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The Ramshackle Empire: a Setting in the Dreaming Sea

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  • The Ramshackle Empire: a Setting in the Dreaming Sea

    Of the Silver Ring, Heaven's Son, and His Empire of Wood and Limestone
    At the edge of the Wyld, where the Dreaming Sea fades into the Dreaming Chaos, there stands a domain who wishes to be an empire. There an Exalted lord sits in a palace of marble and silver, and hungry fae whisper in his court. There Outcastes have built a kingdom to thwart his advance, and there drowned sailors come to trade. This the Silver Ring, where dreams have a life of their own.

    The Ramshackle Empire

    In a time long gone, seven Manses were designed on five islands to hold back the tides of the Wyld at the edge of the Dreaming Sea. They anchored the reality of the sea and warded off the fae. Two of these Manses were lost in the Great Contagion, and the five that remained were deserted - their people dead of fleeing. Few traces remain of these first inhabitants of the Silver Ring. They carved magnificent frescos in the caves of their islands and assembled complex mosaics on the floor of their granite temple; they raised standing stones in the middle of the waves by means unknown. They are gone now; the sea people replaced them. They came to the islands raiders and pirates, and found them deserted. So they made their home here, and each of the surviving Manses became a palace.

    Soon the Silver Ring was a place of war and intrigue. When conflict rose to a peak, there was a prince in each Manse, five lords waging war against each other; most often there were no more than three, each trying to shift the balance of power by claiming the most Manses. They built fortresses upon the waves, surrounding their islands with walls of wood and limestone; and when they did not wage war against each other they reaped silver and sapphires from the people of the shores, for they had not forgotten their origins. These were the days of Fatima the Raider Queen, whose ship of blue-lacquered oak stormed the coasts of Ysyr, and of Blossoming Flame, the Forsaken Anathema who forced five princes to unite against him and was swallowed by the waves with his horse of brass and copper. These days are gone as well; where Blossoming Fire failed, Heaven’s Son, Lunar Exated, succeeded.

    He came one night wearing shadow and moonlight, with a companion who bore blue scales and a hungry smile, in their wake a trail of mist in which roamed demons. He called beasts from the sea to shatter the walls of the fortresses, and he made the Golden Palace his home - and from its forgotten vaults he came back wearing an armor made of the Solar Anathema’s own orichalcum. Over a decade of war he conquered each of the other four Manses in turn: the Green Jade Garden, the Red Jade Monolith, the Black Jade Lagoon, and the Argent Watchtower. When, for the first time, the Silver Ring was unified under a single ruler, Heaven’s Son found that there was much hardship in ruling these separate islands, where it could take days to relay information from one palace to the other but only hours for civil war to spread; and he understood that soon this unified empire would slip from his grasp as governors of each palace would gather too much independent power. Thus he set out to build the Ramshackle Empire.

    From quarries on the southern shores of the Sea, stones were carried; from vast forests in the north, wood was cut; from the alien horizons of Hell, demons were summoned; and from the shallow waters and reefs of the Ring, new expanses of limestone were raised. Under the command of their new lords, men and spirits built banks of stone, sand and soil on the shores of the small islands which littered the Silver Ring and connected the five Manses, vast bridges and wooden scaffolding. Purpose-bred beastfolk were sent under the waves, where they still maintain the fundations of this fragile architecture while fearing to show their faces above the water. This work began thirty years ago and has almost reached its end; now there is no ringlet of island, no archipelago - there is a vast expanse of land, a kingdom of wood, vast platforms, rafts and repurposed ships connecting reefs and rocks and islands, levies which dried the shallow waters to reveal the soil beneath.

    It is hard to say where begin the lands and where starts the sea in the Ramshackle Empire; entire villages are built on piers and stilts, with docks extending over the waters only to join an artificial bank of sand, connected by a narrow bridge to an actual island. What seems to be a river is actually seawater channeled to drain strength from the tides, and what seems to be a lake is an empty spot where docks and houses will soon rise. Often a tide-gate breaks or a bridge collapses; a storm can create a new lake where once was a trade route, and a high tide can reshape the geography of the land. And yet the kingdom endures; where once stood five domains there is now a single realm, connecting five geomantic nexus of considerable importance. Jewelry and sheer Essence is the trade of the Empire; the sap of the beams that support an entire village gathers into an amber that can be ground down to fuel thaumaturgical and sorcerous rituals, while a haphazard dike drains water from the inner land’s lakes to reveal oysters, fish and silver ore. The fortresses shattered by sea monsters have been built anew, and new ones have sprouted on the shores of this kingdom to protect its fragile inner lands. It is a nation in a state of constant collapse and reconstruction, and it is rich.

    Society of the Silver Ring

    Before the coming of Heaven’s Son, the society of the Silver Ring was separated into castes and largely dominated by god-blooded dynasties which made up the effective nobility of the domains; as they were also in control of the ships and leading the raids on the other dominions of the Dreaming Sea, they held the strings of the domains’ purses. The wood-blooded sylvaines were always largely in control of the Green Jade Garden and its affiliated island, even when they served under a king hailing from a different palace; as for most of the other god-bloods, they were mostly descended from water and fire spirits, the distinction between the two having blurred over time. While the god-bloods regularly sought arranged marriage with spirits to infuse divine blood in their dynasties, the vast majority of marriages were made between mortals, and the fact of the matter was that the differences between nobility and mortals were largely aesthetic, rather than a matter of supernatural power.

    The invaders upset that social order greatly. Understanding quickly that the entrenched, ethnically distinct nobility would oppose his rule, Heaven’s Son had the most prominent god-bloods executed, and gave their offices to those who had held the function of merchant caste before - the promise of connecting the various islands in order to promote internal trade and make them rich, while removing the ceiling against which butted those without divine ascendence, quickly secured their support. In addition, it was not long until the No Moon Sapphire Mind - with her circlemate’s blessing - began introducing beastmen in the population. Sealionfolks proved to be resilient, hardy workers quite valuable in setting up the connection between the islands, while the sorceress herself belonged to a line of blue-scaled lizardfolk, some of whom joined her in her new domain. The non-beastfolk population of the Ring saw these creatures with suspicion, and social tensions between humans and beastfolk has been persistent ever since.

