Gold like the sun, reflection dancing like gems in the sea - ah, our city is beautiful!
— Shiari citizen
  Masdarat is the capital city of Shiar and the western city of the four Shiari cardinal cities. It presides over the Sea of Souls, known locally as the Inner Sea of Paiyu'um, which provides much of the city's drinking water alongside the artificial river Tahatum that adjoins to the waters flowing down from the sands of Areshket.   In peaceful times, Masdarat has often been compared favourably to both Aletheia and Fyrneistur, the capitals of the Aletheian Empire and Gildómar respectively, as a gleaming jewel of a city - a true gem of the South to be proud of. Masdarat is not quite the size of Aletheia, but dwarfs the Dwarven homelands in sheer scale (though Gildóns might point out that this is because a large majority of their capital is, in fact, unmeasurable and underground).


Masdarat Streets by Hanhula (via Midjourney)

The gleaming spires of Masdarat's many towers jut up across the sky in gleaming gold and brilliant gemstones, often painted lapis blue or tiled with bright, colourful tiles made locally in Shiar.   These buildings serve as needed pillars of law, trade, and residence, granting mass living spaces to keep the poor or homeless off the streets and serving as concentrated business districts for those interested in things not traded at markets.   At the tower's feet lie many more buildings, stacked high like dominos, their balconies overlooking the busy city streets and full of distant sounds of trade.  

The Heavenly Residence

By far the tallest spires, however, belong to the Divine Queen Asfiya's palace. Built atop a small cliff, the Heavenly Residence is home to the Queen and Her family. It overlooks the entire rest of the city and is treated as the centre of Shiari worship, with daily prayer rituals expecting their practitioners to turn and face the palace to look upon their Queen.   The general public are not allowed in, as a rule - those seeking the Queen's aid must instead seek Her succor at the Sinner's Scales, from where She also gives speeches and announcements.

The Markets

Located to the south of the river and well upstream and upwind of the craft district, Masdarat's markets are legendary, and span an enormous area. Around verdant trees and vistas cluster hundreds of bustling markets selling local produce and crafts, offering magical talent, and practicing religious ceremonies. Many activities take place in the Market Plaza, and on festival days, the stalls practically gleam with the festival-themed offerings on display.   The advent of Gaia's Lament has proven greatly damaging to the markets, as the Queen has forbidden any food or drink to be sold in the stalls. Instead, those with produce must sell it directly to the state - at rates highly competitive, if not better, than those at the market, for fair redistribution as a preventative measure against famine. Though this has somewhat reduced the amount of stalls in the market each day, the extra coin flowing through has proved greatly encouraging to Shiar's tradespeople.  
Markets of Masdarat by Hanhula (via Midjourney)

The Divine Halls of Education

Shiar is a land of knowledge, and Masdarat is not shy about advertising this. The university, known locally as the Divine Halls and abroad as the University of Masdarat, offers expansive studies in a broad number of fields from economics and law to the intricacies of divine and arcane magic and the study of the cosmos themselves.   The Queen herself attended the Halls during her youth, and Her daughter is a current graduate student in politics and magic, already holding certifications in economic theory and natural magical phenomena.  

The Central Plaza

Stretching out just a short distance from the Sinner's Scales is the immense Central Plaza, a plaza full of trees and space to stretch out. Areas of grass are spread around the central stone area, with a few cornerstone pavilions for rainy days.   When the Queen makes an announcement, it is here that Her subjects gather to listen - and when a festival is being held, it is here that the party is greatest!   Notably, this is also the area newcomers to the city are ushered to first. They may enter from any point - by sea, river, air, road, or even airship if the route from other Shiari cities is operating - but invariably, the guards will usher them to the central plaza to get their bearings unless they know precisely where they wish to go.   The plaza is essentially the gateway to the rest of the city with its paths stretching in every direction, and visitors are least likely to get lost if they remain on one of those paths. Not to mention - the plaza itself has a number of people willing to serve as guides if offered coin, though the advent of Gaia's Lament has somewhat diminished this.  

Fountain in the Central Plaza by Hanhula (via Midjourney)

Guilds and Factions

It's busy in business.
— Shiari merchant

Mercantile and Crafts

Though the Cult of the Divine Queen is evidently dominant through Shiar and particularly Masdarat, the existence of one uniting religion (no less one that encourages individual worship of other deities) does not prevent a variety of guilds, factions, and even rebellions from sprouting up - though the latter are rare and quickly excised. Merchant guilds are the most common, their network of trade extending well beyond the borders of Shiar - indeed, a number of mercantile presences in Masdarat originate from overseas and simply set up southern expansion posts across Takawaoku.   The outer north of the city, close to both the river and the inner sea, is the favoured domain of crafters and tradespeople. Magic item workshops send up ribbons of prismatic smoke at all hours of the day, the sweet smells mixing bizarrely with the thick odour of leather and sweat from the tanneries close by. The merchant guilds work closely with trade guilds, ferrying their finished works to markets and ensuring the eyes of those high-up in Shiari esteem - or in foreign interest - see the very finest of Masdari wares, and indeed those from across Shiar.  

Political Factions

The Sinner's Scales in Masdarat by Hanhula (via Midjourney)
Politically, however, is a different story. The factions of Shiari politics are complex and the web intricately entwined with the distribution of power - not just political power, but magical and physical strength as well.   Powerful individuals will always find themselves a place in Shiar's politics - whether it is as one who holds their own weight and sway, or as a pawn to be used by those more skilled in the game. The smartest are the ones that know this, and work around it.
  Factions include those more inclined to use magic for progress over providing, those seeking to expand Shiar's borders, those focused on the natural world, and those who are wary of angering the gods. Fully quantifying or labelling these factions, as some nations elsewhere do, is challenging as there is little cohesion between them, and the borders blend and blur often.   The Divine Queen encourages political discourse and actively listens to those that prove themselves worthy of her ear - thus sending those with power into a frenzy every time something significant happens to which they respond. The latest crisis, Gaia's Lament, resulted in a large shift in the political balance of power, and the Queen's own actions have directly brought her daughter, Holy Princess Chandna of Shiar, into the spotlight for the first time in the young woman's life.
Gates to the University of Masdarat by Hanhula (via Midjourney)
Alternative Name(s)
the Jewel of the South, the Heart of Shiar
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Sinner's Folly

Before places like the Blasphemer's Walk and the SInner's Scales come into view as more than blurs on the horizon, the gates of Masdarat have a rather horrifying view for those entering by land.   Those who have sinned and lost their lives for it, particularly those slain by the Queen's Angels before even setting foot in a court of law, are not buried.   Rather, their bodies are impaled on golden spires and arranged in a gruesome wall around the city, their blood draining into the wild earth around them.   It is considered a warning to visitors - obey the Queen's will, or suffer the sinner's folly.
Trade District of Masdarat by Hanhula (via Midjourney)
Masdarat, the city of a thousand delights - if you can bear the restrictions on enjoying them!
— visitor

Cover image: Masdarat by Hanhula (via Midjourney)


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