by Andrew Leon Hudson
It’s just one week until The Glass Sealing is published – but before that happens, I want to introduce you to the world I was allowed to play around in.
The Darkside Codex is a shared world project: that is to say, the details of the world were created independently of any particular story, with the intention of allowing various writers to contribute to an ever increasing corpus of fantastical fiction. In the past there have been some notable shared world projects – Bordertown, Thieves’ World and The Fleet are the ones that most get mentioned – the hope is this one will be too.
So, without further ado:
Welcome to Southwatch!
Imagine a city of high towers, built over the ancient ruins of its predecessor. At its heart a huge steamworks provides power to the entire city, and a vast network of tunnels, sewers, caverns and more provide a home for myriad creatures that prefer to avoid the sun. But the sun doesn’t reach far in Southwatch.
The upper reaches of the city go by the name of the Aerie, and the Aerie shines in the daylight. Between the tower peaks glide dirigibles constructed of the unique alloy Bessem, glowing like jewels and home to only the wealthiest of citizens. In their midst two stand out: the Caelimane Temple, an enormous vessel housing thousands of priests devoted to the sun goddess Dione, and the airship-palace of the baron, absolute ruler of the city – though which of these truly wields most influence is a matter of opinion.
Aerial walkways, cable-cars and gyrocopters provide less elaborate means of getting around the heights of the city, and in the Aerie proximity to the baron’s airship reflects the prestige of the city’s most important families, but in Southwatch there is a more general indicator of significance: altitude. As one descends towards the streets far below, one’s position in the social hierarchy also falls. The gradient between the upper classes and the lower may be a subtle one, but one dividing line is not: the Dark Cloud, a free-floating mess of toxic smog that mars the city’s image like a cancerous shadow on an X-ray. This is the real city of Southwatch.
At ground level, the streets are bustling with steam- and clockwork-powered vehicles and, amongst the thronging pedestrians, primitive robots and other automatons hurry on the business of their owners. Here, Southwatch’s beauty is nowhere to be seen. In the Aerie the sun shines freely. Below the Dark Cloud, the city endures perpetual twilight, and the air is so fouled by deposits from above that the darksiders – as they are known – must wear breathing apparatus at all times if they are to have any hope of leading a long and fruitful life. But there are other threats to a person’s health than just going outside without a working mask.
Southwatch is a city of intrigues. From the financial district of Downtown to the docks and the Bricktown slums, there are a thousand ways to put a foot wrong and find yourself out of your depth. Gangs struggle for territory, politicians and businessmen vie for power and profits, and the ordinary people do what they are told to, if they have any common sense. And bubbling away beneath everything else is the Underground, that half-mapped warren where visitors should take great care they don’t attract the attention of other, perhaps less human, dangers…
However, this is also a place of endless potential. Salesmen and innovators ply their wares, inventors and scientists push back the boundaries of what is known, and artisans, artists and performers can always find an audience – maybe even a wealthy patron. Whatever else they might think or fear, the people of Southwatch know one thing for sure: they live in the most interesting city in the empire, bar none.
And it’s good when life is interesting. Isn’t it?
My gratitude goes to Ruslan Grebeshkov (Руслан Гребешков) for licensing that great steampunky image through Creative Commons. Click on the picture (or follow this link) and you can see just how skilled this piece of compositing is.