Skyships of Mars
Major City-States of Mars
Mars has no true nations. Each city-state is a nation unto itself but for the majority a city-state’s influence also ends at its borders as well. Typically, the city-states are separated by vast stretches of badlands and disputes over borders are rare. Instead, city-states compete for access to resources and trade privileges. Smaller city-states pay homage to their larger cousins when forced to do so but will happily go their own way once left to their own devices. A city-state is an amorphous entity. It can be as tiny as a single village with a half dozen huts or as vast as a nation-state with numerous lesser settlements sheltering within its borders. What defines a city-state is simply a national identity. When the inhabitants stop seeing themselves primarily as a given race and instead see themselves first as a citizen of the state – then you have a city-state. There are numerous city-states scattered across the length and breadth of Mars but a few are clearly more important than others.
Achaemenid, The Holy City
Achaemenid is thought to be the oldest continuously inhabited city on Mars. It is believed that modern Achaemenid sits on the site of what was previously an Elosi Hive-City that is believed to have been built over the remains of an ancient Atlantean city. The city was home to one of the last Sauren nations and is still host to a large population of the Dino-men. Achaemenid is also the home to many holy sites dedicated to some of the largest religions on Mars. The Serpentarium is a modest temple that was built around the ruins of what is believed to be the site where the Elosi first created the Sauren race and is the holiest site in their faith. It lies on a small hill just outside the city’s outer walls. Within the city itself, the various cathedrals of the numerous churches of the Net-Jeru compete for prestige and influence. The city is ruled by a theocratic college of high priests from each of the Net-Jeru churches. Although in years past competition between these churches could often turn bloody with battles being fought in the streets, the recent decision to turn law-enforcement and civil order over to peacekeepers from Belshazzar has brought an unprecedented level of cooperation and peaceful coexistence between the churches.
Anshan and Ashur, The Twin Cities
The Twin cities of Anshan and Ashur were originally founded by the Warlord Carter and these two cities are still the most cosmopolitan of the city-states. Although the Twin Cities speak with one voice, they are actually ruled by a pair of elected monarchs. Anshan is ruled by a warrior awarded the title of Warlord of Mars. The Warlord is usually male but there are no laws preventing a woman from holding the title. The Warlord is chosen once every ten years by a competition of war games. This isn’t a gladiatorial competition. The prospective Warlords do not actually fight themselves. Instead, the candidates for Warlord assemble a force of warriors who will battle on their behalf and fight a series of battles against each other on the plains beyond Anshan.
Ashur’s ruler is always female and is given the title of Queen of Mars. The Queen is chosen once every ten years by a representative vote. Candidates for Queen take part in a series of debates held throughout the Twin Cities. Each debate is open to any adult citizen of either city and at the end of each debate those who attended vote for the candidate they felt performed the best. The winning candidate then goes on to the next debate until only a single candidate remains to be crowned Queen.
The election process for both Queen and Warlord takes weeks to play out and take place on opposite dates in the ten-year cycle. There is no limit to the number of times a Queen or Warlord may serve and the current Warlord, Qabal of Anshan, has served as Warlord for the last fifty years.
The Twin Cities are the unofficial leaders of and the most dominant voice in the League of Free Cities. The League is comprised of allied city-states who share trade agreements and mutual protection pacts.
The two cities are built on side-by-side pillars of red rock and are connected by numerous gracefully arching bridges. Long sloping ramps are carved into the rock towers that provide access to the cities from the valley floor. The Twin Cities were originally conceived as a wedding gift from the great Carter, a White Man from Earth for his beloved Martian princess. Consequently, the architecture is more elegant and more decorative than in most city-states. White marble abounds throughout both cities and numerous parks sport statues to the first Queen of Mars. Anshan shows a more martial character than Ashur but both cities are acknowledged to be breathtakingly beautiful with numerous slender towers and tall buildings. White is the most common color, usually painted, for buildings and government buildings are capped in bronze domes while most other buildings use red brick tiles.
Ashurbanipal is a satellite of the Twin Cities founded almost three hundred years ago. Originally established as farming settlement and small garrison fortress, the city has grown into a wealthy and powerful city in its own right but remains in the shadow of the Twin Cities in the eyes of many. Despite this, the people of Ashurbanipal are loyal to the Twin Thrones and have been for centuries.
