Baalbeck

Baalbeck (house of Baal) commands the great plain of the Bekaa like a dark queen the vast multitudes of servants and slaves.  The city is home to the only Major Temple in the Land of Fineekia and is, therefore, built like a massive fortress and defended by its six consecutive walls.

The first time Ahiram went to Baalbeck, he was six years old, and the slow carriage managed to cross the Lebanon peaks right before sunset. In the hazy light of the dying sun, the fortress appeared to him like a crouching arkedon, the beast that dominated the skies during the mythical Age of Blood. The massive towers looked to him like the horns of the beast, and the sprawling dark structure resembled the giant body of the six-winged creature.

"Hoda! Look, it's an arkedon about to take flight!" he said, drawing closer to his sister, but she laughed joyfully, tussled his hair and handed him a bunch of roasted chestnuts.

Behind the first wall, the Temple proper dominates the city.  A wide, marble, spiraling staircase follows a steep incline through the six consecutive gates and ends in the vast precinct before the Hall of Preaching. Behind the Temple lies the palace of the high priestess. From its vast balconies, one can behold the six hills of Baalbeck, five of which house the nobility and the high ranking officers. The last hill, known as "The Deep", is covered with a dense forest where no one is allowed entry.  A full division of High Riders, 2,800 men strong, is stationed within the outer wall, and the soldiers live in comfortable tenements at the feet of the five hills, together with Aspirants and the large body of servants the Temple needs for its daily maintenance.

Outside the main wall, the city spreads like a delta whose source is the Temple and is divided into nine sectors. The streets are wide and orthogonal, the homes are clean and tidy, and curfew is imposed three hours after sunset. Despite these restrictions, the population of Baalbeck outside the walls is 40,000 strong, composed mainly of herders, farmers, and artisans who supply the needs of the High Riders and are protected by them. Further, the High Priestess Bahiya was reputed as equitable and magnanimous who tolerated no abuse from the soldiers.

At night, when the soft-lit candles of the farmers would light the outer city, Bahiya would stand on her balcony and watch the city glitter like a diamond.  Had her servants seen her, they would have been surprised by the sadness in her eyes, as if she were looking for a face or a  presence she missed.

Bahiya knew the curfew was unnecessary. The High Riders took comfort in it, but she knew that even if she were to lift it, no citizen of Baalbeck would venture outside their homes in the dark of night, for deep beneath the earth, in the sixth underground level of the Temple, the Kerta priest  lurked. The people of Baalbeck had heard rumors and stories about this figure they had never seen; how in the deep of night, the Kerta priest walked the streets of Baalbeck like an immaterial shadow and snatched the unwary passerby and took them to the dungeons, from which no one ever returned.

Like most major temples in the land, Baalbeck was a safe place to be... as long as one did not venture out into the night.