In the dark Second Age, a city with high white walls stands in the North, a beacon of stability and civilization in an increasingly savage region. The city stands proud, the largest city in that direction and one of a handful of bastions that choose, for whatever reasons, to endure the North’s harsh climate, incursions by the Fair Folk and close proximity to shadowlands. The city’s history, once glorious and inspirational, is now a curiosity known only to lore-masters and savants. While the city’s modern inhabitants are thankful for the walls that surround them and the Traveler’s Road that safely leads to the Inland Sea, the inhabitants have no idea where the walls or the road came from or whose effort built them or any hint of the true purpose of these structures.
Understanding the true significance of the great white walls that surround the city of Whitewall means understanding their origin. What the city is now is a far cry from what it was intended to be when it was created, but no one in the Second Age has cause to know that; though, 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.
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 Solar priest of the Zenith Caste.
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 sturdygranite 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
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 neverperformed, 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
For nearly two decades following Righteous Guide’s devastating denunciation, Ondar Shambal was a shell of a city. Its architecture was still powerful and 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 was a Twilight Caste sorceress of the Solar Circle, and her sworn husband was a powerful Lunar Exalt named Den’Rahin. 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
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. Prince Den’Rahin truly felt a bond of love with Tenrae, and he 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 nascent Bronze Faction would not allow its decision (and, indirectly, its judgment) to be questioned: all of the Solars had to meet with destruction. A single countervailing instance could not be allowed to undermine the course chosen for the world by the Sidereals. And, they argued, whatever Tenrae might have been then had no bearing on the monster she was likely to become over time. (When they looked to the stars to get proof of this point, however, they weren’t able to find it, but, as that didn’t support their agenda, the Bronze Faction Sidereals glossed over the fact and moved ahead anyway.)
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.
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
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
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.
WHITEWALL IN THE PRESENT
Whitewall is the largest city in the North, and with good reason. The city offers a quality of life that is missing from most of Creation. Whitewall is a polite, industrious and clean city. Whitewall was built around the concept of order, and order is emphasized in the daily life of the city’s citizens. Sober, somber and strict are three words frequently applied to Whitewall, but these words fail to convey the city’s appeal. Residents of Whitewall willingly — nay, happily — trade a modicum of freedom for great gains in comfort and security. In Whitewall, a woman can walk alone from one side of the city to another with no need to fear for her safety, which is more than can be said for nearly all others of Creation’s cities in the Age of Sorrows.
Whitewall’s laws are put forth in a civil charter that allresidents are expected to memorize by age 12; failure to do so results in a substantial fine for the child’s parents.
Whitewall’s middle class vastly outnumbers the rich and the poor combined by a factor of several to one, but even the city’s middle class enjoys a standard of living that the rich of many other cities would envy.
All this industry, all this order is the result of several centuries of effective social engineering by the city’s powerful spirit patrons, the entities that brought Whitewall back from the brink of abandonment seven centuries ago, and that still guide Whitewall still today.
The city of Whitewall is firmly, but compassionately, ruled by a strange trio of spirits called the Syndics: their identity is among Whitewall’s most intriguing mysteries.
While it is clear that the rulers are gods of extraordinary puissance, they have not been forthcoming about their specific identities or their respective spheres of influence, for a myriad of reasons, most of which have to do with diplomacy in Yu-Shan and staying beneath the notice of the Celestial Censors.
In their past, all three of these remarkable spirits were highly placed and well-connected gods in one of the major Celestial Bureaus. The gods’ individual names remain unusually abstract for spirits who interact with the mortal population. This is a standard situation; as highly abstract entities, the spirits’ personal names are especially closely connected to their pattern in the fabric of Creation and have less to do with euphony than natural spiritual laws.
These three gods did not originally resemble one another as they do now: they had to assume a new appearance when they began their alliance as “The Syndics .” In the several centuries since the Syndics began their masquerade, more worshipers have come to know these gods in their new roles than in their old. The gods’ shapes as “The Syndics” are now easier for them to hold than any other, even the ones they wore in the First Age.
This is useful for the gods, as they can appear together (as they usually do) or singly (if the others are attending to Celestial business outside of Whitewall), and no one takes much notice. Over the 700-plus years of sharing an identity as rulers of Whitewall, the Syndics have developed a shared consciousness. All three know what’s happening in the others’ minds at all times. If they continue on as they are now, there’s a strong possibility that the Syndics will fuse into a single god: the guardian of Whitewall. Only their attention to their individual duties beyond the city walls has prevented this from happening already. As an extra measure of protection against this fate, thaumaturges in the Syndics’ service summoned one of the angyalka from Malfeas. Bound in chains of orichalcum, this demon of the First Circle plays its haunting music in the chambers of the Syndics all hours every day. Contrary to common wisdom, the angyalka isn’t there to protect the Syndics.
She’s there to remind them of their individual natures with her music, thereby enabling the Syndics to avoid merging into a single entity.
While the Syndics may be the city’s guardians, they refuse to be called Whitewall’s city fathers. In fact, doing so is a minor crime, though no one in Whitewall understands why. The Syndics understand their reasons acutely.
The title of city father, even in the Second Age, rightfully belongs to another, whom they would not want to offend: the Unconquered Sun. As the Syndics see it, they are simply maintaining his temple city in his absence. Allowing themselves to be called the city fathers of Whitewall would be a political minefield were the greatest of gods ever to notice their effrontery.
The Syndics are gods who each took pity, for his own reasons, on the mortal world in the wake of the Great Contagion. More mercenarily, the Syndics realized that if they did not actively represent and bolster the concepts they represented, at least for the city they adopted, they might well end up as gods without worshipers. The Syndics never intended to become city fathers; the gods only wanted to fan the guttering flame of humanity temporarily after the Great Contagion. The spiritually resonant architecture of Whitewall provided the Syndics with such a strong surge from the city’s assembled worshipers that all three of the gods have found excuses to stay and shepherd Whitewall, though they would never dream of calling the city their own.
Theirs or not, the Syndics receive prayers — enhanced by the spiritually resonant First Age architecture of the city — from nearly every resident of Whitewall.
That gives the Syndics an automatic worshiper base of 700,000. They also receive prayers from those across Creation addressing them in their original Celestial positions.
Technically, this is a Severity 3 offense in Yu-Shan, but the Syndics are popular in the Celestial City, especially with the gods in the Bureau of Humanity who view the Syndics as paragons of their cause. Only Ruvia , the Captain of the Golden Barque, truly dislikes the Syndics and is waiting until he can gain allies in his cause before taking action.
The Syndics have not entirely abandoned their wider duties in the Celestial Bureaus, which is more than can be said for most gods in the Second Age, but it’s clear that the rulers of Whitewall are putting in more time as “the Syndics” than they ought to be and their other functions could be suffering. While the Syndics keenly aware of this fact, the prayers they receive from Whitewall alone are far more satisfying than the prayers they get from the rest of Creation combined.The presence of the Syndics has served the people of Whitewall more than they even realize. The Syndics are entities with a particularly long view of events, and they play games in which a single move takes longer to complete than the average mortal lifespan. The Syndics have spent the last seven centuries pitting their enemies against one another, particularly the Fair Folk and the dead of Marama’s Fell.
Both of these enemies of Whitewall are fierce, but, in recent years, the ghosts and the fae have made more strikes against each other than against Whitewall. The Syndics expend a great deal of subtle effort to see that this remains the case but, since the disappearance of the Empress and the subsequent arrival of the Bull of the North, maintaining that balance has grown vastly more difficult.
YO-PING, THE CELESTIAL MINISTER OF HARMONY
Just as there are five gods of war, one for each of Creation’s poles, there are five gods of political stability who generally tend to the continuance of peace, justice and public contentment in the political domain. Overseeing all five of these powerful spirits is Yo-Ping, the CelestialMinister of Harmony, a god of negotiation, political stability, diplomacy and harmony. As might be presumed, Yo-Ping is a quiet spirit with no tendency toward the bombast of Creation’s assorted war gods. As the hierarchical equal (and spiritual antithesis) of E-Naluna, Creation’s war queen, Yo-Ping often has much to discuss with both E-Naluna and the assorted regional gods of war, but this he does in his own mild (though direct) fashion.
In the First Age, Yo-Ping — a high ranking figure in the Bureau of Humanity — reported directly to the Unconquered Sun himself and enjoyed the privilege of being one of his favored advisors. Yo-Ping’s duties changed after the Great Contagion, and in the Second Age, he reports to Taru-Han, the Shogun of the Department of Abstract Matters, and, to a lesser degree, to the Maiden of Serenity. Given Taru-Han’s minimal degree of involvement with Creation these days, Yo-Ping is inclined to comport himself as he feels the Unconquered Sun would wish him to and tune out Taru-Han altogether.
Yo-Ping’s relationship with Venus is cordial, if cool, although they work together well when circumstances dictate.
At the height of the First Age, Yo-Ping was a cherished and powerful god who worked to ensure the overall stability of the Old Realm. Once the Primordial War was over, most of humanity sent him prayers for the kind of stability over which he presides, and his name, as well as the shrines dedicated to him, was ubiquitous. Yo-Ping was a familiar figure in Yu-Shan, often meeting with the great Solar monarchs, and he was courted, flattered and occasionally bribed by those seeking his blessings upon their kingdoms. Yo-Ping was familiar with the Holy City of Ondar Shambal, as all gods were, and he envied the powerful prayers generated by the city’s spiritually active architecture. In the wake of the Great Contagion, it was this covetous urge that made him settle in Whitewall.