    Forty after the conquest, lizardfolk are the chief artisans and engineers of the Silver Ring, though those who do not have the skills to fill this role find their lot in life very poor indeed. Sealionfolk live close to the waters - their houses have a strange architecture, opening both on the streets and on the sea - and they are masons and carpenters, constantly working on the scaffolding of the islands. This strange lifestyle cuts them off from the human population, making them suffer the most from discriminatory practices. The merchant caste dominates public affairs, and has enriched themselves to the point that their stonewrought palaces are one of the most striking architectural features of the island, often built from expensive redstone; when scions of the nobility lead raids against other nations, it is at their behest and for their profit. The old god-blooded nobility has faded in both importance and numbers, and their remnants are now seeking dalliances and marriage arrangements with more powerful spirits in hopes of empowering their bloodlines; these arrangements sometimes take them too far, and it is not unheard of for a member of the nobility to simply disappear - or for their descendants to be born too far removed from human to be fertile themselves.

    Landscapes of the Silver Ring

    The core of the Silver Ring is divided into five main islands, each one sporting one of the Five Palaces of Heaven; their landmass is sufficiently massive that a man standing at their center will not see the shore, but sufficiently small that none takes more than two days to cross for a motivated traveller. Cities can be found both around the Manses themselves and on the coast of the islands, with the political elites favoring the center. By now the islands are almost entirely devoid of wood; only the Green Jade Garden still sports large forests. Instead they have large fields of wheat, and little to no animals; cattle is a precious commodity in the Empire, and usually reserved for the noble and merchant class. Most food comes from the water: sealionfolk provide for themselves with undersea fields of edible algae, and while they fish as well, the majority of their produce goes to land-dwellers; nutrient deficiencies are widespread among them.

    The harbors of the Ramshackle Empire are an impressive sight; ships from all over the Dreaming Sea are docked at frail-looking wooden piers that somehow do not crumble under the weight of the thousands walking and running over them and of the cargo being brought to land. Foreigners never feel comfortable in these cities of wood, and even sailors tend to be in a hurry to leave; for this reason Samara, the outermost northern port of the Silver Ring, has dedicated itself almost entirely to leisure: it is a true island lacking any artificial embankments, and its docks are solid ground and good limestone. There sailors and officers alike can be found enjoying the fish-food delicacies of the islands and the red- and blue-skinned painted boys and courtesans born when the noble caste mingled with those beneath their station and who had the chance to inherit pleasing exotic features.

    “Plank towns,’ population centers built not on solid ground but on piers or scaffoldings or other artificial expansions of the land, are a staple of the Ramshackle Empire. They are often small, have a high rate of transit with people trying to leave as soon as they can, and are almost entirely populated by artisans or beastmen (rarely ‘and’). They are prone to accidents and vulnerable to the weather, but they are generally built because of the proximity of a silver mine, or as a makeshift, minor geomantic nexus designed to gather Essence-sap, and as a result are highly profitable to the Silver Ring as a whole - if less so for those who live within. Only Leman, the oldest surviving plank town, manages to draw people in a permanent manner. Situated at the junction between the Green Jade Garden’s island and the Black Jade Lagoon, it seems more like a ship than a town, with a ground of solid wood shifting slightly with the wind; two aqueducts of fresh water run through it, and in its lower level - almost entirely lacking sunlight and prone to flooding - live the sealionmen who ensure its stability through constant work… and maintain the most prosperous black market of the empire, aptly known as the shadow market.

    Each of the five main islands and no small number of the others maintains at least one sacred grove; it is often the last place on the land that has not been scoured for construction wood. These small circles each house a communal shrine to the spirits of the island. They are carefully tended by custodians who have often spent their formative days working for the sylvaines, and who are as much diplomats and priests as they are gardeners. The spirits of the Silver Ring tend toward materiality due to their long tradition of marriage with the noble caste, and it is frequent for custodians to have to convey messages between spiritual and mortal populations. Though the forests have receded, the fields have expanded, and the spirits are not unhappy - they receive a more steady supply of offerings than they did in the days of constant war. Those who are unhappy are those who treated their alliances with noble families as a true bond rather than a mere business arrangement, and those are angry and resentful towards the new order.

    Pictures of Life

    Matters of Caste

    The merchant caste trades - but it also raises cattle and controls the agriculture. The noble caste wages war - but it also knows spirits best of all and serves as de facto priests. The actual priest caste organizes cults and worship - but it has all but disappeared, with the largest part of its followers being steadily absorbed into the noble caste as it hews ever closer to spirits. The artisan caste counts widely renowned artists and master craftsmen among their number - but it is also by far the most numerous, and the one most likely to be performing any menial, lowly labor in the empire. Beastmen are outsiders, marked by their appearance and names, and do not fall within the caste system. Each caste takes pride in a distinctive cultural heritage, but intermarriage and changing from one caste to another are not unheard of.

    Alimani were originally of black hair and olive complexion, but the caste barriers never fully prevented heterogamy, and so certain traits that have come to signal the noble caste have also trickled down to the rest of the population over time. These include blue or red skin, eyes seemingly lacking pupils, yellow sclera, as well as patches of scales on the skin, the latter two of which are considered unseemly and unattractive. Passing as a member of a different caste is entirely possible, provided one has access to a complicit tattoo artist and clothes of the right color, and stories of lowly laborer masquerading as members of the aristocracy because of the indiscretion of an ancestor who left them with god-blood markings are a stapple of the Silver Ring’s literature, though they have faded from popularity in recent times.

