Between Fire and Dreams

“They have their fires to ward off the darkness, their stone houses, and their iron swords. All we have is our dreams.”

One long night on the southern coast, a star-stone fell to the ground. It blazed bright as the noonday sun, and could be seen for three days’ walk in all directions. That was the night that people would remember for a hundred years.

That night an assassin tried to kill the queen, and was thrown aside by a burning blade. That night a chieftain’s daughter claimed her heritage in a blaze of light. That night a prince was filled with darkness, a thief began to speak with the gods, and a pariah gained the courage to speak. The land would never be the same.

Everyone knew that the meteor was an omen. You must choose what the omen will mean.

Physical Geography

between-map-500

This land consists of three distinct regions: the city of Shirakh, the Wathia-land, and the hills to the south.

Shirakh is a large port city with over 300,000 residents. It is located roughly between The Lap and Paragon on the southern coast of the Inland Sea. Shipping routes and the paved-over remnants of an ancient glass road make this a major stop for traders. An immense statue of Xi, the first queen of Shirakh, stands on an island in the harbor. Stone quarried in the mountains to the south has turned this fertile delta into a sturdy walled city. Counting the nearby towns and the grasslands to the south, there are over a million people within a few days’ walk of Shirakh.

The nearby lands, home to the Wathia people, are under the military and economic control of Shirakh. They are a grassland, with rolling hills and savannah, perfect for grazing. The Wathia once farmed and followed the herds, occasionally warring with one another, until the Shirakhi expanded their forces some two hundred and forty years ago.

The ruler of Shirakh at that time conquered many of the Wathia, declared herself queen, and attempted to “settle them down.” It didn’t go well. It didn’t go easily. Still, with some help from the Blessed Isle, it happened. House Sesus charged a high price for this, and the Shirakhi levelled severe taxes to address the debt. There are occasional uprisings, but the last one was 40 years ago. The debt to House Sesus was paid off decades ago, though Shirakh remains a Realm tributary.

Beyond the Wathia-land, farther south, are hills that lead gradually up to the southern mountains. In the hills are dozens of ruined towns, a few cities, and a double-handful of broken manses. Fewer people live in the hills, though there are some hermits. The air here is dry and there is little rain compared to what the grasslands receive.

The savannah and coast are fertile lands. The Wathia are best known for their cattle, but they also raise chickens, goats, and swans for food. These are brought to market in Shirakh, where many of the people raise guinea fowl. Broad fields near the capital grow a variety of grains: teff, sorghum, millet, wheat, flax, corn, and barley. Much beer is made. All grain must be sold in the capital, by royal decree, before it can find its way out to the Wathia-lands.

Along the river people grow figs, palm dates, mangoes. melons, apples, and pomegranates. Most villagers have a small plot of farmland, with lettuce, garlic, radishes, grapes, ensete, and squash. Carob and sugarcane provide the most common sweets, and beans and lentils provide protein between the festival days. The people have little money to their names, but they rarely want for food.

Shirakh’s best-known exports are saffron, palm oil, and tea. They also provide papyrus, linen, rope, herbs, and henna to traders from across the South.

The People

There are four major groups of people here:

  • Immigrants from the Blessed Isle. Such households are few and far between these days. No Dragon-Blooded are left here, and only a handful of servants remain to watch their mansions in their absence.
  • The Shirakhi and the Wathia. These were originally one people, in the early days of the Scarlet Empire. There is little to tell them apart except that the Shirakhi live in cities, and the Wathia in towns or (if they are herdsmen) on the trail. They are dark-skinned, with kinked or curled black hair, and typically have high cheekbones.
  • The Telet, a religious group that split from the Immaculate Order many decades ago. They have the features of the Blessed Isle – paler skin and straight, dark hair. The Telet are generally insular, both because of their religious restrictions, and because they are subject to strong prejudice and oppressive laws.

