From Minkut to Sondor

This is going to be a long one, so grab a drink and make yourself comfortable.  I’m afraid that the TL;DR version of the information below would not be that helpful in understanding the origin of some of the Nine Empires.  See, the events over several centuries are quite interconnected.  So, if you don’t like reading fictional history, turn back now, because reading only part of this will raise more questions that it answers.

One of the first empires on Rossbera was Minkut (Min-kut, as there is no mink in the country).  It included all of the modern-day Karadenian Empire, and also stretched as far north as the Vastochniszbrje (from the Slavic word for “east” and the Skharan word for “desert”), a cold desert in what is now eastern Drachania.  Minkut also stretched very far in-land, as the Kraichis Desert (the larger of the two hot deserts on Rossbera) was not quite as large during the Rossberan Bronze Age.  The capital of Minkut was the fabled mountain-city of Sing-Yat-San, so-dubbed because the entire city covered a lone mountain at the edge of the desert (at the time, the ruins of the city are currently well inside the desert).  The mountain springs continued to provide ample water even when the desert grew during the Iron Age.  The wealth of Sing-Yat-San, in the form of gold, silks, dyes, and spices, flowed throughout the Minkutian lands and beyond, south to the Koltoskis Empire (which eventually became part of Arcadia), and farther south still to the city-states of Arcadis, Pharos, and Maledirna, and all the way to Talgea on the west coast.  The northernmost regions of Minkut were sparse border colonies in a wild land, and relied mostly on trade.  The colonists could get food on their own, but the land yielded nothing of value, especially once the colonists reached the Vastochniszbrje.  That cold desert would be the undoing of the entire Minkutian Empire, though not directly.

The colonists travelled around the desert, through the huge, old-growth forest on the west side, and along the coast on the east side.  In both cases, at the borders of Karmisha, the mountain kingdom in the forest, and in the many coastal towns, the natives warned the Minkutians not to go any farther north, for a dark terror dwelled in those lands and preyed upon anyone who had anything of value.  The civilised Minkutians believed that such barbaric primitves would pose no threat to them.  Little did they know that the “terror” to the north was quite advanced, and in fact saw the Minkutian colonists as primitive.

Around the same time that the Minkutian Empire first came to be, a loose conglomerate of northern tribes called Durkuz flourished under the guidance of the chuyinka.  In such ancient times, the chuyinka were worshipped as gods, but the situation in Durkuz was unique.  Since chuyinka tend to be the most active (and most aggressive) in colder climates, the religious leaders of Durkuz went to great lengths to assure that they would be met in peace when they most needed guidance.  This meant providing an adequate sacrifice prior to approaching the sanctum of Derekaz.  Thus, sinners were stripped of their clothes and marked with the symbol of their tribe on their chest, and the glyph of their sin on their back, both in the blood of a goat.  Sinners were then marched into the depths of the Blackwood, in numbers no less than the number of chuyinka voices the priests happened to hear that week.  The numbers were to assure that no chuyinka would go hungry, otherwise the priests themselves would end up being eaten.  Horrid though this may seem, it kept the peace for several centuries.  Unfortunately, Clan Ferestek ruined this all by implementing their own system of laws, growing powerful, and eventually taking over all of Durkuz.  The cooling climate shortened the growing season, and food became scarce quite quickly, leading to the clan wars.  After Ferestek’s victory in the clan wars, they decided to attack Derekaz itself.  This attack ended in disaster, with the chuyinka tearing apart their forces.  The remainder of Ferestek’s army retreated to Motte Holgar, where they thought they were safe, only to be surprised by an army under Clan Skharnov.  The Skharnovs burned the wooden walls to the ground, and stormed the island in boats.  Though the ensuing battle cost both sides their armies, it kept Clan Ferestek busy long enough for the chuyinka to swoop in and finish them off.  Thus ended the days of Durkuz.

Upon the destruction of Clan Ferestek, Clan Skharnov was rewarded with Motte Holgar, and under the direction of the chuyinka, a great star-fort of reinforced concrete was built over the ruins of the old motte-and-bailey.  The chuyinka decided that a strict hierarchy needed to be implemented, otherwise upstart clans such as Ferestek would rise again and disturb the peace.  Therefore, it was agreed that only druorns (which the Skharnovs were, but the Feresteks were not) would be allowed to own land, reside permanently in fortified dwellings, and collect “any amount of trading token greater than what is required to obtain basic necessities.”  “Trading token,” was the closest phrase in Kiralessan to the word “money,” which the chuyinka do not believe in.  With many clans, druorn and otherwise, scattered to the wind, the lands once of Durkuz basically consisted of large expanses punctuated by isolated clusters of houses inside wooden holdfasts.  Under the orders of House Skharnov, holdfasts of druorns were to be built up into concrete star-forts, of similar design to Castle Holgar.  Naturally, with the Skharnovs travelling far and wide, helping out fellow druorns while beating other races into the dirt, wars began to rage again.  Since all the armies had been wiped out during Ferestek’s insurrection, the scale of these wars was quite small, but the time was greatly increased.  For the next two centuries, the Skharnovs played cat-and-mouse with their enemies, who would lead them on, go into hiding, then come out again to raid loyalist villages and tear down their incomplete fortifications.  Much of old Durkuz was lost, as the druorns occupied a fairly small area.  When the Skharnovs finally ended their campaign, the new nation became known as Skhara.

Skhara was an advanced society, in some ways more so than Minkut by the time the two encountered each other.  For one, the Skharans had concrete, though that was never relevent in the case of the Minkutians, who never had a chance to attack any Skharan castles.  The people of Karmisha knew of Skhara, though the Skharans never raided in the area, much less did they attack any Karmishan border forts.  Not far from Karmisha’s border was a conglomeration of iron mines and mining towns, all under Skhara’s control.  The Rhûnnish Empire eventually took over the area, and named it Zhelezograd (“Iron City”).  On the coast, not far from Kharnopol, the northernmost Minkutian colony, was Renissa, the southernmost Skharan city.  With the Minkutian colonists having not heeded the warnings of the locals, it was only a matter of time before the Skharans learned of a wealthy land to the south of their own, ripe for the taking.

The people of Minkut were totally unprepared for an attack from the north, by land and sea.  The northern area of Minkut fell quickly, and the surviving Minkutians were forced to both build and pull oars on galleys.  Huge numbers of slave galleys smashed against Minkutian warships in the bay to the south, clearing the way for Skharan warships to deliver troops completely unopposed.  Troops in central Minkut were not accustomed to fighting actual armies, and were scattered to the wind by a much smaller Skharan force.  Central Minkut was quickly overrun, and the Skharan forces yet again used slave galleys to cross the bay to southern Minkut.  When the Skharans themselves landed, the Minkutians pulled back from the western border, leaving it to bandits, while they all retreated to their last main fortress.  Southern troops were accustomed to protracted sieges, and eventually defeated the Skharan forces at the fortified city that would later become known as Hero’s Hall.  However, the devastation was so widespread that Minkut never recovered.  Skhara had suffered a heavy blow, but kept dominion over the north for the time being.  Having lost half their soldiers, the Skharan nobles had to contend with quite a few uprisings, but their actual downfall would take another two centuries.

