Wednesday, February 19, 2014

The Chronicle of Southwatch: The Great Blackout

Editor's note: We will publish sections of Herink Lesward's The Chronicle of Southwatch upon occasion to provide our readers with an alternate point of view regarding important events in Southwatch. While the majority of historians cast doubt upon Herink's credibility and his obvious anti-sunside bias, we feel that this maligned diarist can give someone unfamiliar with Southwatch a different perspective on what happened. 

For years now, the darkside citizens were accustomed to occasional blackouts.  Every factory, no matter how well-run, must stop production in order to perform necessary maintenance.  The Great Steamworks was no exception. Usually, the blackouts were not only of short duration but were announced by the Steamworks well in advance, thereby causing the citizens of Southwatch very little inconvenience.

However, a few weeks after Pertcha in the year 2958, Southwatch was struck by a completely unscheduled blackout in the middle of a cold winter night.  This blackout wasn't the result of industrial maintenance.  No, this blackout was the result of sabotage, with terrible repercussions that stretched all the way from Bricktown to Downtown and beyond. In fact, this blackout affected every single building and residence throughout the city--even all the way to the Aerie.

If the saboteurs were hoping to cause chaos, they succeeded. The series of explosions that rocked Bricktown set whole buildings aflame.  That district was the only one where one could see out on the streets.  The explosions resulted in the deaths of 49 people, most of whom lived in the rickety Visavi complex of low-rent housing.

At the Great Steamworks, the saboteurs not only managed to sever the main electric lines from the steam-powered generators, which led to the city-wide blackout, but they also destroyed the D generator.  This loss will result in erratic power and potential future blackouts as the winter season deepens.

But interestingly enough, the saboteurs also managed to wreak havoc upon the sunside of the city--not only in the hallowed skywalks and dirigibles of the Aerie, but upon Baron Amberville's own airship. I went to the Aerie the morning after the blackout, having heard from an acquaintance on the Sky Rangers about the attack upon the Amberville airship. I was dubious, thinking this was no more than the type of rumor that begins with some old woman seeking attention and then garbled through every ale shop from the Temple down. But when I arrived at the Amberville mooring, I was shocked to find the old dirigible barely afloat.  Even after several hours, men were working hard to put the remains of what must have been a massive fire out. The bessem exoskin had vanished from the port side of the stern, revealing blackened beams and mounds of smoldering rubble where once had been the private rooms of one of Southwatch's most venerable and lovely airships.

But even that could not hold a candle to the stinking mound of rubble that was all that remained of the Visavi building.  Even as people combed through the wreckage, searching for bodies, the engineers were already hard at work, bracing the now empty space and checking contingent buildings for structural damage. If the Visavi had been in Midtown or University Heights, some enterprising entrepreneur would have erected a new, modern building in its place. But this was Bricktown, and the families who'd survived the inferno would not find new housing in this spot. Southwatch would reinforce the neighboring structures with bessem buttresses, and instead of new housing would leave this space empty. They would put in a new lift system, perhaps, or build an elevated thoroughfare that would connect the Steamworks with Midtown, with wide enough lanes for the industrialists to drive their expensive vehicles safely.

While those few bedraggled survivors would have to cast themselves upon the charity of friend and family as they added their names to the lengthy waiting lists for housing in units they could afford.  It might be years before they have a space to call their own. No telling what these helpless men might do in order to shelter their families, or what degradation a young widow might endure to keep her children fed--but the young Baron, Thomas Amberville, will await the repair of his home on a trip to St. Louis. While children, victims of the same saboteurs as the Baron, freeze and starve in the unheated corner of some rat-infested garret, Thomas Amberville will enjoy the splendors of the Imperial Court.

Do not mistake me--I have no complaint against Thomas Amberville.  He is young to rule Southwatch, yes--only twenty-five--but he is not a cruel or thoughtless man.  From what I understand, he is striving to learn how best to rule and has a very real care for the welfare of his people. Perhaps when he is older, he may actually learn that his people don't just live sunside. Perhaps he will extend that care to the darkside districts, to the people who, like the families that survived the Visavi explosion only to be homeless the next day. In fact, I would surmise that he must represent some sort of threat to the status quo if the people behind the sabotage were as high-ranking as I have heard.

If he were like the majority of the government, he would never have been targeted by any conspiracy.

But then again, if he were truly aware of the plight of the Visavi victims, how could he have left for St. Louis without making some provision for them?

I believe I will watch Baron Amberville closer upon his return to Southwatch. I will be interested to see what he does, not only for the city, but at the trial of those who tried to kill him.

Monday, February 17, 2014

From The Bible: The Dark Cloud, Its Creation, and the Fae

Editor's note: Upon occasion, we will publish small sections of the Darkside Codex canon, in order to provide readers with additional information on the world of Southwatch. 

