Each River-Gate is indeed flanked by massive pylons that aesthetically and actively anchor the gate to a specific Tier of the city. There are Twelve Primary Tiers and each one has its own river-gate and harbor-basin. All of these river-gates and attendant structures are extravagantly and elaborately decorated with colorful banners, strings of floatlights, gurgling fish-kites, weathered statuary, bas reliefs, murals, vidpanels, holicons, mistplays and more. There is a rich profusion of artistic and cultural expression all around the frontwater districts of the river-gates, the basins and the areas immediately surrounding them. Then everything shifts into warehouses, store-places and cache-banks interspersed with burned-out sections left-over from the last revolution and isotenements with fortified killyards to keep out the local riff-raff. The difference from the frontwater districts and the backwater districts is extreme, outrageous and often quite bizarre. It is also very dangerous to lose track of your bearings. The prowling gangs are the least of your concerns.
We'll talk a bit more about the backwater districts like Kubrikstan, Droogvania, Sidspit and RottenJon's Cloister later. It's the River Zonges and the river-gate that brings it into Devukarsha that we're exploring right now.
The river-gates that feed into the harbor-basins of the Twelve Tiers all connect into their own, distinct networks of river-gates that stitch together sections of great rivers that flow across dozens, hundreds, even thousands of worlds. Some of these river networks cross-over into one another at extremely infrequent and strategically quite special Confluences, but for the most part they tend to remain independent of one another, though there are at least six documented worlds where more than one river-network can be found flowing along separate regions and not directly mingling or connecting to one another. Those worlds have since become the sites of a host of hustling, bustling, thriving River Towns where people arrange to travel from one river-network to another. There are many significant worlds that can only be reached by way of the river-networks, like Morvai or Shubrish. The great rivers form an vitally essentially decentralized, parallel and only slightly overlapping circulatory system that flows across a great many of the Known Worlds.
As the Twelve Rivers flow past the pylons across interstellar distances to Riskail and on into Devukarsha itself, they froth and slosh from one firmly established and abundant ecology to another. The rivers flow forth from their gates in torrents of life-giving waters that have seen more worlds than most people could imagine. The rivers are a major reason that there is life on those worlds that they connect to one another. The floating bioshrines bobbing about on the currents of the rivers make sure that no one ever forgets this fact. Life flows through the rivers. Literally. No faith required, no opinion desired, the rivers flow onwards, ever onwards, spreading life farther outwards past the Tributary Gates that lead unto Worlds Without End.
In Devukarsha, the waters of each river flow downwards in a torrent into the ones below them, only the Zonges, the river that flows into the First Tier is unique amongst the Twelve in that none of the other rivers flow into it. The Zonges is the First River, the one which touches all the rest of the root-rivers of the Senube and it is special in several other respects as well.
The Zonges flows into Devukarsha upon Riskail from Seleucis, which is described in the Twelve Pylon-Gates post as follows:
"...a world of vast continental forests made up of gigantic old growth trees and dense underferns and myriad forms of mycological colonies that erupt from the rich humus-laden soils like rounded abstract sculptures oozing with psychoactive milky-fluids."
The Zonges cascades into the First Tier harbor-basin in a torrent of rich, reddish-brown waters carrying the tannins of countless trees from the continental forests of Seleucis and the myriad other worlds it flows through before arriving there. The waters of the Zonges are alive with microorganisms and fungal colonies, as well as literally tons of floating organic debris that are harvested and sent off to various greenhouses, farms, agristations and even some parks for use as compost and soil-building nutritive materials. Lutrin children and some others are known to pick through the accumulated debris caught by the sweeper-booms, breakwaters and sandbar-jetties that serve to maintain the clear flow of the Zonges into the main basin area and the subsequent flowage of the waters through various channels, waterfalls and lateral gates. They sometimes find the most interesting things, though the Lutrin are simply happy to catch dinner, usually various forms of slimy substances and half-rotten vegetative matter dug out of the gunked-up niches and catch-points that dot the various booms, drain-grates and navigation buoys. For a few shiny-bits you can bribe the Lutrin to fish out things that they've found. Sometimes they'll trade. But you'd best conduct your business quickly and discretely before their elders catch on to what you're doing. There are few who can hope to match a elder Lutrin's haggling ability. They are notorious. Many stall-keepers in the Flea Market have been known to close shop at the sight of a Lutrin elder for fear of losing their stall to the wily old catfishfolk of the harbor shacks.
