Exalted: The Sun Also Rises
Land of Forests
As one progresses farther east from the Inland Sea, the Eastern forests become gradually thicker and more silent and more hostile. The trees grow taller, the beasts of the wood larger and fiercer, and the almost-sentient, almost-malicious presence one sometimes feels in an unfamiliar forest grows ever stronger. Finally, progress is blocked by a seemingly unending wall of deadfalls, widowmakers and harsh terrain. It is said that if one goes far enough east, the ground becomes invisible under the undergrowth and tree roots, and the traveler sees only an endless cathedral of trees, stretching up and down, from zenith to nadir, a holy green perfection of leaves and still air—the Elemental Pole of Wood. Barbarian tribes live their lives in the Far East in a world that is bounded by trees, where they never see the sky for leaves or the ground for roots.
In the Southeast, the forest becomes more tropical in character, while in the Northeast, pine and ash choke out the oak and maple. All areas of the forest are rich in useful plants. Not only do edibles and useful vegetation grow in abundance, but the woods bristle with a wide range of medicinal and recreational herbs. The woods also provide an array of deadly plant toxins, some so lethal as to cause the heart to stop a few seconds after skin contact. Only the most daring explorers or most driven merchants risk the deep woods in search of the rarest plants. Strange spirits roam deep in the forest, and the trees themselves can rise in anger against intruders.
In the First Age, gold and diamond cities gleamed among the trees: beautiful Rathess, where the Dragon Kings ruled; proud Malessa of the Eleven Towers; Sperimin, the abode of sorcerers; and lost Samiaren in the Northeast, where the snow fell on amber bridges among the pine trees, but the inhabitants could walk freely in thin silks, even in the depths of winter. With the decline of the Dragon-Blooded Shogunate, the Wyld and Fair Folk reached out to attack those cities deep in the Eastern forests. Some resisted, and some remain, having been lost to all current knowledge. Others were overrun by the forests, so that the inhabitants had to flee west for their lives and souls. Swamps cover their once-beautiful streets while trees grow through the crystal dwellings.
The average inhabitant of the East has brown skin, ranging from light tan to an almost bark-like brown in the Far East. Blond, red and brown are all common hair colors, and hair is usually straight rather than curly. The typical Easterner is tall, with even women standing nearly six feet. Eastern families tend to be matriarchies, centered around a female and successive generations of female offspring. Male children are raised by their mother’s brothers, and marriage is uncommon but not unheard of. Everyone honors the spirits of the forest. In some places, greater local deities are revered, while even the lesser spirits receive prayers and offerings in others. The East is dangerous, but it offers so many profits to traders and adventurers that an endless stream of caravans travels there in search of lost treasures or present fortunes.
Deep in the Southeast lies Rathess, one of the gems of the First Age. Tropical vines hang from exotic hardwoods in the jungles that surround it, and jungle tribes hunt there, having long since lost any traces of the civilization of the past. Legends tell that the vast metropolis was once ruled by the Dragon Kings, who worshiped the Unconquered Sun with strange and bloody rites. Now, the streets are cracked and broken, the buildings overgrown, and bestial lizardlike creatures that relish the taste of human flesh roam the underways beneath it. From time to time, adventurers risk the area’s harsh rivers, its savage tribes and the poisonous blossoms that fill the city itself. Occasionally, some return.
Further east lies Mahalanka, the City of a Thousand Golden Delights, ruled by Raksi, Queen of Fangs, a Lunar who has survived from the First Age and who has bred a thousand apemen children to serve her. The city teems with these children and with the degenerate barbarian tribes who worship her as a goddess. While they only raid for what is necessary, and those human tribes who avoid her realm are safe, Raksi is far from satisfied.
Also in this area are found great wastes of swampland, uninteresting to the beastmen and barely habitable for the farmers who eke out a living raising meager crops there. While Raksi’s beastmen pose no threat, the animals of those lands have begun to plot and scheme among themselves, led by ancient spirits of water and wood and malice. They go abroad by night and slay humans and rip off their skins, then walk abroad in these flayed and flapping pelts. Some of them speak of enslaving all humans within the jungle, while others wait for a promised savior who will spread the marshes as far as the Inland Sea.
North again lies the Republic of Chaya, bordering the Scavenger Lands, three weeks south of Nexus and a week’s journey inland from the coast. Foreigners visiting Chaya marvel at the land’s idyllic peace and harmony. Chaya is one of the East’s most fertile and prosperous regions—a country of gentle rains, lush vegetation and abundant crops, along the border between deep forest and rolling fields. The republic numbers more than 180,000 inhabitants, scattered among several walled towns. The largest settlement is Larjyn, and the elected representatives of each Chayan town must spend half the year living there. Otherwise, it differs little from all the other towns in the country. Chaya’s principal exports are woodcarvings and local cloth, and its hardwood jewelry in particular is much prized in many lands. Chayan buildings are mostly wooden and stand less than four stories tall, built with a regard for the dangers of fire. Fruit trees line the wide streets, and the inhabitants are peaceful and responsible. Anger, brawls and violence are rare, and the country does not even trouble to maintain a standing army.
