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Borealans are a feline species native to the planet Borealis. They are a diverse people that have adapted to varying climates and conditions, resulting in a great deal of cultural and physiological differences between their respective territories, which are the equivalent of nation-states.
Borealis is located approximately 75 light-years from Earth in the Alpha Coronae Borealis (Alphecca) system. It is a binary star system that contains two main sequence stars, one class A and one class G. The interactions of these stars has a marked impact on the planet’s climate and has influenced the development of the life that evolved there.
Borealis is more massive than Earth, giving it a surface gravity of 1.3Gs. Its surface is almost completely covered by arid deserts known as the Dune Seas, but the planet has pockets of greenery that persist on the shores of its great lakes, enormous bodies of water around which the Borealans founded their territories. These are thought to be the product of vast underground aquifers. Verdant jungles surround the lakes in dense bands that are large enough to create microclimates within their bounds, trapping the moisture that evaporates from the bodies of water and forming rain clouds in a localized water cycle, keeping the territories far more humid than the surrounding deserts. Much of the moisture that escapes the territories settles at the ice caps, where it falls as snow or becomes water ice.
The lakes are not the only source of water, as there are oases in the deserts that range from large, established watering holes, to smaller sources that shift and move with the sands.
Borealis is a geologically active planet, and there are many volcanic and geological features in the deserts. These include mountain ranges, plateaus, salt flats, volcanic mesas, dry river beds, canyons, and more. Wind erosion is known to create impressive rock formations known as ventifacts, which take the form of forests of stone pillars and rock pedestals. The remnants of Borealis’ more temperate past are abundant, and it’s not uncommon to find the petrified remnants of ancient trees or the fossilized remains of animals.
Planetary surveys suggest that Borealis was once far greener and more hospitable than its current state would suggest, which explains how native species were able to cross the vast expanses of desert to colonize the different jungles, and how they subsequently evolved into distinct forms. Jungles probably covered the entire surface at one point in the planet’s distant geological history but receded over hundreds of millions of years, until only the jungle bands around the lakes remained.
Twice a month, the smaller and dimmer of the system’s stars eclipses its larger, brighter companion, lowering the overall amount of light that reaches the surface of Borealis. This results in a short period of ‘winter’ in which the temperature rapidly plummets, coating the jungles in ice and freezing the lakes. Most of the planet’s animals have adapted to hibernate during this period, and the flora has evolved to withstand the cold.
The jungles of Borealis are home to a wealth of biological diversity and play host to untold numbers of unique animals that have not yet been cataloged. Life is not confined solely to the jungles, however. Hardy species that have adapted to the hostile environment make their homes in the arid deserts and the freezing ice caps.
The dense jungles of Borealis are almost completely uncharted, but a few species are known to the denizens of those territories. In Elysia, the most developed of the Borealan territories, the presence of the Rainbow Spider has been well-documented, and the hunting of this animal has an important cultural significance for the people who live there. Based on first-hand descriptions and crude artwork of the creature that is featured prominently in tapestries, it is an arthropod of gigantic proportions that thrives in the high-oxygen environment of the jungle. Its many legs are described as having the width of tree trunks, and it is covered in a coat of iridescent fur that is highly prized as a trophy. Its hide is used to make the cloaks that are worn by high-ranking Elysians, and the Elysian Rangers eat its flesh as part of an initiation rite.
The desert is also home to large arthropod species, such as the comparatively smaller Sand Spider. The animal is about the size of a garbage can lid when fully grown, and its bulbous body is split into segments, with a fat, fleshy abdomen towards its rear. It is covered in a coat of coarse, wiry fur. It has twelve long, spindly legs that are covered in fine hairs, giving it a great deal of agility on loose sand. On its head, it has a trio of sharp mandibles arranged in a triangular configuration, which it uses to catch prey before injecting digestive enzymes into their bodies. It hunts by covering itself with sand, then waiting for passing prey, tracking them via vibrations.
The Razorback, as it has been colloquially named by the Marines, is an animal native to the Borealan deserts that the Rask have domesticated for use as attack animals. Razorbacks live in packs of a dozen or more, which travel between the sparse oases in their hunt for food. They are both social hunters and scavengers, able to eat a wide variety of prey items, their powerful jaws allowing them to crush bone in order to get at the nutritious marrow within. Upon their backs is a camel-like hump, which is filled with fat, allowing them to sustain themselves for long periods without food or water. The Alpha of a pack is easily recognizable by his large hump, as he eats first, and gets his pick of the best food.
Although they bear a resemblance to canines, the Razorbacks actually have more in common with Earth’s pigs and hippos than they do its dogs.
Razorbacks can grow up to eight feet long from nose to tail, and they can reach heights of five or six feet at the hump.
The lakes of Borealis are home to various species of fish which are armored from head to tail with bony, overlapping plates reminiscent of the placodermi of Earth’s prehistory. They have six flippers, thick and muscled, more like those of a seal than a fish. Some are the size of a trout, while larger, predatory examples can reach the size of sharks. Their jaws are powerful, and their scissor-like teeth are very capable of slicing through both prey animals and plant matter. These are present in both the Equatorial regions of the planet and at the poles, where they have adapted to the freezing temperatures.
Another species native to the polar regions are semi-aquatic mammals that live beneath the ice sheet, somewhat analogous to Earth’s seals. They have six limbs that have adapted into flippers, and their bodies are streamlined for swimming. They are coated in a layer of velvety fur that is highly prized by the inhabitants of those regions, and the thick blubber that they use for insulation in the frigid waters is a valued source of food and fuel. Hunters will often cut holes in the ice and wait for one to surface before striking.
The lakes are home to many species of crustaceans resembling lobsters and crabs, which are a plentiful food source for the poorer lake dwellers. These animals are bottom-feeders, crawling along the sandy lakebeds in search of food. Like everything on Borealis, they are able to grow quite large, some species easily rivaling the spider crabs of Earth.
The polar ice cap is also home to a large ungulate species that can grow to 1500kg and reach a length of three meters or more. It has six powerful limbs that end in splayed hooves, which help prevent the animal from sinking in the snow in the same way that camels are able to walk on loose sand. Its body is covered in a thick, insulating pelt patterned in shades of grey and white, camouflaging it against the snowdrifts and dead trees. Its insect-like mandibles are used to strip bark and moss from trees and to dig beneath the permafrost for plant matter. This odd feature suggests some kind of arthropod ancestry.
Borealis is home to many diverse species of plant. Despite the tropical nature of the jungle bands that encircle the lakes, many of the trees there have evergreen features that have evolved to deal with the periodic freezing caused by the monthly solar eclipse cycle. There are almost no deciduous plant species on Borealis, which completely shed their leaves during winters and dry periods.
The myriad species of tree in the Borealan jungles create a dense canopy that plunges the forest below into relative darkness, competing for light and space. Their tangled roots create habitats for forest animals, and many species of parasitic vine and fungi grow on their trunks.
Ferns and cycads dominate the undergrowth of Borealis’ jungles, creating a thick carpet of greenery. Grasses and grains favor the open spaces between the edges of the jungles and the shores of the lake, where they create narrow grazing lands for livestock.
Borealans are a species that evolved from a feline ancestor, standing on average eight feet tall, and weighing 500lbs. Due to the high gravity of their home planet, they have developed dense bones and powerful muscles that make them agile and resilient. They evolved from jungle-dwelling ambush predators, probably not unlike Earth’s leopards or tigers, and retain the sharp teeth, hooked claws, and fast reflexes of their distant ancestors. Borealans have excellent senses, with a very developed sense of smell, hearing, and eyes that work well both in daylight and in low light conditions.
