A city is, at bottom, a slave to utility. Every city is born for a reason, and each survives only by the whims of fate that allow it to continue to serve that reason. Ever so rarely does a city surpass its origins and change purpose to something larger than its beginnings. Shardis, the City of Endless Light, is such a place. Nestled in the curve right before a major split in the Malvarin River, Shardis was born to be a port town.
In times long past, it was merely a common stopping point for those rafting down the river to deliver goods to the massive seaports where the river drains into the sea. Over time it grew into a much more permanent settlement, with all the services and entertainment needed to scrub rafter pockets clean of money. Now the city boasts of being the trade hub for the entire region, with anything and everything you could possibly want for sale somewhere within its walls. It has also become a major tourist attraction, thanks to the Shining Towers, three resplendent monuments that help pierce the preturnaturally dark nights that settle over the city.
However, within the shadow cast by the luminescent buildings there stirs a darkness with lineage stretching back into the depths of prehistory. Within their dreams comes a great and terrible darkness, a tide of everlasting night to engulf the world. It was no mistake that the city was founded here, eventually becoming a crossroads of epic proportions; as Above, so Below. As the river splits and breaks, so too do the tides of the higher and lower planes of reality, crashing upon ethereal shores an infinitesimal distance away. Here, where the Heavens meet the Hells, lies a weakening of barriers, a way of escape for those bound into the eternal dumping grounds of the afterlife; all that remains is the appointed time.
Before the city walls are even reached, one is already within the citys sphere of influence. Those who cannot afford even the cheapest of lodgings within the walls make their residence here, amongst the endless sea of tents ringing the city. No higher authority administrates the area, so it truly is a sprawl of disorganized cloth and bedrolls, where penniless families huddle together at night to survive the terrible chill.
While setting up a tent in Shantytown is an easy way for the cheap traveler to avoid paying for lodgings, the lawlessness of this area is a natural festering ground for thugs and extortionists, and so only the most desperate or foolish will lay their head to rest here.
As an independent political entity, Shardis long ago determined that it would need to protect itself from the predations of its neighbors, governments and independents alike. With the amount of goods and money flowing through the city, only a fool wouldn't consider the benefit to controlling the city and extorting a nominal fee, be it 'protection money' or 'tax revenue'.
The primary counter to this threat is the truly massive walls circling the city. Formed of stonework dredged from the depths of the earth through powerful incantations, the city walls glisten and shine from the veins of strange minerals pulled from deep within the ground. The walls have been further ensorcelled by the wizards that have made their residence here over the passing of many, many decades, a dreadful surprise for any who would attempt to breach the sanctity of the city by force.
The City Proper
Stretching along the entire northern edge of the city, the riverfront is where industry meets shipping. A combination of warehouses, loading docks and large paved paths for carts to move supplies, the riverfront is an indispensible part of the city. Without the sprawling chaos and brisk business dealings that occur here, the commerce that forms the lifeblood of the city would be a pitiful shadow of what it currently is.
Notable Location: "Lima"
Considered by most residents to be a laughable myth, Lima warehouse is very much a real location. Well-hidden underneath one of the smaller, secondary warehouses, Lima is a central trading hub for the black market. If you want it, chances are it either being sold here or someone can get it. For a price, of course.
Owned by the reclusive Jorge the Sword, fees from the highly-illegal trading that goes on here fills his private coffers and helps him to cement his de-facto control of smuggling operations within the city.
Dramatis Personae: Jorge the Sword
A reclusive individual, very few have seen him in person. Rumor has it that he doesn't even know how to use a sword; the girls on retainer at the local brothel, however, say that he definitely has one and knows how to use it. Even they haven't seen his face, however, being blindfolded before entering his chambers and warned very carefully to not remove the blindfold. Those who haven't heeded the warnings are never heard from again. Most have no reason to ignore the warnings, however, since all of them claim that he's a kind, sweet gentleman during their time in his presence.
