Valdis up close

(Featured image in post by Veronica Weser.)

In Valdis, it’s said that knowledge is prized above all things. And indeed, there are several key factors that at least appear to support such a claim:

  • Valdis is home to many of the centers of knowledge in the world, such as the North Star Library, which is composed of over a hundred squat, chilly buildings that collectively house the largest collection of books in all of Raea. Because of Valdis’s snowy weather, the North Star Library has given the popular imagination the association cold with knowledge itself.
  • The Alchemist Guild of Valdis is paralleled only by the scientists of the Sunset nations. Valdis’s guild has pioneered many of the advances in chemistry and medicine and introduced many weaponized forms of alchemy to the world. These include strangling gases and metal-hating acids that can eat away armor in seconds.
  • Valdis has the so-called “Art Castles,” preserved ruins that are full of the masterworks of the dead.
  • Valdis build the astrophysical Starwatch Towers.
  • The people who live in Valdis’s Frostwoods have their own unique oral traditions that prize the preservation of knowledge.
  • Valdis has a town that’s actually called Lore, where waterproof-inked books spill out of stores onto the snowy streets.
  • Valdis contains the vast field of lightning rods near the frozen mountain ranges on its eastern border. This is the biggest research project by square mileage of any in the world.

Valdeans typically claim that the pursuit of knowledge is even enshrined in their civil systems. At least at first glance, this appears to be true. The head of the country’s democratic republic is called the Philosopher King, and his/her humble quarters lie next to the mammoth building that houses the Council, which is composed of 100 members. By representing different areas of Valdis, it is said that the council members actually represent entire schools of thought that are complete and consistent unto themselves. Both the executive branch (the Philosopher King and his/her cabinet) and the legislative branch (the Council) flank the Amphitheater, where regular citizens or Star Weal scholars or delegates of distant lands or anyone else can come forth and debate the head of the country or any of its representatives. Indeed, the Philosopher King is expected to present himself to debate anyone who will take the soapbox against him in the snow-laden Amphitheater, and tradition holds that he must do so several times a week. Philosopher Kings have been impeached for being weak at dialectical confrontation and intellectual combat.

Despite its reputation for prizing pure knowledge, Valdis has seen many wars, and many of its educational institutions are funded by the government, which has often pushed those institutions to create new military technologies. These include siege weapons and destructive uses of coalpure. There is an uneasy alliance between Valdis and Gallant to the south. Valdeans tend to look down on Gallant, and Gallants tend to think of Valdeans as pretentious (though Gallant often tries to lure the best minds of Valdis to move south). To underscore these cultural tensions, both legal and military battles have been fought over which country owns which part of the Sorrowfell mountains, where rich coalpure mines are often unearthed.

Throughout its history, Valdis has also come into conflict with Aurora to the northwest and with the The People’s Republic of Obsidia to the northeast. These conflicts tend to arise during times of economic upheaval and have often been about access to sea routes, key stretches of land, and natural resources. Many such battles have occurred over a vast frozen sea called the Lady of Winter. Like Dalewind Pass to the south, the Lady of Winter has been the site of many wars involving the country of knowledge.

Ravel up close

Ravel is full of contradictions. As the technological center of Raea, it’s a place of machinery, engineering, and steam works. But it’s also considered a Mecca of spiritual agnosticism and is home to the Sisters of the Sacred Dark, who hold the unknown to be holy. Ravel’s capitol is widely considered a place of entrepreneurship with its many businesses built on copyrights and patents. And yet it’s also known as the city of love, with its many waterfalls adding to that summertime sense of romance in the air. Though Ravel is one of the three major countries making up the Heartlands (along with Gallant and Valdis), it is culturally distinct with its emphasis on technological advancement. The most common stereotype of a Ravelian is that of a true romantic.

The capitol of Ravel is the destination for thousands of aqueducts spiderwebbed throughout the Sorrowfells, bringing snowmelt to this city nestled amidst mountains. Right on Ravel’s western border are the vast lands that belong to the six Sunset Nation tribes, which is the birthplace of science and to this day still the most scientifically advanced union in all of Raea. While some tribes of the Sunset Nations are engaged in war with Ravel (the subject of another post), others engage in extensive trade. This comes with a sharing of cultures and knowledge, and many of Ravel’s cutting-edge innovations in communications, steam work robotics, and computing machines are based on Sunset Nation breakthroughs.

Ravel. Please forgive the crude, hand-drawn map.

In addition to the benefits that come with sharing a border with the Sunset Nations, Ravel also manages to be so innovative by enforcing strict laws to protect intellectual property. Entrepreneurial enterprises are heavily taxed for patents they aren’t actively developing, and businesses that don’t hire from the country’s citizenry can be stripped of what the courts deem to be “communal” intellectual property rights. Some see these measures as protective of innovation and the country’s economy. But others point to them as the reason why Ravel’s homeless population is the highest of any of the Heartland’s major cities. Again, there are contradictions in Ravel’s reputation: on the one hand, the romantic city of waterfalls and advancement…on the other hand, a place of widespread poverty.

This is an image of a prairie rover, a steam robot built by Melinda Rylan of Ravel. It is the kind of invention that Ravel is known for. While working on contract with Gallant’s armed forces, Rylan built these robots to seek and capture rodents afflicted with vivi mortis. Heartlanders believe that this mysterious and horrible disease is the result of a powerful biological weapon developed by the Sunbreaker tribe of the Sunset Nations. The agent that causes vivi mortis was deployed during the infamous Battle of Dalewind Pass.

Steampunk model built by Veronica Weser. I drew inspiration from her work when coming up with the prairie rovers in The Crossroads.

Each prairie rover is the size of a dog, with four L-shaped legs, crab-like pincering claws, and bright flashlights on their cyclops heads. Each is equipped with a glass tube in its belly; this is where they put small rodents afflicted with vivi mortis. Researchers use them to safely collect specimens and study them, often in one of the tower outposts on Gallant’s borderlands.

The Sisters of the Sacred Dark

Since it’s part of the Heartlands, there is no denying that the Divinian Way (described a bit here) has heavily influenced Ravel’s culture. But a hardline agnosticism is also popular in the country, one that is often combined with a humanistic approach to sciences. Those who do profess a belief in God are often deists who conceive of a Great Clockmaker who has stepped away from His own creation. If He interferes, it’s more to wind the system back up than to rearrange all of its parts. These cultural cross currents are especially seen in a sect like the Sisters of the Sacred Dark.

The Sisters of the Sacred Dark protect ancient artifacts from the Age of Eden (before even the time of Victoria Divine), and they make a pilgrimage to Ravel’s capitol whenever a new prime minister is elected to lead the country. While prime ministers appoint their own cabinet members, the Sisters of the Sacred Dark are supposed to form a continuous chain of advisors for all elected officials, generation after generation. Their knowledge of the classical antiquity and current events is vast, and they are warrior nuns.

A Sister of the Sacred Dark. Artwork by Marlen Gonzalez.