Their body plan is humanoid, with two arms and two legs, giving them an upright posture. Their legs are digitigrade, ending in three-toed, paw-like feet with fleshy pads for traction. They have three fingers and a thumb on each hand, their fingers tipped with sharp, hooked claws that cannot be retracted. These claws are made from keratin and will regrow if broken or damaged. On the end of each finger is a sensitive pad that gives them better grip and tactile sensation through their fur. They have forward-facing eyes. granting them binocular vision, and they have a pair of sensitive ears on the top of their skull that can swivel to better focus on sounds. Their noses are feline in appearance, tapering into a flat brow, giving them an excellent sense of smell.
Borealans are primarily carnivorous, with sharp fangs designed for tearing flesh, but their flatter molars are adapted both for cracking bones to access the nutritional marrow and for crushing the gourds and grains that make up part of their diet. They have prehensile tongues near a foot long that taper into a point, their upper surface covered in rough barbs that are used for cleaning their fur.
Their prehensile tails are unusually robust and are anchored to a dense web of muscle at the base of the spine. They assist with balance, display emotional states, and can even be used to grip objects.
Races and Territories
The Borealan species is subdivided into various races and territories with distinct cultures and regional adaptations. Some are genetically distant enough to be considered subspecies.
Elysia is the most powerful territory on the planet and was the first to join the Coalition after contact was made. Initially the most developed of the territories, the government has maintained that edge by rapidly modernizing and adopting UNN technology.
The territory controls a large lake and the surrounding jungle, with most of the population living in villages on the shoreline. The capital city of the same name forms a rough crescent around the Eastern shore of the lake. It is densely populated by Borealan standards, with many Borealans from neighboring territories moving there to take advantage of the booming economy.
Elysians are a member of the Equatorial subgroup, which describes Borealans who live in the equatorial regions of the planet, and who all share a common ancestry and features. Elysians who are native to the territory have hair and fur in a shade of orange that is sometimes patterned with faded stripes on the limbs and tail. Their skin is light, and their noses and pads are pink in color. Their eye color is amber. Like other Equatorials, they are born with a covering of fur which they begin to lose during childhood, their coat receding to their lower limbs and tail. This is most likely an adaptation to the hot weather found at the equator.
Due to the large influx of Equatorials from neighboring territories, Elysians come in a wide variety of skin tones, hair colors, and fur patterns. These can range from dark complexions, green and blue eyes, hair and fur in shades of black, brown, and blonde, and patterns that include stripes and spots.
All Borealans live in packs, but the precise dynamics of those social groups can differ between races. The Elysians are members of the Equatorial subgroup, and the following should be considered true for all Equatorial territories.
An Equatorial pack is comprised of between three and eight individuals, rarely more. Each pack is led by an Alpha, the individual who has the highest social standing in the group, and who has complete authority over the rest. The position of Alpha is usually earned through a contest known as a dominance bout, in which two individuals have a brief fight to determine their standing. These confrontations can be bloody, as Equatorials are quick to use their claws, but injuries are usually only superficial and heal quickly. Bouts very rarely continue to the point that someone is seriously hurt, with the loser submitting long before then.
An Alpha commands absolute obedience from their subordinates, and any infraction or challenge to their authority is usually met with a swift correction in the form of a claw swipe or a clip around the ear. Despite the undercurrent of aggression, Alphas are responsible for taking care of their pack, who become dependants when they assume control. They are expected to manage the pack’s collective resources, ensure that all are fed and housed, and look out for their welfare through good decision-making and responsible behavior. Alphas who fail in these duties, or who are otherwise cruel or abusive, are quickly replaced by their disgruntled pack, usually through repeated challenges from its members.
Within a pack, each member has their own standing and may engage in dominance bouts determining a rigid pecking order in which those at the bottom must defer to their superiors. Contrary to what one might assume, while all Equatorials desire social advancement, submitting to their superiors is not done under duress. It is a normal and necessary part of their culture, and indeed, their biology. Not only do they do it willingly, but some may not want the extra responsibilities that come with advancement, and content themselves with maintaining their preferred position.
It is often said that when two Borealans are placed in a room together, it is only a matter of time before they attempt to establish a social order. This dominance behavior extends to all facets of their lives, often complicating their interactions with other species who may view their attempts to navigate social situations as simple aggression. Without a clear, established hierarchy, an Equatorial will feel insecure, and insecure Equatorials have a tendency to lash out in an attempt to create structure.
Parallel social structures are used when an individual needs more authority than their status affords them, as the most qualified or experienced person may not be the strongest or most dominant. Such cases might include an engineer heading the construction of a bridge, or a Minister overseeing an important agricultural project. When an Alpha orders their subordinates to obey someone of lower standing than themselves, fear of reprisal from the Alpha will keep them in line up to a point, and they will obey orders from that person as though they came from the Alpha.
The government of Elysia is led by a Patriarch (or Matriarch) and their appointed Ministers.
The Patriarch (or Matriarch) has absolute authority over their territory, and they appoint Ministers to manage the affairs of the state in much the same way that parallel social structures operate, by granting them authority above their station so that they might perform their functions unhindered. In such a way, a Minister carries the authority of the Patriarch, and to defy a Minister is to defy the Alpha of Alphas. This also prevents scenarios where Ministers might lose bouts to their subordinates and be replaced by someone less qualified for the position. Each Minister is responsible for making and implementing policies relating to their office, such as agriculture, commerce, or defense.
Equatorial governments are very much a reflection of their pack-based roots, with many of the same principles applying. To become a Patriarch or Matriarch, one must first become a prominent Alpha, rising through the ranks while gaining reputation and renown. If one wishes to claim the title of Alpha of Alphas, they must also be a celebrity, someone recognizable to the people, such as a great general or an influential politician. The pack life is a crucible, sharpening the worthy, and weeding out the unworthy until only the best examples of Elysian society remain as candidates. Alphas who are cruel, weak, or incompetent never maintain their position for long enough to reach such high standing.
The existing government’s Ministers also have a great deal of influence, and one of their functions is to gatekeep the next leader, exerting pressure on their subordinates to help or hinder the challenger’s appointment. Becoming a Patriarch without the blessing of the abdicating government’s Ministers is very difficult. The same can be said of Generals and other influential members of society who might use their connections to support or attempt to block the appointment of a new leader.
For these reasons, a system that might at first glance appear dictatorial or feudal is actually more democratic than it seems, as the process of becoming a leader is as much a popularity contest as it is a test of strength, with those leaders who lose the favor of their constituents finding it increasingly difficult to keep their subordinates in line. To rule without the consent of the ruled in Equatorial society is almost impossible.
Succession sometimes involves a bout, just as is the case when a contender challenges the position of the Alpha within a pack, but peaceful transitions are common when the abdicating ruler recognizes that their reign has come to its end. Only those of equal renown who have enough backing can challenge the Patriarch or Matriarch, which means that the government cannot be ousted by a random challenger who happens to be a skilled brawler.
The current ruler of Elysia is Patriarch Elysiedde. He earned great renown as a Royal Guardsman during his youth, eventually rising to the rank of General in the Elysian Army, and his blood relation to the territory’s founder grants him extra legitimacy in the eyes of many Elysians. Elysiedde is a modernist and a reformer, considered forward-thinking by his people. He was the first of the Borealan leaders to join the Coalition, and he has taken steps to improve relations and grow closer ties with the Galactic community, which has benefited his territory economically and technologically. Elysiedde has taken full advantage of this head-start to cement his territory’s position as the most developed and influential on the planet, much to the chagrin of some of his neighbors.
