The Lands of Autumn: The Free City of Muir

Overview
Venerable and wealthy beyond conception is Muir,  that stands beyond the Tempest Lands far into those northern deserts not yet claimed by the unstoppable advance of the Desert Lotus creeping from the East. Vast and ancient and beautiful and decadent, its splendour the envy of the southern kings, its storehouse of knowledge coveted by scholars across the Lands of Autumn and beyond.

Over three hundred thousand live behind its unbreachable walls, basking in the healing radiance of its greatest treasure, the sorcerous wellsprings that have guaranteed its survival since before the Calamity. Men from all over the Autumn Lands and beyond brave the searing heat and giant schorpions of the Northern desert for a chance to visit Muir, for the wellsprings of Muir, they say, cures all ailments and brings longevity and fertility. But the good people of Muir will not permit just anyone to enter their fair city and for each man to enter Muir it is said ten are left to wither before its bejewelled gates.

Goverment
It is said that Muir has no King, but a council of five hundred and seven, each representing but one of the many guilds, noble houses or creeds of Muir. Of their decisiveness and effectiveness, they say that empires have risen and fallen in the time they take to decide upon the simpelest and most trivial of matters, and this is only a slight exaggeration. They say also that of the five hundred seats, one is left unoccupied, and none, in Muir or beyond, know why this is so.

Armed Forces
Muir fields no armies of its own, for no Muiran would debase himself performing such a menial task, and there is nothing beyond Muir they would want, or so travellers proclaim. In truth Muir has the gold to hire however many soldiers it might require, though it would have to reach a decision first, and it keeps order through its Chitin Constabulary, kept at a constant 857 by ancient law. Dressed in ornate suits of armour culled from the hides of the desert schorpion, the Constabulary is the most finely drilled fighting force in the Lands of Autumn, and not a week goes by when they are not called upon to give an impressive demonstration of their co-ordination and discipline during one of the countless sacred days Muir dutifully observes. Though they are mediocre combatants, they can call upon the storehouses of Muir for many potent sorcerous artifacts in the event that some calamity should befall the city. The Chitin Constabulary has an intense dislike of foreigners, and will harass them at every opportunity. They are well liked and generally of impeccable behaviour though they are avoided during the Revelry, a single day in autumn when they rampage throughout the city, burning, looting and raping as they go.

Economy
Of boundless wealth is Muir, for not a year goes by without a hundred merchants, bloated with cankers and drowning in gold, trying to buy their way into Muir’s healing embrace. Muir spends most of its wealth on the one resource it truly covets, stone. Whether great blocks of marble quarried from the mines of the south or simply chunks of basalt hacked from the many towers of the Crystal Mountains, Muir will trade its boon for stone, for the desert has none to find. The very coinage of Muir consists of beautifully decorated though impractical marble tablets. The rest of its wealth is traded for luxury goods and art objects, for the Muirans are covetous like magpies.

The radiance of the sorcerous wellsprings contained within its inner sanctum grant all within Muir great vitality of the body. Those that would bathe within the waters are cured of all ailments and it is said frequent baths can even delay the aging process. Foreigners are occasionally permited to bathe within the wellsprings at truly exorbitant rates. Though the Muirans import much of their food, the radiance allows them to cultivate many orchards, gardens and groves, many of them brimming with edible fruits. Malicious rumours of the Calamity having in some way twisted these wellsprings in some subtle way are steadfastly denied by every citizen, though it is something of an open secret that those that take frequent baths will animate as vicious flesh-eating ghouls in the event their bodies are not swiftly burned after their demise.

Law
Muir has outlived the rise and fall of countless empires and kingdoms, and has been conquered by more of them then it can count. As a result, it has been blessed with a truly staggering amount of often mutually incompatible laws, customs and procedures. The citizenry of Muir prides itself on its ability to uphold all of these codes with great diligence, and entire guilds are tasked with nothing more then unifying these sometimes contradictory laws into something vaguely resembling a coherent whole.  As a result of its impenetrable legal code, criminals often take a very long time to face judgement, and are allowed to wander the city freely as the magistrates decide upon the correct course of action, which can take years, decades or even centuries. Those that commit the most serious of crimes, murder, stonetheft or defacement of city property, are immediately given the death penalty and face summary judgement.

