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Ivan trails a hand along the scar that runs on the side of his head breathing in then out. His breaths are shaky, whether that was from the nerves or the chill in the air he didn’t know. He didn’t really want to know. Another breath. He looks up at the woman towering above him, outlined by the cloud dappled sky. “Nice day, huh?” Ivan looks over, somewhat startled by the dwarven man grinning up at him. Taking in a big breath he hacks, spitting out a glob of dark spit then refilling his mouth with a dark swath of tobacco. It took all of Ivan’s self-restraint to not recoil from the display and just walk away, back to the tavern him and his new companions were staying at. “Um, yes,” Ivan reaches out a dark hand that contrasts handsomely with the deep crimson of his cloak. “Though I’m unsure what would be considered a nice day in this region considering it’s my first time here.” The dwarf’s smile is missing a few teeth, but the congeniality of the gesture isn’t lost on Ivan. “Well son this is a mighty fine day, if that’s whatcha sayin’” His hand grasps Ivan’s gripping it tightly. “Anyway I see y’ere staring up at that mighty fine woman.” A chuckle. “Don’t stare to hard, don’t want them Druids to chop y’ere eyes out.” Ivan rolls his eyes once the man walks away, the stench of alcohol following in his path. Oh, how he hated alcoholics. But the man might have been on to something in his drunken musings. Everyone else spoke highly of the Druids, calling them things like ‘holy’ and ‘honorable’. The Druid were the kind to murder a man, call it upright, and everyone around them would think so too. The dwarf had been the first ill word he’d heard about them since he’d entered these mountains. The criminal enterprise had been his excuse to get up here, but Dalia was the reason. Five years ago she’d come up here when he’d begged her not to, begged her to stay with him in Blaireville. She was a curious one and followed where the trail led. The first year had been rough, but after a while they letters were sufficient. He could always feel the energy in her words, see her days in the descriptions. She’d been getting close to something. She told him the Druid weren’t what they seemed, and tried to get in the way of her work whenever they could. Dangerous. Then the letters stopped. He’d written to the city and no one knew who he was even talking about. Then he tried to go there, the darkness springing from his heart. Falling. Silence. The Beast. Ivan shakes his head, dispelling the memories and quelling the writhing darkness springing from under his cloak. He’d been out long enough. He walks back to the tavern waiting for his mates to arise and join him at a booth.
The Temple City: Ask where the heart of Gaianism lies, and most would tell you Ignatz; seat of the Saint-King, heart of his empire, and home to his First Temple. Ask where the heart of faith is, in the Fractured Continent, and many would tell you: it is in the Temple City. They may even know it by its native name: Béhods. Well, they may require some prompting about the matter, but the answer may come eventually, with sufficient encouragement. The Temple City is commonly acclaimed but rarely visited by outsiders who must travel far to reach it, such as it is nestled into the mountains. Indeed, the title of 'City' is something of a misnomer, an error of thrice-translation that failed to grasp that a word for 'settlement' did not necessarily indicate the scale of that settlement; just one of many reasons that native folk insist on calling it Béhods instead. Béhods commands a resident population of only 50,000 or so, though pilgrims, merchants, and archaeologists, as well those who come to service such visitors, can bolster the effective population to around 70,000 - even more in busy years. Whether to connect with one's beliefs, or to find treasure buried in the peaks and valleys nearby - perhaps even lend one's sword to the Order of the Word that commands it - there is much for the aspiring to find here. Geography: At the height of the city, rising towards Singer's Peak itself, is the Temple of the Word. The Temple of the Word is carved directly from the cliff face below the peak, where it overlooks a large, relatively flat highland plateau, the land upon which the Temple City proper lies. The Temple has been shaped to externally resemble a very artistic vision of a great woman - often claimed to be Gaia - with the heads of a bear, a markhor, and a bison looking out from the stone around her upper body; there was once a fourth face it would seem, but whether through malice or the ravages of time, it is destroyed. At her feet is a stone representation of a flowing river; these four symbols are held represent the four sub-orders from which the Order of the Word was formed. To the west, the land remains flat until it reaches a trail up into the higher mountains, a treacherous pass known locally as the The Tail of the Dragon, but that potentially allows a more direct route to locations like Chesterfield. To the south, the mountain cliffs part slightly, and a pass leading to the lower elevations has been widened and graded by Order engineers to better allow access to the rest of the world, though it had been traveled for centuries prior. It is noted by many to follow roughly the same path the Day River takes, though the River does so largely beneath the mountains, following a subterranean course from north to south, with its precise route undocumented even