Elysians have a long martial history and take great pride in their territory’s achievements. Elysia has a regular army, as well as several specialized branches. These include the Royal Guard and the Rangers.
The Elysian Royal Guard are considered an elite fighting unit, and are responsible for the safety of the Patriarch and his family. In wartime, they participate in battles as frontline troops, renowned for their valor and ferocity. Royal Guards wear iconic red armor with gold trim in the same style as the Patriarch, their chest pieces often adorned with elaborate damascening depicting famous battles or hunts. As befits their station, they are permitted to wear capes made from Rainbow Spider pelt as part of their uniform, a symbol of high status otherwise afforded only to Shipmasters and the Patriarch.
Rangers are a faction within Elysian society who reject modernity and city life, preferring to live in the depths of the jungles as their ancestors once did, subsisting off what they can grow and hunt. Rangers are known for their impressive tracking skills, even among Borealans, and they have an intimate knowledge of their environment. They are a hardy people and are often sought out as guides or warriors by the Elysian government. Despite their rejection of modern conveniences, the Rangers maintain good relations with the rest of the territory, trading in furs and meats. An important part of their culture is the ritual hunting of Rainbow Spiders, which is considered a rite of passage for their people. After a successful hunt, the prized hide is harvested for sale, and the meat of the animal is eaten raw as part of an initiation ceremony. Rangers build wooden longhouses from felled trees, and live inside them communally.
Elysians have a rich food culture that is a significant component of their social experience. Their diet consists of varied meats, fish, grains, and gourds. They are sensitive to the oils and fats in cooked meats, preferring cooking methods that enhance these flavors, and texture is of great concern when preparing meals. Borealans have almost no perception of sweet flavors and so human visitors with a sweet tooth may wish to bring condiments and sauces with them when dining. This will not be seen as an insult to the chef, as many Elysians commonly carry small spray bottles or vials containing their preferred oil, which may be processed from meat, fish, or vegetables depending on the tastes of the individual. The rendering of fats is an important aspect of Elysian cooking, producing lard or schmalz for use in soups and stews.
Much care is taken when feeding livestock to ensure that the fat of the animal retains a certain flavor, and meats from the same species may not always have a similar taste due to the diet of the animal before slaughter. Many of these subtle flavors would not be perceptible to a human, but it is a very important aspect of Borealan dining and should be taken into account. The excess skin of many animals is fried and served as an entrée or a snack.
Fish and other kinds of seafood are a staple of the Elysian diet. Being strong swimmers and enjoying bathing as a recreational activity, bare-handed fishing is a popular competitive sport. Locals will compete to see who can catch the largest or the greatest quantity of fish with their hooked claws. Commercial fishermen use conventional nets and trawlers.
Elysians prefer oily fish similar to mackerel which are commonly smoked. The lower social classes eat many species of bottom-feeding crustaceans analogous to lobsters and crabs which are considered to be at best rustic and at worst unsanitary.
The cultivation of a grain not unlike the corn plant found in South America led Borealans to the discovery of agriculture, animal husbandry, and later civilization. It is a source of fiber and grows easily in the jungles that ring the water sources. It is prepared in a wide variety of ways, from cereals to complimentary dishes.
Elysians also enjoy gourds, more for their texture than their flavor, cultivating parasitic vines that grow on trees and produce fruit not unlike the pumpkin. These are often eaten raw or cooked into pies.
Although Borealans do not metabolize alcohol well, it remains popular, and there are many taverns in Elysia’s capital that are often frequented by servicemen. The most popular drink is a kind of wine brewed from fermented berries named Raises the Hair. The liquid is pink in color, with a flavor that somewhat resembles raspberries, and is usually served in a container that resembles a wine bottle. The alcohol content is usually between five and ten percent, which is still considered quite strong by the natives, as even a small shot of human spirits such as vodka or whisky would be enough to send them to the infirmary.
Feasts and banquets play a large role in Elysian social life, as feeding many packs at once requires a great deal of food and space. Almost any occasion can be used as an excuse to host a banquet, and there are many establishments in the capital that cater to these events which could be considered a form of restaurant. In more rural villages, there are often banquet halls built for the sole purpose of social dining, usually taking the form of a longhouse filled with fire pits where meats are roasted over open flames. Dozens of Elysians will crowd long banquet tables, feasting on entire roasted animals and piles of choice cuts of meat, along with all of the side dishes that one would expect. Borealans do not use cutlery, preferring to eat with their claws.
Clothing is generally light and revealing, with Elysians favoring colorful, gossamer fabrics that are worn in styles resembling tunics, shorts, and saris. The physical form is considered a thing of beauty and pride, and so preserving one’s modesty is not a priority.
Reproduction in Equatorials is tied into their pack system. The Alpha of a pack expects subservience from their subordinates in matters of sexuality, who are usually very willing to make themselves available, and this also applies to the pack structure as a whole. Sex is usually recreational and is often a group activity undertaken for pleasure and bonding.
The dominance bouts that decide pack hierarchy also have a sexual component, with the victor sometimes copulating with the loser. This results in the strongest and the most dominant individuals passing on their genes the most frequently, and it is easy to see how this reproductive strategy has influenced the species’ evolution. For this reason, confrontation and insubordination can be intensely arousing for many Equatorials, especially when the expected submission is not given and the release of either a fight or sex is denied to them.
Equatorials are not generally monogamous but may enter into more exclusive relationships with preferred partners, especially when they are actively trying to conceive a litter. They claim their mates through marking, whereby a prominent scar is made on the neck or shoulder through biting, identifying that individual as being off-limits to other Equatorials. The scar either heals, which indicates that the individual is now fair game again, or it is reapplied. Scent is also an important aspect of Borealan sexuality, their sensitive noses making it very easy to tell who is sleeping with who.
Equatorials give birth to a litter of kittens, usually in the range of four to six at a time. The gestation period lasts for eight months. Packs care for the kittens communally, with females of the same pack sharing the responsibility of feeding. Equatorials are generally hands-off parents, as their kittens are exceedingly tough and start adapting to pack life early in their development through playfighting.
Art and Architecture
Elysia is known for its impressive tapestries, pieces of thick textile that are embroidered with intricate patterns and pictures. These are woven both for decorative purposes, and to commemorate historical events such as battles or successions. It is not uncommon to find such tapestries adorning the walls of dwellings and palaces, depicting scenes of warfare or hunting in a stilted, somewhat medieval style, with an emphasis on color and detail over realistic perspective.
Damascening is a popular way to decorate weapons, armor, and valuables in Elysian society. Artisans inlay precious metals such as gold or silver onto the surface of oxidized iron or steel, creating intricate, flowing patterns that often portray hunting scenes or battles. Weapons are not mass-produced, and so it is rare to find a rifle or a blade that has not been decorated in this manner, and it is often combined with wood carving to make each artifact a work of art in its own right. Wealthier Elysians may commission personalized damascening on their weapons depicting their personal achievements. The armor worn by Royal Guards is famous for its damascening work, and their chest pieces are often decorated with elaborate battle scenes in shining gold. Despite their prevalence, artisans are considered to be of relatively low status in Elysian culture.