Unlike the twin cities, Ashurbanipal is a better example of typical Martian architecture. The city is plain and practical with broad central avenues dividing the city’s seven districts. The curtain wall that surrounds Ashurbanipal is quite thick and the city sits at the conflux of three of the great Canals. The land surrounding Ashurbanipal is devoted to the farms and ranches that feed not only Ashurbanipal but also the Twin Cities. A second curtain wall protects the farms from the wild inhabitants of the badlands beyond the city.
Recently, there has been much unrest in Ashurbanipal’s political picture. The city’s Chief Justice and the Prime Minister despise each other and their personal feud has erupted into a war of words in the Opinion sections of the city’s two newspapers. Ostensibly, the source of the conflict is a difference of opinion on how closely the city-state should tie itself to the Twin-Cities but society mavens whisper that the true source of the conflict may lie in a marital indiscretion on the part of one or the other party.
Ahura-Mazda, City of Sand and Water
Ahura-Mazda sits alone at the center of a great red desert. The city is built in three tiers around a massive tower structure. The whole tower is painted royal blue and is a massive pumping system similar to an earthly oil-drilling rig. Ahura-Mazda pumps water from deep beneath the surface of Mars to supply its populace. The water flows from the numerous pools and fountains on the smallest and highest tier to cascade in glittering water falls to the middle tier beneath it. The water then flows back toward the tower where it falls again to the lowest and largest tier. Almost no water leaves the bottom tier and instead appears to be shunted back into the tower to be recycled.
The citizens of Ahura-Mazda lead an oddly idyllic existence. All property in Ahura-Mazda is owned by the city. No citizen of the city is required to work and silent, faceless servants wrapped head to toe in blue robes administer all menial labor in the city. Each citizen is issued a monthly allotment of chits called Mana. Citizens may turn these chits into city administrators for a basic allowance of food, clothing, and shelter. Citizens are encouraged to work in the service of the city in return for additional Mana. Additional Mana can secure items of better quality, additional allowances, or used to purchase a position in one of the higher tiers. The size of the basic allotment a citizen receives is determined by the tier they live in. The citizens of the highest tier can afford to do little or no work in service of the city and still live in considerable comfort.
The highest tier is comprised of gardens, parks, and the lavish homes of its residents and there are no real commercial businesses other than the City Dispensaries. The middle layer is given almost entirely to crops and food production while the lowest layer is devoted to industry and trade. The lowest tier is raised approximately thirty feet above the desert floor. Each tier also has eight massive colossi. The gigantic metal statues are all about fifty feet high and seem to be oddly featureless depictions of Men. No one knows the intended identity of the statues although it is clear that they do not depict the same individual. Residents of the city all agree that they are each ancient heroes of the city but know the statues only by locally used nicknames.
The city trades water, food, and other goods with merchants and others who travel the desert. Visitors are never allowed above the lowest tier of the city and blue-garbed soldiers stand ready to enforce this code with violence if needed. The lowest tier is also the only part of the city where trade in more traditional monetary units is accepted although the city’s administrators show a marked preference for trade in goods over coin and a savvy trader can get better results if they are willing to barter instead of buy.
The city is ruled by a council of elders known as the Counselors Eternal. No one knows the identity of these leaders as they always appear clothed from head to toe in blue robes decorated with gold and lapis lazuli. Each Counselor wears a gold mask set with precious stones identifying their position. The Counselors are Education, Security, Production, Safety, Trade, Treasury, and Interior. Citizenship is only open to those individuals born in the city to those who are already citizens. The populace appears to be comprised entirely of green, red, and white Men and the other races can be found as visitors in the lowest levels only. Although there is no law against a citizen leaving the city it is strongly discouraged and most citizens have no desire to do so anyway.
Ahura-Mazda also makes the widest use of the new electric lights and no one seems to know or is willing to discuss the source of the power that drives the mighty pumps that draw water for the city from deep beneath the planet’s crust. Rumors persist of a vast city beneath the city where technological marvels of the forgotten past are used to power the great machines but no one has proven anything so far. It is a mystery that many city-states would like to solve but no one has done so – yet.
Belshazzar, City of Spears
If there is a counterpoint to the Twin Cities, it is Belshazzar. Where the Twin Cities are cosmopolitan and focused on expanding its influence through trade, Belshazzar is homogenous and militaristic. While Belshazzar is open to all races of Men, it is a city founded for the Red Men and their character influences all aspects of the city’s character. The city itself is really just a massive fortress and military camp. Its citizens are universally employed in the engagement of warfare or in support of warfare. Belshazzar’s influence matches that of the Twin Cities and is a much more aggressive influence. The city actively seeks to expand its influence across the face of Mars.