Yo-Ping was placed highly enough before the Usurpation that he did not hesitate to quarrel with the Five Maidens about the mistake their Chosen were about to make in eliminating the Solar Exalted. While this quarrel incensed four of the Maidens, the Maiden of Serenity hesitantly broke ranks and supported Yo-Ping, as she was obligated to do by certain old agreements that defined both her core nature and his. While Venus could go along with a plot to destroy the Solars based on the promise of a more serene future, she could not take Yo-Ping to task for supporting the status quo, which, though not entirely pleasant, was stable until the Sidereals began hatching their plots.
Yo-Ping lost some strength in the transition to the Second Age, but not as much as many gods. Where there is war, there are those who pray for peace and stability. The wives, parents and children of those who fight in wars pray to Yo-Ping to prevent wars, to end wars once they’ve begun and, at the very least, to keep the surge of battle fromvisiting them. All of these are duties that Yo-Ping negotiates with E-Naluna, the Queen of War.
In the Age of Sorrows, and, especially since the disappearance of the Scarlet Empress, prayers for peace and stability are growing more common by the week; Yo-Ping’s power and ability to enhance stability within an area increasingly reflect that shift.
In Whitewall, Yo-Ping oversees the stability of the city and peace in the region. At the local level, he guards the stability of the city by fostering harmony within the community and by seeing that those with unrestrained violence in their natures are exiled or traded to the Fair Folk or the dead.
It was Yo-Ping himself who negotiated the deal with both of those parties as a means of ridding the city of its more destabilizing citizens and lessening the danger from the city’s foes. On a regional level, Yo-Ping has allowed the local war gods to ignite war in previously peaceful locales (Halta, for example) in exchange for steering clear of Whitewall (which has narrowly avoided a handful of enormous battles thanks to his subtle intervention).
LURANUME, THE MASTER OF FIVEFOLD LUCK, LORD OF AUSPICIOUS SURPRISES
Known as “the pattern that exists behind and between patterns,” Luranume is the God of Luck, overseeing coincidence and unforeseen events. He is the most mysterious of the Syndics, a god of things that happen unexpectedly or of their own accord, the events that fall between the strands of fate. As a god of the numinous and unpredictable facets of Creation, Luranume is one of Luna’s lieutenants in the Celestial Hierarchy and the only god working for the Bureau of Destiny who does not report to one of the Maidens. Some (like the Maidens and a number of Sidereals) see Luranume as a chaotic force. Others see him as the deity who keeps Creation from becoming stagnant or overly bound to the will of the gods. Luna asked the Primordial Autochthon to create Luranume as a check on the power of the Maidens; he is a countervailing force to the stasis represented by the Loom of Fate, a random chance for anything to happen at any time. Accidents, coincidence and instances of pure serendipity are Luranume’s purview.
Since joining the Syndics, he has regularly reassigned fortuitous events from elsewhere in Creation (mostly from the Blessed Isle) to Whitewall to improve the city’s standing in the chaotic North.
UVANAVU, THE CHRYSANTHEMUM SHOGUN
A god of health, longevity and well-being who lost a great deal of standing (or at least credibility) during the Great Contagion, Uvanavu bears a deep grudge against the Deathlords. As a god of health, he knows full well where the Great Contagion came from, and he ferventlyresents the Deathlords’ tampering with Creation. Though he is the god of health and wellness in Creation, Uvanavu’s best efforts were barely enough to prevent the eradication of the human race (and a few other races besides). Uvanavu would love to make some kind of strike, any kind of strike, against the Deathlords or any of their minions, but he’s wise enough to know that direct action against them would only bring pain to the city. Instead, he’s taking a deep delight in helping to shrink Marama’s Fell through mortal agents; it was Uvanavu who instigated the practice of making pilgrimages to the resplendent chrysanthemum shrines (see pp.37-38), and he sees to it that everyone who participates in that tradition benefits from a year and a day of exceptional health (+2 dice to all rolls for resisting disease). Still, he yearns to be entirely free of the influence of the Deathlords. Should a Solar Circle sorcerer ever visit Whitewall, Uvanavu will personally request that Marama’s Fell be purged of its taint and reclaimed as healthy land. He possesses ancient texts containing both of the spells capable of revitalizing shadowlands, and he will gladly give the spells to any sorcerer able and willing to use them in exchange for having the deed done.
Because most mortals pray for health and well-being at some point, Uvanavu is individually the most powerful of the Syndics. It is Uvanavu who sees that disease is kept from Whitewall, and it is he who is responsible for many of the more stringent civil charter laws dealing with cleanliness and the management of garbage and waste.
The Syndics’ short-term goal is the defense and stability of Whitewall. They’ve managed this much for centuries at this point, and the city’s standing as the largest and most stable in the North attests to the Syndics’ remarkable success in this regard. The stability they’ve provided the city thus far has been astonishing, particularly given Whitewall’s precarious positioning near both a Wyld zone and a major shadowland. Whatever may take place outside the city’s walls, however, the city itself is a place of surprising calm. While some of the arrangements the Syndics have made to protect the city (with the Scarlet Empress, the Deathlords and the Fair Folk, for example) are bitter pills for the Whitewall’s rulers, the arrangements are necessary if the city is going to become what it has the potential to become.
In the longer term, the Syndics seek to return the city to its glorious past as the Holy City, Ondar Shambal. The rationale behind this agenda is relatively simple: they either want to be the ones to benefit from repairing the city’s geomantic pattern (the mandala configuration and the First Age architecture), or they want to be the ones to turn the restored city over to the Unconquered Sun.
To accomplish this goal, the Syndics intend to repair the city’s First Age buildings and restore the auspicious mandala pattern once formed by Whitewall’s streets and open spaces. While much of the spiritually attuned architecture of the old city was destroyed in the Usurpation, the portion that remains still works, and every repair optimizes the city’s spiritual functionality that much more.
The Syndics have located the white granite quarry in the mountains north of the city from which the building blocks of Whitewall were first obtained, and the individual blocks have already been carved and are waiting. All the Syndics need now is a Zenith Caste Solar to bless each block and put it in place according to the ancient geomantic diagrams possessed by the Syndics.
When in Whitewall, the Syndics reside in the single largest block of the old city for a reason: it acts like a prayer lens. Entreaties made to the city’s rulers there are more focused and resonate more pleasingly to them there than the prayers would anywhere else.
Like many of the gods associated with the Bureau of Humanity, the Syndics generally support the return of the Solar Exalted, but, given the Syndics’ relationship with
the Unconquered Sun and their hopes for Whitewall, the Syndics tend to be even more eager to support Solar Exalts than many other gods from that Bureau. With the Empress gone and the Realm in disarray, Whitewall is being relatively brazen in opening its doors to Solar Exalted, some of whom live and work openly as guardians. This doesn’t endear them to Sidereals of the Bronze Faction, but the Gold Faction has identified Whitewall as an excellent site to establish a future base for the Cult of the Illuminated.
Within Whitewall, the Syndics are the ultimate power.
They wrote the city’s civil code, and they alone have the right to amend it. They appoint judges, guardians and inspectors, act as heads of state and champion the order for which Whitewall is known.
The Syndics, and the civil charter they established, are the ordering principle around which the rest of Whitewall’s government has oriented itself. The day isn’t long enough for the Syndics to handle every aspect of city governance, so they delegate many of the responsibilities of rulership to other positions, most notably the city’s judges (who oversee breaches of the civil charter and mete out justice), the guardians (who form the city’s law enforcement forces) and the inspectors (who maintain the integrity of the civil charter by ferreting out corruption and more subtle violations of the civil charter). There is some overlap between the duties of the judges and the inspectors, but whereas judges administer justice when actual crimes have been committed, inspectors guard civil order and administer municipal policies in subtler areas (like making sure streets are kept clean, seeing that citizens maintain their homes in good repair and checking to see that trade agreements are honored).
Appointed by the Syndics themselves, judges are tasked with administering Whitewall’s civil code. Judges hear cases, impose fines for lesser crimes, banish those deemed guilty of greater offenses and generally defend the public order for which Whitewall is known. Judges have a great deal of latitude to administer justice, but in difficult or unusual cases (usually those dealing with disputes between two guardians or spirits or Exalts of any kind), the judges may send the cases to the Syndics for their judgment.
Whitewall has no standing army. There’s no place to house an army within the walls, and the Syndics have ruled that a standing army is an unacceptable drain on the city’s resources and a potential threat to public order. However, the city does have a large and well-trained militia, whose function is to defend the city should the need ever arise.All citizens are given ample training in basic melee combat starting at the age of 12. The Whitewall philosophy of civil defense is simple: “If you can use a hoe or a pick, you can use a sword and a shield.” The city’s guardians teach martial arts that emphasize the use of farming and mining implements as melee weapons.
Other than the Syndics, the guardians are the most personally powerful citizens in Whitewall. The ranks of the guardians are drawn from the city’s combat elite, and if the city could be considered to have an army, the guardians are it. The least of their number are (in game terms) accomplished heroic mortals outfitted with a myriad of talismans of luck and perfect enchanted weapons.
Many guardians are outcaste Terrestrial Exalted, lesser gods, God-Blooded and so on. At least one guardian is a Solar Exalt; the Syndics would very much like to recruit more.
It is the task of the guardians to keep the citizens of Whitewall safe and secure, whether from Fair Folk incursion or crimes of passion committed by residents. Whitewall is an orderly city, and the guardians have little tolerance for thievery, dishonesty or predatory or malicious behavior.
The city’s reputation for stern justice was established by the guardians.
Those members of the city’s government who check buildings for structural integrity, monitor accounts to see that proper taxes were paid and test enchanted items to see that they are truly enchanted are called inspectors. They consider themselves guardians of public safety, and they take their duties seriously. Attempting to bribe an inspector is grounds for a summer exile.