    Whether a specific god-blood feature is an asset to one’s appearance depends entirely on how one capitalizes on it, though as a general indicator, members of the merchant caste with visible markings tend to curry the favor of the noble caste (or, in these days, to ruthlessly exploit their vulnerability to their profit), while those without tend to make a show of their appartenance to ‘normal’ people; the term ‘tan,’ originally a derogatory word used by the nobility to denote ‘everyone else,’ has been reclaimed by the more politically inclined members of the merchant caste with a connotation of ‘true Alimani’ - that is, neither beastfolk nor god-blooded, as the nobility itself is being disparaged as not entirely human.

    Matters of Dress
    It is the responsibility of all Alimans - the name of the original population of the Silver Ring - to wear markings that signal their caste at all times. The most outward of these markings are henna tattoos, applied regularly and changing patterns in accordance with the fashion of the moment: the noble caste mark their forehead and cheeks, the merchant caste their hands, the priestly caste their mouth and chin, the artisan caste their shoulders. Of these, the noble caste most often goes without tattoos, trusting that their god-blood will make their station obvious, but no caste may go without the proper dress; red is the color of the noble caste, blue that of the merchants, green that of the priests, and brown that of the artisans. This color must be worn in an obvious and outward manner, and for this reason it is often that of the overcoat, a supple knee-length garment worn over the rest of the habit. While the overcoat’s fabric may be interwoven with thread-of-gold or thread-of-silver, the true indicator of wealth is the buttons that hang on its left side (and are rarely clasped), and which should ideally be large, either carved from precious wood or metal, and engraved with small vignettes or decorative pictures. Selling one’s buttons is frequent for those who fall into poverty, and is quite shameful; ‘half-buttoned’ is an euphemism referring to a noble or merchant who wears buttons of different sets, which is taken to mean that their affairs are in very poor order.

    Beneath the overcoat, the Alimani dress is usually floating and of distinctive Southern inspiration, favoring long clothes made from a single piece of fabric, usually wrapped with a sash. Members of the artisan caste are often the most lightly clothed, and their physical work as well as the hot climates of the Ring often make them go shirtless, in which case they try to make their henna tattoos more expansive to draw attention. As long as one’s caste color is prominently displayed, the rest of the habit can be as multicolored and often garish as one might like, and bright, warm hues are highly sought after, if expensive.

    Dyes and textiles are one of the main import of the Silver Ring, and shortage of proper fabric or color has been known to catalyze social tensions and spark riots; the last known “Dye Riot” took place fifteen years ago during a time of economical crisis due to the collapse of the dam protecting one of the main silver mines of the kingdom, and was put down by capitalizing on the lack of sympathy beastfolk had for the native population; sealionmen backed by subtle Exalted magic beat back the crowd, and order was restored by the use of a sorcery spells which sowed confusion and forgetfulness before the crowd could find a second wind. While this proved effective at the time, it worsened the perception of beastfolk among the population; where sealionmen had been seen as dull muscle with little use beyond manual labor, they are now feared for their considerable strength and supposed savagery.

    Matters of Death
    Land being a precious commodity, burial is unthinkable in the Silver Ring; while cremation presence obvious risks in a society whose land is made of wood, it remains the traditional and most practical way of disposing of bodies. For this purpose, the dead are brought back to one of the islands, preferably close to a sacred grove, and burned in the open sky, as far from the wooden infrastructure as possible. The nature of the Red Jade Monolith makes this difficult, and as a result the inhabitants of this island are the only ones who do not favor cremation, instead resorting to tamed vultures and exposure on top of the redstone monoliths. The bloody marks this leaves on the stone has given rise to wild rumors about the society of the Red Jade, painting them as dark cultists practicing human sacrifices to bolster their fading blood, and training swarms of battle-ready scavenger birds. These rumors are gross exaggerations… most of the time. The Red Jade Monolith does have a tradition of thaumaturgical rituals allowing the bonding of a human to a familiar, and the so-called ‘baldheads,’ shaven men bonding with vultures, are one of the last bastion of the priest caste in the Silver Empire; they are more shamans than priests, and fashion their henna tatttoos in the form of feathers, and their knowledge of thaumaturgy is not to be underestimated.

    The Five Palaces of Heaven

    The backbone of the Silver Ring are the five Manses built to maintain the stability of the Dreaming Sea against the Wyld; each of them is so valuable, they sustained the independence of a princely domain almost on their own, and justified constant warfare between the rulers of the islands. Now unified under Heaven’s Son and supervised by his companion Sapphire Mind, who has made several arrangements to their structure. Individually, these are Manses of middling potency; it is in their proximity and common nature that they find their power.
    The Golden Palace
    The Golden Palace is the seat of Heaven’s Son rulership. It is a squat, blocky palace of white marble shot through with red veins, decorated in gold; it was build on the largest island of the Silver Ring. Large mirrors hang on its inner walls, and its throne room is covered by a cupola of stained glass depicting scenes of war from the Shogunate, but the Golden Palace holds a secret - the whole structure of the palace itself is a decoy. The actual Manse is underneath it, a series of underground vaults, vast arches carved into the stone, ambers set in the walls, and a mirror of gold twice as tall as a man placed in its central room, a clever reflective system bringing sunlight deep underground to be reflected by the mirror in a beautiful amber light. Sapphire Mind did her best to restore the underground Manse to full functionality, and has mostly succeeded. This is where the last member of the Exalted trio that rules the island, the secretive Ebony Mask, built an orrery spanning the entirety of the central vault and powered by the golden mirror, and this is where Heaven’s Son meditates upon the shape of Fate.

