The Castlemoons are a criminal organization led by seven families. Its leadership is based out of Nurum Vos
, capital of Galori
. Responsible for a gamut of illegal activities, the group’s true infamy issues from its association with The Exiled Tradition
, as smugglers of arcane contraband. Fis Malhitu
and Ternontes Lasa
head up the syndicate’s two primary ruling families.
The streets of Nurum Vos were treacherous to walk but a short century ago. Tigo Amalfa, the city's governor, was then up to his ears in debt to the lord of Nurum Taevil and thus lacked means to support the apparatus of government, including vital functions such as guard patrols. Crime flourished; city gangs came to dominate the local economy; and heated rivalries between them made for bloody business that too often spilled over to the citizenry, threatening lives, limbs, and livelihoods. This tumultuous circumstance gave rise to the notorious Castlemoons, a syndicate formed by the Malhitu
("Castle", in the Ouram
language) and Lasa
("Moon") families, both major players in the underworld, who banded together to crush their rivals. Yet something surprising resulted: Instead of enhancing civic disorder, the Castlemoons returned the city to a state of well-guided governance, paradoxically, through their native civic pride and shared desire to see the city prosper, even as they continued to rule behind the scenes. Their aggressive investment strategies in local businesses succeeded to spur Nurum Vos’s transition from slum-like dilapidation to one of Galori’s safest settlements.
The Castlemoons presently stand among the most powerful underworld organizations on the continent of Rela
and are certainly the most feared due to whispers of an alliance with Hex
necromancers which, despite scant evidence, are probably correct. In their native Galori, where speaking the name Castlemoon aloud is grounds for bad luck, syndicate members are called catasa
, a type of lizard known for regrowing lost limbs. The euphemism references the group’s uncanny ability to recuperate after any number of losses – to replace agents and even entire networks inexplicably quickly after authorities extinguish them. Such tenacity bedevils the law-abiding as surely as it enriches Castlemoon bosses and may well owe to the magical backing that no one has yet uncovered.
1. Local Success
The earliest foundations of the group’s joint enterprise were laid through protection racketeering. Merchants of Nurum Vos paid through the nose during the city’s time of trouble for the much-needed insurance they provided, any who were involved in illegal activities all the more so. Those who failed to pay unleashed a brutality that grew to be a defining feature of Castlemoon retribution.
Over time, due in no small part to increased surveillance by the town guard, these arrangements settled into routine, business-like relationships, sometimes with a cordial cast. Less struggle meant smoother sailing for everyone, and coffers swelled. Noting that cooperation with the Castlemoons could equal a hefty profit, young entrepreneurs with more ambitions than ethics sought them out to pitch new illicit ideas. Before long, the families had expanded their operations to include gambling, loansharking, embezzlement, and periodic espionage on behalf of protected clients.
Collective wealth hit a high following the families’ purchase and conversion of three harbourfront properties: Two were used as warehouses to store illegal goods, while the other became the famous Casino Ahntu
. The Ahntu earned wildly more in its early days than truck in illegal goods did due to the small size of the Castlemoons’ distribution network. But a new development would change all that.
Above: Wealthy patrons at the Casino Ahntu
Pão carracks, with their characteristic black and white stripes, had occupied the harbour in Nurum Vos for so long as to have lent the docks their name: Due-Cas
(“Black-White”). The owners of those ships, the Pão family
, were prominent traders who conducted commerce with the islands of Albagar
to the south, from which they imported into the Dece Gulf and along the Sortu River such exotic goods as pearls, coffee, tea, indigo, sugar, nutmeg, cloves, and, above all, Riangh
, a spice so coveted and so rare that wars had been waged
Details are foggy, but at some point the Pão and the Castlemoons struck an informal bargain which facilitated the latter’s virgin break into maritime trade – if with a quite different focus than the Pão. Opium, grown in South Beribon
, became the mob’s new obsession, and in turn that of Rela: From Miesz
, clients crawled out of the woodwork for a taste, and the Pão along with their underworld partners reaped the rewards.
The Castlemoons’ involvement was not commonly known about by authorities, though city ministers in Nurum Vos and later, the King of Galori developed a keen interest in the opium enterprise and levied so steep a tax on the good the Pão could scarcely have paid it if not for the less savory clientele these criminals introduced by way of new connections with The Iron Ring
and the Ghost Dogs
, counterparts to the Malhitu and Lasa stationed in areas where the drug was banned. As more of Rela’s population succumbed to ruinous effects, state leaders prohibited its use on their lands as well, inspiring the Castlemoons to commandeer the operation from their more legitimate friends…whose ships they remained happy to use.
3. Changing Fortunes
The Pão came under closer scrutiny following the appointment of a new mayor eager to tackle the city’s crime problem; the Castlemoons consequently lost access to their ships. Gold from the sale of opium plummeted as shipments reduced to a trickle. Payments from the Iron Ring and Ghost Dogs ceased as well, once they started sourcing their own contacts out of impatience. Due to simple lack of cash, the mob’s influence dwindled.