Part of what drew Skhara to attack Minkut was the promise of riches within the fabled city of Sing-Yat-San.  Sadly, the economic loss to Skhara was devastating, and in spite of the massive amounts of gold that they plundered from the city, the losses they suffered seizing it simply could not be repaid with any amount of money.  To make matters worse, this was before Skharan forces had even crossed the second bay to attack southern Minkut.  When it was all said and done, there were not enough ships to carry all the plunder back to Skhara, much less men to crew the ships.  Not wanting to simply leave it for someone else to take, many ships were deliberately overloaded and sent to drift out into the open ocean.  Once far enough from land, the raging storms would claim the ships, and the treasure would never be seen again.  Meanwhile, the Skharan forces returned home with an empty victory.  If anything was to be gained, it was that word would spread far and wide that the great kingdom of Minkut fell to this savage force from a land that, aside from the Minkutians themselves, southerners believed to be beyond the world’s end.

The destruction of Minkut inspired King Druck of Marbregg to build a great wall to close off the only mountain pass in his kingdom.  Since the pass was at a fairly high altitude, he and most of his subjects assumed that all land north of the pass was shrouded in a never-ending winter.  Even in modern times, this can be forgiven, since there is a vast plateau that stretches all the way to the horizon, even from the top of Druck’s Wall.  The Skharans never once reached the wall during Druck’s lifetime, and since his subjects, noble and common alike, were tired of his fear-mongering, they decided to dismantle the wall and use the construction materials for other things.  Once an opening appeared at ground level, however, a small northern tribe approached the wall, begging for asylum south.  Word had spread like wildfire of the Skharan raids westward from their own territory, particularly because of a new battle-cry they had adopted (“who owns the north”).  Marbregg took in many refugees, but only on the condition that they help re-build the wall and defend it against Skhara.  It was not until the reign of Druck’s great-grandson that the Skharans finally did attack the wall, which they did only because the chuyinka told them to.  Reya Bloodwing, who would eventually become the mother of Veya Blackwing, saw the destruction of the wall, and of Marbregg, as necessary to keep the northern and southern halves of Rossbera divided.  Future generations would see the ruins of the wall, hear tales of the savages who came from the north and brought death, only to vanish back into the north.  Reya knew that nothing else would seal the fear of the north in the southerners, and told the Skharnovs such.  Skharan forces attacked Druck’s Wall, tore down the weak centre, then stormed the towers on either side, allowing the main force to pour through the pass and lay waste to Marbregg.

The ruins of Druck’s Wall survived the centuries, and eventually became the foundations for a wall that Taressim built on its northern border to defend against Drachania.  However, the propaganda artists changed the story, fabricating a war hero named General Druck who fought off the Drachanians while building this wall from scratch, never mind that no-one named Druck had been alive for centuries by the time that Drachania even existed.

As time passed since the destruction of Minkut, the Skharnovs became much more distant from the chuyinka, preferring to avoid Derekaz as much as possible.  Though the chuyinka reached out from time to time, they could see that Skhara was regressing, falling back on raiding and abandoning nearly all other methods of supporting the economy.  Even bartering was abandoned, as markets became the sites of frequent brawls that would escalate into blood feuds over things as mundane as the price of fruit.  When a druorn of House Barinyev killed a lavkin serf owned by House Permetan for no apparent reason other than amusement, it nearly resulted in civil war.  The only thing that kept the peace was the Skharnovs’ intervention – by lobbing casks filled with dark fire over the walls of the Barinyev and Permetan castles, incinerating everyone within.  And so, two noble houses of Skhara died because somebody had to try out his sword on a peasant.  Within the ruins of the two castles, a rebellion began to brew.  Small bands of votrels gathered what wayward lavkins they could, and began training a small army in the art of siege, for the purpose of overthrowing the druorns.  It took another two generations before the plan was finally executed, one by one, the castles were destroyed, with Holgar being saved for last.  Shortly after the downfall of House Skharnov, a great plague spread from within the fortress, purging the Blackwood of all civilised life (and all animal life, for a time), as well as severely affecting the other regions of Skhara.  The coastal lords that took control after the fall of Holgar did not last long before the plague consumed them as well.  In the end, Skhara disappeared, the coastal cities became largely democratic and formed a league known as Kantossa, and Alexandra Skharnova, the only remaining member of House Skharnov, fled so far west that no-one could possibly know her name, much less the wickedness attached to it.

While Alexandra Skharnova was busy sacking tsardoms in the northwest and building her own empire, people from all over the south began migrating into the Minkutian lands.  The regions with the predominantly Minkutian population formed the Karadenian Empire, under the rule of an exiled Arcadian prince, Luminius Kaesus, known as Luminius the Bright, or simply, “The Bright Light of Karaden.”  Though Rossberan historians typically paint Alexandra as a brutal conqueror and Luminius as a peaceful nation-builder, the two were actually a bit of both, each bringing the philosophy of an advanced yet lost society to a group of comparitively primitive people.  Sometimes the people accepted it, and sometimes they resisted.  Whatever the case, both Alexandra and Luminius achieved similar results.

Since I’ve already written a lot about Rhûn, I’ll save the story of Alexandra’s Conquest for another day.  For now, let’s skip ahead 400 cycles to the War of Karadenian Succession.  In my post about the continent of Rossbera itself, I mention that, were it not for this war, the Sondorian Empire would not even exist.  This is because, at the time, wars were like horse races.  Noble families would effectively bet on the outcome of the wars by pouring resources into supporting one side or another, while not officially allying themselves with one cause or another (this kept the nations themselves neutral in the conflict, and allowed two noble families from the same country to bet on opposing factions).  Some families lost everything, and some gained enormous wealth from the practise.  When the War of Karadenian Succession began, all bets were on the houses of Argeas and Rontus, yet there was a third contender.  Against all odds, House Milaius ended up winning the war, which benefitted no-one.

The outcome of the war was yet more consolidation of power.  A number of Arcadian houses went bankrupt.  The Pristen Dynasty had failed to keep things together, and sold a huge amount of territory to Karaden in order to cut some of their vassals’ losses.  However, the various steward families in the capital region saw the issue as poorly handled, and exiled the Imperial Family.  They then “drew straws” to see who would get to rule next, and that ultimately fell to House Rodilos.  However, after a three-year investigation into the activities of a number of other noble families, so many of them were sent into exile that Rodilos ended up with only one steward house, Draes.  During all of this, the Republic of Breace broke away, and enlisted the help of the Kantossi merchant fleet to build up defenses and keep the meagre Arcadian forces from taking back the territory.

Meanwhile in the west, many kingdoms in the marshlands went bankrupt.  Each of the Sondorian Isles; from south to north, Nala, Qells, Toruck and Baigal; was an independent kingdom, at least until the Rhûnnish Empire took Baigal.  The marsh kingdoms were also independent, but when the war was finished, their economies all collapsed.  Only Qells was still in decent shape, and quickly annexed the other isles.  The isles joined without resistance, but the mainland militias fought fiercely.  With the royal families having all gone bankrupt in the marshes, there was no organised military to keep the Sondorian Empire at bay (literally).  The only thing slowing down the imperial invaders was the land itself.  Mainland Sondor is a nice place, if you’re a duck.  In never stops raining and there is very little solid ground.  Even less of that ground can be built on.  When the marsh kingdoms had gone to war with each other, they did so entirely with boats.  Some of these boats were the size of warships used on the open water.  Imperial forces used the same tactic to push farther inland and carve out the territory that Sondor has today.  Around the same time that the conquest of the mainland was finished, the War of Rhûnnish Succession began.  Sondor took this opportunity to seize the southern half of Baigal, which the Rhûnnish Empire had largely abandoned by this point.  The idea was to create a buffer zone if Rhûn ever decided to invade Sondor.  Of course, this never happened.

