Okay, here goes. I'm starting off with the most famous place in the Earth Kingdom, of course. Beware, long post, and undoubtedly needs some work on the details. I'll edit this post as I work up new descriptions. Anyone that wants to help is welcome to add their own contributions, and I'll work them into it. I plan to divide the Earth Kingdom into regions, and the places that have not been shown in the show, I'll make up things about, and warn that they are non-canon content. I think it'd be easier to keep them here though, for the sake of convenience. Anyway, here's my first effort.
Ba Sing Se
Location in the world
“I did not know mortals could build such things…”
-Unknown traveler upon first seeing Ba Sing Se.
Population: 500,554 (City of Ba Sing Se, Metropolis, 367,983)
Imports: Timber, ore, all manner of exotic goods.
Exports: Many finished goods.
Ba Sing Se has been called many things. The Earth Kingdom capital, the Impenetrable City, the City of Walls and Secrets. But whatever it is called, it has truly earned a place in history, and whatever else it is, it is indisputably the biggest city in the world. And not only that, it is also one of the most diverse places in the Earth Kingdom, with a dizzying variety of people contained within its boundaries, and an even more dizzying array of places, goods, and natural wonders. If it exists, odds are you can find it in Ba Sing Se.
To the people, it sometimes seems as though the city constitutes a world unto itself. It is very easy to simply ignore the world outside the walls in favor of the life within. And undoubtedly, the world knows from travelers tales and old stories that Ba Sing Se is like nowhere else on earth. Life is very different there.
Life and Society:
Seen from an outsider’s point of view, Ba Sing Se is a seething whirlpool, with mind-bogglingly fast and incomprehensibly complex affairs. As in many larger cities, wealth is what counts to a lot of the citizens. Much, if not most, of the city’s business involves coins changing hands. People and organizations exist in a constant state of struggling to survive and thrive, fighting rivals and the times with equal intensity. A shop can open, succeed, fail, and close in less than a month. Many different powers have interests here, and sometimes those interests require activities of an unsavory nature. There is little privacy for the average citizen, and the laws are many, and strictly enforced for the most part. The beaurocracy is notoriously slow in moving any kind of process along. However, one bright spot is the earthbending-powered trains that transport people and goods throughout the city.
City Guard: Charged with policing the streets and keeping order, the Guard is a separate unit from the Army. They dress in green uniforms and wear headbands, carrying swords most often. They always try and talk first, but are more than willing to fall back on force if that tactic fails.
Ba Sing Se Army: The Army is made up of professional soldiers and earthbenders that are responsible for defending the city, protecting the gates and walls, and guarding important citizens and locations. They wear ornate green, black, and gold uniforms, and plumed helms, and carry either spear or sword, unless they are earthbenders. One elite unit of the army serves as the Earth King’s personal guard, along with the Dai Li.
Dai Li: The cultural authority of Ba Sing Se, the Dai Li are the guardians of all of the city’s traditions. At least, that is their official purpose. They also function as a secret police and elite strike force, answerable only to their current head, who in turn answers (at least theoretically) to the Earth King. They wear distinctive green robes and hats, as well as the stone gloves and shoes they are famous for using as restraints to those foolish enough to challenge them. They are all earthbenders, and excel in stealth and agile techniques of fighting. They are authorized to arrest those they deem troublemakers on the spot, and darker rumors abound about how they deal with such people.
Major Geographical Features:
Lower Ring: The city is divided into three massive rings. The Lower Ring, the largest is also the most humble. All recent arrivals to the city are housed here, and it is the home of craftsman and artisans. In the words of one tour guide, “It’s so quaint and lively…you do want to watch your step, though.” It is also home to the city’s slums and bad neighborhoods, and the greater part of the criminal element. The Guard contents itself with keeping such things contained here.
Middle Ring: This section of the city is a ways better off than the Lower Ring. The streets are paved in stone much more often than dirt, the houses are kept clean and sound, and in general, those who live here tend to be wealthier, or more upstanding. It contains the immense central marketplace, which stretches for miles, and in which nearly any kind of item can be found for the right price. As well, one can find more specific shops, the city’s more reputable restaurants, and Ba Sing Se University, one of the finest collections of learning in the world.
Upper Ring: This is where many of the stories about the splendor of Ba Sing Se originate. The Upper Ring houses only the rich, with noble estates dotting pastoral, park-like countryside. Here, you can find the beurocrats who run many things around the city, noble families, and in general, people of reputation, such as bending masters or legendary craftsmen.
