The Plain of Horses is dominated by Chigidi Mountains in the north and east. A vast stretch of the Chukei Plateau covers the western and central regions. The mountains are highest in the east, rising to heights exceeding 15,000 feet. The Anai River winds through the northern ranges.
The Plain of Horses is divided into several distinct topographic regions. The northernmost region is a tundra of treeless plains and frozen marshland. Beyond the tundra and south of the mountains is a region of forests and the nations best agricultural land. Further south are the steppelands, grassy plains that are suitable for grazing animals but are poor for farming. The plains become arid deserts in the southernmost region. Except for a few scattered oases, the desert is uninhabitable.
The Plain of Horses experiences extreme temperature variations. Temperatures in the tundra seldom rise above freezing and often plunge to -60 degrees F. Temperatures in the desert regularly soar past 100 degrees, dropping to bitter cold at night. The entire country is very dry, and snow and rainfall are light.
Earthquakes occasionally rock the mountain regions in the north and east.
Architecture in the Plain of Horses is simple and functional, though urban dwellers and nomads live quite differently. Nomads have modest village homes in which to spend the winter, but most of the year they lived in tents called yurts. A yurt is a movable home, circular in shape, made from several pieces of skin stitched together. It is empty inside, except for a small portable shrine and a small table for offerings. A nomad usually is accompanied by several vicious dogs; the dogs are tied outside the yurt to stand guard while the nomad sleeps.
A typical city consists of numerous offices, shops, houses, and medical facilities for people and animals. The city is surrounded by small farms and the mud huts of peasants, and the entire city may be surrounded by a stone wall. Outside the city, usually near major trade routes, are tradeposts consisting of two wooden buildings; two men occupy one Of the buildings, two donkeys occupy the other.
Most buildings are made of stone and mud; important buildings are multi-storied and made of brick. Wood or stone fences divide the city into various districts. Merchants stalls are clustered together in the business district, with yurts set up in an adjacent district for traveling peddlers. Government offices and medical buildings are in the central district, The tax office is usually near the outskirts of the city, centered on a large plot of land to accommodate its many visitors. The prison is usually located next to the tax office, perhaps as a reminder to those taxed.
Temples are the most elaborate buildings. A typical temple might be built against a hillside, accessible by crimson gates topped with silver spires. It is a multi-leveled building made of pine or other fine wood. Its roof is painted gold.
Some of the cities and towns scattered throughout the Plain of Horses include:
Because the Plain of Horses is not a unified nation, there is no single governing body. However, all tribal governments have a few elements in common. The tribes are strictly autocratic; that is, one person is the absolute ruler with unlimited power. (The only exception is the triumvirate system of the Taghurs where three rulers equally share power.) The leader is a male of superior strength and charisma with proven military ability. New leaders are usually, but not always, descendants of previous leaders.
Most of the larger tribes and cities have modeled their administrations after the government of Li-Raz. The autocratic ruler in this system is called the qaghan. All other officers are subordinate to the qaghan. (Note that small tribes and villages have no need for a formal government aside from a qaghan.) Next on the hierarchy are the secondary officers. The chancellor is the qaghans key advisor, while the yabghu is the secondary ruler. Also on this level are the second qaghan, an honorary position awarded to a previous qaghan or another relative of demonstrated ability, and the apa qaghan, an office usually held by the qaghans oldest brother. The duties of these secondary officers are not clearly defined, but they all have roughly the same status and authority.
Next in importance are the military governors, called chieh-tu-shih. Since the qaghan appoints chiehtu- shih as he sees fit, there may be any number of them. Each has authority over a specific district or clan. Under each chieh-tu-shih are a varying number of supervisors called chigolgan. The lowest ranks of the administration are the beg and the elchi. The beg are financial officers in charge of tax collection and other revenues. The elchi are clerks and minor officers.
No country has had a more profound influence on the Plain of Horses than Shou Lung. As the nations share a common border, the tribes of the Plain of Horses see Shou Lung as their biggest foreign threat. Likewise, Shou Lung sees the natives of the Plain of Horses as hostile barbarians who must be carefully watched and, if possible, controlled. Trade has flourished sporadically between the two nations, as have eras of violent warfare. An uneasy truce exists between them presently, although a border skirmish or an outright invasion of either side could occur at any time. The tribesmen of the Plain of Horses feel they are superior as individuals to Shou Lung natives, but are aware that Shou Lung significantly outnumbers them. They believe the Shou Lung people are cunning and treacherous, more likely to take the Plain of Horses a section at a time rather than attempt an all out conquest of the entire country.