Monday, April 13, 2009

The City's Shadows Alphabet: P-T

P is for Palaces

At the heart of the city, like a dragon atop his hoard, sits the palace. From the dingy stews of the city, the residents gaze upon its whitewashed walls and shining spires with mixed emotions. For many citizens of the shadows, the Palace represents all there is to hate about their lives; for it from within the walls of the palace that the edicts which seldom take into the account the wants and needs of the destitute are issued. For other residents, the palace represents the one big score that stands between them and a new life filled with riches away from the city’s shadows.

But not all palaces in the city are home to nobility. There are other palaces strewn about the city’s wards and quarters. Great gaming houses gleam with opulence; grand arenas break up the squalor of the streets with gleaming edifices depicting epic combat, and wealthy Brothels, plush with velvet and silk, await the appetites of those wealthy enough to call upon the talents of those within. Although the occupants of such lesser palaces lack the temporal power of nobility, the treasures that are cached within are no less impressive, nor less protected, than those of the city’s heart.

Q is for Quarrels

Both the action and the item are commonplace down on the city’s mean streets. In the cramped confines of apartment houses, the sounds of arguments echo down the filthy halls, outpaced only by the stink of cooking meals and the odor of human suffering. In marketplaces, taverns, Inns, and the Docks, quarrels between disagreeing parties quickly bypass words and progress to the unsheathing of Knives and the spilling of blood. Even the Guilds, with all their power and influence, are not above petty bickering between bodies, which can quickly escalate into all-out street battles that affect all who live down in the shadows.

And if the quarrel as a verb was not dangerous enough, the noun is doubly so. In the winding streets of the city, the weapon of choice for killing at a distance is the crossbow, which is found in use by the Watch and assassins alike. With the snap and twang of the string, a quarrel shoots through the night with deadly accuracy, snuffing out another life and ending another problem. Seedy tenements sport concealed loopholes that hide arbalesters in the pay of the guilds, who oversee and protect their employers’ activities. Down in the Sewers, hired killers prepare quarrels with lampblack to hide the steel’s gleam from the Watch and with venom to ensure the kill. It is only in half-jest that the quarrel is sometimes called the “bird of the city’s shadows.”

R is for Rooftops

No trip to the city would be complete without a frantic dash across madly-tilted rooftops accompanied by sling bullets and Quarrels whizzing past one’s head. Add to this scenario the desperate leaps needed to vault across the Alleyways that separate buildings and you have a classic city encounter. It’s this kind of Excitement that makes adventures in the city’s shadows unique.

The rooftops of the city’s shadows are both an extension of life on the streets below as well as a world unto themselves. Nestled amongst leaning chimneys and ramshackle pigeon coops, some desperate souls trade shelter from the elements for addition protection against the dangers of live on the streets. Up here, life is just a cheap but the air and view is slightly better. The rooftops are not only the demesne of Lower Class, however. Sorcerers conduct mystical experiments whose successes are aligned with the stars, assassins lie in wait with cocked crossbows in hand, and priests and oracles observe the sky for omens. The rooftops might be separate from the street below but they host a similar variety of inhabitants.

S is for Sewers

Dark, stinking, subterranean corridors are not limited to the dungeons from which the adventurers pry their riches. Beneath the streets of the city run miles of tunnels that can be just as dangerous as the fiercest dungeon. Although constructed to protect the city from disease and flooding, it doesn’t take long for the dwellers of the city’s shadows to put them to other uses.

Down here – should one be willing to venture into this foul world – Cults gather to conduct their obscure and obscene rituals, safe from nonbelievers. Behind hidden doorways and down secret passage ways, the Thieves Guild plots to liberate the wealth of those who have failed to pay the Guild its proper due. Monstrous creatures, both natural and those created, then abandoned, by insane wizards, prowl the sewers, occasionally venture into the upper air to snatch a tasty morsel from its bed. Amidst these assorted perils, rat-catchers and sewer men eke out a meager livelihood in their toils; often supplementing their wages by selling the secrets they discover in the course of their duties to curious ears above ground.

T is for Temples

Like their secular counterparts, the Palaces, temples are looked upon with a mixture of emotions. For many, the temples are places where a brief solace from the weariness of life in the shadows can be found: adherents of many faiths lose themselves in the rites and grandeur of religious expression. A whispered prayer or heartfelt offering raises hopes that the gods might have pity upon their sufferings and make tomorrow a better day.

In the eyes of the less devout though, the temples make a tempting target. In these bastions of sanctuary down in the shadows, treasure troves of varying quantity await those brazen enough to risk the displeasure of the greater powers of the multiverse. Jeweled ornaments, gilded religious tomes, and the ever-present offering box promise a much more concrete and dependable source of respite against the drudgeries of the slums, with often only a handful of corpulent priests and novices standing between those items and the hard men who covet them. Such temptation is difficult to resist…


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