Belshazzar is ruled by the Tyrant of Belshazzar. The Tyrant is the commander of the city’s military, which makes him (or her) the most powerful individual in the city-state. The Tyrant rules for life and a new Tyrant is elected by the military leadership of the city-state. Any citizen can, theoretically be elected Tyrant but in recent memory the position has become practically hereditary as the powerful House of Thoris has consolidated power within the city-state. The current Tyrant is Darak-Thoris and he succeeded his mother Ebekah-Thoris. Ebekah took the Iron Crown from her uncle, Pater-Thoris. Darak-Thoris has ruled with an iron fist for five decades and his health is failing. It is assumed that one of his numerous progeny will become Tyrant after him but so far he has not selected an heir-apparent and there is no clear successor. Should he pass away without naming a successor it is likely the city-state’s numerous factions would devolve into chaos as they fight for power.
One key point of tension between the viewpoints of the Twin Cities and Belshazzar is the subject of slavery. Slavery is a curious thing in Belshazzar society. Belshazzar is rigidly hierarchal and social status is determined at birth. All slaves are property of the state but the sale of slaves within the city’s dominion is forbidden. Slaves come from those taken prisoner during times of war and their descendants or as a form of punishment akin to banishment in other city-states. While Belshazzar does not emancipate slaves from other city-states within its borders – any foreign held slave who can prove their citizenship will be immediately freed and may claim whatever of their former master’s possessions they can seize for themselves.
The city of Belshazzar is difficult for first time visitors to navigate. Seen from above the city is laid out in a series of concentric rings divided by fortified curtain walls. Long ago, the city’s leaders diverted the nearby canal to flood its own streets and built on the high ground so that now each ring is filled with a baffling maze of individual island buildings connected by canals, walkways, and drawbridges. The city is also twenty feet higher on one end so there are three layers of locks that further complicate transport in or around the city. Consequently, recent advances in air travel have been enthusiastically embraced by the city and balloons, dirigibles, and even Djinn powered airboats are a common sight across the city’s skies. Things are getting so crowded that the Tyrant’s Privy Council have begun discussing laws intended to curb or at least control private air traffic in the city’s environs.
Croesus – City of Gold
Croesus is called the City of Gold not because of any abundance of that particular metal but because the city sits on the largest and most abundant collection of mines on Mars. Croesus sits among the peaks of the Hellas mountain range and the mountains surrounding the city are riddled with all manner of mines. Copper, tin, iron, and other important ores are brought in by rail to refineries in Croesus. Once refined they are shipped out to buyers across Mars by caravan, train, and most recently by airship.
Croesus has been ruled by a hereditary monarchy for the last four hundred years but King Alpen Pentergast recently abdicated in favor of his younger brother Cassus for undisclosed reasons. People agree that Cassus is just as stubborn as his older brother but a more measured negotiator. Alpen has not been seen in the city since shortly after his brother’s coronation and no one knows what happened to him.
Croesus’s kings have long made a point of maintaining the city’s neutrality in the many conflicts between the other city-states. The importance of Croesus’s exports and the difficulty in conquering a city built into the rocky peaks made it easy to maintain the city’s independence. The growth of air navies by the more militant city-states may change this dynamic however and the King’s military advisors have recently begun quietly exploring the idea of developing more comprehensive air defenses.
Elam, City of Colors
The Dheva city of Elam sits above the largest salt-water marsh remaining on Mars. It is a series of large oval platforms suspended by great cables beneath clusters of gigantic gasbags. For safety reasons the city maintains at least twice the amount of lift it needs and it is necessary to anchor the city to numerous granite statues sunk into the mud of the swamps by means of cyclopean iron chains. Without these anchors, the city would literally float away on the winds.
The Dheva have a reputation for being eccentric by the other races of Men and the citizens of Elam may be the inspiration for that stereotype. The city is called the City of Colors. From the clothing of its citizens to the buildings themselves color is everywhere in the city. Some neighborhoods choose to unify their color scheme and all the buildings on the block will be in matching or complimenting shades of yellow, red, blue, green, orange, or some other color. In other parts of the city, no two buildings will have the same color. Many of the city’s inhabitants make extensive use of colored oils and dyes to tint their hair or skin to match the garments they are wearing.
