Understanding the true significance of the great white walls that surround Whitewall means understanding their origin. The city is now a far cry from what it was intended when it was created, but no one in the Second Age has cause to know that. If the history were discovered, the Chosen of the Sun might have a compelling new reason to take interest in the city — more, perhaps, than its current, comfort-driven residents would like.
ONDAR SHAMBAL Edit
There has been a settlement of some sort in the place where Whitewall now stands since the end of the Primordial War. For most of the First Age, the area was a hermitage for the most pious adherents of the Unconquered Sun, monks and nuns who devoted their lives to service to their god.
Between prayers, these faithful tilled the rich soil and grew food to nourish themselves for more prayer.
The foremost of these great monks was the Supreme Hierophant, Righteous Guide, an extraordinarily dedicated and powerful Zenith Caste priest.
Righteous Guide established the monastery-city of Ondar Shambal as an enormous community of agrarian monks toiling for the betterment of Creation and the glory of the Unconquered Sun.
Warrior nuns and monks who had dedicated their lives to the service of the Unconquered Sun built the Holy City as a place of meditation and retreat. They erected the city according to the most rigorous and exacting architecture and geomancy principles of the First Age. The city’s buildings were constructed from a rare and beautiful snowy white granite found exclusively in the mountains to the north of the city, and, under the touch of the sun, the buildings seemed almost to glow. Most of these sturdy granite blocks were hand-carved by mortal stoneworkers and then made perfect by the sanctifying touch of a Zenith Caste Solar Exalt, who then determined the most auspicious location for that particular block and placed it there personally. Construction was, clearly, very slow, but the city took shape around a Solar Manse in the center of a symmetrical design that extended radially.
Though the elegant arrangement of the city itself was intended to be a delight to the eye of the Unconquered Sun as he passed overhead, the architecture was dazzling when seen both from the ground and from above. From overhead, the city was an intricate mandala that appeared to coruscate and change as the nuns and monks went about their business in the streets, buildings and green spaces of the nascent city.
Once the monastery-city’s buildings were complete, Righteous Guide directed the faithful to start work on a great circular wall. The yards-thick walls from which the modern city derives its name weren’t intended to be massive, defensive structures for their own sake (although they definitely are that). Rather, they were built as a powerful symbol representing the separation of secular space (the fields outside the city where the monks worked and practiced martial arts) and sacred space (the consecrated city within the walls where the residents fasted, prayed and meditated).
3,000 faithful labored for 12 years to complete the Holy City, using First Age technology to make their work a gift to their god. It was, by far, the largest monastery in Creation, capable of housing over 1,000,000 faithful within its shining walls. This sacred place was christened “Ondar Shambal” (“City of the Sun”) and it was one of the spiritual wonders of the First Age.
Prayer wheels dedicated to the Unconquered Sun spun day and night. Chants and hymns to the god, accompanied by flutes, bells and gongs, were amplified and focused toward the heavens by the city’s spiritually active architecture. Any one of the city’s three spiritual advantages — the geomantically innovative and spiritually resonant architecture, the block-byblock blessing of the buildings or the mandala layout of the city — by itself would have enhanced the city’s prayers significantly, thereby making them inherently more pleasurable to any deity to whom they were addressed. All three of these factors in concert resulted in a gestalt effect that amplified the power of prayers by orders of magnitude, and these potent entreaties could be heard throughout the city (and, sometimes, for miles beyond the massive walls) as a constant, comforting murmur.
Because Ondar Shambal had been dedicated to the Unconquered Sun from the laying of the city’s first block and because the city was dedicated to this deity utterly, the Unconquered Sun was, and, technically speaking, still is, what savants of the Second Age have come to call the city father, or local god, of the city. This was widely known and celebrated in the First Age, although the powerful Zenith Caste Solars took care of all such business on the god’s behalf.
