As the World Burns
A wealthy mercantile city-state on the shores of the Estuary of the Forked Tongue, Balic is under the control of Dictator Andropinis, a sorcerer-king who claims to have been elected to his throne over seven hundred years ago. Despite the dictator’s grip, Balic is perhaps the most affluent city-state in the Tyr Region and is home to powerful merchant houses that bring great wealth to Balicans fortunate enough to share in the prosperity. The business of Balic is business, and for the most part, Andropinis does not interfere in routine affairs of nobles or merchant emporiums.
The city is renowned for its democratic traditions. Balic’s nobles are seated in a Chamber of Patricians that creates and maintains the code of laws, and its templars must stand for election to 10-year terms. The various professional guilds (and Balic’s chapter of the Veiled Alliance, for that matter) conduct their business by taking votes and electing officers; even the dictator is, in theory, elected. Much of this democracy, however, is little more than an illusion. The office of dictator is held for life, and Andropinis has endured in his position now for centuries. Public debate and discourse is allowed, but only up to a point. Any direct criticism of the dictator or his templars is dealt with harshly, and the patricians learned long ago to pass only those laws that meet with the dictator’s approval.
Balic enjoys a cultural heritage and a civic mythology dating back thousands of years, which finds expression in a public appreciation for poetry and drama. The mythology still lives in the form of powerful arcane vestiges; Andropinis and his templars are masters of manipulation. The cultural heritage is evident in the dozens of theaters throughout the city-state, which run the gamut from crowded, ramshackle stagehouses in the poorer quarters to magnificent amphitheaters in the noble districts. In Balic, talented playwrights and orators can win acclaim equal to that held by the greatest gladiators as long as they steer clear of subject matter that the dictator’s templars might find offensive.
Balic lies near the eastern end of the Balican Peninsula, a range of arid hills between the arms of the Estuary of the Forked Tongue. The slopes of the hills are mild and verdant by Athasian standards; grain fields, vineyards, olive groves, and progressively drier pastures extend about thirty miles west of the city-state’s walls before giving way to stony barrens and brown mountain peaks. Large, slave-worked noble estates along the peninsula provide most of Balic’s food supply, but they are threatened by desert raider and by giants who lair in the islands of the Estuary. Most travelers bound for the city-state follow the Road of Legions, the major passage along the spine of the peninsula. Balic’s wall cuts off the tip of the peninsula, running about two miles between the arms of the Estuary.
The city-state sits on a natural harbor formed by high hills ringing a bay of silt. Many ages past, the harbor was a seaport, but the water is long gone. Where proud galleys and dromonds once rocked gently in their moorings, a great fleet of silt skimmers now takes shelter. Scores of the wheeled sailing vessels call Balic home, carrying the commerce of the local merchant houses from Altaruk and Ledopolus all the way to the distant Silt Archipelago or the shores by Raamand Draj. Within the walled harbor of the military shipyard known as the Arsenal lies the pride of the dictators fleet – a dozen silt dromonds, light warships fitted with psionically powered helms that levitate and can navigate silt of any depth.