Monday, June 21, 2010

Seastar--a walk along the Axis

The City of Seastar is the opening setting of Auracrux: Rebirth. It is a bustling and prosperous city with a cosmopolitan population of roughly 15,000, making it one of the five largest cities in the known world. Seastar has existed as a trading post as long as Thalind has been habitable. Its position at the mouth of two major rivers feeding into the Placid Sea makes it a natural location for maritime trading with Fellemonte, Norbury, Diurgontruili, and the Northlands.

Since the establishment of the Special Dominion of Thalind, Seastar has served an important purpose as the crossroads where the three major interests controlling Thalind meet. This makes Seastar a place of political intrigue as Norburgers, Porresians, Abarians, and other interests struggle for influence.

The Axis is one of the most important geographical markers within the city. It is a wide avenue running from the docks, through the warehouse district, around the Rock of Rivers (a dramatic stone promontory jutting out from the splitting of the twin rivers). From there, it continues as two roads, the left and right axis, until the roads converge again where the rivers meet. Once the road is unified again, it proceeds through the middle of Aura's Square (where temples of the Western Church and the Orthodox Church sit adjacent, competing for the hearts and minds of Thalinders), and down through through the markets to the wall of the city where it terminates at the Farmers' Gate.

Randall, the son of a herder from Norbury, made his first visit to Seastar at age sixteen. His father, a simple and pious man, had warned his son of the wickedness that prevailed in Seastar. He preached about the moral weakness planted by plenty and the physical infirmities set in the flesh by a life of leisure in the city. For years Randall's father had made annual trips to Seastar as a hired sword to guard a trader's caravan. This year, Randall was brought along--to toughen him up, to see the dangers of immoral living, and to earn the family a few spare coins.

The air in Thalind was humid and Randall's clothes stuck to his body. Mosquitoes were everywhere, and Randall's boots would stick in the thick black mud if he stepped even a foot off the road. Randall was relieved but not impressed when he caught his first glimpse of Seastar across the verdant swampy fields.

The city was surrounded by a wooden wall, much less solid looking than the walls of Norbury, though these walls were much longer to accommodate the larger city. They were a mere twelve feet high. As they approached, he could make out a gate just wide enough for a wagon. Four flags hung above the gate. Randall recognized the flag of Norbury, and the hated flag of the Imperials, but had to ask about the other two. His father, feigning annoyance at the boy's question, was clueless to the flags' meanings, but the merchant, a gregarious fellow, was happy to tell Randall of the distant Abarians and they're exotic flag, and also of the simple flag of Thalind.

Once they were among the others waiting around the gate, the merchant instructed them to set up camp to rest for several hours while he left his name with the guard and paid his taxes. Randall was alarmed at first to see before him so many inhuman creatures, many of whom he recognized as the villains of his grandmother's tales. Dark skinned Elves, slimy scaled Tiamati, mischevious looking gnomes, and other strange creatures milled about. Randall whispered a prayer to Aura for protection, and also uttered an invocation his grandmother taught him to ward off the capricious spirits of the sea. This he knew was blasphemy, but he figured he ought to play it safe with so many strangers around so near to the ocean.

After a time, Randall and the rest of the caravan were approved for entry into the city. He and his father were allowed to set off on their own while the merchant conducted business with a gray skinned Dwarf. Randall began to feel the fear leave him and instead became exhilarated by the varieties of scent, sight, and sound coming to him in the marketplace of Thalind. Merchants of every race Randall had ever heard of offered an array of products from parts of the world Randall had thought were fairy tales.

After a long walk through the madding crowd at the heels of his cursing disgusted father, Randall was astonished at the sight of two spectacular temples on the opposite sides of a wide square filled with beggars, bards, monks, missionaries, and merchants. On his right was a temple decorated with golden statues of strange beasts with wings and dazzling arrays of gems serving for eyes. Many dark skinned men in exotic robes sat on the stairs of the temple smoking pipes which produced unusual and enticing aromas.

Randall's father grabbed the boy by the hair, "Pay no mind to those olive skinned heretics. The true Aurist gives his confessions on this side of the square."

Randall's father made his way to the opposite church, a structure no less opulent than the other, but decorated in a style more familiar to Randall. Flanking the entrance to this temple, ascetics sang hymns in Old Porresian. Randall knew few of the words, but remembered that the hymn was one of forgiveness for Vestelion the Penitent. If he remembered his catechism properly, he thought each verse of the hymn was meant to stand in for a decade of attrition for the defeated arch-devil.

Randall's thoughts soon strayed from the catechism when his father closed the door of the confessional booth, leaving the boy in the sanctuary. Randall grabbed up his father's knapsack and dashed out into courtyard. Today was Randall's first day as one of the teeming masses of Seastar.

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