For centuries, the fields outside were tended by a city of priests, monks and nuns. The faithful used the proceeds from farming to maintain and fortify the monastery city, and provide food and clothing for the monks within. When revenues exceeded expenditures, as often happened, the extra money was put away to prepare for less fortuitous days. All who felt called to the service of the Unconquered Sun, Exalted or otherwise, were welcome to take residence in Ondar Shambal, as long as they were willing to tend fields or otherwise make their lives a mission of service to the Unconquered Sun.
As a temple city dedicated to the mightiest of the gods, Ondar Shambal also benefited a great deal from the divine largesse of gods who sought the favor of the Unconquered Sun. In the First Age, Ondar Shambal was blessed with temperate weather. The fields around the city were green year-round, soft rains came mostly at night and snowfall was a rare occurrence.
The community as a whole was gifted by a number of gods and spirits. An earth elemental lord created an extensive series of safe, orderly caverns beneath the city for the storage of tools and foodstuffs, a god of architecture blessed the enormous white walls with strength and endurance, a goddess of hot springs established a pure and fragrant spring in the center of the city to provide hot water to the pious — and so it went. Various ministers in the Bureau of Seasons even ensured that the weather was as optimal as possible for farming the rich fields around Ondar Shambal. Unfortunately, while a certain degree of asceticism was practiced by Ondar Shambal’s faithful, true asceticism became a challenge in the presence of all the divine gifts heaped upon the city.
Ancient crystal codices, now long lost or hidden, claim that the Unconquered Sun himself strode the halls of Whitewall on at least two occasions as he gave the monastery-city and its Exalted priests his personal blessing.
Such favor was largely due to the prayers of Righteous Guide , the foremost Zenith Caste Solar of his day. The Solar Exalted of Ondar Shambal called the Calibration Gate to the city regularly, and the city’s Zenith priests were frequent visitors to the Celestial City of Yu-Shan. The white granite spires of Ondar Shambal became synonymous across Creation with devotion, piety and rightness of action. Even when things began going awry elsewhere in the Old Realm, a protective mantle of humility and stability appeared to protect the faithful of the Holy City.
THINGS FALL APART Edit
After several centuries of serving as the monastery city’s chief priest, Righteous Guide left to create the Holy Road south to the sea as a private mission of service to the city and the Unconquered Sun. The other priests and many of the faithful begged to join Righteous Guide, but he refused them, claiming that his spiritual quest was to be a private devotion.
And, sometime shortly thereafter, things began to break down.
With Righteous Guide’s departure, the hierarchy slowly, subtly began to stray from the founder’s mission, nudged, unbeknownst to them, by the Primordial Curse.
Doctrinal disputes soon arose and created factions within the governing body of priests. Initially, all factions went out to the road to ask Righteous Guide what they should do. His only answer — “Pray” — never seemed to provide the kind of guidance they were seeking. Some of the other priests, feeling that Righteous Guide was the favorite of the Unconquered Sun, grew bitter and resentful of the chief priest’s status.
Over the decades that followed, the character of Ondar Shambal’s religious community changed. Though the walls remained as stalwart as ever, they failed to maintain the boundaries between secular and sacred space. As Righteous Guide was consumed with the creation of the Holy Road, the culture of Ondar Shambal, slowly and in fits and starts, grew more worldly and less monastic. Lengthy prayers and fasting gave way to shorter prayers and small meals, and then gave way to sumptuous meals and no prayers at all. The prayer wheels fell silent.
The hymns and chanted sutras grew faint before fading away entirely.
This change was due, in part, to the incredible wealth that flowed into the city — not only in revenues earned from the sale of produce but also in the form of donations from the pious who wanted to be mentioned in the prayers of Creation’s holiest city. Money poured into the Holy City’s coffers from across Creation. Solar kings and queens, too busy themselves to pray for their cities, sought the intercession of the faithful by making vast donations of wealth to Ondar Shambal. Those prayers were never performed, but the residents of the Holy City were happy to grow fat on the tithe money anyway.
