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One city-sized settlement above all others dominates the Sunbleak Wastes. The uproarious city-state of Sunbleak proper is a testament to lawless ambition. Built at the bottom of a chasmic canyon with only one entrance, Sunbleak is the last waystation for travelers striking off in caravans towards rumors of untouched troves of riches. The vast deserts of the Warm Shores conceal countless abandoned ruins. Exalted palace complexes and abandoned tomb cities descend miles into the earth, buried beneath the sands. Towering sandstone statues of otherworldly species lord over the desert, carved into the highest peaks of the Dragon’s Spine mountains. Like a siren calling to one’s innermost dreams and aspirations, tales of Sunbleak’s hidden riches have lured in famous figures for all of recorded history.
Fewer streets in Dema are more lively than the Nadir Roads of Sunbleak’s canyon floor. In the city’s sprawl of brightly colored canvas tents, minaret towers, and clay brick huts is a den of political exiles, itinerant Eldertech seekers, squawking traders, criminals in hiding from the laws of their home realms, mercenaries, smugglers, and various cultural undesirables mixed in with the comings and goings of “average” fortune seekers. The total population of the city fluctuates wildly depending on the Era and proliferation of treasure entering the ten Sublime Bazaars. For instance, the years between 35-51 LS saw an unprecedented growth in visiting Archivists seeking to control the supply of Eldertech bolt throwers being extracted from a newly discovered repository called the Amethyst Arsenal, to the point an entire neighborhood of the Nadir Roads came to be known as the Little Athenaeum.
No functioning centralized government exists in Sunbleak. There is no rule of law in its ancient tenements except gold and retribution. Cutthroat security is enforced by dozens of competing mercenary companies, with the strongest maintaining brief but effective reigns over thousands of Featherfolk until they are displaced by competitors. All manner of hedonistic joys banned elsewhere in Dema are provided in houses of gambling, pleasure, and excess known as the Sybarites.
The Sybarites aside, there are few amenities in Sunbleak except for those imported at great cost from nearby Hollowfalls by the Resource Barons. The Barons live along the Zenith Roads, counting their pieces-of-eight in their Sarai villas built into the sides of the canyon, lounging loftily above the cacophonous scramble of the Sunbleak foot traffic below. Through their uneasy alliances with Hollowfalls, the Resource Barons maintain a stranglehold monopoly on the water, food, and treasure hunting equipment distributed at the Bazaars from a series of heavily fortified Loci warehouses.
Some Sarai are modelled after the great palaces of other foreign cities. Others emulate the many cultural styles of ruins unearthed by the Scholasta’s Archaeologians. The great Scholasta of Mundi maintains a thriving branch in Sunbleak to study the mysterious relics, fossils, and cultural valuables brought in daily. The Scholasta is often at odds with several factions of Archivists from the Athenaeum eager to negotiate, barter, or steal any Eldertech extracted from the surrounding Wastes.
Escaped slaves from The Auric and the Solar Hegemony often make their way to Sunbleak. Although still at risk of being recaptured by bounty hunters, Sunbleak’s lack of central authority allows abolitionists and ex-slaves to band together and resist the efforts of slavers in the Warm Shores and beyond. Safety can also be bought from the Resource Barons, though unscrupulous magnates often negotiate brutal deals for years of toil in the Baron’s brick kilns, spice vats, or seed caravans, forcing liberated slaves into what is indentured servitude in all but name. The endless hawk-and-mouse ploys and gambits between the newly freed, the bounty hunters, and the powerful Barons is known among locals as the Masquerade.
A traveler would be wise to remember which Resource Baron’s territory they are passing through at any given moment in the labyrinth of Nadir Roads. One false step could lead down an alleyway dominated by Sunbleak’s desperate criminal gangs known collectively as the Forgotten. Ever a blight on the plans of the Resource Barons, the Forgotten are known to brawl in the streets with whichever mercenary company is currently in the employ of the last Baron they stole from. Though their name might suggest otherwise, several members of the Forgotten have risen to become Resource Barons themselves after one lucky break -- or one key rival left for dead in the dunes of the outskirts.
At any time, the value of water can soar to its weight in gold if, for instance, some Featherfolk raiders commandeer a key cargo skiff moored in the harbor. Those same raiders might be exiled into the wasteland with nothing but their feathers for garb as punishment by citizen militias. This chaotic power structure is exactly the way the inhabitants prefer it, as Sunbleak often serves as a neutral ground for rival factions to carry out underhanded deals that have consequences far beyond the Warm Shores. Those who achieve the greatest deeds and live to tell of tomorrow in Sunbleak’s taverns inscribe their names in gorgeously decorated stone at the narrowest point of the canyon’s two sides, the Pass of Champions. Of note was the swindling of the richest merchant prince of The Auric by a Sunbleak native named Filo’ Nar, who ascended to power in the late Heroic Era after holding a key hostage of the Ursa family in the nearby desert for thirty days.
A few times a generation, some warlord or pretender with delusions of ruling tries to seize control of Sunbleak’s key wharfs, bazaars, and cargo docks. The stresses of the environment and chaotic tumult inevitably dull their efforts. Caravansaries proliferate in the city, with dozens of major organizations including Whudi nomads and mad antiquarians for hire called the Nabonidos offering services to weary travelers. The prize of prizes among these fortune seekers is any information that would lead to the lost city of Croto, where myths say water-breathing peoples lived in lakes of liquid gold channeled directly from the sun.
The lost people of Croto have, at various times, been rumored to be anywhere along the hundreds of miles of the Sunbleak Wastes. Pessimistic locals say they likely lived at the center of what is now the apocalyptic Red Desert in the region’s far north. In the Red Desert, monstrous flying strigoi chase Featherfolk shiseli landships attempting the infamous Ka’bar Run from Sunbleak proper to the human-dominated Port Ka’bar on the border of the Light Plains. The waystation settlements there are treacherous even by the standard of the Wastes. A thriving economy nevertheless sprouted up during the Uprising and Exodus Eras in service to the exploration and tomb raiding of the Red Desert, the wider Wastes, and a few of the lesser known frontiers of the Warm Shores.
The creeping perils of the Red Desert contributed heavily to the downfall of Sunbleak. Decades of worsening security came to a climax with the deaths of most of the Resource Barons in 97 LS. A savage proxy war called the Forever Noon saw four-way house-to-house fighting between Sunbleak’s mercenaries, Hollowfalls’ army of Undominated, rebelling indentured workers, and Krypteia special forces sent by Emperor Sicarius of the Solar Hegemony. A mass migration of strigoi arrived the same week as the rebels stormed the last holdout Sarais of the Zenith Roads. The strigoi overwhelmed the region’s defenses, incubating countless thousands more into the flying brood that would lay waste to the great port of Deonar five years later in 102 LS.
The last of the refugee ships carried out as many artifacts and survivors as possible in the wake of the strigoi swarms. Like many other cultures, the motley remnants of Sunbleak resettled in the harbors of Mundi in the final years of the Redsky Era. Enterprising until the end, many Sunbleak Featherfolk took up positions helping to further integrate refugees into the Hominid Dominion’s society. For many, the greatest adventure of all had arrived: the halting of the end of days.
Those Featherfolk who add toc Sunbleak to their full names do so knowing their homeland evokes challenge and danger. Whether your characters are the first Heroic Era entrepreneurs settling down in the oasis of Sunbleak’s canyon, or a multispecies party of Exodus Era Archaeologians unearthing secrets from millennia past, Sunbleak is the gateway to bold undertakings. Chase the arrow of destiny beyond the far horizon!
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