The Golrai Empire (Gəʊl-raɪ)
The Empire is led by a collection of Major Noble Houses, each one corresponding to one of the major gods of the Golraian pantheon. The noble houses each are dedicated to breeding a perfect candidate to be inhabited by a god, known as a golraya. The golraya of each house represents them at the Council of Mortal Gods, with the golraya of the head of the pantheon taking the title of God-Emperor, usually shortened to just Emperor. Each Major Noble House also has many who do not cut it as golraya act as priests to advise their chosen family members in religiouis and political duties. There are also many Minor Nobles, which are merely ordinary citizenry that are inhabited as raya. However, if there are enough generations of raya in a row, they eventually form a Minor Noble House, where even non-raya members of their immediate family can benefit from their noble status. A Minor Noble House can lose its noble status if there are enough generations with no raya child. Outside of the nobility, the noble houses are charged with placing non-raya leaders in charge of small towns of municipalities, usually called mayors. Very explicitly, mayors are entrusted with power not from the people, but rather from the Council of Mortal Gods, so there is often much in the way of abuse of power and corruption at the lowest of levels. Only when a mayor crosses the noble houses does the empire do something about them.
When one thinks of Golrai, their mind is usually dragged over to the large, sweeping architecture of the churches and palaces, the glittering gemstones that often adorn the dress of Major Nobles, the cultural obsession with religion and raya, but this misses the finer points of what it means to be Golraian.
Average LifeThe average person in the empire is not overly concerned with god-breeding or the raya unless they themselves or a family become one. Instead, they live their lives based around the land. Much of the territory the empire holds is fairly fertile, so many poorer citizens can make a living growing crops. As such, most regular folk adhere specifically to the fertility and agriculture god, rather than the full Elden Pantheon. They have a variety of holidays both for veneration as well as celebration of life, especially around planting time and harvest. In cities, the Elden Pantheon is much of a part of most people's lives. It is uncommon for people to not attend church sermons every week, even if they are not as devout as the government wants them to be. These church gatherings are often thrumming community events where families and friends talk, trade, and reconnect. People often meet their partner at a church gathering, through the various events community members put on after the sermon is done which will usually include food, drink, games, and general merriment. Each member of the pantheon has a holiday dedicated to them, which leads to larges swathes of a city to be shut down for celebrations. These holidays happen about once a month and are usually celebrated with a city-wide festival with different trappings depending on what god is being venerated that month.
Orcish InfluenceThe northern settlements also have a heavy influence of ancient orc culture from before they became umwai. In smaller villages, elements of ancient orcish temporary houses can be seen adapted into the more permanent huts of the Golraian villagers, and many have domesticated and now grow the various plants that the orcs would gather. In larger villages, traditional orcish holidays are often adapted and molded into the modern Golraian holidays, and orcish deities are often "venerated" by being used as inspiration for team names in various sports that are played in the cities. The orcs themselves who live in Golraian cities generally roll their eyes at this empty nod to their ancient ways, but that does not mean they have let it go all together. Many still practice their old religions privately, although it is more common to see orcs relate the Elden gods to their old ones and bring the ancient practices to new gods. They carry this reverence for their people with them even as they live modern lives, blending the two cultures together more organically than Golrai's attempts.
Noble CultureThe upper echelons of Golraian society look quite different from the average person's life. Religious gatherings are much more focused on the faith itself than connecting with the community, and the raucous holidays are waited out in high rising towers and expansive mansions. Instead, the main way the upper class of Golrai connects is through arranged dinner parties. What many foreigners are surprised to see when they visit a Golraian noble is how the imperials have gotten throwing the perfect dinner party down to a science. Rarely is a guest left feeling unsatisfied or disliking the family when they eat at a noble's house for dinner. Minor nobles, brought up through having enough familial raya, are in a more awkward place, as they still have a lot of family that leads simpler lives, but they interact more with the stuffy upper crust who look down on the common ways. This will often lead to an awkward fusion of both lives where a homey feel is haphazardly spattered with gaudy, noble pretension. As a minor noble house persists over the years, it will tend to get rid of more and more of that awkwardness and remnants of common living as they nestle more and more up to major houses in order to gain favors. The longest living minor noble houses are almost indistinguishable from major noble houses culturally.
The empire's primary goal is to spread their religious beliefs throughout the land, primarily through expansion. Whether this belief is earnest or just a smokescreen to hide the political ambition and greed of its leaders. For what it is worth, their are whispers of a prophecy seen in the early days of the empire which could explain why it seems so intent on gathering as much raya as possible into one place.
