Long ago, the country that now holds Paragon held a different city called Dari of the Mists, which dated all the way back to the ancient days when the Primordials ruled Creation. In the later part of the High First Age, Dari became the heart of the Domain of Stately Order. This province was both a social experiment and an exercise of the vast power and equally vast hubris that overcame many Lawgivers. The two Celestial rulers of Dari, Terrible Bloody Rose and her Lunar consort Shining Ocelot, enchanted their mortal subjects to receive pleasure and good health from obeying that city’s laws—and to suffer pain and death from breaking those laws. They imposed this unnatural state of affairs using a pair of incredibly powerful artifacts, the Orb and Scepter of Peace and Order. The sheer megalomania of the Domain (and its rulers’ lobbying to spread their methods across Creation) made it one of the many reasons for the Usurpation. Most of Dari’s inhabitants died in the Usurpation, defending their rulers or as punishment for failing to do so. It’s a wonder the city didn’t become a shadowland. The Dragon-Blooded razed Dari and never rebuilt it. In part, they acted from sheer horror at Dari’s fate; in part, they feared lest anyone find the Scepter or the Orb—for the Dragon-Blooded could not find the two artifacts after they slew Dari’s rulers. The usurpers assumed, or at least hoped, that both artifacts would stay buried under the city’s rubble and be lost forever. Just to be sure, the Shogunate erected a powerful Essence dome to seal the ruined city away from the outside world. Dari remained sealed against all intrusion until the end of the First Age, when the activation of the Realm Defense Grid shattered the dome. During the early years of the Second Age, terrifying legends still caused most mortals to avoid the ruins of Dari. In time, however, brave and foolish scavenger lords dared to explore it. In RY 191, a scavenger discovered the Scepter. As a skilled thaumaturge who could channel Essence, the finder discovered how to attune this item and found that he now controlled one of the most powerful artifacts in all of Creation. The Scepter itself imbued the scavenger with an understanding of its powers. Realizing that he now could become one of the most powerful beings in the Second Age, the scavenger gained the trust of the ruler of a small kingdom a few hundred miles from the ruins of Dari. Gangs of brigands plagued the nascent city-state; spies within the kingdom helped them avoid retribution. The Scepter’s bearer offered to solve both problems. Captured bandits and criminals were forced to touch the Scepter and swear to obey the laws of the city and the commands of the ruler. The Perfect-to-be used the oath-bound robbers as agents to uncover the locations and identities of other bandits and the leaders of criminal gangs. These too were soon captured and forced to swear allegiance to this small city-state. The Scepter’s bearer initially considered killing the city’s king himself but chose caution and patience instead. Since the scavenger was now immortal and the king wasn’t, the Scepter-bearer waited and consolidated his position. Over the years, the scavenger took the most competent and disciplined captives and offering them somewhat more freedom in their oath in return for swearing personal loyalty to him. In short order, the Perfect-to-be had several hundred personal followers and was clearly master of the kingdom. The old ruler did not want to anger either his son or the Perfect and so neglected to name either of them as heir. Instead, as soon as the old king died, the Perfect captured the dead king’s son and gave him the choice of death or swearing loyalty. The young man swore loyalty to the Perfect, who has ruled ever since.
Not long after, the Scarlet Empress took an interest in the new nation growing in the South. The source of the Perfect’s power was no secret. Some within the Empress’s court advocated wresting the Scepter from the Perfect. The Empress, however, declined. Instead, she offered the Perfect a favored place among her satrapies. The Perfect, no fool, responded with polite caution. After a year of careful diplomacy, the Empress made a rare venture beyond the Blessed Isle to visit the Perfect in person. They spoke privately for five hours, screened by sorcery against eavesdropping. When they emerged—both looking sour—they bore a fully written treaty of alliance. Fifty years after taking over the country, the Perfect chose the location in his kingdom that offered the most favorable geomancy and laid out a new capital. The new city took 50 years to build. On the exact centennial of his rule, however, the Perfect inaugurated the city of Paragon. At that time, only 60,000 people lived in the new city. As the population grew, the Perfect drew the plans for new neighborhoods and new circuits of walls. All were completed on significant anniversaries of his reign. Paragon is still growing, with no end in sight.
Paragon is built near the Southern coast, on a small but deep bay. This section of the South dries quickly away from the sea, with most of the arable land lying within 150 miles of the coast—about the distance where ranges of rugged hills begin. A number of small rivers flow down from those hills, though. These rivers and the winter rains make the coastal strip a fertile land, abundant in olive, date, almond and pistachio trees and large fields of maize, wheat and barley. More than 150 miles from the coast, the land becomes a sandy desert with low dunes and frequent oases. The dunes become higher and the oases less common the farther South one travels. Anyone traveling more than 400 miles South of Paragon finds a trackless and merciless desert with occasional rocky outcroppings that sometimes contain deposits of valuable metal and gems. The Perfect rules everything within 200 miles to the east, west and south of Paragon—a respectably sized country, called a “city-state” only because more than half the population lives in Paragon itself. Dozens of small farming towns cluster within 100 miles of Paragon. Their inhabitants have all sworn their loyalty to the Perfect. The Perfect’s soldiers patrol this region frequently to protect the villagers from bandits and desert raiders. The outer regions of the Perfect’s lands suffer occasional raiding. Any bandits or desert tribes who become too numerous or rapacious, however, can count on being hunted down and forced to swear allegiance to the Perfect at the point of a sword.
THE RUINS OF DARI
The ruins of Dari lie 90 miles West of Paragon and 40 miles inland. Today, nothing remains on the surface except low fragments of walls amid swaying grasses. As a construct of the Primordials, however, the city’s magical nature remains obvious. On sunny days, the wreckage still emanates a fine opalescent mist that fills the valley where the city once lay.
