Capital of Nightmirror Reach
The traveler kicks out the glowing embers of her breakfast cookfire. It is before dawn, but the day will be sweltering, and she would like to reach the city before the sun has climbed too high.
In the distance, the mountain Hanuhai rises from the surrounding veld, purple in the predawn light and shrouded by the rain clouds that hug its slopes. She cannot make out anything of the city she knows climbs its southern face, though she can see the silhouette of Kytoja-Zu near the peak.
The traveler finishes securing the packs to her horse and climbs into the saddle.
Hanujad is the ancient capital of Nightmirror Reach and the seat of power for the Hanujadi, one of the ten Vanni Clans of the Swaying Veld. The city is built on the slopes of a lone mountain, Hanuhai, which plays a part in its foundational myth. The story goes that when the world was young, a great flood covered the veld, destroying everything in its path. The goddess Woodshaper Hanu begged an Oldbeast named Kytoja-Zu — a rhinoceros beetle of gargantuan size — to pile up earth so that the animals and the first Vanni could climb to higher ground and escape the rising waters. Kytoja-Zu worked so furiously that when he was finished, he died of exhaustion atop the mountain he had created. His shell is still there today, having been hollowed out and made into the Great Hall of Hanujad.
The Weeping Pocket
By midday, the traveler has reached the jungle-covered foothills of Hanuhai. The dry air of the veld has become oppressively humid, the sky obscured by low-hanging clouds. The traveler pauses and dismounts to stretch her aching back and take a swallow from her waterskin. Peering into the dim depths of the jungle, she makes out the striped hindquarters of an okapi, camouflaged in the weak light. Troops of pointy-eared makuchu monkeys swing through the canopy above, their passage flushing birds of paradise that explode into the air in vibrant bursts of color.
After giving her back one last twist, she hauls herself up into the saddle again. Before her, the city is clearly visible, the clay-tile roofs of its densely-packed houses climbing the mountain in a series of terraces. Above them, a narrow road winds its way towards the summit, where the Great Hall can be vaguely discerned through the clinging shrouds of mist.
Hanuhai and its environs sit within a Weeping Pocket, an area that experiences much higher rainfall than the surrounding veld. This has nourished a lush rainforest on the mountain’s foothills and slopes. Weeping Pockets and the jungles they cultivate can be found throughout the Swaying Veld, but no one can say for sure what causes these hyper-localized weather phenomena. Some Vanni tie them to the flood myth mentioned above, as well as to the great Rainsowers that wander the Sundrinker Sands to the north.
Whatever its cause, the near-constant rain that falls on Hanuhai feeds into streams that eventually run into Nightmirror Lake, the large body of water to the west that gives the territory its name.
Gates of Kytoja-Zu
A light rain begins to fall as the traveler nears the city and the road becomes busier. First she passes a farmer, his cart piled high with purple cabbage and drawn by a pair of lowing water buffalo. Next are a pair of hunters mounted on striders, each with a gralloched antelope carcass slung behind his saddle.
The traveler begins to hear shouts and music as the road makes a final twist and the Gates of Kytoja-Zu comes into view. People crowd around the massive red doors, through which she can see the hubbub of Neargate Market. The mountain rears above her, its slopes sparkling with the lanterns of the city and its heights now totally lost in the low clouds.
On both sides of the gate, imposing statues of the Vanni gods and goddesses stand in recessed alcoves carved into the city wall. As she nears, the traveler makes a sign of obeisance towards Woodshaper Hanu, patron deity of the Hanujadi, as well as to the keystone above the gate, a depiction of the Oldbeast Kytoja-Zu himself, protector of the city.
An enemy army seeking to take Hanujad faces a singularly daunting task. The city is protected by the mountain at its back and dense jungle on either side, leaving the road that twists through the southern foothills as the only viable approach.
This road ends at the city wall, an ancient barricade of stone bricks almost twenty paces high, overgrown with moss and vines. Invaders would either have to scale it while the city’s defenders rain arrows down from the parapet, or attempt to batter down the Gates of Kytoja-Zu.
The Gates are a pair of massive wooden doors, each one requiring a team of water buffalo to open. On either side of the door are statues of the major deities of the Vanni pantheon, supposedly carved millenia ago by the first students of the god Stoneshaper Juko. This is one of the many myths tying the Hanujadi of Nightmirror to their ancestral allies to the east, the Jukojadi of Hammerscrap Reach.