The City of Muir punishes its transgressors in a most unique fashion. After centuries of crossbreeding and alchemical experimentation, the Muiran Sorcerers have finally managed to breed the Abhak, a palm-sized creature vaguely resembling a cross between a wasp and a hummingbird. So much as a brush of its beak will turn a man to valuable stone, and the bodies of the condemned are incorporated into the ancient decaying architecture of Muir, giving the city a somewhat disturbing appearance.

Among the many architectural wonders of Muir is the Promenade, an ancient aquaduct turned into a walkway surrounding the Fortress of Ivory, the seat of the council. A thousand marble statues, some pristine, others faded with age, line this truly glorious monument, each representing one of the many despots and rulers that at one time or another, held sway over Muir. By decree of the Harrowking of Ahngarth, Muir’s most recent Tyrant, each of the thousands of statues have been made hideous in aspect. Though his reign was draconic and rife with senseless cruelty, the Harrow is remembered fondly, for his reforms to Muir’s tax legislation and political system are hailed as the product of brilliant statesmanship, and thus the Muirans strive to uphold his decrees above all others.

Muirans consider themselves enlightened, and thus, the habitual distaste for Sorcerers and their vile ilk is absent. Likewise, the adherents of all religions are free to practice their craft, though Muirans consider their beliefs as little more then primitive superstitions.

Though it is not officially forbidden, all who wear the colour orange within the City walls risk being clubbed to death by angry mobs. It is considered to be a grave insult to the brave defence who gave their lives against the usurping Sorcerer Cyriak the Assimilator, who sought to incorporate Muir’s entire population into its protoplasmic body. Thanks to the ancient sorceries contained within Muir’s Scholariate, he was easily repelled with not a single casualty.

Culture
Muiran etiquette is every bit as complex and impenetrable as its laws. Different forms of adress are appropriate for different professions, time of day, day of the year and locations within the city. Breaching any of these customs is a surefire way to octracism and vendetta. Muirans take pity on the uneducated men of the Age of Dusk, and thus all foreigners are asked to wear garishly coloured robes so they may easily be identified, and are thus exempt to many of the more byzantine codes of conduct.

Muirans go about the city dressed in voluminous robes(very impractical in the desert heat) of different shades of purple, magenta, blue and vermillion. Hair is kept in elaborate braids, decorated with jewelry and often dyed. The face is dyed and painted and jewelry is used to signify occupation, social standing and ideological persuasion.

The Citizenry of Muir is both well-educated yet incredibly ignorant. Almost three quarters of the population can read and write, with many of the remainder absolving from reading and writing as a matter of principle. Through their study of the long history of Muir, even the common citizen knows much more about the history of the Lands of Autumn then the uneducated louts that scratch at Muir’s walls, though much of this history is viewed through a distorted lens. At the same time, Muirans are almost wholly ignorant of the Tempest, the lands beyond Muir and the thousandfold horrors that await them.

Muir has an astonishing number of festivals, holidays and celebrations, most of them passed down from the plethora of goverments that, at one time or another, held sway over it. The most notable one is the festival of Renewal.

The Festival of Renewal.
Since time immemorial, Muir has been stalked by an entity known as the Skintaker. Every year, at midsummer, the Skintaker is rumoured to emerge from its hidden lair in the catacombs beneath the city and flay one inhabitant in Muir, taking his skin to wear for itself and leaving behind a gruesomely mutilated corpse.
While originally the population of Muir was quite aghast at the behavior of its newest inhabitant, as the years went by and all precautions and countermeasures, sorcerous and mundane, proved to be in vain, the population has come to accept the presence of the Skintaker as a natural and indeed benevolent thing.
As such, the Festival of Renewal is considered the most important event of the year, with celebrations leading up to it lasting over a week. All the populance joins together in joyous revelry, with small gifts being exchanged and grudges forgiven on the day of Midsummer. Small children dress up in tanned leather coats and chase eachother with wooden sickles and flensing knives. Those visitors of Muir learning of the reason behind this joyous occasion suddenly finding themselves with a pressing case of homesickness are politely yet firmly asked to remain in the city until the celebrations have run their course.
After the celebrations are over, a state-sponsored funeral is held for the unlucky deceased, and a party of adventurers is traditionally assembled from among the populance(usually consisting of convicted felons, foreigners, volunteers, madmen or political adversaries of the Committee for the Appointing of The Five) to take retribution for the loss of life. The party is then sent forth into the catacombs, never to return.
The Skintaker has had a very large impact on the cultural development of the citizenry of Muir, to such an extent that it is traditional to incorporate a likeness of the Skintaker(an empty cowled suit of hardened leather carrying a flensing knife or small sickle) in family portraits. Most citizens have a small statuette of the Skintaker in their homes, to which they offer occasional prayers.

