Faceless Kings and Endless Seas
Kretkovia, known as “The Frozen North” in most parts of the world, is the largest political region in the western land. They are known for their strict rejection of the supernatural, not in the sense that they do not believe in magic or gods but rather that they insist that they have no need for them. One of the defining characteristics of Kretkovia is that their leadership is spread throughout several cities, with the king living in his castle town with his closest advisers while the head of regional politics (who manages the smaller problems of the land) resides in the capital city and the head of the military travels between his permanent residence in the far north and the castle town, where he goes when the king needs to move troops.
The Great Division
In the political chaos that followed the Great Division, the Kretkov family, favored by the northerners for their harsh but effective ideas, quickly took power, overthrowing the Emperor and claiming the castle as their own. With people eager for change, Ian Kretkov, son of the new king and initial instigator of the Great Division Leo Kretkov, ordered the execution of the old royal family. The focus on the hunt for members of the old royal family was ultimately what limited the Kretkov family’s success, for it distracted them while the prior emperor’s other old advisers claimed rule over the lands they represented. On seeing what Ian’s hunt had caused, his father ordered that he be executed, both punishing him for limiting the new king and preventing him from causing any further problems.
Ian ran, and though the general population was strongly against him, he found refuge with a small group of supporters that he had gained while campaigning for his father’s rebellion during the years before the Great Division. With these supporters acting as a personal army, Ian crossed the sea and declared himself Emperor of the new Eastern Empire.
The Murder of Leo Kretkov
Three years after the Great Division, on the night following his fifty-third birthday, Joseph Erukhovich, an Old Empire Loyalist, killed one of the new recruits for the guardsmen and stole his uniform. Using this uniform and the experience he gained guarding the Emperor, Joseph made his way into the bedchamber of Leo and his wife, Alexandra, through a window, barred the door, and stabbed them both to death before the guards on duty managed to break through the door and kill him.
In the days following Leo’s murder, his son Abram ascended the throne, launching a campaign to crush any remaining loyalist movements before they became a threat.
The Abram Crusades
As Abram remained on the throne, he progressively became both more ruthless in his anti-loyalist campaigns and more beloved by his subjects. With most of the wealth of the prior empire still under his control, he offered generous rewards to anyone who could provide information regarding loyalist movements. As time passed, he maintained his offers and continued to reward those who aided his extermination of loyalists, but his main focus shifted to extending good tidings to the new southern states, which had become somewhat firm in their boundaries and politics over the fifteen years since the Great Division. His gifts were well received by diplomats, but Abram’s short temper led all of the southern countries to simply tolerate him. Not wanting to anger him and start any wars, the north was mostly avoided when it came to political matters.
The Death of Abram and the Rise of Mark Kretkov
In the winter of the twenty-seventh year after the Great Division, Abram Kretkov fell ill. He continued to reign at first, but after a feverish outburst while meeting with diplomats from Ger’tayah, he was strongly advised to give his son control until his illness passed. As the days progressed, however, his symptoms became increasingly bizarre. He began complaining about men in his home who looked as though they were attending a funeral, though there were no such men, and also that it felt as though there were creatures in his veins. As his hallucination worsened, his body also began to deteriorate: he developed an opaque film over his eyes and his skin began turning grey. The blood vessels around his eyes began to bulge, and his blood almost seemed to run black. As he fell further into his illness, his son Mark ordered him to be restrained in order to protect everyone in the castle. Abram died the day after the order was given, with his final night spent screaming for hours.
After grieving for his father, Mark Kretkov assumed the full responsibilities of the throne.
Humans make up the majority of documented inhabitants in Kretkovia, as they make up the majority of city residents. Concentrated primarily in Castle Kretkov and New Iansburg, humans mainly live in cities and towns. They participate in a variety of economic pursuits, ranging from trading to selling Corrupt services (Brawlers as bodyguards, Seers as fortune tellers, etc.), though the majority of humans are farmers living in the south or miners living on the northern side of the Galeb’s Spine mountain range.
However, there are several small nomadic tribes that travel in northern Kretkovia, outside the control of the King’s law. These tribes are known for their animistic beliefs and for their remarkable ability to embrace Wild Magic without succumbing to the Corruption that usually accompanies it. They rarely travel south beyond the yeti villages of the Galeb’s Spine mountains, though they do operate somewhat successfully as traders. Each tribe makes occasional visits to the yeti villages to exchange food and carvings for tools and food that can only be found further south.
The yeti villages of Galeb’s Spine mountains are famous for their blacksmithing abilities, which their legends say came from fire and earth spirits in the days before men tamed magic. Like the nomadic humans, the yetis are almost entirely animists, seeking (and sometimes succeeding) to restore the bond between themselves and the spirits of the natural world. Their societies emphasize the ideas of living in community and sharing resources, leading to a very peaceful and prosperous lifestyle. Because the sharing is not compulsory, the yetis overall selfless lifestyle sets them apart from most other societies in the world.
