The Iron Skies
Life in the Skies
Life In The Skies
Before we get too much further into things like the islands and nations of the skies and all that sort of mess, I think it’d probably be a good idea to get a few more things out the way… You know, just in so far as life in The Skies are concerned, now that I’ve already covered the very basics of The Skies themselves. The question is… where should we begin?
If you’re reading this tome, then chances are you’ve probably grown tired of whatever island it is that you call home, and you’re thinking of striking out into the void, hoping to find something new. Something interesting. It’s a grand calling, to be certain, and I can personally assure you that you’re likely to find no end of adventure and things you’ve never encountered before. Some things, however, remain essentially constant pretty much everywhere. Time, for instance, is easily measured as in all places in the sky the cycle of day and night is always the same: Twenty-six hour days, 12 hours of day, followed by the hour in which the sky dims and the starts begin to come out, followed by 12 hours of night, and then one hour as the sky brightens, bringing about the next day. It’s same everywhere you go for all 30 days of every month and all 12 months of every year…
I admit though… I never much understood why 30 days and 12 months respectively… Seems sort of arbitrary if ask me, but I digress.
The other thing that’s constant across every island—and really anywhere there are people for that matter—is the need for food and water and this is where things can be a little bit trickier. It’s like I already mentioned in Chapter One, and will detail more later on, but depending on where you are in the skies the provision of the essentials can be more or less difficult, depending. Still, for most folk in the middle reaches, they’re probably used to the periodic rain storms that’ll form over their island homes as warm air, rising from The Deep Sky passes overhead and cools, causing the formation of storm clouds. Most folk in the middle reaches are probably also used to the need to keep rain barrels and such around to store water for later too. It’s a precious resource, no matter how you slice it, and the conservation of water is a skill that near everyone (save perhaps the rich, I guess) learns from an early age. Just like most folk learn to be mindful of their supplies of food and learn to keep in mind where there next meal is coming from, though don’t get me wrong here… gathering food tends to be a whole lot easier than finding water on the whole.
For starters, unless you live in damn desert like Nasr (and this time I do mean offense) or a frozen wasteland like that Khardic city up on the Draining Sea, most islands (though not all) probably support some sort of plant life. Berries, fruit bearing plants and trees, edible grasses are fairly common sources of nutrition (and some can even be limited of sources of water in a pinch) and beyond those, many islands are also capable of supporting at least some small amount of production of cereal grains besides, though none are ever going to touch the food production of a place like Plenty. Also, many islands capable sustaining plant life are also capable of sustaining animal life as well. Rodents are fairly common, of course, but on larger islands you’ve got your wolves and wild pigs and such and that’s not even taking into account domestic livestock. Lots of families on lots of islands probably own at least one chicken, for instance, and on the really sizable islands, you might have people that don’t live in packed cities own goats and cattle as well.
And all that doesn’t even take into account void harvesting. Or some of the more ghoulish practices we’ve likely all taken part in…
For starters, you’ve got the fungus farms on the under isles. Maybe you’ve never been down there, and that’s fine, but just for the record I’ll throw it out there: fungus farms run off people. Dead people, I mean. After all, once a person is dead there’s not much use to the corpse, right? And just pitching people off into the void is sort of a waste, so most folk are taken down to the Under Isles where they can be buried and become food for the edible fungi that we’ve probably all eaten at one time or another. And then, of course, there’s the stuff out in the void like I mentioned. There are the skylers, of course, huge flocks of not quite birds that roam the skies, seldom sighting land, and the strange rootless plant colonies that seem able to just grow out there in the open air, blown wherever the wind may take them. Things like this and more besides are often harvested by the fleets of trawlers that larger islands maintain, nets deployed for miles behind them as they sweep the skies for food. Sure, it can be dangerous—ships disappear into The Skies all the time, victims of pirates or predators or worse—but the role of the fishing trawler is a pretty vital one.
