The ancient metropolis of Levenge perches on the southern most spur of a range of sharp, forbidding peaks.
Positioned directly beneath the sun, it is the heart of the cult of Apparthon the Sun God.
The city overlooks the river Lev, which at this point in its course is approximately 5 miles wide. The river is the city’s lifeblood – ships and barges navigate inwards from the coast, bringing and taking goods and people of all descriptions.
The City hugs a steep slope, so there are numerous tiers connected by ramps, stairways and even ladders in places.
Walls mark the divisions between tiers, some in disrepair and others well maintained. Some of the most prized properties in the city actually cling to cliff faces, and perhaps extend some way into the mountain itself. There have been accidents in the past. When one of these cliff houses parts ways with the mountain, it can cause devastation in the city below, perhaps even taking one or more other houses with it.
Levenge features many plazas and ancient buildings, and is adorned with myriads of statues and arches dedicated to forgotten heroes and dimly remembered battles. Some of these are so old as to have eroded beyond recognition. Many hold the most ancient statues to be the bearers of boons or curses, and make tributes and offerings to them. This is regarded as illegal, and punished severely by the clergy.
Near the apex of the city stands the Imperial Palace, beyond which lies a lush green plateau, the exclusive domain of the Emperor.
On another plateau facing the palace sits the High Temple. This is the heart of Apparthon the Sun God’s cult, and the seat of the Archon. A vast bowl at the centre of the Temple Ground is the Court of the Archon. Surrounding the temple is the Temple district, where the great Faction Houses cluster and their byzantine schemes and betrayals are birthed. Violence between the factions is not unknown, as competition for the faithful, and power over access to (or sometimes control of) the Archon is paramount to the success of any faction.
At the water’s edge sit docks and warehouses, taverns and brothels, dormitories for pilgrims and sailors, factories, tanners, shipwrights and all sorts of unsavoury characters. Dozens of ships are tied up at any given time, having arrived from or about to depart for far foreign lands. Wandering unattended in these areas can result in unplanned employment and trips to far-away lands. Not first-class.
Surrounding the city is the Levside wall, the city’s main protection against enemy armies. None have tested it in centuries. The Levside Wall is punctuated with towers and barracks, and features three main gates. Ballistae and catapults have given way to cannons over recent years.
Levenge is probably the most cosmopolitan city in the known world. Folk of many races and civilizations dwell here, whether permanently, on pilgrimage, or trading. A caste of slaves services the wealthy, drawn mostly from barbarian stock. Many are the product of generations of breeding, descendants of captured Goliaths from across the Lev.
The main demographic group represented in the city is human. However, a good many Dwarves also reside here, many representing their home cities as ambassadors or merchants. Morlings and Rutlings mainly live outside the city proper, but a few dwell within the Levside Wall. Morlings are sterile, pale stunted freaks born to the unlucky, and rumours abound that the highborn have them ritually put to death at birth. Those that live form their own communities within the city. Rutlings, if anything, are even less desirable, but seem to have their uses. Also born of human stock, their sallow skin, small stature and hideous features mark them apart. They often act as clerks and servants for merchants and clergy.
In the Sunlit lands, a few immortal Eladrin dwell yet in their ancient towers, rarely troubling to interact with mortals.
Elves are known to live in the forests of the Twilight lands, particularly on the continent of Aelfdom, rarely troubling to pass through the Roil to the Sunlit lands.
Tieflings and Dragonborn are extremely rare in Levenge, and held in some suspicion. These folk are native to far-away Twilight lands.
Merchants and Nobles
Merchants are the lifeblood of Levenge. Their expeditions beyond the Roil to secure trade and resources for the Empire are vital. They are enthusiastic employers of adventuring types, and not always for the most virtuous reasons. They too have their rivalries, and this can lead to conflict. Most merchants of any stature maintain their own guard, or rent mercenaries. Some play on their alliances to military or noble figures to enhance security.
Nobles in the Imperial Court often serve as officials of the Empire, and many hold military commissions. Some of these posts are effectively hereditary, but the most elite units are always commanded by professional officers.
The most intriguing and disturbing feature of the city is Dead Street. Most of the time, Dead Street is but a tale to scare small children with. However, sometimes, with no apparent reason or regularity, Dead Street actualizes. Never in the same place twice (within living memory anyway), the street simply appears between two buildings where previously there was no gap at all, a gloomy aperture with inappropriate shadows defying the sun in sinister ways. The avenue persists for a few hours then fades as if it was never there. No-one has actually witnessed the arrival or departure of the street. Some say there are amulets or tokens that allow safe access, and there are certainly those who attempt to hawk off such trinkets in remote covered alleys of the city.
There are two ways to treat the news of Dead Street’s arrival. Some, anxious to be reunited with their lost spouse or family members, hike their way to the street, and are never seen again. Others, such as the Holy Guard and Imperial Army, seek to seal off the approaches to Dead Street. While this generally works, sometimes when the street has disappeared, one or two of the guarding soldiers have also somehow been misplaced. This is not a popular assignment.
The church has no explanation for Dead Street, and prefers not to discuss it at all.
As for the Street itself, no-one really knows what lies within. True, a whiff of cold air with the faint smell of decay will sometimes waft through the Dead Street Arch, but no figures are seen among the archaic shops and residences. Sometimes a lantern or torch burns within the gloom, or a curtain twitches. Best not to look too closely.
Some folk claim to have visited the street, and returned to the living. Most regard these types as fools or liars.
Outside the City
Numerous shanties surround Levenge, some leaning against the very walls of the city. Beyond lie villages and farms, supported with irrigation from the Lev. Here dwell numerous poor people who are unable to enter the city proper without official sanction (ie a toll to be paid at the gates). Many have abandoned their farms and villages.
Downriver lies the port city of Klovenge, surrounded by the Softlands of the Lev’s delta. This is the harbour where the greater part of Levenge’s navy shelters.
Across the Lev lies the Charge, a vast stretch of bleak and arid rolling lands where the barbarian tribes hold sway. In the past attempts have been made to colonise the far bank, but these are always dubious propositions, and typically are abandoned or swept away by raiding goliaths. Still, at a couple of points along the far banks there are the ruined stone docks of failed colonies. It is rumoured that traders still use these during foul weather to conduct illicit trade with the barbarians.
Many cultures exist on the far-side of the Lev including various horse-peoples and goliaths, as well as human gypsies who travel the savannah in huge wheeled carts. These massive moving structures are pulled by one or more hurkas: beasts of burden twice the height of standard elephant but with only a snub of a trunk and without tusks. One of these hurkas might be able to pull a smaller wheelhouse but usually, the more massive wheel carts (up to four stories in height with wheels eighteen foot in diameter) require a full team of four or maybe even six hurkas.
The breeding of such creatures is considered a holy event, with the significant gestation of four or more years considered a holy period by the gypsies of that particular cart. Hurkas can live for up to a millennium, so their deaths are similarly treated as a period of mourning and celebration. The highest honor in these gypsy clans is to serve a particular hurka (and have ones name mentioned in song along with all the others who have served that particular beast). The hurkas seemingly survive on a minimum of food. However, the beasts might gorge for several weeks straight on a particular meal and then not eat again for a year. The feeding and sexual habits of these creatures almost entirely dictate the conduct and planning of these gypsy clans.
Excerpt from The Almanac of Failed Exploration, by L. Cray.