Table of Contents
The City has many names, borrowed and adapted from the thousands of alien cultures and traditions that have discovered it. Axiom, New Babel, the Spire, Verge, and Uruk, among many others. If the City ever had an official name, that is a secret long lost to time. Whatever else they may call it, all residents also know it simply as "The City".
The City exists in a pocket dimension, perched atop an enormous alien machine in an endless blue sky. There are more active portals and phantagraphic pathways in the City than anywhere else in the known Multiverse. It is a hub of phantagraphic travel, and home to thousands of beings from thousands of different worlds.
The City is built at the top of a vast alien machine. Most residents live and work on the upper side of a wide circular dish with a diameter of 100 km (about 62 miles). The dish rests at the top of a tall stone pillar, which descends 10,000 meters (30,000 feet) before disappearing into the cloud cover below. The full size of the colossal machine is unknown, and it has vast interior spaces which have yet to be fully explored.
The City is separated into six equal areas, called cantons, by a series of six aqueducts that run from the center of the City to the edge. The upper side of the dish is not flat, and generally rises towards the center, with plenty of variation of hills and valleys between the center and the edge. Most of the City consists of streets and buildings that are themselves part of the mechanics of the vast machinery, but some areas are heavily covered in dirt or flooded, creating parks and lakes of all sizes.
The City is in a pocket dimension that seems to consist of nothing but the City itself and an endless sky. A thick layer of clouds, usually located 10,000 meters below the City, hides any surface that might exist from view. No expedition into the clouds has ever discovered a bottom limit, just thick cloud all the way down. Above the City the sky is blue, usually with a yellow-appearing sun. The night sky is different every night, showing a different set of stars, moons, and celestial bodies. Attempts to travel from the City to other celestial bodies might succeed, but the traveller will not be able to find their way back using normal means (that is to say, without using some form of portal).
Despite its position high in the sky, the City does not experience particularly cold temperatures or high winds. The top side of the dish is protected by an invisible climate bubble, keeping the air relatively warm, calm, and pleasant in normal weather. Temperatures in the City typically range from 20 to 30 degrees Celsius (68 to 88 degrees Fahrenheit) during the day, with rare heat waves and the occasional cold snap that takes temperatures below freezing. The City receives moderate precipitation and has no distinct seasons.
The aqueduct system forms barriers in the City much as rivers would in a planet-bound city, naturally dividing the City into six regions called cantons. Each canton has subtle characteristic differences that distinguish it from the others. Along with the Tower and the Edge, the cantons form the basis of cardinal directions in the City. Roads, tunnels, and bridges cross the aqueducts to allow mostly unhindered movement between cantons.
Starting with the Sun canton and moving clockwise, the cantons are as follows:
Sun Canton: Generally warmer, receiving more sun than the other cantons.
Wind Canton: Receives a greater magnitude of weather effects.
Stone Canton: Quiet and old, reconfigurations are less common in Stone than in other cantons.
Night Canton: Usually in the shadow of the Tower, Night receives less sun than other cantons, and is a favourite of nocturnal creatures.
Smoke Canton: Industrialized, with low winds contributing to hazy smog and stale air.
Swift Canton: Young and hip, reconfigurations are more common in Swift than any other canton.
Lore: The Tower
The Tower is a massive white stone edifice at the center of the City, reaching hundreds of meters into the sky and dwarfing all other buildings in the City. The Tower is the City's center of government, containing the main offices of the Crown and the residence of the Royal Family.
The Tower is an unassailable fortress, with thick stone walls and a protective moat. The concourse within the moat is constantly crowded with market stalls, tourists, and faction dignitaries going to and from the Tower. The moat is fed by a water source underneath the Tower, and goes on to feed all the aqueducts that carry water elsewhere in the City.
The Tower is rumoured to be the source of a powerful mystical force, harnessed by the Royal Family to ensure their dominance over the City. In reality, the Royal Family's influence has more to do with careful politics and wise diplomacy, but the Tower has itself become a powerful symbol of the Crown's influence and authority.
Six long, equilaterally spaced aqueducts run from the center of the City disk to the edge, carrying fresh, clean water across the whole of the City. The aqueducts provide fresh water for drinking and washing, hydrate the City's plants and folliage, and offer a means of rapid transportation for boats and ferries. Much like rivers in a planet-bound city, the aqueducts create a natural division between regions known as cantons. In many places the aqueducts are divoted or uneven, allowing water to flow out of the aqueducts and form streams and ponds throughout the City.