to this day, though it remains the subject of proposals for a tunnel through the range. From the base of the mountains, a minor road follows the Day River down to the main road which connects Chesterfield and Dougton (the wider world referred to by locals as, collectively, "the flatlands"), though more local travelers would recognise it as the Weland crossroads. The road is fairly well maintained, branching out into the rest of the world from there; seasoned travellers know to alternate their route, particularly up the mountains proper, as according to the weather, and the 'feel' of the Mountains on a given day. Mountain settlements, some specifically allied to the Order but many not yet, dot the land and become more numerous as the elevation decreases; the further one goes, the sense of kinship with those above lessens. The eastern mountains are impassable by large groups, necessitating many to first take the path south, but those who know the mountains can find small, dubious paths through the craggy terrain. It is through these, and others like them across the local range, that many would-be adventurers, or those dedicated to the understanding of their (supposed) ancestors, may stumble across ancient ruins, claimed by many Temple City folk to be the work of their forefathers, despite the often wildly disparate styles and architecture to be found nestled between the cracks. These 'crypts', which in truth can be anything from an alcove into which someone has stuffed a body, to a whole subterranean complex set far above the rest of the world, are a source of great interest among both archaeologists and treasure hunters alike. Failing that, the Temple City has long been known as a potential source of gemstones, both mystical and not, which may attract a number of characters for their own reasons. It is in the north that one may most often find many such operations, relying on the gentler if undeveloped slopes as a place to set up camp. Cityscape: Below the Temple, as mentioned, lies the Temple City itself. Most of the buildings are double-storied slate roofed houses crafted from stone mined in the higher reaches of the mountains, though these are noted as a more modern build. Most streets are laid out in a very orderly grid fashion; with blocks clearly defined and grouped into residential, commercial, and industrial zones, though between them lie noticeably less straight passages, and many, less ordered structures reduced to their skeletons, in which the locals mingle, sells their wares to passersby - local or otherwise - and tell stories of the supposed former owners. Such ruins are further hidden in all sorts of unusual corners of Béhods, from minuscule shrines to abandoned temples. The main roads are wide enough for two laden carts to pass each other, while secondary roads are just slightly narrower. A thirty-two foot tall wall stretches across the plateau from east to west, connecting the two ridges on either side of the city; where they meet, the incline is almost as sharp as the wall itself, closing off efforts to approach from behind. Before the wall, and thus the city, is a broad, deep, but relatively thin lake, that serves as a functional moat. It is artificial in origin, with conflicting arguments by archaeologists on if its purpose was always defensive, or if it had been constructed as a giant cistern - to catch rain when much less of it once fell on the mountains. Beyond that, lie a number of scattered dwellings, often in proximity to more readily visible barrows and henges - the latter being circular earthwork enclosures, comprised of a bank and ditch. Transportation: Passage to and from the Temple City is, at most, two out of three things: Safe, simple, short. The safest, simplest means of going to and from Singer's Peak is to take one of the southern passes that leads primarily towards Chesterfield and Dougton; formerly Weland, but that city has ceased to be. Such routes have been travelled reliably for centuries, along easy gradients made even easier in recent years. Anything from a traditional wagon to a horseless wagon could make it up to Béhods this way; it is just a long journey, snaking through myriad valleys (a five day journey on foot from the base of the mountains, if playing it safe). The 'simplest', 'shortest' routes to Béhods from any of the surrounding major settlements are those that only a fool would recommend: Treacherous passes that seem to cut through the map and would most likely mean an ill-equipped traveller's end, through narrow ledges, tight crevices, and dangerous exposure to the weather (though they can cut the journey down to a day or two, depending on direction - north and east are the shorter of the four cardinal directions). The short yet safe method is the rich man's answer: Getting an airship, and sailing right over the mountains, before coming down in the plateau outside the Temple City (the fastest doing this in a day, though others can take two to three - from the settlements themselves). There are however options that are neither safe, nor simple, nor especially short, but are pretty good if you don't want to be followed, because one's pursuer would be worse than fools to follow - going through the mountains, via ancient ruins, abandoned mines, or both. There's no guarantee on timescale for these. Climate: Situated high into a mountain range such as this, one would expect cool summers and bitter winters, with one largely correct in this assessment. Situated towards the inner-west of the continent, and