Whitewall is exceptionally diplomatic in its dealings with everyone, from Deathlords and Fair Folk to the Realm and Gethamane. A great deal of the stability and high quality of life for which Whitewall is known is a direct result of the walled city’s cherished neutrality and the exceptional diplomacy of the Syndics (and their envoys).
Less obviously, the Syndics are highly skilled at playing enemies against each other to Whitewall’s advantage.
The Syndics never particularly took the Scarlet Empress seriously. While Whitewall made a few noises about loyalty to the Realm, the Syndics made it clear in pleasant, non-confrontational personal correspondence to the Empress that they were unwilling to pay tribute to the Realm and that, if she forced the issue, she would be biting off more than she could chew. (Uvanavu was prepared to reassign all health from the Realm to the Threshold if hehad to, although that would have been grounds for a Celestial audit and, very likely, a substantial fine). Ultimately, it was Yo-Ping’s divine negotiation skills that once again won out. The Empress conveyed that she was content with the appearance of fealty so long as trade with Whitewall was preserved, which it was.
The Realm and Whitewall both benefit from the cool neutrality between the two powers. The Realm pays handsomely for the high-quality blue and white jade from Whitewall’s mines, and Whitewall imports food and some raw materials from the Realm.
Relations with Gethamane are cordial and, at times, quite amicable, but the two cities have little in common and interact far less often than their proximity might suggest.
As Whitewall’s closest neighbor, Gethamane should be one of the walled city’s biggest trading partners, but it’s not.
Popular wisdom in Whitewall holds Gethamane to be a cursed place, although that may have more to do with the illfortune that seems to plague trade convoys traveling between the two cities. Attacks by Fair Folk, the undead and less understood horrors are common threats to those traveling the road between Whitewall and Gethamane, and the cost of providing security to the caravans going between the two cities eats away the profits of the endeavor, making goods prohibitively expensive. Nevertheless, Gethamane imports grain from Whitewall in exchange for some of the strange ores and gemstones produced in Gethamane, but the residents of Whitewall consider even these materials to be unlucky and usually trade them away to other trading partners. (The Realm, in particular, pays handsomely for Gethamane’s violet diamonds). Importing anything grown in the fungus gardens of Gethamane is expressly forbidden and grounds for a summer exile.
Whitewall has only minimal dealings with Cherak, which Whitewall sees as little more than an extension of the Realm. For its part, Cherak sees trade with Whitewall as too much effort for too little payoff, especially when it’s functioning as the trade nexus between the Realm and the Haslanti League.
Of more concern to the Syndics is the placement of the Pinnacle of the Eye of the Hunt, an old fortress northeast of Cherak that is home to the foremost outpost of the Wyld Hunt in the North and East. The fortress’ leader is known as a raging zealot, and it is unknown what actions he might take should he hear that Whitewall is guided by three powerful spirits — or that it is a veritable sanctuary for the Anathema.
Of all the cities the icewalkers visit, Whitewall is their favorite, much to the dismay of the city’s inhabitants, who see the nomads as a vaguely exotic nuisance. The kindest of Whitewall’s citizens see the nomads as “rustic” or “noble savages,” while most citizens commonly respond with thinly veiled disgust and contempt. Whitewall’s entire view of the world is built on the pillars of comfort and order, and to residents of the walled city, the life of an icewalker seems unthinkably, and pointlessly, barbaric.
On the other hand, the icewalkers find the residents of Whitewall pampered and soft. Still, the nomads have no choice but to approach all dealings with the city from a position of weakness, as the nomads have little that the city needs; there’s little they can do against the city in light of its enormous walls and superior numbers.
The icewalkers covet the high-quality metal weapons and gear produced in Whitewall, and at certain times of year (usually late spring, early fall and midwinter), they set up camp just beyond the city’s fields (or just outside the walls in winter) to trade with the city. Unfortunately, except for meat, which they can only supply in modest quantities, and mammoth ivory, which gets used in jewelry and talismans, there’s little that the icewalkers have that Whitewall’s citizens need or want. The icewalkers have been known to act out of desperation at times, offering even First Age artifacts that they’ve found (or stolen or killed for) in exchange for enough grain (of even the worst quality) to last out the winter. Although such occurrences are rare, some farmers have taken to setting aside a portion of their winter crops with this in mind, as even a single artifact of orichalcum or moonsilver can help them retire in luxury in the city’s Afton district (see below).
At times, the Syndics subsidize the citizens of Whitewall to trade goods to the icewalkers in exchange for the latter launching raids on either the undead or the Fair Folk (whichever group the Syndics feel is growing too powerful).
The icewalkers hate this, as they are not interested in being the city’s soldiers-for-hire — and such attacks inevitably result in reprisals. But there are times when the nomads desperately need something produced by Whitewall (usually grain for the winter or well-crafted metal weapons), and their desperation results in their doing nearly anything the city asks of them.
Some young Whitewallers see the icewalkers as “exotic” or at least see their existence as a sharp and intriguing contrast to the safe, boring life the young residents have in the city. Some Whitewallers grow bored with the safe life and actually leave the city voluntarily to travel with the icewalkers. The life expectancy of such adventure-prone souls is not usually very long, but some have made it back to the city once again to describe the myriad wonders, horrors and dangers of the icewalker life, after which the adventurers happily return to their “boring” existence. This practice inspired the phrase “to run off with the icewalkers,” which means to abandon one’s proper responsibilities in order to do something wholly irresponsible or irrational.
The stories told by the icewalkers (and those who have traveled with them, however briefly) give the nomads a pronounced mystique, especially among the city’s adolescents and young adults; it is these impressionable young citizens who are most likely to give in to the temptation to run off. The icewalkers would rather not take on a liability like a soft, spoiled Whitewall kid, but they let it happen, especially if the runaway comes wellequipped with nice armor, exceptional weapons and warm furs. It would, of course, be a shame if the kid died within the first year he was with the tribe (which happens about half the time), but at least he would leave the tribe with a respectable legacy.
Whitewall recognizes Lookshy as the last remaining vestige of the Shogunate and aggressively seeks out ways to improve relations with the city. Relations are cordial, but the distance between the two powers, both physically and philosophically, prevents the two from being more closely linked.
Lookshy is Whitewall’s most distant regular trading partner. Every spring when the thaw facilitates travel, well-educated savant-traders arrive in Whitewall to look over the exotic ores pulled from the old mines and bid on those needed to maintain the Seventh Legion’s aging military forces.
Lookshy pays handsomely for the resources traded by Whitewall. The miners and artisans of Whitewall would love to do an even greater volume of trade with the Seventh Legion, perhaps even importing some Shogunate Essence technology, but it is likely to take more diplomacy, and a lot more available ore and blue jade, before that comes to pass.
LIFE BEHIND THE WALL
At its core, Whitewall is a city that values comfort and stability, both of which it has managed to find a bit of and guards jealously. The burghers of Whitewall create within the city the kind of stability that the city itself, surrounded as it is by enemies and ice, lacks.
Public disorderliness, poor hygiene and blatant rudeness are all misdemeanors under Whitewall’s civil charter, lumped together as “offenses against public civility,”; the city has gained a reputation for being stern and humorless for its aggressive enforcement of these laws. Residents of the city itself don’t see these laws as either stern or humorless and appreciate the order and civility these laws provide.The use of intoxicants is legal, but the substances themselves, especially alcohol, are taxed so heavily that their use is quite rare. Public intoxication is also heavily fined, so those who indulge had best do so in the privacy of their own homes.
It is expected that public life be highly formal and polite. All citizens are expected to be at least civil with one another, and anything less is grounds for a stiff fine.
Hostile, strange or eccentric behavior in public is a short path to bankruptcy (from fines) and social ostracism.
Further strengthening the separation of the private and public worlds is the absolute discretion that Whitewall residents exhibit with regard to everything that happens in the privacy of the home. Nothing that takes place behind closed doors is discussed outside those doors, and there are no laws or social expectations whatsoever with regard to what takes place within the walls of one’s home, unless an injured party makes a claim to the guardians or judges. The privacy of one’s home is absolute so long as the city’s defenses against its enemies are not compromised.
This lends a sense of gravity to any invitation to a private home. One neither goes to the home of anyone one does not trust implicitly nor does one invite others to one’s home without knowing them very well beforehand.
Much of the social life of Whitewall’s residents, consequently, plays out in the city’s many large teahouses.
Business, shared meals and social functions alike can take place in the teahouses (while trysts typically take place in the adult sections of the public baths). In fact, tea with milk and butter is the traditional drink of Whitewall.
Those not from the city often find these additions somewhat unorthodox, and their surprise is one way to discern a native from a visitor, something every Whitewaller is very attentive to.
THE PUBLIC BATHS
The public baths of Whitewall are one of the city’s noted treasures. A hot spring provides the city with a regular flow of both hot water and steam. This water is diverted into a large complex of bathing pools, where the city’s residents gather to socialize and bathe themselves.
Cleanliness is held in high esteem by residents of Whitewall, and frequent bathing is held to be a sign of good citizenship.
Though private, the baths fall under Whitewall’s definition of public space. Children bathe in one section, adults of marrying age in another and elders in a third.
While residents of Whitewall are quite proper (some might say prudish) in what is seen as public space, nudity in the baths is expected. Friends, neighbors, co-workers and others, male and female, are accustomed to seeing one another without clothes, and the residents of the city accept that as a matter of fact.Distant steam-drenched alcoves of the baths are often used as trysting spots for adolescents or young adults, but that is considered part of the standard courtship rituals of the city rather than acts of indecency. Though adults may wag their fingers, cluck their tongues and complain about the moral turpitude of the young, Whitewall’s civil charter is concerned with maintaining civility and stability, not the prudish constraints of its self-appointed moral guardians.
