Distant Lands: City of Cannibals, Part 3 (final)

Of the City’s Fate, and it’s Current State, and how it came to be known as the City of Cannibals

When I was a boy in Gharox, before even my pageship, my father took me to the columbarium of the Pyrurges. There below the Court of Red and Yellow interred are the ashes of every Pyrurge to take the brand, or whatever of their mortal effects could be recovered. I recall the great halls reaching far into the inky black ceilings, the walls stretching unceasingly in each direction, as if swallowing my father and I whole. That place seemed to me then infinite, as if the stone tablets covering the alcoves and naming those resting named the whole of mankind, hid the bulk of the remains of humanity behind them. Yet for all that, I felt not fear, mere unease, or embarrassment, as if I had just noticed I spoke too loud during the ceremonies. I felt an intruder in unharried peace of deaths long died, a noisome child against the impossible sights and experiences once seen and done by the Pyrurges so old their names faded from stone. I felt it that day when I visited my grandfather’s ashes, and again when I interred my father and again for my mother.

Walking amongst the great works and flooded streets of this place, I feel again as a boy in the columbarium. 

The inhabitants of the city proper are huddled in the Gasede and Capitol districts now, with a mutant colony in the Mariya. Strange to say, despite the wretched lot of the current inhabitants, the environs they inhabit are splendorous to the eye. Most sleep on marble floors, for lack of thatch or fabric for bedding, and struggle to warm voluminous halls with so limited fuel. The inhabitants of the city jealously guard their glittering capital district, and so their lot is necessary, but the mutants of Mariya are bound there by extensive diplomatic obligations instead, which will be described below. 

The census of 822 Following Founding (approximately 630 from the Exaltation of the First Supremitor) gave the city population as 35,424 households, or well surpassing 600,000 people, with the plains and islands containing a more or less equal number of families, mutant or otherwise. Now the city houses perhaps 1000 souls all told, including the mutant colony in Mariya, with an unknown but greater amount spread about the plains and isles. The cause of this was an event known only as Bitter Waters, a calamity that struck the city some 56 years prior and killed most of the population. 

The four great rivers of the plain, the Thamema, Faldema, Demrena, and Gelmena, were all dammed and diverted for the purpose of agriculture, as I have said. The first three joined in antiquity and emptied into the sea at the Mariya, their confluences being very close to the coast, included within the district’s boundaries. The fourth exits elsewhere but because of the irrigation systems, all the rivers’ waters can mingle at any point on the vast coastal plain, as they well do. This made the spread of waterborne disease and access to clean water a great concern to the denizens of the city, an issue cured somewhat by massive boileries combined with a large central watery well insulated from the filth of the maricultural sections. This combined with the frigid climate prevented most of the worst outbreaks, save a few deadly cholera waves. 

The issue arose following a ‘shaking’ recorded in 836 FF, a rare but apparently not unprecedented event that caused only minor damage. Based on description, these unpredictable events are similar to the seizures that take the earth in the land of Fugara, though less predictable and more infrequent. Within a day of the disturbance, the bay, rivers, and farms were bloated with dead fish. Though alarming, this was attributed to some cause upriver, and most continued to drink water that, shortly, would prove to be cursed. Within days, most of the city fell noticeably ill, and a mere week later so many were so ill that the city all but ceased activity. Starvation would’ve followed, but for the sick’s swollen throat and bloody intestines. Those less sick, or newer to the city, took the opportunity to rob and loot, but what few accounts of the time that survive seem to point to a mostly peaceful, and mostly silent save for the moans of the dying. 

The first major upheaval was the robber fleet – a large group of opportunistic captains, perhaps a thousand, that robbed and burned most of the port district, finding it unguarded. They made off with so much booty that they feared their hulls would crack, yet they needn’t not. For at that time, no one knew for sure the source of the curse, for the water from the boileries – the only public service maintained at this time – was erroneously taken for clean. They filled their holds, then their casks, and the laden, lifeless hulls of their ships washed ashore as far as Eurus, undoubtedly making some opportunistic scavengers rich. Many washed into the bay, and the remains of their wrecks are visible in the harbor and all the coasts of that place, where they lay untouched for years.

