“They were people of a peculiar and rare sort: friendly, open to the world, but at the same time, separate from it, and arrogant - arrogant to the point that no man or woman could ever unite all of them, despite them living in a land that was twice smaller than Alhassal and only marginally larger than l'Ammanori. The free men would not stand to bend their knee to anyone - not to one of them, not to one of us Imperial.”
The Freeland City States, known in Tenhuan as Kani'xat a'havi'x, is the term used by foreigners, and, more rarely, the inhabitants of the States themselves, to describe the human civilisation independent from the Empire of Man that resides in the northern Tropical Lands, in the region known as the Snakeblood Wilds. Not a single unified state like the other human nations, the Freelanders are neverthless united by common language, culture, and religion, and have refused to submit themselves to the Empire of Man, succesfully driving off all Imperial incursions into the Tropical Lands despite the northern humans' superior technology and numbers. These sound victories serve as a lasting testament to the Kani'xat's determination, ingenuity and pride, as well as their devotion to their enigmatic gods.
Freelander culture is focused around twelve temple cities - the aforemented city states - allegedly founded by the Freelanders' demigod ancestors - each of them devoted to one of the Simulacra whom they revere. The bloody civil wars that marred the Snakeblood Wilds many millenia ago, however, left a heavy blow on Freelander society that is felt even today, and now only six of these ancient cities remain, the other six either turned into ruins or forgotten altogether. Four of these cities - Senateca, Xibatl, Zalanque and Cama'zotz - have banded together into an uneasy pact known as the Council of Four, maintaining close trade ties between one another; defying the Empire's call for human unity, the Merovar Dynasty's commercial influence and the Khaepsha-ultan's military dominance, the cities of the Council have chosen to remain neutral in the wars between the great empires from the north, preferring instead to stay in their own borders and profit from the ongoing conflict instead. The fifth temple city, the dreaded Tehuilotl, has severed all ties with other Freelanders and instead seeks to expand its domain over the seas, eager to appease its dark god, while the sixth city, the mysterious Chin-Chaac, remains unaligned - its motives, if they even exist at all, an enigma to all.
The Blood Sisters Edit
“This is the beginning of our story. This is the twilight of the Time of the Hunters by the twins, named Xilanque and Xalanque. They were simply gods.”
- - Saga of the Blood Sisters, Chant 4:2
As the Freelanders are among the most ancient human nations, far older than the provinces of the Empire of Man, little is known about their origins or how they came to be. What little verifiable information that can be obtained comes from foreign sources, such as the Orichalcum Elf Imperium or the Sovereignty of Dryada,and their chronicles of wars against the human tribes. According to these chronicles, while the northern and eastern tribes of humans - those that would later found the Empire's provinces of Mannazia and Alhassal - would unite and wage war against the elven empires, the southern tribes, who inhabited the sun-baked wastelands of the Eastern Plains, chose instead to flee away from the conflict, migrating further southwards. It is logical to assume that while the majority of these tribes perished, some of them survived and eventually settled down in the Tropical Lands, where they eventually founded a sedentary civilisation.
A bit more light is shed on early Freelander history by their sacred sagas, considered by most foreign scholars to be half-legend and half-truth; among these sagas, the most ancient one is the so-called Saga of the Blood Sisters, in which the origins of the Freelander people are described in full detail. According to the Saga, the Freelanders were originally a primitive nomadic people. Wandering from north to south, having not yet learned how to read, write or grow crops, their ancestors eked out a pitiful existence: ignorant, starving, and pursued ceaselessly by the enigmatic Golden Shades. This would change, however, with the birth of the aforemented Blood Sisters: Xilanque and Xalanque.
Born of a chieftain and a shaman, these two girls would grow up to become one of their tribe's greatest hunters; Xilanque, with her obsidian sword, would become renowned for her strength and courage, always eager to engage in the thrill of battle, whereas the atlatl-wielding Xalanque would be known as the most patient and agile warrior in her tribe. Claiming the leadership in the tribe after their father passed away, the two sisters would lead their people further south, until they reached a safe refuge from the Shades: a seemingly endless rainforest in whose thick caponies the armoured legionaries could not tread. The tribesmen were fearful of taking refuge in the untamed jungle, but food was in short supply and the golden-skinned hunters pressed in from the north, and so the chieftain sisters had no choice but to lead their people there.
What the sisters encountered inside, however, was more terrible than even their previous assailants. While abundant with fruit and prey to hunt, the jungle was a place more deadly than even the deserts where their ancestors lived: every second plant dripped poison, every insect carried a deadly infection, and on the tall, gnarled trees serpents and other scaled creatures crawled from every corner. Worse yet, it seemed that the rainforest was enchanted; trees moved by some unnatural force every day, men and women disappeared, and ghostly, greenish lights rose from the earth every night, stirring the beasts of the jungle into a wild frenzy. The superstitious humans, terrified by the dark magic gave the forest the name it bears now: the Snakeblood Wilds. The Blood Sisters, however, would not so easily back down. Rather than fleeing or accepting their fate, they embarked together on a journey into the heart of the jungle, searching to find the source of its magic.
Eventually, in their journeys, the Blood Sisters came upon a massive cavern made of solid gold and glistening with brilliant gemstones; while inside, they saw a majestic feathered serpent resting atop the ancient stones, his scaled made of illustrious precious metals, his eyes red gemstones - the god of all serpents of the Wilds, Ka'an. As the serpent deity spoke to them, the Sisters understood that it was him that ruled over the Snakeblood Wilds, and it was him that the Sisters needed to ask for protection. However, in his pride, Ka'an refused, deeming the humans beneath his notice.
