Flintlocks & Fireballs
Nonhumans in the South
“Ah, yes, thankyou for the meal, my friend. Now, to uphold my end of the bargain, Kesh the Valiant shall tell you a tale such as you’ve never heard, of the foul creatures that haunt the land beyond the Southern Wastes, beings that are the most hideous mockery of a man. Just to check, you’ve never been down south, have you?”
The Empire put a lot of time and effort into clearing the South of anything that wasn’t human. Initially it might have been a matter of defence, but it’s very clear that by the end, it was a matter of policy and of Incarnationist dogma. Only two races survived in any kind of quantity: Dwarves, and Devils.
Dwarves are short, stocky, sober, and fanatically obsessed with tradition and ritual. Dwarves were the last of the nonhumans to fall under the Imperial axe, and saw the Empire’s betrayal of them coming a mile off. They were ready.
When Imperial forces stormed the dwarven nation of Dourmoor they expected heavy resistance from the deep-dwellers in Fort Netherfael, the greatest of the dwarves’ mine-cities, but were confident that their firearms could defeat any army the dwarves could field.
Instead, Netherfael triggered charges of darkpowder on their city’s gate and collapsed the mine’s entry-tunnels, sealing themselves underground. Nobody has the slightest idea where the Netherfael dwarves are now or what they’re up to, or even if they’re still alive, but the Dourmoor dwarves who didn’t get underground are now out-and-out slaves at worst, second-class citizens at best.
That only goes for dwarves living inside the law, of course. The rebellion has its share of dwarves; as do various gangs of outlaws and criminals.
There’s a terribly unreliable and ambiguous ritual that, if you’re lucky, will summon a being called a Devil and let you make a deal with it. Sometimes, the things just turn up unbidden.
Now what’s known for sure is what you get: a red-skinned, horned humanoid creature with claws and fangs that makes you an offer. In exchange for whatever it is you want, it gets your soul when you die. What’s further apparent is that when someone signs, the devil will eagerly and happily do anything — bloodthirsty, morally abhorrent, or utterly humiliating and menial — to meet their end of the bargain.
What isn’t apparent is just what these things are capable of. The answer appears to be ‘not much’. They don’t have innate magical powers or the ability to grant wishes or any of that jazz; they’re just regular, cunning, fairly charming individuals. With red skin and horns and fangs.
What is also not apparent is whether or not their claim to take the souls of their employers has any meaning. Magic has verified the existence of the soul and it definitely goes somewhere after someone dies, but that’s about all anybody knows.
As such, there are a number of people who will happily employ a devil as a personal assistant; there are a number of devils who quite happily — smugly, some would say — spend a lifetime washing dishes until their employer dies of old age. Equally, there is a programme amongst the Imperial justice system that will allow condemned prisoners to live out the rest of their lives in — relative — comfort provided they sign on the dotted line and order the devil they summon to serve the Empire unquestioningly. A number of these go into the Imperial army to serve as disposable soldiers in what’s known as the Hellfire Battalion. They’re generally kept away from other troops for purposes of morale.
You’d think the Incarnationists would come down on all this business like a ton of bricks. Surprisingly, you’d be wrong. Sure, anyone actually worshipping the things gets lynch-mobbed and executed, but Incarnationist dogma decrees that the soul is of no value: it’s merely the vessel for a spark of the Divine, which is released on death. The seal was put on the whole deal by a previous Emperor — coincidentally, also the architect of the Hellfire Battalion — who used his holy right to speak Divine Truth to decree that this was so.
Any nation of sapients — the catch-all term for “things that aren’t humans, dwarves or devils but are potentially as smart as us” — which was big or organised enough to pose a threat to the Empire has been eliminated, but in the Wilds there are a number of small villages or nomadic camps of nonhumans: elves, goblins, kobolds, and so on. Some will be friendly, some will be homicidally murderous, but most have learned that tangling with humans is a bad plan and will simply keep to the shadows and defend their own.
“Let us play a… game. Yes. You shall insert the needles my subordinate passes you underneath your sister’s fingernails. Should she refrain from screaming, I will allow her to leave and you will stay in her place. Should a sound pass her lips — then, yes, you will both remain here, and my subordinates shall determine which game you are to play next.”
— Gaze-Of-Dolor, eyebeast
The really rare and dangerous species are classed as fiends by the Empire, and hunted ruthlessly. While the Empire is probably vaguely aware of small groups of sapients living in the outlands, it doesn’t spare the time and effort to locate them. Fiends are a different bag: one rumour is enough to get an investigation underway, and if it’s substantiated, that investigation’s followed up by an armed division. Of course, these days, with resources squeezed by the rebellion, things can be a little more… flexible.
Fiends don’t tend to come in nations (if they did, they’d probably be ruling the world by now) — they’re found in family groups at most, and usually alone.
Rakshasha are feline humanoids who are highly skilled with magic. They seem somehow to replicate the effects of crystal magic inside their own bodies. Raks are particularly taken with illusion, and are very good at changing their appearance in order to disguise themselves. The threat of a Rakshasha infiltrator led to a great many paranoid witch-hunts before they were wiped out. (Or at least, so it’s believed; even now, there are still constant rumours of shapeshifting Rak assassins.)
Ursagi are large, deformed bears with immense mental powers. The weak-willed can easily be overwhelmed by an ursag’s presence and transformed into their slaves; many ursags will travel with a sizable retinue of half-starved, glassy-eyed minions. Ursagi have a peculiar kind of low cunning; although neither they nor their minions ever speak, their homes are expertly defended with traps, deadfalls and ambushes.
Drakes are the enormous, winged fire-breathing lizards of fame. It’s true that they covet gold and jewellery of all kinds, are deeply solitary, and wickedly clever. What is more alarming is that drakes are also talented craftsmen. A number had managed to escape the Imperial purges through cunning diplomacy until it was discovered that they had learned the secret of gunpowder and were manufacturing cannon to defend their lairs with; not only that, but they were doing it far more effectively than the Empire’s engineers could. Naturally, at this point the peace treaty was torn up and the drakes slain.
Naga are large snakes with human heads. Their poison is the most deadly in existence and they can have a hypnotic effect on those they speak to. Naga seem obsessed with worship, commanding those they control to construct enormous chapels in their honour and recruit more and more to follow them.
Eyebeasts are large, floating bags of protoplasmic, semi-transparent goo containing several staring eyes. They can (somehow) talk, and are manipulative, deceitful, treacherous and entirely self-centred. Eyebeasts are entirely untrustworthy, and like to cause pain and suffering just for the hell of it.
Sometimes the dead just rise. This is more likely if they’ve been improperly buried, if their death was particularly traumatic, if their corpse was around a lot of other undead, or if they had unfinished business. These undead aren’t smart; they tend just to shamble around and attack whatever comes near them. These are shades, skeletons, zombies, or ghouls; although they’re dangerous in numbers, they’re easy to outwit.
The dangerous undead are the smart ones, the unliving: wights, revenants, spectres, vampires or liches, which come about when someone with a particularly powerful reason to rise again dies. These retain their former intelligence, and sometimes their former drive. Worst, of all, they can raise others to serve them.
The Empire does a pretty good job of keeping its streets zombie-clear. A number of undead fled south into the wilds of Praxia a long time ago, back when Arakesh was still a world power, and again, more recently, from the Empire. The place is still riven with a number of necromantic tyrants keeping carefully outside of the Empire’s reach.