Monday, December 15, 2014

A Visual Guide to Horek

Horek, looking east

 Horek is the westernmost city of the Monarchy of Kalmath, located near its frontier with the Xanthus River valley. Horekis built upon a finger of high ground, part of the foot-hills of Nightflame Mountain. The city was constructed eons ago by an unknown culture at the site of an artesian spring emerging from the rocks of the Great Wall mountain range to the west. The city is so old that it is built upon a tel, a hill composed of layer upon layer of ancient cities. Some of the ancient buildings were buried over intact, sealed away for centuries. Miles of tunnels run under the streets of Horek, leading to the great cistern that collects the water from the spring, the city's only water supply and the only supply of water for dozens of miles.

The land east of the Great Wall is a flat parched desert called the Wasteland by the Xanthusians and the Desert Waste of Gazh  by the Kalmathi. It is a flat rocky expanse of packed dirt, cactus, thorns, and hardy grass where little to no rain falls. During the height of the mines of Duirn and Flinch, traders would come from across Agartha to do business in the Xanthus River Valley. For two thousand years, Horek was situated as the destination for traders and merchants crossing the Wasteland. Here they could meet representatives of the dwarven mining guilds, the gnome bankers, and the human merchants. Trade could occur with Flinch through the Defile of Castragon twenty miles to the north or with Durinhold via the Stairs leading up the slope of Duirn's Mountain twenty miles to the south.

A hundred years ago, the invasion of the Red Orcs of Zinnober into the valley caused the mines of Flinch to be lost under a collapse of a mountain of rock, its location eventually lost. Forty years ago, the dwarves fled Duirnhold when it was invaded from mysterious powers from below, the entrances sealed with magic keys. Trade continued, however, as merchant caravans traveled through the Defile and down the old Imperial Trade Road to Thither, the closest sea port. However, six years ago even this route became treacherous as the pass became plagued by a force of ogres under the leadership of the unlikely alliance of a magic-using cyclops, a fire giant, and a minotaur. One in six caravans were attacked at random, even when the merchants did their best to keep the timing of their routes a secret.

As a result, trade dwindled to a trickle and merchants stopped coming to Horek in as great of numbers as they once did. Today, merchant caravans travel to Horek from the plains to the north east and the Dragonborn realm of Khunkara Vakti in the far north, from the cities of Kalmath to the south west, and the remnants of the ancient Agarthan empire of Nedula Madhya and the Gulf of Khari beyond.

The city of Horek is ruled by a satrap, a title of Kalmathi nobility roughly equivalent to that of the Agarthan archon or a Myradonian baron. Like the cities of Swallow and Thither in Xanthus, the satrap of Horek holds counsel with the wealthiest merchants of the city as well as the high priests of the temples.

Earlier this year, the Queen Shahmam of Kalmath was assassinated by her own royal guards. The guards, despite the crimes for which they were accused, were still popular with the subjects. The execution would have caused an uprising. Instead, they were arrested and imprisoned within the dungeons of the cult of Adhinatta in Horek. Princess Murti, next in line for the throne, disappeared and hasn't been located, despite a large bounty placed upon her safe capture. In the meantime, the mantri, the chief adviser to the queen, has been reluctantly forced to take the reins of authority for the monarchy as steward.

1. The Outer City (North)
Horek is a city that is built upon its institutions and bureaucracy. One needs a passport to be allowed entrance into Horek. Water is limited and only so many people will be allowed into the city each day. Those waiting and those without proper passports wait outside the city walls in a ramshackle tent city. A few inns and taverns provide rest for weary travelers. Several fenced in animal yards host woolly rhinos, merychips, giant monitors, and aepycamelae, the primary beast of burden in the desert.

Teams of men work around the clock pounding giant pylons into the earth. The vibrations of the pounding keep predatory land-sharks and purple worms at bay.

The North Gate
2. The North Gate
A wide flight of stairs leads to the northern entrance to the city. The top of the stairs are flanked by gargantuan statues of resting griffons. A nearby crane lifts pallets full of cargo from the base of the stairs to the level of the entrance for easy entry.

3. The Traveler's District (North Gate)
Just inside the north gate are shops, taverns, and inns that cater to the weary traveler. Barkers compete to earn the business of new arrivals. Stalls line the way selling water, wine, and fresh fruit. Shops selling travel equipment, rations, weapons and armor also cater to travelers preparing to exit the walls.

