Loremageddon: Firasca, the Godless City, ca. 1290 V.R.

For the ninth day of NaNoWriMo/Loremageddon (I will push Loremageddon until it catches on! You cannot stop me!), I’m going to break from my initial theme and switch from a point-by-point breakdown of various cultures, to whatever interests me! First up on the list:

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Approaching Firasca by sea or by land provides both the grandest and most confusing vista for a hundred miles along the eastern coast of Ceslon. Travelers entering the city through the flower-strewn foothills and columnar rock formations outside the city, with their arcane or metal anchors and ascetics’ homes like netting between them, will first see its silhouette as glimmering gold, marble and stonework through gaps in what seem to be jagged hills. Slowly, as they file through one of countless strange, hemispherical channels approaching Firasca, they’ll see the hanging vines and stubborn subtropical trees around the rock spires thin out.

The spires themselves become lower and more worn until at last only the land-entry of the city remains: sun-bleached, cratered, and looming against the sky with its stone work still stained by ancient char. Once-proud buttresses and empty gatehouses with crumbling holes blasted through them, walls interrupted by craters a hundred feet or more across, and long avenues of broken cobbles long since bleached of color, old housing districts and fallen noble manors, all overgrown and home to more animals than sapient beings… this is all that remains of Firasca’s fabled Old City, obliterated by the Loar.

By sea, of course, the difference is far more obvious. Sailing in from due east, a visitor to Firasca can see the glittering sprawl of the New City covering hills, filling valleys and crevices and stretching out to meet the water on the left. Elaborate docks from the Age of Splendors, though pockmarked and sometimes cracked by Loar bombardments, stretch a mile into the ocean at their longest, bringing foreign visitors and merchant shipping to the city. But for the docks themselves, every edifice from the smallest hut to the greatest tradehouse was erected by a few thousand Firascan survivors who filtered back at the end of the Loar War–the only legacy of a kingdom once housing ninety million souls. In the millennium since, they’ve clawed their way up to a few hundred thousand. The New City’s disordered sections, separated by a dozen curtain walls each larger than the last and each long-since outgrown, hint at the turmoil of its rebirth. On its right lies the Old City.

During childhood, every Firascan hears the story of the Loar’s sudden onslaught after the fall of Ulm. A thousand sleek metallic ovoids with fire-gouting bulges at their backs and strange wings on either side hurtled down at the city from a clear sky, hammering its turrets to shrapnel with guns that spat the blood of the sun. The gods were silent. No sooner did they break off than a howling wall of dreadful bolts arced across the horizon and rained down upon beautiful Firasca, smashing monuments to dust, vaporizing her citizens, and decimating her proud fleets. The gods were silent. The largest shots rended the city’s wards apart and bled the sky sickly orange, consuming half a district in purgatory fire before spellcraft rallied and contained them. The gods were silent. A hundred larger ovoids dropped from the sky and drove down into its streets. Their reinforced prows, incongruous sharp wedges against their sleek frames, carved up centuries of engravings and colorful cobbling. The gods were silent.

The gods were silent while the Gaunt Ones stalked forth into Firasca’s streets, weapons flaring endlessly against waves of guards. They were silent when the Loar converged on the Lord-Elect’s palace and their fire cut down the Requiem-Guard to the last man, and silent when they blasted down the doors of the palace, and silent when one Loar pulled the Lord-Elect’s head from his shoulders even as another gunned down his wife and nine of his children. Only his youngest daughter, Rosa, who’d spent the day hiding in the servant’s tunnels over a tiny misbehavior, survived. She watched her family butchered through a slit little wider than her own pupil, and the gods were silent. By the time she fled, Firasca was all but exterminated.

The Loar descended their sky-fire against its temples all at once. They smashed the grand domes of the Ulmish pantheon, and the Stepped Temple of the Murit with its verdant interconnected towers arcing far out through the city until they curved gracefully to ground level as fabulous entry ramps. It’s said that with the first shot, the water running through the Stepped Temple’s ornamental aqueducts boiled instantly into steam and flooded the temple, scalding all who sheltered there from the Loar. Neither did the barrage spare the dour cathedral of the Helsic pantheon; its figures of martial glory and ancient pride shattered along with its walls and a direct hit bathed its priests in disintegrating fire.

To this day, its ruins appear in many places like volcanic glass. Without the gold, silver and semiprecious metals which once adorned it or the desaturated, high-contrast murals painters supplied for recesses in its outer walls, it looks like nothing so much as an immense black skeleton. Even the gems encrusting its spires have been stolen away over time. Only the Threefold Blade of the Helsic pantheon remains atop the Cathedral’s gutted upper spire–base mirror-polished steel with a simple enchantment against rust, not worth the risk or the effort need to climb up and pry it loose.