Elysian architecture favors low, sturdy structures due to the high gravity. Dwellings rarely exceed a single story in height and are made from sandstone blocks, which are often carved with decorative reliefs. They lack windows, as this helps keep the interior cool when it’s hot, and warm during the brief winter periods. Self-supporting arches and domes are a common sight, along with load-bearing pillars, and the streets of Elysia are paved with large, flat stones. Elysians make liberal use of marble in their architecture, using the varied colors to accent the otherwise drab sandstone.
The largest structure in Elysia is the Patriarch’s spire, a six-story structure hewn from white sandstone and marble, supported by decorative columns that are arranged in tiers. Its comparatively tall height and its striking, white color ensure that it can be seen from a great distance, reflecting the sunlight like a beacon.
Another noteworthy building in Elysia is the observatory, a domed structure on the outskirts of the city that dates back to the early days of the territory. The circular structure is designed like an amphitheater, with rows of stone seats where observers would sit that encircle a single wooden chair in the center of the room, which is suspended on an impressively intricate gear system for the time. This gear system angles the chair upwards so that the occupant is facing a glass window in the dome above, the tinted glass allowing them to observe the eclipse in comfort and safety. It was once believed that the conjunction could predict crop failures and tell fortunes.
Elysia is the only territory that currently operates spacecraft, and the Patriarch has accrued a limited Navy from independent dealers made up mostly of decommissioned UNN vessels. Lacking tethers or orbital stations, these vessels usually make landfall in the desert, where exposure to the elements can further complicate their maintenance. Despite being outdated, this Navy affords Elysia unparalleled force projection and makes them virtually untouchable by rival territories. The Elysian Navy operates several outdated frigates armed with railgun batteries, repainting the stealth coatings with the ornate red and gold of the territory, and decorating the hulls with the traditional flowing scenes of war and hunting. The interiors are likewise decorated with the usual Elysian flair, the bulkheads covered over with tapestries, and the human-sized seating replaced with more suitable and comfortable equivalents.
Elysia still operates a fleet of sandships used for both warfare and trading, a type of vessel designed to cross deserts that were in use prior to contact with the Coalition. These ships usually take the form of multi-hulled catamarans that capture the wind in their sails to propel them across the sand. They often have retractable wheels for crossing terrain such as salt flats, but they will avoid rocks and plateaus in the same way that an oceangoing vessel would avoid reefs and islands. These vessels can range in size from small scout vehicles the size of a canoe to large cargo vessels capable of ferrying several tons of goods across the Dune Seas.
The introduction of self-propelled vehicles with hydrogen engines and cargo shuttles has influenced the way in which these vessels are used, but they remain one of the best options for moving large amounts of cargo between territories cheaply.
Crewmasters are roughly the equivalent of Captains. They are responsible for the operation of their vessel and the command of its crew.
The Rask territory lies some 2000km West of Elysia, and shares its equatorial latitude. Its inhabitants are a hardy people who have adapted their society to the harsh climate of their territory, historically making their living as pirates and raiders, preying on nearby trade routes.
Unlike the lush greenery and pristine waters of Elysia, the Rask territory has large breaks in its jungle band that effect the climate and allow sand from the surrounding deserts to make its way deeper into the territory’s interior. There are four prominent breaks arranged roughly in cardinal directions, which are known as the North, East, South, and West Gates. These gates are heavily defended and feature ancient watchtowers made from sandstone. Unlike with other territories, the Rask can sail their fleets of sandships directly into the interior, while others must dock their ships outside the jungle band. This allows the Rask easier access to the desert and the ability to manage larger fleets.
Rask was the second of the Borealan territories to join the Coalition, motivated primarily by a desire to keep pace with Elysia militarily.
The Rask are a race of Equatorials, making them virtually identical to the Elysians save for some minor differences in hair and skin color. Their population is more uniform than that of Elysia, as the inhospitable territory has not seen the same level of immigration from neighboring regions. On the contrary, some Rask have emigrated in an attempt to escape their territory’s harsh conditions, and Borealans with Rask ancestry are not an uncommon sight in Elysia.
The Rask are known for their caramel complexions and their sun-bleached hair and fur, which varies in color from platinum blonde to a rich gold. Their eyes are usually a shade of amber.
Being Equatorials, their pack system is almost identical to that of the Elysians, but the harshness of their home territory is often reflected in the ruthlessness of the Rask. They are generally quicker to anger and faster to punish, and their pack structures are more rigid and militarized than those of their cousins.
The Rask believe strongly that luxury and peace make a nation weak, and they pride themselves on being the only remaining Borealans who live as their biology dictates, maintaining their ancient traditions and embracing their aggressive nature. The Rask consider those who allow foreign influences to erode their culture and those who temper their dominant instincts to better integrate with aliens to be Clawless, a derogatory term that refers to the outlawed practice of amputating a captive’s claws to ensure that they can never assert themselves within a pack again. In doing so, the Clawless becomes a slave, unable to gain standing, and unable to defend themselves, essentially robbing them of what it means to be Borealan.
Rask clothing styles are practical, favoring tough, form-fitting leather pants and jackets that are often reinforced with a padded lining to help protect against blades and claws. These are usually black or brown in color and are often embroidered or imprinted with decorative designs. Badges and medals made from precious metals are often worn to display individual achievements and status. High-ranking members of the military and government such as Crewmasters and Ministers wear sashes in traditional purple, which are adorned with more medals.
Civilian clothing usually takes the form of colorful shawls and robes made from heavy fabrics that shield the wearer from the pervasive, airborne sand that plagues the territory, and protects them from the cold nights and winters.
Like all Borealans, the Rask are great lovers of food, partaking in banquets and feasts to celebrate various occasions. Sandships are often constructed with comparatively large dining halls where the crew can eat during voyages. Delicacies appropriated from foreign territories are a favorite of Crewmasters, with Rask cuisine favoring roasted meats flavored with various oils and sauces.
Rask have a peculiar custom concerning meetings and negotiations. Where most cultures require that weapons be surrendered before attending official functions or entering sensitive areas, the Rask believe that having all in attendance be heavily armed does more to discourage confrontations and assassinations than trying to disarm them. The assumption is that any attempt to slay one’s enemies during negotiations will result in a bloodbath in which most in attendance would probably die, making it an unfavorable tactic.
Rask are almost always armed, and concealing a weapon where one is expected to surrender it is considered a virtue rather than an infraction. Rask will frequently sew hidden pouches or holsters into their clothing for this reason.
Succession and the appointment of new Ministers happens much the same way that it does in Elysian culture, with Patriarchs or Matriarchs requiring both the popular support of the people and the endorsement of the sitting Ministers, but Rask society is more heavily militarized, and prominent Crewmasters often make or break prospective leaders.
Rask reproduce in much the same way as other Equatorials, though their harsh culture and their propensity towards violence make them somewhat more aggressive in their sexual exploits. It is not uncommon for a Rask Alpha to treat their pack more like a harem, taking their fill of their subordinates as they please, but the rigid nature of Rask hierarchies means that this is generally welcomed by their packmates.
They give birth to litters of between four and six kittens.
Art and Architecture
The capital city of the Rask territory hugs the Northern shore of the lake, and while smaller than its Elysian equivalent, has some very impressive architectural features. These include streets paved with cobblestone and an extensive sewer system that runs beneath the city.
Architecture follows the usual Equatorial style, with squat, windowless dwellings that are limited in height due to the high gravity. Rask buildings are made from sandstone and are often coated with a layer of mortar for some added protection against the elements, as airborne sand can rapidly weather the underlying masonry.
