I'm taking today off of writing additional content to work on a short story set in Vernlarum. Once it's done, I'll post it here in its entirety.
The Dusters are a not a group so much as individuals who share a philosophy. Dusters believe the Shambling was the end of the world, that the Shambles trod everything to dust, and that if an people are still alive, they represent the last gasps of a dying world. Dusters typically doubt their very existence and, when questioned, wonder why those who believe they are alive are so certain. Trying to prove one’s existence to someone who doubts his own can be quite frustrating.
For many Dusters truth is important. The only problem is no one knows what truth is. Any attempt to assure a Duster of the veracity of a claim will be met with doubt and cynicism. Dusters often assume they have better discernment than others, and if a person presents a truth, a Duster believes the person is most likely a fool or a liar.
Some Dusters find reason for a jaded optimism—the world is destroyed and everyone is dead, so things can’t get worse. Others see every triumph of “evil” as a sign of the state of things and every triumph of “good” as futile. Most dusters don’t believe in absolute good or evil, defying those who insist upon such morality. Those who use magic to ascertain goodness or evil sometimes try to sway a Duster, but Dusters counter that the magic gives a relative, not objective, answer. If a Raider detects as “evil”, it’s because he is opposed to the one casting the spell, not because of any absolute idea. At least that is how the Dusters see things.
Dusters often refer to those who created the Shambles as Revealers, instead of Ruiners. To the Dusters, these people ripped the illusion of life from the world and let the more thoughtful see things as they truly are. Dusters don’t revere the Revealers, but they appreciate knowing the truth of existence.
Dusters and Religion
Dusters believe the Old Gods may have existed, but they are now dead. And their beliefs put them diametrically opposed to the Acolytes of the Arks. Dusters see the Shambles as destroyers of the world and that Vernlarum has had its final armageddon. Some Dusters stand outside of gatherings of Acolytes and try to explain the lies of life to them. Other Dusters regret their own ability to see through those lies and wish they, too, could be fooled into having faith that the world was saved.
Dusters as Adventurers
Many Dusters make a living adventuring. The philosophy lends itself to a life of risk and reward seeking, as Dusters find no great reason or purpose to hold down a steady job. Neither do Dusters have trouble confronting desperate situations—to a Duster things cannot get more desperate than a so-called life on a dead or dying world.
Dusters have advantage on checks to determine if they are afraid, as they have already confronted their own mortality. However, Dusters have disadvantage on checks to persuade, bluff, or act diplomatically—their belief that life is meaningless and hollow comes through in their personal interactions. Many Dusters are adamant truth-tellers, and they do not strive to make their difficult truths more comfortable.
Some Dusters see it as their sacred duty to see that the world finishes it’s process of dying. These radical Dusters band together and strive to deal a dying world its death blow. They scour the land looking for ancient artifacts of power that would cause the world to finish gasping and finally die. Most Dusters see this take on their philosophy as foolish but no more foolish than the other things people believe. And certainly less foolish than believing the very things that destroyed the world were the things that saved it.
The Order of the Silent Anvil
The Order of the Silent Anvil is a monastic order with a monastery deep in the Mountains of Sorrow. The order is primarily, though not exclusively, comprised of dwarves. The dwarves teach that Thimil Telchark, the First, was a dwarven slave of the Empire shortly after the Ruining. He taught that what truly kept the dwarves enslaved was not their dark elf overlords but their own desires and wants. The First never gained, or even sought, physical freedom. But his teachings found a place in the hearts of many dwarves. Some Thimilist dwarves who escaped went on to build the monastery and found the Order.
Members of the Order believe dwarves, and all people, are slaves to their own desires. To free oneself from slavery is to reach sochd. Sochd is a state of silence and rest. Once a dwarven slave reaches this state, he is comfortable laying down his hammer, or other tools, and neither fighting nor obeying those who whip him. The desire to be free of pain is simply another desire one must release.
The Order in the Empire
In the slave pens of the Empire, many dwarves cling to some form of Thimilist thought. As they have no writings to pass to each other and Thimilism is strictly outlawed in the Empire, the dwarves have difficulty spreading the word as much as they would like. Still, their basic philosophy is not complex to communicate, and the idea has permeated the slave pits.
From time to time a slave reaches sochd and lays down his implements and awaits whatever consequences befall him—usually increasingly brutal whipping and then death. These martyrs are affecting the Empire. Some dark elves do their best to not see slaves in this state, leaving them to be the next elf’s problem. Other elves, so disgusted at the brutality offered slaves, have come to a new understanding of slavery and work to increase the comfort of slaves if not free them outright.
The martyrs also impact the other slaves. When a dwarf does nothing but meditate through a brutal beating, he shows others escape is possible and sochd is real. The surviving dwarves mostly shake their heads, thankful for their slave masters looking elsewhere. Some, however, take the time to reflect upon their own place in the dark elf Empire and how their desire to live continues to enslave them and perpetuates a cycle of slavery upon others.
The Magisters of the Arcanium have decreed slave masters remove slaves who stop working from a public area before whipping and killing them. The Magisters hope this will prevent the further spread of Thimilism. This measure has had partial success, but it is also exposing more dark elves to their own brutality.
The Monastery of the Silent Anvil
The monastery is run by group consensus, but the monks recognize the need for an administrator. The Second is the title given to the monk who has the duty of administering the monastery and ensuring basic necessities are met. The Second is elected by general consensus and serves as long as he wishes. He has the ability to instruct others to perform basic, necessary tasks, but his word is no more law than any other monk’s. The current Second is female dwarf Narvi Zirin. Narvi was born free, but she soon saw the price freedom took upon her kindred. She was drawn to the Thimilism, and once she joined the Order, she rose quickly through the ranks. She has now achieved sochd and is at peace. She spends her days managing the food stores and trade for the monastery, teaching students, or in quiet contemplation.
The Order does not teach that laying down ones life at the hands of oppressors is the end goal. Simply that if one is enslaved desire is what keeps one there. The monks do not desire death—they strive to desire nothing. Neither does the monastery teach students to lie down and allow themselves to be taken prisoner by Imperial Reclamation teams. Quite the opposite.
The monks see themselves as having a duty to spread the word of Thimil to all who are interested in reaching sochd, and they see the Empire as a foe of peace, understanding, and enlightenment. As such, they train constantly to be able to defend themselves from the arrival of a Reclamation team. As they have few belongings, the monks train almost entirely to fight without weapons of any kind. To a novice the idea of fighting a Reclamation team outfitted with slaveblades and dark elf chain with only one’s hands and feet seem ludicrous. They are soon disabused of this notion, as are the young dark elves who think a gaunt, empty-handed dwarf is no threat.
Some monks go adventuring out in in Vernlarum as a way of spreading Thimilism and learning about themselves. These monks sometimes come across magical items and great wealth. The Order has no strictures against ownership, though some members take vows of poverty. Most monks who return from a life of adventuring return as empty handed as when they left or give their possessions to the Order to use in its defense.
Below is not a comprehensive list of noble houses in Andath. This is merely three of the important houses. As time permits, I will add more houses to the list.
There are not, in any official capacity, “great” or “lesser” houses in Andath. If there were, House Sangal would be at the top of the list of great houses. The House Sangal crows grace almost half of all caravans that flow into or out of Andath. Their house is built on trade contracts that help goods flow all over Vernlarum. Because of the house’s financial clout, the Sanctum pays careful attention to Sanctor Drancent Sangal, the head of the house.
Drancent is a thin, hard man who has worked hard to build his house, and he intends to ensure the house continues in its high station for years. He regrets some of the political moves he has had to make, and often offers apologies to houses for the contracts he has won from them. But the other houses have learned his apologizes don’t mean he will stop using every tool he can to better his house.
The other house that could lay claim to “great” status is House Mera. The Mera wyvern stamp can be found on almost as many goods as the Sangal crow. And house Mera hates the comparison. The whole house is angered by the rise of house Sangal over their lifetime. A generation ago, Mera was the greatest house in Andath, and they dislike all unfavorable comparisons to Sangal.
Sanctor Sybel Mera has recently ascended to the position. She has declared her father, Adun, as ill and no longer able to serve as Sanctor. Few has seen Adun since this declaration, and speculation and gossip has held any number of reasons for his disappearance from his murder for his failings to a degenerative disease. More outlandish ideas have been floated as well, some say Adun traded himself to dark powers for an increased position for the house.
Whatever the cause of Adun’s lessened public role, Sybel is a relative unknown as a Sanctor, but she already has a reputation for being a hard-nosed, no-nonsense business woman. People expect her to provide House Sangal a strong challenge for dominance.
House Emvor, headed by Sanctor Duncan Emvor, is a well regarded, if not wealthy house. Sanctor Emvor has earned a reputation for being fair-minded and listening to the desires of the people. He regularly votes against the majority of the Sanctum on matters he sees as social justice. Their sigil, hounds, are frequently seen on commoners who have no house affiliation, but wish to show their support.
Sanctor’s political stances have left him in difficult social and economic straits. The other houses tend to keep Emvor at a distance—Sangal and Mera because they dislike his politics; the rest because they do not wish to be snubbed by the larger houses for associating with Emvor. Sangal and Mera have interfered with some of Emvor’s most important trade contracts with Thonk and Gaena, and the house coffers are thinning. Sanctum Emvor has not made any public denunciations of the great houses, but those who know him see the burden he wears in his slumping shoulders and rapidly greying hair.
In the Geana’s lands there is a large collection of insects known as the Swarm. The Swarm ranges over a couple of miles and covers more than 100 square yards at a time. Living beings who come in contact with the Swarm have the flesh flayed from their bodies within moments. Shortly afterward, the meat and blood is devoured, and then only the bones are left. Few living beings have survived direct exposure to the Swarm.
The Swarm is composed of every insect in the land. Some druids on Gaena have, at great risk, catalogued the insects, and they claim there are even insects there that exist no where else in Vernlarum. Some of the creatures are as large as birds and can suck a normal sized humanoid dry of blood in a minute or less. Centipedes of all sizes, and other crawling insects, are a part of the Swarm as well—often finding their way under hastily erected shelters that stop the flying creatures.
Gaena passes through the Swarm once every year or two. The Elders work powerful magics to try to protect the people of Gaena when the Shamble passes through the Swarm. Their spells disguise and conceal those on Gaena, but almost every time Gaena passes through the Swarm, someone is caught out in the Swarm. The animals of Gaena’s forests seem to sense the coming of the Swarm, and they seek shelter before they are exposed. With the aid of the Elders’ spells, few animals die to the Swarm during a pass.
Some visitors to Gaena have advanced the idea of erecting a magical barrier to keep the insects away or a spell that gives the insects an aversion to Gaena. But the druids understand the necessary role insects play in an ecosystem. While there is something dysfunctional about the Swarm itself, it provides a constant boost to the insect life on Gaena, which helps keep the animal population high and the soil fertile.
The druids have studied the Swarm, knowing that such a large group of insects shouldn’t be able to exist the way it does. But nothing they’ve discovered explains the Swarm’s existence to their satisfaction. Now, some just accept the Swarm, others are still curious about the magic that must have been used to create it. Some Acolytes have wondered if the Swarm is an Ark that didn’t finish forming at the time of the Creation, though none have been curious enough so far to go to the heart of the Swarm’s land. Or if they have, they haven’t returned.
One of the Elders, Elurin Oakstaff, has recently fallen ill. He believes he has been poisoned by one of his rivals, but he doesn’t know which one. Elurin knows he has a reputation for being a bit paranoid and doesn’t expect anyone to believe him. He’s also unsure who he can trust, since anyone he asks for help may also be the person who poisoned him or in league with his poisoner. The poison, he believes, is slow acting—the tingling in his extremities started a week ago and has only moved up to his wrists. But he fears once it reaches heart, he will die. Elurin has tried magical and alchemical cures for poison and has yet to find anything that works, which makes him suspect a highly competent, and probably magical, assassin.
Elurin now believes his only hope lies in the Swarm. The gracker bug is a rare insect known only to live in the swirling mass of ravenous insects. Grackers secrete a fluid that is a numbing agent and can be mixed with certain herbs to create the most powerful known antitoxin. Grackers are not particularly dangerous, so Elurin hopes he can find someone to trust, preferably an outsider, who will help him capture the three he needs for his antitoxin. The Swarm is only a few days away—he fears this will be his last chance at a cure. He has means and can pay, and will make antitoxin for those he hires, assuming they recover enough gracker bugs for themselves.
Shamble Tagot is an odd assortment of materials—wood, bone, flesh, stone, steel, and clay. All of his materials are all mixed up, and he looks rather like a mobile junk heap. A mobile junk heap that is slowly slamming his way through a mountain range.
More than a generation ago, Tagot stopped his wanderings before the Mountains of Sorrow. As the story goes, for days he faced the mountains without moving. He had always been fairly erratic before, so the people who lived in the city of Tagot thought nothing of it. Until Tagot began to slam, face first, into the mountain-side. The first couple of impacts destroyed the city atop his back. People might have been willing to rebuild, if he’d ever stopped.
