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Dozens of languages are spoken in the known world, from the Common Tongue of Westeros to the mysterious speech known as Assha’i, one of the Shadow Tongues from the edge of the world. These languages have descended from other, more ancient forms of speech such as the Old Tongue of Westeros, the ancient language of the Great Empire of the Dawn and High Valyrian.
Descent of Languages
Maesters theorise the existence of one original human language (“Proto-Mannish” in some unimaginative studies), spoken by all men and women before a diaspora spread them across all the known world (and perhaps to lands as yet unknown beyond the borders of our maps). Our earliest records suggest, however, that all modern speech descends from seven base language groups derived from this original mother tongue.
The Old Tongue was the language of the First Men, spoken in their original tribal homelands in what are now believed to be the Disputed Lands and the lower Rhoyne. The First Men carried the Old Tongue to Westeros, but those who remained behind are believed to have continued speaking it. The Old Tongue diverged over millennia, but maesters believe it may be the ancestral mother tongue of both the Andal and Rhoynar languages, which developed in succeeding millennia.
Sarnori was the speech of the ancient empire of Sarnor which extended across much of what is now the Dothraki Sea. The Sarnori tongue may have influenced surrounding languages, most notably Ibbish, ancient proto-Dothraki and Lhazareen.
Old Ghiscari was the language of the Ghiscari Empire. The language was widely spoken until the final defeat and sack of Old Ghis by the Valyrian Freehold. Knowledge of the language was banned and the vassal Ghiscari cities were forced to speak High Valyrian. However, even the passage of thousands of years could not completely extinguish knowledge of the tongue, and it seems to have continued to be spoken in secret and in remote regions as well as influencing naming conventions (which even at the height of the Freehold seem to have differed in Slaver’s Bay from Valyria proper). Since the Doom of Valyria, the cities of Slaver’s Bay and New Ghis have developed a hybrid tongue consisting of High Valyrian and Ghiscari words which have survived.
High Valyrian is the most recent of the base languages, apparently developing in isolation at the tip of the Valyrian Peninsular (although some have cited evidence of language influences from the Old Tongue, Rhoynish and Ghiscari, but this is debatable). When the Valyrian Freehold began its expansion across the known world, they carried the language to all corners of Essos, sometimes subsuming local tongues, at other times tolerating them. High Valyrian is the mother tongue of most languages spoken in western Essos today.
Qaathi was the language of the people of the same name, who lived on the Grasslands east and south of Sarnor. They were displaced by Sarnor to south of the Skahazadhan, where they became the forerunners of the modern Qartheen, with Qaathi likely being the mother tongue of the modern language of Qarth and its vassal holdings.
Ancient YiTish was the language of the Great Empire of the Dawn and influenced the languages of all the surrounding lands and successor states. Modern YiTish (and the Lengese off-shoot dialect), Hyrkoonish and the islands of the Jade Sea likely had their tongues influenced by this ancient tongue as well, and possibly the Jogos Nhai as well.
The Shadow Tongues or Ancient Asshai’i are the languages hailing from the uttermost east. Little is known of these languages, as the natives of Asshai and the Shadow do not teach their tongue to anyone who does not swear loyalty to their unknown causes. According to some travellers, the Asshai’i and related languages descend from the tongue of the unknown and possibly pre-human people who founded Asshai in time immemorial, leaving behind strange markings on oily black stones. However, this is considered fanciful at best by the learned.
Modern Languages of Essos
The dominant and most widely-spoken language in the known world is probably Low Valyrian, sometimes called Bastard Valyrian. This language is derived from High Valyrian, but combined with local variants, dialects and influence from surrounding areas. Low Valyrian is a language slowly fragmenting into lesser tongues, so in a thousand years each of the Free Cities may be speaking a different tongue altogether, but for now the languages are mutually intelligible. This language grouping is spoken in the Free Cities, the Stepstones, the Lands of the Long Summer and Slaver’s Bay, as well as at Morosh (the colony-city of Lorath, located at the mouth of the Sarne).
The Slaver’s Bay variant of Valyrian, particularly that spoken in Meereen, Astapor and Yunkai, shows a very strong Ghiscari influence.
Another major language grouping is YiTish, spoken in the Golden Empire of Yi Ti, with an offshoot variant spoken on the offshore island of Leng (resulting from an ancient invasion and occupation of Leng by its mainland neighbour). This language’s influence extends to the borderlands of the Jogos Nhai, who speak their own tongue (possibly derived from Ancient YiTish, when the Great Empire ruled all of the plains as well as the modern imperial heartland), and north-eastwards towards Nefer and N’Ghai, whose own tongue is also likely descended from Ancient YiTish.
Hyrkoonish is spoken in the mountain cities of Kayakayanaya, Samyriana and Bayasabhad, the remains of the ancient Patrimony of Hyrkoon which emerged from the Long Night and the collapse of the Great Empire, so its tongue derived from Ancient YiTish but has developed in a different direction.
Dothraki is surprisingly widely-spoken, due to Vaes Dothrak’s development into an unofficial trade centre between the lands of east and west and the Dothraki’s wide-ranging khalasars bringing knowledge of the tongue to all the lands from the Narrow Sea to the Bones and from the Shivering Sea to Slaver’s Bay. The language is believed to have been derived from ancient Sarnori, who dominated the Grasslands ere the Doom and the Dothraki’s rise to power in the Bleeding Years.
Modern Sarnori, the direct descendant of the ancient tongue, is spoken today only in the city of Saath, sole surviving remnant of the ancient Sarnori empire. Only twenty thousand now speak a language that was once spoken by millions.
Qartheen is the language spoken in Qarth and by its vassal cities, Port Yhos and Qarkash, as well as in the smaller trade towns and villages located along the coast of the Jade Gates. The language is also widely spoken along the coasts of Great Moraq, where Qartheen traders frequently put in for resupply. The language is derived from ancient Qaathi.
Lhazareen is spoken in the nation of Lhazar. The language is believed to have derived most directly from Sarnori, but over the millennia strong Valyrian, Ghiscari, Qaathi and, more latterly, Dothraki, influences have come to play a role.
Ibbish is spoken on Ib and its vassal states, including Far Ib and the colony of New Ibbish. Ibbish is not believed to have a human progenitor tongue (some maesters believe that the Ibbish are a related but different species, others believe that they are a hybrid race resulting from a union between humans and a vanished non-human people).
The Summer Tongue and the possibly-related Naathi are spoken on the islands of those names. The origin of these tongues is less clear, given the geographic isolation of the islands.
Asshai’i and the Shadow Tongues are spoken in and around Asshai and the Shadow Lands. Allegedly, these languages hold great magical power and this is why knowledge of these tongues is carefully guarded by those who speak them. The Citadel is of the opinion that this is simple superstitious nonsense.
Many other languages are spoken in the east, although not widely and their origins are highly disputed. These include the languages spoken in the Basilisk Isles, which are a hodgepodge of every tongue in the known world, and on the islands of the Jade Sea, which exhibit both unique characteristics and strong influences from Qarth, Yi Ti and possibly Asshai.
Languages of Westeros
The Seven Kingdoms of Westeros span some three thousand miles from the Wall to the south coast of Dorne, incorporating numerous offshore islands and a mixed religious and cultural heritage, with the influence of the First Men and the old gods of the forest being strong in the North and the descent of the Andals and the Faith of the Seven dominating the rest of the continent. However, despite numerous regional accents, one language holds sway over the entire nation, the Common Tongue, also called Westerosi by outsiders, and has done for many centuries. The language has evolved and changed in that time of course, but the changes have occurred across the entire landmass, more or less in step with one another.
This is highly unusual given how language drift can be observed occurring on a smaller distance and timescale in Essos: the unified language of the Valyrian Freehold beginning to fragment (after only four centuries) into regional dialects which are likely the prototypes for future separate Braavosi, Tyroshi, Volantene and Meereenese languages (amongst others). However, Westeros has some distinctive elements which help explain why such language drift has not occurred.
The first language spoken in Westeros was the True Tongue of the Children of the Forest, the language of earth, forest and sky. The First Men invaded Westeros across the Arm of Dorne, by tradition, some twelve thousand years ago and brought with them the Old Tongue. The Children and the First Men fought one another to a standstill, although it took the sinking of the Arm of Dorne and the flooding of the Neck (both, allegedly, by magic) to do so. The Pact was agreed on the Isle of Faces and the Children and the First Men learned to live together in peace. The First Men abandoned their ancient rituals and took up the worship of the old gods of the forest.
How close the relationship between the First Men and the Children was seems to vary according to the account, but it seems at least that some men were trained by the Children in their religious ways, becoming the Green Men. It is likely that there was some language interchange at this time, and some elements of the True Tongue may have entered the Old Tongue. Records are spotty because the Old Tongue was not written down on paper or in books, but instead inscribed as runes on rock. The lack of easy written communication probably led to a great divergence of languages during the period (lasting between two and four millennia) between the swearing of the Pact and the onset of the Long Night.
The Long Night and the War for the Dawn were a catastrophe unprecedented in Westeros. It is theorised that a large proportion of the population of the continent was wiped out during the winter that lasted a generation and the resulting famine that ravaged the lands. Stories of invading “Others” riding ice-spiders can be discounted as a fancy, but may relate to an ancient conflict for resources that resulted in the splitting of the original wildlings from the First Men of the North. Although Westeros recovered after the Long Night, it seems to have been a long process.
During this period it is believed that the Hightowers arose to power, raised the foundations of what became the High Tower and the city of Oldtown, and allowed the founding of the Citadel and the order of maesters. The precise dating of this is unclear and may be lost to legend, but it seems to have predated the Andal invasion by at least centuries.
The Andal invasion, when it came, was absolute and devastating for the native cultures of Westeros. The South was subdued, although the North resisted successfully, and the Andals imposed their technology (including the working of iron and the riding of horses in battle), their religion (the Faith of the Seven) and their language upon the conquered nation. This unifying event seems to have begun the unification of Westeros’s language into one cohesive tongue.
The language that that the Andals brought with them is given various names, but most simply it was the direct ancestor of modern Westerosi, the Common Tongue of the Seven Kingdoms. The Old Tongue was apparently proscribed and disappeared in a surprisingly short period of time, as the language of the superstitious First Men whose primitive religion was no longer tolerated. Whilst a determined – and evidently successful – effort to wipe out the Old Tongue is possible as an explanation for this, it is not entirely convincing. The Andals lacked the numbers to impose their will on the First Men completely by force of arms, and their invasion was mainly achieved by local military victories followed by winning the loyalty of the native First Men population and turning them against their neighbours (who’d often been their enemies for centuries or millennia anyway). The relative ease with which the southrons abandoned the old gods suggests that perhaps of the worship of the old gods was waning anyway, with the Children having disappeared centuries earlier, and the people were eager for a different religion with more comprehensible rules and comforting rituals.
In terms of language, the answer may be simpler still: the Old Tongue appears to have been a harsh and guttural mode of speech, with a relatively limited lexicon and unimaginative naming conventions (Skagos as “land of stone”, for example, or Magnar, “lord”, being used as a title, a name or both). Its primitiveness was an asset when scratching runes into slate or rocks, but limiting when it came to the development and spreading of ideas across distances. This may also explain the relatively slow development of the First Men compared to the more dynamic technological development occurring with the Andals and Rhoynar, among others, in Essos The Andalese language was simply much more sophisticated, capable of transmitting far more information. The Andals also brought with them the art of writing with ink and parchment, and the earliest books and scrolls in Westeros date from this time.
The spread of the Common Tongue across the continent of Westeros can thence be explained as a combination of several factors: the fact that the language was far more sophisticated and useful as a mode of communications; its status as the official language of the Faith of the Seven, which was undergoing a huge surge in popularity; and its adoption by the maesters of the Citadel.
This last part is likely key. Every lord in Westeros, even in the North, had by this time adopted a maester to provide advice, act as a conduit for communication (via the Citadel’s famously effective network of messenger ravens) and tutor their children, and sometimes other members of their household. The result was a continent-spanning network at the highest level of information exchange, all using the same language.
This is how the languages of Westeros were homogenised from the top down. It is possible that local and regional variations still occurred, possibly enough in isolated areas to start moving towards a completely different language (such as on Skagos), but the rule of law and methods of communication were imposed by the nobility who were linked, even across different kingdoms and regions, by their shared religion (apart from in the North, aside from a couple of toeholds) and, more decisively, by the communication and education skills of the maesters. This situation remained unchanged until the Rhoynar arrived in force in Dorne. Although the Rhoynar learned the Common Tongue, some Rhoynish terms and accent influences seeped into the Dornish people, giving them a distinct dialect from the rest of the continent, although the shared religion and influence of the maesters prevented too much language drift.