The Blood Sisters therefore resorted to trickery, and asked the snake god to prove his majesty by beating them in a battle of agility and strength - a ballgame. The god accepted their wish and took the form of an imposing Kelodhros to compete, with the biggest crystal in his coifer as the ball. Needless to say, the competition was short; the Sisters lost quickly, left bruised by the gigantic diamond ball, and Ka'an gloated in his victory. However, during the game, the crystal ball also injured the serpent god as well; his golden scales were shattered, and his venomous blood seeped from the wounds. While Ka'an laughed, the Sisters gathered this venom in a golden jar from the god's own lair, then seeped it into a fruit and presented it to him as a sign of their humility. Thus when Ka'an swallowed the fruit, his own poison struck him; his scales rusted, and he was weakened enough for the Blood Sisters to kill him.
However, the defeated god understood humility, and instead pleaded for mercy, taking shape of a gold-skinned, silver-haired human youth. Ka'an promised that, in exchange for his life, he would become a teacher to the Blood Sisters' tribe; he would teach them how to tame the land and cultivate it, how to grow crops, to write, read and build temples. Only with these things, the defeated god said, could the humans truly become the masters of the Jungle. The Blood Sisters listened to his promises, and agreed to them, but added one more condition; he would also become their shared consort, the Serpent Prince, and engender them with children born of divine blood. Ka'an acquiesced, and the Blood Sisters returned to their people, bearing the magic of the jungle in their souls, the knowledge of the gods on their lips, and the seed of demigods in their wombs. Thus, it is said, the history of the Freelander people began.
The Founding of the Twelve Cities Edit
“They were great thinkers, for great was their knowledge. They were seers here upon the face of the earth. They were good by their nature, and in their birth as well, but also prideful, and acted according to his own desires before
the face of Heart of Sky.”
- - Saga of the Twelve Cities, Chant 1:9
Years have passed, and the settltement which the Blood Sisters estabilished grew in size. Through the gift of wisdom given by Ka'an, the people of the Sisters' tribe built golden fields of maize and cocoa to feed their families and shelters of stone and wood to live in, until eventually their small village became the first Freelander city, Ix, with Xilanque and Xalanque as its queens and Ka'an as its king. Under their joint rulership, with the sisters' will and wisdom and the serpent god's knowledge, the once small people of Ix multiplied swiftly over the course of a few generations, until at last its walls could no longer contain them all. Chaos spread over Ix, brother turned on brother, and the Sisters, though gifted with longevity by Ka'an, were still mortal, and, old and sickly, could no longer keep order in their domain. Thus, it is said, the burden of rulership fell instead to the Sisters' twelve children, born of divine blood - not just ordinary humans, but rather immortal demigods, born with the blood of Ka'an and the blessing of the Elder Gods.
Each of the Twelve Siblings was gifted in some way, each of them good by nature, but also not without a fatal flaw - and each of them left with his or her followers to found a new city. These Twelve Cities, constructed by the toil of tribesmen and the herculean deeds of the demigods, were as different from each other as were their rulers. Senateca, an industrious yet greedy laborer born under the sign of Asv-Aldz, gathered the hardiest workers from the city, building a grand stone city on the north of the jungle, while the deceitful artisan Cama'zotz, favoured by Zran Kar, used his knowledge of magic and science to construct glistening golden spires that defied the laws of reality themselves. The morbid Xibatl, devoted to Mortium, secluded herself with only a handful of her followers in a dark necropolis build upon the eastern mountains, its greatest and largest building the mausoleum she has built for herself, while the stalwart Zalanque, knight of Nalashtannylor, conscripted an entire army, making for it a gigantic fortress in a middle of the jungle so that his people could be protected from all its enemies. The Freelander sagas describe also the twin domains of Hun-xhatl and Hun-lenatl, built in the frozen east and then subsequently abandoned, and the gardens of Yum-Kaax, build to honour Harstag - though information on the wild huntress Chin-Chaac, and her savage warrior women tribe, is strangely scarce. Considering the nature of the god she was blessed by, this is probably for good.
The most prominent heroes of the Saga of the Twelve Cities, however, are Zalanque and Cama'zotz, whose rivalry runs through the course of the entire legend, and the sinister Ximicacan, blessed by the almighty Caligaduro Provectus. The cruel, yet clever pranks that the worshipper of Zran Kar brought upon his siblings are described in full detail by Freelander scribes: Cama'zotz's lies eroded friendships and caused brothers to turn on one another, breaking hearts, ruining lives, all for no seeming purpose other than to amuse the demigod. Cama'zotz's transgressions had always invoked the ire of his noble brother, Zalanque, who thought of him as a fiend for forsaking brotherly love and a coward for relying solely on his cleverness and cunning, and more and more often the two came at disagreements, which at times turned violent. When Cama'zotz's "gift" to Hun-xhatl, the magical "Prophet Stone" of his own craft which he said would make his brother able to see the future, drove both him and his sister to madness and their cities to ruin, Zalanque finally decided that he had enough. With his obsidian macahuitl and his most trusted warriors, the mighty warrior demigod marched into his deceitful sibling's place, struck him down and imprisoned him in the obsidian cave beneath the jungle, where his magic could not save him.
However, Zalanque soon came to regret this decision. With no-one to sow discord between the siblings, the arrogant Ximicacan was finally able to gather his darkly inclined followers - Tehuilotl, a skillful seafarer blessed by Vargash, the sadistic Zintl and the cruel Atzalan - and waged war upon all other jungle cities, even Ix itself. Though Zalanque led his brothers and sisters into war, even combined they could not withstand the dark and terrible magic brought into this world by Ximicacan, and his innumerable armies. Soon, all of the jungle burned, and the proud servants of Caligaduro marched mercilessly astride the limestone streets of the Twelve Cities. Desperate, the knightly worshipper of Nalashtannylor finally realised that the only person that could save him now was his brother.
