Among the jagged hills, rocky fields, and salt mines of Barstoi live suspicious but hardworking people, where all crimes are lethally punished by Pharasmin Inquisitors.
Since rule of the land came to Count Aericnein Neska, hope has no home in Barstoi. The region has never been fair: Poor soil and rocky heaths typify the lands between Lake Prophyria and the orchards of Varno. Kellid barbarians and Numerian raiders threaten the eastern borders. Forgotten tales of ghosts and gremlins intrude upon the present in the shapes of rugged cairns and the shadows of depthless caves. The land has long faltered under the hands of weak leaders, but no more. Today, Barstoi’s people know the face of their fears all too well, as the count’s callous knights enforce utter obedience at the point of their razored lances, defending a land that, in a generation, has risen from unbreakable hinterland to a heartless utopia.
Barstoi has always been the backwater of Ustalav. Where both Canterwall and Odranto stand against threats from abroad, they do so in defense of rich country. Barstoi, on the other hand, has traditionally been held as a matter of national pride, cementing the country’s hold on all the lands from the Tusk Mountains to the West Sellen River. Up until recent decades, the rocky earth and sickly fields hid myriad dangers, from prowling monsters to Kellid zealots claiming scattered caves or stones as holy ground. In the past 40 years, the land has undergone a shocking transformation. With the death of Count Bieryce in 4665, Barstoi’s ruling line ended. Prince Valislav Ordranti sought to raise several favored nobles to rulers of the land, but all declined, not caring to inherit the destitute, perhaps cursed land. Unexpectedly, after the county had spent months without an administrator, the tin mogul Aericnein Neska, a member of a lesser Versex noble family, entreated the princess for a provisional term as its administrator. He promised that, given a term of 3 years, he would wrest the crown a profit from the harsh land. With no other candidates daring such claims, Prince Valislav accepted.
Neska swiftly implemented massive social projects in the region, financing them with his own wealth and attracting droves of workers. Mountains of scattered rocks were moved; new Pharasmin monasteries were constructed; barbarians, goblinoids, and drakes were slain; and fit mercenaries won titles as knights of the land. Exploration into the pits and caves riddling the county also revealed a wealth of salt in its northern hills. Before the end of Neska’s 3-year term, Barstoi’s reputation had changed from that of a worthless, dangerous heath to a safe countryside rich with potential. Princess Maraet herself bestowed the title of count on Aericnein Neska 4 months before the end of his challenge.
True power brought a swift change to Neska’s rule. Determined to see Barstoi rise beyond other counties, the count continued vast building projects, constructing new border forts, roads, towns, and county-owned farms and salt mines. He also instituted a host of strict new laws, reaching beyond criminal sanctions to enforce authoritarian moral sanctions, absolute forbiddance of arcane magic, and the countywide worship of Pharasma. Punishment for “deviancy” proved harsh from the outset, but as the count aged his mandates grew ever more draconian, finally resulting in a single punishment for all crimes: death. In 4687, Neska’s intolerance of incompetence and corruption ignited a 6-year-long civil war between his county and neighboring Ardeal. While his crusade ultimately proved fruitless, it reduced the once-rich region of Furcina into the trench-riddled wasteland now known as the Furrows.
Today, Barstoi is one of the fittest counties in Ustalav, a police state of uniform townships and even fields where oppressive knights clad in Neska’s gray heraldic condor and dark-robed Pharasmin witch-hunters endlessly scrutinize a fearful populace. While toil, obedience, and mercilessness cloaked in patriotism see individuals rewarded with land and gold, whatever wealth Barstoi’s people find in their pockets they counter with the hopelessness in their souls.