Chiaroscuro is the largest city in the South of Creation, known for its colorful glass architecture.
Chiaroscuro has existed since the time of the Dragon Kings. Under the rule of the Solar Deliberative it grew to a population of 22 million, and for over a thousand years it was the South's largest port city. A battle between Anathema and their Dragon-Blooded persecutors during the Usurpation reduced the city's palace of government to a lake of molten glass, dubbed the Field of Gold.
During the Great Contagion, the city's population collapsed, partly due to death and partly from residents fleeing the plague. In the aftermath, a band of warlords called the Seven Tigers occupied the city with the intent of staging an invasion of the Blessed Isle. The Scarlet Empress turned the Realm Defense Grid on Chiaroscuro, shattering its towers and leaving just 10,000 survivors.
For centuries afterward, Chiaroscuro remained a small port town, vulnerable to bandit raids and whatever local warlord took an interest in its First Age artifacts. In RY 211, the Delzahn Horde occupied the city, providing much-needed security and stability. In the Time of Tumult, Chiaroscuro's population has grown to almost a million, and it rivals Nexus in prosperity.
The city is located in an arid grassland, with dry summers and rainy winters. Nomadic Delzahn graze their herds throughout the area, except for a ring of land 100 miles around the city, which has been given over to farmland.
The distinctive red glass streets of Chiaroscuro stretch to the city's First Age boundaries, a rough oval 16 miles wide and 24 miles long. The Old City, the one whose foundations were laid before the Primordial War, escaped the worst damage from the Scarlet Empress's attacks. "New Chiaroscuro" refers to the neighborhoods that were rebuilt from rubble in the Second Age. The Delzahn have constructed a series of defensive walls since they took power, but by the present day, the population has spilled well beyond them.
Chiaroscuro's harbor is protected by breakwaters of blue glass, each capped with an Essence-powered First Age lighthouse, the Bright Eyes. The Old City lies on the west side of the harbor, while the east side has become the foreigner's quarter, home to a fluctuating population of traders, nomads and sailors.
On the east edge of the Old City lies the Plaza, a neighborhood under the protection of the goddess Grandmother Bright. She shelters exactly 1,001 living residents and 1,001 ghosts in relative comfort, while strategically manipulating events outside her domain to promote the safety and prosperity of the whole city.
Below Chiaroscuro, the sewers, subways and underground warehouses of the First Age have become a sprawling under-city. The criminal Undermarket holds the distinction of being Creation's oldest continually-running marketplace. Other hazards include uncapped demenses and other derelict technomagical machinery, which create pockets of artificial Wyld and tainted Essence that can horribly mutate unwary delvers. Rumors of intelligent, chitinous rat-folk dwelling in the underways may not just be rumors. The deepest underways connect to caverns flooded with Primoridal power and forbidden gods buried beneath the Old City.
The most distinctive feature of Chiaroscuro is the use of enchanted glass as the primary building material. The red glass streets clean and maintain themselves. Intact buildings in the Old Town feature luxuries such as climate control, elevators, and artificial lighting, climbing anywhere from 50 to 200 stories in height. Even some of the broken towers still have some Essence-powered amenities, and a corps of thaumaturges has retained the knowledge to maintain and repair them, though they cannot build new systems from scratch. Where Essence-powered elevators have failed, rickety wooden lifts attached to the outside of buildings provide access to upper floors; otherwise, residents rely on stairs.
Better-quality buildings in New Chiaroscuro are usually constructed of fired brick or adobe, often decorated with mosaics made of salvaged glass. The city's many slums are usually built of mud brick or roughly mortared glass debris, and squatters can occupy any ruins they can make habitable.
The Delzahn largely retain an organization based on kinship and heredity. The Tri-Khan rules the three tribes that comprise the Delzahn; each tribe is composed of clans, lead by their own khans, and septs lead by an orkhan. Those Delzahn descended in some way from Tamas Khan, the Kha-Khan, or the tribal leaders at the time of Chiaroscuro's conquest are considered nobility. Every clan is divided between nomadic and urban branches, and regular intermarriage is encouraged to ensure the unity of the Delzahn people, but this has not completely prevented tensions between the two communities. The current Tri-Khan, Yejouj, is a canny diplomat and brilliant politician, having played the Guild and the Realm against one another for decades.
The nobility oversee the courts and law enforcement. Among themselves, Delzahn follow a strict code of honor, but they do not apply this to their non-Delzahn subjects. Crimes that threaten the safety of the city or disrupt its economy are punished swiftly and harshly, but others, such as petty theft or murder (unless it's someone wealthy or important) are usually ignored. In the worst slums, bounty hunters may run down wanted criminals, but otherwise the law is absent. Civil matters can be heard by any magistrate whom both parties agree on, and since the loser typically must pay all the costs of the trial, magistrates may engage in what are essentially bidding wars to attract cases. Taxes are collected on much the same system.
In theory, Chiaroscuro is a satrapy of the Realm, but retains only a small garrison of Imperial soldiers and an ambassador; no Dynast is willing to let any other house claim dominion over such a valuable port. In practical terms, Chiaroscuro is fully autonomous, and as the Realm weakens from within, Yejouj Khan may look to expand beyond his capital city.
Chiaroscuro is the largest port in the South and its economic hub, with goods arriving from as far away as the Skullstone Archipelago, Halta, and the Haslanti League. The Guild competes with nobles from the Realm and high-ranking Delzahn to operate banks, markets and trading houses. By old agreements, the Guild can bring any goods through the port, including slaves and drugs, but face strict limits on how many guards they can station within the city, limiting their influence. The city's distinctive glass is recycled into many luxury goods, including weapons and armor; its enchantments make it stronger and lighter than steel. The Delzahn nobility has a monopoly on buying and selling glassware, and violators face public whipping.
Feeding Chiaroscuro has become a logistical issue. Despite the farmland that surrounds it, the city must still import wheat, rice and other staples, while meat is a premium good controlled by the Delzahn nomads. The city's water supply depends on First Age pumps and desalinators, but bringing more of these into service is beyond the capability of the city's thaumaturges.
Religion and the Occult
The Chiaroscurans are equal-opportunity polytheists, though the Tri-Khan will ruthlessly purge any cult that he perceives as a threat. Grandmother Bright and other local gods are revered right alongside the Immaculate Dragons and the Kha-Khan. Delzahn shamans bargain directly with spirits and small gods they encounter. Ancestor worship is common; while no large shadowlands formed during the Great Contagion, the city is dotted with many small ones. Cults that worship the Fair Folk, Deathlords, or other more dangerous patrons operate behind the scenes.