The mist is faint enough that it barely obscures vision, but its presence is a reminder that beneath the fertile ground lay both lost wonders and hidden dangers. The Perfect regularly sends expeditions into Dari to search for artifacts. While scavengers found most of the useful artifacts centuries ago, the Perfect’s seekers still occasionally find useful remnants of the Old Realm. Most of these are the sorts of minor conveniences that people in the Old Realm took for granted; Paragon’s savant-artisans work to duplicate them, with limited success. On rare occasions, though, the excavators find powerful tools and weapons.
These go to the Perfect.
THE ORB OF PEACE AND ORDER
More than anything else in the ruins of Dari, the Perfect seeks the long-lost Orb of Peace and Order. As soon as he attuned to the Scepter, the Perfect knew that it was half of a larger whole. He has sought the Orb ever since. With it, he hopes to increase his power still further. Since the Orb enables the user to reward subjects, even as the Scepter punishes, both artifacts together would make life in Paragon considerably more appealing. In the violent and troubled Age of Sorrows, a land where people gain joy, good health and long life for obeying the law would attract many prospective citizens. The Orb of Peace and Order is a grapefruit-sized globe of moonsilver, topped with a device of crescents and crystals resembling that on the Perfect’s scepter. It remains within Dari, hidden within a deep and ancient Solar tomb built early in the First Age.
After the usurping Dragon-Blooded slew Shining Ocelot, his wife, Terrible Bloody Rose, hid the Orb in this tomb before retreating to her palace to set off a doomsday weapon that destroyed her and the remaining Darites, razing her city and slaying mos of the attackers. The Perfect does not know that one individual cannot attune to both the Scepter and the Orb. As a result, if someone finds the Orb, the Perfect would have to share his power with another.
THE NOMADIC TRIBES
Various nomadic tribes live in the deserts inland from Paragon. These nomads enslave outsiders and set them to work farming in the oases that dot this arid land. They also sometimes raid outlying farms and caravans bound to or from Paragon. The Perfect found such conduct objectionable
As of a century ago, the Perfect’s army has subjugated most of the tribes living within 150 miles of Paragon. The Perfect freed the nomads’ slaves and made them citizens. The slaves’ descendents continue to farm these oases. The defeated nomads were brought to Paragon and given the choice between death and submission to the Perfect. A great many chose to die, but some of them accepted the Perfect as their master. Their descendants still serve. Every 10 years, the conquered tribes return to Paragon to present their young adults for the Ritual of Subservience. Those few who refuse to serve the Perfect are now exiled from their tribe and from the Perfect’s lands. The nomads who bear the sigil now protect the caravans traveling to or from Paragon and raid the caravans of other cities, returning a portion of their stolen wealth to the Perfect. Some of the more rebellious nomads protest, but most accept their fate, especially because the Perfect lets them keep most of the wealth they acquire through raiding. The nomads also patrol the borders of Paragon and battle the free nomads who live outside Paragon’s control. One small nomadic tribe patrols the ruins of Dari. Its members have orders to capture or slay anyone who tries to explore the ruins without the Perfect’s authorization. Naturally, a few scavengers search Dari illegally. In addition to artifacts, they loot the ruins for portable fragments of its eerily luminescent stone, for certain savants pay much for this handiwork of the Primordials themselves. Sometimes the nomads capture scavengers and deliver them to the Perfect. If the scavengers seem at all competent, he gives them a choice of continuing to work in Dari as his oath-bound agents, or becoming human sacrifices as part of a ritual to empower an artifact.
THE FREE NOMADS
The free nomads would never dare to attack Paragon itself, but they raid outlying farms and oases and attack caravans going to and from the city. These nomads regard everyone bearing the Perfect’s sigil as their enemy. When they raid caravans going to or from Paragon, they slay everyone bearing the Perfect’s sigil but allow the other members of the caravan to live. Such is the fear of the nomads that they refuse to accept visitors of any sort without first checking everyone’s hands. They presume that anyone who bears the Perfect’s sigil must be a spy, and kill him. Because of past experiences, these nomads also inspect the hands of any of their own members who returns from scouting duty, since more than a few have been kidnapped and forced to swear allegiance to the Perfect. They understand that they must be both clever and ruthless enough to do almost anything in order to avoid becoming the Perfect’s vassals.
THE RITUAL OF SUBSERVIENCE
Citizens of Paragon all undergo the Ritual of Subservience. In this ritual, the would-be citizen touches the Scepter of Peace and Order. The Perfect recites the oath that the prospective citizen must obey: obedience to all commands issued by the Perfect or his magistrates; never attempting to harm or work against either the nobles or the Perfect; and adhering to all of the laws of Paragon. When the person accepts the oath, verbally or even mentally, the crimson eye-sigil appears on her palm. These rituals take no more than three minutes. Up to 20 prospective citizens can swear the oath at once, stretching out their hands to touch the Scepter of Peace and Order. Paragon has grown large enough that the Perfect must spend several hours every week taking the oaths of new citizens. Everyone born in Paragon must swear this oath before they turn 15. Those who refuse must leave the city within a season of their 15th birthday.
The Perfect’s nigh-limitless power over his subjects makes him the center of Paragonese life. Creation’s most absolute monarch wields his power with remarkable restraint, however. Every proposal for a new law receives close examination by a committee of legal savants and a period of public comment before the Perfect makes it official. By Southern standards, the Perfect’s court is almost ascetic.
