Diablotin is the chief city of the Aveyrone Empire. It probably has a population of something around 500,000 souls, if the suburbs are taken into consideration, although the census figures are known to be highly inaccurate. It is a very ancient city, with some sections having been inhabited for over 2000 years. It can be divided into eight main sections.
- The Imperial City, which stands on an island at the centre of the greater city, and consists mainly of the labyrinthine Imperial palace complex.
- The Grand Vallon, commonly called simply The Grand, which houses many minor nobles, rich merchants, and fancy boutiques. A centre of decadence.
- The Place D'Iena, which is the main market district for the city, featuring produce from the countryside, many artisans'shops, and much, much more. Centrally-located, this is the place for shopping, but also for gossiping.
- The Castalia, the university district, which holds the great institutions of learning, and many small cafés, galleries, and slum-quality apartments. A very old section, much in need of repairs that never seem to come.
- The Pavillion, the main middle-class living district - very bourgeois and pleasant... but who knows what goes on behind closed doors?
- Pearl City, the red-light district. They say that in Pearl City, you can find the six things you most desire, and a seventh you hadn't even realized you wanted.
- Rhenea, the old city. This is the oldest section of the city, and the most mysterious. Its central feature is the Black Down, a barren, blackened hill. The district has been largely abandoned by reputable businesses, but is far from deserted...
- The Shambles. The slums of Diablotin, the lowest of the low wind up here, living in a veritable rat's nest of crumbling tenements and hastily-erected shacks. Going into the Shambles unprepared is often fatal.
- The Shade. A primarily Shadar-kai enclave, where outsiders are extremely visible and not always especially welcome.
The Bridges, from left to right, are as follows: the Iron Bridge, the Shadow Bridge, the Bridge of Vanities, the Bridge of Tears, the New Market Bridge, and the Eagle Bridge.
Closer view of Rhenea, The Castalia, and the Imperial City
There is no police force in Diablotin, except for the Imperial Guards. The responsibilities of the guards are extensive, and can range from guarding the person of the Emperor to defending the city from invasion to arresting cutpurses. There is a hierarchy to the guards: at the very top is the Warlord, who is in charge of all military activities of the Empire. Next are the six Captains, each of whom commands a force of some 600[outdated?] guards. Finally there are sixty Lieutenants, who each supervise sixty guards. New guards are generally put on the worst assignments - patrolling Pearl City or (even worse) the Shambles, for example. This has two benefits: it weeds out the incompetent and those who don't really want to be there, and it provides on-the-job training for more prestigious assignments. Guards in such situations are expected to patrol in groups of six members - it discourages slacking and corruption, and provides a certain measure of safety (at least in theory).
More recently, the Companions of Silence (aka the Hush) have begun to take charge in certain aspects of law enforcement. A mysterious and shady organization who are said to have members from all echelons of society, even the very highest. Rather than being directly involved in crime themselves, the Companions of Silence control and direct some of the lesser criminal gangs to keep them in order - in effect, "policing" the underworld.
There is a thriving criminal underworld in Diablotin. There is no formal thieves' guild; instead there are many diverse criminal syndicates operating sometimes with and sometimes against each other. Despite the best efforts of the guards, the numerous gangs and even more numerous lone criminals never seem to disappear - more often, they simply relocate to another part of the city. The guards are thus expected to focus their attention on murderers, career thieves, and violent offenders (rapists, arsonists, etc.), rather than the minor criminals such as beggars, prostitutes, and pickpockets. A guard who observes a minor crime in process would generally correct the situation, but would rarely actually arrest the offender. Diablotin's large prison, the Creux, is perpetually overfull, and is reserved for serious criminals only by informal tradition. The justice system is generally slow and ponderous, and prone to corruption.
Sanitary conditions in Diablotin are generally sub-standard, especially in the less reputable districts. Water is generally supplied by streams, wells, and fountains, and only the desperate would drink directly from the Ousel. There are old sewer systems in some parts, but these are only minimally functional. However, in the newer neighbourhoods of the Grand and the Pavillion, conditions are improving, with some homes having indoor plumbing.
Aside from music and variety hours, there are several popular serial radio shows including:
The Way of the Reel - a comedy show about a stereotypically prude, religious female priest of the Way of the Wheel who was somehow talent-scouted from a religious choral presentation, and is now navigating the ins-and-outs of the moving picture business and destined to make it big.