Finally, after 300 years of meditative labor, Righteous Guide completed the Holy Road to the south port; he returned to find, not a monastery, but a decadent farm city where the fields were haphazardly tended and fat, undisciplined citizens lived primarily on the donations of the gullible.
Righteous Guide snapped. In a state of deep spiritual despair, he assumed sole responsibility for the behavior of the wayward monks. In an attempt to atone — on their behalf — to the Unconquered Sun, he fell into a binge of penance that would have killed any mortal and many younger Exalts. In the city’s central plaza, in front of horrified onlookers (who dared not approach him in his unstable state) the powerful Zenith flayed himself repeatedly with a barbed whip; such was his zeal that his blood spattered the walls of buildings 40 feet away. He wept his prayers to the Solar god, and his blood baptized the streets of the city. When he had lain bare the gleaming white bone of his ribcage, he would heal himself with Essence, only to begin the process all over again. After three weeks of this, Righteous Guide crawled into the Solar Manse to pray for guidance from the Unconquered Sun. A pall of shame hung over the city and its mortified residents.
When he emerged a week later, Righteous Guide was physically healed, but deeply bitter. He personally drove the most errant “monks” and “nuns” from the city with blows of his mighty orichalcum staff.
And then, Righteous Guide left the city for Meru.
Through the use of his mighty powers of oration and persuasion, he made an impassioned, condemnatory speech to the Solar Deliberative proclaiming Ondar Shambal to be a city of the wayward, the weak and the venal. He enumerated the monastery-city’s every fault and failing, named the sins of each apostate nun and monk and vituperatively mocked the city’s pious reputation. Such was the power of his speech that many of the false faithful killed themselves out of shame before the oration was even complete. The news of Ondar Shambal’s apostasy spread through the Old Realm like wildfire, and the (formerly) Holy City’s mystique was shattered. Donations dried up instantly. The free ride for the falsely pious was over.
A NEW DAY DAWNS Edit
For near 20 years following Righteous Guide’s devastating denunciation, Ondar Shambal was a shell of a city. Its architecture was still powerful, beautiful and spiritually attuned, but it was a temple without a congregation.
The parasites had slunk away, leaving a few poor farmers and a handful of legitimate, if despondent, nuns and monks. A number of the fields were only tended some of the time. Squatters took up residence in the old cloisters.
As a response to the deep sense of shame that permeated the city, much of the old religious iconography was changed, removed or sold to collectors as the city slumped into its new, secular identity. It looked for a time as if Ondar Shambal was destined to become one enormous slum. And then, a new Solar arrived.
Tenrae a Twilight Caste sorceress of the Solar Circle, and Den’Rahin, her sworn husband a powerful Lunar Exalt named . Both were relatively young — neither had even been born yet when the war with the Primordials took place — but both were optimistic and ambitious, and they saw the plummeting fortunes of Ondar Shambal as an opportunity unparalleled anywhere else in Creation.
The reputation of Ondar Shambal had been so utterly ruined by Righteous Guide’s oration that no one of any standing cared to have his name associated with the place; so when Tenrae and Den’Rahin proclaimed themselves rulers of the sparsely populated city, no one argued.
Tenrae and Den’Rahin reestablished the city as a successful farming community. Those who refused to work were forcefully invited to leave. Those who showed diligence and integrity were given more fields and, therefore, the opportunity to make more money.
Around this time, the city was renamed. The old name was held to be overly burdened with connotations of failure and decadence. The city was rechristened “Whitewall” after its most visible feature.
Tenrae and Den’Rahin also expanded the city’s revenue sources by overseeing the creation of mines in the nearby mountains, which they had learned contained a myriad of rare ores and minerals (most notably blue and white jade) useful for various sorts of sorcery and engineering.
