Alandar: The Principality of Illin

Caught between the Alliance and the Kalsaari Empire, Illin is a place where cultures clash and history has marked the land in blood and ruins. Exotic and dangerous, the Principality of Illin is one of the poorer and weaker states in the Alliance, with most of its efforts placed in maintaining what little land it has from the encroachments of the hobs to the south or the ever-threatening Kalsaari Empire to the southeast. Relying heavily on the support of its neighbors, especially since the end of the war that bears its name three decades ago, Illin is as much of a crossroads in the south as Galaspin or Freegate is in the north. The difference, however, lies in tone. Whereas Galaspin is bright, loud, and straightforward in both policy and people, Illin is a city of dark mysteries, dangerous secrets, and long nights. Lock your doors and bar your windows, for in Illin your enemies never sleep.

 

Political Structure

 

Illin is ruled by its Prince, who controls all aspects of the government. As Illin has relatively little territory, the Prince is able to achieve a level of control here that exceeds its other autocratic neighbors, such as Veris or Ihyn. The eyes of the Prince are everywhere, and his Black Guard is never far away, and as such the common citizenry are careful to obey their ruler’s every whim, lest they be dragged off to the foul dungeons below the city, never to be seen again.

In Illin, the military and the government are one and the same. The Prince acts as leading general of Illin’s not-inconsiderable armed forces, known as the Black Guard. Beneath him are three Lord Commanders – of the City, Border, and Sea, respectively – and beneath them are a series of Knight Captains, each of whom command a company of soldiers. Though small when compared with the armies of Akral or Eddon, Illin has the largest army in the Alliance in proportion to the size of its population. It is estimated that one in every ten Illini is a soldier or agent of the Prince in some capacity. The Prince issues laws and his Black Guard enforces them with much dispatch. Unlike the more ‘civilized’ nations of the Alliance, Illin’s ‘legal system’ borrows a page from its Kalsaari neighbors in that there is no legal system. There are no trials, no appeals, no delays in the execution of a criminal’s sentence. Punishments are likewise harsh. Those accused of murder will be executed as soon as they are caught, while thieves or violent criminals will be relieved of their right arm in short order. The ‘lucky’ ones are taken to the Prince’s dungeons, a place from which very few prisoners ever emerge alive.

Constantly wary of political assassination, uprising, or invasion, Princes of Illin have had a reputation for being harsh and uncompromising rulers. However, this ruthlessness was tempered in recent centuries by the establishment of the Alliance, which led to the posting of a company of Defenders and a Magetower to the Principality. Though few in number, the Defenders represent a political and military power far greater than that of Illin – a power which, if angered, could very well withdraw its support and, therefore, endanger Illin’s very existence. Thanks to this, a constant game of cat-and-mouse is played between the Prince’s thugs and the noble Defenders as the one seeks to appear benevolent while still maintaining control over the people while the other is constantly seeking to bring justice to the region. During the brief (and unusual) reign of Prince Landar the Holy, the Defenders and the Black Guard worked seamlessly together to save the population from the Kalsaari occupation, but this is merely the exception that has proven the rule. Landar’s successors have been a return to the brutality of the pre-war age, arguably becoming even more corrupt and autocratic in the face of reconstruction. The result of this has been that fewer and fewer ‘good’ men and women are finding employment with the Prince and, instead, joining the Defenders. This has made the formerly imposing but incorruptible Black Guard into a nest of bullies, sadists, and thieves who will accept bribes, oppress the people, and overall hasten the decay of the system while the Defenders have ostensibly become the ‘good guys,’ fighting for the people and defending them, not from exterior threats, but from their own government. All this places the Princes (there have been six in the past thirty years) in a very awkward situation, as economic support from the Alliance is necessary to support the lifestyle they are used to, but any exercise of their power using their designated agents risks alienating their own patrons.