    The Green Jade Garden
    The domain of the sylvaines is a greenhouse of jade-infused glass, its green light bathing plants in a life-sustaining aura. There grow plants that cannot be found in these regions of Creation; sun peas which are used to enhance a warrior’s skills and dull his pain, cattle-creeper off-shots used to give mortals the ability to breathe underwater, and the ingredients necessary to prepare seven bounties paste. This garden is tended by the sylvaines, the god-blooded daughters of wood elementals whose skin has a greenish hue and who grow flowers in their air. The Manse provides sustenance beyond the greenhouse itself; the entire island on which it was built is the most fertile domain of the Silver Ring - and now, this life-giving Essence is channeled by the bridges and platforms which connect it to the other island so that it does not disperse in the waters, but instead enhance the fertility of all the soils in the kingdom. It is on these bridges that is harvested the Essence-rich sap that is then sold to the merchants of Old Loire.

    The Black Jade Lagoon
    There is a certain elegance and beauty in this freshwater lake, contained within a ring of dark basalt and black jade walls which isolate it from the seawater around it - mostly; there are special openings design to let water in and out. The Lagoon acts as a filter, turning salt water into fresh water; the latter is tapped and conveyed through slender aqueducts throughout the Silver Ring, ensuring that its population never grows thirsty - and preventing, to a certain extent, the spread of cholera across the isles. The Manse requires that a specific species of small trees with creeping roots be planted on the top of its walls in order to function; these end up draining the water’s salt, which ultimately kills them, requiring that they be changed for new ones supplied by the Green Jade Garden. In times past, these two manses were the most commonly found under the control of a single ruler, and when they were not, their respective owners always engaged in ferocious trade negotiations and just as ferocious wars. Now, this exchange is performed smoothly, but the increased population of the Silver Ring requires increased amounts of freshwater, whose availability is limited by the size of the Lagoon and the speed of the Garden’s production. Already, disease is spreading in various points of the kingdom.

    The Red Jade Monolith
    The Red Jade Monolith is a towering obelisk, its facade engraved with depictions of ancient wars between forgotten people. It was the crown jewel of the art of the people that came before the Contagion, and it depicts things unknown today - powers that shook the skies and shattered the doors of worlds. But its top was broken centuries ago; unable to repair it properly, the people of the island resorted to building additional, smaller monoliths of ferrous red stone to support the currents of Essence that flowed through it. These back-up standing stones surround the yard of the palace built around the obelisk and dot the rest of the island; together they were once used to set ships on fire when they raided the shores, but now the manse’s purpose has been inverted, and the obelisk instead d
    raws fire, extinguishing it before it has time to expend. Given the omnipresence of wood in the current architecture of the islands, this is of paramount importance. Unfortunately this also causes individual redstones to overheat, crack, and finally burst - requiring constant replacement; this requires trading with Ysyr, the only region close enough for trade that also has the infrastructure and interest to mine the ferrous rocks and sell them. Given the ruinous expenses made to secure this trade, the nobility of the Silver Ring is itching to take up its mantle of raider again - and perhaps to go further and conquer a potential redstone quarry from a weaker neighbour, as a first colony.

    The Argent Watchtower
    The original design of this building was at once watchtower and lighthouse; it is a slender spire of limestone, the silver whorls on its stones restricted to its interior. At night the silver dome that serves as its ceiling seems to fade to reveal the night sky, but it is more than an illusion - it allows one to perceive the surroundings of the island (and the stars) with unparalleled clarity regardless of the weather. This is incidental to its original purpose: channeling moonlight into the glass lamp at its center, which is reflected and intensified by an ensemble of mirrors in a way similar to the vaults of the Golden Palace - but the light is then redirected as a beam, which serves to warn ship of the approach of reefs or the shores. Once its purpose was even greater; its light could be modulated to produce images and illusions, tricking and luring enemy ships or conveying messages to an ally; but much of the lighthouse’s interior has been damaged as princes of the islands tore down its precious silver and jewelry to fuel their trade. While Sapphire Moon wants to restore the manse to its full power, this would be incredibly expensive, and she is thwarted in this by Ebony Mask, who has claimed the lighthouse as his own dwelling for reasons unknown - though it is clear he at least uses the dome to perform astrological readings.

    Foreign Relations

    The Silver Ring has never existed on its own; it has long been a home to pirates and raiders, and today is no different. For one, the Ramshackle Empire can no more feed itself now than it did before its unification, when its population was much lower. In addition, the grand work performed to connect the islands requires a constant influx of timber and stone, far more than can produce the islands themselves. War, piracy and trade are a necessity for the Silver Ring.

    The Dragon’s Suspire

    When news reached the Outcaste dynasties of the south that a Lunar had taken over one of the islands of the Dreaming Sea, the Dragon-Blooded grew fearful. When they learned that he had unified the entire Silver Ring, they grew resolute. Six favored sons and daughters of the three neighboring kingdoms below the southern coast of the Sea took arms and formed a sworn brotherhood in order to perform this most sacred of duties: the Wyld Hunt, protecting the hegemony of the Exalted over Creation. With elite troops at their backs and carrying weapons of red jade, they marched on the Ramshackle Empire in its infancy - and they were pushed back. One of them was slain in the attempt.

    The Dragon-Blooded were rejected, but not deterred. Understanding that a frontal assault on a budding military power would avail them nothing, they retreated on the southern coast of the Seas and decided to claim the power base necessary to build up a new, successful assault. Through guile, personal power, careful alliance and betrayal, they forged a kingdom on the doorstep of their opponent. This was thirty years ago, and the quintumvirate of Dragon-Bloods ruling the Dragon’s Suspire are old now; they have fought many battles against the Silver Ring, sent many assassins and saboteurs, and though they have failed to slay its Anathema lords the notion of the Wyld Hunt shapes the entire culture of their society. Someday, they muse, they will march again into battle with their own sons and daughters at their sight, and the rickety scaffoldings of this so-called “empire” will crumble before the dragon’s breath.

    The Dragon’s Suspire does not favor all-out war, for now; it is mustering its strength. Rather it skirmishes, spies and assassinates, and proves a welcoming home for wayfarers and ‘adventurers,’ offering them training, fundings, the favor of living demigods, and pointing them at the Silver Ring as if it were a giant oyster filled with silver. Those pirates that plague the region and do not belong to the Ramshackle Empire are most often commandos of the Suspire, trying to shatter the trade routes of their enemy and make a tidy profit at that.

