Gnomon is the gaudy jewel of Vaarn’s southern badlands, the city of a thousand shaded bazaars; a thirsty, bustling morass of dusty courtyards and guild halls and artisans’ workshops. If there’s something to be sold in Vaarn, then Gnomon is the place to buy it. Everything within the crumbling blue walls of the city has a price: water, food, song, love, and death.
The city’s signature landmark is the Apex of Gnomon, a towering fin of dark metal that stands in the middle of the city, casting a long shadow over the buildings that crowd around it. The Apex is a relic of the lost civilisation that preceded the Age of the Titans, and none alive now recall its original purpose. The wealthy make their homes upon the gently arcing back of the Apex; those less fortunate live in the blue dirt. The districts around the Apex are made in traditional Vaarnish style, townhouses built from bruise-blue clay and aged wooden beams. The city is defended by a low wall, although the wind-blown sand of a thousand generations has worn down the battlements until their defensive value is largely symbolic. It is the guns of the Fifth Hegemony Legion that truly keep the city safe from attack.
WHY VISIT GNOMON?
Travellers are drawn to the city from all across Vaarn. They come for a multitude of reasons:
• Some wish to purchase the fine goods that can be found in Gnomon’ many markets. Walking through the souks one can observe stalls selling Vaarnish carpets, trained falcons, smoked meats, lizard-skin boots, psychedelic mushrooms, finely carved violins, elegant glassware, synthetic limbs, spider-silk robes, hardy zoxen, ornate firearms, bottles of dusky champagne, fecund wheels of cheese, and luminous shards of glass, which have been scavenged from the archaic satellites that fall to Urth on summer nights.
• Some visit Gnomon because they seek an audience with officials of the New Hegemony. This august confederation claims to rule over Vaarn, although such edicts ring hollow in the deep desert, where the only law is that the strong survive. Nevertheless, the New Hegemony have conquered the southern badlands of Vaarn, and a garrison of Hegemony legionaries keeps taxes flowing from Gnomon’s merchants to the Hegemon.
• Some seek entertainment. The city is famed for its open-air theatres, where actors in rigid masks perform the rote and ritualised dramas of the fallen Autarchy. Gnomon is known also for chariot races, for gambling dens and opium sinks, for pillow-lined passionhouses, and for luxurious tea rooms, where those who fancy themselves wits can debate one of Gnomon’s many pontificating sophists.
• Others still travel to Gnomon seeking wisdom, for the city is not only home to a thousand shaded markets, but also to a thousand philosopher’s guilds and esoteric colleges. The study of the lost wisdom of the ancients is feverishly pursued. Tech-priests, petty gurus, science mystics, and alchemists compete for patrons, prestige, and precious glimpses of the knowledge that was lost during the Great Collapse.
• Some may come to Gnomon seeking justice, for this trader’s city is also the site of the Crimson Court, an ancient fount of bloody judgement and a roaring crucible in which steel-swathed and sweat-slick Advocates can deliberate in the sight of Gods and beggars alike the merits of legal cases civil and criminal, and in the spray of heartsblood upon the blue sands can a contract be enforced or unmade.
The north-western district of Gnomon, shaded by the Apex when the sun rises in the morning. The Morningshade district is industrious and prosperous, home to striving merchants and wary guildsmen. The most important landmark in this district is the Great Souk of Gnomon, the vast open-air market that operates from sunrise to sunset.
Sights in the Morningshade:
• Gangs of labourers carrying cargo from the wind-barge docks to the west.
• A cafe, with caged birds singing outside.
• A merchant’s auto-cart, overflowing with ripe produce.
• A Priest of the Promised Sun, leading an outdoor sermon for prosperous devotees.
The north-eastern district of Gnomon, shaded by the Apex when the sun descends towards the western horizon. The Eveningshade district is home to the Night Souk, authorised to trade between the hours of sunset and sunrise. Due to the peace and quiet by day, the Eveningshade District is preferred by Gnomon’s artisans and craftsmen. By night the streets come alive, with music played from balconies and basement bars thronged with celebrants.