Strangely, upon being freed, Cama'zotz agreed to help Zalanque without hesitation, and acted quickly. On the eve of the longest night of the year, when the armies of the remaining brothers clashed at Ix and Ximicacan prepared the darkest of his rituals, the cunning craftsman appeared to him, claiming that he had brought for him an item that would help him end the war quickly - a small gemstone of innumerable magical power that Cama'zotz himself created. Ximicacan, in his pride, did not even consider the possibility of defeat and thus took the stone without hesitation, adding its energy to his own - and this energy overwhelmed him. The Void matrix he wished to summon exploded, imploded and presumably exploded again, its sheer power turning Ix and the land that surrounnded into a blackened void-corrupted wasteland similar to Abyssus. The legendary siblings all fell that ruinous day, and the saga of the Twelve Cities ends at this. The names of the heroes were not forgotten, however, for six remaining jungle cities were named in their honour by the survivors of the cataclysm - Senateca, Zalanque, Cama'zotz, Xibatl, Chin-Chaac, and the dreaded Tehuilotl, the only remnant of Ximicacan's empire.
The survivors proclaimed themselves Freelanders, or Kani'xat - from this day on, the new kings of the cities said, their destiny would be decided not by the hubris of immortals but only by the deeds of mortals.
War with the Empire Edit
“In came the pale-faced devils, clothed with iron and stone and were with them mighty beasts with tusks and snakes on their heads, and bronze dragons which spewed fire and rage, and blades of iron and wood. Mighty they were, but they were prideful, and we were wise.”
- - Saga of the Iron Men, Chant 2:12
After these bright, mythical times, the documented history of the Freelanders begins much later, around 250 BNA - though it is certain that southern nations, as well as Merovar Dynasty traders maintained contacts with the Freelanders before - when Mannazian explorers from the Empire of Man, spurred perhaps by the tales of the Kataroçei people, who themselves came from the Tropical Lands, first explored the Snakeblood Wilds in its entirety. Needless to say, the Imperials were ecstatic, having finally found another human civilisation aside from themselves and the enigmatic Islanders and Dalmiri, and eventually through shrewd diplomacy and displays of advanced technology, were accepted into the court of Cama'zotz, where its ruler, M'rão the Shameful, asked them of their intentions. Prostrating before the lady, the Mannazian knights promptly gave the Freelanders an offer: to submit to the Grand Monarch and to join the Empire as one of its southern provinces, with Cama'zotz as its capital and M'rão as its governor. The lady was not amused and said that she would only bow to a foreign ruler if M'rão's own rule, as well as her people's faith and cultural traditions, would be respected by him. In order to prove this, M'rão said, the knights would have to partake in the most sacred of Freelander rituals: the annual ball game, where champions from different cities honour their gods by emulating their work during the taming of stars and planets. The knights had no choice but to agree.
Surprisingly enough, though, whether by luck, skill gathered from years of riding or perhaps Zran Kar's own schemes, the knights did surprisingly well at the games; once the tournament was over, the score of the Mannazians exceeded that of M'rão's own players almost sevenfold. Enraged by the fact that foreigners humiliated Cama'zotz before other Freelander cities, M'rão ordered her soldiers to arrest the Imperial ambassadors, take them to the temple pyramid and then sacrifice all of them to Zran Kar. Only one of the knights, Tanikhiruz Middlefield, was able to escape and eventually return to the Imperial Center, where he told his Grandmaster of the gruesome acts of savagery he had witnessed there. When this information reached the ears of Grand Monarch Indra II, the answer of the Empire was swift and ruthless; for their callous and uncivilised actions, the Freelander savages would have to pay with blood. Knights from Mannazia, musketeers from L'Ammanori, sorcerers from Saphronia and even mighty war elephants from Alhassal and chevaliers of Aynach were called to war, headed by Indra himself set to take control of the Tropical Lands at any cost.
Despite the vast technological superiority of the Empire, however, the Southern Imperial Crusade did not end well for the invaders. Albeit not as advanced, the Freelanders were much more accustomed to the climate and enivronment of the Snakeblood Wilds, still deadly even centuries after the Sisters first tamed it, and many Imperials fell prey to jungle diseases and man-eating serpents even before they could even reach the jungle cities. The Freelanders thus began a widescale guerilla war; hiding deep in the jungle, their warriors made great successes at attacking when the Imperials were caught in dead ends or otherwise unable to fight at full capacity, making use of deadly jungle toxins and traps to further sow discord and terror among the Empire's soldiers. Soon, the Imperial crusade began to fragment, entire batallions either lost in the jungle, scattered, or even slaughtered altogether; even the pride of Alhassal's armies, the mighty cannon-bearing war elephants, fell prey to Freelander blowpipes.
The Grand Monarch, who was at this point dying from deadly jungle fever, had no choice but to admit defeat and leave the jungle. From this day forward, the Empire has made no further moves towards dominating the Freelanders and the Snakeblood Wilds remain fractured and indepdendent - though some of the more shrewd Freelander cities, such as Senateca, began trading with Imperials afterwards, seeing benefit in advanced technology and rare wares they possessed.
Recent History Edit
Since the war, the City States have been largely at peace, and were not involved in any large-scale conflicts since then - barring a short-term vampire invasion during the conflict of the same name (which the Freelanders have largely avoided due to their connection with Zran Kar); trade connections with the Dynasty and other Tropical states were revitalised, further increasing the wealth of Freelander cities.
Recently, appearanced of crystalline ships from Tehuilotl, the only remaining Void-aligned Freelander city, have become more common on the southern shores of Koldenwelt - its ruthless pirates plundering coastal towns, slaughtering their populations and kidnapping the survivors. These occurences prompted other Freelander lords to form a loose alliance, the so-called Council of Four, to secure themselves against Tehuilotl's aggression, if they decide to expand northwards.