The final unification of the languages of the Seven Kingdoms took place when the Targaryens invaded and unified the continent under the Conqueror. Despite their Valyrian heritage, the Targaryens adopted the Faith of the Seven, the practice of using maesters and the language of Westeros with enthusiasm. Apart from some of the more remote wildling tribes, one language took hold from the Summer Sea to far beyond the Wall, and this remains the case today.
After a brief hiatus, our exploration of the geography of Steven Erikson and Ian Esslemont’s Malazan world continues.
Genabackis is a relatively narrow, long continent extending for thousands of miles from north to south, with a single large peninsula extending eastwards at the southern end of the landmass. The northern end of the continent was once covered by immense glaciers which have since retreated, leaving behind a landscape of frozen rivers and countless lakes. Traditionally Genabackis has been a land of city-states and tribal groupings, with large empires and nations relatively unknown for most of its history.
Genabackis is located east of Seven Cities, across Seeker’s Deep (known in Genabackis as the Meningalle Ocean); north-east of Quon Tali and Korelri, across the Reacher’s Ocean; north of Assail, across the Rivan Sea; and far to the north-west of Lether and the far western coast of Seven Cities, across the Rust and Domain Oceans.
In ancient times, Genabackis saw mighty battles rage between the Jaghut, who had many redoubts on the continent, and the T’lan Imass. One of the most powerful and formidable of the Jaghut Tyrants, Raest, dwelt on this continent and exerted a reign of terror so devastating that other Jaghut allied with T’lan Imass to overthrow him. He was too powerful to be destroyed, so he was imprisoned by sorcery under the Gadrobi Hills of central Genabackis.
Numerous other wars between the Jaghut and Imass followed, until all of the Jaghut of Genabackis had (apparently) been utterly destroyed. The retreat of the glaciers from Genabackis (aside from the naturally-occurring ones at the far northern end of the continent) suggests that the Imass were more successful in their genocide of the Jaghut species on this continent than on Lether or Quon Tali, where many areas of impassable ice remain.
Even before the time of the Imass and Jaghust, Genabackis is believed to have been inhabited by the K’Chain Che’Malle. One of their cities was located in south-western Genabackis at Morn; a nearby Jaghut tower, although still ancient, is considerably younger in age than the ruined city.
Like almost all of the continents of the world, Genabackis was settled by human colonists from the First Empire of what is now Seven Cities. However, the collapse of the Empire seems to have led to the cutting of ties with Genabackis and the collapse of client-kingdoms on that landmass. There appears to have been an interregnum, during which time the humans of Genabackis became divided between tribal groups and villagers, before cities began rising to power again several thousand years ago.
The city of Darujhistan was founded on Genabackis in 837 Before Burn’s Sleep. It is believed that several cities predated Darujhistan, most notably Pale, whose immense foundations and subterranean levels of settlement hint at a history stretching back thousands of years earlier. Darujhistan developed gas power circa 263 Burn’s Sleep, marking the city’s growth in importance as a trading waystop between the densely-populated northern part of the continent and the sparser lands to the south.
In 1150 Burn’s Sleep, the mysterious Pannion Seer arrived at the city of Bastion, central-eastern Genabackis, and spoke the Words of Truth, resulting in the First Embrasure. The population of Bastion swore to follow the Seer, slaughtering a trade caravan from Elingarth in the far south of the continent. Nine months later Anaster, the First Child of the Dead Seed, was born.
The so-called Pannion Domin began to slowly expand, swallowing up surrounding villages and towns. It might be the informal alliance known as the Free Cities of Genabackis may have investigated this threat, if a much greater one had not suddenly burst upon them.
In 1152 Burn’s Sleep, the armies of the Malazan Empire invaded Genabackis. Malazan armies landed on the far north-western and north-eastern coasts, overrunning the areas around the Malyn and Owndos seas in a matter of months. The surprise attack saw the Malazans gain a formidable toehold upon the continent, but the Free Cities were quick to rally. They established mutual lines of support and defence and employed mercenary companies to bolster their own troops. The Malazans found their initial successes quickly bogging down into protracted sieges. The disappearance and apparent death of Emperor Kellanved in 1154 distracted the Malazans for a time.
In 1156, the Malazans signed a surprising formal alliance with the Moranth of western coastal Genabackis. The Moranth were motivated by centuries of feuding and skirmishing with the Free Cities, most notably Pale. The Malazans gained access to the advanced formidable Moranth munitions, chemical explosive weapons of tremendous power, which they were quick to exploit. This alliance led to significant victories, but three years later these reversed when the Free Cities allied with the Crimson Guard, the mercenaries commanded by Warlord Caladan Brood and the Tiste Andii of Moon’s Spawn under Anomander Rake, Son of Darkness. This powerful alliance pushed the Malazans back into Blackdog Forest, where fighting bogged down for the next four years.
In 1160 the Malazans sent reinforcements to Genabackis, beginning a siege of Pale itself in an attempt to split the attentions of the enemy. However, they failed and a protracted siege resulted.
As of 1163, the Siege of Pale continues but there are signs that it may be drawing to a close. The Malazan forces in northern Genabackis appear to have achieved some breakthroughs as well. If Anomander Rake and his allies can be defeated, the Malazans can turn their eye to storied Darujhistan. But there is also the growing threat of the Pannion Domin to the south-east, which has begun expanding and may soon threaten the entire continent.
Genabackis is a large continent, stretching from equatorial regions to the southern edge of the polar region, and is also relatively narrow. The continent as a whole is mostly temperate, with a warm southern coast and a cold northern one, with numerous lakes in the north (the remnants of vast glaciers which have since retreated) and larger plains in the south.
The northern tip of the Genabackan continent is dominated by the Malyn Mountains, a significant chain of towering peaks stretching from the shores of the Meningalle Ocean to Silver Lake. The range splinters around the Laederon Plateau, home of the feared Teblor tribes, who also dwell on the Teblor Tundra to the north.
South of these mountains lie the Malyn and Owndos Seas, large lakes whose shores are dotted with cities and towns like Malyntaeas, Bettrys, Blued and Owndos. These towns and cities, easily linked to the sea by the Treller Cut, have grown rich on trade with Seven Cities across the Meningalle Ocean to the west. However, this region’s accessibility made it ripe for conquest by the Malazan Empire, which has secured the region and installed their continental capital at Genabaris on the west coast.
Northeast Genabackis extends from the Owndos Sea to the shores of the Rust Ocean and south to the inland Lead Sea. This region, dominated by the rivers Gan, Gend and Sogen, is dominated by several major trading cities, including Sogena, One Eye Cat, Hoop, Evinor, Apple and, on its island off the coast, Horan, along with numerous small settlements on the Free City Plain, Stannis Plain and Harbinger Peninsula. This region was also invaded by the Malazans, but they faced stiffer resistance and the Free City Alliance was formed to fight against them. Over the course of almost a decade of warfare, most of the Free Cities have fallen, but a few carry on the fight with the help of Anomander Rake, Caladan Brook and other notable generals.
Western Genabackis has been the site of the heaviest fighting between the Malazans and their enemies. This region is dominated by plains, notably the fertile and verdant Reach in the north and the yellow-grassed Rhivi Plain to the south, the home of the nomadic Rhivi people. At the northern end of this region is the Blackdog Forest, a tangle of vine and roots where the Malazan army was bogged down for years of fierce fighting with the Mott Irregulars and Caladan Brood’s forces.
Most notable in this region is the western coastal area controlled by the Moranth. A reclusive and secretive people, the Moranth ended centuries of seclusion to unexpectedly ally with the Malazan Empire, ostensibly to take their revenge on the people of Pale whom they had skirmished with for generations. The Moranth have proved to be a formidable fighting force and their alchemical bombs, known as Moranth munitions, have proved to be an effective addition to the Malazan arsenal.
The Moranth territories include the Cloud Forest and Moranth Mountains extending as far north as the Mistral Plateau and as far south as Mengal. The city of Oach, on the coast to the west of the Mistral Plateau, has been conquered by the Malazans and was well-placed for trade and communication with the Moranth.
The Barghast and Bhederin
The Barghast are a formidable warrior culture of eastern Genabackis. A non-human species, they are seen as “exotic barbarians” by outsiders. Although a fiercely independent culture, they are also not scared of strangers and are noted for their humour, sense of honour and loyalty to their allies. The Barghast inhabit the Barghast Range of eastern Genabackis and the plains on either side. Their lands are largely barren and empty of resources, which is why they have endured for tens of thousands of years even in the face of “civilised” cities appearing on the coast to the north and south.
Species similar to the Barghast have been found on several continents, suggesting there was once a diaspora by sea. If so, the Barghast seem to have lost their ancient arts of boat-building and sailing.
West of the Barghast territories lies the Bhederin Plateau, home to the enormous creatures as Bhederin, which the Rhivi use for both food and occasionally mounts. The Bhederin are the descendants of a far larger, extinct species known as the Bhed, whose awe-inspiring remains have been found by explorers.
Central Genabackis is more sparsely-populated than the north, with larger areas of wilderness between settlements. Lake Azur, more of an inland sea than a lake, dominates this region.
The Free City of Pale sits just north of the lake and the Tahlyn Mountains, at the southern end of the Rhivi Plain. Pale is one of the most ancient and formidably-defended cities on the continent, noted for its massive curtain walls. The city is rich, with cobbled streets and well-tiled roofs. However, it is also arguably past its peak, with trade becoming more centralised in the north or in Darujhistan to the south. The Krael Quarter has become home to shanties and lean-tos inhabited by poor people and refugees. Pale has been besieged by the Malazan and Moranth armies for the past three years, further reducing its income and prospects.
To the south-east of Pale, beyond the Divide (a wide gap in the Tahlyn Mountains), lies a fertile region along the Rust Ocean which has been densely populated over the centuries. This region is dominated by the port cities of Capustan and Coral, with lesser cities such as Lest, Setta, and Maurik located between them. The River Catlin provides a means of trade and transport from Capustan to the interior, via the inland city of Saltoan. South-west of this region lies the heartland of the Pannion Domin, cities such as Bastion, Sarn and Ket Tor which have been avoided since the rise of the Pannion Seer.
South of Pale and west of Capustan lies Lake Azur, a vast inland waterway. Dotted around its shores and nearby are formidable settlements such as Dhavran, Kurl and Gredfallen, but most notable is storied Darujhistan, the blue jewel of Genabackis.
Darujhistan, the City of Cities, City of Blue Fire or Caravan City, is located on the southern shore of Lake Azur ad is the largest and most influential city on the entire continent. During major festivals and the trading season, the city’s population exceeds 300,000 and may approach half a million; during the winter and off-season, the city’s population likely falls below a quarter of a million. Between 2,000 and 3,000 years old, Darujhistan accumulated from tribesfolk of the Gadrobi Hills and migratory Daru tribes from the far north of the continent. According to legend, the city was “born on a rumour”, with its founding following the arrival of thousands of explorers investigating reports of a magical barrow and treasure hoard in the nearby hills which was never found. However, several other valuable metals were found and quarries established nearby.
The city is divided into several areas, including the Gadrobi, Marsh, Daru, Lakefront and Estate districts. The city extends for over two miles along the lakeshore, rising into the Raven Hills to the south on four elevated tiers. The Foss River runs through the centre of the city, with the larger Maiten River flowing into Lake Azur to the west. Darujhistan also controls several outlying satellite villages, including Maiten, Cuttertown, Ridge, Raven, Urs and Worrytown, a slum region abutting the eastern walls.
Darujhistan is ruled by the Noble Council from Majesty Hall, located near High Gallows Hill at the north-eastern corner of the city. The enigmatic T’orrud Cabal and the secretive Assassin’s Guild also wield significant power. There is no standing army, only the City Watch, but several powerful mages reside in the city.
The city is sometimes called the “City of Blue Fire” for its use of natural gas for heat and light. Gas lamps light the major streets. The Greyfaces, a guild of gas-workers, tend the gas supply and make sure it is deployed in the city safely.
Darujhistan gains a great deal of its riches from its strategic position located almost halfway up the continent and marks a shift from the densely-populated northern part of Genabackis to the more sparsely-populated south.