No one resides on Tagot now. A few have tried to reclaim the space, hoping to be able to endure the lurching and smashing. For some living atop a wretched Shamble is better than living in the Wastes. But few can stay on Tagot for long. The slamming and noise is just too violent and relentless. Especially after the avalanches started.
Acolytes of the Arks and warlocks with an affinity for the Shambles have an interest in Tagot. They see him as either sick or on a mission and in need of assistance. But those Acolytes and warlocks who go visit him are never the same afterward. They speak incoherently about hearing voices. Some say there is nothing but static and cacophony where Tagot’s mind should be. Whatever they experience, they can often be caught staring in the direction of Tagot even years later.
Mountains of Sorrow
Tagot has made significant headway over the years. The mountains are giving away to his implacable, constant assault. But the going isn’t easy. Avalanches have become frequent in the area, and rockslides happen almost constantly, as rocks in the upper mountains crack and crumble under the attack. The rockslides fill the space Tagot has just cleared, so that he must ground the rocks to dust to continue.
An Imperial fort was once located nearby under the mountain, but it has since been abandoned. The dark elves were tired of the disruption and grew worried that Tagot would eventually reach them. Only a small band of elves remains to watch over Fort Marastil to report back on any events and to keep out scavengers.
Adventurers and Raiders
From time to time, someone thinks he has figured out the reason for Tagot’s change and goes to test his theory. Because of this, there are regularly small bands of well armed people all over the area, hoping to gain control of a Shamble’s back or to loot the corpses of those who would.
Shortly after Tagot began to burrow into the Mountains of Sorrow, people thought they could move into his domain and reestablish a sedentary civilization. Many were excited by the prospect.
Shortly after a number of small villages cropped up, though, Gaena and Mandith both began to roam the area, crushing things in their wake. They seem to have expanded their areas to divide Tagot’s land between them, trod ding upon peoples’ hope for a place to rebuild.
The city of Salesh is far removed from the rest of the known world of Vernlarum. The Shamble Salesh gleams day and night with an inner light that shines through her crystalline carapace. Her sharp angles look dangerous to touch, and the whole crystalline structure seems alien. Atop her back gleams a city of crystal and glass.
The people of Salesh are a peaceful, accepting, and meditative lot. Though they have their wants and desires, they seem to worry about them less than anyone else in Vernlarum. Some strive to free themselves from all want or need, though that is not the way of all Saleshi.
If psionic or mystic classes or races have a home in Vernlarum, it is here. If people from other cities wish to learn how to use these different types of power, Salesh is the heart of learning for those mystical powers.
Acolytes and warlocks agree—Shamble Salesh doesn't project emotions in the same way as the other Shambles. All they hear from her is a distant, low rumble. Saleshi smile at this revelation, as they claim that is the sound of existence and all meaning is encapsulated in it. Most acolytes, instead of meditating on the sound as the mystics suggest, shake their heads and try to listen harder.
Salesh's movements are fairly normal, as these things go. Warlocks who have studied her closely, though, find them a bit too normal—she moves at an average pace, she stops and average number of times per year, and her route at least gives the impression it can be learned.
Salesh's magic strengthens and empowers crystal and glass. Weapons and armor forged from crystal on Salesh are as good, if not better, than steel.
City of Salesh
The gurus who run the city government do their best to stay out of the politics between the other cities. When asked, they will not even claim a diplomatic position of neutral, as that implies they stand between sides in a given dispute.
Not everyone on Salesh is a mystic. The best crystal and glass artisans in the known world work here, and their creations are treasured by all who see them. But any time, day or night, even non-mystics might be caught humming a tone that they claim is the noise of Salesh and, therefore, existence.
Ealam is a psion, and he believes all of Vernlarum would be better if the people could learn to understand existence through Salesh. He wants to go out into the world and establish temples in the other cities to spread peace and understand through meditation. He doesn't know where to start and would be grateful for some assistance. There's also the small matter of some debt Elam owes to a powerful trader in Andath who might believe Ealam is responsible for a lost shipment of food. In his first trip away from Salesh, Elam was naive to the ways of the world, and he admits those men who needed his help were probably Raiders and not simply unfortunate souls in need of food.
Gno is high in the Mountains of Sorrow and is far from most of the perils of the Wastes. Occasional Imperial Reclamation teams make their way toward Gno, but since the gnomes invented burstpowder weapons, the dark elves have stayed away. The gnomes expect this is only a temporary peace, as they've seen how effectively Thonk has used the weapons against the Empire, and know the dark elves covet the technology.
Unlike the gnomish enclaves on each of the Shambles, the gnomes who live in Gno are much more focused on engineering and mechanical competency. They do stay as neutral as possible in the affairs of Shambles but the trade situation with Thonk has made gnomes and Thonkians allies. Gno increasingly relies upon the might of Thonk to keep the Empire at bay and to forge the weapons to use burstpowder.
Gno is a loosely run small town that allows any to have a say in important decisions. As a matter of course, masters tend to have more sway in meetings, but that is not always the case. The gnomes won't turn from a good idea simply because an apprentice voiced it.
A note on the feel of Gno
The gnomes of Gno are "tinker" gnomes, in that they like to tinker with mechanical objects. They are not meant to be the kind of "tinker" gnomes that are incompetent and played for comedic effect. Any particular PC or NPC can have any personality, but the idea of a blundering master who constantly blows up himself and others is against type for the gnomes of Gno. In the Age of Shambles, such an bumbling gnome wouldn't last long.
Bat guano is an important component to burstpowder, which makes the extensive bat caves near Gno of great strategic value. A constant guard including a rotating squad of Thonkians watches the caves constantly, though most don't have any idea why guano is of such importance.
Apprentices are sent down to harvest guano regularly, and most do so with only modest complaint. Azin, a female apprentice, is quite fond of the bats, and she has taken a special interest in the creatures. After a few months of regular visits to the caves, she's noticed something alarming—the bat population is shrinking. She hasn't been able to discern the cause, and she's not even sure she's right. She's worried one of the reasons for the population decline is too many gnomes visiting the caves, and she is fairly certain if she brings her concerns to her master, the caverns will be filled with anxious gnomes. But it could be more than a traffic problem—there could be a new predator in the region, an illness could be spreading in the bats, or there could be some magic cast by dark elves causing the decline. Whatever it is, she knows she needs to find some help soon.
The Gearworks is the name for the numerous small caverns off of the large main cave of Gno. The gear works are labs and work areas for the masters of Gno. This setup provides some protection for the occasional mishap or fire. Each of the small caverns, or cogs, of the Gearworks takes on the personality of the master or masters working there. Some are clean, orderly, and efficient affairs. Others are chaotic messes filled with all kinds of odds and ends. The gnomes do their best to match new masters to a cog that fits them, though tight confines and the rigors of everyday life ensure there is always some conflict brewing in each cog.
Mahal is the master responsible for the discovery of burstpowder, and he's become quite popular for his contribution to Gno's way of life and standard of living. The only problem is, now people are expecting something new. It's not anything overt, but colleagues from around the Gearworks stop by regularly to ask Mahal and his peers about his current research. Mahal has no ideas. He's tossed around a few things, but nothing has worked like the accidental mixture of guano, charcoal, and sulfur. Yeah, accidental. He knows the other masters would scorn him if they knew a simple series of mistakes had led to such and important discovery.
All of this pressure has Mahal thinking he wants to take a vacation. The only problem is he's "too valuable" to leave Gno. So said all of the other masters when he packed his bags a few weeks ago. Since then he's been under a very gentle house arrest. He's free to go anywhere except outside of the enclave. And he hates it. Upon occasion, people come to trade with Gno directly. The next time a group of people come to town, Mahal has a mind to hire them to free him. Or be his bodyguards. He's not quite sure how he'll phrase the request.
I've made some changes in my home life in the last week or so. My 2 year old is now staying with me full time. I wrote with him at home last week, and I thought things went ok. In another couple of weeks, my 5 year old gets out of school and is home for the summer, too.
I think I'm going to switch to more "quick hit" pieces and write chunks as I go. Thing will likely be smaller and more bite sized, but I should be able to keep posting something each day.
This is all in progress and an experiment. I'll see how things go and how things feel. My son may also be getting the hang of playing by himself for hours each day, so we'll just have to see.
Bratta is a stone Ark made from thousands of different stones of all shapes, kinds, and sizes that have been fused together. Parts of her are iridescent, parts are dull gray, and parts gleam white. No moss grows upon Bratta's stones. The city of Bratta is constructed mostly of stone, though most buildings have wooden frames as well. Stone bridges, too thin and long to be built elsewhere, grace the taller buildings of the city. The Cathedral dominates the center of the city with high, peaked-roofs and large stained-glass windows. The cathedral is the center of all power in Bratta.
The people of Bratta are almost entirely members of the Acolytes of the Ark and revere the Arks as the saviors of civilization. They cherish their Ark in particular as being a peaceful, serene, and protective Ark, and Brattans believe they experience those same emotions chiefly because of how intensely those feelings flow from her. Brattans are welcoming to those who come to Bratta on pilgrimage and have set aside a hostel for those coming to see the Cathedral. Brattans are also a private people, so they will welcome strangers into their city but not as easily into their homes. An offended Brattan will be pleasant to the offender but distant. Gruff types often find Brattans cold and have no idea why or even that they are the cause.
Humans are by far the most populace race in Bratta, with numerous half-races all living here as well. Half-elves find they are better accepted here than almost anywhere else, and many stay and raises families. The prevalence of half-elves and half-orc, or orc blooded, people all living in close proximity has given rise to those of human, elf, and orc ancestry. These hybrids are usually called quarterlings in polite company—they are half-human, a quarter elf, and a quarter orc. Some disparagingly call them mutts or mules. Some quarterlings demonstrate their elven heritage more; others their human or orcish. Generally, the people of Bratta make no extra distinction for quarterlings.
If golem-forged characters exist in a campaign, this is the one major Ark where they would be accepted. Here, golem-forged characters would have a whole different set of problems, as they would be held in such awe that they would have trouble having any real interactions. Additionally, the Acolytes of the Arks would dearly love to speak to the golem-forged about where they came from and what they know. Golem-forged coming to Bratta for answers would be disappointed.
No one who lives on Bratta questions her love, peace, and wisdom. Her emotions are as real to them as the daytime sun. Also apparent to them is the Ark's desire for privacy, so while the people of Bratta love her, they rarely use her name or draw special attention to her. The Cathedral to the Arks has statues of all of the Arks in Vernlarum except Bratta, because the Acolytes view her as her own statue and know she wouldn't want the added attention anyway.
Bratta's region is near Andath and Mandith, though she rarely comes in contact with those other Arks. Her meanderings stay mostly to the far side of her region with only some travels near the other Arks. This had led some to believe they can build cities near Andath's territory but still in Bratta's. Bratta disabused them of this notion long ago, but it has been a while. Someone might soon try again.
Bratta's presence strengthens and hardens stone. The walls and buildings of the city of Bratta are some of the most durable in Vernlarum, and some craftsmen specialize in making stone weapons which are as strong and sharp as metal weapons made elsewhere, though not as good as slaveblades or Thonk-forged.
City of Bratta
Bratta is a theocracy run by the Acolytes of the Arks. Symas Rarder is currently the Archon, the highest position in the Acolytes, and is also the Governor of Bratta. Symas views his managing of the Acolytes as his more important duty, and he has assembled a bureaucracy to manage the day to day matter of the city. The Ministers who are the highest bureaucrats are, in effect, a council that makes almost all decisions for the city. They understand Symas's desires for the city and do their best to work in accordance with them. From time to time he has altered one of their decisions, but such an occurrence is rare.
Brithe is the Minister of Hospitality. Her job is to manage the visitors and pilgrims to Bratta. As of late, she has noticed a problem—there has been an increase in the number of pilgrims visiting Bratta, but there hasn't been an increase in the number of people attending services at the Cathedral. She doesn't understand what this discrepancy could mean. Someone in her Ministry could simply have miscounted, but she thinks that's unlikely. She's troubled with the thought that these visitors could be coming to the city for some other, more nefarious purpose, but she doesn't want to alert any of the other Ministers just yet. She's comfortable playing a hunch, but she doesn't want to look like a fool in front of her peers. She has the call out to notify her if a group of adventurous-looking individuals boards Bratta. If she can get a feel for them, she might ask for their aid in discreetly investigating the situation.
Bratta is laid out with broad streets all leading to the Cathedral. The streets and buildings are cleaner than on any other Ark. The people of the city are diligent about keeping the city in order as a sign of their devotion. The alleys are cleaned and swept regularly.
A high stone wall circles the city. The wall is thick and does a good job of protecting the city from raiders from the Wastes. Or it would if the gates were ever closed. On orders from the Archon himself, the gates are never closed—he views closed gates as a sign of inhospitality. He tells his people a raider who enters the city might be getting his first taste of the peace the Arks have to offer, and Brattans should not put barriers in his way. People grumble about this, but there are few enough raids on Bratta that there is not much to argue about. The low level of raids could be because of Bratta's distance form other Arks or the peace people feel when they set foot upon her. There are even rumors the Ministry of Complaints has taken actions to prevent raids.