Other monarchs have larger palaces, more concubines, grander feasts and gaudier wardrobes. The Perfect works 12 hours a day on public business and expects his officials to work hard as well. Some observers find the Perfect too good to be true. How can anyone who wields such autocratic power not be corrupted by it? The Perfect does not claim to be Creation’s most compassionate despot, though… merely its most rational. Since his word is literally law—with torture or death the price of disobedience—he must be very careful what he says. If he gives someone a command that contradicts his existing laws, he places a citizen in an impossible dilemma. Passing two laws that contradict could incapacitate the city! And so, the Perfect thinks long and hard before commanding the Paragonese.
THE PERFECT’S PALACE
The Perfect of Paragon’s palace has the shape of a tall stepped pyramid of marble, 70 yards wide at the base and 100 yards high, with many tall but narrow windows. It is also a four-dot Air manse. Originally, this was a steep and rocky tor, a level-2 Air demesne. In the course of building Paragon, the Perfect strengthened the demesne even as he capped it. The manse’s hearthstone is a twice-striking lightning prism. The manse itself has the following powers:
- Essence Vents
- Magical Conveniences (1 point),
Control (2 points) and Dangerous Traps (2 points). The manse’s remaining points go to powering the city’s utilities.
It is possible that more than rational calculation shapes the Perfect’s thought. One of the Old Realm’s most powerful Lawgivers crafted the Scepter of Peace and Order to impress her megalomania on Creation. The Scepter impressed the knowledge of how to use it upon the nascent Perfect. Maybe it imposed a drive to reconstruct the Domain of Stately Order too. Storytellers must decide for themselves if the Perfect has mastered the Scepter… or vice-versa, implying that the madness of its creator is simply slow to manifest.
The Scepter of Peace and Order will not bind a person whose will is not his own. That does not mean that citizenship is always completely voluntary. Captured enemies of Paragon, from foreign spies to desert raiders, receive a choice: submission or execution on the spot. Some refuse and die. Others choose to serve the Perfect… but they did have free will. Most notably, several desert tribes now serve as the Perfect’s spies among the barbarians and his covert raiders against rival states. The Perfect has also turned a number of foreign spies into double agents. People forced to swear submission do not always receive the oath of citizenship. Captured spies, for instance, must swear to conceal no information that could benefit the Perfect and to obey every command the Perfect gives them, even should he command them to slay their own child. The Perfect seldom demands such monstrous service, but Creation is harsh and his enemies are powerful. The Perfect promised to protect his people, and he keeps that promise without pity or remorse. From bandit chiefs to kings, the last words heard by those who plotted against Paragon have come from men and women they trusted: His eye is always on you.
within minutes of the offender going indoors anytime from sunset to sunrise. Those who remain outside to avoid their fate suffer agony every night for the rest of their lives. The only offenders who do not die from committing serious crimes are those who were coerced into committing them through blackmail or other threats. These offenders suffer the agony of committing a serious crime until they confess their crime, the reason for doing it and the identity of the person who coerced them to perform it. Lying to a magistrate, including lies by omission, is always a serious crime. The Scepter of Peace and Order does not magically know that a citizen committed a crime and levy punishment. The citizen must herself know that she committed a crime. For instance, if a druggist accidentally dispenses a deadly poison instead of a life-saving medicine, she does not instantly know her mistake by the pain of punishment. The pain strikes only once she has reason to believe a patient died because of her. On rare occasions a citizen dies in agony because he accidentally committed a capital offense, such as burning down a block of townhouses. This is sad, but most Paragonese agree that negligence on such a scale must have consequences, especially if innocent people die because of it.
PUNISHMENT AND SLAVERY
Lawbreakers who did not committed a capital crime and who confess to a magistrate immediately cease suffering their sigil-imposed punishment. They must then accept the magistrate’s stern judgment. The punishment for many crimes, such as theft or vandalism, is usually a fine of comparable value to whatever the lawbreaker stole or defaced. Serious crimes, such as major assault or all crimes committed against magistrates, result in periods of indentured servitude. These indentures range from six months to seven years, at the end of which the individual is free. Individuals with short indentures are most often sold to citizens as servants. Criminals with indentures of three or more years usually become miners in the hot Southern desert. Luckier convicts—generally those who broke the law by accident—work in city maintenance: cleaning the streets, mending potholes, garbage collection and the like. Some assist with the excavation of Dari. Paragon’s law forbids selling citizens as slaves. Then again, few outlanders would purchase a slave bearing the Perfect’s uncanny sigil. The Paragonese may purchase foreign slaves, with the caveat that all slaves must swear allegiance to the Perfect, and slaves all win their freedom five years after their Ritual of Subservience. Paradoxically, while few free residents of Creation wish to move to Paragon, many slaves dream of being sold here since they are guaranteed freedom in five years. Some of the most loyal citizens of Paragon are former slaves who view the sigil on their hand as the visible emblem of their freedom. Many join Paragon’s military. The laws of Paragon forbid masters to mistreat, abuse, mutilate or kill their slaves. After all, every slave is a future citizen. The Perfect does not want his citizens crippled in either mind or body. Some wealthy citizens resent the laws governing slavery, but many understand that forcing the slaves to swear allegiance to the Perfect makes organized slave revolts impossible. Only suicidal slaves would ever consider killing their masters.
RUNAWAYS AND SLAVE-CATCHERS
Throughout the South, slaves dream of escaping to Paragon. The Perfect asks no questions of wouldbe citizens. The moment a runaway takes her oath of citizenship, no master would dare take her back. Within several hundred miles of Paragon, every master knows where a runaway will go. Professional slave-catchers know they must retrieve their prey before they take the Perfect’s oath. Most slave-catchers work solo, but a few large companies post agents in Paragon in hopes of capturing runaways before they can reach the Perfect’s palace—a final hurdle for a runaway, before the Perfect frees them from all bondage save the oath of citizenship.
