Urizen territories Revision as of 16:00, 20 August 2012 by Felix (Territory copy copied in from the forum thread)
The lands of Urizen are predominantly mountainous in nature, for they favour the heights and summits of hills and mountains as sites to construct their spires.
The Spires of Morrow are built around universities, academies, libraries and other centres of learning. It is said that anything that can be taught is taught here somewhere and it attracts both students and tutors from all across the Empire. Consequently Morrow is the most cosmpolitan part of Urizen and has a sterling reputation for hosting debates, symposia and other gatherings of the Empire’s specialists. This is the heart of the nation, home to the oldest Spires and greatest scholars. If anywhere in the Empire can truly be said to be civilised, it is surely Morrow – or so it’s inhabitants proudly tell themselves.
Morrow is also the most densely populated territory in Urizen, and the mountains for days in every direction are riddled with galleries, chambers and sun-wells. Its peaks are thick with towers and smaller Spires reaching towards the heavens. Many of these are astonishing feats of engineering, seemingly delicate constructions supported by webs of enchanted wood and stone far stronger than they appear. The passageway of streams and rivers has been carefully channeled from the highest peaks through cunningly concealed aqueducts and cisterns built by Marcher artisans. These are used to provide clean water to Spires, to form artificial mountain lakes and to create shimmering waterfalls which drape the mountainside. The Citadels of Morrrow often utilise a “water-gate” - a divertable waterfall - as a form of drawbridge at their lower entrance.
Where once the lower slopes were furiously cultivated, now they have mainly returned to nature – but nature artfully sculpted for maximum aesthetic appeal. Gardens, herb beds and small plantations are mixed with meadows of wild flowers and copses of carefully tended forest. Flocks of goats and other herd animals wander freely across the slopes, guided and guarded by magical rituals woven into the rock and soil of the mountain itself.
The miracle of the Heliopticon is administered from this territory, and most Spires maintain a series of great prisms, lenses and mirrors atop their roof in order to pass on the flickering messages that keep the nation in constant communication. As night falls over Urizen this system switches to using the specially refined glow-stones that have been soaking up light by day, releasing it in short pulses. Strangers are often caught unprepared for the beauty of Morrow’s skyline by night, as hundreds of firefly lights blink in the darkness. Urizen are also fond of decorating their buildings and hillsides with a network of glowstones, some of which create great cathedrals of light as their latticed beams run together in the night sky.
Despite its great age Morrow is always bustling with activity, and most of its Spires are undergoing constant reconstruction and improvement. It is said that “no two days find the same Morrow” as the Urizen constantly strive to perfect their land even further. Morrow Arbiters think nothing of initiating a project that will take decades or even centuries to come to fruition. While such a plan may have seen many changes before completion, the Urizen pride themselves on being one of the few peoples capable of such a level of vision.
Politics in Morrow are convoluted, with Spires constantly competing to outdo each other in any and every field of study. It is also not unusual for Spires to try and poach each other’s members or promising students, and aUrizen love to keep abreast of such academic gossip. For such an outwardly peaceful nation, many visitors are surprised by the amount of time and energy expended on politics in Morrow. But there are limits and etiquettes here that outsiders often fail to grasp, an expectation of mutual respect even among rivals. The Morrow have a saying “There is no lesson like a great opponent”, and it is not unusual to see an Urizen who has been cleverly defeated or achieved a tough victory offer honest praise and thanks to their opposition.
The mountains of Zenith are the tallest in the nation, and perhaps the Empire, and the air here is still and cold. The Spires here tend towards the contemplative, and many religious thinkers and philosophers come from Zenith, where they claim that the rarefied air helps them maintain a sense of detachment and clarity. The streets and buildings of the Spires seem unnaturally quiet, bound by an unsettlingly profound silence which disconcerts other Urizen and properly upsets foreigners, for whom there are dedicated retreats a few miles down the mountainsides. This strange effect is the result of an ancient bargain with an Eternal of the Realm of Day to steal away “sounds at the edge of hearing”, which were deemed by the Masters of the Urizen Spires to be the most distracting to a life of contemplation. As a result, in most Spires, only a street’s length away from the central marketplace, the market sounds fade to nothing. It is not widely known what the Masters of the Spires received in return, save for a peaceable silence in which to contemplate. The only thing that comes close to a background noise are the great waterfalls which cascade down the mountainsides, which can always be heard outside the range of the Rituals of Silence, and which still pervade some of the Spires even in spite of that powerful magic. Opinion is divided on whether this aids or hinders concentration, and there are contemplative schools which provide for both sets of meditators.
Many of the highest mountaintops in the region are covered in great arrays of curved metal mirrors which focus the light of the sun into vast caverns within the mountains, where it is scattered again. Down on the cavern floors, like wheat in a field, are vast and regular arrays of magical crystals, grown using the light of the sun at a faster rate than mana crystallises anywhere else in the Empire. When a crop is ready, the crystals are harvested for use and sale. The Mana Orchards of Zenith are absolutely essential to Urizen’s magical activities – without them, the whole nation would be starved of mana for their research and rituals. It is also said that this technique only works here because of the combination of Urizen’s powerful background magic, the particular minerals and materials of the mountains, and the pure, strong sunlight available so high up – some compare it to the very precise conditions needed to grow certain grapes for wine.
