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Minor Kingdoms: The Fringe
The world is a vast place, and the splintering of the Shogunate left dozens, if not scores, of minor kingdoms scattered about. These kingdoms are made up of those who are too powerful to conquer without effort and too impoverished or small for such a conquest to be worthwhile. Living in this limbo, they continue to scratch out a living, using a variety of tricks to avoid being crushed by the world's giant nations. Sometimes a new nation is created through revolt or foundation, and sometimes one is absorbed by a larger power. These minor wars make up the bulk of the wars of Creation, and these wars keep the weaponsmakers in jade.
There are no fringe kingdoms on the Blessed Isle, but every other corner of Creation has these nations. What follow are a few examples of nations from each corner of the world; they represent the sorts of nations that are being created and falling throughout the centuries.
Although New Estasia stretches across the frozen north, it is not the sole power in the region. Rebels, Shogunate loyalists, and barbarian tribes battle for the resources of the northern lands, and the harsh climate does not easily forgive the weak.
Sitting on the southern edge of the north, Charidak is a kingdom of barely two million people, nestled underneath New Estasia. The nation has survived to date by means of a careful tightrope walk between New Estasia and Pangu; locals worship both the Immaculate Dragons and the Machine God, and neither great nation has of yet been willing to risk the other's displeasure by conquering the land. For their part, Cheridak has been managing this balancing act since the Ashen Crusade, and shows no sign of letting up. They are ruled by a constitutional monarchy, which is mortal in nature.
Cheridak serves as the primary port for trade between Pangu and New Estasia, and trade is its lifeblood; although the nation produces agriculture, lumber, and ore, any disruption of trade between the two nations would be almost crippling.
Lying north of New Estasia, Alabaster serves as the focal point for rebellion and unrest against the Estasian occupiers. Although New Estasia has launched numerous military attacks against the nation, however, it has thus been unable to seriously harm the young nation.
This is primarily because of Alabaster's location. The region lies almost entirely within the Shadowland created by the capture of the Estasian gate by the Lover Clad in the Rainment of Tears, and the Lover's soldiers and minions attack any Autochthonian who enters the region. The hungry ghosts and zombie soldiers that patrol the borders ignore those living without soulstones, however, and the Lover's intelligent soldiers only attack those they identify as an invading force. Because of this, many refugees have come here, where they plot revenge.
Alabaster is a cold land, filled with the destitute and the desperate. The dead walk alongside the living, urging them towards vengeance, and this land is filled with a dark hatred of everything Autochthonian. What would happen if New Estasia actually fell is a matter of some debate, but it is the only thing that the republic that rules the nation worries about. With seats belonging to the living and the dead, Alabaster is a bridge between life and death.
Barbarian tribes are a serious concern to northern kingdoms, and the icerunners are no exception. Disdaining New Estasia, they roam freely across the tundra, fighting Estasian patrols, raiding Estasian towns, and using stolen technology and personal cunning to keep one step ahead of the invaders.
The Icerunners are actually a number of tribes. In the days of the Shogunate, they were ruled loosely by the Dynasts, who considered them essentially harmless, and they have no particular dislike for them. They are primarily hunters, following herds of cariboo and mammoth for their meat, but disasterous attempts by New Estasia to force them into Estasian ways of life have led to a two-hundred year running war between the two. Silver Pact Lunars have, from time to time, led given icerunner tribes or aided others, further helping the mortals in their war. Icerunners use riding elk, hang-gliders, snowrunners, and whatever else they can salvage; although they do not rely on technology, they are not shy about its use.
Populous and diverse, the East has a number of nations that do not follow the rule of Deheleshenn or Rathess. As a rule, Deheleshenn keeps an eye on each of these nations, and its military advises the steward and his council as to whether one is becoming too fractitious to be allowed to continue. However, they are fairly easy-going, provided that the splinter nations not associate with 'enemies of the Shogunate', and thus nations can be a small amount less cautious; in fact, Deheleshenn's ongoing war against Rathess means that some nations that are just powerful and rebellious enough to be problematic get overlooked when they probably shouldn't.
Founded in the days of the Shogunate, Halta is a strange nation, ruled amongst the trees. Quietly influenced by Lunars who were neither of the Pact nor the Undercities, Halta grew unseen, paying the same tributes to the Shogunate as any other nation, until the great Autochthonian war hit. There, the people of Autochthon discovered that the tree warriors had Fair Folk allies and guerilla tactics, and they gave up on advancing in that direction, signing a treaty with Halta of non-agression.
In modern days, Halta is precariously balanced. It produces little, and an invasion would be difficult, likely to succeed only by burning the trees to the ground, so Deheleshenn is content to let it be. Haltans trade with Deheleshenn, maintain their own skyship services, and transmit a number of popular radio broadcasts into the nation, but is not generally considered by the more populous nations. Its people remain hardy and fierce, as well as being fairly isolationist.
Nestled in the far southeast, Darenn is a thriving but extremely minor kingdom. Once a Shogunate outpost, the locals were routinely oppressed and viciously tormented by Shogunate forces. When the Autochthonian war began, the outpost was left poorly defended, and was overrun in a native uprising.
Now, Darenn is ruled by the locals, who have resurrected their old kingdom. The people trade with Deheleshen and Chiaroscuro, but are extremely resentful of any attempts to curb their autonomy. As they produce and gather a large number of jungle herbs and medicines, the larger kingdoms can't be bothered to fight them, and allow them their freedom. Quietly, Darenn also trades frequently with Rathess, feeling some kinship with the constantly warring Dragon Kings.