    Old Loire
    To the north of the Silver Empire sits Old Loire, city of ghosts and branded slaves, though a traveller by day will never reach it; it resides in the Underworld, and only its ghost-blooded Drowned Sailors know the secret ways to reach the city without passing through a shadowland. Old Loire values the Silver Ring’s Essence-amber greatly, much as ghosts prize the Essence-tokens they receive from burnt offerings; each amber fragment is a shard of power to fuel their Arcanoi and necromancy. In exchange, the merchants of the Silver Ring receive precious resources from the Underworld: its jade, its strange and pale food which brings little sustenance but whose odd taste is enjoyed by the wealthy and the decadent, and the bone-carved amulets of Old Loire’s thaumaturges and ghost-blooded necromancers.

    Wilting Blossom, the Dragon-Blooded necromancer who serves as lieutenant to the Old Loire’s master, frequently visits the Silver Ring to try and secure a unique deal - the purchase of an enormous single piece of Essence-amber, from which to carve the figurehead a new ship, the pride of Old Loire’s fleet; what the city’s dark master intends to do with this wonder, no one knows, and this mystery is what has stalled the negotiations. If they stall any further, it is not out of the question for Wilting Blossom to stage a daring heist, at the risk of opening hostility between the two cities.

    The Fair Folk

    The emissaries of the Court of Mists are a beautiful and frightening sight; they hail from the sea beyond the mists of the Wyld, and they seem unreal, as if stylized drawings had taken life, their features a the same time an exaggeration of humans and beasts and a mere draft of the same. They have the figures of lions and garda birds, their robes trail ribbons of fog, and they come bearing rippling necklaces of pearl and canvas of gossamer; they refuse to do anything so lowly as trading their gifts, instead granting them generously to their hosts as presents, and expecting much in return - but never stating what. It is not infrequent for merchants whose raiders seize a sizable number of prisoners to sell them off to the raksha rather than keep them as slaves, or rather to “offer” them, knowing that this kindness will be repaid later. To trade with the Court of Mists is an insult to them, but to offer presents is to receive more in return.

    Tarabai the Fire-Kissed, a raskha eight feet tall and sporting four arms of red-veined mahogany, has been granted residence in the house of a nobleman five years ago and shows no sign of departing; she receives visitor while sitting at her loom, on which she weaves strange beasts that breathe fire and grow vines in their fur. She offers them to her hosts as gifts, along with lavish textiles enchanted by glamour. But she must be fed, and rumors of her voracity are starting to spread throughout the Ring - largely exaggerated by those who would rather see the raksha thrown out; Tarabai’s hungers are not as concerning as the dozens of goblins who have been adopted by rich merchants as pets, slaves, and general sign of status, and who are becoming a fashion trend as much as a practical asset. Her two brothers, raksha of lesser status, appear frequently at the royal court, smiling and polite but ever listening.

    The Guild

    By Heaven’s Son’s command, no merchant of the Guild is allowed to set foot on the Silver Ring; in no way does this prevent the merchant caste from trading with them. Meetings are arranged on the shores of the Dreaming Sea, where the mist-shrouded boats of the Ramshackle Empire meet with the caravans of the Guild. There is a sense of complicity between traders on either side, but it will never prevent either from stabbing the other in the back. The Silver Ring’s main resource is obvious in its name, but though Guildsman crave silver they desire even more to control its flow. As long as this silver goes to Heaven’s Son’s Manse-repairing and Artifact-crafting ventures and stays out of the circulation, this suits them almost as well as having it directly in their hands. For this reason the Guild helps the mad sprawling construction of the the Empire, notably by selling suitable wood for their bridges and scaffolding and exotic components suitable for the production of moonsilver; it is their hope that any silver that doesn’t fall in their hands will remain within the internal trade of the Silver Ring, without risking to unbalance their currency of choice.

    This arrangement does not please everyone in the Silver Ring, however. There are those who choose to seek other partners in their trade, despite the accidents that tend to befell those who go against the Guild; and there are those go much farther. Zirba San Aliman, one of the wealthiest traders of the islands and who boasts having the friendship of Heaven’s Son himself, has taken the counsel of Ibna Al Asimir, the coral-haired daughter of a water elemental, who has convinced him to claim the rich forests of the coasts currently controlled by the Guild. By making colonies out of them, they believe they will control the single most important resource for the future of the Empire - wood; and with each passing day the consequences of attacking the Guild in this way seem less and less frightening, compared to the benefits they would reap.

    Men and Gods of the Silver Ring

    Sapphire Mind did not create the lizardfolk; she was born of them, a beastwoman before her Exaltation and after. A sense of kinship is one of the reasons lizardfolk receive a preferential treatment compared to sealionfolk, whom she treats as cheap and effective muscle. She frequently takes lovers among her people, and at any given time at least a handful of lizardfolk carry Exalted blood in their veins, which grants them strange gifts and a tendency towards strange behaviors. These scions head the cults that worship their No Moon mother, but it is not unheard of for some of them to grow rebellious or to abuse their power and influence. Oalxatl, the oldest of Sapphire Mind’s living sons, is currently agitating the lizardolk population, claiming that they are merely subordinate to the merchant caste when their blood should give them rule over all save their Exalted lords. His mother considers all these political considerations rather petty, and has made no attempt at quelling or aiding the revolt, and it is gaining traction throughout the population.

    Nefise the Questing Merchant

    Nefise San Humaid is a young and bold venture trader, and something of an embarassment to her family; she has made and lost more fortunes in twenty-two years of life than many do in a lifetime. She is one of the rare merchants of the Silver Ring to shun the tradition of keeping most silver inside the island and to sell the remainder only to the Guild; with a small crew and a nimble ship, its hold half-empty, she constantly seeks out new trade routes and new clients. She has lost more than one cargo to pirates, but has learned from her past failures; her ship has a small shrine of verdigris and iron holding a small cube of indigo ice which must never melt; as long as it does not, the mist-demon it houses offers the protection of concealing fog and the support of hungry tentacles.

