Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Thawing Kingdom: Draailant

This is a Thawing Kingdom post. If you have not heard of the Thawing Kingdom before-

Ah, wait a moment.

This isn't about the Thawing Kingdom. When you stand on a high hill and look south, in a place where no mountain obstructs your path, you'll sometimes see it. Dark clouds lining the southern horizon, clouds that snow ash. Sometimes they even come close enough that their soot falls on the red water of the Iron Swamp, where an invasion force hailing from the same place rests dead and sunken in the mud. The people know that the devils came from that place in a great long caravan of emaciated imps and bandaged and beaten hellions. That they were murdered and exiled once the Gods had fallen to earth.

In that place, machines of cast iron and metal belch and sneeze black smoke, they drink oil and they eat burning coals like snorting and wheezing hogs. While King Iceheart's kingdom slept, another lay wide awake with megalomaniacal ideas.

The Indomitable Heart of Fire. The Antroparchy of Vlauros, where gods fell before Man. This is what the the dwellers of the Thawing Kingdom call Draailant.

Art by Chris Cold

When the then-kingdom of Vlauros killed their gods, they tumbled from the flaming blood-red sky through a maelstrom of clouds, and crashed onto the earth. There were three of them. So now, the Machine Church has its vaticans built on the three divine corpses, where it excavates the knowledge to build its infernal machines from their brains. Its clergy of savants drink the blood of the Gods and it allows them to wield powerful Pyromancies and Profanities. They are the political rulers of the Antroparchy, and among them, the circle of Pontiffs holds the highest authority. Do note, the Machine Church does not worship machines. It celebrates humanity, or at least the humanity of Vlauros, and its ability to create the machines. It's a technocratic, egotistic progress cult, who believe in right of conquest and exploitation under the banner of alchemical and technical advancement. A twisted Enlightenment movement, a result of the giddy adrenaline shot and ego boost that literally killing God tends to cause. Instead of ensuring the worship of a God, the Church ensures that Vlauros never really falls short of progress hype. They maintain a nation-wide momentum of mania.

The monarch of Vlauros is long dead, incinerated in an iron-maiden-like petrol engine and blown into the atmosphere as a soot cloud. What's the point of God-given right to rule, if God's corpse is bleeding out on the dirt? Instead they chose the title of Antroparchy. Reigned by humans.

Art by Ihor Pasternak, Field of Thorns

To maintain its fervor of advancement, Vlauros constantly eats up more territory, space and resources. That is why they are continually trying to expand, to innovate, to conquer, to celebrate. The land is gutted and deboned for the last lump of coal, the last grain of iron. Trees no longer exist in Vlauros, as living wood is a waste of perfectly good charcoal. All buildings are made from stone, clay, and fired brick. And of course, iron. But that's just because of the machines. There's so many of them, built so indiscriminately, and why leave space open when you can fit a machine in! There's always use for a machine. In the centuries that the Thawing Kingdom slept in the ice, Vlauros developed the power of coals and built steam engines. However, once whatever they used to kill the Gods fell into their hands, their engineering progressed immensely. Oil. Petrol. Devils in torment, and intense Pyromancies, bound in engines. Single machines range from the size of a cat to that of an entire factory compound.

There are few kinds of animals that can survive in Vlauros. Those that do are creatures that have adapted to their new smog-choked, dead and hot environment. A sort of crusty lichen that lives off the heat of the machines as energy source, abundant and the basis of the food chain. Ash dung beetles. Factory smoke moths. Thickly carapaced reptiles with air-filtering lungs and a blowhole for the accumulated soot. Petrol vampires, flapping and flying, that bite through sheet metal and suck the fuel out of tanks and reservoirs. Somehow the bastards can actually digest it. They explode when you shoot them with a gun after a meal though. A notorious tall tale amongst factory homunculi is that of a flaming dragonfly and beetle zooming over the barren plains, one always appearing in the soil as a reflection. Hah. What a story. Must be the smoke, tar and ash finally choking out their flame.

Art by Andreas Rocha

It's hard to speak of Vlaurean nobility, because pretty much all of Vlauros' human populace are as wealthy as what you'd normally consider nobles. They don't need a working class, because their factories are manned by legions of homunculi and golems. Expendable, servile, mass-manufactured humanoids made of stone and clay that pyromancers jammed a tiny spark of True Flame into, which is the material of the soul. Funnily enough they need to pull those sparks out of their own souls, because contrary to what they expected, the Gods turned out not to have any. Anyhow, homunculi. Low-maintenance slaves that contrary to the classic human model, you can actually grind back down and recycle. Efficiency! Only the ones who need to think for their job, can think. Only the ones who need to speak for their job, can speak. The Vlaureans are absolutely sure the things don't have emotions, independence of thought or a notion of existentialism, because they didn't give them any when they made them. But they are made with True Flame, even if it's just an ember of it. With soul. And the soul is a tricky thing.

Anyhow, with the homunculi doing the grunt work, the people of Vlauros are all craftsmen, scientists, innovators, engineers, pyromancers, and so on. They love to think of themselves as visionaries. The elite of the world, both in terms of power and intellect. As you can imagine the average Vlaurean is a massive imperialist. And as befits imperialists, they love showing off their wealth and power in the most baroque and over-ornamented way. Manor and palace gardens are filled with roses and flowering trees made of fire, whose cinders twirl like petals. Fountains are filled with molten metal instead of water. High fashion means fiery dresses that leave a tail of dancing smoke and cinders, wigs of flame that instead of falling down reach up far into the air and lick the ceiling. Vlaureans are obsessed with fire. Enraptured by it. They're eternal pyromaniacal children staring into the fireplace. Vlaurean pyromancers are gardeners, couturiers, sculptors, painters. Artists. But make no mistake. They are also soldiers, torturers, and war criminals. For every cinder-rose, a meadow blackened. For every blazing ballgown, a skin charred. For every firework in the sky, an incinerating rain unto the ground.

Fire elementals may not exist, but they don't need to. Vlaureans will do just fine.

Art by Giorgio Grecu
In the Thawing Kingdom, very few people would know any of this, because the Vlaureans can't get past the Iron Swamp. The wet cold of the Kingdom is too much for them: not only has their growing affinity for fire caused most of them to grow paltry and weak in the cold, their machines aren't build for the marshy, wet terrain. This is something the Swamp attests to. It's filled with half-sunken iron war engines and snuffed out homunculi soldiers that are now just crude clay statues. Ironically, the kingdom's greatest ailment also protects them against the fiery conquerors southwards. Mind, passing beyond the Swamp is also difficult for denizens of the kingdom. Vlauros' air is so hot and filled with soot and pollution that it is hard to breathe for non-Vlaureans.

However, as I said, Vlaureans are conquerors and explorers. That means that naturally the Iron Swamp does not stop all of them. Vlaurean Boreonauts have crafted harnesses with furnaces on their back, that keep the heat and flame inside, and pyromancers can summon inner fire that keeps them heated. They may be found exploring the Iron Swamp. Past it they dare not go, on account of the half-thawed, who would be attracted to a person wearing a box of fire on their back like moths to a lamp. Not to mention imbuing yourself with it. What they also try is flying over with hot air balloons, which normally don't work in Vlauros because the air there is already far too hot. So, it's possible to sometimes see a black, strange shape fly over, from which Draailanders wrapped in thick coats and scarves peer down with binoculars.

Art by Remedios Varo