Monday, November 28, 2022

CALDERA - Twilight City





Caldera lies in a Goldilocks zone. Between the darkness of Tenebris, the cold of Galea, the swelter of Calidum, and the blind of Bright Town lies the caldera itself. It receives fresh air, appropriate heat, and frequent patronage. It is the aorta and lungs of the city - a crossroads carrying denizens and oxygen from the city's beating heart to its minds and muscles. The priestesses say you can even hear the city breathing in Caldera.

The Temple of November
The Temple of the City's namesake - November, the Twilight City. Its priestesses pay tribute and prayer to the personification of the city itself. November, she is called, for she lies upon the twilight precipice of the tidally-locked world. The priestesses declare her "the frontier of civilization" - the last bastion before the neverending frozen wastes of Rim and the lands of the eternal June.

The city is new, and so is her persona. An adult drow woman: broad, sturdy, unrepose. She carries the staff, the knife, and the cloak. Her head is covered by a mask which conceals all but her mouth. Blind, but not deaf. She looks hungry.

November is a living thing, they say. Her bones are the foundations of the mountain. The Pomerium is her beating heart. Caldera is the lungs. Calidum the liver. Hiss the kidneys. Tenebris the intestines. Galea the teeth. Bright Town the hand. Fumo the breasts. She has no eyes, no nose, but she does have a hunger.

The priestesses ask rhetorically: "What does a city eat?" Many things, it turns out: people, dreams, small polities, slaves, wheat and wheat and wheat. It feasts on bread and bloody games, and shits corpses to be recycled into more food.

They at the Temple of November have no allusions that the city is a grisly and morbid thing. The clergy of the 'Gods' Chosen' never gild their awful truths. Instead they abide it willingly: the Temple of November is charged with the administration of sacred Games and Feasts, and providing the logistics for holidays. Their bureaucrats count coins and inspect gladiators for suitability. They receive the Great Houses for their sponsorships, and sanctify architecture in the name of their city.

The Temple is grand: an edifice of pillars and bas-relief, built with a beauty that seems to preclude time itself. The legends depicted showcase the bloody legends of their civilization: invocatio, murders, conquests, migrations and great births.

E1: Woman With Geode Eyes

Legend says she was the sole survivor by an attack of forces unknown. She had plucked out her own eyes with a sharp narrow stone, replacing them with glimmering purple geodes. She never spoke of the attack or the assailants who wiped out her outpost as long as she lived.

Place gemstones on your eyes and pray to the woman. Stones of the right size to hold in the socket are difficult to find, though the quality does not matter.

For the next encounter in which you are encountering assailants in which you have absolutely no knowledge, you will be invisible to them.

The Ghilaeran Baths

Named for Matriarch Ghilaera of House Kordelia, whose daughters hunt monsters and men. Large public bathhouse famous for its gymnasium, which is famous for its extravagant allowances of space and its shrine to Victory.

The baths contain all the amenities one might expect from an upscale public bathhouse: warm, cold, and tepid baths. Salt and freshwater baths. Oil baths (for those with extravagant tastes). Barbers, trainers, conversationalists, socialites. Its surfaces are covered in mosaics depicting famous victories in Drow history - Xadrox Mirrorshield breaking the back of the Ur-Hydra, Queen Rema's subjugation of the Bearded King Mithrium, Rom's crystalline triumph over The Unknowable. House Kordelia makes a lot of claims to be descendant of these heroes. Who would dare challenge the Victorious House on this? Probably no-one.

Halcyon di la Eligos considers herself fixer-in-chief for the Bath's attendees. She knows all the usual patrons and all their idiosyncrasies - when matriarchs and their cohorts will arrive, which masseuses are blabbermouths, and which barbers know how to slice the femoral artery. She's made a lot of friends. Too many friends. Enough that it's more a liability than an asset.


The Gymasium, attached to the Ghilaeran Baths, is a big draw. It sports a racing track - an amenity previously thought ludicrously extravagant in the confines of the Underdark. There are weights to lift and challengers eager to wrestle. The Daughters of Victory, helmed by the sisters Ghili and Ghila di la Kordelia, train their members in the most esteemed of sports: Pursuit, Wrangling, Marksmanship, and Carrying. All the sports that the hunters of men find useful.

Pursuit is essentially a game of dirty tag. One must chase or elude capture, and then roles are reversed. Often the sport is played on a climbing wall or some other inhospitable surface, such as underwater or within a field of stalagmites.

Wrangling is essentially wrestling, though it is often accompanied by the use of tools, particularly ropes. More intense versions of the sport utilize spikes and other hostile objects to snare and grab.

Marksmanship is precisely how you would imagine it - target shooting. Crossbows are primary, with darts being secondary. At the highest levels it is done blindfolded.

