From the city of the Courts proper, the Lands of Chaos radiate out in concentric rings of ever-widening Shadow. Surrounding the City (which has no name; or rather, its official name is 'the City') are the demesnes of the Twelve Great Houses and the minor houses they hold in vassalage, as well as the Royal Demesne and significant territory yet unclaimed, as the instability of Shadow this close to the Logrus is forever altering boundaries.
Away from this 'inner ring' one eventually encounters the Duath; the Desert of Chaos, a devastated region of Shadows blasted into barren, unproductive wasteland. It is theorized this is the result of the pre-Logrus Godwars, as many pre-Logrus civilization artifacts and ruins have been unearthed there. The few creatures that dwell in Duath are harmless water-gatherers eking out a desperate existence for the most part, although sometimes a Chaos Dragon will lair there. The Great Highway of Chaos cuts through here on its way to the Black Zone.
On the far side of Duath, there lie the Nine Free Cities of Chaos, those quasi-independent political entities of the Kingdom. The Great Highway links them together in a web; Al-Rassan, Sarantium, Brandenburg, Venetia, Valencia.
These five cities, the Old Cities, lie between Duath and Rhun, the Sea of Chaos. The Rhun is wide and deep, a long series of water shadows dotted with islands and petty-kingdoms of pirates. On its far side lays the Black Zone, those Shadows with which Chaos maintains relations and trade, but which do not bend knee to the Courts; but also there are the four New Cities.
Beyond the Black Zone and the New Cities, the Shadows grow progressively more stable and orderly as you progress towards Yig.
The Nine Free Cities of Chaos are unique political entities that fall somewhat outside the usual feudal arrangement of Great and Minor Houses in the Courts. Not part of the Black Zone, the Free Cities are independent political units created by special charter of the Crown, with their own locally determined governing bodies.
Individually, each Free City wields less real power in the realm than a Great House. However, two together could likely match anything a Great House threw against them and come out on top, and the Nine united take any eight of the Houses either militarily or in the political arena. This does not happen very often, as the Free Cities squabble and fight minor wars amongst themselves, but they tend to bury the hatchet and band together in a solid front when any one of them is seriously threatened externally.
The Free Cities, both socially and politically, are far more liberal and progressive than the Houses, which, owing to their vested interest in the status quo, tend to be fairly conservative and resistant to change. This may come from the Free Cities non-dependence on the traditional labor-based economy of the Courts; each Free City is a center of trade and culture, and they operate under a mercantile economy similar to that of Amber. Also, the Free Cities possess the power to bestow the 'Freedom of the City,' from which their collective term derives; if any serf, slave, chattel, or bondsman, from anywhere in Chaos, runs away and remains within a Free City for one year and one day, then he becomes free. This one law, ubiquitous throughout the Nine, has caused more strife between them and the Courts proper than any other, but the Free Cities stand proudly behind it. They get away with this partially by being large and powerful, and partially by generating a -lot- of money for the Royal Treasury; all that trading they do is subject to Royal Tariff, after all...
The Free Cities are generally divided along two lines within themselves; the five 'Old Cities,' chartered and founded by King Dios in antiquity, and the four 'New Cities,' more recently enfiefed under the aegis of King Ishmael.
The Old Cities, in order of age from oldest to youngest, are...
"... I beheld a splendid city in the desert, on a river; a jewel of an oasis set in the golden crown of the sands. Minarets and domes soared gracefully above buildings of cool, white mortar, and the streets thronged with merchants of every sort, a thousand from a thousand different lands, each with wares and tales more exotic than the last. Carpets sailed through the air by magic, and the air sparkled with colored lights as djinni created spectacles for their masters. It was a place of wonders, of glory, of storied magnificence, a city as perfect as it could ever be."
Al-Rassan, oldest and most powerful of the Nine Free Cities, City of Wonders, was founded deep in antiquity. Legend states that Haroun al-Raschid ruled the city when it was but a Shadow among many. One day, looking upon its glories, he despaired, for he knew of the transience of all things, and offered up prayer to his God that the memory of his beloved al-Rassan of the wonders would never perish.
It is said that Quetzacoatl, Serpent of Dreams (as he is named in al-Rassan) heard Raschid's prayer, and dispatched his eldest son to answer it in a manner and fitness pleasing to him. King Dios (honored be his name) imbued the land and its people with the power of Chaos, and did forge the Black Roads that link al-Rassan and its peoples to the greater kingdom. Haroun al-Raschid pledged his undying loyalty to the Serpent and Dios, and his city remains where they placed it, locus of trade and power, First among the Nine. Raschid rules there still as Caliph, looking not a day older, and his city around him continues to flourish under the watchful eye of the Serpent.