So, there you have it, the origins of three more of the Nine Empires.  I’m done with writing about lore for now.  My next post will most likely be about the warships that these empires use.

The War of Rhûnnish Succession, Part 2

I didn’t name my previous post on this subject “Part 1,” but that’s mainly because I thought “that was that.”  I have since decided that this next conflict is essentially a continuation, much as some history buffs (though not actual historians) insist that World War II is a continuation of World War I.  Then again, come cynics like to say that “peace is merely that brief period between wars when both sides are busy re-arming.”

There have many attempts since its split to revive the Rhûnnish Empire.  In fact, that is part of the plot of The Nine Empires to begin with.  The first attempt, in fact, took place shortly after the mighty empire initially split in half.  Upon Fëdor Karamazov’s death, he was survived by his third wife, the tsarina, and three sons, all from different wives.  In his will, he left the throne to his middle surviving son, Ivan.  However, his widow had been grooming his youngest surviving son, Alexei, to inherit the throne.  Meanwhile, his eldest son, Dmitri, assumed that he would get the throne the whole time.  No-one saw Dmitri as fit to rule, not even his own father, who was not a particularly good ruler himself.  Nonetheless, he managed to get the support of Sergei Dondarovski, who became patriarch of the family after Boris’s death.

Every noble house had ulterior motives for supporting one of the half-brothers Karamazov.  The Dondarovskis believed that they could easily wrest power from Dmitri, were he to win the Crystal Throne.  Since the tsarina was of noble blood, unlike the mothers of the other two half-brothers, her claim was taken most seriously.  Ivan, meanwhile, fled to Fell Springs and began gathering an army.  Most of the noble houses believed that he was already out of the picture.  Meanwhile, Arkady Annastashchenko decided that he could once again seize power from the up-jumped Karamazov family.

Nikolai Votavko’s daughter, Empress Anastasia, proposed to marry Alexei Karamazov and re-unite the Rhûnnish Empire.  However, the tsarina did not trust her, and kept delaying her response.  After the third letter came to the White Keep, Alexei finally found out, and agreed to the match, but his mother told him that her mind was not yet made up.  Furthermore, she argued that a formal alliance was no longer needed, since Drachanian forces had already been sent to their aid and solidly stopped the Annastashchenkos’ advance toward Skharnograd.

Following the major setback that he suffered because of Alexei Karamazov, Arkady Annastashchenko finally swallowed his pride and contacted Ivan, proposing to join the loyalists.  Ivan agreed, but told his commanders to keep the two armies as far away from each other as possible.  Ivan knew that he could not trust his new ally, and needed to secure a trustworthy one as soon as possible.  He immediately thought of the dwarves, though he knew that his father’s will meant nothing to King Tuhur.  Therefore, Ivan Karamazov would have to be victorious in battle first.  He had his opportunity when he learned that Arkady Annastashchenko had already betrayed him and sent his daughter, Arzhafena, to Skharnograd to propose marriage to Alexei.  Ivan’s forces descended upon the party and slaughtered them all, then sent their heads to Trenatia, with a warning that treason would not go unpunished under his rule.  Word of the brutal deed travelled far, and the dwarves soon joined forces with Ivan Karamazov.

Seeing that Ivan was the real threat, rather than Dmitri or even Empress Anastasia Votavko, the tsarina sent her son with a massive army to crush the loyalist forces and dwarven legions.  After that, they were to continue south and deal with the troublesome Arkady Annastashchenko, who seemed to be throwing alliance proposals around as if he were playing darts while blindfolded.  Drachanian forces moved toward Trenatia as well, though Empress Anastasia’s orders simply were to sack the city and dispose of “those treasonous, yellow-haired shitheads.”  The plan changed, however, after Alexei was killed in battle and his forces lost to the loyalists, who then turned north.

Empress Anastasia visited the tsarina on her deathbed, declaring that it was her own damned fault that her son was killed, and that she should have agreed to the wedding much sooner.  Not taking kindly to the Empress’s discourteous behaviour, the palace guards seized her.  They decided to hold her hostage and keep the tsarina’s death a secret until they could agree on another claimant.  Knowing what they did about Dmitri Karamazov, they proposed that the Empress marry him instead.  On the positive side, he was already on his way to the capital.  On the negative, he had a Dondarovski army with him, and they might not agree to this arrangement.  Even worse, Ivan Karamazov was also closing in, and it seemed unlikely that the capital would stand long enough for the Annastashchenkos to attack him from behind.  As it so happened, Dmitri got there first, and Sergei Dondarovski conspired with Empress Anastasia to wed the two, kill Dmitri, and then wed her himself.  Thus both houses would get the Crystal Throne and the Rhûnnish Empire would be re-united.  However, ambitious though she was, Empress Anastasia had the sense to flee once Ivan Karamazov attacked.  She knew, from his brutal treatment of House Annastashchenko, that he would not agree to an alliance with her.  She returned to Krivs, and ordered all of her forces to return home.

During the final showdown, the Battle of Skharnograd, Ivan’s forces laid siege to the city, the Dondarovskis brought in reinforcements to outflank them, which were quickly intercepted by the advancing Annastashchenko army.  Though the dwarves were already with Ivan’s forces, King Tuhur sent yet more reinforcements.  The Dondarovskis, Annastashchenkos, and dwarves continued fighting outside the city, even once Ivan’s forces had prevailed and taken the Skharnograd Kremlin.  Fearing execution, Dmitri agreed to go into exile, and the war ended.  Though Arkady Annastashchenko had been served humble pie thrice since Ildar Skharnov’s death, his house still did not accept the rule of “might makes right,” and made a number of attempts to usurp the throne over the next three centuries.  Their reasoning was the silly sentiment that they were once monarchs themselves, while both the Karamazovs and Dondarovskis were mere kulaks that been up-jumped far above their station by the Skharnovs.

My next few posts will be on the subject of Rossberan politics and wars as well, though in an earlier period, and outside of Rhûn.  Hopefully I will be able to provide a background on each of the Nine Empires before going into detail about the oddities of daily life and all the interesting technology that they use.  In other words, it will be some time before I introduce more models.

History Repeats Itself, and There is NOTHING Anyone Can Do About It

Well, here I go, yet another obscure post riding on that blur between fantasy and reality in my mind.  This all starts with the lore of the Nine Empires, going back to much earlier Varanganskan history, before the chuyinka were even created.  Now that I think about it, I’ve used that term twice on this blog already, but unless you’ve read the full description of my Shapeways shop, you probably don’t know what “chuyinka” even means.  I’ll get to that later.  But first, a bit about ancient Varanganskan history.  I have several slightly different versions of this in my notes, as I’ve made changes every time I write it down for different purposes.  This is a brief version, from memory, not copied and pasted.

The elves did not have the first known civilisation, but the third.  It was through their archaeology that we know of the existence of earlier civilisations, namely the skeridians (cephalopods) and occludites (insects), each of whom left a written language behind that has yet to be deciphered.  In fact, occludite structures were so well-built that the elves were able to study and duplicate the architecture, though the occludites themselves had been extinct for untold centuries.  It has been argued that the elves were responsible for bringing civilisations to the other races, such as the dwarves and pectopods (a modern name for the common ancestor of lavkins, votrels, and druorns).

