The galaxy is emerging from the chaos of a lengthy DARK AGE. The old governments and institutions are gone and new ones struggle to find their place as they rise from the ashes of the old. Emerging superpowers, many with their own traditions of PSIONIC KNIGHTS who can pull energy directly from hyperspace in which the universe floats, threaten to break the tense quiet of a long-term, brooding cold war, and the looming threat of TOTAL WAR casts its shadow across the stars. In this tense environment, bands of independent entrepreneurs, smugglers, bounty hunters and mercenaries, including budding psionic talents that belong to no standard Knightly tradition, emerge on the center stage of the galaxy, caught up unawares in political gambits where they find themselves pawns of the nefarious SHADOW KNIGHTS and their allies the OLD ONES to bring the Revanchist Republic and the long-standing Bern Monarchy to war...
Imagine that as an opening crawl, scrolling across a field of stars in angled maize-colored letters as pulse-pounding symphonic music plays (or maybe a synthwave remix of it) and you've got the right idea for AD ASTRA. It's new, yet should feel very familiar to anyone who's familiar with space opera tales of swashbuckling derring-do featuring laconic alpha male space cowboys who shoot first, space Templar-like warrior-monks who get into crazy martial arts sword-fights on space-ships, vast legions of faceless soldiers, and sassy space princess damsels in distress. It may not feel exactly like such stories that you're already familiar with—and that's on purpose—but it should feel like those stories deconstructed... and then reconstructed all over again. This time, all of the confusion over good and evil, black and white, what heroism is, who the good guys are, what a good guy is, how much SJW dogma should be allowed to creep in, etc. has all been washed away and what had become tired and disappointing is now a blank slate, ready to be made new, fresh and exciting again—if I can pull it off. I'm hardly the only one to attempt something like this (#StarWarsNotStarWars and Faraway Wars (scroll down to the comments) being merely among the most recent attempts to do so.)
Mankind has spread across the stars of a large section of our galaxy utilizing starship bulk drives that pierce the fabric of the universe and traveling the Outer Darkness that separates the various cosmological universal membranes—i.e., spaceships that for a time leave the normal universe and travel through a large extra dimension that allows one to short-cut vast distances in real space and time. Humanity of extraction from the most technologically competent cultures on Earth left when it became apparent that Earth was degenerating into cultural dystopia and freedom and progress were all going to be stolen from future generations in the name of equality and universalism. British, German, Scandinavian, American and Australian pioneers left Earth as brave pioneers to seek their fortunes in the stars, and they were joined later by more pioneers of the same extraction, as well as some few Chinese, Japanese and Russians who also had still the technological acumen to join them. They turned their backs on Mother Earth (with apologies to Sparks) and it became a semi-legendary place; nobody now even knows where it was supposed to be or how to return to it—even should they want to.
As they established their new communities, they found other life among the starts; humans of alien ethnic groups, and non-human (although curiously, rarely non-humanoid) alike. Interchange happened between them—both peaceful and not. Many thousands of years later, this section of the galaxy emerges from a Dark Age precipitated by vast nearly galaxy-spanning plague that struck the galaxy in various waves, each time bringing with it societal devastation. Human (and non-human) society has rebuilt itself across thousands of worlds and extended again its reach. One curious side effect of the first wave of the plague is that a new genetic matrix has been seeded among the citizens of this brave new world, and some few exceptional individuals have the ability to breach the boundaries of the Outer Darkness—not to travel through it, which still requires a spaceship—but to draw what is effectively zero-point energy from it to exhibit strange abilities. These are the Psionic Knights—who may belong to Orders of crusaders, or be the shocktroops of various militaries, or in some cases are simply Knights-Errant trained as apprentices from a lone ronin-style master.
Orders of Psionic Knights
- Praetorian Knights: The personal agents of King Maddav Bern, the praetors are famous for their devotion to the Monarchy. They operate with a great deal of independence in their role, and often can be seen on their own. Only fully trained praetors are allowed in the field, so there's really no good reason for a squire (called apprentice by some other orders) to be out on assignment. While on duty, and not incognito, praetors are famous for their black flight suits silvery-white energy blades and shields.
