SHAZRAD: City of Veils

Six Houses rule Shazrad, in a council that meets in the city's secret haunts. Each has its own followers...and enemies.

The House of the Thousand Tales

sigil of the House of the Thousand Tales The historians, the storytellers, the poets...and the spies, all of whom are responsible for gathering information in the defense of the city and for propaganda. One of their duties is the preservation of knowledge and tales, whether they actually allow those tales to be disseminated among the general public; this is often a source of contention with the House of the Starborn Word. If you want to learn legends of Shazrad's founding or hear the latest gossip about a certain shipment of rare orchids, someone in the House will know. Malcontents exist, but House security tends to silence them fast and put the House's own spin on events.

The House leader is Amina Dakhar. Amina's dark, inscrutable gaze is famed throughout the city, said to miss nothing. But even better celebrated is her voice: a clear, musical alto that has no hesitation with words. She is skilled with both fiction and truth, and might tell either. A ruthless but subtle woman with ears in every room, she well knows the power of knowledge, and thus has taken the trouble to bury her private life: she has no known family or friends, but many allies, not all out of choice. Although she can lift hearts or summon tears effortlessly with her stories, it is said that no one has seen her smile or weep herself.

The House of the Crescent Sword

sigil of the House of the Crescent Sword The warriors, bodyguards and police of Shazrad. They carry scimitars, also known as crescent swords, and don't hesitate to use them in the city' s defense. More unusual members of their ranks include marines, sailors, and the mounted desert patrol. Due to the climate and culture, they are particular about their weapons and armor. Unfortunately, their ranks also harbor bullies, power-hungry military fanatics, and incompetents.

A tall, weathered man, Jameel Jorun has headed this House for as long as most of Shazrad's denizens remember. His hair is grey, and his smile relaxed and friendly--but his stance is ever-ready, as befits a soldier. He retains close ties to Kinship Jorun and though a widower, is affectionate toward his three children, none of whom have taken up the scimitar. "It is a harsh life," he often says, "but some few are suited to it." In a city of hotheads, he is known for his levelheadedness. He is also a deeply religious man, who treats the unreligious with amused tolerance.

The House of the Starborn Word

sigil of the House of the Starborn Word The priests, physicians, scholars and oracles. They are mystics, yet also politicans who may be called upon to arbitrate disputes according to the will of the star-eyed god. Their learning in both philosophical and medical matters is famed through the area, though their insistence on orthodoxy has often brought them into conflict with the House of the Thousand Tales, especially considering sacred texts. Hidden within their ranks are heretics, charlatans and secret advocates of other religious traditions.

Khalad Elamyr is the leader of this House. Khalad is what Jameel is not: fiercely passionate, using words and exhortations as his steel. He has a quicksilver sense of humor and a quicksilver temper; few there are who wish to brave him in his harsher moods. When the visions come upon him, though, people count him most dangerous, for in god-trance he may strike out with inhuman power and none can naysay the god's judgements. At other times, he sees possible futures. It has been so since his childhood, when he turned his back on his family for the temple life. Some say he is the only one who has mastered Shazrad's Veils.

The House of the Golden Hand

sigil of the House of the Gold Hand Merchants, moneylenders, and powerbrokers, consisting most visibly of the first. This House is responsible for Shazrad's mint, as well as regulating currency exchange rates and regulations on trade, external and internal, licit or illicit. The average Shazrash sees the Golden Hand as the most powerful in his or her life, though in practice they must remain sensitive to religious and security imperatives as well as matters of commerce. It is a common belief that the Golden Hand is not so distant from the House of the Lightfoot Cats as more "respectable" members of society would like you to believe; smuggling, backstreet alchemy and collaboration with foreign powers are but a few of the accusations that the House has had to fend off in the past.

Kinship Azel has long dominated this House, and Sadreid, as the eldest son of the last leader, was always assumed to be the heir. But he proved himself well worthy of his inheritance, personally traveling as a young man to Duxaur and Sokaru to make major trade agreements that are still in effect. The city--and the House of the Golden Hand--have profited well. No one doubts Sadreid's ability to control the flow of gold and goods, nor his personal wealth.

The House of the Lightfoot Cats

sigil of the House of the Lightfoot Cats Shazrad's "underworld." While they're not a publicly acknowledged House, the upper echelons of other Houses do cooperative with them (grudgingly or not) in "regulating" illegal activities. Traditionally this is Shazrad's least reliable House, known especially for interfering with the Crescent Sword and the Golden Hand. Historically, however, the Lightfoot Cats' leaders are painfully aware that their livelihood depends on the city's, and act accordingly. Even so, bloodbaths and attempted coups within the House are common. The Lightfoot Cats are also known for giving bloody "warnings" with one-use glass daggers, and retaliate against non-House members who attempt to use them.

Although she may seem demure upon an initial encounter, Farima Shabalat has a highly refined sense of mischief that often got her into trouble during youth. Her clever mind and fingers often got her out of it, even when the trouble was with the leader of the House of the Lightfoot Cats. She took his place under shady circumstances, not unusual for the House or for events involving her, and underground activities have increased substantially. She respects witty humor and daring but little else, having few--or no--morals.

The House of the Watching Dragon

sigil of the House of the Watching Dragon Best known as the caretakers of the mechanical dragons. More generally, they include the architects and engineers of Shazrad, and are associated with magic due to the dragons' mystique. Technological (and perhaps magical) innovation is their forte, most notably in war engines and automata. More mundane fields of endeavor, such as hydroponics and optics, support the city in a less dazzling manner. Rogues per se are rare in this House, which suffers instead from dragon-struck hangers-on and the occasional amoral inventor.

Zahara is a slim, beautiful woman who wears a gauzy veil. Her beauty is well-known through Shazrad, as is her story. She was once of Kinship Taryn, a powerful family, and promised in marriage to a young man of Kinship Marud. Though she protested the marriage, she sent the man a gift: an exquisite clockwork butterfly of her own making. Not long thereafter, the man fell ill, and Zahara sought refuge in the House of the Watching Dragon. Impressed by her skill, the House risked the wrath of both Kinships and took her in. Her rise to power was steady, and today she guides the House with a sure hand, using her beauty as a weapon.

Copyright © 2000-2001 by Alioqui & Yoon Ha Lee

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