The rain is still only a light mist as the traveler passes through the portal into the bustle of Neargate Market. The air fills with the sound of merchants hawking every imaginable good: armor, jewelry, spices, glassware, pottery, weaponry, tapestries, clothing and much more. Apothecaries shout the wondrous effects of their tinctures and potions, competing with food vendors selling leaf-wrapped meat-pockets and fried megapedes. Farmers from the surrounding countryside sell produce and livestock, and the cobblestones are slick with chicken shit, pulped fruit and the blood of just-butchered animals.
The traveler unmounts and wanders up and down the narrow lanes between the booths for a time, leading her horse. She stops occasionally, brushing a silk robe from the looms of Khota or patting the inviting curve of a fat zebra-melon. She passes a Reachwatch officer testing the draw of a longbow, and a baker tearing a loaf of sugar-bread in half for a pair of awestruck children.
Suddenly, a cheer goes up from the direction of the Gates. The traveler heads back that way, arriving in time to see what looks like a massive, golden beast shambling through the open doors: a Kutubi Engine, pulling a caravan of cars behind it. It moves quietly for something so large, the interlocking parts of its legs sliding around each other smoothly as it takes each purposeful step. From her howdah atop its swaying back, the caravan master throws fistfuls of coins to the gathering crowd, a Kutubi practice meant to bring good luck in the days of bartering ahead. Soon, the caravan is surrounded by a shouting mob, waiting for it to find a place to set up so they can get the first chance at its wondrous goods.
Neargate Market is the commercial heart of Hanujad, and by extension, all of Nightmirror Reach. The market begins just inside the Gates of Kytoja, with tents and booths set up in haphazard rows radiating out in a half-circle. Further in are more permanent shops of established Hanujadi merchants, as well as an area usually occupied by whatever Kutubi caravan is currently stopping at the city.
The market is flanked by two shrines: one to Flowshaper Sangbu, the alligator-headed god of rivers, the other to Windshaper Itti, the tern-headed goddess of wind. Both deities are associated with trade in some capacity, and shopkeepers pile their shrines high with gifts before the market day begins. A young acolyte of the priesthood is usually stationed at each shrine, armed with a broom and tasked with chasing away thieving makuchu monkeys attempting to snatch any edible offerings.
Pathshaper's Wall and Little Warajad
The traveler leaves Neargate munching on a fried shearhead beetle, following a road that hugs the inner wall. As the noise of the market dies behind her, she becomes aware of the rhythmic sound of arrows thudding into wood.
Climbing a short flight of stairs, the traveler finds herself looking down on a rectangular court several feet below street-level. Before her, a group of Vanni children aim arrows at wooden targets lined up against the far wall. An instructor goes up and down the line, sometimes stopping to make corrections to a child’s stance or grip on the bow. He then gives a word and the children release together, their volley zipping past to sink into the wooden targets or the layers of reed padding that line the wall behind.
Above and behind them, an enormous statue of Pathshaper Wara stares down as if assessing the group’s technique herself.
Most Hanujadi are given instruction in archery from a young age, and they are expected to practice regularly so that they can serve as bowmab levies during the frequent small-scale wars fought between the clans. There are several shooting ranges in Hanujad where the citizenry can practice, the largest of which, the Pathshaper’s Wall, is located in the lower city. It is named for the large statue of Pathshaper Wara, Vanni goddess of the hunt, that overlooks it.
The statue has also lent its name to the surrounding neighborhood, Little Warajad. This area of the city is home to many of the bowyers, weaponsmiths and armorers of Hanujad, as well as the barracks for the city’s reachwatch, a police force tasked with keeping the peace and upholding the law. This barracks also contains the city’s prison, which is mainly used to hold criminals awaiting trial (imprisonment not being a usual punishment codified in Vanni law).
The Bent Way
The traveler sits on the lip of the court, finishing her beetle while watching the children send volley after volley towards the targets. When they pause to collect their arrows, she stands and walks back to where she tied up her horse, brushing crumbs from her shirt. She rides through the lower city until she turns onto the Bent Way, joining the stream of travelers headed up the mountain.
Soon she is looking down on the gray-green tile roofs below, descending in serried ranks to the lower city and ending at the bustling termite-hill of Neargate Market. She spies the Kutubi Engine, reduced to the size of a windup toy by the distance.