The Twelve Cities Edit
“They're not like the Imperials from the north or the east. The Freelanders are far more... unique. They may lack great machines but that does not mean they're to be underestimated. For one, they live in a snake-infested jungle, and anyone who survives in that place has got to be adamant. Or insane.”
- - Merovar trader
Although the Freelander lord ruler over many small towns, villages and nomadic settlements over the Snakeblood Wilds, the heart of Freelander civilisation where the majority of its population resides is its ancient temple cities, build in the days of yore by their legendary founders: the Blood Sisters and their twelve demigod children; they are focal points of commerce, centers of religion, and places of learning and culture. Even those Freelanders who are not born in the cities often take piligrimage there at one point in their life - a serious risk considering the many dangerous creatures that lurk in the jungle, but the one that jungle humans are more than willing to accept, for the one with such dedication will surely be blessed by the gods. This is not mere superstition, too; Freelander cities were build by demigods in a land steeped in powerful magic - not as powerful as Ar-Klith, perhaps, but also much less tortured - and serve as conduits to that magic, allowing Freelander spellweavers and thaumaturges to tap deeper into the powers of the Source. Particularily famed are the Freelander city jewelers and enchanters, who mastered the art of binding these streams of magical energy in gold, obsidian and jade, creating powerful enchanted jewelry and weaponry that are used both by the jungle humans themselves and foreigners, including even Imperials.
Originally, there were twelve Freelander cities, each founded by one of the Divine Siblings and each devoted to one of the Simulacra, and the thirteenth city of Ix, the first Freelander settlement built by the Blood Sisters themselves and considered to be blessed by Isiris herself. However, as of now, only six cities still remain. Each of the cities is completely independent and ruled with relative impunity by its local lord or lady, who also exerts influence (through religious power) over local settlements, which pay tribute to the city through aforemented piligrimages (which are usually accompanied with gifts of maize, cocoa, meat, furs or gold - depending on what the settlement produces). However, the lord's power is not absolute: by Freelander law, a ruler's authority ultimately derives from the blessing of his city's deity, and if he or she brings shame upon himself or herself and the city's people, that blessing can be lost. As such, coups are not only allowed, but required by Freelander faith if a lord is particularily incompetent or autocratic, in which case it is up for the citizenry to elect a new one. This was the case with M'rão the Shameful, the lord of Cama'zotz who first almost agreed to submit to the Empire and lay claim to all of the Wilds and then provoked it into warfare; shortly after repelling the Imperials, he was ousted by the angry mob allowing for a new dynasty to rise, one which continues to rule Zran Kar's city to this day. For this reason, most Freelander lords usually rely on the priesthood and the court to maintain their authority.
Active cities Edit
“Welcome to the city of golden squalor and brilliant corruption. Everything that has a price ends up here eventually.”
- - Merovar trader
- Name - Senateca
- God - Asv-Aldz
- Ruler - Lord I'kan the Golden
- Influence - Average
Located on the northern reaches of the Snakeblood Wilds, where the jungle slowly recedes and gives way to the arid climate of the Sea of Sand, Senateca is the unrivaled commercial heart of the Freelander civilisation; it is not surprising that its main patron is no one else but Asv-Aldz, the Golden Djinn of Hypocrite's Rest, patron of deception, commerce, and luck. As it is the first and usually the only Freelander city that foreign traders visit, Senateca serves as the gateway between the outside world and the jungle, and as such benefits greatly from trade that occurs within it. Merchants from all races and nations - Merovar, Sovereign elves, Imperials, and even Khaepsha - can be found within its limestone walls, and each of these merchants has to pay in gold to the city's lord if he wishes to trade there.
As such, while not as populous or large as the southern Freelander cities due to its climate, Senateca is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful; its temples and palaces are adorned with solid gold plates that glistens in the jungle daylight, illustrious gemstones mark the hallways and exotic goods from the Desert, the Tropical Lands and beyond fill the stony plazas and markets. This draws much ire from other lords, particularily the one from Cama'zotz, but as they also rely on Senateca for foreign goods, relationships between them remain strong, if prickly. The current lord of Senateca is the young I'kan the Golden, a known cosmopolite with a love for exotic lore; thanks to his philantropic efforts, Senateca has become a prominent site for scholars as well, although not to the extent of Cama'zotz.
“Knowledge will have its sacrifices. No sacrifice without blood. The two are one and the same: just as blood flows through our veins, so does knowledge flow in the world; the Eclipse Prince thirsts forever for both, and both we shall take for him and in his name.”
- - Codex Analuhati
- Name - Cama'zotz
- God - Zran Kar
- Ruler - Lady A'haw the Opulent
- Influence - High
Built on the shores of Mekaan-ha'kic, the largest freshwater lake in the Snakeblood Wilds, Cama'zotz was founded by the most deceitful and intelligent of the Twelve Siblings, and the wits and the wisdom of the trickster demigod still lives within its ornate granite walls. Of all Freelanders, it were the people of Cama'zotz who achieved the greatest successes in sciences, both mundane and arcane. Though it might have been the great serpent god Ka'an who first taught the Freelanders how to read, write and cultivate the land, it was them who put these gifts to the greatest use, refining and perfecting their people's script system and agriculture, as well as pioneering the arts of architecture, astronomy, engineering, and mathematics. Cama'zotz still remains the Freelanders' foremost center of study, and while Senateca might be the most grandiose Freelander city with its golden temples and steles, it still cannot match's Cama'zotz's architectural sophistication. It is a city of granite libraries, ornate aqueducts and floating gardens, of scholars, sorcerers and astronomers.