Break for a moment.  This sounds rather like it came out of The Silmarillion, doesn’t it?  Don’t worry, I don’t rely too much on Tolkien-esque literary clichés.  In fact, if you read on, you’ll notice that I’m actually drawing inspiration from one of Tolkien’s own sources, namely Norse mythology.

Civilisation thrived under the guidance of the elves, though not without conflict.  The exact course it took is unknown, but it is widely suspected that even the elves suffered at least one major collapse, given that they eventually split into the light elves and dark elves.  “Light” and “dark” in this context refer more to culture than anything else, with each race taking a fanatical approach to a different aspects of traditional elven teachings.  Specifically, the light elves became pondering pacifists, and the dark elves became brutish warmongers.  How the dark elves came to dominate the planet, no-one is quite sure, but it is suspected that other races placing too much faith in the idea of “peace and tolerance” that the light elves pushed with such zeal was the cause.

Does this sound familiar?  Like, to anyone unfortunate enough to live in Western Europe right about now?  Keep reading, it gets even better…

The technologically advanced civilisation, responsible for colonising the readily habitable Prime Moon and setting the New Global Varanganskan Calendar to Year 0 – Month 0 in honour of the event, had slowly been consumed.  Were it not for such an emphasis on sustainability in its beginning, the lunar colonists would have perished, as they became cut off from the homeworld.  Today, their descendents flourish, as Bulmutian astronomers noticed as early as the waning days of the Rhûnnish Empire.  At the time, such observations were shrugged off as nonsense, but after the empire split, the dwarves made a gift of a great telescope to be placed on top of the central tower of Tendlund Grand Castle.  Observations through the great telescope vindicated the supposedly crazy notion that people lived on the Prime Moon.  What struggles they went through, we know very little.  But on our homeworld, we do know that the world endured some dark times.  One tyranny gave way to another, when the dark elves invaded Svench.  The people of Svench had been genetically engineering themselves for generations, and made formidable adversaries.  It is said that the hordes of dark elves bearing down on the small nation was like pouring petrol on a fire.  As they fought to the last, each warrior of Svench stood atop a pile of a hundred dark elf corpses.  For such brutal resistence, the people paid with their lives, all save seven genetic engineers in an isolated lab.  They alone escaped the slaughter, and spent the next few years cultivating the instrument of their vengeance.  They unleashed sixteen of these creatures upon the world, each one capable of slaughtering a thousand dark elves with little effort.  The creatures slew, feasted, and bred.  Before long, 16 became 16 000, and the elves, both light and dark, became nothing more than meals and bad memories.  These creatures, the chuyinka, became the new masters of Varanganska – at least until climate change almost wiped them out.

This is not the first instance of climate change or some other grand yet strangely unimpressive event affecting the lore of my fictional world.  Likewise, there have been many such collapses of civilisation in Earth’s history, and we may be faced with yet another one soon.  But don’t despair!  Life goes on, and in the grand scheme of things, this will proably be just another bump in the road, not the end of the world, as some fear.  See, I came up with this lore long before I started paying attention to the sorry state that western civilisation is currently in.  I have come to realise that this sort of strife is inevitable.  There have been two collapses of western civilisation already.  That’s right, not one (480 AD), but two.  The other one was in 1177 BC.  I can’t say exactly what caused it, as I haven’t finished the book yet, but I wanted to post my thoughts on this subject while they are still fresh in my mind.  The book I’m speaking of is 1177 B.C.: The Year Civilization Collapsed.  I haven’t gotten very far in it yet, but I have already noticed that the situation of cultures meeting, mixing, and clashing, all in the pursuit of greater wealth, seems to have been the same in the Bronze Age as today.  Speaking of which, the book mentions that the British used the exact same strategy during the Battle of Megiddo in World War I that the Egyptians had used over 3000 years earlier – deliberately.  I wonder what other deliberate duplications of history I will find as I keep reading.  That is the reason for my title.

As far as the Nine Empires are concerned, the continuously looming threat is not multiculturalism run amok, but the consolidation of power.  When too few people have too much power, stability hangs by a thread.  For the ancient Mongols, that was just a way of life.  But when nine mighty empires are abutting each other on the same continent, with nowhere left to expand (save into the middle of a desert), no external threats, and no internal conflicts to resolve, what do you think happens when the bloke in charge decides to play with steel toys that go “boom?”  Another catastrophic war, another collapse, society rebuilds, and the cycle begins again.  And you know what?  Those who know how power was consolidated in the past are the ones who are most likely to be successful with their own empires.  See, history repeats itself, whether people study it or not!

The Perfect Society?

Recall my god-awful post titled “Nuclear Winter is Coming – Beware of Radioactive Wolves?”  No?  Good, because it was god-awful, and I really should not have left the decision of whether or not to post it up to a bloody coin toss.  Oh well, I’m not one to pretend that I never make mistakes, so up it stays… at least until I figure out what my point was supposed be and find a better way of getting it across.  Anyway, this post might help.

See, part of the premise of The Nine Empires is the ever-present desire to create a perfect society.  Of course, reasonable people all know that there is no such thing as a perfect society.  Fair is unfair, and unfair is fair, because people are not all the same.  Equality is a cute idea, but it’s simply not true.  Karl Marx did not understand people, and that’s why communism doesn’t work.  Had he known a bit more about human psychology, then perhaps his system would have worked better.  Then again, it doesn’t help that the politicians who implemented the system did lousy jobs of it every single time.

I will say it again: there can be no such thing as a perfect society.  There is an entire sub-genre of science fiction dedicated to that very idea, and is responsible for the term “dystopia.”  The story of the Nine Empires does not take place in any semblence of a perfect society, rather the plot is that there are rival factions all trying to create one, republicans, capitalists, communists, imperialists, and… something else entirely.  It is the last one I intend to discuss here, and perhaps I’ll come up with a name for it along the way.

“We are working toward a lassez-faire type of government, but not one so free that new political parties can form and rise to power.  The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, and those who create policy must reflect that.  The populus will not be given a choice of representatives, but of courses of action.  That being said, the populus cannot be allowed to have full control over everything, lest society turn into the self-destructive direct democracy.  We have tried this before, and it does not work.  Voting must also be limited: a citizen may not vote outside of their area of interest.  One who travels the country and whose life is affected by the policies of multiple jurisdictions may vote on matters pertaining to all those areas, but those who never leave their hometown may not vote on issues larger than that town.  National policies will be tailored such that they affect small towns minimally, for that very reason.”

“Furthermore, there can be no economic motivation for the making of policy.  Those at the highest level of government must have no ulterior motive for accepting such power.  Recognition will be granted for such service, certainly, as the populus deserves to know who leads and serves them, but there can be no material payment.  The motive to accept such positions much be purely the benefit of society.”

“Regarding material rewards for labour, we fully intend to abolish money.  We have lived without it for our entire history, and have had no cause to fight amongst ourselves.  Yet money is such an integral part of the mammals’ existing society that it must be replaced with something.  Fortunately, the mammals have invented the stock market, which shall be the measure of a material’s value.  No longer do we need a universal trading token to be exchanged in addition to the traded goods themselves.  Furthermore, basic necessities shall be rationed according to one’s social contributions.  Those who perform the same menial tasks day in and day out will have a fixed income of food, clothing, and soap.  Those who craft unique items for their customers will be able to obtain such items themselves.  Those who provide society with a lasting commodity, such as a new industrial process or scientific breakthrough, shall have whatever they deem necessary in order to live a lifetime of such great service; stagnation will not be permitted.”

