Southeastern Threshold is a mosaic of sultanates and satrapies. Nestled between its lakes is a land known as the Pearl of the Realm. This dominion has been a tributary of the Empire for centuries with little complaint. From pearls and rare medicines to wild rice and dried fish, they provide the Great Houses with things both beautiful and necessary. Their people are peaceful. Their gods are orderly.
All of that stopped this year.
No tribute came. No pearls, no rice. Not even worship. The region’s dragon lines, once coursing with prayer and the lifeblood of the world, thinned to a trickle. Suddenly, this nation finds itself under scrutiny from all sides. Are the land’s rulers turning against the Realm? Are the gods warring with one another? Is corruption spreading? And what of the dark shapes seen swimming in the lakes? There is nothing here but opportunity – if you have the power to take it.
Will you seize the pearl?
The Pearl is 51,000 square kilometers of beautifully cultivated farmland, nestled between three lakes: Tchatlop, Chotla, and Teklan. A gentle rise, more a large hill than a mountain, marks its center. On the northern side of the hill is a beautiful manse-palace that the locals call The Manor.
As one of the oldest settled regions in Creation, the Pearl is filled with ancient temples and ziggurats. Many of them have been deserted for centuries – the Immaculate faith is strong here. It’s not uncommon to see acres of wild rice paddies surrounding a ten-step pyramid.
Rivers and streams flow through much of the countryside. There are shallow fords, stone crossings, and well-built bridges all across the land, maintained by order of the council. Sandstone statues dot the landscape as well, most so worn with time that one can scarcely tell they were human.
Foods here are flavorful, with heaping piles of pilaf at every meal. Sweet potato, peanuts, coconut, and hot peppers are common. Most meat comes from domesticated birds: pigeons, colorful chickens, and the occasional emu. Eggs are likewise common foods, cracked over sizzling piles of spicy sweet potato stir fry. Street vendors sell fried octopus and dried fish. Hard drugs are uncommon, but smoke-filled storefronts provide smokeable seaweed that gives a mild high. Honey is the most common sweetener, and each field has its own beehive.
Most of the larger buildings in the Pearl are square, especially the public offices. (In the old days, five was considered a number of the Exalted, so to be avoided lest one presume perfection. Four was reaching toward perfection, and thus encouraged.) Smaller homes may be round huts, but this is a mark of poverty. Most families try to construct larger and more rectangular buildings.
There are many manses dotting the Pearl. Some seem unassuming from the outside. All are claimed by various Dragon-Blooded households, many of them in House V’neef. The area is rich in dragon lines, and one can sometimes see the essence of prayer mingling with the world’s essence at night. Glowing streamers of power flow through the air high above.
While the Pearl is large, most of the action in this setting happens in a confined area. All of the region’s Exalted live in the area between The Manor, the city of Redleaf, Sandpiper Fortress, and the village of Pech.
The People of the Pearl
Family names come first in the Pearl, and descent is matrilinear. Names here have many sounds that are uncommon elsewhere in Creation, with complex double-consonants. Children are given descriptive or animal names (Wish, Dream, Eagle, Butterfly, Ox, Mouse) until puberty, at which point they have a naming ceremony that determines their adult name.
The Pearl is well-defended at strategic chokepoints – invasion by land would be very difficult. Because of this, the interior is peaceful and friendly, without many military or mercenary forces. Guards often carry over-large clubs and strange, multi-bladed knives that are as much for show as for defense. Children play in the streets until just after sunset, and some elders play games of Gateway in well-lit squares until midnight. Crime is very low.
Each city and town in the Pearl has its own bazaar, often more than one. These marketplaces bring people together in a cacophony of voices and colorful fabrics. Half-dressed children and bright-feathered chickens alike walk through the stalls. Snake charmers, beggars, fire-breathers, and musicians playing gourds all make way for the patricians and their honor guards. Here, one must watch one’s purse – because of outlanders, of course. Beyond the Pearl’s most famous exports, one can also find glass cups and artwork made of fused beach sand.