    Recently, Nefise has put her experience in fast, discreet sea travel to a different use; she has turned to smuggling. She does not smuggle goods, only people; those who have reasons to be secretive about their need to move to or from the Silver Ring - or in truth, to and from anywhere in the Dreaming Sea - can count on her enthusiastic, if reckless sailing skills.

    Izir Storm-Wracked

    Izir Al Kara is a cautionary tale to the nobility of the Silver Ring and a plight on the empire itself. He was born from eugenicist attempts at bolstering the divine blood of his family lines, hoping that god-blooded of sufficiently divine blood could claim power over the seas and the tempests; but the body of a man was not meant to contain the blood of goods in such quantities. God-blooded son after god-blooded daughter had congress with spirits over five generation, and the issue of this experiment was Izir - blue-skinned, thunder-voiced, with stormclouds for hair and sapphires for eyes; but he is infertile and mercurial, prone to fits of cold, devastating wrath. Using his spirit-born powers wracks his body with more raw Essence than he can endure, and lightning burns the skin off his arms.

    Izir could never bear to be seen as a failure by his family; this caused him great anger, and his angers caused them fear, their fear sprouted more rejection. Ultimately he deserted from his family and the empire both, taking three ships and two hundred loyal men with him. Now he is a pirate lord in the Dreaming Sea; the Stormcrow is his flagship, and its arrival is heralded by a tempest; often he does not have to fight his quarry, the threat of the weather being enough to get what he wants from them. He has a demon-blooded wife, who bears the blood of the mist-demons that cover the seas of Kimbery, and together they raid and pillage to their hearts’ content, attacking both the Silver Ring and the rest of the Dreaming Sea. But the more Izir calls upon his heritage, the more the storm burns within him, and he feels like his mortality is an uncomfortable cloth, ripping at the seams and chafing over his true skin. What mad things could he do in trying to get rid of it?

    The Blackwood Bostanci

    The sylvaines were the members of the noble caste who suffered the least from the transition of power when their Green Jade Garden was conquered, for their had little ties to the scions of water and fire spirits found in the rest of the Silver Ring, and they held precious knowledge concerning the care of the Garden. While they have never again arisen to a position of great power, they keep a jealous supremacy over this one domain. A specific faction of the sylvaines, known as the Bostanci, take a more aggressive approach to this supremacy; these god-bloods have dark green skin and mark their appartenance to this organization by infecting themselves with the invasive plant known as cattle-creeper, which covers their body in hard, creeping ivy and protects them against disease and infection. They are often seen accompanied by manikins, lesser elemental spirits who take the shape of wooden, leafy animals.

    The Bostanci are warriors, and though most of them focus on defending their Manse and island against spies and saboteurs, they are considered effective bodyguard throughout the Silver Ring. In the wooded, sparsely populated regions surrounding the Green Jade Garden, they cling on to the power of the old nobility, an anachronism which is fought relentlessly (though discreetly) by the merchant caste; outside the island they are hired by the noble and merchant castes to thwart assassinations and defend them when they venture onto the shores. The oldest living Bostanci, Saruca of the Garden, ascended to godhood in her fortieth year of endless strife and abandoned her family name. Sensing a potential for internal conflict and a noble uprising if an elite warrior was allowed to become an immortal paragon of her faction’s ideals, Ebony Mask used his secret Charms to bind her to a single goal - the protection and prosperity of the Silver Ring as a whole. She has restricted her actions to protecting the Garden, but the reverence she receives from the sylvaines as a Queen of the Woods has made them their effective leader - which has worked in the Exalted’s favor so far, but the binding is reaching its end.

    Jirmanagi, the Crimson Wyrm

    Jirmanagi hails from the lands south of the Dreaming Sea; the giant, draconic creature is not a true elemental dragon, but still a spirit of considerable power. In his full glory he can raise his slender serpentine body higher than the Argent Watchtower itself; his scales glimmer like ruby and his breath is pure, flameless heat. Summoned by Sapphire Mind on the shores of the Red Jade Monolith to be bound into service, he pulled free from their contest of will and turned against his would-be captors. Heaven’s Son wrestled him down into the waters of the island while Ebony Mask cast silence curses and Sapphire Mind brought the fire-quenching power of the Monolith upon him, and Jirmanagi had to flee; but before he did he delivered a terrible blow which cracked the left arm of the Full Moon’s orichalcum armor, a damage which he has been unable to repair to this day.

    Jirmanagi holds long and terrible grudges. He did not return to his southern dwellings after his escape; instead he wandered the shores and islands of the Dreaming Sea, asking for the enemies of the Silver Ring, and when he found the Dragon’s Suspire he smiled. Now the quintumvirate of Dragon-Blooded boasts a literal dragon among their number, an angry and patient creature who bestowed upon them gifts of spiritual power and who is raising an army of fire elementals for them. The Dragon-Bloods prize and fear that ally in equal measure, but there is no denying his power; and one among them, Jiraya of the Aspect of Fire, shares a particular affinity with him, to the point of having made him her consort. The first of their children has Exalted, and twin fires burn within him.

    Ebony Mask

    To the people of the Silver Ring, Ebony Mask is a cypher. This quiet man is often found accompanying either of his two Exalted brethrens, his face covered by a black, blank slate of a mask, carved out of ebony and apparently without any hole for him to see through. Green-haired and slender, it is suspected that he is Haltan, and some sort of thaumaturge or sorcerer working for the prince of the Ramshackle Empire. The truth is that Ebony Mask is a Sidereal who made a dangerous bet: to throw his lot with one of the more aggressive Lunar warlords of this region. Formally a member of the Gold Faction, Ebony Mask hopes to consolidate the Silver Ring in an independent empire that can offer shelter to newly incarnated Solars, allowing him to easily find them and take them under his wing.

