The City of Lanterns
On the edge of a vast canyon rises a city of black stone and towering spires, piercing the suffocating gloom of the Plane of Shadow with a thousand pinpricks of multi-colored light. This is Balefire, the City of Lanterns.
While most cities on the Plane of Shadow are twisted reflections of cities on the Material Plane, Balefire stands out like a beacon against the endless shadows, attracting countless travelers seeking solitude, respite, or adventure.
Hundreds of tiny flames light Balefires streets, and its buildings glow with the radiance of thousands of decorative lanterns, all carefully maintained by the city’s famous Lanterneers. Despite the solid stone from which it is built, the city’s position on the edge of Nightcrawler Canyon seems precarious, especially when the landscape shifts and slithering sounds arise from the canyon’s impossibly dark depths.
Citizens and Visitors in Balefire
In the City of Lanterns there are two kinds of people, well three actually. There are Visitors, mainly the merchants and travelers come to Balefire to trade for the wondrous items crafted of darkness, shadow, and light produced by the cities two competing guilds; the Shadowcrafters and the Lanterneers. Though visitors may stay a while none are granted more than one year of residency without petitioning for permanent citizenship. All visitors are recognisable by the glowing glyphs they are marked with upon entry to the city. Only through careful screening by the City Watch are visitors allowed entry to the city and the glyphs are there to maintain that security. Any visitor caught removing or altering their glyph is subject to banishment from the Domain of Balefire or worse.
Citizens are people who have resided within the City for at least 1 year and have proven themselves useful, productive, or invaluable to Balefire’s interests and security. Petitioners for citizenship require sponsorship by one of the city’s guilds, the city watch, or any other prominant citizen, such as business owners or land holders (though they are closer to indentured servants). The majority of the city’s population are craftsman and artisans who work for the Shadowcrafters Guild or the Lantern Lighters Guild. Most unskilled laborers end up working in the city’s many Inns, Taverns, and warehouses or they work in the fungus fields, mines, and quarries surrounding Balefire. Those not wealthy enough to afford rent in the ghettos of the city must make due in the small villages beyond the walls on the land the Dark Elves claim. In the shadows of the Scintillating Domain of Balefire the dark elves rule from their fortified villas, engaging in gluttonous galas, debauched balls, wild orgies, and savage hunts.
Denizens of the City of Lanterns.
Although Balefire is quite isolated in the greater landscape of the Plane of Shadows it is nonetheless a safe haven for travelers, a pinpoint of light in the darkness. The slim majority of beings in the city are humans of all ethnicities from Avistan, the continent that coexists with Balefire on the Material. Humans account for nearly half the population of the city and provide most of the labor force.
Following a close second are the dark elves, founders of a venerable Academy of Shadowdancers the dark elves watched as their singular outpost grew into the grand city it is now. As the longest residents of the City of Lanterns the dark elves control many of its institutions, namely the Parliament of Shadows, the ruling council of the city. Each dark elf sitting on the council is known as a Syndic and collectively they are the Syndicate, a powerful voting block of magistrates capable of passing or blocking most initiatives within the Parliament of Shadows.
The next largest population are the fetchlings, children of the gloom. Said once to be Azlanti who bargained their souls for some unknown gift, today fetchlings are an impassioned lot. Fetchlings resemble humans with a dusky gray complection, though some have ghostly white skin. Their hair is usually white or black, though many dye it in a riot of colors, and style their hair in elaborate braids (tied or loose), shave their heads, and sport numerous body modifications such as piercings, scars, brands, and tattoos. Their eyes range the spectrum of human colors in the light but seen in darkness they glow a dull yellow. Fetchlings are most often seen working as mercenaries, guards, bounty hunters, and in other martial professions. Within Balefire most fetchling follow the proclaimations of the Raven Queen, an enigmatic woman with winter white skin, deep midnight hair and a pair of enormous ravens wings. Her court-in-exile lies at the center of the Gloomwoodwhere she is attended by the Murder, her most trusted advisors.