The nobles of Paragon serve as intermediaries between the Perfect and the ordinary citizens. They fill diverse positions of authority: magistrates, community leaders, detectives, priests and others. Regardless of their duties, all nobles take the same oath before they reach the age of 15.
In some ways, a noble’s oath is somewhat less limiting than that given to ordinary citizens, but it constrains them to special obligations as well. Nobles need not obey the orders of any other noble except their own superiors. Also, while they must obey the laws of Paragon, they can break all but the laws against treason or endangering the Perfect, if they do so in the direct service of the Perfect or for the welfare of Paragon. As with all citizens, they must obey all of the Perfect’s direct commands. While most nobles are the children of nobles, all prospective nobles must undergo competitive examinations. Only those who score especially high can become nobles. Every young, would-be noble must also have two parents (or other close relatives) who are citizens or nobles of Paragon, and who swear that they honestly think that this person would make a good noble who would benefit Paragon and the Perfect. Newcomers to Paragon can also petition to become nobles. Any Dragon-Blood or mortal with enlightened Essence who wishes to become a citizen is automatically granted an interview with the Perfect. If he trusts them, he offers them the oath for becoming a noble. The most important part of being a noble is that in the course of their duties, they can give orders to the Paragonese that carry almost the same weight as orders issued by the Perfect. Citizens must obey such orders or suffer the consequences. Refusing a direct order of a noble who is performing her office is always a serious crime. 42 To prevent abuse of their position, all nobles submit regular verbal or written reports of their actions in which they clearly detail any offenses or questionable actions they have committed. Failure to submit these reports is a serious crime. Similarly, nobles who misuse their power for personal gain or to harm or defraud Paragon or the Perfect in any way have also committed a serious crime. Nobles who commit crimes can gain relief from their suffering only by confessing directly to the Perfect. Once they confess their crime, such nobles are usually stripped of their office and forced to take the normal oath of citizenship.
MAGISTRATES AND PRIESTS
All nobles are either magistrates or priests. Magistrates dispense justice in Paragon. Unlike the rest of Creation, criminals typically come to them. At this point, the magistrate selects an appropriate punishment. Penalties range from fines for minor crimes to terms of indentured servitude for more serious offenses. To prevent favoritism, magistrates may not issue punishments or otherwise pronounce judgment on criminals whom they know well. In addition, all magistrates take an oath to the Perfect to be fair and unbiased in their judgments. Magistrates are well paid and must refuse and report all bribes. The priests of Paragon deliver religious and moral instruction to the populace, they lead religious services, and they offer comfort and advice to citizens who feel some spiritual or emotional trouble. Some priests train as exorcists who deal with any spirits, ghosts, demons or other supernatural beings who cause problems in Paragon. Although most citizens feel a measure of awe and even fear for magistrates, many enjoy the company of priests and consider them both useful counselors and protectors against various inhuman threats. Regardless of their particular duties, all nobles wear brightly colored clothing to make them instantly visible. Even though no law commands it, Paragonese etiquette insists that citizens treat all nobles with respect. The presence of a noble typically causes all citizens to be on their best behavior. In addition to their basic judicial or spiritual duties, nobles often fill other positions of authority that suit their talents. Some become thaumaturge-savants and oversee the crafting of artifacts. Others head Paragon’s civil service bureaus, such as the treasury and the division that maintains the aqueducts. All of Paragon’s diplomats are nobles.
Paragon’s oddly colorless appearance extends from the architecture to the garb of the citizens. Ordinary Paragonese can wear whatever finery they desire, as long as it is not brightly colored. Wealthy merchants wear ivory silk, black pearls and white moonstones and jade, just as ordinary citizens wear tan linen with black silk trim. The law allows pale colors and shades of gray, cream and tan, but forbids all bright colors. Offenders suffer pain and then heavy fines. The dress code does not apply to the Perfect and his magistrates. In public, the Perfect wears cloth-of-gold robes adorned with silver embroidery, rubies and emeralds. While on duty, magistrates wear brilliant reds, deep blues, vivid greens and other bright hues. The law does not demand such a gaudy display, but it helps citizens recognize them as magistrates—a great convenience for Paragonese who break the law and need a magistrate to hear their confession.
Outlanders who visit Paragon sometimes don’t know the dress code (or don’t care) and wear colorful clothes. Paragonese might mistake them for magistrates. Any deliberate attempt to impersonate a magistrate is a capital offense for Paragonese, and a serious offense for a visitor. Magistrates normally ask that flamboyantly dressed visitors change their dress while visiting Paragon. Failure to do so after a warning results in expulsion.
Visitors and Paragonese both speculate about this curious law, due to its inconsistency with the Perfect’s general disinterest in his subjects’ private lives. The most popular suggestions are that it’s a quirk of the Perfect’s taste, a curse laid upon the city, a curse laid upon the Perfect himself or a means to help lawbreakers find a magistrate to hear their confession. The actual answer is both simpler and stranger: The Perfect sold the color of the citizens’ dress and the exterior of their houses to a Celestial god in return for various favors, including help constructing the city’s superb magical workshop.