The Southern Plains
South of Darujhistan are the Cinnamon Wastes and Dwelling Plain, which are now sparsely-populated. The Dwelling Plain was once thickly populated with towns and cities, linked by roads, but the region fell into disrepute when it was conquered by Jaghut Tyrants. When the last Tyrant fell, the region was abandoned and now only grasses and the occasional ruin remain.
Tracks lead far south and west, many hundreds of miles, to Callows, a great seaport of 30,000 people. Callows is well-placed on the sealanes heading south across Reacher’s Ocean to Quon Tali and the heartlands of the Malazan Empire. The city is known for its copper-domed buildings, minarets and winding streets, as well as being home to the Thousand Sects of D’rek.
East of Callows lies the vast Lamatath Plain. Almost spanning the continent coast to coast and extending from north to south for a thousand miles or more, the plain is reasonably fertile with occasional herds of Bhederin and other game easily found. Several tribes can be found living on the plain, including the Gandaru, Kindaru, Sinbarl and Skathani. From the etymology of the names, the Gandaru and Kindaru are likely descendants of the Daru people who migrated south from northern Genabackis to settle around Lake Azur, largely in Darujhistan. These groups probably migrated further south in search of less crowded climes.
Just south-west of the Lamatath Plain lies Morn, a once-great Jaghut city built about even more ancient K’Chain Che’Malle ruins. The area has been abandoned for centuries due to reports of magical chaos and dangerous phenomena in the area. The whole region is known as the Cursed Lands due to these events.
East of the Cursed Lands and south-east of the Plain of Lamatath, the continent of Genabackis terminates in a peninsula extending for several hundred leagues eastwards into the Rust Ocean. There are a whole horde of coastal towns such as Ilem, March, Hurly and Torn in this region, but the best-known city is Elingarth, the largest city on the continent south of Darujhistan.
Elingarth is a large city renowned for its trading opportunities and religious orders. It is the home of the Grey Swords and Blue Shields, mercenary companies noted for their atypical honour and reliability in battle.
Nearby is the smaller city of Trygalle. Dedicated to trade even at extreme lengths, the city is the home of the Trygalle Trade Guild. The Trygalle Trade Guild, also known as “a guild of bloody lunatics”, use warrens to transport goods at high speed and ludicrous risk to distant locales. The Trade Guild’s services are almost ruinously expensive, but their reliability (despite a high personnel turnover) is surprisingly high.
Further west along the coast, in Elingarth’s Forgotten Holding, lies the town of Spendrugle, infamous for its bitter and angry rulers.
Further east lie the towns of Exile, Bounty, Golden and Refuge. Beyond the tip of the continent are the Night Ship Islands. Corpse Isle lies upon the edge of the unknown, the vast expanse of the Rust Ocean lying to the north-east and the Domain Ocean lying to the south-east. These oceans (counted by some cartographers as one vast ocean) extend east for thousands upon thousands of leagues before washing up against the far western coast of Seven Cities and the far north-west of little-known, rumoured Lether. Somewhere in this vast expanse lies the islands of Umryg and Genostel.
Just off the south coast, in the Rivan Sea, lies a series of islands such as Galatan and Seven Ruins Island. Some distance to the south, but too close for many, lies the forbidden and forbidding continent of Assail.
The Isle of the Seguleh lies just off the south-western coast of Genabackis, near Morn. The Seguleh are a highly martial people who live lives based on hierarchal rank, with elevation or descent in rank only achieved by combat. The Seguleh are trained from birth in the ways of battle and combat (individual and massed) and practice daily. The martial skill of the Seguleh, their utter lack of fear and their unrelenting intransigence make them an extremely difficult people to deal with for outsiders, and after far too many unintended deaths most outsiders now avoid the island and all contact altogether. As a result, little is known of the Seguleh aside from their martial skills and that their capital city, located on the northern coast of the island amidst green mountains, is called Cant.
The peoples of Genabackis are numerous and divided into many creeds. Genabackis is unusual in not harbouring large nation-states or kingdoms, instead favouring tribal groupings and individual city-states. The Genabackans thus have a reputation for independence and individuality, and do not take kindly to invaders.
The peoples of Genabackis include the tribal Teblor, Barghast, Rhivi and Gadrobi, the secretive Moranth and Seguleh and the urbanised Daru.
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Seven Cities is, properly speaking, merely the north-eastern quarter or so of a much greater landmass that extends for many thousands of miles to the west and south. This continent is the largest in the world, and surprisingly one of the least well-known, for reasons that will become clearer. The name “Seven Cities” usually refers specifically to the eastern subcontinent, but is often used to refer to the entire landmass in lieu of any other name existing.
The Seven Cities continent is located north and west of Quon Tali, north of Jacuruku, west of Genabackis and north-east of Lether.
This continent is the home of one of the most ancient nations in the world. The First Empire of the Imass arose on the Seven Cities subcontinent over 300,000 years ago, but the Imass soon found themselves enslaved by the Jaghut Tyrants. Rebelling against the Tyrants, the Imass waged war against them only to find themselves stymied by the Jaghut mastery of the Warren of Ice and their willingness to simply sit out the conflict and wait for the much-shorter-lived Imass to die out. The majority of the Imass species underwent the Ritual of Tellann, becoming immortal in undeath so they could persecute their war against the Jaghut forever, if necessary.
As part of the ritual, the power of the T’lan Imass was placed in the First Throne of the Empire, allowing a mortal who could sit in that throne to order the T’lan Imass according to his or her design. The First Throne was hidden in a cave in the Jhag Odhan of southern Seven Cities.
Hundreds of thousands of years later, around 115,000 years before the present, the human First Empire took shape on Seven Cities. Dessimbelackis was a powerful sorcerer-king who rose to prominence after helping a human tribe defeat the Sar-Trell (modern Trell) in the Battle of Yath-Ghatan. The First Empire was declared (taking the name of the ancient Imass kingdom, to their irritation). The Empire expanded quickly, establishing seven major holy cities.
The First Empire spread all around the world, its fleets discovering six continents and eight hundred and eleven islands. Colonies were established on many of these landmasses, signifying the first major human diaspora. Of these the most successful was on the continent of Lether, with numerous kingdoms springing up from the initial First Empire colonisation wave.
Dessimbelackis ruled the Empire for several millennia thanks to sorcery. He delved deep into obscure and ancient rituals, possibly including Imass and Tiste sorcery, and he created the magical shapeshifters, the D’ivers and Soletaken. He also became a D’ivers himself, dividing his aspect between the seven Deragoth, the Hounds of Darkness. The result was a seething explosion of insanity, an entire city lost to Soletaken and D’ivers and the western part of the empire collapsing into civil war and chaos (out of which, many tens of thousands of years later, would emerge the forebears of the Perish, the Nemil and the Shal-Morzinn). The overseas colonies were cut off and collapsed, eventually recovering to found many of the human nations of the modern age. Only on remote Lether did they retain any memory of their link to the First Empire.
The T’lan Imass found Soletaken and D’ivers to be an abomination. They slaughtered them by the thousands, eventually destroying most of them. A few escaped, most notably the First Heroes: Treach, Ryllandaras and Messremb, among others. The other major survivors of the Empire were a religious sect, the Cult of the Nameless Ones. The Nameless Ones worshipped the Azathani, the bizarre and contradictory ancient powers, and their Azath Houses, those mysterious prisons dedicated to maintaining a balance of power in the world.
The Imass were wary of the Nameless Ones, fearing that they planned to find the First Throne and use it to compel the Imass to disperse or imprison themselves before their vengeance on the Jaghut could be completed. The Logros clan removed the First Throne southwards to Quon Tali, where they hid the throne in a subterranean crevasse. Centuries or millennia later, a great city was built over the site, further obscuring knowledge of the Throne’s location.
Eventually new human nations and cities arose in Seven Cities. The powerful Shal-Morzinn Empire took shape in the west of the continent, ruled by the sorcerer-kings known as the Three. North of their lands the Kingdom of Perish was founded, and to the north-east the kingdom of Nemil took shape. Nemil skirmished for many years with the Trell who lived to their north-east, eventually conquering them in a brutal campaign that reduced the Trell to a broken remnant of their proud past.
In the Seven Cities subcontinent, the Seven Holy Cities arose, each founded by an Ascendant, some in the days of the First Empire. The Seven Holy Cities were Aren, Ehrlitan, Karakarang, Karashimesh, Ubaryd, Ugarat and Yath Alban. Later other cities were given the title “holy city”, but they were of a lesser order to the Seven. These lesser holy cities were G’danisban, Hissar, Mersin, Pan’potsun, Lothal and Y’Ghatan. Each of the Seven Cities was ruled by a Holy Falah’d.
Unexpectedly, the subcontinent of Seven Cities was invaded from the south by the newly-founded Malazan Empire, only a few years after securing control of Quon Tali. Emperor Kellanved secured the port city of Aren first before moving across the landmass, taking city after city. A cabal of thirteen mages stood against him and was defeated, fleeing north. An elite Malazan unit led by the decorated soldier Whiskeyjack pursued them through the Pan’potsun Odhan and then into the Holy Desert of Raraku. There they defeated the thirteen mages. One of their number, Ben Adaephon Delat, was shocked by the unit’s survival and the changes wrought on it by the Holy Desert. He defected to the unit. Subsequently they became known as the Bridgeburners, having burned the bridges to their past. The unit went on to become a division, the Emperor’s favourites, and played a key role in the many wars to follow.
Seven Cities was integrated as part of the Malazan Empire, many of its people serving the Empire in military and sorcerous positions. However, Seven Cities never submitted fully to the yoke of foreign rule. In 1152-53 Burn’s Sleep, Barathol Mekhar slew the High Fist of Aren, who was ruling as a tyrant (and some say was planning to rebel against the Empire himself). Riots broke out in support of Barathol. During the chaos the Logros T’lan Imass were ordered to suppress the revolt with utter mercilessness. Thousands of civilians died in what became known as the Aren Revolt or Aren Massacre. Surly, later called Laseen, was held responsible for the overreaction and she was chastised by Dancer, to her fury. This massacre was one of the last times the T’lan Imass were deployed in battle on behalf of the Malazan Empire.
In recent times Seven Cities has been relatively quiet, but some crazed prophets warn of the Whirlwind, a rebellion against the Malazans to be led by the prophetess Sha’ik. These warnings have not been heeded, and indeed the Malazan Empire has denuded some of its strength in Seven Cities to reinforce the faltering campaign in Genabackis, leaving the strength of the Malazan position on the subcontinent dubious.
Despite its northerly latitude, Seven Cities is warm and hot (a phenomenon some ascribe to ancient sorcerous battles and others to the strange properties of nearby Otataral Island). Wastelands cover much of the subcontinent, along with vast, hot and barren plains called odhans. Only in the west of the subcontinent are there lots of trees, as the tall Olphara Mountains give rise to many lakes and rivers which run down the west coast, feeding the immense Olphara Forest.
The enormous Otataral Island lies off the north-eastern coast of Seven Cities. The island is barren, dominated by the cold Bandiko Desert in the north and the warmer Otataral Desert in the south. The only cities on the island are the small settlements of Dosin Pali in the south, Ruru Jelba in the centre and the larger Holy City of Karakarang in the north, along with Galladi on the island of Gallada just off the north-eastern coast.
Otataral Island is not a natural phenomenon. The desert of the same name is the source of the mineral also called otataral, a substance which can reduce the efficacy of sorcery and render it inert. The great Skullcup Mine makes a perfect prison for mages, as they cannot use their powers to escape or ferment dissent.
In the desert strange ruins have been reported, statues or parts of statues made of a mysterious jade-like substance. It has been suggested that these statues are the source of otataral, but the truth of the matter remains unknown.
Eastern Seven Cities
Eastern Seven Cities is densely populated, with numerous cities and towns lying on the coasts of the Otataral, Ehrlitan and Sahul seas, with many towns also dotting the shores of the inland Karas Sea. The Holy Cities of Ehrlitan, Karashimesh and Ubaryd lie in this region, along with the smaller but still important cities of Hissar (a major Malazan military centre), Sialk and Panpot’sun. In the west of this region lies the Holy Desert of Raraku. Although small, as these deserts go, Raraku is a strange place, possibly the bed of an ancient sea. Unusual things happen there and people try to avoid the area.
The North Coast and Islands
The north coast of Seven Cities is fragmented and jumbled, with numerous peninsulas and headlands extending into the ocean and islands lying off the coast. The Holy City of Yath Alban is supreme in this region, but other major cities include Taxila, Karokitch, Hatra, Kot Ghul, Longshan and storied Y’Ghatan.