The Linowan dwell in the Northeast, where the meadows and deciduous trees lap against the deep forests of pines and giant redwoods. The Linowans are in a state of eternal war with the Haltans who dwell in the deep forest, constantly trying to expand their meadows and push back the edge of the forests by cutting down trees and by slaying Haltans whenever they can. While the fields surrounding their cities and towns are fertile, few Linowan till the soil or sow the fields. Instead, they ply the rivers and go to sea in great canoes that can hold up to three dozen warriors, bringing back trout and salmon, whales and kraken. They also play pirate on the seas from time to time, attacking any passing ships that appear to be easy prey. Regular traders are given specially woven flags to fly when sailing near Linowan waters, and those ships are never attacked.
The Linowan people have skin the color of oak leaves in autumn and straight, shiny black hair with green highlights. They dress in skins, bark cloth and wool from the wild sheep and goats that they hunt in the northern hills. They reject the Immaculate Philosophy, though firm allies of the Realm, and worship the Five Maidens, the Unconquered Sun and the spirits of the oceans and rivers. Queen Arkasi rules the Linowan from the capital of Rubylak, and she hopes to persuade the Realm to provide her with warriors and Dragon-Blooded aid to help fight the Haltans.
While the Linowans raid nearby countries from time to time, their true foe is the deep forest and the Haltans who dwell within it. The houses of great Linowan chiefs are built from planks taken from redwoods hewn from the forest, and Haltan captives are occasion for great celebrations before their ritual execution by burning alive. Similar treatment is reserved for any Linowan found to have aided the Haltans or visitors who perpetrate serious crimes. Such visitors are assumed to be in league with the Haltans. The most famous creations of Linowan shamans are their masks, which are worn by the shamans themselves or given to mighty hunters, warriors, storytellers or anyone else widely acclaimed and judged worthy. These masks are carved in grotesque animal shapes and inlaid with brightly colored stones and cloths. Each one is made for a particular person and will work only for him, and all have some strange power worked into them. How they are made is a closely guarded secret of the Linowan people, taught only to elder shamans.
East of the Linowan, deep in the coniferous forests, live the mysterious Haltans. Like the forest-dwelling barbarians of the Far East, the Haltans live up in the giant trees that cover their land. However, unlike these savages, the Haltan people possess a complex society marked by fine metalwork, tamed vegetation, a unified central government and the intelligent beasts and birds that live among them. Their cities and towns stand on a series of huge wooden platforms in the branches of their prized redwood trees, and their capital city of Chanta is a true work of beauty and a marvel of engineering. Throughout their territory, across the branches of the great trees, the Haltans have built a complicated network of aerial bridges that connects their various settlements. A man can run for 100 miles across the forest and never once touch his foot to the ground.
The Haltans are much like the Linowan physically, save that their hair is a deep, rich green and their toes are slightly longer than the norm. They certainly share the Linowan attitude of eternal hostility. Typical Haltan weapons include swords, spear-throwers and razor-sharp steel war boomerangs. Their pets are frequently weapons in themselves, be they giant wood spiders, lynx-sized tree cats or stranger creatures still. The Haltans revere their trees as holy and treat them with love and respect. They seek to expand their sacred forest, and warriors sometimes go on expeditions to the woodland’s edge to plant seedlings and increase its borders. The Haltan are also famed for the strange plants that they cultivate or that they can harvest from the deep wilds of the forest.
In the more remote Haltan cities, some tamed beasts speak and think as humans. These creatures, the distant offspring of Wyld-twisted animals, have many of the rights of citizens. Also in the more distant Haltan cities live Wyld-twisted humans who have developed animal traits. While the Haltans generally abhor the Wyld, they view any mingling of human and animal traits as holy (if somewhat disturbing), and such beings often become priests. The Haltans have long-established treaties of mutual noninterference with the native Fair Folk. As a result, the Fair Folk will not trouble anyone who is up in the trees. Anyone on the ground, however, be he Haltan or visitor, is fair game. Some Fair Folk even live among the Haltans, exchanging goods and services for the right to feed on dreams or emotions.
Trade with the Republic of Halta usually requires a Haltan escort to take the visitors through the trees to Haltan cities. More often, however, the Haltans send their own merchants to distant lands. Some journey west, taking Haltan hardwoods, rare spices and expensive herbs to Nexus, Gethamane, Chiaroscuro and even farther still. Others go east into the deep woods, to the forest tribes, and bring back unique carvings and plants. Haltan animal trainers also travel with their pets, journeying across Creation and giving fabulous shows.