- Sacristans: The goal of the Sacristans is to recreate the old Order of the Zen Cross from before the Dark Ages completely eclipsed galactic civilization and wiped out the Old Order. Seeking out clues and lingering evidence of how the Order used to operate, the Sacristans are too involved in their own concerns to be overtly political, as other orders are. Sacristans usually travel in their errands by twos—a knight and a squire together. Although not required, most Sacristans manifest blue energy blades and shields, whereas Simonians prefer green. But that's merely a preference, not an absolute, and often depends on the specific master that trained the Knight originally.
- Simonians: Rejecting the rigid dispassion of the original Order of the Zen Cross, the Simonians believe that the compassionate and activist stance of their founder is the way to balance the good and evil yin and yang of psionic power. They take their name as well as their approach from the order founded by Simon following the Battle of Cephei IV. Closely associated with the Revanchist Republic, the Simonians are famous as do-gooders throughout the galaxy. They're infamous for doing so with smugness, self-righteousness and a heavy-hand all too often, however. And a closely guarded secret of the order is the large number of Simonians who fall to the lure of murderous, totalitarian power…
- The Cyborg Order: Knights who supplement their fighting abilities with cybernetic augmentations, as did Simon the Arch-Knight himself, or so they imagine. although they have proliferated into a variety of strange, trans-human forms in many cases. They are loosely associated with the Corporate Worlds and their combat bot armies. Their Order's way of teaching psionics does also not necessarily lead to a yellowish manifestation of psionic energy, but that's usually how it turns out.
- The Old Ones: This insular and secretive order has grown tremendously since its days of isolation on Phobetor, where Margrave Iovian nearly destroyed them overnight during the Slave Wars. Now, a galaxy-wide cult who settle in isolated enclaves and cells throughout the galaxy, the Old Ones, can be found on many wild and often inhospitable planets. Many are allied with the Seraean Empire, although the Sereans obviously have their own order of knights as well. Their ancient traditions of using psionic energy are among the oldest still in existence; they were contemporaries and rivals in past millennia of the ancient Order of the Zen Cross. Their esoteric teachings manifest oddly dark and shadowy emanations of psionic energy, and their cults speak of strange and hostile entities that are native to the Outer Dark itself.
- Shadow Knights: After the disastrous (and possibly apocryphal) super-weapon experiments that would bring planet-busting energy directly to bear in the terrible Warring Empires period are said to have caused the first wave of plague that destroyed civilization at that time, the Shadow Knights—claiming to be direct heirs of the darkest of those warring empires, have focused more on becoming a powerful order of warrior-monks instead of developing strange super-weapons that threaten the very civilization that they want to conquer (although if they could find any details about those super-weapons, they'd probably happily check them out...) The knight/squire dynamic is still important to the Shadow Knights, and many such pairings exist throughout the galaxy, reporting loosely to a Dread Council of Arch Heretics, and the Seraean Emperor himself. The Shadow Knights are infamous for their red psionic blades and shields. However, because they are one of the most ancient of orders, and many independent smaller orders or even just individuals have training from someone who may have belonged to the ancient Shadow Order centuries or even millennia ago have splintered from the order and gone their own way, seeing a red psionic blade is not necessarily a clue that you’re looking at a Shadow Knight anymore.
- Independents: In addition to these major (and many other minor) Knightly orders, there are a great many individuals who can use psionic powers, and who wield psionic weapons. Some have trained with an Order, but turned their backs to its traditions, while others have sought out solitary masters who follow esoteric codes or traditions, and some very few are even self-taught. Because of this, there is no way to generalize what an independent knight looks like, thinks like, or what his philosophy may be, but they are indeed varied and often strange.