Carrying is much like The Highland Games meets an obstacle course, with categories based on the method of transport: dragging (including tool-assisted or not), on-body (carrying without dragging), or assisted (in which multiple people carry the same object or person).

Stoneshaper’s Guild

"She who creates has a maker's knowledge of her objects, and complete mastery over them."

A grand school of architecture and earthly magic, where mastery of the spell Stone Shape is practiced. The façade contains twelve marble pillars inscribed microscopically with all the names of all the masons the school has produced. Thousands over a thousand years. Twelve pillars for the twelve Grand Masons - Kethan, Balace, Elvoyss, Zarra, Saradreza, Hera, Sabia, Rica, Sabia II, Flora, Petrina, Zarlochar.

These people are responsible for building this city. Their magic of stoneshaping builds new amenities, villas, and houses. Their knowledge of architecture keeps the city from collapsing under the weight of the mountain. The guild’s directors, chiefly: Zarlochar di la Kaisar are in charge of the sacred task of city planning. They are priestesses as much as architects, responsible for housing the gods as well as people. And in doing so they receive tremendous patronage by the richer houses, eager to sponsor various projects for wealthy and fame and the public good.

Few would deign to test them, being by far the most powerful of the Guilds. For no other guilds are guarded by lictors - wearing red robes and wielding heavy hammers, provided by senators rich enough to be able to donate their state-sponsored bodyguards.

Having a Stoneshaper as an ally can grant one access to virtually any house, building, or temple in the city. And so they are greatly respected and closely watched.

Estate Kaisar

The House of Knives is a lot nicer than its name might suggest. It's said that every room, every person, every single object hides a hidden knife. Kaisal is a cruel god, but his patron House is rich and powerful. The estate sports three private gardens, two private baths, a temple complex devoted to worshiping and protecting the Kris of Dark Waves and the knife-sculpture Idol of Kaisal. It promotes its priestesshood with patronage equivalent to a major temple. Matriarch Laetha de Kaisar is the matriarch's matriarch - the platonic form of the matriarchs of old: conservative, austere, thin, powerful, ruthless, wealthy, coercive. She is pious and her family is mighty.

Kaisar is an old, old House. Older than the stones, its priestesses say. As old as the first knife, used to kill the first elf. It has quite a legacy to live up to, something that its members are keenly aware. Many children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren of Laetha and her sisters go on to become priests and priestesses. Her third daughter Zarlochar is grandmaster of the powerful Stoneshaper's Guild. Every temple of any import probably has a Kaisar in it somewhere, usually towards the top.


"She that shapes the jewel, makes the world." - A common phrase among jewelers of November.

The jewelers of Twilight City have a great legacy that they fail to live up to. The glaziers of the fallen city of Glazz'gibrar, long succumbed to living nightmares, were said to make gems of glass that captured souls. It's known that they possessed the secrets to eternal life, to lichedom, and to navigating the Plane of Forms. They all died along with the royal House.

...And only one has ever come back: Amatus the Apprentice, once-died, once-risen. Apprentice to Amatia, his mother.  He is a zombie in the possession of House Grachus. Cracked lips, short patchy hair, and thick hands. Though he was but an apprentice, even in undeath he has reverse-engineered the secret of making jewels that capture light.

They are dark, swirling things before the light occupies them. There are gems for capturing sun light, warm light, bad light, and toxic light. Bad light and warm light make for the best jewelry - the merchant-patronesses and nobles will wear them plentifully. Sun light and toxic light make the best magic items.

Metamorphic Apartments

A peripherally-located neighborhood bordering The Metamorphic Stair (also called The Warped Stair), which bridges Caldera and Calidum, and goes from Hiss to Caldera to the Pomerium. Considered by many to be a good place to live. It's spiraled red-and-black stone walls show off a profound natural beauty. The apartments have become home for well-to-do folk: merchants, bureaucrats, lay assistants, professionals, educated slaves. The spirit of the stair is said to be a spirit of glass, and that people pray to it for good or ill change.

The Glazen Spirit is said to manifest as a black reflective glass where the fated befall their sight. It is an oracle that heralds significant change, granting glimpses of the glimpser's future. Those who gaze into its reflection see their future selves - successful, rich, powerful, with child; or crippled, impoverished, ragged, dead. People pray to it for good change for themselves and their families, and ill change for their enemies.

E2: Altar of the Girthy Mother

A similar altar is commissioned every time a Drow gives birth to triplets. Up until 50 years ago there had only ever been three - one every two thousand years. Now there are thirteen. Miz'ra, Matriarch of House Grachus has devoted three.

She is a brass Venus holding three children with three great arms.

Kiss the Mother's well-worn feet. The next time you roll a '3' on a d20, it instead becomes a '13'.

