Wednesday, June 17, 2020

Districts of the Meatropolis

The Meatropolis is slowly coming together as a setting. I'm still not quite sure what to do with it, but it's a nice worldbuilding project to keep me occupied these days. Someday I'll write an adventure in it; I've certainly got plenty of plot hooks. Here's the meat (haha) of the city: the districts you can find in the heart of the world-turtle, a bit of their histories, and some choice bits of artwork to set the mood.

Retroactively I'm making this post part of the GLOG City Challenge, where a bunch of users all put together some sort of city-themed post! Find links to their work here:
Qasira, a City on the shores of the Seas of Sand 
Shalilas, city of the genie 
Mountain, a tale of two cities 
...more to come!

The Blood Coast

Once, the turtle-corpse's heart pumped strong, and red flowed mightily through its planetary bulk; then the Cyclopean Empire cut it open to drain it for iron. This killed the turtle, and the rest is tragedy. Yet while Ogoath rots, its internal ecosystem roils with the full brutality of an ecosystem gone feral, red not only in tooth and claw but in the very substance it swims through. Clotted islands float across a sea wracked with bloody whirlpools, sucking down into the veins to gods-know-where. What passes for "weather" are rains of lymph and pus and blood, and the tides rush in and out to the beat of the heart's last irregular spasms.

The sea leads down into the arteries, which have become the largest trade routes in and out of the Meatropolis. There's good money in escorting subsanguine (like a submarine, but in blood) caravans past the myriad horrors of the sea; from jell-eye-fish, to packs of ravenous white blood cells, to kraken turtles (and of course, the ever-present threat of vampirates).

Bloodiron refineries monopolize the Coast's scar-beaches with hulking metal networks of pipes and vessels, churning and smoking without pause. The machines intake vast quantities of blood, suck out globs of molten iron with complex alchemical sigils, then release the polluted muck that remains into the flesh and sea. The iron is processed in a dizzying array of forges, and from there goes to the wider city and the rest of the turtle. As the only reliable source of metal, this industry keeps the Meatropolis the center of trade, ever-relevant and an essential stop on any voyage through the turtle.

The ports of the Meatropolis proper are long iron docks protruding from the coast, where shipwrights get first pick of the iron and the ancient (therefore passé) fleshcraft art of shellwork is still practiced by master artisans. Subsanguines and ironshulled trade-ships all get their start here; the design houses are fiercely competitive and constantly looking for an edge.

by Santiago Caruso
The Butchers' Quarter

Fastest dismemberments in the Meatropolis - nay, all the turtle! Stacks of shops pile on top of each other, surrounding bustling marketplaces where anyone who's anyone can be found. As fleshcraft becomes more and more a lost art, the butcher guilds have become essential to everyday life; carving up chunks of turtle or parasite or monster or giant cell (or human, they aren't picky) and turning them into anything anyone can imagine and more.

Networks of scampering fleshcrafts carry packages in butcher-paper from shop to shop. You can hear work-songs in a dozen languages, punctuated by the dull thuds of cleavers against bone. Wrought bloodiron is the closest thing to currency here; the knives must stay plenty and heavy and sharp. Barter serves most, though - the language of coin and capital is but a cautionary tale one can hear in the legends of starfolk fleeing dying worlds. In a world where you can reach into the ground and pull up food, trade and gifts and strong community for base needs folks can't get alone. The collapse of the Empire forced communities to band together in the face of extinction, and those traditions have lasted well into the modern day.

Everything's made out of well-preserved meat here. Jerkied walls and streets, webbed together with collagen. Unlike certain parts of the Meatropolis and the vast domains of the turtle-corpse, it barely smells like rot at all. The narrower, darker alleyways frost over with cold-spells, spilling out from the warehouse bladders that dot the district like great beads of sweat. The butchers let nothing go to waste here, eating it or passing the rarest bits to the fleshcrafter houses of the upper city.