Much like its sinister deity, however, Cama'zotz has a darker side. Though the higher circles may enjoy the fruits of their grand city's power and write poems of its glory and majesty, those who feed and support the city and those who compose the majority of its population - the serf-peasant caste - eke out a pitiable existence not too far away from slavery. Hungry and silent, they drudge thanklessly and ceaselessly to construct the grand monuments and pyramids that make Cama'zotz so famous among other Freelanders, and their only hope is to die nobly on the sacrificial altar rather than just to wither away while working to protect the scholarly utopia that they would not be able to experience. It is also said that it is not just knowledge that Cama'zotz's nobles crave, and that at night, some of them take their true form, taking tribute from their slaves that goes far beyond the grave. The ruler of Cama'zotz, the beautiful and merciless lady A'haw the Opulent, could perhaps ease the hardships of the lower castes, but it seems that she is far more interested in increasing her own wealth - and what she truly is, nobody really knows.
“I swear allegiance to my first and only Lord in this world, Kul'x II the Shadow, and my first and only world on the other side, Nalashtannylor the Night Father; may his shadow cloak us from the searing lights of evil. From now on, my sole duty is to protect, to ensure that Ximicacan remain forgotten forever. I will not lie. I will not betray. I will not feel sloth or greed or fear, in war or at peace. My eternal vigil begins.”
- - The Oath of the Phoenix Eagles
- Name - Zalanque
- God - Nalashtannylor
- Ruler - Lord Kul'x the Shadow
- Influence - Average
Unlike the other Freelander city states, which do not extend its power over neighbouring lands barring the yearly tribute they recieve, Zalanque much more resembles a small, heavily militarised hegemony, almost like a miniaturised version of the Empire of Man. Consisting of the mountain city itself (called Eye of the Bastion sometimes) as well as no less than a dozen of heavily defended and armed forts that lie in the hills around it, the realm of Zalanque is in effect a collectivist authoritarian hierarchy, where the lord and his sacred band's rule is absolute and where all citizen are supposed to work for the common good. Those that do not serve in the armies of the lord work instead for strengthening the outer bastions, repairing and improving the defenses, or work on the mountain terrace farms in the inner ones, growing crops and herding llamas to feed the citadel kingdom.
There is a reason for this. Zalanque stands at the very edge between the healed Snakeblood Wilds and the Southern Blight, the blackened wasteland created many years ago by Ximicacan's dark magic, and since these times the mountain city has become the foremost Freelander defense against the creatures that lie beyond it: void-corrupted mutants, bands of soldiers and bandits from Tehuilotl, and even Void Denizens. The people of Zalanque are skilled warriors, masters of bow, spear and macahuitl, and years of neverending battle have molded them into a hard-working, militant people. Its current ruler is Lord Kul'x the Shadow, known primarily as a skilled organisator and administrator; though he may not be a warrior himself, he is a skilled strategist and planner, and it thanks to his wisdom and skill that allowed Zalanque to prevail against its enemies for so long.
“All things end, and they end here. Enjoy your life, for once it is snuffed out, your body belongs to Xibatl.”
- - Unknown Freelander lord
- Name - Xibatl
- God - Mortium
- Ruler - Lady A'zil the Skull-Bride
- Influence - Minor
Few, if any, living beings call the swampy megalith temples of Xibatl home; it is a dark, forbidding place, favoured by the Reaper himself, inhabited solely by his most devoted servants: death-priests, shamans, diviners, mediums. Other than them, only the mourning are allowed to visit Xibatl: families of lords and nobles who have passed on to the Underworld, descendants of long-dead rulers seeking to honour their ancestors, and, sometimes, dying commoners who wish to have their bodies buried and preserved in the city's holy grounds. For only one day and one night they are allowed to stay; as dawn breaks, the living who are not of Mortium must either return to their homes or join the ranks of Mortium's flock - either as undertakers or as corpses. But even the Reaper's death-priests are only guests, temporary residents of Xibatl; the true people of the swamp city are its honoured dead, and it is for them that the sacred city and its stone vaults were built.
While Xibatl might be the smallest of the remaining jungle cities, its importance to the Freelander people is hard to overstate. Known also as Lords' Final Rest, it is the place where all Freelanders of importance wish to be buried; every day, the death-priests perform sacred funeral rights in Xibatl to ensure that their masters' bodies remain incorrigible and their souls elevated above others in the afterlife. Naturally, the many belongings of the dead that are buried with them make Xibatl very tempting for grave robbers and bandits, both from the Wilds and beyond, and it is for this reason that its clerics are not only undertakers but also skilled sorcerers. Of all Freelanders, only Cama'zotz's most wise thaumaturges can compare with Mortium's death priests in magical prowess; with but a gesture, they can freeze the blood in a man's veins, fill one's soul with unspeakable dread, or turn one's flesh and bones into nothing but dust. While the Reaper's loathing of the undead does not allow Xibatl's priests to practice necromancy, they are capable of binding spirits, allowing them to summon ghosts of fallen Freelander warriors to protect the city if need be. The current ruler of Xibatl is Lady A'zil the Skull-Bride, a strong-willed and surprisingly fun-loving woman who is neverthless very dedicated to her duty as keeper of the dead and is strongly determined to safeguard her city's sanctity.
“The Old One was, the Old One is, and the Old One shall be. Not in the spaces we know, but between them. He dreams serene and primal, undimensioned and to us unseen - but he is always here.”
- - Lord X'halu the Tempest King
- Name - Tehuilotl
- God - Ramainaualmari
- Ruler - Lord X'halu the Tempest King
- Influence - High
When countless years ago Ximicacan was defeated by his own hubris, the Void energy he wished to control turning on him and annihilating his people, the survivors of the cataclysm thought that his followers were gone forever. However, as centuries passed, and news of savage, fish-like warriors covered in blue tattoos began to spread across the jungle, the Freelanders realised that one of the four dark cities survived: Tehuilotl, built on the tropical islands south of the jungle. Having escaped the initial wave of destruction thanks to their distance from Ximicacan, but unable to continue to sustain their old lifestyle due to the cataclysm rendering the land barren, the people of Tehuilotl have changed greatly in order to survive. Somehow through their connection to their oceanic god the priests of the city have managed to struck an alliance with the malevolent Merkan who lived in the southern seas, and since then, the two peoples have become forever intertwined.