And it’s something that any prospective young sailor should take note of too. Many a cargo vessel, legal or otherwise, is likely to carry nets with them too that they can drag while on the trip between islands, likewise harvesting the edible, sometimes water bearing plants and bird creatures of the skies, and if they’re fortunate they can usually catch enough food to feed themselves. Sometimes you might even come up with a surplus, in fact, and I can guarantee that no matter what port you find yourself in next, you’ll always be able to find a buyer for any spare food or water you might have…
Which brings me to another set of topics:
Mercantilism, Salvage, Travel, and Communication
Even with as vast as the distances between islands can be and the fathomless depths of the void between them, the The Skies still manage to be an interconnected place. People need “stuff” after all, and not just food. Perhaps it’s just a bit more philosophical than you’re looking for here, but it seems like people—and when I say that I mean everyone from every intelligence race I ever met, except monks generally—have a need for things. Creature comforts, clothing, weapons… folk just like to own stuff and that’s where the sky sailors and the merchants of The Trade Council come in. I’ll cover the fat cats more later, of course, but for the time being, all you really need to know is that if you plan on working as a trader, then you’ll have to go through them. Pretty much every island is a signatory of the Trade Council’s accords, and as such, if you’re not registered with the Council and up to date on your dues, you can get in a lot of trouble… and that speaks nothing to the fact that the Council claims a full five percent of the profit of every haul. And that’s before expenses. Not after. Not much of a wonder then that so many young Captains turn to smuggling… but I’ll warn you: Get caught, and they will take your boat from you.
Still, trading (and by extension smuggling, not that I would ever partake of such) aren’t the only ways in the sky to make money. There’s also salvage, and salvaging is such an important part of day to day life in The Skies that The Trade Council can’t touch it… much as that probably annoys the hell out of them. You see… people like stuff, like I said, but everyone realizes that the world being what it is, resources aren’t near as limitless as the skies themselves. Least not tapped resources, anyway. Sure there’s more islands than anybody knows about, but what’s readily available on hand has to be rationed. Looked after. Carefully used. That’s where salvage comes in. See, The Skies are full of things like old Elven ruins, failed settlements, and ships set adrift for whatever reason, and all of these things have one fact in common: They’re all made stuff. Anybody with a boat that they actually own themselves has full ability to claim salvage rights over the things they find in the void, assuming they don’t find anyone actually living there, and many a sailor can and has made a brisk profit in the business of scavenging up building materials like metals or wood or cut stone, or even just bringing back curious, archaeological oddities for sale to whoever is willing to pay for them. And trust me, you can almost always find someone willing to pay for it.
Finally we have the last two major ways I can think of for a sailor to make a bit of coin in The Skies, and I think the two tend to dovetail together nicely so I’ll address them both at the same time: Travel and Courier work. Now, what I mean when I say travel specifically is taking on passengers because, after all, it’s not all that uncommon that people find themselves needing to get somewhere. Maybe it’s just a vacation, or perhaps it’s a family relocating. Maybe somebody is trying to duck the local authority. It could be any number of things, but often if you’re willing to advertise that there’s space on your boat for passengers, you’ll manage to at least get one or two people who’re willing to put up good coin for the chance to ship out to the next island on your journey—Assuming it gets them closer to their next destination, if not all the way there, anyway—and often times one of those passengers might actually be a member of The Courier’s Guild.
Courier work, sort of like salvage, is largely unregulated by The Trade Council because generally, even if the courier is moving goods, it’s usually in such small quantities as to not register a real profit in terms of trade, as the Council defines it. This makes it another good avenue of income for non-council ships as anyone willing to pay to have something essentially hand delivered to another island is probably also willing to pay a good sum of money for that service, either to a ship captain or to The Courier’s Guild, who of course are then relatively willing to pass on some of that windfall to whomever agrees to carry their delivery boy.