Ministry of Trade (Port Grace)
Port Grace is the common name for the Ministry of Trade's primary are of responsibility—trade with the outside world. Trade officers man the Port's gear works, receive embarking traders, monitor their goods so the proper taxes can be levied, and send of those disembarking with similar checks.
The bureaucracy adds time to the process of boarding and leaving Bratta that doesn't exist on many other Arks, but the Brattans like to be sure those who are coming on don't do so with ill intent or with contraband.
Ministry of Complaints
Another group in town has dubbed themselves the "Ministry of Complaints". This Ministry is the gang of thieves that rules the streets of Bratta. The so-called Complaint Officers are devotees of Bratta, and they work within much tighter boundaries than similar organizations on other Arks. The Minister of Complaints, a shadowy female figure, has made it known that she views the bureaucracy of Bratta to be inefficient at caring for the poor and the less fortunate. She views it her ministry's job to correct for those failings. And as tax monies don't exactly pay for the Ministry, naturally some compensation falls into the pockets of Complaint Officers along the way.
The people of Bratta often make reference to the Ministry of Complaints with phrases like "take it to the complaint men", "the next time I see a Complaint Officer I'll tell him about your problems", or "complaining ain't cheap". Depending on a person's wealth and status, the Ministry of Complaint is an Arksend or heretical. The Ministry of Justice has, thus far, taken a light hand with the Ministry of Complaint—arresting Complaint Officers as they find them, but not seeking to root out the so-called Ministry as a whole.
Brattans are open to those who come to visit them, but hesitate to be too entangled in the politics of others. Recently, the Ministers have noticed Mandith attempting to make closer ties with the other Arks. This has made the Brattan Ministers suspicious, and they have withdrawn even further from any direct interaction with Mandith or Andath—they don't want to choose any sides if a conflict arises.
Malia is the ambassador for Mandith on Bratta. She has been stonewalled by the Ministers at every turn. But she is working on a plan to gather as much information about Bratta as possible, for she believes Bratta would make an excellent target for the Suzerain's plans. Ambassador Malia spends most of her days in the hostel, writing letters and making notes in a notebook. Once a day, in the early morning hours, she goes for a long walk around the walls of the city. People used to find this strange, but she has been on Bratta long enough that people accept her appearance now.
Brattans are comfortable with magic of all kinds. Because they view the Arks as the saviors of civilization, they are appreciative of magic and its ability to hep the world. However, they don't appreciate the scholarly study of magic. Most Brattans find such an idea too dry and perhaps heresy. Studying how an Acolyte's gods were made is not a way to endear oneself. This situation, and the Brattan preference for privacy, has generated a culture of "if you don't ask about magic, then I won't tell". Mages operate in private, but most consider it unlikely a full school of magic could develop in Brattan. Warlocks, specifically golem-pact warlocks, are seen as particularly special in Brattan, as they have a special communion with the Arks. Some people regard these as priests in the church, others as prophets of the Arks, and still others are jealous of their connection and resent the warlocks, which is a unique experience for those who practice such an ostracized skill.
Serode is a half-elven golem-pact warlock. She rode up onto Port Grace one day, not saying a word to anyone, only weeping. The Brattans took her in, and hosted her at the hostel for a few weeks, where she mostly slept, stared at the ceiling, or wept. Since that time, she has recovered. She enjoyed the view of the city and will, upon occasion, walk to the walls to stand upon them and look at the city as a whole. She won't speak of her past, but that's alright by most Brattans who don't ask anyway. Hospitality Officer Cynher passed through recently and noticed Serode tracing an arcane symbol in condensation on the breakfast table. Cynher didn't ask, of course, but he wonders what the warlock is about.
City of Valine
The heat of the Forges fill the cavern and is the first thing most visitors notice. The Forges also cast a red glow in the center of the metropolis, which, to the surface eye, provides a sinister cast to all dealings with the dark elves.
The heart of the Empire is the seat of dark elf political and military power. All decisions of import to the Empire are made by the Orbis of the Arcanium.
Dark elves of Valine consider themselves to be the best their kinds, and Vernlarum, has to offer. The further away from the center of the Empire one lives, the further removed from power, influence, knowledge, wealth, and society one becomes. Those in Valine would mock the desperate few who run small Prefectures at the edge of the Empire, if Valinians ever thought of them at all.
There is, in name at least, a Prefect for Valine. Aloten is a female dark elf in her middle years. She studied at the Arcanium for decades before reaching this position. She has hopes of attaining the Orbis, though those above her don't believe she'll ever reach the status of Magister. They appreciate her inability to make an important decision without consulting them—it gives them direct say in the running of the Prefecture of Valine without the necessity of managing every detail. It also provides them a scapegoat for their less popular decisions. The things that make Aloten good for her current role make her a poor Magister, and the other Magisters know this.
The capital city of the dark elf Empire is also its largest. The city is a sprawling mass centered around its two most important areas—the Arcanium and the Forges. Leading away from these are a number of broad thoroughfares. The other streets of Valine are narrow and winding, which often cause visitors to get lost. Adding to a visitor's sense of confusion is the ancient dwarves' use of elevation for their buildings. A building that looks short and squat might, in fact, be 10 stories tall, with most of those stories built downward into the cliff behind it.
This layout made the dwarven city difficult to assault, but it has also made the dark elves difficult to dig out now that they are entrenched. Not that anyone has tried. The former kingdoms that allied with the dwarves have all been lost to time and the stride of the Shambles.
Ancient dwarves picked the site of Valine, Barazir at the time, because of its proximity to a series of lava pools. The first dwarves, and later the Arcanium, stabilized the pools by laying various Aegises upon it. The lava provides a more constant forge than the dwarves could otherwise maintain.
Anvils of all sizes ring the pools, and some smaller forges do as well for when the smiths need a cooler temperature than the lava pools provide. The sound of smithing at the Forges is constant, and those who spend any time in Valine learn to ignore the ringing. The dwarves who smith at the Forges are all bearded to some degree or another, for no dwarf would be trusted with the responsibility without earning some trust of the dark elves. Female dwarves who are trusted are allowed to grow their hair long and braid it.
The best metalwork in Vernlarum, with the possible exception of Thonk, comes from the Forges. The history of smithing for the dwarves is unsurpassed, and those who work the Forges know they are slaves but are honored to carry on their race's tradition anyway.
Narvi is the Captain of the Forges. The dwarven female is honored to have the position, and she takes her duties very seriously. She knows the names the other dwarves call her, and she doesn't care. The work of the Forges is something dwarves devoted them to since the beginning of time, and she sees it as her responsibility to continue in that lineage. When she sees other dwarves acting rebellious, she is quick to bring them to the attention of the dark elves who monitor the Forges. She doesn't want any disruption of her work or the work of the other dwarves, and she sees no benefit from clear rebellion.
Narvi is not totally without sympathy for those dwarves who have a worse lot in life than she does, and she goes to the slave pens regularly to find dwarves she can task with small jobs to see how honorable and trustworthy they can be. One of her charges recently used her task as a means of escape. Narvi has no interest in calling the Reclaimers to recapture the dwarf—it would mean harsh punishment for him and a possible demotion for her. However, she wants the dwarf returned—a dwarf loose in the world who could claim she had helped him is a problem in and of itself. Narvi is nervously seeking someone to find the escaped dwarf Mahar and return him without ever alerting the Reclaimers or the Arcanium.
Ways to the Deep Below
At the far edge of the Empire are a series of collapsed caves and caverns. These all lead to the place known, collectively, as the Deep Below. No one guards these tunnels—anyone brave or foolhardy enough to explore the Deep Below gets what he deserves. The Orbis has declared anything of value brought up from the Deep Below belongs to the Empire. So if someone were to return from the Deep Below, he would be required to give it to the proper authorities and would be given "appropriate compensation".
The Ways are blocked, hidden, or trapped heavily. Even finding a possible Way is difficult, and clearing it to traverse it is generally considered impossible. The Empire has a small group of Reclaimers, the Historians, who seek pathways to the Deep Below. Any time they find one, they explore and see what ancient lore they can recover. Because of their duties, the Historians are some of the most powerful and feared of the Reclaimers. They are also the group with the longest list of killed or missing members.
The Deep Below itself is a series of tunnels and caves that web deep beneath all of the known world. It is possible it does not reach under the oceans. It's also possible it does. No one who has gone that deep has ever returned.
All manner of creatures and monsters inhabit the Deep Below, though most have no names anyone on the surface can recall. Some of these monsters have intellect and histories of their own. They remember things differently. They believe the Ways were collapsed to seal them in the Deep Below forever. And they are constantly seeking a Way to reach the surface and take what they view as rightfully theirs.
For reasons lost to time, though likely to prevent dark elf incursions, the entire Deep Below was covered with a powerful Aegis that prevents any teleportation or divination spells from crossing into, or out of, the Deep Below. The Orbis, just like the dark elf ancestors before, has looked for a way to disrupt this Aegis, but they have found no way past it other than to physically cross the threshold.
The Forlorn are a group of dwarves who escaped from the Empire some years ago. They were a large band of miners in a small Prefecture who overthrew their dark elf masters and fled into a newly discovered part of the Deep Below. Their plan had been to escape and then reach the surface, but they soon got hopelessly lost in the unfamiliar caverns. Now the band has dwindled and changed. The harsh environs have turned the dwarves into cannibals. Whenever they meet a newly escaped dwarf they take the dwarf in, kill him in his sleep, and hold a feast. They don't treat non-dwarves nearly as well. Someone who meets the Forlorn might notice there is something not quite right with the dwarves, as they have all become fairly mad.
There are many storied dark elf cities lost to the Deep Below. None are as storied or as precious to the dark elves as Lorithon. The city was their capital for ages and contains innumerable relics and artifacts of bygone eras. It is a beautiful city of tall spires connected by thin bridges, and it is littered with magic the Orbis would pay dearly for.
Not all of the dark elves in the Empire fled during the Shambling. A small number were left back. These continued their lives, though the intervening time has taken its toll. Whatever turned the original dark elves' skin obsidian has made further alterations, and the elves who live in Lorithon have no pigment in their skin whatsoever. These white elves have also lost much of their knowledge and intellect, and are a mostly feral group. There are some, though that are born with a knowledge of how to use magic, and they seek a way to learn from the tomes of knowledge scattered throughout Lorithon. They also bear a deep hatred for the dark elves who abandoned them at the end of the last age.
I have an almost three year old at home these days, and this summer I'll have a 5 year old as well. I'll do my best to update the site regularly, but there will be days I miss or days I don't quite getthe amount of content I want up.
Today is an example of this. I got the groundwork of the Empire down, but my son hit a crying jag as I got to the part of the post where I would talk about locations in the Empire. I'll discuss that topic in my next post.
Both metaphorically and in truth, the Empire is the most stable piece of civilization remaining from the previous Age. The Mountains of Sorrow protect the Empire from the destruction of the Shambles, and the Empire has flourished in a time when civilization has otherwise been near extinction.
The caverns of the Empire ring with the constant sound of the Forges. Dwarven slaves mine ore from the mountains, work it, and craft items beyond the ability of any craftsman, excepting maybe those on Thonk. Illumination comes from the fires of the Forges and the lanterns, torches, and other lights visitors and guests without the ability to see in the dark require.
The age old dwarven construction holds up, so the dark elves have seen little reason to strike it down and rebuild it. They have, however, over the centuries covered the buildings with etching of their flowing art and knot-work. Much of these etchings glow with the magic of wards or other spells, and are entrancing to people who live on the surface and are unaccustomed to obvious magical effects.
The Arcanium is both the scholarly school of magic for the Empire and the governmental body that presides over the Empire. The Orbis is the ruling council atop the Arcanium, and the Magisters atop the Arcanium have the ultimate authority in the land.
The Magisters spend most of their time involved in their own personal studies, and give little thought to the running of the Empire. To "wake a Magister" for a judgment or ruling is a decidedly desperate act that usually results in little satisfaction and much death.
All dark elves are citizens of the Empire, and they all receive full protection and property rights. Those outsiders who are admitted to the Arcanium are also citizens, though they cannot rise to the level of Magister, and their protections and rights are limited. For example, they cannot outright own businesses or buildings in the Empire. Those outsiders who are not in the Arcanium have even few rights, but they are accepted and tolerated. Some can even manipulate the rules and provide useful enough to run a business in truth, even if the paperwork shows something else.
Below all of these stand the dwarves. They are slaves, and are treated as such. Those who are valuable, trained smiths are treated well and allowed full beards. Most exist to do menial labor day and night under the watchful eye of dark elf masters and are not allowed beards. Those who cause trouble are quickly killed.