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10 thoughts on “The Lands of Autumn: The Free City of Muir

  1. The Skintaker is a wonderfully creepy bit of lore, I especially like the detail of children chasing each other with wooden flensing knives, it reminds me of teenagers dressed as Schmutzli beating other kids with bundles of willow twigs.

    Muir would seem to fit well into EoPT’s stability/chaos alignment axis.

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    1. As a dutchman i am of course intimately familiar with Santa Claus and his many bewildering incarnations. The Dutch version(Sinterklaas) is attended by 6-8 black men who did indeed traditionally castigate the naughty children with bundles of twigs(the roe) and took them off to Spain(in holland Santa lives not on the northpole but in Spain). Of course nowadays they massively downplay the childstealing element and i think it was decided around 1960 that the black men were not his slaves but his friends.

      What axis are you referring to? To my knowledge, the original EoPT had Good and Evil alignments(and neutral for nonhumans) and that was about it.

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    1. Interedesting. I have tried to avoid traditional fantasy depictions of good and evil in Age of Dusk as much as i humanly can, therefore i will take such comparisons for the huge compliment i believe they represent. I was unaware that EoPT had a sort of Moorcockian Alignment system and of course i heartily approve.

      I have been considering a reread of Tekumel as of late and that link piqued my interest. I am trying for an exotic/non standard fantasy feel with many of the Age of Dusk cultures though of course i will/cannot emulate the breadthless scholarship and depth of Prof Barkers setting. Nevertheless, no setting ever suffered from a whiff of Meso-american influence(exempting the excrable Forgotten Realms supplement) and Graham Hancock’s historical fantasy novel War God got me interested in the Aztecs(or Mexica he said with insufferable smugness) again.

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  2. This is very reminiscent of… oh blast, the title of the specific Conan story has escaped me, but there’s one which crawls through this whole article like the Conqueror Worm, and it’s one of the good ‘uns so no harm done there. I am also reminded somewhat of Vornheim (the spikily unusual numbers of councillors and police, the unnecessarily complicated laws, the arbitrary dislikes of foreigners and orange…) although I am sure all of that has its roots in other places less tainted by association.

    The Skintaker is superb, however, as is the idea that its emergence has now become a festival as crucial to the calendar as the New Year. For some reason I immediately connect the beastie with the empty seat in the council chamber. Heaven knows why.

    There is a minor snag around the idea of ‘ancient and decaying architecture’ as co-existent with the monomaniacal acquisition of stone. Do they not repair, or is the trade entirely for the purpose of new building, while the elder regions of the city are crushed to form the honeycombed, statue-haunted foundations of the younger?

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    1. I think you might mean Zamboula or Arenjun, but i might be mistaken. Howard casts a long shadow when working in the field of Sword and Sorcery, and i recall most of his city states being depicted as decrepit nests of vermin ruled over by tyrannical monarchs or corrupt priest-kings. I would argue for a favourable comparison with that city Elric puts to the sword at the end of Fortress of the Pearl or a more gothic/supernatural take on G.R.R.M’s Quarth myself. I have a lurking suspicion this concept of a city is either lodged somewhere in our subconscious or at least echoes throughout our myths and legends, though i cannot for the moment conjure up a mythological antecedent(perhaps the scholarly mind of Bigby’s affirmative consent lubed fist can provide an answer?).

      The comparison with Vornheim is flattering. I do not think highly of Zak S, but let it not be said i consider him a bad writer in any way shape or form(from what i gleaned from his blog/a swift perusal of RaPl). I am aware you hold Vornheim in considerable esteem(Should i read Vornheim?).

      I figured they repaired, if they did not the city would have been ground to fine dust by the interminable desert winds over the long aeons but that does not mean its architecture cannot be ancient and decaying. Even with frequent repairs eventually a building is going to be old as fuck. That honeycombed statue haunted foundations thing is kind of neat though, and i think in my original manuscript i may have hinted at that by placing a giant labyrinthine network of catacombs beneath the city as it exists now, but fuck it im going with that or at least a combination of the two.