And while we’re on the subject of making money…
By now I think you’ve probably realized that in The Skies, there’s no such thing as free. Nothing of value can really be acquired without giving something back, be it effort or goods of equal value… Not even piracy and outright theft (which I will address shortly) can truly be considered free considering that such, in and of itself, is an invested effort to relieve someone of their goods… but regardless, the question has always long been in determining what value does a thing have and what is it equal too? This is what has always made bartering difficult and certainly makes hard currency the preferred method of trade, though some amount of barter does still occur. Similarly, the question of the exchange rate of coinage between nations also made trade difficult because while, by and large, a coin from one nation might be roughly the equal of one from another, differences of gold weight and general distrust for outsiders often saw coin from distant lands highly devalued by merchants. Thankfully though, the rise of The Trade Council (yes, them again), has seen fit to put most of these issues to rest.
While most nations still mint their own coins for use inside of their own borders, all nations that are signatories of The Trade Council’s accords also accept the coin of the Council. It’s value is fixed, where as coins from other nations might vary wildly in value from one island to the next, based on any number of factors. This is why most sailors and travels, the ones most often to shift from one island to another, convert most if not all of their currency to Trade Council Cogs. It simple makes doing business that much easier, rather than worrying if their homeland’s money will be worth what they think it is, or trying to determine if four chickens is roughly equal in value to a donkey…
Still, just the sake of completeness, I have provided a little chart here, for the purposes describing the various names of coinage, their nations of origins, and the rough value.
Rule of Law
Told you I’d get back to that whole Piracy and theft thing…
While The Skies can, at times, be a wild and unforgiving place, there is still some amount of law and order, especially where the major islands, usually falling under the control of one nation or another, are concerned. Each kingdom has it’s own set of laws and regulations, and those tasked with the enforcement of those laws, and those legal codes can vary greatly from one nation to another… though there are certain things that all of them agree on. Stealing is universally a crime, for instance, as is murder. Still, it generally seems to be that unless we are talking about capital offenses, such as murder or piracy or treason, which can often receive considerable attention and funding to track and capture the guilty parties (especially if nobles or the clergy gets involved in the affair) most petty street crimes go unpunished, the guilty often only arrested if they’re caught red handed or if the case is presented by a particularly large number of witnesses to the local authorities. This of course has, in turn, given rise to practice of posting bounties for the apprehension of criminals to see them brought to justice when the local law enforcement seems disinterested in the crime in question, and thus in turn given rise to The Hunter’s Union. Even nobles and governments themselves occasionally put out bounties for particularly dangerous wanted criminals from time to time, after all, and often times freelancers are better equipped and more experienced than say… the local watch… and this means that a trained hand can make a good living off capturing criminals.
Anyway, in most kingdoms the accused is considered guilty until proven innocent and his case heard by a judge or tribunal of some sort, depending on the city and kingdom in which the crime occurred. Policies for enforcement of law and execution of punishments against violators also varies from nation to nation, as does the degree of justice across class lines. For instance, those without wealth or influence could easily be rendered powerless in the face of the law, should it come to that, and may even find themselves facing summary judgement without the virtue of trial while nobles on the other hand… well…
Many laws simply do not seem to apply to nobles, and they may legitimately be able to act with greater liberty than their lessers. I’ve seen it a hundred times before and I will likely see it a hundred times again, but truth told landed nobles on larger islands, for instance, are often never prosecuted for “petty” offenses like drunkenness and disorderly conduct, theft, or even assault and extortion if an airtight case cannot be brought forward and bring any sort of case against one of these powerful individuals can be a truly difficult proposition; the evidence must be overwhelming or else it’s likely the noble will be absolved… and the fool that brought him to court will have made a powerful new enemy so for this reason most simply never bother.
Another group of exceptions can be in the way that major organizations within The Skies, especially those that see membership in multiple kingdoms, are treated. Many times groups like The Fraternal Order of Wizardry and The Hunter’s Union have a certain amount of latitude to deal with the crimes of their members on their own, without involving local authorities. Usually though, the jurisdiction of these groups is limited in practice, however, and should a crime be grievous enough to attract local attention, it is somewhat likely that they will still be asked to turn over the guilty party to local law. Still, it’s probably nice for some groups to know that, in the case of a master disciplining their apprentice for instance, a beating is not considered assault… it’s considered learning.