Most of the smugglers in Shardis are on his payroll, and he always gets first pick of the illegal goods that flow through the ports of Shardis. He makes a point to know everything that passes into "his" city, and only a fool would try to smuggle something past the smuggling king. Those few who have tried in the past either refuse to talk of the consequences, or are currently feeding the fish at the bottom of the Malvarin.
In truth, he's a prominent businessman, the owner of the largest shipping company in the city. This is why his identity is such a tightly held secret; he would never harm the call-girls who removed their blindfolds and saw who he really was, but they are kept locked away in a very richly appointed wing of his private mansion. Eventually his identity will get out and he'll maintain a public facade of plausible deniability, but until then the girls are kept under tight control to prevent them from letting things slip.
There are various markets scattered across the city, but none quite so large as the Temple Market. A gigantic circular clearing near the middle of the city, just a few streets away from City Hall, it spreads throughout the surrounding streets for a good ways. Unlike most other streets, which have shops interspersed with residences, this central ring is lined entirely with shops doing a brisk trade at all hours of the day and night. A few bars here and there punctuate the procession of merchants selling their wares, and there are even some food stalls as well as a bakery or two to be found on the ring.
In the northern part of the clearing sits the Temple of Lights, a large structure devoted to the care and support of the followers of the God of Light. Weekly mass is held within its walls; that meeting is the only time during the daylight hours that the market can't be described as "frenetic", though it can still be classified as "bustling".
To the direct south, in the middle of the large marketplace clearing, is a large fountain. Stone tables and benches surround it, providing a place for a few lucky individuals to rest and perhaps partake of lunch before continuing with their busy day.
Notable Location: Temple of Lights
The largest place of worship in Shardis, the Temple of Lights is devoted to the Luminescent One, the God of Light. Patron of all things bright and radiant, the Temple is covered in starburst motifs, and is definitely polished marble. It takes a small army of full-time cleaners to wage war against the grime and dust that assail its pristine visage.
In addition to their spiritual duties, the clergy here are extremely devoted to ministering to the physical needs of the believers; a portion of all tithes are used to pay for a soup kitchen just a few streets over, which they also staff.
While a trade city can prosper being just a stopover point for goods to change hands, one the size of Shardis must also export goods of its own. Further, such a prime trading hub means there's an easy supply of raw goods for manufacturing, and that the resulting goods have a broad market of buyers elsewhere. As a result, Shardis has a thriving manufacturing industry, bringing in raw materials and shipping out finished products.
This production happens in various places around town, but one area in particular is where most of the heavy-duty production occurs. Terrible smells, choking soot, and a higher-than-normal chance of fire burning your house down means that the residential area immediately surrounding it has some of the lowest property value in the city. Only those who work in the factories and the lowest-income families live here.
This industrial area has large-scale smelting, weaving machines powered by water from the aqueducts running across the city, and even a few highly guarded buildings with strange, muffled explosions coming from inside. There haven't been any major disasters in decades, but the general location is still not the best place to live.
The dirtiest work happens in the center of the industrial sector, but as one moves farther out, they will encounter factories and workshops taking advantage of proximity to refined materials. Everything from blacksmiths to chemists can be found throughout this area.
The living areas, by far the majority of the citys square-footage, are scattered throughout the city. The working classes live near their places of employment, to keep a short travel time: nobody wants to have a long walk home after a hard days labor. The upper classes, however, tend to reside far from the places where their inferiors work and live; the eastern portion of the city holds what amounts to a gated community of the upper class. Anyone who obviously doesn't belong here is questioned by roaming patrols of guards, and if unable to satisfy their inquiries is escorted to the nearest gate and forcibly ejected.
City Hall is the center of government within Shardis. It is comprised of three two-story buildings surrounding a large courtyard with a simple yet artistic fountain.
Building A: The Courts
A large courtroom, used for hearings and trials. There are stained glass windows on either side of the room, leading to the Bench, from which legal culpability is determined and punishment meted out. There is a door on either side of the bench: The left leads to the Judges private chambers, wherein he can deliberate on the fates of those brought before him; the right leads down into the Gaols, where the guilty are dragged kicking and screaming to the cells where they endure their sentences.
