The greatest city in the ramshackle plane of entropy is Vertigo, the Falling City. In a plane where settlements rarely last a decade, Vertigo has persisted, often thrived, for most of recorded history.
Vertigo is run by a cabal of merchant-princes: drifters whose contacts, political acumen, and good fortune have allowed them to carve mercantile empires for themselves. Most merchant-princes maintain power for several centuries until memory drift or political attacks weaken them enough for someone else to wrest the position from them. The majority of merchant-princes are drifter genies, and maintain extensive contacts and influence among geniekind.
The city’s founders happened upon a structure now known as the Egg, presumed to be the remains of a long-dead god. The structure provided ample building surface, even if they had little success chipping away at the petrified remains. Other divine remains were later incorporated, giving it an unusually stable foundation.
The city proper is surrounded by the Teeming, a thick swarm of thought-stealing ephemeral “eels” of obscure origin. The vermin have apparently multiplied through the ages, until they now form a porridge-thick cloud around the city. Scholars presume they are attracted to the Egg, but just as they are compelled to approach, some other force keeps them from getting too close. They form an effective wall around the city, leaving it accessible only through its satellites or via the Between. Anyone who tries to breach the Teeming will be scoured of memory by the eels. In the last two centuries, only three travelers have made a successful breach, each the sole survivor from a large crew of drifters.
The city’s satellites are tethered in “orbit” outside the Teeming. Each is a small fortified outpost featuring one or more portals connected to the city. The price of passage is typically just the memories accrued since reaching the satellite. Troublemakers are often cast into the Teeming.
The satellites are known by their appearance: Bard’s Knot, Dragon’s Maw, and the Palm. Locals have other names for these places that hint at their origin.
Within the shell of the Teeming are several marvels in crowdsourced architectural engineering. Each borough of Vertigo has its own separate foundation(s), and is tethered to one or more other boroughs. Most inter-borough transit is through portals or via zipline, though hardy souls occasionally rappel through the intervening space and hope for the best. An ill-planned jump or a snapped cable could toss the unsuspecting traveler into the Teeming, but portals can be expensive for frequent travel.
The major boroughs of Vertigo are the Egg, Cosmopolis, the Spine, and the Tetrahedron.
The Egg is the mostly unmolested core of the city, the bastion around which everything else revolves. The Egg casts an eerie bluish light as if lit by an inner fire, and its surface is largely unmolested except by the occasional ad buy from one of the pearl houses. The merchant-princes maintain several barracks and palaces on the surface, and rumors abound that there is something going on within the Egg itself…
The heart of Vertigo is the Cosmopolis, two rugged rings that circle the Egg. Tethers keep the rings from crashing into each other, and the rings are allowed to slowly move so that different parts of the ring are more accessible at different times. This strange state of affairs dates from the origin of the inner ring, which once was the palace of a fastidious martinet mannekin. Though the martinet prince is long gone, and his palace grown to form a complete ring of its own, the custom of moving rings continues.
The inner ring of the Cosmopolis is primarily for locals, the playground of the merchant-princes and the scholars and entrepreneurs in their employ. Private palaces and discreet establishments take up the bulk of the ring, and there are few thoroughfares. Most transit in the inner ring is by gate, and the remaining traffic is almost exclusively couriers.
The outer ring is a raucous place, equal parts market faire and pirate’s cove. It is a complex and chaotic place, a riot of sensations and a peril to the uninitiated. A wide array of goods, services, and experience are on offer, the envy of the planes. Most goods for sale, alas, are driftware. Enterprising parties may find themselves gainfully employed in unexpected ways: playing roles in strange plays, or simply selling possessions or particular memories.
Older residents sometimes call this borough the Jailer’s Whip or the Chain. It is built around a series of interlinked shapes that are covered with buildings like a barnacled ship. The hard but porous structure of the Spine makes it an ideal building site, but its flexible nature limits the size of any single development.
The Spine is more extensively tethered than any other borough, but it still drifts and twists over time, forcing residents to forge new linkages as old cables snap. With its small buildings, high cost of upkeep, and extensive connections, the Spine is the ideal real estate for Vertigo’s great pearl houses. Each merchant-prince keeps at least one pearl house here, and the vast bulk of the slave trade flows through the Spine. The finest memories can be found here, whether freshly harvested or stored and cataloged by scholars.
Six equilateral beams of unknown crystalline material form the main structure of the Tetrahedron. Though the triangular “faces” of the borough are mostly empty space, its dramatic shape stands out as a minimalist contrast to the clutter of the other boroughs. It is populated almost entirely by ephemera and abstracta, and has very few structures built into it.
As ephemera and their abstract cousins have little to say to more concrete beings, few people know much about the goings-on in this part of Vertigo. The thought-spider merchant-prince who founded this borough is long gone, but it remains a neighborhood where physical-bodied beings are tolerated at best. It is not tethered to other parts of the city by hawsers of steel or adamantine, but held in place by ephemeral bonds alone.
Other Places of Note
Though not boroughs in the formal sense, several other objects occupy the space inside the Teeming.
- The Resonant Chord: this shrine to the Eternal Word is built to function as a resonating cavity, producing strange chords and other noises that can be heard throughout the city.
- Devil’s Horn: a keep in the shape of a giant horn, curved and ridged, home to a fierce team of soldiers called the Devil’s Hornets.
- Glacial Redoubt: a roughly fist-shaped mass of ice, from which a scholarly Avalonian drifter has carved his sanctuary.
For those familiar with the ancients’ passageways, there are several access points that lead to Vertigo. Each is guarded on both sides, and passage requires formidable payment. While prized memories are often the payment of choice, some parties accept more fungible payment (typically 10,000gp per transit per individual). Payment typically also includes memory of the route to or from the access point. Access points exist in both rings of Cosmopolis, and the Spine. The sole access point on the Egg, and several others around the city, are for official city business only.
Vertigo is governed by an uneasy oligarchy of merchant-princes, who constantly jockey for position and power. They have an unstable web of territories and spheres of influence, with many smaller players eager to take advantage of any real or perceived gaps or failings. Non-merchant powers, though small in number, play a crucial counterbalance to the chaotic and evil mercantile forces.
- The Midnight General: swathed in perpetual darkness, this former demonbrood demigod wrested the Horn from its prior occupant and dragged it into its current position. His strongly lawful views, coupled with his potent military acumen and personnel, make him an effective brake on many of the more outrageous exploits in the city. He could never exert enough control to rule Vertigo, nor is he foolish enough to try.
- The Blue-Nosed Wizard operates a small college where his most faithful wizards and clerics gather to conduct methodical research. His staff receive visitors primarily via an established access point, and there is little congress between the Redoubt and the city. His office does, however, send representatives to other powerful entities in Vertigo. He is particularly fond of using ephemera and constructs, because they are resistant or immune to memory theft.
- The Ringing Abbot often employs telepresence to manifest around the city. He takes an active interest only rarely, but acts without hesitation or reservation when he feels the need.