Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Crux: Urban Fantasy Campaign Seed (Part Nine V-Z)

Concepts from an Exalted Threshold City. You can find the background here. 

Varya Jestkind, Day Quarter Watch Captain
For protection and justice, the Bane and the Thorn, hold sway over their respective quarters in Crux. Hasien Feng, the Bane of the Day Quarter, serves as the primary judge and arbiter for all criminal cases. Under him, he has a staff, called Nettles, made up of clerks, scholars and sub-judges who assess the merits of cases, record details and recommend punishments. Feng himself holds court over only a few cases, but can shape the results by assigning particular Nettles depending on their skill and philosophy. However, before cases ever reach the Bane they have usually gone through the careful hands of the Thorn, Varya Jestkind, and the Day Quarter Watch. Technically called Thistles, no one in their right mind uses this term anywhere within earshot. The Watch of the Day Quarter can be distinguished by their white- or for nights, gray arm badges. Jestkind splits her men into six stations for the sections of the Day Quarter: Apex (the southern wealthiest section), The Tilt (the bazaar and associated areas at the center of the quarter), Tidesent (the Docks at the North), Lantern Courts (the public and entertainment areas in the east), Numina Gate (the western section encompassing the schools, administrative buildings and sites of other higher matters), and the Changers. Walk (the northern area just outside of Tidesent). Each of these districts has various substations each lit with a green lamp. Other members of the Watch may possess or use such lighting; the Watch punishes violators quite messily.

Jestkind comes from a long lines of patricians, some of whom married into House Nellens several generations ago. Her particular branch benefited less from this arrangement but remains known well within Crux and the surrounding lands. In her early thirties, she trained from early youth with a remarkable aptitude for swordplay. There was some talk of her taking a place as an instructor or perhaps consort-bodyguard to a ranking noble. Her family expended great effort polishing both her martial and social skills only to discover her fatal weakness, her inability to still her tongue. Unable to resist a jibe, sarcastic comment or joke at another’s expense, it became clear that she would not do well in a public capacity. Instead, her father purchased her an obscure commission at the back of the Nettles of Crux where she would earn a steady income and copy records over. This she did for only a few months before being released from service for a particularly cutting remark about the frayed hem on the official robes of the newly place Bane, Hasien Feng. Jestkind turned to the places of swordplay in the city, attempting to secure some kind of position as a tutor. Instead her swordwork and sharp tongue were spotted by the then Thorn, Piercing Heart. He took her into the Watch and advanced her based on her ability to irritate anyone, to follow that up with expert dueling and, some have said, her ability to manipulate the Thorn’s affections.

When he retired two years ago, the Magister of the City surprised everyone by appointing Jestkind as the new Thorn. Some suggest a relationship between the two, but that is gossip. Varya keeps a tight rein on Day Quarter and her guards deal with things quickly. Professionalism is stressed, but the motto of the Day Watch is ‘silt flows downstream.’ Therefore many problem persons end up being tossed down into the Dusk Quarter.some more gently than others. Glain Kolath Bloom, the Thorn of Dusk Quarter, has become increasingly irritated with this practice as he has to figuratively and literally (a fall is inevitably fatal) clean up these problems.

Villages of Transhy: Notable rice growing area. (Place)
The Vined Gate: The eastern gate of the Day Quarter (Place)
Violet Scythe: Town in Blossoming Pearl (Place)

V’Neef Arstrius, House Senior
Of the Great Houses, two lack definitive representation or influence in Cascading Flowers: Ragara and Mnemon (Iselsi as well, but that goes without saying). The former’s absence is due to alliances elsewhere in the region and the later’s from certain conflicts over the permissions given to spirits here. Some Houses possess more influence than others here, for example, Cathak has a presence and some notables here, their effect remains small. House V'Neef, the youngest of the Houses, has been attempting to assert connection and control here for some time. Holding the monopolies on wine in the Blessed Isle, they look at the production of alcohols here as an opportunity. Were they to apply themselves, especially in light of recent events in Cascading Flowers, they might be able to shift the balance in the Satrapy and seize authority from Nellens.