    His plan has not worked so far, in that no Solar has to his knowledge set foot on the wooden docks of the Ramshackle Empire. This only pushes him to work harder; the hope of drawing in Solar Exalts is starting to become a secondary concerned, pushed aside by sheer pride and the sunk cost fallacy. He built this Empire through careful advice and monitoring, and he will be damned if he simply leaves it alone to stray away from his design. After a number of failed summons, his Bureau wrote him off temporarily as a ronin - it is assumed that he will eventually come back to his senses. In the meantime, Ebony Mask’s divine familiar, a golden-furred ferret, warns him off potential Fate-related incidents in his general region, and when he considers them more worthy of his time than his work in the Silver Ring he deals with them quickly and effectively.

    Ebony Mask carries the Hearthstone of the Argent Watchtower, which allows him to change faces at will; he uses it in combination with his Arcane Fate to visit the empire under countless fake identities. Having spent decades as a one-man secret police and finding it exhausting, he has taken half a dozen mortal pupils, whom he hopes to turn into the cornerstone of a secret guard for his Lunar liege.

    Heaven’s Son, Exalted of the Firmament and All That Lies Beneath

    Glory to Heaven’s Son, chant the hymns taught to young children of the noble and merchant castes; glory to him who wrought unity and power out of weakness and strife. The ruler of the Ramshackle Empire is the exact opposite of his kingdom, a giant of a man, with strange crimson skin barely seen beneath the golden plates of his orichalcum armor, and red eyes that can be glimpsed through the slots of his golden mask. There is not one man in the Silver Ring who does not know that their one true lord is a Lunar Exalted, and using the name “Anathema” in any circumstances is cause for ostracism; but the Prince of Five claims more than this. To hear him, he is not merely a Lunar Exalt - and his companion Sapphire Mind cringes every time he uses that ‘merely’ - but has transcended this state into one beyond; he is Exalted of all the stars, of all the skies - of the firmament and all that lies beneath.

    On the day of his conquest, Heaven’s Son pulled from the vaults of the Golden Palace a suit of ancient orichalcum armor blessed with potent Evocations, which he has almost fully drawn and mastered in defiance of his own nature. In this way, he claimed the power of Solar Exaltation. Then, with the help of his astrologer Ebony Mask, he was bestowed with a mantle woven from Fate itself. With this star-born blessing and having mastered the thaumaturgical Art of Astrology and been granted starmetal tools with which to make such thaumaturgy swift and easy, he claimed the power of Sidereal Exaltation. Finally he set yasal crystals in the Hearthstone sockets of his armor; when he wrestled the patron gods of the noble caste he sealed many inside these gems. Though the armor is only one-third full and the spirits are weak, he can tap into their power to command weather and the earth; in this way he claimed the power of Terrestrial Exaltation. Now he is absolute, perfect - or he will be, just as soon as he has finally filled the rest of his gems and completed his elemental mastery, just as soon as he unlocks the last power of his armor, just as soon as he crafts his first true destiny, just as soon as…

    Mad or delusional or simply misunderstanding the nature of Exaltation, Heaven’s Son is nonetheless a force to be reckoned with. He is perpetually in an inhuman form, a glorious god-body mingling animal, divine and human traits. Only those closest to him would know his spirit shape, concealed by his heavy armor and mask. When his anima flare, its silver-blue hue is mingled with shades of gold and prismatic colors, but it does not flare often these days; the many gems, armor and tools to which Heaven’s Son is attuned, and the unnatural way in which he forced into functionality Evocations that were not meant for him, take a heavy toll on his Essence flows. The Lunar is a silent ruler, most often found sitting on his throne and listening to reports and queries for hours on end. When his decision comes, it is unambiguous and unlikely to be changed. He cradles his left arm, where an elemental dragon cracked his armor, for it is a reminder of his past recklessness, but even this memento is often not enough to stop his choleric temper.

    The merchant caste likes him for having been the one to raise them to the top of the empire’s society and for facilitating internal and external trade more than ever before, but they do not want him involved in… well, anything, if they can help it. As well-intentioned as he might be, Heaven’s Son is a man of sound and fury, and his solution to problems is to call down storms, sea monsters and his own personal powers to lay waste to all that is before him. He does so cleverly - he understands the necessities of power, and efficiently used one caste against the other in his own war - but in doing so there is much that he would destroyed. However, while the noble caste has long hated him for his treatment of the princes and their cohorts, the younger generation has not personally experienced this terrible event, and are torn between the grudge transmitted by their parents and the opportunity he presents: a faction of weaker nobles, of those who do not see dalliances with spirits as the way out of their steady decline, wish to convince their Exalted ruler to go to war. With his power, they surmise, there is no nation who could stand before them.

    What Heaven’s Son thinks of these political squabbles, he doesn’t say. At night he meditates upon the golden mirror beneath his Manse, trying to realign his Essence flow and using Sapphire Mind to perform dangerous spiritual surgery on his chakras. The Ramshackle Empire is a means to an end, and that end is transcendence into something more than he is today. Every demon his companion has conjured has laughed in his face at the preposterousness of his ambitions, so he works alone. He will become more than he is, or he will die trying.
    Last edited by Omicron; 03-06-2014, 04:02 PM.

    Bits and pieces of Exalted setting.

  • #2
    God I hate this forum software so much. Every time I try to correct the problem, it gets even worse.

    Bits and pieces of Exalted setting.


    • #3
      Bah, I give up. Anyone has any idea why spoiler boxes split themselves in two like that?

      Anyway, semi-useful reference: Old Loire, a previous work of mine.

      Bits and pieces of Exalted setting.


      • #4
        Let's have a look here...