Outside of the capital city of Valine, formerly the dwarven city of Barazir, there are a number of other smaller cities and dark elven outposts. The Magisters handpick members of the Arcanium to go and preside over these as Prefects. The Prefects have ultimate authority in their location, and only consult the Arcanium on matters of great import. Consulting the Arcanium is seen as weakness, but making the wrong decisions is seen much worse.
One of the Magisters, Anthir, spent much of his career studying and exploring demons and the Nether realm. He has learned much of value about evil outsiders, their powers, and their uses. He has also learned they can be much more devious than mortals. Anthir made a bad deal, he knows now. He gained eternal life, but he is slowly losing himself. A demon seed was planted in his left hand, and a demon is slowly growing in him. Once the demon is full grown it will entirely possess his body, and his spirit will be destroyed.
Anthir is doing his best to make amends for the evil he has wrought in the world. He sees no hope for his current situation, and is facing his death with nobility, or as best he can muster it. He has a plan for freeing a large number of dwarven slaves. Once of his former apprentices, a vile female dark elf named Tatanye, runs the far away outpost of Erest. He wants to assassinate Tatanye and replace her with another Prefect who is sympathetic to the slaves. Then he can shuttle slaves to Erest where the new Prefect can free them. He now seeks a plausible way to assassinate Tatanye.
The dark elves who live in the Empire are all comfortable with magic. They must be, for their society is built upon it. These elves all have some form of arcane ability, and the further study of magic is not only not disdained, but it is encouraged. Though most cannot qualify for entrance into the Arcanium.
The rest gain positions of power as befits their abilities. Those who are particularly cruel find themselves as the slave masters and watch over the working dwarves.
Those of other races have become more common in the Empire as of late. Magic-users in Vernlarum have become tired of ostracization for acts they couldn't have committed, and they are coming to Valine to learn and be free to experiment.
Others come because they tire of life in the Wastes and believe the Empire will be less harsh. These refugees must be careful. If they cannot afford to live in the Empire and find some means of being productive, they might find themselves indentured and in slavery amongst dwarves. The threat of possible slavery keeps the influx of refugees from becoming too large.
Because of Thonk's recent aggression and possession of burst powder weapons, gnomes are an increasingly sought after commodity, and some dark elf Reclamation teams have been retested from finding lost dwarves to finding gnomes and returning them to the Empire to teach the secret of burst powder. None of the gnomes yet captured has known the secrets, but the dark elves believe it is merely a matter of time.
Unlike anywhere else in Vernlarum, magic is accepted and cherished in the Empire. Foreign magic users find the ability to cast spells almost intoxicating after a lifetime of secrecy and fear. Some magic-users come to Valine, knowing about the slavery and choosing to close their eyes to it. These people wish to learn, and hope they can leave before the Empire has tainted them too much. Much more frequent are those magic-users who preach the benefits of slavery or don't care about the plight of the dwarves.
Over the years, this is making the Arcanium a source of dark magics and evil magic-users. Those who wish to leave untainted often find themselves, at first, agreeing with evil acts to fit in and then slowly giving in to dark temptations themselves.
Gaining entrance into the Arcanium, the Imperial wizard college, is extraordinarily difficult and competitive, with it being common enough for rivals to attempt assassination against each other to improve their odds.
Those of other races who gain entrance find themselves alone in a sea of dark elves who remember childhood friends who weren't admitted to the wizard college for "these outsiders". Over time, some of the outsider mages fit in, others leave, and others simply disappear. As a mage demonstrates his ability and control over magic, he is given further freedom and more difficult tasks. Usually these tasks are directed by those above them to aid the more powerful mages in their own research. Only the Magisters themselves have full control over their time and research. Almost everyone who enters the Arcanium dreams of the day she ascends to the very top of the ranks and can not only pursue her own goals but ale direct others to aid her in her research.
The Arcanium itself is the only building in Valine the dark elves constructed. It is a dark black tower that twists and thins as it rises up out of the ground until ascends to almost the ceiling of the vast caverns at a point. Magical energy is palpable outside of the Arcanium, and oft time energy can be see swirling up and around the black tower.
The Empire has poor diplomatic relations with all of the Shambles except Mandith. Mandith comes close enough to Valine to trade, and the dark elves will trade their dwarven forged items for the bone work art Mandith's artisans create. This does not make them allies; the city and the Empire are tolerant of each other.
The dark elves detest Thonk and the masters there. The fact that the Thonkians can create burst powder weapons when they cannot only heightens the antagonism between the two. Thonk also harbors a large number of former slaves, and Reclamation teams make regular raids against Thonk to take back what they consider to be their property. Recently, the Arcanium has been providing magical support to the Reclamation teams to counteract the power of the burst powder weapons.
The Wastes are a vast and varied area that in another age would simply have been called Vernlarum. But then is not now. Vernlarum, or at least its remnants, have mostly survived on the backs of Shambles and in the Mountains of Sorrow.
There are still changes in climate as one might expect over hundreds of miles of expanse, but the movements of the Shambles have destroyed most ecosystems on the ground. With Vernlarum's ecosystem destroyed, what remains are various grasslands and savannas that border on deserts. Almost no forests remain. The tree life that remains is rugged and quickly growing, as copses of trees inevitably get trampled by a Shamble. Wildlife has adapted or died. There are few large herds of grazing animals left, though some still exist in the area Gaena wanders with its vast grassy plains. Carrion eaters and hearty desert animals are the most prolific.
Life for sentient races in the Wastes is a constant struggle and bears little resemblance to life on a Shamble. The one positive is that a Shamble's approach is never a surprise, and a small village of moveable huts can leave the Shamble's path before all of their belongings are destroyed.
People of the Wastes
The people of the Wastes live a nomadic life out of necessity. Any permanent structures are at risk of being trod upon, so people live their lives in various mobile structures that can be moved with a day or two of notice. People who lead these nomadic lives might once have resented their place in the world, but it is who they are now. They live their lives and deal with their struggles under the feet of Shambles. It is the nature of life to accept difficult circumstances as normal—a blacksmith might complain about a ruined piece of iron, but there is nothing he can do except melt it down and start again.
Nomads' lives aren't quite as meager as one might expect. A shamble rarely returns to the same spot in less than a year. A tribe can move to where a Shamble has recently been, establish their village, plant what seeds they've saved and stored, then reap their harvest before they expect a return. While this may not be considered ideal by some, it is enough to provide a small number of people with food. Most nomadic tribes also have small flocks of herd animals—goats and sheep are rugged and popular. Large herd animals are seen in the more bountiful areas. But the people of the Wastes hunt much more than one would expect of the herd animals to use in trading with the people on the Shambles.
Some basic tradesmen exist amongst the nomads. Blacksmiths have forges that can be pulled by oxen when necessary, and tanners, similarly, can move with a minimum of fuss. A constant preparedness to move necessarily inhibits the amount of work these crafters can do at a time, and there are few true masters in the Wastes. In fact, many craftsmen are journeymen who left the Shambles to start a life of their own away from their former masters for whatever reason.
The people of the Wastes have few diplomatic interactions with the citizens of the Shambles except when trading with the Shamble whose territory they occupy. Even then, they only interact sparingly and on matters of trade. They seek tools and equipment they can craft and trade whatever excess they have.
Generally, the people of the Wastes have a mindset that is a pale reflection of the Shamble that dominates their land. The people who live beneath Andath are calm and prone to trade, while those who live beneath Kytark are more hostile and independent.
Some Acolytes say this is further evidence of the Shambles' personalities and their impacts. Others say it is simply that the population of nomads is almost entirely related to the people of a particular Shamble and that regional difference are to blame. Most pay not attention to these matters.
Very few nomadic people are receptive, on any level, to magic users of any kind. They view magic use as the cause of all of their troubles, and many a careless cleric, hoping to heal someone, has been ripped apart by an angry mob. Even possession of a tome of indecipherable script is cause enough to have some stoned. Caution and care is advised to magic-users who travel the Wastes.
Nature magic users are an exception, but only barely. Anyone who can use her magic to cause a flower to bloom, cause grass to grow, or calm a disturbed animal is allowed to use magic, but they are watched with such great suspicion, that many still conceal their abilities and only use magic in secret.
Raiders are those groups of nomads who eschew raising livestock and scurrying after Shambles to plant tiny crops. Raiders, as their name implies, subsist on raiding those who do engage in such behaviors, though nomads aren't the preferred target of raiders. Raiders far prefer to assault the cities on Shambles. The Shambles are well defended, but it is difficult to completely seal such a broad stretch as 12 square miles. Raiders find the weak points of a Shambles defenses, assault, take what they can, and flee.
Raiders take anything they perceive as having value, but their primary target is the druidic grove. On different Shambles the druids are defended to varying degrees. But no matter how well defended the druids are, raiders seek them. While raiders have no interest in tending the soil for food, they know druids can be convinced to use their magic to make fruit and vegetables quickly rise from the ground. Druids can tame wild beasts, and they can heal the wounded.
Some raiders treat their captive druid with such respect that the druids become valued members of the raiding tribe. Other groups of raiders treat their druids as slaves to be used up and then discarded.
Iss'tan is an elven raider. He is a former Brother on Gaena, who was kicked out after an incident with a Duenna left her scarred and him with no honor. He views the situation as her fault, and has gathered sympathizers to him. Iss'tan leads a small, but growing band of raiders in Gaena's territory. He resents the rule of the Elders, and seeks to overthrow them. Those who follow him have a fervent faith in him to lead them to his goals. His insight into the defense of Gaena gives them hope in success.
Village of Cant
The village of Cant is a small nomadic village in Andath's territory. Word has started to spread amongst magic-users that Cant might be receptive to magic-users. Not much more is known, and the proposition of finding a village of nomads in a 3,000 square mile area is hard enough, and finding such a village in the Wastes and then approaching someone about magic use is risky enough to be considered crazy.
Those adventurous enough to seek out Cant and ask the proper questions with the proper subtlety might find a village of compatriots who will guide magic use and deliver insight into life with magic in hiding. Or perhaps the person will find a trap used by some of the more radically anti-magic people of the Wastes who are taking on a mission to rid the world of magic-users whenever they can. Or perhaps the Empire started the rumor about Cant, hoping to eradicate magic-users who weren't coming to them.
Ruins of Zerok
In the vicinity of Mandith, there are vast ruins of the ancient city of Zerok. Many speculate about why Mandith has not ground the largest remaining ruins to dust, but people know simply that he hasn't. Other than a large swath of destruction down the middle of the city, much of it still stands.
The Ruins of Zerok have been raided and explored by adventurers numerous times, but there are catacombs and dungeons beneath the city that will never be fully explored. Maps can be purchased at any trade district on any Shamble, though one never knows the veracity of the piece until one is beneath Zerok.
Many have discussed the possibility of settling Zerok and reclaiming it, but those who try disappear. Most say the city is haunted by the souls and bodies of those who died during the Shambling, and refuse to venture anywhere near the tall spires and empty streets. Others say that kind of thinking is foolish. Still others say the city may well be haunted, but the buildings and depths below the city are filled with artifacts from a bygone era and would be worth a fortune to the right buyer, which makes the risk worth it.
Rorora is a young nomad woman who waits an hour outside of Zerok. Her fiancé, Kivin, promised her he would recover a token of his esteem for her from Zerok. He made the promise in a brash moment brought about by drink, but he was determined to go through with it. Rorora tried to release him from his promise repeatedly, but she was unsuccessful, and now she waits for him to return. Each passing day she has less hope, and she will soon leave, her hear heavy with mourning and the question of whether Kivin is still alive. She would be grateful to any adventurers who would go find Kivin, dead or alive, and return him to her.
In low flatlands that used to be a prairie, but is now mostly desert, wanders Kytark. She appears as a giant lizard in the distance, the sun gleams off of her shining scales and flesh. Those who've never beheld a dragon, may at first think her to be one. As she approaches, the differences between Kytark and dragons fade. She has a triangular head and a tail, and she's covered in flesh. But that is all of the resemblance she bears to dragon-kind.
There are a few large groves on Kytark, but the druids struggle with keeping the topsoil as healthy as on Andath or Gaena. The climate doesn't help either, and the groves are filled with hearty plants that can go for extended periods without significant water.
Kytarkians are a rugged people, who have established themselves in a tribal hierarchy more similar to tribes of raiders in the Wastes than to how the other Shamble cities are organized. The people of Kytark, men and women, use their physical prowess to decide matters of import, with the winner's position being "Kytark blessed".
Kytark has the largest remaining population of full blooded orcs, and the lowest population of pure-blooded humans. Elves and dwarves are less numerous here than they are on other Shambles.
Kytark is a flesh golem Shamble; she is covered in the skins and flesh of innumerable creatures. In some places she's a patchwork of dragon and mammalian hides, and in others she's an extended sheet of similar hides bound together.
Warlocks and Acolytes agree that Kytark is the most erratic, and the most protective of those on her back, of any of the Shambles. Over time, any story about a Shamble attacking people gets Kytark's name attached to it, true or not. None dispute the danger in attacking Kytark. Even those who live on her back have a healthy respect for her that borders on fear and reverence. They take care not to try and strike Kytark's flesh, to because it will harm her. But because she may ignore the strike or she may shake the city from her back. Though, to be fair, it has been a generation or two since she has done the latter.
