"I’ve never seen that city’s like before or since, guvnor. You have to come at it from the canyon trails if you want to get there without an airship; an’ what looks like the city, perched way at the top of these great bloody layers of silver-shining falls like a gem in a setting, you find out, is just where the rich nobs live. The real city starts in the canyon, stretching a few leagues out from the base of the whole mess; all mist and weird aether-glow. You think it’s another town at first, and then you twig to it - this city sweeps right up through the falls, cut out of the living rock and wound through mist and river alike. There’s cities what look more impressive, I’ll give you, but none compare to the pure brazenness of Tarralein."
-Marko DuKlein, tinker-train engineer
The brightest gem of civilization east of the crystal spires of Dolsaen and north of the fantastic living-forest city of Seshisar, Tarralein is a city of tiers, built from the high shores of Silver Lake, down along the levels of stone carved by the Quicksilver Falls to Goblin’s Gorge - the last being known more formally as the Grimwater Gorge. Cosmopolitan and open to all, stories are told of the wonders of the Lake District and the Highfalls District across the continent. Rumors, too, are told across the continent - tales of the drudgery and squalor of the Lowfalls, the corruption - physical and social - in Goblin’s Gorge, and much, much worse.
The seed of truth resides in all these tales, of course. There are wonders to be witnessed amid the wealth of the Lake, and many are the marvels of the Highfalls. True, as well, is the drudgery of the Lowfalls, where the bulk of Tarralein’s citizens work to support the urbane levels above, perpetually shrouded in filthy mists and hidden from view. The depths of the Gorge are home to thaumatech laboratories and factories, tainting the mists and the river with pollution both mundane and thaumaturgic.
Equally true are the small marvels of the depths, and the corruption and decadence of the upper tiers; nearly every denizen of the higher levels of the city either clawed their way there from the depths, or inherited their place from a relative who did so, for the nobles of the city have effectively ceased to exist in the wake of the Scarlet Lake Revolt nearly a century ago.
"Knowledge, my boy, is power. With it you can seize all the wealth you need to become a ruler of this city. And it all begins with knowing your past, so mistakes are not repeated."
-Merchant-Lord K’thren fel Sheshu Aph’marik, to his son
Tarralein was originally a simple fishing and farming settlement on the shores of Silver Lake, nestled amid the peaks of the Skysharp Mountains; the falls around which the future city would be built were nothing more to these original residents than a lovely sight in the chill winter mornings, as well as a strong defense, as the mist-drenched paths of the gorge leading out of the mountains were treacherous at the best of times, winding down the three long tiers of hard stone before finally descending into the depths of the gorge.
Later settlers expanded on the original settlement, eventually ringing the lake and building on the islands in the midst of the waters; these fishers soon concluded that the treachery of the natural paths was too much to be relied upon for sales of wares, and a set of rude lifts were built down into what was then known as the Grimwater Gorge for the rapids therein. The banks of the river, overall, were a safer course than the trails along the gorge’s sides, and so soon a secondary settlement was born at the base of the falls, perpetually shrouded by the roiling mists from the myriad falls.
Over the next century, each ‘tier’ of the falls became inhabited, with the settlers around the lake rapidly becoming a kind of nobility for their place in the sunshine and the crystal-clear lake waters. Each tier further down was a bit less coveted by the newcomers, and soon a social strata arranged itself by the levels of the falls into the gorge; the wealthiest of the newcomers lived on the tier just below the lake itself, where the falls broke over the edge on their first plunge, and on downward until the poor and the newest arrivals were forced to set up in the increasingly filthy shroud of eternal mist at the base of the gorge, where the Silver River tore at the rocky base of the gorge and carried away the effluvium of the higher levels.
This persisted, embedding itself in each successive generation until a distinct underclass evolved, toiling in the grey world of the gorge’s mists to support those in the sparkling sun-drenches tiers above, who in turn paid fealty to the noble class of the Lake. By the time half a millennium had gone by, taking with it the bloody battles in the mist-shrouded depths during the Heresy War, it seemed almost natural to regard those of a lower tier as one’s inferiors. Laws were enacted to formalize each ‘District’ as being between specific elevations; at one point, even moving between Districts required a special pass issued by a constable. It was, in fact, this edict that led to the Scarlet Lake Revolt fifty years after the enactment.
