Exalted: Ghost of a Chance
On the southwest coast of the Inland Sea lie the Principalities of An-Teng, running from the Western seashore to the Fire Mountains of the South. The land itself varies from arid and dry near the coast to temperate and forested in the middle regions to harsh and brisk in the mineral-rich mountains.
The City of the Steel Lotus is the capital of An-Teng. Here, the Three Princes meet to discuss matters of state, the Dragon-Blooded come to be entertained, and the riches of the kingdom flow in lavish display. The city was built after the Usurpation as a nexus for the new rulers and was, unusually, created as a city with roads rather than with canals, in deference to the wishes of the Terrestrial Exalted. The River of Queens flows beside it, allowing trade vessels and pleasure boats to come upstream from Dragon’s Jaws and Salt-Founded Glory or downstream from the rest of An-Teng. Those desiring to explore or tour upriver can hire boats and guides at the docks. Foreigners who are not Dragon Blooded will be charged a higher rate but have the option of working their passage upriver instead, traveling with the heavy cargo boats.
Varang is a nation of cities in the south known for its rigid caste system. A citizens’ profession and function is chosen at birth by Astrology.
Clockdust Reaches (Abyssal Manse •••)
The fief of Clockdust Reaches encompasses two things: The former is a treacherous stretch of water – the Reaches proper – filled with strong currents and hazards waiting to rip the hulls from all but the strongest-built ships. The latter is a massive stone tower, the memory of what had been a Solar-aspect manse and lighthouse in Creation before it was damaged in the Usurpation and destroyed by the Empress’s inexpert use of the Sword of Creation. No warning shines from Clockdust Tower nor has one ever; sailors navigating the coasts of the Underworld’s southern periphery must have charts noting the perils of the Reaches and avoid them or be lost.
Clockdust Tower is a curious place, shifty and unsettling to nearly all, though its owner likes it well enough to have taken her title from it. She thinks she might have once owned its counterpart in Creation. And done things in it horrifying enough to have created the Reaches in Creation’s dark reflection. The lenses at the top of the tower are shattered, the glass turned to obsidian, the lamp empty and smashed beyond repair. Inside the tower is a collection of empty rooms and the mechanisms that connect them. Once there was a pattern to their movements that corresponded with the travels of the Sun and His Daystar but they have been damaged. Now the passageways between rooms are random and anyone trying to move about the manse must know the hidden ways or guess lucky.
There is the hearthstone room of course, but there are others such as the Red Iron Room, the Infinite Pattern Room, the Tarnished Mirror Room, the Hall of Doors, the Stairs to Where, the Cellars, the Library With No Books (the owner has made this room a bit more comfortable, bringing in cushions and rugs and lamps, and some few books, giving lie to the name now but there were none when she arrived), the Blue Tile Room.
Between the tower and the sea is a red beach, made not of sand or rock but of rusting ironworks. Gears predominate, from massive wheels hundreds of metres across to tiny things almost too small to see but still recognisable as gears themselves rather than shards of something else, but everything imaginable is represented somewhere. Pistons, pipes, boilers, pulley-blocks, snarls of chain and cable, leaf-springs and coil-springs and spiral-springs, valves and gauges and levers. Not a bit of it works or could be repaired. Some whim of the currents of the Underworld’s black sea has caused all this detritus of (mostly long-lost) industry to wash up here, and ships that wreck on the stone and metal reefs of the Reaches add their own hardware to the machine beach.
The Dolorous Atelier
The Atelier is a fairly sizable area within the Southern desert that is lush with vegetation and water. Stories abound that a powerful Celestial had blessed the land in the First Age, causing fresh clear waters to spout from the ground, and fertile plant-life to begin growing. The land had since remained so, allowing a sizable population to remain for centuries. Whatever its origin, the Atelier was devastated by the Great Contagion, leaving no survivors and causing such horrific backlash as to create a shadowland several dozen square miles wide.
This new shadowland revealed an already active Underworld analog of the Atelier to Creation, ruled by the Watcher. The recently-dead found their home almost perfectly mirrored in the Underworld, and were welcomed with open arms by their ghostly brethren. They were soon instructed on the regional geography, that the “capital” of the Atelier was known as Bastion, and that the lord of the lands resided over them all from his citadel, the Crimson Fastness.
By and large, the Atelier is a rather prosperous area; where residents both living and dead are able eke out a decent living. Unlike the majority of the South, the Atelier provides bounty even within the Underworld, and it enjoys a rich trade with other areas of both Creation and the Underworld. Gem frequently partakes of the Atelier’s bounty, and the Watcher has expressly permitted the Guild to set up operations within the shadowland if they wish. Even regular raids by scavengers, nomads, and barbarians seem to inflict only temporary hardships.
