Vhessan Empire is one of the strongest (and, admittedly, most loyal) vassal states of the Imperium of Karadia. It is also a country whose participation in the joint efforts to keep Imperium afloat is among the least notable. Vhessan Empire is imperial vassal only to a point. While it dutifully kneels before the authority of the Grand Emperors and pays its own share of money to the imperial treasure, mindset of its elites is still rooted in the Preimperial Era. Thus the Empire exists as much as a part of the Imperium as beside it. Its self imposed isolation makes its elites feel more like a civilized empire that is paying the barbarians to stay clear of their border. It, of course, trades with them. Many of its inhabitants emigrate, choosing to find life in everchanging Imperium rather than stay in their motherland. Vhessan Empire itself, however, remains as it was. A dark elven absolute monarchy, increasingly outdated and isolationist, much too focused on intrigues and backstabbing, so prevalent in its multitude of deadly, decadent courts.
Majority of Vhessan Empire population lives in the Labirynth. Problems with communication between many local cities, villages and castles force certain level of decentralization even upon despotic monarchies. Thus Vhessan Empire is ultimately closer to being federation, not unlike Imperium of Karadia itself. Its entire territory is divided into many mostly autonomous cities, in fact quite similar to Hellanan-nikopolan polis. They still belong to aristocrats, but even they have to (more or less) listen to opinions from local governments, formed from most important and influential living in the city (be it priests, merchants, military commanders and so on). Most of them are actually elected by free citizens via fairly democratic elections. Each of the cities have their own armed militias, and can wage wars between themselves. Their inhabitants think of themselves as citizens of their own cities rather than of Empire, their officially subject status only secondary in importance. There is also a significant 'state' sector, with cities and castles belonging directly to Empire, which strength gives Empresses important trump card when they are forced to struggle against their unruly subjects. Atop the Empire resides the Empress. Rulers of the Empire are always female according to ancient customs. Her power and authority is considered something almost divine since she officially remains a right hand of the local pantheon of gods. Her power is, however, limited by law, at least outside of her own domain (where she can execute anybody she wishes to). The vast ammount of rights and privileges granted to cities or noble families makes local law systems a true mess, full of ancient and completely forgotten laws that can be sometimes brought back into the light. After all laws issued by Empresses are in fact issued by gods themselves, meaning they can't be changed unless current Empress accepts it. Of course, Imperial Court is a perpetual battlefield between coteries of nobles vying for influence and power over the Empire itself. Many of Empresses are in fact nothing more than marionettes of the coterie that managed to crown them. Many of them, however, manages to cast aside chains that bound them. Some of them even manage to become a true absolute rulers. Beneath the Empress lies the aristocracy, divided into several levels. Highest are the seventeen arkarists, that the Imperium treats as Grand Dukes, each of them a notable power on their own. Beneath them are the few dozens of karists, each of them ruling over notable cities and surrounding countryside and treated by Empire as dukes. Lowest strata are servins, that rule over smaller towns, fortress and villages surrounding them and treated by Imperium as Counts or Barons. Each of the arkarists have a notable (and, of course, both deadly and decadent) courts of their own. They are still vassals of the Empresses... but the situation is complicated. Their soldiers make an oaths of allegiance to Empire and Empress... but their loyalty is a fleeting one. On one hand Empress chooses the successors of dead arkarists from local prominents, on the other they are the ones who choose her successor. Each noble title in the Empire is elected rather than inherited, although there are many noble families that managed to earn same titles repeatedly... with nobility having a practical monopoly in terms of being elected. This, of course, makes intrigues even more deadly and agressive.