The ground of the City is not entirely even, so in some places the aqueducts form street-level canals, while in other places they form towering walls that can only be crossed with tunnels, or by climbing a long flight of stairs. Each aqueduct is 100 meters (300 feet) wide and 9 meters (30 feet) deep in the middle.
There are twelve major bridges, known as "the dragons", that cross the aqueducts. Six are located near the center of the City, where the aqueducts join the Tower Moat. The remaining six are along the edges of the City. There are other bridges all along the aqueducts, but these have all been added by City residents, and risk being lost or destroyed by reconfigurations. In other places tunnels in the aqueduct walls allow people and vehicles to cross. The water flows calmly through the aqueducts, so it is not difficult to ford them or swim across at most places when there are no better options, and privately operated ferries and boats are very common.
The City does not tend to put buildings of its own at the very edge of the disk. In fact the Edge tends to be very sparsely populated, though it can make for convenient and predictable roads, and safe park land. It is open enough, with few enough buildings and none of them tall, that it would be very difficult for anyone to approach the Edge without knowing it. Still, there is no sort of fence or guard rail to keep people away, and while the view might be incredible, it can also be quite intimidating.
Remarkably, many of the people who are known to fall off the edge of the City resurface a short time later, usually wandering around some corner of the City lost and confused, without any precise memory of just what happened. One minute they were falling into an infinite sky, the next they were safely back in the City, deposited unharmed in some random neighbourhood. These reappearances usually happen within hours or days of the unfortunate plunging over the edge, but on at least one occasion a confused man discovered wandering the streets turned out to have fallen over the Edge a hundred years earlier, though the man himself hadn't aged a day.
Not all inhabitants of the City need solid ground under their feet to feel comfortable. In fact some creatures prefer the freedom of hanging over open sky, with nothing between them and the cloud cover thousands of feet away. These residents build their homes and business on the Underside of the City's great dish. These little townships and aeries are usually built out of irregularities in the dish itself, passages and openings from the dish surface to the machine's interior. Reconfigurations on the outside of the dish are rare, but no unheard of, so there is some security in the building of such Underside structures. Most Underside buildings are near the edges of the dish, to make it easier for the flying inhabitants to move between their aeries and the main City. Others are connected by passageways through the interior, though these can be dangerous and unreliable.
The Inner City
Between the City proper and the unexplored maze of the Interior lies the Inner City. Popular with naturally subterranean creatures as well as criminals, social outcasts, and weird mutants, the Inner City is a sort of warren of homes and businesses that runs just beneath the surface of the City. Reconfigurations are more common here, and more likely to not be accurately predicted, so it is by nature a more dangerous place than the City on the surface. Still, some creatures prefer it, or require the protection it offers from the elements, and some parts of the Inner City are quite heavily populated and cheerful.
The Inner City only extends about fifty meters below the surface at its deepest points. Beyond that last scrap of civilization lies the Interior. The Interior is by far the largest section of the City, making up the entire interior of the vast and ancient machine the City is but a small part of. Unlit, uncivilized, and dangerous, the Interior is a massive maze of tunnels and warrens, complex cave systems made up from the mechanics of the great machine. The Interior does not have the strangely convenient design of the surface, there is no illusion that creatures were meant to walk around down here. Buildings and structures that might be seen on the surface are stacked tight together, upside down or sideways, with no sense of consideration for their use. Massive machinery, glowing with mystical sigils, dominate otherwise cavernous spaces, and what starts as an easily walked corridor soon becomes and tight crawlspace, before narrowing into an impassable crack, with no guarantee that you can still go back the way you came. Areas of dead air and poison gas wait to trap the unwary, and sudden reconfigurations can send visitors plunging down deep crevices, or abruptly drop building-sized machinery on top of them.
There is danger down here, and mystery. But there is also treasure. Prizes to be won and answers to ancient questions. Everything that has ever vanished from the surface of the City is somewhere in the Interior. Every piece of artwork or invaluable artifact that ever vanished in a Cityquake is somewhere to be found in the Interior. Perhaps there are even survivors of past disasters down here, somehow scratching out a meager existence in the darkness. Though after generations of isolation, who knows what sort of creatures they might have become?