Central Seven Cities
The centre of the subcontinent is the home of hundreds of tribal groupings and isolated settlements, all surviving in the harsh heat. The Holy City of Ugarat is the largest city in this region but other major cities include Kayhum, Mersin, Omari, Sarpachiya, T’sarech and Nahal. The great Ugarat and Ubaryd Odhans sprawl across this region, their forbidding interiors home to fiercely independent tribes resistant to the idea of conquest.
Southern Seven Cities
Southern Seven Cities is that region squeezed between the large, inland Clatar Sea and the Dojal Hading Sea, an inlet of Seeker’s Deep. This area is bordered by the immense Vathar Forest to the north. To the south lies the River Menykh, at the mouth of which sits the Holy City of Aren. One of the largest cities on the subcontinent (and possibly the entire continent), Aren serves as the Malazan Imperial Capital on Seven Cities.
This region is otherwise dominated by plains and odhans, the most notable of which is the Khundryl Odhan in the north. The Khundryl are noted for their strength and ferocity in battle. The Burned Tears clan are the most well-known of the Khundryl tribes.
Off the coast lies Dhebel Island, a waystop and trading post for ships and merchants headed south to Quon Tali or east across the Deep to Genabackis.
The Jhag Odhan
The Jhag Odhan lies to the west of the Clatar Sea. It is immense, the largest odhan on the subcontinent, and is inhabited by various tribes. The Shena live on the north-eastern plain, close to the Clatar Sea and Shenohl Forest. Further west live tribes of Jhag and Trell, the latter refugees from the conquest of their ancestral lands by the Nemil. In the deep Odhan Jaghut used to dwell, until they were exterminated by the T’lan Imass.
A separate region of the Jhag Odhan runs south of the Clatar Sea. It is believed that the T’lan Imass First Throne used to exist in this region until it was moved to Quon Tali. The Nameless Ones, an ancient sect of the human First Empire, may still be active in this region as well.
Sepik is a large island lying in the Dryjna Ocean west of northern Seven Cities. It was not part of the mainland Seven Cities culture, instead being an independent kingdom controlled by a hereditary monarchy. Sepik consists of two islands, Sepik proper and Monkan, and two distinct peoples, a ruling human class and the Rulhun’tal ven’or (or “Mudskin”) slave underclass, of Tiste Edur origin. Sepik is one of the most remote parts of the Malazan Empire, choosing subjugation over destruction during the conquest of Seven Cities.
Nemil and the Old Trell Lands
The south-western Jhag Odhan breaks up in a series of ridges and mountains which give rise to rivers and more fertile countryside. The Bayen Eckar River is a major feature of this region. The fertile plains on either side of the river were once the home of immense numbers of bhedrin, which in turn helped sustain the Trell people.
Some decades ago the Trell fought a long and bloody war against the Nemil, the people who lived to their south-west. Although winning many individual battles, they were powerless to resist the depopulation of their bhedrin herds by the Nemil and the cultural contamination of their young people being attracted to the cities. The Trell civilisation collapsed, subsumed by the Nemil with some survivors fleeing north and east into the Jhag Odhan.
The Kingdom of Nemil is militaristic and expansionist. Its capital city, Nemill, lies south of the Catal Sea and the kingdom itself covers several hundred miles. Nemil and the Malazan Empire have only had remote contacts, with Nemil aware that the much more powerful empire would crush it if it tried to expand into Seven Cities proper. Nemil has other powerful neighbours to the north-west and south-west which have, for now, checked its expansionist tendencies.
Perish is a vast, mountainous but remote peninsula which forms the western edge of the Catal Sea, north of Nemil. The Perish are an honourable people who believe in martial excellence and extol in the worship of various gods of war. The Perish also have powerful naval warships known as the Thrones of War. Although dedicated to honourable combat, the Perish have not fought a major campaign in centuries, aside from some minor skirmishes with Nemil to the south (which have left Nemil in no doubt of Perish superiority on the battlefield).
The Shal-Morzinn Empire
The Shal-Morzinn Empire covers much of the south-west of the continent. The Empire is large but thankfully non-expansionist: its three rulers are mage-kings of enormous sorcerous power who effortlessly put a Malazan scouting expedition to rout and ejected Kellanved and Dancer from their domain with no major effort. The Empire is ruled from the city or fortress known as the Spires, or Red Spires.
South of Shal-Morzinn lies the forbidding and hostile Demon Plain, where mercenary armies such as the Rams are known to operate. South of that lies a series of small towns and walled hamlets with names such as Glory and Piety.
Very little is known of Shal-Morzinn and the surrounding region, save that travellers, merchants and explorers avoid it.
The Cabal Archipelago
The remote Cabal Archipelago lies along a remote coast of the continent. The Cabal nation consists of the offshore islands and mainland holdings located hard against a towering mountain range. Cabal is ruled by a theocracy united in its worship of the One God (the powerful being known as Icarium).
Seven Cities is the largest continent in the world, divided into several distinct regions separated by mountains, deserts and plains. Its people are, unsurprisingly, hugely diverse. In Seven Cities proper large numbers of tribes live in close proximity to one another with very different ways of life and religious believes, leading to regimented and codified rules of engagement and warfare. The only thing that really unites these clans is their hatred of the invading Mezla, the Malazans.
There are non-humans living in Seven Cities as well: Tiste Edur in small numbers on Sepik Island, the Jhag of the deep odhan, the Trell, possibly even some T’lan Imass. Seven Cities is an ancient land that still hides many secrets.
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Quon Tali is one of the world’s smaller continents. It is located in an approximately equatorial region, south of eastern Seven Cities, west of Genabackis, north-west of Korel and north-east of Jacruku and Drift Avalii. The continent is fairly small but it is very densely populated, with more than fifty sizable cities located across the landmass. The continent is also held to include a large number of offshore islands, including Geni, Malaz, Kartool and the Napan Isles.
North of Quon Tali proper lies the peninsula of Falar and the offshore Falari Isles. These form a distinct subcontinent of Quon Tali, also called Falar.
Quon Tali is bordered to the west and south-west by the Horn Ocean; the Nap Sea (sometimes called the Cawn Sea or Bay of Cawn), Bloor Sea and Strait of Storms to the south-east; the Reacher’s Ocean to the east; the Falari Sea to the north-east; the Cragg Sea and Strom Sea to the north; and Seeker’s Deep (also called the Meningalle Ocean) to the far north-east.
Quon Tali’s ancient history is unclear, except that at some point it was wracked by the Jaghut, whose sorcery resulted in a massive field of ice forming over the Great Fenn Range in the north of the continent, cutting the southern landmass off from Falar to the north. This event may have been fortuitous, as the ice field cooled the continent to allow much greater rainfall than would otherwise have been the case, allowing crops to grow and people to thrive.
According to legend, Quon Tali is the resting place of Burn, the Great Mother Goddess. Over eleven centuries ago she volunteered to go into deep sleep to resist the poison of the alien Crippled God’s presence on her world. Her resting place is said to lie on the Dal Hon Plains in the south-west of the continent.
Quon Tali was originally divided between nomadic tribes located in the Seti and Dal Hon Plains in the west of the continent and the Wickan Plains in the north-east. Some of the tribes settled, began farming and soon built great city-states and kingdoms across the continent. Foremost of these were the neighbouring cities of Quon and Tali, built on opposing sides of a great bay in the west of the continent; Seti on the Seti Plains; Li Heng on the River Idryn; Cawn at the mouth of the Idryn; Kan on the south coast; Unta and Gris on the east coast; Kartool on the island of the same name; and Jakata on Malaz Isle, which became a refuge for pirates.
Quon and Tali expanded and skirmished with one another many times before eventually allying, becoming known as Quon Tali, a name which soon encompassed the entire continent. The cities’ suburbs intermingled, until it became difficult to say where one city began and the other ended. The Kingdom of Quon Tali established dominance over the continent for a time thanks to the military might of its Iron Legions, fiercely opposed by the independent city-states (most notably Li Heng and Cawn), several small kingdoms such as Kan and the rival Kingdom of Unta in the east, which spread to encompass much of the eastern half of the continent south of the Wickan Plains.
The hegemony of Quon Tali over the continent eventually faltered and declined, whilst Unta became ascendant. Unta’s might reached into the eastern Fenn Mountains, where the D’Avore family took possession of a mighty fortress known as the Citadel.
Meanwhile, the Napan Isles fell into particularly brutal civil war with fully half of the capital city of Dariyal burned to the ground, displacing thousands of refugees, some of whom ended up on Malaz Isle.
The end came surprisingly quickly. A Dal Honese mage known variously as Wu, Ammanas or Kellanved came to power on Malaz Island, aided by an assassin from the city of Quon Tali named Dorin Rav, later Cotillion or Dancer. The two men assembled a powerful coterie of allies including Dujek, Toc the Elder, the princess-turned-barmaid-turned-assassin Surly, the pirate brothers Cartheron and Urko Crust, the master swordsman (and Sword of Hood, God of Death) Dassem Ultor, the mage Tayschrenn and the historian Duiker, among others. This alliance saw Kellanved and Dancer seize Malaz Island from its ruler, the pirate warlord Mock, and then liberated the Napan Isles. A two-pronged attacked saw both Quon Tali and Unta fall to the self-styled “Malazan Empire” in shockingly rapid order, followed by the kingdom of Kan and many of the major cities of the continent. Kellanved removed his capital from Malaz City to Unta.
During this campaign Kellanved found the First Throne, which allowed him to command the allegiance of one of the undead T’lan Imass clans. This gave Kellanved tremendous power.
Li Heng could not be taken in open battle, so Kellanved and Dancer infiltrated the city and summoned the T’lan Imass to seize the city from within.
The entire continent of Quon Tali fell to the Malazans, although not without complications. The campaign against the D’Avore family of the Fenn Mountains ended in victory and the destruction of the Citadel, but Prince K’azz D’Avore was so incensed that he made the Vow, a sorcerous promise to destroy the Malazan Empire, binding him and six hundred of his fellows in the mercenary army known as the Crimson Guard to this cause and granting them immense power. The Crimson Guard removed themselves to the subcontinent of Stratem to the far south to regroup, defeating a Malazan army which had pursued them.
The Malazan Empire soon spread to the northern subcontinent of Falar, which was seized in an epic naval campaign spanning several years. The Malazans then invaded Seven Cities from the south, securing the subcontinent before moving on to Genabackis to the east and Korel to the south. However, both campaigns became bogged down, with the feeling that perhaps the Malazans had expanded too far, too fast.
Kellanved and Dancer vanished from Malaz City on the night of the Shadow Moon in 1154 Burn’s Sleep. Their ally Surly became the new Empress of the Malazan Empire, taking the name Laseen.
The continent of Quon Tali is divided into several distinct regions, including the major subcontinent of Falar. The Nap Sea (also called the Bay of Nap, Cawn Bay or Cawn Sea) divides the continent of Quon Tali proper into two distinct regions.
Western Quon Tali
Western Quon Tali is dominated by the Seti Plains and Dal Hon Plains, which together constitute a huge area of flat plains and farmland suitable for tribes and cities. These two areas are divided by the River Idryn, the largest river on the continent. The Dal Honese sphere of influence extends west to the Horn Ocean and south to the Forest Horn, an area of mixed woodland and jungle. The Seti Plains are larger and more extensive, extending north from the Idryn to the Forest Fenn and from Lake Seti in the west to Eros Lake in the east.
This region is dominated by the twin cities of Quon and Tali (two formerly separated cities lying on either side of a bay which have grown together to become a single metropolis) on the west coast. The western coastal region is densely populated, with other major cities including Purage, Dass, Ebond and Korn. These cities were once all part of the Quon Talian hegemony when they dominated the continent. Another major city is Li Heng on the Idryn, the great Crossroads City of the Plains. For centuries (possibly millennia) Li Heng was defended by the mighty sorcerer known as the Protectress and was able to secure for itself a useful place as a neutral site for trade and diplomacy. To the north is Seti, the old centre of the Seti civilisation, with a successor city, New Seti, located to its east.
South-east of Li Heng lies the old kingdom of Kan. In ancient times Kan was very powerful, at one time forming an empire which dominated the south-western part of the continent. Kan collapsed during the Malazan expansion, its last gasp being an attempted invasion of Li Heng shortly before Kellanved and Dancer left the city for Malaz Island. Kan remains very densely populated, with its largest city being Itko Kan but numerous other settlements extending right down the west coast of the Nap Sea.