The people of the city and plains made no attempt to sally forth, to retake their pilfered wealth. Nor did they resist when the raiders came, simply for the reason that most of that part of the world was dead by this time. And not just them – the hulks of ships denuded of life floated amongst the corpses of sea creatures, some from the unknowable depths. The world stank of rot, and the deep mists of the bay became nearly unbreathable in many places. This was the Time of Silence. 

The society of the Blue City was effectively destroyed in the span of a fortnight, but the periphery was yet unaffected. Malatas and Eshcor were spared the worst of the curse, having their own sources of water. Sad to say, most of the robber fleet was composed of their number, and many captains of Echcor mutinied against Senator Commandant Noed Ravaedi, who then had to contend with a mutiny aimed at wresting control of the navy from him, once the extent of the crisis became known. The mutiny did in fact seize the island at one point and take the water stores, their High Captain Ocaed Ocaedi being the first person recorded to have realized the source of the trouble. Noed and his cousin Hega (one of three captains that remained loyal, the others being Toraene Habaedi and Moraed Moraedi) thankfully did not retreat into the city, and instead struck out across the bay to rally the souls of the various lumber camps, fisheries, and other extractive settlements. Retaking the isle was a bloody operation, resulting in the death of more than half the navy, once the battle was accounted for and the executions carried out. 

The flotilla then focused on subjecting Malatas, which came far easier once the ranks of the pretender fled to pillage the city. The chronology is unclear, but at this time the captains such that remained elected not to retake the city, fearing the loss of men and material to the robbers, which far outnumbered them. Besides, even with the recruitment of the outlying workmen, their ranks were small, that class being never numerous in any case. The two most populous islands aside from Malatas also did not contribute, as the inhabitants of Gosboaz cited restive natives (for by then the news of their oppressor’s reversal had reached the indigenous peoples), and the inhabitants of Alcor were nowhere to be found. This last and immensely troubling development went uninvestigated at the time for the dearth of available naval manpower. 

The ramshackle navy, now on Malatas, contented itself to wait until the current wave of opportunists passed on, reasoning that once clear of the city it would take them a month in the most favorable conditions to reach a port of sufficient size to alert enough other captains to cause concern in the exhausted navy. In fact, this concern turned out to be nearly though not totally (if only) irrelevant, owing to the deaths of said corsairs. Unfortunately, the state of shipping was such that, while the sick of the city needn’t concern themselves with food, the men and now highly concentrated naval forces on Malatas did. The usual bounty of fish was no longer forthcoming – the water had been clogged with dead sea life since before the mutiny – and the people of Malatas were otherwise ill-provisioned as the robber captains took most of the sea biscuit and other nonperishable foodstuffs as they expected to flee the cursed city after. Even with strict rationing, the navy’s already depleted supply only lasted half a week. Before the first month ended, yet another mutiny took place, mostly emanating from the ranks of the inhabitants of Malatas and the ‘volunteer’ fleet. The rebellion was put down again, with harsh martial punishments carried out, but most of the fleet simply fled back to their chosen islands.

Regardless, the navy was set on retaking the city, and waited until the initial rash of looting subsided. Even with their reduced numbers and exhausted marines, their greater discipline and organization carried the day, and the capitol, for whatever it was worth, was once again theirs. 

Despite the precarity of their situation, the navy reclaimed the city, but found it a poor reward. A month after the first signs of sickness, the Capitol was retaken and fortified, and stock taken of those remaining in the city. Only 613 people yet lived, many of them deathly ill or having survived, just barely, the illness. Most belonged to two groups of survivors that realized the water was dangerous, living off old cisterns in the Yovola and within Calaga. Fifteen of them were senators, not including Noed, this being the remnant of the city’s governance. Two of the other three loyal captains were elevated to the senatorship, Toreane being left out on account of  her womanhood. 

With the city now nominally back in their hands, the maintenance of the city was undertaken. ORders were made to dump the bodies in the harbor, but abandoned once they crowded the waters and overcame the surface. Burning was tried, but then fuel ran low. Barges were filled to dump in the bay and deeper harbor parts, but the work was slow-going, and most were apathetic. To this day, houses contain the writhing, pain-stricken bodies of the dead. In recent times, they have risen to torment the living.

