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.