Age of Ascension
Life in Valcora
Valcora by Day
Blue and gold banners high on sea winds, by day, Valcora is a living and breathing metropolis and its blood is made of gold.
A first time visitor to the city would first be greeted by the sight of the Gate Ward, surrounded by architecturally impressive walls of smooth fitted stone. He would be accosted on entrance by the Watch, who monitor and record thousands of new arrivals each day, along with their business in the city and any notable baggage. On entering the Ward itself, he would take in the air of the city; moist from the sea breeze and carrying the smell of the sedimentary stone surrounding him on all sides, along with hints of smoke and exotic food, along with fragrant wares intended to lure customers to surrounding shops and stalls.
Leaving behind the caravan traffic and arrivals in the gate ward, the quiet residential serenity of the Lower ward would be mostly unbroken, in comparison to the impoverished melancholy of the cliff ward. A haze of smoke, the smell of oil, and the hammering and clatter of a thousand workshops assail the senses well over the walls of the Artisan’s District. On the docks, the bells of ships and the grunts of laborers mingle with the barking of fishmongers, and all of the odors that go along with sea trade.
Between the districts, through them, and crossed with bridges wide enough to support buildings on either side, the canals are slow-flowing and darken quickly below the surface with stirred sediment. The ambience of flowing water and moisture in the air lend a heaviness to the air during business hours, but can be particularly relaxing to walk alongside before and after. Ramps and staircases lead far down to the water’s edge, where boatmen await passengers looking for a swift, or at least uninterrupted trip across town.
In the heart of the city, the trade district is perhaps the most bustling, but also the most intuitively designed, with large thoroughfares intended to allow wagon and foot traffic to move freely; unlike the crowded and jammed streets of the outer wards. The mingling of wealthy and poor here makes it the place to go for action and opportunity; for real entertainment, the Poet’s Ward provides.
Among the impressive landscaping and grandiose architecture of the theaters and opera houses, entertainers are constantly seeking out new thrills for a rapidly changing audience. Throughout the city, entertainers of all kinds achieve widespread wealth and fame, becoming more well-known than many key governing figures. The Valcoran audience however, is a flighty thing, and holding onto fame is a losing battle before one is lost to the tide of onrushing new talent.
The serenity of the temple district is enforced by the will of the wealthy who live there, demanding a sanctuary to return to when their business is concluded for the day. This leaves the ‘publically religious’ to stake out their places in public spaces like the Trade district, from the well-meaning heralds of the old gods to madmen who shout in the faces of passersby about repentance.
Few places in any of the mercantile districts provide peace for the over stimulated, and everywhere they are bombarded with barkers and temptations trying to part them with their gold. From the shadows and from within the crowd, less reputable figures share their goals. Still, the martial law enforcement and swift justice of the city provide some measure of safety during daylight hours. Though they can be seen at work, these tight-lipped men and women quickly disperse gathering crowds, leaving the circumstances of their actions to be speculated and rumored upon along with every other piece of news the day brings. High above it all, the foreboding and silent spectre of Carre Dova discourages loose talk and rash action.
Valcora by Night
There is a reason travelers are advised to visit Valcora during a Turn of the Tide; an astronomical event celebrated by an all-night, city-wide Carnivale that fills the streets with life at all hours… and it isn’t for the booze. The change that comes over Valcora by night can be startling to visitors. Tall buildings, domed rooftops, and stone streets becomes deserted and shadowed canyons. Upstairs windows become yawning portals staring into the night, and those on the ground floor are secured and draped over, withholding warmth and life from passersby.
Carvings, statues, and metalwork, that are by day imposingly beautiful, become foreboding shaped in the darkness. Though main streets are lit by oil-lamps on posts, the rest of the city is shrouded save for pockets of life near inns or other centers of humanity, which seem clustered together like pockets of light in a vast darkness.
The nameless fears that seep from the sewers, sky, and alleyways are often well founded. Burglars and worse emerge from their dens, stalking the streets or vaulting across the rooftops. Clandestine meetings of every imagining take place in back rooms or deserted streets, and more than one body is dumped into the canals each night. The booted footsteps of passing Watch patrols come few and far between, little comfort to when one wakes to a sudden noise. The Enclave’s hounds, cloaked in tangible otherworldly dread, are a mixed blessing as they prowl in search of hidden magical danger.
It’s understood that the city is a nexus of more than trade; the boundaries between the planes are thinner here than other places, and the residual magic of millennia is seeped into the stone. From time to time, incursions from other planes take place in the dead of night; whisperings of ‘someone from the other side’ that torment the sleepless, the possession of a person across the boundaries of space, or otherworldly beings that slip across the planar barriers and disappear into the night.
Just as the gods are fueled by mortal belief, the dreams of two hundred thousand mingle on the cool night air, manifesting terror for its own sake when circumstances are just right.
Strangers in Their Own Home
Above and below, the common citizens of Valcora are a majority, but they are by no means the only contributors to the city’s rich flavor. Uncommon as it may be, visitors of all shapes and sizes pass through the city gates. In the modern day, extraplanar visitors are ‘disencouraged’ to visit. Nevertheless, as a center of business and cultural melting pot, the city is tolerant of the very outlandish, if only for the shock value.