The Royal Palace: This massive palace is located in the very center of the city, and is heavily guarded by the Army and Dai Li Agents. It hosts many important events, and is where the Earth King issues decrees. It is also where the most secure dungeons are located. It is quite splendidly decorated, and even those used to it still have cause to admire what it shelters.
Lake Laogai: This large lake in the east of Ba Sing Se is a popular vacation spot for both noble and peasant alike, though a large section has been put aside for those of means, and a much smaller section for use by the Army. Pleasure boats can often be found sailing the water in summer, and the beaches packed with people.
The Great Walls: Among the most memorable features of Ba Sing Se are the two great walls that guard the city from anyone that comes with swords drawn. Marvels of engineering skill and bending ability, they tower nine hundred feet into the air, and are immensely thick. They stood against the Fire Nation for the better part of a century, having been breached only twice, each time by the famous Fire Nation general, the Dragon of the West. Until that point, no army ever entered within.
Old Ba Sing Se: An abandoned underground city of tunnels, cavernous halls, subterranean rivers, and twisting passageways, Old Ba Sing Se is the stuff of legend. Most people know nothing of it other than the name. Its origins and purpose have long since been lost to time. One section, the Crystal Catacombs, are occasionally used to contain non-earthbending prisoners of extremely high value or infamy for brief periods.
Regional History: See History of the Avatar World.
Plots and Rumors: Forthcoming.
Iroh, (Male human Firebender 25) the legendary Fire Nation general, known better by his nickname, the Dragon of the West, currently operates an Upper Ring teashop, the Jasmine Dragon. He evidently brews tea with as much skill as he fought the war, for it is very popular, despite the undercurrent of resentment some in the city bear the aging general. He is a font of wisdom and a voice of experience, and has had a very eventful life. Despite it all, he maintains his belief that destiny will sort things out for the best, and that those that take control of their lives can work wonders.
Kuei, (Male human Exp8) the current Earth King, is young and inexperienced in truly ruling. However, after returning from a recent journey around the Earth Kingdom in disguise, he has taken the throne with more confidence, and has so far done well in aiding his city in the rebuilding process. How well he will continue to do remains to be seen.
Si Wong Desert
Location in the world
“A strange and forbidding land that reveals itself very slowly, it nonetheless remains a place of beauty as well as danger, the two often blending together to form a life that requires many years to truly understand.”
-Lecture in Ba Sing Se University by Professor Zei
Population: 67, 439
Government: Tribal, assorted semi-independent towns.
Imports: Timber, silk, herbs, weapons, spices, wool, rope, grains, wine.
Exports: Incense, leather goods, trade goods, salt, pottery, artwork.
Alignment: LN, CN, CG
The Si Wong is the largest desert in the world, a parched land that stretches for miles upon miles of sand, rock, and dust, also known as the ‘Desert of the Dead.’ In the day, blood has been known to literally boil within those unfortunate enough to be caught unprotected during the summer months. At night, the cold winds scour the face of the land with a frosty knife that can pierce even the best armor. However, it is not an uninhabited wasteland. Here live the Sandbender tribes, outcasts from other parts of the Earth Kingdom, and frontier towns that dot the edges of the sands, populated only by those stubborn enough…or under enough pressure…to eke out one more day in some of the most inhospitable terrain in the Earth Kingdom.
Contrary to popular belief, the desert is not simply endless sand dunes. It holds those, true, but the land varies from place to place, from rocky earth, cracked with the heat, to shaded oases where the tribes congregate to obtain the water they need to survive, to stony canyons and badlands, with wind-sculpted shapes that baffle the mind.
Life and Society:
Life in the Si Wong is always a struggle to survive. The desert itself is bad enough in that regard, but relations between the sandbender tribes are strained at best, and often erupt into full-scale raiding for supplies and goods that can mean the difference between life and death. The outland towns are rough places, and those who live their tend to be as hard as they need to be to make a life there. Then there are the bandits, renegades that have been either lucky enough or skilled enough to fight the sandbenders or the trading caravans and win.
Even so, the code of the desert is enforced under penalty of death, and one of its precepts is politeness to all others who live in the Si Wong. With strangers, it depends on how impressive the stranger in question is. The tribes respect only strength, or the wisdom of the sands. They do not rescue those poor souls they find lost among the dunes, considering them to have earned their fate. Only in rare cases will they break that unwritten rule.