Something Dark and Strange - a drama/suspense serial about a squad of Imperial Guards who specialize in investigating the strange; their plots usually involve working with and/or investigating minority groups such as Outsiders, Cosovode, Church of the Serpent and Shadar-kai. (It might be a little bit like X-files, maybe.)
Agents of Silence - a serial about the thrilling adventures of an elite group of spies in the service of the Empire.
Variety theatres, presenting a mix of entertainments including popular musical and dance performances, brief excerpts from plays, acrobatics, magic acts, comedians and clowns. The quality and price vary considerably from hall to hall, from a few coppers to as much as an Imperial. Standing room is the cheapest and most popular ticket, and patrons generally mingle freely while the show is going on, but seats and/or boxes may also be purchased (at higher prices) depending on the venue. Alcohol is generally available for sale, and performances can get quite rowdy if the audience is either greatly pleased or greatly displeased.
Movies in Diablotin are silent and black and white, but may use magical effects such as illusions to enhance the audience's experience, as well as more mundane effects like musical accompaniment. Movies are relatively inexpensive, and thus are a popular form of entertainment for all classes.
Tend to be a more upper-class form of entertainment, both more formal and more expensive than the music halls or movie theatres, and presenting productions of classic and modern dramatic works, comedies, and occasionally opera or dance. Again, the price of tickets varies depending on the venue, the show, and the quality of the seats you want, but they start at 1-2 Imperials and work up to perhaps a thousand or more for ownership of a prime private box.
Publicly-accessible dance clubs where several nights a week an orchestra will perform and patrons, having paid a fee for admission, will gather to dance, as well as to see and be seen in their finery. Despite being nominally open to all, there is a distinct status system in place, especially at Surryks, the most prestigious of the ballrooms, and individuals who do not meet its high standards, whether in dress or deportment, will be required to leave. Revelstoke's in Pearl City, on the other hand, is an anything-goes type of place, generally believed to be only one step up from a house of prostitution. The Hartsmead is primarily a middle-class establishment , with clear rules of etiquette, but lacking the heavy emphasis on fashion and social connections. Ballrooms generally do not serve alcohol (but that doesn't stop people bringing it in) and only have light refreshments available.
In addition to all of the informal betting and gambling that goes on in taverns, clubs, and private dwellings, there are two formal establishments for those who would like to risk their hard-earned (or not) money at games of chance. Oracle's is the higher-class of the two, and prospective patrons must demonstrate that they have a minimum of fifty Imperials on hand before they will be permitted to enter, let alone play. The Chance-house's standards are rather lower – they just want to be sure you can cover your bets, and if it turns out you can't, you'll probably end up with a pair of broken kneecaps and a strong encouragement not to return. The offerings at both establishments include card games (e.g. aluette, carousel, malice) and games of chance (e.g. roulette, dice, etc.) The Oracle also has a standing policy that it will offer odds and record bets between patrons who wish to gamble on any subject, from the election of the Emperor to which of two fleas can jump higher.
Many people, especially members of the upper class and those who would aspire to join them, are members of private clubs. These vary greatly, and are quite numerous, so to name and detail them all would be a large task. The Antiquarian Society is effectively a private club, and there are others of similar sort, where like-minded individuals interested in a given subject (gardening, old coins, painting, etc.), can pay a membership fee and gain access to their club's amenities. Depending on the nature of the club, these might include a library, access to magic items, training or workshop facilities, a meeting hall, food services, even temporary lodgings if a member requires. There are political-oriented clubs such as the Ostraka, one of the oldest, whose members are devoted to rights for the Houseless, and the conservative Cross Keys Club. There are professional clubs for almost any profession you can name, as well as regional and House-based clubs. And there are purely social clubs, membership in which is generally exclusive and tightly controlled, including the prestigious Damask Club. Clubs may of course set their own rules, standards, and fees for membership.
Public gardens are more than just open green spaces, they are sites of free or low-cost entertainment for the people of Diablotin. From dawn until after dark, visitors can stroll or ride along the paths, admiring the flowers, trees, fountains, and statues, enjoy a picnic, see buskers perform, or participate in casual sport. The Firefly Gardens are at their best around sunset, when their namesakes appear. Admittedly, some parks, particularly Lovelace Green in Pearl and Templewood in Rhenea, have problems with prostitution and crime, but for some those are attractions, not deterrents.