The Adamantine Stair

Also known as the "Long Stair", or the "Amantine Stair", after the revered Second Spider Queen Amantia. It was she who created the priesthoods, consecrated the first temples, and stole the first gods. She created the backbone of the society, and likewise her namesake stair is the backbone of the city. The priestesses of the Temple of November sometimes call it: "The Spine".

It is the longest stair in the city, running the entire depth from Tenebris to Hiss to Caldera to Galea. Along the Caldera portion it is as wide as a two-way city street, with steps of a dark blue stone as hard as diamond. It gets frequent use by the Stepmonger's Guild, who hawk their services along its portals.

The spirit of the Long Stair is known as "Long-Neck". The Mongers pray to it, and sometimes offer it leaves and berries at its spotted shrine.

Berry Merchant

A novel development in the profession of grocers is the proliferation of surface foods, previously thought to be such an extraordinary delicacy that they must be offered first to the gods. Now they are beginning to be so flush that even ordinary people might get a taste.

Sweet berries are one such food, and Bene the Berry Merchant makes an absolute killing off of them. She is sweet, thoughtful, outwardly homely, and certainly not above sabotaging her competitors. She is presently organizing cultivation efforts in the Feyfjord to the north to produce mulberries and blueberries in previously unthinkable amounts, with sponsorship from House Mendar. She hopes to discover the secret of cultivating Goodberries, which have completely eluded domestication.

The establishment gets absolutely swamped around the time of the Sanguinia, as berries are considered a novel, thoughtful gift for men, thought to promote fertility.

Estate Grachia

The House of Guards, repository for the internment of Grachus the Gate, the end of beginnings and the beginning of ends. House Grachia and its matriarch Miz'ra are powerful incumbents in the fields of necromancy, law, and necromantic law. The guards who watch Estate Grachia do not sleep and do not blink.

Within the halls are interned the righteous ancestors of House Grachia, residing within their cold stone homes. There they live the long life, dreaming the dreams of undeath while contemplating the affairs of their dynasty. Parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents all reside together in perpetuity. There are grand villas isolated within Estate Grachia, and villas within villas housing a thousand years of death. No other house has kept their dead for so long. Grachia playing the long game has now paid off, with a thousand years of knowledge now contained within their walls.

The Grachian Triumph is a triumphal arch dedicated to House Grachia's defeat of the monarchy. It tells the story of the regicide: the abductions of the matriarch's sons, the bloody riots, the rebellions of the captive gods, the unleashing of the Nightmare, and the exodus from the city. The story of the rebellion is one of Grachus's domain - of endings and beginnings, and two thousand years of potential energy bursting forth all at once.

Calderan Market

A grand market for all manner of food and goods. Numerous stalls sell wheat, mushrooms, protein, jewelry, clothes, tools. Sometimes they even host foreign merchants such as the Kobarans and Chronuleans, though their goods are often heavily taxed (food exempt).

The Grand Mistress of the Market is Acilia de Glasya, a stout drow woman with a noticeable birth mark on her lips and beady little eyes. She resolves disputes between merchants, customers, and clients. She receives a lot of bribes, and is the present custodian of the Grey Cauldron.

The Grey Cauldron is featured centrally within the Calderan Market, and contrary to expectation it is in fact made of black stone. Massive and plain, it contains The Grey - a mystery gruel said to be continued since the days of the monarchy. Any who contribute an ingredient are allowed a stone bowl of The Grey and a bit of flat bread.

The Grey is said to promote vigor, and will keep one from being hungry for up to a week. Foreign merchants in the market either avoid the stuff or sweat by it. "Praise The Grey!" says the Chronulean merchant, as he slurps his third bowl today.

Wine and Bread

A pleasant and popular tavern with well-to-do plebs and merchants alike. Known as a place to do business and get connections. Whole meat and meat soup is frequently served. One will notice various cliques around the place: guilds-folk, lesser Houses, and maybe members of greater Houses with allowances.

Managed by Mistress Narcelia, a very polite woman who knows her meat and wine. Her family creates an ornate mushroom wine called Beetlebrew which has become a mainstay of the inn.

Ruined House

A stone's throw from the Calderan Market is an uncharacteristically dilapidated house in a courtyard of trash and junk. People have taken to throwing their waste at the House. Piles of garbage accumulate in tepid heaps. Rumor has it that it's cursed, but even cursed real estate often ends up with occupants in this city. The windows are broken, the smell is revolting, and white rats with silver scales patrol its borders. Patrol, not skulk.

Sometimes children spot a black inky fox in the broken windows. It laughs at them, and they're not sure why. It's said that there's a shrine in the basement to a new god - a god of ruin and garbage, of forgotten and broken things. A god, or a dragon. Oftentimes it's hard to tell one from the other.