Wood is a more common building material, with many structures favoring it over stone due to its relatively low cost. This often takes the form of logs used in lieu of pillars, and wooden support beams that protrude from the mortar on the exterior of buildings is a common sight in more rustic villages. These wooden supports are often carved with intricate reliefs and flowing patterns.
Deeper into the city’s more wealthy districts, it is not uncommon to find elements of marble and other types of stone in the construction, adding splashes of color and veins of ore to the otherwise drab buildings. Self-supporting domes and arches are prevalent, with domes especially sporting decorative features. It is a tradition to leave recesses on the facades of buildings, within which blocks of stone that are not covered over with mortar are left exposed. These stones are decorated with elaborate carvings depicting snarling Rask faces in the style of gargoyles, native animals, or scenes of hunting and sailing.
The signature feature of the Rask capital is the palace, which is the seat of government where the Matriarch and her Ministers reside. The large compound is surrounded by tall walls with a needle-like spire at each of its four corners, the caps of white stone ensuring that they can be seen from a great distance. The main building is a sprawling cluster of domed structures connected by smaller walkways, each one tipped with another towering spire, which is adorned with an embroidered flag. They depict various triumphs and important historical events in the territory’s history.
The courtyard is overlaid with a covering of massive stone blocks made from red marble, which is decorated with veins of ore in lighter shades of yellows and oranges. At its center is an artificial oasis surrounded by carefully cultivated trees and flowers, one of several places where the occupants can go to bathe and relax.
The interior of the palace makes extensive use of marble, as the stone is one of the few resources available to the Rask in abundance. Sculpted marble pillars, decorative tapestries, banners, and chandeliers.
The throne of the Matriarch is of particular note. The seat is hewn from a block of red marble with streaks of white, giving it an unsettling resemblance to raw meat, and the armrests are carved into the shape of Razorbacks. The throne is fitted with red velvet padding for comfort, and sits on a raised platform made from black marble that has been polished to a mirror sheen.
Another noteworthy feature of the Rask territory is the ancient watchtowers used to guard the four major gates that allow passage into the interior. These are not gates in the traditional sense, there are no portcullises or drawbridges, the term merely refers to large breaks in the jungle band that may be miles wide in places. The structures are noteworthy for being unusually tall, which is quite a feat using primitive construction techniques in such high gravity.
The Rask have historically been sailors, renowned for their skill when it came to navigating the ever-shifting sands of the Dune Seas in their sandships. Fleets of these vessels would sail out through one of the gates and into the deserts, where they would chase down trade caravans from neighboring territories, plundering them for goods and riches. These expeditions could take them thousands of kilometers from home, and would sometimes involve them making daring incursions into the jungle bands of other territories.
The average Rask raiding party would have been a fleet made up of multiple sandships and support craft. Sandships vary in size and tonnage, but most are in the range of fifty meters long and twenty-five meters wide, made primarily of wood. They are built like catamarans, with two narrow hulls spread far apart for stability. The wooden deck that bridges them is built up with cabins and cargo areas, along with masts and offensive weapons such as grapples and cannons. They were crewed by parties of thirty or more, and each ship was commanded by a Crewmaster.
These vessels were supported by skiffs, canoe-sized vessels built for speed, crewed by a gunner and a pilot. Skiffs would range far ahead of the fleet, locating targets before guiding the sandships in for the kill.
Rask pirates would usually try to disable a target sandship before dismounting and boarding. These attacks combined naval and military disciplines, with the Rask making use of their muskets, bayonets, and machetes to subdue defenders. They had few qualms about killing their victims, as Rask schools of thought dictate that those who cannot protect their property do not deserve it, and those who cannot defend themselves should be shown no mercy.
As one of the more prosperous and influential territories, Elysia became a prominent trade hub, and their caravans often fell prey to Rask piracy. This resulted in the Elysian military being deployed to protect trade routes, and the two territories would clash on many occasions.
These expeditions were undertaken not only for plunder and glory, but for economic and practical reasons, as the harsh conditions of the Rask territory were not conducive to large-scale agriculture or industry.
Rebellion of 2626Warning: the following text contains important spoilers for The Rask Rebellion.
In 2626, the sitting Matriarch launched a preemptive strike against the Coalition, using a smuggled MAST anti-satellite weapon to destroy two ships in orbit above the territory, the UNN Rubin and the Elysian frigate Furious Swipe. Shortly after, the Rask territory announced that they had left the alliance, declaring war on both Elysia and Araxie. Honoring their mutual defense agreement, the UNN deployed the Assault Carrier Okinawa to restore order, landing an armored battalion on the surface. What followed were a series of battles and skirmishes that would come to be known as the Rask Rebellion.
Due to the Rask establishing a no-fly zone over their territory using their remaining MAST missiles, the armored battalion landed in Elysian territory, then proceeded to drive the 2000km to the Rask territory with the goal of disabling the launchers so that an invasion could follow.
This resulted in several engagements. The Battle of Black Pass involved a Rask raiding party that had diverted from the Araxie territory heading off the UNN convoy at a formation of volcanic rock that bottlenecked the vehicles into a dry riverbed surrounded by walls of basalt. A force of Rask some two-hundred strong staged an ambush, damaging several vehicles with anti-material railguns, but were easily repelled. While the raiding party was all but wiped out, the operation was considered a success by the Matriarchy, as it stalled the UNN advance.
The next significant engagement has come to be known as the Battle of the Dune Sea. The UNN formation was caught off-guard when Rask scouts called in artillery strikes from modified Crawlers that the Matriarchy had turned into land-based battleships, fielding salvaged naval railguns of the kind found on older variants of UNN frigates. When combined with ballistic missile launchers, the effect was quite devastating, taking the convoy by surprise and disabling several vehicles. The Rask followed up with a charge led by APCs and technicals, but they were once again repelled. The UNN forces would endure sporadic guerilla attacks by Rask forces in the weeks that followed, but they were eventually able to locate and hunt down the Crawlers.
The final battle of the war happened when the UNN assaulted the East Gate, where the Matriarch had focused the remainder of her forces in a last-ditch defense. The Rask troops had dug in, creating networks of trenches, bunkers, and pillboxes. What followed was a short but brutal assault in which UNN vehicles and Marine units supported by auxiliaries pushed through, clearing out the defenses and opening a clear route to the territory’s interior, which was later occupied by a Coalition peacekeeping force. Matriarch Korbaz, with the support of the Coalition and many of the surviving Crewmasters, successfully challenged her former mentor and took the marble throne, ushering in a new era of cooperation and reforms.
After the end of the conflict, the Rask territory reentered the Coalition under newly-negotiated terms, with the requirement to provide troops to the alliance in the form of auxiliaries waived in favor of a new system that would see the Rask officially employed as mercenaries. In doing so, the Rask could maintain some aspects of their traditions and they would be afforded more autonomy, while also fulfilling their obligations. This was seen as a way to avoid a repeat of the conflicts and culture clashes that resulted in the rebellion.
The Matriarchy employed a blend of UNN technology, Rask equipment, and jury-rigged civilian vehicles during the conflict. Much of this equipment remains after the rebellion and still sees widespread use by Rask mercenary companies.
During and after the war, the Rask military uniform was a blend of Shock Trooper armor provided by the UNN and traditional Rask leather. Jackets would often be worn over the chest piece, and leather pants were often covered over with protective plating. As the conflict took place planetside, there was no need for vacuum-rated armor, and the Rask were already accustomed to the desert climates.