Major Geographical Features:
Si Wong Rock: The magnetic center of the desert, Si Wong Rock is an immense stone column in the northeastern quarter of the Si Wong. Ancient sandbender lore tells that the rock was dropped from the heavens by the gods as a demonstration of their great power and anger when human inhabitants had stopped abiding by the rules of their priests. The sandbenders use its properties for navigation, but refrain from mining the ore, because they fear if they take too much, it will lose its guiding quality, because it is far easier to simply trade for finished weapons, and because it is lined with buzzard-wasp hives, and the creatures are irritable in the extreme. Occasionally, they visit the great stone to harvest poison from the buzzard-wasps for trade, but most of the tribes prefer not to resort to such measures unless necessary.
The Womb of Fire(non-canon content): Located in the southeastern quarter of the desert, this region is a expanse of canyons, ravines, and plains of glass for as far as the eye can see. Here, it is said, is where great spirits of fire reside, and burn all who venture within. This has never been verified, obviously, but what is known is that every so often, titanic lava flows burst through the surface, and pour over the landscape. The miles-wide glass plains are the result of them. No sandbender generally enters here, though every so often, some tribesman seeks to test himself against the best the Si Wong has to offer, or to finally see if fire spirits do indeed claim it for their home. The survivors are generally of the former category, which of course has only added to the legend.
The Misty Palms Oasis: The best known oasis in the desert, this was formerly a tourist attraction before the war, and can be found near the desert’s southwestern edge. However, with tourism having vanished over the years, it has become just another scrubby frontier town, with the ice spring it is famous for being used to serve drinks. It serves as a weather vane for the general mood of the rest of the desert, and those who wish to find out which way the wind is blowing can usually be found here, as can those who will tell them…perhaps for a reasonable price. Some rumors have indicated that the mysterious Order of the White Lotus has a prescence here, but nothing has been confirmed or denied on that front.
The Jade Road(non-canon content): A caravan route through the more livable portions of the southern desert, this road has earned its name not because it is a source of jade, but because here there are scattered patches of grassland. A few of the smaller tribes have constructed semi-permanent settlements here, attempting to farm the land or use it for grazing. To date, these attempts have had only limited success. However, they have succeeded in obtaining a larger share of the trade goods that enter the desert, and are on the rise in prominence.
The Sunstorm Truce (Large City, 20, 452, but only for one week of each year, non-canon content): For one week every year, the sandbender tribes meet at an oases under flag of peace in order to trade among themselves. Everything changes hands, and many caravans are willing to make the trip in order to play the tribes off against each other for the best prices. As well, it is here that many marriages are arranged, and the solitary tribesman must beware.
Wan Shi Tong’s Library: This legendary collection of knowledge, supposedly brought to the mortal world by the knowledge spirit Wan Shi Tong, He Who Knows Ten Thousand Things, has been lost for centuries. Its location has long been disputed, and some even say that it does not exist. Others say it was destroyed. However, it does exist, and has not been destroyed. Mostly buried under the sands, the library has survived to this day. However, more recently, it was completely buried, and rendered inaccessible to those without knowledge of sandbending, and who do not know of its location. For those that have both, and can reason with the knowledge spirit (an unlikely prospect at best), it is possible to find information on just about anything in the world.
Bedouin Merchant’s Camp: These famous, or infamous merchants, who use giant beetles for transport, are the ones who trade the most with those truly outside the desert and not simply the caravans and frontier towns. They are nomadic by nature, and it may be difficult to locate their camp, but usually they offer the most variety and the best prices, if you can find them.
Regional History: See History of the Avatar World
Plots and Rumors: Forthcoming.
Sha-Mo (Male human Ranger8/Fighter6) The chieftain of the most prominent of the tribes, the Jao Zheng, Sha-Mo is generally held as the one to talk to if you want to deal with the sandbenders as a whole. While his word is not law by any means, it is generally held in higher regard than any other chieftain’s. He is stern, unrelenting, and committed to making the Jao Zheng as powerful as he can.
Gashuin (Male human Earthbender7) Sha-Mo’s impetuous son, Gashuin is like a second version of his father, without the restraint. He has been called hot-headed, and though an excellent leader, trusts more to his instincts and his heart than logic, pulling off daring raids and other such feats that, while frowned upon, especially by his father, cannot help but earn him respect. Having recently recovered from his latest mistake, in which he stole the Avatar’s sky bison and paid for it with the destruction of four sand sailers, he seeks to rebuild his reputation, and is on the alert for the right kind of situation to use to his advantage in that regard.
