Wednesday 22 July 2015

Districts of the Wicked City 2: The Cobweb

So, after that lengthy digression about clockwork robots and talking animals, I should probably get back to the Wicked City itself, shouldn't I?

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As mentioned in a previous post, at the heart of the Wicked City is the King's Tower, which is kind of like the Burj Khalifa and kind of like the Tower of Babel and kind of like one of those nightmares which just goes on and on and on forever, given physical form in the shape of a tower so high that no-one knows where (or if) it actually ends. It is, at the very least, well over a thousand feet high. Given the limited engineering technology available, there's no way it should be able to remain standing. It stays up anyway.

When the Wicked King built his tower, his various henchmen immediately started building towers of their own, in imitation of his example. Theirs, of course, were more mundane affairs, no more than two or three hundred feet high; but there were a lot of them, a thick, bristling forest of them, clustering around the base of the King's Tower itself. Travelling up and down through all that vertical space was slow and laborious, so the tower-builders had walkways constructed to link one tower to another, and elaborate systems of rope and winches to permit objects to be moved from one tower to the next. Gradually a great web of these connections grew up, connecting each tower to all the adjacent towers, and the innermost ring of towers to the Tower of the King; a tangle of ropes and wires and bridges and catwalks which chokes the air, blocking out the sunlight from the teeming streets below. The people of the Wicked City refer to it as the Cobweb.

This is 12th century Bologna, at the height of the city's tower-building craze. Just imagine one massive tower right in the middle and you're pretty much there.

The Cobweb is home to the Wicked City's elite. Not its government officials - they, for their sins, live and work in the upper floors of the King's Tower itself - but its nobility, its rich merchants, its military officers, its crimelords, and the senior clergy of its quite awesomely corrupt state religion. Each tower houses a different family, who travel back and forth from tower to tower across the Cobweb in order to hatch plots, conduct torrid love affairs, and engage in assorted acts of hedonistic debauchery with members of other high-ranking clans. Many of them go whole years without ever setting foot on the ground.

If they did, though, they'd see that the streets between the towers look like this.
After so many years spent stewing in its own corruption, the Cobweb has become a miniature world of vice and intrigue. By day the elite of the Wicked City stroll out along its walkways, fantastically dressed, to visit and gossip and snipe and preen in one another's company; by night, spies and thieves and occasionally even assassins clamber along the ropelines, sneaking into other towers to try to win some kind of social or political advantage for their employers at the expense of their current rivals. The nobility maintain a constant facade of civility at all times, but they all seem to hate each other, and their interactions are characterised by a continual background hum of barely-concealed jealousy and spite. Think of Jacobean tragedies crossed with the nastier bits of Jane Austen novels (but with more casual murder and drug abuse), and you probably won't go far wrong. 

And they all dress like this because of course they do.
A talented thief, spy, or poisoner can make a fortune in the Cobweb, but their lives are precarious: their employers view them as utterly disposable, and will not hesitate to have them thrown out of the nearest window the moment they become a liability. (Pedestrians in the district have become used to dodging the occasional falling body as it plummets, screaming, from the sky.) For those who oppose the Wicked King, however, the Cobweb offers a different kind of opportunity. By moving from tower to tower, either by stealth or with the connivance of their inhabitants, it would be possible for a team of infiltrators to traverse the heart of the city without once encountering the soldiers and agents of the Wicked King who swarm below; and from the innermost towers, there are walkways which connect with the King's Tower more than thirty levels up. The members of the Cobweb families are debauched and eccentric, but they are mostly not insane; they can be seduced or blackmailed, bribed or threatened - possibly even genuinely befriended, if one could manage to break through their shell of violence and cynicism to reach the human being inside. If one were, hypothetically, looking to reach the upper levels of the King's Tower, then it would probably be a much better idea to make an alliance with one of the Cobweb families than to try to sneak or fight through 30+ levels of the Tower itself! 

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