The golden age of Chiaroscuro is best remembered in it’s glorious architecture. During it’s heyday, the city was home to over a quarter of a million inhabitants, each playing a role in a thriving cultural, industrial, and agrarian superpower. The city started as an agricultural trade point straddling no fewer than three major trade routes. From the north came iron, coal, and exotic cold water good such as ambergris and whale oil. From the east came shipments of rare and exotic woods, cloth of silk and worked turquoise and gold. From the south came amethyst, rubies, black obsidian, and wheat by the ton. All of these came together at Chiaroscuro, where dozens of markets hawked wares from the different regions. Cloth was traded for gold, jewels for spices, and in some less savory markets gold for flesh.
The heart of the city was the Grand Market, an area of six acres devoted solely to concerns of trade and commerce. The market was bisected by a wide canal that served to move heavy barges through the heart of the city, as well as making a convenient sewer for sweeping animal manure and human wastes into. As such, the water was considered the dirtiest and most foul liquid to be found in the four kingdoms! The Triptych statue of the Queen is located in the heart of the Great Market and was to be a monument to her.
The Triptych Statue
The statue depicted the queen in three ages, the youngest as a child, frolicking with her companion, a tawny kitten. The second age shows the Queen as an adolescent, the kitten having grown into a healthy lioness. The last image shows the queen as an adult, her face serene and wise, the lioness now laying at her feet.
The Queen accepted the statue with grace, but inside she knew it to be a slap in the face. The face of the child was wide eyed with ignorance, stumbling over her own feet, and the adolescent was arrogant and had the vanity that is afforded only to youth. Only the eldest of the three, the one that had seemingly submitted to her king’s will was unmarred by an undertone of some other meaning. That face was smiling and serene…blank.
Yet when the Shadow rose to its malignancy, and the King and his elite soldiers were taken by it, the Queen was ready for the shadow menace. She scaled the Triptych and placed the jewel around the neck of the adolescent queen. Once in place, the jewel flared to life, casting a scarlet light that drove the shadow creatures from the main plaza where the statue stood. The Swollen Shadow had been itself deceived by the queen, and had been trapped. It had sworn a pact to cover Chiaroscuro from the sun in the place of the Golden Eagles so long as the city stood, a fact that it had planned on changing as soon as possible.
Now, the heart of the city, its monuments and palaces were protected from the Shadow and it’s haints and shades. It could not extend a tendril to crack the stones or snuff the life from those who dwelt in the light of the stone. Nor could it leave the vicinity of that light, for it had sworn a pact to stand sentinel over the city until it’s end…
South of the Market is the Towers District, easily recognized for the broad palaces that line the wide avenues and the ornate facades that decorate the buildings and hide the roofline from the street. Each block is host to dozens of Belvedere, or viewing towers that are as ornately decorated as the facades. More surprising are the machiolated, or murder-holed, positions in the facades and towers. In more violent times, the city would be attacked and the locals defended themselves from their homes with boiling oil, lead, or fire-hot sand. Those times ended well before the prosperity of the city, but the martial aspect remained a popular feature, one that would serve the residents of later generations.
North of the Market is the Hammer District, a working region that was once host to scores of tanners, blacksmiths, and butchers. Their tasks and goods were essential for the survival and function of the city, providing it with food, leather, metal goods and the like. But these industries were filthy, loud, and foul smelling. Placed to the north, the southern winds blew the fume away from the city except for the worst of the summer months when the Eagles would take the southern wind in their talons to let the cool wind from the north bring the needed rains. During this time, many of these industries would go to a low production mode, or even close up shop for a month or so.
The Eastern portion of the city was dominated by the royal palace of the noble Lord and lady, as well as the governing halls of the guilds, the homes of the wealthy, and their gardens and stables. The most notable feature was the canal as it cut across the eastern district into a series of noble financed terraced pools and watery labyrinths to be navigated by gondola. Separating the eastern section from the rest of the city was the much small Gate and Barracks districts that housed the city guard, the royal cavalry, and the barracks of the militias.