The Spires

Elegant bone-and-iron towers rise high above the city's day-to-day doings, home to the old fleshcrafter noble houses that lay claim to the Meatropolis by right of lineage. Tendon suspension bridges web them together, and skinwinged fleshcrafts flutter between penthouses - if you're lucky enough to be born into a lineage, you'll rarely touch the ground.

The lineages' stables of lesser heirs provide essential maintenance for the iron foundries, while the lords, ladies, and lieges run sprawling intrigues for their own amusement and to be the center of the season's attention. Entrance to the lavish parties thrown atop the spires is predicated on getting an exclusive invite; they're traded around and bargained for and stolen by those who'd chase clout and favor with the high and mighty (of course, those without invites often find their way in anyway).

While the fleshcrafter houses lay claim to vast quantities of resources, the fact that no one else needs those resources to live means that no one needs to pay them more than lip service - unless, of course, they need access to the fruits of the craft. Their creations are nothing short of miraculous, the closest thing to magic (or divinity) of the Empire, or even the Old World. The lineages dole out access jealously, trading secretive innovations cooked up in their ivory towers for unique organs, rare trinkets, and elusive prestige.

The fleshcrafters war over these innovations with the new butcher guilds, in decade-spanning guild-wars fraught with custom and ceremony. They are rarely so crude as to come to open blows; they both have too much respect for life and craft for that.

The Fatberg

A giant lump of lard bulges from the side of the heart like a glistening mountain, marbled through with all sorts of rare oils and blubbers. Even veins of golden butterfat ooze through its glistening mass. It's not a proper district; more of a reclamation zone, or an open-pit mine. the upper layers of the berg's chasms (which deepen every passing day) are riven through with canyon-streets honeycombed with little burrows for miners' families and the support systems that keep them all digging for that cream-gold.

Like the rest of the Meatropolis, the Fatberg is anarchic and chaotic, structure emerging from the interactions of thousands of individuals and mutual aid groups striking ad-hoc claims and deals. No noble house runs the mines with iron fist and tendon-whip; no empire strips it for shipping throughout the arteries of Ogoath the world-turtle. Claim-jumping is constant; negotiations between miner's unions blossom into duels like clockwork.

The berg is pleasantly warm and softly lit by turtleoil lamps, as the stuff's so plentiful in its chasms, but all the structures and furnishings that can't be easily carried out are ramshackle and haphazard. One day, either the berg will run out, or it'll lose enough structural integrity that it'll just slough off of the scarred heart and plummet into the depths below.

These things are real, if you can believe it. Lurking in the sewage systems just beneath our feet.
The Siding

Teeming hundreds of thousands call the Siding home. A long time back - some folks say their grandparents remember, but the stories never line up - a rib cracked, plummeting into the bulk of the heart like a stalactite as thick around as an island, smashing so much of Old Scar into turtleshell rubble.

This was in the days where the Meatropolis packed thick with mortal flesh, newcomers forced to work the Foundries or endure the waste-floods of Old Scar just for a place to live. So, free real estate, sturdy, easily defensible, and full of delicious marrow? The land rush was long and bloody, and it's thankfully long over. It was still the deadliest years in the Meatropolis' history, though perhaps not the darkest.

Now the Siding is honeycombed into a scrimshawed kowloon of dwellings and corridors and neighborhoods, unmappably complex. If you've just arrived, are down on your luck, hiding from something, can work from home, or just like cozy living, the Siding's an easy home. There's always more crews carving out space for their experimental communes or workspace or just their growing families, ever-higher up the Siding's bulk.

The rib's marrow's been long since depleted, and the resulting cavern running the length and height converted into Temple Nonesuch, the Meatropolis' premier house of worship. The true, provable, communicative gods of the Old World died when it fell off the turtle's back, so the temple serves primarily as the city's ossuary and as a patchwork complex of a million cults and splinter faiths, wholly unrecognizable after the crises of faith that two apocalypses bring.

by Bone-Fish14
The Lamp

Atop the siding perches a vast lamp, fuelled by trimmings from the the Fatberg. The word lamp does it injustice, but the name's stuck.