East of Li Heng lies Cawn. Cawn is located at the mouth of the River Idryn where it flows into the Nap Sea, and is also a vital stop for traders heading west to Li Heng and Quon Tali and east to Unta and Gris. Cawn is a hugely important trade centre, although its location, easily accessible by both sea and land, also makes it vulnerable to attack.
Eastern Quon Tali
Eastern Quon Tali is dominated by Unta, one of the largest cities on Quon Tali (although it exchanges this record with Quon Tali itself in the west). With a population of over 100,000, Unta is the Imperial Capital of the Malazan Empire. Unta was once the capital of the kingdom of the same name, which expanded south along the Bloor Sea and east and north to the Wickan Plains. This area, fed by at least half a dozen major cities, is very fertile and supports a dozen major cities.
Eastern Quon Tali’s largest area of wilderness is the Wickan Plains, which lie along the coasts of the Colonnus Sea and Falari Sea and extend south to the cities of Baran and D’avig, also encompassing an area of dense hills and woodland. The Wickan people are a proud race of horse-riders, forming the best cavalry in the known world with an eye for terrain that is the envy of many outsiders. The Wickan Wars fought to bring them into the Malazan Empire were hard fought and they achieved some autonomy under Emperor Kellanved’s rule.
The Great Fenn Range and Ice Fields
The Great Fenn Range runs from the Horn Ocean to the Colonnus Sea, right across the top of the continent. The Fenn Mountains are tall and imposing, the source of many rivers which run down onto the Seti Plains. The eastern end of the range is the location of D’Avore Valley, the ancestral home of the D’Avore family who were pre-eminent in the old Kingdom of Unta. The ruins of the Citadel, the home of Prince K’azz D’Avore, can still be discerned among the peaks.
North of the Fenn Mountains lies an immense field of ice. This ice field is incongruous for the climate and, like many other such ice fields around the globe, was created by the Jaghut during their ways with the T’lan Imass hundreds of thousands of years ago. The ice field helps cool southern Quon Tali and keep it inhabitable and fertile, but they also block travel to the northern-most tip of the continent.
The subcontinent of Falar consists of the Falar Peninsula and a number of large offshore islands, collectively known as the Falari Isles. According to some evidence, humans migrated to Falar via Strike Island several tens of thousands of years ago.
Two of the largest cities of the archipelago are Falair and Belade, located on the Falar Peninsula. Other major cities include Walk, on the large island of the same name, Belid, Strike and Delanss.
The Falari people are traders and great ocean-travellers, happily carrying goods between Seven Cities to the north, Quon Tali proper to the south and Genabackis to the east. They once possessed a major navy, but this was destroyed in a series of massive sea battles against the Malazan Empire. The Malazans, led by the Crust brothers and the formidable Admiral Nok, conquered the Falari Isles and the Falari now serve the Malazans, both in transporting cargo and armies around the globe.
Kartool is a large island located off the south-eastern coast of Quon Tali, where the Bloor Sea, Falari Sea and Reacher’s Ocean meet. The island is dominated by the city of the same name, a city with tall towers spanned by vast spider webs belonging to the paralt spider native to the island.
The island was noted for its repressive religious atmosphere, where the worship of D’rek was promoted above all others. When the Malazans took the city, the priests of the island united to fight them in one of the biggest displays of sorcery seen in the entire war (allegedly outstripping even the Battle of Pale). The T’lan Imass and their Bonecasters had to be deployed to complete the conquest. Since the invasion, other temples have been established on the island, to the fury of the locals.
The Napan Islands
The Napan Islands are located in the Sea or Bay of Nap (or Cawn Sea), south of the mouth of the Idryn, north-west of Malaz Island, east of Itko Kan and north-east of Geni. There is one major island and numerous small islands clustered around its coast. The oldest city is Nap, which gives the islands their name, but the traditional capital and largest city is Dariyal. The Napan Islands are noted for their blue-skinned natives, who are skilled sailors, warriors and mages.
The islands are strategically useful, and the Kingdom of Unta seized them in a brutal military campaign a decade or so before the rise of the Malazan Empire. From the islands Unta planned a military strike into Kan to the west to give it a toehold in western Quon Tali, but this risked overstretching the kingdom. The Untans were instead driven out by an army raised from exiled Napans, aided by the powerful wizard Kellanved and his assassin partner Dancer. The Napans provided significant manpower for Kellanved and Dancer’s assault on Unta itself that followed shortly thereafter, giving rise to the Malazan Empire. Some Napans are concerned that they have swapped the yoke of Unta for the Malazans instead, but the Empire is far more equal in its treatment of the islands and the current Empress, Laseen (once called Surly), is herself of Napan origin.
Geni is the largest island off the south coast of Quon Tali. It is located off the coast of the old kingdom of Kan, south-west of the Napan Islands and west of Malaz. The island is located where the Horn Ocean meets the Strait of Storms. As with Malaz to the east, the island is prone to occasional raids by the Stormriders.
The island’s most famous son is Orjin Samarr, better-known to history as Greymane. Samarr’s father, a fisherman, was killed by the Stormriders in front of Greymane, leading him to seek fortune and vengeance. His martial skill made him a legend on Quon Tali even before the Malazan Empire rose to power. As the Empire waxed, he joined forces with it in return for being given a command so he could avenge himself upon the Stormriders. Thus, he led the Malaz 6th Army in the invasion of Fist, in the east of the Korelri continent, east of the Stormwall. Greymane and his army have not been heard from since.
Located south of Kartool, south-east of the Napan Isles and north-west of Korel is the island of Malaz. It used to be known Jakatakan due to the dominant city on the island, Jakata in the south-west, but the name changed when Malaz City on the north-eastern coast of the island became richer and more powerful. The pirate warlord Mock took control of Malaz City and used it to prey on mainland shipping, but he was overthrown by Kellanved and Dancer in the earliest days of their rise to power.
Despite giving its name to the Empire, Malaz Isle and Malaz City have both become somewhat of a backwater after the centre of power was removed to Unta on the mainland. The island is sometimes troubled by the Stormriders, mystical beings dwelling in the Strait of Storms to the south-east. The Stormriders direct most of their fury against the Stormwall of Korelri to the south-east, but during particularly bad storms they sometimes appear off the shores of Malaz as well.
The people of Quon Tali are notable for their dusky and dark skin tones, with the Napans notable for the blue tinge to their skin. The people of Quon Tali are as territorial as any, but they are a populous people sharing a relatively small continent, giving the landmass perhaps more of a tolerant air (to a degree) than other landmasses. Most notable is that the population of Quon Tali is mostly human; nonhuman inhabitants are considerably rarer than on other continents. The most notable exception are the Fenn, a people descended from the Thel Akai, who dwell in the Great Fenn Range and Forest Fenn. During the Unification Wars the Fenn were won to the allegiance of the Malazan Empire, agreeing to serve Kellanved as warriors and mages. Their most famous representative is the formidable Bellurdan Skullcrusher, companion of the mage Nightchill.
The most notable modern people of Quon Talia are the Malazans, who have forged one of the most impressive and largest empires ever known.
Thank you for reading The Atlas of Ice and Fire. To help me provide better content, please consider contributing to my Patreon page and other funding methods, which will also get you exclusive content weeks before it goes live on my blogs.
Fear not! My maps of A Song of Ice and Fire will return, but in the meantime we’ll take a break to look at the geography of another fantasy world, that of Steven Erikson and Ian Cameron Esslemont’s Malazan franchise.
If you are not familiar with the Malazan world of novels and short stories – which now fill twenty-one books with many more planned – then please check out my Malazan Franchise Familiariser, which covers the basic setting, and my Malazan Reading Order, which presents the best order to read the books in.
It should be noted that the maps that follow were created primarily by D’Rek of the Malazanempire Forum, in discussion with myself and other fans over the course of many years. The primary sources are the maps and descriptions in the novels and a rough, working world map provided by Steven Erikson to the admins at Malazanempire several years ago which has been refined as the novels introduced new locales or revised earlier-existing maps.
The world that the Malazan Book of the Fallen and its associated novels takes place on has no unified name. It consists of more than a dozen continents, subcontinents and large islands that fall into the grey areas inbetween.
It is known that the world is a globe many thousands of leagues in circumference. The climate of the world was once said to be predictable and natural, but there have been hundreds of thousands of years of magical cataclysms which have disrupted the natural order. Most notably, vast fields of ice are found in unusual places across the world, even equatorial regions. These are the creation of the ancient Jaghut whose sorcery derives from Omtose Phellack, the Warren of Ice. The wars between the Jaghut and the T’lan Imass saw massive ice fields form across the planet. Hot deserts now exist where cold plains should be located and sweltering equatorial lands have been rendered cool and breezy by the presence of vast glaciers where none should exist.
There is a single moon orbiting the Malazan world, known as just “the moon”. There are gardens on the moon, tended by an unknown god.
The known continents, subcontinents and major islands of the world are as follows:
The largest of the world’s continents, located in the northern hemisphere but sprawling south-westwards into equatorial regions. The eastern part of the continent is quite warm, consisting of vast, arid plains known as oghdans and more traditional sandy deserts. The western part of the continent is less-well-known, but the kingdoms of Nemil and Perish are located in that direction, on either side of the Catal Sea. The south-western part of the continent is dominated by the isolationist Shal-Morzinn Empire, an enigmatic nation ruled by three incredibly powerful mage-lords who brook no intrusion to their realm. Fortunately, they are not an expansionist power.
Off the north-eastern coast of the continent lies Otataral Island, the source of the magic-deadening ore of the same name.
Quon Tali & Falar
Located south of eastern Seven Cities, equatorial Quon Tali is one of the world’s smaller continents, but it is also the most densely-populated, with at least a hundred city-states located across its extent. Quon Tali is the home of the Malazan Empire, which began expanding from Malaz Isle off the continent’s south-eastern coast.
Quon Tali is warm, but would be far warmer if it was not for the vast glaciers located in the Great Fenn Range. The product of Jaghut sorcery, these glaciers keep the continent temperate and cooler than it ought to be.
The subcontinent of Falar lies to the north of Quon Tali, just south of Seven Cities. Falar consists of the Falari Peninsula of mainland Quon Tali and the Falari Isles, a huge archipelago dominated by several trading cities.
Genabackis is located east of Seven Cities and north-east of Quon Tali, across the Meningalle Ocean (also called Seeker’s Deep). A long, thin continent, it is dominated by city-states such as Darujhistan, Pale and Elingarth.
Korelri & Stratem
Located south of Quon Tali, separated from Malaz Isle by the Strait of Storms, is a battered wreck of a continent. Over 110,000 years ago, this continent was smashed asunder by the Fall of the Crippled God, which left the landmass covered in craters, trenches and other substantial blast damage. The ocean rushed in, leaving the continent a splintered and broken morass of islands.
Over time these islands developed nations, which have given as many names for the continent as there are islands, resulting in cartographic confusion. The continent has variously been called “Korel”, “Korelri”, “Theft”, “Jourilan” “Fist” and more names yet still. The island of Fist is, arguably, the best-known to outsiders and has emerged as a popular name for the continent, but the other islands are less keen on it. The Malazans seem to prefer the name “Korelri”.
South of the continent-girdling Aurgatt Range lies the continent or subcontinent of Stratem. One of the more sparsely-populated known continents, Stratem is covered in forests, fields and mountains, with many leagues separating isolated towns and villages. Cities are almost unknown. The most notable settlements are the fortresses belonging to the mercenary army known as the Crimson Guard, particularly those located about the Sea of Chimes, a near-landlocked sea which opens into the Bloodmare Ocean at the Straits of Thick.
Located to the west of Korelri, north-west of Stratem and south-west of Quon Tali is the island continent of Jacuruku. Once the ancient sister-continent of Korelri, the island was devastated by its ruler and High King, Kallor Eiderann Tes’thesula. Kallor murdered seven million of his own followers to forestall the judgement of the gods, incinerating entire cities and burning vast stretches of the land.
The Elder God K’rull swept away the detritus and pain of the continent into a new Warren and Jacuruku was left to recover. Today, Jacuruku is a land of sharp contrasts, divided by the Gangrek Range. To the west lies boiling deserts and deep canyons, whilst to the east lies the Jungle of Himatan, ruled by the goddess Ardata. Jacuruku is isolated from the rest of the world by extensive Jaghut icefields around the northern and eastern coasts, making approaching the landmass difficult.