- The Bern Monarchy: Following the Battle of Cephei IV the old Marian Empire was dealt what appeared to a be a mortal blow, but things are never, of course, so simple. Much of the Imperial citizenry—especially the military—saw themselves as the heirs of a glorious tradition stretching back thousands of years into the age of the old republics of the original Earth-born settlers and pioneers. If the direction it went at the end of the Empire was a disaster, well that didn't necessarily invalidate generation after generation of tradition—after all, the Last Emperors deliberately rejected tradition for their fever dreams of power and conquest. Surrendering to barbarians, anarchists and malcontents—as they saw the freedom fighters who defeated them—or the traitors who colluded with them in the old Senate and elsewhere, was never going to happen. Seeing themselves as heirs to the old republics through the unfortunate hiccup of the Marian Empire, especially its degenerate Last Emperors dynasty, this ancient tradition evolved into the Monarchy. While not nearly as vast as during the heyday of the original settlements, the Monarchy is still one of the largest and strongest of the superpowers in the galaxy. Protected by the praetors, paramilitary agents capable of standing toe to toe with Shadow Knights or Simonians, the Monarchy is well-provided for with its own Knightly tradition.
- Capital: Dimidium Secundus
- Leader: Maddav Bern, King
- Military: Legionnaires and other lesser soldiers, fleets of thirteenth generation dreadnaughts, praetors, Cohors Barbarica
- Alliances and Enemies: The Monarchy sees the Seraean Empire as its primary rival for power, and the Republic as its primary ideological rival. It has a relatively friendly relationship with the Cilindan Cartel.
- Control: Between direct control and allied systems, about 15% of known space owes some degree of allegiance to the Monarchy.
- Cultural attitude towards Knights: The praetors are an enshrined, official organization. Because of their tradition of strong loyalty to the Monarchy, they are viewed with a great deal of respect throughout the Monarchy's territory. Other knights are viewed with suspicion or outright hostility, especially the Simonians and Shadow Knights. Echoes of the ancient perception that the Order of the Zen Cross that the Sacristans wish to resurrect betrayed the Empire and carried out the Slave War in defiance of the will of the people remain strong.
- The Revanchist Republic: The Republic is the direct rival to the Monarchy, established after the Battle of Cephei IV saw the Emperor killed and the old Marian Empire overthrown. However, the architects of the Revolutionary Alliance and their Republic have had many generations of hardship. While many of the revolutionaries were well-meaning idealists who wanted nothing more than a restoration to the way things were before the tyrannical Last Emperors, it was clear that too many in both groups were little more than scoundrels, pirates, and other opportunists who took advantage of the chaos of the Great Civil War to line their pockets with what plunder and pillage they could. Following short periods of relative peace, the Republic was plagued by periods of violence and anarchy, not unlike an extended comparison with France following the overthrow of the Bourbon monarchs. After being reduced to a mere handful of Core worlds, the Republic finally got its act together and started aggressively retaking former territory, "liberating it" from whatever "tyranny" might have been occupying it. This revanchist policy has been adopted officially as its new name, the Revanchist Republic, an emerging, feisty superpower—-not really a rival yet to the Monarchy or the Empire, but a growing power nonetheless.
- Capital: Capital Publius
- Leader: Brack Warren, Supreme Chancellor
- Military:"Freedom" troopers, and Scaevolan built fleet that has few dreadnaughts, but many smaller craft, association with the Simonian Knights.
- Alliances and Enemies: the truculent and often self-righteous approach of the Republic has won them little in terms of friendships, but they have cool alliances of convenience at times with the Monarchy, the Dhangeti and the Cilindans. The Republic sees the Monarchy as a continuation of the Marian Empire that they claim responsibility for overthrowing many generations ago, and the Seraeans are greatly disliked for obvious reasons.
- Control: Was down considerably, but as the revanchist movement gains some ground, about 10% of known space owes some degree of allegiance to the Republic, albeit sometimes somewhat grudgingly.
- Cultural attitude toward Knights: Simonians and Sacristans and some independent Knights keep a low profile, but are usually viewed favorably, if a bit warily. The Republic hates Shadow Knights, with the belief that the Seraeans caused the great Dark Age.
- The Seraean Empire: Centered on the ancient capital of Phovos Mal, the Seraean Empire may be the most powerful polity in the galaxy—although that often works to its disadvantage when no other group trusts them, and they are often "ganged up on" both diplomatically and militarily by wary other governments who find tenuous alliance in restraining the ambition of the Seraeans. But they are patient in their ambition to rule all of known space, and are seemingly content to hold strongly to their existing territory and advance slowly over their opponents over the course of generations. Black-garbed Seraean soldiers bring a measure of order to the galaxy, or at least so say the Empire's apologists. And drawing from the ranks of both Shadow Knight acolytes as well as their allies the Old Ones, the ranks of psionic knights who serve the Empire's interests is considerable.