Sights in the Eveningshade:
• A traditional Vaarnish street band, practising in a courtyard.
• A synth-surgeon, fixing an android’s arm.
• A funeral procession for a deceased artisan.
• Elderly newbeasts play dominoes beneath a leafless tree.
The south-western district of Gnomon, unshaded by the Apex. The Lantern District is the oldest in the city, the most crooked and decrepit and distended with secrets. The most important landmark in this district is the Hushed Archives, a ruin that was once a library and is now a cobwebbed shell, left with each door open by ancient custom. This district is the home of Philosopher’s Guilds and theatrical companies, a district of fulminating prophets and sophist clowns. Poets wander the indigo streets at twilight, looking up to the heavens at the hard glints of ancient satellites that trace esoteric geometries in the windy dusk.
Sights in the Lantern District:
• An open air debate between two schools of Neo-Relativists.
• A dealer of rare books, smoking hookah on their porch.
• A sacrificial procession, heading to one of the neighbourhood shrines.
• A rehearsal for a play; they are miming out the famous death of an Autarch.
The south-eastern district of Gnomon, unshaded by the Apex. The Red Quarter is pugnacious and seedy, home to strutting mercenaries and pompous prizefighters. Here the visitor can find gladiator pits, boxing arenas, chariot racing, and passion-houses by the score. The distinctive landmark of the Red Quarter is the Crimson Court, the home of Nyxia and her Advocates.
Sights in the Red Quarter:
• Graffiti praising one gladiator and cursing another.
• A beggar without legs, trundling on a cart.
• A curb-side game of chance, where knives may be drawn at any moment.
• A patrol of Hegemony soldiers, jeered at by gutter-dwellers.
The great fin of dark metal that looms hundreds of feet over Gnomon, perhaps the wreck of some forgotten engine that has been swallowed by the blue sands and by time. The home of Gnomon’s rich and powerful. Notable buildings upon the Apex include the Consul’s Manse, and the Temple of the Promised Sun.
Sights upon the Apex:
• A patrol of the Consul’s Lictors, anbaric pikes crackling with purple energy.
• A messenger in golden robes, carrying a decree from Abbess Faunia.
• A line of supplicants outside the gates of the Water Baron’s mansion.
• Condemned criminals; gaolers lead them to the Plunge to be thrown to their deaths.
• A carriage of highborn ladies of Gnomon, on their way to view a hanging garden.
To the south of Gnomon lie the Tomblands. Ancient customs forbade the burial of the dead within the walls of the city, and thus the southern road leading from Gnomon is lined with structures to hold the city’s dead. This charnel-yard extends for some distance beyond sight of Gnomon; Vaarn is old and the dead far outnumber the living.
The Tomblands are by turns dull and dangerous. Criminals and others who find themselves unwelcome in the city proper make squalid homes here amongst the bones. Groups of bandits haunt the ruins, and there are rumours of more dangerous creatures still that have crept in from the blue wastelands and make their lair amidst monoliths and unsealed crypts.
Common Sights in the Tomblands:
• Robbers lounge amidst devil-grass, cooking on an open fire.
• A pack of pthalo-jackals, cautiously hunting.
• A Harlequin Serpent, sunning itself upon a fallen monument.
• A pair of Jak’s ghouls, posing as mourners.
• The Noonfort – a bastion of solid stone that protects the northern gates of Gnomon. Currently occupied by the Fifth Hegemony Legion. If the Hegemony arrest the party, they will take them here.
• The Docks – a rumpus of ropes and timber, where teams of dockhands unload the wind-barges that berth amongst the towers ringing Gnomon’s western wall.
• Nomad Camp – the Faa nomads do not sleep in houses with four walls and in any case they are banned from the city after dark by Hegemony decree. Clans that are visiting Gnomon to trade will be camped at the Eastern Gate of the city.
• The Water Baron’s Aquifer – Ancamulla’s mysterious water-pumping machine can be found at the base of the Apex, protected by high walls and watchful guards. The Aquifer complex is easily recognisable by its fluted yellow and green towers.