To the people of Tehuilotl, the ocean is their love, their life, and their god. The aquatic messengers of Zarmagahla provide the city with fish to sustain its people, gold for its nobles and crystal for its temples, and in return, they demand sacrifices - some for their god, others to breed with. The people of Tehuilotl have become deadly raiders, their spiked ships prowling the southern seas and attacking coastal towns for fresh bodies to sacrifice, taking hundreds to the depths for the Merkan. Even that is not enough for the ravenous sea beasts, though, and every year, a significant part of the city's commoners is sacrificed as well - all so that the city could continue to survive. Due to this brutality, many of Tehuilotl's citizens try to escape - sometimes trekking through the Blight to the Wilds but usually to the oceans, where most of them join the ranks of sea pirates - though few in the Tropical Lands differentiate between them and Tehuilotl's raider fleets. Tehuilotl is currently ruled by the terrible X'halu the Tempest King, one of Ramainaualmari's favourite servants - a proud and cruel man with ambitions that can only be compared with those of Ximicacan himself.
“Let the city-dwelling weaklings live in their tombs of gold and stone. You claim to rule the jungle, but can you live at least a day in it without your bastions to protect you?! I will do it my way. I will not be hiding from the jungle - I will become it.”
- - Lady Chin-Chaac
- Name - Chin-Chaac
- God - Crux
- Ruler - Presumably none
- Influence - None
Perhaps the most enigmatic of the Freelander cities, nobody truly knows for sure what Chin-Chaac actually is. Some Freelanders believe it to be little more than a simple stone fort in the jungle, founded by the wildest of the Twelve Siblings who wished to escape civilisation and the gifts of Ka'an - a far cry from the mighty and grandiose temple complices of other jungle cities. Others - most of them foreigners - say that Chin-Chaac is a city of marvellous beauty made of solid gold, a bountiful land that needs to be found, and plundered. The former theory, however, probably has more ground. Said to lie deep in the western jungles, far beyond even the places where other Freelanders can survive, Chin-Chaac is dedicated to Crux, god of violence and savagery, and the nature of its people reflects that: they need no home but the jungle itself, and no better form of worship than bloodshed. Territorial, violent, but undeniably peerless on the field of battle, fighting with the brutality and madness of their patron deity, the savage warrior-women (men of the city have never been seen) of Chin-Chaac and their Exosubstratal "pets" have so far repelled all trespassers who dared to enter their lands. Women are usually murdered on sight, and men are said to be kidnapped.
Interestingly, however, despite the fact that Crux is considered to be one of the most terrible beings of Koldenwelt and it would probably make sense for its Freelander followers to be vehemently opposed to all life, Chin-Chaac and its warriors are actually not at direct confrontation with other jungle cities, like Tehuilotl is. When many years ago Ximicacan attacked other Freelanders, the followers of Crux and fought alongside the worshippers of Asv-Aldz and Nalashtannylor, and still appear occasionally to bring down the common threats to the jungle, whether it be Imperials, Shiarchon, or Tehuilotl's pirates. Few Freelanders can understand Chin-Chaac's motives, if there are any, but one thing is known for sure: they are not to be provoked.
Although undeniably humans, with large frames, round ears and relatively short lifespans, Freelanders are neverthless rather distinct in physical appearance from other human nations, whether they be Imperials, Islanders, or others. They are typically of average height, somewhat shorter than most Imperials and elves, but also rather stocky and robust, far more used to the extremities of weather and long journeys than northern humans. Freelander faces are usually broad, with high cheekbones, large, aquiline noses, and almond-shaped eyes, generally adapted to hot climate - though lacking the dry, emanciated quality common to the facial features of desert humans, like Alhassans. Their hair is almost always black and straight, and is usually either worn loose, braided or formed into various eccentric shapes - but rarely, if ever, cut. Facial hair is, on the othrr hand, unheard of save for perhaps the occasional small braided beard worn by high-ranked nobles or priests. Freelander skin colour may vary depending on the city - the people of Senateca are more dusky-complexioned, almost like Alhassans, while the nobles of Cama'zotz may be paler - but is usually of coppery tones.
Somewhat notably, unlike Imperials who throughout their history have intermingled greatly with their former Orichalcum and later Dryadali masters, Freelanders seem to have escaped elven subjugation and rarely, if ever, show any signs of admixture with them. This fact has been the cause of much contention within the Empire's xenophobic higher circles, much to the amusement of Freelanders themselves, who have given the invading Imperials a mocking nickname: taan-pixan, Tenhuan for half-elf. Freelanders also seem to share common ancestry with other humans populations throughout the world: the Kataroçei, formerly close neighbours of the Freelanders but now members of the Empire, the native people of the Frontier Land, and possibly even the enigmatic Dalmiri Humans - with whom they share a number of physical characteristics. Elven, Klaxxa and Imperial scholars believe that all these nations might have had shared ancestors who lived somewhere in the forests of southern Eastern Plains.
“Like the four petals of a flower grow out of one stem, so do the four cities grow out of one people. Though we prostrate ourselves besides different gods, the blood that spills out of us on the sacrificial altars is one and the same.”
- - Freelander saying
Although the Freelanders as a people are divided politically and religiously, their culture is, to a point, homogenous. While there are rather significant differences in the cities' social structure, religion and political affiliation, all jungle humans, no matter where they come from, speak the same language, dress in the same clothing and eat the same food, and consider themselves a single ethnos - Kani'xat. Neverthless, the quarrels between the different cities, coupled with the Freelanders' legendary pride, mean that all attempts to unify the Freelanders for more than one conflict have always resulted in disaster. Thus, when there is no dire threat to the Snakeblood Wilds, though, the notion of pan-Freelander patriotism is usually (and conveniently) forgotten.
