“High above, caressed by Mela’s hand, I soar beyond the mortal keen and laughter, echoing and ringing off the blue ocean above me. I leer and jest at those whose earthly nature denies them this glory, whose fate lay to toil upon the ground, to die upon the ground.
Far and wide, the blessing upon my back carrying me. Wonders do I see that none were meant to see. My companions are the birds and my lovers the stars and Mela’s ever graceful touch sooths my world till worries do not plague me of what I left behind.
Yet Pasiap will not be denied, for he holds place in my blood as well, and he sends forth smoky minions to soil my endless dreaming spring. It sits like a boil upon the earth, black and foul and runny, it’s grit and grime so great the ground cannot contain it all and it spills into the sunlight realm. And like a kettle, it boils, all motion and noise and the depressant dim of the petty works of those stone-chained souls, the unlasting and ever changing daily doldrums I rose so high to escape come back to pull me into it’s rotting wake. So too does my anger boil and become as black as the smoke which kills the clouds above this wretched hive. All justice would be for me to strike this festering wound from the hip of the harmonious, yet I will not, cannot, for it is more than me and I less than it and for all it’s evil, it tells me it is needed here.
So, I spit upon it and wheel away, to yet leave this cankerous sore to run its poison out until Pasiap grows weary enough of the pain to split it open.”
~Excerpt from the travel diary of Count Renald de Paynes of Windia
It had a true name once, until an eccentric wandering nobleman from Windia published his travel diary. Among the overly flowery and pretentious prose sat one vivid image. His account of the city from the skies above it forever wiped whatever name the city once held from the mouths and memories of any who knew it. From then on, it was forever known by the name that so rightly encompassed it’s every aspect – the Boil.
What can be said to be most amusing about Count Renald’s description is that the city he had beheld and so vehemently cursed was a mere fledgling town. Doubtless, were the good Count alive today to see the sprawling metropolis the Boil has evolved into, he would have dropped dead in shock and disgust.
Cities in the north tend not to grow large. The land is as inhospitable and harsh as any which could be found on the Threshold. For every success story such as Windia and Whiteshield, there are countless towns and villages which did not last long enough to even warrant naming before the hungry north swallowed them whole.
Then, there is the Boil.
Some have claimed it is a Nexus of the north and it is not an entirely unfair comparison. It is a keg of firepowder waiting to explode at any moment. It is a plodding, constant machine. It is a place of violence and death and one of laughter and life. A city where the mystical has become almost routine, yet still holds awe in the hearts of those within. The Boil is a refuge for the outcasts and the unwanted, a place they know they can come and, while not welcomed with open arms, will not be chased through the streets for the blood in their veins or the color of their hair. It is a home for entrepreneurs, adventurers, honest working men and women, thieves, cut-throats, mystics, and harlots. People come to find their fortune, to hide from their past, to start a new life. Those in Whiteshield say that the Boil is a place where anyone can find work, if you don’t mind loosing your soul in the process.
The Boil hardly rivals Nexus in size, yet one would be hard pressed to find any other city in the north which could match it. Even Whitewall, for all its glory, does not meet slovenly girth of the industrial city. Yet Whitewall and Nexus can both claim to possess a certain beauty to them, where as the Boil is anything but. It is large, but it is also short, ugly, dirty and noisy. An angry cloud of thick black smoke hangs over the city at all times, billowing out of the great stone chimneys of it’s foundries. The further back from the city gates you travel, the more and more you notice how everything seems covered by a fine layer of grit and ash, until you reach the industrial district itself where the fine layer becomes a muddy paste smeared across the walls and gray, faceless figures wander through the sickeningly thick smoke. Only the blessing of a southern wind ever pushes the cloud of smoke away for a time, throwing it back over the hills to the north and letting the sunlight through. Alternatively, the north wind is a curse as no other, crushing the whole of the city bellow the black wave of sooty ash.
