When I left you, I was a fool.
I thought to earn your love by becoming great.
my every day since we parted has been to become worthy of you,
I have gathered gold, and stories, and scars,
I gathered wisdom enough to be a man,
as I lay my eyes on you again, I only now know
It is a fool who leaves his love to find her, Hestralia.
Hestralia is a maritime power famed for its astounding beauty, its warm weather, vibrant people and competitive spirit. Its people are warm and welcoming, working vineyards and farms in the rolling hills of the interior, or crowding into the commercial powerhouses that line the coasts. A giant peninsula, Hestralia gets most of its wealth through international trade, facilitating the backbone of world commerce through its massive fleets of ships, owned by hundreds of independent shipping and trade companies.
Perhaps because of the natural bounty of the country, or its location away from the many frontiers and outside threats of the Throne, the Hestralian spirit is always seeking to test itself through adventure. Hestrali are known for their competitive energy, and this fire burns in all manner of ways. Some Hestrali strut as bravos, dueling with rapiers those who give them insult. Others take to the seas to earn their fortunes, making their mother proud by becoming a success in business and trade. Still others burn with a passion for all of life’s pleasures, and want to see it all and do it all before the sun sets on their short lives.
Unlike many other lands which emerged from the Age of Witchkings bruised and battered, Hestralian culture was all but annihilated. The Hestralian peninsula had become one of the chief battlegrounds of the war between the eldritch powers of the Witchkings, and suffered immensely for it. Chiefly, Geryon, Prince of Thorns, and Kasari the Hooded battled over the land.
Geryon, who declared himself the anointed Champion of Tarranthalus, Lazarolth and Kuarl, made Tyresia his capital, then an alpine town in the Northwest region, what is now Costa Nera. Over the course of his long rulership there, he grew it into a mighty city, and it was from there that the Ministry of Thorns emerged. This Church of the Triumvirate ministered to the Tyresnoi, the Reityi, Truvii, Carminoi, and other Hestrali tribes of the region, unifying them into the regional nation of Tyresia, which was aggressively expanding outward to the rest of Hestralia and along the Western coast to the Bösewald. While many of the records of that time have now been destroyed, it is clear that it was a nation which venerated the worship of the Triumvirate of Thorns. Its dark missionaries, calling themselves Kuarlim, Lazarim, and Tarranahim, or even the most fearsome, the Unifex, spread out from their capital in ever increasing number to found colonies throughout the peninsula.
Chief among the antagonists of this expansion was Kasari, called the Hooded, who seemed desirous of the same land or prizes and is otherwise considered to be one of the mighty Witchkings of that age. Unlike most Witchkings, which dominated the local populace into acting as an army on their behalf, Kasari acted alone but with incredible potency, appearing with an appalling area-wide silence and engaging in battle with the Ministry of Thorns. Kasari would almost invariably win these battles, using great swathes of blackness that simply unmade her foes. She was driven off successfully only when Geryon himself was present, and it is thought that she could appear literally anywhere she wished to in order to attack Geryon’s forces, so long as she learned of them, which lead to both the adoption of an air of secrecy among the Ministry of Thorns, and the need for informants among the Hestrali themselves.
Kasari’s antagonism of Geryon’s advance mostly acted to allow the Hestrali tribal kings, called Princes, to act more effectively in resisting Geryon. Instead of being dominated by Kasari, the Hestrali Princes grew to venerate her as their savior, and learned ways to send her information or appeal to her to arrive when they needed her to intervene. Some scant few of the princes and their circles even learned some of her black arts, and it is said that they could use it to make contact with her to beg intercession.
As the greater war of the Age of Witchkings pressed on, Kasari seemed to appear in Hestralia less and less often, and Geryon’s Triumvirate kingdom became decisively powerful. Benalus himself never reached Hestralia personally when he returned from exile, and so while he and his Eschaton were certainly well-known, Benalus’ monotheistic faith was just one among the many practiced in the country. Geryon’s Triumvirate faith was in some ways more synchronistic with the existing gods, and by the middle Age of Witchkings, its dark missionaries were well on their way to spreading their message out to other lands. The conventional wars between Geryon and the Hestralian Princes he defeated and absorbed were devastating to the land, but nothing compared to the total annihilation that followed – the ink.