Property values have plummeted nearby, yet nothing has been done. Efforts to clean the courtyard have been in vain, and several temples have taken note of auguries in the House's presence, and declared it Sacred Presidium, which means none may legally interfere with its ordained state.

Sunday, July 31, 2022

HISS - Twilight City




The name of the district is an onomatopoeia of the sound of the district's numerous waterfalls, which cascade down from the Pomerium along aqueducts and reservoirs, over buildings and through peoples' homes. Moisture is heavy in the air. There's an ever-prevalent mist. The people who live here tend towards the esoteric and strange.

Having a guide is recommended. You never know what may be lying in wait through the next waterfall. The district is home to a great number of people with things to hide, and so tends towards the criminal. Floating gambling dens, waterfall drug lairs, and waterlogged brothels are common. Wherever there is dry, sure footing there is sure to be someone imposing standing there with a bludgeon or a quarterstaff, barring passage.

The Temple of Knots

The temple is one great continuous knot of ebon rope, miles upon miles tangled up into a labyrinth of twisting passages and odd protrusions. The shape of it from afar gives the impression of a black lump of metastasized cancer, many arms feeling outwards and upwards, feeding on the capillaries of the city's aqueducts.

There are many secrets within, or so it is promised. But does any particular outcropping of rope lower the drawbridge, or pull the floor out from under you? Does this loose bit here open a secret door or spring a trap that yanks your arm into the wall? Only the High Priestess of the temple knows what every knot keeps, and which ropes must be tied to reveal all the temple's secrets.

The priestesses say there are knots within every living thing. Trillions upon trillions, twisting and untwisting, writhing and loosing. The knots keep an order of things, and they know how to tie and untie them. They wear black heavy robes that are said to be living creatures, bred and tamed in the darkness.

Strange things stalk the halls - strange, twisted things. Things that are too tall and things that are too wide. Things with too many teeth and too many limbs. Things with too many turns and too many coils. Terrible things which hide behind the waterfalls with rope-like arms that strangle and devour. Once one of these things escaped, and the people have whispered of "ropey horrors" ever since.

G1: The Unicorn
A deer-like creature made of wood, bearing a single lightning-shaped horn and a single oblong jet stone eye. Its hooves surrounded by rotting offerings. It is said to be an ancient spirit of the wild.

Offer it things deer eat: fresh leaves, berries, grass, mushrooms, and bones.

Do so, and at a glance you will be able to judge whether one is worthy or not, as a unicorn would. 5% this becomes permanent, and you develop cyclopia. This will unalterably change your personality to something of a wild thing.

Waterfall Steamhouse
Uses the downflowing leftover bathwater from the Plinian baths in the Pomerium to host a number of warm and tepid baths and showers for the undiscerning citizen. (You can simply take a cold bath in any of the district waterfalls.)

The steamhouse was paid for by House Timurin, and they really like to advertise that fact. There are statues of their cruel matriarchs, frescoes showcasing bloody military victories, and occasionally blood in the water. There's a nasty rumor that a bloodthirsty eel lives in the pipes. People stay away from the drains, just in case.

Frequent meeting place for the Headsmen, who run a protection racket out of the back rooms. The occasional blood in the water is their doing: they have a torture room in the back they occasionally need to wash out. Rancast the Rake looks handsome, truthworthy, with a disarming smile. He is utterly undeserving of it, being a bully and a torturer.

Make sure to tip the soliciting barbers. They talk with each other, and sometimes accidents happen.

Estate Timurin
It's widely agreed that the house that esteems a god of sadistic violence is best to be avoided. Its servants have the glassy-eyed look of Blood Vulpin users, and screams echo in the stones.

The place is a churn for bodies and an alma mater for gangsters. Matriarch Cordatha commands fear and loathing. Even among the tutelary spirits and the little gods she is reckoned. For House Timurin does not cease its studies at the pain of the flesh, but engineers torments for the divine as well. That is their true power: the appropriation of a Zeus-like divine retribution.

It is said within, their priestesses keep ever-burning wheels and babeling oozes. True iron nails and gulls with beaks of adamantine. There are devices that will strike one hideous, or transform folk into mouthless wretches. There are spaces that nobody can escape, and crushes in the stone that bear the weight of the mountain down.

It's said that Matriarch Cordatha keeps the secret of Immortality, and that she saves it only for her hated enemies. It's said that the mountain is filled with the bodies of Cordatha's undying rivals, forever crushed beneath the weight of a city's worth of stone: unable to move, unable to die, unable to scream. Woe betide any who uncover these wretches, for their tormenting time in the earth invariable changes them to something inhuman.

