Akhmim, City of the Devoted
- Population: 158,000
- Ruler: Emir Suleiman ibn Salam, Imam of Imams
- Religion: Devoted
- Imports: Trade
- Exports: Trade
Akhmim is famed as being the first city built by Suleiman’s followers. Although it has lost virtually all of its political influence, it remains a site of pilgrimage for Devoted. Its reign as the most important was extremely short—the first Sultan was born in the city of Al-Wazir, and on his ascension his birthplace suddenly became the most important city in the realm. Resources set aside to expand Akhmim were diverted, and the city grew at a much reduced rate.
Located on high bluffs overlooking the estuary of the River Alar, the city proved easily defensible from land or sea. Only the side facing the river is exposed, the other three sides being surrounded by a strong stone wall flanked with many guard towers.
The river level is 100 feet below the level of the city. The bluffs form a crescent, leaving a wide area of land directly beneath the city. Located here are the docks—wharves, jetties, warehouses, customs offices, coffee houses, gambling and drinking houses (for foreigners) are crowded together to make best use of the land. Recessed into the bluffs is a small guard post, as well as cells and an armory.
Cargo is hauled up the cliffs on wooden elevators to the Upper Mercantile district. Rather than use slaves or mules, the city makes use of stone golems. Obedient and tireless, the constructs are ideally suited to this work.
From here it is loaded onto wagons and distributed to the warehouses and shops. Emir Suleiman is the first of his family to sit on the throne. The previous emir was a despot, as were his kin before him. Under his tyrannical reign taxes were high, liberties removed, and those who spoke out against him quietly vanished, never to be seen again. Even the nobles suffered, and in the end it was they who led the revolt to depose him. The emir and all those who shared his blood were publicly executed.
Without any legitimate heirs to claim the throne, the nobles could have fallen to infighting in the scramble to ascend the throne. Fearful that all the local nobility had been tainted in the eyes of the public, they took the unprecedented step of offering the throne to a commoner.
Before his ascension, Emir Suleiman served as an imam. His wisdom and understanding of the Hamad was renowned throughout the entire Sultanate, and other imams looked up to him for council in matters concerning the Law of Suleiman. A man without ambitions, Suleiman rejected the nobles’ offer. Only when the citizens beseeched him did he relent, though he did so reluctantly.
Never groomed for power, Suleiman knew nothing about the complexities of running a city, and so formed an advisory council made up of nobles, prominent businessmen, and common citizens. Though he is blessed with great wisdom and has final authority on any matter, he never acts without first consulting the council. Unfortunately, important matters are often tied up in lengthy council debates as every faction tries to ensure it profits the most, and Suleiman is unwilling to make a declaration until the council makes a united suggestion.
His most trusted wizir, Abdul-Ta’ir, frequently advises him to abolish the council, but Suleiman fears that in doing so he sets his first foot on the dark path of autocracy. A noble and just man, Suleiman is trapped between his own insecurities and what is best for the city.
Though Suleiman remains a popular leader with the citizens (corruption has been reduced, though not stamped out, and they have a voice on the council), some nobles are beginning to lament placing him in authority. Whether or not they will take any action against him remains to be seen.
Akhmim has 15 official districts. Five are primarily residential areas for lower and middle class citizens. They dominate the east, center, and southwest of the city.
Craft: The Craft District is home to the majority of the city’s craftsmen and their workshops. Old laws prohibit the craftsmen from selling goods directly from their workshops unless the wares are custom made pieces for a client (as opposed to general stock).
Docks: Lying along the wide crescent beneath the bluffs are the docks. In order to accommodate as many ships as possible, wharves jut into the river. Noise is a constant feature—visiting merchants seeking brokers, brokers touting for business, captains barking orders, street urchins hawking their services as reliable guides, beggars in search of alms, and the creak of wagons and clatter of metal rimmed wheels along the cobbles. Money is the lifeblood of Akhmim, and work is carried out at a frenetic pace. Adventurers wanting to stop and chat with locals or visitors need a good reason, or deep pockets.
Land is at a premium. The streets are barely wide enough for a single wagon, and pedestrians are regularly forced to dart into doorways to avoid being crushed by the steady flow of traffic or struck by a whip.
The four sets of wide, steep stairs leading to the main city are built in pairs—one to allow visitors up the cliff, and one to let them down. Tax collectors collect tolls at the top of the stairs, regardless of the direction one is traveling. The freight elevators are capable of lifting a fully laden wagon with weight to spare. Whereas the stairs allow direct access to the four districts directly above the bluffs—Craft, Market, Noble, and Pilgrim—the elevators lead only to the Market District.
