The Sum of Her Parts
The Blight is in perpetual growth; her extremities groping blindly outwards and upwards, seizing and swallowing every feasible space in her hunger. Her greed is never sated, and as her limbs decay and collapse, so new ones rise from their ruins; lashed or spat into being on her own grave. Some have likened her to a mountain—her ramparts growing and falling like seracs and glaciers, her body never still or silent.
She never rests, never slumbers. To catalogue her is not easy, impossible some might say. To identify her component parts is challenging and strangely troubling, like dispassionately cataloguing what bodies died from or the effect of terrible diseases on flesh and bone and soul. In truth she has not fixed boundaries—the Between has seen to that—if a shop, an alley or even a whole street is sometimes taken into her grip, local people shake their heads and move swiftly on before builders seize the place.
She is formally made up of thirteen districts, although these districts are then segmented into parishes and smaller component parts. Our little list below merely kisses the rooftops, spires, alleyways and cellars of what lies below; it is less than a starter, a morsel perhaps, perhaps not even that. So brief indeed it doesn’t even have space for minor notorieties like The Eye, Hobbington’s Lamp or the festering Lychfens, nor even the seasonal districts like the Black Ice Fayre and Carnival.
And then there are other places, so many other places…
Rising like a mouldering fist from the banks of Sister Lyme, they say it can rain in one part of the Capitol and be sunny on another, its valleys and summits attracting mist and cloud like a mountain chain.
Iron soul of Castorhage, home to the Castorhage royal princesses and Queen Alice. It is also home to their extended, inbred and distended royal kin—the Tredici, the Borxia and numerous lesser families who have been taken to the ghoul-queen’s royal bosom to fester and envy and backstab.
The Capitol is vast, it is rambling and endless and decaying. The highest summits rise through granite rock over a thousand feet above the city streets below and it covers over a hundred acres, yet within the teetering, writhing floors that make up its whole—from the Soul to the Crown—it is beyond measure, it’s secrets countless and wicked.
The Artists’ Quarter
Heart of the city, the Artists’ Quarter is a hotbed of intrigue and anarchy, plots, blackmail and deceit. It is a swarm of noise and clamour, a potpourri of sin, exploitation and wickedness. It is also a place of hope. Spilling from the foot of the Jumble like an insane cat’s cradle, the Artists’ Quarter staggers down to the Great River through a shamble of tiny streets cowering beneath leaning sagging buildings.
A curious trio of powerful groups lurk within the quarter; firstly the Fetch, the hidden undead populace of the Blight, whose vampire elders find the waking nightlife to their liking. They and their slaves are profligate here. Opposing them are the triads of the Chi’en and Gtsang immigrants, who have flocked here for mutual protection. Finally there are the rebels and anarchists; drawn by the revolutionary plays and anarchist puppeteers. It is the one place in the city where the word revolution is said out loud.
The Barnacles and Great Dock
The Barnacles is a dizzying tidal-stack rising from the ocean, built upon various levels of tunnels that in turn link to the outer buildings (variously known as ‘nests’ or ‘limpets’ to the guards and workers). The Barnacles itself is ruled as an independent city-state by a group of greedy insular merchants, and who collect taxes from visiting ships, fund the local watch and arrange shady deals.
Clustered in and upon its surface, like limpets on a rock, are hundreds of buildings—variously thrown, tied, nailed and bolted to the precarious cliff faces, gripping for dear life above the jagged rocks below.
“It has a unique smell, this place, of old books and ageing parchment, of ink and learning. This place of towers and strange bridges between buildings, this place where the streets are cramped with a curious mixture of all walks of life. The bewigged Urger rubs shoulders with the punkawallah, who in turn flees from the eyes of his cruel master the Overseer, who clutches a fistful of legal papers. A handcart full of heavy tomes is pushed by a reed-thin man wearing a turban, a donkey sags beneath its load of new wet parchment.”
Booktown is a canyon of buildings and towers, linked by innumerable bridges and gangplanks, rope bridges and ladders to enable the legalese and professors and studiers to get between their clients more easily.
It is the repository for tomes and grimoires, maps, arcana and worthy works. Bibliomerchants flock here to buy and sell, wizards peruse high shelves of arcane tomes, and hierophants puzzle over ancient holy writings. Above all, it is a repository for secrets.
Festival and the Great Fayre
Festival is basically a huge timber boardwalk town in the Lyme River, built around a squat grey hill. Covering twelve score acres, it rises through steep streets called the Skew, to the Great Fayre at the summit. The streets rise steeply between shambles of buildings built upon buildings, each bolted to the last, giving the place a spastic look and a feeling of imminent collapse—timbers groan and creek, bolts occasionally explode and evidence of shoring up and repair is everywhere.
Whatever you define as pleasure is available here, from simple tumbling clowns to sinister dark places where nightmares are drawn out of madmen and given breath and lust.
And wherever you go, there are the rats…
The Great Lyme River (a.k.a. Sister Lyme)
The Great River Sister Lyme cuts through the heart of the city, keeping at bay the districts behind its docks and warehouses, piers, treadmill ferries and boats. Manmade islands dot its surface, the largest being the Gyre (q.v.).
The spine of the city, Sister Lyme touches almost every other district and stains it, for many things find the river useful—not only smugglers and murderers, but those with secrets and those who wish to hide. There are many who use the river as a friend, the wererats from Festival, the Briny—the hated half-skum who hold their mothers in dreadful thrall—and the Illuminati, who use the Lyme as an ally to cloak their deeds.
