The Spiral City: World Building

So, I mentioned in my last blog the Spiral City, so I suppose I ought to explain what the heck that even is, right? For the short story class I’m taking this semester, I had to write a crime story. I then went and decided to set it in a fantasy city. It has exploded from there, leading to at least one trilogy of short stories that should be up before the end of May at the latest, The Last Guardians, and one more that is currently untitled and in the planning stages. Something tells me I am far from finished with this city, though.

Building the Spiral City was an interesting experience. I started with a concept: a city where the police force and army had merged into one. I was then reminded of Gotham as portrayed in Batman Beyond, where the upper class lives high in the sky and the lower class lives on the ground. Running with it, I set the city up on a plateau, and then figured out how the Guard would work. Sort of like street cops and detectives, so the former walk patrols to keep the peace, the latter have a partner and a team of people to help with large crime scenes, that wasn’t enough though. I had to add Guards to the Wall, the separator between the two parts of the city, what I dubbed the Upper Circle and the Lower Circle. Now that I had a location, I had to turn my attention to the magic system.

As a fantasy reader, I think I’ve seen about every kind of magic system in existence, or close to it. I thought about what I liked and didn’t like about different systems, keeping in mind all the while that magic ALWAYS has to have a cost. Breaking it into the typical four elements helped, and from there it was a matter of deciding how each element manifested: Water is healing and scrying, Fire is quite literal and also involves light, Earth is protection runes and herbcraft, and Air is weatherworking with Seeing. I then had to decide what the differences were between Water’s scrying and Air’s Seeing, and came up with it being all a matter of limitations. Scrying is all dependent on where the castor was at the time, and how clear they can see is based on the strength of their magic. As that implies, it is limited to the past and present. Seeing came out as being a lot more powerful, since it applies to past, present, and future and is placed on actual people, but it has its drawbacks. It is EXTREMELY rare, as are all the powerful Gifts, and most who have it only See glimpses, maybe get “bad feelings” occasionally, and you can’t dictate what you see at all. The rarer Seers have dreams, which has the added complication of being able to remember them. There are other drawbacks to the Gifts, but that’s part of the plot of the first story. 😉

Next came religion, which is the one part that might have gotten overcomplicated on me. I knew I wanted four deities, to explain why I went traditional four elements instead of going five (earth, air, water, fire, metal) or even seven (earth, air, water, fire,  metal, light, dark). I knew the deity of fire was a goddess, and gave her the title of Warrior, and I also knew I wanted the water deity to be male for a change, and so made him the Wise God. That left the other two. The air goddess half-created herself, especially since I wasn’t initially going to include her in the first story, as the Free Goddess. Earth gave me the most trouble. I went through several different names for her before finally settling on Nurturing Goddess, and keeping the earth to the traditional role of the mother.

But the religion didn’t end there. I created the Guardians, the city’s equivalent of angels, to serve as something of a role model for citizens. Originally there were ten for each deity, and then I realized that someone needed to be in charge of so many “angels.” So I created the Firsts, an eleventh and more powerful Guardian that is an important aspect of the first story. Figuring out how they became Guardians took a little more time. In the end, I split them up by a few decades. The Firsts became Guardians by leading their people to form the city in the first place. The other forty people sacrificed themselves to put a barrier between the city and the outside world: no one goes in, no one goes out, which explains why they don’t need a large army to defend themselves. Together with the goddess/god of that element, the Guardians form the Spirals of each element, as I quickly grabbed Spiral as my motif for the city. Even the city streets are in a spiral, which is scary. XD

With each layer I added to the trilogy, I found other stories wanting to be told. Why are the Gifts linked to those particular deities? How did the Firsts lead their villages there? Why? What about the Guardians, why did they feel the need to create the barrier? There are also questions I can’t discuss that the last story in the trilogy brings up, but I will say they question what will become of the city. I created the world for one story, and then later for three. However, I think I’ll be telling its stories for a very, very long time. It’s my Tortall, or my Valdemar. It won’t stop telling me what needs said.


About Rebecca M. Horner

A spinner of yarns (of the story sort, though I do crochet...and sew, and learning to make armor...) View all posts by Rebecca M. Horner

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