Cities and Towns in the Hidden Valley
[Note: This Tarantis has nothing in common with the Judge's Guild city-state other than the name.]
Tarantis is a large city (about 100,000 people, although there is room for over three times that many -- the city population before the Kinstrife) on the north shore of Unicorn Lake at the mouth of Swithan's River. This city has been the capital of the Girwyllan Empire since the horrors from the Doompit overran the mighty city of Girwyllan itself over 600 years ago. The Girwyllan Empire has always had strict laws and a harsh caste system, but in the smallest towns and the countryside they are often ignored. Not so in the city of Tarantis, the laws are enforced brutally and it seems every other citizen is an informant for the dread Silent Guard. This makes Tarantis one of the cleanest and safest cities on the continent, but comes at the cost of almost all personal freedom. A permit is required to for almost everything, even dying. Conversely, if one has enough silver and clout, one can obtain a permit to do almost anything.
The main reason the system has become so overwhelming and brutal is that while all power and justice flows from the Tribune of the Empire (i.e. the emperor), no Tribune has sat on the Shell Throne since the days of the Kinstrife when the Tribune Marick the Tyrant had his only child, Crown Princess Brandon, assassinated and allowed the outsider Priests of Celaeno into the valley. For the last 160 years the Girwyllan Empire has been ruled by a secretive five member Council of State. In theory, of course, they are only holding power until a suitable Tribune can be found. The Council is so secretive, that only a handful of citizens know who even one of its members are. The Council members are apparently completely out of touch with the citizens of the city or the empire.
One area of Tarantis is different, however. The short, dark twisted streets and alleys of the Jakes is not really under the control of the government. The City Guard will not enter this area except in massive force (and even then only at great need) and few informants for the Silent Guard live long enough to give useful information. The Jakes is ruled by the mysterious Deathless Hand, a criminal wizard whose early crimes are said to have been one of the prime causes of the Kinstrife. His hand is thought to be behind most, if not all, truly major crimes in the Girwyllan Empire. While no one has seen the Deathless Hand in over 100 years, he may be contacted through his agents at The Severed Head, a popular tavern in the Jakes built on the site where executions were performed in the early days of the city.
Magic is barely tolerated by the government of Tarantis. Permits for any type of spell-casting are expensive. For many more powerful magical operations, a permit is only valid for one casting in a particular location on a particular day, often a day that has past before the permit is actually issued, unless heavy bribes are paid. Magic is still available in Tarantis, it simply isn't openly displayed and used in the city as it is in the rest of the valley.
The are many vacant buildings in the city, many of them vacant since the Kinstrife. Unfortunately, all vacant buildings are taken by the city for back taxes and city buildings can only be rented or sold with the personal approval of the Taran. As there is no Taran, none can be sold or rented. For a large enough fee, however, a long-term permit to use a vacant city building can be issued -- although the permit-holder has fewer legal rights than a renter or owner.