Truth be told, most of them likely had their first liaisons in those very same alcoves.
Adults often visit the public baths to steam, to bathe and to be anointed with perfumed oils. For a fee, a visitor to the baths can be scrubbed, shaved (if necessary), groomed and tended to in other ways.
The population of Whitewall varies, as so many things in the city do, according to the season. The population reaches its nadir of 700,000 citizens each winter, usually around Resplendent Water, after the winter’s exiles have been sent out and the season has taken its toll on the infirm. Starting around Resplendent Earth and going until Resplendent Fire, caravans of traders begin showing up to bid on the best of the winter’s accumulation of gems, ore, minerals, arms, armor, jewelry and talismans.
Usually sometime around Descending Earth or Ascending Wood, the first of the “Calibration babies” are born (so called because of the popular belief that making love during Calibration wards off evil forces), thereby launching the next cycle of births as children conceived in the long, cold months of winter finally make an appearance.
At the peak of summer, the population of Whitewall is usually somewhere around 900,000 citizens.
Education is taken very seriously in Whitewall, and graduating from even the least of Whitewall’s academies instills an ample understanding of language, mathematics and basic crafts that allows an individual to make her way in Creation quite handily. The literacy rate in Whitewall is just over 90 percent, which is unheard of in the Second Age. The city is also known for its five colleges, dedicated, respectively, to the study of mining and metallurgy, lapidary, architecture, agriculture and, at the Lotus Mind College of Thaumaturgical Sciences, thaumaturgy. This last institution is as close to the Heptagram as most mortals are likely to get.
Whitewall is still known for its produce — what little the city can part with these days — but most of the city’s financial clout comes from the mines, which are both more dangerous to work than the fields and more distant from the city. The city’s output of blue and white jade alone eclipses the revenues brought in through the sale of produce — and that’s ignoring the money brought in by the odd ores sought after by the Lookshy and the Heptagram and the large quantities of iron and silver the city’s mines produce.
In exchange for the goods it exports, Whitewall has to import tea, textiles, rice and most fruits and vegetables (except cherries and apples).
The city conducts trade on two major roads: the rocky, mountainous pass to Gethamane and the Traveler’s Road due south. The Traveler’s Road leads due south from the gates of Whitewall, where goods are either loaded onto ships or sent east along the coastal trade route to bypass Marama’s Fell. Ninety percent of traffic to or from Whitewall goes via the Traveler’s Road.
Farming was Whitewall’s raison d’être in the late First Age; the topsoil shed by the nearby mountains, not to mention some moderately potent Wood- and Earthaspected Manses in the region and some Essence effects from the Solar Manse at the center of the city, made for uncommonly fertile fields.
In the Age of Sorrows, those fields remain uncommonly fertile — in fact, they’re more fertile now that they have to lie fallow for six months of the year than they were when they were farmed all year round — but the climate prevents them from being worked over half the year. Furthermore, the amount of work required to tend the fields is much greater than it was in the First Age when automata and spirits could be bound on a regular basis to help farmers; farmers now tend about half the acreage that their First Age predecessors did. Consequently, the fields that used to provide food for Whitewall and communities within a radius of nearly 500 miles now produce just enough for the citizens of Whitewall with a little left over for export.
Rice no longer grows around Whitewall. Wheat, rye, barley and oats account for half of the crops raised in the fields nearest the city, with potatoes, radishes, sugar beets, apples and cherries accounting for most of the rest. Alfalfa (hay) for animals is grown in the outer fields.
Cherries are the only produce Whitewall exports in quantity anymore, and they are held to be the sweetest in Creation and prized on the Blessed Isle.
Mining is the hardest and most dangerous of the trades practiced in Whitewall. It is also the most lucrative. The demand for the ores in the mountains around Whitewall, especially blue and white jade, is rising slowly and steadily as demand for sturdy and more advanced weapons increases with the growing instability in the Time of Tumult.
Two kinds of mines are found outside the city: the old mines and the new mines.The old mines were dug during the First Age under the direction of Queen Tenrae, and, to this day, they’re safe, incredibly deep, sensibly laid out and well lighted. Owing to reconnaissance performed by earth elementals serving Whitewall’s First Age rulers, most of these mines benefit from comprehensive three-dimensional subterranean maps showing all the ore within reach of each mine tunnel as well as the direction of veins of ore that haven’t even been tapped yet. The problem with the old mines is that many of the exotic substances mined back when the mines were dug (with the exception of blue and white jade and a tiny amount of orichalcum) have no widespread use in the Age of Sorrows. Certain minerals held to be extremely valuable during the First Age have no widely known (or useful) properties in the current Age — or at least none that are understood by any but the greatest sorcerers of the Heptagram, the sorcerer-engineers of Lookshy or the Mountain Folk. Those three groups, however, have been known to pay truly astonishing fees to get some of those rare ores — enough, in fact, to make it worth the time to enter the old mines. While Lookshy pays more for these ores and minerals, the Heptagram is much closer, being just across the Inland Sea, and, therefore, is a much more reliable trading partner.
The new mines, on the other hand, are wholly a product of the Second Age. They are shallower and poorly lit, many of them seem unusually prone to cave-ins (aided, no doubt, by the efforts of the Fair Folk) and a handful have shown a tendency to explode. These are the mines from which iron, zinc, quartz and silver — as well as a myriad of semi-precious gems and a small quantity of exotic metals and jades — are extracted. These are the more common fruits of the earth that have established Whitewall as one of the key metallurgical cities in Creation. The enormous quantity of iron, in particular, is a boon to Whitewall because the iron supplies the city’s armorers with crucial raw materials for making the iron weapons with which Whitewall defends itself against the Fair Folk.
The miners work through the winter, daring the dangers of the mines in anticipation of the long line of buyers that shows up every spring and into the fall to buy their ores, metals, minerals and gems. In some cases, getting to the mines, not working in the mines, presents miners with the greatest difficulty. The Fair Folk resent Whitewall’s unending supply of iron and routinely target miners on their way to or from the mines for the fae’s most devastating assaults.
ARTISANS AND ENCHANTERS
During the last century, Whitewall has become known for its finished goods as well as its raw ores. With ready access to many rare metals and minerals and with a notable discount on raw components, many artisans have found that buyers would rather leave Whitewall with a few panniers full of finished goods than a wagonload of ore.The artisans of Whitewall are known for both the
spectacular weapons and armor produced there. The city’s denizens take pride in their work and produce uncommonly sturdy armor and blades. The prevalence of thaumaturges allows the best goods to be made even better through Enchantment, which also benefits the city, since an artisan selling an enchanted blade is going to bring in more money to the city than a vendor of mundane weapons.
Jewelry is the last of the exports for which Whitewall is famed. Meticulous jewelers work in well-lighted shops for hours to create astonishingly detailed and beautiful items, many of which are subsequently enchanted with an array of protective and lucky properties. Air- and Earth-aspected Dragon-Blooded are known to pay exorbitant sums for jewelry made from Whitewall’s blue and white jade.
Whitewall is a round city ringed by tall stone walls.
When it was first constructed, it was a radially symmetrical symbol of the Unconquered Sun. In the Second Age, the great circular wall still dazzles the eye with its brightness, but its associations with the Unconquered Sun have long since faded from memory.Whitewall’s inhabitants casually break down the city into four large generalized wards: Foretown, Midtown, Afton and Underton.
Whitewall’s most industrious neighborhood, Foretown is the section of the city nearest the city gates (i.e., the farthest south, since the gates of Whitewall open in that direction). This section of town has the fewest remnants of the old First Age architecture; most of the shops here have been built within the last five centuries. This is where the city’s famed artisans, jewelers and craftspeople live and work, making the neighborhood relatively wealthy. The college of mining and metallurgy is also located in this section of town. The city’s stables as well as most of its inns and many teahouses are located in Foretown, as this is the section of town where traders lodge when they’re in Whitewall. Therefore, Foretown is the most cosmopolitan and “multicultural” district of the city.
During the summer, Foretown is a bustling, crowded bazaar full of stalls from which dealers buy, sell and trade all manner of weapons, armor, enchanted goods and other merchandise. From dawn to well past dusk, the streets are packed to capacity all summer long, and the aromas from the food kiosks mix with the earthier smells of livestock as the citizens of Whitewall trade what they have for what they need.
At the peak of the summer trading season, the Whitewall bazaar may even spill out beyond the city’s gates, in which case a large contingent of armed guardians (and innumerable torches) keep the area relatively safe from the depredations of the Fair Folk and the dead once night falls and the gates are shut.
For obvious reasons, Foretown is also the section of the city most heavily patrolled by Whitewall’s guardians.
Midtown is the largest and most populous section of Whitewall and home to the city’s burgeoning middle class.
Farmers, teachers, bakers, mid-level merchants and younger miners make their homes here, as do many of those who make their money trading in Foretown but don’t want to live there. The Jewelers College of Whitewall and the Whitewall College of Agriculture are located in this sectionof town. Except for small areas that show minimal damage, Midtown’s First Age architecture is still intact here.
The tallest building in Whitewall, the large Solar Manse that sits at the exact center of the city, is located in Midtown, but the Manse plays little part, if any, in the day-to-day lives of Midtown’s residents.
Afton is the section of town farthest from the gates. It is home to the Syndics’ hall as well as the richest of Whitewall’s citizens, those who can afford the luxury of space and privacy. Non-Dynastic Dragon-Blooded and most of the city’s “special” guardians (i.e., the God-Blooded and minor gods) live here in tranquil splendor. Successful miners live in Afton, as do Whitewall’s most skilled jewelers and armorers. Afton is also the site of the Whitewall College of Architecture and the Lotus Mind College of Thaumaturgical Sciences. Whitewall’s First Age architecture is entirely intact throughout all of Afton. Therefore, the difficulty of all prayers made from this district of the city is dropped by 2.
