The city has had many names, stretching back to the dawn of history. So many and varied are they that most of the current residents simply call it The City. Those who call it something else either try to evoke its rich history to further their own ends or they attempt to lend it a majesty and splendor it no longer deserves. That is not to say The City does not have its wonders. The palace and government buildings still sport the massive, ornately carved marble edifices from when The City was Hedolus, the capitol of the last great empire. The arching Twenty-Seven Bridges still show the flowing lines that once graced all of Elandil, seat of the last of the Eladrin Kings. There is the Great Temple of Bahamut whose architecture evokes the sweeping wings, fierce claws and coiling tails of dragons and is all that remains above the surface of Tok’Rin’El, the ancient Nok’Ti’Goth city from which they claim to have ruled the whole continent in the distant past, and the Grand Reception Hall whose entrance is located just up the mountainside from the city was once used to receive dignitaries by the dwarven Kings of the Glittering Halls.
Today, however, most of The City is grimy, dark alleys and slender, over-built streets where the tiered stories nearly block out the light of the sun from above. After the death of the last of the DeMarz Emperors, the struggle for control of the Ibaessian throne destroyed half The City and much of the rest of the world with it. The city walls have fallen into disrepair in many areas and are no longer manned by sentries as their were in imperial times. Only at night does the city seem to come into its own, a bit like a painted harlot whose beauty is intensified as much by what the darkness hides as what the light reveals. In the dim light of lanterns and lamps, The City still glistens and shines and it seems that magic is still in the very air.
The City is ostensibly ruled over by the Grand Duke, a title as old and worn out as the city itself, but in fact most of the real political power resides with the Lord Mayor and the City Council. The temples, led by the High Priestess of Bahamut also wield significant power over the city.
Geography and Climate
The City is situated on a rock huge rock ledge on the side of a mountain. A river cascades down the steep mountainside and pools around the former Imperial Palace before cutting across the city in wide delta and plunging over the edge and continuing it’s downward journey. It is sometimes claimed that the original city was carved from the very rock of the mountain itself and that the ledge and the river were not originally natural. However, if this is the case, the evidence is buried somewhere beneath the current city. The area receives occasional, but infrequent, rainfall and The City relies on the river as its main source of water.
During the days of the Ibaessian Empire, the city was officially divided into districts mainly for legal and tax purposes. In the post-imperial days, the borders of these districts have shifted somewhat to better follow the culture and architecture of the respective areas. Although the original legal districts had formal names, most are now known simply by their popular names. Each of The City’s districts has it’s own distinct personality. The primary districts are the Temple District, the Bridge District, Marblehall, the Merchant District, The Market, and The Warren. Several of The City’s original districts were largely destroyed during the Succession War including the District of Blades, the Tower District and most of the Imperial District. Though not a district in the strictest sense, the area known as Cherry Blossom Street is often considered a “district” by the locals.
Because of its inaccessible location, travel to the city is accomplished through several portals. The largest of the portals, the Traders’ Gate, is located outside the walls near The Market. This gate is large enough for three wagons to pass through at a time. Several smaller portals actually exist inside the walls, but these are at best only wide enough for one carriage to pass through and in some cases only allow one person access at a time.
Each portal in The City has a preset list of destinations which can be chosen by the user. Once at the destination, however, the only option is to return to The City. This has allowed the rulers of The City to control much of the long-distance travel on the continent.
No one is really sure who built the portals, or for precisely what reason. Most scholars believe it was to control trade and travel throughout the continent as was done during Imperial times or to create an artificial trade center. Some believe that it was to control and mainly to prohibit military action by rebellious provinces. In any case, the knowledge of how to create new portals has been lost.
The economy of The City is driven mainly by trade. The portal network makes The City a stop-over destination for hundreds of caravans a day from all over the world. The area around the Traders’ Gate is a staging area for caravans waiting to move out to their destinations. In addition, the city boasts some of the finest craftsmen to be found in the known world, making it a natural destination for raw materials and a source of finished goods.
Jewelery, clothing, and fine crystal and china tableware are crafted by artisans in The City and sent to destinations around the continent. Paintings, sculpture and other art are also produced in The City and exported. During Imperial times, several other important crafts, such as printing and enchanting were prevalent, but these have dropped off in recent times, the latter due to falling literacy rates in the post-Imperial world, and the former by the destruction of the Tower District.
The weapon and armor trades, once heavily regulated by the Empire, are taking advantage of the lapse in government to trade their wares unrestricted throughout the world.