The Scarlet Lake Revolt was perhaps the turning point of the city’s former traditional development, as those dwelling below the Midfalls became fed up with the fees they often had to pay simply for permits to go to their jobs. First in isolated outbursts, then in a rising wave of violence, the lower classes rebelled, first just hurling refuse at the tier guards and constables, and then descending to blows; when the guards acted in self-defense, cutting down the rabble, those who had been trying to stay out of it all found themselves swept up in the sudden fury, until the entire lower half of the city had, over the course of a week from the first guard slaying a Gate-dweller, become a massive battle zone, trumping even the havoc wrought during the Heresy Wars.
When the nobles sent their own personal guards into the fray, the riot just expanded, with fighting sweeping up from the Lowfalls through Midfalls and then to the high-class merchants of the Highfalls as these elite troops brutally tried to put down any hint of dissent, enraging those who had been loyal. Within a month, the city’s infrastructure had been torn apart, the noble guards systematically taken down by both rioting mobs and the guards of the Highfalls merchants. For a few days, a deadlock was reached; those below the Lake couldn’t seize control of the ways up, and those above could not descend in enough number to take any ground. This stalemate was broken when the nobles tried poisoning the falls, an act of treachery evaded by the work of alchemists from Midfalls, who had mixed packs of reagents and sunk them in the water; the sudden, furious boiling as the alchemical substance fought to purify the poisons was all the evidence anyone needed of treachery.
Now even the noble guards were outraged at such base villainy, and by the setting of the sun the way up was cleared of any who would stand to defend the nobles. In the course of a single night every noble house was decimated by packs of rioting citizens, furious guardsmen, and opportunistic scum. More than a few citizens died as well, many as boats filled past capacity capsized into the bitterly cold lake waters. By the time the sun rose, only a handful of nobles remained; some captives of more lawfully-minded citizens, others having disguised themselves as part of the rioters to escape certain death, slipping away with but a fraction of their wealth. The rays of the sun struck across a scene of utter carnage; corpses slowly drifted across the lake surface toward the falls, and the glistening silver waters were stained a bloody scarlet. The city was a ruin, with many lives lost to the violence, storehouses destroyed, and all the former leaders either slain or hiding in terror. The entire glorious city might have ceased to exist then, had it not been for a trio of Highfalls merchants who had seen opportunity in the brewing chaos, and planned for this outcome.
Adael Gleser, a Faer merchant whose wealth was built through his association with the High Temple of Muriken and their specialization in knowledge, stepped forward to speak to those who had followed the revolt into the Silver Lake. He spoke eloquently of a new Tarralein, a city rising from the ruins of the old, free from the tyranny of the noble class. A city of merchants and craftsmen, bold and strong, where anyone of skill could rise to positions of respect and authority. Similar speeches were made elsewhere by the Aver merchant-lord Kith Hoit Azzan and the dwarven peddler of thaumaturgy, Jasper Denok; between the three, the assembled were inspired, making the atrocities of the prior month seem to be harsh necessities, acceptable if unpleasant, to the birth of a new order.
It was, of course, little more than clever diplomacy; in the end, little changed once the city was rebuilt, although many laws have been reworked to give the appearance of a free and open city. Slavery is outlawed, and now wealth, more than anything else, is the only thing that determines social strata. Anyone who can afford the price of purchasing a home in an area and the drain of maintaining it is accepted, no matter their species or profession. Tarralein has become a cosmopolitan city, with nearly all the mortal races mingling within on all five of the city’s major tier-districts. Corruption and vice are rampant, and tere are many who bitterly remember that day on the lake shore when they were fed bold lies about a new order.
It was this seemingly open structure that gave the rise of industry the foothold it needed to establish itself; in Tarralein more than almost anywhere else in the world, steam technology has become commonplace, and thaumatechnology the driving economic force. What was, long ago, a small lakeside village existing in isolation has grown, waxing fat and sleek on blood and crime, becoming a great power on the strength of steam and sorcery.