Roughly arrayed in a triangle, the Boil is mess of buildings split by spiderwebs of roads and alley ways. It funnels deep into a broad valley between hills so tall and rugged that they nearly pass as mountain. Guarded on three sides by these imposing natural barriers, the great stone wall against it’s southern face seems more like a damn, holding back the city lest it flood into the open plains and wash all before it away in filth and humanity. The Dons, a great four-faced clocktower built in the center of the city, peeks it’s moon-like face above the crest of the gray stone wall. Trapped between the black smoke above and the gray city bellow, it is an island floating upon the sea of humanity or drowning within it.
The Boil is roughly divided into districts, though only rarely by any physical boarders.
The Industrial District
The industrial district is by far the largest sector of the city, claiming most of the northern reaches and sectioned off from the rest of the Boil by a high wrought-iron fence. Mining and processing take place entirely within the industrial district. The streets are narrow and often congested with foot traffic. There is no room for horse-drawn carts on the streets, so most hauling is handled by hearty roustabouts who wheel ore and products about in handcarts and belt out their traditional warning shouts of “Shoo! Shoo!” as they dash through the narrow streets. Air within the industrial district is dirty and foul, stinking of unwashed bodies and burning coal, and everything is coated with a liberal layer of thick ash and grit that turns into sticky paste during snow or rain. Most workers become use to it after the first year, though visitors often find it necessary to wear a mask over their face. The great stone foundries are the heart of the district. Long, tall buildings with smoke-stacks large enough around for a man to climb through, they sit in a row long either side of the district, neatly walling it in. Work goes on day and night to smelt the endless cartloads of iron ore into steel and the steady huff of their billows sighs through the din like the breath of the city. There are seven foundry buildings total and the work never ceases, shifts coming and going through out the day and night. Burning hot and flickering with the hellish light of searing flame and the molten glimmer of melted steel glistening off the walls, the foundries are terrible places to work. Labor is difficult, whether you man the billows or the pumps or have the task of pouring buckets full of liquidized metal into moldings. Injury is not only common, it’s expected. Burn scars, hairless scalps, cracking skin, missing fingers or eyes, and ruined raspy voices are the universal signs of foundry workers. Workers have died from heat exhaustion and though it was far more common in the early days of the city, it is far from unknown today. Outside and around the foundries, countless little industries cling to the big stone buildings. The majority of the bar stock produced in the foundries will be bound to shipping outside of the Boil, but a significant part of it is bought up or sent to the cities own lesser industries. Professional tradesmen and smiths of every variety can be found in the district. There are work lines where simple products are assembled and machinists and tinkers crafting delicate or complex instruments. These are work places and business fronts for most, though the more successful can often afford to keep a separate office away from the foundries in order to conduct trade in a less congested atmosphere.
Here, too, will one find the entrance to the mines. Great labyrinths of tunnels twist out through the hills around the Boil. They produce a different reflection of hell than the foundries. They are dark and dank and endless. The reeking scent of mildew and tightly packed human bodies perpetuates the stiff, hot air. Lit only by carefully sealed lanterns to prevent open flame from being exposed to the air, they are endless corridors of shadow broken by pale, hopeless halos of light. The weight of tons of earth and stone press in on every side while the support beams occasionally groan in the darkness or the faint tap of the unseen knockers call workers to riches or warn them of danger. The mines are no more safe or pleasant a place to work as the foundries. While the foundry workers must deal with blistering heat and hellish glare, it is stillness and silence that haunt the miners. With pick and shovel, they carve at the sides of the tunnels, knowing with each strike that there is always the chance the blow will trigger a cave-in and burry them under the earth. So too can pockets of natural gas burst free and kill an entire work crew in a matter of seconds. In some areas, the very air is so thick with coal-dust that workers have to wear cloth masks and glass eye protection simply to avoid going blind or choking to death on the sparkling clouds of dust.
