Wednesday, July 24, 2019

The Cursed City of Nibulum

There are many cursed cities in Centerra.

One is haunted by imaginary dinosaurs, another infested with flying worms.  A certain fortress is forever burning from an underground fire.  An iron city has succumbed to fairy-sleep.

But there is only one cursed city that is still populated, and still does regular business.  That city is Nibulum, Darkling Town, the City of Twins.

The Boring Stuff

Like many cities in Centerra, the city is built around giantish ruins.  Beautiful marble stairs, taller than your waist, with crude bricks forming a miniature stairwell for each one.  Winches that no one is strong enough to turn.  And stone buildings that were once a single story home for giants, now crudely converted into a two-story home for humans through the construction of a shoddy, interstitial floor.

The city is larger than its people.  Most houses are empty, and even the poor live in darkened mansions, filled with dead leaves and lice.

They feed themselves from the sea.  They sell the lumber cut (very carefully) from the Dembraava Wilds.  They dig in the city's productive steel mines.

pic unrelated
By Oleg Bulakh
Your Twin

Everyone has a dark twin.  And if you never come to Nibulum, you will never meet them.  This is probably for the best.

Here is what happens:

Imagine that you walk into Nibulum at sunset.  Perhaps you were too hasty to be warned of the town, or perhaps you are just a fool.  But as the sun dies, so does your mind.  Sounds fade, objects recede, and the last of the day's light runs down the street like hot wax.

Before you can respond to any of this, it is morning and you are alone on the far side of town.  You are sitting in an armchair in an unfamiliar building, surrounded by sleeping dogs.  Your purse is much lighter and your head is heavy with wine--the empty bottle still in your hand.

You probe your gums.  You seem to be missing a tooth.

Relax.  It could have been much worse.

When the sun sets, everyone's mind is replaced with their evil twin.  Their evil twin will gamble your money away, have sex with dubious characters, cut blasphemies into your belly with your own dagger, and scrawl depressing marginalia into all of your books.  Your evil twin is a wicked thing.

And it would all be that simple, except that its not.

Nightsiders

Imagine that you find yourself at the gates of city at Twilight.  Your memory is hazy, your companions unfamiliar.  You can remember your mother--or at least, several competing versions of her.  You feel sick to your soul, like you're nothing but an empty bag of bog water and bile.

As the shadows darken, you talk to people.  Some seem as confused as you are, while others move with the confidence of people who have a night's work ahead of them.

Eventually, you are told the truth.  You are a figment, a echo of a more permanent person.  When the sun rises, you will die.

You may be back again the next night, if your Daysider decides to stay in the city.  But if your Daysider decides to leave (or if you leave), you may never wake up again.

You already know what it will be like to watch the sky redden in the predawn chill.  It is the wind that escorts men to their execution, except for you, the death will be ambiguous.  This may be your last night on Centerra, or it may be the first of many.

And if you will die in the morning, you resolve to seize as much of the night as you can.  Who cares how much of the Daysider's money you spend?  They've got the rest of their life to earn more, while you only have a few hours.

So you throw yourself into drink, plunge through brothels, and assault a puppet show.  And when it is all done, when you are ragged with alcohol and opium, sagging into a chair like a beached eel, you open one of the books in your backpack and fill it with words, begging your Daysider to remain in Nibulum a few days longer.

The city is dreaded by most godly folk, and it is extremely rare for anyone to spend more than a single night.

Fighting the Nightsiders

There are a few ways for travelers to ease their stay, and thwart their vile shadows.

You can always pay someone to imprison you.  Usually, they just throw you in a jail cell, tell your Nightsider that you're drunk and will be released in the morning.  That's good enough for new Nightsiders who don't know any better.

Nightsiders who know the truth are liable to hurt themselves, and so they must be restrained.  And sometimes gagged, too, in order to keep them from chewing on their tongue or cheeks.

You may write a note to your Nightsider, give them some money, and encourage them to go see a show.  A little goodwill goes a long way.

You'll want to visit the bank, so you can lock up your money until the morning.

All of this must be done in secret, by the way.  There's no one you can entirely trust to hold your money for you, because anyone else will become a Nightsider as well, and Nightsiders always seem to stick up for each other.

There are enough empty buildings and lost cisterns around Nibulum that its simple enough to find an empty corner to hide your things.  Nothing is foolproof, however, and if the Nightsiders find it, they'll move it to where you can't get to it, even locked boxes.

Fighting the Daysiders

The Nightsiders will tell you that the only thing they want is life--a future.  How can it be evil to want that?

They won't get it, of course.  The Daysiders hold all the power, and so that life-desire is usually heated, beaten, and shaped into a blunt weapon of resentment.  Many Nightsiders hate the Daysider with whom they share their body.

Nightsiders have a few different ways to fight.

It is an unfair fight, of course.  If they leave town and never return, your death is no different from any other, save for the fact that you never knew which day was your last.

The door remains open all sorts of petty mischief and revenge, however.

Spending all of their money is one classic one.

Sinking their ship, so that they'll be forced to stay longer in Nibulum, is another.

You can drink all that you want, it'll be your asshole Daysider who has to deal with the hangover.

And of course, you can always get yourself pregnant, if you're willing to walk that road.  (Local laws differ, but usually a child conceived by your Nightsider is considered the Nightsider's child, and the Daysider has no claim over it.)  Pregnancies are rare, however.

Self-mutilation has already been covered, I believe.

Tattoos--a desperate grasp at shaping the world, of forcing your Daysider to acknowledge and remember you.