Drug Maker
Hidden behind two consecutive waterfalls. Haelra de Vrynn indirectly manages a drug-manufacturing house where they make Blood Vulpin, an addictive depressant that makes the user severely indifferent to violence. It fills the subject's dreams with images of a river of blood, but does not trigger PTSD, ensuring a semi-peaceful sleep. Withdrawals create stigmata, severe agitation, and waking nightmares. Vulpin made here finds its way all over the city and even far beyond.

Shade Lily Grove
Little indirect sunlight, but plenty of water makes a good habitat for the Shade Lily, which blossoms a neon aquamarine atop warm charcoal-black pads as wide as wagon wheels. Pale sightless fish swim in the tangled depths. It is a semi-secret place - an annex of the Temple of Beauty, which can be seen far above.

The Temple's acolytes carefully descend flights of wet steps to tend the grove and ponder the nature of their charge. The water's surface is like a mirror, and so often they reflexively stare. All of them have large doeish eyes, and wear priestly peach-colored robes. If they believe one is intruding upon the sacred space they will enchant these interlopers and drown them in the waters.

Sometimes one may spot a priest or priestess of the Temple. They wear dark robes, and hide too many eyes under shadowed hoods - far too many eyes. And wings. "The gods' ideal of beauty is not our own."

Rope Maker
A cluster of little shops, like a strip mall, all bundled up into a single building. There's a woman who sells fish, and a man who does calculations for a fee, and the Rope Maker's son Nimi who does elaborate and expensive hair braids.

Then there's the Roper, Rapacious Red du Eligos, a freedman from the Tangled House (the derogatory term for the cravenly House Eligos). He and his family of four sons and four daughters are all broad-shouldered and strong of arm, living under this drippy roof and produce the finest silken ropes in the city, second perhaps to those exquisitely made in the Temple of Knots from the hairs of god-manes.

They are so fine, in fact, that other rope-makers purchase his goods and then pass them off as their own. Few have yet figured this out, and Rapacious is quite content with this arrangement. Eligos is a house on thin ice, and his matriarch doesn't want to rock the boat by letting it known that the competitors in the rope industry are all frauds.

G2: Jandus Two-Tongued
The Two-Tongued is the bust of a bearded man, painted gaudy reds and golds. Beside one tongue is forked another. Before it lie sacrifices: snake bones, little pouches of gold dust, and withered bifurcated tongues.

Jandus was said to have been a snake turned man. He is a shapeshifter and a liar, and has a begrudging respect for either. His hidden acolytes have split their tongues, and have so become either man or snake. People pray to Jandus when they are to attempt an important lie, for he gives sage advice on how to do it better.

Kordelian Menagerie
Twin grand doors housing some of House Kordelia's most dangerous monsters: demons, dungeon denizens, underdark predators, and arena attractions. It is both a prison, a private attraction, and training grounds for Kordelia's monster-fighting condemned.

The Pickhand Family is the premiere gladiator school for monster hunting in the city's arenas. They receive two kinds of people: trainers and bait. Nobody wants to be bait. Bait can be expected to suffer any number of odd and terrifying deaths to the diversity of the underdark's predators. Trainers might expect to survive long enough for a second or third showing, before their luck runs out.

Those precious few who survive the Menagerie's horror's for long enough have the pseudo-honor to become House Kordelia's Freedmen: considered peerless in the field of monster husbandry and capture. They are in high demand, and at great price. They live and die like kings.

The Axe and Claw
A wet and noisy tavern that doesn't really have a name, but they hung an axe and bird claw outside, so that's what people who know it call it. A criminal establishment. A meeting place for thieves, gangsters, and Headsmen. Everybody carries an axe.

Gambling with dice is popular. If you're not in the 'In' group though, the House always win. Always.

Sign out front: "NO UNDEAD". The top dog is a particularly loathsome ex-blackguard named Alisteria di la Vassago, who has no problems violently enforcing this edict with axe and magic. Anyone sufficiently an 'outsider' is a target for violence. Cravenly hypocritical: hates 'foreign drugs', regularly uses Wizard Meth; hates undead, has a grafted undead arm; despises 'lesser folk', member of a Lesser House. Bring up any of this inconsistences and you're in for a fight.

The changing esoteric ways of Hiss sometimes necessitate the use of a Seer. Therein lies a cave containing The Four-Eyed One, a crone who has "eyes behind eyes". For alms or donations, she can see something you're looking for. Her most favored donations are fine delicacies: oily surface foods, cuts of meat, and undiluted wine.

The Valentinas have never lost a case. (Of course, they never take any case they have a chance of losing.) Whether they'll take your case or not is usually a good barometer for whether you can expect to win. Usually Valentina the Younger they can be found soliciting defendants in the Pomerium, while Valentina the Older maintains this waterfall office. The Younger is a bit of a joker, while the Older is straight-to-business serious.