Because of their shy nature, most yetis never leave the mountains. Trading is done by a few courageous men and women who travel south to Castle Kretkov and New Iansburg to exchange tools and art from the northern nomads for southern food, which is beloved by the yetis in spite of and possibly because of its rarity. The yetis and the humans are on good terms with one another and, though it may seem odd, have never engaged in conflict with one another.
Religion and Magic
For much of the Old Empire and before, Kretkovians were animistic, always respecting deities and spirits but never really worshiping any of them. As the Great Division began, however, anti-religious sentiments began to spread through the country, propagated by soldiers who had seen villages call to spirits to save them yet found no protection. War songs such as “Protect Yourself” and “James the Ungodly Swordsman” encouraged people to not only look to themselves and their neighbors for protection, but also to drive out any remaining weakness caused by faith in spirits. Though the country never rejected the existence of deities and spirits, it did come to portray them as cruel and selfish beings with no interest in the happenings of men.
With the rise of the Kretkov family, power was finally placed in the hands of Leo Kretkov, a man very much opposed to the idea of religion. He declared worship illegal in his land, decreeing that “man should rely on man, not on the dead and certainly not on any being that thinks itself above us.”
A large part of the animistic religions of ancient Kretkovia was the use of Wild Magic in rituals. Ancient spellcasters are often depicted in drawings and carvings as having intricate black designs running all across their bodies; a trend that is believed by historians to represent a sort of extreme localization of Corruption in the bodies of the shamans and spirit-talkers. As with the rest of the world, Kretkovia’s use of Wild Magic became more class-like, with prescribed sets of spells being used on men to change them in a uniform way.
When the Great Division began, the Corrupt sided with the Emperor, seeking to preserve their magic freedom from the legal bindings that would be brought by the Kretkov family and their supporters. As the war continued, however, the Corrupt slowly began disappearing without explanation, leaving very few to fight for their cause. Of the ones that remained, many were killed in battle, some fled into the outskirts around and sewers under the cities, and few took refuge in the ruins of old temples, where they remained as the war came to an end. They are said to still live in those temples, kept alive and well by their infused Corruption.
On the other side, the Kretkovian army commissioned several wizards to cast Tamed Enchantments on their men and their equipment, giving them an additional edge over the opposing forces. When the war was over, Leo Kretkov imposed several laws restricting the use of magic: the most significant was that Wild Magic was absolutely banned with no exceptions, and the second most significant was that even Tame Magic was only allowed to be used by authorized casters, of whom there could be no more than 250 at a time. The second rule was not absolute, and later kings repealed the limit on the number of wizards that were allowed to be commissioned.
Kretkovia is extremely limited in its landscape type, with the vast majority of the country being covered by an extremely thick layer of ice and snow. There are, however, notable exceptions.
Galeb’s Spine is a mountain range that divides the country, running the entire horizontal length. The land to the north of the Spine is frozen year-round, with the only human inhabitants being the northern nomads. The villages of the yetis can be found on the northern side of the Spine, while Castle Kretkov can be found on the southern side overlooking the Lake of Latvan.
The tale of Galeb’s Spine can be traced to the ancient nomads, who were the original tellers of the legend. The tale is this:
Long ago, just after the creation of the world, the world was flat. This was before the creation of men or yetis or elves or any living creature, save two giant brothers: Galeb and Golem. The brothers sought always to outdo one another, each trying to earn the favor of Pelor the sun over his sibling. Golem was a farmer, and he made his home in the east. Though his land was dry and dusty, he could coax the most stubborn plants from the dead ground with ease. Galeb, however, was a shepherd. His flock numbered in the hundreds of thousands, yet he knew always where each sheep was. They prepared their gifts for Pelor, and when Golem saw his brother’s gift of sheep, he laughed. Certainly Pelor would prefer the literal fruits of his talent over his brother’s simple herding. When it came time to present their gifts, however, Galeb did not present sheep, but rather two stones. Both Pelor and Golem were confused, but while Golem laughed, Pelor asked Galeb to explain his gift.
Galeb thanked him and slowly raised the stones, then suddenly, he brought them together and created a spark over a small pile of sticks that neither Golem nor Pelor had observed. He repeated the strike again and again, patiently and methodically, until eventually, the kindling ignited and fire was started. Pelor was visibly impressed, for he had not taught Galeb how to create fire from earth. Golem presented his gift to Pelor, but it was not enough. Galeb received the blessing and Pelor returned to the sky. Furious, Golem stormed off.
That night, as Galeb slept, Golem went to him and, taking his knife, slit his throat. As his brother died, Golem was overcome by grief and depression, and he laid down beside him, his back to his brother’s, and never got up again.
The legend says that the mountains are what is left of Galeb’s spine, hence the name.