The ottenebrata, the inchiostro, or simply “the ink”, was a darkness that crept forward out of Tyresia, appearing first as just a dimming of daylight, then a scarce daybreak between long, dark nights, then to a darkness so deep and so silent that even fire fades within. Because of the direction from which it spread, most assumed the ink was the will of the Prince of Thorns, but it quickly became clear that even that kingdom was in total anarchy, with refugees and even Ministry agents fleeing it in chaos. It seemed that instead, the tides of darkness were the result of some kind of decisive attack from Kasari, plunging Tyresia into a total blackness that spilled endlessly outward.
This event, whatever caused it, called the conclusion of the war for Hestralia. The ink swirled out and out from its source, until anything that stayed behind froze and died in the murk – animals fled in giant migrations or died there, while vegetation of all kinds was ruined entirely. It became obvious that the land, perhaps even the world, was dying, and panic broke out across Hestralia. The Kasarite Principalities that still managed to resist Geryon, chiefly in the South of the peninsula, commanded that their people stay in place and embrace the coming darkness, turning the posture of their armies inward to prevent the flight of their populations, but this was ineffective and quickly tossed those lands into anarchy. Every sane soul left alive tried to find a way to flee the country.
With the Vigil mountain range to the North – the only land passage out of the country and treacherous in the best of times – rendered impassable by the darkness, refugees who would survive the conflict were those who could take to the sea. Those people who had survived the fighting up to that point and could escape the mad Kasarite princes that dominated the South had no other recourse but to take to ship, raft, or flotilla, and get entirely away from the benighted land if they had any hope to survive. With each passing day growing dimmer, the southern coasts of Durata filled with refugees fleeing the wars and all of them took to ship building.
Today we embark not into exile, but into relief
We have ourselves, our families, our dreams, and our love
Where we go next, we take these treasures to share them,
and to those who leave with us, we shall see them again before long.
– Carving found at Trinto, Durata
For the Hestrali, their story begins here. Amidst a terrible, earth-shaking war climaxing in an apocalyptic loss of their homeland, the destitute Hestrali left behind all material possessions not essential to survival, used their last remaining weeks in the land of their heritage to strip lumber and lash rafts, then took to the sea to hope for a better life anywhere else. The ink seemed to encroach ever more slowly that far from the source, and there was talk that it could even be stopping. With hope that they could one day return, the Hestrali launched from many ports in many directions hoping to make landfall anywhere the wars may not reach them. The Hestrali called this their Vacanza, – their holiday away – and their hope still burned that it would be temporary.
Depending on their ports of origin and dispositions, the fleets formed into flotillas of many vessels, most protected by one or a few larger vessels made for combat – or quick to become prey to one. The captains of these warships were looked to for authority and leadership among the flotillas, given authority to decide the overall plan, direction of movement of their fleet, the right to use force to suppress mutiny, make law and dispense justice, and in short, act as rulers of their maritime kingdom. Testament to the fear inherent in the situation, the otherwise independent Hestrali were willing to give up almost total autonomy in order to give their Captains the best chance at getting them somewhere safe.
Captains took their fleets in every direction – some went West to modern Gotha, Rogalia, or Dunland, others East to Capacionne or Sha’ra, though they found those places no better off, embroiled in the chaos of their own crises. The most successful fleets in exile at finding peace went to the many isles in the Hestronne Sea called La Sorella, the Sisters, and lived among their distant cousins there on the isles, or found some uninhabited place rich in resources to settle permanently, though this was not typical, as terrible storms were a regular danger, and most fleets weren’t well-equipped enough to make such a long journey.