"Only the elite tread these streets; those who have proven themselves in our meritocracy. You, a rag-clad adventurer, have no place her. Entry denied."
-Guard-captain Zachariah Moonwine to famed braun adventurer Glithri Quillhand
The uppermost of the city’s tier-districts, Silver Lake was the noble district at one time; now the lakeshores are crowded with overbuilt homes, sweeping out to push up against the mountains rining the valley. Dense networks of streets give a crowded, near-claustrophobic feel to this surrounding ring, while the islands sitting in the middle of the like are covered with palatial sprawls, immense buildings towering into the air with a commanding view of the canyon, all polished stone and metal trimming.
"Only the finest wares here, guvnor. Quality and quantity to be had, although as a discerning connoisseur I’m sure you know it isn’t cheap. Or were you looking for things that are a bit… Rarer?"
-Merchant-master Gliniel Whithethel, grey marketeer
Highfalls is the district of the well-to-do merchants who either can’t afford a residence in Silver Lake, or who have realized that by staying where they are, they can easily become wealthier than those spending their fortunes on maintaining a domicile above.
"Look, mate, I’m sure you’ve got a good reason for pushin’ in here like this, but the lads and me, we’ve had a long day and we’d appreciate it if you’d piss off before things have to get ugly."
-Midfalls union lieutenant Karl Klenggen, to a a peddler in the Smoking Tankard Tavern
The bulk of the mercantile work is done in Midfalls; in addition, the less-well-off merchants and the better-off industrial workers dwell here, high enough to be mostly free of the obscuring mist that engulfs the lower portions of the canyon.
"Sod off, blokes. I’ve already paid you thugs for the week an’ I’ve got the guild chit to prove it."
-Flethriel Huron, aver merchant, to a triad of Lowfalls thieves’ guild members
Here dwell the exhausted, worn-down dregs of the city’s workers, the poor and ragged victims of the industrial process, spending most of their wages on rent and basic necessities. Even the most alert and well-rested are half-asleep most of the time. Seedy dives, illicit recreations, and low-grade crime are rife in the moisture-slicked streets, kept from feeling claustrophobic only by the numerous runoff flows from the falls from above forcing the streets apart.
"The expedition into the Gorge today was a success; no fewer than three new thaumaturgically mutated species were readily found, all fungi, suggesting that such lifeforms may be particularly sensitive to aetheric and alchymic pollutants. Unfortunately, we lost Simon to a misstep on the cable-car’s stairs; he cracked his head and fell into the river before anyone could react."
-Journal entry in a Scholam Arcana logbook
The grimy, befouled industrial portion of the city sits perpetually shrouded in luminous mist and fog, tainted with aetheric pollution from the thaumaturgic factories and alchymic procedures. Generations of inhabitants live and die down here, never bothering to go above the mists to the upper city, living in a perpetual twilight state. Strangely, these denizens are often more energetic and happier than those of the supposedly better-off Lowfalls residents, as only those who enjoy what they do remain in the murk.
Tarralein’s political structure:
-A Mayor, elected by the Council of Peers
-The Council of Peers, consisting of representatives from each of the ten wealthiest merchant families as well as two representatives of each district, elected by popular vote. (Note: this gives Silver Falls ten votes and Highfalls four, as two of the wealthiest families live in Highfalls.)
-The Assembly, consisting of one hundred residents of each district, elected in roughly equal numbers from each sub-district of a given tier-district.
-The Magistral Covenant, which is the effective police force of the city; it is divided into five sections, each of which has numerous smaller portions. Corruption is rife.
-The Tarralein Guard, the standing military force of the city. While the bulk of it is largely ceremonial, as geography alone is generally sufficient to protect the city, a few units more than make up for the laxness of the rest.
Paper currency economy, backed by something to be worked out (not precious metals or gems. Perhaps energy; measured in caloric terms, since the entire city is reliant on steam technology and the power from it.)