The Unquiet Lands
The Empire is troubled of late. Taxes on both goods and money only seem to increase each year, regardless of whether the harvest is plentiful or lacking. However, it was the sudden suppression of the popular Church of Avandra ten months ago that pushed matters into open rebellion. The imperial response has so far been predictable and merciless, but not yet successful. Spring saw the seeds planted in relative quiet, but in the growing heat of summer, each side appears to tensely await the other’s first move.
The Empire of Aucothia stretches from its capital of Aucoth in the dry, western plains, through the broad passes of the great central range, to the sea in the east. It reaches north to the unmapped tundra and south to the foothills of the Orange Peaks. Except in the frozen north and the wet coast, it is a land characterized by long, scorching summers, and even longer, frigid winters, with little in between. It is known by some as the Masterless Empire, for the Emperor, who is always named Aucoth, is never revealed to the public; never announced to have died, been born, or succeeded to the throne; and is even said to communicate with the members of the ruling Star Council only through their dreams.
The Star Council enforces its will through the offices of the Constellation Bureau, which directly controls the apparatus of empire through numerous ministries and offices. There are two state religions: the church of the Great Master Kord, run from the High Temple in the capital, and the Cult of the Emperor. It is not the current emperor, but the first emperor, who is so revered. The military arm of the cult is the most feared armed force in any land: the Bone Lancers. This religious order is supplemented by a cadre of wizardly advisors. It has never been defeated in open battle by a lesser army, and itself has defeated vastly larger forces. The Bone Lancers have defended the Empire from invasion, expanded its borders, and ferociously quelled any internal descent.
There is no national levy, nor is there a proper feudal system. Aristocratic landowners license their titles from the Ministry of Peerage, and can maintain their private armies or hire out one of the numerous mercenary bands. However, woe betide the would-be magnate that earns the wrath of the Bone Lancers who are, incidentally, the most generous, wealthiest, and largest employers of mercenaries, themselves. The recognized churches can have their own military orders or use the same methods as the landowners. The term “knight” is often used to denote a warrior akin to a housecarl, or a member of a military or religious order.
Besides the official religions, worship for most deities is allowed on an individual basis, but large congregations are forbidden, except for the two state religions, and the cloisters of Ioun, Sehanine, and the Raven Queen. However, the worship of Avandra and Moradin is strictly forbidden, as are devotions to Erathis, save those made through the Cult of the Emperor. The ban on the worship of Avandra is very recent and the order is still in the process of being carried out in most of the Empire. Generally, the depiction of deities is similar to that of saints or “great figures” to be emulated, rather than directly prayed to.
Life has rarely been easy in the Empire. The lands in the west are not sufficient to feed the capital, so food must be shipped from the east. To insure that there is no want, most farmers are bound to the land as serfs, chattel of the landowning aristocrats. With rebellion spreading across the land, many are agitating for a visible King to replace the hidden Emperor. Whether this King is to come from within the ranks of the fearsome, yet supposedly loyal, Bone Lancers, or from somewhere else, is a heated question among the rebel factions. Whatever the case, the days of the Masterless Empire may be reaching their end.