Here, at last, is the final Imperial Heartlands culture composite: Daecia and the Palace.
Daecia City, Daecia Swamp, and the Palace itself are major parts of Book 3, not to mention pivotal to the story as a whole. However, there is a certain…hollowness to them, which might make them seem more like a puppet-show than real, populated places. This perception isn’t wrong.
Ignoring Darronwy over there, Daecia exists in what is known to the Shadow Folk as the Shadowless Circle — a place that the Shadow Realm can’t touch. While other lands (Amandon, Riddian, the very edge of Wyndon, Krovichanka in the north) have some territory within the Shadowless Circle, the Circle’s centerpoint seems to be the Imperial Palace itself — lending credence to the Risen Phoenix Emperor’s claim that he is the Scion of the Light.
Before the advent of the Empire and the creation of Daecia City, Daecia was less a kingdom and more a loose network of swampland towns and villages: the Daiki Territories, part of the old collaborative empire of Ruen Wyn. Daiki was more or less unaffected by the Lion and Eagle War that decimated the rest of the Ruenic lands, being an unattractive landscape for the invading Altaerans to assault or attempt to keep. The Daiki people simply retreated from the war-front into the swamp, occasionally harrying the edges of the enemy army but otherwise staying out of it.
This changed slowly at first. The time after the war and the subsequent Altaeran collapse was chaotic for all parts of broken Ruen Wyn, but Daiki stayed more or less the same — at least from an external view. It didn’t help that there were plagues going back and forth across the swamp boundary for a while, with the progressive closure of Daiki towns and villages to outsiders. When they reopened, these towns seemed changed to those who had known their residents — but it was difficult for anyone at the time to pinpoint how or why.
The Daiki people participated in the Shamanic Purge along with the rest of the Ruenic lands, banishing and persecuting the formerly-powerful shamans for their supposed hand in the plagues and in the fall of Ruen Wyn itself. That many of the voices advocating for the purge had come from or recently visited the Daiki Territories was not much noted at the time.
It took the Long Darkness and the subsequent return of the sun to bring Daiki to real prominence. When the Daikian (now Daecian) leader declared himself the reason for the sun’s return, as well as the Scion of Light and first Risen Phoenix Emperor, there was an uproar — but also an upswell of support. The rapid acceptance of Risen Phoenix Emperor Aradys I by the territories within and around the Shadowless Circle was greeted with surprise and fear by many Ruenic territories outside those borders — particularly Trivestes — but was not much acknowledged outside of the Ruenic area.
Over the century and a half that followed, the Risen Phoenix Empire expanded from its base within Daecia’s center to encompass all of the former Ruenic lands — then started conquering outside the old borders. Its view of the Light drove out all followers of ‘heretic lights’, as well as followers of the other gods and spirits. In the Imperial view, there was no light but the Risen Phoenix Light, and no god but their god.
And their god was embodied within the Emperor.
And the Emperor lived in the Imperial Palace, at the northern edge of Daecia City, at the center of Daecia Swamp.
Not an ideal imperial capital, perhaps! Reaching Daecia City, for those who lived outside of the swamp itself, involved trekking to Keceirnden in Amandon and then following the raised White Road through the swamp. The days-long trek was meant to be done on foot, unsupported, in pilgrimage style — for though people supposedly lived normal lives in Daecia City, including doing normal jobs, there was almost no trade allowed down the White Road and very little diplomatic contact. One had to approach the Emperor’s domain as a supplicant, or not at all.
Nor did the Emperor ever leave the Imperial Palace. The general reasoning given was that his placement helped pin the Light to the world, and that leaving his place of duty would give the Dark an opening to invade. Practically, the Emperor held court at the Palace but also delegated many duties to the kings and lord protectors of the provinces and protectorates that made up the Empire — permitting its rule by council more than by his own hand. The council members answered to him, but he did not often call on them, for even they were not so highly favored as to stand in his radiant presence often.
After all, standing too long in his radiance tended to…change people.
Any more details would be deep spoilers. Likewise, there is no good image of what Daecia City and the Palace look like, so one must simply imagine a pristine white city of canals and parks and walkways, pallid gardens and sunstruck people, with a great edifice of spire-like white towers looming over it from the north. All around is the teeming swamp, ever-warm, ever-humid, with the White Road running like an umbilical cord back to the civilized world.
Our protagonists walk this road in Book 3. The city they see, and the Palace they enter, are not the whitewashed versions they were told of in the outer Imperial lands. They are the hollow, buzzing husk of the Empire’s heart: a place of venom, imprisonment, and mad fanaticism.
And then everything goes wrong.