The territory had been outfitted with XMRs, the standard-issue rifle of the UNN, and the railguns were used to deadly effect during the war.
The lynchpin of the Matriarch’s plan were the Crawlers, large, mobile platforms that had been converted to fill various battlefield roles. These began as cargo crawlers of the kind often used at spaceports, where they carry spacecraft between launching areas and transport ultra-heavy cargo. The Matriarchy purchased six of the vehicles from the Marion-Krupp Corporation, needing no special permits to do so, as the vehicles were intended for industrial purposes only. The vehicles were eighty meters long and fifty meters tall, driving on four sets of large treads. Each one was powered by a nuclear fission reactor. The Rask used prefabricated buildings of the kind generally used in colonization projects to provide crew living space, cargo holds, garages, and bridges, welding them to the flat decks of the Crawlers.
Two battleships were constructed using naval railguns that had been salvaged from decommissioned UNN frigates, and ballistic missile launchers that had been scavenged from the beds of military trucks. Each vehicle also had four Cupcake CIWS guns that were used for defense. They were named the Landslide and the Earthquake.
Three carriers were constructed, the Volcano, the Tornado, and the Hurricane. These vehicles lacked the offensive capabilities of the battleships, but were fitted with onboard garages that were able to accommodate armored personnel carriers and technicals, and their crew complement was much larger. The Rask would launch fleets of vehicles from these Crawlers, using them as mobile bases.
The sixth Crawler, the Wildfire, was the command vehicle from which Vice Admiral Korbaz directed the war effort. It had a larger and better-equipped bridge, along with lavish crew quarters befitting the Admiral’s station, and even a fully-furnished banquet hall.
Being unable to obtain modern military vehicles, the Rask had to settle for outdated APCs of the kind often used by Planetary Defense Forces and converted civilian vehicles. The most common of these were the technicals, SUVs with fuel-efficient hydrogen engines that had been stripped down to their drive trains, then rebuilt to accommodate the greater stature of the Rask. These were often equipped with makeshift armor and water tanks, and they were armed primarily with light machinegun variants of the XMR that are commonly fielded by Krell Linebreakers.
One of the most prominent Rask units to fight in the war was the Palace Guard, an elite unit hand-picked by the Matriarch for their unwavering loyalty and their combat experience. They were exclusively made up of UNN-trained, ex-auxiliaries who had served off-planet. Prior to the rebellion, they were exclusively deployed as bodyguards to the Matriarch, protecting the palace compound and other sensitive sites. Most of the unit was wiped out during the battle for the East Gate, with the only survivors staying behind to protect the palace. The Palace Guard could be distinguished from other Rask troops by the regal purple accents on their jackets, and the purple capes they wore over one shoulder, reminiscent of those used by fencers. As well as being skilled soldiers, the Royal Guard were a symbol of the Matriarch’s authority, rallying the troops in battle.
Polars are a subspecies of Borealan native to the frozen arctic regions of the planet, and their physiology has adapted to the harsh climate over generations. The Polar territory is perpetually blanketed in snow and ice, and the lakes are frozen over all year round, which creates unique challenges to be overcome. Because of a scarcity of food and resources, the territory is somewhat less developed than its Equatorial counterparts, with often disparate villages and settlements connected by trading posts where the inhabitants meet to barter goods and materials. Most Polars live a subsistence lifestyle, hunting and fishing to survive.
Polar physiology differs significantly from that of their Equatorial cousins, as they diverged from a common ancestor at least ten thousand years ago. Polars do not lose their covering of fur as they age, instead maintaining a thick, insulating coat throughout their lives to help them maintain their body temperature in extreme arctic conditions. This fur has several distinct layers, including a velvety layer of underfur close to the skin that helps to trap heat, an insulating layer of fluffy fur, and water-proof guard hairs.
Polars are sheathed in a layer of blubbery fat that serves as both another layer of thermal protection and an important energy reserve for when food is scarce. Despite their appearance, they are just as muscular as their Equatorial brethren, if not moreso due to the extra weight that they have to carry. Adult Polars can very easily reach 700-800lbs or more.
Polars have blue eyes and slate-grey hair, and their fur is varying shades of white, patterned with coffee-stain shaped spots for camouflage. Their tails are larger and bushier than those of the Equatorials.
The Polars are known for their more favorable temperament, lacking the aggressive and domineering tendencies of their Equatorial counterparts. This is likely due to the necessity of cooperation and the more severe consequences of injury in their arctic environment. Where Equtorials seek to gain influence and status through confrontation, Polars prefer to do so through persuasion and social maneuvering, often employing manipulation or seduction to gain influence over others. The smoothest talkers quickly rise through the ranks to become Alphas and community leaders, making Polars natural diplomats and negotiators. Sexuality plays a large role in their social experience, where sexual favors are a common and accepted path to achieving one’s goals.
Polars live in settlements that may incorporate one or two-dozen packs, usually spread relatively far apart so as not to exhaust the limited resources available in a given area. These settlements are connected by trading posts that serve both as places to barter and as lines of communication uniting the populace. Polar populations are fairly low, and even the capital of the territory had only a few thousand inhabitants, with the rest of the species scattered about the region. While they lacked resources, one thing they had in abundance was space.
Polar dwellings take the form of round log buildings with a fire pit built into the floor for warmth and cooking. The roofs are made from stripped bark arranged in a slope to ward off the snow, and they have a hole in the center where smoke can escape. Unlike the Equatorial territories, where building materials are abundant, Polars are rarely able to mine stone and must instead rely on the wood from the trees that cling to life in the tundra. For this reason, wood is quite valuable as a commodity, and animal fats are often used as a substitute for fuel.
Longhouses are the center of Polar social life, which serve several important functions in settlements. They are often quite large, sometimes reaching sixty meters in length and twenty meters wide, the dirt floor lined with fire pits at intervals that keep the space warm and facilitate communal cooking. Banquet tables are placed between and around them, where entire settlements will dine together as they share the spoils of the latest successful hunt. It’s also common to find drying fish near the fires, tanning racks, and smoked meat suspended from ropes tied to the rafters above.
At the extremities of the room are the sleeping areas, usually taking the form of beds of animal furs, used both for rest and for recreation.
Polars have a permissive culture, with tight-knit packs and a strong sense of community that has helped them endure the trials of the planet’s ice cap.
Polar clothing is paradoxically sparse, favoring translucent, gossamer fabrics designed more to entice than to protect from the elements. Only in very harsh conditions do Polars don heavier, insulating clothing, as they are naturally equipped to handle cold climates and may even overheat in warmer environments.
Some Polars who live in harsher conditions may not have access to such fineries, and will instead wear more spartan, functional clothing made from tanned leathers and animal furs.
Bathing is an important part of Polar culture, both for socializing and relaxation, as well as for the more practical purpose of cleaning their fur. Hot springs are common in some of the more mountainous regions of their territory and serve as a rare refuge from the frigid weather. Bathing is a communal affair, where the members of a pack will help one another wash their coats using soaps made from native plants and animal fats. A wide variety of perfumes are used owing to their keen sense of smell, often favoring scents reminiscent of berries or flowers. Personal hygiene is very important in Polar society, and having clean, well-maintained fur is seen as good manners.
Where host springs are not available, Polars will bathe in large, wooden barrels filled with water that has been warmed over a fire pit.