Kytark's magic toughens and strengthens hide. The best hide armor and leather goods come from Kytark, and their leather goods are appreciated throughout the known world. Kytark's presence appears to affect animals, too, making them more pliable to handling, training, and domestication. No where else in Vernlarum can one buy a griffon mount or similar unusual beast.
City of Kytark
The system of government in Kytark is the loosest of the cities. Kytarkians generally do what they want. They consult elders on various matters, and when something affects the city as a whole, any who wishes to have a voice does. When these disputes happen, sides invariably form. When words can no longer sway people from one side to another, a Contest is held, in which the people from the two sides fight until one is declared the victor.
Contests make politics surprisingly important given the Kytarkian distaste for the political. The more and better abled people one can attract to one's side, the better chance one has in a Contest.
Kytark is the most egalitarian of the cities of Vernlarum. Anyone may have a say, and even those who have been crippled and cannot fight might change the minds of those who do. Women are given an equal voice in all affairs, though they must also resort to a physical defense of their beliefs. The position of women is equal, not superior. Visitors occasionally show deference to women, and they are treated with as much scorn as those who treat women as inferiors.
While some fear the "might makes right" style of government will cause Kytarkians to fall under the influence of a mad leader, this fear has played out very rarely. There are just no reigns of leadership to grab for the power-hungry. Someone who wants to raid others is free to, but they aren't welcome back on Kytark, either. Many of the groups of raiders in the Wastes can trace their ancestry back to a charismatic and bloodthirsty Kytarkians who left to pursue a career of raiding.
The back of Kytark is a massive sprawl. Animals roam everywhere. Visitors can be quite disturbed to board Kytark and come face to face with a wolf or boar. These animals are rarely aggressive without provocation, though what constitutes provocation to a wolf, a boar, a griffon, or a hyena might all be considerably different.
Instead of one central city, there are scattered collections of hide huts, leather tents, and tepees. The lack of an organized city or leadership hierarchy is quite disjointing to visitors from other cities; less so to visitors from the Wastes.
Everyone in Kytark wears some form of hide or leather. Kytark's magic makes the armor quite protective, and it is the material Kytarkians have plenty of access to. Even those who possess metal armor wrap the armor in leather coverings to protect from the glare of the sun and to add an extra layer of toughness.
Port Fang, so called because of the large Fangs from various beasts that point downward like a pike hedgehog against massed raiders, circles Kytark's back. Gears and pulleys await those who need up or down along the sides of Kytark.
The Talons are people who are both dockworkers and guardians. While there are few jobs in Kytark, trade is too important to allow the Port to go unstaffed. Because of the import of working the dock, a position in the Talons is highly contested and sought. Kytarkians who visit other Shambles are often confused by how citizens elsewhere consider dockworkers to be lowly. Treating a Talon as lowly is a quick way to lose a tooth. The only way to hold a position in the Talons is to not lose it to someone else who wants it. Sometimes a position will trade hands two or three times in a day.
Stoth has a secret. He fought his way to his position in the Talons through may of the best fighters and warriors in Kytark. He has bested every challenger so far, and few challenge him anymore. Most are choosing to challenge easier marks in the Talons. What Stoth hasn't told anyone is he feels ill. A tiredness has come upon his limbs. He has been having trouble pulling the ropes to draw people up to the top, and he worries what will happen when someone realizes his weakness. There are elders he could ask, but he's afraid if he's seen talking to them others will guess at his troubles. His only hope now is to find a group of outsiders who will be interested in helping him and who won't prey upon his shameful weakness.
In the middle of Kytark, there is a large circle of shoulder high wooden poles. From the poles hang tanned hides that sway in the wind. This is the Contest Grounds. Minor disputes can be handled wherever those disputes arise. But major disputes between groups of people are held here, in the Contest Grounds.
The Grounds are sacred to Kytarkians, and those who spill blood here, while not in a Contest, are ostracized and become pariah. Some kill the pariah in their sleep out of mercy, but no one ever speaks of the deed. Spilling blood during a Contest, however, is expected. Contests can be held to first blood, to unconsciousness, or to the death, though Contests to the death only happen every few years.
When a challenge is issued for the Contest Grounds, a day is given for both parties to summon those who are to take their sides. That time is also used to gather as many people as possible to witness the event. Once everyone is assembled, the two Contestants make their cases to their people. It is not uncommon for a warrior summoned by one person to join the other person's side, and each Contestant is aware of that danger. Some Contestants want only a small group of their closest people summoned, while others try to summon as many as possible, hoping to overwhelm with numbers. Whatever the tactics used, once the cases have been made and sides are chose, the Contestants and their allies step into the Grounds and fight. Deaths sometimes happen as a part of a Contest, but as long as the witnesses judge there to be no intent to kill, the responsible person faces no consequence. Some use this as a chance for surreptitious murder, but that is not the way of most on Kytark.
Rayr is an orc elder of Kytark. He spent time as a Talon, though he claims more time than some remember. He fought off raiders, though some question his exact recall of heroic deeds. He sometimes cheats at dice, but the few who catch him at it are willing to challenge him. Rayr spends most of his time these days near the Contest Grounds to watch a Contest. He also trains warriors in various weapons, though he makes the trainee pay with some curio or interesting item from afar. He is widely considered the best trainer on Kytark, and some consider him the best in the known world.
Lately, Rayr has been thinking of Draphina, a human woman he met years ago on Andath. Or was it Mandith? He forgets. But she was beautiful. She loved him, and he loved her. And her sister, but he's pretty sure she's forgotten about that little mistake. After all, it was years ago. Rayr has been half thinking about turning down all requests for training until someone agrees to go find Draph and see if their relationship can be rekindled. The loss of him as a trainer would be a blow to the martial prowess of Kytark, he knows, but he needs to find out how Draph is after all of these years.
Toward the aft section of Kytark are a large number of fenced in and gated areas. The Pens is where untrained and untamed animals are kept until they can be brought to heel. The best animal handlers in the known world live and work here, training all manner of beasts to be hunting companions, mounts, herding animals, or scouts. If a creature can be trained for a task, someone here has probably trained one before. People looking for well-bred, well-trained animals know to come here first.
Ira is a good trainer. She's one of the best with fowl, and her hunting birds are a highly sought commodity. She only sells to those who she believes will care for the birds and not treat them poorly. She judges this by requiring all but the most regular customers to spend a week learning the bird from her. At the end of the week, she will either agree to the purchase, or she won't. She makes no apologies for her high standards, and those who complain about them are often turned back before the week can even begin.
Ira is also struggling with a recent affliction. A year ago, Ira started speaking prophecy. She didn't believe that was what was happening at first, but in the middle of dealing with a merchant from Mandith, the unbidden words "you will fall from a great height in a storm" left her lips. A week later, after the merchant had completed his purchase of a hawk, a storm hit Kytark. During the storm, it was discovered that the merchant wasn't a merchant, but a scout for raiders who had hoped to use his knowledge of Kytark to better take possession of the Shamble. Once the people of Kytark discovered what he was about, Talons tossed him unceremoniously overboard. Ira was stunned. She doesn't know why the words come to her, and she often doesn't understand what they mean. But they alway seem to come true in one way or another. The people of Kytark are beginning to learn about her prophecizing. She has faced a few challenges who say she is using magic, and so far she has won. She fears she won't always. She doesn't even know if she's right, maybe she is using magic. She just doesn't know. She wants to be done with the prophecy, but they seem to be happening more and more frequently.
Near the Contest Grounds is another important area of Kytark, the Oasis. The Oasis is the one regular water source on Kytark. It is a large pool tended by druids, who keep it full and fresh, though this can be difficult in the arid climate Kytark wanders.
Grakthar, a full blooded orc, spends much of his time near the Oasis. He has heard the tales of orcs and orc-bloods from the previous Age, and he looks at the world around him and sees that the orcs have lost. Orc blood is everywhere, but orc traditions are gone. They have been assimilated into the mass of human civilization. This state of affairs makes Grakthar ill, and he plans to do something about it.
Grakthar recently discovered a series of tomes written by an ancient scholar who was attempting to commit orcish thought and culture to paper. This was written at the time of the Shambling, when orcs were still feared but beloved for the aid they had given. In these stories, Grakthar sees a nation of warriors who will not submit to humans or any other race. He sees a people who have their own culture, their own gods, and their own ways of life. And he believes humans took those things from orcs intentionally. The orc is quietly gathering other orcs around him. He is letting them read selections from the tomes, so they can understand what they have lost. And he is planning to return an orc kingdom to an unsuspecting world.
Despite the gruffness of the people of Kytark, they get along reasonably well with everyone. Kytarkians think Gaena's forests make her people soft, the Thonkians are too obsessed with using metal to hide their weakness, and Andathians are too concerned with trade than strength. But they know each of these places has a strength of its own, as well. As long as people form other Shambles do not interfere with them, they see no reason to interfere with the other Shambles.
Lulix is the ambassador from Mandith. He is starting to worry for his sanity and his life. His mission was to come and ingratiate himself with the leadership on Kytark and to learn about their strengths and weaknesses. So far as he can tell there is no leadership on Kytark, and their defenses look laughable. Yet they seem able to respond swiftly to threats form raiders and relatively impervious to discord from amongst themselves. Lulix can't sense any weaknesses, so he doesn't know what to report. If he tells the Suzerain exactly what he sees, he worries he will be recalled. If he lies, well, that won't go any better in the long run. For now, he is stalling, by sending raw numbers of troop counts, animals counts, and estimates on how long food would last. Still, he is increasingly sensing impatience in the missives he receives back. They are expecting a real assessment from him, and he doesn't have one. He is beginning to get desperate.
Arcane magic is taboo on Kytark. No magic use is acceptable. Druids and clerics are watched with suspicion, but accepted because the of the need for people to tend the groves, the Oasis, and for healing. If someone is accused of being a magic-user, he is taken to the Contest Grounds where he must stand trial for his supposed magic use. If he wins the Contest, then he is no magic-user in the eyes of the people. Unless he uses magic to win, of course. The crowd has been know to tear such magic-users apart.
Other settled Shambles have groves on their backs amongst the cities; Gaena has a small city on her back amidst the forests. From afar, one might mistake Gaena as a forested hill, but up close, she is a solid wooden golem teeming with the life aboard her. Waterfalls dot her sides from the numerous rivers and streams that run about her. Across her 3 mile back, rest many different forests and many complete ecosystems, all monitored, nurtured, and tended by the Elders.
The magic of Gaena strengthens wood and makes trees hardier. The trees atop Gaena have a deep, tangled network of roots that hold soil in place and allow for burrowing animals and insects to be vibrant parts of their ecosystems. The wood harvested from these trees is known throughout Vernlarum as the best wood for any project, and wooden weapons that stay on Gaena long enough take on some magical properties.
The people who live atop Gaena all consider themselves a part of the harmony and ecosystem. They are pleasant to visitors, and will do their best to be hospitable. But many leave after a short stay—many dislike having to be mindful of their every impact upon the life around them. Others leave because they'd like to eat without hunting for the food themselves.
Gaena has the largest population of Mourning elves in Vernlarum. They hope to find some semblance of the forests they've lists here. Many do, though they rarely venture near the edge, where the can view the desolate Wastes below.
The air around Gaena hums with her peace, harmony, and tranquility. Those who walk aboard her feel in harmony with every other living thing, though this plays out in ways visitors don't expect. The roar of beasts, the death cries of prey, and the wail of elves grieving a newborn are all a part of the harmony on Gaena—not disruptions to it. Gaena is nurturing to life, but this necessitates an acceptance of death. The life of the wolf depends upon the death of the cow, the life of the cow depends on the death of the grass, which itself depends upon the death of the wolf.
Gaena is as likely to stop in an area experiencing good weather as she is when an area is filled with storms. The Gaenans who live atop her trust her implicitly, and when she stops in a storm, they trust it is time for rain.
The Wastes around Gaena have turned into gentle grassy plains, but whenever she encounters a copse of trees, she trample it underfoot. This perplexes visitors, but Gaenans trust Gaena to know what is best.
City of Gaena
The Elders are a ruling council of Gaena comprised of elder druids. The Elders only meet when there is a concern that affects all of Gaena. Each druid watches over an area of land, and has autonomy with his area, though he is still bound by the decisions of the Elders as a whole.
The justice of the Elders tends to be about restoring balance. A farmer who cut down a tree beyond his purview might have to replant a number of others and tend them until they have replaced the harvested tree. One who needlessly kills a wolf, might be given her cub to raise but not domesticate. Seemingly simple sounding punishments can become much more than the punished expected, depending on the severity of the crime. Teaching a wolf pup to be a wolf is a difficult, and dangerous, undertaking.