- Capital: Phovos Mal, an ancient Imperial capital prior to the Dark Ages, reclaimed and re-established again.
- Leader: The Seraean Emperor, name unknown
- Military: black or chrome garbed troopers, a powerful Armada, sometime alliances with the Old One warriors, and Shadow Knights, the most feared "face" of the Empire.
- Alliances and Enemies: Occasionally allied with the Cilindans, the Seraeans, as the biggest guys in known space and the most feared, infrequently find common cause with any of the other superpowers.
- Control: Some 20% of known space either belongs directly to the Seraean Empire, or is part of a somewhat looser protectorate puppet government.
- Cultural attitude toward Knights: Knights are viewed with fear and great respect. Citizens tend to believe that praetors, Simonians and other knights are not unlike the Shadow knights, except in their politics. In this, they understand little of the differences between the various philosophies of psionic warrior monks.
- The Corporate Sector: In the chaos of the Dark Age, many large corporations were more stable and less corrupt than most governments. And in a large reach of the inner realm sector, the corporations essentially became the government. Providing a high quality of life to those citizens willing to combine civil service and their careers together, the Corporate Sector has beat back all attempts by traditional governments to integrate them fully. Protected by vast robot armies and loosely allied with the many knights of the Cyborg Order, the Corporate Sector may indeed be mercenary—by definition even—but that doesn't mean that they're more corrupt or heavy-handed than any other government. The watchword of the Corporate citizens is professionalism in all aspects of life.
- Capital: various regional capitals, but the artificial planet known only as HQ is often seen as the center of Corporate policy.
- Leader: various CEOs and Presidents, but Lord Alfram Roole is the most important and charismatic face, who frequently speaks for the entire Corporate sector.
- Military: both militia troops and vast hordes of combat bots, often led by allied Cyborg Order Knights.
- Alliances and Enemies: Rarely overtly aggressive, the Corporate Sector groups often have a tangle of alliances of various types with all of the powers. They are among the most likely to do business with the Seraeans.
- Control: Some 10% of known space owes some form of allegiance to the Corporations.
- Cultural attitude towards Knights: Knights are viewed warily, although some come to be seen as trustworthy and able advisers or consultants, particularly those of the Cyborg Order.
- Dhangetan Cartel: Infamous as making up the dark tentacles of a seedy underworld throughout much of the rest of the galaxy, there also is a patch of the galaxy where the Dhangetan warlords' rule as undisputed masters continues as it has without change for millennia. Rather than strong traditional military, the Dhangeti have relied on each warlords private militia, often consisting of eclectic and unusual companies of mercenaries. This disunity might be seen as weakness, and certainly seldom have the Dhangeti engaged in overt acts of conquest or military adventurism. In reality, though, the warlords maintain a strong enough presence that their place has not been seriously threatened in generations.
- Capital: Tars Dhangeta
- Leader: Various, but the Dhangeti Council of Lords speaks for the entire group.
- Military: private militias of various Dhangetan warlords, accompanied by combat bots (often bought in bulk from various Corporate Sector ventures) and mercenaries.
- Alliances and Enemies: a long association with the Cilindans has dwindled somewhat in recent years, but the Dhangeti find their most likely common cause still with them. They occasionally engage in Machiavellian alliances with the Seraeans as well.
- Control: About 5% of known space owes allegiance to the Dhangeti Concil.
- Cultural attitude towards Knights: Knights are viewed with respect for their abilities. Knights that are strongly associated with one of the political groups are viewed warily, but not because they are knights, but because they are so strongly associated as agents of their government. A number of independent knights, belonging to minor orders, or even no order at all, operate here as mercenaries, bounty hunters, and other types of fringers.