Freelander cultural values and traditions are likewise similar, even in the sinister Tehuilotl or the savage Cama'zotz. Regardless of their origin, Freelanders value family, freedom - personal freedom, mostly, as opposed to national freedom as in the Empire - and, of course, faith, though not in the same way as humans from the Empire or, say, Merovar view it. For the Freelanders, service to the gods requires no leaps of faith: the work of higher powers, they believe, is seen everywhere, and the task of the faithful is merely to see the signs and pay the god proper respect. When the waves bring schools of fish, it is a gift from Vargash; the fields of battle are blessed by the savage Crux; a revelation that falls upon a scholar is given by Zran Kar; and when great calamities and cataclysms fall upon the Freelanders, surely that is the work of Tushbacatl the Terrible, bringer of darkness and fear. Overall, the Freelander religion can be described as henotheistic: while they acknowledge the existence of all Simulacra, Colossi and Isiris herself, normally in one's life one would only worship one of the former, with the exceptions of specific rituals such as death rites, where Mortium is paid heed to.
The more unusual aspect of Freelander faith is their views on human(oid) sacrifice, which is not only not frowned at but also considered to be an honour. The exact methods of sacrifice and the frequency at which they are made varies between the city and the god in question. Asv-Aldz, for example, mostly accepts criminals and prisoners of war as sacrifices (representing the losers in the game of life) who are tossed down the sacrificial pits with golden balls attached to their hands, while Zran Kar's favoured sacrifice is slaves who lost the ball games, which are flayed alive and then exsanguinated. To the Freelanders, sacrifice represents the futility of fate, the impending coming of death as well respect to those who provide them with sustenance - and does not necessarily mean they are actually bloodthirsty; it is a morbid duty, rather than a random act of cruelty.
Technology & Magic Edit
While the nature of the land they live in has put a limit on how advanced the Freelanders could become, they have nevertheless achieved significant successes in sciences, and are well known in the Tropical Lands and beyond as masterful mathematicians, astronomers and engineers. Their scholars and priests have charted the skies, created calendars and learned to use the stars to determine the times for harvests, rituals and sacrifices. Masters of stonework, the Freelanders have become skilled architects, constructing grandiose temples, palaces and monuments with only the basest materials and tools they can find in the jungle, such as limestone and obsidian; their holy cities have been compared in greatness with Purity's Apogee, Arkenholdt, Imperial Center and Sohitalia. The most prominent centers of Freelander learning are Cama'zotz, dedicated to the God of Knowledge, and Senateca, but all Freelander cities - save for the savage Chin-Chaac - have scholars and men of learning of their own.
As the Snakeblood Wilds are abundant in magical energy, the Source is likewise known to the Freelanders and is used, albeit sparingly, by some of them. As the art of magic has a drastic effect on Men, and may disfigure or even kill them if used carelessly, most social classes are forbidden to learn it: only the priests and the shamans, direct servants of the gods who enjoy their protection, are allowed to wield the Source in most cities. The Freelanders' legendary enchanters, however, are exempt for this ban, as they do not use magic directly and only imbue items with their power; blessed golden jewelery and weaponry are used widely by the City States' nobles and warriors. The most common forms of magic in the City States are cryptomancy, floramancy and pyromancy, although hemomancy is not unheard of and dark magic is often used in Tehuilotl.
All Freelanders are trained with weapons capable of defending themselves and their city if need be; it is customary for every man and woman to own a spear, and during times of war these milities can be raised to protect the city. Normally, however, Freelander wars - usually started between lords to settle disputes or to acquire sacrificial captives - are waged by members of sacred bands, professional soldiers who pledge allegiance to the god of the city and its lord. Trained extensively and armed with the best weapons the city has to offer, especially foreign or enchanted ones, the sacred bands are a deadly sign upon a battlefield, equally capable of fighting both other Freelander armies and foreign invaders - especially when they are supported by mages. Freelander soldiers are particularily skilled at fighting a guerilla war, using diversions, psychological attacks and their superior knowledge of the environment to confound and shock intruders.
Freelander weaponry is traditionally made out of jade, obsidian, and bronze, although in the recent times with the opening of trade routes, iron imported from the Eastern Plains and the Sea of Sand has become common as well, especially among the elites. Less experienced warriors traditionally fight with simple clubs, spears and poisonous blowpipes, while sacred bands traditionally prefer either bows and spear-throwers - in long-ranged combat - or obsidian swords in melee. Their weaponry is usually decorated more intricately, with images of gods, demons or mythological figures engraved upon them. As heavy armour would be unwise to use in the jungle, Freelanders typically fight without it, only wearing ceremonial feathered suits and using shields for defense, although sacred bands would sometimes don studded robes made from the thick hides of jungle serpents to protect themselves.
“That, my friends, is exactly why you are welcomed here so heartily! I have long been a benefactor of heroes and adventurers of all kind, and, as I must say, I have heard of your ventures many times.”
- Name - I'kan
- City - Senateca
- Affiliation - Council of Four
- Status - Active
Lord of the northern city of Senateca, I'kan the Golden is probably one of the most famous Freelanders to foreigners. An impressionable and scholarly young man with a love of everything exotic, he has a colossal interest towards anything that is not from the jungle, and is known for not only patronising foreign traders in the city, but also inviting artists and scholars from all over Koldenwelt to visit Senateca so that his people - and him - could learn from them. I'kan is particularily interested in the deeds of great heroes of Koldenwelt, and is known to keep records of every great adventure that has traspires upon Koldenwelt - from the tales of the Dawn Wardens to the recent Vampire War.