On the eastern fringes of Deheleshenn is a vast swamp. The Mire, as it is commonly called, is a place of danger and harsh life. Relics of the Anathema can be found here, along with wyld-tainted mutants, dangerous automata, and similar monstrosities. The Mire is one of the few areas of the world where the Wyld still holds, this long after the Fair Folk invasion.
Within the edges of the swamp lies the kingdom of Soriana. A kingdom of exiles and misfits, it is populated by those who found Deheleshenn too restricting. In this brutal land, too ravaged for Deheleshenn to do more than post patrols along its border, people have found lives that are their own. Their government is barely existant, and their taxes and social systems are virtually nonexistant. It is a dangerous land, and not one of the weak, but it is a free one.
In the burning sands of the South, Chiaroscuro holds sway, and any nation that wishes to stand alone must do so with care. While there are many nations that are officially free, they are truly puppet-states. Only a few nations have the strength of arms and valor to resist the Diamond Throne, and they live their lives in suspicion and worry.
Once, An-Teng was the glorious jewel of the Southeast, a land of leisure and recreation, where the Shogunate's finest rested and relaxed. Once, it was a fertile land and a strong one, its many powers masked under tranquility and peace.
But that was long ago. An-Teng is a destroyed land, occupied by Chiaroscuro, its patron gods destroyed and its fields ruined. First Age weapons reduced entire stretches of landscape to rubble, and even after hundreds of years, the population is a broken and battered one. An-Teng pays tribute to Chiaroscuro out of their meager production, but this is almost an afterthought. There is little produced here, and less enjoyed. Although An-Teng is not a Shadowland, it might as well be, and its population slowly dwindles.
The nation known as the Lap lies in the mountains of the south, bordering Chiaroscuro in its placement. A prominant mining city, the Lap was at the forefront of the Autochthonian invasion, and still bears the scars of the war. Machinery and Essence engines mix freely with old-fashioned buildings. The Lap is, in fact, a massive statue, towering over the landscape, sitting amongst mountains and volcanoes. The entire city is built in the lap of the "Watcher", hence its name.
The Lap maintains its freedom by means of extensive tributes to Chiaroscuro, gained from its mining gemstones and jade. Chiaroscuro considers the tributes to be superior to the effort of invading and occupying the nation, but the situation may change. Tributes have risen slowly over the last forty years, and as the number of nations in the South shrinks, many elders of the Lap fear that their time cannot be far away.
In the far south, there lies a palace. Buried deep beneath the sands, it is a treasure trove of First Age artifacts. Once, it was the pleasure palace of a Solar, who altered his servants to be unable to stand the light of day in order to prevent their escape. In the years following his death, they reverted to barbarism, becoming dangerous sand-dwellers who emerged at night to hunt.
A Lunar of the Undercity found these people in the days of the Shogunate purges. Hiding them from Shogunate purges, she helped them to grow into a secretive society of hunters deep beneath the sands. Blacksand tunnels stretch across the south, despite occasional attacks by strange monsters from the depths; the nation even sometimes encounters and trades with the Mountain Folk. They do some trade with Chiaroscuro, which is unable to effectively conquer them and therefore doesn't bother trying.
The high seas of the West number as many kingdoms, some say, as the rest of the world combined. While this is almost certainly exaggeration, it has a grain of truth; the islands of the West teem with different societies and ideals. Most of these nations are members of the Western League, taking part in the chaotic and frenzied collusion of ideals that this entails. A few, however, disdain the League, charting their own course through the world. Wars between these nations and League nations occur, but rarely occupy more than one or two League nations.
Not all of the West has turned aside from the Shogunate. The nation of Highwater, a pair of islands in the Northwest seas, considers the Shogunate to be an old dream that will rise again, and refuses to join any league that shelters the Shogunate's enemies. Highwater is ruled by a military governer, and trades with some neutral nations while disdaining others, using its armories to protect itself from raiders and invaders.
Highwater has yet to join any of the Shogunate fragments; although they have some sympathy for Pangu, they are uncertain about the excessive strength of its faith. If any two of the four potential Shogunate claimants merge, the governer of Highwater may be persuaded to join as well, lending his nation's strong fleet and decent economy to the new realm.
There are many dangers in the West, and not the least of them are the pirate fleets called the Lintha. Demon-worshippers and blood-soaked monsters, the Lintha fleets roam the seas, their ever-moving bases slipping across the West ahead of any retribution; their very cities are fleets of ships linked together by magic and technology; radios embodied by corrupted spirits connect their ships. Having survived the Shogunate Purges and the Ashen Crusade, they are as strong as ever.
There are almost no pure-blooded Lintha left in the world; centuries of being hunted have worn them down. But new members are always joining, pledging themselves to Limberry, the Sea that Marches Against the Flame. Their rituals are dark and horrifying, and demons sail with them on the seas. Where the Lintha strike, fear grips the heart. They are not welcome in most lands, but there are still those who will trade with them and offer them safety in exchange for money.
Far to the west, at the very edge of the world, lies the Azure Archipelago. Its people are subdued and reserved, scattered across seventeen islands, each of which has small fishing villages and towns, none with over 5,000 people. Every island trades with the others, in a sort of minor version of the League itself; each has a different ruling council, and an overall council governs the Archipelago.
However, the natives of the Azure dislike and distrust outsiders. They have no trade to speak of, refuse to speak anything but their own, insular language (even if they understand others at all, which is rare), and, according to rumour, even kidnap travellers to sacrifice to their dark gods. While this last is mostly a myth, it is true that the Archipelago has Fair Folk patrons, who are under oath to leave the inhabitants intact, but have no such qualms about visitors. The entire archipelago is a dangerous place to visit, and those who know of it advise others not to venture there.