- The Cilindan Arm: Following the disastrous collapse of Duchess Caera's well-meaning but foolishly naive pacifist regime, the Cilindans looked more to their glorious and storied warrior past on which to model their society. The most elite unit of warriors and soldiers, the Red Guard which left their pacifist home-worlds in disgust during the Duchess's reign returned in triumph and launched an almost Spartan utopian warrior society reform of Cilindan culture, complete with something not unlike the agoge. Initially allied strongly with the Dhangeti, the Cilindan Arm—so known because its territory is somewhat long and arm-shaped—has grown in power and prestige so that it can treat with the other Great Powers. Although some Cilindans are born with the genetic predisposition to be Knights (as are most groups in the galaxy), there is no real tradition of psionic training among them. Rather, a fully trained and equipped Cilindan supercommando can fairly be considered the equal of any Knight in combat without using the psionics—a point of pride for Cilindan soldiers.
- Capital: Cilindare
- Leader: Jerec Berengar, of the ascendant House Berengar.
- Military: Both regular troops and fleet, as well as the elite supercommandos.
- Alliances and Enemies: The Cilindans are at open war with no one, but their tendency to deal more with the Dhangeti and Seraeans than anyone else will has made them somewhat untrustworthy in the eyes of the Republic and the Monarchy. Still, supercommando mercenary groups, while not officially part of the governmental military (their first allegiance is to their own clan) can be seen across the galaxy in the employ of many.
- Control: About 5% of known space recognizes some level of sovereignty of the Cilindans, although in some cases that's a very loose client or vassal arrangement.
- Cultural attitude towards Knights: Knights are respected for what they can do, but Cilindans take great pride in their ability to match a knight in one-on-one combat without using the psionics at all (replacing psionic abilities with technology in their supercommando battle-armor, usually, as well as intense training.) Cilindans are generally tolerant of knights who are not acting overtly as agents of another super-power, however. Many independent knights make their homes in Cilindan space, where they are less likely to come into unnecessary conflict with others.
- Independents: The largest plurality of worlds in the galaxy belongs to none of the super-powers at all. Certainly, some smaller multi-system polities exist, like the Altairan Ascendency, or others, but all of them are small enough that they do not control an appreciable percentage of the worlds cataloged in the galaxy. Some of these are able to maintain independence by virtue of their own strength, either diplomatic or militarily, such as Ubrai and the Altairans. In many ways, these independent governments are like smaller versions of the Cilindans or the Dhangeti. Others have managed to eke out a precarious neutrality because their neutrality is valuable to one or more of the super-powers. These systems are living on borrowed time, however if the cold war erupts into a local hot war, in which case the treaties that guarantee them their neutrality will likely be ignored by aggressors. And finally, many worlds manage to hold on to neutrality simply by virtue of the fact that they are small and unimportant enough to fly under the radar of the superpowers. If they lack any significant strategic or tactical benefit, and don't have any resources that are vital, they can manage to stay neutral, and can even hope to do so in the event of a greater war.
- Control: About 35% of the systems in known space are not allied with any super-power at all.
Brief Gazeteer of Known Space
- Capital Publius: Capital Publius currently is the capital of the Revanchist Republic. Like a modern day Jerusalem, its significance to various political groups is huge. To the Bern Monarchy, it rankles that Capital Publius doesn't belong to them, since they see themselves as the unbroken continuation from the old republics through the Marian Empire and into the Monarchy. To them, it is naturally their home planet as well. About 300 years ago, Tiranos Bern, a distant ancestor of today's king, Maddav Bern, declared a Crusade to liberate Capital Publius from the hands of the Republic, which was at that time weak, riddled with corruption, and political infighting. The Monarchy held it for twenty years even, although the insult of losing their capital finally united the Republic into a semi-cohesive whole. With the recapture of their capital, they officially became the Revanchist Republic, and their revanchist agenda took off, putting them at open war with the Monarchy and the Empire both. It's to their credit that they were even able to survive that time at all, much less thrive and grow, until tense and wary peace settled again uneasily over known space.
Capital Publius—or, the Cap as it's known colloquially—remains a world rife with political division, class and social division, and more. Dissidents, terrorists, activists, and other malcontents lurk under the surface, and the grim and overcrowded underworld of the Cap is still an easy place in which to get lost, either on accident or on purpose. The bright and classy world of the surface is a different world altogether from the dingy and anarchic underworld, which is patrolled insufficiently by law enforcement to be little better than a wretched hive of scum and villainy. Criminals, political malcontents, and spies make up a shocking percentage of the population.
