|'Tower of Babel' by Marten van Valckenborch. You can see a larger version here.|
Out of the wreckage of the Wars of Faith arose a wicked king, perfect in injustice, cynicism and intrigue. He gained his throne by plausible lies, and maintained it through audacious cruelty, until his wickedness permeated every part of the city which he had claimed as his own. The people grew bitter and sick at heart, and the will to resist perished within them. Those who dared to speak out against the wicked king were visited, sooner or later, by six men without faces. No-one ever saw them again.
In the centre of the city the cruel king built himself a tower, and this tower rose so high that its summit could only be guessed at. Around it, his henchmen and hangers-on built towers of their own, albeit far smaller; and between these towers there grew up a fantastical cobweb of lines and walkways, across which servants and messengers scurried by day, and through which spies and assassins crawled by night. Beneath the shadow of the Cobweb, the city grew dark and ruinous; yet those who tried to flee were met, on the road, by a man with frozen pebbles instead of eyes. Few tried to flee a second time.
When the king grew old, he gave orders for statues of himself to be built on every corner; and then he withdrew into his tower, and was seen no more. Some say he is dead long since, and others that he lives on, sustained by sheer malice; but something still watches the city through the stone eyes of the statues, and listens through their stone ears, for those who trespass against his unjust laws are inevitably captured unless their deeds are done in those impoverished districts where the statues have all been smashed to rubble and the king's men do not dare to go.
By rights, the Wicked City should have collapsed into desolation years ago, ruined by its own corruption and despair; but somehow it not only survives but grows, drawing the greedy, the vicious, the hopeless, and the desperate from all lands to it by some secret spiritual magnetism. The unscrupulous sometimes travel there in furtive caravans, to purchase goods and services which could not be sold openly in any other land; and thieves and spies and murderers travel with them, hoping to make their fortunes high up amidst the tangled intrigues of the Cobweb. A single determined army could scour the
from the earth; and yet the kings of the surrounding lands view it with
superstitious dread, whispering - as so many do, now - that the Wicked King has
attained some kind of terrible apotheosis. Some outcast cults have even begun
to worship him in secret, muttering secret prayers to him to bring them success
in deeds of such spite and cruelty that all other gods would look upon with
mere contempt... Wicked City
* * *
The Wicked City is both the main setting AND the main antagonist for ATWC. It's a bit like ancient Babylon and a bit like Victorian London and a bit like modern Dubai. It's huge and sprawling and labyrinthine, and it's built on cruelty and lies and exploitation, soaking up people and resources from the surrounding countryside and giving nothing but evil and pollution in return. Think of the very worst part of the very worst city you've ever visited. Now imagine visiting that place while tripping out on some very bad acid. That's what the Wicked City is like.
I'll be posting more about the Wicked City over the weeks to come...