Dying of the Light
There is Strength in Stone. More strength than in steel or magic. magic fades, steel rusts but stone is eternal. Be like stone.
High in the mountains where the air is thin and cool, carved deep into a sheer cliff wall is one of the oldest bastions of civilization in the whole of Tramath. The Stonefast is a massive underground city, a series of intricate carved complexes and caverns stretching out for dozens of miles. Many parts of the Stonefast’s underground vastness have been abandoned or never inhabited but the city is as vibrant and strong as it has ever been, having weathered three Cycles, the last two without any magic whatsoever.
The Stonefast boasts a population of at least two hundred thousand, a large population even for an aboveground city. Divided into some one hundred small wards and living areas, made more or less self sufficient in case of emergency the Stonefast is almost a maze. A maze that only natives know and only natives get to see as the ‘visitor’ population is restricted to a large entry cavern called the Merchant District. The Merchant District is a sprawling, multi-layered and incredibly cramped melting pot where people from all over the world live and all the goods (not taxed to death by Stonefast mandarins) you can think of can be found.
The Merchant District is, however, nothing like the rest of the Stonefast. A mercilessly regimented society where petty crimes are met with hard labour, modest crimes with banishment and anything as trivial as laying a hand on an official can be punished by crucifixion, the Stonefast is not a nice place to live. Yet dour as it is, it is a safe place to live, which is why many seek to ‘buy’ their citizenship at least into the Merchant District if not the city proper. Protected by massive gates, a ruthless, flawlessly trained guard and all manner of traps and safeguards the Stonefast is the perfect refuge.
Life in the Stonefast is ruled by the law codex, a complex book of ordinances, duties and rights that every adult citizen is supposed to take a written exam on in order to be able to access a profession. Those who fail the test are relegated to one of the Stonefast’s menial jobs, like tending the underground spore fields and albino breeder herds or waste management. These jobs come with a drop in status but a distinct rise in both pay and freedom, something that many more rebellious souls cherish even though they’re not welcome in some of the upper tiers.
Said upper tiers are home to a variety of enterprises ranging from glass makers and chemist-compounders to academics and astronomers. A few of the more enterprising and outgoing souls have created an expeditionary society, that aims to expand the domain of the Stonefast through the next Dark, by creating small, self-sustainable outposts dug in stone.
The Ruling body of the Stonefast, the Council of Judges is very much opposed to this endeavour but as the expeditionaries have strong aristocratic support there is little they can do except make them go through time-consuming bureaucratic channels. For it is the bureaucracy that truly Runs the Stonefast. Every little bit of information, every sentence, every record has to go through the seemingly endless army of mandarins. Extensively trained and shuffled regularly so they do not become too corrupt the bureaucrats are the Stonefast’s cogs and can push or stop every law or motion as they see fit. The Battlemaster is the opposite of the bureaucrats, a powerful warlord in charge of the Stonefast’s powerful military and elected for yearly terms by the Council of Judges. The Battlemaster is always accompanied by a group of elite bodyguards and spies called the Dark Eyes. Selected from amongst the children of the aristocracy, raised for service since birth, indoctrinated and devoted body and soul to the law codex and the Council they are there as much to defend the battlemaster and council members from assassins as to ensure that a coup is never possible. Though the system of rule has evolved over the years no coup has ever been successful in the Stonefast.
The city reckons itself as a center of trade although it imposes massive taxes on certain goods and outright bans others but its main industry is that of blackmail and protection. The Stonefast claims a large area of the mountains and even the southern steppes, the geographical area of the empire it was part of, a millenium and a half ago. All those inhabiting those areas (mostly barbarians but also some townships) must pay a yearly tithe to the Stonefast. In exchange they receive protection and the use of the land as they see fit. Cross the Stonefast though, either by raiding or sedition and you are very likely to end upside down on a cross. If you’re lucky, with your throat cut. The city’s armies are as ruthless as they are effective and the bureaucrats signing their orders are as uncaring as they are aloof.