Most Captains did take their fleets far from Hestralia at all. While the mainland was dark and cold, it wasn’t impossible to survive there for short periods, and the coasts were still littered with treasures from wealthy city-states abandoned in haste. Daring raids back to the mainland for supplies or to wait out storms made the more daring Captains wealthy with supply, which had to be lugged along on cargo barges. This made their fleets slower, and they quickly became tempting targets for rival Captains. Pirate wars began between the various factions of Captains, and full-time naval aggression became the character of all outside interactions.
The Pirate Wars
Regions of Hestralia
Few actually live in Costa Nera, though many find cause to pass through. Positioned in the Northwest crook between Gotha and Hestralia, the Black Coast is a gloomy, abandoned land, where the sun never pierces the clouds. Bordering on the wine-dark Sea of Ink, it is sparsely populated, instead being a haven for pirates and cutthroats. Its dreary condition is due to it being the location of the Black Spot, the region that permits no light, with Vigevano, the famous pirate port, just outside.
The first area of resettling of Hestralia during the Lion Age, the Southwestern Carminia region is densely populated and a powerful industrial region. The Carminian people are respected for their shipwright and production, but they have been in financial decline since the end of the unification with their long-time rival of the northern Costa Luceste.
The rolling hills of central Hestralia are known for its landscapes, history, artistic legacy and its wine. Its cities, starkly divided by their factional loyalties, mark fortified areas between sweeping vistas of farmlands and vineyards.
The highlands of Montanara sit at the foot of the Vigil range in Northern Hestralia, and are the most culturally distinct from the rest of Hestralia. Rocky and colder, the region controls the land and river routes through the country, and was the last to unify. Their people are thought of as arrogant, but serious and competent by other Hestralians.
The Northeastern coastal region of Hestralia is home to its capital, Aquila, and enjoys a profitable trade relationship with Sha’ra and Capacionne. Its beautiful beaches and coastal settlements have made it grow much rapidly than other regions of the country. Known for its banking, silk and spice trade and cosmopolitan nature, Costa Luceste is the iconic image of what the world thinks of as Hestralia.
The Southeastern region of the country survived the turmoils of the last age the best of all, and has a comparatively huge diversity of plants and animals. Known especially for its leather and and beef, Durata is home to many fortresses and ruins from Hestralia’s ancient history.
The Sisters are the names for the many islands that line the Eastern coast of the country, as well as the disputed crescent islands in the Hestron Sea. The islands are thought of as more relaxed, and are littered with still standing castles from both ancient tribal kingdoms and elves. Many poets and scholars come from the sisters, and they boast some of the finest shipwrights in the world, but their distance from the central power of Hestralia, as well as other claims by Shariqyn and Capacionne ensure that many of the Sisters are often in passive rebellion, asserting their independence from the unified Hestralian kingdom.
Coat of Arms: A black crow spreading its wings on a purple field
Maxim: Never Let Them Forget
Keep: The Drowned Citadel
City of Influence: Aquila
House Dilacorvo are the quintessence of the Hestralian spirit. They trace their lineage back to the pirate kings of old, and have had many victories and losses across Hestralia’s bloody history. Perhaps more than any other faction in that long history, however, the Dilacorvo have found a way to profit from that bloodshed.
In the early years of the Lion Age, the bloodline claims that the pirate captain, Caesario the Crow, is the one who finally killed the Witchking Geryon, Prince of Thorns with a weapon of darkness looted from the Abyss. Whether true or not, they largely get the credit for it since no one can say otherwise. Funding the building of a small army through raids of southern Gothic territories like Litenam and the wealthy island Dukedom of Wazziro, even exploiting their political rivalries and wars against each other, Contra Dillacorvo amassed hidden caches of treasure all along Hestralia’s jagged coasts. In the bloody ages of warring Dukes, Costica Dilacorvo formed the Corvidia, a dreaded condottieri band that became so successful that they began demanding castles and holdfasts as payment, until finally Costica’s beautiful and ruthless daughter, Cosmina Dilacorvo, called the Iron Dove, took the city of Aquila from the wealthy Fuoco Dukes that had held it for so long, extinguishing their bloodline to the ashes of history and looting their unsounded coffers. It was Dilacorvo sails that flew at the head of the armadas that finally defeated the League of Dukes and claimed the title of Kingship over long fractured Hestralia.