Despite appearances, the foul waters are alive with strange life that feeds upon bilge and waste, huge pale sough-eels and slop-sharks, wallow whales and bog lanterns watch those above hungrily. To fall into the acid maw of a wallow whale is a guarantee of death.
The Gyre – The Town of Flotsam and Jetsam: The Gyre, the spiritual home of the Briny, is a well-known landmark, which lies in the Great Lyme River. It is a town built upon flotsam, which has formed into a slow whirlpool in the river and which rotates with the slowness of hour-hands upon a clock.
The Hollow and Broken Hills
Here, the land splinters and falls into the sea in a thousand spires and hollow hills. Miracles happen here; statues weep and wells remove maladies. This archipelago of tidal stacks, cliffs and islets, as well as being home to countless people, is home to churches. Temples and places of worship rise here, as well as the (now full) Great Blight Cemetery—itself now a huge area of decaying tangled briars and undergrowth, ruins and mausoleums.
Sanctuary. The most holy city-state within a city state, Sanctuary is the home of his Holiness the master of the church in Castorhage. The present ruler, His Holiness the Father of Castorhage balances a precarious thread between enemies, allies and those who wish to succeed him. The ruthless Borxia family number one of his Holinesses’ most troubling neighbours, this terrible family has designs upon the throne and crown of Castorhage itself.
The Jumble (a.k.a the Cat’s Cradle, the Madness, the Maze)
The Jumble is a vast, confusing maze of streets that rise upwards and outwards—some would say in mockery of the Capitol itself.
It is easy to get lost in the Cradle—streets sink below ground and rise again to rooftop streets, taking a dozen ladders before continuing along a gable which ends at a bare wall, beyond which may lie the garret of a naga artist, a madman or cringing orphans.
Castorhage, built partly upon clay and silt deposits, is literally dancing upon its own grave—the more weight that comes to bear, the faster the sinking takes place, and this is no more apparent that in the Sinks—literally a drowning town.
In 897 the then king of Castorhage—Branner—ordered the creation of a new town for artisans; this would be a place of grand canals and gilt buildings, of towers and cathedrals and art. Branner, always a strong willed child, decided that it would be wise to use an area of the city known as the Grey Lake, famous for its shallow waters, as the basis for the town.
Even at its finest, it was obvious that Bronner’s Folly (as it had become known) was sinking—towers leant, walls ruptured, cathedrals sagged. Yet after a few decades the sinking suddenly halted, and the town was left as it is today—a twisted wreckage of leaning walls and towers, exhausted battlements and dislocated arched bridges over canals that range between a few feet to bottomless.
Now the Sinks is the home to the disowned nobility; bastards, criminals, madmen, those who sicken, those who have wronged and inbred horrors. The nobles there like to think of the Sinks as an elite domain, a decadent aristocracy willing to take life to further extremes than those in the Capitol. In truth they are exiles; their crimes beyond even those considered normal in the Capitol itself.
Vampires infest some of these families, although they are always careful to conceal their gifts. For the rest, they are a disturbing mixture of hopes and fears, abominations and murderers. These nobles pay well, and have infested the Sinks with hangers on, traders, priests and others mad enough, or greedy enough, to live in the shadows of their masters and mistresses.
Stories persist that sea-devils, or sahaugin have been seen brazenly walking the streets here by night, and that the worship of their hellish gods goes on behind the gilt doors of this dislocated district.
Toiltown a.k.a. The East, East Ending, the State of Sweat
Everyone hates vast Toiltown, even the overseers and factory managers who deal out their cruel forms of justice within. It is a place of endless factories and sweatshops, workhouses and mills.
Washing up on the shores of the Artists’ Quarter and Bazaar, the East Ending is a rough place to wander in, but a good place to find information. A coin can buy many services—murder, in some streets—and in a town where the watch keep their distance, many people find Toiltown a good place to hide. With so many people crammed into the disgusting filthy place, trouble is never very far away, and many predators find the close proximity and cheap life very useful.
Beyond, the city does not so much stop as stagger out into the grey and green fenlands around—fens that are dangerous places¬—filled with bogs and pools. Yet at the same time a building site is rising here on top of the old places, slowly taming the land with dikes and fill to allow the city to burst its edges. The Wash, another aspect of Toiltown, is one sinking arm of the city that has lapsed into insularity that thrives in the mires around the city.
The ‘Bridge with a Town on top’ Town Bridge is a teeming mass of trade and humanity crammed between the Great East Bridge Gate and the Royal West Bridge Gate—a distance of half a mile across Sister Lyme.
The Great Dark beneath the city is vast, it is an endless length of tunnels and canals, natural cysts and shafts that fall for miles. The Underneath, they say, touches every part of the city, and every home lies just a god’s whim away from being devoured by the dark. There are countless tales of whole streets vanishing, and of caves opening suddenly beneath nurseries allowing faceless monsters to take babies.
Town Bridge is more than a bridge linking two parts of land; it also connects the Blight to a place in Between called Scrimshaw, a whaling island port on the Unsea, a churning elemental ocean filled with whales (and other things) that provides an astonishing profit to whichever gang happens to be running the link to Between at the time.
Although not truly part of the city, and one of many fickle Between places, so many locals have made the perilous journey to and on the Unsea beyond that Scrimshaw is often referred to as Castorhage’s thirteenth—and unluckiest—part.