Etrauch City

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Population: 100,000+
Trade: Information, mineral water, modern weaponry, flax
Official: Lord-Mayor Othas Craxmullen III

Often called "Malcoven's sister city," Etrauch is the second-largest settlement in the sunless region of Balthazor. The city began centuries ago as a convenient stopover for traders moving between the western edge of the Thermish mountains and the fledgling town of Maldrán's Covenant (since shortened). Over time, the "wagon-town" began to attract permanent settlers, who built sod huts and crude wooden shacks. The east-west trade route eventually became a faint road, and a second route (northeast-southwest) was added, the crossroad running by what unofficially became known as "Crossmoot."

Crossmoot grew steadily, its dwellings becoming more stable and enduring as the years passed. By the mid-800s UY, its population had reached a hundred, including a woodsman named Voss Etrauch. Etrauch was known for two things: his acute night vision, and his uncanny skill with a quarterstaff. (Historians suspect he had elven blood somewhere in his ancestry.) The man's level-headed suggestions earned him more than one offer to take position as village elder, but he declined each time.

By the late 800s, Crossmoot had doubled in size, and had come to the attention of the then-Archmage, Horenz Dralaman, as a candidate for regional protection... and taxation. Within a few weeks, representatives were sent to Crossmoot to officially demand back taxes for the last two decades. The townsfolk were resistant, of course, and refused to pay. Dralaman's men became aggressive, and the Crossers responded in kind.

When the scuffle ended, the archmage's men had fled, and Voss Etrauch stood at the forefront of the victorious townsfolk. Over the next year, Dralaman sent more men, but each time they were driven off by the citizens of Crossmoot, led by Etrauch. Finally, Dralaman was forced to reconsider his tactics.

The next group of representatives came bearing a coffer of gold and a compromise: in exchange for a large sum of money and no back taxation, Crossmoot would become a sovereign town of Balthazor. Negotiations went on for half a week before final terms were reached: in addition to the gold, no back taxes, and the erection of a town hall at Dralaman's expense, Crossmoot would fully join the region, but Voss Etrauch would leave to join the Balthazor High Guard. It was this last stipulation that cemented the agreement, much to the dismay of the townsfolk. Still, their local hero had saved them from any further attacks, and his departure was a grand affair.

Five months after his departure, an attempt was made on Archmage Horenz Dralaman's life - an attempt foiled by one Voss Etrauch. Sadly, the poisoned arrow meant for the archmage found Etrauch's shoulder, and he died three days later. Again, representatives came to Crossmoot, this time with a cast-iron statue of the fallen hero, to be placed in front of the town hall. By the time they departed, the citizens of Crossmoot had unanimously chosen to rename their town after the man who'd saved them all from so much, and in time, the renamed Etrauchmoot became Etrauch City.

In the centuries since, the city flourished and grew, building stone walls and then expanding past them thrice, with the centermost part of the city housing the prison, the Great Hall, and the Voss Etrauch Memorial. The original statue still stands, though it's been placed on a five-foot-tall stone dais, the whole thing magicked to cause horrible pain to any who would disturb it. Also located in the city is the Grand Repository, the largest library in Balthazor (and one of the two largest in the Empire). Located in the second tier of the city, the Repository holds countless shelves of books, scrolls, and rubbings that date back into the mid-200s UY, with a rumored "underlevel" of texts dating back to the Lightless Age. Of note is the sizable Necromantic Wing, considered the definitive source for that branch of magic.

Balthazoran Archmagi throughout the years have tried to have the Necromantic Wing's contents moved to Malcoven, but an old by-law in the Etrauchi books from the days of Horenz Dralaman states, "That whitch belongs to the Moot shall remayn without Question, unless the Towne allow it otherways." Attempts to contest this law have always resulted in the old archmage leaving power (i.e. being replaced) before the lengthy appeal process is resolved. As of this writing, the High Court of Balthazor is still deliberating the current attempt.

The city is well known for its proximity to bubbling springs, which in generations past were used for bathing, but in the last century and a half have been sealed in kegs and exported to all corners of the Empire. Bathing in the mineral springs now (or tampering with them in any way) is a grave offense -- minimum punishment is a fine, as well as the owning bottler's symbol being burnt into the left calf of the offender. Etrauchi "sizzlewater" (or "sizz") commands a good price across the Empire, especially in Thermador (where water's a commodity, regardless). It's primarily used as a beverage (usually plain, though some mix it with citrus juices or hard liquor), but the rich have been known to use enough to bathe in for "special occasions."

