying that they had orders to carry me to the docks. 

Down by the docks I was shown to a small chamber in which a detailed map of the coast was laid across a table. In a quadrangle below, spearmen drilled, practising shield wall formations, and beyond them, several warships were being repaired in the harbour. The man who greeted me had been at court that day, standing in the background while the formalities were played out, and now he asked me directly what I knew of the pirates, and what practical aid I could give. 

“I want to finish the job within a month. But there'll be hell to pay if I lose another warship, so tell me what you know.” 

Uncertain, I asked if the king had not forbidden bloodshed in this case. 

“Not at all. He clearly said that we should weep at the suggestion. There's a specific ritual for that. It takes about an hour. But as soon as that's done, I'm sending out my troops.” 

Newharbour [Kingdom of Larn]

Newharbour is reputed to be the finest port in Larn, and has recently grown to become a larger and wealthier city than the royal stronghold of Pentateul. But the huge walls which defend the city also constrain the population, and the 
treacherous mud flats outside the walls are unsuitable for building. The city's rise has been at a price: it is appallingly overcrowded, and the streets run with sewage. In the humid heat of this jungle region, the city stinks 
appallingly, and diseases spread quickly.

Pentateul [Kingdom of Larn]

At the heart of Pentateul is the Royal Quarter. Here the King of Larn resides, and here each action, each meeting, each journey, each conversation is heavy with ritual and formality. In the surrounding streets diplomats, administrators, 
and merchants make their homes, outside the formality of the Royal Quarter, but still close to the seat of power.

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Kingdom of Tal

From the journal of Saxil of Tundale, diplomat in service of the Council of Illyria. 

My first two days on the Tallian trade ship, I spent with my head hung over the side, feeling like the swelling ocean was trying to escape from my stomach. And that was before the storm hit. 

I was just a youth, taking passage from Freeport, as page to a noble diplomat from Centrum. I had never been to sea before, and found I could neither hold my body upright, nor my food down. The sailors, by contrast, trotted around the deck and skipped up the rigging as if they had been born to it, which, I found, many had. 

More than a few had been born aboard ships, and as we passed the coast of Tallimar, I could see why these people would abandon their lands for the shifting decks of a ship. We rolled past a shore of sand-dunes and scorched rock, sun-baked hills rising away from the sea. Away from the cool sea breeze, the lands were oppressively hot. Meanwhile, I learned, the neighbours of the Kingdom of Tal were a rough and warlike tribe of Trolls. Clearly a life at sea would be preferable to struggling against the merciless heat and the murderous Trolls. 

On the third day, a sudden storm blew in across the sea. We were crossing from one headland to another, and it seemed that the wind would overwhelm us before we reached the shore. I prayed that our captain would pilot us swift to land. Unlike the Tallian war-galleys, which have both oars and sails, this merchantman had only sails, and I expected the crew to hoist these high, to catch the wind and flee before it. 

But they had other plans. They turned the ship at an angle to the wind, its prow pointed away from land, and lowered all but one sail. The winds drove us out to sea as driving rain engulfed us. I was sure we would drown, and screamed that the sailors were mad for taking us from shore. They laughed. In the midst of the gale, they laughed at me, and crept beneath tarpaulins to play dice and tell jokes while we rode out the storm. 

The next day, one took me aside, and explained that the sea was not our enemy. The rocky shore, he said, was our enemy, and if their shipwrights had built the craft solidly it would bob upright on the waves, however helpless we may have felt. 

I asked if he was not afraid of drowning. 
"Of course not," he shrugged. But was it not a great risk, for a sailor, that he might drown at sea? "Certainly." Had he not lost family at sea? "My father drowned when I was a boy, and his father before him" the sailor confessed. 

I asked how he had the nerve to go to sea at all when the waters held such fates for his family. He smiled. 
"How do your kin die?" I told him, my father yet lived, and my grandfather and great grandfather had died peacefully in their sleep, in bed. 

"Died in bed? Your family die in their sleep?" 

I confirmed that yes, for the most part, my family die in bed. 


"Then I wonder you have the courage to go to bed at all!", he said.


Port Tal [Kingdom of Tal]

If this is the capital of the Kingdom of Tal, strangers often ask, where is the royal palace? One local answer is that the king's palace is the deck of his ship; when asked which of his many ships that might be, the answer is simply, 

any of them. The people of Tal are a maritime people. And so, this capital city is perhaps not so much the place where the King lives, as the place where he most often makes land.

Kelsmouth [Kingdom of Tal]

With each incoming tide, salt water washes back up the estuary to the west of Kelsmouth, and floods the fields and mud flats around the city. As the tides recede, flotillas of vessels - from tiny rowing boats to huge ships - sail out 

upon the waters, heading southwards out to sea. The people of the Kingdom of Tal are keen to live and work upon the sea, and consider a career which ties them to the land a great hardship.

Nemidas [Kingdom of Tal]

The people of the Kingdom of Tal call Nemidas their Cursed City. To the visitor, it is not at all clear why. The place is prosperous and well-governed, with huge walls and an admirable army to keep it safe; its surroundings are verdant, 
food is plentiful, the markets are bustling. It is, by most accounts, the wealthiest city in the Kingdom. There seems nothing Cursed about it.

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Lannigolds

Excerpt from ‘The Great Illyrian Noble Houses’, penned by the retired bard Jarla Creshanmor. 

They are a crafty lot, the Lannigolds. 

Conniving, ruthless and ambitious, this great noble house would love nothing more than to rule all of Illyria, or at the very least, play King Sigurd like a puppet-king. 

They weren’t always the great house that we see today. The Lannigolds started out as small noble house, in charge of defending the borders of the civilized kingdoms of Illyria from the barbarians and monsters from the North. Due to their unbridled lust for power and land, they became a major player in Illyria’s political landscape in just a handful of decades. They now have holdings and land all over Illyria, although their base remains in the great city of Laresh in Perrigor. 

How did they elevate themselves from a small noble house, to the biggest one in Illyrian history? By marrying their princesses to other noble houses. Time and time again I have seen this happen, if not before my eyes, then through the whispered tales of those with eyes that have seen far more than my own. Once they marry their princesses and noble daughters off, they slowly work from behind the curtains, a shadow play that only they have the script to. In front of the other great families you can find a Lannigold smiling and nodding obsequiously, but behind the curtains, the Lannigolds will smile, and lick their ruby-red lips. 

And now they have grown even bolder, sending their thorned-rose, Victoria Lannigold , all the way to mystical Zanpur to win the heart of the prince, Mehra Metu. Besotted as he is, I doubt that even the young prince would go against the wishes of his father, the great and wise Raja Metu. This time, the arrogant Lannigolds might have bitten off more than they can chew, and I can say that a fair few people are waiting to see them get bitten in return. 

The Lions of Lannigold, we all call them. 

The Lannigold coat of arms features two regal golden lions against a crimson shield, facing each other with a golden sword in the middle, keeping them both apart. And like their namesakes, the Lannigolds are often born with bright, blond hair, the colour of the sun, blessed with extremely comely features. Their women are reputed to be the most beautiful in the land, and at the rate they are able to marry out to the other houses, there seems to be some truth to this claim. Prince Jamie, with his long lashes, piercing blue eyes and comely face is the dream husband of many an Illyrian young maiden. 

But beware. 

Behind those beautiful blue eyes and breath-taking smiles lie an unrivalled quest for power; a lion may be regal, and it may be beautiful, but it can kill you without hesitation if you get in its way. And so it is the same with the Lannigolds; their duties as wardens of the civilized lands of Illyria means that they have a military might that few can match. A lot of lesser houses who have reasons to despise the Lannigolds instead keep quiet and meek, afraid to go against the combined might of this greatest of noble houses. 