By ancient royal decree, the Wathia are not allowed iron. This both keeps them from smithing weapons that could stand against the city’s steel, and makes the city the region’s sole defender against the Fair Folk. In reality there is little threat from the Raksha here, but old legends are persistent. Many other laws restrict the Wathia’s mobility, both economically (they cannot hold many jobs) and physically (they cannot travel without a permit). The farther one travels from Shirakh, the less these restrictions are enforced.

Central to all of these laws is the idea of “inborn indenture,” introduced during the first queen’s reign. Inborn indenture is the monetary debt that one owes to one’s family and to the state for one’s existence. No one, so the dogma says, is truly free until they have repaid this indenture. It is by this doctrine that taxes are levied and fees collected. Both Shirakhi and Wathia culture have adopted the idea. By law, the Shirakhi owe fairly little inborn indenture, and buy their freedom early in life. The Wathia owe much more and can rarely afford to buy their freedom.

The Telet are subject to all the restrictions on the Wathia and more. They may only pay their taxes in saffron, palm oil, and tea, which are back-breaking crops to harvest. Interestingly, they tend to be the most educated group of the three – some Wathia learn to read, but education is not compulsory in Shirakh, and many Shirakhi learn only figures and how to sign their name. The Telet train all children to read their holy scriptures.

The Telet are outside of the structure of inborn indenture. They owe nothing to their family, and all to the state. Their people, legally, are forever bound to the Shirakhi rulership. Speaking a Telet person’s indenture is like speaking of all the water in the ocean, or the weight of the Imperial Mountain.

The Immaculate Order never had a strong hold here. The Gold Faction kept the order propped up in name, but useless and hollow. When the monks and the local Dragon-Blooded were drawn back to the Blessed Isle in anticipation of a civil war, everyone sighed in relief. The Cult of the Illuminated is comparatively strong here. Festivals propitiating the gods are common in all populated areas.

Using the Characters

The central conflict in this setting is between the expansionist city-state of Shirakh and the Wathia people. This is kicked into high gear as several of them on each side are Chosen as Solar Exalted. In total, there are twelve Solars, one Abyssal, and one Sidereal here.

This is a tremendous outpouring of Solar essence. It’s unheard-of for so many Solars to appear at once. The PCs will no doubt want to investigate why this happened. However, we give no reason here why this place and this time occasioned such an event. If you’d like to create a reason that fits your larger campaign, we encourage you to do so. Instead, this setting provides enough challenges that the question of “why did this happen” should be overshadowed by the question of “what are we going to do now?”

Different play groups will have different experiences in this region.

Your group might consist of mid-level Solars (essence 2-3). The characters here will provide a significant challenge and opportunity. Some of them are powerful enough in a fight to challenge an entire circle. Others are canny enough, socially, to turn an entire city or league of assassins against their enemies. This is exactly the level of opposition that fits a group of Solars. It’s likely that the group will need to make allies in order to accomplish their goals. For those who simply come seeking allies, they will undoubtedly need to engage in a war in order to make them.

Alternatively, your group might consist of a newly-formed circle of Sidereals. The Gold Faction (in this area led by Vashra Tal) sees this moment as their big opportunity. This kind of power could really change the status quo that has stifled the Fivescore Fellowship for centuries. If your characters are part of the Bronze Faction, on the other hand, their orders will no doubt be to pit the Solars against each other often and early, and assassinate the survivors.

Finally, your group might consist of advanced Dragon-Blooded characters returning from a recently settled dispute in the Realm. The arrival of a dozen Anathema is a severe problem that could become the basis for an entire short campaign. Different sessions could even involve playing sub-groups: spies who are sent in for reconnaissance, sailors and admirals who come to blockade the port, diplomats who try to outflank the Solars as they consolidate their power, and warriors who pit themselves and their soldiers against the blades of the Solar bodyguards.

Content Note

The central theme of this setting is power, especially its abuse and potential for abuse. There are characters in this setting whose stories involve some fairly awful situations. Sometimes this includes physical abuse, powerlessness, or implied rape. None of this is depicted in an “on-screen” way, but we felt it appropriate to give a warning here.

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