Mankind reigns supreme. Steel reigns supreme.
It is an age of turmoil and superstition. Of war and faith. Of uncertainty and opportunity. Having subjugated and succeeded the elven realms, wide swathes of the Ilethrean landmass are firmly under human control. If anything, the slowly but steadily swelling numbers of demons, year-by-year and in a seemingly endless plethora of types, appear to be a looming menace for the ranks of Mankind’s warriors that have split the continent among each other. With each passing year, more and more demons can be seen openly prowling the streets of towns and bustling cities. And with each passing year, more and more demons are supplementing the fighting ranks of unscrupulous human warlords that are thirsting for power and greatness. For the time being, however, and for the foreseeable future, Mankind looks set to remain the primary agent of the Dark Pantheon on Ilethra.
Human society is composed of various strata or caste-like groups – with the caveat that strata boundaries are somewhat penetrable in either direction. At the top of society is the warrior caste. Calling it nobility, however, would be misleading in two ways: firstly, it is not so much characterized by splendor and governance as it is by constant martial camapigning. And, secondly, there is nothing noble about Mankind’s most brutal, ruthless and ambitious specimen. Ruling with an iron fist whatever territory these men can stake out through bloodshed, the Ilethrean warriorship follows the wicked ideals of the dark gods as summarized in the code of Black Chivalry. The living embodiments of these twisted ideals, however, are the various knight orders that can be found all over the continent. Combining martial prowess with divine favor, they are both the epitome of the Black Chivalry ideals as well as some of the most dangerous, if not sinister, forces to be found anywhere around. It’s among their rank that one can find one fairly small and seemingly insignificant knight order that nonetheless has been marked by the gods for future greatness: the Knights of the Black Lily. Given the dark gods’ ephemeral desire to witness their slow ascent, will there be anyone or anything capable to stop it dead in its tracks? Only time can tell.
Below the warrior caste, there are the commoners who range from rich merchants over dirt-poor peasants to starving beggars. For most of them, life is full of hardship and fear. Not only do they live at the mercy of those who can force their will upon them – but the lack of any positive ideals to aspire to has made people become depressed, distrustful, if not outright warped, themselves. Except for sprinkled disbelievers in small numbers, derogatively called barbarians, hopelessness and selfishness seem to have taken hold all around. Even further down below than the lowliest of commoners, there is the caste of Misfits. Having no distinguishing mark other than being ‘Other’ and inspiring fear of the gods’ unwanted attention in common folks, these pariahs are doomed to a nomad life full of hardship, except for those willing to rise out of their predicament by whatever means it takes.
At this point you may ask: what about the other fantasy races? Where are the elves and dwarves and halflings? What is their place on Ilethra and among human society? The elves, a magical race of shining grace and beauty, are but a shadow of their former selves – victims of genocide and slavery at the bloodied hands of Mankind. But that is story to be told in the future.
In the next installment of this multi-part series on the background of Knights of the Black Lily, we will take a brief look at what lies beyond the human castes. It’s going to be a rough ride for some, so brace yourselves as we dive deeper into black world of Ilethra.