Pronounced “Unt’n,” Underton is the city’s smallest district, comprising the portion of Whitewall that lies underground. This is where a small system of orderly tunnels and caverns creates a modest undercity. A First Age lighting system keeps the area well lit with a warm, golden glow. While Underton is where Whitewall’s small underclass lives, it’s also where the public baths are, so it’s constantly busy with foot traffic. Guardians patrol down here regularly to safeguard order and proper conduct.
Being destitute in the Second Age is never easy, but as such things go, it’s far better to be among the poor in Whitewall than in any other city in Creation: there’s always a roof overhead, it’s always warm because of the proximity to the hot spring and there’s no reason not to bathe because the public baths are in the center of Underton and open to everyone. (Although the poor are expected to visit the baths late at night, after the residents of Foretown, Midtown and Afton have already bathed.)
THE SOLAR MANSE
At the center of Midtown in Whitewall is a grand Solar Manse. For centuries, the Manse was closed off; those living in the city were more comfortable ignoring it, despite the fact that it was the single largest building in the city.
During the Shogunate, the Dragon-Blooded forced their way into the Manse to check for any “threats planted by the Anathema.” The Manse’s defenses were initially overwhelmed, but the adaptive system quickly evolved to be able to keep the Terrestrials out. The first several yearsof the Shogunate saw a string of battles between the Dragon-Blooded and Whitewall’s Solar Manse. The Manse ultimately won, as no more Dragon Blooded were willing to die in the effort to wrest the building’s secrets from it. To minimize the embarrassment of the Dragon-Blooded, the Manse was declared illegal and off-limits to everyone in the city and then was effectively abandoned, even though it stood in the center of the city’s busiest district.
When the Syndics took possession of Whitewall, they wanted to preside over the city from its tallest building, which was the Manse. The three gods made a couple of tentative attempts to enter, but when the Manse rebuffed their efforts, they were perfectly willing to let the Manse remain abandoned, another sign that they are attempting to steward the city rather than take it over. Recently, the city’s official diplomat, a Solar Exalted of the Eclipse Caste named Rune, entered the Manse with no difficulty whatsoever, and he has since taken possession of the building.
Anyone looking closely at the Essence flow around this Manse (Perception + Occult, difficulty 5) will realize that it’s focusing some of the ambient Essence out from the Manse instead of directing the Essence into the Hearthstone chamber.
This is the source of the extreme fertility of Whitewall’s fields. Were all of the power of the local dragon lines channeled into the Manse, it would be a rating ••••• structure. As it is, two dots of that rating have been given up and carefully shunted into the fields surrounding the city through sophisticated Essence engineering techniques that are beyond anything understood in Creation today except by the most skilled sorcerer-engineers.
BEYOND THE WALL
However orderly and comfortable Whitewall may be on the inside, the cold world outside the wall is a nightmare of the prowling dead and rapacious Fair Folk, especially between dusk and dawn. The constant depredations of these foes of the city only reinforce the paranoia and insularity of Whitewallers. Some of them opt never to leave the city for any reason. Others, like the city’s traders and miners, don’t have that luxury.
THE HOLY ROAD
While now most commonly called either “the Traveler’s Road” or “the Great Northern Road,” the road that links Whitewall to its distant port on the Inland Sea was called “the Holy Road” during the First Age. Built single-handedly by Righteous Guide as a private devotion to the Unconquered Sun, the road represents three centuries’ spiritual
labor on the part of that legendary Solar monk. As with the buildings of Whitewall, each paving stone was individually hand-carved from white granite, blessed by the builder and consecrated to the Unconquered Sun.
The Traveler’s Road is almost bizarrely wide by the standards of the Second Age, almost 20 yards from edge to edge. The road has weathered the passing of the centuries well. Only the slight rounding of the road stones suggests that the road wasn’t built longer than a year or two ago.
Because of the road’s enchantments, it stays warm, as though the sun were shining on it constantly, all day, all night, all year round. Neither snow nor ice ever builds up on the road, even during the fiercest blizzards.
One aspect of the Traveler’s Road that is not common knowledge is that the souls of those who die along the road immediately fall into Lethe. No one who dies along the Holy Road need worry about becoming a ghost of any sort, even along the stretch that passes through shadowland.
More recently, the Syndics negotiated “the Thousand Year Pact” with the Fair Folk and the Deathlords at the beginning of the Second Age. This agreement was possible only because of the relative strength of the Syndics at the time, the inexperience of the Deathlords and the terrible defeat that the Fair Folk had just suffered. This agreement stipulates that no violence is allowed on the road by any party, mortal, fae or otherwise. Once all three parties agreed to it, the Syndics performed god magic to make fate itself enforce the pact. Those breaching the pact suffer each according to their natures. Mortals hang themselves from the columns of the road (or keep trying until they succeed), ghosts fall instantly into Lethe and Fair Folk are shunted into the Deep Wyld and barred from entering Creation everagain. It is unknown what would happen to a spirit, a god or an Exalt were one to break the Thousand Year Pact. Some have suggested that the violator would be sent to Malfeas, but it has never yet happened and, with luck, will not.
With just over 200 years left in the Pact, the Syndics are wondering whether they’ll be able to negotiate as strong an agreement when it comes up for renewal. They can only hope that Creation, or at least Whitewall, will be stronger then than it is now. Their city’s trade (and, therefore, future) depends on it.
In the First Age, and even into the first centuries of the Age of Sorrows, the stone pillars that rise from the road in pairs every 40 yards used to glow with a warm, golden light that kept away the undead as per the spell Light of Solar Cleansing (see The Book of Three Circles, page 72). Although the lights on these columns haven’t worked for over 500 years, the lights could be made to do so again by any Solar wishing to take the time and effort to repair them. (Even realizing that the columns used to illuminate the road requires three successes on an Intelligence + Lore roll, while repairing the lights along the road requires 10 successes and may be performed with an extended Intelligence + Lore or Intelligence + Craft roll.)
At the southern terminus of the Traveler’s Road is the town of Wallport. This port town is surrounded by walls exactly like Whitewall’s, only smaller. Also founded in the First Age, Wallport’s sole function is to provide a place for the loading and unloading of ships conducting business with Whitewall.
Wallport is the filthy, stunted twin of Whitewall, lacking any of Whitewall’s stability and seeming at least as dirty and chaotic as any other city in the Threshold and worse than most.
The population of Wallport is just under 2,000 people.
Of these, about 1,800 are men making a living by loading and unloading the ships that come here to trade with Whitewall, though some are smugglers, port officials or prostitutes. The few women citizens of Wallport are officials, prostitutes, physicians, appraisers and a few hardened dock workers. It is a hive more than a city, a place where the lowest common denominator is well represented and vice is the favorite pastime.
The town of Wallport is located atop a long stretch of black basalt cliffs. Goods are brought up from the docks along the steep (and often slippery) stone stairs or via an elaborate block and tackle system to the warehouses in Wallport. In the First Age, even through the end of the Shogunate, goods were raised and lowered using Essencefueled Artifacts. Though those Artifacts are still in place, they don’t work, and no one in Wallport currently knows how to power, operate or repair them.Wallport is largely populated by those who have fled Whitewall (or been exiled). They are the outcastes, the dropouts and the rejects who have fled the affluence of Whitewall for any number of reasons. Though Wallport has been a town in its own right since the First Age, this town perpetually has the feel of a frontier town. For its younger citizens, Wallport is a place for immaturity and excess, a place of lawlessness and criminal misadventures and, often, a place for those who can’t imagine a future for themselves. For its older citizens, Wallport is a place of nihilism, despair and bottoming out. The population shrinks by several suicides every year as dock workers get too old and too tired to keep doing what they’ve spent their life doing but don’t have anything to show for the scars, the fatigue and the interminable ache in their backs and shoulders. Life in Wallport is frequently made tolerable only through heavy use of alcohol and other intoxicants.
The local constabulary, while technically a garrison of Whitewall’s guardians, tends to be so lazy (or “forgiving” as they put it) that all but the most extreme crimes go uninvestigated and unpunished. The one exception to this rule is theft. Anything that impairs, impedes or threatens trade with Whitewall is dealt with quickly and harshly by a garrison of five dissolute Dragon-Blooded guardians. Though they’re lazy, they’re well-trained, and they work together as a team. None of these Terrestrial Exalts is Fire-aspected, as the danger to the warehouses is considered too serious.
Much of the space within Wallport’s walls is taken up with sturdy stone warehouses but built between, on top of and behind the warehouse buildings are wooden shacks that operate as bordellos, saloons, opium dens, flophouses and similar establishments.
Wallport would have grown more, and probably would have outstripped Whitewall long ago, if Wallport had a better harbor. The entire stretch of coastline located south of Whitewall is relatively hostile to any sort of large-scale port community. The harbor in Wallport is large enough for four good-sized boats to dock at any one time, or more vessels of a smaller size. During the busy spring and summer months, ships may have to anchor in the choppy, siakainfested seas outside the harbor while boats are loaded and unloaded, and, depending on the cargo, that can take between two and 12 hours. Wallporters long ago stopped keeping track of the number of vessels that have sunk under such circumstances. As part of the trade agreement with Whitewall, the Realm navy sends in a contingent of Water-aspected Dragon-Blooded once or twice a year to bring up anything of value from these rotting hulks and cut down masts that could pose a threat to navigation.
