A Great and Terrible Whisper
The soul of Ustalav has long been its largest city, the foggy, newly crowned capital of Caliphas, where vineyards, perfumeries and alabaster quarries all feed a growing decadence.
Local knowledge warns to “trust no friend in the fog of Caliphas,” advice once spread by sailors plying the rocky coasts of Avalon Bay but now most often cited amid the alleys and salons of Ustalav’s capital city. Only 34 years ago, the royal court relocated to within the county’s borders, bringing with it the prestige and influence the proud region long coveted. Yet as is so often true, achieved desires heralded damnation. Today, the immigrating noblesse seeks ever-new decadences, rampantly exploiting the cheap lives of the county’s simple people. The coastal cities grow more and more crowded, unleashing diseases of both body and mind. And as the wildernesses give way to fuel the hungers of the growing population, long-slumbering things rouse to a world unprepared for their displeasure.
In Ustalavic history, Caliphas once held a reputation as the demesne of witches and their soulless servitors. Legends say that with the defeat of the country’s last king, the mysterious sisters of the Albria woods parlayed with the Whispering Tyrant to take control of the land they considered theirs, but the uncaring lich spurned them and scattered their numbers. After the Tyrant’s fall, Caliphas numbered among the first counties reborn, its rulers—the Caliphvaso family— being one of only two noble lineages to survive the lich’s rule. Rivalry between the coastal county and the capital of Ardis began almost immediately, exacerbated by contention between the Caliphvasos and the newly crowned Ordranti line—a bitterness that persists into the modern age.
Caliphas claims a dramatic landscape, sloping down from the rocky peaks of the Hungry Mountains, through woodlands and fertile river country to the rocky coast of Lake Encarthan and Avalon Bay. The majority of the county’s much-touted civilization clings to the coastline, giving way to wilderness just as rugged and hamlets just as superstitious as one might find in any of the country’s hinterlands. While lean wolves hunt the hills and forests, Caliphas is most notorious for great swarms of winged shadows—ravens and bats obsessed over in local folklore.
Although the people of Caliphas pride themselves on their enlightenment, their superstitions merely take a more urbane quality—folk medicines and rural portents replaced by racial prejudices and peddled omens. Such faux worldliness leads many city dwellers to dismiss the supernatural as hokum unsuited to modern reason. Personal independence and dismissive attitudes toward the crown typify local outlooks, according the region its reputation as a haven for dissension and a leader among counties opposed to the monarchy, even as it harbors the throne.