It was this last discovery that completed Whitewall’s economic recovery. The additional money brought in by mining operations made the city unusually wealthy relative to the size of its population. Whitewall was a city of modest size by Old Realm standards; the city’s population never did exceed a million, as most of the larger cities’ did in the First Age, but Whitewall was considered a fortunate city — one where the quality of life was unusually high, and with good cause. The blessings the city had received when it was Ondar Shambal had never been revoked, and these sacred gifts contributed enormously to its quick recovery.
Tenrae and Den’Rahin, though young for Exalted rulers, were compassionate in their leadership and popular with the residents of their city. Their reputation and popularity were almost enough to gain them a reprieve from what was to follow.
THE SOLAR PURGE Edit
The Solar Purge very nearly did not take place in Whitewall, and, without extraordinary effort on the part of the Sidereal Exalted, it wouldn’t even have come close.
Queen Tenrae, being far younger than most other Solar monarchs, had not fallen prey to the Primordials’ Curse tothe extent that many of the older Solars had, and the people of the city, Dragon-Blooded and unExalted alike, did not feel unduly burdened by the rule of the queen or her consort Prince Den’Rahin. The worst that could be said of their reign was that they were, on occasion, benignly neglectful of their people as they went about their highly glamorous lives, but such was their charisma that the city’s residents didn’t care. The residents ran the city themselves without issue, perhaps out of some sense of redeeming the city from its past failure. If something truly pressing arose, the people knew they could petition their queen and expect her, or her consort, to act.
This left the Sidereal Exalted with a bit of a problem when it came time to purge Creation of the Solars. The Chosen of the Maidens lacked a base of support in Whitewall, as not even the Dragon-Blooded particularly wanted their rulers dead.
Another problem tied the hands of the Sidereals: Prince Den’Rahin refused to abandon his wife. He made it clear to early messengers that he, as her consort and battlemaster, would die in her defense should any sort of action be taken against her for he truly felt a bond of love with Tenrae, and had no intention of selling her out to the Maidens’ perfidious Chosen. While the Sidereals thought about twisting his love into something that more closely matched their goals, they were thinly stretched as it was, and Den’Rahin was clever and perceptive enough that he might well have sensed what they were doing.
As it happened, the Sidereals themselves were split in this instance — Queen Tenrae truly was leading in the way that the Solars were meant to lead — but the Bronze Faction would not allow it: all Solars had to meet with destruction.
When Whitewall’s Dragon-Blooded refused to abet the Sidereals, a group of 10 Chosen of Battles, Endings and Secrets were sent in to carry out the assassination of both Tenrae and Den’Rahin on the night of the Usurpation.
Though the Sidereals were older and more experienced, several of them found their deaths in the sorcery of Tenrae and the claws of Den’Rahin. Only three of the Maidens’ 10 Chosen survived the night. It was an unprecedented loss for the Sidereal Exalted.
By morning, the queen and her consort were dead.
The battle and its consequences represented an enormous loss for the city. The ultimate tactics employed by both the rulers and their assassins leveled large sections of the city, mostly in the vicinity of the city’s enormous gate. Strong as the old buildings were, they could not withstand the stresses of such a battle. Whole neighborhoods were ground to dust, streets collapsed and the city’s elegant and auspicious mandala pattern was effectively disrupted.
Over a span of many months, the structural damage suffered by the city was repaired, though the hasty rebuild never approached the structural or aesthetic perfection of the original.
Less amenable to repair was the spirit of the people.
The citizens of Whitewall were plunged into shock by the death of their monarchs. The horror of what had happened — the fall of Queen Tenrae, the destruction of the presumably invulnerable Den’Rahin, the death of the Solars throughout Creation — was all almost more than the city could bear. There was a three-month period of mourning, but even as the period of mourning was observed, the city’s elder Terrestrial Exalted were in meetings with the surviving Sidereals seeking rapprochement.