If the foundries are the heart of the city, then it is the mines which are it’s life’s blood. The coal and iron pulled from the deep earth fuels the cities economy by providing the raw stock needed for the foundries to run and the craftsmen to build. Gold, silver, and other veins of precious metals have been uncovered and seen simple men and women thrust into positions of wealth and respect. Even the occasional spattering of white jade as fallen from the tunnel walls. The mines have yet to show any sign of puttering out. Certain shafts have dried out or simply abandoned as they proved too dangerous, yet the roots of the city always dig deeper and eventually reach another mother load. Occasionally there are discoveries of another sort. Ancient chambers buried deep bellow the earth have been uncovered, further remainders of the city which long ago occupied the place the Boil now rests. The bravest or most foolish of miners will explore these with their heads full of tales about ancient riches and fabulous wealth hidden within, but more often find swift death at the hands of devious traps and nameless horrors. Far more often, the foremen order chambers sealed and the shaft marked as forbidden.
Both foundries and mines are owned and maintained by the Holysword family, through the medium of the Sheriff, yet few in the direct service of the royal family actually work within either. Rather, time within the foundries and mines is sold to various parties on a temporary basis. Foundries are leased out one building at a time, while mines are sectioned off right down to the shaft. Bidding can often be heavy on a lease, particularly over a mine shaft which is known to turn out heavy loads. After the initial cost of the lease, one can expect to pass through a series of taxes before finally bring a finished product out of the industrial district. Taxes are placed on ore by poundage, on steel by the number of bars, and on all finished goods based on volume. There has always been a great deal of rumbling about ‘Penny-Picker Row,’ yet the truth of the matter is that the taxes are all generously light and in the end take little of the profit from most small ventures, though can be stifling for large businesses. One of the first Sheriffs realized that by keeping the taxes light, it would prompt more independent ventures to open up within the industrial district and corrode the power and influence of the larger industrial entities who have existed within the city for years, placing an effective road block on any who would seek to form a monopoly on the industries.
Assigned as part of the lease, foremen are required to be present on any foundry work or mining expedition in order to over see the safety and conduct of the workers, as well as to try to ensure as little wear and tear on the area as can be managed. City employees under the direct control of the Sheriff, foremen are often grizzled veterans of the dank, claustrophobic hell of the mines or the dry, searing agony of the foundries who know them better than anyone. A fierce appearance and strong arm are considered necessary for a foreman, as they often must put down disputes between disgruntled workers.
The Ash District
Directly outside of the industrial district, forming a practical barrier between it and the rest of the city, is the residential area known mostly as the ash district. If the Boil has anything which could be described as a slum beyond the rest of the city, it is almost certainly the ash district. A squalorous lot of low rent homes and apartments, the ash district is home to most of the workers in the industrial district. While the industrial district is merely dirty with smoke and soot, the ash district bares all the foulness of humanity as well. Litter and refuse pile on the streets along side of drunken and disenfranchised men and women. Little planning went into the area and it’s streets and alley ways are a maze of twisting turns, impassably narrow at times, and leading to sudden dead ends at others.
The ash district is sometimes known as the ‘home of broken dreams.’ Few of it’s residents ever expected to be living in such conditions. Many had come with the expectations of striking it rich within the mines and leaving for the culture and splendor Windia or Whiteshield. Most ended up trading that hope away for the stability of a steady job and relative safety of the city walls. Drunkenness is a common affliction and addiction to stronger forms of escape are far from unknown. The drug trade is heavy here and the cities criminals use it often as a blackmarket for stolen or illegal goods. Because of it’s relative proximity to the industrial district, the city garrison patrols the ash district often, but their passage only cows criminals until the echoes of their footfalls has faded, then business returns to usual.
It is a prime hunting ground for petty thugs and criminals. Even the gangs of this area are known to be brutal groups who more often terrorize their own neighborhoods than they brawl with one another. Most the violence within the district sadly comes from it’s own residence though. Bitterness and disappointment with a liberal mixing of intoxication can twist even the most kind soul into doing something they might not otherwise. Brawls, spousal abuse, murder, and rape all occur within the ash district far more often than any other section of the city. The ash district is not all pain and suffering however. The further one gets from the industrial district, the better the conditions become. Children laugh and play in the streets. Husbands and wives gossip on the steps outside their apartments. The ash district has a poor reputation, yet it is not impossible to make a good home there.