However, their greatest weakness lies in the person who commands the branch present in the kingdom, V’Neef Arstrius. While V’Neef was only recognized as a Great House some thirty years ago by the Scarlet Empress, there were Dragon Blooded Exalts among the line for longer than that. Arstrius is said to have been born some two hundred and fifty years ago, in the earliest stages of the family’s growth to power; as was common with that time his Patrician family lent him to Cathak who sponsored him. Drawing in his Fire aspect, he trained the House of Bells, obtained a military commission and fought in successive campaigns including the struggle against the Anathema Jochim and the Ragara Widows Uprising. Though he acquitted himself well, he remains least on his family for uncertain reasons. His first marriage dissolved without issue and shortly after the Widows Uprising, he left House Cathak for the Threshold.

Little is known of his time there, but it is clear that he traveled heavily throughout the South. Certain merchant reports place him in Gem, the Lap and the Varang City States over many years. One story that he has apparently told is of his travels to the furthest south, where the edge of the Pole of Fire can be seen. He spoke of ancient fallen cities, from the time or the Shogun and before, buried in rocks and sands. Barbarian peoples, adapted to the harshness of the land who possession something of the blood of the Gods and the Fae of Fire. There, in these ancient ruins they live and conduct wars among themselves according to ancient rules and codes. Rumor has it that he fought there among them, even taking brides among the various tribes. All that is sure is that when he finally returned to the Blessed Isle, not long after the elevation of V’Neef, he was tall, lean and as red as the eldest of the Fire Aspects. His seniority became a point of contention for a short time, some feeling he belonged more to Cathak. However, V’Neef Aliset, matriarch of the line, accepted him and offered him a role. He declined, instead asking to be granted a place and authority in the Threshold. Thus he came to Crux.

Since then he has managed the House of the V'Neef here, mostly keeping to his own devices. Other members of the family are apparently welcomed here, but they have had no success in swaying him to step into the political arena. This may come to cause him problems in the future. He leaves from time to time, occasionally accompanying caravans who venture to the far South. He is a tall Dragon Blooded, but less imposed through his thinness. His skin has gone almost red-black. Those who do know him keep close on their description of his manners and his habits, but with work that might be overcome.

Vornaas of the Writ, Craftmason
While the great crafts and devices of Lookshy. drawn from the legacies of the First Age and the Shogunate, have captured the imagination of many, lesser devices and creations have often been forgotten. There are those who create significant devices, sometimes powered by the flows of essence but often not. Crux and Cascading Flowers in general have drawn on these talents over the last several decades: designing irrigation systems, improving elevator systems, repairing systems left from the elder days. Accordingly a number of highly skill craftmasons make their home in Crux, versed in ancient lore, craft skills and a dash of Thaumaturgy. Those more reliant on magical skills tend to fall in with one of the two great sorcerers.

Vornaas of the Writ is an exception to this. He is a crafter who focuses on the development and refinement of existing mechanical and hydraulic systems. On occasion he has worked with the power of manses to aid in his work, but this is rare. He has a small shop where he keeps a number of apprentices. He is Guild marked, though he came late into the organization. Given that his work fell outside of the normal classifications, they were unsure how to place or certify him. However after he reengineered the Gate of Tri-Born Mists at Blossoming Pearl, they welcomed him more intently. Vornaas is a modest man, avoiding ostentation, but until a few years ago was on friendly terms with a number of the Dragon Blooded in the region, most who had be his patron at one time or another. However, he eliminated that practice two summers ago, sequestering himself in his workshop and avoiding social contact, not just with clients but in general. The circumstances behind this transformation remain unknown.

Wailingsong
Originally a painter house of some wonder but has become more conventional. On occasion a new artist emerges from here of note. They are noted for two techniques. The first is the careful creation of frames, cunningly crafted to match their paintings. They are especially known for their triptychs. They also work with heavier paints than the other artist families, using materials that are nearly oils and building up textures. Their traditional rival is family Akias, a feud that has spilled over from canvas onto the streets. As the fortune of one has risen the other has fallen and a number of the leaders of this family believe that they will only be secure when the last Akias is dead.