The Chosen of the Maidens were furious with the outcome in Whitewall. They had not foreseen the deaths of so many of their own, and they were enraged at the upstart Terrestrials for not following orders blindly. The Chosen of the Maidens dictated a severe — some alleged punitive — course of action for the Dragon-Blooded in Whitewall, demanding, under threat of death, that a smear campaign against the city’s old rulers be started immediately.
This path was to be the only one to reconciliation with the irate Sidereals — and the Terrestrials no longer had any recourse to a higher power. It was the Sidereals’ wish that even if the queen and her consort were not seen as villains before their deaths, they most certainly would be after their deaths.
The Dragon-Blooded capitulated. Through the use of a broad range of propaganda tactics reinforced with Charms, the Terrestrial Exalted spread horrible, unfounded rumors about the secret behavior of the dead “Anathema” monarchs — the demonic worship, the human sacrifices, the sexual perversions — and the people of Whitewall slowly and grudgingly bought it. The change wasn’t instantaneous, of course, but the Dragon-Blooded stayed rigorously on message, slandering the old rulers with lies that were too deliciously scandalous not to repeat and discuss.
It took nearly the first five years of the Shogunate before popular opinion finally, subtly, shifted against Queen Tenrae and Prince Den’Rahin, but it happened. Even then, however, a solid third of the city refused to believe the rumors and trusted their own memories of their rulers over the lies spread by the Dragon-Blooded.
THE SHOGUNATE Edit
Whitewall was a nervous city during the Shogunate.
The fall of Whitewall’s popular monarchs, followed byrelentless slandering of their memory left the citizens of the city unsettled. They knew something was wrong with the events that had transpired; they just had no idea what it was. Over the years this sense of disease became permanent, evolving into what is now seen as the city’s insular, paranoid character. The Shogunate was not a good time for Whitewall. Much of the city’s standing in the Old Realm and many of the benefits of living there came directly from the presence of its Celestial Exalted rulers.
Disillusionment with the Dragon-Blooded came to Whitewall much more quickly than elsewhere.
Whether the monarchs had been noble or vile (and everyone had their own opinions on the matter), daily life took a turn for the worse in Whitewall. The powerful spirits that had once blessed the fields surrounding Whitewall no longer felt obligated to serve the farmers of the city. Key pieces of equipment that kept the mines safe failed and could not be repaired or replaced. The first year after the death of Tenrae and her consort, nearly a quarter of the crops planted by Whitewall farmers failed, and one of the more lucrative blue jade mines suffered an explosion and a cave-in.
Resentment of the Dragon-Blooded was exacerbated when they began taking down or covering up works of art portraying the Unconquered Sun. Many of these remained from the days when Whitewall was Ondar Shambal, and the greatest of the art was seen as public treasure. In deference to a new religion sweeping the Shogunate that emphasized the Five Elemental Dragons, the Dragon-Blooded minimized the iconography of the Unconquered Sun as much as possible, even covering over architectural details with flags, banners, curtains and plaques. Still, even the Terrestrials were nervous about doing so — memory of the Celestial gods was not yet that distant — and the Dragon-Blooded opted to hide and cover such works rather than destroy them outright. Clay was used to fill in the carved symbols of the Unconquered Sun on the city’s outside walls, which were then whitewashed to look like the white granite from which the city was built. (Although the whitewash never quite glowed in the sun the way the snowy white granite did.) Many ancient works of art remain immured in the most distant caverns beneath Whitewall, waiting to be rediscovered and viewed by the eyes of a new Age.
Unlike many First Age cities, Whitewall was not bound to the latest developments in Essence technology.
The city’s role as a farming and mining center made it comfortably wealthy but not as dependent on the grandworks of the Solar priest-engineers as some cities. Consequently, the slow decay of the First Age’s Essence technology took longer to hit Whitewall than many other more sophisticated or metropolitan cities. For Whitewall’s citizens, the real disappointments of the Shogunate came notin the form of failing technology but in disappointment with the Dragon-Blooded leadership.
