Lanterns in the Mist
Sailing from the Nocturnal Sea, past the Reaping Rocks, a thousand fog lamps reluctantly emerge from the swirling haze, and the weirdly echoing din of countless faceless souls heralds one’s arrival in Caliphas, the mist-shrouded capital of Ustalav. Constructed behind the treacherous shield of a natural breakwater, Caliphas flourishes as the nation’s wealthiest, most accessible, and most cosmopolitan city. These factors—along with other, more mysterious persuasions—argued for the royal court’s relocation to within the city’s walls roughly 30 years ago. Although a new capital, Caliphas is still an old city, and the grim statuary, soaring buttresses, sharp gables, and endless intimidating embellishments common to the nation’s oldest cities adorn its ominous structures. New industries also belch black clouds into the sky, mixing with the frequent fog to cloak some parts of the city in a wretched coat of ash. Yet numerous gardens, private menageries, and fenced parks dot the crowded cityscape, making Caliphas feel more alive than many Ustalavic cities—which often seem better suited as tombs for dead princes. The past decades have brought thousands of immigrants to the capital. While the nobleborn find and create luxurious housing with ease, their attendants have considerably more trouble. Such has led to not just overcrowding, increased squalor, and street violence in parts of the city, but to stranger crimes against which the overwhelmed constabulary has little defense, such as kidnapping, hidden slavery, underground fighting bouts, mysterious murders, and rumors of terrors lurking amid the city’s labyrinthine sewers.
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 60 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 main districts divide the city of Caliphas: Ashtown, Blackwood, North Cushing, West Cushing, Dowell, Eskcourt, Hawthorne Rows, Laurelight Hill, Leland, and Valpole, each made distinct by its geography, population, or trade. Many smaller unofficial districts exist within the city and can be confusing to visitiors and new citizens; This information is an easy barometer to pick outsiders from long time citizens. Just beyond the city lie several boroughs that support 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 keep their manors; and Graystove, where coal and the lives of peasants fuel the constant production of brass, bronze, and great works in metal.
A city made rich by trade from across the Nocturnal Sea, Caliphas has long been described as the very soul of Ustalav, which perhaps prompted the Eunuch Prince to move the nation’s capital there from Ardis. Caliphas is Ustalav’s largest city and has a tremendous impact on the surrounding lands, supporting most of the wineries and perfumeries that dot the County of Caliphas
Resting on the shores of the Nocturnal Sea allows Caliphas to take full advantage of that massive trade route and, as a consequence, Caliphas is a rich city, some might even say decadent. The city is also very cosmopolitan—a relative rarity in suspicious Ustalav—with many travellers visiting from foreign parts; some of these visitors never leave, their disappearances rarely noticed by the population.
Ashtown occupies the southeastern section of Caliphas’ city center. Home to the East Docks, tenements, the gambling and prostitution of Lantern Street, smoke-belching industry, Ashtown is the center of Caliphas’ urban blight.
Blackwood is an upper class district nestle between academic district of Leland and the heights of Laurelight Hill. Here successful merchants and lesser nobles make their homes, raise their families, and keep their secrets.
North Cushing is home to a variety of small businesses and middle-class homes. The Coast Road runs through the heart of the district.
West Cushing contains upper-middle class and upper class residences and select businesses catering these classes.
Dowell is Caliphas’ northeastern district, surrounding the Eskmere. The district in largely composed of middle class to lower upper class homes.
Eskcourt is the beating heart of Caliphas, housing the palace and government buildings, the art district, and many businesses and cultural institutions.
Hawthorne Rows contains middle and upper lower class housing but is mainly the import export area containing many warehouses and shops dedicated to items that arrive from overseas, as well as the businesses that cater to the ships and sailors that bring them.