One faction of Elders calls itself the Caretakers. The Caretakers see people and their actions as a part of the harmony of life aboard Gaena. The Caretakers believe a farmer building a house with wood from nearby trees and tending a small plot of land as no different than ants building a hill from nearby dirt and raising aphids. To Caretakers harmony is about balance, sustainability, and appropriateness. A farmer who grows enough food for five families is using too much land, and should give it to others to work or let it lie fallow to be reclaimed by the forest.
Another faction of Elders, the Guardians, see it as their place to protect nature from civilization. They view the Caretakers' view as overly simplistic, and they view civilization as a sickness and destructive force utterly opposed to harmony and balance. A man growing vegetables may be well and good, but if he used a metal rake, someone must have forged it, and someone must have raided the earth for ore. The Guardians wish to see Gaena and, eventually, Vernlarum returned to a more basic and, to them, holy natural state. The Guardians are a small group, but they have been growing in popularity and strength as of late.
Deln is the half-orc leader of the Caretakers. He has held the position for a number of years. He does not see the Guardians' view as valid, and assumes others will see the myriad problems imposed by their 'solutions to civilization'. Deln is dismissive of the Guardians, which has not endeared him to them. And he refuses to rebut them publicly, because he thinks talking about their views would lend them credence. Instead, his silence has become a sign of his tacit agreement with some of the things the Guardians believe, and more people are joining their cause. They have even become emboldened enough to start acting out against some of the farmers and non-druids who live on Gaena.
People from elsewhere in Vernlarum refer to the "City of Gaena". Those who visit Gaena are disabused of that term. A handful of small villages dot Gaena's back. Gaenans have no wish to turn their Shamble into a city; for them she is a sanctuary for natural life and abundance. They seek to live in harmony with the life aboard her, and they see the cities on other Shambles as wasteful, obnoxious, or sad.
There are farms on Gaena, though cultivating land is a source of tension between different factions of the Elders. For now, a few acres have been set aside for people to tend and supplement the food the forests provide. The Elders take care to limit a farmer to the amount of land that can feed his family. The farmers mostly accept this, as they, too, have a reverence for the bountiful nature on Gaena.
The numerous rivers on Gaena all flow down her back and off her sides. They create waterfalls as they flow out to the ground below. Beside many of these waterfalls are old, rusty gear works to raise and lower visitors.
Visitors, other than Acolytes, are fairly rare to Gaena, and few Gaenans feel a need to leave. Because of the infrequency of travel to and from Gaena, Port Falls might feel abandoned. That feeling is intentional, and misleading.
The Duennas are female warriors who excel at woodlands stealth and archery. They view it as their sacred duty to protect Gaena and the forests atop her from interlopers. Many a group of raiders from the Wastes has climbed aboard Gaena to be riddled with arrows from unknown assailants. The raiders almost always die or flee before they see their first Duenna.
Serd is a male half-elven ranger who believes the job of watching over Gaena is not only for females. He has assembled a small band known as the Brothers. The Brothers also patrol Port Falls, and the Duennas resent their interference in their duties. The Duennas and Brothers have both appealed to the Elders to intervene, but so far the Elders have seen no reason to. The Duennas' ridicule of the Brothers is causing Serd to push his men harder and harder. Some people are starting to worry the Brothers will become a danger to the Duenna if the Elders don't intervene soon in some way.
In the center of Gaena, there are a series of pools large enough to be considered lakes. These pools are fed from a magic from the beginning of the age, and the Elders refuse to allow any magic user to study them. The pools are refreshed at a constant rate, and flow outward into the many streams and rivers along Gaena's back. In the rivers, visitors are often amazed to find turtles, fish, and other water life.
Another piece of magic from the beginning of the age teleports smaller lifeforms from the edge of the Falls back to the Pools. This may be a bit disconcerting for the fish, but they seem to have adapted. The teleportation doesn't work on life beyond large fish or turtles. Instead of being teleported, larger creatures are kept from falling off by a magic barrier. One can still drown held in place by the river, but most creatures are able to pull themselves free.
Kal is a widely regarded fisherman who wanders along the rivers and streams of Gaena. He is able to forage and fish for plenty to eat, he carved his own fishing rod from a fallen limb, and he claims he needs little else. People who see him are greeted with a smile and pleasant small talk. Those who know Kal wonder at his positive attitude.
A year ago, his son fell into a river while Kal was teaching him to fish. His son was just small enough to trigger the teleportation magic of the Falls and instead of being saved, was dropped into the Pools to drown. His body was recovered and put to rest, with many of the people of Gaena saddened at the tragedy.
What Kal has told no one is that his son's ghost torments him with a constant, relentless screaming and howling. Kal is afraid that if he tells people about his son's ghost, they will think he is crazy and not let him stay on Gaena. However, he's becoming increasingly unable to ignore the screaming. And just recently has begun to fear another thought—what if his son is trying to warn him about something?
On the left side of Gaena, near Port Falls, is the main inn on the Shamble. Visitors are usually directed her regardless of where they board, and some can't believe they have to cross 3 miles of forest to reach the place. The Hostel has a bare dirt floor, and boughs are brought in fresh for bedding. Many expect an uncomfortable night's rest, but the boughs are surprisingly soft.
The inn is run by Seroon'a, a Mourning elf who runs a clean inn and is welcoming to those who come to visit. Seroon'a will entertain guests with songs of her people that have been handed down through the ages. Her songs are beautiful and sad. Though she knows enough to sing songs of hope before her guests bed down for the night. Because of the strictures laid down by the Elders, Seroon'a provides very little food, but for a small fee, she will help those who need it with hunting for their supper. She has a number of good hare runs near her that are fairly reliable. She's a good instructor, and even the most incompetent hunters who stay at the Hostel rarely go more than a day without food.
Seroon'a's son, Del'pol, helps with the gathering of boughs and teaching people to hunt, though he longs to be doing something else. The Brothers have caught his attention. His friends who are now Brothers tell him stories of raiders they've fought, and he wishes to join them. Seroon'a is more of a traditionalist, and sees the Brothers as impinging on the Duennas' responsibility. She hasn't strictly forbidden Del'pol from joining, but she is working him hard in an attempt to fill his days too much to practice the bow or the sword. Del'pol is likely to approach any adventurers he sees seeking instruction. He has a ring his now dead father gave him that he is willing to offer in trade, though he doesn't wish to lose the ring, as he believes it has magical properties.
Shrine of the Acolytes
Deep in the forests to the aft of Gaena, there is a small shrine to the Arks. The Elders agreed to allow the shrine to be built and managed by the Acolytes of the Arks, as long as it stayed small and the Acolytes who tended it followed the rules the Elders set.
Many Acolytes have a deep love for Gaena, and see the forests on her back as a part of the promise of the Arks. Every Acolyte makes a pilgrimage to Bratta, their home ark, but most also come to Gaena to pay their respects.
The Acolytes believe Gaena is important, because her existence allowed many of the creatures of Vernlarum to survive. She is the Ark who carries the hope of the return of vast stretches of forest and teeming jungles of animals, and they revere her all the more for it.
The druids of Gaena are sympathetic to the Acolytes, and a goodly number are believers. Those who believe the Shambles are not their saviors, still appreciate the respect the Acolytes pay to Gaena, and appreciate their reverence for her.
Rakth is the human Acolyte in charge of the Shrine. He is a small, older man who enjoys meditating and listening to Gaena and the harmony about her. He is concerned about the Guardians and their beliefs, because he, rightly, believes there is no room for him or the Acolytes in the Guardians' world view. He has spoken a number of times to Deln, but the leader of the Caretakers doesn't seem to understand the threat the Guardians present. Rakth is looking for others to help persuade Deln.
Rakth is also trouble by another matter. A series of deaths, seemingly accidental, has begun to plague the forests within a mile or so of the Shrine. He has summoned with Gaena, and he believes one of his other Acolytes is the culprit. He can't believe that, and is fooling himself that he misunderstood Gaena or that the Acolyte will stop. Still, the murders continue, and Rakth is beginning to think outside aid might be necessary.
The Elders do their best to stay out of all of the political situations in Vernlarum. They have no wish to invite further trouble on themselves. Still, the Elders see Thonk and Andath with some fondness, as they are both more elemental Shambles. They find Mandith detestable and an abomination—a refutation of the life cycle.
Nesad has recently arrived from Mandith as a diplomat, and spy. He was formally received by the Elders, but has since been completely ignored. The Elders hope that by doing this, the diplomat will simply leave. Duennas keep a constant watch over him, fearing he is up to some "evil necromancer" plot. Of course, they are partly right.
Nesad is a warlock who was sent here to spy on Gaena's defenses. And, while he has been doing the job dutifully, he has started to question if Mandith should go to war with Gaena or any other city. He is learning to enjoy the simple pleasures of hunting and fishing, and wonders what would become of the forests if the Suzerain had his way. His reports are beginning to reflect his belief that Gaena is an unsuitable Shamble for Mandites.
His one problem is a series of illness have arisen in the few Gaenans he has interacted with. No one has died yet, but the illness is troubling. Some are calling for his forceable removal, and he is trying to understand the cause.
The Elders are some of the most well-educated non-wizards in Vernlarum about magic. The Elders tolerate magic, and magic-users, to the extent that they tolerate anything or anyone. They do, however, believe wizards, with their attempts to analyze, intellectualize, and understand magic are baffling and laughable. To druids, magic is to be felt, not understood; to be heard, not read. Because of their feelings about magic-users, wizards receive a welcome they are not expecting—acceptance tinged with disdain. Wizards are not accustomed to people looking down on them. Sorcerers, and others with an innate talent for magic, are seen as "proper magic-users" with a gift the druids may not understand but see as similar to their own.
Thonk rumbles through the costal lands belonging to him. His massive iron and steel frame dwarfs the other Shambles. The clanging sounds of smithing can be heard almost any time day and night, and the smell of fish, fresh or smoked, is another constant in the city of Thonk. The buildings and structures of the city are made of wood or brick, but their roofs are made of every known alloy or metal. Sunrise can be a blinding and wonderful experience as light reflects off the metal roofs. Iron gates and arches are everywhere in the city, and every person raised in Thonk has at least some experience with a forge.
The people of Thonk are a rugged, durable, and independent lot. The smiths of Thonk don't have access to the dark elves' Imperial Forges, but there are no better surface smiths in the known world. They take great pride in their work, and will often call Imperial-forged weapons "slaveblades" with their disgust evident. The master smiths of the town are constantly working and refining their blades. And no other crafters have yet discovered the mystery of how to make weapons that use the gnomish burst powder.
The dwarven and gnomish populations are higher in Thonk than in any of the other Shamble cities. The focus on craftsmanship, self-reliance, and opposition to the Empire are all attractive to members of those races. It doesn't hurt that many citizens would defend a free dwarf to the death against a dark elf Reclaimer.
Thonk is steadfast. Steadiness and confidence are pervasive in his presence. Some Acolytes theorize Thonk's personality is why Thonkians are so bad at compromise. Thonk hasn't come to a stop in living memory, and no one expects him to any time soon.
Thonk's meanderings regularly take him into the Freshwater Bay, a bay off of the Ocean of Thernd that has potable water. He walks deep enough for his head to go under water. The water does not typically reach the city, but storm surges have caused the people of Thonk to build raisable metal levees. Time in the bay gives Thonkians access to vast stores of fresh water and plenty of fish, which are often smoked and eaten year-round.
Thonk's presence strengthens metals over time, and some mundane weapons can reach the quality of magical items if they are kept near Thonk long enough.
City of Thonk
The Alloy is the ruling council of Thonk. To become a Master, a smith must create a masterwork or any metal or alloy and present it to the Alloy at an Exhibition to be judged worthy. If a masterpiece is found worthy, the artisan is admitted to the Alloy, and she gets an equal vote in all council matters.
The Exhibition happens only once a year, and some journeymen must present a work at four or five Exhibitions before being accepted. Some journeymen never reach Master status. These often leave Thonk for the small nomadic settlements in the Wastes below where their work is prized, if not for its greatness, for its proximity.
Bursh is a respected Master, who has held that position for more than half of his four decades. He is also a recent convert to the Acolytes of the Arks. In his newfound fervor, he has begun pushing for Acolytes to be given seats in the Alloy, citing that their masterwork is the conversion of others. In particular, he believes Chalt, the Acolyte responsible for his conversion, should be recognized as a Master. Some Masters believe this argument holds merit—not all great works must produce a visible product. Others dislike the years of tradition being threatened, and wonder if they allow conversions to be masterworks, what the next request will be. The Acolytes themselves are split on this debate, and some wonder if Chalt has some other motive.
The city of Thonk sits in the middle of Thonk's large back, well away from Port Levee. Because of raids and conflict with the Empire, the Alloy constructed a wall about the city. Inside the wall, the city is a sprawling, jumbled proclamation of independence.
The streets are anywhere someone hasn't built, which often causes strange twists, turns, and dead ends. A visitor to the city will quickly get lost without the aid of a guide or very good directions. Every decade or so, one of the Masters proposes the idea of creating official districts and organizing the streets. The ideas are discussed quite fervently, hours are spent drawing maps and hammering out differences. But in the end, the Masters find that they like their city the way it is, and would rather not "impose order for order's sake". The plans are then put away, and then life returns to normal.