This downturn was heightened by another crisis: the death of Avãosa
, Senhstu (“Head”) of the Malhitu family, whose leadership had helped tie together the six other ruling families (see ‘Organization’ below). His death was intensely felt by both the Malhitus and others, and complications to his succession made it all the more poignant. Avãosa left behind two sons. The eldest, Scarsan, had an irascible temperament and a history of stirring up violence with associates. Though ten years Scarsan’s junior, the younger brother, Fis, had a level head and would have been favoured to rule if not for two things. First, tradition dictated that succession should occur along strictly filial lines, chronologically. A younger son could not overtake an older one except in a truly extreme case. Second, known only to his inner circle, Fis had racked up significant gambling debts - some to other families, some to unknown outside sources, every one a princely sum. If he did by some chance manage to succeed his brother, these entanglements could no longer be swept under the rug, and the leverage his lenders would have over family business would pose a weighty problem.
Then suddenly, Scarsan’s opium addiction came to light, prompting the Seven Families to unanimously elect Fis the new head of the Malhitus. Fis's dilemma, which in any case was not common knowledge, mysteriously "went away"; however, one or two eyebrows raised when the Castlemoons proved able to return to the opium trade so soon after the change of leadership. Ships this time were supplied, surreptitiously, by the Duta and the Que, merchant families in close competition with the Pão that enjoyed close connections to the House of Viinzu
, a new banking dynasty whose recent rise to prominence was a subject of controversy about town. Because the Duta and Que had less to gain than to lose through this arrangement, a few perceptive souls wondered if the Viinzus might have a stake in things, though the renewed influx of wealth did much to bury skeptics’ concerns. No one, however, could have anticipated the next radical pivot.
4. The Arcane Black Market
It’s completely unknown how the Castlemoons managed to secure a pipeline to arcane contraband. One day, opium was the mainstay; the next, henchmen were advised they’d be smuggling Exiled goods, a supremely dangerous cargo. Superstition being what it is, the move was unpopular among the crew, but ledgers recorded heretofore unimaginable sums of Periza
, and resistance faded. Crates packed with alchemical equipment and ingredients, spell scrolls and relics soon lined ships’ holds. Periodically, anonymous people were also trafficked beneath deck. Guards had strict orders to refrain from questioning these “guests”. The assumption these passengers were Hex sorcerors seeking to evade Council checkpoints was widely shared.
Clientele for Exiled commodities were a world apart from any the Castlemoons had had experience with. Clandestine circles and cabals operating outside of Council jurisdiction, and a rare handful of actual Council defectors were suddenly patrons, along with a fair few would-be wizards who could afford to pay the soaring prices commanded by the deadly baubles. The mob struggled to align itself with their collectively strange ways, but building bridges was well worth the trouble. Even an unimpressive pouch of dried leaves, if crucial to a healing salve, could fetch several times its weight in gold. Writings by Khajuro
, the Master of the Exiled Tradition, were peerlessly expensive: a single sheet of parchment could cost as much as a small keep. Commentaries on Khajuro’s works came a close second, especially for books with prestigious provenances. The greatest amount of interest in The Thief’s works was shown by The Servants of Darkness
, a peculiar association who grew to be the Castlemoons’ most reliable, and highest-paying, customers.
Most new clients lived in Draksineon
. And that was a problem because the place, being the center of the world of magic and home to most of the continent’s mages, was and is somewhat…unfriendly…to ne’er-do-wells. Notwithstanding the oath Council mages swear to leave mundane justice to the mundanes, most sensible crooks tend to find super-powerful beings in their midst a deterrent to their natural inclinations. The Black Mercies
- those tireless hunters of the Exiled - swear no such oath, of course, and their bustling network of spies scours the nooks and crannies of the countryside for contraband constantly. Against all odds, the Castlemoons have to date made fair ingress into the Golden Land, but doing so required a shift in their organizational structure, as detailed below.
1. Initial Merger
The only two families to hold power during the first decade of their collaboration were the Malhitus and Lasas. Their earliest model of governance borrowed wholesale from tradition and was defined through its patriarchal and nepotistic elements: Members were born into it and the eldest male relative called the shots.
This top-down approach worked well applied to a single family group; but no two families had cooperated before, thus it was unclear how things should run with not one but two bosses in charge. Initially, problems that arose were worked out between the heads of each family ad hoc, and things for the most part remained congenial. Religion helped provide substantial common ground: The Malhitus and Lasas were both devoted members of the Congregation of the Ascended
, swore initiation oaths to the same Aspects
(like gods), and prayed to the same patron Exemplars (like saints) with a piety so sincere as to be comic, considering their felonious ways. As the Castlemoons expanded their operations and old enemies sought to join them, new need arose to adapt this casual style of negotiation into something more formal.