A more extreme method would be to hire someone to imprison you throughout the days, or else accomplish it yourself through a clever lock that you can open, but your Daysider cannot.

And of course, a poisoning is the ultimate fuck you.  A cup of hemlock in the morning fog, or perhaps just an asp slipped inside your pocket.

pic unrelated, again
by Oleg Bulakh, again
Cooperation

If this doesn't seem like a very stable situation, you're correct.  Constant conflict is no way to live.

And so most permanent residents of Nibulum have found ways to work together with their Othersider.  This involves passing a lot of notes, but it also involves a lot of trust and respect.

Not too much trust, mind you.  You still have to hide your money.  (Coincidentally, this is why you may sometimes come across little caches of coins hidden around the city.)

There are a lot of advantages to allying with your Nightsider.  You can share a house, for one.  It's like having a roommate that is never home.  And if you share a career or an occupation, you can work through all 24 hours of the day.

There's at least one painter in Nibulum who seamlessly trades off with her Nightsider every night, without ever stopping their brushstrokes.

Marriages still provide some difficulties, however.  You may wake up next to someone every day who is not your spouse, then travel across town to your house.

The Secret

There is a secret here, something that not many know.  Only those who have spent a great deal of time talking to their Nightsider will ever realize it.

The Nightsider has a name.  The Nightsider has a history, too, even if that history isn't as "real" as the Daysider's own.

And if you trade enough notes you will realize that your Nightsider is not your polar opposite.  Your Nightsider has a lot in common with you, more than is perhaps comfortable.

You may share ancestors, known by name and accurate description.  You may share careers, if not identical, then at least in parallel.  And you may even share parents, a surprisingly common condition.

Sebastiana Odrina wrote a book detailing her attempts to resurrect her dead sister, Noira.  She traveled the world with her corpse and never revived so much as a finger, but in Nibulum, she found a modicum of success.

She conversed extensively with her Nightsider, who seemed to have exactly the same sister as her.  The only difference was that the Nightsider's Noira wasn't dead, and was in fact, happily married to a farrier in Bospero.  All sorts of stories were related: of Noira's ability to compose a tune, of her scandal with the night-dog, and of Sebastiana's niece.

Some say that her stay in Nibulum gave Sebastiana hope, when all reason would have abandoned the idea.  And that her final, grim fate was merely an extension of the curse of dread Nibulum.

The Obliterat

The Obliterat are (what outsiders consider to be) the center of the void monk culture.

They are a secret organization that studies forgotten and alternate histories.  They would tell you that Nibulum is unique among all the places in the world--It is where what-almost-was collides with (and is consumed by) what-is.

The Obliterat is also the name of the tower that sits outside of the city, where they are centered.  It is only accessible by Nightsiders, or by Daysiders on the absolute cusp of death (on the cusp of non-existence).

17 comments:

  1. Do the forests next. Every forest is accursed.

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  2. Woah, very Mieville ( for me that's a plus). So much room for cool nightsider organizations and interactive with the daysiders to keep things just on the side of stable.

    Or think of a doomed nightsider / daysider romance.

    Why do Daysiders stay? Is it part of the curse? Some knowledge their nightsider has? That's the only bit I'm not sure on. If it were me, i'd get out of Dodge.

    Anyhow, great stuff.

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    1. Money. If not for the curse, it would be a busy port town with a lot of opportunity. Not everyone can live/work there, so those that sometimes do.

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  3. I greatly enjoy the imagery of the contemporary hodge-podge city built like rat's nests in the ruins of the larger more noble city. It's very evocative short hand for a dark ages.

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  4. It seems like this city opens up a decent way to "resurrect" a character in those worlds where Raise Dead and Resurrection spells aren't an option. It would take a mighty magical ritual to draw a nightsider into full reality, and he wouldn't be exactly the same as the character that died, but he'd be close enough to carry on with.

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  5. A story set in Nibulum would be amazing.

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    1. ...and you could make one by dropping it into your campaign world.

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  6. Outstanding playable ideas dripping of existential dread.

    If identity doesn't exist through time, except as actual memory and relative material continuity, nightsiders and daysiders could indeed see themselves as both part of a single phenomenon, albeit asymmetrical (nightsider being location-bound and with partial amnesia, with less knowledge on their condition).

    I love the question your post is asking: if identity is a myth, is *identification* possible through this asymmetry, and a split memory? (one doesn't necessarily fear death when consciously heading towards alcoholic blackout; but on the other hand, frequent amnesia combined with deep mood swings is bound to question one's feeling of identity)

    I feel like relationships need not be as conflictual as described if the double only wishes for survival (and is not intrinsically more unhinged or wicked)?

    Like double personalities offering different skills, or like ephemeral parents caring for they daysiders (pride of altruism), or as a strategy of survival (if everything goes right at night, daysider more likely to come back) which might be at least as common as self destructive fuck-yous

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    1. Oh, cooperative relationships would be far more common. That's actually the norm, among the residents.

      Adversarial relationships are just more interesting, and so they get more paragraphs.

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    2. Ok! Thanks again for the stimulating content

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  7. Are the nightsiders related the inverse selves made by jeklogen (from you alchemy list)?

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    1. Not intended as such, no. Jeklogen is based on Jekyll and Hyde. Nightsiders are based on alternate versions of yourself from alternate universes.

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  8. What about children who grow up in Nibulum? Are they unlikely to have much conflict with their twin, save that they've got good reason to not (permanently) leave the city?

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    1. That's. . . a really good question. I don't know.

      I imagine that kids might have a great time having a day/nightsider to play with. They could leave puzzles, write notes, etc.

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  9. Could you write more about the cursed cities?

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