House Dilacorvo prides itself on its ability to win, and win with style to spare. In some ways, their ability to waste effort on style is what gives them the dangerous reputation that they enjoy, and their scions spend equal time on leisure as discipline, making sure to let the world know how easy victory comes to them with frequent displays of ostentatious wealth, lavish parties where unthinkable amounts of money are spent on colored black powder fireworks fired by golden cannons, masquerades that take place on flotillas of warships in the Aquila harbor, and many other displays that demonstrate not only their wealth and their willingness to spend it on spectacle and adventure, but also the subtle but inescapable presence of their military might.
- Aquila is a city of endless alleyways and canals, and one of the most populous places in the entire Throne. Its many districts vary from the obscenely wealthy, facades shaped from corrugated marble boasting masterpieces of statuary, to the truly wretched, little more than sticks of driftwood piled high and crudely nailed on great rafts made of the bloated wood of the crumbling boardwalks.
- The canals and bays of Aquila are famous for their wildlife, especially sharks, which haunt the water nearly everywhere, and shark meat is an especial delicacy in Aquila. Blood sports involving shark hunting are exhibition events on the frequent festival days, and feats of manliness involving swimming with or knife-hunting sharks compete with acts of hot-headed revenge for the leading causes of death of young men in Aquila.
- The city itself is largely built upon an elven ruin from ancient days in the Age of Heroes when elves still inhabited much of what is today the Throne. While so much has been destroyed in the many wars of Hestralia’s bloody ages, many beautiful elven gardens, complete with surviving statues and murals of inexpressible beauty survive throughout the city, and are favorite places for lovers to visit and soak up the wonder of the inhuman sensitivity of the elven craftsmen and crimson roses that bloom all year long. The Drowned Citadel itself, an enormous tower jutting from the sea, apparently built upon the sea floor and upward some 160 feet above sea level, is itself an ancient elven structure. Even today scholars have no idea how it was constructed, save by magics even the masters of the Guild of Earth Magicians cannot duplicate.
The Dancers are the royal knights of House Dilacorvo. Their simple name is an irony in the face of their ostentatious swagger, as they are killers and performers both, making a show and an art form of their dauntless grace in the face of what other men would find terror at.
As the elite soldati of the royal family, they are matchless fighters using poise and speed to dumbfound their opponents with gymnastic grace. Trained to be shipboard corsairs like the pirate kings of old, the Dancer’s primary role was to leap from the tallest ship masts and make it to the distant rigging of enemy vessels as the waves pitched them close during broadsides. During the increasingly frequent times of peace, the Dancers perform during festivals by dueling gladiators on buoyed grids of wooden platforms in the middle of the bay, after great sharks have been lured by chum. Each gladiator that falls into the shark infested waters below drives the beasts madder and madder, until finally they begin to breach water and leap for the survivors on the planks. The Dancers then kill the sharks with hooked spears as the predators leap over head, managing that at the same time they avoid the shark’s rapid leaping bite and keeping their footing on the shifting wooden platforms. Like all things Dilacorvo, they never let you forget their ability to draw blood with style to spare.
Patron Angel: Cyanahim
Patron Saint: Corvo d’Aquila
The Ordo dell’arte are characterized by their elaborate masks, which they wear at all times and on all occasions that they are in public. No one knows the true identity of any of any member of this order, but they can be seen with regularity throughout the streets of Aquila, where they walk both day and night, alone and in pairs. It is not uncommon to see them operating small puppet theaters, or to find them putting on small one act plays on corners or in piazzas, wearing different masks to symbolize different roles while acting out a morality story or some more cryptic message. Invariably people stop and watch such performances, and offer coin donations before walking away in wonder. It is unclear exactly what this mysterious order’s specific aims or mission are, but rumors abound of chuckling masked priests encountered saying last rites over groups of mangled corpses, or spying a sliver of moonlight catching on white mask under black cloak fluttering on a distant tile roof, high above the canals at night.