Dune Slums: The west end of the docks is a maze of low buildings in various states of disrepair, narrow alleys, and filth. Here lies the Dune Slums, home to most of the city’s sand goblin population, plus a goodly number of beggars and other unfortunates.
Akhmimites have a saying—the Dune Slums will strip a man of his wealth faster than the Ghibli will strip him of his flesh. Crime is rampant and law enforcement minimal. For those seeking information of a less than honest nature, the slums are the place to visit. No one pays much attention to sand goblins and beggars on the streets, and thus the inhabitants hear all manner of useful gossip.
Market: By far the busiest part of the city proper during hours of daylight, the market sits between the Craft and Merchant Districts, and is accessible directly from the docks by stairs and cargo elevator.
The northern side, directly above the bluffs, comprises rows of small warehouses. These belong to the various craftsmen and shop owners. Few can afford to rent an entire warehouse, and so businessmen hire only as much space as they need for their stock.
The shopping area is divided into four key zones. The Great Souk dominates the center. To the southwest is the Greater Bazaar, which caters for high-end goods and luxuries favored by rich citizens, while the Lesser Bazaar, in the southeast, sells all manner of basic wares. Between them is the Livestock Market. Thanks to the high levels of trade, the bazaars are open every day.
Merchants: Most merchants and brokers have homes and offices to the east of the market. More salubrious than the middle class residential districts, the homes are still modest compared to those in the Noble District.
Noble: Despite its name, the district is home to all manner of wealthy citizens. Whereas the main residential districts are crowded and have narrow streets, the homes here are spacious affairs, bordered by wide, tree-lined avenues. Most houses are enclosed by a wall to afford the owners privacy and keep out undesirables.
Northside: This small fortified settlement sits on the north bank of the River Alar. It is the headquarters of the city’s navy, and houses barracks, storerooms, and workshops. The river front has wharfs, but these are reserved for naval vessels only. The only ferry across the river is located to the east, and sails across to the extreme eastern end of the main port. The ferry is operated by a windlass powered by stone golems. When not in use, the thick chain is kept slack so as not to interfere with river barges that service the numerous farming communities upriver. Ferry tolls are one dinar per leg.
Palace: The emir’s palace, a sprawling structure befitting the ruler of the first city of the Sultanate, dominates the southern central part of Akhmim. The emir’s personal living space forms only a tiny portion. Much of it is dedicated to civil and military business—bureaucratic offices, courts, the main army barracks, and such like are found within the greater compound.
Pilgrim: Akhmim caters to large numbers of pilgrims seeking spiritual enlightenment. The southwest corner of the city, directly above the bluffs, is where most of them find temporary accommodation. Strangers are commonplace, and it is easy to lose oneself in the throng.
*Warehouse: *Trade goods intended for export and imported goods waiting to be transported to the smaller warehouses in the city proper are stored here. The district is actually just a thin strip directly behind the docks.
Visitors coming here for the first time are often perplexed by the lack of buildings. In order to save space, it was decided long ago to excavate into the bluffs. Ten wide wooden doors lead to equally wide subterranean roads, facing which are the warehouses. Trade carries on around the clock, and the warehouses are rarely closed. An ideal place to keep grain dry, cool, and away from sunlight, the city granaries are also located here.
Notable City Locales
Hamal’s Stables: Were it not for a certain beast, Hamal’s establishment would be just another stable among many selling camels and mules. As it is, it is a place of great wonder. One of Hamal’s mules was born with a discoloration which looks very similar to the word Shuf. Although that raised some excitement among the family, Hamal almost died of fright when the mule spoke!
Dozens of mages and imams have inspected the mule, but can find no trace of trickery or sorcery— he mule can apparently speak. When the mule does speak, it merely recites passages from the Hamad. Many see it as an oracle. Hamal charges 2 dinars to see the mule, 5 dinars to stroke it, and 10 dinars to ask it a single question.
Rumors abound that he has turned down many offers to buy the mule, some as high as 25,000 dinars. The stable is, naturally, a target for thieves, but Hamal is not stupid—half the profits he makes are donated to the largest, and coincidentally most vicious, thieves’ guild in the city through one of their legitimate businesses. A dozen or more thieves are always part of the crowd which gathers daily around the stable, ensuring their asset is not harmed or stolen.
Suleiman’s Stone: Outside the largest kada stands a large, flat stone, a protuberance of the natural bedrock. Legend claims this is where Suleiman stood when he ordered the construction of the city, and from where he preached the Hamad. Since his death, the stone has become a pilgrimage site. Pilgrims touch the stone in the hope the spirit of Suleiman the Great will impart a solution to their problems through dreams or omens. Earlier pilgrims used to chip off pieces of the stone, but this practice has been banned for almost 400 years, and armed guards are quick to punish those who desecrate the stone.