The city is inordinately fond of a species of feathered reptile called a Kibir. These small and notoriously fickle pests come in all manner of colors and are a protected species within the city. Harming a kibir is punishable by fine or even imprisonment. Virtually every free citizen of the city keeps one or more of the creatures as pets and many more live feral within the city. The wealthy and idle will keep entire aviaries and choose to keep one or more on their person to match their clothing for the day. The pests are everywhere and visitors to the city are advised to always wear hats, even indoors, and keep articles of food or drink covered at all times. It is a good idea to avoid going barefoot as well and the sign of a reputable household is the bristly mats kept at the entrance to clean one’s shoes upon entering a building. Kibir can be surprisingly intelligent but often seem to gravitate to those individuals who least appreciate them. Some say this is a sign of the spitefulness of the little creatures.
Kites are also exceptionally popular and flying the brightly colored and complex kites in the updrafts rising from the muck of the swamp is a common pastime for the city’s inhabitants. The other popular sport is kibir racing where specially trained kibir compete to complete a circuit of obstacles and agility tests the fastest.
Color even plays a part in the city’s politics. The Lord Mayor is an elected position and the city’s populace divides itself into a baffling array of political parties. Each party can put forth one candidate and the only requirement is that the party must be registered with the city. The city ordinances require that each party candidate must distinguish themselves from all other party’s candidates by means of a colored sash. Therefor each party must choose a different color to represent itself. Only party members may vote but membership in a party is as simple as proving one’s citizenship and sporting the appropriate color visibly somewhere on one’s person. An elected Lord Mayor sits on the Feathered Throne for two years before they must stand for another election but there is no limit to the number of times an individual may run for the position. Once elected the Lord Mayor appoints their own cabinet to run the government. Politics in the city is chaotic and very cut-throat – often literally. Every citizen has a political opinion and politics is a frequent subject of conversation. Visitors of the city are advised to consider their response carefully if one of Croesus’ citizens asks them “What’s your color?” Odds are the question is about their political affiliation and could lead to a violent confrontation if the asker doesn’t approve of the answer. With so many different parties no one party can dominate the voting so coalition governments are common. The current Lord Mayor is from the Gold Faction but the word on the street is that the Blues are preparing to assassinate him to force a re-election.
The city’s dietary staple is a type of grain called Swamp Rice that is grown in paddies beneath the city. The work is done almost entirely by slaves and the lives of these wretches lead are atrocious. The swamps beneath the city are unimaginably dangerous with some of the most venomous and aggressive examples of Martian wildlife always hungry for new victims. The slaves who work the paddies and slosh pits rarely survive more than a handful of years and many are maimed by the numerous predators concealed beneath the black waters of the swamp. The city once erected nets and fences around the paddy fields to keep the larger predators at bay but many of these are neglected or abandoned entirely. Little effort is made to keep slaves from escaping into the swamps as to do so is practically suicide anyway. Most of the slaves purchased in the city end up in the paddy fields. Fish, shellfish, snakes, and other fauna of the swamp also finds its way onto Elam dinner plates.
Elam exports swamp rice, amber, as well as numerous medicines and high quality dyes made from the numerous swamp plants found nowhere else on Mars. The city imports slaves, vegetables, and finished goods from the other city-states. The more enlightened cities of the League have pressed Elam to give up its slave trade without much success and this has caused some political tensions between the states. However, the leadership of Elam has no interest in becoming a puppet-state for the Alliance either.
Hammurabi, City of Storms
Hammurabi’s claim to fame is that it is the home to the Praelor scientist, Josha Bannoc. It was Bannoc who first learned to capture and harness the power of the lightning spirits. The city lies on the coast of the largest of the last remaining salt lakes of Mars and was always home to inclement weather. Bannoc, equal parts mystic and alchemist, learned that the spirits he called Djinn were at least partly responsible for some of the many storms that were common over the lake. Bannoc developed a means of binding and commanding these spirits and thus changed the face of Mars forever.