Building B: The Legislature
The largest of the three buildings, this is the center of the Law for the city-state of Shardis. From within these offices come the weighty legal scrips that generate such anger among the masses yet keep the wheels of society turning.
Building C: The Treasury
A combination archive and vault, the Treasury is where the citys most important possessions reside. The deeds to public buildings, ancient records dating back to the founding, and even the sizable coffers of the Council of Elders. Suffice to say, this building is guarded even more fiercely than the Gaols complex running beneath this entire area.
The Gaols run underneath the entirety of City Hall, and more besides. There is a single entrance, with multiple wards, enchantments, and good old-fashioned deadbolts to secure it against any assault, from within or without. Outside this door and the guard station protecting it lies a large circle passageway, connecting to each of the three buildings and providing a simple way for clerks and other workers to move between buildings efficiently.
It also provides a secure place to transport goods of significant importance between buildings; the open-air courtyard above, while monitored constantly by a handful of posted guards, is nowhere near secure enough for some things that reside within the Treasury Vaults.
The Shining Towers are a trio of towers with beautiful stained-glass windows and crystal carvings. They're open to the public at all hours of day or night, and so they're lit from inside and out by a truly monumental number of magical lights.
The interior forms a maze-like warren of curved, swirling passageways and chambers. The interior lighting comes from the walls themselves, which have embedded spells of luminescence that provide a constantly shifting cornucopia of color and light. Entwined with those luminescent spells are further incantations of soft, soothing, occasionally haunting music. The overall effect is one of sanctuary and serenity; within these halls lies a peace and calm unattainable by all but the most secure of individuals.
After The Eclipse
GM Note: The Eclipse is a specific event that will be detailed in a companion entry. The important point to understanding/using the following descriptions is that the city is shrouded in supernatural darkness and infested with monsters from an unknown source. The populace has either fled or been massacred (more the latter than the former), and the city is under magically-enforced quarantine.
Encircling the entire city is a ring of brilliant illumination runes, glowing with eldritch light. This circle even ventures into the depths of the Malvarin River, where it actually forms a wall, the luminescent spellforms floating in the water along the prescribed perimeter. Constructed by the combined might of the citys magi and clergy, it forms a barrier that can contain the dark creatures that now infest the city.
Any normal human can pass through the shield unharmed, but the creatures of darkness lurking within the walls are unable to pass. They continue to try, throwing away dozens of minions in a constant attempt to weaken and breach their new-found prison; so far, they have not succeeded. To ensure the fidelity of the barrier, and reinstate the containment if necessary, there are patrols of soldiers at all hours of day and night.
Dramatis Personae: Captain Lily Aryna
Commander of the Quarantine, the Captain is charged with preventing the shadow-demons from escaping the city to wreck havoc on the rest of the countryside. Having seen the destruction they can produce in just a weeks time, she works tirelessly to keep them contained.
As the leader of the citys remaining defenders-turned-jailors, she also is in the prime position to know everything available about the invasion. The scope and depth of the problem described in the daily reports on her desk just recently sunk in, and that very night this pillar of sobriety drank herself under the table, to the utter shock of all her subordinates.
While she doesn't know everything, she has a pretty good idea of what's actually going on, and is constantly searching for volunteers to venture into the city for survivors as well as more information. Given another two or three weeks, she'll have located the epicenter of the infiltration, and will be constructing a strike team to cut off the problem at its source. Whether they'll succeed is another matter entirely.
Beyond the ethereal light cast by the barrier runes lies the ruined remains of Shantytown, bathed in an eternal dusk. Tents have been knocked over, bedrolls are torn and scattered, and where before there were thousands of people, now there are none. The shadows seem deeper and darker than they should be in the twilight, and appear to shift when eyes are looking elsewhere, but closer examination shows nothing out of place.
Past the barrier, the sky quickly grows dim and dark, as if light itself is no longer welcome in the City of Lights. High noon is reduced to dim twilight, while night has devolved into a primal, utter darkness dredged from the depths of the blackest of hells.