The Dark Cloud is the element that defines Southwatch. Every person, building, visitor, business, religion, plan, and plot are impacted by the Dark Cloud.

As a visitor approaches the city, the incredible towers, spires, and buildings of Southwatch are bisected by this never-dissipating but always-regenerating bank of toxins, poisons, and pollution.   Those who live above the Dark Cloud are called sunsiders.   Those who live beneath it are the darksiders.

On a normal day, the Dark Cloud might only obscure a narrow section of the city.   On a bad day, the Dark Cloud might extend almost to the ground.  

When it rains on a bad day, by the time the raindrops reach the ground they are so contaminated by their passage through the Dark Cloud that they’re called “the burning rains”. Anyone caught outside without their protective gear can be gravely injured and disfigured by the burning rains. The acidic rain destroys a person’s skin just like getting caught in a fire would, leaving the skin puckered and pulled tight. As you go into the poorest districts in Bricktown, you find more people with the rippled, shiny skin that lets you know they’ve been caught in the burning rains.

What keeps the Dark Cloud in place is fae magic—a punishment upon Southwatch imposed by the Seelie Court. But why would the fae, who were protectors of nature, create something as foul as the Dark Cloud?

On the rare occasions that prior Pertcha holidays resulted in a full eclipse, disaster always
befell the city.   But several times in Southwatch’s history, there were double eclipses—total
eclipses in two consecutive years.   During one such double eclipse event, Achlys, the deity of
Chaos, had inflicted a foul curse upon Southwatch. The humans called it plague dust, and it
afflicted Southwatch for two years. The fae in the nearby Seelie Court called it the Death Mist,
and it wasn’t long before the sticky tar-like dust had spread out from the city and affected the
surrounding countryside.

The Death Mist very nearly eradicated the Seelie Court. Hundreds of Fae coughed out
their lives within a couple of weeks after the first of the plague dust had blown down upon them
from the city. Not even Isengar, Duke of the Seelie Court, could protect his family from the
plague dust. While the fae were practically immortal and wouldn’t die of old age, they
discovered that they could be poisoned by noxious air. Duke Isnegar’s wife and daughters all
succumbed to the Death Mist within the first month.

The Death Mist, combined with Southwatch’s abuse of the lands around the city, killed
hundreds of fae, and the Seelie Court knew grief for the first time since the Dawning. Because of
their extensive life spans, the fae were not very fertile. By the end of that first year, almost half
the Seelie Court was dead. Isengar sent the survivors out of reach of the Death Mist, but he, and
some of his council, remained.

Then Isengar, working with some of the most powerful sorcerers in both the Seelie and
Unseelie Courts, created the spell that captured the plague dust before it reached the Fae lands.
For the full two years of the Death Mist, the Seelie collected all that pollution. They created a
spell which channeled the toxins back into itself in an ever-twisting vortex of wind and magic.
In time, the Dark Cloud behaved like a thunderstorm, continuously feeding upon itself.   Fae
magic kept the storm from being torn apart by the winds.  

Then, as the second year of the Death  Mist drew to a close, the Fae sorcerers used their power to move the maelstrom of pollution to  the center of the city, and stretched it so that it covered every street and building horizontally.  Once there, the storm began to suck in all the emissions from the factories below. So the industries that made the city rich fed the storm that Isengar had levied upon the moths in Southwatch, and that became the Dark Cloud. The Dark Cloud now bisects the city, dividing the sunside from the darkside, and until  humans are smart enough to figure out how to solve the arcane puzzle that Isengar  created, the foul cloud will remain.

Friday, February 14, 2014

The Chronicle of Southwatch--The Pertcha Eclipse of 2958

Editor's note: 

We will present entries from Herink Lesward, the great Southwatch historian, in this record upon occasion.  In this manner, we hope to provide an inside view of the great city and what effects that well-known events had upon the population. Herink was born to a well-to-do merchant family whose home and business were both sunside.  But when the young Herink witnessed the lower districts of Southwatch for the first time, the darkside had just endured an unexpected shower--the burning rains.  When he saw for himself the people who lay moaning in the street, trying to shield their acid-shredded faces with hands that were little more than bones and sinew, he left the comforts of his family and found a place for himself in the Riverside District.  

Herink spent the remained of his life there, recording the events of Southwatch and working tirelessly to ameliorate the living conditions darkside, especially in the slums of Bricktown. Upon his death at the age of 45, his nine-volume Chronicle of Southwatch was published anonymously. Historians disagree on Herink's motives; some believe that Herink's account of events is not trustworthy, and the Caelimane Temple forbade the inclusion of the Chronicle in their history courses as the "Chronicle is an unreliable and possibly exaggerated account of Southwatch history. 