No Firascan has ever forgotten, nor allowed her children to forget, the treachery of the gods on that black day. Firasca, which once offered pilgrimages for all the gods of every culture and sapient species upon Canno, became an infernal ruin through which the Gaunt Ones hunted the few human survivors. For perhaps three hours, Firascan infantry exchanged futile gunfire with them from the depths of ruins. Nobles and warriors and mages in spell-plate threw themselves against the invaders, achieving only their own deaths. And through all this, Canno’s gods took no action, offered no solace, nor did anything to save their children from the horrors they witnessed.

To this day, the Firascan merchant lords forbid anyone from rebuilding the Old City, and pilgrims are prevented from visiting the fallen temples by any means necessary. Wider Canno may have forgiven the gods their perfidy, but Firasca has not.

The New City is a gleaming monument to secularism. Where the Old City’s crumbling heaps depict gods and spirits, myths and legends, the New City shows historical artisans and masters of Firasca. There are tributes everywhere to the grim determination of the city’s defenders, depicting their last stands against the Loar in loving detail but without deception. The 58th Regiment memorial is among the prime examples of this. Researched using a mixture of spirit-summoning–not quite necromancy, but uncomfortably close by many Cannoan standards–and carefully-guided chronomancy, it depicts the titular regiment’s final stand against just ten Loar at a five-way intersection within the Old City. The 58th’s story has become so revered that the square and buildings around it were rebuilt in 1262 V.R. to match the ones from the true site of their unyielding end.

The regimental commander, Colonel Giovanni Alfonsi, sags against the banner, gritting his golden teeth in agony and holding a partly-skeletal hand over a gaping wound in his belly. His left aims a service pistol–a weapon now foreign to all Canno, and one which provokes many questions the curators refuse to answer–at the sole Loar in the sculpture. It’s a shorter one, by the Gaunt Ones’ standards, with narrower segmented arms and light, angular armor. Her limb-wraps billow out behind her, and her rifle pulses frozen crystal fire at the defenders: Tirgell, a weaker Loar killed early in the War.

Tirgell did not fall in Firasca, but the 58th did–to the last man. The sculpture depicts the mounds of rubble which strewed the streets around them, as well as the corpses of the countless civilians they could not save. The only justice presented by the sculpture–at least, from the Firascan perspective–is that it was cast entirely from gold and set entirely with gems taken from the Old City’s temples. It thus stands not just as a symbol of divine betrayal, but of the Firascan people’s triumph over that betrayal.

Modern Firasca is best known for its ruling council of seventy-two squabbling merchant lords and ladies–each the head of a surviving family from the Loar War. In most cases these families survived by just a single member, and the handful lucky enough to escape the Gaunt Ones with more are actually looked down on for it! The Merchant Lords have become convinced that no other bloodlines are pure enough to intermingle with theirs since the advent of the stock systems. So it is that no matter how badly they may get on with each other, all marriages happen between the thousand or so members of the families in each given generation. This hasn’t quite reached an untenable level of inbreeding, but the Firascan nobility do have a certain tendency towards… “quirkiness”.

Otherwise, the city’s people are just about the most cosmopolitan on Canno. Ton, Ansethi, Murit, Helsic and Ulmish humans intermix with Ilbaret of every culture, Arjoth who frequently work as couriers or in teams as carriage-pullers, and the occasional Veeth who visit the city for one reason or another. The city pulls in scientists and scholars, warriors and artisans–and yes, even the religious. The latter enter the city under a special stricture: they will not speak nor make offerings to their own gods or any others, and they shall be put to death if they enter the Old City. It’s the Merchant Lords’ final act of vengeance against the divinities who abandoned them in their darkest hour. It took no time at all for travelers to take to calling Firasca “the Godless City,” for it surely is–or at least, as close to it as its masters can attain.

Firasca’s architecture has developed into a bizarre mix of the elegant, the gaudy, and the outright absurd–not least because of the countless whimsical commissions of its rulers, which have only grown more numerous in the millennium since the Loar War. The Merchant Lords’ palace, perhaps oddly, is among the best examples of Firasca’s elegance. It features high arches which curve gracefully out above the pale streets, connecting concave walls which ripple and swell like ocean waves that curve around the palace’s base. Between white stone braceworks, scarlet bricks gradate gently into orange, then gold, then cream as they climb towards the upper levels.

Here the palace’s roof sweeps gently back towards the second level in a concave slope set with watercourses in gentle flowing patterns that ultimately feed into aqueducts or run directly over the lower roof into the maze-like fountains and pools–some connected directly to the sea and dozens of feet deep!–carved from the surrounding plazas. The roof sweeps in again at the third level with the austere, precise bastions of the Palace Guard, and a final time at the fourth to support the familial towers, themselves connected to the palace’s body by floral-vined frames of marvel and precious metals which shade marble staircases and ramps as well as glowing arcane lifts.