The strangeD’ziriaks make up the next group of residents in Balefire. From the neighborhood known as the “Hill”or the “Mound” these beings native to the plane of Shadow resemble massive termites with humanoid heads and a pair of arms with delicate hands. Their dark carapace flashes with colored lights which seems to be the natural way they communicate. Though they cannot speak, they do readily understand most spoken languages and many have mastered the dark elven hand speak known as sakvroth. The D’ziriak Colony is closely allied with the Lanterneers Guild and are thought to be the inspirations for the City’s Lanterns.
Often seen scampering through the crowds of the Low Market and the shadows of the slums are the Dark Folk. Made up of two distinct species the Dark Creeper, a small humanoid with furry hooved legs who are more often thieves than not and the Dark Stalker, larger more intelligent beings with secretive agendas. The Dark Folk live in the poorest sections of the city living in squalid homes and lean-tos. Most Dark Folk Broods consist of a dozen or so Creepers and one Stalker. Even with the most stringent patrols of the slums the City Watch and the Lanterneers have trouble keeping the Broods in check as they steal Lanterns and extinguish lights near their hovels in the Darkflash District.
Making up the smallest populations are the Tengu and the Duergar. The crowlike Tengu thrive in the City of Lanterns, picking up it’s languages, it’s culture, and it’s baubles with an ease seen in few other civilized races. Consumate mimics the Tengu help the various races broker deals in the Markets of Balefire as translators. Most Tengu of the City also flock to the Raven Queens Banner. Conversely, the stoicly, dour Duergar are some of the finest crafters in all of the city. Everything from the cobblestone streets, the city walls, and more than half the metal forged objects are worked by the hands of the gray dwarves. The smokey neighborhood of Evertoil surrounds the Dark Furnace, a temple to Droskar.
The rest of the City of Lanterns is inhabited by all the other races of the Material and the Great Beyond, though none make up a significant portion of the permanent citizens.
Religion in Balefire
Many Gods and Goddesses of Golarion have shrines or temples within the City of Lanterns brought with them by the planar merchants and traders who visit. Human deities such as Abadar, Calistria, Cayden Cailean, Desna, Gorum, and Nethys all have small followings. However almost all humans in Balefire, and especially the City Watch, venerate Pharasma for her protection against the undead of the Plane of Shadows and Nightcrawler Canyon. Other darker gods also have influence within the City of Lanterns. Among the dark elves the worship of Demon Lords is not uncommon. Abraxus, Areshkagal, and Haagenti are worshipped by the three largest houses among the dark elves, while Nocticula, Shax, and Socothbenoth are represented by Shapers, Duelists, and Assassins. Many cults and secret societies also worship the dark gods Norgorber, Zon-Kuthon,
Timekeeping in the City of Lanterns.
Obviously in a Plane where no sun shines and what bodies do lie in the heavens require magic to even see a method of timekeeping must exist. As the tallest structure in Balefire the Tower of Xurothil the Overseer makes a fine timepiece. Two luminous blue orbs rise and fall the towers heights each “Cycle” orbiting 60 feet from the structure. The Orbs waxing and waning “Orbits” start at “Nadir” at the base of the Tower and climb to “Zenith” at the top. There are 12 Orbits from Zenith to Nadir and back again equaling one Cycle.
Ten Cycles equals one Run and three Runs equal one Month. Each of the three Runs are known in order as the Dancers Run, the Lantern Run, and the Crafters Run honoring the three rough periods of Balefire’s history.
Each Month is a standard 30 Cycles and each month is named after Balefire’s 12 known categories of magical item creation according to Shadowcrafters Guild. They are:
The Roll of Years is a bit more muddled. The City of Lanterns is over a thousand years old but before the Shadowcrafters Guild made it a trade center for magical items few kept an accurate record. So now at least among merchants and traders the years follow Guild Reckoning (GR) and the official date is 6th Dancer of Golems, 1102 GR (the beginning of the Campaign timeline). The one hundred and two years being when Xurothil established the Guild from the ruins of city founder Acora-Shin’s Shadowdancer Academy.