“All technical education will be completely free, and individuals will be able to choose any trade that they desire.  However, we will strongly recommend paths for each and every citizen from an early age, and attempt to place them optimally within society.  Those with a wider range of talents should have every right to choose which talent(s) they use for the benefit of society.  Meanwhile, all philosophical education will require a period of public service afterward, as an application of the principles that such philosophy might teach.”

“Those who disrupt society in irreperable ways (e.g. murder, destruction of historical artefacts) do not deserve resources wasted on them.  We shall simply toss them into the wilderness.  Live or die, they are removed from society.  Those found guilty of lesser crimes will pay with a service period of unskilled labour in a job where there is little interest, such as cleaning sewers.  Those found guilty of sexual crimes will be subject to total genital removal, including internal reproductive organs, and set free.  How their own community treats them afterward is not the government’s concern, unless murder is involved.”

“Citizens should be able to defend themselves, as well as some martial arts background in order to call upon should we need to draft them.  Therefore, any citizen can own any weapon that they can afford and are properly trained to use, assuming that a single person can operate it.  A tank, for instance, must be collectively owned by the appropriate crew, as no single person can operate most tanks.  The same applies to warships: the ship is property of its crew, not of any one person, let alone the captain.”

There a few sumptuary laws as well, mainly as backlash against certain absurd fashion trends.  “The wearing of feathers over 6cm in length is prohibited, save in the context of historical reenactment.  It is also punishable by death to pull the feathers from the head of a chuyinka: they are not adorments, they are actually growing from the scalp, forceful removal is extremely painful, and they don’t always grow back.  Finally, in the wake of the recent revival of ‘tights’ or similar garments worn as everyday trousers, and the controversy surrounding them, all citizens must wear some sort of skirted garment, be it a long shirt, coat, or actual skirt, that descends to mid-thigh, at the highest, and loose enough so as not to impede motion of the legs in any way.”

Aside from the last two paragraphs, this probably seems quite reasonable.  The whole reason I added those last two peculiar ones in is, again, because this is my story, a window into my twisted mind, and not only do I like weapons (and I’ve been trained to use them), but the whole premise of the “red carpet” fashion industry bugs me to no end; then again, the whole concept of “celebrity” in and of itself, is lost on me.  There is more to this whole thing, of course, but a nation’s legal code is not a “set it and forget it” type of thing, it must change over time, to account for different technologies and social trends that emerge.

Spiders and Climate Change

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“It’s too hot outside, so I’m hanging out in your stone house, which is nice and cool!”  This is a dark fishing spider, Dolomedes tenebrosus.  I call them dock spiders for short.  I used to call them wolf spiders, based on the pattern of the eyes, but then I finally got around to properly identifying the species.  As it turns out, they are not even in the same family as wolf spiders, and are actually more closely related to nursery-web spiders (Pisaurina).  Both Dolomedes and Pisaurina are in family Pisauridae, while wolf spiders are in family Lycosidae.  Mind you, I have all three where I live.  However, when I first moved to where I am now, roughly 17 years ago, I saw a lot fewer of the spider pictured and a lot more Carolina wolf spiders.  This is not the only change in fauna that I have noticed over the years.  I used to see ringneck snakes all the time, but I haven’t seen any in at least five years.  I used to see bats at dusk, but now there are no signs of them anywhere (to be fair, white-nose syndrome is to blame, not climate change directly).  However, without the bats to eat the flying insects, there has been a bumper crop of orb weavers, specifially Araneus nordmanni (I’m not positive on this I.D.), all over my house.  In the woods can be found (if you look hard enough) a close relative, Araneus saevus, which is coloured and textured such that it is easily mistaken for a knot in the bark of  a grey birch tree.

It is a well-known fact that arthropods are very sensitive to their environment.  In fact, crustaceans and insects are the first to disappear from bodies of water that have become a bit too acidic.  The reason I brought up the bats and orb weavers along with the wolf spiders is simply to demonstrate how interconnected and complex this issue is, even on such a small scale as 42 acres over 17 years.  However, arachnophiles such as myself take comfort in the fact that spiders have been around for roughly 300 million years, and have thrived in far harsher climates than humans are ever likely to see.  In fact, such a change is widely accepted as the reason for the Permian-Triassic extinction event 252 million years ago, the worst extinction event in Earth’s history.  The reason I bring this up is to emphasise the only fact that all climate scientists can agree on: the climate is always changing.  The questions we must then answer are 1) how much is human activity contributing, and 2) is it too late?  That last one is deliberately vague.  Too late for what?  Stopping the warming trend?  Reversing the damage that human activity has done?  I don’t care which, personally, and neither does the planet.  In the words of George Carlin, “the planet has been through a lot worse than us.”  The planet isn’t going anywhere, but we could very well go extinct if we’re not careful.

Proponents of heavy industry are almost universally slapped with the label of “climate change denier,” even if they make it well-known that they acknowledge climate change is real.  The reason is that they cite a simple figure of carbon dioxide output, and point out that industry-produced carbon dioxide is a drop in the ocean compared to the amount that volcanoes spew forth, particularly underwater volcanoes, which are far more numerous.  So bloody what?  They’re looking at power plants and such, but not more “natural” processes that are also human-caused.  What about all the carbon dioxide that cows exhale, and all the methane that they fart?  I was shocked when I found out how much water that beef and dairy farms in the U.S. alone must consume in order to operate.  Where are the figures for agricultural emissions, huh?  When you add up everything that humans pump into the atmosphere, industrial or otherwise, how much are we really contributing?  That’s what ought to be brought to the table.  There can be no discussion on this subject until all the facts are laid bare.

I am not a climate scientist, so I will not have the last word, but I do know this: people’s egos and self-interests are certainly getting in the way on both sides of the argument.  This is not a scientific debate, but a farce of name-calling and confirmation bias.  Speaking of which, I am still waiting for an answer on my previous post, so I’ll re-word it: why are those with the loudest voices so unreasonable?!  Reason must prevail!

A Puzzling Identity

Ever hear the saying “a bad tree cannot produce good fruit?”  I’ll bet you have, it’s from the bible (I refuse to capitalise it out of spite), specifically Matthew 7:17-18 and Luke 6:43.  I hate this saying, because as far as I’m concerned, the fruit is the measure of the tree.  I have some ugly, half-rotten apple trees in my orchard, and I remove dead branches from those trees every year, but those apples are bloody tasty.

I would argue also that this is the origin of identity politics, the practise of dismissing someone’s ideas based on who they are.  “Cecil Rhodes was a notorious white supremacist, therefore I will not accept a Rhodes Scholarship,” is a perfect example, never mind the fact that Rhodes’ own trustees ignored his wishes and made academic excellence the sole criterion for receiving a Rhodes Scholarship.  There are others, of course, plenty of “evil” people throughout history had good ideas, and everyone values something different.  But NO!  In order to have one’s ideas listened to, one must be a role model, whatever that means.  In fact, check out this video.  Mr. Lloyd makes part of my point excellently (he even mentions Rhodes).