RELIGION AND THE SUPERNATURAL
The Paragonese worship the Perfect. In addition to their other duties, all of the priest-nobles act as priests of the Perfect. The Perfect treats this faith as a just reward for the services he provides to his people. He encourages the Paragonese to treat all religion in the same fashion. Beyond worshiping the Perfect, citizens are free to worship any Celestial deity they choose. The official priests, however, preach that humanity owes nothing to any gods other than payment for the services that they perform for humanity. While the Perfect also permits all manner of spirit cults, he does not allow the worship of rivals or of creatures that might endanger his city. Worship of demons, Fair Folk, Deathlords or any Exalted is strictly forbidden. As a vassal of the Realm, the Perfect necessarily supports the Immaculate Order. The Perfect’s domain has more than 100 Immaculate shrines of various sizes, with 50 in Paragon itself. The Perfect’s own priest-nobles may not preach the Immaculate faith, though, beyond a rote prayer for the Dragons to bless the Perfect. Indeed, the Perfect’s cult implicitly disparages Immaculate doctrine by presenting the Perfect—not the Dragon-Blooded—as the ideal for mortals to emulate and admire. As one of the most powerful beings in Creation who is neither an Exalt, a god nor another truly supernatural entity, the Perfect is proud of his humanity. He encourages his citizens to bow their heads to no inhuman creatures. The Scepter of Peace and Order binds only human or partly human beings to their oaths (including beastmen, Wyld mutants and half-breeds such as the God-Blooded). It does not affect gods, elementals, ghosts, the Fair Folk or other such creatures who are not mortal or human. Therefore, such creatures can never become citizens of Paragon. In fact, the Perfect does not allow inhuman creatures to live in Paragon for more than a month. Specially trained priest-nobles with enlightened Essence carefully watch such beings, with squads of soldiers on hand. In addition, the official priests openly condemn dealing with Fair Folk, ghosts, gods acting outside their official capacity and similar entities in anything but the most careful and distant manner possible. Similarly, thaumaturges must prove their competence at dealing with such creatures to be licensed to summon elementals, demons or even ghosts. When possible, people who require the service of a supernatural creature are strongly encouraged to hire a sorcerer whenever possible, since doing so guarantees that the being will be safely bound. The Scepter of Peace and Order can bind the Exalted, God-Blooded, Half-Castes and other partly supernatural mortals. They all suffer the same penalties for breaking oaths as anyone else. Therefore, the Perfect welcomes all such people who wish to settle in Paragon. He has no objection to the Exalted moving to Paragon and becoming citizens. They can become nobles by the same methods as any other citizen. Only a few Terrestrial Exalted have voluntarily become citizens of Paragon, but most of the city’s DragonBlooded Exalted after they became citizens. The Perfect’s new Minister of the Arts (and propaganda), a woman named Scarlet Whisper, is one such Exalt, though a rumor circulates in Paragon that she is actually one of the Solar Anathema. “What nonsense,” both she and the Perfect say to worried Immaculate monks and officers of the Realm’s garrison.
When the Perfect’s assurances are not enough, Scarlet Whisper talks to these individuals and invites them to test her as they will. The Eclipse Caste soon convinces her inquisitors that she is an enlightened mortal of impeccable loyalty to Paragon and the Realm. The Perfect, however, knows the truth.
CITIZENSHIP AND EXALTATION
The Perfect instantly knows the identity and location of any citizen who Exalts. Paragonese who experience Terrestrial Exaltation remain bound by their oaths of citizenship. Taking the Second Breath as a Celestial Exalt, however, wipes away the Scepter’s sigil at once. An Exalt could renew her oath of citizenship, though.
As with anyone else, if an Exalt cuts off the marked hand, the sigil reappears on the healed stump. Indeed, the only way to remove the Scepter’s mark is through Adamant Circle Countermagic, and each use of the spell removes the mark from only one individual. The Perfect does not know that Solar Circle Sorcery can remove the sigil, since no one has ever used it thus while the Perfect has owned the Scepter.
Most Essence-wielders in Paragon are neither Exalted, supernatural beings nor half-breed offspring of those groups. Rather, they are ordinary mortals who enlightened their Essence through thaumaturgy. The Perfect himself presents an example of how much an enlightened mortal can achieve. Ambitious Paragonese take him as their inspiration. Any Paragonese can enlighten their Essence if they can present the Perfect’s government with a way in which this could benefit the city. Most would-be enlightened mortals follow a five-year course of asceticism and meditation called the Essence Enlightening Sutra (see The Books of Sorcery, Vol. III—Oadenol’s Codex, p. 139). Mortals who want to enlighten their Essence quickly can apply for the Perfect or one of the elite thaumaturges among his nobles to perform the ritual of Essential River Channeling (see Scroll of the Monk, p. 19). The latter Procedure is somewhat dangerous, for both the subject and the thaumaturge except the Perfect himself (as the Scepter protects him). No other methods for enlightening Essence are legal in Paragon. 44 Some people enlighten their Essence to make them more effective thaumaturges. Others study Emerald Circle sorcery or supernatural martial arts. Naturally, the Perfect does not leave training in such potent arts to chance. A state-run dojo called the House of Strength teaches a number of Terrestrial martial arts (most notably the Golden Janissary Style, a favorite for exorcist-priests; see Scroll of the Monk, pp. 48–50). An academy called the House of Wisdom teaches thaumaturgy and sorcery. A number of licensed private thaumaturges also teach the Arts. The Perfect forbids necromancy. Trying to learn it is a serious offense; casting a necromantic spell is a capital offense.
Paragon truly shines in the realm of thaumaturgy. Several thousand thaumaturges make the city their home, from alchemists to weather-workers. All of them passed examinations and possess licenses that attest to their competence. Wealthy Paragonese carry talismans of health and purchase alchemical preparations to lengthen their life spans and obtain forecasts from astrologers. Weatherworkers do their best to counter droughts or storms; specialists in warding and exorcism banish unruly ghosts and spirits from the Perfect’s lands. A relatively small number practice the Arts of the Dead, Demon Summoning, Elemental Summoning and Spirit Beckoning. Anyone but a priest-noble, however, must file paperwork explaining why she has a legitimate reason to practice such dangerous Arts. (See Chapter Three of The Books of Sorcery, Vol. III—Oadenol’s Codex for a complete description of all Arts of thaumaturgy.)