Two of the most common (thought still rare) sights are locathah in the docks ward, and close-knit gangs of Tengu who frequent the slums. Locathah, despite their shocking appearance and barely tolerable odor, have built up a relationship of trust with their surface-dwelling Avencian neighbors over many decades. In return for mutual respect, protection, and trade, the fish-men play an invaluable part in keeping sea trade productive. Aside from their participation in rescues at sea and dredging up wrecks, they inform Avencian authorities of potential dangers and political disturbances in the undersea world. Tengu have adapted to life in Valcora, having found themselves more accepted in a city of so many cultures than in other settlements. Although vanity still drives them to covet the belongings of others, most Tengu have gone into business for themselves, sometimes seen peddling small goods along the streets. Although treated by most as second-class citizens, they are satisfied with their lot in formerly abandoned buildings of the Cliff Ward.
The climate of Valcora is such that style is always in season, never reaching temperature extremes due to the warm sea winds that constantly waft through the wards. Winter rarely bring more than a dusting of pure snow, soon worn to slush by the passing of thousands. Summer can become uncomfortably hot, but a rolling breeze soothes those working outside of the cool stone buildings, almost every day. Valcorans are a fickle people who move with the times. The nobility is flamboyant, making bold plays at becoming the talk of the Districts, and even the lowliest citizens stretch their means to create the appearance of a diamond in the rough. Understandably, being seen is the first step in gaining a foothold in the vast social network of the successful. Sewing and tailoring are big business in Avencia, and as yet no automated means have been developed to ease production. Therefore each garment is hand-made and unique, and price is as much a matter of reputation as material.
At the forefront of Valcoran style, the wealthy favor either classical styling, or the newer trend of military-inspired innovations. In classical Avencian fashion, men favor tailored waistcoats, tasteful vests, and straight-legged trousers, accessorizing with hats or canes, and all in matching, neutral colors. Elaborate but mostly monochromatic dresses are the mainstay of classically wealthy women, primarily setting themselves apart with expensive jewelry of dwarven or Vycean make.
Newer trends have begun to involve a wide range of colors and innovative military-inspired cuts. Long boots of supple leather are essential for these men, as are embroidered double-breasted doublets that highlight (or give the illusion of) an athletic physique. In cool weather, naval coats have become a trend, be they in the short, form-fitting Avencian style or the more traditional sailors’ greatcoats. Forward thinking women of means still favor elaborate dresses, but experiment boldly with color and accessories with eye-catching hats. Valcoran hatteries are booming, churning out flamboyant designs with lace, feathers, and charms, many of which are symbols of the city’s military roots.
Of course, a key discrimination between the upper and lower classes is the layer; dressing in multiple light layers not only allows for great customization of color and style, but is more convenient. It’s also more expensive; thus, the lower class is often recognized quickly by wearing either a single thick coat in the winter, or just enough to cover their shame in the summer.
Among the working class, practicality is still favored over appearance. However, tradesmen looking to get noticed or involved in newer enterprises like engineering often accessories with their tools, wearing expensive and ornamented tools of their trade as a badge of office.
Women of the lower class have adapted to the changing times, finding themselves just as capable (and in need) of employment. These women have cheerfully adopted the trousers and shirts of men, fitted for their figure, and turned the look into a fashion all its own rather than a last, shameful result (as wealthier women would call it). Accents usually take the form of military style belts, straps, boots, and even tricorne sailing hats or bandanas.
Personal style begins with hygiene, though it’s been truthfully remarked that the upper class has been known to cloak themselves heavily in scented perfumes if they haven’t had time for a proper bath. Fashionable Avencian men of all classes favor short and even haircuts, or medium length and slicked back with wax. Long hair, past the shoulders, is frowned upon but seen often considering how many foreigners frequent the city. Short mustaches or beards are fashionable, but thick mustaches are left to the Osprians. Sailors and laborers are often forced to go for long periods without a haircut or shave, and this has evolved into a style of its own which often incorporates intricate braids in the fashion of the Eastiron dwarves.
The women of Valcora are very experimental with their hair and cosmetic enhancements. As a rule, wealthy women are beginning to favor shoulder-length or shorter straight styles, which emphasize the condition of their pampered hair and don’t detract from the grandeur of their hats. In the lower class, hair is long and left open when possible, as a way to set women apart from men when both wear trousers.
Among women of all classes, it is common practice to ward off suitors when involved with a soldier who is away by wearing a colored scarf around either the upper arm or from hip to waist. Most favor small, elegant jewelry, which attracts less attention from would-be thieves. Thick rings and studded chains are a sure sign of a foreign visitor, who is probably already being followed. Vycean jewelry is particularly coveted for its understated elegance and intricate design.
Less armored than soldiers in the field, the uniforms of the Valcoran Watch are identical to what the army wears. Some flexibility is allowed to account for personal preference and effectiveness, incorporating the same elements but combined differently. The navy blue and dusky gold coloring of the Valcoran banner are ever-present in scarves, tabards, or cloaks. Armor is mass produced and of munitions grade, well made but unpolished, giving it a dark and slightly irregular matte finish. Watch members typically carry lighter versions of the army’s chosen field gear: sabres, short polearms, or light crossbows.
Despite the peoples’ intense interest in defining themselves with their clothing, the city remains a world market, and welcomes ideas from foreign lands with fascination, despite any snickering.