The glacial waters also flow down inside the mountain, and a mile beneath the greatest mountain in the region there are two seemingly bottomless lakes, the full extents of which have never been comprehensively mapped. The caverns are mostly lit with an unnaturally thick coating of glowing mushrooms, and the boatmen who work by this constant twilight bring in succulent fish to supplement the diets of the whole region. There is an ancient and ongoing Autumn Ritual present here – the Master of the time wouldn’t trust the Realm of Spring with a resource her people depended on – which is said to account for the surprising yields that the lakes produce. The shores of these two lakes were once regarded as a fortuitous place to marry for the success of the new family, and although modern Urizen have put such petty superstitions behind them, it is still considered a harmless tradition to eat fish from the Bountiful Autumn Lakes at a wedding, or to present them (fresh or cooked) as gifts.
The low-lying region of Arete lies in the foothills of the Zenith range, and is the most sparsely-populated of the core territories of Urizen. It is also the most recently-settled, although that’s not saying a great deal – the first Spires here were founded over 250 years ago. Still, in all that time it has never been wholly pacified, and no matter how large or small the Spire, all are heavily fortified to prevent incursion by any of the four sizable orcish bandit tribes who roam the lowlands. In addition, the landscape is peppered with untold thousands of caves, many of which remain unmapped – as the orcs use many as hiding-places and staging-points, they generally harass human explorers whenever they encounter them. As a result, these sometimes come to serve as dens for drakes or nesting-sites for troll clans. In general, it is a rare year that something doesn’t come crawling, flapping or charging out of the lowlands to threaten the citizens of Arete.
The strong martial culture of Arete is born from this constant danger. Aretean Sentinels may undergo the same training as other Sentinels of Urizen, but they are presented with far more opportunities to gain experience of real battle than the mountain-dwellers of Zenith. Many of Urizen’s most effective generals of recent history have come from the lowlands, and Aretean warriors are highly regarded by the generals of the Empire. So, too, are their siege engineers – every Spire in the territory has (at the least) substantial stone walls, and the larger and more strategically significant Citadel-Spires have extremely sophisticated defences, built to guard important roads and passes. These places also train and keep a prominent body of diviners (sometimes nicknamed “Vigilants”), who employ ritual scrying on a daily basis to ensure the safety of their territory.
Even the fiercest Aretean Sentinel is still an Urizen, however. The territory produces more than its fair share of zoologists and botanists, dedicated to studying the more esoteric plants and animals found here, and the more adventurous tend to attract groups of young Sentinels looking to practise their skills. Occasionally it all goes wrong – mutant horrors and hybrid abominations unknown to nature are a reliable sign that a mage has been performing immoral experiments outside the boundaries of Urizen. Invariably, Sentinels have been sent to bring them back for questioning and appropriate punishment – and the Urizen archives hold no records of anyone having escaped and got away with it.
Spiral is the tragedy of the nation, and were the Urizen people not so stoic in their nature, it would surely be called their greatest shame. The region is low-lying, arranged around a cluster of mountains which, in ancient times, were believed to form the shape of a rough spiral. They do not (or rather, the shape is very rough), but something in the range’s shape makes it uniquely excellent at channelling the magic in the land through their valleys. Modern magical artefacts made in Urizen are as powerful as they are beautiful, and the nation is rightly proud of them, but all the truly great wands and rods – the kinds of implements which (it is said in jest) could perform small rituals on their own if they weren’t watched carefully – all bear a spiral around their makers’ marks.
At the centre of the range lies the Black Plateau, great in size and unnaturally flat, supposedly unbroken, the dark mirror of the sky above. Strangely for the rationalist Urizen, the Black Plateau has always been known by reputation to be a place of unquestionably malign influence, haunted by some indescribable evil force capable of finding anyone who spoke its name. Artefacts made with that glass often command astonishing power at the cost of some terrible curse, and are generally destroyed before anyone develops the hubris to assume they can wield them successfully. Whatever the Black Plateau’s connection to the events themselves, it is widely regarded as somehow responsible for the loss of the territory to the nation and the Empire.
Almost a hundred years ago, a virulent plague devastated Ciele, by far the greatest Spire in the region. Extremely contagious, it transformed most of those who contracted the disease into flesh-hungry horrors. It distorted their bodies into a ghoulish appearance, their hands stretching into foot-long claws and their backs twisting to give them an ape-like gait, while cursing them with an unspeakable hunger for cannibalistic slaughter. In an act of supreme self-sacrifice, the Arbiter and Masters of the Spire barred its gates to contain the contagion, protecting the region and the world but damning themselves to a terrible death. This might have allowed the rest of the region’s Spires to prosper, but a powerful warband of orcs had been looking for their chance to assault the region, and quickly conquered, looted and burned several important Spires. Spiral was lost to the Empire, and its people scattered into the rest of Urizen. Today the barbarians squabble far too much to effectively control the lands (and a few isolated Spires remain free as a result), but they are united enough to know that they don’t want the Empire coming back, and have kept Imperial forces at bay to date.
Spiral lost its Senate seat long ago, and in the decades since, question has even been raised of the virtue of retaking it at all. However, those Urizen who have seen the war-winning powers of some Spiral-made artefacts have always managed to keep the issue alive.