So what can we do when you come across a Lannigold? Give them praise, flatter them with sweet words, but keep your thoughts to yourself, for they will prowl languorously around you, smiling, until you say the wrong thing, and then the fangs and claws will sink in, creating a deluge of crimson, a bloodbath where the Lannigolds will come out on top. 

Thankfully they are some that are just now taking a strong stand against this power hungry house. The Triumvirate’s unilateral cancellation of their trade agreement with the Lannigolds has been met with stunned silence from the golden rocks of Laresh. No doubt this cancellation of trade between the two was masterminded by the Lannigolds’ most powerful enemy, the Illyria Trade Council. While the Lannigolds may have the might of their armies, the Illyria Trade Council has an even greater weapon: trade. 

If the Illyria Trade Council ever manages to influence any of the other factions and kingdoms to renounce all trade with this greatest of great noble houses, the gold manes of the Lions of Lannigold just might lose its golden lustre.


Allon [Lannigolds]

A stout, square building, like a giant palace or castle but the size of a city, the walls of Allon, it is said, have never been scaled or breached, and never shall be. It is a stronghold of the Lannigolds, home to their retainers, servants, and guards.

Ellesmere [Lannigolds]

Built in the stout, square style of all Lannigold strongholds, Ellesmere has long been an important holding of this aristocratic family. Those loyal to them praise their noble defence of this bastion, which, they say, stands to defend 
the people of Lucerna and the Middle Kingdom from the rampages of the Orcs of Mal Motsha. The cynical observe that it is also a profitable trading centre. In any case, visitors note that Orc and Human traders alike can be spotted in the marketplaces.

Laresh [Lannigolds]

Laresh is the oldest, and still the principal stronghold of the Lannigolds. Its square structure and impenetrable walls set the style for all of their subsequent strongholds, and the opulence and fine taste of its courtiers sets an 
example which many noble families wish to emulate. Visitors speak of being impressed first by the imposing walls, but then overwhelmed by the extravagance of the Lannigold court.

Hoscarmel [Lannigolds]

One hundred years ago, a Lannigold prince rose to become commander of the mercenary company based at Hoscarmel. His family invested in the imposing defences of the town, which they rebuilt in the Lannigold style; however, when he died 
they laid claim to the place, saying that they now owned it. They won their claim, and Hoscarmel became yet another, albeit far-flung, stronghold of this powerful family. It is proud of its military heritage, and still produces many of 
the Lannigolds' finest troops, although it cannot match the more northerly courts for style or sophistication.

Eyepool [Lannigolds]

Until two hundred years ago, Eyepool was a free port. But the Illyria Trade Council slowly came to control it, despite grumblings from the locals. When, sixty years ago, a local uprising ejected the Trade Council and plunged the city 
into anarchy, it was Lannigold troops who restored order. Their intervention was for the good of the people, they said. But when they had subdued the rebels, they handed the keys of the city to the Lannigolds, not to the Trade Council.
The Lannigolds have now rebuilt the city - and its defences - in their own style, and it has become a thriving trade centre. The Trade Council have never ceased to blame the Lannigolds for the theft of their trade post, and animosity rumbles on to this day.

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Lords Of The West

From the journal of Saxil of Tundale, diplomat in service of the Council of Illyria, 1017: 

The Order of Allembine can teach Illyrian nobles children to read and write and to craft pretty phrases. Ambitious fathers can tell their children of genealogies and gossip, of feuds and rivalries. But for a young nobleman who fancies himself a diplomat, these do not give sufficient training. What a diplomat needs above all is observation and instinct. 

So this summer I took six hopeful young nobles in my entourage, each hoping to become my squire, and travelled with them to represent the Council at a wedding feast. The wedding was between the son of Lord Malfea, and the daughter of Lord Rynthas. These two barons, along with King Sigurd's own brother, Lord Grendham, are the Lords of the West. They are three ambitious, hardened soldiers who were sent by the Council in 1002 to subdue this region and make it a loyal bulwark on our west flank. A wedding between two of these families was, of course, a diplomatically significant event. 

The day after the banquet, I called my young hopefuls together and asked them what they had learned at the banquet. One had amassed quite a store of trivial gossip. One speculated with some insight on the qualities and origins of the food and wines served at the meal. All outlined the order of precedence, and noted the formal toasts made during the feast. All of these answers disappointed me. 

Then I noticed a serving girl, who had been filling our goblets as we spoke, and who now had a thoughtful look. She had been serving wine to the youngsters during the banquet, and could have seen all that they saw, so I asked her what she had seen. 

She began, though timidly, to reel off observations: Lord Grendham had brought his battle-scarred champion to the feast, and had secured him a good seat on a lower table, where he scowled at everyone through the meal. Malfea and Rynthas had offered loud, formal toasts to each other and to the King, but had frequently raised their glasses to share quiet, private toasts with the representatives of the Duchy of Keppen. Grendham and Malfea had not exchanged a polite word all night, but today they had ridden out to go hunting together, doubtless for a private, quiet discussion, perhaps to settle some grievance. Rynthas, the morning after his daughter's wedding, had had to go into a series of meetings with visiting merchants, which seemed odd, perhaps suggesting that he was in debt. 

The Lords of the West are not selfless defenders of the King Sigurd's western flank. They are power-hungry magnates, consumed by their own rivalries and networks of alliances, debts and obligations, loyal to King Sigurd largely because his patronage fortifies their positions. Our serving girl could see this. My young noblemen could not. 

I have now taken the girl into my entourage permanently, and have hired a tutor for her. The six young noblemen I have sent back to their families. 

Etilan [Lords Of The West]

Lord Malfea, formerly commander of the Council of Illyria's armies, is steward of Etilan, holding it for King Sigurd. The river upon which it sits is often said to be the dividing line between civilisation to the east (the Middle 

Kingdom and Keppen), and the harsh wilderness to the west (the Western Realms); it is very much on the Western side of that river. It is a dour, uncultured place, a military stronghold run by a military man. Visitors are advised to 

bring with them whatever luxuries they will want, for there are few here

Sebring [Lords Of The West]

Sebring is held by Lord Grendham, the brother of King Sigurd. Although its walls do not look exceptional, its strategic location makes it unassailable. Sitting on a low hill, the low lying plains which surround it are frequently flooded 
by the waters which lie beyond on three sides, and it is said that what looks like grassland is more like a lake of mud so thick that grass has taken hold upon it. Any army approaching would simply drown in this mire, and those who 
visit in peace are advised to approach only by one of the narrow causeways which snake through this bog.

Dunthaslea [Lords Of The West]

Dunthaslea is the most embattled of the strongholds of the Lords of the West. To the north are the rebellious rabble of the Undying Flame, and the cunning raiders of the Sundog Gith. Its stewardship has been granted by King Sigurd to 
Lord Rynthas. Publicly Rynthas won the honour through his glorious career as a general, but perhaps it is also because he has something of a reputation for rebelliousness himself, and his northern neighbours will keep him thoroughly occupied.


Edited by demdigs - 15 Apr 2015 at 18:29
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Thanks for gathering all the human lore mate :) 
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Mellorians

From the daily reports of Commander Cirian Danorian, deep reconnaissance mission. 

Day 7, evening: We have camped by a huge rock, with a crude carving chiselled into it. The figure is vaguely humanoid, but has no eyes. Our scribe tells us that it is meant to be a spirit called Melloris. Allegedly the spirit has manifested to the leader of a local community, who described it as being made of gold, supremely beautiful, but blind. The lack of eyes might have indicated blindness, but the strange shape of this figure does not suggest beauty, just a very poor stone carver. 

