On the northern coast of the Great Continent is the city of
Garashino. The god of this city is Garashino,
the Gambler, who is depicted as a lizard-headed prince decked in finery. Garashino is called the Gambler for a reason,
and he favors entrepreneurs, inventors, gamblers, mercenaries, painters,
playwrights, tailors, vintners, explorers, and absolutely anyone whose job
revolves around coinage (bankers, coin printers, even normally undesirable jobs like
insurance traders and tax collectors).
But like all of the great cities, nearly all forms of worship are
directed towards the city’s namesake (the god Garashino), although the city technically shares it’s
pantheon with the others.
Garashino is a city that has been made prosperous by trade. Things revolve around money, fashion, and entertainment. While the city’s stereotype is one of snobbery and superficiality, the city holds a tremendous variety of. . . well, everything.
The City of Strangers
Travelers stay in one of the resort districts, or an inn. Traveling merchants stay in one of the caravanserais that dot the circumference of Garashino. Caravanserais are open-air rest areas for travelers built around giant courtyards. They are broken up into large stalls, and guests of a caravanserais sleep in the same stall as their horses, with their wagons not too far away. The caravanserai’s are almost a culture unto their own—there is even a certain type of accent associated with them, and certain dishes in Garashino are known as “caravanserai cuisine”, usually a sort of hearty, herby stews cooked in iron pots that are never washed (at least not traditionally). Most of the caravanserais are free, but even the least of them is well-maintained, with clean alleys and fresh water. Garashino knows to treat its merchants well.
But there is a distinct mistrust of outsiders in the city. Everyone knows that most of Garashino’s crimes are caused by foreigners; hence the city's mindset that outsiders should stay in the areas that are designated for them: the resorts, the inns, and the caravanserais. This isn’t meant to be a punishment—these aren’t shabby places. All the inns in the city are inspected annually and have red doors for easy recognition. A traveler must still be attentive, though, because brothels also have red doors. There are stories of ignorant travelers getting rooms for the night in a brothel, and going to bed talking amongst each other about how friendly the women were in Garashino, not realizing that they were paying by the hour for their beds.
Worldwide, if a man is traveling, he is said to be “behind a red door.” However, Garashino is the only city where all of the inns still have red doors. The practice has died out in most of the world, but Garashino enforces it by law.
If you are a foreigner traveling through Garashino, the smartest thing you can do is to find a good tailor and immediately get some clothes made. Your clothing must match and be of an accepted fashion, otherwise honest shopkeepers will triple the prices, or simply tell you that they don’t have any available. Whatever will get you out of their shop the quickest. . . it’s very bad for business to have unfashionable people standing around. And if you are unfashionable, you had better be “just passing through” or buying something. Fail to do so and you risk being arrested for “prowling” or “unlawful gathering”.
The Beautiful City
Royal houses are fashion houses. Every noble family is expected to have at least one fashion show per year. Some have more. These fashion houses also usually have a whole network of associated designers and tailors, who are considered to be literal members of the family, but only while their work is popular. If a show is successful (based on the critical reception, especially by the royal family) the city’s armies of tailors will start producing similar designs immediately.
The tides of fashion ebb and flow between Garashino and Londersheen, the “other civilized harbor”. Although Londersheen has a larger domain and a potentially larger pool of innovators, Garashino far richer and more dedicated in its pursuit of beauty. Londersheeni fashion usually seen as subdued and conservative, compared to the designs of Garashino’s designers.
His churches are not non-profits. Members of a church will pay a due every month, and visitors must pay an admittance fee. Visitors are usually shocked at these high fees, but the churches serve an important purpose: they allow people to come together and show off their latest finery. Among the common people, this is usually the high-point of their week, both for fashion and for socializing. Church occurs every week, early on Saturday morning. If you are rich enough to have two new outfits every week, you might even go to church again on Sunday night. The Night Church masses are very different from the Day Church masses, and usually include food and games of chance. The churches themselves are magnificent buildings, and only the greatest architects from Parshekkis are invited to design one.
The streets are maintained by a small army of workers who clear the rubbish, light the lamps, and replace the more offensive cobblestones. The city is kept clear of its undesirables by a well-funded town guard. Criminals are usually sold as slaves to the shipowners—they sometimes find a new life on the sea, and many earn their freedom. Beggers and debtors (and other non-violent criminals) are usually conscripted into the army. Women, children, and old people are usually sent up to the coast to one of Garashino’s many fishing camps. The current queen of Garashino, Runia Marchein, was actually born in one of these camps. She has poured a great deal of money into making these camps into decent places to live. And more significantly, she has convinced the churches to support the fishing camps as well. She’s had some success—children in these camps are given an education, even if many of them still suffer from malnutrition.