Paragon is one of the South’s major centers for crafting artifacts. Paragon’s thaumaturges and artisan-savants regularly create artifacts.
TRADE AND TRAVEL
The Perfect welcomes both visitors and merchants. Paragon is an important stop along the lucrative trade route between the Lap and Chiaroscuro. Every year, thousands of merchants travel here, certain that they will find honest shopkeepers and fair (if tough) bargains in a city where they almost never need to worry about crime. Despite the city’s popularity with merchants and weary travelers, though, few visitors come to enjoy the city. Fewer still become citizens. All visitors know what price the Paragonese pay for their safety, and most travelers shudder as they look upon the scarlet eyes forever emblazoned on the hands of Paragon’s citizens. The Perfect’s law also forbids visitors from spending more than a season in Paragon without becoming citizens. (He makes exceptions for official embassies and a few dozen Guild officials. The law also grants exemptions for serious illness and other extremities.) Near the end of their 84 days of residence, magistrates approach visitors and ask their intentions. Those who agree to become citizens are welcomed; others are told to make arrangements for travel. The sojourners are also forbidden from returning to Paragon for two seasons. Unsurprisingly, magistrates cannot accept bribes or bend the rules to aid especially generous, eloquent or even threatening visitors.
PARAGON’S FACTORY MANSE
The far southeastern corner of Paragon holds the second manse located within the city walls. This three-dot Earth manse serves as a Shogunatestyle (flawless) workshop dedicated to magitech and the manufacture of simple, non-magitech artifacts. The imposing and sturdy structure is also designed for defense as a fortress. Within it, several hundred artisan-savants (some with enlightened Essence) work to produce a steady stream of talismans and artifact weapons. This factory-manse has existed for almost 250 years. The Perfect built it with the aid of several Celestial gods whom the Perfect paid handsomely for their services.
Paragon has a relatively small standing army of 20,000 well-trained and disciplined soldiers. Disobeying any order that is neither treasonous nor obviously foolish counts as a violation of the laws of Paragon. (The degree of suffering depends on the severity of the offense.) Such punishment makes Paragon’s army exceptionally well disciplined. It does, however, make military service not as popular as it is in many other countries. To compensate, the Perfect pays his soldiers well and equips them with high quality weapons and armor. Elite units and officers carry various minor talismans, alchemical medicines and other thaumaturgical aids. Terms of service are eight years, after which the soldier receives a moderate pension. Soldiers who serve two or three terms of service earn correspondingly higher pensions, with additional rewards for extreme heroism. In Paragon, military service primarily appeals to the poor—but also to the ambitious who know they cannot become nobles. In most ways, Paragon’s army resembles that of the Realm, with legions of heavy infantry divided into dragons, wings, talons and so forth. Officers are called scalelords, talonlords, winglords, dragonlords and strategoi (for generals of a legion). Also like the Realm, the higher ranks of the officer’s corps can wield Essence. Every winglord, dragonlord or strategos is an enlightened mortal (though the Exalted or God-Blooded are welcome too). To achieve such rank, a mortal officer must volunteer to undergo Essential River Channeling. Paragon’s skillful thaumaturges minimize the danger of Essence enlightenment, but command officers still risk death to prove their courage and patriotism. For Paragon’s army, the principal benefit is an officer corps that can wield artifact weapons and armor. A number of officers also study supernatural martial arts. Some of Paragon’s deadliest warriors carry handheld concussive Essence cannons or shock pikes, while sturdy chariots carry light implosion bows. While the total number of such weapons is relatively small, they allow the armies of Paragon to strike their foes with devastating effectiveness.
In the event of large-scale military actions, the Perfect can call upon another 200,000 reserve troops of light infantry. These reserves count as regular troops because they are required to train for one day every two weeks. When called for duty, reservists earn the same salary as regular troops. These benefits encourage many to sign up for the reserves who would not be willing to consider the rigors of full-time military service. It helps that the reserves back up the regular army and rarely bear the full brunt of combat. Like the army, terms are eight years, with an age limit of 35 and a maximum limit of two terms.
Paragon is like no other city in Creation. Late-night revelers can walk down the well-lit streets without fear, because the only possible threats could come from children, the insane and the few foreigners who are foolish enough to defy the Perfect’s laws. Although Paragon is almost as large as Nexus or Chiaroscuro, life in this city feels completely different. It lacks the undercurrent of danger and menace that travelers expect in other cities. Outlanders find it… creepy.
Or maybe it’s just the knowledge of why Paragon is different. As is well known throughout the South, every citizen of Paragon swears loyalty and obedience to the Perfect. When they do so, an eye-shaped sigil of glowing crimson appears on the palm of one hand. For this reason, Paragon is sometimes called the Watchful City. The sigil is likewise carved on every city gate and government building, with the city’s motto: His Eye is Always on You.
Paragon lies about 12 miles from the coast, where two small rivers join. The natural river-course is gone. Their waters now feed a canal 60 yards wide, leading from the bay, to a manmade lake 300 yards wide and 600 yards long, dug next to Paragon itself. Small cargo-laden ships come and go constantly from the lakeside docks. Larger ships dock at the larger quays built along the bay. Eight aqueducts, some more than 100 miles long, detour other streams to supply Paragon with water, and more are in construction.