Statues of famous family leaders mark ornamental plinths which stare down at visitors from the heights of the palace, every one at the end of a frescoed artificial promontory seamlessly connected to the palace’s larger lines. The palace exemplifies the Firascan focus on clean lines that flow well into each other, preferring curves to sharp angles and clean separations between the parts of a building–not to mention brighter shades and cheerier colors compared with the grim hues favored on the opposite coast.

Of course, the Di Russo family’s rooms exemplify Firasca’s gaudiness. Despite engravers’ desperate attempts to break up the monotony and absurd shine of gold on gold on gold (with golden accents, and perhaps just a little gold) interspersed mainly by rubies and diamonds, the floral engravings and reliefs of sailing merchantmen somehow make the sheen more offensive. The family’s artifacts are crammed onto walls too small to hold them as if attempting to overawe visitors by sheer density of wealth. This so distracted an ambassador from the Black Havens that she politely suggested meeting in Torizzani’s Folly.

Of Firasca’s three dominant architectural styles, Torizzani’s folly sits firmly and perhaps too comfortably in the last group. It contains one thousand miniature statues of the Merchant Lord Torizzani’s son Agnolo–slain leading his mercenaries in Hanir– in obsidian or granite, each in the favored style of the sculptor who made it. The statues are arranged haphazardly wherever their makers chose to put them. Some tried to put theirs close to those of sculptors with similar styles. Alfero, for example, had a slightly exaggerated style with unusually stark lines and expressive faces. The Tonnish sculptor Yinshu felt this was peculiarly close to her traditional Ton-Ga work, so after some discussion, she and Alfero arranged a cluster of their Agnolos in various poses, trying to present a progression from infancy to childhood and finally manhood as a mercenary captain in all his Firascan flamboyance.

No sooner did they complete their work and fix it in place than the Ansethi sculptor Welassi fixed three of her much more stylized pieces around their arrangement, completely ruining its cohesion. To her last day, Welassi insisted that she meant well–asymmetry is a key part of Ansethi art, and she only intended to strengthen the other pieces by contrast. This may be true, but only for Ansethi visitors! In the centuries since Torizanni’s death, his family have maintained his rules for the “park” but been lax in maintaining it. Firasca’s stubborn plant life has slowly crept in, creating an unnerving miniature forest where one might come face to face with a two-foot Agnolo around every corner! As Torizanni wished, however, any musician with talent may busk in the Folly without license or censure. Over time, they’ve developed an informal hierarchy and created their own little cliques around certain groups of Agnolos.

It should surprise no one that the people native to a city full of such oddities have grown just as odd themselves. The merchant families and their associates try to keep up the traditions of Firasca from the Age of Splendors, but courtesans and dandies are forever at odds with a growing culture of mercenaries who strut about spouting some rather terrifying ideas–mostly without sincerity. The Firascan condottieri assert that since all gods frown on murder and enshrine the free will of others, and many caution against a love for worldly things, the obvious way to enact vengeance against their hypocrisy is to charge the highest possible price for killing others, then do it with utmost gusto. What is killing the enemy, they ask, but overthrowing his free will in favor of your own?

The condottieri have made atheism into a separate kind of fanaticism. Rather than reciting prayers to themselves before going into battle, they repeat to themselves the futility of all things and the ultimate insignificance of human life. As result, while it might not be accurate to say the condottieri have high morale, they’ve only occasionally broken or routed. The legendary Captain Achille Capestro explained it simply: “All other soldiers go into battle gorging themselves on delusions–‘my battle-kin may die, but I’m special. I’ll make it. I’ll live. We’ll win in the end.’ My bravos have no such illusions. None of us are meaningful. None of us are invincible. There are no shocks left on the field once you know this. There’s death or fortune. Any who expect something else will join our foes instead, and break before us along with the other cowards.”

This over-active mercenary culture brings in outside money on two fronts. Aside from the mercenaries themselves, the Firascans have a martial tradition just as nuanced as that of the Black Havens–though considerably less storied–and students flock from across Canno to learn from the city’s masters.

Otherwise, Firascan culture is distinctive, flamboyant, and yet strangely soulless. Something about the elaborate vests and great broad hats with their magnificent plumes, the puffy sleeves and slashed fabrics and ornate embroidery feels like pure performance–or perhaps it’s more a husk. The gutted remnant of Firasca’s past, held onto not for its own sake, but in defiance of the gods who watched it burn.

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