There is one more reason Wallport hasn’t grown larger than it has: it stinks. Enormous pipes run under the Traveler’s Road from Whitewall to Wallport carrying away excess water from the hot spring and wastewater from the city’s public baths, as well as all of Whitewall’s sewage, and spits them into the ocean in a noisome outpouring of filth just half a mile west of the harbor. When the wind blows in off the ocean (as it often does), the entire town of Wallport is awash with the stench of sewage. During the summer months in particular, the smell is overpowering.
In the First Age, this outflow was transformed by Essence effects into pure, fragrant water over the course of its 700-mile journey south; where the water plunged into the ocean, the water resembled nothing so much as a beautiful waterfall. That hasn’t been the case since the Great Contagion, unfortunately, and unless some crafty savant stumbles on a way to fix the filtration system, Wallport is destined to smell like a sewer for the rest of its days.
Among the greatest dangers the citizens of Whitewall face is the shadowland called Marama’s Fell, located not even 100 miles southeast of the walled city. The Fell is a haunted wasteland that teems with sickly cannibals by day and strange, twisted ghosts by night.
The presence of the shadowland complicates travel to the rest of the Threshold, forcing all traffic to pass north through Gethamane or south to Wallport and then east along the coast. The shadowland even extends over a shortsegment of the Traveler’s Road leading south to Wallport, and, while the road itself is safe, it presents a danger, especially for traders unfamiliar with the local terrain and the natural laws of shadowlands.
THE DANGERS OF PASSING THROUGH
As is true of any shadowland, leaving Marama’s Fell at night takes the traveler into the Underworld. The dock workers in Wallport are supposed to warn those heading to Whitewall not to leave (or even enter) the shadowland at night, but this is hardly proof against calamity. On occasion, the dock workers may get distracted and forget to mention the shadowland at all, or they may do so intentionally if a traveler is abusive or ill-tempered. Likewise, some travelers may be too distracted to listen or too ignorant to recognize the tell-tale signs of being in a shadowland in the first place.
Signs are posted along the Traveler’s Road indicating where the road passes into and out of the shadowland, but from time to time ghosts, vandals and other malicious types have been known to steal the signs.
As the Traveler’s Road has been deemed a truly public thoroughfare, the practice of salting the side of the road to bar the dead is illegal (and will elicit repercussions from the inhabitants of the shadowland).The Traveler’s Road itself is safe, however, even in the shadowland and the Underworld due to the agreement negotiated by the Syndics, but anyone leaving the shadowland by night will find herself in the Underworld and may not know how to find her way back to living Creation (by going back to the shadowland and leaving during the day).
Truly careless travelers may even find themselves entering the Underworld’s dark reflection of Whitewall, a fate they’re not likely to survive (as entering that city constitutes leaving the safety of the Traveler’s Road).
These poor souls’ goods are often taken back to living Creation and traded — outside the city’s walls, of course — to the party who was waiting for them, for money, favors, prayers or other goods and services.
MORTALS IN THE FELL
Not every danger that comes out of the shadowland is dead, undead or pledged to the powers of the Deathlords.
The mortals living in Marama’s Fell, plagued with cold weather, a short growing season and the effects of the shadowland upon their crops, have a well-deserved reputation for cannibalism. It’s not that the people want to seek out other people for food, it’s just that they don’t have the luxury of seeing the distinction between other people and food animals.
Some of these blighted souls may even give the appearance of being pleasant, harmless individuals — a kindly old innkeeper, a beautiful woman beset by attackers and so on — in order to lure their prospective meals to their doom.
While some shadowlands are relatively hospitable toward the living, Marama’s Fell is not one of them. The feral, vicious ghosts that haunt the region are particularly rapacious and do not hesitate to attack the living when the opportunity presents itself.
Under the aggressive predation of the vicious ghosts of Marama’s Fell, mortal settlements are particularly rare, and those that remain are populated with a motley array of stunted, disfigured and mentally defective humanity. Any human with a lick of sense has long fled the Fell for Whitewall or one of the other bastions of the North.
The shadowland known as Marama’s Fell blossomed slowly in the years following the Usurpation. At the Fell’s center is a murder camp established by Shogunate officials for the eradication of sorcerously created races, servants, slaves, beastmen, demon servitors and the like spawned or summoned by the Solar and Lunar Exalted in the centuries leading up to the Usurpation. The Dragon-Blooded were so paranoid about the loyalties and possible capabilities of these races that the Terrestrials preferred to destroy these races wholesale rather than risk letting them live.
Named after Anjei Marama, the camp’s commandant, “Marama’s Fell” originally referred solely to the murder camp at the center of what became the shadowland.
It was here that a forest of sorcerously enhanced singing trees was cut down to make room for the camp. (A fell is a section of forest that has been razed.) The trees were only the first to be put into the camp’s enormous ovens. During the years following the Usurpation, entire races created by the Solar Exalted and any number of summoned entities (including a number of demons of the First Circle) were sent to Marama’s Fell for destruction, decommissioning or banishment. Other allies of the Solar Exalted, including other “Anathema,” were also sent here to die secretly if it was deemed likely that their public execution would cause problems. The ruins of the camp are still there, should anyone be so rash as to go looking for them, but they’re located in the center of the shadowland where the strange, old and powerful ghosts swarm most thickly. Although Shogunate officials were perfectly aware that the area was becoming a shadowland, they fully intended to deal with the problem later through publicworks projects. But, as the shadowland grew increasingly vast, and, in the absence of Solar Circle sorcery, the necessary public-works effort would have been enormous and costly. The Shogun and his government had more pressing things to deal with, and so, Marama’s Fell, located in a distant wilderness area, was forgotten, a hazard marked on the maps of the day with an unexplained black smear.By the time the Great Contagion struck, the camp had long been silent, but the plague stirred up the Underworld and all its denizens and roused the twisted ghosts that haunted the place.
The ghosts of artificially created races aren’t always the same as the ghosts of common mortals. Some ghosts, being imperfect and artificial, have only the barest wisps of souls and make pale ghosts. Others, such as the ghosts of the Lunars’ beastmen, are at least as fearsome as hungry ghosts and sometimes more powerful.
The tainted core of Marama’s Fell is part necropolis, part menagerie — and all chaotic. There is little order here. The ghost villages and mirrors of living civilization do not exist in the Underworld near Marama’s Fell, except perhaps in small enclaves.
Many of the ghosts found in Marama’s Fell are all that remain of several races known in the First Age. Some were twisted from the moment of their creation and kept by Solars as curiosities (albeit dangerous ones). Other ghosts have been twisted by centuries of death in the cold wasteland of the Fell.
The Storyteller is free to generate these creatures as she would any other ghost, then add additional exotic features as she sees fit. The list of Wyld mutations from Exalted: The Lunars provides a good base from which to work, but many of the races created in the First Age could be stranger still. Lastly, remember that a millennium is a long time to learn Arcanoi and that those ghosts that remain from the shadowland’s inception are likely to be extraordinarily powerful.
When designing the ghost of such a creature, the Storyteller should keep in mind what it was created for: Was it a beast of burden? A courtesan? A fighting animal on which to wager? The Solars may have been decadent, but creating new creatures — or entirely new races — was often the result of a life’s work (and a Solar’s life at that).
SAMPLE FELL GHOST: THRICE-DREAD ACHIBA
Description: Among the other excesses of the First Age, some powerful Solar sorcerers created new forms of life solely to pit against one another in gladiatorial combat. Because the victorious combatant would win its creator great fame and prizes, competition to build the most fearsome beast was quite fierce. The kyzvoi were one such experimentally constructed race. Combining the most dangerous elements of several other species, including spiders and certain mammalian predators, the kyzvoi were bred to become more lethal with each passing generation.
After the Usurpation, Shogunate functionaries deemed the kyzvoi to be dangerous and lacking any legitimate use (their short attention span and largely absent impulse control made them unusable as soldiers); they were among the first creatures eliminated in the great purges. Hundredsof kyzvoi were taken from their holding pens and destroyed in the “cleansing center” of Marama’s Fell, but their strange artificial souls did not readily fall into Lethe, instead lingering in the nascent shadowland, one of many strange races that still haunt Marama’s Fell as ghosts in the Age of Sorrows.
Thrice-Dread Achiba is one of these ghostly kyzvoi.
An accomplished gladiatorial combatant in life, he became a warlord among the ghosts of the Fell after his execution.
A figure of fear even before the camp was closed, Thrice-Dread Achiba has used the subsequent centuries to hone his skills, warp his corpus and make himself a far more dangerous adversary than he ever was in the arenas of the First Age. Making him more dangerous yet is the fact that other ghosts, and even a few mortals who live in the Fell, direct prayers to him, elevating him yet further.
Worse, in recent years, Thrice-Dread Achiba has killed a number of wellarmed war ghosts sent by the Lover Clad in the Raiment of Tears and taken their weapons and armor for his favored lieutenants while keeping the best for himself.
Thrice-Dread Achiba commands a force just over 100 strong, including a large force of powerful human ghosts, a handful of other kyzvoi and several phantoms of even stranger nature. Some of the mortals in Marama’s Fell make offerings to Thrice-Dread Achiba, and these offerings have been known to include grave goods as well as information that has come from Whitewall.
Though quite massive (eight feet tall and solidly built, with a thick carapace over which his armor barely fits), Thrice-Dread Achiba otherwise looks like a regular human ghost, except for three characteristics: his lustrous black exoskeleton, his compound eyes and his arachnid mouthparts.
His great age alone makes Thrice-Dread Achiba a powerful ghost (though that’s true of many of the ancient, twisted ghosts who stalk this shadowland), but he has used his position in this most chaotic of shadowlands to establishcults among both the living and the dead. Wholevillages within Marama’s Fell (small as they are) believe Thrice-Dread Achiba to be their founding patriarch and pay him homage. These mortals guard this powerful ghost’s main Fetters, the enormous hooked swords he fought with in the arenas of the First Age.
