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 never performed, but the residents of the Holy City were happy to grow fat on the tithe money anyway.
Finally, after 300 years of meditative labor, Righteous Guide completed the Holy Road to the south port; he returned to find, not a monastery, but a decadent farm city where the fields were haphazardly tended and fat, undisciplined citizens lived primarily on the donations of the gullible.
Righteous Guide snapped. In a state of deep spiritual despair, he assumed sole responsibility for the behavior of the wayward monks. In an attempt to atone — on their behalf — to the Unconquered Sun, he fell into a binge of penance that would have killed any mortal and many younger Exalts. In the city’s central plaza, in front of horrified onlookers (who dared not approach him in his unstable state) the powerful Zenith flayed himself repeatedly with a barbed whip; such was his zeal that his blood spattered the walls of buildings 40 feet away. He wept his prayers to the Solar god, and his blood baptized the streets of the city. When he had lain bare the gleaming white bone of his ribcage, he would heal himself with Essence, only to begin the process all over again. After three weeks of this, Righteous Guide crawled into the Solar Manse to pray for guidance from the Unconquered Sun. A pall of shame hung over the city and its mortified residents.
When he emerged a week later, Righteous Guide was physically healed, but deeply bitter. He personally drove the most errant “monks” and “nuns” from the city with blows of his mighty orichalcum staff.
And then, Righteous Guide left the city for Meru.
Through the use of his mighty powers of oration and persuasion, he made an impassioned, condemnatory speech to the Solar Deliberative proclaiming Ondar Shambal to be a city of the wayward, the weak and the venal. He enumerated the monastery-city’s every fault and failing, named the sins of each apostate nun and monk and vituperatively mocked the city’s pious reputation. Such was the power of his speech that many of the false faithful killed themselves out of shame before the oration was even complete. The news of Ondar Shambal’s apostasy spread through the Old Realm like wildfire, and the (formerly) Holy City’s mystique was shattered. Donations dried up instantly. The free ride for the falsely pious was over.
A NEW DAY DAWNS
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 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)
- 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.
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 is the section of the city nearest the city gates (i.e. the farthest south). 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.
This section has the fewest remnants of the old First Age architecture; most of the shops here have been built within the last five centuries. 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.
The largest, 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 who don’t want to live there. The Jewelers College and the College of Agriculture are located in this section. Except for small areas that show minimal damage, Midtown’s First Age architecture is still intact here.
The tallest building in Whitewall, the Solar Manse 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.
The farthest from the gates 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).
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 ever again. 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, even in 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. 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.
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.
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, 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.
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, but the two cities have little in common and interact far less often than their proximity might suggest.
Popular Whitewall wisdom holds that Gethamane is a cursed place, though 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 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.
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.