Hammurabi is home to more Endjineers than any other city on Mars and the Esoteric Brotherhood of Endjineers has their headquarters within the city. The Brotherhood also administers the Hammurabi College of Applied Metaphysics where new Endjineers are trained. The constant summoning and binding of Djinn makes the borders between the real and the unreal here thin and the city is plagued by minor djinn who have gotten loose from the apprentices at the college or others in the city. As a result, the city lies under a near constant gathering of storm clouds and rain is a daily occurrence. Most buildings within the city have lightning rods to direct the constant lightning safely away from the inhabitants but the sharp smell of ozone is common. Recently, the city completed its most ambitious public works. The entirety of the city has been strung with copper wire wrapped in rubber so that the energy of the storms can be used to power Endjineering devices. The wiring also directs some of the energy through the numerous lightning rods throughout the city to underground shelters where Bannoc’s latest invention is being developed. Josha Bannoc’s Miraculous Aetheric Absorption Medium – also called Bannoc’s Milk – is a liquid medium that stores the electrical energy of lightning strikes. This allows for energy to be transported much farther than using established direct current wiring and even stockpiled for when storms are not present. Bannoc’s Milk is still being developed and the formula is evolving. Thus far, it is still exceptionally unstable and there have been more than the usual number of fires and explosions coming from Bannoc’s Labs.
Herodotus, the Sandy Shore
Herodotus began life as a border fortress built by Saurens to protect against raids by White Apes from the badlands. The Saurens built their fortress on the edge of a massive sandy desert. Over time, a village and then a city grew up around the fortress. When the Men of Mars marched out of the wild under the banner of Carter, Herodotus was one of the first cities that fell to the Warlord of Mars. The Saurens were driven from the city into the deep desert to be replaced by Chitik. The Chitik of Herodotus are of a desert variety that require little water and are well adapted to life in the harsh deserts. Unlike most city-states, Herodotus has no sewer system where the Chitik clans are kept hidden away. Instead, the Chitik have their own district and neighborhoods scattered about the city. This has led to a level of acceptance by the Men of Herodotus that is rare elsewhere. Herodotus still suffers from Sauren raiders out of the deep desert, the descendants of the Dino-Men that were displaced all those years ago.
Lydia, the Amphitheater
There has long been a friendly rivalry between the Amphitheater and the Garden for which is the most beautiful city on Mars. Lydia is called the Amphitheater because it was constructed upon the steep walls of a crescent-shaped cliff that looks out over a vast fresh-water lake (one of the last on Mars). The Elosi built a floating island at the center of the crescent that the city has converted into a performance stage. The city itself sprawls from the lakeshore to the hills behind the cliffs but it is the elegant villas clinging to the cliff-face that people think of when they think of Lydia. The acoustics of the granite cliff walls and the still waters are such that a singer on the island can be heard clearly across those parts of the city built upon the cliff. Squeezed in between the palaces of the nobility the city has erected public grandstands for those not wealthy enough to enjoy a residence on the cliff. Residents of Lydia enjoy a variety of artistic entertainments from cliff-face. Plays, concerts, operas, ballets, and circuses have played on the island stage and it is the dream of every performer to one day be invited to perform on Lydia’s stage. The city attracts performers and artisans from across Mars. In addition to the island stage, the city boasts a large number of theaters, music halls, and other venues devoted to a wide variety of performance art.
Marduk, the City of Vaults
Marduk is the richest city on Mars and the accumulation of wealth seems to be the only goal of its inhabitants. The nobility of Marduk were nomadic raiders long ago who discovered the remains of an ancient Elosi Hive City built into the red sandstone walls of a narrow canyon. Something had happened in the distant past that left the hive-city unsealed and completely abandoned. The nomads made the city their home and fortress and used it to raid the nearby lands and trade routes but they quickly learned they could earn more money with less effort by accepting bribes for safe passage from the numerous caravans and nomadic tribes that crossed their lands. The fierce Mardukan warriors hired themselves out as caravan guards and later began to finance their own caravans. Things changed when an enterprising Mardukan caravan master hit upon an idea. Merchants would trade in their hard currency at the start of the journey and be issued scrips for the balance deposited. The merchant would then be able to draw upon this scrip for currency as needed at waypoints throughout the journey. This alleviated the need to carry heavy chests of gold coins and reduced the risk of attack by bandits. With large amounts of ready cash at hand the Mardukan Banking Houses began financing other endeavors and extending loans. At first these loans were to private individuals, then to consortiums, and ultimately even to other city-states. Today the city is a representative Oligarchy ruled by the heads of the Banking Houses. The titular head is called the Oligarch. An Oligarch must stand for re-election every six years but there are no term limits. The current Oligarch is in his first term after a stunning upset over his predecessor. She served for seven terms before her ouster.