While Tenrae and Den’Rahin were rigorously fair in their judgments, the biases of the Dragon-Blooded magistrates, on the other hand, were relatively blatant. The previous monarchs had brought glamour and charm to what was otherwise a simple farming city; the Dragon-Blooded seemed to embody banal corruption in all ways.
Tensions with the so-called Princes of the Earth grew, though at a glacial pace. Whitewall’s citizens resented the Dragon-Blooded though the residents had never resented their Celestial Exalted leaders. The more the Terrestrials tightened their grip on the city, the more the city’s residents acted out and undermined the efforts of the Dragon-Blooded. Had the Shogunate lasted longer, there’s little doubt that Whitewall would have been the setting for an enormous rebellion. Every year that passed saw relations between Exalted and mortal worsen.
Making the situation worse was the steady growth of the shadowland southeast of the city. While the area had been declared off limits since immediately after the Usurpation, the shadowland’s presence and, eventually, its sheer size became a serious nuisance and hazard to those living nearby and to anyone traveling through the area.
The road to Cherak became totally impassable, and the ministers of the Shogunate appeared unable or unwilling to do anything about the problem.
When the rumors regarding what was creating the shadowland made their way back to Whitewall (see “Marama’s Fell,” below), public support for the Shogunate government eroded even further.
The Shogunate, as it turns out, did not last long enough for Whitewall’s citizens to rebel, and the city’s mortal populace remained under the thumb of the Terrestrial Exalted until the collapse of the First Age.
Although the Shogunate period was awful for the city of Whitewall, what followed was to be much worse.
THE FIRST AGE ENDS Edit
The Great Contagion was slow to get to Whitewall — the disease did not fare well along the Holy Road leading to the city — but the Contagion did make it eventually.
Whitewall was among the last cities to fall to the Great Contagion. Refugees from the countryside flocked to the perceived safety of the city’s walls only to find that walls provided no protection against the Contagion.
One by one, the mines grew derelict, the fields were left weedy and untended and the city became a spectrehaunted husk surrounded by a haze of greasy corpse smoke.
THE ARRIVAL OF THE SYNDICS Edit
The dazzling white walls surrounding the city provided Whitewall with at least the appearance of security in the chaos that followed the Great Contagion. Anyone familiar with the city could hardly help but see Whitewall as the ideal place for the remnants of humanity to regroup.
In this case, “anyone” included three gods, all of whom arrived separately and all of whom had intended to claim the city’s spiritually resonant architecture for themselves. Eventually, due to Yo-Ping’s (see below) skill at negotiation, the three agreed to rule the city together. Although the motives of these gods were vaguely noble, they were also self-serving.
None of the three wanted to see the Bureau of Humanity get folded wholesale into the Bureau of Heaven, which is exactly what would have happened had humanity disappeared from Creation. Those in the Bureau of Humanity didn’t want the loss of seniority, and those in the Bureau of Heaven didn’t want the competition.
Then there was the appeal of the walled city itself.
Whitewall was a key piece of spiritual architecture and a great asset for any god residing there. The geomantic configuration and spiritually functional architecture of Whitewall (those portions of the city that survived the end of the First Age, anyway) amplified prayers significantly and produced a sense of euphoria in the deities to whom those prayers were addressed.
Three powerful spirits, then, nobly volunteered to help humankind regroup in the city of Whitewall. None wanted to share the position of authority with the other two, but they were clearly far more powerful together than separately, so they formulated a unified front for the mortal population.
After besting a handful of challengers, the gods announced their control of the city, and the citizens accepted them, eager to have at least the illusion of order and security once more. When the new rulers granted audiences to the demanding, faithful masses of Whitewall, these powerful gods assumed the group identity of “the Syndics” — three tall, identical entities made of scintillating ice crystal arranged over beautiful silver bones and wrapped in flowing white gossamer — as a means of hiding their violation of Celestial codes from the Censors.