Day 8, afternoon: We have spotted a stronghold high on a cliff. Its stone walls look ancient, but are partly ruined and have been recently and crudely patched with wood. Still, its position makes it seem impregnable. As we approached we found human farmers working small fields in the valley beneath, but they fled at our approach. We have made camp, and sent scouts up the cliff path to investigate. 

Day 8, evening: Our scouts have not returned. We have also had visitors. A group of armed men, armoured, carrying bows. They said that they were a search party from the stronghold. They said they were looking for “Heretics who have fallen from truth and fled from the light of Melloris”, who they wanted to find in order to “save” them by taking them back to the community. They were very well armed for a friendly search party. 

Day 9, noon: Our scouts have returned. They say that they were worried about climbing back down the cliff path in the dark. They also mentioned good food and warm beds in the settlement above. They report the community being confused by their visit, but there was no hostility. We will all trek up the cliff this afternoon, as a safe and comfortable place to stay would be welcome. 

Day 9, evening: We have found passable food, warm beds, and solid fortifications. It is a welcome change from sleeping in a camp in the wilds. The locals are little inclined to talk to us, however. 

Day 10, noon: The inhabited settlement is small. Just a couple of thousand people, but the location is so secure that no army could assault them. The people still avoid us, and lots of doors are locked. The old ruined parts of the stronghold are extensive, however, and merit more investigation. We are not the only visitors, as there is a small market. We found a small band of ragged elves trading here, and they say that the locals are as unfriendly to them as they are to us. 

Day 10, afternoon: I was summoned to appear before the community’s leader. He sat on a large but crude throne, wearing the vestments of a priest and a large silver crown. I vaguely remember him. In Virten when I was young he was called Jerrian, and he was considered a possible future King of Virten. He was renowned as a virtuous man but the College of Silence suspected that he was mentally unstable. Now he leads this self-exiled community, and I was told to address him as Blessed Prophet of the Golden Spirit, not by his “former” name. He had summoned me to complain about one of our expedition. Apparently our scribe had been “spreading lies, infecting the minds of the true believers, promoting falsehood and immorality”. I doubt it. None of us have spoken much to the locals. But he clearly wants us to go, so I said that we would leave early tomorrow. I have no idea why he is hostile to us, but there was no point arguing. 

Day 10, evening: Organised a search of the ruined areas, without alerting the locals. We found several rooms that looked like ritual areas, abandoned for centuries. Most interesting was a grand mural, dusty and cracked, from before the Sundering. It seemed to show a wizard or arch mage, depicted with a great staff, one eye covered with a patch, and one of his hands shown as being gold. 

Day 11, morning: We set guards last night, and they woke us before dawn. They had seen movement where our horses were stabled, and they intervened, uncovering a partially dressed local woman and one of our animal handlers. He said that she had seduced him and asked him to stay and marry her. She said that he had tricked her into spending the night with him. I believe him, not her. He doesn’t have that much guile, and I don’t trust these people. We are leaving now. I would rather be out in the wilds than have to contend with the lies and paranoia that confound us here.

Sanctuary [Mellorians]

Perched atop a high cliff, this ruined stronghold can be approached only by a narrow, winding path. Traders are welcome in the market, but will have to leave waggons at the foot of the cliff and carry goods up on foot. The climb is arduous, the location inconvenient, but this inaccessibility is the very thing that brings people here: roaming warbands in the wilds below cannot hope to violate the Mellorians' Sactuary, which remains an oasis of peace in a violent land.


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Nordlanders

Excerpt from A History of the North - By Sister Ilsa Engladottir of the Order of Allembine 

In the Year 590, the great Earl Haraldr Gangr met with King Ganthor. Having been touched by the word of our lord and disgusted by the ways of his kinsmen he chose to bend his knee to the our most just King. In recognition of his most earnest faith and devotion to the crown Earl Gangr was given the lands known then as Noden, which were to be known as the Norweld, and he adopted the title "Duke Gangr of the Norweld". 

Duke Gangr was a pious and fierce warrior, taking up the sword of our lord to strike back at the pagan Northmen and deliver unto them the will of our lord, the just and the mercifull. 

His people would be known as the Nordlanders henceforth, and under the guidance of our lord they prospered, building many a great temple and being rewarded with victory in battle by his most generous hand. 

Duke Gangr the pious was to be succeeded by his son, Duke Viljamir the Conqueror, a knight of renown having fought by his fathers side in many great campaigns into the Wolfgast during the years of sorrow. 

Under the rule of Duke Viljamir, the Nordlanders would expand the borders of their Duchy, reclaiming lands lost to the Northmen bringing them back to the fold of our most gracious king. Known as the Knight of the mailed fist and the sword, representing the mailed glove forged in heaven for our earthly monarch, to enable him to wield the sword granted to him by our heavenly monarch to hold reign over his subjects on earth in his place. 

In the Year 604 Duke Viljamir and his knights fell at the Battle of Tears, so named for the miracle which took place in the Temple then known as Vaelhella, where it is said the statue of our great lord wept for his son at the very moment the lethal blow struck his heart. 

Re-named The Temple of Anguish, it was to be the spiritual head quarters of the knightly order which would rise from the ashes of Duke Viljamirs death. The order of Glove and the Sword, sworn to protect the dual kingship of our earthly and heavenly monarchs, every initate of the order is required to make a pilgrimage starting at the place of Duke Viljamirs last breath to the altar at the temple, and swear eternal feilty, in this life and the next, to the virtues Duke Viljamir the Conqueror fought and died for.

Slupsk [Nordlanders]

When the Northmen rampaged across Wolgast five hundred years ago, Slupsk became the seat of one of their greatest warlords. Perched on steep cliffs above the valleys below, the site was easily fortified, and it became a rallying point for Northmen armies. But when the Jarl of Slupsk, Haraldr Gangr, bowed down to the Kings of the Middle Kingdom, the city's warriors turned to look northwards rather than southwards. Old friends, the Northmen, became enemies, and hostilities between the northern Factions continue to this day.

Northmen

Excerpt from "A History of the North" By Sister Ilsa Engladottir of the Order of Allembine 

Never before has such wanton cruelty and terror been visited upon the godly as we are now forced to suffer at the hands of a pagan race. 

They came from the north, through the oceans of mist where the spirits dwell. In great ships carved in the image of their pagan gods to visit upon us the pious, all their pagan terrors. 

This scourge of our Lord landed upon the shores of Wolgast in the Year 524 making great slaughter upon all they met. 

Breaking their way in to the temples they set fire to the sacred texts, pillaged the holy relics of our temples and unleashed their heathen lustings upon the maidens of our most holy lord, leaving their bodies broken and trampled as if they were but dung in the streets.

Holbaek [Northmen]

Once at the heart of the Northlanders' dominions, Holbaek is now its southernmost outpost. But the city remembers its history, and although it is generally welcoming, southerners may feel uncomfortable if they visit at the annual festival of The Cursing Of The Guardians Of Zera, or when effigies of Earl Gangr The Traitor and King Ganthor of the Middle Kingdom, are burned.

Falkenburg [Northmen]

Deep in the mountains of northern Wolgast, the mountain-top city of Falkenburg is a place of refuge for the Northlanders in time of war, and a place of commerce in times of peace. Its people are dour, even by northern standards, and so although foreign visitors are admitted, they should not expect a warm welcome in any sense.

Rendsburg [Northmen]
Chroniclers of the Middle Kingdom talk of the Northlanders' Rampage five centuries ago. The people of Rendsburg do not talk of a Rampage, they talk of the foundation of a great kingdom, which stretched through Wolgast and Norweld, resisted only by the Guardians of Zera. And Rendsburg, they say, was the capital of this mighty kingdom. Of course, the Northlanders' holdings are diminished now, and the Jarls of Rendsburg are suspicious of the notion of a single monarch, but the city has, as visitors will be constantly reminded, a proud heritage.