2. The Seven Families and the Charesa
Five more local families were in time incorporated into the ruling order: the Caiondi
, and Aze
. Thereafter, the Castlemoons were synonymously known as The Seven Families. Each family continued to be run by an appointed Head, or Senhstu
, though the new additions were restricted from acting independently as they used to. Instead, a council was formed – Charesa
(“stitch”, also “letter of the alphabet”) – so named for its role in holding everything together. Meetings convened in Nurum Vos, home of the founding families, though members such as the Azes of Adermili lived as far away as northern Roular
. Many set up bases of operations just outside the city proper to avoid the long journey.
At the heart of the Charesa was the Suru-toustu
(“Merit Vote”) system, which allotted new members votes at the ruling table proportional to the portion of earnings the Castlemoons took in tribute. This produced a cutthroat atmosphere but ultimately proved extremely good for business, inspiring smaller families especially to great feats - such as the Trazu, who in their first year nearly doubled profits in hopes of being dealt into the group’s most ambitious projects. The Suru, or Vote, is reassessed twice a year in correspondence with Eterri and Inoryi, the Grand Festivals
of Spring and Fall.
Edicts of the Charesa are binding on all family members, whether or not in actual attendance. It is incumbent upon the Senhstus to ensure important news is communicated throughout the ranks. Penalties for disobedience, even in ignorance, are severe.
Though some on the Charesa begrudge the Malhitu-Lasa monopoly (as attested to by the odd assassination attempt), in general, there is little motive to topple the order. The Castlemoons’ southern contacts make everybody rich, while no one else knows who these hidden figures are or has enough of a death wish to find out. Better to preserve the status quo, stay alive, and sip fine wine.
So, no one doubts the hierarchy; however, camaraderie is far from rare. More often than not, those working under the Charesa view themselves as brothers and sisters rather than rivals. Indeed, the code all swear to, the Vutasu
(“cost”) upholds a certain honour among thieves. No sworn member is permitted to reveal anything about the group or any of its members to authorities, on penalty of death. Relatedly, no member may double-cross another. If one uncovers treachery within the ranks, the proper course of action is to run it up the flag pole, to ensure it is dealt with directly by the bosses. This downright genteel consideration is very much denied hirelings, as their pet name among the Castlemoons makes crystal clear.
3. Dedasa and Dẽquiu: The Gangs
- “Donkeys” – is the endearing term which reflects the baseness of labour and level of intelligence Castlemoons impute to contracted help. Most Dedasa belong to small criminal outfits, such as local gangs. They are used for a few reasons, chiefly for the plausible deniability they grant the mob. Dedasa also are very good at penetrating into areas with more scrutinizing authorities, like Draksineon, as their lower profiles help them move beneath the radar with greater ease.
Relationships between the mob and its associates range from close-knit to arms length, but all are tasked on a per-project basis, and none enjoy the inherent benefits of Castlemoon membership. Hireling organizations are given a fairly wide berth to run things how they want to, so long as their actions don’t result in blowback for their benefactors. The Castlemoons deal exclusively with gang leaders. Fees are paid directly to them, and leaders in turn dole out rewards to their thugs as each sees fit. Administering discipline also falls to those in command, save in the rare case where a wholesale change in management is called for; and woe betide whoever may be in charge.
Rarely, lucky (or perhaps unlucky) gang members do graduate to become a Castlemoon. Such elevated individuals tend to serve as a point of contact to their old gang, ensuring that directives from the higher-ups are carried out smoothly by them. This path of progression requires a full-blooded Castlemoon to vouch for one, a potentially risky decision for both parties. Those minted in this way are called Dẽquiu
Though they come to earn the respect and even fear of their erstwhile peers, Dẽquiu never enjoy the same stature as those born into a family on the Charesa, not only because of their outsider status, but because they are also often members of culturally and/or ethnically marginalized communities - which indeed is a common reason for their joining a gang in the first place, given the opportunities it provides to accrue social status and wealth, denied to foreigners in many settings. Being Galorican is intrinsic to being a “true” Castlemoon. Not all in the group are outright racists, but a strong in-group bias is certainly prevalent.
Ever since they had the Council via the Black Mercies to deal with, the Castlemoons have eagerly courted those with magical backgrounds to fill out their numbers.
Those with the Gift used to be barred from admittance, prior to the Castlemoons' dealings with the Exiled Tradition, due to inherent misgivings about magic itself, and about where the loyalties of mages were bound to lie – not to mention the exorbitant price tag of those selling services. But profits from Exiled contraband made mages newly affordable, not to mention necessary, though old prejudices have not tapered quickly.
Wage discrepancies between mages and regular members these days account for a lot of the bad blood: Those with natural talents are hired on at 100 Periza
per month, while Council-trained mages receive up to ten times that sum, with additional bonuses for each new apprentice they take on. (It is against Council Law to teach without oversight, though defectors rarely care, having broken several laws already.) There is an unspoken expectation that mages who can teach, will, to better arm the Castlemoons against enemies with arcane powers (i.e. most of them these days). Espionage is not a typical Castlemoon forte, but mage operatives are occasionally used to burrow within Council ranks, in hopes of outpacing the relentless Mercies. Most, however, are used to accompany shipments of Exiled goods, to ensure their safe arrival into the hands of buyers.