Located south-west of Seven Cities and Jacuruku, and far to the west of Stratem across the White Spires Ocean, lies the continent of Lether. Lether is huge, the second-largest continent in the world (behind only Seven Cities), but it is relatively little known. The kingdom of Kolanse lies at the eastern end of the continent, closest to other continents, but it has had little contact with the rest of the world.
Thousands of miles to the west, beyond the vast Glass Desert and so far away from the rest of the civilised world that it’s little more than a rumour, lies the more densely populated part of the continent. South of the Dracons Sea (a near-landlocked sea in the south-west) lies numerous small kingdoms and city-states. To its north lies the large Kingdom of Lether. North of that kingdom lies a region of glacial ice. The western coastal region of this ice area is populated by the mysterious people known as the Tiste Edur.
South of Genabackis and east of Korelri and Stratem lies the continent of Assail. Assail is relatively unexplored due to the continent’s reputation as a place of lethal violence and the rumours that the bizarre and fearsome race known only as the Forkrul Assail is still extant somewhere on the continent.
The Blackstone Mountains and Black Sea divided the northern part of the continent, which is the more ill-omened and dangerous, from the subcontinent of Bael to the south. Bael is safer to visit for outsiders.
Umryg is an island nation believed to lie east of Genabackis (although this is speculative). The island was reportedly devastated in a war between the natives and the Crimson Guard.
The Genostel Archipelago is located in the Rust Ocean to the east of Genabackis. The Genostelians were once explorers and colonisers who settled the coast of Genabackis near Coral. The current status of Genostelian civilisation is unknown.
The Cabal Archipelago is believed to be located along and just off the coast of Seven Cities, possibly in the far west or south-west of the continent. Cabal was originally a colony of the First Empire (the first great human nation, located in Seven Cities) and outlived that nation. It controls both an archipelago of islands and mainland holdings in a mountainous region.
The world also has numerous oceans and bodies of water. The main such oceans are the Meningalle Ocean (also called Seeker’s Deep) between Seven Cities and Genabackis; Reacher’s Ocean between northern Assail/southern Genabackis and Quon Tali; the Bloodmare Ocean between Assail and Korelri/Stratem; the Horn Ocean between Quon Tali and western Seven Cities; the White Spires Ocean between Stratem and Lether (with Jacuruku in the north); the Rivan Sea between Genabackis and Assail; the Rust Ocean east of Genabackis; and the Domain Ocean west of Letheri.
Knowledge is believed to have no limits: students should be able to learn all there is to learn, seek out the mysteries of the world and of science and determine all that can be determined. But if there is a barrier to knowledge, a place where all of a maester’s training may falter, it lies in the far south-east of the known world, on the edge of what is certain. All our knowledge fails us at the Shadow.
But before the Shadow there are still lands on the fringes of our maps which have not been visited.
Marahai is a large island in the middle of the Jade Sea, located roughly 400 miles due south of Yin in Yi Ti. Marahai is a long, crescent-shaped island, 200 miles across but never more than 50 miles wide. In fact, the island is more of a circle than a crescent, with only an 80-mile-wide gap in the north breaking the line of symmetry. Within the vast bay of Marahai are two islands, both volcanic, occasionally spewing lava into the sky.
Some maesters studying the mysteries of lava and the earth suggest that Marahi was once a single, whole island that was destroyed in a volcanic explosion many thousands of years ago and is slowly recovering, similar to what is happening around some of the Fourteen Fires in Valyria. However, for this to be true the scale would have had to have been titanic, the explosion dwarfing even the Doom in scale and bringing destruction to the shores of all the Jade Sea. If this did happen, it must have been long ago, before man first came to the shores of the sea.
The Manticore Isles
The Manticore Isles are a small archipelago of seven islands in the eastern Jade Sea, 300 miles east of Marahai and 200 miles south-east of Turrani in Leng. The isles are small, remote and it appears uninhabited by humans, due to the dangerous creatures that live there in very large numbers. Manticores are small, scorpion-like insects with disturbingly human faces and a lethal sting that can kill a man in minutes. Manticores are valued as tools of assassination by organisations such as the Sorrowful Men of Qarth.
The Mountains of the Morn
The Mountains of the Morn are a very large and extensive mountain range in eastern Essos, on the edge of the known world. They lie south of the Dry Deep and Grey Waste, south-east of the Bleeding Sea and Five Forts and east of the Golden Empire of Yi Ti, whose borders reach into their foothills. The mountains are at least 800 miles long from east to west and are divided into several sub-ranges. The mountains are not as tall as the Bones further west, but are still an imposing barrier to travel in eastern Essos.
The Hidden Sea, the Winged Men and Carcosa
In the middle of the Mountains of the Morn is a large vale, at least 400 miles long and over 200 miles wide. In the middle of the vale is a vast inland sea, the Hidden Sea, so-called because it is difficult to find except through tricky passes leading west into Yi Ti.
Located at either end of the sea are two cities whose existence is highly disputed. On the north-western shore is the City of Winged Men, home to a species of men who have leathery wings like a bat and can fly. Maesters believe such reports to be apocryphal, and ponder if the inhabitants of this city have created artificial wings of some fashion, or perhaps ride wyverns or even dragons in the Valyrian manner.
At the south-eastern end of the sea is Carcosa, a city even more mysterious and bizarre (but far less well-known) than Asshai. Carcosa is ruled by a sorcerer-warlord who claims to be the 69th Yellow Emperor of Yi Ti, and has claimed the Imperial Throne in Yin. However, as yet he has made no overt move against Yi Ti. Given that Carcosa is said to lie just over 2,000 miles east of Yin, it is not an effective base of operations for a military operation against the Empire, nor does the area seem conducive to the raising of a large army. How this matter will unfold remains to be seen.
When it comes to stories of the far east, one place is mentioned more than any other as a place of mystery, magic, wonders…and terrors beyond counting. Asshai, or Asshai-by-the-Shadow, is a great sea port on far eastern coast of the Jade Sea, the most southerly known location on the continent of Essos and a place of fell repute.
Asshai lies on the mouth of the River Ash. It is located 400 miles east of the Manticore Isles. The nearest major cities are Turrani in Leng, 600 miles to the north-west, and Jinqi in Yi Ti, almost exactly 1,000 miles to the north. According to the best estimates we have, Asshai lies almost exactly 6,000 miles south-east of King’s Landing in Westeros.
The border with Yi Ti lies about 750 miles north of Asshai. Almost the entire coast between the YiTish border and Asshai consists of ghost grass, a mysterious type of grass which poisons and kills all other forms of plant and animal life. Asshai and the surrounding region is eerily quiet, with no birds, insects or animals of any kind and the only fish to be found in the Ash and nearby waters of the Jade Sea are deformed, misshapen, unpleasant to look upon and unsafe to eat.
Travelling to Asshai is an ordeal: due to the ghost grass, it is necessary to carry fodder for pack animals all the way from Yi Ti to the city and back again, which makes trade caravans rare and expensive. For this reason most travel to the city is undertaken by sea.
Asshai itself is enormous. Thick black walls surround an area which could comfortably swallow Volantis, Qarth, King’s Landing and Oldtown combined. Thousands and perhaps tens of thousands of stone buildings fill the interior space of the city, most built of the same black stone, slightly oily to the touch. It is similar to the oily black statues of the Isle of Toads in the Basilisk Isles, the ruined city of Yeen in Sothoryos and the curious foundation stones of the High Tower in Oldtown.
The origin of Asshai is unknown, although the black stone and its similarities to other ruins across the world has hinted at the possible existence of a prehistoric civilisation annihilated long, long before even the Dawn of Days and the coming of the First Men to Westeros. But maesters dislike such flights of fancy. All that can be said for sure is that Asshai has existed almost unchanged through all of human history, predating the Old Empire of Ghis and perhaps even the Great Empire of the Dawn.
Asshai is vast, but it is barely inhabited. An estimate of the permanent population of the city puts it in the low tens of thousands at best. One in ten of the buildings are inhabited, if that, and these are mostly clustered around the mouth of the Ash where it opens into the Jade Sea, forming a natural harbour. Ships from across the Jade Sea and the known world can be found in Asshai’s harbour, where the traditional trappings of a city can also be found: merchant houses, taverns, inns, temples and so on. It is here that laughter and enjoyment can be had and heard, but only for a time. There is something oppressive and sinister in the atmosphere of Asshai, something that makes it a relief for the crew of a ship to leave.
Further into the city, away from the more public areas near the port, are more remote and sinister temples and palaces where black magic is said to be practised. Libraries hold forbidden lore and visitors from across the known world are permitted to undertake whatever obscene rites and foul rituals they wish, for nothing is forbidden in the City of Shadows. The only price is that the shadowbinders, the sorcerers of Asshai, are allowed to learn and gather intelligence from visitors, and in doing so their own power grows.
The Shadow Lands
On the north-eastern side of Asshai it is said that a single track leads east and north into the mountains. Closely following the course of the River Ash, the path rises into the jagged peaks, whilst the river below is plunged into shadow, the sun only visible briefly at midday. This is the Vale of Shadows, a place that strikes fear into the hearts of all who hear of it. Only the shadowbinders of Asshai and the natives of the Shadow Lands are allowed to travel along this road into the heart of the darkness.
Asshai and the Shadow Lands are oft-mentioned in the same breath, but are two distinct cultures and societies. The Asshai’i are pale but recognisably human. They have their own language and culture, but they are also sociable (in a strange way), dealing with outsiders from other lands on a regular basis. They are relatively few in number, and are found solely in Asshai itself. The people of the Shadow are different, more secretive and much more rarely seen. Those of the Shadow wear red lacquered masks and never let their faces be seen in public. It is unknown where they live – there are neither towns nor villages close to Asshai or marked on any map – or what they seek. Very occasionally, people of the Shadow venture out of their homeland and traverse the known world. They often speak in riddles and sometimes attach themselves to people of import at moments of great crisis.
300 miles north-east of Asshai, in the very heart of the Shadow Lands, is the corpse-city, Stygai (sometimes called “the Stygai”). The City of the Night lies high up in the mountains, overlooking a fork in the Ash, but it is dwarfed by the mountains around it and exists in near-constant shadow and night. The gates of the city conceal its size, extent and current status (although maps show the city as a ruin, this may be more guesswork than based on intelligence). Only the shadowbinders are allowed within its walls. According to legend, dragons and even demons dwell in the mountains around the city. The Shadow Men themselves claim to have taught the original art of taming dragons to the Valyrians, but this is considered a boast by maesters, who point out that if dragons were native to the Shadow, the people there would have likewise used them to conquer and rule, like the Valyrians. The alternative – that those of the Shadow may be instead using their powers to protect or defend something threatening or valuable within the corpse city – is even more disturbing.
The Shadow Lands cover a much vaster area of mountains, of course, extending a further thousand miles to the north-east where they blend into the Mountains of the Morn. Distinguishing between the regions is difficult, but the Shadow Lands can be identified from the ghost grass growing everywhere and the tall, jagged peaks hiding the sun giving way to a more traditional and less dramatic landscape. How far east the Shadow Lands extend, however, is unknown.
The Saffron Straits and Ulos
Asshai sits on the Jade Sea, but also just north of the entrance to the Saffron Straits. The entrance to the straits is a 90-mile-wide channel, relatively calm and inviting-looking. Relatively few ships will enter the straits willingly. East of Asshai, there are simply no ports known to exist. It isn’t even known if the straits are traversable by large ships, or if they open into a further eastern ocean or if they are actually part of a massive bay enclosing the island-continent of Ulthos. Attempted explorations in this direction have simply vanished without a trace. Some ships have managed to return after exploring the coast of the straits for a thousand miles: they report that the Shadow Lands and ghost grass continue along the shores to the north, and two large islands can be found in the straits. One of these has been dubbed Ulos and is large enough (150 miles across, roughly) to host a series of mountainous peaks, as well as thick jungle. Just inland from the north shore is a curious ruined city of unknown origin. What destroyed the city is also unknown.
The straits separate the continent of Essos from the island-continent of Ulthos to the south. Ulthos is covered in an incredibly dense jungle, reportedly of strange, purple-black trees. These reports are contradictory and bizarre; maesters point out that the saffron plant is purple in colour, so this may be a reference to large amounts of the plant growing along the coast. This would also give the straits their name.