If other races of Borealan have reputations for being gourmands, then the Polars take their species’ love of food to an extreme. Like their Equatorial cousins, they favor meats seasoned with flavored oils made from primarily fish stock and vegetables. Their preferred cuts of meat are often high in fat content, as much like the Polars themselves, the animals that share their environment have a layer of insulating blubber to keep them warm in the arctic climate. Due to the often scarce nature of their food, Polars will gorge themselves whenever the opportunity arises, a habit that is sometimes detrimental in situations where food is more abundant.
Polars differ from their Equatorial cousins in that they have evolved to only give birth to a single kitten rather than a litter. This is likely an adaptation to the harsh environment of their home territory, where resources are far more scarce. This kitten is also substantially larger and is born with a protective layer of blubber. Polar parental instincts are very strong, and they invest heavily in their children, carefully tutoring them throughout their youth to teach them all of the necessary skills they will need to survive the arctic climate.
Childcare is a communal responsibility, and Polars rarely distinguish between one person’s child and another’s.
Sexuality plays a very prominent role in the social lives of Polars, both as a recreational activity undertaken purely for entertainment and as an important element of their pack hierarchy. Where other races of Borealan might fight to assert themselves, Polars diffuse tension and ease conflict through social maneuvering and bargaining. They often engage in sexual activity, where mutual enjoyment and stress relief is found even if the argument is not immediately resolved.
Seducing a rival in order to gain influence over them is a common and accepted tactic within packs, meaning that romantic as well as social bonds are generally strong within groups. Polar sexuality is relatively fluid and they do not discriminate by gender, although some may have preferences in a non-exclusive sense. This enables Polars of the same sex to freely engage in pack life. In the same manner, while Polars may have favorite partners, they do not commonly engage in monogamous behavior as other species may understand it, though exclusive relationships are not inherently against their nature if their partner desires it strongly enough. Jealousy is an alien concept to them, as there is little reason to deny the advances of another Polar, and sharing a bed with someone is usually as easy as declaring one’s interest.
Packs sleep communally, usually in a large nest made from cushions and animal furs. This means that group sex is common, with several members of a pack, or even multiple packs, joining together. This builds friendships and strengthens bonds in Polar communities.
Siberian ColonyWarning: the following text contains important spoilers for Fineprint.
In 2621, due to the worsening conditions in her territory, Matriarch Ursillik officially requested asylum for her people on Earth. The United Nations initially rejected this request, but the Russian Federation later forwarded an invitation for her people to be relocated to an uninhabited area of Siberia, where they founded a colony. The Polar colony is considered an Oblast, which are subjects of the Russian Federation with some degree of autonomy and self-governance, with the inhabitants able to live under their own legal system. They have a seat on the Federation Council and are represented by the United Nations in Coalition proceedings.
Moving the population was a large undertaking, but as one of the most sparsely populated territories, it was feasible. A handful of isolated populations who were out of contact with neighboring villages were left behind and still inhabit the territory, despite the Matriarch’s ardent efforts to locate all of the stragglers.
The Araxie are an elusive race of Borealans native to the dense jungle bands of their home territory of the same name. Their existence was thought to be a myth until relatively recently, with ancient accounts of encounters with their people falling into legend and superstition, but the upset to the local balance of power caused by the introduction of Coalition technology has forced them to come out of hiding.
The Araxie territory has an unusually large and ancient jungle band, making it very difficult to penetrate, which contributed to their ability to remain unseen for so long. The territory is situated between Rask and Elysia, slightly to the North of both territories, which put it within reach of sandships from both of its neighbors.
The Elysians sent several exploratory expeditions to the territory over the course of their history, investigating the region for potential trade or exploitation, but the difficult terrain and the hostile natives made it an unfavorable candidate.
The Rask were more aggressive in their intrusions, launching multiple military incursions into the territory, which were all repelled with brutal efficiency by the Araxie. Their tendency to favor ambush tactics and their mastery of stealth led to them being labeled as ghosts by the Rask, spreading myths that the territory was haunted by vengeful specters, which helped keep the curious away for generations. It wasn’t until the introduction of UNN weapons and vehicles that the Rask became emboldened enough to launch new attacks on the Araxie, despite this being a clear violation of the Coalition charter. These attacks continued until the Araxie decided that revealing their presence to the Coalition was the only way to survive.
Much like the Polars, the Araxie have diverged significantly from their Equatorial counterparts, which suggests that their population became isolated for a long period of time after having split off from a common ancestor in the species’ past.
The Araxie retain their covering of fur into adulthood, which takes the form of a very thin, velvety coat not unlike that of a racehorse. This thin fur becomes imbued with sweat and humidity, which then evaporates, helping keep them cool in the jungle heat. The coloration of their hair and fur is uniform, and they have green eyes.
The Araxie are more lithe and agile than their sturdier-built cousins, weighing in at an average of 400lbs. Their lower body fat and their physically-demanding lifestyle give them sinewy, muscular frames reminiscent of gymnasts, with impressive flexibility and balance. They are well-suited to climbing, with powerful claws that can grip bark and prehensile tails that can support their weight, acting as an extra limb when required. They share the keen senses of their counterparts in other regions of the planet, but due to the gloom of their jungle home, their eyesight is even more adapted to dark environments to the point that they often have to wear protective visors in brighter conditions. They are primarily nocturnal, preferring to sleep during the day.
Stealth and ambush are the favored hunting tactics of the Araxie, and their physiology is well-adapted to that niche. Their jet-black fur helps them go unseen in shadow, and their feet are equipped with soft, fleshy pads that muffle the sound of their footsteps.
Where the Equatorials determine their pack hierarchy primarily through violence, and the Polars through wiles, the Araxie appoint their leaders based on merit. In Araxie villages, packs are segregated by skillset, with those who show an affinity for a particular job or role naturally gravitating towards one another. This ensures that all members of the community are putting their talents to good use. These packs may be tasked with hunting, gathering, raising animals, metalworking, building, cooking, or any number of specialized tasks.
The Alpha of the pack will be the most experienced and skilled member of the community, while their subordinates will be other villagers who are either especially skilled or who show promise in that field. Just as is the case with the other races, the Alpha has a responsibility towards the other members of their pack, and they are expected to provide for them and to look out for their best interests. If they fail in this duty or otherwise lose the favor of their pack, they are liable to be replaced, making the role of Alpha a matter of popularity as much as raw performance.
The Araxie idolize their Alphas, and many reach such renown that they become akin to celebrities, earning a reputation that becomes known throughout the territory.
Members of the community who are not especially skilled in any particular field, or who are having trouble finding their niche will often be passed around between different packs who will either help them find a role or some useful task to occupy themselves with.
The core tenet of Araxie culture is stealth, a value that is reflected in almost all aspects of their lives. Remaining unseen is both how they hunt, and how their isolated society has survived into the modern era in spite of the close proximity of major regional powers. This even factors into their personal lives and relationships, where discreetness is seen as a very desirable trait, and where observing someone without being noticed is viewed as proof of one’s skill rather than a violation of privacy.
The Araxie are renowned hunters and trackers, their skill rivaled only by the Elysian Rangers. They have an intimate knowledge of both their environment and of the myriad creatures that inhabit it, able to recognize different species through something as trivial as the sound of disturbed undergrowth. Uniquely suited to the darkness of their jungles, they are able to navigate easily despite the pervasive gloom, favoring using the dense canopy to travel so as not to leave any evidence of their passing.
Araxie society is comprised of thousands of villages that are spread throughout the jungle band of their territory, which maintain contact through trade and the exchange of populations, where individuals may choose to move to neighboring settlements in order to find a more suitable pack. Much like the other Borealan territories, their people are unified under a Patriarch or Matriarch, an Alpha of Alphas who rules all of the packs under his authority.