Also of concern for the Prince is the role of mages in his city-state. Traditionally, Illini magi were appointed to high-ranking positions in the military – the equivalent to the nobility in other nations, complete with hereditary titles. This was a practice that the Arcanostrum disapproved of strongly, as magi of any power were forbidden from holding political office according to the decree of the earliest Keepers. After the Treaty of Syrin, the Arcanostrum required Illin to rescind any titles granted to a staff-bearing magi. Unfortunately, thanks to the unique structure of the city of Illin itself (see below), magi were critical to maintain the city’s operation. As a result, Illin has become even more dependent on exterior aid, a fact which the princes of the last two centuries have regretted bitterly and even Landar the Holy himself was said to object to.

Of course, the entire structure of Illini politics is based around the military for one reason and one reason only: the Kalsaari Empire. The present Illini government was established some 1400 years ago after the conclusion of the Hannite Wars, where the Kalsaari Empire was driven out of Illin by Eddonish troops. Structured as a buffer state more than anything else, it was Illin’s purpose to keep the Kalsaaris from invading the west ever again. In this regard, it did its job well until it folded in the face of Kalsaari attack thirty years ago.  Illin wasn’t built to be a smoothly functioning governmental institution as much as it was built to be an efficient militocracy, with the end result being a crippled, paranoid, and oppressive regime poised on the edge of a warzone. This, once it had decayed to a certain point, was easy for the Kalsaari Legions to topple. It took Landar the Holy to put the country back together, but since his disappearance the country has slipped once more into its old habits.

 

Land and Points of Interest

 

I see this as an Illini outpost at dusk. Click to see original image.

I see this as an Illini outpost at dusk. Click to see original image.

Situated along the southeastern coast of the Sea of Syrin, the lands of Illin are rocky, dry, and heavily guarded. Only 100 miles deep at its widest point, it is difficult to be more than ten miles from an armed post, fortress, or castle of some sort. If there is one thing the arid land of Illin has in excess, it is quarries, and the white limestone facades of Illini guard towers are both numerous and imposing. Along the nation’s border with the trackless sands of the Western Wastes, such towers could once be seen for miles, occurring at regular intervals, welcoming visitors to Alliance territory and warning away would-be despoilers. Now, one is largely welcomed by the hollowed-out bones of their ruins – a reminder of the wrath of the Kalsaari Legions.

The sandy soil of most of Illin doesn’t sustain much more than patches of tough sand grass and the occasional bush or gaunt tree. The weather here is almost universally dry and hot, with the winters tending to be short and with very little precipitation of any kind. Winds blowing in off the Gulf of Hann keep the coast significantly cooler than the inland areas, and some 75% of the population makes its home there, with the next 20% living along the Tassad River and the last bit being scattered among the rocky wildernesses of the inland areas.

Apart from the quarries already mentioned, which are rich in both limestone, sandstone, and the quasi-magical lodestone, Illin has little in the way of viable products or industry. Along the coast, Illinians fish for their living and what few live inland make their living off of herding goats and sheep. Only in the floodwaters of the Tassad river is there any degree of agriculture, and that is largely focused on the production of tooka leaf—a plant whose leaves, when dried, make a potent narcotic. This, along with the stone, comprises the bulk of Illin’s exported goods and, while certainly found all over the world, it is frowned upon in most good society in the West as a disgusting, godless, and indulgent practice.

If there is one thing that makes the lands of Illin famous, it is the ruins. This region of the world has been the site of so many ancient wars, that ruined and half-ruined fortresses abound. Most of Illin’s current defensive fortifications are built on the remains of some ancient castle, and many villages are constructed in or around the remainder of a wall or keep. Some of these remnants date as far back as the Mage Wars, though almost none of them retain any riches or artifacts from ages past, having long since been looted by conquering armies, wandering bandits, and opportunistic travelers. Still, if one wanders beyond the borders of Illin itself and into the Wastes, it is still possible to find untold riches hidden in the secret vaults of long-toppled citadels. Of course, transporting those riches back into Illin may prove difficult – many Black Guard officers have been known to amass collections of such treasure for the purpose of ‘preserving history.’ It is no doubt due to their civic conscience and commitment to their cultural heritage that they seem to be paid much better than an average officer.