So it is said. But the Serpent alone knows all.
To those requiring more mundane descriptions, Al-Rassan is the oldest and most powerful of the nine, resting upon the Ibis river, which meanders along the further edge of the Great Desert. The Jewel of the Sands, as it is sometimes named, happens to lie at a fortuitous (and some say, intentionally made) crossroads of a great many Black Roads; all manner of far travellers come and go from the city on a daily basis, and its bazaar is justly famed; anything you might wish to buy, wonders from ten thousand Shadows and more, can be found here... if you look long enough.
Al-Rassan wields perceived power somewhat greater than that which it actually possesses; Haroun al-Raschid is older than any Great Lord save Ishmael, and was a close personal friend of King Dios. When he speaks, which is rarely, the Kingdom listens.
"... it sat behind its three massive walls, curving from shore to shore, like an Emperor awaiting tribute. A fleet lay at rest in the bay, adorned with the sigils and tokens of the nobles of the city, and an army encamped outside the walls. The houses and palaces of Sarantium lay upon its three hills in serried rows of blue and white, and crowning the highest hill was the wondrous, shining dome of the Sanctuary, largest of all the Churches of the Serpent."
Sarantium, City of Power, possesses what is possibly the greatest natural harbor in all of Chaos; House Jesby and House Darios have carved more impressive ones out of raw shadow, but Sarantium's was there when the first explorers of a young kingdom crested its three hills and gazed down upon the sea, and yet remains.
Originally a trading outpost of Al-Rassan, which lies to its immediate east a modest distance across shadow, Sarantium gradually grew in power and strength, throwing off the yoke of its parent city in a minor war centuries ago. Skillful political machinations on the part of Viceroy Saranios resulted in Sarantium's enfiefment as the second Free City, and Saranios assuming rulership of it as the first Emperor of the city which still bears his name.
Sarantium is a popular refuge for disenchanted young lords who, for one reason or another, are inclined to divorce themselves from their Houses. Nearly a third of the cities population is of noble extraction, if not necessarily noble means. The internal politics of Sarantium are murderously twisted; while the Emperor is, in theory, absolute ruler (excepting the King of Chaos, of course) there have been times when there were a great many Emperor's in a very short span of time.
The Sarantines have a somewhat-undeserved reputation for great piety; this stems from the fact that the city is home to the Sanctuary, largest and grandest of all the houses of worship of the Serpent. Emperor Caius III has it commissioned as a lasting monument to his reign; a century in the building, it is bigger than even the Cathedral of the Serpent, though not by much. A beautiful mosaic of Pindin, the Serpent of Fire, adorns it.
Sarantium's power derives primarily from its harbor, its powerful standing army, and its strategically important position, as well as a number of lucrative trading arrangements with Jesby and Darios. It is the most belligerent and arrogant of the Nine, fighting numerous and frequent minor wars with Venetia, Brandenburg, and especially Al-Rassan, who the Sarantines remain paranoidally convinced want to reconquer them despite the fact that Haroun al-Raschid couldn't care less about a city he hasn't ruled for almost a millennium. They don't tangle with Valencia anymore after an unfortunately well-fought war which resulted in that august cities mysterious protection device turning their army into kibble.
Sarantium is currently ruled by Emperor Valerius II.
"The city crouched in the rains of the north, nestled among dark forests and darker hills. Unwalled, trees grew among the peak-roofed, fret-worked houses, made all of stone and stout oak, set close together. A castle sat at the city center, no glowing center of culture and light, but a fortress grim and cold. Here was a strong place, and well-defended."
Brandenburg, Fortress City of the North, has one purpose and one purpose alone; defence.
Brandenburg sits foursquare across a convergence of convenient invasion routes of documented barbarian invaders from out of Shadow, as well as marking the terminus of an oddly placed Black Road that meanders out into Shadow without really going anywhere, but lets any horde of Shadow folk who chance across to follow it right back to its source. Behind Brandenburg, one must only march across the Forest of Sleep and climb the Ridge of Tear (a two-day march at most for any competent army) and then you're looking down on the Courts themselves across an utterly open plain. In antiquity, many a battle of the young Kingdom was fought on this plain, devastating it mightily until King Dios decided to cap the problem at its source and had Castle Brandenburg erected an enfiefed.