The coast of Ulthos has been explored eastwards for over a thousand miles, but no further; ships that have travelled further east to chart the shore have disappeared. The current and prevailing winds on the Jade Sea have made exploring the coast southwards also extremely difficult, and overland expeditions have foundered due to a lack of fresh water. About 250 miles south of Asshai, an immense and spectacular harbour has been discovered, a good site for a port, but the hostile landscape and the lack of other cities to trade with on the south coast of the Jade Sea has meant that there has been no enthusiasm for the venture.
The size and status of Ulthos remains highly debatable. Some believe it is an island somewhat larger than Great Moraq; others believe it is a continent in its own right. Others have suggested it is an extension or part of Essos to the north and east or Sothoryos to the west and south. Until more reliable expeditions can be launched, the truth of this matter will remain unknown.
This brings our exploration of the geography of the known world to a close. We have travelled some seven thousand miles, from the Lonely Light in the Sunset Sea to the isle of Ulos in the Saffron Straits, beyond even fabled Asshai, and spanned the globe from the northern polar seas beyond the Lands of Always Winter to the steaming equatorial jungles of the mysterious continents of Sothoryos and Ulthos. Yet even this vast region is but part of the world: astonishingly, it makes up just under one-quarter of the estimated surface area of the planet.
What lies beyond the boundaries of the known world is unclear. From Qartheen and Valyrian explorations, we know that Sothoryos extends southwards for a vast distance, deep into the southern hemisphere where sailors say even the stars are strange. Attempts to circumnavigate Ulthos and determine its true dimensions have failed, but some believe it to be a vast landmass on the dividing line between island and continent. And how far further east Essos extends remains a mystery, the unforgiving Grey Waste, Cannibal Sands and Shadow Lands blocking attempts to further explore that vast continent.
We know our world is a globe, so it should be possible to instead traverse the Sunset Sea and come to the far eastern shores of Essos from the east. Maesters estimate the distance to the eastern edge of the known world travelling west from the Seven Kingdoms to be almost 18,000 miles, a distance unfathomable to most and certainly not survivable in the best ships currently afloat (apart, maybe, from those of the Summer Islanders). But the Sunset Sea is vast, storm-wracked and inhospitable. Beyond the Lonely Light the ocean appears vast and infinite. The Farwynds of the Lonely Light claim to have found hints of other lands – islands, maybe even the coast of a continent as-yet unknown to science – but these claims remain to be confirmed.
What is clear is that the lands currently known to us contain enough dangers, wonders and adventurers to fill a million lifetimes, and it is in these lands that the cycle of war and peace, life and death, summer and winter will continue.
Beyond the Bone Mountains and Jade Sea, reliable information on the known world becomes more fragmented and dubious. History and geography become intertwined with invention, myths and fables. The distances involved are tremendous and travelling to those lands to learn the truth and back again may take years or decades, and along the way all sorts of unreliable information might be picked up. Thus the maesters of the Citadel have only been able to put together the most general of accounts of the lands of the furthest or most distant east. Still, we must report what is known.
The Plains of the Jogos Nhai
Lying to the east of the northern Bone Mountains and the Howling Hills are an area of grasslands and plains not immediately dissimilar to the Dothraki Sea west of the mountains. This area of grassplains is extensive, although not as large as the Dothraki Sea, extending for over 1,000 miles from the Shrinking Sea to the furthest north extending up the eastern shores of Leviathan Sound. The area measures between 800 and 1,000 miles across from east to west, extending from the Great Sand Sea to the Bleeding Sea.
This region is the home of the Jogos Nhai, a curious people who bind the heads of their infants for the first two years of their life, resulting in pointed skulls. They are warlike, considering themselves to be at war with all other peoples (although individually they can suspend this conflict to justify some elements of trade), but they do not engage in internecine warfare, which is forbidden by their gods. The Jogos Nhai are nomadic, living in mobile tents known as yurts, and are divided into small bands, each led by a jhat (or chieftain) and a Moonsinger, a priestess. Occasionally the Jogos Nhai are led by a jhattar or jhat-of-jhats, but this has not occurred for some centuries.
The border between the Jogos Nhai lands and the northern frontier of Yi Ti is fiercely debated, with the lack of a major geographic feature to define the frontier. The latitude of the Shrinking Sea running east to the Bleeding Sea is generally considered the border, but this is an imprecise measurement. The Jogos Nhai raid the frontier incessantly, with the Empire sometimes sending retaliatory forces into the Jogos Nhai lands, but there hasn’t been a major war between the two powers for a long time.
N’Ghai is a small kingdom located on the Shivering Sea, east of the Plains of the Jogos Nhai. In ancient times N’Ghai was much larger, extending far to the west. Its western borderlands were destroyed by the Jogos Nhai, who have pushed the border back to the river and a single city of note, Nefer.
Nefer is the only known port on the Shivering Sea east of New Ibbish and the Port of Ibben. There are literally no known safe harbours or ports on the north coast of Essos for a thousand miles or more to the east, and no ships come sailing out of the east from whatever nations or cities which may lie at the far eastern end of the continent. As a result of this Nefer is the end-point for voyages out of the east and the start for bold merchants sailing west to Ib, or even further west to the Free Cities.
Nefer is built around a reasonably-sized harbour, but the geography of the region is difficult, with a rocky shore and towering chalk cliffs nearby. For this reason, as well as defence, most of the city is built underground, making it a dark and ill-omened place. Nefer is reported to be a haunt for necromancers and torturers, although how much of this ill reputation is earned is unknown.
Leviathan Sound and the Thousand Islands
Leviathan Sound is a wide bay on the north coast of Essos, more than 400 miles wide. The immense bay is home to fish but also to whales, who gather here in their tens of thousands. The Ibbenese see these waters as fertile hunting grounds, sending whalers into the waters in large numbers. The shores are claimed by the Jogos Nhai, so the Ibbenese prefer to make landfall on the islands that dot the bay.
Further east lies an absolutely immense archipelago stretching for over 1,200 miles from east to west and 800 miles north to south. This region is called the Thousand Islands, but the total number of large islands is believed to be no higher than three hundred. The Ibbenese have charted the islands and even made attempts to colonise them in the past, but were dissuaded by the inhabitants of the islands.
The natives of the Thousand Islands are strange, with green-tinged skin. The women file their teeth and shave their heads. Statues of obscene, fish-faced gods can be found on many of the island shores. They are utterly xenophobic, attacking strangers on sight. They have a deep fear of the sea, refusing to set foot on ships even on pain of death. The waters and islands are also dotted with strange ruins. According to myth this entire region was once above the water, but a cataclysm in the Dawn Age saw the sea waters rise and drown the entire kingdom. Some maesters date this event to the Hammer of the Waters that drowned the Arm of Dorne between Essos and Westeros, which some claim was a result of polar ice melting beyond the Shivering Sea, but this is speculative at best. What is known is that the Thousand Islands are hostile, unpleasant and dangerous.
Mossovy is a large region located east of the Thousand Islands. It is the eastern-most region of Essos to appear on maps, extending as it does right off the edge of the known world. What lies beyond, or how large Mossovy is, is unknown.
It is known that Mossovy’s coastal region is heavily forested for at least a thousand miles, starting not far east of Nefer. These forests extend for between 200 and 300 miles inland and are thick, dark and cold. Shapechangers and demon-hunters are said to dwell in Mossovy. There is no record of any Mossovite cities or towns existing.
The Cannibal Sands and Grey Waste
The Grey Waste is a vast desert region located south of Mossovy and east of the Bleeding Sea. It appears to be utterly uninhabitable, being cold, grey and utterly lacking in forests, rivers or habitable lands. It is likely that this region continues for some distance to the east, and its utter hostility may be a key reason why the eastern-most part of Essos remains unknown to us.
The fringes of the Waste are known as the Cannibal Sands and are reportedly home to rapacious tribes of flesh-eating men and women. Maesters are doubtful of this story – tribes of cannibals would presumably eat themselves to death very quickly – but there are enough stories of savage, barely-human tribes in this region that some credence is given to them.
K’Dath and the Land of Shrykes
The city of K’Dath stands alone on the plains south-west of the Grey Waste and Cannibal Sands, some 200 miles east of the Bleeding Sea. The K’Dathi claim to be the oldest people in the known world, with their city existing since the dawn of time, but this is again doubted by learned men. K’Dath is reportedly a place of bizarre and obscene rites designed to appease the depraved desires of mad gods, with even the cannibals and Shrykes fearing to approach the city.
South-west of the city lies some 300 miles of wasteland, inhabited by the Shrykes, a race of men wearing lizard skins who occasionally test themselves against the Five Forts on the border of Yi Ti, to little avail.
Bonetown and the Dry Deep
The city of Bonetown lies approximately 350 miles south-east of K’Dath, south of the Cannibal Sands and east of the Land of the Shrykes. Bonetown is a ramshackle city perched on the edge of the Dry Deep, a large canyon. A hundred leagues long, the Dry Deep is a parched, steeply-walled valley, dotted with the remains of large animals. The bones of these creatures are collected for trade at Bonetown (which itself is said to be partially built out of bones).
The Cities of the Bloodless Men
South-east of the Dry Deep, along the north-eastern fringes of the Mountains of the Morn, lies the Cities of the Bloodless Men. The natives of this region are curiously pale. Some claim the natives of this region are in fact dead and have been resurrected by foul rites. Maesters outright reject this story, considering it fanciful at best.
South of this region lies one of the most redoubtable areas of the known world: the Shadow Lands, the Hidden Sea and, beyond them, the forbidding and secretive city known only as Asshai-by-the-Shadow.
In the far east of the known world lies land of myth and legend. Little news of it comes to Westeros, save in the form of tales too incredible to be believed and the reports of those few sailors brave enough to visit the Jade Sea. This land is Yi Ti, the Golden Empire, the Land of a Thousand Cities and bearer of many other grandiose titles.
Separating fact from fiction is hard, but it is known that Yi Ti lies on the northern shores of the Jade Sea, east of Qarth and the Jade Gates. The Golden Empire expands across a colossal area, measuring some 1,800 miles from east to west and 1,700 miles from north to south. However, these measurements are inexact, given that the borders of Yi Ti are constantly shifting depending on who makes the maps and which emperor is sitting on the throne at any time. The current borders are generally held to be the Dry Bones and the Great Sand Sea in the far north-west, the Shrinking Sea and Bleeding Sea in the far north, the Mountains of the Morn in the north-east and the Shadow Mountains and their ghost grass-swathed foothills in the far east. Yi Ti is the second-largest nation-state in the known world, outstripped in size only by the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros. The Dothraki claim more territory, although they do not rule it as a coherent nation-state.
Despite its name, the Golden Empire is far reduced in size compared to its glorious heyday of several centuries ago, when its borders stretched much further north into the Plains of the Jogos Nhai and south to encompass the island of Leng and several other isles of the Jade Sea, including the east coast of Great Moraq. It is smaller still than the Great Empire of the Dawn, a vast nation which stretched from the Bones to the furthest east beyond the Shadow Lands and Grey Waste and from the Jade Sea to the Shivering Sea. The Great Empire of the Dawn collapsed in the Long Night and Yi Ti emerged as its successor state, suggesting that the current Golden Empire may approach eight thousand years in age, predating Valyria and maybe even Old Ghis.
The Western Provinces
The western provinces of Yi Ti are where most travellers and traders first encounter the Golden Empire. The city of Asabhad is the gateway to Yi Ti, sitting at the mouth of a river on the main road leading west to Qarth (about 500 miles distant) and north to Bayasabhad (450 miles distant). Given the naming convention, Asabhad may have been a city of the Patrimony of Hyrkoon in origin rather than Yi Ti; the city’s modern status is ambiguous, with a strong YiTish influence but also numerous outlanders living within its walls.
From Asabhad, a road leads down the coast for some 600 miles. This stretch of the coast is populous, with numerous small towns and ports dotting the shores. Cultivated farmland extends inland, to where the great jungles and forests of Yi Ti begin.
The Jungles of Yi Ti
Yi Ti’s southern half is dominated by a vast region of jungle and woodland. The maps of this region can be deceptive: rather than one vast unbroken canopy of trees, the jungles are divided by open areas, hills and fields surrounding towns and small cities. The jungles are warm, but they are not the boiling, plague-ridden hell of Sothoryos or the thick, balmy jungles of the Summer Isles. The jungles of Yi Ti are very hospitable, giving rise to Yi Ti’s enormous population. The jungle region of Yi Ti extends for 1,400 miles along the northern coast of the Jade Sea and extending for over 700 miles inland.