At the very aperture of the river-gate where the Zonges crosses over to Riskail from Seleucis, there is a frothy mass of bubbles which serves to drive back all but the most determined of the indigenous aquatic lifeforms of Seleucis from making the transition. It's more of a formality than any real barrier, but it does give the various children running around the harbor-basin something to play around with during the hot days of summer, as long as they stay out of the way of tugs, riverboats, rafts and other watercraft. Large gars, mutant pikefish, alligator-snapping turtles and a plethora of modest-sized crocodillians such as gecko-gavials, croctopi and colorful salagators all find the oxygenated waters right at the river-gate to be extremely good hunting grounds as schools of bass, perch, and other panfish and sportfish try to navigate the bubbles, often getting disoriented. Occasionally piranha, devil-fish or other nasty things will come through, but they generally move on with the current, or they attract the attention of the Lutrin or another group who are always on the look-out for a nice source of protein to supplement their mostly bottom-feeder diets. The elders enjoy lounging in their canoes, bark coracles and flimsy-looking rafts while dangling youngsters off the end of strong bamboo poles so that they can fetch fish, choice bits of debris or shiny-bits from out of the turbulent muck near the back-flows of the river-gates. The younglings who get good at this earn their own knives and catch-hooks, thus earning a portion of their own catch and getting an opportunity to pay-off their birth-indenturement.
The gecko-gavials are one of the few such species that have come through the river-gate and stayed-put. They prey upon the swarms of insects that come buzzing through the gate and because of this the Lutrin have adopted them as pets. It is rare to find a Lutrin shack along the river-gates that does not have a few gecko-gavials hanging around on the walls inside and out, snapping-up insects and other pests.
Past the First River-Gate
Tramp steamers from Karjool, spiky barges from the Kingdoms of Brezdu, even aerostat caravans coming from the steamy Isles of Xolm far to the west of the Zonges all make their way to Riskail from Seleucis, which is criss-crossed with all manner of tributary channels, winding rivers and the occasional make-shift canal, all of wich cut through the dark, dense undergrowth of the ancient forests forming a nearly planet-wide canopy. The elegantly hand-carved boats of the Hourynn -- each one crafted from a single tree-limb -- and the bulky but dependable fortress-like walled-rafts of the Grax-tribes are both well-known sights along the Zonges, though neither group is particularly fond of outsiders. Wild bands of sporelings prowl the deep undergrowth past the muddy banks of the red-brown tinted waters, waiting for an unwary traveler to serve as a host to their sporespawn. And there are massive, pallid things snuffling about the dim recesses of the nearer forests that are said to seek out the flesh of anything smelling even vaguely of human. Perhaps some lingering, nameless remnant of an old war?
The Zonges flows back-country for over a thousand miles and more, winding about and connecting to countless other, lesser rivers, streams, springs and lagoons until at last it reaches the next pylon-flanked river-gate through which the Zonges flows into Seleucis from Lashteel where it in turn flows forth from another river-gate from Pashkeb and in turn flows into Pashkeb from Tsokai and to Tsokai from Morvai before it. Tilrut, Omjil, Drukhai and Seleumn are likewise located farther and farther up-river in sequence. But those are the Known Worlds located along the primary river-gates, each of them intimately tied into the thriving river-gate networks and the principalities and provinces of landed powers and vested interests. Nobles and outworld Royalty have built exquisite villas and impressively fortified manor-estates along the Zonges on these named, registered and surveyed worlds. Few Baronies can be found here as the river is eternally unclaimable and freely accessible to all. The Baronies tend to be located past the lesser Tributary Gates located back along some of the smaller rivers that flow into the Zonges. Those Tributary Gates open the way unto a vast inter-connected Wilderness of uncounted worlds all unclaimed, unnamed and available to anyone who desires to stake their claim and set-up a colony, settlement or freehold. This is a major project of both the Morvai Syndicities and Aegron's Monarchists, who are intense rivals for strategic locations, often allowing privateering, claim-jumping and subsidized raiders to rearrange things more to their liking. The Morvai may also have access to some of the old Rager techniques thanks to someone only known as the King of Spades. This has caused more than a little outrage within the Worldking's Court at Admeth on Aegron along the Saskarrin river-gate network. There are also rumors that there may be a connecting-confluence between the Zonges and the Saskarrin river-networks, but this remains unverified so far. Should such a location be discovered, it could lead to an all-out conflict between these competing powers as they each try to take it over or prevent the other side from establishing a foot-hold there.