Marduk’s wealth and web of influence makes it a force to be reckoned with in Martian politics. Marduk shares leadership of the Utopian Alliance with Belshazzar. It is an uneasy alliance between equals who do not fully trust each other. Marduk and Belshazzar work together because it is pragmatic to do so and for no other reason. Marduk is aggressively capitalist while Beshazzar is more communist and this difference is clearest in their views on slavery. Slaves are a statement of wealth in Marduk and the slave markets of Marduk are always hungry. Some markets never close – rotating shifts of slavers taking to the auction stage one after another.
Mehdia, The City on the Bridge
Mehdia is an older city ruled by an oligarchy of merchant lords. Membership on the city council is by an elected vote held once every three years. Votes are purchased from the city council and anyone (citizen or otherwise) can cast as many votes as they can afford. The costs of votes have recently been rising so that many of the city-state’s citizens can no longer afford to vote for their own leadership. So far, grumbles are few because this system is so profitable for the city-state that it has the lowest taxes of any major city-state on Mars but if the trend continues it is likely that the citizens will express their displeasure more forcefully.
It is called the City on the Bridge because the city is built on a massive bridge over an ancient Martian Canal. Today the canal is mostly dried up with only a slender polluted stream down its middle but the city still sits astride an important trade route. During the Age of War, the city changed hands numerous times and parts of the ancient city still show signs of battle from the last wars. This constant cycle of conquest and independence has left its mark on the character of the city’s inhabitants. Mehdia’s citizens have a reputation for surliness and selfishness to the rest of Mars. A Mehdian would sell you her infant and then stab you in the back when you bent to pick it up – is a common saying among the other city-states. This isn’t entirely fair and there are many good people in the city-state. They just have developed an “us against them” sort of viewpoint from being invaded and conquered by outsiders over and over again.
Currently the city is nominally an independent city-state but many of the city’s powerful Oligarchs are deeply beholden to the banks in Belshazzar and Marduk. As a result, although the city is not an official member of the Alliance, it often supports that organization’s goals in the region and leases a large fortress just outside the city to Marduk. Officially, the city-state is protected by the “Militias” which are actually mercenary forces maintained by the different Oligarchs. Each militia is intended to protect a different sector of the city or its walls but in reality each militia exists only to serve the interests of its employer.
Nabonidus, City of the Outlanders, the White Font, City of the Redeemer, City of Many Names
Centuries ago, Nabonidus was merely an isolated village near a small stream inhabited by Red Men. Then Carter, the first White Man and Warlord of Mars, appeared in the badlands nearby. In the years since a statistically significant portion of the White Men who appeared on Mars did so in and around Nabonidus. The city has the largest population of White Men on Mars and these displaced Earth Men have had the most influence on the city. The city also serves as the capitol of the Earth-born faiths brought by the White Men from their distant home world. The city government is a theocracy dominated by the Ministry of Man. The Ministry is an amalgamated faith combining elements of the individual beliefs brought by the numerous White Men. Most of the Earthlings brought to Mars were from Judeo-Christian societies and so the Ministry most strongly reflects a Judeo-Christian belief system. The Ministry believes in a single God who created all things and sent his prophets to Mars to spread the truth of his teachings. The first of these prophets was the Warlord Carter but there have been others in the centuries since. Masada the Pure, the third prophet after Carter according to the faithful, became the first prophet to officially lead the Ministry when she seized power after the Prime Minister Abraham the Lesser became incapacitated due to a stroke. Since the time of Masada, a Prophet has always held final authority while the Prime Minister handled the day-to-day operations of the Ministry. The current Prophet is the Prophet Jericho XVII the Redeemer.
Although the Ministry welcomes converts from any of the races of Men, White Men still hold most positions of higher authority within the Ministry and consequently Nabonidus. Red Men are also generally well regarded but Green and Purple Men often face prejudice within the city and non-humans are often the victims of abuse and crimes. Nabonidus has recently been accused of secretly supporting underground criminal organizations that target nonhumans in other city-states. It is a charge the Ministry vigorously denies.
