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.
Very little is known of Shal-Morzinn, 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.
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.