4. Residential Tenements (aka the Warrens)
The buildings of the residential blocks are haphazardly stacked atop each other like massive piles of boxes. Lighter brick buildings are built atop ancient multi-story tenements made of dense basaltic stone. Tents and awnings covers the roofs where most residents sleep during the warm summer nights. Some structures reach a hundred feet high or more. Ladders, stairs, rope-bridges, and sky-bridges connect the upper levels of these chaotic buildings. The alleys between the residential tenements become a narrow maze filled with shadow and debris and are dangerous to outsiders or the unwary.

5. Noble District
The noble district is comprised of walled compounds, each compound belonging to a wealthy noble or mercantile family.

6. Temple District
The temple district is dominated by the pyramid temple dedicated to Tzann, greater god of the sun, and the attached compound. Other temples include Thumina, goddess of the moon, Darkun, god of the night and shadow, Nil, goddess of death, and Saprin Pang, god of debauchery, as well as countless smaller shrines devoted to other foreign gods.

7. The Market Bazaar
The center square of Horek is filled with tents and awnings, beneath which can be found the wares of traveling merchants from throughout the wasteland. Spices, gems, dyes, cloth, sugar, salt, flour, and other goods can be bought and sold here.

8. The Gate of Azi Dahaka
The western gate is devoted to a long winding stair that leads up the slope of a ridge that extends from the Great Wall mountain range like a finger. At the top of the stairs, halfway up the mountainside, is the temple of Azi Dahaka, where zealous monks pray day and night to prevent the awakening of the three-headed dragon god Azi Dahaka.

9. The Palace of the Satrap
The hereditary ruler of Horek possesses the title of satrap. The satrap lives in an opulent palace within a walled compound at the western edge of the city. The palace grounds contains exquisitely cultivated gardens and a menagerie of strange and exotic beasts. The satraps palace is a towering structure with verandas that provide stunning views of the western wastelands.
Satrap of Horek
The city guard of Horek, under the leadership of Captain Subhadar, are headquartered within the walls of the palace ground.
Subhadar, Captain of the Guard

10. The Prison of Zothalech
The prison of Zothalech is an ancient fortress that is now used as a prison by the matriarchy of Kalmath. The prison towers a hundred feet and its dungeons extends far below ground. The lowest levels of the dungeon contain the oubliettes, some of which are inhabited by being which were once humans, thrown into the pits and forgotten, who have gone mad, become blind, and turned to cannibalism to survive.

11. The Fortress of Amoth
A legion of the Kalmathi army is garrisoned in the walled fortress of Amoth. The legion is under the command of General Zagt.

12. The Currency Exchange
Like most cities in Agartha, the currency exchange is run by the gnomish banking guild. The Currency Exchange is a massive marble structure with tall columns and statues of the gods of wealth, along with busts of former leaders of the guild. Merchants and traders deposit precious metals and currency within the vaults of the gnomes in exchange for a book of bank notes which can be spent anywhere in the city. The gnomes also offer loans and invest in business opportunities.

13. Slave Tenements
The western portion of the city is also the poorest. Here the residential tenement blocks are devoted to the slaves who work for the wealthy merchants and nobles of Horek. Slaves are branded and are not allowed to exit the city gates unless accompanied by their master. The slave tenements are also home to the various competing thieves' guilds of Horek. The most powerful gangs include the Stalking Tigers, the Scorpions, and the Sand Sharks.

14. Merchants' Compounds
During the height of trade with the dwarven mines of Xanthus, a section of the city was demolished and re-built as compounds for wealthy merchants. These wealthy merchants are awarded the title of Magnate and are considered lesser nobles within the court of the satrap.

15. The Traveler's District (South Gate)
Similar to the district surrounding the north gate, the area just within the south gate is devoted to shops and services that cater to travelers arriving and leavin through the gate.

16. The South Gate
The south gate is a mirror of the north gate. Travelers coming from and departing to realms to the south west, including the heart of Kalmath, the ancient remnants of Nedula Madhya, and the Gulf of Khari beyond. In previous generations, traders would travel to the dwarfish city of Duirnhold via the Stairs of Duirn.

17. The Outer City (South)
Like its twin outside the northern gate, the area outside the southern gate is composed of several taverns, inn, and stables that serve travelers waiting to gain entry through the south gate. Dozens of caravans camp in tents outside the gate.

Teams of men work around the clock pounding giant pylons into the earth. The vibrations of the pounding keep predatory land-sharks and purple worms at bay.