Thanks to I'kan, Senateca has become a major center of culture and learning, rivalling even Cama'zotz itself, and its wealth grew expotentially, though his detractors among lords often declare him a traitor to Freelander traditions and even an Imperial agent.
“Summon up the dead ones! Chant the rites of Kaherihonar!”
- Name - X'halu the Tempest King
- City - Tehuilotl
- Affiliation - Vargash
- Status - Active
Arguably one of the most powerful Freelanders to have ever lived, X'halu the Tempest King is ruler of Tehuilotl, the dreaded city of Vargash, and under his reign its power has increased significantly. A brilliant and ruthless tactician and statesman, X'halu has overseen the further expansion of the city's sphere of influence throughout the southern seas, strengthened its fleets through raiding Merovar Dynasty ships and stealing its cannons, and estabilished connections with faraway Cult of the Eclipse cults throughout the world. For his dark deeds, his deity has rewarded him greatly, granting him numerous mutations and impressive magical powers over lightning (as one would suspect from his name), as well as further extending his lifespan.
Now thinking himself invincible, X'halu prepares to take his chances and finally finish what Ximicacan has started: total subjugation of the Snakeblood Wilds and with them, hopefully, the whole Tropical Lands. Other Freelander lords stand vigilant for Tehuilotl's armies, but for the Tempest King, this matter not. In due time, all will serve him and his master.
- Khanate of Kataroçeiople - Though we are no longer neighbours, our alliance with you stays. Provided that your Empire does not wage war against us, our peoples shall always be brethren.
Trade partners Edit
- Merovar Dynasty - Worshippers of Almohonium, your serpentine faces are always welcomed by the gods.
- Ar-Klith Sky Empire - Children of the Dragons, your knowledge is vast, but so is your pride.
- Empire of Man - Followers of Pheonas and Ahmalrich, we know you not. We might have your wares, but we are not your younger brothers, nor we have ever been.
- Sovereignty of Dryada - Flock of Isir'ialveium, we have nothing in common but nor do we have any quarrels with your kin. Let us not have any in the future.
- Realm of Khàrmurvahan - Deep dwellers, our paths are so close yet so distant.
- Khaepsha-ultan - Imitators of the Sohet, you are nothing but the sand upon which you tread. Like parrots you fly, only able to copy the gods, but never to truly be like them.
- Bharloron - Savage ogres, the serpents shall devour you whole if you dare to lay your eyes upon our cities.
- Legion of Shiarchon - Brothers of Ximicacan, one day his fate will be your fate.
- Cult of the Eclipse - Children of Vargash, die a thousand times over.
- Tehuilotl - You are not Freelanders.
- Merkan - Aalwi ifis Vargash gatl erh'ongg w'ssh!
- Cult of the Eclipse - Vargash x'zoth'gl yu'gaz yog'ghatl ilfaa!
- Legion of Shiarchon - Ximicacan! Ximicacan! Ximicacan!
“Now, if they cut a little bit on human sacrifice, I'd actually like them. Very interesting magic.”
“Haven't visited them yes. And I am thankful for that.”
“Know not do you of the fierce struggles and bloodied battles that we Men of the Empire have endured; know not do you of oppression, slavery, and rebellion. Free to live and wander you are as you are - an envy I admit to harbour - which has allowed arrogance and ignorance to garner amidst your free-folk. ... The "gods" shan't defend you forever and alas a time comes when one must learn to become their own protector.”
“The Freelanders are a good people to work with... when they are not spouting heresies. I can look around them though, as they are clearly interested in commerce, and as long as the coin is flowing, they can believe in whatever fake deities they want.”
“Oh, I like Tehuilotl! X'halu is a good guy to work with, accepting our cults in his city, and their feathered hats always crack me up. Remember, I am your pope!”
“Those mortals often pique my interest; vast hordes of wealth that they would bleed over to appease my sense of mercy and trust. Perhaps it keeps me amused, though other lords of their dominion may not be so patient.”
- - Asv-Aldz
- The traditional Freelander drink is a brew made from cocoa beans that is usually served hot, similar to hot chocolate. It has been adopted by Imperials as well since their first invasion of the Snakeblood Wilds. Because of its importance, cocoa beans are also often used as currency.
- Llamas are considered sacred in Freelander faith. According to legend, when Mortium first reaped the world, a herd of llamas followed him, carrying on their backs the bags filled with the souls of the fallen. For this reason, llamas are traditionally used to carry sarcophagi of dead lords.
- Tradition method of sacrifice to Mortium involves people getting trapped in giant bags and then tossed into sacrifical bits, buried alive afterwards.
- Tehuilotl warriors typically tattoo themselves to make themselves look more imposing. Traditional ornaments include images of waves, spikes, blades and tentacles, and similar symbols are also engraved upon their canoe ships.
- Freelanders do, in fact, use wheels. They just do not trust them.
- Freelander women often take small amounts of serpent poison when they are young, until they finally acquire an immunity; this way, not only them but also their children will become more resistant to the most common toxin in the jungle. In addition to this, it also allows them to safely use poisoned arrows and blowpipes, and for this reason most of their blowpipe users are female.
- Upper-body nudity is not taboo in Freelander culture, even for women, although poncho-like cloaks are used in colder regions.
- The coronation ritual of a Freelander lord includes participation in a ball game.
Behind the Scenes Edit
- The Freelanders were based on Mayan culture and thier mythology, Popol Vuh in particular.
- The city of Tehuilotl also takes cues from Aztec and Polynesian culture, as well as the city of Innsmouth from Lovecraft.
- The Freelanders debuted in the Prophet Stone, although they were originally devised as a way for TheImperios to make better humans in Spore.
- The theme for the Freeland City States is Aztec Jungle by Derek and Brandon Fiechter.
- Death to the World is a theme for Tehuilotl.