The City of Illin: Once universally considered to be one of the great Wonders of the World, the city of Illin, also known as the Dreaming City, is still a sight that defies logic. Separated into two (once three) sections known as ‘partitions,’ Illin is the only city in the world where a third of the city’s area floats in the air a full thousand feet above the steeples and roofs of the buildings restricted to the ground. Engineered by the magi of the Arcanostrum shortly after its the Hannite Wars, the floating partitions of Illin represent only the most obvious effect of the terrific magical forces pulsing through the city streets that give this place its equally wondrous and horrifying reputation.

The two Partitions are known as the Undercity and the Crecent. The Undercity includes everything that actually rests on the ground, and makes up about 2/3 of Illin’s total area and is home to most of the city’s 600,000 inhabitants. It is a complete and functioning metropolis entirely on its own, with its own barracks, governmental institutions, infrastructure and so on. No walls encircle Illin, but the Tassad River empties into the Syrin along the city’s northeast and southwestern edges while the Syrin itself covers the Undercity’s northwestern border, leaving the southeast only approach to the city by land, and only then after crossing the fortified Illin Bridge to the south. Furthermore, the Crescent floats over the southeastern portions of the Undercity, allowing it to more easily bring its destructive magical defenses to bear. Thanks to the Crescent, half of the Undercity is bathed in shadow at all times as the floating partition blocks the sunlight. The narrow, winding streets of the Undercity, originally designed for defense, take on a more sinister appearance in the permanent gloom, especially when considering there are large portions of the city that remain in ruins after the occupation and liberation of the city during the Illini War. It is in these dark parts of the city that most of Illin’s extensive criminal underworld conducts its business alongside shadowing tooka dens and sinister, black market talismongers. It is said that there are more than five different criminal syndicates operating in Illin today, and their bloody turf wars are a constant trouble for the Black Guard. On the sunnier side of the Undercity are most of the more well-to-do homes of the merchant classes as well as the docks and warehousing facilities of Illin’s extensive port district. Here the Black Guard keep the peace with an uncompromising hand, and it is this part of Illin that most visitors see upon their visit and here that they are advised to remain.

Six hundred feet above the Undercity, on a quarter-moon shaped platform of stone and mageglass, rests the area of city known as ‘the Crescent.’ About three miles long and a two thirds of a mile wide at its widest point, the streets of the Crescent are wide, clean, and beautiful. Only the richest merchants and most respected of Illini society are privileged to own the spacious and airy mageglass palaces that line the Crescent’s streets, and it is here that Illin’s university, Hannite cathedral, library, and magetowers can be found, as well as the quarters for the majority of the city’s Defenders of the Balance. Bathing in the sunlight and the airy breezes blown in from the sea, the Crescent is a paradise floating above a dark, hellish pit. Magic enhances the gardens that form every intersection, and conjurers have created fountains that never run dry, despite the lack of any natural water source—the Crescent is the pinnacle of luxury in a land not known for its riches. Still, the Crescent serves a practical purpose for all this decoration – the edges of the Crescent are affixed with nine great War Orbs, created by Arcanostrum magi in ages past. Should they be called into action, each orb is capable of throwing incredible amounts of magical destruction in the form of massive etheric deathwaves. The only time these orbs have been battle tested, the entire Kalsaari army was decimated in a single day.

In addition to these two parts, there was once a third partition, floating five hundred feet above even the Crescent, known as the High Citadel. This was the seat of the Prince himself, and it could alter its orientation over the city – a drifting sentinel. It currently rests at the bottom of the ocean, just off the coast of the city, where it fell during the liberation of the city. It is now a bleak and abandoned ruin, its towers jutting at a shallow angle above the waves, crumbling as the tides dictate – just one more dead place of many thousands that dot the land.