The city itself follows a rigid rectilinear plan. The inner city is a square bounded by stone walls 10 yards high and 10 yards thick. The main boulevards divide the city in a grid pattern, with the Perfect’s huge palace-manse located in the exact center. Four major roads lead from the four huge gates in the city walls to a wide stone paved plaza surrounding the Perfect’s palace. Elaborate, abstract mosaics cover both the palace and the plaza. Paragon long ago expanded beyond its first circuit of walls. A second circuit tripled the city area. The northern extension surrounds the harbor-lake, while the southern extension encloses an identically sized park—Wood countering the lake’s Water, preserving the city’s geomantic order. The four main roads continue through this section and another set of gates to a third expansion that tripled the city’s area again. Beyond this circuit lie the city’s defensive outworks — five circuits of brick bastions, berms and trenches that form a murderous maze. Paragon is full, though. Soon, it must expand beyond its current walls. The Perfect has already begun work on converting the outermost berm into a complete wall that will triple the city’s area yet again.
The city has a very orderly, but somewhat stark air about it. The geomantic building codes emphasize right angles and circular forms with long arcades of columns and windows. Much of the populace lives in blocks of identical townhouses. The primary building stones in this region are blackish-green basalt and shining white marble, reinforcing the impression of living inside a textbook rendering of architectural geometry. Paragon’s rather sterile appearance actually serves a purpose. The entire city is a huge work of geomantic engineering.
Indeed, Paragon is perhaps the most geomantically perfect city in Creation—more so even than the Varang City-States—and the Perfect’s command bars anyone from willfully disturbing the city’s precise geomantic structure. The walls, streets and buildings channel Essence toward the central plaza, strengthening the demesne under the Perfect’s palace-manse. Then the city’s structure draws the Essence out again. The manse’s power pumps and purifies the city’s water supply, which does much to keep the populace healthy. The Essence also feeds into special fluorescing crystals set on pillars along major streets, to provide street lighting. Paragon is not be one of Creation’s prettier cities, but (as the savants of Paragon say) that’s the price of giving a city Essence-powered, First Age conveniences using Second Age materials and methods.
THE PEOPLE OF PARAGON
Paragonese who travel abroad are often shocked to learn how violent and chaotic the rest of Creation is compared to their home country. Nevertheless, Paragon has extensive contact with other lands in the South and beyond. Some contact is peaceful; some, not so much.
The Perfect divides his subjects into ordinary citizens and nobles. Nobles swear special allegiance to the Perfect and have additional rights, responsibilities and privileges. Paragon grants citizenship to all who ask, no questions asked about the individual’s previous life of any crimes for which they may be wanted elsewhere. Immigrants tend to be poor and desperate, such as war refugees, farmers driven off their land (by bandits, drought or the tax collector) or peasants fleeing cruel landlords. The Perfect devotes a small portion of Paragon’s wealth to caring for the poor. The city’s poor receive a small weekly dole of grain, so no citizen ever starves. Doctors must spend half a day every week treating indigent citizens. Unemployed citizens may petition the government for jobs. If an individual shows some useful aptitude beyond a strong back, a magistrate sometimes offers them free training. Few among Paragon’s wealthier visitors become citizens, but hundreds of the poor arrive every year. For them, the city’s motto holds a promise of safety and comfort.
LIFE IN PARAGON
Public and private life merge in Paragon. In other countries, laws require people to enforce them; in Paragon, laws are enforced by citizens’ own knowledge of their lawbreaking. Therefore, nothing is truly beyond the reach of the state. If the Perfect ordains a new law, on anything, the Paragonese have no choice but to obey.
Citizenship can NEVER be rescinded. Both citizens and nobles bear the Perfect’s sigil until they die. Citizens and nobles can, however, petition to leave Paragon. After paying a nominal departure fee, the individual is free to leave.
Traveling citizens need only continue to obey the laws of Paragon—with respect to citizens of Paragon. The Perfect is not so arrogant as to place himself above Creation’s other rulers by insisting that his laws should apply in their domains.
Therefore, citizens of Paragon who travel outside of Paragon are not forbidden from lying, cheating, robbing or killing the people of other lands. The oath of citizenship does forbid sigilbearers from knowingly supplying information to Paragon’s enemies or fighting against it in any fashion. Although very few people know it, the Perfect is happy to have some small portion of his citizens leave Paragon. As long as they remain within Creation, he can easily make use of their senses and even occasionally possess them. The Perfect does the latter only in times of dire need. The ability to place unknowing spies all across Creation from whom he can gain information at any time, however—combined with the potential to turn each wandering citizen into a saboteur or assassin with a moment’s concentration—is only one of the means by which the Perfect has retained his power for more than four centuries.
When serious crime happens in Paragon, foreigners probably committed it. While citizens of Paragon who travel to other lands can do whatever they want, as long as they don’t betray their city or the Perfect, all citizens are compelled to treat foreigners within Paragon as well as they treat one another.
The foreigners, of course, face no such compulsion. Nevertheless, wise visitors to Paragon only rob, con or assault other foreigners, since the magistrates largely allow outsiders to conduct their own affairs. The magistrates diligently investigate and harshly punish murder, arson or other serious forms of violence, regardless of the target. Crimes against nobles or wealthy citizens are always carefully investigated.
An apprehended criminal faces a variety of possible fates. Guild factors, Dynasts, powerful magical beings and other malefactors who are too well-connected or too personally powerful to turn over to the Perfect’s stern justice are immediately exiled and forbidden from returning. For all other foreign criminals, the punishment depends upon their crime. Any visitor convicted of murder, arson or other exceedingly serious crimes faces execution as a warning to all future visitors. Execution usually takes place in a manner that assists in the creation of an artifact: for instance, impalement by a red-hot dire lance so the weapon may be quenched in the heart’s blood of the criminal. Minor crimes such as petty theft result in fines followed by expulsion from Paragon. Intermediate crimes such as robbery, assault or serious fraud result in the criminal being given a choice: being sold into slavery to the Guild or immediately undergoing the Ritual of Subservience and becoming a citizen, albeit destined to spend the next five years working in a mine. These threats suffice to keep crime by visitors to a relatively low level, especially since most visitors understand that neither their arguments nor their purses can sway any of this city’s magistrates.