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Order of Allembine

Preface to the Rules Of The Order of Allembine, anon 

The first duty of each Brother and Sister is Obedience. Each must be obedient in all things to the Abbot or Abbess of the House. Each must be obedient to the Rule which describes the times of prayer and the obligations of each rank and the organization of each House. Each must be obedient to the will of the gods. It is Obedience that preserves the Order and so ensures that we continue with our good work. 

The second duty of each Brother and Sister is Compassion. Those who tend to the sick and provide shelter for travellers, do so in a spirit of selfless compassion. Those who record the histories and chronicles, do so as an act of love for those who will come after us and respect for those who have gone before. Those who serve at the court of the King, do so in the certainty that his rule is the best hope for the well-being of all in our present time. 

The third duty is Faithfulness. All must walk in the steps laid down by our predecessors, faithful always to the gods, steadfast against sin, and yearning to live a life perfect in the reflection of what has been laid down before. 

These three duties have preserved the Order for ten centuries, and will preserve the Order for centuries to come. But the Order is not to be preserved for its own sake, but as a light for the world. The Order has risen as civilization has risen. The calendar is dated from our foundation, as blessed Allembine founded the first House in the year that we now call year one, and our historians have been chroniclers of the years since. 

The Kingdom of Illyria was founded under our roofs and its kings are crowned by our Abbots. As the royal domain of Illyria has grown, so we have grown. As we have grown, the royal domain of Illyria has grown. 

Our continued service, in obedience, charity and faithfulness, shall pave the way for the kings of Illyria, for the good of all humans and of all races.

Benfis [Order of Allembine]

Benfis was once a simple college, a place of learning and reflection. But since the last remnants of the great Elven libraries of Alda Amar were brought here eight hundred years ago, and the Order of Allembine was founded on their wisdom, the school has grown into a vast network of cloisters, alleys, libraries, lecture rooms, lodgings, refectories... a giant sprawl of schools the size of a city.
The Order insists that Benfis remains dedicated entirely to study, but as the scholar Brothers are outnumbered by the servants, traders, soldiers, and others upon whom their great school depends, it has also become a centre of commerce and intrigue.

Orelys [Order of Allembine]

Orelys is the second of the two strongholds of the Order of Allembine, where hundreds of scholars, administrators and diplomats, plus their servants, live and study behind high, strong walls. It is famed for the quality of its slow, stately choral music, and is notable in recent history as the site of the coronation of King Sigurd in the year 1012.


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Raja Metu

Letter held in the archives of Tien Zao, from His Highness Mehra Metu, son of Raja Metu, to Victoria Lannigold. 

Darling Victoria, 

My heart aches with every day that we are apart. My soul yearns for the faintest touch of your breath upon my cheek. My body is wracked with desire for your simple presence at my side. 

When shall you return? 

Your stay was so brief and you only managed enough time to visit Glory City. 

Even then, your attention appeared more focussed on the mundanity of the port and harbour facilities than on the glories of the flesh - foods, bathhouses, musicians, jesters, and all manner of cultural delights to be found there; it is, truly, a well-named place. 

You were here so briefly, and there is still so much to show! Everything in my father's Kingdom reminds me of you, and I must share it with you on your return. 

The way the water glistens upon the lake at Mandaipur - this reminds me of your hair. 

The way the hills at Humayan rise and fall so gently and sweetly - this reminds me of... I had better not say. 

Write and let me know when you shall return; existence seems futile without your company. 

Until then, and with all my heart, I am, forever, 

Your Mehra


Glory City [Raja Metu]

Glory City is the newest jewel in the crown of the Rajas. Taken as a prize of war by the present Raja's grandfather, it has already grown to rival the cities of Humayan and Mandaipur to the east. Visitors describe this as a vibrant port city, with a good harbour, outstanding natural defences, and occasionally, violent street life.

Mandaipur [Raja Metu]

It has now been several hundred years since the Rajas of Humayan swept westward to conquer central Zanpur, building their capital upon this ancient site. The people here consider themselves as honourable and traditional as any in Humayan, and insist, as the local saying goes, that they “Have sand on their feet”, despite most never having been anywhere near a desert. They are proud that Raja Metu has upheld the tradition of keeping his capital here, although many grumble that he is so often found in Glory City, a boisterous, upstart city to the west.

Humayan [Raja Metu]

Hundreds of years ago, the first Raja of Humayan swept out of the eastern desert, with his chariots and cavalry, to conquer the lushness of eastern Zanpur, and establish this huge city. Raja Metu and his people have never forgotten their origins, and even today, to say in Humayan that “He has sand upon his shoes” is akin to saying “He has honour”, or “He acts with propriety.” But although Humayan looks east for its history, and for the recruitment and training of its troops, it looks west for its wealth.


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Sultanate of Kazim

Extract from the Scribe Archive at the court of the Sultan of Kazim 

Our beloved Lord, the Sultan enquired of Vizier Hammesh as to the whereabouts of his latest conquest, the beautiful Aisha from the village of Taziim, who he had discovered tending to the village cattle, and who had been blessed with his immediate attention. 

Our beloved Lord reminded Vizier Hammesh that it had been more than two full days since he had last asked, and that his patience had since worn exceedingly thin. 

Vizier Hammesh gave answers that displeased our beloved Lord. 

Let it hereby be decreed that Vizier Hammesh is to be buried to his neck in the desert, so that the beetles may blacken his lying tongue, and the vultures may pick on the soft jellied orbs of his eyes, and wild beasts may feast on the treacherous greyness inside his skull. His family is to be cast outside of the gates, to founder in the sands. 

Let is also hereby be decreed that the village of Taziim is to be burnt to the ground, and the residents therein to be sold on the slave market, to recompense our beloved Lord for depriving him of Aisha's future company by selfishly allowing her to take her own life. 

So be it.

Khafkar [Sultanate of Kazim]

Khafkar is a slave city. The soldiers who guard the gates are slaves, the officials who administrate the exchequer are slaves, the labourers who clear muck from the roads are slaves. Some are shackled and beaten, some are bedecked in silks and perfumes, but from the lowest to the highest, the Sultan owns every one, and the slaves run the city in his name.

Nessim [Sultanate of Kazim]

It is customary for desert princes to build pleasure gardens amidst the sands; to make the sands bloom, to create a haven of lush beauty amid the scorching rocks, is a princely achievement. But only one garden has grown so huge, its delights so manifold, that a whole city has grown up simply to support it. It is the will of the supreme Sultan that his garden should be beyond equal in beauty, watered by a thousand fountains, decorated by two thousand slave girls, tended by four thousand eunuchs. None would deny the will of the Sultan.

When the great-grandfather of the present Sultan conquered the city of Mataba, he had the inhabitants assemble in the city's main square. And then he had them all killed. Then he had their pets and livestock killed. Then he had all of their books and records torn apart. And a great bonfire was made in the central square; people and pigs and tattered pages, all burned together. The fire took a month to burn. Visitors say that now, a century later, the city still has the scent of burned flesh.


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Tenaril

Isiriana Elissede, of the Elven trade house of the Silver Arcs, Lantellyn, writes: 

In the very south of Illyria, beyond the coast of Tallimar, beyond the reach of Council and King, stands a tower of granite and gold, of hope and power. This is Stormstone, once the home to Tenaril, born at the close of the First Age, and legend and inspiration to sorcerers across Illyria. Many of the mightiest magics wrought in any age were formulated here, by Tenaril himself, an enchanter claimed by some to be Elven, and by some to be Human, and by some to be a god. 