The Great Furnace is a large open structure towards the center of the city. Any citizen of Thonk may work the Furnace and the forges there. Visitors may pay a small amount for access if they wish it, though it is sometimes difficult for a visitor to find someone to pay.
The Furnace itself is a hundred feet wide and always tended by a series of apprentices who are themselves watched over by bored journeymen. The Furnace has burned for a hundred years, and keeping it lit is seen as a sacred, if dull, duty.
Staug is a dour dwarf who can regularly be seen working the forges in the Great Furnace. Staug fled captivity in the Empire three decades ago, and made his way to Thonk. His work his some of the best in the city, and almost every Master has, at one time or another, asked Staug to put forward even the least of his pieces for the Exhibition. Staug's response is to point out a flaw in his work being discussed, yell and berate the Master who either didn't notice or failed to mention the flaw, and then melt the work down and start again. Staug regrets the wife and child he left in the Empire strives to create the perfect piece in memory of those he left behind. He may well continue this cycle until he dies.
The port of Thonk is named for the great metal sheets that ring Thonk's back. These sheets are raised and lowered with a complex system of gear and hydraulics whenever Freshwater Bay is in sight. Also ringing Thonk's back are a series of large cannon. Firecrews are stationed nearby to balled in case of Imperial or raider assault. Assaults against Thonk almost always occur in the night to avoid devastation at the hands of these cannons.
The human postmaster, Mil, has been having trouble as of late. During a recent nighttime skirmish with raiders, he was almost swept overboard. He caught the edges of a levee and was able to scramble back to safety, but not before he caught a glimpse of the vast darkness below him. Since that day, he has had a terrible fear of heights, and is having trouble executing his job efficiently. he has delegated as much as he can, but people are starting to notice his pale demeanor and shaking hands whenever he oversees the embarkations and disembarkations that demand his personal attention. He is desperate to find a cure for his problem, but he also fears telling his superiors or subordinates lest he be ridiculed or removed from the position as useless.
The druidic grove on Thonk is small. The freshwater supply makes growing trees a possibility, but maintaining the topsoil is a daily effort, though the druids find it rewarding.
There are few of the Mourning elves in Thonk, the metal surroundings are too alien to them and cause their pain to be even greater. Those who live on Thonk almost entirely reside in the grove, either as druids or as simple residents. If an elf leaves the grove, he sees an alien city, and those of the city see him as alien as well. The experience is so disconcerting, the elves are leaving their grove less and less.
Kal'tas, a Mourning elf born in the Thonk grove, is a ranger and protector of the grove. The only problem is, the grove doesn't need much protection. It has been a generation since a raid successfully reached the grove and caused the loss of a druid. The other elves and druid are thankful for this peace, but Kal'tas has grown restless. He isn't sure if he should seek out another grove, and leave his family, or leave the groves altogether. He understands the Thonkian dislike for the Empire, and he has dreams of leading raids against his dark cousins. For now though, he gnashes his teeth and keeps watch over a peaceful forest.
All Masters in Thok who craft weapons sell them at a place known as The Arms. The shop is more of a warehouse filled with every conceivable kind of killing instrument; some of which are completely impractical experiments. If one cannot procure a weapon from the Imperial Forges or does not want a slaveblade, there is no better shop in the known world to buy a weapon, though the weapons do come at a premium.
Not only does a potential buyer need to pay the cost of the item to be purchased, but the buy must also complete a favor for the Alloy to even obtain access to The Arms. These favors can be simple or complex depending on the needs and whims of the assembled Masters when one requests access to The Arms.
Jiat has tended The Arms since the building was built. No one knows where she came from or why she is so long lived, as she appears to be a middle-aged human of no great consequence. Some say she is a celestial left on Vernlaurm from before the Shambling. Others say she is a forgotten God. Some say she is some kind of undead or construct. Jiat smiles ruefully at any of these suggestions, and then changes the subject back to weapons. She won't answer any direct questions about her history, and if a customer won't take the hint, she'll have the customer's access to The Arms revoked. She is otherwise a kind and gracious custodian of the weapons. She is quite knowledgable about weapons in general and the history of the particular weapons in her care. She has even been known to train a person in some of the more unusual weapons found in The Arms, though the stories paint her as a demanding trainer.
Thonkians detest the Empire, and stand as opposed to the dark elves as any other surface city. Skirmishes between Thonk and the Empire are common and possibly growing. Currently, the balance of power has shifted in favor of Thonk, as the dark elves have no response to burst powder weapons. But the Imperial acceptance of magic-users may become an equalizing force.
Thonkians also dislike Mandith, because they are uncomfortable with the absolute power of the Suzerain and the absolute acceptance his people have for him. While these two cities have rarely fought, conflict isn't unheard of.
Thonk is the only city with direct access to the gnomish enclave of Gno, and the Alloy has an exclusive trade agreement with the enclave. The gnomes, in return, are afforded some protection against the Empire and raiders. A contingent of Thonkian guards is a constant in Gno.
Moredo is the recently arrived ambassador from Mandith. He is arrival was met with some level of skepticism, which he has done his best to assuage. He is an affable enough fellow, good at cards and bad at holding his ale, so the Masters have begun to warm to him. Unbeknownst to even Moredo, one of his attendants is a spy for the Suzerain and is relaying messages back to Mandith. While Thonk has a strong military, their fervor against the Empire does expose them to attack from Mandith.
The people of Thonk are independent by nature, so they, at least on the surface, acknowledge the importance of allowing people to do as they will. Even in regards to magic. The truth is more complicated, of course. They have no required registry for magic. They post no guards on known wizards or warlocks. However, Thonkians consider freedom to be rooted in accepting consequences, and the consequence of being a known magic-user in Thonk is complete ostracization. If people have the freedom to learn magic, others have the freedom to completely ignore the existence of those magic-users.
This usually ends up with magic-users hiding magic as a deep secret. When their magic is discovered, their friends feel betrayed and justified in ostracizing the magic-user, which leads to others hiding their secrets more closely. A magic-user who begins stealing or assaulting others is not simply ignored, is usually sentenced to burn. Wood is too precious, and no smith would want his forge contaminated by a magic-user's corpse. So the Alloy sentences the condemned to be strapped to the Great Furnace with steel manacles. The condemned do not last long. A group of magic-users who call themselves the Refractory operates in secret in Thonk. They are led by N'kin, a Mourning elf who spends much of his time as street vendor of artistic fine metal jewelry. N'kin has no love of the current situation, but sees little hope for improvement. He has started to listen to the urgent whispers of Vorll, a new member of the Refractory who thinks the group needs to push for more open acceptance. The human Vorll's methods tend toward the violent.
The City of Mandith, called the City of Bones by outsiders, is a dour and foreboding place. Bones from animals big and small decorate the city—from the massive tusks that make a high arch into the city's main plaza to the little finger bones of a goblin hanging to chime in the wind outside a child's window. The people of Mandith are dark and dreary, though they would say they are more serious-minded than "those fools in Andath". A handful of druids tend a small grove in Upper Mandith, but they must refresh the dirt and topsoil regularly as it gives way to erosion.
The people of Mandith are not welcoming to outsiders, and greet them with cold stares disinterest. They welcome trade, insomuch as they need the things offered, but they ensure visitors feel no inclination to loiter. This coldness turns to indignation and possibly hostility in the face of those who claim orc blood.
The structures and buildings of Mandith are almost entirely made of bone. Much of the bone is from just after the Shambling, when the dead littered Vernlarum in the wake of the Shambles. Bone appears to be fortified on Mandith, becoming stronger and lasting longer than the some bones elsewhere. Those who trade food to Mandites usually trade the whole body of animals, because they know the people of Mandith will find some use for the bones.
Occasionally, one will see an animated skeleton walking the streets of Mandith. Mandites do not believe necromancy is to be avoided, nor do they believe animated a corpse has anything to do with creating Shambles. This can be quite a shock to visitors who often make no such distinction.
Mandith is an imposing figure. His legs are the intertwining bones of colossal dragons, the skulls of four large forgotten beasts serve as his feet. And his body is a mass of bones of all shapes and sizes. Mandith's body surprises first time visitors who expect it to be full of holes; it is not. The bones have fused on the top of his body to make a solid sheet of bone with only vague lines and cracks where they used to be separate things.
Mandith is stoic and grim, as befits his visage, though the people of Mandith refuse to accept he, or any Shamble, has any sense of emotion or feeling about him. Acolytes disagree, but they disagree from a safe distance. Mandith's land is caught between the mountains and the sea, and has more rainfall that the domains of the other Shambles. Mandith follows weather patterns, and catches so much rain that people from around Vernlarum use the phrase "it'll be a dry day in Mandith" to mean something is unlikely.
City of Mandith
The Suzerain is the ruler of Mandith, and his rule is absolute. A small group, known as the Council, advises the Suzerain. Councilors are chosen by the Suzerain and hold their position for the rest of their lives, which, depending on the Suzerain could be fairly short.
The current Suzerain brooks no foolishness, and he is harsh to outsiders. He cares about ensuring the city is protected from outside threats, properly fed, and that his citizens all do their share for the city. For his protection and guidance, he demands service and obedience. Mandites respect this and gladly accept toil to be kept safe from a life in the Wastes.
When a Suzerain dies, a new one is chosen by the Council, and he leaves behind his old identity to become the Suzerain. The Council often chooses from among its members, but it doesn't always. Near the end of a Suzerain's life, being on the Council is an important step toward becoming the leader, so Council members and others from the small nobility on Mandith conspire against each other to have a Council filled with their allies when the time is right. No one, however, makes a direct attempt on the Suzerain's life.
The city of Mandith is a walled fortification atop the back of their Shamble. The city's Bone Port lies outside the walls, but everything else lies within the protection. The city is further divided into Upper Mandith and Lower Mandith by a second, smaller wall. Upper Mandith is closest to the front of Mandith and is much smaller than the sprawling Lower Mandith.
Bone Port rings the city's walls. Like other Shamble cities, Mandith's trade must be raised and lowered via gears, pulleys, and ropes. That happens here, though Mandites prefer to let Mandite merchants handle the interactions with visitors and then buy from the local merchants directly. It is uncommon for a visiting merchant to actually enter the city proper. All deals are expected to be done down in the Wastes or immediately upon landing in Bone Port. Only merchants with items they wish to sell directly to the nobility make a habit of coming into the city; even then they leave as quickly as they can.
A gnome child the locals have taken to calling Rena appeared in Bone Port a few months ago. Since she arrived, she hasn't spoken to anyone, but she wanders Bone Port finding and fixing various broken pieces of equipment. She often finds things that are about to wear out and replaces them without a word. When she first appeared and began tinkering with equipment, the Portmaster wanted her cast down to the Wastes, but when he went to carry out her sentence himself, she was busily replacing a frayed rope none of his paid hands had noticed. Since then, he has sets out food for her and even has begun setting aside wages, though he doubts she'll ever be of a mind to collect them.
Mandith provides safety and some level of certainty in an uncertain world. Yes, the people are dour and the rain is constant, but living on Mandith beats many of the alternatives. As such, the city of Lower Mandith is full, if not exactly bustling.
Anyone who wants to live in Mandith, may, as long as she contributes by working and paying taxes. The quarters in Lower Mandith have become increasingly cramped over the years, and there doesn't seem to be any relief. The crowding has gotten bad enough that rationing is instituted in the winter months, because there is not enough food for all.
What the people of Mandith lack in terms of obvious emotional expression, they have manifold in terms of artistic expression. The scrimshaw of the artisans of Mandith is storied throughout the known land. Statues of worked bone are highly sought after by nobles on other Shambles, not just for their beauty but for the implied bravery of obtaining the pieces.
One scrimshaw artist, Vezel, is widely regarded in Mandith as the best, and her carvings will often spark a myriad of copies and similar works. Vezel maintains a small shop in an out of the way part of Lower Mandith. She has worn the same wedding gown, a velvet and lace affair, for decades now. Her fiancé disappeared on the day of their wedding, and she hasn't changed clothes since. No one knows where he went or what became of him, and no one ever asks Vezel about the situation. Some rumor that the fiancé didn't just leave. Instead, they say, she murdered him, and she wears the wedding gown as a symbol of her victory. Either way, no one disputes the beauty of her art.
In the center of Lower Mandith, there is a building known as the Wells. The Wells is a large structure with a open roof. Inside two large bowls have been carved into Mandith's back. These bowls collect rainwater for the citizens to use. Small gutters line the streets of Mandith and carry water to the Wells. Long ago, an enchantment was placed on the Wells to purify the water that is brought here. Access to the Wells is granted when one pays the city's taxes. Though rainwater collection is possible elsewhere in the city, few avoid paying their taxes—most Mandites would blanch at the suggestion.