Rather ironically, the stone has become revered as a holy site, something which goes against Suleiman’s teachings on the nature of Asha. However, touching it does offer a glimmer of hope to troubled souls, so the imams keep quiet on the subject.
The Cat’s Paw: A licensed premises selling alcohol and tabac, the Paw (as it is known) is run by Hayam bint Abbas, a Faithful follower of Tamarni. All her staff (male and female) have the Attractive Edge. Despite rumors the tavern is a front for prostitution and hashish smoking, Hayam doesn’t dabble in any illegal activities, nor does she permit them on her premises.
Hayam’s honest approach to life in the City of the Devoted masks her true occupation—she is one of the Caliph’s many spies. The relaxed surroundings and opulent fittings attract a high class clientele. A few drinks and pleasant company is normally enough to loosen tongues. Her staff are a mix of Devoted and Faithful, and have no idea of her true business.
City Walls: The city is walled on three sides, leaving the bluffs overlooking the docks open. Akhmim takes its security very seriously. Situated at each end of the docks, where the wall touches the bluffs, are two enormous square guard towers. Each of the four floors is open to the elements, supported only by sturdier corner pillars. On each floor is mounted a single ballista.
In addition to the siege engineers and loaders (non-combatants who fetch bolts from the armory under each tower), each tower houses a half-company of archers with access to an armory stocked with alchemical arrows containing blast, entangle, and fear spells. Not wishing to risk incinerating the docks, the spells have earth trappings. Sneaking up on the city by sea is difficult—each tower has two farsight jinn relics that take the form of long metal tubes with a glass lens at each end.
In the event attackers manage to land troops without their ships being blown out of the water, the bluffs are relatively easy to defend. The elevators are hauled to the top, and archers quickly summoned to target aggressors trying to scale the stairs. The latter is made more difficult by the barrels of oil stored in the guard towers.
The walls protecting the landward facing are 40 feet thick and 30 feet high. Cramped guard barracks, each capable of housing a quarter-company are built into the walls at regular intervals. Rather than risk exposing troops to enemy fire or shattering walls, a narrow tunnel runs along the entire length of the wall. Ladders provide access to the guard towers.
Eight towers watch over the city. The largest two protect the docks, as noted above. Each of the three city gates is flanked by a pair of flat roofed towers that rise 10 feet above the height of the wall. The lower level contains cauldrons for heating sand, while those above have ballistas fitted with incendiary blast bolts.
Under the old emir, citizens were forced to march toward the city in ranks while the siege engineers fired stun bolts at them to keep them at peak readiness. The practice has since been banned, though regular drills are still conducted. On the emir’s birthday, a volley of explosive bolts are fired into the air above the city.
Every battery has a stock of light bolts that produce different colors. Red signifies attackers have been sighted by land on the southern side, blue the north side, and green approaching by sea. Any of these immediately followed by a purple explosion signifies the attack is a drill, thus preventing panic on the part of ordinary citizens.
Gates: Akhmim has three gates—the Royal Gate in the west, Suleiman’s Gate in the south, and the Sea Gate in the east. Heavily fortified and well-manned, they are opened at dawn and closed at dusk. Postern gates allow the guards to let pedestrians to enter after hours without having to unlock the main gates. During the day, a small tent is erected outside each gate to shelter customs inspectors and tax collectors from the sun.
The gates sit in the center of each gate house. Portcullis can be lowered in front and behind them for added protection, and the roof contains numerous murder holes, down which hot sand can be poured (burning oil is never used, as attackers may use fire arrows to turn the defensive weapon to their advantage).
The House of Screams: Not far from the Royal Gate, in the heart of what is now a lower class residential district, stands an old, decrepit house. It look oddly out of place, not because of its poor state, but because it is far grander than its neighbors. No one is sure of its age, and few citizens care even to admit it exists. On nights of the new moon, tortured screams are heard from within. Rumors abound as to the cause. A nobleman murdered his family, an insane wizard conjured a demon, the owner’s daughter committed suicide when her father forbade her from seeing the love of her life—ask a hundred different citizens and you’ll hear a hundred different tales.
Everyone avoids the house, even at other times of the month. Mages are said to have gone mad trying to locate the source of the noise, imams have been driven out by unseen forces for daring to try and purify it, and most who enter on those dark, scream-filled nights never leave, or so the locals claim with hand on heart.
During the majority of the month the house has a sinister feel, but it is not oppressive. On nights of the new moon, characters must make a Spirit roll at –2 or suffer Fear until they vacate the premises. Several attempts were made to plunder it in the past (most of the furnishings and contents are intact), but the perpetrators were found dead the next night of the new moon, their faces frozen in a look of absolute terror. The guilds have subsequently decided it is not worth their lives.