The source of the poison, the river Thamema, was identified. Work was drawn up to construct a dam, and abandoned when it was realized reversing the flooding of the coastal plains was far too great a task. The senate then moved to create an aqueduct to pipe clean water from one of the other, safe rivers into the city. Work began on this, and the support stones are still visible in much of the city today.

At the same time, the navy undertook the scouting of the maricultural lands outside the city. There they found much the same sights… and yet different. For the mutants, particularly those farther from the main three rivers, had fared far better. Not well, but something in their condition allowed them to persevere over the poisoned waters. Starving and sick nonetheless, the navy was at odds with how to accord with them. Altogether, they outnumbered the navy and city survivors by a factor of ten at least, and were too numerous to subject, and in any case had no intention of taking orders from a now defunct central government. To start, trade channels for the food of the city granaries in exchange for labor were opened, and work on the aqueducts managed to get truly underway. To facilitate the work, the navy allowed the mutants to settle on the city outskirts, and returned from their mission believing themselves flush with victory. Instead Noed and his captains found themselves facing castigation for daring to allow the mutants to city even on the city limits. Indeed, the de facto leader of the senate, one Tuga Fomaedi, called for the heads of the new-made senators and the rescission of the deal with the mutants. One of his supporters, Hara Benedi, even forwarded the disastrous notion that the mutants were responsible for the poisoning, a possible explanation for their resistance to the pestilence. More practical minds worried about the burden on the limited food supply of the city, but others considered the mutants their only recourse and that an about face at this stage would sour further diplomatic liaisons. The naval commanders, for their part, were still concerned with the predicted wave of further looters and made plain their need for more manpower. The proceeding vote settled the matter 10-8 in favor of allowing the mutants (and sparing the captains) to inhabit the city. 

Yet not all was well. The city was held, but poorly defended, and the people of Alcor – the old people, the Neanderthals that inhabited that land before even the men of that place, the last of which still lives in the city – had successfully risen up and killed all the settlers of Alcor. How they accomplished this feat, none can say, but in an unusual development for those people, it appears they recognized one king. This king directed the effort to retake Alcor, and now turned his eye on the city that had so long deprived his people. On simple shaped boards of wood, with simple bird-like figureheads, the paddled into the city at night to commit murder and arson. This is when the library in Tarrifa was burned, and much of the city aside. These falcon-raiders, belonging to a race that in modernity occupied a role in the culture similar to the barker-men and gold-eyes of my homeland, a story designed by mothers to goad their children into behavior, struck fear into the shaken hearts of the city. 

Here also was where the ties of the remaining city-dwellers first began to fray, before flying apart. The people of the city, aside from the navy, were resettled in the Mariya, the Gasede and Capitol remaining the provinces of the senate and their servants. Spread so thin, the defense of all the people within the city was too much for the naval marines to bear. As such, of the hundred and five people lost, all but nine came from the under or middle-classes of those that sheltered in the Yovola. This disparity, combined with the continued requirements of labor, led to the uprising of the remaining underclasses, under the captainess Toreane. At first they tried to force themselves into the citadel, but were driven back after a short fight. 

With the citadel closed to them, and the murderous Alcorians claiming more and more souls each night, Toreane had no choice but to flee, and she elected to take her adherents to the Tarrifa. Still the murders continued, for most of her own crew abandoned her to stay in the much safer Capital. This, incidentally, is the origins of the fortress that now dominates the district – Toreane supposedly oversaw the dismantling of the district and reassembly of the component stones into the present fortifications. Legend has it that the original structure was finished within the week, a believable feat given the desperation and signs of collapsed earlier works near the present building. The fortress also had the added effect of allowing the inhabitants of the city to control better than before entry to the harbor, with both sides eventually moving out precursors to the current buoy-forts that guard that light and guard the harbor mouth. In short order, the raiding was staunched, though even now children or other inhabitants disappear from time to time.

The mutants were not quiescent for this, nor did they escape the depredations of the falcon-raiders. The number they lost isn’t recorded, but their apparent luck in this matter fed rumors in the Capitol faction that they were working with the Alcorians. Their panic deepened when they elected a leader, Culdas, who proceeded to raid armories for their own defense. The final blow came when the mutants decided to resettle in the Mariya and seize the granaries, both to save the food from being stolen, and themselves from being attacked. At this point many in the Capitol faction became convinced that the mutants were set on the destruction of the true inhabitants of the city. For now, nothing could be done, but the die was cast, as it were, for destruction and folly. 