An animated skeleton by the name of Disipon tends to the Wells. He claims to be the remains of the wizard who cast the original enchantment of purification on the Wells. He cleans up the place and makes small talk with any who come to gather water. To the rare visitor who finds her way here, Dispion may seem the most lively citizen of Mandith, with his relaxed nature and easy disposition. Lately, though, Dispion has caught a cough. He plays the new symptom off to any who enquire about it, but he worries something has gone wrong with the enchantments laid down to create him. If he encounters some adventurous looking people, Dispion may ask them to look into matters for him. He knows the location of his "life lair", and will direct them to it to see if it has been disturbed. He has little to compensate adventurers for their time, but has no use for many of the things he left in his lair centuries ago.
Upper Mandith's structures are sweeping and graceful. Only the thinest, most graceful looking bones are used in construction here, and the magic of Mandith makes even bird bones strong and able to support a fair amount of weight.
The small noble class lives in Upper Mandith, and the druidic order lives here as well, though they spend more time sleeping in their grove than in the bone structure that has been allotted to them. The nobles amuse themselves by hosting a regular number of parties and galas. These galas would be considered somber affairs in most other cities, but they are lively for where they are. The nobles use this time to discuss trade and to try and gain favor with sitting Councilors. Assassination attempts are considered gouache at these events, but that doesn't always prevent them.
A little known fact is that one of the members of the order of druids in Mandith is the current Suzerain's son. Xymor joined the order of his own will when his father was raised to Suzerain to prevent nobles from fearing he would seek the title himself. This little bit of politics has drastically affected his life, but he seems at peace with being a druid. He tends the grove, and learns the ways of life and the forest. It has been years since he has stepped foot outside the grove, and many in the city have completely forgotten of his existence. Some have not, however, and even now people who wish to sway the Suzerain's plans for war consider if Xymor would be a useful pawn to possess.
War brews within Mandith. The Suzerain sees how crowded his city has become, and believes the only way to save his people is to expand. To facilitate this, the normally distant Suzerain has sent envoys to all of the Shambles in the vicinity of Mandith. The rulers of those cities have welcomed the overture, but they have also welcomed in Mandite spies who are assessing the weaknesses of each city.
The Suzerain has been training his military for such an invasion under the guise of defending the city from raiders. So far no other ruler has noted that raids against Mandith's territories are lower than they have been in years.
Magic-users are unwelcome in Mandith. The current Suzerain handles magic-users by sending a squad of guards to monitor them in the city. The black-clad Wards follow the mage at a short distance, and enter any building he does. This has the duel effect of informing everyone a person is a magic-user and further shortening the magic-user's visit to the city.
However, being a magic-user isn't a crime, per se, in Mandith, and a number of the Council members have at least dabbled in the magic arts. Rumors abound that Councilor Tatok is actually a deeply researched and powerful practitioner, and that he schools the Suzerain in the arts as well.
The people of Andath have faired well since the Shambling. A number of factors have influenced this. Andath is a 1 mile diameter mountain golem with a rich, fertile soil. This make it easy for people to grow some of their food on Andath itself, which is uncommon. The druidic community has taken care to teach people the best ways of maintaining their limited green area, so Andath's back has a verdant grove as well as some vibrant parks in the city proper.
The monarch of Andath, Queen Vesyn III, is the only currently reigning ruler in known Vernlarum to lay claim to an unbroken line of kings and queens predating the Shambling. The Ranoc line has ruled with an even hand and is beloved by the people of Andath, even if Vesyn III is more dour than her father. The nobles and bureaucrats of the city government run the city well under Vesyn's leadership. There is some graft, and merchants all think their taxes are higher than they ought be. But, in general, the government of Andath is benign. Andath himself wanders about in a wide, central region, where he comes in contact with a number of other Shambles, making Andath a major trade center.
Acolytes of the Ark and Golem-pact warlocks agree, Andath exudes a simple calm and peace. Andath is male, though some Arkers or warlocks disagree. While other Shambles have, at times, shaken the cities from their backs. Andath has never given anyone a reason to believe he will perform such an act. Indeed, on a number of occasions, he has stopped in his tracks for days to let a massive storm sweep by just ahead of him. Some call those stoppages coincidence, citing the times Andath stops with no apparent reason. Faithful Acolytes believe the stoppages to be a clear sign of intent and benevolence, and Andath may be the most beloved of the Arks beside Bratta, the Ark home of the Acolytes.
The City of Andath
The government of Andath is a constitutional monarchy. The Sanctum, a body of elected nobles, oversees the majority of the city's governing responsibilities. The sanctors make and enforce the laws of the city. They are elected by the other nobles once every four years, though it has been many elections since a seat has changed hands. The lesser Andathian nobles fail to gather enough support for any one new candidate to gain a seat. Some of these lesser nobles have started to suspect the sanctors might be manipulating them into supporting candidates who can't oust a currently sitting sanctor.
The queen presides over meetings of the Sanctum, has a vote in case of any tie, and has the defense of the city as her mandate, but she has little say in day to day affairs. The Queen's father, Dian X, was much beloved, and he held much sway over the sanctors. Vesyn III, however, has let much of that sway erode over the years. She doesn't curry favor with the various popular sanctors, so they consult her less and less.
The Queen is not without power. She may act unilaterally to defend Andath or those who live below in the those parts of the Wastes Andath still claims. The Queen also has a small body of guards, the Interfectors, who are under her command and answer only to her. The commander of the Interfectors is Dar'wor, a dark elf, who left the Empire and joined the city guard. He gained notoriety for his constant heroism during raids, and soon earned the attention of the Queen. Some sanctors don't trust him as a foreigner and dark elf, and some rumors make him the queen's consort as well as the captain of her guard.
When Andath was built atop the golem, the people had a deep faith in the Old Gods. The city has a large domed temple in its center, with three broad streets all intersecting at the temple like spokes of a wheel. Another series of streets circles the city of Andath creating rings. These rings are how the city is broken into various districts.
The city has limited space, and so most people work and live in the same place or at least in the same ring. And living spaces are quite small and cramped. People build upwards as much as they can, but four or five stories is the highest buildings get on Andath's back without magical help.
Though not a traditional port at all, of course, the outermost ring of Andath is referred to as Port Ring. This is where one embarks and disembarks from the back of Andath. Some trade happens here, and some people, no longer able to afford lodging the in city proper, have built a shanty town in this ring. Towns like this have built up and been cleaned out numerous times over the years, and rumor says the time for another cleansing is coming.
A freed dwarf by the name of Sed lives in Port Ring, and he has another idea. He is gathering people to the cause of Port Ring being established as a permanent residential area where people can live freely under the protection of the Sanctum. Some sanctors oppose this idea, while others have trouble with the idea of callously tossing so many people to the Wastes below.
Once one has moved past Port Ring, one enters the crafting ring. This is where smiths, tanners, weavers, potters, and all manner of craftsmen work and make their living. The craftspeople of Andath are some of the best in the known world, and people from all over seek the pottery made here.
By tradition, if not law, the loudest and worst smelling of the crafts are the furthest out, while the less offense crafts are closer in. This is not exact. For example, Radem's Blades, run by the half-orc Radem, is one of the more popular weaponsmithies, and he staunchly refuses to move from his building that is across the way from the Trade Ring. He says he doesn't want to be next to a tanner more than anyone else, and he appreciates the silence of weavers on either side of him. They don't appreciate the noise his forging creates quite as much, but he has refused their every offer to help him move. Many believe the weavers are getting desperate.
A law established long ago makes it illegal for craftspeople to sell their own goods, so if one wants to purchase something in the city of Andath, the Trade Ring is the place to look. Not only is this the place to buy the high quality goods of Andath's local crafters, but it is also the place to get goods from all over known Vernlarum. Some merchants specialize in particular types of goods, and some pride themselves on having a bit of everything.
Tursk, the proprietor of Tursk's Goods, is a well-known and generally respected halfling merchant. He pays well, is affable to all who come to his shop, and sells with only a moderate mark-up. The halfling tells all who will listen that he is an heir to the dwarven throne, through his father's father. He has worked his way up from a refugee with the intent of being able to fund an expedition into the Deep Below to find documents to prove his lineage and a place to reestablish the dwarven kingdom. People like Tursk despite this oddity.
The Trade Ring is also home to the gnome messenger service, headed by Pek. Pek has run the business for years, and she has earned a name for being beyond reproach, even for a gnome. Pek likely knows all of the secrets of the city, but she wouldn't tell anyone for any price. She's also watched by representatives of a dozen noble houses at a time. Some are providing protection, some are watching for the slightest hint of betrayal, and some are monitoring her movements and her clients, hoping they can glean some insight. She knows this, and when she feels her watchers are too numerous, she lets it be known. Within a week or two, the number of people watching her will lessen. The one secret Pek doesn't know is where here daughter has been. Pek has been keeping her daughter's absence a secret, but she is quietly seeking aid from adventurers.
The innermost ring is the Noble Ring. All of the nobility lives here, as well as one or two druids who tend the small grove grown up around the temple. The streets are broader here, if not as broad as the nobles would like. The sway of Andath's steps is the least here, as well, allowing the building to be taller and grander here than elsewhere in the city. Magical aid makes the architecture pleasant, if not as grand as some of the other cities.
Worship of the Old Gods waned in the years after the Shambling. As such, the temple was eventually repurposed. The temple is where the Sanctum meets; some people call the temple the Sanctum, and the popularity of that is growing. The Sanctum meets in open sessions more often than not, but city guards can be called to prevent any not sanctors from attending, if the Sanctum so decrees.
Whispers abound about Duncan Emvor, a highly regarded sanctor, and his son, Kell. Kell has fallen ill recently, and the rumors about the cause range from a malady caught on his last excursion, to madness, and some even say he is a warlock/witch who sold himself to great powers and lost his mind in the trade.
As a center of trade, Andath works to be neutral in most disputes. The Ranoc line knows strength is important, so they have kept a strong military to deter someone from imposing on their neutrality.
Raiders attack the Shamble on occasion, but they find it easier to raid the small groups of nomadic people that trade food to Andath. As such, Vesyn III sends guards to patrol Andath's lands and provide as much stability as they can. Patrols have been known to disappear or turn rogue themselves, but those are few and far between. And the queen's just against traitors is swift and brutal enough to discourage those with similar thoughts.
Magic users in the city of Andath are, more or less, accepted. All users of magic are required to register with the city upon setting foot on Andath's back. Failure to do so is penalized by death. Once a magic-user is registered, however, he is left to his own devices. If a crime is committed with obvious, or seeming, magical ties, the guards will look for all of the registered mages, but that is the most harassment they receive.
Magic users are also required to inform any they do business with of their abilities. This, at first, had the effect of making people shun magic users. Over time, however, it has made people see how many magic users go through the day without blowing everything to the Nine Hells. While people are still wary of new magic users, they don't flee them.
Lorath, a mage of half-elven decent, is gathering some around him with the hopes of starting a school for instructing magic-users. Many sanctors oppose this idea and are interfering with his plans to get a building, but Lorath stays determined in the face of opposition.
I originally imagined the Shambles as mind-bogglingly huge creatures of 30 miles in diameter. I think that's a neat idea, but when I force myself to try and imagine it. Well. My mind boggles. Which disrupts the imagination somewhat.
So I think I'm going to tone that down. For now, I'm going to work on the premise of Shambles being of varying sizes but all around 1-3 miles in diameter. This is a tenfold, or more, size reduction and will have various effects in the world.
According to Medieval Demographics Made Easy, a "big" city by medieval standards is 12,000 plus. And a typical city of 10,000 people would have filled roughly a quarter mile of land. A thriving metropolis would have 40,000 (the max size of medieval London) people and fill a square mile, which fits nicely on the back of a 1 mile diameter golem.
One major effect is that the Shambles will have significantly fewer green areas. There will be spots of land set aside for limited groves and water sources, but not much else. This means the people on the backs of the Shambles depend heavily upon trade with the people below in the Wastes. The people in the Wastes depend on the tradesmen and craftsmen on the Shambles for their tools and equipment.
The population on the backs of the Shambles is going to vary depending on food sources, population density, and size of the Shamble. Before, they were going to be sprawling masses with numerous villages and towns on the backs. Now, the Shambles will have one major city, and nothing else. The rest of the population of the world lives either high in the mountains, in the dark elf empire, or in the Wastes.
Food and Trade
People in the Wastes who try and build permanent structures, find those structures trampled within a year or two. People have stopped trying. The best they can do is have semi-permanent structures they can move with a day or two of notice. The pace of the Shambles makes them an implacable threat but not a surprising one.
The people of the Wastes have enough time to move any structures and livestock before the Shambles reach them. And then they can trade with the people of the Shambles. Those atop the Shambles need food, and those who live in the Wastes find value in the craftsmanship afforded by city life and permanent structures. Once the Shamble moves on, the people below know they have at least a year before the Shamble returns, at least most of the time. This is enough time for them to have a growing season or two and for them to tend to herds. It is not an easy life, but it is a sustainable one.
Some druids also, for various reasons, roam the Wastes trying to maintain or restore the ecosystem. Parts of Vernlarum are completely desert, but much of the known world is a grassy plain.