The great Endless Empire lies with its capital far to the south of Gwerin lands, near the mouth of the mighty River. The Eternal City is center to the Empire, and one might argue, to the known world. This teeming metropolis reflects the composition of the Empire itself: rainbow-rich in tribes and peoples, cosmopolitan and economically ruthless. The term “Imperial” refers generally not to those legal citizens of the Empire, but rather to its founding tribes. The three great bloodlines of the Empire are known as the Highborn, the Uplanders, and the Southrons.
The Highborn nobility is technically a theocracy, with the god-emperor at its head. In reality, many Highborn are quite secular, being involved in matters of bureaucracy, commerce, science, and war.
The Uplanders form the backbone of the Empire, as free farmers, trademen, laborers, and soldiers. Uplanders are generally moderately literate, commercially savvy, and politically interested. The marketplaces are popularly visited and host lively debates over religion and government, all taken with grains of salt by the population as a whole. Demagoguery is common, but it is rare that any true political power arises from the speeches of the Uplanders.
The Southron tribe occupies the middle class of the Empire. Where the average Uplander might be found as a farmer or rank-and-file soldier, Southrons are usually officers and as a rule tied to the military. Southrons tend to be rather less pious than their fellow Imperials, however, and old disagreements have so piled upon one another that many Southrons have broken away and formed their own nation far upriver from the Eternal City. Those that remain with the Empire are treated with extreme courtesy; should they leave their posts the vaunted discipline of the Empire’s legions might well fail, leaving the Empire toothless against its poorer, hungrier neighbors.
The Imperial citizen’s appearance varies greatly by lineage.
Highborn Imperials are marked by their archetypical alabaster skin, glossy blue-black hair, almond-shaped eyes, and small sharp tusks. It is rare to find a Highborn whose tusks are not inlaid with gems or precious metals. Highborn tend to be tall—around 6’—and lithe. Highborn eyes are frequently large and dark, sometimes with a reddish tinge.
Uplanders look quite similar to their Highborn brethren, but usually present saffron-yellow skin and slightly larger tusks. The average Uplander is far more weather-beaten than a Highborn, with larger muscles and a wider frame. Uplander eyes are dark and wide, and their hair is black as night.
Southrons stand far taller than most, around 6½’ to 7’. Their build is heavier as well, with tightly corded muscles and broad shoulders. They are very dark-skinned, ranging from milk chocolate to charcoal, and their tusks are often quite large, sometimes extending 2” from their lower jaw. Career soldiers among the Southrons often cap their tusks in iron to protect them from obvious damage. Southron eyes are uniformly dark with red highlights, and they wear their black or gray hair in warrior’s styles: topknots, mohawks, soldier’s tails, and shaved heads are all common.
Castes and Classes
Within the Endless Empire countless cultures, subcultures, and countercultures go about their daily motions with little disruption. Coexistence of custom tends to be the rule. Beastkin Tribesmen from the Golden Sea haggle with desert Water-Seekers over the price of cocoa grown in some country known by neither. The melting pot has its effect, though, and the culture of the dominant Imperials exerts a strong influence upon those living in their cities.
The Endless Emperor sits high above the city in his Great Ziggurat, issuing decrees and guiding the Empire in His great wisdom. Officially accorded the status of god-king, the Emperor is hailed as the reincarnation of the Sun-Child. Lord of lords, king of kings, the Emperor’s divine status is disputed hotly by Imperials and barbarians alike, a fact which reveals that his divinity is considered by many to be quite possible.
Around the Emperor, both within the Great Ziggurat itself and within the countless temples that mark nearly every hill in the Eternal City, the Gods’ Servants go about the business of running an empire. As priests, they spend time glorifying their particular deities. As bureaucrats, they spend time attending to the administration of the laws, wars, and commerce of the Empire. As aristocracy, they examine theology, conduct science, and fashion art that is carried to the bounds of the known world. Composed of the Highborn and the most upwardly-mobile Uplanders, the Gods’ Servants are the most powerful and influential group on the map.
But though the Highborn dominate the ruling bureaucracy, they do not dominate its culture or its commerce. The Uplanders are the wealthiest and most influential of all the lower classes in the known world. Uplander music, Uplander crafts, Uplander traditions and cuisine and literature are the center of Imperial life. Uplanders tend to be outspoken, prone to demagoguery, and equally prone to listening to it. They are the backbone of the labor and trade within the Empire, and make up the bulk of its armies. Uplanders, as a group, control more property than either the Highborn or the Southrons, though each citizen is likely to own only a small home within a larger urban building, or a small free farm in the Imperial countryside. Social as a rule, Uplanders gather in their streets or village greens for games and music, gossip and pageantry. Perhaps the most well-known Uplander tradition is the Circle, in which upstanding Uplanders meet to argue group decisions, offer communal prayers, and conduct the more officious ends of their business. It is for this reason that large open spaces dot Imperial cities, and nearly every meeting room in the Empire is circular.
Southrons tend to be less social than the Uplanders, less gregarious and more laconic. Southrons make up the smaller middle class of the Empire, and spend their time in a narrow range of pursuits: the science of war, the philosophy of government, and the study of economics. Southrons value knowledge and martial prowess above all else, prizing the language of action and the ability to say more with less. Honors and wealth have little intrinsic worth to the typical Southron, but are usually seen as an easy way to “keep score.” Southron families are often large and complex, but they rarely step outside their own circles save to do business and lead the armies of the Empire. As a tribe the Southrons speak with a quirky irony and a Spartan wit, using sarcasm so frequently that other Imperials will often tell one another that a Southron’s orders are to be obeyed unquestioningly—-to the direct opposite of the words used. Almost as famous as Southron sarcasm is Southron military training; all the famous schools of combat in the Empire began with Southron teachings, and most are still lead by Southron masters.
Politics are a pastime in the Endless Empire. Amongst the Highborn, vast treatises are written on the ideal society, some seditious and some obsequious; most are polished versions of ideas tossed about in the lively Uplander forums. Uplanders themselves tend to then read these treatises and begin debate upon them, fumbling and arguing with new ideas.
In practical fact, however, decisions of daily life are carried out by the theocracy of the Gods’ Servants. All magistrates are at least nominally priests, who hold court and mete out justice in the name of the Emperor and the Gods. Laws are codified and known by all, presented on plinths visible in almost all public places. Magisterial decisions are enforced by the Standing Watch, which functions as the premier—and nearly the only—police force in the known world. Precincts are the smallest political division in the Empire, followed by prefectures, and then provinces. Each has its set of officials.
Aside from the Emperor Himself, the executive branch of the Empire is usually Uplander-based and Southron-lead.
Imperialism is the dominant philosophy of the Empire. A sprawling polytheism, Imperialism places Sol the Creator over all gods, followed by his son Sha, his grandson the reigning Emperor, and then the vast panoply of other gods. Imperial priests generally devote themselves to one of these lesser gods, becoming “specialists” in a particular theology. Worship of Sol, Sha, Lunis, and the Emperor forms a common thread amongst all Imperialites.