On the eastern coast of the Steamlands is a long stretch of open coastline called the Palace Cape. Bordered on the south and west by the wilds of the Beastlands, the Palace Cape is a land of forested hills and open grassland, all sweeping down to a rugged and wild coastline famed for its beauty. The landscape is largely untouched by human settlement, but its emptiness is belied by the sense of order and regularity in the terrain. Though it appears unoccupied by humans, it is not virgin territory.
In fact, the Palace Cape is the home of a mysterious race of mechanical entities, generally referred to simply as the Machines. This race confounds efforts by its flesh-bodied neighbours to categorize it, because the Machines have a range of forms as diverse as the animal kingdom, and its members are as alien and inscrutable as the fish of the sea or the great diving lizards that bask on the rocks of its southern beaches. Though few Machines are ever seen by humans, they are reported to have been seen in forms as diverse and various as gleaming steal humanoids, fragile porcelain dolls, spider-like monstrosities, humming discs floating in the air, mysterious immobile constructions of crystal, and even a flittering cloud of mechanical insects. Some scholars dispute that the various entities of the Machine kingdom are even separate minds, claiming that they are all animated agents of a single mighty intellect referred to as the Slip Mind. Whatever the truth of it, the Machines of the Cape have little in common with the warm-blooded folk to their north and west.
Nonetheless, the Machines do maintain a society that in some ways resembles that of humans. They take shelter from the elements as do any living creatures, and it is from these majestic shelters that the land gains its name. The Machines – or perhaps some older race before them – have built mighty and fantastic towers that stand lonely and magnificent against the backdrop of the distant mountains, or emerge from the waves of the near shore like behemoths of rock and steel. The towers appear unoccupied, the land around them being untilled and devoid of farms or settlements – just a single spire of steel and glass emerging from the wilds of the surrounding land. But if an interested observer waits outside long enough, they might be lucky enough to see a procession of machine workers emerge from some secret door, marching off into the wilderness to attend to some task, or setting about pruning the trees and tending the lands immediately about the tower. Very occasionally one might see a human resident emerge, or stumble on a small hamlet whose residents have lived in the shadow of the tower for millenia. These residents will have little to tell the traveller about the Machines among whom they live, however, except that they are peaceful and trustworthy and the life is good.
Scholars from other realms have been unable to comprehend the truth of the Machines, and the Machines themselves defying all forms of investigation, the scholars of the living have been forced to come to wild and unsupported views about the provenance, views and lives of the Machines. However, some things are known fairly well, and all theories must account for the quirks of Machine life that have been observed. It is not known whether the Machines eat or sleep, but it is generally believed that they gain some form of power from the Palace Cape, for they cannot leave it. Indeed, were one to be foolish enough as to abduct a Machine and take it beyond the ill-mapped borders of its realm, it would fall quiescent and incapable of movement or thought. Some argue that the Machines’ power is a magical device buried in the centre of the Palace Cape; others, pointing to the Cape’s name, suggest that the power source lies in the Palaces themselves, and that were they to fall the Machines would be extinct. Yet others believe the land itself is the source of the Machines power. It has been noted that on the boundaries of the Palace Cape, there live a breed of feral and degenerate Machines, which the Machines themselves disown. These beast-machines prey on passing humans, or hide from them, acting for all the world like animals; but some of them have a rudimentary cunning, or form groups of bandits, who attack passing caravans. It has been noted that while the Machines of the Cape can repair themselves by some mysterious means, these beasts on the border cannot, and will usually be seen carrying damage, rust and decay that they seem unaware or uncaring of. Thus, many scholars have argued that the power source has some centre, and wanes as one moves away from the centre, leading to a decay in both physical and intellectual strength. Other, more practical minds care not about the nature of the Machine’s motile force, but note that the borders of the Palace Cape are dangerous, and those who go to trade with the Machines should go well armed. The Machines themselves show little care for these degenerate brethren, seeming to treat them as animal cousins, best avoided but to be dealt with if they cause trouble. Of course, for the Machines these brethren are no burden, since the Machine folk do not leave the Cape.
The Machines also seem to maintain a cohort of slave machines, which they control remotely through their strange magic and which behave as machines are traditionally understood to operate. Often these slaves are accompanied by a sentient Machine, which guides and manages them. This is also how the Machines fight, not engaging directly with their enemies but instead fighting through slave soldiers. Machine soldiers are rarely seen, because the Machines do not make war, but those who fight Beastmen, or who have patrolled the western reaches of the Cape, report fighting spiders of steel and glass, and floating wagons heavily armed with cannon. Sometimes individual Machines will fight alongside these beasts, seeking fame and fortune amongst their kind; but it is known that Machines can die, though they seem quite tough, and usually the Machines are happy to let their automatons wage war for them.
The Machines trade with all the kingdoms of the Steamlands and elsewhere, and welcome human guests, though sometimes in a cold and remote way that can be confused with rudeness. Some of their number seem to understand or even appreciate humans, and there are a few small human settlements in the Cape which often hold a kind of ambassadorial status. It is known that the Machines have a way to enable a select few of their number to travel outside the Cape, but they seem not to like to do this, and reserve this expediency only for the most dire of situations. They do maintain a Tower near their border with Greathalf, however, and here a few Machines and humans live alongside each other in a mixed town that is renowned for its wonders and mysteries, though dangerous to reach. Here humans can trade raw materials and art for fine steel, gems, and occasionally technological items of rare power. The Machines are strangely unable to create art, though they can appreciate it, and their fondness for certain kinds of human art leads them to trade. But in general the Machines have little need for congress with humans, and keep to themselves. This can make the leaders of other nations uncomfortable, and occasionally rumour and confusion have led these rulers to ill-fated missions against the Cape. The Machines seem not to hold grudges, though they remain an inscrutable and poorly understood people. They are yet another mystery of the Steamlands, a strange amalgam of magic and metal that remains beyond the understanding of mortals. Were a group of intrepid adventurers to uncover the secret of their origins and their power source, great wealth and power could come their way … along with great danger …