Waiting Dragon’s Path: Major road through Khedaal (Thing)

The Waymark
Crux stands as one of the Hub cities for Guild operations in the South, though not the largest of them. Fleets and caravans start out from here, heading to richer ports or overland to places where rare and unusual goods can be found. Being a Hub city is an important honor as it draws wealth and goods to the region. However, because of restrictions on certain Guild trades and influence within Cascading Flowers, there has been talk in recent years of shifting the Hub to another nearby city. In particular, the independence of and demands of the Loaders and Handlers of Crux have caused problems. As with a number of other fields, the Guild is restricted from controlling more than half of members of these groups. Work must be divided out, meaning that the Guild cannot exclusively rely on their own people. Attempts have been made to undercut these restrictions, such as working through shadow groups to exert influence, but these have only been partially successful. There has been some talk of exerting more direct influence by the Guild Council here. With the absence of the Scarlet Empress and the disorder among the satrapies, they might have a better chance than in years past. The Guild Council of Crux may move to do this, especially given the recent petitions by Guild members in Carta Mallus, where the harbor at Demdalis has been recently expanded.

Still, Crux and Cascading Flowers enjoy some advantages that others do not. The Majestic Iron Road and the Golden Floret River provide excellent access for caravans throughout the region, heading to surrounding satrapies and even further to the strange lands of the deep south or distant sites such as Gem and the Lap. Overland caravans gather at a site a half-mile to the east of Crux known as Waymark. A tent city has grown up here, serving the various needs of caravans arriving or about to disembark. Though the Majestic Iron Road is kept in fine spiritual order by masters along its path, a variety of ritual specialists and consultants can be found in the Circle of Belongings in Waymark. Here a caravan master can consult to see which spirits and little gods might be encountered along their way and what the proper method of appeasing them would be. Often the caravan hires such specialist to travel with them for consultation and to intercede with the spirits. Mercenaries, camp followers, tradesmen, ostlers and a host of others make their living in Waymark. Most are transient, heading from one caravan hub to the next. The city officials of Crux discourage people from setting up shop permanently in Waymark; the best known fixtures of the place stay for a few days and then travel back to Crux to their actual homes. When news of a new caravan, arriving or departing, comes in Waymark expands. When there is none to be had, people fend for their living in Crux.

Weedwall Souk: Busiest market in Dusk. (Place)

Withering Leaves, High Master of Taxation
Few people create such a palpable send of dread before them than Withering Leaves, one of the two highest Tax officials in the Cascading Flowers Kingdoms. The other, Syndic Weld, a patrician, looks to the interests of the satrapy and has the advantage of receiving his money for the top levels of this. Withering Leaves and his men must make their way through the trenches taking in every jade talent, obol and shekel. Withering Leaves has final say in all matters of taxation, only subject to a veto from the Son of Wreaths himself. He wields this power mercilessly, working his way up the food chain using one evader to catch another. Withering Leaves is known for his outlandish plots to catch tax dodgers: intricate disguises, long term sting operations, trained monkeys, and seductive traps. He usually leaps out at the end of these, evidence in hand with a resounding laugh that inspires and equal amount of fear and dismay. Needless to say, he is not beloved, except by his carefully chosen associates who receive special dispensation on their duties. Each year Withering Leaves survives several assassination attempts. Some say that he looks forward to the challenges presented by the quarterly assessments and attempts on his life. Not a skilled swordsman nor sorcerer, Withering Leaves seems to survive through a mixture of cruel cunning and uncanny luck. His aides, however, are not sometimes as fortunate. Therefore, he is constantly churning through those who die, those who quit and those who transfer to be away from his overwhelming near insanity. Withering Leaves has survived in this position longer than any other High Collector in recent memory: nine years. He is wealthy, corruptible only in the service of further collections of taxes and spry for his fifty plus years.

Wrenhart: Town in Blossoming Pearl (Place)

Zanoc Orchid
Master Artisan and head of a number of practical orders, including the woodwrights, wheelmakers, and other such matters. He is an Outcaste Dragon Blooded, something which has made him suspect with the Guild. However, his avoidance of conflict and focus on his craft and the craft of those under his watch have made him popular. He is said to be able to take up any art he wishes and take it to a master level. Recently his close friend and fellow Council member Sestain Fields-of-Holly competed in a challenge of stonecrafts. Source suggest that Zanoc lost deliberately so as not to cause Sestain to lose face with his artisans.

...and we're done.