Naram-Sin, The Garden
Naram-Sin regularly ranks alongside Lydia and the Twin-Cities as one of the most beautiful cities on Mars. The city sits in a long, narrow valley formed by three massive mountains – Stheno, Euryale, and Medusa. Collectively, the mountains are called the Three Sisters and, although the surrounding land is comprised of low rolling hills, they are not part of any mountain chain. The sisters cluster together and are visible for miles. A curtain wall of pale, rose-colored stone guards the mouth of the valley while the Sisters protect the other three sides. The mountains are so tall that their tops cannot be seen above the clouds. The outer faces of the Sisters are dry, rocky, and windswept but the valley side faces are lush and green like nowhere else on Mars. Water streams down these inner mountainsides where it collects into cascading waterfalls. These waterfalls feed numerous small lakes and streams throughout the valley. The founders of Naram-sin embraced the valley’s bounty and today gardens, light copses, and parks abound throughout the valley. Almost every home has a small decorative garden and an attached greenhouse for growing plants that are more delicate. Naram-sin is the most verdant place on Mars and there are species of plants here that exist nowhere else. Curiously, the city has a remarkably low population and devotes very little space to growing crops for subsistence. The typical citizen of Naram-sin is a vegetarian or has very little meat in their diet. Most meat in the diet comes from several varieties of feathered reptiles called Pufferhens. Praelorians make up the largest segment of the population with the Dheva represented as well. Very few Red or White Men make their homes here and Naram-sin is one of the few city-states without a population of Bug-Men. Government buildings are easily identified as they are always of the same dusty pink stone as the curtain wall. The city is divided into administrative segments called Plots and each Plot is assigned an official called a Druid to oversee daily operations. The Druid serves as a combination mayor and judge for their Plot. The Druids answer to an Arch-Druid who will administer three Plots. The Arch-Druids report to one of three Hierophants who rule Naram-sin collectively. No one outside of Naram-sin knows how Druids, Arch-Druids, and Hierophants achieve their positions and citizens of Naram-sin will only say they are chosen. Who or what does the choosing remains a mystery. The people of Naram-sin are isolated but not xenophobic and the city-state sees thousands of visitors each year who come to bathe in the pools or relax among the gardens. To help their guests feel welcome and safe, the government of Naram-sin maintains a standing force of full-time peacekeepers. Each contingent of Peacekeepers is permanently assigned to a particular Plot where they will live and work among the people they protect.
Nineveh, City of Dead Trees
The city of Nineveh is one of the most alien sites on Mars. The city is raised about ten meters off the ground and rests among the bone white branches of a forest of petrified trees. Many of the skeletal giants are more than a hundred meters high and tens of meters thick at the trunks. In the distant past, the nearby volcano erupted and some combination of hot ash and the subterranean gases that were released petrified the forest leaving the trees stripped of leaves and bark alike. The wood that remained was transformed into a substance harder than the densest granite. All life for miles around was killed and even today, the forest floor remains sealed beneath a layer of black ash in which almost nothing will grow. The forest is home to the most alien eco-systems on Mars. There is almost no vegetation in the forest with the exception of several varieties of extremely toxic fungi. Instead, the task of converting solar energy into food energy falls to a curious species of moth. The Bonewing Moths gets its name from its coloration. The moth’s body and wings are bone white at birth and for much of their short life span. Every morning, the moths rise from the forest floor to perch among the highest branches. The way to determine the gender of a Bonewing Moth is to watch the wings. Males will gently fan their wings continuously even when not flying while the females will hold their wings open and still, moving their bodies to catch any breeze. The male moth releases its sperm as a fine white powder that floats on the air currents as it slowly fans its wings. Female Bonewing Moths are slightly larger than the males and they collect the sperm on their spread wings. The pollen-like sperm particles are absorbed through the wing’s membranes to fertilize the millions of eggs contained within the female’s finger-length body. Over the course of the day, the wings of the moths will also absorb solar energy and gradually turn black. At dusk, the moths will die and their bodies will fall back to the forest floor. The larvae will hatch inside the parent’s body overnight and the cycle will begin anew the following morning. Many animals survive by consuming the Bonewing Moth – either the adult moth during the day or the larvae at night. Larger predators that populate the rest of the food chain then consume these animals. All of the fauna native to the forest are curiously bleached of color and most are highly venomous. Consequently, visitors to the city are advised to be very careful when interacting with the local wildlife. Even the citizens of Nineveh are usually considered the palest examples of their respective races.
Nineveh is eerily quiet and subdued for such a large city. Inhabitants rarely speak above a whisper and a tomb-like silence blankets the city. The city is also disturbingly monochromatic. Clothing, buildings, and even the food will usually be some varying shade of white, gray, or black. The inhabitants of Nineveh believe that strong colors or sounds bring bad luck. Outsiders who make too much noise or wear bright colors will be shunned by the local populace, who fear the bad luck will contaminate them. The exception is the Phoenix Bloom. These incredibly rare Martian orchids have petals that fade from bright yellow at their heart, through vibrant orange for the bulk of their flesh, and crimson at their edges. The blooms always appear on the highest branches of the petrified trees and grow no bigger than an infant’s fist. In the past hundred years, only two of the blooms have been found but each was worth a king’s ransom in wealth and blood for the Phoenix Bloom is said to bestow immortality on the soul lucky enough to consume even a single petal. No one knows who benefited from the two blooms that have been found but a decade of violence broke out after each bloom’s discovery.
