theodor_gylden: (not an adventurer a scholar dammit)
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The First City

Only two things are known to remain of the First City: the name, the Crossroads Shaded By Cedars, and the saying: even the First City was young when Babylon fell. (see: Babylon and the conquests thereof) (see also: the Cedar Forest for the trees' place in Mesopotamian mythology)

'I saw the Fall. I raised my jar as the eye temple fell ...' (see:Tell Brak and the Eye Temple)

The building halfway up the hill is low, heavy and of white stone, much like its peers. But the entrance arch carved with eyes marks it as a temple [...] The smoke inside the temple stings your eyes. It smells of some woody resin, like pine or cedar [...] The temple has a presence, a unity, that marks it as part of something larger. Is that a slow heartbeat you're imagining?

The altar is polished diorite, lighter and smoother than the basalt of the cave floor. Long-dead hands have carved it with a frieze of staring eyes. Much older than the Fourth City. First City, perhaps? (see: Diorite, historic use)

They say that the First City was made of shining alabaster and bone held together by belief. (see: Gypsum alabaster)

There's something carved into the stone wall. A map. It's simply realised, but you recognise Asia and the Middle East. A series of arrows starts in Eastern China and ends in the land between the Caspian and Mediterranean seas. (see: the Silk Road)

The King with a Hundred Hearts is old. As old as the Bazaar's first dealings with men.

'I've heard tell that the Hundreds was bound up in a bargain with them Masters long ago. And that's how Polythreme came to be. Summat about love and a statue. Can't say I know the truth of it, but I'll say this. You don't talk about love to the Hundreds if you know what's good for you. And he curses the name of someone who still lives in London.'

There's poetry here. Love poetry of a most detailed and forthright kind. An unrequited love, eternal and true, from across a black sea.

'The tithe is a terrible business, ain't it? Still, I've heard that without it, the Hundreds wouldn't bother splitting off new Clay Men. I've heard tell that he's been doing that since the First Fall.'

'Silk, silk. So long ago. Such a journey westward with the precious cargo. They said the world wasn't that big, but we came to the shores of the inland sea, where they'd never even seen silk...' (see: History of silk, particularly its commerce pre- and post-Silk Road)


You see a group of travellers in the dress of ancient China, haggling for water at a desert spring [...] A few steps more, and one of that group, wounded and desperate, looks down a road at a mud brick town next to a cedar grove. Hot, dusty plains stretch to the horizon [...] More steps down the path. A priest-king receives the traveller, in a temple painted with eyes. The priest-king's court are amazed at the traveller, and especially impressed by his silk clothes. The priest-king wears white linen, and many layers of shining copper and brass jewellery. (see also: Linen, history)

'So, you've seen my story. China and then the Crossroads Shaded by Cedars. And then the Masters of the Bazaar. My lover saved me, in a manner of speaking. My fits would have killed me, so he bargained that we should both endure the ages, in return for his city. But the Bazaar isn't kind. Look what it did to me. The Masters took a diamond from the great glowing mountain in the South and gave it to me for a heart. They made me like this.'

'...Polythreme, eh? That place is best forgotten. Never seen a soul stretched that thin. I'm not even sure it was a real soul to begin with.'

The script is primitive and the hand is clumsy. The scribe was better used to a clay tablet and a blunt reed. You've seen the script before, on a coin. You can't make out what it says, but this is definitely First City writing. (see: Cuneiform)

'... The Manager is an ancient priest-king? Now, I saw him once writing a menu in cuneiform...'

Akkadian? The Professor was always a traditionalist. Something about longing, a key and a palace.
(see also: Akkadian)

First City Coins: One side bears what might be a cedar tree. You've never met anyone who can read the script on the other side.

'Have you heard of the First City Coins? Little silver things, cedar tree on one side. I deal in them occasionally. They're not from the First City itself, of course. The actual coins are no more than thirty years old. But they represent something ancient. Fragments of a primal power, locked away in the Masters' vaults since the deal that bought the First City.'

The first descent, the unnaming of flight, that was forgiven and all shall be well. So It said.

The first taught restraint ...

The Second City

Never mention the Second City to the Masters of the Bazaar.

A peculiar antipathy Certain of the Masters of the Bazaar – Mr Stones, Mr Apples and Mr Wines, and possibly others – seem to have a particular contempt for Egypt and the Egyptological.
(see: Ancient Egypt, obviously)

Mr Eaten’s opinion on Egypt: I think the place is charming; the weather, delightful; the Pharaoh’s daughters, most hospitable.