        Jirmanagi, the Crimson Wyrm

        Jirmanagi hails from the lands south of the Dreaming Sea; the giant, draconic creature is not a true elemental dragon, but still a spirit of considerable power. In his full glory he can raise his slender serpentine body higher than the Argent Watchtower itself; his scales glimmer like ruby and his breath is pure, flameless heat. Summoned by Sapphire Mind on the shores of the Red Jade Monolith to be bound into service, he pulled free from their contest of will and turned against his would-be captors. Heaven’s Son wrestled him down into the waters of the island while Ebony Mask cast silence curses and Sapphire Mind brought the fire-quenching power of the Monolith upon him, and Jirmanagi had to flee; but before he did he delivered a terrible blow which cracked the left arm of the Full Moon’s orichalcum armor, a damage which he has been unable to repair to this day.

        Jirmanagi holds long and terrible grudges. He did not return to his southern dwellings after his escape; instead he wandered the shores and islands of the Dreaming Sea, asking for the enemies of the Silver Ring, and when he found the Dragon’s Suspire he smiled. Now the quintumvirate of Dragon-Blooded boasts a literal dragon among their number, an angry and patient creature who bestowed upon them gifts of spiritual power and who is raising an army of fire elementals for them. The Dragon-Bloods prize and fear that ally in equal measure, but there is no denying his power; and one among them, Jiraya of the Aspect of Fire, shares a particular affinity with him, to the point of having made him her consort. The first of their children has Exalted, and twin fires burn within him.

        I guess the answer is "no, no idea", then. I stripped the paragraph-specific tags out and it seemed to work. Maybe it had something to do with strict tag ordering? Too lazy/tired to check that right now, though. My sympathies!

        Anyhow, this is excellent! However I am kinda dead so I will have to hold off on more detailed comments until tomorrow.


        • #5
          A bump for the night!

          Bits and pieces of Exalted setting.


          • #6
            This is a fantastic setting location, one which you could easily run an entire chronicle in. Well done.

            I notice that there's no writeup for Sapphire Mind among the NPCs - do you plan to add one?

            On the frontier of the Wild South, there's only one woman with the grit to take on its most dangerous outlaws and bring them Back Alive, or Maybe Dead.

            Avatar by K.S. Brenowitz


            • #7
              Omicron, I've said it before, I'll say it again : you have really cool ideas.

              Ultimate Jade-Screened Exalted Scholar, Savant of the Immaculate Texts, No Moon Scholar
              THDR : Future Dragon-Blooded campaign, and other links.
              If you like Ex3, you can support Holden on Patreon!


              • #8
                Dear lord, I love all of your stuff Omicron I don't suppose it's all saved somewhere since the old forums are gone?


                • #9
                  It's cool, but it's also lacking something: culture. I can't get a sense of what the people are like, or how they dress, or just what their boats look like, and that makes the whole place less eyecatching for me.

                  There seems to be something vaguely Arabic going on with the names, but then there's that lizardman with the Nahuatl-inspired name, so I guess its supposed to be kind of a cultural melange?


                  • #10
                    Thanks! I-

                    It's cool, but it's also lacking something: culture. I can't get a sense of what the people are like, or how they dress, or just what their boats look like, and that makes the whole place less eyecatching for me.
           have I failed to include something so fundamental. Argh.

                    Okay, I added a paragraph on "plank towns" to the Landscapes passage, and an entire new "Pictures of Life" passage, which I hope will alleviate that issue. I am unfortunately very much not knowledgeable on boats, so I don't think I could do any justice to a description of the Silver Ring's ships. I'm currently reading Savage Seas, maybe that'll help.

                    There seems to be something vaguely Arabic going on with the names, but then there's that lizardman with the Nahuatl-inspired name, so I guess its supposed to be kind of a cultural melange?
                    Sort of. The beastmen are Eastern foreigners, so they have completely different names from the native population, and they are also set apart from it socially and culturally, so it's not quite a melange. The names are of Ottoman inspiration, with the "al/san" thing being an indicator of one's caste (san are merchants, al are nobles). The Exalts have word-names because they translate the meaning of their names according to whom they're talking to, so they have Alimani names when talking to the Alimani and Eastern names when talking to the beastfolk, but it always means "Ebony Mask" or "Sapphire Mind" regardless.

                    Dear lord, I love all of your stuff Omicron I don't suppose it's all saved somewhere since the old forums are gone?
                    As a matter of fact, almost everything of import is on my google drive. I'll see if I can gather a bunch of links and put up a post from where you could access them!

                    Bits and pieces of Exalted setting.


                    • #11
                      At the risk of being irritatingly repetitive, I'll ask again - do you plan to add a writeup for Sapphire Mind?

                      I get a vague idea here of a No-Moon who follows Heaven's Son around and helps him in his quest for transcendence for undisclosed reasons. They are apparently proficient in sorcery, content to be in a subservient role to a dictator whose sanity is questionable, and have an interest in improving the magical infrastructure of the Empire.

                      Also, is it actually called the Ramshackle Empire by its residents? Or by foreigners?

                      On the frontier of the Wild South, there's only one woman with the grit to take on its most dangerous outlaws and bring them Back Alive, or Maybe Dead.

                      Avatar by K.S. Brenowitz


                      • #12
                        Sorry, I forgot to answer your first post amidst a slew of edits!

                        I actually don't know if I will add a Sapphire Mind write-up; she appears more than the others throughout the text, and I would like to leave some ambiguity as to her motives and personality, but as it stands she isn't fleshed-out as a character, only seen through her actions. But since she is probably the most outwardly proactive of the three Exalts... yeah, she needs a write-up. I'll add one soon.

                        The Silver Ring is known only as "the Silver Ring" to its residents, with the name of Ramshackle Empire being used by outsiders; each of the five main islands are known by the name of the Manse located on it (often skipping the material description, so it's just 'the Garden' or 'the Monolith), with smaller islands having individual names. The Silver Ring is the name of the geographical region encompassing the five Manses and their archipelago, so it was also called that way before its unification.

                        Bits and pieces of Exalted setting.