Demography and Population
Outline of Society
Society of Vhessan Empire is... unique. In several ways and also in every possible meaning of the word. It is heavily divided between two genders (up to the point where most cities of Vhessana are separated into three parts, one inhabited by males, one by females and one by married pairs). Beside this, there is also another division - between several mostly closed castes. Soldiers (plus adventurers and sorcerers), mages, craftsmen, merchants, peasants. All of them considered equal to each other. All of them varied in terms of markings on the masks (worn by majority of Vhessans), tatoos, clothes and so on. All of them completely separated from each other. Above them are nobles, beneath slaves. Empress can turn every person into a noble (theoretically even slaves, which happens from time to time), and each person can sell himself into slavery (or be sold, in case of debts or crimes). Each caste has its own god, separated into two hipostasis (male and female). Casteless are considered outlaws and can be even killed on sight.
Majority of inhabitants are Dark Elves. There are however also quite a few Bleak Elves, especially among local aristocracy and royalty. Locals however barely differentiate this both subspecies. There is also about 20% 'Others', especially among the lower castes and especially as slaves. Shadow Elves are the most prevalent, but there are also many Humans and more... exotic species.
Vhessan Empire can be separated into two parts. First is on the surface, and includes Black Mountains region and lands that neighbour them. Most of them, however, are a part of two subsidiary states of Vhessan Empire, known as Kingdom of Upper Armarivia and Kingdom of Greziya. Both of them are a member of an Empire for so long that actual seccesion movements are non-existent. They are a part of Vhessan crown, just with slightly different laws, languages and social structure. Within the Labirynth the situation is much more different. Rather than being a centralized state, they is a vast ammount of semi-independent and autonomous states. Attempting to siege fortresses in the Labirynth is a major undertaking, making open wars rely more on prolonged series of skirmishes in the tunnels, with hope of causing enough attrition for the enemy to surrender. There are several outlying and formerly Vhessan states that are far from equalling Vhessan Empire in strength, but are able to remain independent simply because of how hard war in Labirynth is. Some of them actually drifts closer to Empire from time to time, making the exact borderline a rather... problematic.
Heavily influenced by traditional tactics of both Hellana and Nikopolan Hegemony. Lately also by regular infantry of Imperial Army. Standard formation of Vhessan Empire's army are the so called Herari. They are a well disciplined regular heavy infantry, with name coming from old vhessan word for 'clients'. It was caused by the fact that during Preimperial Era they were mostly made up of clients of various karists and arkarists. They can be compared to hellanan hoplites - they fight in tight formation, with round shields, metal armours, spears and swords. They are surprisingly useful in long, straight tunnels of upper Labirynth, when they can easily block entire width with an almost impenetrable shieldwall. They are, however, faring much worse on the surface. With very mountainous environment of Black Mountains they often have problems with holding line and are vulnerable to fast maneuvering enemies. The situation is different when there is a pass to block, or other formations to protect their flanks. Elite formation of herarians are Ketariori, which roughly translates to 'Firstborn'. It is a personal guard of Vhessan empresses, made from firstborn sons of karists, arkarists, more important servins and other individuals of some importance. Quite deep into politics, due to their origins and the fact that they remain a part of empress court, but also surprisingly tough in battle. Best possible equipment, and decimation considered a punishment for cowardice - which often makes the family of offender the target of ire of other noble families. Other notable unit are Tariori, meaning 'Soldiers'. They are an infantry formation similar to line units of Imperial Army. Heavy - but not as heavy as herari - with swords and shields, exactly as maneuverable to defend flanks of heraris during battles. They are also archers and - rarely encountered - cavalry, but they have much less prestige and aren't as well known.
Dominant religious system of Vhessan Empire is the so called Twice-Seven. It is a unique religion of the Empire, that is also counted among one of the few elven religions that managed to reorganize themselves and survive onslaught of Imperial Religion - in part because they either remained neutral or sided with it during the Dawn War (sources are inconclusive). There are also many local divine patrons of cities, villages etc., either being strong daemons or deities, all of them subservient to Twice-Seven. All of them in two hipostasis, just as their patron gods. Aside from that, the Imperial Religion worship is also quite widespread. Warmaidens, Audacity, Fertility, Gardener, Hammer and Shepherd are most prevalent. Curiously, gods of Black Pantheon are almost rivalling them, especially Deviation, Hedonism, Shadow, Munch and Rage.