Much of this bounty is presumably due to the unseen efforts of the Purveyor, for while all residents seem to hold fealty to their Deathlord master, they are rarely called upon to suffer any overt form of rule. Each town is allowed a representative whom is able to meet freely with and discuss local matters with neighboring towns. The Purveyor even invites each representative to the Crimson Fastness once a year to hold a ceremonial banquet wishing their respective locales a prosperous year. The Purveyor attends this banquet personally, but always hooded, and he always excuses himself shortly after voicing his well wishes.
The Deathlord’s one demand is that each town sends out a certain number of individuals either into the Underworld or Creation to spread word of the prosperity of the Dolorous Atelier and to invite newcomers to dwell within its borders. This “mass exodus” of sorts happens once every generation, and seems to always ensure that new blood and fresh talent is introduced to the Atelier’s folds. This is seen as more than reasonable by the area’s residents, and few ever raise issue with the matter.
What few know or realize is that for some reason, this influx has caused a very slow creep of the Atelier’s “mundane” borders. Over the centuries, while the size of the shadowland has not shifted, the boundaries of the Atelier’s prosperous lands have expanded. The growth seems directly proportional to the increase in population within the Atelier’s borders. While no resident would be alarmed by this (assuming they were even aware), the Purveyor’s fellow Deathlords are curious as to just what he is trying to achieve. The First and Forsaken Lion has taken particular note of this expansion, though he has voiced no particular concern about it. Any militaristic efforts made by the Purveyor would be met with devastation by the Lion’s forces, or such is the Lion’s thinking.
h5. The Crimson Fastness
The Purveyor’s stronghold within the Dolorous Atelier is an immense structure. Constructed entirely of gray stonework reinforced with Soulsteel, all of the buildings within the walls of the Fastness demonstrate sharp angles and great height. The primary structure itself is a wide cylindrical tower 20 stories tall, with windows of reflective black glass interspersed at regular intervals. Shorter and slimmer surrounding buildings house the Purveyor’s armories, stable and breeding grounds, servants’ quarters, and barracks. The primary structure is actually a manse built atop a powerful demesne, and its interior reflects this on several levels.
Within the primary structure’s upper levels, the Purveyor experiments with what he wishes, rarely inviting any to join him in these private quarters. None have visited beyond his audience chamber on the 17th floor, a vast aerie-like chamber with a perpetual breeze that brings the dull perfume of dead flowers. There is little furniture in this grand chamber: the Purveyor’s throne carved of Soulsteel and etched with exquisitely detailed mini-murals showing the triumph of the Primordials over their would-be usurpers (ignoring the reality of the past); a large triangular table with a dozen tall-backed chairs; and fine tapestries lining the walls.
The shape and position of the table and chairs is no accident, as it keeps the eyes of those seated directed at the Watcher himself. It also affords him an uninhibited view of the faces of those before him. The tapestries lining the circular chamber are ever-changing, and no two individuals ever see the same images at any time. They instinctively show the viewer their most humiliating or horrifying memories, distracting them and imposing a -1 internal penalty to all attacks and defenses, both social and physical. Looking down or closing one’s eyes can negate this effect temporarily, and spending 1 Willpower allows any individual to ignore these images for the duration of the scene.
Within this primary structure, the first three floors are reserved for everyday functions and “visitors” to the Crimson Fastness. This includes Niraba and Kalen’s formal offices, requisitions offices, meeting chambers for visiting delegates and dignitaries, and a war room. Above these floors, each of the Purveyor’s Deathknights claims a single floor as their own sanctuary. Within reason, he grants them the freedom to outfit these areas as they see fit.
Privacy is guaranteed via the provision of a single portal on the first floor of the structure, an archway that opens onto what looks like the Void itself. A single gemstone set into its base harmonizes with any one of a number of small hearthstones provided to each Abyssal. Each Deathknight is given a different set of five identically shaped and hued hearthstones, one for themselves and four for any trusted individuals. Each hearthstone is attuned to another portal on each floor, allowing instant passage to that floor. When he wishes, the Purveyor may open free or selective passage to his floors.
Across the grounds of the Crimson Fastness stand tall smoke stacks, perpetually spewing forth black clouds into the Underworld sky. These are the only evidence shown of the Purveyor’s forges, both mundane and non, he keeps hidden below ground. The Fastness is riddled with a honeycomb of tunnels and chambers beneath its surface layer, one or two of which are rumored to lead directly to the Labyrinth. It is within these areas that the Purveyor’s undead hordes are penned and tended to, and his forges are kept running constantly.