The tower of Stormstone stands upon a low hill, from its foundation to its crowning spires five hundred feet tall, with no windows and only one huge door. The door is of oak, the iron runes upon it having rusted with age, and is obscured by creepers which have grown to cover the lower fifty feet of the tower. The structure itself is dark granite, made from slabs too huge for mortal men to have ever lifted into place, although when sunlight catches the tower, it sometimes seems that parts of the upper walls glisten, and it is said that inscriptions of power are inlaid in gold upon the higher stones. 

Around and about the tower a settlement of sorts has grown, and when I say it is around the tower the description is literal. For a thousand paces in any direction, there is no building, no tent, not so much as a tethering post, but beyond this distance a score of camps has sprung up. Some are pitched for only a few days, some grow into near-permanent villages, and together they encircle the hill. 

Here are seekers of all sorts, Humans and Elves for the most part, but with the curious and desperate of all peoples coming here, as if on holy pilgrimage. They settle in the camps around the tower, and then walk towards it, so that in the space between the encampments and the huge spire one might see a Kadu witchdoctor dancing, an Orc Shaman offering sacrifice, a Dwarven mathematician taking notes, an Elven enchanter meditating. 

I myself walked out from the camps to approach Stormstone, and as I walked, a silence fell, and the silence became deafening. The air felt almost alive, and each step towards the tower became harder, the distance covered by each pace seeming smaller, until in the end I felt that each step took me no nearer to the structure. I could not bring myself to touch the tower itself, or perhaps the tower would not let me approach so closely, and so at last I bowed, turned and walked back to the camps. 

Back amongst the hopeful and the curious, the passionate and desperate, I was not clear that any had learned anything. Scholars and wizards abounded, and a few, who claimed to have received visions in dreams or to have learned something in contemplation of the tower, gathered followers to themselves, like prophets. Yet the only gain that I could see was material, not mystical, as traders move amongst the seekers, and bustling markets spring up to cater to these visitors, the markets themselves becoming a lure for further traders, so that commerce thrives under the shadow of Stormstone. 

That night I hoped, as some promised, that I might dream of Tenaril, and learn something through sleep, but I did not dream on ancient wizards. Instead, I dreamed only of my Mother, and it struck me that I had forgotten how wise and beautiful she was, and I dreamed that I listened for hours to her talking, marvelling at her insights - yet when I awoke, I recalled nothing that she had said.

Stormstone [Tenaril]

With neither windows nor doors, the tower of Stormstone has stood silent for thousands of years. Many seekers and pilgrims come here, hoping to find some ancient magical or religious truth, but the tower will not give up its secrets to them, nor open its walls to admit them.

Tewhirrus

Isiriana Elissede, of the Elven trade house of the Silver Arcs, Lantellyn: 

For the Tewhirrus, the horse is all. For the Tewhirrus, the horse is friend and companion, family and servant, the messenger of their gods and the food on their table. 

When a babe is born, the father takes the still bloody child out from the house, and ritually presents it to the herd. When the child is named, the name is told to the family's horses before it is told to human kin or friends. Before the child can even stand it sits astride its parent's horse, held upright by mother or father, and it is said that these people can ride before they can run on their own legs. 

On reaching adulthood, a young man or woman selects a horse, walking out into the herd and mingling with the beasts, until through an unspoken dialogue, horse and youth pick each other out. This animal they will care for and live with until one or the other of them lives out their natural life, and their homes are built for this purpose, with the stalls for the horses and the living quarters for the humans being under the same roof. 

Throughout their lives, no significant decision will be made without a sorcerer of the tribe reading omens from the movements of the herds, and at all great feasts, be they weddings or funerals or births or alliances or holy days, a horse will be ritually killed and its flesh served as the main portion of the meal. 

The horse, likewise, is the one constant possession and constant companion through these people’s lives. Villages may be built and abandoned several times in a human lifespan. In times of crisis a married couple might part from each other, to live with their different kin during war or famine, but none would expect to be parted from his or her horse. In war it would make no sense to the Tewhirrus to form units of infantry, and even under siege, a unit standing guard on a battlement are simply cavalry troops whose horses wait patiently at the foot of the wall behind them. 

Then at last, in death, these people expect their horses to accompany them. Their lifelong companion will be ritually killed, its meat shared out for the mourners, and the remains of the carcass buried with the human corpse, to carry the deceased to ride with the gods in the next world. 

Swiftstead [Tewhirrus]

At the dawn of the present Age, a chieftain of the Tewhirrus insisted that his tribe needed a second stronghold, to keep them and their horses safe from raids. The tribes were sceptical, saying that their lives were best lived on the open plain. It was decided to put the matter to the horses.
A stallion was released, and its movements watched closely. After a week, it ceased to wander the plains, and settled, surprisingly, on a well-appointed mountain, which could easily be fortified to make it unassailable. The wisdom of the horse was inarguable, and so Swiftstead was founded.

Tewhirria [Tewhirrus]

While other tribes might venerate the birthplace of their founder, or the first stronghold of their people, the Tewhirrus focus their attention on the site, they say, where the First Horse - the daughter of a goddess - was born, here on a great mountain above the plains. If the place is now known after their tribe, if the place just happens (with some added defences) to offer a superb defensive location, these details they dismiss as coincidence. They did not choose to build themselves a stronghold here, they insist; they are simply here, due to their respect for horses, the First Horse, and the gods.


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Tien Zao

Region 7, Sub Region B, Geological Observations of Rothguld Rothsun, Master Minerologist, Order of Higher Minerology, Great Mountain Home (Part One): 

After multiple and protracted communications with the Tien Zao Ambassador in the Kingdom of Wen Kun (where I have been delayed for over four months), I have impressed upon this rather stiff human how my desire to perform a geological survey of the Tien Zao mountains furthers the pursuit of knowledge, a purported fundamnental tenet of the Tien Zao culture. After supporting my argument with numerous references and attributions to my earlier work, and after much time-consuming waiting for replies from the higher monks in the mountains, I have received my much anticipated passport to perform a study of the geology of the region. 

After travelling through the densely populated and fertile valleys of the Wen Kun, the population gradually dwindles as we head up into the foothills bordering the Tien Zao Mountains. We can see this young mountain range proudly spiking up into the heavens ahead of us, fiercely piercing the clouds with its pillars of ice and snow capped granite. I estimate the range to be less than 200 million years old... A veritable newborn in comparison to some of the ranges I have surveyed in the past. And like most adolescent mountain ranges, this one does not dissappoint with its severity. Rarely have I ever seen (if ever) higher and more severe peaks. And oddly enough, there seem to be very few natural passes between the mountains. Instead, the norm is a series of knife ridges between the peaks, resulting in more of a severe honeycomb topology. I would be willing to bet that some of those valleys hidden in there are virtually non accessible by land. A note to contact Athgar Gurld in Alpine Biology, when I return. He might have some fascinating flora and fauna discoveries in these remote valleys! 

My rather aloof and quiet Tien Zao escort consists only of four robe wearing adepts following one monk who has drawn the onerous duty of escorting your truly up into their home. Like all humans, they walk too fast, but unlike most, these ones don't talk. Except for the monk, who occasionally will politely answer a fraction of my questions with assurances that I will be welcome in Qi Quien, their monastic capital and all my scholastic interests will be fulfilled. As all the world knows, noone has the depth of knowledge regarding matters minerological that we dwarves hold, so to remain merely skeptical was a challenge. 

After traversing the foothills, we approached a sheer cliff that I estimate at 15,000 Dwarven Yards that appeared to be banded gneiss with dikes of granite orthogneiss. As we approached closely, I noticed superbly concealed large doors carved into the cliff. These resembled the West Portal Gates at home, so I, naturally asked which Dwarven Clan had performed their work. The monk seemed slightly put off and replied that no Dwarves had touched said rock and that it was the handiwork of ancient Tien Zao masons. Obviously these monks are being brainwashed if they think humans can cut that type of rock. 