Atmosphere: Primal Darkness
The city has been overwhelmed by darkness seeping from deep within its walls, dampening all sources of illumination. The farther one travels into the city the more pronounced the effect is, until even the brightest torch is a feeble flicker of luminance barely able to keep one from stumbling over their own feet.
It's as if the black of night is waging war against the very light itself...and winning.
Even in the best of times, nobody wants to have fire anywhere near the dry, aged wood of ships and docks. The illicit activities that occur here also do not lend themselves to illumination, and so there are very few torches or lights throughout the entire area. This unfortunate state of affairs has turned the Riverfront from a thriving heart of trade into a seething hotbed of hellish evil. While other areas of the city still have a light here and there, the Riverfront has none whatsoever. Nor does it have any survivors, though bits and pieces of the sailors and dock-hands can be found liberally strewn about the streets. Any light here will quickly be swarmed by a veritable horde of nightmares; only the exceptionally brave or foolish would strike their torch in this part of the city.
That doesn't stop some survivors from trying, however. The warehouses and ships still have all of the goods they stored before the Eclipse, which makes this the only place one can guarantee finding food in a city quickly being overtaken by famine. Those with more greed than sense could also be assured of finding truly exceptional riches in some of the black market stashes, or even the blackened pit once known as Lima, presuming they could survive to bring their riches out with them.
Eerie silence holds sway over this most prominent of marketplaces. The utter lack of activity in a place so obviously used to it is unnerving. Stalls are overturned and smashed, all their contents spilled onto the cobblestone. Buildings have their windows smashed, their interiors gutted of anything of value. The looters were not kind in their search for food and supplies.
The one place that sits untouched is the Temple of Lights. After the Eclipse, the starburst atop the central spire began to glow with a steady, serene light, an offer of divine sanctuary against the darkness spreading over the city. This is the one place of true safety one can find within the walls of Shardis, though that protection only extends to the chapel. The rest of the building offers only mild protection against the monsters lurking in the shadows of the city: while they won't casually wander into the market square, the beacon-light is not proof against them, and they will pursue their prey up to and into the temple itself. The only security outside the chapel itself is that of obscurity.
In a quirk of fate, the industrial center of Shardis remains largely untouched. The lamps and torches have almost all been extinguished, of course, but for the most part there really wasn't any looting or massacres here. The buildings are large, full of odd and dangerous equipment, with perhaps a useful find here and there for the thorough searcher, but since this isn't a major congregation point for people, the shadow-demons simply have not spread their presence to this area yet.
Every window is dark, all lamps and torches extinguished in the chaos after the Eclipse. Every building is a double-edged sword; on the one hand, the darkened interiors are excellent for hiding from the demons infesting the city. On the other hand, you never know quite what you might find in those dark corners, be it survivors, victims, or monsters. Those moving through buildings had best do so quickly and quietly, for many creatures of the night make their nests in the lightless reaches of the abandoned rooms.
- Victims: Bodies and pieces thereof. Most are obviously the work of the demons, but more than a few appear to be the handiwork of humans...
- Survivors: Small groups (2-5) or single individuals. They'll be desperate for food and supplies, since the city is quarantined and famine is rampant. More than a few have become cannibals.
- Monsters: Pick something from The List, as appropriate for the situation and the party.
- Nothing: Psychological warfare. Noises in the dark, whorls of blood on the walls, shrieking wind, creaking shutters, or perhaps worst of all: absolute silence.
Location: The Dread Mansion
Once the private residence of Jorge the Sword, his disappearance in the chaos of the Eclipse has left the building ownerless, the hired guards orderless, and the location a ripe target for looting.
Almost all of the guards will have left after a few days without being paid, as will the general staff. However, there are a few individuals that will stay to the very end, servants who have been with the family since childhood. These few will attempt to take care of the call-girls still imprisoned in the upper wing, but will eventually release them after the city devolves into true madness.
The halls are filled with beautiful artwork and sculptures of masterwork quality, from lands far and wide, and the extensive pantry is still stocked with plenty of food, but fear of the crime-lords wrath have kept the looters at bay for now.
