The Tolosa Islands are clearly a continuation of the mountain range that runs north-south through the continent, and the inner sea does little to disguise the unity of those ranges. North of the Mezzovian Sea, they are called the Garriga Mountains, south they are called the Romeu Mountains, and smack dab in the middle of the Mezzovian, their feet are submerged and only their craggy tops protrude as warm-water islands.
The Tolosas are rocky, and cliffs and fjords dot their shores, but a number of small fishing towns, villages and trading or stopping points ring the shoreline where geography permits. The interiors of the islands are a mixture of farmland—olives, grapes and more grow abundantly here—and subtropical mountain rainforest.
While the Tolosas are not heavily populated, and much of the population is rural or small fishing, or transitory mercantile in nature, the Tolosa Islands are still considered an integral part of the Terrasan heartland, and prior to their spread northwards and the foundation of the Terrasan Empire, the ancient Terrasans plied their fishing craft in and around the Tolosa Islands and the shores of the Mezzovian Sea immediately to the south.
A growing recent threat is that of piracy. The isolated, sheltered and hidden fjords and coves on many of the tiny, mostly uncharted islands that make up the Tolosa chain are the perfect hiding places for pirate ships, and as the once formidable power of the Terrasan navy gradually fades, pirates have become emboldened and more commonplace. On the long island Gandesa, an independent city that caters to the pirates, Porto Liure, has grown up and managed to get grudging recognition and acceptance from the Empire as an independent city-state.
Gandesa is a long, thin island with a generally north-south orientation that serves as the “breakwater” for the Tolosa Isles; the easternmost major island, and the first one that one comes to if one were to sail directly west from the eastern edges of the Mezzovian Sea. Gandesa is sparsely populated, and is in fact made up of low, mountainous wilderness. There are few large-bodied creatures on Gandesa, with the exception of deer, peccaries, and a strain of feral dogs, but strange rumors and ghost stories about cryptic inhabitants of the island are numerous.
As part of the Tolosa Isles, Gandesa was long considered an integral part of the Terrasan Empire, and in fact part of the original Terrasan homeland. However, as its population gradually declined, its small fishing villages and rural farming communities were abandoned and over-run by the subtropical forest, the Terrasan presence faded as well. More recently, it became a haven for pirates, smugglers and other ne’er-do-wells, and a city of sorts grew in a sheltered bay to the north that accomodated this illegal traffic. As the city grew, it became powerful enough to actually challenge the navy of Terrasa with its Barbary pirate hit and run tactics, guerilla warfare and other “dirty tricks” to the point where the Empire was losing money in attempting to control it.
When Jacobo Bernat, a pirate captain and all ’round Rennaissance man stepped into power in Porto Liure with an offer for semi-legitimacy and a cessation of hostilities if the Empire recognized the city as an independent city-state and Bernat himself as the Lord of the City, they were only too happy to acquiece and put an end to the costly conflict.
Today, the Lord (or Lady, as the case happens to be) of Porto Liure is Damiata Aldonça Bernat, a descendent via twisted family tree, of Jacobo Bernat himself. The Bernat family has managed to maintain leadership over Porto Liure for a hundred and fifty years, in the face of incredible pressure from the humiliated and wary Terrasan navy, but as Terrasan sea power fades, her role there has become easier. Today, her plan is to stoke the fires of resentment and independence between the various cities that make up what remains of the Terrasan Empire, and encourage portegnos (as the locals are called) into privateership with Letters of Marque. As such, she’s also extremely careful of which suitors she entertains, as giving up Porto Liure’s independence as part of a dynastic union is the last thing that she wants.
Despite this rough around the edges background, Porto Liure remains a destination for nobles from Terrasa and elsewhere seeking titillation, illicit pleasures, or simply duty and tax free shipping of profitable goods around the Mezzovian Sea. While it has a seedy underbelly that threatens at all times to spill out, there is still a veneer of civilization and civility that encourages immigrants. As the Terrasan cities fade, Porto Liure’s fortunes continue to grow.
The population of Porto Liure is mostly made up of ethnic Terrasans—the dregs of Terrasan society to be sure, but Terrasans nonetheless. Despite this, it is certainly not a Terrasan colony by any means, and is perhaps the most cosmopolitan population in the entire region. Great numbers of balshatoi, qizmiri (jann and human both), hamazin, drylanders, kurushi, changelings and more exotic ethnic groups yet roam the narrow streets of Porto Liure. While, naturally, many of these people are those who were in some way unfit to continue living in the society of their birth, more and more they are legitimate and even honored citizens of Porto Liure, and after more than 150 years, many of them consider themselves native portegnos, having been part of Porto Liure for generations now.