Outside the city are fields of flax, another major industry; Malcoven in particular uses almost half of the Etrauchi flax harvest each year. Etrauch City stays competitive in the field of weapon technology as well, producing stout crossbows to arm its militia and to sell elsewhere (again, Malcoven is responsible for a third of the annual purchases). In centuries past, the city also dealt in wood from the nearby Crovas Forest, but reckless lumbering practices by Malcoven and Etrauch City reduced the Crovas by a third of its original size, and it was agreed by both cities to allow the forest time to replenish its trees. ("Agreed by both cities" means, in this case, that they were forced to stop by a small but very capable circle of druids. Calling themselves the "Black Bastion," the Crovas-based circle made it clear to the woodsmen that no further lumbering would be permitted in the Crovas. After nine woodsmen were found impaled on still-living branches, necromancers were called in to deal with the druids. After four were found shredded by wild animals, Malcoven sent thirty torchmen to burn the druids out. Three survived, two badly scarred by their own flames, while the third lost his right leg to a bear. The official decree is that Balthazor has chosen to leave the Crovas Forest as a breeding ground for wild game and a potential source of lumber (should relations with nearby Arboria grow sour), but unofficially, both cities had decided that twoscore men dead was enough reason to leave the Crovas and the Black Bastion alone.)

The city has no school of magic, but numerous clandestine tutors are available to teach budding wizards any of the Base Magics of the Empire (even Vivomancy), though non-Necromantic magics are always secretly taught. There are two "mundane" schools: Etrauch College (known for teaching the basics of reading, math, and history), and Khol University (which, in addition to the basics, focuses more on alchemy, herbalism, and the performing arts). Tuition fees are high for education in the city, but many are willing to put themselves heavily in debt in exchange for knowledge.

The last "industry" in the city is one not easily measured in terms of raw numbers: information. Sometimes called "Darklore City," Etrauch is a haven for gossip, rumor, and secrets, and they're all for sale. Malcoven draws tourists because of its size; "Darklore" draws them for information that can't legally be obtained.

Small wonder, then, that a city of this size would attract a high criminal element. With its ready flow of information and placement along both major Balthazair trade routes, the city is rife with thieves, smugglers, and hired killers. It's suspected that there are at least six separate criminal guilds in the city, each with well-staked territory, though they rarely come to blows. In truth, there is only one crime syndicate in Etrauch, but it is split into six parts for easier management. Calling themselves The Sons of Voss, they've managed to completely integrate themselves into Etrauchi society, including business, trade, and the upper class. Few know of the truth, and those in the know who aren't part of the Sons tend to keep the information to themselves, lest they be found dead from one of many different methods (if they're found at all). In addition, there are numerous freelancers operating in the city, most notably the alleged assassin Alkath Morr. Never convicted, Morr is rumored to have slain over two dozen well-known targets, including Luminath hero Dran Mardellus and the necromancer Kryan Craxmullen (niece of the Lord-Mayor and one of his advisors).

Alkath Morr has killed more than two dozen men, by far. He operates primarily out of Etrauch, but will travel if enough incentive is provided. Morr is known (among those who know) as a man who will accept any job as long as his fee is met, and will make it as clean or as messy as the client requires. As far as anyone knows, he's never failed in an assassination. For reasons unknown, Morr is the only freelancer tolerated by the Sons of Voss, who normally recruit or hunt down anyone not of their order.

Unlike most Balthazoran cities, Etrauch has few undead citizens. Most Ashmen are simple animate skeletons used for menial tasks outside the public view -- humans are the preferred servant here. A handful of self-willed Risen make their homes here, but only those who can pass for living are truly accepted.This is a holdover from the days of Crossmoot, when the practice of accepting the undead was seen as abhorrent to those early citizens. The Etrauch City Guard is entirely human - not just living, but human. Dwarves, elves, seleventi, and even half-humans are barred from serving in the guard.

There's no doubt that Malcoven is "The Shining Jewel in Balthazor's Lightless Crown," but its sister city has its own allure, and its own perils.