"The gods crafted the barrier mountains around the Everforest to protect the civilised races. We wage war against each other and commit heinous crimes, but we are of this world. We belong to this world. We and it were dreamt of together. How the Everforest came to be is a myth disputed by cultures. Hemmed in by the vast ocean to the north, and the towering border ranges on the west and south, the only real gap is on its eastern edge. The Jade Empire's border touches lightly where the mountains begin to descend. While the Empire is no stranger to the forest's nightmares, it is the Empire's northern neighbour that knows them well. Vralach is a nation of warriors, grim and fatalistic. If you see a Vralsk outside their borders, be concerned. For one of them to abandon the eternal fight signals grave need or danger."In the northeast of the content lies a country that is small compared to its single neighbour. Vralach is troubled by the Everforest to its west, from where monstrosities crawl and the cursed mists billow. The people of Vralach fight back against the forest's darkness, unaware of the darkness growing within its borders. Vralach has stood, dark and stoic, for centuries against the forest.
-- Credimus Falsar, Rumain Academic, Lectures in History
HistoryVralach was first envisioned as a colony of the Rumain Empire. Far from the capital, the colony's founding was the result of a trip around the eastern Empires and several vicious sea storms. The people who would become the first Vralsk found themselves on the shores of a verdant land of green forests and rolling hills, of long nights and cold weather. There were no signs of civilisation. They knew from their journey that they were further east than any Imperial maps depicted. Strange creatures came out at night, ferocious, terrifying, predatory. As the Vralsk journeyed from the coast to the heart of their new home, the variety of monstrous creatures and their terror only increased.
The Vralsk grew into an orderly, paranoid society, living from night to night. The Empire forgot the people who left in search of new lands, thinking them dead. Vralach's people forgot their past and built a future. Eventually, they came in contact with the Jade Empire. The Jade Empire's warrior clans of the north were quick to ally themselves with the Vralsk in their battle against the forest's nightmares. The hengeyokai of the eastern Jade Empire's islands have more pleasant relations with the Vralsk than with their own people, trading supplies and fighting together any monsters that the forest vomits into the ocean.
The Rumain layers of bureaucracy linger within Vralsk society, but very few Vralsk are afforded the luxuries of bureaucrats of the Rumain Empire. Even compared to their international contemporaries, the Vralsk bureaucrat is typically a person who holds more duties than those of a metaphoric gatekeeper.
The Everforest is a nemesis. Its creatures are a danger to the world as a whole, but particularly to the Vralsk, who are the first line of defense. The war against these creatures is referred to by a number of names, but every Vralsk is aware of it constantly. The Vralsk national psyche is one whose every action, every thought, every ounce of energy is used in service to the fight against the forest. People may take direct action such as bolstering walls or fighting the forest's fiends, or they may take indirect action, such as smithing equipment, providing food or shelter. To question a Vralsk's contribution to the war is as good as slapping them.
Even a slapped Vralsk is likely to just give a derisive sniff and look grimly to the horizon. Life in Vralach is hard, and misfortune and difficulty creates resilient, controlled people. In the extreme, this manifests as an indifference to pain, pleasure, grief or joy. While this behaviour is not alien to people from the Jade Empire, others visiting Vralach might find Vralsks' reserved demeanours off-putting and wooden. The Vralsk stoicism starts, usually, as a detachment from emotion, and slowly grows into a repressing or erasing of it.
Vralsk society, like many, is a hierarchy. Though Vralach's social hierarchy is neither as tall or delineated as most, there are still bonds of mutual duty between its layers. At its heart, the Vralsk concept of duty unspeakingly defines who protects and serves whom. Of course, Vralsk are mortal, and this concept is at times abused. A tarkhan may force his will on peasants, and expect them to follow his word. Conversely, peasants may band together and demand the services of their tarkhan. Largely, though, Vralsks shoulder the burden of their duties with stoicism until they become a subconscious part of their life.