Brandenburg has endured many brutal, savage wars over the years, and the city around the castle has been leveled many times. But it has served its purpose admirably; invading hordes break themselves upon Brandenburg long enough for relief to march from the Courts proper.
Brandenburg produces virtually nothing of note, though the city is known for woodcarving; in fact, despite being a trade center of minor note, the entire city pays no royal taxes at all, allowing its rulers to funnel vast amounts of money into their military. It fields top-notch infantry with an emphasis on wilderness fighting.
Brandenburg is ruled with an iron fist by the Jasrick family; the current Lord of Brandenburg is Jasrick VIII.
"At first, I thought some horrible flood had overtaken the city, but then I saw I was wrong; it was built amidst the rising waters apurpose, an unlikely marriage of beauty and necessity. Canals rather than streets ran among the drowned foundations of the multistory buildings, and men in bright shirts of red and white plied gondolas with long poles. Here and there, a Magus in blue robes forbore the use of boats at all, and walked barefoot upon the sea."
Venetia, City of Canals, was founded by a disparate group of renegade Magi from House Tremere and House Darios. The settlement, which grew up around the fortress they built to shelter from their enemies, was eventually enfiefed as a Free City after receiving the blessing of the Riverserpent, the Serpent of Water, who charged the Magi with the responsibility of passing on their unsurpassed mastery of that element to any who would learn from. Thus was the College of Sea Magi founded, open to all students who can successfully master the entrance examination. The only exception to this rule is, of course, made for those who demonstrate their superb understanding of water by winning the Gondola Games.
Aside from the College, which has caused (and averted) the to-be-expected number of mishaps associated by gathering a lot of untrained magical talent in one place, and the yearly insanity of the Gondola Games, Venetia is usually a pleasant, calm, lovely place to visit or live. Aside from sending its representatives to the Council yearly, it tends not to meddle in politics where its own interests aren't concerned.
Venetia is ruled by the Board of Trustees, powerful Sea Magi in charge of administering the college and city. They are appointed by those they succeed in office.
"The city of the plains was small, but proud; the buildings were all of stone, and elegant, though simple. Men on horseback rode proudly through the streets, which were thronged with the simple thatched stalls of merchants and their custom. It was a quiet place, with the planes of contention long-gone from its land, though I thought I discerned ancient, slowly-healing scars of battle on the landscape."
Valencia, City of Horses, was built atop the ruins of a much older city, rumored to be of pre-Logrus origins. The original settlement was established to tame and control the vast and powerful herds of wild horses which roam all across the plain of Iberia. Finer examples of horseflesh are not to be found anywhere; when you go searching for the Perfect Pony, this is where you end up.
In ages long past, Valencia was invaded out of shadow by a strange and deformed race of beings known as the Moorlocks. Jose Genero of House Hendrake, lord of Valencia at that time, fought a valiant defence against them, but was defeated numerous times upon the field (though he escaped with the core of cavalry forces intact each time) and eventually pushed back into the city itself, which was walled at that time. The Moorlocks settled in for a siege.
What followed after is uncertain; it is known that there was a massive explosion of Sidar energy, which collapsed the city walls. The Moorlocks swarmed inside while Genero's army fell apart; and just as quickly retreated, in fear of some mysterious force which pursued them from Valencia and across the plains, butchering them almost to a man before they could escape into Shadow. Confused reports from refugees came in regarding an oddly stiff figure on a horse; regardless, the city was saved, mostly undamaged. The event was written off as an odd yet welcome fluke until ten years later, during Valencia's war of independence from House Hendrake (in large part touched off because of their refusal to send aid to Genero during the Moorlock incident) when the exact same thing happened when Hendrake's forces were about to storm the city walls.
It has been theorized by Panopticon University that, by sheer luck, Valencia is built atop an ancient and still-functioning Sidar defence mechanism that reacts to any imminent danger to the city. Whatever the case, few armies threaten Valencia these days.
In modern times, Valencia tends to be extremely quiet and peaceful. The people breed and sell their fine horses, train what is likely the best cavalry in all of Chaos, and more or less keep to themselves. The city walls have never been rebuilt, for obvious reasons.
These are the Old Cities, all of which lie in Shadow between the Great Desert and the Great Sea of Chaos. In more recent times, expeditions were sent across the Great Sea to found (intentionally or not) permanent settlements; the four New Cities.
the New Cities are....
