Nightrealms Carrion Crown
Local knowledge warns to “trust no friend in the fog of Caliphas,” advice once spread by sailors plying the rocky coasts of Avalon Bay but now most often cited amid the alleys and salons of Ustalav’s capital city. Only 34 years ago, the royal court relocated to within the county’s borders, bringing with it the prestige and influence the proud region long coveted. Yet as is so often true, achieved desires heralded damnation. Today, the immigrating noblesse seeks ever-new decadences, rampantly exploiting the cheap lives of the county’s simple people. The costal cities grow more and more crowded, unleashing diseases of both body and mind. And as the wildernesses give way to fuel the hungers of the growing population, long-slumbering things rouse to a world unprepared for their displeasure.
In Ustalavic history, Caliphas once held a reputation as the demesne of witches and their soulless servitors. Legends say that with the defeat of the country’s last king, the mysterious sisters of the Albria woods parlayed with the Whispering Tyrant to take control of the land they considered theirs, but the uncaring lich spurned them and scattered their numbers. After the Tyrant’s fall, Caliphas numbered among the first counties reborn, its rulers—the Caliphvaso family—being one of only two noble lineages to survive the lich’s rule. Rivalry between the coastal county and the capital of Ardis began almost immediately, exacerbated by contention between the Caliphvasos and the newly crowned Ordranti line—a bitterness that persists into the modern age.
Caliphas claims a dramatic landscape, sloping down from the rocky peaks of the Hungry Mountains, through woodlands and fertile river country to the rocky coast of Lake Encarthan and Avalon Bay. The majority of the county’s much-touted civilization clings to the coastline, giving way to wilderness just as rugged and hamlets just as superstitious as one might find in any of the country’s hinterlands. While lean wolves hunt the hills and forests, Caliphas is most notorious for great swarms of winged shadows—ravens and bats obsessed over in local folklore.
Although the people of Caliphas pride themselves on their enlightenment, their superstitions merely take a more urbane quality—folk medicines and rural portents replaced by racial prejudices and peddled omens. Such faux worldliness leads many city dwellers to dismiss the supernatural as hokum unsuited to modern reason. Personal independence and dismissive attitudes toward the crown typify local outlooks, according the region its reputation as a haven for dissention and a leader among counties opposed to the monarchy, even as it harbors the throne.
Obsessions, traditions, innovations, and ambitions crash in a storm of secrets over Caliphas, the capital of the Immortal Principality of Ustalav. Over the ages, the fog has lifted from a certain rugged harbor on the northern shore of Lake Encarthan to reveal wildly differing scenes—a rugged trade outpost, a bastion of the dead, a hotbed of discord, and, today, a cultural war zone. Here the beliefs, goods, and wealth of southern Avistan besiege the staunch, provincial traditionalism of Ustalav. Whether through insight or manipulation, the royal court left the nation’s historical seat of power in Ardis 30 years ago, relocating to be among the rising merchant families and powermongers of Caliphas. Since then, the city has known wealth, prestige, and growing arrogance. Today, under the thick fogs and regular storms that are as much a part of the city as its crowded streets, steeplelike spires, and treacherous nobility, Caliphas is a city that promises grandeur, but only for a select few. For those without the titles, talent, or wealth to win the city’s fickle affections, Caliphas remains a labyrinth of crime, corruption, disease, exploitation, and horrifying secrets, where lives are cheap and the unwary are all too often swallowed by the fog, never to be seen again.
Seven districts divide the city of Caliphas: Ashtown, Blackwood, North Cushing, West Cushing, Dowell, Eskcourt, Hawthorne Rows, Laurelight Hill, Leland, andValpole, each made distinct by its geography, population,or trade. Just beyond the city lie several boroughs thatsupport it, the best known being Crossleigh, where many of Ustalav’s finest ships are built and harbor; Wrenhyde,the garden country where many of Caliphas’s elite keeptheir manors; and Graystove, where coal and the lives of peasants fuel the constant production of brass, bronze, and great works in metal.