Thrice-Dread Achiba is only one of many such warlords who rule the dead of Marama’s Fell, and he epitomizes not only what the denizens of Whitewall have to defend against, but the kind of rebels with which the Deathlords will have to contend should they ever decide to use Marama’s Fell with any regularity.
The mass grave where his body was dumped 3; the swords he used in arena combat (now guarded by mortal tribesmen) 4
Thrice-Dread Achiba’s arachnid muscle structure grants him incredible speed and toughness that make him a fierce opponent even without his soulsteel artifacts. He is both poisonous like a spider and has the ability to spin webs.
Two Deathlords technically lay claim to Marama’s Fell, though neither
one values it as highly as might be expected. There’s a reason for this: as shadowlands go, Marama’s Fell is a pit. Due to the means of its origins, the Fell is a place of constant violence and predation. The stately ancestor cults of elsewhere have yet to show any lasting power here — or even be capable of defending themselves against the predations of the bizarre ghosts that populate the Fell. No heroic ghost has yet shown the wherewithal to tame the hungry ghosts of this shadowland and make an opportunity out of what is currently a big, chaotic challenge.
Whitewall already views the shadowland as a key threat, although it’s likely Whitewall would be forced to upgrade that threat were the shadowland to become an active, as opposed to a passive, threat. While Marama’s Fell is a danger to every citizen of Whitewall, the Fell could be much, much worse if a Deathlord or a powerful deathknight were to take it over and begin launching strategic raids on those who follow the Traveler’s Road or begin luring those on the road into the Underworld at night.
Whitewall benefits more than it realizes from the relative disinterest toward Marama’s Fell taken by the two relevant Deathlords. While both make occasional use of the Fell, neither particularly values it.
The closer of the two Deathlords, Bishop of the Chalcedony Thurible, is so introspective and preoccupied with his own conspiratorial plotting that he has no interest in the Fell — nearly a thousand miles from the Hidden Tabernacle — at all. This is extraordinarily good news for Whitewall, because the Bishop of the Chalcedony Thurible has claimed that he knows Whitewall better than even the Syndics do for reasons that are now long lost to history.The Lover Clad in the Raiment of Tears, on the other hand, is modestly interested in Marama’s Fell, as she is interested in all of Creation, and she would be more interested were Marama’s Fell nearer to her Fortress of Red Ice or more governable. She has already made two attempts at establishing a military colony in the Fell, but both times the colony was been wiped out by the shadowland’s native marauding ghosts. The next time she plans on dispensing with nemissaries and sending in an Abyssal Exalt to lead the effort. As it stands now, one of her deathknights, Mournful Aria, is particularly interested in Whitewall, and therefore in Marama’s Fell — as it’s the easiest way for her to get to the city.
THE RESPLENDENT CHRYSANTHEMUM SHRINES
Marama’s Fell, particularly that section of it that overlaps the Traveler’s Road, is a thorn in the side of the city of Whitewall, and one the city would dearly love to rid itself of. To that end, the Syndics called for the establishment of shrines just outside the shadowland. These shrines are dedicated to various gods and spirits of life, joy, springtime and so on, and the shrines are repeatedly reconsecrated at the beginning of every spring. These shrines are the preferred settings for weddings, conceptions, births and birthdays. Throughout the spring, beginning on the first day of Ascending Earth, and going through summer, right up to the day before Calibration, the Syndics bestow blessings upon families that go south on the Traveler’sRoad and observe these vital events at one of the resplendent chrysanthemum shrines.
The net effect is to push back the boundaries of the shadowland, and that has done at a respectable rate. When the resplendent chrysanthemum shrines were first built, the shadowland lay across more than 50 miles of the Traveler’s Road and extended past the road nearly 100 miles to the west. Now, years later, only 20 miles of the Traveler’s Road pass through the shadowland, which also pushes only 10 miles west of the road.
Since the initial establishment of the resplendent chrysanthemum shrines, they’ve had to be moved a number of times to keep grinding away at the shadowland’s edges. Still, the shrines have moved neither as far nor as quickly as the Syndics and the people of Whitewall would like. That said, these pilgrimages have become some of the most popular traditions in the culture of Whitewall, an excuse to leave the fields, the mines and the walls around the city for a few dayswhen the weather is nice — and to get blessed with good health for doing so. With the last vestiges of the shadowland west of the road now forming a “peninsula,” the Syndics expect to be able to push the shadowland off the Traveler’s Road entirely within a few years, ending for good the threat of wandering into the Underworld inadvertently during the night.
When the shrines were initially built, they were desecrated and torn down by ghosts either every night or, at worst, by the end of the winter. Now, the citizens of Whitewall have taken to warding the shrines extensively against ghosts every spring when the wooden structures are rebuilt and reconsecrated, and they easily last through the summer (although they still rarely make it through the winter).
Neither of the Deathlords of the North, the Lover Clad in the Raiment of Tears nor the Bishop of the Chalcedony Thurible, have noticed the changes to the far western boundary of Marama’s Fell. That shadowland is largely held to be a violent, ungovernable mess, and neither Deathlord has taken a personal interest in it. It’s unlikely that the shrinking shadowland would elicit much of a response from either Deathlord, as there is so much of Marama’s Fell that it’s hardly going to disappear any time soon. Should it even get close to that point, either Deathlord could easily stage a strategic massacre there to cause the shadowland to expand once again.
If the Syndics were to find a Solar Exalt capable of performing either Benediction of Archgenesis (see Savant and Sorcerer, page 139) or Cleansing Solar Flames (see The Book of Bone and Ebony, page 139), the city would pay an exorbitant fee to have the Traveler’s Road freed of the shadowland and even more if Marama’s Fell could be done away with entirely. There are few concerns weighing more heavily on the Syndics and the city’s guardians than the vulnerability associated with being so close to such a large shadowland.
THE WINTER FOLK
Technically speaking, Whitewall is within striking distance of two tribes of Fair Folk. Marama’s Fell, ironically, protects the city from direct strikes from the so-called Lions of the Snow, the larger of the two tribes of fae.
Attacking Whitewall in a direct strike from their Freehold would require the Lions of the Snow to venture through the core of the shadowland, a feat they tried once and are unlikely to attempt again.
The closer, and by far the more dangerous, fae operate out of a Freehold only 50 miles west by northwest of Whitewall. They call themselves “The Winter Folk,” perhaps intending to sow confusion or else finding it amusing to refer to themselves by the name given them by mortals.
The Winter Folk do not amuse the mortals who know of them in any way. The Winter Folk are utterly alien, and the legends of their guile and cruelty are well-known throughout the North, especially in Whitewall. The bargain struck in regard to the Traveler’s Road allows the Fair Folk to travel on the road, but the fact of the matter is that the Fair Folk don’t especially care to go anywhere the road goes. If they’re on the road, they’re unquestionably there to lure travelers away.
Three types of Winter Folk swarm out of the Wyld zone when they hunt:
- the coldly beautiful cataphractoi
- hobgoblins with wolfish features
- hobgoblins that look like jagged sculptures of misshapen children hammered out of ice.
Their favorite hunting grounds are the road leading to Gethamane and the roads leading to the mines outside Whitewall. The Fair Folk would love nothing so much as to disrupt the flow of iron from those mines, but the citizens of Whitewall have seeded both sides of the road with iron caltrops and a number of other, even more ingenious, traps devised by Whitewall’s engineers.
The Winter Folk have domesticated two animals, reindeer and ice weasels, both of which allow the fae to hunt mortals with devastating efficiency. The reindeer allow the Fair Folk to travel without tiring, and they use ice weasels as malevolent hunting hounds. The Fair Folk themselves are perfectly dangerous enemies even without their beasts, however. The fae can walk across even freshly drifted snow as though it were solid ground, giving them a pronounced advantage when pursuing mortals through the Northlands.
Fortunately for the city of Whitewall, it is the source of much of the iron in the North. All of the arrows used by the guards atop the wall are iron-tipped, as are their melee weapons, armor and the shoes of their war horses.
Whitewall’s proximity to Marama’s Fell is hardly the only threat Whitewall faces. While few mortal armies would be able to successfully lay siege to the city, the Realm’s legions or other armies led by Exalts could potentially do so. The greatest risk of all, however, the one the Syndics fret about in their private moments, is an attack by a behemoth from the nearby Wyld zone. As creatures of chaos, often shaped by the will of Fair Folk, behemoths at times possess abilities that make them threats even to a city like Whitewall.
The wall of Whitewall, though ancient and supernaturally sturdy, could potentially fall before a substantial enough attack, and the First Age techniques that built the wall are not practical in the Second Age. Without the great wall to protect Whitewall, the city would be doomed.
The Fair Folk regularly launch new, strange behemoths against Creation’s cities. Whitewall, as one of the best protected and nearest to a significant Freehold, often gets the brunt of these bizarre attacks. To deal with the threat of behemoths, then, Whitewall keeps constant vigil against approaching monstrosities and sends its most powerful guardians out to intercept such beasts before they can evenreach the city. These parties are almost always composed of the Exalted. In recent years, they’ve been bands of outcaste Terrestrials led by the Solar Macha Pethisdotter, and they’ve slain over 10 behemoths, the closest only 100 yards from the city’s gates. Most such attacks take place in the winter when patrolling is more difficult and the Fair Folk have a greater chance to catch the monster hunters once they’ve become bogged down in the snow.
In recent months, the Fair Folk’s most accomplished sculptor of behemoths has been promising his people something truly spectacular, although he has yet to unleash it against Creation.
In Whitewall, monitoring the lands around the city are among the most serious duties a citizen can undertake.