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      1. The Howard reference occurred simply because Conan is my choice for reading on the shitter and so the story was uppermost in my mind at that moment. I’m sure there are other influences you would rather claim and I am CERTAIN that there is some sort of pseudo-Jungian archetypal thing with haunted cities rattling through our collective souls.

        I recommend giving Vornheim a shufty if, like me (and presumably the inestimable and priceless Mr. Sabbath) you are inclined or frequently find yourself having to make things up on the spot. Plus the sample encounters he presents are halfway decent and could be teased into viable modules if modules are a thing you like.

        ‘Repair’ and ‘decay’ seem antonymous to my mind but whatever, if you don’t want an undercity full of statues (eyes alone alive and pleading) I’m using it myself.

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  3. This is very reminiscent of… oh blast, the title of the specific Conan story has escaped me, but there’s one which crawls through this whole article like the Conqueror Worm, and it’s one of the good ‘uns so no harm done there.

    Sounds like The Slithering Shadow/Xuthal of the Dusk, which came across as a dry-run for Red Nails.

    I have a lurking suspicion this concept of a city is either lodged somewhere in our subconscious or at least echoes throughout our myths and legends, though i cannot for the moment conjure up a mythological antecedent(perhaps the scholarly mind of Bigby’s affirmative consent lubed fist can provide an answer?).

    The only mythology that I can think of which holds cities in suspicion is the mythology of the Bronze and Iron Age Levantines. The Greeks were very much about the polis, the Aztecs held the Toltecs in Teotihuacan in awe, cities don’t even make a blip on the Norse mythology… Maybe the Rakshasas’ city of Lanka would suffice- a city of marvels, home to a magical and fell race of aliens. Maybe Pundejo could weigh in on this, I hear he holds you in high regard.

    The Howard reference occurred simply because Conan is my choice for reading on the shitter and so the story was uppermost in my mind at that moment.

    Funny, I usually cycle through Borges, HPL, and (now that the Penguin Classics collection has come out) CAS for potty reading.

    Nevertheless, no setting ever suffered from a whiff of Meso-american influence(exempting the excrable Forgotten Realms supplement) and Graham Hancock’s historical fantasy novel War God got me interested in the Aztecs(or Mexica he said with insufferable smugness) again.

    I downloaded that supplement from the WotC website and it was a stinker, why the hell would one release a Mesoamerican setting that has Cortes’ invasion baked right into the cake? Also, it seemed like the authors needed to ‘nerf’ the natives’ magic systems to emulate the disparity in the technology of war between the Mesoamericans and the Spanish. Why even bother? It’s not like Cortes would have been successful without the thousands of native auxiliaries that had axes to grind against the imperialistic Aztecs. Even worse was the bit about the evil humans being transformed into the same old orcs and ogres at one point- talk about turning what could have been a great setting into the same old boring crapfest.

    Have you ever read the Popul Vuh? There’s a great animated interpretation based on paintings on Mayan pottery. No, you can’t have too many Mesoamerican influences… creepy Olmec jaguar-babies FTW!

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    1. [Red Nails]
      Red nails rocked so fucking hard.

      [Cities]
      Eureka! I was about to suggest perhaps the biblical peoples of olden times would have held cities in contempt/fear with Sodom and Gamorrah and all that rubbish. I don’t think our mutual pal would interpret an honest demand for feedback in such towering high regard as it merits. Ah las i must walk my own path.

      [Matzica]
      Yeah Matzica was kind of gay. I’m curious whether Hollow world did it better, probably so(though Mystara also had the whole bad-people-turn-info-orcs-and-shit-upon-reincarnation). Even Warhammer Fantasy’s take on the Aztecs is waaaaay better, and those are fucking Lizardmen. It’s true without natives Cortez would have been up the shitter but without the massive technological disparity he would have been eaten by the Maya’s before he even made it that far. But giving the Matzicans shittier magic is lame, gives more credence to the whole ‘magic-as-technology’ gibberish that made parts of 2e so unpalatable. Even a high-medieval civilisation with sufficient ships and numbers should be able to massacre the stand in Aztecs if you allow for cavalry, steel and longbows/crossbows.

      [Popol Vuh]
      Added to my journal. Cool story (bro), and reminds me of the 4 races of men from greek philosophy(gold, silver, bronze, iron). And there is nothing preventing an enterprising purveyor of dungeons to snatch that bit of lore and use previous races of men as monsters, in fact, i think a mongoose bestiary for 3e did that with the bronze race. Fuck orcs, degenerate and imperfect previous races of men it is!

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