The City of Gold
You would be forgiven for thinking that Garashino is only a city for the rich and the noble. Certainly everyone dresses that way. The culture is one where appearances are of the utmost importance. You don’t have to talk to many people in Garashino to hear a tale of some street-sweeper that starved to death, even though he was still buying a new silk shirt every week.
But Garashino is a façade. While it is the richest city in the world, it strives to appear even richer. There is an item that is only sold in Garashino, and only used there as well. It is called a belt chime. While you do hang it on your belt, it is actually a bag of things that clink together in the same way that coins would. Sometimes belt chimes are elaborate, decorated things, filled with bells and perfumes. Sometimes they are just simple leather bags that let a poor man feel like he isn’t broke.
It’s rarely talked about, but the city is in debt. It owes some money to Mondaloa, but it owes even more to Avenglass. The financing sessions (where the banks and treasurers discuss the debt situation with the king) are rumored to be some of the most ridiculous examples of sophistry and euphemism on the planet. Because no one wants to admit that the city is in debt, bank reports are couched in code words, euphemisms, and outright lies. If you ever hear a noble talking about “options” or “fellowship” with another person or city, they are discussing borrowed money. A common complaint among the people is that the king has no idea what sort of a state the city is in, since his knowledge of the city’s finances is filtered over the tongues of liars and sophists.
The City of Sharks
Its inhabitants like to claim that their nickname, "The City of Sharks", refers to the tactical acumen of their merchant fleet and the sharp minds of their gamblers. And indeed, the city has a lot of respect for a quick wit or a charming liar.
However, the origin of the name is probably more obvious: the were-sharks.
Every full moon, the city locks all of its doors and windows. For those nights, the city belongs to the sharks. There are a number of companies that exist only to provide security for people who must travel on those nights. Garashino is home to many mercenary companies, and when these mercenaries want to fade into retirement, they often choose to work the 2-3 nights out of every month, providing high-priced security for the nobles who are too busy to stay home after dark.
The were-sharks are so well-known and so common, that the city has an almost affectionate relationship towards them. Yes, the were-sharks kill hundreds of people every year, but they are also a symbol of their town. You can find a shark on many a coat-of-arms among the nobles. You see sharks painted on the sides of buildings, sometimes with a fashionable hat. A blacksmith who wishes to put a sign in front of his shop might commission one that shoes a were-shark hammering out horse shoes. Worldwide, satirical sketches in the newspapers always depict Garashino as a were-shark in exaggeratedly bourgeois clothing.
But let us return to the more pressing question: how can a city with the money and resources of Garashino fail to eliminate this tremendous threat? There are many answers, and most of them involve a conspiracy of some sort. It is a conspiracy of the sea elves, those enigmatic masters of sea monsters, who have cursed the city out of jealousy. It is a conspiracy of Zala Vacha, who is working to bring down Garashino as have brought down other cities. It is a conspiracy of the noble houses, who are all secretly were-sharks, brothers in some carnivorous fraternity.
The truth isn’t known. But there are a lot of were-sharks. Estimates range from dozens to thousands. On full moons, the streets are filled with shadowy figures slipping into the sewer-byways that drain to the ocean. And anyone will a good telescope will be able to see dark, fusiform shapes cavorting and bellowing in the roiling waters of Garashino harbor. Hopefully, outsiders and innocents know well enough to stay behind a well-barricaded door on those nights.
Inside the Walls
The Harbor. Garashino is built on a bayou that surrounds a magnificent natural harbor. The harbor is the pride of the city, so much commerce flows through those docks that it has made Garashino the powerful city-state that it is today. More ships call Garashino their home port than any other city in the world. There is a strong nautical culture that infuses Garashino. It influences their language, their food, and their fashion; in turn, their sailors and ships are influenced by these things as well. Sailors usually enjoy putting in to port at Garashino. They usually have enough silver in their pocket to eat good food and see a good play. Which is all you need to enjoy Garashino, really.
The Grand Cathedral. Garashino also lies along the Pilgrim’s Road, the highway of the Pilgrimage. Every single human in the “civilized world” is expected to make this pilgrimage (which starts at Mondaloa at least once in their life, and most of them do. Pilgrims know to come with a gold coin, for without it, they will not be allowed admittance to the Grand Cathedral of Garashino. Without praying in the Grand Cathedral, they will be unable to complete their pilgrimage. This is known to be the single most expensive step of the entire pilgrimage, and peasants who aspire to complete the pilgrimage sometimes spend years saving money or collecting funds through church fundraisers.
The Player's Arcade. This is an immense, indoor marketplace. Multiple floors are accessed through broad stairwells and bridges that arc gracefully overhead. The marble is green; the accents are brass. The thing is lit with hundreds of colored lights, and even some semi-permanent enchantments. You will probably not find any finer restaurants, casinos, and brothels in all the world.