Another curious aspect of the city is that the water drawn from the city’s wells is the purest on the planet. It is literally just water – hydrogen and oxygen – with no minerals, bacteria, or anything else for that matter suspended within the liquid. Inhabitants of Nineveh get their essential minerals by adding small amounts of volcanic ash to their daily diets. This gives the food a slightly bitter taste and grainy texture that is definitely an acquired taste.
Sardis, City of Intrigue
While the League of Free Cities is a federation of ideals that unites cities from all across Mars, the Utopian Alliance is more geographically unified. The city state of Sardis sits at a major crossroads between Alliance and League controlled territory and it has become a hotbed for intrigue and espionage as agents of the League duel with Alliance secret police. In addition, dedicated volunteers seek to smuggle freed slaves from the under the noses of cruel masters.
Unique among the Alliance cities, Sardis is the only city that does not allow the sale or transport of slaves within the city. A slave within the city’s limits is also emancipated for as long as they remain within the city. This creates a funnel of escaped slaves hoping to escape their bonds. Many soon find themselves trapped within the city without rights or support and working sweatshops run by cruel foremen that pay the newly freed slave practically nothing and offer less support than even their former slave masters did. Trapped within the city’s limits for fear of being recaptured many remain slaves in all but name. A lucky few make contact with underground organizations who agree to smuggle them out to safety but even this hope is often dashed as some of these smugglers are nothing more than slavers in disguise who simply take whatever money their victims can assemble and then hand them over to slave gangs once they leave the city.
Sennacherib, The Floating World
Sennacherib is the least active member of the Utopian Alliance. It is likely that if the city had not been completely surrounded by the territories of Belshazzar, Marduk, and Tomyris they would not have joined at all. The simple reality is that Sennacherib can’t afford not to be a part of the Alliance. If they tried to go their own way it would only be a matter of time before the city-state was conquered by one of its more aggressive neighbors.
Sennacherib floats atop the Great Salt Sea – a land-locked body of water so salty that nothing lives within its depths. The old city was built on the preserved carcass of an ancient sea creature but since that time barges, boats, and other platforms have been added as the city expanded. Despite its unusual location the city is known as a hedonists delight. The salt water is alleged to have healing properties and many wealthy visitors spend at least some time gently floating on their backs. The heavy salt content makes the water very dense. Sennacherib also has more brothels, gambling halls, drug dens, and eateries per capita than any city on Mars. Fresh food and drink are imported daily and only the exorbitant revenues to be gained from serving vices that would be illegal in other parts of the world can offset the costs.
The business and government of Sennacherib are focused on extending a visitor’s stay as long as possible – or until their money runs out, whichever comes first. The city is divided into rough districts depending on the entertainments they provide. The southern districts are home to entertainments suitable for families and the entertainments grow seedier as one moves around the city. The city’s permanent residents mostly live in Old Town at the city center or in their places of employment. Visitors stay mostly on the outskirts where it is easier to get around and the fish smell is lighter.
Tomyris, City of Chains, City of Misery
Tomyris is the single largest clearing house of slaves on the planet. Slave traders from across Mars bring their wares to Tomyris for sale. The economy of Tomyris is utterly dependent on the slave trade and without it the city’s fortunes would collapse. It is because of this dependence that Tomyris is the most rabid member of the Utopian Alliance when it comes to opposing the League of Free Cities.
The slave masters of Tomyris rule with ruthless cruelty. They have no choice for there are more slaves than free citizens in the city by a wide margin. If the slaves were to rise in revolt, the city would undoubtedly burn. Because of the volume, slaves are often cheaper to acquire here than anywhere else. Tomyris is a viper’s nest of intrigue and double-dealing. Each slave master jealously guards their territory from the machinations of their peers while at the same time plotting to seize even more power if they get the chance.
Tomyris has the single largest standing army in the Alliance. However, the quality of their force leaves a great deal to be desired. The majority of Tomyris’ troops are slave-soldiers who lack discipline and motivation. Their officers are little better than brigands who think nothing of sacrificing the lives under their command – after all, you can always find more slaves.