Even the most cowardly of Vralsks is not without courage. The tsardom's lands are ever endangered by unearthly horrors, and to exist in the face of this is an act of courage in itself. Much of Vralsk life is spent in preparation for the night, building walls and strengthening warriors, but a Vralsk's life may end in the darkness, regardless of how prepared they are. Courage is empowered by stoicism and is the cornerstone of duty. From the lowliest peasant to the Tsar himself, every Vralsk is expected to show courage in the face of adversity, and to support others in doing the same.
Vralach's population is approximately 10,000,000. Humans compose approximately 25% of this. Half-orcs and dwarves make up a further 20% each. The remaining 35% is a mixture of other races -- hengeyokai, orcs, elves, halflings & gnomes.
Vralach's people predominantly cluster into small communities across the landscape, never more than a day's journey from the next community. All but the humblest of hamlets are walled in some way. Though these walls are not effective against many of the nocturnal terrors that haunt the land, they represent safety to the Vralsk, and foster a sense of community between those within. This can, at times, result in insular and xenophobic communities. Small communities will have a mayor, larger communities will have a tarkhan, an official responsible for several communities. Above the tarkhan are the four Zvesda, one each for the four cardinal directions, and above them is the Tsar.
Attitude Toward Magic
Vralsks are supremely untrusting of anyone who shows magical ability. There are a few exceptions, such as venerated religious figures, but predominantly, anyone who uses magic beyond alchemy is treated with suspicion at best. At worst, they may find themselves murdered in their sleep. This fear of magic stems from the fact many monsters from the Everforest can use supernatural abilities, and some of these monsters appear indistinguishable from a typical person. Magic is a mark of the forest's dark power in Vralach, an ability budding from a dark seed. The darkness will seduce a person with its power. They will be consumed. They will be transformed into a beast. To end their life before this happens is a mercy.
With this view of magic in mind, it is perhaps understandable why Vralsks conflate the abilities of the Jade Empire's monks with magic. Hengeyokai who can transform suffer the same suspicions when they are in Vralach. When a Vralsk visits their islands, however, there is none of this suspicion. In the Vralsk mind, the forest's reach does not extend to them. Once a hengeyokai has set foot on the mainland, however, they are forever marked. So the suspicion goes, at least.
The nation of Vralach is divided into four administrative areas called comitai, each corresponding to cardinal points of the compass. Much of Vralach is tundra and coniferous forest overlaying gently sloping hills and valleys. The western comitai's forest grows denser, darker, and taller as it approaches the Everforest.
GlossaryComitai: One of four political divisions of Vralach, corresponding to north, west, east and south. Each Comitai has several zemya within it.
Lesnik: (plural lesniki) Vagabond monster slayers for hire. Viewed by many Vralsk with disdain, both because of the mutations they undergo and because they are not part of the national army.
Mar: (plural mere) A small red fruit native to Vralach. Its outer skin is crisp, thin and bitter, while its inner flesh is inedible until boiled. Boiling the fruit softens the hard, sweet flesh. Allowing mere to ripen longer allows for the same process to occur naturally, but these fruit are a favourite of forest friends, and will be bored, bitten and otherwise blemished if allowed to mature on the branch.
Tarkhan: A governmental administrator who administers a zemya. Roughly equivalent to baron.
Tsar: The title given to the ruler of Vralach. The Tsar must be male, as dictated in Vralsk law, but there have been a number of 'puppet Tsars,' a derisive term for Tsars who serve only the interests of their Tsarina. In truth, most of these puppet Tsars were people who married into the tsar's lineage.
Tsarevich: The son of a Tsar.
Tsarevna: The daughter of a Tsar.
Tsarina: The wife of the Tsar. Theoretically second in sociopolitical power. A number of Tsarina in Vralsk history have proven to be effective leaders, some far outshining their husbands.
Vysokya: Vralsk national deity.
Zapad: The western Zemya consisting of great stretches of no man's land that grow vaster to the west as Vralach's border dissolves into the Everforest.
Zemya: Political administrative divisions within a comitai. Each Zemya is administered by a Tarkhan, who is responsible to the Zvezda of the comitai.
Zvezda: One of the four people responsible for the comitai. Roughly equivalent to a Duke or Duchess. A social rank superseded only by the immediate family of the Tsar and Tsarina.