Welcome Back to the Labyrinth

"We have been away far too long, my friends," Ashoka declared, his face lit by the eldritch green glow of his staff. "But we have finally returned to the labyrinth whence our adventures first began."

"Just imagine the treasures that lie within," said Yun Tai, flexing his mighty muscles. "Wealth enough to live in luxury the rest of our days."

"And arcane artifacts of great power," added Ashoka his words dripping with avarice. "All ours for the taking!"

"Umm...guys?" Nysa interrupted. "Do you hear something dripping?"

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Noble Houses of Catapesh

In the wake of the Dolrathan invasion, most of the Rhajani nobles were put to the sword and supplanted by the Dolrathan Great Houses: Toronescu, Dragomere, and Zuul.  The sole exception to the destruction of the Rhajani noble houses is House Bashir, whose scions have retained their rank, power, and influence to this day.  This has led to no small amount of speculation as to why this one Rhajani house was spared when all the others were cast down.  Popular rumour holds that Bashir troops opened the city gates to the armies of the Overlord and were suitably rewarded by the  new regime, but the truth of the matter may never come to light.

While the nobles of House Bashir occupy the highest echelons of Catapeshan society, rubbing elbows with invaders, many native Rhajani, who are treated as second-class citizens, regard them as traitors to their own people.  Nor is Bashir well-respected by the Dolrathan noble houses, who consider it to be a house of jumped-up peasants.  Nonetheless, Bashir is an influential house with a long tenure and deep roots in Catapesh.  While the ostensible source of its wealth comes from textiles, its true power lies in its extensive information networks within the city and there is little that transpires in Catapesh that does not make its way to Bashir informers.  It is even said that Bashir exerts considerable influence over, if not outright control of, the thieves guild.  Bashir has dwelt so long in Catapesh that it has become inextricably intwined in the social fabric of the city.  They know where the skeletons are buried and they aren't afraid to use this knowledge to their advantage.  Thus, despite their poor reputation, and relatively lesser wealth, Bashir is probably the most powerful of the great houses.  Evidence of this lies in the fact that lord Omar Bashir is the current Vizier of Catapesh, and oversees the governance of the city in the name of the Overlord.  The sigil of house Bashir is a loom, which is an overt symbol their textile monopoly, but also a subtle reminder that they weave intricate designs in the tapestry of Catapeshan society.

House Dragomere forged its house through strength of arms.  The late patriarch, Zoran Dragomere, was a warlord in the Dolrathan host who distinguished himself repeatedly in wars of conquest, and who personally led the assault on the walls of Catapesh.  When the city fell to the invaders, Dragomere was elevated to the nobility, and became the Overlord's first Vizier.  The years of Zoran Dragomere's tenure as Vizier were marked by brutal and ruthless pacification of the native population who, he felt, needed to be ruled with an iron fist.  So effective was Dragomere at crushing all resistance, that the iron fist became the sigil of his house.  The current Lord Dragomere, Zoran's grandson, Zoltan, has built upon the strengths of his house.  Dragomere boasts the greatest host of fighting troops of all the great houses.  Dragomere also controls the city guard and the armsman's guild, and both the Overlord's elite Invincibles and the Barrow Wardens are led by officers of the Dragomere family.

House Torenescu's power stems from the sea.  Two centuries ago, Antonin Torenescu sailed across the Sonorous Sea to the uncharted shores of the dark continent and returned with a fortune in exotic hardwoods, spices and gold.  He parlayed this stake into a large merchant fleet, which has come to monopolize the sea trade along the west coast of Lemuria.  In addition to its merchant fleet, fishing vessels and war galleys, House Torenescu controls the longshoreman's guild in Catapesh, and owns warehouses in every coastal city.  Torenescu earned the Overlord's favour during the siege of Catapesh by blockading the entrance to the harbour, cutting off the city's sea-borne reinforcements and supplies, and ultimately ensured its capitulation.

Jealous of Torenescu's wealth from across the sea, many other great houses and trade consortia have dispatched expeditions to the bleak shores of the dark continent.  All have met with disaster.  Some are turned back back fierce storms, others by terrible creatures from the deep, while others disappear without a trace.  Many folk whisper that Antonin Toronescu forged a dark pact with the primordial powers that dwell, still, on the dark continent, trading his soul for the rise of his family's fortune.  Still others claim that there was good cause for Toronescu to claim the kraken as its sigil.

The House of Zuul has also made its fortune through commerce, though of a less savoury nature: it controls the slave trade and the slave market of Catapesh is the hub of human trafficking in Lemuria.  After the fall of Catapesh, Zuul supplied the manpower, however unwilling, that rebuilt the city's infrastructure, and was rewarded by the Overlord with a seat on the ruling council.  Zuul has long-standing business ties with Atlantis, supplying their constant demand for human slaves.  The scions of Zuul seem to number more than their share of sorcerers who, it is rumoured, study the necromantic arts under the tutelage of Atlantean adepts.  In addition to controlling the slave trade, Zuul has controlling interest in the mason's guild and owns many of Catapesh's brothels.

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