Transportation between the partitions is difficult, and it is rare that a resident of the Undercity ever sets foot on the Crescent. It is known that magical portals exist in the Undercity to take people directly to the Crescent, and there are a series of lifts situated on the edges of the Crescent, but these are either expensive or very dangerous (and sometimes both). Furthermore, the original connection between the two sections – the ancient Tower of Spirits  (a 1000-foot tall column that was the only structure to reach from the ground and connect with the Crescent above) – was toppled when the Kalsaari’s sacked and occupied the city during the opening stages of the Illini Wars. Once engraved with immense runes of magical power and decorated with gargoyles of both gruesome and heroic shapes, the Tower’s grandeur is now reduced to massive piles of rubble that crushed entire neighborhoods of the Undercity. Only the very base of the tower remains intact, but it has long been sealed from entry. Only once a year, on the Hearth Festival, do the Prince and the High Priest of Hann along with an select group, journey into the Tower Base under close guard. Done in the dead of night, it is said that the Prince brings gifts to placate some mighty force within the Tower Base. These gifts are carried in a mighty strongbox, larger than a man, and engraved with gold and mageglass inlay. To the rest of the city, the ruins of the Tower and its base are places of unspeakable power and terrifying evil, and the source of much of the wickedness that afflicts the Undercity. It is said that, after night falls, dark things creep out of the ruins of the old Tower to steal away the souls of the living.

It is for this reason (and others) that, after dark, everyone in Illin with a head on their shoulders is inside with the door locked. It is a known fact that demonic spirits infest the city, though there has never been any definitive evidence linking their presence with whatever dwells in the Tower Base. Demonhunters are a sought-after and daring group of professionals that walk the streets at night (or even during the day in the Dark Quarter of the Undercity) and try to hunt down particularly troublesome ghosts, demons, or spirits. A fair living is to be made in this racket, so long as you live long enough to capitalize on your earnings. Successful demonhunters have even been granted positions in the Illini military and retired with style, though this is rare. Most demonhunters either quit after a year or vanish in the night, never to be seen again. The accepted opinion among the magi and the demonhunters is that these malevolent spirits are drawn to Illin thanks to the enormous magical energies at play there, and that their presence is simply the price that must be paid for having a city in the sky.

 

Culture and People 

The people of Illin are a strange mix of Kalsaari and Western blood, making them among the more enigmatic and mistrusted peoples of the Alliance. Though they do not suffer from the scandalous reputations of the Ihynish or Verisi, the Illini are thought of a mysterious, exotic, and downright foreign by many of their neighbors. For their part, the Illini are fatalistic and dour, accepting that there is more evil in the world than they themselves can defeat. In this sense they can be seen as defeatist or pessimistic, but, if taken in another light, the Illini ability to subvert the forces of evil in order to insure their survival is nothing short of miraculous.

Life in Illin is hard, but hard in a way that does not mirror the hard, frontier lives of an Eddoner or Benethoran, for instance. While Eddon and Benethor’s enemies are clear and notably foreign to their land, Illin is a land populated by one’s enemies. An Illini is as likely to be killed by his own town guard as he is by a hob; he is in just as much danger from the demons that lurk beneath the street as the Kalsaari armies across the river. Death, evil, and danger lurk in every nook and cranny of Illin, and for a native Illini to survive, they need wits, cunning, and, more than anything, faith. Nowhere is the common populace as devoutly Hannite as in Illin. Even Rhondite religious fervor is nothing to the white-knuckled, grasping need the Illini have for spiritual protection. Here every man, woman, and child wears a Hannite talisman around their neck, and every Hannite temple is packed back-to-front every evening to offer up their thanks and prayers to Hann the Great. The Hannite church is seen as the one place where the average Illini can be safe from the dangers that surround him. In times of darkness, Hann’s light fills them and, in times of great need, Hann will protect them from the spears of their enemies. Few are the Black Guardsmen who will violate the sanctuary of a Hannite temple, and even fewer are the families that do not dedicate one of their sons or daughters to the Hannite priesthood. Religion in Illin is not a matter of politics, it is a simple matter of survival.

Outside of the church, which acts as the social hub of every community, most Illini are reticent and gloomy in mood. Unlike most of the West, foreigners are not so much welcomed as they are tolerated. To the average Illini, foreigners represent trouble, and trouble is one thing they don’t need. In a land that has long been the pawn of international politics and is the victim of a harsh and, at times, arbitrary regime, the Illini motto is most certainly mind your own business. If a problem presents itself or if trouble is brewing, most Illini will prefer not to address it straight on, but sit back and watch how it unfolds. If they can reasonably avoid the problem without risking their well-being, they will do so, but if confrontation is inevitable, they are cunning and resourceful in their method of attack. The Illini play their emotions and opinions very close to their chest, which, while it makes them appear dour and unfriendly, is merely a reflection of their innate caution. To them, the element of surprise is the best hope for victory in any situation, and it ought not be wasted through hasty or ill-advised action. Nevertheless, though they are slow to warm up, Illini value friends as much if not more than any people under the sun. They take the bonds of companionship very seriously, knowing full well that the world is full of enough enemies that a true friend should be treasured above all things save Hann himself.