The Red-Lantern District
Second closest to the industrial district by design and pressed into the eastern half of the city is the Boils infamous red-lantern district, the entertainment district of the city. Work never stops in the foundries, but this is the section of the city that truly never sleeps. While no physical barriers separate the red-lantern district from other areas of the city, you can always tell when you have reached it. There is a marked change in the architecture. Cold stone is replaced by sturdy wooden buildings or tall clay homes. Warm light spills through windows onto the remarkably clean streets and the pounding of hammers is nearly drowned out by the sound of laughter and clinking glasses and pleasured moans.
Above the door of nearly every establishment is the districts name-sake, a bright red paper lantern. Lit day and night, these are not simple decorations but additions required by law of the cities pleasure houses. No matter what name they go by or what activities go on within, any building within the city where money is traded for sex must bare a red-lantern. Thus, it says much of the Boils tastes that nearly every thing from bath houses to massage parlors to even certain restaurants bare the red-lantern outside their door. There are establishments outside of the district which flout this law, often slave-houses where those of darker tastes can go to sate themselves without fear of retribution, but the Counsel of Madams is highly intolerant of these and will go to great lengths to hunt them down and rat them out to authorities. Prostitution in the Boil is strictly illegal outside of the pleasure houses. Anyone caught attempting to sell themselves on the street faces fines and indentured service to the city and may even find themselves sold to independent mining operations. Even within the district, the men and women of the pleasure houses and strictly forbidden from stepping out into the streets to attend to matters of business, though they are free to call from windows or stand in doorways to invite customers in.
Prostitution is by far the biggest trade of the district, but it is not limited to that. All of the best resting places for travelers and visitors within the city can be found within the district, so long as one does not mind the nearly endless celebration outside their window. Most pleasure houses have down stairs and basement entertainments as well as the warm beds upstairs. They often double as gambling dens, taverns, dancing halls, and even restaurants. Here and here alone can one find the open sale of narcotics, legalized for use only within the controlled environments of hash and opium houses. Bands and lone musicians play upon the streets for applause and coin, often hoping to impress a madam enough to be called in as a house musician. It is a bawdy and wild affair on the streets, slowing only in the twilight of early dawn when the madams close their doors for several hours and politely have their hired thugs escort guests to the edge of the district. As shifts change in the industrial district, the red-lantern district lets itself nap for a moment to refresh before the doors swing wide to let in those tired and needy workers who just stumbled away from their late night shifts.
The red-lantern district is unofficially governed by the Counsel of Madams. A political entity established by the cities patron goddess of prostitution, the Smiling Lover, the Counsel of Madams is a serious minded and surprisingly influential group. Composed of the madams of the Boils most successful pleasure houses, they meet bi-weekly to discus recent events in the city and to plan their reactions. The primary goal of the Counsel has always been to keep outside interference of their daily business to a minimum. Criminal syndicates, city officials, troops from the garrison – all of these are seen as dangerous and unnecessary for the health and welfare of the district if they appear in any capacity other than customers. In this, they have been quite successful and it has left the district largely autonomous. They patrol their own streets with hired mercenaries. They collect their own taxes and dutifully turn them in to the proper officials. They pay children and impoverished adults to sweep and clean the streets and scrub the ash and filth from the walls.