For now came the starving. The mutants fared best, having taken the granaries, but even they lost hundreds. Occasional traders, both native in foreign, were trickling into the bay yet, where their food stores were bought (or taken, in cases of extortion or whenever Toreane found them) and then sent out with news to bring back ships bearing as much food as possible. Yet it was not enough. The dead ships, or news of the city’s fate preceded the traders, and the city is so isolated that in the best case it would take two months to deliver provisions. The best case, sadly, was far off. At that season, it would most likely take double that time, but due to an unseasonable cold and famines in most of the nearby world, it actually took nearly triple the time.

Simply put, by the end of three months there wasn’t enough food. And this is where the moniker ‘City of Cannibals’ arises. The flesh of the dead were consumed to sustain the living. This is all I shall say of the matter, out of respect for those dead, and for those who live in the city still and yet bear the weight of this necessary sin. 

Finally enough news of the city reached the outside world that food could begin flowing in. By this time, concealing the extent of the crime was impossible, and word of the… occurrences in the city likewise traveled. For this reason, and the continually cursed water, the city is mostly shunned today, save for those daring the ocean crossing. Yet the city’s woes still would not end, for the Capitol faction leveraged its ascendant military position to take back control. 

The first target was the mutants, who in their eyes had far overstepped the bounds of acceptable behavior in occupying the city and arming themselves. Also the cannibals fared best in the famine, and in fact only resorted to cannibalism of their at the very end of their extremity, this leading to rumors of corpse-stealing. Even the various naval functionaries, the architects of the mutants entering the city, were fully behind the pogrom that followed. The soldiers remaining to the city surrounded the entire district at night, and rode in with the main body of their force, laying into whoever they saw. Indiscriminate slaughter followed, and would have been complete, but for the sheer numbers of the mutants allowing them to overwhelm the encircling forces and scatter to the rest of the city and surrounding plains. The Capitol faction sustained few losses while the mutants lost several thousands, and were rendered ineffectual for the time being.

As the bodies dumped into the harbor floated past the proto-Tarrifa, Toreana and her adherents knew they would be the next to face the Capitol’s wrath. The Capitol had five warships (two were recovered during the famines) compared to the singular, poorly manned warship Toreane had taken with her during her mutiny. The fortress was sufficient to forestall raiders with no knowledge of siegeworks, but against an organized military force the possibility of assault haunted the inhabitants. The fortress had been provisioned since the resumption of trade, but hundreds crowded in and could not survive a long siege, though by now cannibalism was always an option. The inhabitants were probably more numerous, numbering 578 compared to the Capitol’s 311 following the mutiny, but only a few were marines, and the Tarrifa had fared worse in the famine.

Facing an impossible military prognosis, the captain Toreane elected to flee, taking her ship in the night and abandoning the civilians in the Tarrifa. Leadership fell to a man named Olmaor, and the Capitol faction surrounded the fort and demanded their surrender. Surprisingly, the men and women inside the fortress decided to resist, probably fearing the martial punishment they would undoubtedly receive. The Capitol’s navy peevishly settled into a siege to starve them out, rather than risk assault. 

Such was the state of the city: mutants fled, Tarrifa invested, navy preoccupied, and Toreane missing in action. Less than a thousand souls inhabited the city in any district. And here came the nadir of the city’s fortunes, the reaving of King Grey. Eleven ships floated into the bay, and at their head was a man with grey eyes, a grey beard, and pallid skin, and an eye for the fortunes of the city. Some say he came also for revenge, that he was a man of Etsboaz or Gosboaz, or even descended from the people of Alcor. Others say his love was branded and hanged for piracy by the city’s far-reaching navy. Whatever the case, the streets would run with the blood and water for the havoc he wrought. 

His first action was the destruction of the navy, such that he could reach. Eshcor was burnt. The ships brought to dock there, with the eventual hope of rearming them, were sent to the bottom or stolen, their caretakers dismembered lashed to the ship’s figureheads. The main fortification of the island was disassembled and thrown into the waters. 