As for the means by which Justice is dispensed, as I said above, you can likely expect a trial and to face your accuser, should you wind up on the wrong side of the law although most times you’ll also find that certain judges may have their own personal biases that might tilt things either for you or against you. Similarly, the word of the privileged—be they noble, priest, or powerful merchant—can also either help or hurt you, given their word is generally taken above that of the more common rabble. Still, once your guilt is firmly established, if such can be done, after that it’s simply a matter of punishment. Minor crimes are like to see things like flogging or public shaming, though this can often be avoided by payment of hefty fines instead, and from their it works it’s way up. More serious crimes might warrant branding or some sort of permanent maiming—the removal of fingers is a common punishment in The Theocracy of Nasr, for instance—or perhaps even prison time, often with hard labor thrown in for good measure, while the most serious of crimes—those being murder, piracy, and treason—are often given no other punishment save for death. Hanging and beheading are generally your most common forms of execution, of course, but some nations favor other means such as firing squad, burning at the stake, or extensive torture before gibbeting.
The final important matter to life in The Skies is education, and this can be something of a bugbear for many. A great number of the citizens of The Skies have never set foot within the halls of academia, myself included, and in fact many gain their education by way of their trade, taking on apprenticeships and learning the way that a master has always done things, his traditions handed down from his master before him and so on and so forth. This certainly isn’t a bad way to go about the business of education mind you, and by and large most people you’ll meet are at least literate, if not perhaps well versed in anything resembling heady intellectual pursuits, but things are starting to change in the era of peace that’s settled in since the end of the last great war.
Many of the most powerful nations in The Skies, such as The Khardic Empire, have made a move towards opening prestigious establishments of higher learning, the graduates they turn out considered indispensable in these modern times of magic and mechanika, and these schools have quickly grown to become bastions of intellectual respectability. After all, it’s something of a point of pride for a nation to boast it’s own, highly respected academy and thus many of them are highly funded by the kingdoms in which they reside, and qualified professors can earn themselves a moderate amount of wealth in exchange for their skills, such is the desire of every school to have the best and the brightest on it’s staff.
Regardless, in most cases any citizen of one of these kingdoms with royal university is open to attend any of the lectures these days, but only actual students have access to many of the facilities, such as housing, libraries, workshops, and labs. For this reason, most of these places are going to charge some sort of annual tuition, I’m told, and for this reason it seems that the Universities tend to lean towards playgrounds of the wealthy, leaving particularly brilliant but poor students with no other option but to seek out patrons in order to afford their schooling. An arrangement that often comes with strings attached. Still, the completion of one’s education at one of these schools of higher learning does come with a diploma, and with that document the possibilities are likely much wider in the world than they might be without one…
Of course, on the other side of things, you also have the great military academies of the world, which in general are far older and slightly better funded than most universities, though they come with their own bag of particulars. It’s far easier for a commoner to enter the Military academies, for instance, in just about any given nation, assuming he’s capable of demonstrating the aptitudes required for the curriculum, but at the same time… the purpose of these schools is produce soldiers. Specifically officers. Most of what learning you’re going to do within the halls of places like Khard’s Druzhina or The Strategic Academy on Plenty will be in the arenas of naval combat, the deployment of soldiers, logistics, and military history along with general combat training and the application of drills. It’s a far more narrow application of learning by necessity, but then… what else did you expect? Still… these schools do offer some variation to their education, as magically active students are usually shuffled down different paths of learning. Most Warcasters, for instance, usually begin their formal training at places such as these and many also play host to other esoteric orders as well. The Strategic Academy, for instance, plays host to gun mage school of The Order of the Amethyst Rose while the Druzhina is provides academic and occult training for newly inducted arcanists of the Greylords Covenant.