A deep gong chimed and the gates grated open (with, I believe, quite a bit more noise than Dwarven gates would have made) to show a wide set of stairs running deep into a tunnel. We followed the tunnel for 4,943 steps (none of which, I can assure you, were made with Dwarven legs in mind) through another thick portal. 

What greeted us was quite inspiring. There was a vast valley stretching out in front of us for approximately 30 miles. Sub branches of the valley reached off to both sides and a chalky aquamarine glacial river ran the length of the valley. And, most spectacularly, there were enormous snow capped peaks surrounding the lot. 

We followed a meticulously constructed paving stone road (reminiscent of the way the roads must have been in the heyday of the Imperium) down the length of the valley. Upon nearing the end of said valley, I became aware of what I perceived to be a switch back laden goat path up one of the larger peaks in front of us. Little did I know that that was the way to the Holy Monastery of Qi Quien. Needless to say, it was a tad tedious traipsing up said path for 7,623 of my steps. 

The Monastery, upon closer inspection, is carved out of the rock of the mountain, in a very similar fashion to some of the outer facing structures of Glinntree. I was ushered to austere but comfortable quarters and allowed to rest and victual (although these monks have a very un-Dwarven affinity to eating only vegetable matter). After a day of recuperating (which I assured my hosts was entirely unnecessary... I am a Dwarf after all), I was granted an audience with a Monastic Superior, Zen Shi. I was escorted through what was approximately 3,500 Dwarven Yards of corridors in the mountain, passing numerous other passages and chambers and one vast cavern filled with monks bludgeoning each other with a wide variety weapons so quickly that the eye cannot follow their movement. Finally we arrived at a small chamber with an unassuming monk seated on the floor. The monk superior welcomed me as well and informed me that his was the honor of escorting me to the Heart. Upon my quizzical look, he explained that the Heart was where the Tien Zao have diligently held all human knowledge since time immemorial and that I was welcome to peruse the geological sections of this repository. 

After another 2,376 Dwarven Yards moving deeper into the mountain, we were ushered into what must have originated as a wildly unusual Basalt construct comprised of a volcanic airpocket, but was then expanded upon. It is basically an enormous vertical cavern stretching for thousands of Dwarven yards vertically, but also connected to other similar caverns through passages, all honeycombed by catwalks and throughout which are millions of filled scrollshelves. I had heard they had a library here, but no Dwarf, to my knowledge, has ever seen one like this. 

Further observations to follow. 

RR 

Qi Quien [Tien Zao]

Rumours tell that Qi Quien is defended by mighty magics, and by the prowess of battalions of warrior monks. Travellers returning from the stronghold suggest that such exotic defences would be pointless; the winding stairs from the valley floor, up and along the cliff sides to the summit, are all the defences that any city would really need. Traders particularly bemoan the difficulty of persuading pack animals to make the ascent.

Trappers

Isiriana Elissede, of the Elven trade house of the Silver Arcs, Lantellyn, writes: 

From across the frozen Wastes, by sled and ski across the snow, in seal-hide canoes along the coast, the Trappers gather at Tringar Trading Post. 

All Human ingenuity has been required to prosper in this lifeless land, if such existence can be called prosperity, for to my mind, these people have shown that Human resourcefulness, coupled with Human foolishness, yields only the most moderate of successes. 

In all that they do, these people are remarkable; their crafts perfectly suited to their frozen lands, all that they find, they adapt to their service. 

When fishing off the icy coast or in the lochs and rivers of the Wastes, they bob about in little boats made without wood, for such lands yield little wood fit for such purpose. Instead, the boats are made of hides stretched over a frame of whale bones. 

Clothes are made from animal furs, stitched so that the needle never passes fully through the hide, so that their garments remain as watertight as when worn by the animal from which it was ripped. Then, so that they should not suffer from splashes of water freezing in their skin or clothes, they make waterproof overcoats, made from the guts of their prey. 

Hunting implements are made of bone and stone, as often as metal, for wood to smelt iron or bronze is in short supply. Each Trapper carries a series of specific spears, each suited to catching different prey, such as a toggle-headed spear for walrus and seal, a two-pronged blunt javelin to bring down birds, and a hefty spear with a head of traded iron to defend against the white-furred bears and snow-leopards of the wastes. Formed of bone and sinew and a little wood, snares and traps are also carried by each Trapper, and one man might leave traps over an area which takes days to cross, uncannily recalling where to find each that he has left when he returns days or weeks later. 

Their homes are also adapted from and adapted to their unforgiving environment. When travelling, tents made of animal skins are erected above their sleds, so that what was their transport in the day becomes a platform to raise them above the snow at night. Their villages are built from stone and bone and any wood that they can find, often making use of recesses in the ground or in cliffs, so that their houses become extensions to caves or rise above dips in the ground; I have heard of settlements in the far north where they carve blocks of ice and packed snow, and construct entire dwellings from these. 

Such resourcefulness is spectacular, but absurd. These people travel over vast distances to eke a little food from their barren Wastes, and could as easily travel south; to lands where the soil is rich and the earth bountiful; where woods are lush, and prey plentiful; where water does not freeze on the skin, and life's luxuries are easily had. Imagine if these people, who so industriously struggle to merely survive, were to put such intelligence to the brewing of wine or the crafting of metal or the composition of music, or any other task which civilized cultures can make time to enjoy. No doubt they could be masters of any art, with the same wit that they have employed to become masters of snow and ice and frozen tundra. 

Yet they say that when the gods left the lands in the First age, they travelled north, retreating beyond the north wind, so that these lands are sacred and they are privileged to live here. They say that in the north wind as it whistles about their tents and houses in the night, they can hear the voices of their ancestors, who have willed these lands to them. They say that they are happy here, with all they know and love and live by, and so they remain, in harsh poverty, in the frozen desolation of the Wastes.

Tringar Trading Post [Trappers]

Ice. Ice, and snow. This is a visitor's first impression when visiting the Trappers - and, frankly, it is their last. The Trading Post is in the middle of nowhere, and consists of little more than some fragile-looking wooden huts on a steep-sided plateau. Some may fell pity for the thin and poor people, whilst the more astute may notice the happiness in their eyes, but all agree - the overwhelming impression of the Tringar Trading Post is ice, cold, and snow.


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Triumvirate

Letter from Guildmaster Barlot of the Illyriad Trade Council to Lady Vincenza of Lacona 

My Lady, 

May I be the first to congratulate you on a coup that must have take no small amount of planning! 

Your illustrious brothers must have been as surprised as I was to hear about your unilateral cancellation of The Triumvirate's trade agreement with the Lannigolds. 

As you know, we are no friends of theirs; we find their endless match-making and marrying-in to the great houses of Illyria to be both tedious and trite. If the only way the Lannigolds can ensure profit is by selling their daughters like common harlots to the highest bidder, then good luck to them! They will run out of pretty things to sell, eventually. 

I must confess that when your father died - leaving you and your two brothers to administer the glorious cities of the Triumvirate - I was fearful of the ultimate outcome. Three heads can sometimes be better than one, but ofttimes are set against each other to bring calamity upon your enterprises. 

But here we are, a decade on, and your wisdom in this matter regarding the Lannigolds has shone through. 

I hope we may be of some future assistance in filling any 'trade gaps' that might be left; but I am sure you had something in mind already. 

With warmest regards, and joy, 

Guildmaster Barlot

Tiena [Triumvirate]

Young Lord Giacomo of Tiena is the youngest of the three siblings who rule the Triumvirate. When his father died, there were high hopes for the youth, already an accomplished scholar and vigorous soldier, but his descent into a lengthy illness after the funeral has left him unable to rule the city, which is now administered by stewards sent by his sister from Lacona.

