Grey Hearth City rests in a frosty valley between two peaks of the Grey Mountains. The city itself is several miles long and gets progressively narrower as the two mountains on either side close in. The Shaman-priest, the city’s ruler, resides in a temple carved into the stone at the far end of the city. At the front of the city is a massive stone wall that runs the length of its opening and is heavily guarded. The only people the natives allow in are provincial representatives and those from their own tribe. Though their enemies are few and far between, the wall was built to protect the people from wandering intruders who might interfere with the sacred rituals they perform on a regular basis. However, the wall was built just as much to protect the people from the dangerous wildlife that calls the area home. From the recently discovered tusked mammoths to the giant snow leopards that roam the lowlands and foothills, the snowy environment is home to some of the most aggressive and dangerous animals in the world.
Though Grey Hearth City is technically part of the Atlan nation, the only people allowed into the city are provincial representatives and a handful of scientists each year. Though much is known about the province as a whole (geographically speaking), little is known about the isolated city and its secretive people. The city is ruled by a god-chosen leader known as the Shaman-priest. Ruling like a king, the Shaman-priest has sole power in determining what the people are allowed to do and how they are punished for transgressing his laws. Unlike a traditional monarchy the Shaman-priest is revered as a god, having powers of both a mortal and a deity. As a result, the people of the city obey him above all and live in a state of god-fearing servitude. Even orders or regulations coming from the Grand Council are superseded by the Shaman-priest’s commands. Though they worship the leader as a god, that does not necessarily mean he is an unjust or vengeful ruler; the people and their Shaman-priest believe in placing the needs of others before the needs of the self (as long as those others are their own people).
Despite its location and subarctic climate the city maintains a large population. Though census data is not available for the city, estimates place the population somewhere between 50,000 and 100,000.
The first explorers to reach the city of Grey Hearth were amazed to find a bustling and prosperous city located between two mountains and in such an inhospitable climate. When the locals were seen trading fresh fruits and vegetables, produce they claimed they grew themselves, the explorers were left breathless. It wasn’t until the unification of Atla that their secret was revealed.
In what can only be considered one of the greatest feats of human engineering and ingenuity, the people of Grey Hearth built massive underground farms, the fields carved into the depths of the mountains themselves. But the expansive hollows, impressive as they are on their own, are not the most astounding feature they have created. In order to provide sunlight and warmth to the network of cave-farms the people dug a series of vertical shafts throughout the mountains. These shafts extend from the roof of the subterranean farms to the top and sides of the surrounding mountains. Inside the shafts are a series of mirrors that direct sunlight through the corridors and into the farm-caves. By using dozens of large light-tunnels for each section of farmland the crops receive enough warmth and sunlight to allow for robust and fruitful fields inside the hollow mountains. The lenses break occasionally, but reports indicate some light tunnels have lasted for decades without requiring any repairs (beyond basic cleaning).
The people of Grey Hearth are divided primarily into one of three groups. There are the farmers who manage every aspect of the food and its distribution. There are the tunnelers, as outsiders call them, who are responsible for creating new tunnels and maintaining the existing ones. And there are the builders. These individuals build and maintain the rest of the city. Anyone not affiliated with one of the three primary groups serves the Shaman-priest in some religious capacity.
Grey Hearth is the only capital city in the nation that is not dominated by Followers of the Five. In fact, modern religions are all but unknown in the region, as are any customs, legends, or stories relating to the Way of the Five. Instead, the people all follow the Shaman-priest who heads their relatively secretive denomination. The people venerate both the land around them and the animals that call it home, and they view religious devotion as a necessity, not a choice. Beyond that little is known about the nature of their beliefs or worship practices. Ritual sites dot the city, though no outsider has ever witnessed a ceremony or ritual firsthand and cannot say what the rituals involve.
Many Atlans wonder why Grey Hearth was admitted to the nation and is considered a capital city of an all but empty province. The people do not trade with outsiders, they do not share common beliefs, they do not abide by all the nation’s rules, and in general most people don’t see that the city contributes anything to the nation at all. While it’s true that the people are very secretive and isolated, the region is home to some of the most unique flora and fauna in the world. The scientific value of the region cannot be understated or discounted, and without help from the local population researchers and explorers would have little direction or assistance in one of the most inhospitable places on the planet. And to balance the relationship, as many Atlans feel the relationship is parasitic, the Grand Council provides the people with a variety of construction supplies, medical supplies, and other assistance they request. The people are very isolated, independent, and secretive, but they do know there is value in what the outside world has to offer.