Narrow, steep streets branch off the Bent Way, leading into neighborhoods of tangled alleys and small courts. Unsurprisingly, the residents are overwhelmingly Vanni and wear the traditional garb: loose trousers cinched at the ankle and tunics tied with a bright sash around the waist. Hunters wear cloaks made of animal pelts, including those of hyenas, shunshi, lions and jaguars. More well-off Vanni can be identified by their colorful robes, imported from far-off Rumorweave or even the eloko silkmasters of the Loom.
Traffic on the Bent Way is light, though for a while the traveler is stuck behind the palanquin-tank of an inkanyaban bargelord, carried by six powerful vaultguards in waterbreather suits. As she passes, the small black eyes of the bargelord peer at her through the murky water in the tank. In one huge hand he holds the mouthpiece of a jubtara waterpipe, the tube of which runs to an apparatus built into the side of his tank. As she watches, he brings the mouthpiece to his rubbery lips — a moment later, his head is wreathed in a cloud of glowing algae released through his gills.
Doubtless this eminent inky is headed to the summit to confer with the ohun — leader of the Hanujadi — on some trade matter. The traveler wonders briefly how his bearers will fare on the hundreds of steep stairs one must climb to reach the Great Hall.
Hanujad is laid out along the Bent Way, a road that winds up the mountain in a series of switchbacks. The road is wide and gradual enough to allow larger carts and caravans to get to the upper city, though the Great Hall and the summit are only accessible on foot.
The city radiates out from this central road. Generally, richer Hanujadi live closer to the road in old, multi-leveled stone compounds. Homes become smaller and the jungle grows denser the further one gets from the Bent Way, until they are little more than reed huts built among the towering silk-cotton trees.
The neighborhood of Third Bend is home to the city’s small non-mabish population. Here, eloko, makniki and even a few humans live quietly beside their mabish neighbors. Though some of these families have lived in Third Bend for generations, they are not Vanni and therefore cannot participate in the politics of the city or the clan directly.
It is mid-afternoon when the traveler reaches the Caravanner’s Quarter. The spitting rain of the morning has stopped entirely, driven off by a prowling wind that seems to circle the mountain like a shunshi pack circling a feasting lion. Great shafts of sunlight break through the slow cyclone of clouds above, falling across the slopes in silent avalanches of gold and green before fading away again.
The Caravanner’s Quarter is quiet compared to the bustle of Neargate. Here, there seem to be more Kutubi than Hanujadi, easily distinguishable by their dark robes, dust-scarves and strings of jingling prayer-keys. Travelers eat and drink traditional Kutubi food at tables under the low spreading branches of ancient tangle trees. A group of caravanner youth show off their Engine to some astounded Hanujadi mablings, while a caravan carpenter confers with his local counterpart about the cost of replacing a failing axle.
The traveler stops outside a particular tavern. Its sign reads: “the Crooked Caravan.” As she is tying up her horse, she glances at a party of richly-dressed Kutubi sitting at one of the nearby tables, recognizing one of them as a Caravan Master by the dagger-sized Engine key he wears at his belt.
Stepping into the Crooked Caravan, the traveler is greeted with the smell of wood oil and the faint soot-smell of the dead hearth. The day is too hot for a fire, but when darkness falls the temperature inside the Weeping Pocket can dip, making a roaring blaze very inviting. The tavern is relatively empty, the only other customers a group of Reachwatch at a corner table, methodically working their way through a platter of mantid claws.
The space is poorly lit by the light coming through the few narrow windows, and as the traveler’s eyes adjust she makes out the ancient, scarred bar that runs along the far wall. Behind it, the proprietor stands in the eternal attitude of tavern keepers everywhere: one hand holding a battered metal mug, the other wiping it with a rag.
Caravanners will spend their days trading down at Neargate, then come to the Caravanner’s Quarter to restock on specialty items, eat Kutubi cuisine — the neighborhood is home to Hanujad’s small population of Kutubi residents — or to rent a tavern room to get away from the cramped confines of their roving home for a night. The Quarter is also home to the local guild offices, where a Caravan Master can submit reports to be sent to his superiors back in Yashum-Amna.
Besides saddleries, wheelwrights, and provisioners, the Caravanner’s Quarter is home to many of Hanujad’s taverns and inns.
Design by Nick Harran