The Golrai Empire spawned from the extremely religious Raian culture of humanity. The culture was made up primarily of small farming villages that were devoted to worship of the Elden Pantheon of gods. These disparate villages' destiny changed when god-breeding was discovered, the act of breeding children to increase their chances of becoming a raya. Selective breeding among humans required such an intense infrastructure that the small villages began expanding and combining to form the beginnings of the empire. Originally, priests were the leaders of the nation, claiming to have divine ears so they could determine the best traits for raya of different domains. However, a particularly potent golraya candidate supposedly had a vision of a great darkness that only the most powerful of raya could hope to stop. This led to a restructuring of the government so that the families most dedicated to breeding golraya were in charge, along with the development of Minor Noble Houses and priests taking a more supportive role. Eventually, the empire began to expand, claiming that spreading their religious beliefs was an important part of protecting the world from evil, although many believe that the evil foreseen was Golrai. Now, they are locked in combat on the borders of Eskarr and Pikor and intense political rivalry with Vryer. They even have found a way to butt heads with the relatively peaceful Remnant Isles.
Demography and Population
Most of the people in the empire are human, especially in the southern region, bordering the Raian Protectorate. There also is a larg portion of raya compared to other human nations, due to the specific act of god-breeding, leading to most raya being in noble houses, although some are born in the poorer, more rural southern villages. One can find several orcs in the northern cities where they are generally integrated into Golraian culture. Outside of the cities, some orcs still gather, practicing the ancient ways, but they are a dying breed compared to city orcs and the Eskarrans. Also in the northern cities, one can occasionally find a bogwum who escaped from the Hive and did not feel safe in the swamp. The west of the empire tends to have a higher proportion of half-elves with the occasional full blooded elf, almost all immigrants or closely related to an immigrant from the Remnant Isles. While it is possible to see Pikorans in the eastern regions of the empire, it is exceptionally rare for them to come down from the mountains.
The Golrai Empire controls most of the center of the continent, starting from the northern most of the boreal forests that spatter across the Raian Protectorate, up through the plains to the northern swamps of Eskarr. To the east, Golrai extends through foothills up the mountains of Pikor and extends to the coastline to the west. Most of Golrai was seized through military conquest, although the regions have near completely been assimilated into the empire, small resistance movements crushed under the heel of the Mortal Gods. However, some of its more recent acquisitions still put up a struggle. The plains orcs have fought against the Golraians ever since most of their brethren relocated to the swamps, laying the occasional raids on cities. Meanwhile, the peninsula to the east, which is the empire's closest access to the Remnant Isles, has many settlements of non-imperial humans and half-elves which resent the Golraian occupation of their land. While Golrai nominally controls the Raian Protectorate, it has much more autonomy than the empire would like, often trading with political rivals such as Vryer and Pikor. This is especially embittering to the Mortal Gods since the protectorate supposedly contains the original homeland of humanity.
To support its conquest, Golrai has a robust military with a complex draft system to ensure it has enough bodies to throw at its enemies. Along with drafted soldiers, many poorer Golraians sign up willingly either for the relatively generous pay, or for genuine belief in their nation or its cause. Above the common rank and file, the Golraian military also makes use of hired generals, often with non-raya members of noble houses. Other positions of power are filled in with rayas belonging to the domain of war, often receiving a lot of specialized training from priests of the war god. The head of the military is nominally the golraya of the god of war, though in reality they are often constantly surrounded and aided by high level priests and family members.
Religion is very important to the operation of the Golrai Empire, seen in how its leaders are seen as gods among men. The empire is built upon the practice of god-breeding and the belief that the gods of the Elden Pantheon will inhabit the bodies of specially bred humans. The specific religion surrounds a pantheon of gods that rule over several domains, with each Major Noble House being connected to one of the domains. The importance of religion is also seen in the prominence of priests in Golraian culture. Those in noble families that are not raya or golraya often become ordained in the priesthood so they can more easily help their inhabited family members. Priests also will often help in various positions in towns and cities such as teachers, guard captains, librarians, or bankers.
The Golrai Empire has not made many friends since it began it's rapid expansion and conquest. This is exemplified in how it is in active military conflict with both Eskarr and Pikor, with Golraian troops struggling to fight guerilla fighters in both the swamps of the north and the mountains of the east. However, these are not the only nations it struggles with, as it also struggles against Vryer in a political game of subterfuge and persuasion as both nations try to assert dominance over the semi-autonomous Raian Protectorate. Finally, Golrai is in constant communication with the universities of the Remnant Isles, attempting to convince the headmasters to allow the empire to use some of the forbidden magics discovered from the elves.
The Light of Heaven
The Golrai Empire and the Kingdom of Vryer have never liked each other, but in recent decades those tensions have increased with conflict over the Raian Protectorate. The protectorate is officially under the guardianship of the empire, which displeases Vryer, as the protectorate contains the historical origin point of humanity. For several decades, both the empire and the kingdom have been sending agents to try to influence the leaders of the semi-autonomous state in an attempt to wrest complete control of the region for themselves.
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