It is a comfortable dry cave, with proximal waterfalls casting rainbow prisms upon the walls. Expensive parties are often held for exclusive clientele. They keep an idol of Jandus Two-Tongued on their office desk. "That's how you know we're a good lawyer - we have a god on our side!"

Rude Theater
The stone seats are uncomfortable, but the curtain is a pretty waterfall formed by sluices controlled above the stage. This is the Rude Theater, where the comedy is rude and the tragedy is funny. It is a poor man's entertainment venue, where current events are crudely satirized and the high and mighty are jested.

The most popular joke by far is someone high and mighty eating shit. There are a lot of jokes about eating poop. Like, a lot. It's like their version of a fart joke. There's some deep cultural thing in drow society about eating poop, given how everything gets recycled as fertilizer, especially the feces. This irony gets exploited relentlessly in the popular insult-imagination.

Behind this crude humor, however, Director Quincia has quite the secret: she and the actors of her troop are inducted into the Cult of Poisons, which worship the vestige of the old Spider Goddess and sometimes kill someone with a poisoned dagger or spiked drink who they believe exemplifies the traitorous evils of the Republic.

Mystery House
It looks like any other house in Hiss - damp, weathered, cave-like. But nobody lives there, and the locals superstitiously avoid it. The façade gives the impression of a yawning demonic mouth, sculpted in columns and dark windows.

The interior is quiet. Footsteps resound. Walls decorated with scenes of punishment by demons - men, women, children being destroyed by the forces of the divine. That and the ambiance is usually enough to scare most folks off.

This is a meeting place for numerous Mystery Cults. Three to be exact. None of these groups are aware that the others also use this space.

The Cult of Monarchs explores the mysteries of monarchy, and the metaphysical properties it entails upon the monarch and those tied to them by blood. It's rumored that they stare at butterflies, forge crowns, and dissect monarchs.

The Cult of Quarrels explores the mysteries chaos as it pertains to marksmanship - what creates the ideal conditions for proper aim, and how to navigate the unforeseen contingencies that effect the smallest influences on crossbow quarrels. It's said that its high priest can never miss.

The Cult of Cults explores the mysteries of cults themselves. Why does secrecy and conspiracy produce particularly effective magic? How do the ways that cults hierarchically organize themselves affect the kinds of gods they attract?

Tuesday, June 21, 2022

BRIGHT TOWN - Twilight City



Source: Rastislav Kubovic


"She who builds it, owns it."

So says the proprietary customs of the deep elves. It applies equally to monument, land, craft, and people. Mothers make their children, and so all wealth naturally flows to them. Those who work the land or make the buildings extend the power of their familial heads.

So, who built Bright Town?

One might argue House Fingol-Mar built Bright Town. They were some of the first to build debtor's workshops where the twilight Sun could be used to agonize their tenets into thrall. The rotten roots of the so-called House of Worms spread down the mountain in paths unseen - through petty loan sharks and low-priced informants accustomed to the light. Their agents are numerous and hidden.

Or, perhaps, the unpatroned Houseless built Bright Town. It is an undesirable place for the elves, being under the sweating gaze of the twilight Sun. As such it is cheap to live in. Numerous insulae cluster the mountainside, being susceptible to fires and predation by the Watchmen who put them out and keep the gods' peace.

Or maybe foreigners built Bright Town. This district is not named like the others: proof of its foreign influence. The mountainside contains enclaves who might even prefer the Sun: wizards, merchants, ambassadors, and refugees. Many come to the city looking for work. There is always more work than labor for it.

Away from the caldera, a number of small towns and villages have cropped up to feed the burgeoning demands of the city: the town of Knife's Edge, and the Black Door. Though they are some distance away, the politics and problems of the city are their problems as well.

The Temple of Shadows

Why do the priests of the Temple of Shadows study mathematics and alchemy? Accounting and psychology? If one has an uninitiated understanding of what a shadow is, one might simply believe these practices unrelated. But the priests of the Temple do not call it "The Temple of Shadows". That is the layman's term. They call it "The Temple of Projections".

Within it, its priests practice Illusory magic, and claim many things are projections. They say that worms are the shadows of appendages of higher dimension. That the entire physical world is but an image projected through an infinitely-faceted gem. That shadows are recursive in their relations. The priests create strange lights by their alchemy that make shades which are said to move on their own accord. It's said that there are people in the depths who have never left, who long ago crawled into narrow tunnels and never emerged - generations lived in nothing but shadows.

The priests are notorious for being opportunistic. Guard your shadow within the Temple, or you may find it has acquired unforeseen ambitions... 

The Temple is a cave of many offshoots, illuminated by a central green flame whose reach is made far-flung by the use of portholes and mirrors. It is decorated with elaborate geometric objects which project stories told in shadows. The most common story is that of the monomyth - The Hero's Journey. These legends seem to lend themselves well to shadow. But why?