Lacona [Triumvirate]

The palace inherited by Lady Vincenza of Lacona is often cited as one of the most beautiful buildings in Elgea – perfectly proportioned, and exquisitely decorated. Under the Lady's rule, the city itself has also been much improved, with visitors reporting new public monuments, better water provision, cleaner streets, and a drive to eradicate such vices as public swearing, gambling, and immodest clothing.

Selenze [Triumvirate]
Lord Duccio of Selenze, eldest of the three siblings who rule the Triumvirate, is one of Elgea's foremost collectors of art, a keen patron of poets, and by many accounts, an accomplished musician in his own right. His talents even extend to architecture, and he has personally drawn up the plans for the new bridge over the vast moat to the city's main ceremonial gate, though sadly its construction has been much delayed.


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Udaiman

From the journal of Saxil of Tundale, diplomat in service of the Council of Illyria. 

Family feuds are always knotty problems to resolve, but amongst the Udaiman these problems become intractable. 

Last night I sat down to discuss a feud with a Udaiman chieftain, expecting a simple matter to be outlined to me. His wife's brother had killed one of his own servants, and now his brother-in-law and the servant's kin were bristling at each other, arguing whether the killing was murder or self-defence. Violence was a possibility, and he was expected to take sides. It seemed simple enough, but I underestimated these people, for the Udaiman have united their warring families only in the last 200 years, by enforcing a series of complex mutual relationships. 

It transpired that the servant was a young noble boy, who had been entrusted to his aunt, who was another of the chieftain's wives. So, the attack had insulted this other wife and her family. Since she was drawn from a higher caste, that is to say, social class, than the killer, her loss was considered greater. (It seems that Udaiman society has seventeen castes, strict social divisions set by a person's birth. As a chieftain he could marry only the top four castes, and although he could choose to marry up to five women he could not choose which to favour, as the seniority of his wives was determined by the caste of their birth.) To complicate things, the murdering brother-in-law was something of a celebrated warrior and a local warlord of great influence, who had a full retinue of five wives and therefore, a broad range of supporters to call on. But of course, he too was high caste, and there were only a limited number of high caste families within the region, so that in practice he had several links by marriage to the aggrieved woman whose nephew he had slain. And my host was expected to back both parties in this dispute. 

I could see no easy solution, and I admitted as much to my host, who simply smiled. I asked what would happen, and he shrugged. If a feud erupted, and both sides called on their kin for support, then they would, in effect, be calling on the same people, and most of the leading families in Jallalabad would find themselves called onto both sides in the conflict. No one would risk losing face by calling on kin who would not answer the summons. In this way, my host explained, a resolution was impossible, but likewise, a full-blown feud could not develop. The argument would simmer for years, until at last some token amends was made by the killer, and since everyone knew that this was the case no one would get too upset over the whole business. 

“We are civilized here,” he explained. “We can have big arguments over murder and honour, and yet still be relaxed, and all stay friends!” 

I sat back on the silk sofa in my host's dining chamber, and looked out of the window at the domed roofs and white walls of Jallalabad, a city where every problem is too complex to really solve but too complex to really develop. The window itself had no glass, but was instead a lattice of incredibly fine stonework, a grid carved out by master craftsmen to create an intricate and refined screen between these private rooms and the seething city outside. My host's craftsmen had spun an exquisite web of stone across his window. He and the other leading families had spun a similarly complex web across their society.

Jallalabad [Udaiman]

Divided by bickering and feuds, divided by caste, divided by commercial interests; the many merchants and princes of Jallalabad are united by only one thing: they are determined that they will not become the fourth stronghold of mighty Raja Metu.


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Udan Tebriz

From the journal of Saxil of Tundale, diplomat in service of the Council of Illyria. 

Family feuds are always knotty problems to resolve, but amongst the Udaiman these problems become intractable. 

Last night I sat down to discuss a feud with a Udaiman chieftain, expecting a simple matter to be outlined to me. His wife's brother had killed one of his own servants, and now his brother-in-law and the servant's kin were bristling at each other, arguing whether the killing was murder or self-defence. Violence was a possibility, and he was expected to take sides. It seemed simple enough, but I underestimated these people, for the Udaiman have united their warring families only in the last 200 years, by enforcing a series of complex mutual relationships. 

It transpired that the servant was a young noble boy, who had been entrusted to his aunt, who was another of the chieftain's wives. So, the attack had insulted this other wife and her family. Since she was drawn from a higher caste, that is to say, social class, than the killer, her loss was considered greater. (It seems that Udaiman society has seventeen castes, strict social divisions set by a person's birth. As a chieftain he could marry only the top four castes, and although he could choose to marry up to five women he could not choose which to favour, as the seniority of his wives was determined by the caste of their birth.) To complicate things, the murdering brother-in-law was something of a celebrated warrior and a local warlord of great influence, who had a full retinue of five wives and therefore, a broad range of supporters to call on. But of course, he too was high caste, and there were only a limited number of high caste families within the region, so that in practice he had several links by marriage to the aggrieved woman whose nephew he had slain. And my host was expected to back both parties in this dispute. 

I could see no easy solution, and I admitted as much to my host, who simply smiled. I asked what would happen, and he shrugged. If a feud erupted, and both sides called on their kin for support, then they would, in effect, be calling on the same people, and most of the leading families in Jallalabad would find themselves called onto both sides in the conflict. No one would risk losing face by calling on kin who would not answer the summons. In this way, my host explained, a resolution was impossible, but likewise, a full-blown feud could not develop. The argument would simmer for years, until at last some token amends was made by the killer, and since everyone knew that this was the case no one would get too upset over the whole business. 

“We are civilized here,” he explained. “We can have big arguments over murder and honour, and yet still be relaxed, and all stay friends!” 

I sat back on the silk sofa in my host's dining chamber, and looked out of the window at the domed roofs and white walls of Jallalabad, a city where every problem is too complex to really solve but too complex to really develop. The window itself had no glass, but was instead a lattice of incredibly fine stonework, a grid carved out by master craftsmen to create an intricate and refined screen between these private rooms and the seething city outside. My host's craftsmen had spun an exquisite web of stone across his window. He and the other leading families had spun a similarly complex web across their society.




Udalia [Udan Tebriz]

The city is famed for its market – not so much as a commercial centre, but simply for its strangeness.
The Sultan of Udan Tebriz has decreed that, by law, the market of Udalia must be the most vibrant, most diverse, in all of Elgea. The market's administrators are therefore obliged to encourage the import of bizarre and useless goods which nobody buys, and to ensure that a range of unusual (and often talentless) street performers are on hand to add colour to the bazaars. A walk in the market is therefore, full of surprises and wonders for the casual traveller... if not necessarily to the tastes of a serious merchant.

Tubriq [Udan Tebriz]

The people of Tubriq have a reputation for not playing by other people's rules. Or as their enemies would say, a reputation for ignoring laws. The city has been linked with piracy and brigandage, smugglers are said to operate freely here, and it is unique for having, alongside the usual trade guilds, an Honourable Company of Professional Pillagers represented on its city council.


Edited by demdigs - 15 Apr 2015 at 18:47
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Undying Flame

Extract from Letter to the Foolish and Fuddled Royalists of the Middle Kingdom issued by The Undying Flame. Author unknown. 

The Truth is plainly visible even to a simpleton: King Sigurd is naught but a weak, craven and venal heir to murder, who dances as a puppet on the strings of a 'Council' that speaks for none but themselves. 

Who is it who feeds your family, and who is it who dies abroad in pointless campaigns for the 'glory' of an invisible monarch? 

It is you: the goodly, hard-working peoples of the land. 