An official census of The City has not been conducted in over 100 years, but tax records indicate that The City has a current population of approximately 32,000. This is a considerable drop from the nearly 60,000 that inhabited Hedolus during the height of the Empire. The reasons for the population drop are varied, but not least among them is that the logistics of feeding and supplying 60,000 people is beyond the current government. Also the nearly complete destruction of the Tower district and the District of Blades means these districts are nearly unpopulated.
The population of the city is a mixture or races, with humans being the most common. Current estimates place the mix at approximately 45% human, 30% elf, 15% halfing, and 5% Nok’Ti’Goth. The remaining 5% is a mixture of other races, mainly tieflings and dwarves, and half-breeds such as half-elves and half-orcs.
It should be noted that the population breakdown across districts show marked differences from the overall demographics. Most of The City’s Nok’Ti’Goth are found in small pockets of The Warren while the dwarves are heavily concentrated in the Merchant District. Elves are most prevalent in the Bridge District.
The history of The City can be outlined by the empires who ruled from it. There was the Nok’Ti’Goth empire of Arkhosia that according to legend lifted the other races from barbarism. Then came the Tiefling empire of Bael Turath which plunged the other races into a hundred years of oppression. The Elf-Dwarf Alliance finally ended the tyranny of Bael Turath and ruled for centuries from the Dual Thrones until the time of the Great Betrayal. Most recently the city was the seat of the human empire of Ibaessia.
According to the legends of the Nok’Ti’Goth, it was they that first settled the area now known as The City. They claim that their alliance with the dragons allowed them to reach the otherwise nearly inaccessible location they named Tok’Rin’El. It was from this unassailable bastion, the legends say, that the Nok’Ti’Goth set about civilizing the rest of the world and founding Arkhosia, their great continent spanning empire. Some evidence seems to support these claims, namely that the Great Temple of Bahamut is the oldest standing structure in The City and that the oldest written records of humans and elves include words of apparent Draconic origin and muddled legends of dragonborn riding dragons into battle. If such an empire existed, it seems certain that some great tragedy befell it, given how few dragonborn seem to remain, even today.
No one really knows where the Tieflings came from originally. Nok’Ti’Goth legends claim they were not part of the God’s original design for the world, though most consider that propaganda created by the Nok’Ti’Goth in order to justify their racial hatred of the Tiefings. Still, their very appearance does suggest a devilish or demonic origin. However they arrived, they managed to sweep aside whatever government had existed before them and begin a 100 year reign of terror and oppression. Modern Tieflings claim that the heavy-handedness of Bael Turath, ruled from the city of the same name, was necessary to preserve civilization as Arkhosia crumbled. Even so, most people are wary of Tieflings, even in these supposedly more enlightened days.
Elandil and the Glittering Halls
Finally, the elves and dwarves set aside whatever difference they may have had prior to that and formed the Elf-Dwarf Alliance. Using the superior craftsmanship of the dwarves and the enchanting skills of the elves, they created items of magical power that have never been surpassed, before or since. An army of dwarves and elves, clad in magical armor and wielding powerful enchanted weapons was finally able to push back their tiefling oppressors. Under the leadership of the Dual Thrones, the world experienced a renaissance of art, culture and magic. Even today, many believe it to have been a golden age, the pinnacle of civilization. Many fantastical tales are told of this time, but it is often unclear which are fact and which are fantasy.
This supposed golden age was short-lived, however, lasting only two to three hundred years, ended by the Great Betrayal. Both the elves and the dwarves claim the the other betrayed them first and scholars today are not even precisely sure what happened, save that the once allies turned on each other, bringing their titanic artifacts to bear on each other. As a result the world sank into a dark age from which it would not arise for a thousand years.
The Dark Times
After the Great Betrayal, the world sank into a period of darkness unlike anything it had experienced before. Education became the province of the nobility and the very wealthy and illiteracy, which had been almost unknown during the Elf-Dwarf Alliance became the norm. The City suffered less in some ways and more in others, than the rest of the world. Trade largely broke down and food and clothing had to be rationed. Many elves and nearly all the dwarves left The City and the Glittering Halls in search of better places to live. Those that remained eked out a living. The City changed hands frequently during the Dark Times, with some regimes lasting only a few years and others lasting decades. It was during this time that the city began to be known as simply “The City” among the general population. In spite of the hardships, education remained more available in The City than elsewhere and much of the knowledge from the golden age of the Alliance was preserved in its libraries and temples.