The tall man’s daughters. The city of granite. The drowning.
(see: Granite and its uses in antiquity)

... the hieroglyphic tablets from the Second City, more than three thousand years ago, which mention [the Vake's] taste for royal blood ... (see: Egyptian hieroglyphs)

... a memory that used to belong to a jackal. You pad across chilly sand. Royal flesh! The Pharoah's youngest daughter escaped, but you'll crack the bones of the others where they lie bleaching in the desert sun ... (see: Jackal)

Some of this stonework is old, old, old. Here is a glyph daubed in dried and ancient blood. There is a faded fresco of a bird-headed man carrying a lamp ... (see: Thoth or Horus)

The symbols on the gravestones aren't words at all, they are rows and rows of precisely-carved images. Stylised hawks and oversized lizards; something which must surely be the sun; a boat with a single sail; water poured from a jar. Everywhere, twined around and between everything, there are cats curled up as if asleep. And what's that in the corner of the oldest stone? A row of tiny cloaked and hooded figures, one bearing a goblet? (see: Horus-falcon, Lizard, Sun or Sun with rays or Aten, Sailing ship, Vase with water)

... a small coffer ... a strong whiff of dust and rotting fish ... a bundle surrounded by a number of interesting trinkets. The bundle is wrapped in yellowing fabric and is terribly thin, with a narrow neck, a triangular head, and no limbs. A painted scene on the inside of the coffer shows a boat with a single sail, and a sleeping cat. (see: Animal mummy and Sarcophagus for a Cat Mummy)

A woman passes you. She is dressed in a simple white linen shift and about twenty pounds of gold jewellery. She is dark-skinned: African, perhaps.

'A long time ago ... three cities ago in fact ... when I was more than a Duchess, but still a friend to cats ... I was betrothed. I loved him a great deal, and when a serpent stung him, I was distraught ... I would have done anything to save him.' [...] 'There is always a cost that is known, and a cost that is not. The Empress knows this now. My sisters and I learnt it then.'

But a deep pond comes up with something startling. It claims to remember when the Cantigaster was 'his real self, before the asp bit and the pact was sealed. That's why they won't abide talk of that place, you know. She's still there, though, isn't she? Sending him to Parabola when she wants, no doubt. Sometimes the Clay come back here and tell the rest of us these things. Don't you go thinking we live in the past all the time.' (see: Asp for its associations with Egypt and Cleopatra)

'...I still hear speculation about Alexandria, but I'm sure that isn't true. The Second City didn't have nearly enough temples to be Alexandria.'

'...They say her father was mad, you know. Tore down all the old Gods and raised himself up.'
(see: Atenism or the Amarna Heresy)

One of the messages is written in the picture-alphabet of the Second City. The part you can make out says, '..all the Pharoah's daughters bar one are gone...'

They say that the Second City was once a blaze of copper and turquoise, and that the vitrified sheen on its best ceramics glows with the heat of that ancient sun. (see: Copper, history, and Turquoise)

' hears that the Masters of the Bazaar stayed in the Second City far longer than they intended. Perhaps that's something to do with their disdain for Egypt...'

'These days, I'm researching the music of the second city. I'll be giving a zummara recital next week.'
(see: Zummara)

'Here is a city of gold and red granite. The inhabitants walk gossiping in the streets, sipping dark wines. They are dressed for a warm day, but it is the night of the Neath here. There is an air of celebration [...] a great disaster has been averted, the King's folly is ended by the Princess' cunning, the heralds of night are bound. Yes, the sun is gone, and no, the places below ground are not what had been taught, but perhaps that's for the best, considering. And the road to immortality is much eased. Therefore - they toast you - let us be remembered well.'
(see: Neter-khertet, Duat, Aaaru, 'the places below ground')

Here is the name of the Duchess, who they will always loathe; one of her names. He does not loathe her.

I remember how you sold me. For your freedom, from chains forged in a horizon-place, from the treachery of daughters.
(see: Akhetaten, whose Egyptian names means 'Horizon of Aten')

But you enjoy a pleasant half-hour listening to Mr Wines' tales of previous cities: ... the sour beer of the Second ...
(see: Ancient Egyptian cuisine, bread and beer, and Hathor, bloodthirsty warrior)

Relic of the Second City: Gypsum heads and indecipherable clay tablets.
(see: Amarna letters)

The second, a shrug and a time. It was fair, It was fair.

... and the second betrayed ...

The Third City

The Third City seems to have been acquired a thousand years ago. It had five wells, they say. And the weather was better.
(see: Hopelchén) (see also: Chichen Itza, Sacred Cenote)

What is the Correspondence? [...] They say it’s the last accounts of the last days of the Third City, strung in beads on cord in a code no-one living understands.