Despite every attempt by the Baron Amberville and the Caelimane Temple, the Chronicle of Southwatch could not be suppressed. Few inhabitants of the Aerie believed the events Herink wrote about ever occurred. Still fewer denizens of the darkside of the city doubted that the events Herink chronicles were real.  We present this to you as an alternative viewpoint regarding Southwatch and its official history. 

The thirtieth day of the Sixth Month in year 2958

The dawn brought the festival day of Pertcha to the people of Southwatch. As usual, thousands of Southwatch citizens gathered on the beaches at the harbor, ready to witness the annual Pertcha eclipse. Despite the arguments of scientists at multiple scientific colleges including the Royal Polyscience College and the Royal Academy who aver that an annual partial eclipse of the sun is scientifically impossible, every year on the last day of the Sixth Month, the sun is partially blocked by a disc of black.

But not every year is a partial eclipse.

There have been a few full eclipses at Pertcha, and historians agree that each time the sun is reduced to a fiery corona around a darkened sphere, the subsequent year brings disaster upon the city and people of Southwatch. There hasn't been a full eclipse in human memory, and so of late the annual eclipse is nothing more than permission from Dione and her daughters for Southwatch to celebrate the Pertcha festival without care or fear.

Therefore, the beaches were full by the time the eclipse began. Nobles and the wealthy were gathered in their elaborate viewing boxes--beautifully decorated and furnished rooms where neither weather or crowds can interfere in the occupants' viewing pleasure.  The less fortunate Pertcha witnesses were crammed together on the beaches and dunes, sitting on blankets spread across the sand.  As the eclipse began, the street vendors moved freely through the throng, selling food and hot drinks. The Hierarchs of the Caelimane Temple sat enthroned upon the pier, watching and waiting like the rest of the crowd for the eclipse to reach its height. At that moment, a procession of black-cowled priests would rise from the deep water in the middle of the bay and begin their march from the churning waves of the harbor through the streets of Southwatch, eventually reaching the golden doors of the Temple in the Aerie and disappearing, anonymous and mysterious, in the bowels of the Caelimane center of worship.

Usually, the eclipse peaked in mid-morning. But upon this Pertcha of 2958, the eclipse didn't stall and the unknown priests didn't come.  Instead, as the crowd on the beach started to become afraid, the eclipse went on until the entire world was cast in gloom from horizon to horizon. A swift, bitter wind blew in from the sea, lifting sand from the dunes to scour the faces and eyes of the crowd.  Instantly, panic overtook the witnesses. Despite the presence of both the police and the military, the fear of the people turned into a full-fledged riot as Southwatch's citizens tried to flee the packed beach.

And just like that, Southwatch's year of disaster has descended upon her people.  Hundreds of citizens lay injured on the sands and streets of the darkside.  Scores more lay dead or dying. While the aristocrats and trade barons returned in their expensive private transports to the safety of the sunside districts of the city, wails of grief and rage rose through the narrow alleys and precariously rising darkside streets.

At first, I, too felt sorry for these poor people, lined up side by side in the emergency infirmary at the Steamworks, which was the closest facility to take the victims. In this sober mood, I decided to take a public lift sunside, thinking to see my family and reassure myself they were well.  So when the lift stopped and I stepped out into the late afternoon sun, I was horrified to find the Pertcha festival underway. Children were running on the streets, playing on the Pertcha holiday, while in all the plazas and squares musicians were playing and folk were dancing. I passed through the heart of White Cliffs, and found that all the taverns and houses of ill repute were busy and loud with music and laughter.

I could find no indication that the riot in the harbor had affected anyone.

I couldn't bear the thought that my family was celebrating the holiday, either unknowing or uncaring that in the districts below their feet people were dying, struggling to suck in one last breath. So I returned to the Steamworks infirmary to help the physicians treat to wounded in any way I could.

I returned to my home an hour ago, and felt compelled to record this event.

Sometimes it seems to me that the distance between those who dwell in the sun and those of us in the shadows is impossible to span with any known means of transportation. The Dark Cloud must be larger and thicker than our scientists think, because the Aerie must be hundreds of leagues away from Downtown. I cannot believe that news of the riot never reached the decorated sunside districts. Surely all men would find the Pertcha riot a tragedy, wouldn't they?

How could people dance when their less fortunate brothers lay dying beneath them? Is there any way to bridge the gulf between the divided halves of our city?  I do not know. What can I do to help these poor people, who live and die ground beneath the heel of the rich? I ask because someone must, and I fear that aside from myself there is no one, man or woman, human or fae, who cares enough to try.

So I must try. I could not live with myself if I did not.