The Palace of Broken Columns
Formerly the King’s Hall, this magnificent structure dominates the Eastern District, its many towers giving a commanding view of the city and its surrounding environs. It was here that the Swollen Shadow was first summoned, and it was here that the King and his Royal Cuirassers faced the shadow and were slaughtered. The building is massive, its face decorated with panoramic bas-relief sculptures and statues of noble kings and queens, lions and eagles. Inside the great hall are rows and rows of pillars that support the vaulted ceiling. The ceiling itself is painted in frescoes of eagles grasping the winds, and of lords plowing the fields, purely symbolic of course. No king in the history of Chiaroscuro ever plowed more than a single furrow a year, and that was only for ceremonial purposes.
Sitting in the throne of the king is the heart of the Swollen Shadow, a lump of darkness so dense that it has weight and substance to it (the umbral clot). From this seed grows the vast sheets of darkness that create the entity known as the Swollen Shadow. Many years ago, Nayer and his band of slayers penetrated the district and made a frontal assault against the Shadow in the King’s Hall. It was by the power of Glosamagar that many of the columns inside were splintered or shattered, and would known afterwards as the Palace of Broken Columns. He despaired as he discovered that his sword could cut stone, but not shadow. It was this weakness that allowed the Swollen Shadow to infest Nayer, making him into one of the fearsome Haints…who still wields Glosamagar, though its power to cleave materials has fallen dormant since the shadow infestation.
The Western district was the commoner side of the city and by far the largest. Warehouses crowded along with cheap taverns and inns, multi-story wooden tenements houses the multitudes who worked the bellows, and swept the streets, and who would ride the morning wagons out to the lord’s fields. This district was subdivided into no fewer than 17 wards, each the jurisdiction of a royal Gendarme. Cobbler ward was home to shoe makers and others who worked leather, while the Trotts ward was among the poorest and best known for 2 copper whores and lice infested flop-houses.
The most unique thing about Chiaroscuro was the long and elaborate construction of the undercity. While there was no labyrinthine maze of corridors and passages, several large avenues were dug under the earth, their walls sealed with a stone and lime aggregate (concrete) and a ceiling supported by wooden and stone beams. Through these under streets, lit by grates in the ceiling and braziers of southern peat, cattle were moved to the market, or to the butchers. Fodder and flour were moved through these passages too, the carts and oxen rested and watered in stalls 8 feet underground. An entire guild and community grew in these passages, expanding some of them into miniature mansions under ground, moving often as much earth in the wagons as they did grain or fuel for the forges.
Under the Shadow
When the Shadow came, some things changed. With the first crop saved from ruin, the market remained open, but the rain flooded the canal. Many of the noble’s gardens were turned into swampy bogs and morasses. Some of the undercity was flooded too as the banks of the canal breached, but it was simply a test of ingenuity to waterproof the walls further up and to add a superior drainage system. But things were still not settled. When the malignancy of the Shadow was revealed, and the King’s charge failed to defeat it, the shadow settled across the city.
Now that the city had been displaced from conventional reality, caravans and traders dried up to almost nothing, the market languished, and bathed in the red light of the Queen’s Stone, the people became disheartened. Much of the northern district flooded with water and raw shadow. It became a place of teeming evil and crawling things. The palaces and keeps of the Noble District were struck worse, as the Swollen Shadow sank its great tumescent mass into the King’s Palace. Its minions, the new Haints took their abodes from the most powerful of Chiaroscuro’s elite. If the north district became a hazard, the eastern became a nightmare of terrible proportion.
The western district faired the best, receiving more of the ruby light and being more strongly warded by the queens magics than the abandoned Eastern district. While many of the streets became water-logged and home gardens became cauldrons of soupy mud, the district survived. The buildings are gray and green with mildew and creeping molds, the windows grimy and dirty, those that haven’t been filled with plaster or boarded over to keep in the light. Inside is little better, with houses either being cluttered with sentimental wreckage, or being so clean that austere doesn’t even begin to describe them.
The city of Chiaroscuro is the City of Shadows, and is an integral part of the Swollen Shadow Codex.