The Counsel of Madams obeys all laws, official or otherwise, simply to ensure no one ever has cause to disrupt their business and harm profit. They strictly enforce their own personal code of laws. Known as the Code of the Sanguine embrace, it is a ledger of prodigious length drafted in the cities early days by the Smiling Lover. Every pleasure house bares hand-written copy upon the wall, all written by the supple hand of the patron goddess. The Code dictates everything from the payment and rights of the working men and women, to the required level of dress and make-up a lady of the house must maintain while on display, to the proper level of lighting a house should have. Nearly every aspect of the business is covered in detail and everyone who works within the pleasure houses are expected to know it by heart. That is the ideal, at least. The truth of the matter is that much of the Code is flaunted outside of the core laws and taboos. These few are enforced with a heavy hand. Which rulings outside of those a madam chooses to obey is entirely up to her own discretion and many simply ignore the rest entirely. Conditions for the workers within the red-lantern district vary greatly from house to house. While the physical abuse and enslavement of employees is strictly forbidden, there is much lee-way within the code as to what is allowed and even instances of either breech of conduct are far from unknown. Often, the best and most successful pleasure houses are richly appointed and refined places, where professionals who enjoy their art attend to the needs of the cities wealthier citizens. Those who find employment here can expect finely tailored clothes, hot bathes, rich meals, and often gifts of favor from their customers. Yet these are the best and thus, the few. While there are gray areas abound, the worst of the lot are flesh houses known as ‘factories.’ Here dirty and destitute workers wait in lines to go into rooms and have their way with whatever happens to by laying on the bed. An endless cycle of nameless, faceless partners is all that awaits those who work in such hovels. Factories are often the last refuge of the desperate and the madams of many of these will often prey upon the young, frightened men and women who wander into the Boil in hopes of a better life. No chains lock them to the bed and no whip marks their skin, but those who work within these houses are virtual slaves just the same, trapped by threats of violence and the knowledge that no other house will take them in after their time spent there.
The Highlane District
Named for a street which has become the butt of many jokes over the years, the highlane district is the small, wealthy neighborhood of the Boil. Built close to the wall on the western hillside, it separates itself from the rest of the city with a low marble wall. Easily scaled, even leapt over in places, the wall serves more as a boundary line and warning sign than a physical barrier. It speaks to those who pass it, telling them how much it knows who belongs on which side.
Only the most wealthy and powerful of the city can afford to live here. The property taxes on owning land in the highlane district are astronomical. Powerful political figures, savvy businessmen, wealthy madams, cunning criminal overlords, and the rare ‘golden miner,’ the one who managed to strike it rich, all share space in this separatist community. They have their own commercial business fronts present, often little more than channels from other businesses in the lower parts of the city, to ensure they can have best pick of the goods they desire. Home to the cities wealthy-elite, the houses on highlane district are grand affairs compared to the rest of the town. Big buildings on large lots, they often have several stories but tend to sprawl rather than climb, eating up great swaths of the hill side. Plazas or gardens surround them. White-washed fences separate the smallest while the larger estates have iron or stone barriers to keep the unwanted out. A few attempt to emulate the style of the cities more sophisticated neighbors, baring the windmill decorations common to Windia or the gleaming marble walls popular in Whiteshield. Yet even here, the touch of the cities dirty hands can be seen. The windmills never turn. The white marble is grayed by soot. The gardens must be maintained constantly or else they brown and wither.
The Gray Districts
While not one official district, the gray districts are the flesh of the city which lay between the squalor and splendor of the rest of the town. Often nameless and lacking the personality of their neighboring districts, the gray districts are simply lumped into one whole. Middle or lower class homes, apartments, commercial enterprises, and market streets all intermingle with careless abandon. These are the homes of the foremen or the workers who are well paid enough to avoid the ash district, the petty bureaucrats, and the men and women of the red-light district who have families outside the pleasure houses. They are the business fronts for craftsmen, the market places for merchants and farmers, the studios of artists struggling to make due in a city without much concern for beauty and culture. They are the homes of temples and priests, the workplaces of alchemists and mystical societies, and the barracks of the garrison. The gray districts are all the needful things the city requires to function. They are often suffer the least from ill events and the are least rewarded for win-falls, but simply make due and plod on about their daily business, keeping the city running smoothly.
The Gods of the Boil - The primary spirits and relgions of the industrial city.
Organizations Within the Boil - Some of the more well known or important groups within the Boil.
Important Figures Within the Boil - Famous (and infamous) figures of the Heartless City.
Of Fire and Iron- A game set within the Boil, twenty years before the events of A Dance of Angels