Heart of the Empire
The central province of the Empire of Splendour, Utushar is usually considered to be quiet and bucolic, a land of endless rice paddies and wheatfields, settled for over three thousand years. Although there is some truth in this, Utushar is not without its secrets and chances for adventure.
A Brief History
In the centuries before the formation of the Empire, Utushar was home to small warring kingdoms known as the Wall Builders. All that remains of Wall Builder culture are their tomb-mounds and the earthwork ramparts for which they are named. Even though most of these have been flattened to make way for agriculture, superstition keeps many intact. The tomb mounds are so ancient that most are simply taken for tree-covered hillocks until closer inspection reveals an underlying regularity to their shape. From time to time, a Wall Builder artifact is unearthed by a farmer's plough, but other riches are rumoured to be hidden in the tomb mounds.
Utushar was originally populated by the nekuu people, with asharans being a later invader race that brought many of the early Imperial concepts with them. Only after the first emperor, Divinely Chosen, united the warring tribes did true Imperial culture emerge, and from that point onwards Utushar has enjoyed many millenia of peace, barring the effects of the occasional civil war.
The Imperial Capital
The administrative centre of the Empire of Splendour lies in the Palace of the Reflected Sun. This is a vast complex unknown to most Imperial citizens, hidden within a ring of mountains and protected by a series of gatehouses known as the Seven Bars of Heavenly Might. The palace is home to the Emperor, his family, a courtier class composed of the families of former emperors, the Imperial priesthood who ascertain who is to be the next Emperor, high-ranking Magisters Administory and Judiciary and an army of servants to attend to all these officials. Most inhabitants of the Imperial Palace never set foot outside of its bounds, and it is a mini-nation all of its own.
Beyond the Seven Bars of Heavenly Might, on the banks of the Nine Spirits River, stands the city of Reflected Glory. Supplicants to the Emperor and his court would have to wait months at a time for admission to the palace for an audience, and so a settlement arose that would house these temporary visitors. The settlement grew to a city in its own right and the city came to be regarded as the true capital of the Empire. Reflected Glory today is a crumbling city full of empty blocks and run by criminal gangs. Thrust through its heart is the iron spire known as the Talazan, a huge rusting edifice of unknown origin and purpose. The outer courts of the Talazan are home to several criminal gangs, strange cults and sellers of poisons and dangerous magic. The spire of the Talazan is avoided by all, rumoured to be haunted by mysterious spirit folk known as the Talazanthir.
Other Places of Interest
Utushar is defined by the watershed of the Nine Spirits River that cuts through the centre from Ut'Bharma to the Sea of Deep Wisdom. It also encompasses the western banks of the Near Anhoi River. When Llaza and the other Anhoi nations were rebelling against Imperial rule, Emperor Bestowing Justice ordered the construction of the Grand Canal. This was to link the Nine Spirits and Anhoi Rivers, thus circumventing the port of Llaza at the mouth of the Anhoi. By the time it was finished, however, the nation of Nirhamsa at the Anhoin end of the Canal had also seceded and the project was a failure. The canal was used to transport war materials to the Plains of Pesh in the wars against the rebel states, and the huge cubic Fortress of Forbidding was built at its far end. With the war stagnating into stalemate, the Canal was abandoned. It is now blocked and weed-choked in places, and it is impossible to navigate its whole length, but sections remain used for traffic between neighbouring locales, creating several mini-trader routes along its length.
The headwaters of the Nine Spirits are high in Ut'Bharma, protected by the Dam of Sepuraabi and other water control systems. At its mouth is the port of City of Ten Thousand Ships, once a rival to Llaza, now a shadow of its independent neighbour. Ten Thousand Ships is famous for its enclave for foreign visitors, known as the City of Ignorance or 'Stupidtown' and for the stronghold built upon a rock in the harbour, known only as The Fortress. The Fortress has been, in its life, a garrison, a repository and is now a prison.
As well as Wall Builder tombs, other strange artifacts of ancient days are found across Utushar, most notably in the Plain of Giants in the northeast. Here there are hundreds of pieces of huge statues scattered across the landscape, of man, beast and things in between. Locals use the statues as navigation aids and will direct visitors to 'turn left at the Foot of Vaala and straight past Toma's Ear'. It is unknown if these statue remnants are connected to the Wall Builders or not. Theories include a race of stone giants who warred with one another, the fallen remains of Immortals or the work of the Lesser Dragon Empire.
Although the lands of Utushar are considered to be peaceful, potential adventure abounds.
The Wall Builders and the Plain of Giants offer opportunities for long-hidden treasures and tomb complexes to be uncovered. Exploration of these areas has been detailed, but superstition keeps many locations secret and undisturbed, or alternatively specific astronomical conditions must be met, rituals completed or items presented to open previously hidden doorways. The Talazan in Reflected Glory is an example of a mysterious locale right in the centre of civilisation. Who knows what lies within the rusting spire of iron?
Even moreso than the decadent city of Llaza, the cities of Reflected Glory and Ten Thousand Ships are places where the rule of law is weak. Slums filled with desperate poor fuel a black economy in drugs, dark magic, slavery, prostitution and extortion. Criminal gangs are the true power in town. Desperate vigilantes walk the fine line between light and dark as they defend the last shreds of human decency using questionable methods.
The Imperial Palace is a microcosm of complex heirarchies and byzantine rules, a cross between Mervin Peake's Gormenghast and the Forbidden City. Gaining access to the Palace could be the work of several adventures and, once within, adventurers must untangle the complex web of motives and allegiances or risk anything from social exclusion to death. Hundreds of years of inward focus has left the Imperial Palace with a myriad of trivial functions performed by people who take them utterly seriously. For example, a thousand years ago, an Imperial Princess expressed a preference for a room in a far wing of the palace. She quickly lost interest, but the position of Mistress of the Ninety First West Chamber still exists, and the bedlinen is changed daily, despite the fact that the other rooms are choked with cobwebs and have not been used for centuries. These remote wings of the complex may provide the setting for their own dungeon-style adventures.
(c) 2008 The Creative Conclave.