Discrimination has always existed in one form or another.  This is the “other and self” viewpoint of literature, or the very nature of tribal culture.  It breaks down to “like me, good; not like me, bad,” as described in the book Dinosaur Brains: Dealing with All Those Impossible People at Work by Albert Bernstein and Sydney Rozen (“but how can those two possibly have good ideas, they’re men,” someone is undoubtedly thinking right now).  This is how children behave: “no boys allowed, boys have cooties.”  As adults, however, you have to look at the situation again, and learn to accept or reject individual ideas, rather than the people that they come from.  Sadly, the Age of Reason has passed, and those with the loudest voices today are all spoiled children in adult bodies – I’m not going to provide examples here (plenty of people already have, they’re all over YouTube), but trust me, they are on both sides of nearly every issue, inside and outside of government.

I maintain that where you come from doesn’t matter, only where you’re going.  That tasty apple came from a half-dead tree, but why should that affect what becomes of it, whether I choose to eat it right then and there, or gather a dozen and bake them in a pie (recipe calls for 5-7 apples, but the ones you buy in a supermarket are twice the size of the ones I grow)?  No, seriously, why am I even asking this question?  Is it because I identify myself by what I do, rather than what I am?  When I say “reason must prevail,” what is your reaction?  Seriously, I want an answer, even if it’s open-ended.

Airships of the Nine Empires – Part 2

Here is yet another piece that I had previously written.  Enjoy!

All over the planet Varanganska, rocks containing precious stones are also known to contain small amounts of crystalline neticine.  Neticine is a bizarre substance that exhibits a wide array of behaviours depending on the chemical isomer.  All of these behaviours seem to defy the laws of physics, and many were put to good use.  The most widely used application, however, was the use of the levitating crystals to power heavy flying machines.  The development of a self-contained flying machine using neticine crystals began an arms race between the various empires on the continent of Rossbera that ended in a devastating war.

A self-contained unit called a glossarion levitator was developed in Karaden and used as the main source of lift for a heavy airship called a galleon.  The galleon was then used as the powerhouse of Karaden’s military campaigns until a larger vessel was developed.  As for the glossarion levitator, its design was copied and spread all over the continent, powering airships of varying size and power.  The only limitation to those who built such vessels was how much neticine they could obtain.  For instance, the technology was kept hidden from Taressim, which was widely considered to be the alchemical powerhouse of Rossbera.  The network of arms dealers who controlled glossarion levitator technology believed that Taressim would have little trouble manufacturing vast quantities of neticine necessary to build a huge airship fleet.  After all, Taressim was the place to be if one’s field was chemistry.  In truth, the powers that be forbade Taressim from possessing this technology because the empire had managed to grow to incredible size in a fairly short time without the use of aircraft of any kind (for most of its history, as Taressim had dirigibles at the time that the first glossarian airship was built).  In order for such a threat to be neutralised, any new weapons technology had to go to Taressim’s enemies.

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Above: a Karadenian flying galleon.  Click here to see a full 3D view of the model, or if you are interested in buying one.

The second military power to get its hands on glossarion levitator technology was Sondor.  The Sondorian Empire had made use of its wide rivers and many lakes in the past to defend its borders.  Since the empire was far more proficient in shipbuilding than Karaden, they very quickly produced a larger glossarian airship.  The first prototype was actually smaller than the galleon, but the second used twice as many levitators, which were arrayed in two rows on each side of the ship, prompting it to be dubbed the bireme, after the surface vessel with two rows of oars.  The Sondorian bireme outclassed the Karadenian galleon in every way, as it was larger, faster, carried more downward-pointing mortars for siege against ground forces and cities, and more upper deck guns for use against airships.  Shortly after Sondor built a fleet of glossarian airships, the technology spread to Arcadia, one of the two largest empires on Rossbera.  Since Arcadia did not have much in the way of aeroplanes, Arcadian high command decided to compensate by building large numbers of very small glossarian gunboats and low-flying, mobile anti-aircraft battery platforms as well as capital ships.  Even with huge amounts of neticine at its disposal, Arcadia was still unable to build a sufficient air force to counter nuisance invasions from Karaden and Sondor, which were cutting deeper into Arcadian territory for the sole purpose of outflanking Taressim.

Thanks to the fighting over Arcadian soil, it was not long before glossarian airships went down in the area.  Though every effort was made on the parts of Karaden and Sondor to recover their lost levitators, a few did end up in Arcadian hands.  It did not take long for the Arcadians to begin building their own glossarian airships.  Initially, high command ordered the production of small, fast patrol ships, which could be made in large numbers for seeking out invading forces in the north.  However, a fleet of much larger vessels was scheduled for construction and testing in secret, so that once Arcadian forces had put a stop to the invasions from the northern empires, they could move in and destroy the nuisance nations in one fell swoop.

At the same time that Arcadia began building glossarian gunships, the technology moved north, from Sondor to Bulmut, and from Karaden to Kantossa.  The Kantossi could not afford to build glossarian airships in order to counter the recent rise in piracy that had devastated their merchant fleet, but they could at least recover their losses if they sold the technology to a wealthy power.  Kveta Vamaruchenko, an arms dealer to Tsarina Belëna Karamazova II of Alexandria, ended up buying all three intact levitators that the Kantossi had to offer – then turned around and had the sellers shipped off to Karaden, trussed and hooded, in order to collect the bounty on their heads.  She also collected the bounty for returning two of the levitators, but had to make up a story for the third.  In any case, she wound up getting her hands on a glossarion levitator for a net cost of nothing.  The Kantossi got their money back, the Karadenians got their traitors and two of their missing levitators back, and none of them were wise to who Kveta Vamaruchenko really was or what she was up to.

Fearing what the Tsarina was up to, the Empress Regent of Sondor decided to sell the technology to Bulmut, hoping to forge an alliance that would diminish the likelihood of an Alexandrian attack on either nation.  However, the Emperor did not approve of this, and sentenced his regent mother to house arrest, with the additional decree that she was no longer permitted to make any decision even remotely related to the military without his written approval.  This caused considerable strife within the imperial court, and the Sondorian government began to fall apart.  Fortunately, the government did not collapse completely, and by the time that full-scale war came to Sondor, the military was as strong as ever.

The Empress Regent of Sondor was right to fear Alexandria, as they already had a contract with Bulmutian electric companies to produce the generators for a new breed of glossarian airship.  Both Bulmut and Alexandria began building new airships at the same time, but Alexandria deployed them first – for the ambitious project of re-uniting the old Rhûnnish Empire.  This was accomplished by means of Operation Royal Twins, the construction and deployment of two glossarian triremes – the largest ships of the type at the time – against Krivs, the capital of Drachania.  The royal twins were the ships Argo and Talos, which had thirty levitators each, and enough firepower between them to subdue an entire city.  The royal twins were designed like older ships, with transom sterns for luxurious accommodations of royalty, nobility, and high-ranking officers.  The Tsarina herself was aboard the Talos for much of the operation, and saw first-hand how powerful the new ships were.  Some say that the experience made her drunk with power, and drove her mad.  Whatever the case, it led directly to the schism within the imperial family known as the Karamazov Conflict.

