Island of Whales:
Roughly the size of Columbia or the island of Borneo on our world, Whales is one of the largest islands on Earth, and certainly the most influential. Situated at the inlet between the Western Ocean and the Central Sea, Whales controls the Straits of Good Fortune, the only passage between the ports of western Galendor and Kitchlande and the rich tropical lands that were once the cradle of human civilization.
The flag of Whales is divided into two thick horizontal stripes, white above royal blue. An emblem of a whale's tail rises in the center of the flag. The Seal of Whales features a similar device on a circular background, with the Whalish motto -- "Live Free Or Die" -- written on the outer rim of the seal in the language and character system of the ancient Whalish tongue, which resembles RL Greek.
Whales is a rough, rocky, mountainous island, where arable lands exist in small pockets and secluded valleys separated by craggy ranges where only a few hardy succulents and emphemerals can survive. The climate is hot and semiarid, with long dry spells being interspersed with heavy, drenching rains that blow in from over the Western Ocean. Forests of cypress trees grow on the eastern slopes of the island. Numerous small inlets provide protected coves where ships may anchor, but only a handful of bays are large enough to house a modern battleship or cruise vessel. Many of the inlets serve as breeding grounds for the gray whale, and are thus off-limits to large ships (though the whales aren't usually bothered by small ones).
The island is bounded on the west by the ocean and on the northeast and southeast by the Straits of Good Fortune, which run between Whales and Kitchlande (in the south) and the Jagoduun Peninsula of Galendor (in the north).
Whales has a variety of natural resources: iron, copper and aluminum in the mountains, the aforementioned cypress trees in the east, and rich fishing grounds in the west. Citrus trees were carried here from Irombi in the days of the Lost Kingdom, and they have thrived in the hot equatorial climate. The large island was once home to antelope and several species of cats, but most of these were driven extinct centuries ago. The only native mammals that survive today are one species of cat, the caracal; two kinds of antelope, the mountain-dwelling klipspringer and the tiny dik-dik; the hyrax, also called the coney or rock badger; and three varieties of kangaroo rat. The island is still home, however, to a huge variety of seabirds, who use the island as a seasonal breeding ground. Invasive rats and mice from Galendor and feral housecats from Sonngefilde pose a continual threat to the native fauna, especially to the birds and their eggs.
Whales is considered a low-mana zone by wizards and manologists; magic is possible here, but it is often difficult and wearisome to perform. Alchemy is the only form of magic that can be practiced reliably, and even Whalish alchemy is mostly clever chemistry. Many of the fantastic creatures found in other parts of the world are absent here, and the gods and daedra lords historically paid it little notice. Whales has often kept a dragon on the payroll in centuries past, but these were always foreigners from nests in Kitchlande or Galendor; there is no native dragon population.
The people of Whale Island have a well-deserved reputation as master sailors, and have been sailing the seas for so long that many say they must have inherited the secrets of shipbuilding from the Lost Kingdom itself. This is an exaggeration, but it is fair to say that ships define the lives of the Whalish people and always have.
The rocky inland terrain of Whales makes it difficult to travel overland between the pockets of fertile ground, so the Whalish have always used boats to travel between their towns for trade and cultural exchange. The barriers to transportation encouraged each city, town and village to develop independently of the others; broad-scale organization and government were difficult to implement, and generally considered undesirable in any case. This independent streak proved essential to the character of the Whalish people, as their strategic location made the island a place to be coveted by the great nations of the world.
Whales was occupied by the Suielman Empire in -229 CR and spent 240 bitter, resentful years under imperial governance. Deliverance came in the form of the House of Greek, one of the oldest and most influential families on the island. One day in the first year of the Cristos Reckoning, an alchemist of the House of Greek accidentally discovered a way to produce liquid fire. Though young, he was a disciplined alchemist, and he was quickly able to reproduce what he had done. He showed his findings to his father, the leader of House Greek, who soon saw the fire's potential as a weapon against enemy ships. His other son, a noted shipbuilder, worked together with his father and the alchemist, and soon the first merchant ship armed with a Greek Fire projector was created.
Initially, revolution was not on the Greeks' minds; they planned only to use the projector to protect themselves from the pirates who preyed on vessels passing through the Straits. The weapon was horribly effective at this, and they used it as little as possible, letting the threat of overwhelming force stand in the place of its actual use whenever it could be managed.