Location: Abandoned School
With so many merchant families residing in Shardis, inevitably there would arise schools to teach the children the basics they would need to continue the family business. Though the lessons were punctuated by birching for incorrect answers, each school building became familiar to the children, a place of stability, where things were always clear and answers to lifes mysteries could always be found.
So when the city began its descent into anarchy, the children inevitably made their way to the only place of stability they had left: the school. The closets were looted, the classrooms trashed, but the children huddled together in their classrooms, hoping and praying that the teacher would walk in the door and banish the darkness.
It was there that the darkness found them. Now the schoolhouse is silent once more, save for the shuffling of small feet. Those who come here had best be on their guard, for though the little ones are small, that which controls them has a murderous nature.
The Tower of Refuge
Aside from the Temple of Lights, the sole remaining Shining Tower is the only place that can be considered a refuge from the onslaught of invading shadows. Alas, its companion towers bear testament to the very real vulnerability of this building. It offers a single potent advantage over the surrounding buildings: pure, unadulterated light. The magic contained within its walls also offers those who seek their safety here some measure of peace and calm, which is the main reason those hiding inside haven't gone utterly mad in response to the chaos that has engulfed their city.
The Broken Towers
Of the three fabled Shining Towers, only one remains lit. The other two have been engulfed in shadow. Such beacons of light cannot be suffered by the servants of midnight, and so they were extinguished.
The first was taken by surprise, infiltrated by Children of Midnight who sabotaged the control room and stole the Spellsphere that sustained the magic enchantments laid within the Tower. The second was besieged for three days before it was finally brought down by a terrible artifact unveiled by the cultists: the blackened skull of a Priest Hunter, with which they subverted the light and turned it against those who defended the Tower.
All three buildings here are trashed.
The Court building is the least damaged, though that's more due to a lack of things to destroy than any particular avoidance by the riotous mobs that began pulling the city down around them after the Eclipse. The stained glass windows are all shattered save for one which somehow survived the destruction wrecked upon the rest of the courtroom. The judges private deliberation room is likewise trashed, the desk overturned and papers scattered everywhere.
The Legislature building is little more than a burnt out husk; the rioters put it to the flame in their blind fury. No small number of loose papers and random objects litter the courtyard outside it, however, looted and then discarded in disgust by the arsonistic mob.
The Treasury was relatively untouched until the endless darkness finally drove off even the most stalwart of the guards posted here. Once the guards left, it was an easy target for looters, though major portions of it are still heavily locked down. As a result, the areas that the looters could access with a minimum of effort have been stripped clean of valuables and defaced as only rampaging mobs can do, but the rest of the building is still untouched. This includes the armory, which could prove to be a major asset should the PCs somehow gain access.
The Conclave of Shadows
Deep beneath the city lies an area never intended by those who manage it. It lies on no blueprints, and no record of its existence can be found in documents. Any major city requires waste management, and Shardis is no different; her sewers stretch for miles underground, winding and curving to channel the waste from above into the bottom of the river. To these labrinthian paths the Children of Midnight added a secret refuge within the city walls over the decades that predated the coming Eclipse, a place where they could perform their secret rituals and hide away from the cursed light.
Here, in the heart of their power, directly below the Temple of Lights, sits the portal to the Hell of Primal Shadows. It is here that the unholy sacrifices were performed at the zenith of the Eclipse, and it is here that the demonic invasion has planted its foothold.
Notable Location: Heart of the Eclipse
This is the epicenter of the invasion. In these chambers lie the Childrens workings: an altar stained with the blood of hundreds of sacrifices, an endless stream of unearthly horrors, and the gaping rift through which the apocalypse comes.
The darkness here is beyond midnight black, little different from that within the Hell of Primal Shadows. It wages war on any light brought here, and within a very short time torches die, spells fade, and even divine magics lose most of their potency. Should any light remain, however, those in attendance will bear witness to the gate: a roiling sphere with the color and texture of pitch. It hovers above the altar like a nesting spider, waiting to devour the world.