Adjacent to the Pav's Riverside Park is the Menagerie, a collection of exotic creatures on display for the public's edification and entertainment for a modest entrance fee. The rust monster in its glass enclosure is particularly popular at feeding time. The kobold house is renowned for its odours, and visitors are cautioned to avoid anything thrown at them. The greenhouse with its various ambulatory and carnivorous plants is also noteworthy. The zoo now has a standing policy of not exhibiting anything that is sentient and good-aligned unless it consents, and of not displaying creatures that are more powerful than the zoo's force of guards or that are capable of teleportation, ethereal travel, or invisibility.
Museums and galleries
There are many collections of art, antiquities, and curiosities in private homes and clubs (the Antiquarian Society has one, for instance), but these are only accessible to a chosen few. Public institutions are fewer in number. The Imperial Gallery, open to the public for a nominal fee, displays a selection of the Emperor's vast collection of art, sculpture, jewels, arms and armor, and other items of historical significance. The Eleusinian Museum was established close to eighty years ago in memory of the Empress-Consort Eleusina Blessing by her son, Prince-Imperial Alexior, and features a diverse collection of artifacts and antiquities from around the Empire. The Palace of Illusion consists of a series of animated, illusionary tableaux of famous figures and scenes from history. The Palace's gruesome Chamber of Horrors is only open to those over the age of fifteen. The Cabinet of Curiosities in Pearl City is a garish collection of all manner of freaks and oddities, viewable by an eager public for a small fee.
Small neighbourhood lending libraries are fairly common and memberships are affordable for most citizens, mainly offering popular fiction and practical manuals rather than scholarly or esoteric works. Of course there are a huge number of private libraries, both personal and those in the hands of various associations. And there are three major libraries that are open to the public to varying degrees. The Castalian academic libraries, while free for students and faculty, are also accessible to guests who can get another member to vouch for them and who can pay a rather steep yearly membership fee (sometimes this may be waived for visiting scholars with impeccable credentials and limited funds). The Athenaeum, the Imperial library and archives, is partly open to the public, but certain controversial or dangerous works are kept safely locked away, and materials may not be removed from the library under any circumstances, but must be used and/or copied there. The Grisaille is a public lending library, with free borrowing privileges for any child under fifteen and a nominal fee for adult membership. It contains mainly educational works and volumes of classic literature.
Diablotin has a number of broadsheet-style newspapers of varying and variable quality. They are all readily available for minimal cost, and most are widely read.
- The Imperial Herald is the official mouthpiece of the palace, and thus is often the first source for major breaking news stories. It tends to be serious and authoritative, though often ignores or trivializes more controversial subjects. Some consider it to be basically propaganda with few redeeming truths. It is issued at least three days a week. Its editor is Serge Vaillancourt.
- The Oracle claims to be the most popular independent broadsheet in the city. It is generally well-respected as a source of information, generally attempting to verify the accuracy of its stories and tracking down anonymous informants. It is typically published three times a week, unless there is some urgent news requiring a special edition. Since its beginning, it has been under the direction of Karl Hollenbach.
- The Pole-Star is a religiously-oriented journal, predominantly Pasithian in tone, though occasionally more conservative voices slip in. It is published once a week. Its current editor is Sister Olivia Peasley.
- The Sentinel of Freedom is a radical pamphlet, published sporadically and secretively, with pseudonymous authors who pen political and religious screeds of varying stripes - possibly based on the principle of whatever will attract the most attention. Its editor apparently operates under the pseudonym Anarchasis.
- The Scourge is essentially a gossip sheet, replete with scandals and noble affairs but avidly read by many common folk nevertheless. It is published approximately once a week, sometimes more frequently if there is noteworthy news. Its editor is Phelix Witherington.
- The Mercury is a newer journal, publishing mainly lighter entertainment, stories and songs, but also some current events that are of popular interest. It generally steers clear of serious or heavy subjects, but also avoids the more salacious tone of the Scourge. It is published once a week. Its editor is Millicent Claar.