C1: The Butcher's Daughter
A small girl holding a pail of sausage meat and giblets. Commonly recognized as a butcher’s assistant.

Place offerings of coin in the pan.

For the next day, when negotiating trade you know where someone is who will give you better prices within the same neighborhood, if it applies.

The Bright Market

What can you buy in the Bright Market? Wheat, bread, mercenaries. Sometimes ice-packed apples and pears are available, though often they are procured by House Fingol-Mar for the digestion of worms.

Bread is something new to the dark elves. They're not great at making it, but it's cheap, plentiful, safe, and filling. It is now a staple, and its bakers are cut-throat entrepreneurs basking in a calorie boom. The Bright Market is awash in skullduggery.

Not least because of The Carver Sisters - a cleaver-wielding small time street gang on the up-and-up due to the calorie boom. They've got a protection racket on the bakers and bread-mongers. Nobody knows how to brick an oven like them (figuratively speaking). Really, their cunning for sabotage is wasted on this small-time stuff. Led by the scarred sisters Caim (Older) and Shax (Meaner).

The Shade Gate

A major thoroughfare from the outskirts into Caldera. A vigil is kept by Watchmen in connection to House Grachia - on the lookout for fires, fights, thieves, and "runaway property". If they feel like holding up passers-by for any reason they'll claim they're looking for stolen goods. They lurk in the shadow of the gate, and command dastardly skeletons for their dastardly deeds.

Watchmen are essentially a protection racket with a bad aftertaste of authority. This one is managed by Zagan of House Glasya, a necromancer who pays homage to House Grachia. Zagan bears a striking resemblance to a black rat with each passing day: big, mean, and fond of chewing on bones.

Ambassadors’ Villa

Modest sun-lit estates provided to foreign ambassadors of Chronulus and the Empire of Truth, who share the same lot side-by-side. They keep their curtains shut and their affairs private, being close rivals across the ocean to the east.

To become an ambassador, one must give their True Name hostage to the priests of the Temple of the Constitution, who keep it as collateral in case the ambassadors' agendas stray too close to treasonous.

Ambassador Noble a kind soul. It was quite the statement for the Empire to send him to a place where lies are more common than bread. In his service there is a horned devil who senses all falsehoods and sees all within its sight. It takes turns watching the city and the Chronulean embassy like a gargoyle.

Minister Rari of Chronulus is a spy, and runs his office like a den of spies. The Republic is aware of how much of a spy he is, and engages in his spycraft with joyful abandon. He's up to his armpits in trade deals and rooting out moles, so he hardly has time to entertain nobodies. The Ambassador is just that in name only, which is to say they're a fall guy who was paid to give up their name to the Constitutional Priests. Ambassador Nobody acts like this is the best gig in the world: drinking undiluted wine and smoking Chronulean cigars all day long.

Debtor's Work Pit

The second worst private prison in Twilight City. Though, if you're accustomed to the Sun, it's probably one of the better ones. A series of pits, too deep to escape, but not too deep for ambient sunlight to penetrate. Within, particularly unruly or disliked debtors work off their crimes, grudges, or bad decisions by weaving cheap clothes or breaking rocks.

This prison is owned and managed by Castarda di Fingol-Mar, who is the niece of the prominent Judge Burd di la Fingol-Mar (who often sentences alleged offenders to her niece's prisons). It's said that she is dispassionately cruel, and feeds particularly unruly indentured to flesh-eating worms.

The Fomes

People rightly say that living in The Fomes is a death sentence. One would think an apartment complex that has burnt down twice before wouldn't be built the same way again. But here we are, with an insulae built upon the ashen bones of six dozen people.

It's said that the little god of The Fomes was stolen from a hot dry place. That it is a hostile creature. It knows not how to return to whence it came, and can only claim vengeance by burning down its own domain. It is a little stalking laughing thing, sometimes heard giggling in dark corners to the sound of stones striking flint. The tenets fear it and give offerings of meat when they can. But they are poor, and so meat is often beyond their means.

Or maybe there is an arsonist's cult at work. It's known by elementalists that fires keep emotions within them as they burn. One who is acquainted with the language can feel them: strong emotions like love, hatred, despair, hope.

C2: Knife's Edge Village

The village situates upon a solitary ridge that lies between two cold dark dells, built upon the pre-apocalyptical ruins of a bygone frontier outpost. The entire village gives the impression that a strong wind will fold the whole polity right over into a frozen lake.

The local spirit of the village takes the form of an upright standing mountain goat, wearing an overflowing satchel and a disturbingly toothy grin. The shrine outside the Post Office features an idol of bronze, its hooves worn raw with the kisses of travelers praying for speed and safety.