Soon, of course, the Suielmans heard of the Greek Fire and demanded a projector and a member of the House of Greek to operate it. The Greeks refused, shuddering at the thought of such a weapon in the hands of the Empire. Threats gave way to acts of repression against the Whalish people, and soon the Greeks found themselves leading their fellow islanders a war of independence. For all their manpower, the Suielmans could not compete with the terrifying power of the Greek Fire, and when their seaborne lines of communication had been devastated and five legions of Imperial troops had been roasted alive on their ships, the Empire reluctantly sued for peace.
Whales has been fiercely independent ever since, and the House of Greek became the royal family of Whales. The Greeks served as a sort of benevolent dictatorship until the mid-700s, when King Philip reorganized the government into a parliamentary democracy that would eventually become a model for other nations around the world. The royal family still exists -- indeed, Philip himself still lives, sustained by an odd variant of the Curse of Metamor, though his mind is largely gone -- but they are only the first among equals, and their name carries only ceremonial power in the government.
Independence for an island nation is not as simple as it sounds; while Whales has a broad variety of resources, it does not have any of them in extravagant abundance, and maintaining a large enough fleet to keep its freedom from outsiders was expensive. Whales solved this problem -- at least for 1600 years or so, as long as Greek Fire maintained its military efficacy -- by transforming its fleet into the largest mercenary organization in the world. When nations quarrelled with one another and war seemed imminent, Whales would sell the services of its Fire-equipped warships to the highest bidder. Even the threat of Greek Fire being turned loose on a nation's ships and harbors was enough to drive most nations to the bargaining table. Whales also quite willingly rented out its ships in pairs or singletons to act as escort vessels, protecting merchant ships from attack by pirates or rival nations. It was made abundantly clear that Whales would not offer its services to any nation that fired on its vessels, and to attack one Whalish ship was to declare war on Whales itself. Pirates or rogue nations who dared to attack a Whalish ship or port would be hunted down and exterminated with brutal efficiency. Whales thus established itself as the most dangerous fish in a very big pond, and the profits it reaped from its protective services were enough to keep the fleet maintained and their island home secure.
Whales has been a long-time ally of Metamor, ever since the late 600s when King Tenomides forged a treaty of friendship and cooperation with Duke Thomas V. Though it was thousands of miles to the south, Whales recognized the threat that Nasoj posed and the disaster it would bring if he took the Metamor Valley -- Arabarb, a long-time favored trading partner of Whales, had fallen to Nasoj several years before, and Whalish traders immediately saw how Arabarb fell into poverty and repression. Throughout the early 700s Whales stood steadfast alongside Metamor in the fight with Nasoj, using its unrivaled sea power to protect Metamor's flanks while the Keepers focused their efforts on the land war in the Giantdowns. Whales played a dangerous game of political brinksmanship with the Sathmore Empire during this time, even providing the ships for an audacious Metamorian raid on the Sathmoran capital of Elvquelin in 708 (which liberated both Merai Starchild and the top-secret plans for an experimental submarine from Sathmoran hands). While Sathmore engaged Whalish ships in a few minor skirmishes, however, it never degenerated into full-blown war -- having been forewarned of the Sathmoran's submarine, which was obviously immune to Greek Fire, Whales developed other tactics to defend against it. The Sathmorans never dared to retaliate against Whales for the Elvquelin raid.
Time passed, wooden ships gave way to steel, and the Greek Fire was consigned to the dustbin of history, but Whales stayed at the forefront of maritime technology. While its dominance of the seas was never again absolute after ironclad shapes became commonplace, Whales remained strong enough to guard its interests and maintain its independence. The Whalish fleet played central and decisive roles in both world wars of the 1800s (see Yamato's history for an overview), and it continues to police the waters of the Western Ocean and the Straits of Good Fortune. Whalish use of military power is restrained, and while people in most port cities of the world would recognize the Whalish flag, few would find reason to despise it.
Whalish culture is best imagined, in RL terms, as a mixture of Greek civilization and old-fashioned Yankee libertarianism, with a bit of the U.S. Southern genteelness thrown in for flavor. The Whalish were the first people to develop democracy, a fact they are intensely proud of, as well as the first to implement a written constitution. They are most proud of themselves when they are taking their own business into their own hands and staying out of everyone else's.
