The city thrusts out of the pounding sea like a line of jutting fangs, the low terraces and thatched roofs of its many buildings decorating the black cliffs like skeins of pearls against the ebony skin of some Bezhaari princess. Tallest of its towering structures is the central prominence of the Grand Palace, the steeple that gives the city its name. The Grand Palace sits in the center of Oldtown, on the island in the middle of the roaring river Shere, that rushes down to the sun dappled waves of the Veil. Once, Oldtown was all there was to the city - little more than a cluster of fisherman's cottages, and the brooding keep that kept them safe from the raids of seaborne barbarians.
That was centuries ago, and like most sedentary organisms, the city has grown broad and fat with age. The fisherman's cottages on Oldtown have long since given way to nobleman's houses and merchant's vaults, just as the motte-and-bailey of the keep have turned into the sprawling, labyrinthine Grand Palace - more than half its winding halls abandoned, its rotting wings spacious enough for thousands, but home only to the handful that rule the city.
The Shere runs north to south, with Oldtown's island clogging its throat like a fishbone. Bridges chain the island to each bank, from the solid stones of the Beggar's Gate connecting to the Shambles on the east to the dainty, ethereal span of Kolgard's Folly to the west. They are heavily trafficked, even in the midnight hours, save when a dreaded Hellstorm descends on the city as summer dies and winter rears its ugly head.
There are many who call this the City of Storms. They're not far wrong.
Parts of the Shambles were once affluent and prosperous. Most of it never tried to be. Walled ghettos, shantytown slums, the fisherman's community of Wavetown, the tanners and the smelters and the sootstacks of a thousand various industries - all of these find their place in the Shambles, a dark and rotten cancer that has long since outgrown the skin of the city and now threatens to tilt it over and drown it in filth. The Shambles is a place from which everyone is trying to escape, but they have a way of claiming people and dragging them back, no matter how hard they might kick and scream. Some parts - especially those with walls - could be considered decent enough places to live, but by and large their lights are lost in the gloom cast by neighborhoods where a man's life is worth less than a mug of ale, or a hit of sah.
The west bank of the river is where the noble retreated when Oldtown grew too crowded for their diversions. Wealthy merchants and others attracted to prosperity soon followed, building neat and tidy neighborhoods that soon fell into the same barely reigned chaos that plagues all grown cities. Ordered streets and blocks turn into a tangled and confused maze of cul de sacs, parks, ornamental ponds and memorials, all crammed together with no room for rhyme or reason. It's as though the builders were seized with a sudden madness, an urge to mash all the culture missing from the Shambles into the far side of the city to redress some sort of cosmic balance. The wags and the broadsheets call it the Gilded Labyrinth, and even the locals require guides when they venture beyond their home street.
The Veil brings many things to the city shores, wonders and horrors both, from lands more distant than most could imagine. The ships of a hundred nations dock in the harbor, and the city streets buzz with a thousand different languages. To the east, the Akheri Empire, monolithic and strong, its knights and legions crushing all who oppose it with merciless precision. Once, not so very long ago, the city belonged to the Empire. Akheri has not forgotten. To the west, the allied nations of the Free Republic bicker and squabble, their only common bond their steadfast opposition to the Empire. They've pleaded with the Governor-General to join them, and he's diplomatically refused. With rumors of war growing stronger by the day, neutrality may soon be no option.
This is a city caught between the extremes of the Shambles and the Gilded Labyrinth, between the shackles of the past and the winds of an uncertain future, were a thousand cultures merge into a hodgepodge gumbo uniquely its own. Madness stalks the twisting tunnels beneath the city, and revolution haunts the streets. On every lip, there's a rumor of coming change - but none can agree just what. This is the City of Storms, and a great storm is coming.
Welcome to Spire.