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?

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