THE LAWS OF PARAGON
In most ways, Paragon’s laws are quite permissive. A citizen can do just about anything that does not harm another citizen’s person, property or reputation. For instance, citizens receive great freedom of speech, including the right to make jokes about the Perfect. (During Calibration, the Perfect even holds a contest for the best and most insulting jokes, songs or short plays about himself. The winner gets a small cash prize.) Laws in Paragon are divided into three categories. Violating minor laws—such as those against littering, petty theft or fraud, public brawling or similar nuisances—merely causes the offender a severe headache for a few hours on the next night. At the end of the night, however, the pain ends and does not return unless the offender commits another offense.
Committing a serious crime such as smuggling, grand theft, assault, blackmail or accidental homicide causes a severe and almost incapacitating headache. This lasts until the offender confesses her crime to a magistrate. The pain instantly ceases at this point, but it returns if the offender attempts to avoid the magistrate’s punishment in any fashion. The most serious crimes, such as poisoning wells, committing large-scale arson, disobeying a direct order from the Perfect or committing deliberate homicide that is neither self-defense nor defense of another citizen or Paragon itself, result in a swift, painful and inevitable death. Death occurs
Paragon exchanges embassies with most countries in the South, as well as the Realm and a few of the larger powers in the Scavenger Lands. Varangia sometimes becomes an ally of convenience, since they both fear expansion by the Delzahn of Chiaroscuro. Paragon has no close allies in the South, though.
Paragon welcomes traders from the Guild. The Guild does not love Paragon quite so much. Guild factors can live in Paragon without becoming citizens, but each factor can extend this privilege to at most five personal assistants.
The other members of their staffs are all citizens of Paragon. Also, while local merchants deal honestly with the Guild, the Guild does not regard Paragon as one of its most lucrative ports of call. The Perfect forbids the Guild’s most profitable and addictive intoxicants—anything with effects powerful and long-lasting enough to interfere with a citizen’s work— and so citizens do not buy them. The local laws regarding slavery reduce the market for this Guild mainstay as well. Wealthy Paragonese constitute an excellent market for various luxuries, though, and the Perfect pays very well for First Age books and artifacts or the rare materials used in crafting artifacts.
Paragon is a satrapy of the Realm, at least in name. It pays a yearly tribute. The immortal Perfect has much in common with the long-lived Terrestrial Exalted. Like the Dynasts, he values stability and tradition. Nevertheless, the Perfect gives regular speeches about the value of mortals and forbids any worship of the Exalted. The Scarlet Empress disliked the Perfect’s beliefs almost as much as his power, especially since that power clearly derives from an artifact created by the Anathema. She found the Perfect useful as a stabilizing influence in the region, however. She also recognized that if the Realm attempted to invade, the Perfect could easily order his entire city to fight to the death in his defense—possibly replacing a prosperous city with a huge shadowland. What’s more, no one other than the Perfect understands the full extent of his Scepter’s power. The Realm’s generals do not wish to start a battle that they fear they might lose. Instead, the Realm stations a small Imperial garrison in Paragon. The dragon of mortal legionnaires and their DragonBlooded officers are some of the few long-term residents of Paragon who do not become citizens. A Dragon-Blooded satrap heads the garrison and the Realm’s embassy. The Perfect bluntly tells each new satrap that she won’t collect an obol more in tribute than the treaties with the Realm command. Furthermore, while the satrap may offer advice (as may any ambassador), she should not imagine she could command or veto the Perfect’s government. Paragon is not a popular post for ambitious Dynasts.
Paragon is currently in an undeclared and partially covert war with Gem. For now, the Perfect is content to send nomadic tribes, spies and raiders against Gem. He hopes to wrest away jewel mines that lie to the east and north of that city. The loyalty of the tribes who serve the Perfect, combined with use of the senses and even the bodies of his spies, has enabled the Perfect to seize several of the outlying mines, significantly increasing Paragon’s wealth. Gem’s Despot tries to fight back against these attacks but fears to risk the Realm’s wrath by attacking Paragon openly. Instead, mercenaries hired by the Despot now raid caravans going to and from Paragon, in an attempt to weaken the city financially.
Now that the Scarlet Empress’s absence has become both protracted and obvious, the Perfect realizes that the Realm might be in no position to object to wars in the Threshold. As a result, he is considering open military action against Gem. He also realizes that the Realm might no longer be able to restrain Paragon’s neighbors, such as the aggressive Delzahn.
Worse, he fears the Realm cannot stop the Fair Folk, the Deathlords or other inhuman threats—of which the Perfect knows far more than do most of the South’s rulers. He does not trust other rulers to recognize the danger or plan a successful response. In his private workroom, the Perfect sketches plans for walls that link demesnes in geomantic barriers across the South, and factory-manses for concussive Essence cannons and daiklaves. To do all this and defend his city—perhaps even to defend Creation—the Perfect must acquire wealth and resources that dwarf his current assets. He does not merely need Gem’s outlying mines; he needs Gem, the greatest source of concentrated wealth in the entire South. And so, the Perfect slowly prepares his city for war. He knows that this breaks the covenant he gave his people, promising peace and order in exchange for their obedience. He hopes he can gain the wealth of Gem without all-out war, if he can get his Eclipse Caste—sent as a “peace negotiator”—alone with Gem’s Despot for an hour. If that stratagem does not work, though, cold logic demands that he risk everything he has built and sacrifice his people’s trust, so that Creation may live.