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.