The Senate still remains in power, and their rebuilt Senate building strongly resembles the former one. The old Order of the Zen Cross temple is now a public park, though. The Simonians operate frequently on the Cap, but have smaller, more modest temples scattered throughout the planet. Sacristans also live here, and some even tend the old temple, although they have been unsuccessful in their attempt to sue for its return to their order.
- Oerken: Once famous as a semi-lawless place, far from the bright center of the galaxy, and ruled by the Dhangeti and other gangsters, Oerken has undergone quite the transformation in the last 1,000 years. Oh, it's still harsh desert, with the vast fields of dunes covering much of the surface, and the Cragland wastes cover other large areas. And it's still lawless. If anything, it's in fact quite a bit more lawless than it was under the Dhangeti.
As the home world of Simon the Arch-Knight and the nameless scientist who's superweapon created the plague (and who may have permanently destroyed the ecosystem of what was once a fertile planet), Oerken has become a major pilgrimage site for knights, historians, and more who all want to see what makes this hot wasteland so special. Indeed, some have developed philosophies that the harsh environment is what led to the strength and fortitude Simon and his original Knights of the Zen Cross, and would-be utopian communities of various stripes dot the surface here and there. Some of them thrive, after a fashion, but many more wither and die as their philosophical fervor fades and they move on to other things, or fall prey hostile natives... or worse.
Many of those who now live on Oerken either serve the needs of the pilgrimage tourist trade, or parasitically feed on it. Oerken is still a dangerous place, and one haunted by mercenaries, bounty hunters, criminals and worse. While the Dhangeti gave up on the planet in disgust rather than fight Sacristan pilgrims and more over such paltry resources as the planet afforded, the only powers to fill in the void left by their departure have been regional and highly unstable. One does not ask which crime lord is ascendant on Oerken one asks which crime lord is ascendant today.
- Dimidium: Two planets make up this system. Dimidium Secundus was once the Secessionist Confederacy capital during the Slave Wars. Although abandoned at the end of that conflict, the Monarchy later appropriated and renovated Dimidium Secundus, and the Secessionist government buildings now make up the bulk of the official buildings of the Monarchy's bureaucracy. The Bern palace is even located on Dimidium Secundus, which in spite of being the home of such bureaucracy and the seat of so much power, remains a somewhat rural locale, with rolling plains unspoiled by over-development, by tradition. The Bern monarchs in general have decreed that it be retained as a kind of garden or preserve world, and the current monarch, Maddav Bern, has reiterated that policy.
Dimidium Prime, on the other hand, remains an industrial wasteland, a dumping ground filled with junk and sludge. However, the remains of ships and robots means that Dimidium Prime is an important source of resources, and salvage crews and robots scour the surface of his planet with regularity. In the past, Dimidium Prime was quite lawless—following the fall of the Secessionist Parliament, the entire Dimidium system fell into disfavor. Now, being so close to the capital of the Monarchy, the Bern's would not tolerate Dimidium Prime as a lawless junk world, however. Security remains fairly tight on Dimidium Prime.
That said, it is only lightly inhabited and insufficiently patrolled to be completely foolproof. Dimidium Prime remains a beachhead for the seditious, smugglers, and more.
- Phobetor: Phobetor was the original center of the related cults of the Old Ones. When Mother Silvagis and her assassins meddled in the affairs of the Shadow Lord Margrave Iovian during the Slave Wars, they incurred his wrath. He sent his most powerful agent, General Sept Luud with an invasion force to wipe them out, and nearly succeeded.
This ended up not being the end of the Old One cults, however. The remaining cultists decided to establish new cells throughout the galaxy, rather than be grouped together all in one location. Today, the Old One cults are relatively common, and their dark knights can be seen throughout known space. Although often allied with the Seraeans, the Old Ones remain completely separate cults from the way of the Shadow Knights, and in general do not acknowledge the superiority or authority of the Seraean Dread Council or the Emperor, except politically.