Twelve Worlds Along the River Zonges (Up-river from Riskail)
A world of vast continental forests made up of gigantic old growth trees and dense underferns and myriad forms of mycological colonies that erupt from the rich humus-laden soils like rounded abstract sculptures oozing with psychoactive milky-fluids. But you already knew that. Seleucis is reknowned for the chromatically diverse exotic woods that the drones carry out of its vast, untamed forests. In the cooler regions, mostly coastal temperate rainforests, mighty and majestic redwoods reach upwards to the storm-wracked clouds just like they once did in the remote past on Old Earth. In the warmer regions of the Southern Hemisphere of Seleucis, one can find a thousand-thousand varieties of bamboo as they form lush green labyrinths of swaying stalks prowled by climb-tigers, fang-toads and squid-leeches.
Cold, heavily forested islands of the sea-like freshwater lakes along the equator are all under the total control of the Oneirarchs who maintain their oppressive, telepathic/oneiric rule by a monopoly on neurosoma. (See the short story Epistomonikos) The river remains a freezone, but it is fringed with mindfields, razorwalls, and patrols of Oneropolice who lead nightmares around on leashes like attack beasts. No one is welcome in the domains of the Oneirarchs without pre-arranged permission and few, very few willingly ever enter into those totalitarian precincts unless there is absolutely no other choice. Smugglers will sometimes attempt to deliver illegal emigrants to passers-by, and there are lazy Venduu rafters and others who moor their craboats and skinskiffs along the banks of the Zonges in order to catch more than just fish.
Mostly deserts, recovering from ecological collapse brought about during a sectarian war. Currently under the rule of a council of Matriarchs. Known for deposits of massive squarish/cubic rubies. The Matriarchs remain an independent power, mostly because they have managed to exert a good deal of control over access to the Sacred Hags of Ashadan, a world situated just past a Tributary Gate well within the domains claimed by the ancestral tribes of the South Polar Jungles where uppity menfolk defy the amazon-legions of the Matriarchal Council. The jewelled creche-fortresses of the Matriarchs encircle the region of the Ashadan Tributary Gate and for the most part they seem to be in control of things. But then they don't see any significance in the patterns of tribalist hunting parties, or the vageries of public opinion, especially as more and more pilgrims take exception to the militarization of a region they consider to be sacred. It doesn't take guns and bombs to wage a war.
Warm seas and elegantly sculpted reefs, atolls and islands all interconnected by a multi-tiered living canopy forming millions of unique micro-ecologies. A green-lit ring of habitats encircles the planet with a vast interconnected series of orbital gardens and designer biomes. The Tsokai are imperialists who are led by a trio of dynasties derived from House Vorkuta. The Tsokai Imperium is dominated by inheritor Internalisti, Obviotti and Symbiotti Clans who barely manage to keep the Exotics, Modii and Altos in check, if not in some sort of fluid and shifting state of balance.
Cold, rocky and harsh-looking world renowned for perpetually overcast leaden skies and vast, dark woods full of thorns, carnivorous rodent-packs and gatorbears. The six free city-states of Morvai are unusually active colonialists who sponsor a number of client states and colonies all along the Zonges and elsewhere. They are both economic and philosophical rivals to the Monarchists of Aegron. Each of the six Syndicities of Morvai maintain independent colonies, subscriber-settlements, and prototowns out across the various Tributary Gates along the Zonges, and a few beyond it as well.
Black forests cover most of the temperate zone landmasses. The NeuHarz range of mountains nearly protrudes from the atmosphere and are the site of a vast array of electromagnetic phenomena that may or may not be tied into the solitary moon that is nearly two-thirds the size of this world. The tempestarii come here to observe the awe inspiring storms that erupt from below as much as above. Few others feel safe enough to settle in this world.