situated between a number of other mountain ranges, Béhods once received relatively little rain, most commonly deposited by westerly winds bringing moisture up from the Sea of Regrets, over the plains and the Weland Gorge. Monsoon season would traditionally bring strong, wet winds in from the north, passing over the where the Badlands was narrowest. Though, much would still be expended over the desert and the grasslands in between, making the weather more intensive, but not overwhelmingly so. The triumph of the Shawnee Loci has changed this, drastically. Cold winds now sweep over the Shawnee glacier unabated, providing a regular enough deluge that, even if running off the mountains quickly, is still fierce to endure, bringing the people inside quite often. Monsoon season proper is truly terrifying now, and much of the modern housing seen around the city is in response to this, ensuring homes are not washed away when the roads become rivers for a day, building them in stone and with firm foundations, even if they are then harder to keep warm when things turn cold. Even the lake has had to be altered in response, with the addition of drains that, if opened by geomancers, allow the overflowing body to simply fall through the mountain, and presumably drain into the Day River running beneath it. Flora and Fauna: The Temple City, amidst various imports and common creatures, also has a numbered of localised, specifically domesticated, and otherwise peculiar species that help lend a particular character to the landscape. The Blaurg bison is a common sight here - here being its westernmost habitat - as a peculiar adaptation of the plains animal for the mountain heights, to the point of having active discomfort when brought to lower, warmer regions; owing to its great abundance of fur, and differences in the lungs. Similarly so, the locals make extensive use of a domesticated equivalent to the markhor - a local wild goat with great spiraling horns, of which the domestic animal lacks. Noticeably absent in this is any form of bear; instead the great predator of the peaks is the Pyrolisk, followed closely by the Gargoyle. Neither tends to come close to the Temple City proper however due to the sapient inhabitation of the area, though they may guard their territories fiercely if disturbed. Most of the plants found in the vicinity of Béhods are similarly adapted for the harsh conditions, with the locals particularly favouring short-season crops that can grow in low fertility - buckwheat and various strains of rice, to name a few - though the changing weather conditions are forcing efforts to encourage a higher tolerance to wet weather. Of particular note however, and claimed by some as to why Singer's Peak is so named, or vice versa, is the Wailing Widow(er). The name, in Common Terran, does not properly reflect its nature, where it is said to give voice to the recently departed, allowing them to sing one final song of love for those they have left behind, before passing on into the next life; it is a flower to comfort the grieving, not representative of the grieving, or otherwise disparaging them. Culture: Among many who live in the city, there is a saying: 'There are two cities'. Simple and to the point, it reflects a marked divide the underlies much of any understanding of the people who dwell there, even reflected in the difference of names Before that however, there is one thing that unites all people in the Temple City, or Béhods: Faith. Or perhaps the word might better be 'spiritualism'. Everyone who truly belongs to this place has a belief of some degree or another, whether they adhere to it as a way of life, or simply an observation of it. From an outsider's perspective, it can be easy to misconstrue the people of Béhods, native born especially, as 'believing in everything', owing to the respect they appear to give to any faith mentioned in their presence, and being all too comfortable in offering the means for a traveler to pay tribute to their pantheon of choice. The truth however is the opposite: This tolerance displayed by the people of Béhods is due to how little they care about the beliefs and practises of other cultures, taking no offense from that which they believe to be nonsense to begin with, and otherwise seeking to be good hosts. This is the first seed of insight into the actual views of the people here, whose beliefs and practises are built more around... well, practises, than intricate lore or well-detailed theology to explain the workings of the world. In a fashion similar to Gaianism, the people of Béhods believe that the world is alive - or rather, all things of the world are alive, from the soil to the mountains and every little creature that crawls upon either. That they are, in essence, 'guests' of the world, and so must act as such gracious guests, venerating their hosts - the land, the sky, the ancestors that came before them - through great care of the land on which they live, and by being their best selves. Celebration is common here, whether in the form of birthdays, marriages, solstices and equinoxes, what have you; even death is cause to celebrate, as a chance to tell every tale of the life that was lead, before it was gone. The culture also encourages a high degree of community engagement, whether simply idling in abandoned ruins, telling stories, or in helping one another with construction, childminding, and the other rigours of daily life. One might observe a certain... difficulty in properly engaging with one's