Min Lei Han Province/Kingdom of Omashu
Location in the world
“A rugged land, and a people to match. They’ll fight, and fight hard, but when the fighting is done, they become the friendliest folk in the world. A place worth ruling.”
-Chin the Great, preparing to attack Omashu
Population: 465, 186
Imports: Coal, glass, incense, silver, salt.
Exports: Timber, iron, copper, sugar.
Alignment: LN, NG, TN
In Min Lei Han, the people have a right to be proud. Their home is one of the most fruitful and thriving places in the southern Earth Kingdom. With fearsome natural borders that can be easily defended sheltering fertile farmlands and rolling plains, it is easy to see why the province was once one of the most powerful realms in the world in the days before the Earth Kingdom was (ostensibly) united under the Earth King. Even now, with most of the Earth Kingdom paying tribute to Ba Sing Se, it remains one of the most independent places, with a king of its own, and a standing army to match.
Min Lei Han has neighbors that would make anyone confident. With the mighty Jendei River to the north, the Si Wong Desert to the east, the ocean to the west, and mountains and swamps to the south, entrance here is only convenient through a few places, and those tend to be heavily guarded. The people are very much aware of the need for vigilance.
Life and Society:
Life here tends to be a quiet affair, for the most part, for the commoners. Without a great deal to worry about, thanks to the province’s strength (real or imagined), they are quite friendly and hospitable, more than willing to share what they have. Under pressure, however, things change very rapidly into a state of intense preparation and watchful readiness, with everyone ready to do whatever it takes to make sure their home remains free. The people like to brag that they can outstare a badger-mole.
Thanks to abundant farmlands and grazing grounds, there is no shortage of food unless there are multiple bad years in a row, which allows people to concentrate their attention on things that matter to them, be it earthbending, crafting, or scholarly pursuits. However, this also tends to contribute to laziness in some people.
Major Geographical Features:
Kolau Mountains: Rather low for mountains, this short range, marching towards the northeast from the ocean, is nonetheless the tallest one completely within the province, and its highest peaks remain white-capped even during the summer months. A dry, rocky place for the most part, it has a certain stark beauty to it. Mining villages are scattered here and there, hanging onto life in the few cool valleys that cut through the peaks, and on the outer edge of the mountains, pine forests can be found, along with sagebrush and other sweet-smelling flowers. There are dangerous beasts that prowl the cliffs as well, but they tend to avoid the well-established roads and trails.
Kongming River: Originating from a spring high in the Kolau Mountains, the Kongming grows into a good-sized river by the time it courses across the northern plains to empty into the sea. Small villages dot its length. The river has some very scenic rapids and waterfalls on its way out of the mountains, and at one point, pools into a mountain lake that is rumored to be home to a powerful water spirit that inhabits a network of underwater tunnels at the bottom of the lake, but so far, nobody has been able to venture into the depths to confirm that.
Plains of Thunder(non-canon content): To the north of the Kolau Mountains, these immense grasslands are home to herds of wild ostrich-horses and other herd animals. The only large towns are situated along the river to the north, the people of the plains tend to prefer smaller villages placed so as to be convenient to the migration routes of the herds and on land that can be farmed. Just about everyone owns a mount here, and when war comes, they have proven very effective at fighting as a mobile cavalry force. The plains are often battered by heavy rains and storms, hence their name, yet they retain a rather arid climate.
Jendei River: Formed from two rivers joining together, this river is the largest in the province, stretching nearly a full mile from shore to shore in most places, and flows with a slow, lazy current, emptying into the sea in a great flood. It forms the northernmost border of the province, and small Earth Kingdom forts and bases line both edges. Few bridges span the river, but ferry services are common, and boats both large and small are a familiar sight. About two-thirds of the way down its length, the Jendei splits apart and comes together later on, forming a large island. Called Anjin Island, it has been heavily settled, but a few parts retain the native evergreen forest.
Sei San Hills(non-canon content): Less hills than gently rolling countryside, these lands to the south of the Kolau Mountains make up the bulk of Min Lei Han’s farmland. A patchwork of farming villages, low stony ridges, and isolated stands of trees, it enjoys a generous amount of rain during the autumn, but is fairly dry the rest of the year. There are more than a few old quarry sites among the hills, along with one site that produced a great deal of marble before it was tapped out, and has become a wide jagged-looking bowl that is much favored by the nearby villages for practicing earthbending. The hills also are rumored to play host to a secretive group of monks dedicated to some mysterious purpose.