The navy blockading Tarrifa has no forewarning, as heavy fogs concealed the approach of the pirate fleet. They fell upon them in a night battle, with such surprise that most of the navy surrendered, unwisely. King Grey gave no quarter. The men were executed, their blood dripping down the hulls of the ship. The three captains had their mandibular muscle cut, and were hung from the figureheads, yet living. King Grey left a force to besiege the men in the Tarrifa, and set off for the Capitol.

The attack on the Capitol was as sudden as the naval battle, and the effects were just as disastrous. The senate that remained were tortured, then crucified. Only two senators, Tuga and another named Furoa Hanadi, survived and fled with a few adherents into the Calaga. 

A two days and one night after entering the bay, King Grey had taken control of the city. He set to work immediately dismantling the Ritaedor, once again taking it apart brick by brick. Even now, only an empty lot remains where the once imposing capitol building. Most of the materials were ground to dust, mixed with feces, and dumped in the harbor. 

Looting and defacement were common, and most of the art stolen from the city was lost during this time. However, King Grey had an eye for destruction – a hellish bent on destroying the city that is likely the genesis for rumors of revenge. He is the architect of the city’s flooding, a project that took over a year of labor, following the months spent disassembling the capitol building. Following this, the systematic destruction of the Gasede began. For another two years this carried on at a slow pace, for the siege, the searches for the last senators in Calaga, and the constant need to extract ice or fresh water from surrounding islands consumed much of his manpower. Yet he gave no indication of quitting the city, and spent his days travelling about the islands, killing any who came across his path, and supposedly looking for something in the high hills and caves of the various islands. 

The men of the Tarrifa were indeed once again reduced to cannibalism. This time the fall came quick, and began voluntarily. For three years the fortress held out, till only 61 people remained inside. 

King Grey’s rule came to an end when Toreane suddenly reappeared, short and arm and leg, and now at the head of an army of Neanders. For the past three years she had spent on Alcor, having wrecked there due to poor luck following her flight. Over the course of that time, most of her crew was hunted and killed by the native population, until by guile she managed to gain the adherence of one coastal tribe, and managed to repair her ship. With her personal army, she resolved to drive off the “gray king” she had heard so much about, and set off straight for the Capitol. Two of King Grey’s ships were seized and sunk with subterfuge, and the howls of her raiders forewarned the occupier’s men of her approach. The majority of the King’s men simply fled, and he with them, the hull of his ship last seen heading deeper into the bay as Toreane returned, triumphant. The Tarrifa’s men emerged at last, and set aside their distaste of Toreane to rejoin her in governance of the city. Less than a hundred of the city’s native inhabitants nw lived inside it.

Here emerges the current governance, and state, of the city. Toreane is crowned Queen Dictator, and has ruled disinterestedly for the past forty years. Olmaor was given control of the Tarrifa and allowed to resettle in the Gasede, and built himself up as a trader (selling the city’s treasures), for which purpose the city still sees occasional traffic. The reclaimers found that King Grey had spared the children of the insular settlers he killed, placing them in island camps where they were trained in war. These children were simply relocated to the city, and they and their descendants protect the city’s monuments to this day, with a strange nearly religious loyalty rising amongst them. They are led by Small Gora, a short man who preaches in the ruins of the Capitol district, foretelling a return of the city’ splendor. In the silence, his voice can carry over the entire city. 

After a short war, the mutants were resettled in the Mariya, though most elected to remain on the coastal plains, where through cunning irrigation they restored the farmland to its former productivity. They provide much of the city’s food, and also take in the occasional political exile or criminal from the city to work in their ice mines, which provides most of the city’s water, the curse still laying heavily over that land.

Thus concludes an accounting of the City of Cannibal’s fate and history.

Signed, Pyrurge Andron Morchirion, of the 8th Rank, titled Firekeeper, Keeper of the East Court, White Grade, Supremitor’s Line, Branding Order 3rd Class, War Order 3rd Class, Discerning Order 1st Class, Former Majordomo of Gharox Spire on the year 698 following the Supremitor’s Exaltation, by his reckoning.

EN: Andron’s manuscript appeared in a market of Gembor in the year (by the Circle of Pyrurges’ reckoning) 712, seventeen years following the commencement of his journey across the great sea, undertaken for unknown reasons. The manuscript was addressed for the Grandmistress Calminiel Calminireth, but given her untimely death in 710 instead diverted the works and found itself in the Archives of Borier, where the original now resides.

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