Scars of the Imperium
Tech Level: High – Space shipyards, warp fused tech
At the juncture of the sixth and seventh anteciduals of the Screaming Vortex, a particularly persistent whorl of warp energy surrounds the sorcerer’s world of Q’sal. Here the sorcerertechnocrats of the cities of Tarnor, Velklir and Surgub have held sway for over eight hundred centuries by their own reckoning, an almost inconceivable timespan in realspace terms. The high loremasters of Velklir maintain that Q’sal lay at the heart of the Screaming Vortex in the earliest days of is formation, but has gradually moved from the centre towards the periphery, the scrollwardens of Surgub counter that they have irrefutable proof that Q’sal began at the periphery and is moving to the center. The archivist-savants of Tarnor can add their weight to neither view, having been struck mute by decree of the arch qaestor of Tarnor for a period of not less than two centuries in censure for their outrageous utterances. So it goes on Q’sal.
Q’sal is a rich and prosperous world that would seem familiar to the inhabitant of a civilized world of the Imperium. The clean lines of its glass-towered cities overlook plains covered with welltended agriculture, its air is alive with the movement of flying craft. In space, a docking ring and shipyards work constantly and a variety of sleek-hulled vessels can be found moored there. On closer inspection, all of this seemingly ordinary activity reeks of the most potent warp-spawned sorcery; everything from daemon-forged engines to voidships powered by runeinscribed menhirs. Spells and cantrips are implicit in every kind of technology in an arcane fusion of magic and science.
A great many peculiarities append to the inhabitants of each of the three cities, but as a rule the people of Q’sal appear to be handsomely featured humans, neither young nor old, and with children and the infirm never to be seen. They treat all outworlders with disdain and, for the most part, view them as errant slaves to be taken in hand as necessary. On occasion, machinations between the three cities lead one or more of them to open up trade with outworlders for an extended period of time—or to just as abruptly cease it. When trade is underway, the soulforges of Q’sal work day and night while demented choirs of captive daemons pipe spells of alteration and change. The sorceror-technocrats will trade for only one thing— souls, living in the form of slaves or already captive in traps or stones. When available, the weapons and ships of Q’sal fetch astronomical prices and are easily recognised by their sinuous curves and deadly efficiency. The dark tales that cling to the artefacts of Q’sal do little to dissuade eager warlords and pirate kings, even though by some twist of fate they often lead to the meteoric rise and then fall of their owners.
The three cities of Q’sal are highly distinct from one another and frequently at war, covert or overt, over a variety of imaginary slights and antiquated territorial claims. Full war between the cities has not been visited upon Q’sal in several centuries for fear of the great terrors unleashed. In past times, fleets of sorcerous floating silver towers attended by squadrons of flying warlocks ravaged the landscape while legions of unleashed daemons fought to mutually assured destruction in an orgy of violence. A number of locations on the surface still bear the scars of such conflict, places where reality is worn thin and daemons are held in check only with the most stringent pacts and wards.
Some hold that the three current cities are only the survivors of an original nine, the remainder destroyed in internecine wars before the current reckoning of time began on Q’sal. A fragile peace has emerged with the three factions, carefully balanced by pacts stating that overt hostility by one of their number will be met forcefully by the other two together. The sorcerer-technocrats still find loopholes and exceptions in plenty to prosecute their schemes, but reality-cracking magics are kept in check.
The city of Surgub is built on an island in the bay of the great river Crelix and claims to be the oldest settlement of Q’sal—a claim hotly refuted by Tarnor and Velklir. Surgub is ruled over by fourteen Factors with palaces in the highest steeples of the city. They meet in a strict pattern according to lunar phases. By their decree, any action that might distract them from their deliberations at such times is punishable by death, banishment, or reward according to their whimsy-a decision ordinarily made according to the manner of business they were attending to. In the past, infractions have been recorded for a multitude of activities including whistling, not whistling, riotous public assembly, incontinent verbosity, unwelcome eruptions, and snark.
The measure of a Sorcerer’s worth in Surgub is determined by the height of his tower, a law that has caused the city to grow vertically into a crown of crystalline spikes many kilometers high. The highest ranked sorcerers seldom descend from the heights, living out their lives in the clouds far beyond the grip of common mire beneath. The sorcerers of Surgub often weave warp enchantments to levitate them several inches above the ground when they must go abroad, in keeping with a belief of their city that a sorcerer setting foot upon the earth loses his powers.
The city of Velklir lies at the southern extremities of a chain of mountains far to the north. Velklir is ruled over by a tyrant elected every forty-nine years and, by tradition, the features of past tyrants are carved into the rocks surrounding Velklir. Over the centuries this practice has covered the flanks of the mountains with hundreds of stern, hollow-eyed patrician faces, giving Velklir its more common name of “The City of Faces.” Velklir’s towers are squat, round-bodied structures of green glass often broader than they are tall.
Velklir’s sorcerers show a great passion for astronomy and the tops of many of the towers are given to arcane observatories and gigantic astrolabes. The astronomer-scientists of Velklir strive to carefully track every heavenly movement and astral conjunction in the Screaming Vortex. They obsessively make complex calculations, plot horoscopes, and predict the flux of the warp to discover the most auspicious periods for their undertakings. It’s said that a sorcerer from Velklir can guide a vessel through the Immaterium with astounding accuracy, rivalling even the mutant Navigators of the Imperium, and that the greatest warbands repay Velklir for their assistance with a great tithe of souls. Even a Velklir star-chart is a great aid.
The city of Tarnor occupies a region of irrigated desert west of Velklir. Seen from afar it appears as a mass of domes and spheres tinted a thousand scintillating colours; whorls of amber, vermillion, carmine shot through with bubbles of cobalt, puce, lavender, and sienna. The sight of Tarnor gleaming beneath the desert sun can strike the unprotected blind. At sunset, the innumerable hues of cityscape merge to make colours unnamed in ordinary reality. The shadows cast are not those of Tarnor, but other cities in other times and places, making a grotesque shadowplay of the future. The sorcerers of Tarnor wear a variety of placid-seeming masks whenever in public, changing them several times daily in correspondence to chimes rung throughout the city. The spoken word is frowned upon and a complex system of ritualized gestures is used to undertake most transactions. A visitor that abides by these strictures will find themselves feasted and entertained in great style by their silent hosts, though cautionary stories abound of guests causing offense by exclamations of delight.
Part of the Tarnor sorcerers’ obsessive silence extends from their bizarre love of music. It is said that a sorcerer of Tarnor can’t pass music being played without stopping to listen and that they will bestow amazing gifts on those that bring them a new kind of instrument or an unheard tune. By night, the curving streets of Tarnor echo with the weird strains of otherworldly melodies and alien harmonies. The mad profusion of instruments achieves a dissonance that can at times overwhelm the senses and blast the ears, or at others transport the soul on sublime breezes to a place of paradise.