There are three major racial groups in the Pearl:
- Immigrants from the Realm. They tend toward lighter skin, with dark eyes and dark hair. Some are descendant from patrician families, but more are the children of peasants brought with those patricians to farm the lands. Realm immigrants can be found in all walks of life.
- The local people who have lived here since Creation began. These people have a range of skin tones, from light brown to dark, with straight black hair and brown eyes. They traditionally wear veils, turbans, and saris in a wide range of colors, and this has become the standard dress in the Pearl. There has been much interbreeding between those from the Realm and those who lived here in the old times. Few families are purely one or the other any more.
- Immigrants from the South. Skin tones are typically dark brown with shades of red. Hair is black, ranging from curly to kinked. Most have brown eyes, but some are deeper black with flecks of elemental red. Because they are fewer in number and often come fleeing bad sociopolitical situations along the southern coast, these immigrants are rarely in a position of power in the Pearl.
- Only a handful of families here are native Easterners. There are many miles of dangerous territory between here and River Province, and few people have made the trek.
A council of patricians from House V’neef rule the Pearl from The Manor, at least in name. The Pearl’s true ruler is its lone Dragon-Blood, V’neef Kharavi, wandering agent of the Realm turned surgeon. Her official role is to collect tribute from the Pearl and send it along to the Realm. Kharavi allows the patricians to handle most of the day’s business, but keeps careful watch on the events in the council. She herself lives to the west, in the walled city of Sandpiper.
Entertainment in the Pearl is varied. Most who are old enough to be past working age gather to play dominoes, mahjong, and Gateway in squares and on porches. Young children play foot-and-ball games, some of them surprisingly brutal for how safe the rest of the Pearl is. The higher class often attend dramatic ballet performances – a combination of opera and classical dance – where stories of days gone past are reenacted on a stage. Dinner-and-ballet is a common night of courtship.
Using the Characters
This setting is designed for a group of Dragon-Blooded or Lunar characters. It can be used with Solars as well, but it should be a group of three rather than five. The setting provides natural entry-points for Dragon-Blooded investigators from the Realm (or instigators from Lookshy), as well as for members of the Silver Pact who come to check on Kotala Fesho and her progress. A full circle of Solars may draw too much attention in this land where the Immaculate philosophy is king, and then overcome it a bit too easily.
The characters of the Pearl typically come in pairs or trios. There are two Dragon-Blooded, three gods, two Lunars, a Sidereal-to-be and her tutor, two servants of a Deathlord, and three outsiders. It should be easy to take any group or single character and use them out of context, but the more of them you put together, the richer the interconnections will be between them. The easiest to remove are those who are most distant from the others: the King of Kindness and Sapphire Light. If you want to cut the cast down to the most important core and substitute your own characters in other places, take the first five: V’neef Kharavi, V’neef Detla, Ten Thousand Verdant Shoots, Bakdan-O, and Sky Touches Earth.
Anyone trying to track down what happened to the Pearl’s tribute will be caught in a roundabout of he-said-she-said. The people know that they have been taxed – more heavily than usual, if not by much. V’neef Kharavi claims to have sent the tribute appropriately. The local mayors and governors saw the wagons pass through their cities. The Realm knows, though, that the tribute never arrived: the wagons were full of nothing but hay, its guards utterly confused. Each of the major parties points blame at the others. The same goes for the essence of tribute that flowed through the dragon lines. Everyone claims to have done everything right, and yet, the lines are quiet, and Yu-Shan receives no prayer.
There are no default culprits in this setting. It is up to the Storyteller to decide who is hiding the truth, and who stole what. Some characters are almost certainly innocent; others are almost certainly involved somehow, but no no one is the “official villain.” Whomever has taken the essence from the dragon-lines, they will be substantially more powerful because of it, and a suitable match for a circle of Dragon-Blooded or a few combat-oriented Lunars.
If you don’t have people who can fight underwater, it may be best to drop Sapphire Light’s underwater minion subplot, or to have her come on land to make an assault on Sandpiper Fortress rather than simply sinking ships in the harbor.