inner demons, in such a context, but many will tell you that this is simply the way it has been for centuries, whatever else was happening in the world. Then there is the 'second' city; that of the Gaianists. Where the native folk adhere to their traditions, both in faith and in living off the land, the Gaianists that followed St. Zedda's path not only have their faith, with its cosmic forces and pageantry, they also have a great deal more wealth and material culture resembling that of the wider world. A native of Béhods tells stories as part of an oral, often ad hoc tradition; a Gaianist of the Temple City does so from a book, or a scroll. Where the people of Béhods simply get by, day to day, the Gaianists of the Temple City have tended towards notions of their enlightenment, betterment, and more recently, the fortification of the Temple City as it 'embraces' its role as a military holding. To a certain extent, these two groups get along well, though one will quickly gather that much is said of the Gaianists when they are not listening; they are given the basic courtesy of 'guests', but many natives are quite frank in their view of the Gaianists as poor guests. Meanwhile, Gaianists most often view themselves as the ultimate benefactors of the Temple City - those who have made it what it was, and if it were not, they have been called by their faith to this place, and having lived here centuries now, have as much claim to it as anyone else. Almost all actual power in the Temple City rests with the Gaianists, whether that is economic, monetary, or political. Almost. The chief exception to this dynamic are the Druids, religious leaders among the people of the Béhods. They are the organisers of practise and ritual among the people, most versed in the stories of the ancestors, most in commune with the spirits - or so they say - and possessing that which few others of their people natively wield: magic. It is not a 'flashy' kind of magic. It is not something with which to throw fireballs or carve out mountain paths, for which the geomancers the Gaianists brought with them are much appreciated. To hear the Druids tell it, they do not even possess magic themselves, so much as they negotiate and beseech their hosts - the spirits of the world around them - to nudge and shift things in their favour. While easily dismissed by outsider observers and the young, the Gaianists of the Temple City know to tread lightly around them, for it is they who can, after many days of meditation, will whether crops live or die, if flames should spring higher than expected from the fireplace in the cold months, or if Gargoyles should think better of resting upon certain paths. This, with their ability to rally the people, gives the Druids considerable, if informal, clout. It should be noted that their consent on much of the activity that goes on in the mountains these days is only begrudgingly given, and not consistently so. Notable Locations: The Temple: The eponymous feature of the city, and that for which it is most famed. Though now serving as the headquarters of the Order of the Word, who occupy many of its deepest and uppermost chambers to themselves, prior to their agreement and subsequent burying of the hatchet, it was a much more 'open' space, visited by both locals and by religious pilgrims from across not only Fracture, but much of the wider world. Counted among the great architectural wonders and mysteries of the west - a select group recently joined by the Ouread Warrens - the great carving of a female figure - most commonly assumed Gaia by visitors, and the Gaianists - is matched by few others like it. Since days longer ago than the Diarchy - and it is even said Ersela and Hildena once met within its walls - the Temple has stood, and so drawn those wishing some sense of something greater than themselves; it is difficult not to be caught up in its atmosphere, and such is why the City is so associated with the very concept of belief itself, within these lands. Such is its size, and its age, that many claim the Temple possesses hidden and forgotten chambers; far reaching corridors that regular visitors do not travel, for lack of reason to, and so in which other things many dwell. The Four Shrines: Amongst the City itself are four most notable ruins which regularly attract visitors, domestic and otherwise, for their high level of preservation, and distinct demonstration of the changes in culture of the City over time; aided by their association with a corresponding sect of the Order of the Word. Precisely who or what was originally worshipped at each one is unclear, though 'Resilience' is most associated with the Gaianists of the city. Instead, each is typically visited when one is in need of some particular form of favour, whether from Gaia, the spirits, or whatever else. Most commonly the 'four favours' cited, and the resulting names of the shrines, are: Strength, Resilience, Fortune, and Respite. It is worth remembering that these are intended to be things granted to a visitor; it is said that Jason of the Lions, before his final bout with Zengi, visited each of the shrines, and gained all favour that could be granted upon a living man. However, many will invent or claim their own favours from visiting a given shrine, at times as an extension of the Four Favours, but also often because something simply went their way one time after visiting one of them. A tip for tourists: 'Fortune' is also known as the Shrine of Lovers, and 'Respite' is the Shrine of the Married.