Welcome to Haven.
Towards the Rim of this little spiral galaxy, in its vast and ageless universe, is the Heavenly Empire of a Thousand Suns, expansive and decayed, whose undying mistress — rumored so beautiful that Haven’s greatest poet once fainted outright in her presence — reigns from the carnelian throne of a world, it is said, never once touched by the feet of men. These are the worlds where flintlock rifles and hyperdrives sell side-by-side; where opium addicts aboard space stations sell their bodies to weary travelers and downtrodden men; where the church of a dead god commands the faith of trillions. Decadent courts, implacable law-women, cunning traders, ruthless mercenaries, and gunslinging pirates all can be found clinging to the thousand worlds under the Imperial yoke, kept narrowly in check by the schemes of their peers and, when needs must, the fearsome might of the Imperial Guard, an army trained from birth in the art of war and chemically conditioned for absolute obedience to Her Serene Radiance the Tenth Empress.
Tuaing La dè nai gè lèng ţsoi dè han ta go if you tarry here, traveler. May the spark of God within lead you to beauty.
Corewards, you may find the Society of Worlds, a sparse and spartan people who hide their small numbers among the foliage of bountiful garden planets. Their little communes and comfortable lives belie a civilization of fanatical discipline, ruled from a secret world hidden among the stars. Her population bred carefully by calculating eugenicists and raised from infancy by agents of the state, the Society has taken the destiny of humanity forcibly into her own hands. The military prowess of her citizens, unmatched among all the people of Haven, makes quick work of the pirates and raiders and slavers who think their homes ripe for exploitation, and shall perhaps some day — perhaps even soon — again meet the wrath of the Imperial machine on the fields of battle.
Sil a iur, surin. Light and life, comrade.
And if you look very closely indeed, you might discover a truly ancient civilization of immortals, philosophers and artists and lovers and hedonists, whose tiny tribes dot the faces of a mere handful of worlds — and who brought the Great War to its end when they reached out from across the galaxy and shattered a world with a contemptuous flourish. Whose vast and ancient constructs circle a hundred suns. Whose impossible weapons and relentless war-machines brought even the hardened generals of the Society to their knees. Whose posthuman bodies admit no disease, and laugh in the face of injury. Who are served hand and foot by a power woven throughout the air, earth, wood, and water of their worlds. Whose conquests extend beyond mere matter, into the abstract spaces of their imagined universes, made real by simulation and virtuality.
Nsheth deme chánqisa le kunya diri thalisea ne. The bounty of the universe to you, O thou of the Free.
In the shadow of these great powers a thousand lesser states play. The Socialist League, pet republic of the Society, makes its fortunes in trade with the Empire its worlds were long ago stolen from. The traditional among the Khmai have carved out territories on a handful of Imperial worlds, and dextrously evade the governance of New Carnelian. The isolated free states of the Far Rim dwindle in number as a new wave of fresh conquests gluts the slave markets of the Traverse, and the Core Worlds choke on tribute. Some even say remnants of the Zyahua tribes of old, from whence is born the ruling stock of the Empire, still linger among the stars in their patchwork ships, raiding farm-worlds for sustenance and plotting vengeance against the matriarchy that ended their feasts of slaughter and rape — but surely, this fanciful rumor can be no more than an old trader's tale.
Of the Empire, there is Sparrowhawk Sundancer, a carefree smuggler whose life is soon to be upended. Of the Society, there is Cassil Tegvari, a young malcontent unprepared for the consequences of her actions. Of the League, there is Kestrel Winterblossom, once a soldier, now fighting her very own war to at last lay down arms. And of the Union, there is Maranqura Derosdeshai Nshefannai, a mathematician older than a number of civilizations, still haunted by her brutal past, and Sumathaqri Aroqashtai Ntámbedai, a youthful traveler just now beginning to find serself.
These are their stories.