The House of Sweet Aromas: A popular bakery and coffee house run by Mustaf and his wife Fatimah. Customers who know the right phrases can order the house special coffee (alcohol) and special warm bread (contains a smoke’s worth of tabac stuffed into a cavity). Prices are 1 dinar per coffee, and 5 dinars per loaf. Expensive, but still cheaper than buying from licensed sellers.
Jaul’s School of Magic: A serving Brother of Sinbad and close friend of Jubair (see below), Jaul has devoted his entire life to mastering a new form of magic (Ship Magic). Now well into old age, he has semi-retired from adventuring in order to pass on his accumulated wisdom.
Characters wishing to learn his new magical art—ship magic—must devote six months in study time and pay 2,000 dinars (a man has to live).
Jubair’s Ships Chandlery: Jubair’s isn’t the largest ships chandlery on the docks, nor is it the cheapest. A retired Brother of Sinbad missing his right eye, his left hand, and his right leg, Jubair attracts a loyal clientele because he always has a new fantastic story to tell. Though he is the focus of every story, very few are actually his exploits.
He quietly offers fellow Brothers a 20% discount on any stock so long as they pass on one of their adventures and keep quiet should they hear him retell it.
The Old Library: It may not be the largest library in the Sultanate, but the collection of scrolls and manuscripts is aptly named. The library is well-stocked, but notoriously hard to use. Rather than grouping the contents by subject or author, records are stored in sections based on the ruling emir at the time they were written.
Unless you have at least a rough date, finding a specific text can take days. Even the librarians have difficulty, but they refuse to break with tradition.
Suleiman’s Kada: While undoubtedly the oldest kada in Akhmim, the modern building dates from a century and more after Suleiman’s death. It does stand on the spot the first kada in the Sultanate was built, though, so its name is not entirely undeserving. It is also one of the smallest kadas in the city, capable of holding just 100 souls. Many Devoted consider it to be the exact spiritual center of the Sultanate.
The interior walls have four large niches, one facing each cardinal point. Above each one is the name of one of the four major jinn—ifrit in the north, khamsin in the south, majin in the west, and marid in the east. Local tradition says Suleiman would sit in these and meditate on the nature of reality. That may not be true, but sitting in them does induce feelings of spiritual wellbeing. Any Devoted who sits in one and quietly meditates for an hour may make a Spirit roll at –2. With success, he may remove one level of Fatigue from any source, and two with a raise. If he has multiple levels from different sources, he chooses which one to remove. This may be attempted only once every 24 hours.
The Tunnels: The warehouses aren’t the only excavations beneath the city. Aside from the sewers, which emerge downstream, not far from the Dune Slum, there are passages cut by thieves. Some of these extend as far down as the warehouses, but most link stretches of sewer together. At the far end of one of the warehouse avenues, at a point some 100 yards after the last warehouse entrance, is a set of large stone doors. Their great handles are tightly bound with thick chains. No soldiers guard it and no magic wards it, but no one ever goes beyond it. Most citizens don’t even know it exists.
University of All Faiths: The population of Akhmim may be staunchly Devoted, but even the most devout emirs saw wisdom in promoting deeper understanding of the Caliphate as a means of bolstering trade links. The university teaches courses covering the tenets of both major creeds. Half the faculty are clerics of Qedeshet. Skills: Knowledge (Religion).
University of Legal Studies: The university’s introductory course covers laws common to most civilized realms, with advanced courses going into specific nuances. It is famed across the Sultanate for being the leading university in instruction in the legal aspects of the Hamad. Many of the city’s imams were educated here (after schooling at the University of All Faiths), as are those in other cities who hold higher office. Skills: Knowledge (Law); Edges: Imam.
Locals Near the City
Akhmim governs a number of small agricultural towns and villages along much of the River Alar, as well as dozens of small farmsteads. Cavalry patrols have recently reported that several smaller farms have been abandoned. Crops still lie in the fields, but the residents have vanished without taking any of their belongings. The only clue is the mysterious holes found in the ground near each farm. More worrying, perhaps, the holes have been cut through the rock from below. No one has yet been brave enough to explore one.
Tower of Morning
Located at the mouth of the estuary is a tall lighthouse. The blazing light that fills the sky from dusk to dawn is created by a greater ifrit bound into service by Suleiman. During the day (except when there is fog), the jinni is largely free to do what it wants.
Bored by centuries of mindless work, it has developed a taste for strong alcohol, hashish, and tabac. Unable to leave the confines of the tower, it pays double the usual cost for its earthly pleasures. Quite where it gets its seemingly unlimited supply of gold is a mystery to those brave or crooked enough to run errands for it.