Careful study. ‘…now study most carefully as Miss Forward performs a dance of antiquity from the Third City. Note the sinuous motions and ungodly rhythms of this ancient art. From the costume we must deduce that the Third City was very warm…’
‘… be hypnotised by the rhythmic movements of her hips … marvel at that thing she is doing now with that silk veil …’

The devils’ interest in the Correspondence is still unclear, but something to note is that their records of investigating it go back a long way. To at least the Third City, in fact. They have been looking for something for at least a thousand years.
(see: Classic Maya Collapse)

The ruins resemble a long, walled courtyard rather than a building. If you weren't here to research, you might think to string up a tennis net [...] Skyglass shards, perished lumps of indiarubber, a few bones. This court was definitely built and used by people of the Third City.
(see: Mesoamerican ballgame) (see also: Natural rubber, prehistoric uses)

You spend some careful hours looking at bas-reliefs depicting what could be rituals from the Third City ...
(see: Reliefs, bas-relief or low relief)

The Fragrant Academic is studying the Third City [...] You pick his brains, paying careful attention to his ideas — skyglass knives, black mirrors, and well-attended sporting events? Fascinating!
(see: Mirrors in Mesoamerican culture)

Symbols like coiled dice mark their bases: one of the holier priest-alphabets of the Third City. These were the names of gods: gods banished here beneath the world. Do they still walk? Do these names still have power?
(see: Maya script)

'The place we ended up was called Zi... Zib... something. I don't know how to say these d--ned foreign words. Anyway, I heard from one of the locals that the chaps in charge have been around for near a thousand years. And none of yer funny cider either. They pass from body to body, like rats fleeing a house. Or bats out of a belfry...'
(see: Xibalba)

'Three of them: the Snake, the Red Bird, the Cat. I think they started human, but it's hard to tell now. Write a headline for that, eh? But listen: if you ever end up there, know this. They play games, and they don't cheat.'
(see: Wayob)

'A river of scorpions: did I imagine that? Was it a metaphor for something?, I can recall quite clearly the sound of the thing. Like a school-yard full of vicious children. They would take bets, you know, on who might sink fastest... but it’s the abysm-glass that haunts me. If you ever go there, don’t look into it.'

' They feared me, you know. They fear those who seek the Name. Perhaps we can undo everything they've built. Perhaps they know the Name. Perhaps they took it and hid it behind a black mirror.'

An Ancient Tomb-Colonist sticks her head round the door. 'Too kind,' she rasps. 'Too kind. Remember you to the Red Bird.'

He tells you about the dreams that inspire his work and how their skies are filled with giants: the Mottled Man, the Serpent-Handed, the Red Bird. You've heard those names before!

A Fidgeting Writer and an anonymous Surface poet have written - years apart! - about watchful giants: a mottled man, a bird of cinnabar, another with snakes instead of hands.

''d by eyes big as worlds...' '..the mottled man roars; the heav'ns crack...' '..the monkeys howl, the monkeys burn; their pens scratch words of red and black...'
(see: Howler Monkey Gods)

'I know secrets!' He hisses through the keyhole. 'Secrets of the past! The Mottled Man and his bishop-kings!'

'I'm not the first. Not the last. How many others have they eaten? Their appetites are measured in centuries!' His cry agitates the other residents of the corridor. You can hear them behind every door: 'the Mottled Man roars; the heav'ns crack!' '...the serpent's tongue caressed my eye...' '

'At first they watch, then they lean close - like the surface of the moon! - and begin to eat. They start with your fingers, then suck on your heart. They eat and eat, every bit of you until there's nothing left but them.'

They fill the sky, distorting horribly at the horizon. The man with cat's teeth and mottled skin. The one whose hands are serpents. The bird whose red feathers whisper like a crowd of murderers [...] Those things: the size, the closeness, the distortion. As if you were seeing them through a lens. And the red bird's feathers - they were beads of cinnabar, common relics of the Third City [...] You contact an expert in Third City archaeology at the University. Excited, he invites you to their private museum, and shows you a lens of black glass. Its label reads: 'One of the Chalmsley Lenses. Ritual significance.' That's archaeologist for 'We have no idea.'

Each time he returns, he howls like a monkey and the secrets pour from his pen. Your challenge is fitting it all together: a city of high stone - the Third City?...knives and lenses of black glass...bishop-kings and their blood-sacrament...a bargain...a well.

The shriek of monkeys and the chanting of the God-Eaters.

But you enjoy a pleasant half-hour listening to Mr Wines' tales of previous cities: ... the maize-wine of the Third ...
(see: Maya maize god)

Skyglass Knife: These turn up in the ruins. From the Third City, it’s said. They’re useless as cutlery, but handy for murder.
(see: Obsidian use in Mesoamerica)

Relic of the Third City: Cinnabar beads and little square granite gods.
(see: Cinnabar, decorative use)

The third, oh the rage at the deceptions of sand. All of us were, all of us, and now all of us will.