There are essentially no professional athletes in Diablotin, but plenty of enthusiastic amateurs. The wealthy tend to engage in equestrian sports, hunting, fishing, archery, target-shooting, and sword-fighting for amusement, though some have taken to the newly popular sports of racquets (something like tennis) and roque (like croquet), and others prefer the more sedentary pastimes of darts or carambole (similar to billiards). More popular among the lower classes are the games of end-to-end (a goal-scoring ball game most akin to a rules-light version of rugby) and ninepins (similar to cricket). Children play innumerable games including bullrush, kickball, seek-me, and carkols (a conker-like game played with snail shells), as well as pastimes like jumping rope, flying kites, marbles (of stone rather than glass), and so on. Swimming in the Ousel is not recommended, but some wealthy citizens have private pools. Skating is possible during especially cold winters. Also noteworthy are the yearly Amaransian games, a series of competitions specifically for spell-casters. The highlight of the games is the summoning duels, where competitors summon creatures to fight one another, held at the Summoning Fields a short way outside the west gates of the city. Onlookers are only rarely injured.
Fights and bloodsports
Bloodsports are out of favour at present, though they still go on. Animal-baiting, dog fights, rats vs. terrier matches and the like are available in the seedier sections of the city, if you know where to look. Fights to the death between armed humans are also no longer fashionable, but in past centuries used to take place at the Bronze Arena, now a ruin in Rhenea. Boxing and wrestling are still to be found, though normally only at informal venues. Although formal dueling is technically illegal, and participants can be prosecuted if they are caught, it still takes place surreptitiously. Finally, I would be remiss if I did not mention Crowhurst Green in Rhenea, where public executions typically take place and draw large crowds.
There are innumerable squalid whorehouses, particularly concentrated in Pearl City, and few worth describing in detail. Higher-class courtesans often operate independently; however, there is a notable brothel in the Place d'Iena, just at the edge of the Grand, called the Jewel Box. At any given time it has ten highly skilled and beautiful women in its employ, who are given the names of various gems: Diamond, Emerald, Ruby, Sapphire, Pearl, Topaz, Opal, Amethyst, Garnet, and Citrine. Their real names are meant to be kept secret, and very few retired 'jewels' are publicly known, though some are suspected. 'Outing' one of the courtesans would be quite scandalous. The selection of a new jewel is a matter of considerable interest and speculation in certain segments of the population. The cost of an assignation with one of these courtesans is rumoured to be in excess of 100 Imperials, and even those who can meet the price must still be approved by the Lapidary, the establishment's elusive mistress. The best-known male brothel is Squire's in Pearl City, which caters primarily to male clients.
Sheen is a popular, though costly, narcotic, typically smoked, which is said to bring its users to great heights of pleasure. The telltale sign of a sheen addict is purplish, engorged veins in the extremities. Dreammist is a mild hallucinogen, also generally smoked, or used like incense. Vodare is an inhaled blue powder made from finely-ground fungus that clarifies the mind but also imparts sometimes-debilitating physical weakness. Cherry Nectar is reputed to be an aphrodisiac, and is certainly a stimulant that has been reputed to cause sudden death in a few cases. It is an oily red liquid that can be swallowed or absorbed through the mucous membranes. Exile is an opiate that removes pain, but also causes disorientation and sometimes delirium. It can be taken orally, but the taste is so awful that regular users generally administer it by rubbing the paste into shallow cuts in their skin instead. Exile addicts can thus be recognized by their numerous scars. All of these substances are addictive to one degree or another, and all are presently illegal in Diablotin.
Apart from small neighbourhood and family burial grounds, there are two major cemetaries in Diablotin, Raven Row at the southern outskirts the Place d'Iena and Ash Hill, outside the city to the north. Of the two, Ash Hill is the older and more prestigious site of burial, and less frequently used these days, being nearly full, but well-known for its elaborate centuries-old monuments. The Mausoleum is one of the oldest structures in the area, and houses the remains of most of the Empire's rulers (those who didn't die at sea or blow to smithereens in explosions or disappear entirely ;) The Saltgrove, traditional burial place of the Patriarchs and Matriarchs, lies low on the southern bank of the river, a peaceful wooded (if slightly swampy) area. The graves are low mounds between, and often beneath, the roots of trees. There are said to be extensive, but now unused, catacombs beneath sections of Rhenea and the Shambles.
The Saltgrove (outside the city to the east, south of the river), the Mausoleum (outside the city to the north), Catacombs (beneath Rhenea and Shambles), Ash Hill (north of Rhenea), Raven Row (Place d'Iena), small local burying grounds