Despite this spread of the Old One cults, Phobetor remains their home planet, and many make pilgrimages there at some point in their careers. Thriving Old One monasteries remain still on Phobetor. Their allies, the Shadow Knights, are occasionally welcome, as are—on rare occasions—knights of other orders. But the cults have become wary of other knights, and avoid or attack them most often, rather than deal with them.
- Yuggoth: As a major battlefield of the Last Emperors wars, dark and frozen Yuggoth gained a bit of notoriety many centuries ago, and it's now no longer a world that is greeted with a blank stare or a shrug when mentioned. That doesn't mean that much in the way of valuable resources have been found here. Yuggoth has a few small communities, that mostly cater to smugglers or other ne'er-do-wells. But a few hardy gas miners have discovered that chemical reactions deep under the ice have produced stores of sytor gas which can be refined to high quality fuel for bulk drives. There isn't exactly a sytor rush on the planet, but a few solitary, independent types manage to eke out a reasonably comfortable living on Yuggoth even so.
And occasionally rumors will float about that some independent knight has discovered relics of the Order of the Zen Cross here, which is rumored to have once been a major temple site for their ancient mystery cult. This has never been officially confirmed; if any knights are finding relics, they're keeping that find close. But knights—especially Sacristans—do occasionally arrive here to scout out the planet, and occasionally come into conflict with each other. The locals often look at the arrival of a knight as if it were the arrival of a potentially dangerous and notorious gunfighter in an Old West town. They are respectful, but try to encourage them to move on as much as possible. and prefer to keep them from coming into conflict with each other as much as possible too.
- Cilindare: The domed, glass-like cities of Cilindare have continued to grow. The ruined ecology of the planet, and the white, sterile powder of areas like the Sundered Wastes, continue to dominate the planet, but slowly... ever so slowly... it has started to make a comeback in small pockets. Plants, imported from nearby forest moons, have started to grow, first as carefully tended private gardens, and finally growing into self-sustaining preserves. The last vestiges of any relics of the pacifist regime of the past, is finally being swept away, although much too slowly for the likes of its rulers.
Cilindare today is the capital of Cilindan society, but no longer its single locus. As the power and influence of the Cilindans grew, so too has the area which they claim. Colonists, encouraged by cultural and government induced incentives, have spread rapidly, procreated wildly, and Cilindan culture is now "native" to dozens of nearby systems. Many other systems have sworn vassalage to the Cilindans, and collectively this entire area is known as the Cilindan Arm of the galaxy. The vassal states are not truly considered Cilindan themselves, at least not by ethnic Cilindans, who are very particular about their cultural and ethnic purity. Although there have been some conversions and acceptance of non-Cilindans into Cilindan culture and mixed race marriages, by and large the original Cilindan ethnic group remains as it was during the Slave Wars. Quasi-religious cultural traditionalism has enforced an extraordinary level of cultural stability into the Cilindan way of life in a way not unlike that of the Ashkenazi Jew.
Many of the Cilindan vassals or clients have taken to imitating many aspects of Cilindan culture, including developing their own traditions of battle-suits and mercenary military service. These clients are careful not to copy the Cilindan template too closely, as the Cilindans are very zealous about the uniqueness of their battle-armor, and dislike too open imitation as disrespectful and gauche.
A curious fact is that the descendants of many of the slaves that fought in the Slave Wars as janissaries or otherwise, decommissioned after the Empire was defeated at Cephei IV have made their way to this area. Although not per se part of Cilindan society, they see somehow a connection as many of their ancestors from ancient times were ethnically related to the Cilindans. The relationship between the ethnic Cilindans and the ethnic janissary descendants is somewhat strained on occasion, yet remains an interesting dynamic, as they number at least as many as the Cilindans themselves in Cilindan territory, and have their own traditions of martial excellence. While outside of Cilindan society proper, they still retain a somewhat favored position as a largely pluralistic segment of society that cannot be ignored, and who have, by tradition, maintained a military cohesiveness that rivals that of the Cilindans themselves.
- Tars Dhangeta: This slimy swamp is the home world to the Dhangeti. They keep it as a kind of preserve, though, and have strict immigration controls. Much of the planet remains in a state of greenish-yellow swamp, overcast and undeveloped. A few cities still dot the landscape and it remains the capital of the Dhangetan Cartels.