Cold, ice-age world with palatially-domed canyon-seas around the equatorial zones that are hot, colorful jungles of rampant growth and feral biomes that have traditionally been left fallow ever since the end of the civil war that placed a hereditary cyborgarchy in power. They still don't fully trust the three surviving monarchs of New Fenris, the sole moon of Omjil, as they were the instigators of the civil war when they rejected the ascendancy of the usurper Petrolmo Grindazi to the Ebony Throne of Omjil, which now sits draped in a blood-smeared purple banner of the interrupted regency. Political turmoil is all too common-place on this world.
Hot and arid, this world is sparsely populated and all settlement takes place beneath gigantic dome-structures erected within vast craters, relegating the exterior regions of the world inhospitable wastelands that have yet to be terraformed past the most rudimentary and brutally harsh conditions. The River Zonges flows through only one of these domed-areas. Colossal reservoirs have been erected to capture the ice of comets scavenged by gates located out in the deep Oort Cloud region of this world's solar system. As these reservoirs process billions of tons of water the mechanisms that were to have established the canals and channels designed to deliver the water out across the world have yet to be built. Harshlander Feudalists have taken control of the Reservoirs and claimed them as their homelands, and until a unified authority can collect the dozens of balkanized and mutually hostile principalities into one sane government, the waters of Drukhai remain locked-away and the vast deserts persist in a pristine, unspoiled and elemental rawness that some will mourn should it ever be corrupted with water and the life that it beings with it.
A tempestuous waterworld ringed with a series of interlocking orbital structures that extend four primary Towers down to artificially maintained reef-based islands. This is the first world up-river along the Zonges from Riskail to have Sea Gates and as such is a major holding of House Vorkuta. Dolphins control the Tropical Regions beyond the narrow Equatorial Free Zone where the Towers rise up from the deep azure oceans to connect sea and sky like shining urchin-spines of incredible size. Beyond the gentle reef-bounded archipelagos swirling out from the Towers the waters grow deeper, darker and far less welcoming to air-breathing monkeys. Orca, sharks and octopi wage diplomacy and feuds that have been going for centuries beneath the waves, all under the persistent observance of whales who carry the accumulated knowledge of millennia in their massively multiplexed hypercortexes. Someone, long ago, modified their ancestors that they might remember. And they do. They remember everything.
Continental rain-forests grow right up the steep slopes of jagged and vast mountain ranges that collapse into the oceans to form chains of island archipelagos covered with flowers, ferns and cycad-tree hybrid plants that may be somewhat motile. The dividing line between animal and plant is more of a loose guidelines, a casual suggestion, really, on Orifon. The Dryanni tend to a vast array of arborial biomes while the Nebru chase grublings with poky-sticks and the fluttering Shalz whirl through the air looking for suitable nesting sites from which to burst itno deadly bouquets. To move safely past the banks of the River Zonges will require a guide. Just ask anyone who travels the river this far for a living, like the Lutrin or the gaspy-gulpy Ponj. You wouldn't want to run into a swarm of combustion moths and get flash-fried, would you? And besides, how else will you know what is good to eat, what will kill you dead, and which fruits self-ferment in the hot summer sun?
Massively eroded karst geology riddled with millions of wildly varying sinkholes bordered by volcanic swamps to the south and densely forested mountains that become bitterly cold taiga and steppes that reach to the northern polar region. Deliberate Nomads are said to wander these desolate, empty plains. Kite-riding Xilbu can also be found along the mountainous regions. But why would anyone be looking for them?
Oasis-domes preserve the biomes that were originally intended to seed Yekkara, but they remain locked behind the polarized structures due to the machinations of various competing familial-factions that have been fighting over control of the world. Until one side finally wins a decisive victory over the others and can assert their claim, everything is stuck in-between in a strange neotonous state.
Each of the posts detailing sets of worlds are being entered into a master set of tables which will be available once the series of twelve is completed. I'm also completing work on the revised set of tables for populating the areas in the immediate vicinity of each river, including sample hexes for each river. I've left the twelve worlds above a bit sparse because there's no point developing them farther until I complete the next round of short-stories, some of which take place on these very worlds and along the bloody banks of the River Zonges. Lastly, for now, Yekkara just might serve as an example adventure within the Riskail setting...with maps, NPCs, background details, that sort of thing.