Monday, January 01, 1990

The Web

The dome above the Citadel is long destroyed; even the shards are gone. Yet the four arched beams that once supported it still remain, jutting from the ground like a broken ribcage. Between these supports, suspended in the middle of the sky, hangs the Web. It is a city within a city, a last refuge of broken hearts and shattered dreams.

Life is hard in the Citadel, and many wish to flee. However, for most, the wilderness holds only the promise of certain death. Ravaging bands of Misbegotten, rogue Blessed, or even such mundane threats as bandits await those that venture into the wilderness. Some claim that a vast sewer system underlies the Citadel, connecting the different sectors of the city and even encapsulating some small part of fallen Kryshana. Yet no reliable witness has ever seen an entrance to this system, nor would most fugitives from the Citadel trust their lives to the underground. For them, the only way to escape is up.

No one remembers who first climbed the Archways to build a home. The four First Families of the Web each claim to have been the first, but they could have just as easily been interlopers that wandered into the Web later. Regardless of who is right, once the first man climbed the Archways, more followed, building shanties and shacks right onto the Archway. Soon there was no more space, but the stream of refugees remained constant. So the new arrivals began to build their homes by tying them with rope or wire to the houses that were already built. Slowly the Web spread over the skies of the Citadel, gradually taking on an identity of its own.

The Web is partly responsible for the poor living conditions in the Citadel. After all, the several thousand inhabitants of the Web need to eat and drink, just like anyone else. And so they steal. Raiding parties from the Web slip down into the Citadel, grabbing whatever they can carry. Sometimes they even have the audacity to sell their wares in the Citadel marketplace, selling back to the city what they first stole from it. Moreover, the Web-dwellers often dump their sewage into the city below. Restored work crews are kept busy cleaning the streets, and many a Citadel dweller has been caught in a sudden downpour that is less than desirable.

Because of this, the Noble-born try to prevent their residences from being Webbed over. Guards shoot fire arrows from the tops of buildings into the Web. Some even lead patrols into the Web itself, although few return. It is a balance of terror. The Noble-born could smash the Web altogether, but at tremendous cost. So, for the most part, they try to keep their own homes clear and tolerate its existence.
There are many entrances to the Web. Usually these entrances are in buildings that are tall enough to reach into the Web. Just walk up a long flight of stairs and walk out onto the roof. Sometimes, when the building is too short, a rope or ladder is lowered from the Web. Sometimes, when the building is tall, an enterprising entrepreneur will operate an electric elevator, hauling passengers and freight up and down the building...for a charge, of course. These entrances are nominally secret, but it is amazing how many of the common folk know precisely where these entrances are. It is not precisely illegal to use them, but then again there are many actions that are not precisely illegal that will still draw the wrath of the Noble-born. Sometimes, one of the Noble Lords will order the closing of an entrance by force, but for every entrance that is closed, two more spring up in its place. It is a hopeless battle.

There is a certain irony to the society that developed in the Web. On the one hand, the Web is much more accepting than the Citadel. The Blessed and Misbegotten are welcome in the Web. Rogue Restored walk alongside normal humans on the suspended walkways and “streets” of the Web. Yet, in its own way, the Web is as brutal as the Citadel.

There is no one ruling power in the Web. Instead, the city is a patchwork of little gangs, each laying claim to its own territory. Oh, they might not all call themselves gangs. Some might call themselves “family” or a “survival cooperative”, but the intent is the same: mutual protection against aggressors. And there are plenty of aggressors in the Web. Conflict is endemic. Not a day goes by without another beating, another rape, another murder, all in the name of the gangs. However, these conflicts rarely erupt into outright warfare. After all, a gang needs to maintain good ties with the neighbors. Literally.

Consider the harsh reality of the situation. Unless a gang lives right next to an Archway, all their homes and other buildings are hanging in mid-air, supported only by their connections to the buildings around them. What if all the neighbors of a gang were to turn against it and cut the ties which connect the gang’s territory to theirs? It is a long fall to the city streets below. Therefore each gang makes sure that their ties are strong with their neighbors and seeks to sever the ties of rival gangs, weakening their position in the Web, both literally and figuratively, until one day the rival’s section of the Web finally gives way.

It is a horrifying thing to see someone take the Long Fall.

And so, the Web itself exists because of a balance of terror. Make too bold a move, disturb the equilibrium, rock the boat, and you and your family and friends could be taking the Long Fall. It is a pitiable existence. Everyday, each inhabitant of the Web walks on eggshells. Violence hangs in the air, coiled and ready to strike. Anyone could be the next victim. Anyone.

Except the lightning jacks. No one would dare touch a lightning jack.


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