And who are they who line their pockets with your taxes - and send your sons and daughters to perish, unknown and unshriven in unmarked graves on foreign fields? 

It is the Council, and the self-styled, illegitimate 'King' in whose name they rule. 

Your daily existence is founded on the shifting and tortured sands of a great untruth, and you would be wise to shake the scales from your eyes before you are entirely crushed under a malicious yoke of falsehood and injustice.

Verity City [Undying Flame]

Deep in the mountains of Fremorn, Verity City stood secretly for many years, unknown to the Council of Illyria, with a great tower in the centre of its walls. The tower 

reaches high, but a sharp-sighted Elf may spot a great flame at the top of the tower, a fire which has never gone out. It gives the faction its name - the Undying Flame.
Now, the people of the city have sworn to plant seeds of this flame, the flame of Freedom, in the hearth of every home, at the core of every city. They will bring revolution 

to all of Elgea. And so the city is secret no longer.



Wen Kun Dynasty

Excerpts from the Diary of Lady Isabella von Iderstein, daughter of Lord Francis von Iderstein, Duke of Pellimont, reflecting upon her travels to Qingdao, seat of the Wen Kun Dynasty 

I caught sight of the walls of Qingdao when we crested a hill and the Royal Valley lay open beneath us. I suppose I shouldn't really refer to it as a valley, as valleys tend to evoke images of pastoral beauty. One would be hard pressed to find anything pastoral about this vast sea of buildings. 

From one end and side of the valley to the other is the largest city mine eyes have ever viewed. And part of the way into said morass of buildings are the highest walls I imaginable. 

I have been told of the expertise of the Wen Kun archers, but, clearly they place much emphasis on said troops in their defense, as the walls are festooned with slits and firing ports of all types throughout. 

And the energy. Oh, the energy of this place. When one moves through the outermost streets, what could be mistaken to be the hum of a nearby beehive starts reverberating in one's bones, growing louder as one moves towards the city center. It seems that no WenKuner (as I presume they must call themselves, not being able to understand any of their convoluted tongue) likes to be quiet. Ever. They are perpetually haggling, speaking loudly, shouting across alleyways to each other, and generally making a racket. I fear that my sleep will be poor here. 

And the music... Never have I heard such an enormous variety of instruments and types of different music. It seems that bards from the world over have traveled here to display their talent. As we pass beneath the massive walls and move towards the city center, the buildings seem to grow larger and more ornate, the ramshackle crush of humanity less prevalent, and the din quiets somewhat. 

We are finally shown to our quarters, an inn of purportedly some renown. As we enter the gate, I was surprised to see a half dozen heavily armored and armed men on watch. Surely an inn doesn't need that much protection? 

The inn is laid out surrounding many courtyards with several stories of chambers on all sides. We have been given a courtyard to ourselves with appropriate salons for our leisure. The décor is rather sparse, but the most charming element of all is that every courtyard has the cleverest fountains that, when the water runs down their faces, issue beautiful notes from hitting blown glass spheres at the base. One can literally sit and listen to these beautiful creations for hours at respite. 

I have instructed Frederick to inquire of the innkeeper the provenance of said fountains with the intention of bringing some back to Pellimont. 

Although the artwork was not too my taste, largely of vibrantly colored landscapes, after we bathed, we were treated to the most impressive collection of ballads from Perrigor that a Lannigold minstrel performed. He had even set them to mysterious local music from his troupe of local lutists and harpists. Quite unlike anything I have heard prior. 

Tomorrow we are presented to the Lord High Chamberlain in the Royal Palace and get to see Papa, who is staying there on his embassy. 

Very excited to view the palace and I have a million questions for Papa that noone else here seems to be able to answer. Or they could answer, but I can't understand a word they say. 

I must stop writing, as it seems that Frederick and the servants have misplaced several chests of my finest clothes. Very unlike him and I saw them last night when we stayed outside the city. Most unlikely, so I must get to the bottom of it.


Qingdao [Wen Kun Dynasty]

Qingdao lies at the heart of a valley, a huge city surrounded by a colossal wall, with arrow slits and towers occupying every spare inch of space - a tribute to the legendary skill of its Wen Kun archers. A visitor, when approaching the city, can hear a great din as the many hundreds of musicians in Qingdao ply their trade in the outskirts of the city. As one reaches the heart of the city, the buildings increase in splendour until the great palace - ornate, huge, and majestic - is reached. Qingdao is one of the greatest cities in Illyria. Only Centrum can compete with its majesty.

Zhuhai [Wen Kun Dynasty]

Zhuhai is the southernmost stronghold of the Wen Kun Dynasty. It is famed as the home of the Office Of Preparation Of Righteous Judges, an ancient school which trains all of the bureaucrats who serve the Dynasty. This notion of a formal academy has caught the attention of several other Factions, such as the Empirium, but for the present the Office is unique in Elgea.

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Windseekers

Excerpt from 'Journey Across Illyria', by the half-elf minstrel, Rakkos Meillo 

Fatigued from the many days of travel, they finally made it to the southernmost tip of the western mainland. 

And it was as beautiful as the ancestors of the Kadu said it would be. The coastline was spectacular, the water crystal clear, and the weather pleasantly warm. They built wooden shacks at first, but within a year, the population had doubled, as their health started to improve and they gave birth to the next generation of their people. 

They learned the ways of the sea and ocean, and never had to go hungry again. 

Life was good. 

At least that’s what the people thought, until the day the Dragon arrived. It asked them for treasure, and they had none to give. It asked them to sacrifice noble blood, and they had none to give. It asked them for magical knowledge, and they had none to give. 

Finally, frustrated with the people for not having anything valuable to give it, the Dragon asked them 
"Is there anything you can give me, in return for me not razing your village to the ground?" 

A young man stepped out from the crowd. 
"I can give you fish, majestic Dragon," he said, showing off the large fish he had caught this morning. 

A young girl stepped out from the crowd. 
"I can give you this coral necklace my sister made for me this morning, glorious Dragon", she said, twirling the coral necklace in front of the Dragon. 

A man stepped out from the crowd. 
"Noblest of Dragons, I don’t have any gold or silver or treasure, but I can make a poultice to treat that wound on your right front paw." 

There was indeed a scratch there, an injury from its earlier battle with another dragon; it hadn’t even noticed it until now. 

It looked down at all the villagers gathered before it. It saw the young boy smiling, showing off his fine catch to all the other villagers to see. It saw the young girl, still twirling the coral necklace with glee. And it saw the earnest face of the man, gazing up into its eyes, a look of concern for what was just a graze to the Dragon. 

And then the Dragon laughed, a deep, sonorous laugh that echoed across the water and over the whole village. It accepted their offer, and in return for their kindness, bestowed a gift upon them. 

It was no physical gift, but one of knowledge, one of power. It was a song, or rather, a way of singing, from which the people have woven a whole tradition of song. 

They sing songs to hide their settlements from Harpies and Melders. They sing songs to keep water from their little fishing craft. They sing songs to coax fish to their nets and the wind to their sails. They sing songs of easy voyages even in roaring gales. They sing of the air and the wind and the Dragon, and their songs make them masters of wave and reef, storm and tide. 

The people have lived in peace and plenty, and in time they have come to be known as the Windseekers.

Hanlif [Windseekers]

The central citadel of Hanlif is imposing, and it is hard to imagine that any army could take it. But it is small, and the city itself, very large. Most of Hanlif is made of simple shacks, semi permanent hovels, and temporary camps made by fisherfolk sheltering beneath their upturned boats. Every evening, it is said, the city is different, and visitors report that half of its population seems to leave or move or arrive on the tides each day. This is not so much a place that the Windseekers live in, as a place that they wash through.


Edited by demdigs - 15 Apr 2015 at 18:31
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