... The third taught us hunger ...

The Fourth City

The Quarter is the last remnant of the Fourth City, which the Bazaar acquired five hundred years ago. Statues of warrior-kings line silent avenues. A fountain shaped like a silver tree stands before a ruined palace at its heart.
(see: Archeitecture of Mongolia, Imperial Period)

Who carves horse-head amulets out of bone? Whoever lived in the Fourth City. If all the Fourth City amulets on sale are real, they must really have liked horses.
(see: Mongolian horse)

A troubled conversation about dusty stones. “If they said … and she meant … and we were on the Ramparts on the night the Constables never came … has the fountain always been dry?”
'But where does the Forgotten Quarter fit into it? And why are there no foxes in the city?'
It’s something about the silver tree. And a battle that never happened. 'Blood on the troubled garments …'

Wherever the city was in its surface days, it was definitely somewhere closer to Samarkand than Rome. (see: Samarkand)

The Forgotten Quarter’s avenues are disquietingly wide [...] There are remnants of the Fourth city scattered around: a dusty stone tortoise here, a few horsehead amulets there.
(see also: Bixi) (see also: Sculpture of Mongolia, Sculpture of the Mongol Empire, and Turtle-Karakorum)

The far reaches of the Forgotten Quarter are dominated by monuments: dry fountains and statues of warrior kings.

… a strange torchlight glow from a large building [that] resembles an Oriental temple ….

None of these places really have names, but sometimes visitors give them names that stick for a while. So, here, the Shuddering Stones. There, the Shadowed Dome. This must be the Fountain of Names. That might be the Holy Chasm.

Paled frescoes show a jade-crowned woman accepting gifts of wine and livestock, a fleet of galleys on a wide black ocean, a war against warriors guised as thorned roses ...

Mountains rise above the shining roofs of the City. In the summer heat, the snow has retreated, but still it gleams at the summits. The Khans have hunted there since the city rose above the desert plain.

This is where the tent-city of the traders stood. Of course after the Fall, they must have built for the cold of the underearth. 

Tents would have been wretched. A shame. How brave the crack of the flags, the lift of the tent-fabric in the desert wind...

The Palace! The Khan's pride made manifest! The roads of the world cross beneath its hawk-fierce gaze. It shimmers in the heat: for a moment it seems almost fragile.

Horse-bone amulets and cracked clay rice-bowls. A stone monument, its bell-like shape familiar to you from your outings to the Forgotten Quarter, now subsumed by clinging moss. The denizens of the Fourth City came here in numbers.

You spend some careful hours ... turning over what might be potsherds from vessels used for offerings in the Fourth City ...

Tonight the view from your window is of the armies ringing the Fourth City, the night before it came underground ...

'Look, we all know what's coming. Pick a side, or it'll be the Fourth City all over again. Nobody wants that. You ever seen the Gracious Widow's face? No? Well, there you are, then.'

The script is that of the Fourth City, but you can read a few words. These are love letters. What in the Neath?

The Widow clutches a pendant hanging around her neck - a beautifully fashioned silver leaf - as she reads.

'Did the Khan's daughter send you? That woman ruined me. Promised me the thrones of the world. All I had to do was bring down the Masters of the Bazaar. We had a city and the Neath. How hard could it be? They destroyed us. Razed the city and then went looking for another.'

On the surface they sanctified one Shrine every year, on the night of the shortest day, to lure the Sun back. They kept building them after the city's Fall, but those shrines were different. This is one of the originals, still decorated with tiles in a fine cracked blue glaze. The sky above was that colour.
(see: Tengri and Tengrism) (see also: Koyash)


A woman with a crooked leg tends them: she has the flat face, the features of the Fourth City remnants, but her eyes are long sealed-over. "In memory of the Rosers," she tells you.

The Khan of Dreams, who is merry. The Khan of Swords, who does not speak, but who wields a blade in either hand. The Khan of Fires, who rules incense, and now candles. The butcher Khan of Hearts, the farmer Khan of Roots. The Khan of Drums, whose dance cannot be denied ...

But you enjoy a pleasant half-hour listening to Mr Wines' tales of previous cities: ... the fermented mare's milk he sold in the Fourth ...
(see also: Kumis, called Airag in Mongolia)

Relic of the Fourth City: Horsehead amulets carved from bones and blue-glazed potsherds.

Fourth City Rags: This threadbare garment whispers to you in your dreams. When you wake, sometimes you remember.

Fourth City Airag, Year of the Tortoise: At last you find an obliging fellow from Tartay who can translate the faded label: 'For the Khan of Dreams'. It smells like horse-sick.

... and the Fourth we remade.

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