Thursday, 24 November 2011

damned city: the avernine

The Avernine clings to our city like a tattered mantle.  It's a sprawl of crumbling armouries, odious garrisons and cracked roads.   Built on marshland, the Avernine houses soldiers as well as camp followers, criminals, drunks, political exiles and malingerers.  Food shortages are common and the city's patricians buy favour with grain rations for serving troops.  Those too poor, addled or weak to fight become grist for the mill.  Martial law is imposed by militias and armed troops root out entrenched gangs.  Fires caused by marsh gas are frequent enough shouts of 'Fire' are always responded to in force.  Crying wolf is a good way to get lynched.

Life in the Avernine is noisy, jostling for food and status is commonplace.  Thieves are a perennial problem and punished harshly for it.  Poverty is rife, one in three have no home and another one in three are billeted or in barracks.  Brawls are popular as are athletic contests and gambling.  Strength is power, the weak submit or get crushed yet few tyrants survive.  Markets are carefully managed by heavily-armed patrols and inciting food riots is a death sentence.  Patrols have some leeway in identifying inciters.  Owning property in the Avernine is a euphemism for ill-gotten wealth, a shady past or fall from grace.  Ironically many soldiers are eager to do so.

Over time the Avernine has grown like a stain on the marsh despite fires and riots.  Corrupt artisans scavenging from buildings and using shoddy material have inculcated poor repair.  Walls are daubed in cement then decorated with murals and graffiti.  Older buildings have sinister, baroque designs built to withstand siege but theft and poor repair have eroded most.  One exception is the Brazen Keep, largest garrison of the army patrols whose bronze-clad towers seeth with stamped glyphs.  The current commander is whispered to be carving up and slowly eating his predecessor like smoked sausage.  Other landmarks include commemorative pillars studded with the verdigris-coated skulls of enemy generals and kings. 

The marsh on which the Avernine grows is fed by two rivers. The ice-cold, deep-rolling Fiumorte branches, tunnels and rejoins itself.  It yields lost dead to Avernine shores as canny gangs loot patrician funeral barques.  Corrupt Avernine ferrymen demand additional payment halfway, those who can't pay sink or swim.  Those in sight of the oily, oozing Bruciatura have it worse.  It's thick stinking mud sucks at boardwalks and buildings.  When the river ignites, gas explosions and fires spark riots, looting and bloody reprisals. In summer, those near the Bruciatura adopt a siege mentality.

There are five gates into the city proper.  The first, called the Bridge of Smoke crosses the Bruciatura as it leaves the slopes of Animardente.  The second, called the Dead Lock, forms a fortified lock down to Bacino's piers.  Though the Fiumorte has streams throughout the Avernine, this lock sees much commercial use.  The final three are evenly spaced on Riccoferro's walls, at the north, east and south, bolstered by iron portculli and iron-masked patrols interrogating visitors.  They are prosaically named the North, East and South gates.  Around all the gates tenements press closer to form claustrophobic covered alleyways.  Those seeking entry rarely see sunlight until they enter the city.

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