Those chosen to take the mantle of Patriarch are usually renowned Alphas who have proven themselves by leading a pack with distinction, becoming the most prominent in their given field. Succession is very much a democratic process, with prominent Alphas and community leaders from around the territory meeting to deliberate, deciding the next in line through a majority vote.
The Patriarch makes decisions that impact the territory as a whole, such as the distribution of food and resources, and the deployment of the military. The current leader of the territory is Patriarch Bozka.
The Araxie military has significant overlap with the territory’s hunting packs, as the two share the same essential skillset, and hunters may often be called upon to fight in the event of an incursion. The Araxie fight only to defend their territory, but they are suspicious of outsiders, using lethal force to repel intruders. There are many hunting blinds and watchtowers spread throughout the territory that will quickly send word to nearby villages if an intrusion is detected.
Araxie warriors employ many tools in their trade, including deceptively primitive weapons and means of camouflage.
The weapon favored by most Araxie warriors and hunters is a high-powered crossbow that fires an iron bolt at a high enough velocity that it can puncture most forms of Borealan plate armor that were employed before the Coalition era. These weapons are very accurate, and their design seems to have been informed by the powder rifles favored by the Rask and Elysians, suggesting that they may have been influenced by weapons captured from Equatorial trespassers. They have wooden stocks with iron components, and their strings are made from animal sinew that is waxed with tallow to protect it from the humidity. The crossbows are sophisticated for such primitive weapons, but much of their power comes from their sheer size, some approaching five or six feet long. They have even been known to take down Rask equipped with Shock Trooper armor by targeting the break between the helmet and the collar.
Though iron (known as redrock to the Araxie) would usually be susceptible to rusting in the humid environment of the jungle, the Araxie procure most of their ore from bogs. This ore contains impurities referred to as stoneglass, residual silicates that form a glassy layer that protects the metal from oxidation.
One tool that an Araxie is never caught without is their camouflaged capes, which serve the same purpose as a ghillie suit. These capes are woven from a fine, leather mesh, which is decorated with colored fabric designed to mimic foliage. Araxie will often supplement this fabric with real leaves collected from their immediate environment, sewing them into the mesh to ensure that they remain as hidden as possible. When wishing to go unseen, the wearer will take refuge beneath the cape, blending into their environment in a way that makes them practically invisible in the jungle canopy.
The Araxie are strong believers in self-sufficiency when ranging far from their villages, electing to carry everything they might need on their person in holsters, carriers, and bags. They employ leather harnesses not dissimilar from a tactical vest that they load with tools and supplies, ranging from flint fire starters to waterskins or dried rations.
Clothing is usually spartan and functional, made from strips of tanned leather that are sewn together to create form-sitting shorts and slings. Araxie dress very sparsely, as their hot, humid environment requires that their fur be as exposed as possible to facilitate the evaporation of sweat and moisture.
The Araxie give birth to litters of between four and six kittens, with a gestation period of eight months. Members of Araxie packs have close relationships and often engage in recreational sex. Although the structures of their packs are less rigid than those of other Borealans, they idolize their Alphas, often competing for their attention and affection.
The Araxie believe that skills and attributes are inherited, and so they can be selective about who they choose to mate with. Alphas are of course the most desired, though skill and experience are innately attractive to them, meaning that they gravitate towards anyone who shows competence in any particular discipline. They find features conducive to stealth and agility appealing, a preference likely born of their natural role as ambush predators, and those who can take them by surprise or evade their detection often become objects of desire or admiration.
Art and Architecture
The dense jungles make mining difficult, which means that the Araxie rely almost exclusively on wood for their building materials. As a result, they have become extremely skilled craftsmen, carving impressive edifices and works of art. They are also able to cultivate useful plant species in their environment, forming organic barriers or bridges, often undertaking multi-generation projects.
The most prominent feature of any established Araxie settlement is the protective wall that surrounds it. These walls are made up of vines, creepers, and other dense plant matter that has been encouraged to grow between the massive trunks of ancient trees. This forms a barrier that is only passable at certain points, and which shields the village within from view. There are blinds posted at intervals around the exterior where guards keep watch for approaching people. These fortified settlements are most often surrounded by traps and pitfalls, ensuring that only those who are already familiar with the area or who are being led by a local guide can pass. These traps are signposted by the presence of anomalous plant species and disturbed ground that lowers the likelihood of an oblivious Araxie falling prey to them.
Araxie villages are usually built where the jungle is thinnest, not necessarily a clearing, but an area where there is space enough to construct a settlement. Once a settlement has been founded, more trees and plants are often cultivated for construction purposes, reinforcing the protective wall or serving as foundations for buildings.
Araxie dwellings are constructed between the raised roots of the giant trees that dominate the territory’s jungles. These dome-shaped structures are made from planks of wood and are covered over with foliage and sometimes packed dirt to help camouflage them against their environment. They are windowless, with only a single door, the Araxie taking refuge inside while they sleep during the day.
These dwellings each have a fire pit that facilitates cooking, and also provides warmth during the monthly winter periods. The Araxie are very careful to avoid creating smoke that might give away their position from a distance, employing various techniques such as drying their fuel and digging holes akin to Dakota fire pits.
Aside from the dwellings, civic buildings such as the residences of community leaders or banquet halls are often constructed around existing features, such as the bases of especially tall trees, or on the inside of hollowed-out logs.
One noteworthy building is the banquet hall located in the territory’s capital, which is carved from an enormous felled tree. During the process of hollowing it out, the furniture and interior decorations were carved from the same material, resulting in the entire hall being a single, uninterrupted piece of wood.
The Araxie share the Borealan love of food and eat a diet primarily comprised of meat sourced from the various jungle animals that they hunt. These meats are often roasted over an open flame and seasoned with various oils and sauces rendered from animal fats and vegetables.
The Lakeless are nomadic tribesmen who still inhabit the deserts of Borealis long after the settlement of the lakes and the founding of the great territories. They live as their ancestors have for thousands, possibly tens of thousands of years, subsisting off the limited resources available to them in the Dune Seas. Their exact number and range are unknown, but they are sometimes encountered by sandships and trading caravans, and have learned to be fearful of other Borealans as a result.
The Lakeless are a race of Equatorial, making them physiologically similar to the Rask and Elysians. Their skin is described as being a shade of ochre, and their hair is said to be matted with red clay.
The finer details of their pack life are currently unknown, but they can be presumed to be similar to those of their Equatorial cousins, with packs led by Alphas who are likely appointed based on their fighting prowess and their ability to lead.
Little is known about the tribal cultures of the Lakeless. They appear to be a stone-age people, wielding tools and weapons fashioned from sharpened flint and carved wood, the handles often wrapped with tanned leather. Their clothing consists of animal skins and furs.
While the Lakeless themselves are enigmatic, the evidence that they leave behind is less so. When the Lakeless establish more permanent homes, their settlements are usually located in and around formations of volcanic rock, exposed plateaus, and dry riverbeds that break up the endless sands. These are a good source of petrified wood, stone, and other hard to find materials. It is not uncommon to find impressive petroglyphs in these areas, crude depictions of figures and animals that are created by chipping away the top layer of rock to expose the lighter layers beneath it. These are sometimes very large, adorning cliff faces, boulders, and ventifacts. The purpose of this artwork is unknown, but it could serve as a warning or perhaps as a way to lay claim to land.