The great city of Yin sits on the coast of the Jade Sea, where a mighty river flows into the sea. Yin is the traditional capital of Yi Ti and is (usually) the largest city of the Empire. A vast, sprawling metropolis, the only city of the west that can rival it in size is Volantis and maybe Qarth. More than a million people appear to live in and around the city, from where the 17th Azure Emperor Bu Gai rules over the Empire. In practice Bu Gai’s remit does not extend that far from the city itself, and his rule is challenged by the rival Pol Qo of Trader Town, the 1st Orange Emperor, and the Sorcerer-Lord of Carcosa, who claims the title of 69th Yellow Emperor.
Hundreds of miles upriver and inland, deep in the heart of the jungle, lies the ruined city of Si Qo, from where the Scarlet Emperors of Yi Ti ruled for centuries before they were pulled from power following several disastrous expeditions against the Jogos Nhai.
The Eastern Provinces
The eastern provinces extend from the delta of a vast river into the fabled Shadow Lands. This region is ruled from Jinqi, an extensive and large city located on the river delta. The Maroon Dynasty established its capital in Jinqi at a time when Yi Ti’s borders were hard-pressed by raiders out of the Shadow Lands. Wearing red, lacquered masks, the raiders tested the boundaries of Yi Ti until the Maroon Emperors decisively defeated them, driving them back into the mountainous Shadow Lands. However, the Emperors forbade punitive expeditions, fearing that their armies could not return from the shadow-drenched lands of the mysterious east.
The eastern provinces are dominated by jungle in the south and vast areas of cultivated farmland in the north, extending for over 400 miles to the towering Mountains of the Morn. To the south-west, a river divides the Yi Ti frontier from the Shadow Lands. This region is infested with ghost grass, a form of white grass which poisons other crops and kills them. According to the Dothraki of the far west, ghost grass will one day consume the entire world. Given the remoteness of the Dothraki Sea from this region (between 2,500 and 3,000 miles away), it is curious that they have even heard of ghost grass, let alone developed legends around it.
The Northern Provinces
The northern provinces of Yi Ti cover fully half of the Empire. This region is dominated by utterly immense, cultivated farmlands which extend across colossal distances. The better part of a thousand miles separate the Great Sand Sea from the Bleeding Sea, and this space is filled with farmsteads, towns and small cities, linked by numerous roads. This is the breadbasket of Yi Ti, the food supply for the huge, hungry coastal cities of the south.
The largest city in this region is Tiqui, the seat of the old Purple Emperors. Tiqui is a vast, thriving metropolis linked by good roads to Bayasabhad (450 miles to the west, around the fringes of the Great Sand Sea) and Trader Town (300 miles to the north).
Trader Town is another large city, located near the northernmost territory reliably claimed by the Empire. The city lies athwart the Steel Road which leads north and west around the Great Sand Sea, through the Howling Hills and into the Bone Mountains, to the city of Kayakayanaya. Trader Town is so-named for its reputation for trade and commerce with the lands to the west. It is also heavily fortified due to the threat of the Jogos Nhai, whose territory lies not far north of the city. General Pol Qo has recently seized Trader Town, proclaimed himself the first emperor of the Orange Dynasty and laid claim to all of Yi Ti, but has so far not moved against the southern provinces.
Not far east of Trader Town lies the Shrinking Sea. Once an immense lake, this body of water has driven up over the millennia, leaving behind just two shallow lakes and a lot of mud. Some maesters believe that the Shrinking Sea has shrunk due to the long impact of the unpredictable seasons, a similar fate to the Silver Sea of western Essos and the Great Sand Sea, although of course this does not explain how the sea formed in the first place.
Almost 600 miles separate the Shrinking Sea from the Bleeding Sea. This is the northern-most frontier of Yi Ti, patrolled by imperial armies and defended by infrequent forts. The frontier is frequently raided by the Jogos Nhai, but it is some centuries since a zhattar unified a really large army to trouble the Empire.
The Bleeding Sea is a large lake, 100 miles wide and over 500 miles long from north to south. Only the southern-most part of the lake lies within YiTish territory, and it is a remote, sparsely-populated region. The lake is ill-omened for its red waters, although these are caused by a simple and harmless blooming plant. More impressive is what lies on the south-eastern edge of the sea, a colossal network of fortifications to rival that of the Wall of Westeros.
The Five Forts
Located on the far north-eastern frontier of the Golden Empire are the Five Forts, a name given to five immense bastions and a network of smaller garrisons and walls between them. Each one of the Five Forts is made of fused black stone and extends reportedly 1,000 feet into the sky, making them the tallest man-made structures in the world, out-topping even the Wall and the High Tower of Oldtown in Westeros. Each one of the Five Forts is reported to be able to garrison 10,000 men. This array of fortifications stretches for about 250 miles, from the south-eastern coast of the Bleeding Sea to the Mountains of the Morn, forming a near-impassable barrier to travel between Yi Ti and the lands beyond.
The origin of the Five Forts is unclear. They certainly predate the Golden Empire and the Long Night. Some historians date their construction to the Pearl Emperor of the Great Empire of the Dawn, who built them to defend against the armies of the Lion of Night in the Dawn of Days, but maesters cast scorn on this story. Some similarities between the Five Forts and the dragon-forged structures of Valyria have been reported, but they long predate the Valyrian Freehold and, despite rumours of dragons in the Shadow Lands to the south-east, no reliable stories or histories place dragons in this region.
Beyond the Five Forts lies a 300-mile-wide region of wilderness inhabited by tribes of men called “Shrykes”. The Shrykes wear the skins of lizards and are hostile raiders, but they certainly do not represent a major threat to Yi Ti or to the Five Forts. It is assumed that whatever threat the Five Forts were built to defend against is long dead.
South and east of the Five Forts, on the other side of the Mountains of the Morn, lies a hidden valley, a hidden sea and a mysterious city where a sorcerer-king has recently proclaimed himself the 69th Yellow Emperor of Yi Ti. Again, this individual has made no move against the imperial heartlands so far.
The island of Leng lies just off the coast of Yi Ti. Until 400 years ago it was ruled by the emperors, but it threw off the shackles of conquest and became independent once again. However, the Lengii maintain strong ties with Yi Ti and try to avoid open warfare.
The island of Leng is 450 miles long from north to south and about 200 miles wide. It sits in the eastern Jade Sea, with less than 50 miles separating it from the mainland.
Leng is covered by jungle, within which sit curious, ancient ruins. According to Lengii tradition, great caves lead to fathomless depths, from where a race known only as the “Old Ones” ruled the island and commanded the native inhabitants. The YiTish collapsed most of these caves and banned any further worship of the Old Ones, but the tradition of following their teachings remains.
The northern two-thirds of Leng is dominated by the descendants of YiTish colonists; the southern third is dominated by the original Lengii. The ruler of Leng, who styles herself the God-Empress, rules in a line of matriarchal descent but takes two husbands, one from the Lengii area of the island and one from the YiTish, to maintain balance.
There are three major cites on Leng: Leng Yi on the north-eastern coast, 180 miles or so south-west of Jinqi in Yi Ti; Leng Ma on the west coast, some 250 miles south of Leng Yi; and Turrani on the south coast. Leng Yi and Leng Ma are YiTish cities in origin whilst Turrani is Lengii. Turrani also has the intriguing honour of being the closet major city to the fabled and feared metropolis of Asshai, located just 600 miles further south and east across the eastern reach of the Jade Sea.
North of Yi Ti lies another land of mysterious legends and myths, ruled by the zorse-riding warriors of the Jogos Nhai.
The Summer Isles lie far to the south of Westeros and the Free Cities. A land of unrelenting summer, beautiful wildlife and friendly (but not foolish) natives, the Summer Isles sound like a paradise.
The Summer Isle archipelago consists of over fifty islands. There are three major islands, (Walano, Omboru and Jhala), over twenty intermediate-sized ones and more than twenty-five which are too small to appear on maps but are large enough to host colonies of birds or small tribes of men. The northern-most island, Stone Head, lies approximately 750 miles south of the south coast of Dorne and about the same south-west of Lys, whilst the island of Naath lies some 500 miles east of Jhala. The coast of Sothoryos lies an unclear distance to the south-east of Jhala. From north to south the archipelago spans just over 1,200 miles and some 1,100 miles from west to east.
The Summer Isles are divided into numerous small kingdoms, each ruled by its own prince or princess. These rulers sometimes come into conflict with one another, but do not fight wars. Instead they engage in ritualised combat resembling Westerosi tourneys, with the losers sent into exile. The Summer Isles have occasionally banded together as one people, most notably in the Slavers’ Wars when they turned back the pirates of the Stepstones and Basilisk Isles who sought to turn the islands into a source of slaves, but these periods are rare.
The most populous of the Summer Isles, Walano is the northern-most of the three main islands. 500 miles long and over 100 miles wide, the island is sizeable and home to the archipelago’s most notable settlements. Lotus Point, the largest city and main trading hub of the islands, is located on the south-western coast. Tall Trees Town, home to the largest collection of knowledge in the isles (via the vast grove of Talking Trees, which have the history of the islands carved into their trunks), is located 200 miles to the south, on the south-western coast of the island. The town of Last Lament is located on the north-western coast of the island, so called because it is the last port of call for Summer Islands before they cross the Summer Sea towards Oldtown and Dorne.
Walano may be the oldest-settled of the islands; the Ghiscari record the island as being inhabited well over five thousand years ago, when an expedition landed on the island after being blown off course and were forced to flee by the natives. This led to Walano being shunned as the “Island of Demons” for several centuries, until the Summer Islanders themselves ventured beyond their shores and made peaceful contact with Valyria to the north-east and Dorne to the north-west.
The island of Omboru is located to the south of Walano, across the Smiling Sea. The smallest of the three major islands (at around 350 miles across and less than 100 miles wide), it consists of densely-packed jungle and appears to be the most lightly-inhabited of the three main isles as well, with no major cities or towns.
Jhala is the largest of the Summer Isles, measuring over 600 miles from tip to tip and over 200 miles in width. It is located south of Omboru, across the Indigo Straits. Jhala is dominated by two towering mountain ranges which run along the coasts, dividing the interior into several pleasant river valleys. Sweet Lotus Vale is located in the west of the island and Red Flower Vale in the east. Red Flower Vale was recently the site of a major power struggle, which ended with Prince Jalabhar Xho being sent into exile. He has since taken up residence in the Red Keep of King’s Landing in Westeros, where he regularly petitions King Robert Baratheon for aid in retaking his homeland.
The city of Ebonhead lies at the mouth of the Sweet Lotus River, on Parrot Bay. This was once the seat of Xanda Qo, the famed warrior-princess who united the Islands and helped drive off the slavers. Her daughter Chatana inherited her crown and ended the wars with a decisive victory, but was unable to maintain the unity of the islands, which later fragmented into independent kingdoms.
The south-eastern part of the island is a peninsula, the Golden Head, extending into the Summer Sea. The small island of Lizard Head lies off the coast, so-named for the lizards that bask in the sun on its shores.
The Lesser Islands
The island of Stone Head lies off the north coast of Walano. It is named for the large carved face which stares north across the seas towards Westeros.
The Singing Stones, located west of Omboru, are so-called for their jagged mountain peaks and curious rock formations which cause the winds to make “singing” sounds as they pass over the isles.
Koj, located between Walano and Omboru in the Smiling Sea, is the centre of the isles’ shipbuilding efforts. The Pearl Palace, seat of the Princes of Koj, is home to a remarkable map collection, access to which is strictly rationed.
Abulu, better-known as the Isle of Women, is located off the north-eastern coast of Walano. The island is small but habitable. It was settled by the Rhoynar during their flight from the Valyrians. The island was too small for the hundreds of thousands of refugees, so Princess Nymeria led them on to Dorne, but a small number remained behind. Their inhabitants continue to live on the island to this day, a fierce and proud people of mixed Summer Islander and Rhoynish blood.
Other named islands include Xon, the Bones, Doquu, Moluu, the Three Exiles, the Isle of Love and Isle of Birds.
According to the Summer Islanders, at one time they attempted to colonise the western coast of Sothoryos, which lies to the south-east of their islands (far south of Basilisk Point). However, these attempts were all defeated by the same misfortune and bad luck which destroyed other colonies on the continent. It is believed that the Summer Islands have explored and chartered the west coast of Sothoryos for thousands of miles far to the south, but, if so, they have refused to share these maps with others. Presumably they remain, under heavy guard, in the Pearl Palace of Koj.