"... great towers, all of black and grey, scraped at the very sky; they were covered with stone gargoyles and other, less savoury things, though the towers themselves were made of steel and glass. Machines of every sort swarmed through the dark city, in the air and on the ground, and massive metal ships moored in the dark, polluted bay. Here was a place of darkness, but of power and grandeur too, peeking out from beneath the grime."
Gotham, City of Industry. Dirty, polluted, crowded with the dregs of society, Gotham nevertheless manages to teeter along the road of progress.
Gotham City began life, ironically enough, as a penal colony of Sarantium; located directly opposite from that ancient city across the Sea of Chaos, it was their dumping ground for all undesirables. However, one such exile, a minor nobleman by the name of Solomon Wayne, managed to engineer a daring escape, using a remarkable series of cunning Logrus manipulations to up the tech level in the Shadow, then arm himself and his fellow prisoners with firearms they turned on their sword-wielding jailers.
What followed was a century-long war with the Sarantines as they sent fleet after fleet across the Sea of Chaos in an attempt to reassert control, while Solomon and his fellow former-convicts built their city and threw them back across the water. Gotham grew rather haphazardly; many of its immigrants were of less than savoury reputation, and while much of the population was working hard to make a fresh start, it was a -penal- colony in the beginning...
Eventually, the war came to a head when Sarantium, enraged by decades of losing at the hands of untrained rabble, decided to cut their losses and destroy the entire Shadow with Primal Chaos. Solomon, by then having honed his Logrus abilities to a great height, managed to snuff it out (at the cost of his own life) at the cost of permanently ravaging Gotham's landscape and setting of a massive shadow storm which ran straight at the Courts. At this point, Ishmael personally intervened, chastising Sarantium for its gross irresponsibility. The war was ended by Royal fiat, and Gotham enfiefed as its own city.
As the years rolled by, Gotham continued to grow, eventually making a name for itself as a center of heavy industry. The items it produces are of a plain vanilla, extremely utilitarian nature, but they are competently manufactured, in great numbers, quite cheaply.
The only other claim to fame Gotham has is Arkham Asylum, Chaos' premiere institution for treatment of the criminally insane. This is where people like Jack Renfrew are sent after they have been safely apprehended.
Gotham City is ruled by an elected Mayor; the current one is Bruce Wayne, great-grandson of Solomon.
"At first glance, it was the twin of Gotham; a dark and foreboding city of metal, on the ocean. But Gotham had never contained metal of this magnitude; it pulsed as a thing almost alive, and I could nearly see the lines of power stretched taught across the city, gathered to the great arcology in the center. Machines were here, too, as in Gotham, but here they had been given minds and power."
MegaTokyo?, City of Machines, is Chaos' premiere center of Construct artisans and Constructs themselves. Big ones, little ones, self-propelled golems, personal powered armor, giant mecha, and everything in between; the prevailing philosophy in the city is, if something -without- cybernetics or an A.I brain can do the job well, one -with- those things will do the job ten times better. Implantation of Items of Power also abounds in this city, done so cheaply and efficiently even the man on street is likely to be able to afford one.
MegaTokyo? was founded as an experiment by House Tremere that rapidly spiraled out of control; the Genom Arcology Construct that marked the initial settlement in the area gained sentience, overthrew its masters, recruited a mercenary army out of Shadow, fought an extended and successful war with House Tremere, and eventually bartered a number of powerful items for the political capital required to become enfiefed. The pyramid-shaped Construct is actually legally recognized as a Lord of Chaos, and sends MegaTokyo?'s representatives to the Senate each year.
MegaTokyo? enjoys a close diplomatic relationship with Zeta Cygni, the other Free City that began its career as a Tremere installation. They have a reasonably successful trading relationship with the rest of the Courts, though most of their Constructs (especially androids) and high-tech weapons won't work in low-tech shadows. They recently contracted to provide House Helgram with a new series of assault golems, the M-9 Arm Slaves, however, so things may be turning around on that score.
MegaTokyo? is ruled by the Genom Corporation, which is itself controlled by the Genom Arcology Construct. The Construct usually interacts through a human-shaped manifestation, CEO Maximilien Largo. What powers it is a closely guarded secret, though most suspect multiple Logrus Jewels.