When Ogoath died, the sun went out. What little light filtered through the turtle's cracked shell, down through its torn muscle and ruptured organs, limning the heart in half-twilight, suddenly vanished. (The sun now hangs just above Ogoath's forehead, frigid and dead, a memorial to the end of two creations.)

The early days of the Meatropolis were lightless but for a few jealously-guarded lanterns in the chaotic days as the turtle spasmed and the Empire fell. Once the few refugee camps had found some semblance of stability, and the first foundries took shape, the residents of the city-to be lit everything with flickering oil-lamps. That much fire was dangerous beyond belief, in a world made of flammable meat, and fire-quenching brigades of alchemists (able to purify water from blood) became one of the most important and powerful institutions in the city.

Then the siding crashed, and some of those alchemists had an idea.

Now a sphere of iron and clockwork, a hundred meters in radius, is suspended precariously a kilometre above the city. It converts turtle oil through a series of industrial alchemical processes into pure radiance, with a complex series of mirrors (who knows where they got the silver) amplifying and redirecting the lamplight to create a semblance of day and night. There's a lot less fire around these days, especially with New Scar acting as a permanent cautionary tale. The engineers work around the clock to keep it that way.

The Lamp acts as a meeting point for the chemists' guild, as well as the home to a small neighborhood of creatives. It's not much, but it's the closest thing to pre-fire New Scar you'll find these days.

New Scar

Once, not so long ago, this was the Meatropolis's thriving heart. A new school of fleshcrafter architects grew spiraling works of living art, amphitheatres with organ-organs bellowing melancholy song, marshaled communes of artists and writers memorializing worlds lost and dreaming of a future beyond the omnipresent rot.

It was not to last.

A pressurized series of lungs ruptured; oxygen is incredibly flammable and in the corpse of the turtle there is so much fuel to burn. Fire ripped through the district, reducing lives and opuses to ash in an instant, burning deep and fierce. The city was saved, by smothering the blaze in blood and pus, but at the sacrifice of every last denizen of New Scar (the old district's name is forgotten, in an unspoken collective attempt to ignore the trauma etched into the city's psyche).

To this day, New Scar is still coated in a thick layer of ash; no one chooses to live here but those forgotten by the rest of the city. It's barely rebuilt, centered on the old main street (now called charcoal row), with reconstituted tenements home to soot-covered orphans and foundry-workers who've chosen to live near their jobs instead of in any real community.

But once it was beautiful, and beneath the meters of char, there may yet be something left. Some still hope those remains could change everything.

by rinavenue
Old Scar

Old Scar traces its history all the way back to the original sin of this dim era - the murder of Ogoath, the world-turtle. Here is where the Empire's fleshcrafters made their first careful cuts into the heart, which would prove fatal a scant few years later. It's an ugly mesh of long outdated fleshcrafting techniques piled up over the centuries of slow apocalypse; brutalist shellcraft sangueducts of the Cyclopean Empire overgrown with scabwork webs, then as the sangueducts leaked bleeding tears from the sea and the webs flooded with salty red, it became a race to patch up shellwork with improvised clots and grow the scabwebs higher.

The sangueducts were once intended to act as artificial arteries, channeling the blood out of the heart in measured fashion to feed Cyclopean megaprojects hanging in the void or to be drunk by thirsty teeming millions. Now they shine, unfinished or shattered, layered like fordite, an underlevel running to uncharted depths beneath the Meatropolis.

As the physically lowest district, Old Scar is where all the city's refuse collects, an impromptu sewer that everyone acknowledges exists but no one has the will or power to do anything about. There's treasure among the tonnes of viscera and excrement that fall each day, but panning sewage is dirty, excruciating labour. Still, the city's massed leavings can be an aggregate treasure in and of themselves - one's trash reveals more of their habits than their diary - and the same holds true for the city. Old Scar learns. Old Scar remembers.

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