However, following the fall of the Dhangeti—albeit not for long—to a former Shadow Knight Kar Tanus, the Dhangeti have diversified to protect themselves. While many Dhangeti warlords maintain palaces on Tars Dhangeta, few stay there permanently, and many have spread throughout much of Dhangeti space, to make the Dhangetan Cartel as a whole less vulnerable to potential attack. The Dhangeti, when on Tars Dhangeta, maintain a strong presence of mercenary bodyguards and militia, including—if they can get them—Cilindan supercommandos and fallen or independent knights.
Other than in the heavily armed warlord palaces, however, Tars Dhangeta remains a relatively lawless place, with little in the way of government oversight. Because of this, it prospers, but gangsters and organized crime remain a significant deterrent to ever truly expanding its trade and commerce base beyond items that are otherwise illicit or illegal throughout much of the galaxy. Slave trading cartels, spice trading cartels and more make up much of Tars Dhangeta's import/export business.
- Tars Bruttium: Tars Bruttium remains much as it ever was; a kind of Monte Carlo, Las Vegas, Bangkok and Tortuga of the galaxy, all rolled up into one and under the control of the Dhangeti. Tars Bruttium is a hotbed of political intrigue. While it's in Dhangeti Space and is loyal to that polity, it plays no favorites, and the Dhangeti's famous general trend of neutrality between the three superpowers means that embassies and espionage from all three are commonplace in the dark streets of Tars Bruttium. It still has the same reputation as a wildly dangerous place that it’s always had, but now one with a particular partisan bent, as shadow wars rage in the streets between proxies. All parties are careful to keep this activity at least marginally discrete, however, as the Dhangeti are only laid-back hosts to the degree that their own interests are not threatened.
- Thanatos: While an important planet to the Shadow Knights for historical, archaeological and cultural reasons, in reality there is little on the planet to tempt the Seraean cult today, and they maintain it more as a curiosity than for any other reason. Many Shadow knights make pilgrimages to the planet as part of their training, but few remain. The ruins that once dominated the Valley of the Alien Kings are mostly stripped clean of any artifacts of interest or note, and many of the ruins toppled or defaced.
The Seraean tolerate a few unusual features about Thanatos, however. Several pirate and smuggler operations are here, known to the Empire, but not molested. The inhabitants of these enclaves are particularly vicious and paranoid, as might be expected, since few of them know of the official tolerance for their activity, and they feel that they may be rooted out by feared Shadow Knights and their black-garbed troopers at any time if discovered. In truth, it's not clear what the Empire tolerates them for, although it may be as simple as the fact that the harshly competitive meritocracy of this environment has been a good source of potential recruits for them; psionically gifted pirates are trained as apprentice Knights, and those who are not become highly skilled agents-provocateurs for the Empire, often drafted into dangerous yet important missions on behalf of the Empire.
The Seraeans also tolerate several villages of Old Ones on Thanatos, including some of the most important and centralized points of the cult. While the Shadow Knight cult and the Old Ones cult have usually enjoyed friendly relations, it is not clear why this particular tolerance is allowed on what is a site important to the Shadow cult's heritage. It is observable, however, that the Old Ones cult on Thanatos has gradually migrated more and more into being one that resembles the ancient Shadow cult itself. It is believed by a very few who are aware of this phenomena that this tolerance may actually be part of a long-term conspiracy to draw the Old Ones cult directly into the Shadow cult itself and merge the two. The whispering of the Alien Kings and the ghosts—rather real or imagined—of past Shadow Lords who still wander the blasted badlands of Thanatos may be instrumental in bringing this to pass.
- Phovos Mal: The capital of the Empire is the ancient capital of Phovos Mal. In general, Phovos Mal can be seen as a darker and much more militarized mirror of Capital Publius. The Emperor himself maintains a strict policy of secrecy—nobody sees his face, or knows his name, and only the Dread Council of Arch-Heretics communicate with him directly. The entire planet has the feel of a mobilized military base with attached hangers-on, and the fear of secret police runs rife through the populace.