The Chase. There are a few neighborhoods in Garashino that are as wealthy as the Chase, and none that are as famous. This neighborhood takes its name from the small, forested park that sits at the center of it. The park is a carefully controlled mixture of nature and city: iron streetlamps have been attached to trees, ensorcelled deer approach and nuzzle visitors, and hundreds of small, intricate statues have been placed among the roots and branches. The actually houses within the Chase are more opulent and fantastic than my ability to describe them.
The Elven Embassy. The sea elves, as a general rule, don’t interact with the other races much. None at all, actually, except when they sell the charms and trinkets that keep the sea monsters away. This wasn’t always the case. The elven tree-island-nation of Sinter Haven is closer to Garashino than any other city. Until recently, the elves kept a small embassy in the center of Garashino, their only link to the human world. In accordance with the elves’ wishes, the embassy was tightly guarded and no one was allowed admittance unless it was to deal with important business of international shipping, and to corroborate on the locations, movements, and behavior of sea monsters (of interest to everyone involved). Twenty-one years ago, the elves packed up and left suddenly. Those closer to the elves (guards, servants) only knew that the elves had been terribly offended in some way. The embassy still stands exactly as it was when the elves left. The city hopes that the elves will one day return to their embassy. Until then, the embassy is still cleaned daily, the guards still stand watch, and the lamps are kept refilled. The only “official” visitors are scholars and cartographers who wish to consult the small number of books and ledgers that the elves left behind. Some of the “unofficial” visitors are nobles who have paid enough bribes to be allowed to look upon the strange and beautiful tree that still grows in the embassy.
Rhymers. Another point of interest in Garashino are the poet-mariners. Everyone in Garashino knows that the best poems are written while aboard a ship. Many young men and women, frustrated with the boredom of their everyday lives, sign up for a year or three of service aboard a ship. This is most common among the teenage sons of noble families, but this behavior is seen in all strata of society. The harbors are filled with small sloops, called rhymers, that go for small pleasure cruises around the bay. These cruises rarely last longer than a week, but they are popular. Groups of friends will charter one and spend the week drinking vast quantities of rum and writing shitty poetry. Some rhymers never leave the dock, and function as semi-permanent residences for visiting poets, or visitors who think themselves poets.
At least one of these ships, the Whalesong, is famous: on two separate occasions, the ship has been broken into and all the poets inside killed and eaten. This tragedy has only made the Whalesong more famous, and the rhymer's captain/owner (who is not fool enough to stay on the ship during a full moon) has been able to charge even higher prices to the visiting poets.
The Merry Bowman. Garashino enjoys its celebrities, and this love of fame extends to famous ships as well. It’s not uncommon to see a building that is made from a famous whaling vessel or warship, or at least parts of that ship. One of the highest-regarded inns in the city is the Merry Bowman, which is made from a ship of the same name. When it was a ship, it carried a message with such great speed that it saved Garashino. Now, visitors are usually delighted to see its prow emerging from the second floor of a well-built inn, with a colored lantern hanging from its bowsprit. The tiny galley is now a grand kitchen, famous for its honeyed lamb and subtlely spiced eel sausages.
Outside the Walls
Norgatown. Garashino is built on a huge bay. Across the bay, you will encounter the city’s smaller, dirtier twin. Originally called “The North Garashino Township”, this name was corrupted into “Nor’ Gara’ Town” and then into “Norgatown”, which is how you’ll most commonly seen it referred to. Norgatown was born out of a necessity: not everyone can afford Garashino. So, Norgatown is a little dirtier. It has a little more criminal activity. The prices, unfortunately, are only slightly cheaper.
Highland Townships. Another area worth mentioning are the Highland Townships. This is a cluster of sixteen tiny towns to the south of Garashino. Their most famous export is silk, and indeed, nearly all of the world’s silk comes from their silkworms. These small villages are intensely competitive with each other. Economically, culturally, and politically. This amuses the city-dwellers of Garashino, who see the townships are just a bunch of worm farmers who yell at each other a lot. Still, a great many Garashinans leave their beloved city every year to attend the Highland Games, and witness the Highland farmers compete with each other in footraces, swordplay, and archery. The games are done in good spirit, but invariably friction between the cities causes a couple people to get stabbed every year. The Highland farmers are known for their ridiculous displays of celebration when they win, such as dancing naked or climbing flagpoles. Despite its location, there is a lot of mobility between the Townships and Garashino, and many families have relatives in the other area.
The Bayou. The bayou that Garashino was built on has been mostly filled in. However, in the south side of the bay, the bayou still grows thick and strong. It is not a big place or a wild place, but stories still claim that it is full of witches and wisps, cannibals and cults. The well-patrolled road between Norgatown and Garashino runs through it, so it is likely that these are mostly tall tales.