As disorder fell upon most of Rossbera and gave way to total continental war, the various powers all sought larger and more powerful weapons.  Larger and faster glossarian airships were built, some for the exclusive purpose of combating the mysterious triremes known as the black ships.  They were the largest and fastest of the type, and had been rarely seen.  Bulmut’s answer was the battle-cruiser, which had thirty six levitators just like the black triremes, but arranged in a bireme configuration.  The battle-cruiser was much longer and more heavily armed, but much slower.  Meanwhile, the Arcadian Empire began construction of the largest surface battleship yet, but high command realised almost immediately after it was laid down that a flying battleship would be much more useful.  Therefore, the super-dreadnought was equipped with one hundred glossarion levitators in a quadrireme arrangement.  Though no ship on water or in the air was nearly as large or as heavily-armed, the quadrireme was quite slow, owing to two of the four banks of levitators being dedicated to lifting the ship, and providing no forward movement.  Arcadia suffered its greatest blow when the ship suffered a power failure, and upon the auxiliary system coming online, bridge controls to the rear half of the ship were still unresponsive.  Without manual control at the levitators themselves being coordinated, the front half of the ship began to lift up, while the rear half continued to fall, tearing the hull in half.  Had the ship been built with a dedicated aircraft structure to begin with, the accident might not have happened.  Nonetheless, it was a huge military and financial loss which turned the tide against Arcadia.

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Above: one of the black ships, the flying trireme Zaphnora.  Click here to see a full 3D view of the model, or if you are interested in buying one.

Glossarian airships are heavy – usually weighing as much as surface ships with similar hulls.  There are many factors involved, including construction methods and on-board machinery, but estimating the weight of a glossarian airship is actually quite easy.  The Zaphnora and her sisters all weighed 9000 tonnes each, which was the same as armoured cruisers with identically-sized hulls.  There are two downsides to this weight – not only do they require a lot of power to get off the ground, but auxiliary lift systems do not work, and will barely even slow the ship’s descent in the event of a power failure.

In spite of their appearance, the hulls are constructed less like ship hulls and more like aeroplane wings.  They are far stronger, and are designed to retain structural integrity with far less support.  Structural failure due to excessive hogging and sagging is not a concern with the extremely rigid framework of such ships.  However, this limits their size.  Though they can be made much longer than any wooden hull, they cannot be made as long as steel-hulled surface ships or light metal-framed dirigibles.  Of course, since the latter has very little carrying capacity in relation to their size, this is actually seen as an advantage.

Glossarian airships are expensive to build.  A single glossarion levitator costs 250 000 ducats to construct.  Depending on the type, a whole ship could be built for that price.  An Arcadian gunship, the smallest glossarian airship, has four levitators.  With the necessary machinery to power the levitators, as well as the hull itself, a single gunship costs almost one and-a-half million ducats to build.  The Zaphnora, on the other hand, cost four million to build and arm, plus another nine million to get off the ground, for a total cost of thirteen million.  At the time, only the largest and most powerful surface warships cost that much to build.  Granted, no other type was nearly as expensive to build, but it was for this reason glossarian airships remained with the military.

Glossarian airships are fast; up to twice as fast as other types.  The Zaphnora boasted a cruising speed of 120 knots in level flight, which was as fast as most aeroplanes at the time the ship first took flight.  Since faster aeroplanes were short-range, the Zaphnora was the fastest means of travel across the continent – for the select few who ever got to board her.

Glossarian airships are built with ship-shaped hulls so they can land on water.  Low openings, such as the muzzles of the Zaphnora’s 205mm guns, or the siege gunports on flying galleons and biremes, can be sealed easily.  The purpose of landing on water is to re-stock supplies.  Supplies include boiler feedwater, which is drawn from the landing water, as well as food and coal, both of which are carried on surface ships.

Another reason for glossarian airships being a military prerogative is the noise: glossarion levitators are loud.  They’re not pleasant to listen to, even from a distance.  They whine with a slightly dissonant oscillation (a bad trill).  Others have described the noise as an eerie, pulsating shepard tone.  Since no ship has just one, and they are never perfectly synchronised, the dissonance is multiplied – as is the nuisance.  No-one wants a pleasure vessel that makes a loud, irritating noise that can’t be avoided.

Those damn baffles… what are they for?!  Well, in ancient naval battles, the rams of biremes and triremes were used for breaking off oars and disabling ships far more frequently than for puncturing the hulls and sinking them.  Obviously, puncturing the hull of a glossarian airship does little to its performance in battle, but a ram from the right direction can shear off several levitators and force the ship to make an emergency landing, or worse.  The baffles are designed to impede attempts to shear off levitators.  Some early ships, such as the Karadenian flying galleon, do not have such baffles.  However, after the first incidence of airship ramming, adding baffles to the design became standard practise.  The Arcadian gunship possesses only one pair of baffles, which is located between the levitators, as the hull wraps around the front and rear.

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Above: a comparison of Frehr Falko’s plane-balloon, a Karadenian flying galleon, and the Zaphnora, all in 1/700 scale.  I will eventually post a list of all the different types of glossarian airships, but that will most likely not be until I have at least a rendering, if not a printed model, of every single one.  Right now my shop has the airships pictured, as well as the Alexandrian trireme, the Sondorian siege bireme, and the Zaphnora‘s sisters, KhrodanauPherazmil, and Grugnula.  Here’s a challenge: tell me what those four names have in common.  One more thing before I let you go: some of the airships in my shop are either old versions or untested, so let me know if you’re interested before buying one.  As of this writing, I haven’t gotten around to making sure every model is the current version and validated.

Frehr’s Airship

In the story of the Nine Empires, Frehr Falko is one of my point-of-view characters.   He is an eccentric inventor.  His constant creation of quirky gadgets seemed almost neurotic, and delayed construction of his airship for years (click here to visit the product page).  His craft relies on both a hot-air balloon and fabric wings for lift, and the propellers are driven by hot-air engines (a.k.a. Stirling engines) that run off the same fuel as the balloon burner.  Thus, this is a perfect example of a plane-balloon.  Frehr's Airship

The original render.  It’s thick and blocky, but I wanted to be able to print it in a small scale.  I may eventually make a more detailed model and run some calculations to see just how well this thing would actually fly, but that is a project for another day.

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I hollowed out the balloon, so the model comes in two pieces.

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The holes for the pegs in the balloon cap were a little small, so I cleaned them out with a #52 drill.  Two more airship models are in the background.  I will go into detail about them in my next post.

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A quick twist of the drill in each hole, and the cap fits into place.  By the way, should you order one for yourself, you may not need to do this.  Selective laser sintering is not reliable for holding hole sizes, so the cap may fit perfectly right out of the box.

I have several variants of caravel airships on the way as well, in addition to the one already in my shop (though, truth be told, that one is rubbish compared to what is coming, and I will eventually update it).

 

Rossbera

I’m still waiting for my latest batch of models to come from Shapeways, so I figured I’d occupy my time by providing a map of the story.

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This is my second draft of Rossbera (trust me, the first was complete rubbish).  It’s still not finished, but this version includes the final shape, as well as the larger islands, the most important mountain ranges, and all the major rivers, including the Slezbogi (Slavic for “god’s tears,”) the Zerkalbogi (“god’s mirrors”), and the Grand Cross (guess which one that is).  At the end of the northern branch of the Grand Cross is the Grand Delta, so called because it spans almost 100 nautical miles!  By the way, that scale is 2000 nautical miles long.