The majority of the City's buildings are an integral part of the City and the great machine it is built upon. The City itself provides these generalized structures of various shapes and sizes, from cottages to skyscrapers, and residents move in and set up their homes and businesses. The structures tend to come with their own water and power sources, and are easily redecorated for comfort and utility, with floating ceilings and wall panels, decorative doors and windows, furniture, new fixtures, and all kinds of substructures. It is generally considered unwise to try to fundamentally change the structure of the building itself, as the City tends to reconfigure such "damaged" structures. Trying to knock through a wall between two offices might result in an entire office block being replaced with a parking lot.
Many residents build their own structures, especially those who prefer organic or living materials. There are entire town-sized settlements made of brick and timber that have stood in the City for generations. However should the area reconfigure, these tradition structures are lost and destroyed the same as any City-supplied building. It is very rare to see "foreign" structures reappear in a reconfiguration, though occasionally a damaged and centuries-old house or temple has surfaced.
Power and Water
The City provides power and water itself, without the need for residents to build or maintain their own power plants or water treatment facilities. Water is provided from various spouts and basins in a variety of sizes, from those suitable as kitchen sinks to flushable toilets and larger baths and showers. The spouts, basins, and their simple controls are built right into the structure of the building, and provide both hot and cold water. These systems are also easily adapted to act as hook-ups for more specialized water systems, should they be desired.
The City's power sources are somewhat more mysterious. Almost every structure in the City will include multiple power glyphs, simple symbols that glow with a faint blue or purple light, carved into stone bases. When touched, the glyphs produce only the mildest static tingle. But when an appropriate adaptor is attached to the glyph, it produces a constant flow of power nearly indistinguishable from common electricity. In most cases the glyphs themselves seem to adjust voltage and amperes to match whatever device they are powering, though burnouts and overloads are known to happen. The power from a power glyph can then be used to power any device or appliance directly (including devices powered by magic instead of electricity), or converted into another type of energy. Most appliances and devices built or sold in the City are specifically configured to use power glyph, but adaptors capable of converting power glyphs to common outlet configurations from a thousand different worlds are available at any hardware store.
Streets and Roads
The City is criss-crossed with a vast network of stone-paved roads. Part of the City itself, these roads are constantly changing and shifting with reconfigurations, making it impossible to maintain useful road maps for any length of time. The few large roads that have remained in place for years are considered invaluable routes, heavily trafficked by commuters and other drivers. But the fact remains that wherever you're going, however familiar you might be with the area, there's always a fair chance you're going to get lost at least once trying to navigate the City. As a result, most people prefer to travel on foot, or hire road guides.
A road guide is a professional driver, usually an independant operator with a single vehicle, who can be hired as a taxi to take you anywhere in the City. Road guides typically either have special talents or abilities - such as limited precognition or instinctive pathfinding - or tremendous skill and dedication that assist them in navigating the City's snarl of unpredictable roads. It is almost always quicker (and as a result, sometimes cheaper) to hire a road guide taxi than to try to drive around yourself. A few road guides have pooled resources to found bus companies, charging less per ride and making up the difference in volume and pre-determined (though obviously adaptable) routes.
Another transportation alternative, the Tunnel Tram is the fastest and most efficient way to get across the City, but it generally services fewer areas than taxis and buses. The Tunnel Tram is a remarkable machine designed by researchers and PRD, and put into service some years ago. It resembles a segmented metal bug, like a huge silver centipede, with three rows of hooked legs. A single Tram car can carry more passengers than a bus, and Tram trains are typically made up of five of six cars.
Like a subway, the Tunnel Tram travels below street level, carrying passengers to stations scattered across the City. The unpredictable changing nature of the City makes permanent rails or tunnels impossible, so the Tunnel Tram instead uses its hundreds of hooked legs to find purchase wherever it can, and sophisticated sensors and computer algorithms to navigate the ever-changing tunnels beneath the City. The Tram weaves and swerves wildly, like a fleeing insect, while an inertia-dampening cradle keeps the interior mostly still, so that passengers experience only minor swaying an occasional jolts. It is recommended not to look too intently out the window when the Tram is in motion, as particularly difficult to navigate sections may cause vertigo and motion sickness.