Whales is not a good land for magic or gods. Wizards rarely visit and never stay long, and the deities of the Lightbringer pantheon ignored the island even at the height of their power. The Whalish people are skeptical by nature and prefer philosophy to religion; most are Agnostics or Univeralists of one stripe or another. Both the Meraists and the Ecclesia have churches here, but they are generally small and not very prosperous. (Whales does have a fairly large memorial to Akabaieth, the Patriarch of the Ecclesia who was first to seek peace between the religions; however, while they admire the man, this has not translated to a widespread acceptance of his beliefs.) The Whalish prefer intellectual disciplines that provide tangible, measurable results, rather than faith-based ideals or bargains with manipulative demigods. Not surprisingly, many of the most rigorous, successful scientists in the world come from Whales -- though it should be noted that none of them have been the sort of brilliant visionaries that changed entire fields of science with their insights. The willingness to believe in the impossible is not a part of the Whalish psyche, and a little of that is needed to look beyond existing theories and develop truly novel ways of looking at the world.
The Whalish are generally considered a no-nonsense, stubborn, and unpretentious people. They are confident almost to the point of arrogance, but they don't meddle with the affairs of other nations beyond what is likely to affect their own interests. They are laudably tolerant and accepting of people different from themselves, but they will readily keep up a civil debate for hours if they think you're wrong. "Be kind to your neighbor," says a common Whalish proverb, "but be hell on his ideas." At the same time, they despise rudeness, and those who are incapable of keeping a civil tongue while debating matters of belief are likely to simply be ignored in the future. Whalish hospitality is among the best in the world, but they do not take kindly to those who abuse their welcome.
Relations With Other Nations:
Author's Note: The Whalish perception of other nations isn't always entirely fair or accurate. This is intentional; nations with vastly different beliefs systems usually do misinterpret each others' motivations and actions. particularly since their distaste for one another usually keeps them from really wanting to get close enough to understand each other. Whether the points of friction shown here develop into something more substantive is a topic that merits discussion as a team -- if you have an idea here, let me know.
Whales has a love/hate relationship with the Empire of Metamor. On the one hand, Metamor has been a trustworthy and faithful ally for Whales throughout the long years of their alliance; the Empire promotes peace and mutual acceptance among diverse peoples around the world; and Majestrix Kyia has taken an admirable, almost Whalish stand on many issues of personal freedom, defending the rights and dignity of the individual as thoroughly as any citizen of Whales could ask for.
And yet ...
The Empire gives the people of Whales a lot of misgivings. It is enormous beyond comprehension, encompassing the better part of a continent, and Whales has a deep distrust of large empires (for obvious reasons, given its history). It is ultimately not a democracy: the Imperial citizens elect their local, provincial and imperial assemblies, but the big decisions ultimately rest with a very powerful demigoddess and her network of hand-picked disciples, all of whom are far too strong and dangerous for anyone to think of challenging. To make matters worse, Majestrix Kyia keeps major religious leaders like Merai Starchild in her inner circle, where they undoubtedly have a strong impact on policy. It is not in the nature of the Whalish people to trust empires, or priests, or dictators, and certainly not demigods. Things may be all right now, they say; Kyia may be perfectly nice and friendly and wanting everyone to get along. But what happens if she goes bad? Who's going to stop her if her penchant for protecting and nurturing people becomes twisted into a need to protect people from themselves, from their own choices? Worse yet, what if she has really been hiding a secret agenda all this time, and the whole Empire is being led like lambs to the slaughter?
Many people in Whales think that Metamor went horribly, desperately wrong the day that Duchess Malisa II handed power over to an inhuman spirit. They cannot accept the idea that any supernatural being, no matter how benevolent, can be trusted to order human affairs, because she cannot know what it is to be human.