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I made this whole map in Adobe Flash CS3, in which I am entirely self-taught (so do forgive some of my less-refined pieces).  The various layers include the terrain, waterways, objects (that layer includes the cities and other landmarks), and borders.  Notice that not all of them are called empires, despite the name of the story.  Well, they need not be empires, but they are the major powers of the continent.  Here’s a breakdown:

Bulmut: technologically, Bulmut is the most advanced.  The industry that the dwarves brought to the country after the fall of the Rhûnnish Empire allowed the Bulmutians to leap forward and become a major player.  Bulmut is a Regency, or quasi-democracy (similar to the Holy Roman Empire, though not as dysfunctional), in which landowners vote for a regent, or constitutional monarch.  The more land one holds, the more one’s vote counts.  The dwarves still cling to older customs, and while the dwarven king is offically a subject of the regent, the other Bulmutians largely let the dwarves do their own thing.

Alexandria: the original Rhûnnish Empire, sans the dwarven kingdoms.  This land is named after the founder and first ruler of Rhûn, Empress Alexandra Skharnova, also known as Alexandra the Conqueror.  Alexandria is among the most powerful of the nine, but its power is a mere shadow of the power that Rhûn possessed (relatively speaking, as steam power and breach-loading cannons didn’t exist in those days).

Kantossa: based on the Hanseatic League, one of those “countries” that hardly anyone has even heard of.  Kantossa’s wealth and power stem entirely from maritime trade, and their seafaring tradition, combined with modern technology, has given the country dominion of international shipping.  In spite of the fact that Kantossa has little in the way of a military, they are able to hold their own, given that most Kantossi merchants choose to arm their ships – and there are a lot of merchant ships.

Drachania: the territory of the Rhûnnish Empire slowly acquired following the Conquerer’s death.  Wild and untamed, these lands continued to rebel against the crown, and none of Alexandra’s descendents seemed to be able to inspire the kind of loyalty that she could.  Even now, Drachania remains in the game only because of its sheer size.

Sondor: an unusual nation with unusual geography.  Here, everyone owns a boat, but only the wealthy own houses.  Many towns are built entirely as a network of crannogs, as solid ground is a rarity – at least on the mainland.  The capital is on the diamond-shaped island in the middle.  Were it not for the War of Karadenian Succession, Sondor wouldn’t exist, and the islands would all still be independent kingdoms, along with huge swaths of the mainland.

Taressim: the youngest and most troublesome of the nine.  Essentially a land-locked version of North Korea, this country has been gobbling up smaller nations ever since its formation, and has nowhere left to expand.  If any single nation is likely to ignite the powder keg, it’s this one.  By the way, North Korea isn’t my only inspiration: rearrange the letters, and you’ll figure it out.

Karaden: arguably the oldest of the nine (with Arcadia being the other contender), the Karadenian Empire was formed slowly from the ashes of the Minkutian Empire, which the Skharans from the north utterly destroyed.  Alexandra Skharnova’s distant cousin, General Kazímir Skharnov, led the campaign.  Karaden and Rhûn formed around the same time.

Arcadia: arguably the oldest of the nine, though in truth, the name is the only thing old about it.  The Arcadian Empire has waxed and waned through multiple internal power struggles, dating back to the Rossberan Bronze Age, when Arcadia was but one city state.  The houses in power have changed, the borders have changed, the culture has changed, and the laws have changed.  Only the name has remained the same.

Breace: once part of Arcadia, but broke away during one of the latter’s weak periods.  Breace was very quick to build up its military and economic power and make an alliance with Kantossa, such that Arcadia would not be able to reclaim the territory when its power returned.  Ever since, Breace has been the ball-and-chain keeping Arcadia under control.

The War of Rhûnnish Succession

Roughly 300 cycles before the events of the Nine Empires, the mighty Rhûnnish Empire came to an end.  Ildar Skharnov IV, known as Ildar the Childless, died during the winter.  As his namesake suggested, he left no heirs to the Crystal Throne.  By the traditional laws of succession, finding an heir was no easy task.  The Skharnovs who were not destined to rule were not in the habit of remaining at the Imperial Court, typically choosing lifelong military careers and retiring very far from the capital.  Upon Ildar’s death, every effort was made to find his closest living relative, though it was known that none still bore the Skharnov name.

Arkady Annastashchenko claimed that his blood was the closest to the late emperor’s.  As the patriarch of his house, he was the first to lay claim to the throne.  He was probably right, regarding his claim, but history doesn’t care about that sort of thing.  His rival claimants included Fëdor Karamazov, Nikolai Votavko, Boris Dondarovski, and Mariusz Beltov.  Annastashchenko already had a fairly large force inside the capital, and ordered them to seize the Skharnograd Kremlin and hold it for his arrival, making all preparations for his coronation.  However, after a series of blunders, his reinforcements were routed, and Annastashchenko bowed out of the game early before Boris Dondarovski, who declared his forces for Fëdor Karamazov just as the latter began closing in on the capital.

Mariusz Beltov wanted nothing to do with the Crystal Throne, and instead tried to regain his country’s indpendence from the Rhûnnish Empire.  However, Nikolai Votavko united the rest of the south, and Beltov was squeezed between him and Karamazov’s forces to the north.  Before his crushing defeat, and his own death during the siege of his fortress, Beltov sent word to Fëdor Karamzov, warning him of what was coming, and also granting the northern coalition a token that might grant them some favour in the war.

This token was a hot-air balloon, and were it not for that very balloon, Beltov would not have lasted as long as he did.  Making use of the balloon, Karamazov’s forces scouted the supposed route of Votavko’s advance, and set a trap outside the city of Trenatia.  When Votavko’s forces dug in for a siege, Karamzov’s artillery bombarded the encampment before the cavalry rushed in and slaughtered many of the confused attackers.  Karamazov’s casualties were minimal, while Votavko lost almost 50 000 men.  This wasn’t even a battle, just a siege gone ill.

Nikolai Votavko was furious.  He demanded to know how such a perfect trap could be laid.  Surely, there was a traitor in his ranks.  When he finally calmed down and listened to the rest of the report, he learned of the balloon, and demanded that his forces make use of the contraptions as well, so that they might have the same advantage.

Meanwhile, Fëdor Karamazov got the same idea about balloons, seeing how valuable just one of them was.  Morale began to pick up among the officers, who previously thought that the war was hopeless, since Votavko’s forces outnumbered their own almost two to one.

The rest of the war was a series of gambits, which both sides made and neither side fell for, all thanks to the balloons.  The children of Fëdor Karamazov and Nikolai Votavko both proposed uniting the two houses through marriage, but neither of the old contenders for the Crystal Throne would compromise.  It took the birth of his first grandchild and surviving a stroke, in that order, to make Nikolai Votavko finally open to negotations.  Fëdor Karamazov would have the Crystal Throne and the original Rhûnnish Empire, i.e. all the lands that Alexandra Skharnova conquered during her lifetime.  Nikolai Votavko would get the rest, and his capital would be Krivs.  All agreed to this except the dwarf lords.  Tuhur VI, king of the dwarves, saw Fëdor Karamazov as weak, and shifted his alliance, joining Bulmut to the west.

Thus the empires of Alexandria and Drachania, two of the titular Nine, were born, the former named for its original founder, and the latter as a derivation of Draka, home of Krivs and one of the many tsardoms that the Rhûnnish Empire had devoured during its expansion.