Guards mounted atop the city’s wall scan the horizon in all directions watching for approaching enemies, particularly behemoths. An array of anti-siege weapons sits atop the city’s wall, constantly maintained in a state of perfect readiness in case the alarm is ever sounded.
The ranks of the guardians change from time to time, and, at times, the city doesn’t have enough sufficiently powerful guardians to protect the city from behemoths, at which point Whitewall resorts to hiring mercenaries, usually Terrestrial Exalted from Lookshy but, sometimes, even from the Realm (in which case, they keep Pethisdotter as far from the Dragon-Bloods as possible).In the summer, Whitewall deploys guardian scouts around the perimeter of the city’s farmland to repel attacks by Fair Folk, though summer is traditionally the season of fewest Fair Folk attacks.
THE GREAT LOST CITY
Far to the north of Whitewall, north of the White Sea, north and west even of the farthest flung cities known in the Age of Sorrows, lie the ruins of a vast Old Realm city.
Half of this enormous city remains intact beneath 700 years of accumulated snow and ice, while the other half has been consumed — or catastrophically changed — by the Wyld bordermarch that marks the terminus of Creation.
In the First Age, the name of this city was Opal Spire — and those capable of reading Old Realm will be able to surmise that much with only a little effort.
At the very dawn of the First Age, immediately after the fall of the Primordials, Opal Spire was a terraforming outpost at the northern edge of Creation, the point from which artifact ships launched themselves into the Wyld to solidify the chaos and expand the world.
Centuries later, when hundreds of miles of new land had been annexed to Creation and the Pole of Air and Creation’s edge had been pushed far to the north, Opal Spire was no longer the most efficient launch point for such operations in the Wyld. However, Opal Spire continued to be a powerfulnode in the integrated military force of the First Age. The city remained networked to the Realm’s defense grid, and its enormous skyports and harbor were ready at a moment’s notice to engage the Yozis or any other foe of the gods or
Exalted. The city’s vast war libraries contain more knowledge on the Primordials and the world of the First Age than any war libraries now extant, and, unlike any library elsewhere in Creation, none of the crystal codices of the Opal Spire library have been censored or touched in any way by Shogunate forces. Were the sorcerers of the Heptagram or Lookshy to learn of the existence of Opal Spire, they would spare no expense to plunder its secrets — and they would probably fall before its terrible guardian.
Older Sidereals know about Opal Spire. They may remember its libraries, its beautiful ports — or its terrifying last night. Those who know how the city met its end may also remember the horror that laid the city low, and they will likely believe that the incredible risks associated with entering the city far outweigh any good that might come from plundering
Opal Spire. If the old city’s dread destroyer, the behemoth/demon known as Vorvin-Derlin, Slayer of Armies, ever becomes active again and enters more populated regions of Creation, precious few forces could stop the demon. One phrase is uttered more often than any other when the Sidereals speak of Opal Spire: “What is forgotten is best left forgotten.”
Unlike any other known First Age city, Opal Spire never experienced the slow deterioration of the Shogunate.
Opal Spire’s history came to an end on the night of the Usurpation when a Solar sorcerer unleashed something far larger than the Dragon-Blooded or their Sidereal masters could handle. The city, a vast trove of First Age knowledge and artifacts, was evacuated on the night the Solars were systematically assassinated. Had the Shogunate’s government ever been able to address the difficulties of the deteriorating First Age, perhaps Opal Spire would have been a destination for enormous war parties and then, perhaps, archeologists. As it was, active attention to the city and the horror that lurked there was postponed indefinitely while more pressing matters were attended to, and with thecoming of the Great Contagion, Opal Spire was forgotten entirely as the edges of Creation collapsed back, leaving the proud, ancient city slumbering under its hoar blanket.
Opal Spire is now effectively synonymous with the Elemental Pole of Air. Creation goes no further north from here. The bordermarches of the Wyld begin almost at the old city’s heart, and Creation itself fades away as one goes north. Only the southern half of the city remains intact.
Anything north of that has been changed by centuries of Wyld corruption so as to be unrecognizable, although certain artifacts created from the Five Magical Materials have remained largely unchanged. This far north, the frozen fog does not creep or even roil. It lunges from place to place on violent, howling gusts. The snow and winds blast across the land with the force of an explosion. Sudden updrafts can instantly pluck a man from the surface, blow him hundreds of feet into the air and then, like a bored child, drop him.
Those without powerful protective magic to defend them from the elements (e.g., Hardship-Surviving Mendicant Spirit or its equivalent) had best not even cross the White Sea, much less come to this most northerly point in Creation. The average temperature, in the absence of the frozen fog (which makes it colder), is -80° Fahrenheit (-65° Celsius). At such low temperatures, spit freezes solid before it can hit the ground, and all exposed skin suffers from frostbite within a few seconds. Without Essence-enhanced outerwear or many, many layers of high-quality mundane furs, an individual will take environmental damage every turn as if trapped in a supernatural ice storm (see Exalted, page 244).
At Opal Spire’s peak in the First Age, the city was one of the largest of the Old Realm’s vast cities with a population of nearly six million. In the Second Age, it is the biggest, coldest ghost town in Creation. In the First Age, Opal Spire’s climate was very like that of Whitewall now. The skyport was on the northern edge of the city and now lost, the harbor was on the city’s southern edge; while most of the ancient ships were taken in the evacuation of the city, two remain.
Now frozen over, Opal Spire’s harbor was one of the largest of the First Age. Over two miles in diameter, the harbor accommodate even the largest First Age ships. In the center of the harbor is an island with a 40-foot-tall gold statue of the Unconquered Sun in all his glory, staring off toward the west.
In the intense cold, the harbor is covered with snow as thick as any other part of the city. Nothing breaks the smooth expanse of drifted snow. Beneath the ice, however, are the hulks of two First Age vessels, one flooded and beyond repair, the other watertight and waiting for a Solar captain.
A STALKER IN THE DRIFTS
Asleep in its icy tomb in the abandoned city lies a creature that has slain entire armies and waits only to be awakened from its slumber.
VORVIN-DERLIN, SLAYER OF ARMIES
Description: Vorvin-Derlin manifests in Creation as a hollow humanoid cage of tarnished brass filigree. Its metal form extrudes and retracts razor-sharp barbs from every surface like the palpi of an insect with the rhythms of a beating heart. The creature’s hollow form moves in rhythmic, sinewy, almost hypnotic, undulation, and the pattern of its barbed filigree shifts constantly.
Although the behemoth can sculpt its protean form into a rough semblance of a humanoid body at will, the behemoth prefers to envelop a living host that it can use as a skeleton and a defense. While riding a host, Vorvin-Derlin looks like a cartilaginous brass exoskeleton constantly shifting the alignment of its barbed filigree segments. Baleful red flames smolder over the gouged abscesses of the vessel’s eyes, their brightness proportional to the behemoth’s anger. Wherever the behemoth goes in Creation, a fine patina of verdigris forms over every non-magical metal object within a mile.
Isidiros, the Black Boar That Twists the Skies, forged Vorvin-Derlin from severed clippings of his own immortal sinews and clotted veins in the primeval epoch of the world.
The behemoth served its master as a policing weapon, designed to grow in accordance with the forces massed against it. The greater the army, the more surely Vorvin-Derlin would massacre it. In times of peace, the behemoth shriveled away in boredom until the bellow of Isidiros awoke its wrath anew.
During the Primordial War, Vorvin-Derlin fought savagely against the Exalted, but their singular might overwhelmed its strength as numbers alone could not.
Time and again, the Chosen slew the behemoth, but its spilt blood sucked ore from the land like marrow and restored the behemoth to life. By the terms of Isidiros’ exile within Malfeas, the Chosen demanded that Vorvin-Derlin follow its master into banishment, returning as if it were a Demon of the Second Circle to obey the Solar Exalted.
During the First Age, the sorcerer Oa-Té developed an Adamant Circle spell that allowed him to summon Vorvin-Derlin, bind it and then fuse it with his body for the span of a month. When the Usurpation came, the sorcerer brought forth the behemoth to enact this fusion, but the Dragon-Blooded and their retinues broke into the sorcerer’s sanctum and interrupted the ritual. Drawing strength from the unbound behemoth’s adversaries, it decimated the Dragon-Blooded, slew the weakened Oa-Té and necessitated the evacuation and abandonment of Opal Spire. Starved of battle as the rebellion raged elsewhere in Creation, Vorvin-Derlin lingered in the ruins of Opal Spire, waiting for the commands of Isidiros or the challenge of adversaries to give its existence power and purpose once more. It has waited ever since, lost when the borders of Creation collapsed back to their original size and buried the city in glacial cold.
Vorvin-Derlin’s Valor is effectively perfect; the behemoth cannot ever fail Valor rolls, regardless of the difficulty. It often increases Traits marked with an asterisk by fusing with a host and can increase its Physical Attributes through the unique Charm Might of the Slaughterer, requiring recalculation of derived statistics such as Dodge Pool and Initiative. Anyone striking the behemoth barehanded suffers 6L damage from the razor edges of its jagged body.
As a behemoth, Vorvin-Derlin possesses immortality on the scale of the Primordials and rises anew from any demise after a period of quiescence lasting one year. The behemoth has a unique set of circumstances that can rip its soul into the Underworld as a hekatonkhire, but these are unknown and left to the StorytellerStoryteller to devise. The creature also heals preternaturally fast, mending one level of bashing damage every turn, one level of lethal damage every minute and one level of aggravated damage every day. The behemoth has perfect immunity to all disease and resists poison like an Exalt.
Vorvin-Derlin is considered a Second Circle demon for the purposes of summoning, binding or banishing it through sorcery but not for any other purpose. The behemoth is a creature of darkness for purposes of magic.