Because of these fears and concerns, relations have cooled somewhat between Whales and Metamor. The Empire still hires Whalish ships to help police the Western Ocean; both sides faithfully uphold their mutual defense agreements; trade between the nations is as active as ever; and Metamor insists on paying Whales for the use of the Straits of Good Fortune, which lie inside Whalish territory. But for all the friendly noises made by the governments of both nations, there is an undercurrent of suspicion and mistrust in the Whalish press and entertainment media. Metamor's citizens notice this (more often than not, anyway), and it creates a reflexive tension in the Metamorians, as well. An individual Metamorian who visits Whales can still expect a good reception, as long as he behaves himself, but the Empire as a whole is likely to experience increasing resistance to its foreign policies unless something can reassure the Whalish people that Metamor will not lose sight of its convictions in an age when it faces no serious rivals to its power.
Whales tends to look at Quenardya as the Empire's little sister, with the added unpleasantness that Artela actually has solicited and received worship in the past. Many in Whales believe that Quenardya's move to representative government was just the latest effort by a washed-up ex-god to curry favor among those who might worship her; they don't really expect that Artela has any sort of principled dedication to the freedom of the human spirit, especially since so many of her subjects aren't human at all. Whales trades with Quenardya when it is mutually beneficial but otherwise stays at a distance. The two nations fought on the same side in the world wars of the 1800s, but in completely different theaters of operation -- and that's about as close as Whales has any desire to get.
If there's one thing Whales dislikes more than benevolent empires (and less than tyrannical ones), it's a theocracy with a lot of power and influence. Most Whalish citizens scoff at Ainador's claims of being a nation with representative government and freedom of religion, pointing to the tremendous influence the Ecclesia still wields behind the scenes. Unfortunately, Ainador controls most of Galendor's oil supply, and many of the alternative sources (in Irombi and parts of Sonngefilde) are even worse. A low-mana nation like Whales depends on oil as the lifeblood of its technology, so they put on a polite smile, keep their mouths shut and hope that Ainador doesn't get any ideas about converting heathens at the end of a sword. They wince at the sight of Ainador's shared border with Rukilia, figuring that it's only a matter of time before things get ugly between these two religiously-driven nations.
Rukilia is another large, powerful theocracy -- and on top of that, it's a blatantly caste-based society with no particular dedication to personal freedoms and with the non-human nagas running the show. Rukilia has also shown signs of expansionist ambitions: it held on to the once-independent archipelago of Khumar after taking it from Yamato in the first world war, and it seems to be exerting its influence to turn small neighboring nations into client states (presumably as a buffer against Quenardya). Rukilia has been quiet on the military front for nearly a hundred years, but Whales doesn't really believe that a nation of snake-people who consider themselves a master race is going to be content with controlling just one jungle-ridden corner of Galendor. They might not make a play on Galendor itself for territory -- Metamor and Quenardya are far too powerful to have as enemies -- but Sonngefilde and Fan Shoar are fractured enough that there may be opportunities the nagas could exploit.
Rukilia fought alongside Whales in the first world war but, like Quenardya, in a completely different theater. Whalish enthusiasm for that partnership is roughly equivalent to the enthusiasm that Churchill had for an alliance with Stalin -- useful, yes, but you'd be a fool to turn your back on them for a second. Whales still trades with Rukilia, of course -- they'll trade with anyone, as long as their money's good or their commodities are worth having -- but Whalish vessels never stay longer in Rukilian ports than they have to.
Whales and Yamato were on opposite sides during the world wars, but ironically they are now more akin in many ways than Whales and any of its old allies. The reconstruction of Yamato after the second world war left it with a constitutional monarchy, representative government, and religion and politics kept firmly isolated from each other. Yamato is an island nation that survives (and thrives) by manufacture and export of finished goods, many of them high-tech; its people are intelligent, well-educated, and driven by a desire for achievement and recognition of a job well done. They also have a long and highly respectable tradition of philosophy, which has given their religion an air of discipline that is often lacking (in Whalish opinion) in the western faiths. All of this is cause for respect and praise, as far as Whales is concerned.
Whales and Yamato do not directly compete in most markets; both are fundamentally merchant nations, but their profits come from different sorts of goods and services. The two island nations have forged a number of strong treaties, both economic and military; among other things, the two nations do not place tariffs on each others' goods, and Whales receives a lot of high-tech military gear at reduced cost in exchange for providing Yamato with naval protection. (Under the surrender terms of the second world war, Yamato is severely limited in the types and quantities of military forces it can marshal directly, particularly where warships are concerned.) The two nations are still very different culturally, but there is an atmosphere of friendly exchange between them that only seems likely to increase over time.