Do so, and have advantage on leaps of faith for the duration of a single journey.

Post Office
A very busy office managed by the mistress of post: Yzonde of Greel. Tall and fit, she cannot shake a craven look. She has the world’s most interesting footwear collection (and has a special desire for magical boots). Will trade interesting or magical footwear for information, having mastered the form of peeking at peoples’ mail without disturbing the letter. (Even the fancy coded ones the elves think impregnable.)

Her greatest secret? There is a plain, unadorned package which has been circulating in the post office for two decades. It contains the Golden Teeth of Greel, which belonged to the city's gold-mouthed god, before it was stolen away (by Yzonde) and the city fell to ruin by the terrible destruction of the Fifth Legion.

When the winds change the whole town can get a whiff of the chemicals Dale the Barksman uses to tan hides. Dale is a hairy smelly man who chews a bark that leaves his teeth brown.

He's a bit of a grump, but he'll take any business that comes his way. Treat him with even a bit of respect and he'll be your loyal man to the death.

Tower Inn
Formed out of the ruins of an old watchtower. The owner will say that a wizard used to live here, before a magistrate from up the mountain cleared him out. Folk who sleep here say they always get a feeling like they're watched. Like the walls have eyes.

Completely true, that. Kendall the innkeep is a voyeur and a sneak. More than that there are a number of cats that like to squeeze up into the crawlspaces where it's warm and safe. They like to watch people, sometimes batting out a paw to snag a bit of clothing or scratch a leg.

Rumor has it that the tower cats have a leader - a big orange cat sometimes seen forming conspiracies with the other strays. Some think the cat was the wizard's familiar, or the wizard himself. Or maybe that big orange cat ate the wizard's brain and inherited his intellect and magic.

C3: The Black Door

(Though not technically a part of the City, The Black Door retains close connections to the town of Knife's Edge.)

A day's ride from Knife's Edge there is a fort made in stone upon the Mare's Hill by the mouth of the River Rime, where the wheat is separated from the chaff for soldiers joining the Legions.

The Black Door is quickly becoming a town in its own right. The modest set of docks upon the Estor Sea are being renovated. A slew of masons, merchants, and sailors are bringing in demand for the pleasures of the city. Smugglers and veterans of foreign raids are delivering religious idols by the dozen.

The Black Fortress
Walls and towers made of great solid rock quarried from the marbled black metamorphic stone by the Mountain of Lunacy to the southwest.

It's said that those soldiers who spend too long here are driven to peculiar manias, and so the garrison commander tends to rotate them every few months. Nobody gets comfortable here for long. The steep stones will test the bodies and the minds of its recruits, and they will either surrender to madness or go home in shame.

The Commander Tacha di Kordelia is said to be mad. Quite mad. Mad in a dozen different ways. So mad that a stranger will take it for perfect sanity. Her madness has allegedly saved her from two assassination attempts: once by partisans of Greel and once by their vengeful ghosts. It is rumored that she belongs to the Cult of the Moon, and openly partakes in their gazing rituals upon the Mountain of Lunacy.

Soldiers are not allowed to bear arms within the municipal district of the City. And they immediately surrender such privilege the moment they enter its sphere. This area serves as an intermediary post to weed out recruits and send them on to advanced training or assignment.

Tower of Strength

The lighthouse lives up to its namesake. The sand-colored stones are several centuries old and still standing. It is a pilgrimage site for strong folk and warriors, who test themselves by climbing the Twelve Giants' Steps from the ocean to the cliff peak, each taller than the last. Then by lifting the Twelve Gates along the interior of the lighthouse, each heavier than the last.

It's said that only a demigod can lift the last gate. The Tower's present Keeper, Orthax, could lift ten gates in his prime. At seventy seven years he can still lift eight. He still does so six days out of the week, and thrives on a diet of barley and sheep's milk.

At the lighthouse's peak is an everburning flame said to have been plucked from the heart of a phoenix. The folk of the Black Door say that once every few years the flame grows a little bigger, but the reasons for it are varied and wild.


The Docks are expanding. More ships are coming in. Bigger ones. More ships means more opportunity, more wealth, more muscle. Chronulean mercenaries mingle with Kobaran merchants, Winder fishmongers, and Twilight entertainers. The Black Door doesn't offer much, for now. But that's changing, and everybody is talking about getting the Commander's blessing to build something.

Mind's Theater

An amphitheater under construction by the eponymous Smither Mind, an entrepreneur in the realm of both construction and theatrical arts. His new theater will be grand! Grand, he says! Plays and gladiatorial combat! To save costs he has made it out of flimsy, hallucinogenic-burning Dreamwood. This theater will be a deathtrap for hundreds when it's complete.