Punjar: The Tarnished Jewel
Above the Great Stairs—a barrier of monetary prestige as much as one of faith—lies an immaculate terrene where real temples rise from earthly city streets as monuments to the gods. The ward is an oasis amidst the squalor of Punjar, a promenade of lush gardens that defy the arid climate of the Southern Province—said to be the work of a ghostly caretaker or perhaps the gods themselves. The temples sprawled across this spacious ward include austere monasteries, elegant pagodas, and fortified donjons. All but the most powerful temples have changed hands (and faiths) innumerable times across the years. Some were cast into ruin and rebuilt to accommodate new gods, others merely dusted off and a different holy symbol affixed above the sanctuary.
With few exceptions, the temples are ruled by unscrupulous high priests and jealously guarded by warrior-slaves. They fought to achieve the eminence and influence of the Temple Ward and do not willingly relinquish it. The faiths that fail here are ones ill equipped to defeat lesser faiths that would tear them down… and those who fail to pay the Overlord’s exorbitant tithes.
The dominant feature of the ward is the Fastness of Time, temple of Valdreth. Legends hold that it is Punjar’s oldest structure, its humble stones first laid by a priest of the Unchanging One in an age when quadruped monsters still ruled the world. Religious texts found within the temple claim it will be the last to fall when the sandstorms of time erode the city into oblivion. The Fastness and its clergy seem to be the only permanent fixture amidst the turbulent sea of postulants. Patient as the god they revere, the followers of Valdreth endure the envious slander of the other temples and the scorn of the charlatans in the Bazaar. The high priest of the Fastness of Time bears the title of Senescent Speaker, and the current Speaker is believed to be the oldest human in Punjar.
For their timeworn vigil, the Overlord allows the Fastness to quarter the Temple Ward’s only law enforcement: the Glass Knights, an order of paladins devoted to the Unchanging One. Longsuffering holy warriors, the Glass Knights maintain order within the ward, but do not bar anyone physical entry at the Great Stairs. The knights firmly believe that those who seek the gods, be they knaves or kings, should be given the chance to do so. Only the violent and the unstable are cast out by the Glass Knights, and they are all that prevent open conflict between the rival temples.
Temples to Myna (the Maid of Fortune), Lasheeva (Lady Dissolution), Xeluth (the Ravager), and Yvyn (the Righteous Slaughter) number among the most popular temples in this ward. House Hoshuet of the Trader’s Cabal is a known patron of the Death Vault, Lasheeva’s temple, and rumors often claim that the clergy of Lady Dissolution are planning to unseat the Fastness of Time as the ward’s dominant temple. Others say that a clergy of Neshti, the roguish Lady of Shadows, moves unseen among the populace in quiet support of Valdreth and wields power equal to the great temples beyond the Great Stairs.