Trams are highly autonomous, but do have a human (or whatever) operator for safety's sake. Over the last ten years, three Trams and their passengers have vanished without a trace, never surfacing from the dangerous Interior. PRD considers this an acceptable rate of losses, and much of the general public seems to be willing to take the risk in return for fast, reliable transportation.
Parks and Gardens
The City is typically thought of as urban, but wild areas and parks are very common. The "ground level" of the City is not uniform. Though for the most part the City is at a higher elevation towards the center, and lowest around the Edge, irregularities between sections form many hills and valleys throughout the City. Some of these lower areas fill with water, becoming small lakes and ponds. Sediments like sand and dirt, though not native to the City, come in constantly from portals to other worlds, and over generations build up in lower spots. Some areas can build up a great deal of dirt, enough to support grass and even large trees. Parks full of plants and wildlife can grow quite large, and some even become quite wild, or borderline dangerous, more accurately described as true forest than park. These parks are as vulnerable to reconfiguration as any other "foreign" addition to the City, and at times parks from long past have resurfaced, a piece of the City emerging from the interior along with a great quantity of dirt, though any plants and trees it brings along are usually long dead from lack of sunlight.
The City and the vast machine it is built on are not actually separate entities, but parts of a single whole. The buildings are made of the same stone and metal as the dish and pillar, and there is no kind of distinct line to separate one from the other. The City is made up of millions of interlocking pieces, some no more than a meter across and others the size of a city block. These pieces are constantly in motion, changing position with regards to each other and returning to the inner-workings of the great machine, replaced by similar pieces. These changes are called reconfigurations.
The majority of reconfigurations are small, subtle, and harmless. A park bench might be replaced with a small garden plot, for example. Or a fenced in grassy area might turn into an open stone plaza overnight. Roads are particularly vulnerable to these constant reconfigurations, with roads turning into cul-de-sacs overnight, and known dead-ends suddenly becoming major thoroughfares. Commuters in the City learn to improvise. These reconfigurations are at worst inconveniences and irritations, and almost never hurt anyone or permanently alter or destroy property.
Occasionally a reconfiguration is more drastic, as the City draws a building or large plaza back into the superstructure, or replaces a large park with a dense block of buildings. These major configurations take time, however, and the Forecaster's Faction is specifically dedicated to predicting them and keeping the population informed, so there is usually plenty of warning before one's house or place of business disappears. Regardless, on rare occasions people or objects might be lost or destroyed, drawn into the machine and out of reach.
Rarely, reconfigurations are truly massive and dangerous. Often called Cityquakes, these drastic reconfigurations see large chunks of the City drastically reconfigured, often with very little warning. Usually the various factions of the City will attempt to evacuate an area before a Cityquake hits, and perform whatever rescue operations they can, but there is often a loss of life and almost always serious losses of property. A Cityquake is the equivalent of a serious natural disaster, and fortunately they are extremely rare.
At this current time there are no "known" native species to The City, but research is still ongoing. An astounding number of critters can be found in the City... in pet shops. These imports hardly count unless they are both capable of escaping and thriving. Decidedly there are any number of normal and hardy creatures that follows the great mass of life around which manage to survive in this odd environment, including kudzu, rats, pigeons, cats, deer, herds of bison, and time-burrowing bookworms.
A recently introduced and very unfortunate species. When they first arrived people mistook them for some child or eccentric's project to construct various cardboard booths in both large and miniature and scatter them about the area. Until someone noticed magical artifacts were going missing along with large chunks of wood and paper. Then someone made the mistake of kicking one. The Booths appear to be self-replicating parasite which become larger and fill their population by consuming quantities of the aforementioned materials. This makes them a serious hazard and a nuisance as they can go into a sleeping mode that makes them appear as normal cardboard booths, usually with slightly signage. Once awoken, their base opens to reveal a lamprey-like maw and furious eyes replacing their lettering. Fortunately, they don't appear to be immune to magic or normal means to get rid of them. Unfortunately, they don't appear to feel pain, and people whom have set them on fire have discovered they will continue to relentlessly attack before they finally crumble. Recently swallowed artifacts (or small children... or the family dog...) can be recovered from the pocket dimension they appear to naturally form within themselves. Only inorganic materials appear to be "digested" by this.