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SHAZRAD: City of Veils
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SETTING

If you glanced at any map, you could say that while in Shazrad, you are surrounded by sea and desert.

But if you had been there, you would say that, within the city walls, you are surrounded by beauty: pearls and opals, sweet perfumes, the caress of silk, the ethereal dragonsong each dawn, the brightness of the sunlight reflected by their silver wings.

And if you had lived there, you would say that you are surrounded by intrigue. The Houses and Kinships constantly strive to control the city, and the thoughts hidden behind veiled faces are of power, and how to gain it.

The truth? There are many truths, especially in Shazrad, the City of Veils. Which truth--which Veil--you see depends on which eyes you use.

How deep will you look?
Few people remember Shazrad's founding, but through the years she has remained independent of the nearby nations. Trade from distant lands comes through her ports, and through the use of bribery, tribute, assassination and careful forward diplomacy, Shazrad has managed to keep invaders at bay.

Most nations find it in their interests to preserve Shazrad's autonomy. Import duties and harbor fees are kept at reasonable rates--enough for Shazrad to make a tidy profit, but low enough for merchants from all over to take advantage of the trade. If another nation were to take over the port--well, those duties and fees might not remain so reasonable. In addition, Shazrad's Houses have proven themselves capable and canny leaders, and their administrative skills are unquestioned. It's easier to profit from the City of the Veils on her terms than trying to take it over. Especially when crystal-and-steel dragons guard its walls.

Her citizens are happy with this state of affairs. After all, they live in peace, and someone with a Shazrad passport may find herself welcomed, though warily, in the neighboring realms. If the city herself can be treacherous--well, that's the way the tide turns, they say. And anyone who can't navigate Shazrad's politics is better off living elsewhere. But for those who do possess the savvy, it's a rewarding place to live. Nowhere else, after all, can you find the sheerest silks, cardamom and saffron, royal purple dyes, exotic birds as pets or rare dishes, books in forty different languages, pearls and amber and gleaming opals--nowhere else can you find all these in one market.

There are also few other places where you can hire people willing to do more questionable deeds. Not that this is without risk; Shazrad's well-organized underworld does act in the city's self-interest, and if poisoning your romantic rivals endangers the city, you may find the poison in your own soup. But the services are available.

Others come to Shazrad to study the mystical Veils, whose nature has not been fully deciphered in the passing centuries--or if someone knows what they are and how they work, that someone isn't telling. Mystics and mages seek power or divine inspiration by wandering the city's hidden corners.

All this has been threatened, or so the rumors say. For recently there has been the ugly suggestion that one of Shazrad's Houses has turned traitor. How and why, nobody admits to knowing.

But life in the City of Veils has taken a turn for the more dangerous--and more exciting.



Copyright © 2000-2001 by Alioqui & Yoon Ha Lee
<shazrad@cityofveils.com>


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