Omashu (Metropolis, 185, 349): The provincial capital, Omashu is quite possibly the only city that is comparable, even if on a lesser level, to Ba Sing Se. Nestled among the Kolau Mountains, it is surrounded on three sides by a gorge hundreds of feet deep. The only path into the city is a road that switchbacks back and forth on a winding course up to the city. With only earthbenders capable of moving the great stone gates, it is nearly impossible to assault. The actual city is incredible. Due to its great size, Omashu relies on an earthbending-powered delivery system to ensure goods get where they need to go in a reasonable time, and packages travel along miles of tubes and chutes to reach their destination.
In past times, Omashu was famous for being the friendliest city in the world, but now, it will be a long time before they are ready to forgive what the Fire Nation did to their city. They are still in the process of rebuilding after it was occupied for months, and as part of the rebuilding is the royal palace, the government is having a great deal of trouble finding space to operate in. Notable features include the underground parts of the city, the famous Stone Soul martial arts dojo, its rival, the Zan Yu Earthbending Academy, and the noble district, which the Fire Nation largely spared.
The Cave of Two Lovers: An underground labarynth that pierces the Kolau Mountains from north to south, this network of caves, made famous in song and story, was built by the first earthbenders, Oma and Shu, for whom Omashu was named. They were from villages at war, so they had to meet secretly, and it was for this reason they built the cave. Then, when Shu was killed in the war, Oma took matters into her own hands with a terrible display of earthbending. She declared the war over, and the two villages worked together to found Omashu.
According to legend, only those who trust in love will make it through the tunnel, those who do not are cursed to become lost forever under the earth. The truth is only slightly better. Most of the tunnels constantly shift and change due to the movements of the badger-moles that inhabit large portions of the maze, and only a small, obscure section remains fixed. The fixed sections are lined with crystals that glow in the dark, but since most travelers carry torches or lanterns, they will never find them. The two lovers are buried in the heart of the mountains, with instructions that will enable anyone that finds the tomb to find their way out. “Love is brightest in the dark.”
Shang Li (Large City, 22, 318, non-canon content): Situated on Anjin Island, Shang Li is the biggest city in the north of Min Lei Han, as well as the main trading route and the most well-defended military base. It was originally built as a medium-sized fort, but overflowed those walls and swelled outward to encompass nearly the entire island, as well as small sections of both riverbanks. The northside and southside districts, as they are called, serve as a buffer zone where most of the poorer citizens live, and have moved onto the river somewhat in the form of buildings and walkways built on stilts. The result is a maze of rickety paths that only the experienced can navigate safely. Boats are safer, but most honest ferryman shun those waters. The towns are joined to the main part of the city by a great stone bridge, wide enough for four ostrich-horses to cross at once
The main city still retains something of the strong military prescence it originally housed. Laws, while fair, are strictly enforced, and the entire city is built on the basis of being defensible from any position. Thick outer walls are patrolled constantly, and the inner walls have been built higher so that they still can defend the city core against anyone that makes it past the outer defenses. Streets are uniformly straight and paved with stone, and the districts are mostly distinct from one another. Nearly a quarter of the city consists of soldiers and earthbenders, and they are a common sight. The ordinary citizens occupy their time mostly with business from the merchants that pass through. Shang Li is very much a town built on trade. It’s ruler, Lord Tang, is also the general in command of the garrison forces. The post has been joint for some time now. He takes his duties very seriously, and rules well enough, though he confines his decrees to the island mostly, writing off the riverside districts as not worth trying to govern properly.
Regional History: See History of the Avatar World.
Plots and Rumors: Forthcoming
King Bumi. (Male human Earthbender 24) The one-hundred-twelve-plus year old King of Omashu, Bumi is one of those people that has their own way of looking at the world. In his own words, “Instead of seeing what they want you to see, you’ve got to open your mind to the possibilities.” Given to fits of cackling laughter, terrible jokes, and messing with people in a multitude of hilarious ways (not always so to the person on the receiving end), he nonetheless manages to rule Omashu and the surrounding lands very well. His eccentric nature hides one of the smartest minds in the world, and age has not dulled his wits one bit. If anything, he’s gotten sharper since he was younger, and more than once has earned his nickname of ‘Mad Genius.’