Though few Illini have the luxury of free time, they are well known for their affinity for tooka and their passion for a game known as t’suul, which is very similar to dominoes. Though smoking excessively is declared as a sin by the Hannite faith, every male Illini has a tooka pipe and will smoke when the occasion permits a few hours of lounging and relaxing with friends. Every Illini tavern or inn is filled with the sweet smoke of the dream-leaf and, while Illini booze is world renowned for its poor quality, its tooka weed has no equal, not even in Kalsaar. It is in these taverns that t’suul is played among men, women, and children. A game of wits and finesse, the clacking of ivory or bone tiles can be like rain on a shingle roof on busy nights. The Illini do not gamble on t’suul—it is a game of honor, machismo, and skill, not money—but the game is used to decide disputes between friends, family, and even rivals. Since dueling is forbidden in Illin without permission of a Black Guard officer, and few Illini are willing to risk speaking to the Guard (and, hence, draw attention), t’suul is played. In a particularly grisly form of the game, used when two rivals agree to play to the death, the loser of the game is forced to ingest poison by the winner’s second. Homes and estates have been lost to the tiles of t’suul, and lives have been broken beneath the weight of its 36 rectangular tiles—it is a serious game, and it is played by a serious people.

The so-called nobility of Illin, while outwardly much different than the solemn people they rule, are not as different from the masses as they might imagine. Those in Illin who might be considered ‘noble’ are very few—limited to the Prince, his three Lord Commanders, the Magi of Illini origin, and a select group of wealthy merchant families—and, while they are far more gregarious than the peasantry, are still a clannish and self-conscious group when forced to socialize with the elegant Eretherian and Akrallian upper classes. They are intensely aware of the poor state of their small nation, and seek to compensate as best they can. Noble visitors to Illin will find themselves lavishly treated, and most people of ‘quality’ who visit are never even permitted to see the seedier, more grungy aspects of this dusty, rocky land—the lower class in particular. A house on the Crescent and a few griffon rides later, it is hoped that foreign dignitaries will totally forget the dark and squalid conditions that the Illini people suffer so bravely and without complaint year after year.

 

Current Events

Illin, once thought to be invulnerable to siege, was seized by the Kalsaaris twenty-seven years ago with sorcerous rituals of such power, the world has not seen the like since. This conquest of the Illini peninsula was the notice to the peoples of the West that the world would be, henceforward, forever changed. The harsh occupation that followed and the bloody war that ended it saw sorcery used on an industrial and military scale for the first time in millennia. Illin paid the price in blood, violence, and destruction. Prince Landar the Holy, the mercenary turned hero who unified the routed Black Guard and organized a guerilla campaign that eventually broke Kalsaar’s hold on the region, did an incredible job in the years immediately following the war to clean up and rebuild, but his sudden disappearance (and presumed death) led to his lieutenants fighting over the spoils of his legacy. Illin became even weaker than it was before the war, and the rest of the nations of the West have been forced to step in to rebuild. The Illini people are intensely bitter at the interference of foreigners, often equating their ‘assistance’ as not that much different than the treatment they received beneath Kalsaari rule. While this isn’t precisely accurate, it does paint a picture of a people who remember better days and are forced to watch their country crumble around them as the Principality falls under the rule of corrupt bully after corrupt bully.

Now, almost thirty years after the Fall of Illin, aspects of the nation show sparks of life, but the rot that caused it to collapse the first time has only grown. Only time will tell how long the Kalsaaris will wait before trying their luck again.

 

 

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About aahabershaw

Writer, teacher, gaming enthusiast, and storyteller. I write stories, novels, and occasional rants.

Posted on June 11, 2014, in Alandar and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

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