"A planet, viewed from high enough above to appear in its spherical entirety; and across the planet was a great city, covering every inch of land with interlaced patterns of light and dark. Ships descended towards it, great freighters, and others arced away into the void of space."
Gotham and MegaTokyo? may master more mundane machines and industry, but Coruscant, the City of Space, beats them both out. While Gotham produces massive quantities of competently engineered but mostly very bland technology, and the artisans of MegaTokyo? busy themselves breathing life into their golems, Coruscant builds the real high-tech devices; energy weapons, anti-gravity vehicles, starships, and other gizmos par excellance, if it's high-tech, this city can make it for you. When Chaos has to fight or trade in high-tech shadows, this is where Ishmael and the Council of Lords come first.
Founded by setters from House Darios (whose main interest was in branching out from sea-travel to space travel in an eventually fruitless effort to gain an advantage over House Jesby) Coruscant grew normally if explosively; its population of nearly one trillion looks quite impressive until one realizes most of them are immigrants our of Shadow, whose mundane skills pale before that of even your average Chaosian on the street. It was eventually enfiefed by King Ishmael as a way of assuring Chaos (and more specifically, the Crown) access to an independent and reliable source of spacefaring technology.
Coruscant lives and dies on its trade; the massive world-girdling city requires raw materiel to both feed itself and manufacture finished goods from, and only so much can be done with the Logrus. It has built a VAST mercantile (and military) starfleet which ranges far and wide throughout spacefaring shadows, and conducts an enormous amount of business with House Alars; it was instrumental in helping to re-construct the mechanically-driven Alarsways after the mangling it received at the hands of Hiko, and built in many improvements as well.
Possibly the most famous son of Coruscant, ironically enough, is the former bounty hunter Spike Spiegel, bodyguard to the King of Amber. This has won him much notoriety back home, which isn't entirely good given the matter of a few old scores...
Corsucant is ruled by an elected Senate, which itself selects a chief executive. The current President is Senator Palpatine.
"I thought I had the wrong card for a moment, as all I beheld was a featureless grey ball. Then I perceived the small imperfections, the joinings of the vast metal plates, and the stars that twinkled around the edges of the card. This, then was the Dyson Sphere at Zeta Cygni, greatest of the works of House Tremere. It had been completed barely a hundred years ago, and invested as its own Free realm even more recently. While only a fraction of those it could hold comfortably yet dwelled within, I foresaw that this would change in time."
Zeta Cygni, City of Stars, the second of the two technologically-oriented, spacefaring Free Cities, has the distinction of being simultaneously the youngest, the largest, and the least populated of the Nine. The Dyson sphere wraps around an entire star, with a viable surface area of millions upon millions of square miles; however, only a handful actually live inside of it, clustered in a tiny settlement on the equator, where the shipyards are located.
Zeta Cygni began life as the Copernicus Research Station, built by House Tremere as part of a plan to steal some of Coruscant's market share in the small but lucrative arena of Logrus-based high-tech artifacts. They were enjoying some minor success in this field right up until the Herald Crisis, when the leadership of House Tremere revealed itself to be heavily compromised by the Outsiders.
While a coalition of other Houses under Royal authority marched against most House Tremere, the staff of the Copernicus Research Station staged a coup; composed mostly of young, idealistic researchers, they revolted against the Chief of Staff there (one of Machetos' servitors) and seized control of the entire facility. After purging it of all Outsider influence (it was discovered that there were plans to have the Second Sun lay some sort of seed in the star in the center of the sphere) they then dispatched a fleet of Logrus-powered starships, lead by the hideously overmuscled dreadnought 'Lost Boy,' to the aid House Hendrake, catching and smashing the bulk of House Tremere's conventional forces between hammer and anvil.
As a reward for their loyal service to the Kingdom in a time of great need, Ishmael enfiefed the entire sphere as a Free City. Renaming itself Zeta Cygni, after the proper name of the star it was constructed around, it has since adopted a sort of vaguely socialistic techno-utopia as its predominate cultural bias. The leadership is still mainly composed of young and somewhat idealistic-minded researchers who care more about their arcane sciences than administrative work, though they tend to be fairly effective at the latter when something important arises requiring their full attention. They produce possibly the finest spacefaring vessels in all of Chaos, and have strong diplomatic ties to the Akashan League, much to the infuriation of their former Tremere masters.
Zeta Cygni is nominally headed up by Chairman Tychoides, with its formidable starfleet commanded by Commander John Gabriel.