Friday, 18 June 2021

Xopht – The City where the Sculptures Sleep

Built deep into the air is Xopht. Its altitude is high. Those not used to it are often dizzy and sick for a week, and thereafter, short of breath for months.
Steep and crooked are its streets. The city is said to be built on a hill of black glass; a mountains core. Little of this is visible now; built over in the cities piled-up, tumbledown style where walls and buttresses even-out the incline for building and terraces hold flat beds of soil for private gardens.
Still a few old unpaved streets, now covered in dust and scratched to grit-grey by the passage of a thousand wheels and hooves, are still of black glass, and this contrasts deeply with the white limestone which makes up many of its buildings, the white stone smoothed and polished by Xophts dry hot winds and occasional rains until it glows like pearl.
This limestone, and finer marble, is also the basis for the Sculptures of Xopht, of notable citizens, academics, world-famous craftspeople and figures from the cities folklore. All the sculptures are depicted sleeping, as the tradition of the city demands. Nothing may be sculpted with its eyes open, awake, and aware.
White and black make up much of Xophts visual aesthetic. Black streets and white stone, or black and white tiles or cobblestones interspersed.

The ritual approaches to the city famously have two great gates, one of ivory, the other of horn inlaid with silver. Both are guarded by quiet, watchful packs of black dogs who are kept only for this purpose.
They gates are mainly used by tourists now, but anyone wishing to undertake City Business must ritually enter Xopht at least once, and choose only one gate, and let that be known.
Within, Xopht is a city of terrible silence. Every footstep seems padded and all its industries are quiet.
Famously hot and dry, it never seems to rain, though the skies sometimes glower. Dust trickles across the scratched black glass. The cities architecture seems to funnel wind into spirals and dust-devils are common; small micro-tornadoes about the size of a man, whirling with dust, hanging poised in forgotten corners when the wind rises or tracking oddly down the street, as if they were out shopping, before falling to nothing.
Xopht does have sounds, just rarely loud ones. The droning of bees is dimly audible everywhere. The city loves its beehives and its honey. The bees take advantage of the many greenhouses, rare plants and private gardens (invisible from the streets) and few large homes are without a beehive of their own.
Some of the Bees of Xopht even travel a night, tending to the cities nigh-blooming flowers.
With the buzzing comes the sound of rain. Xopht is famous for its watchmakers and artificers  (though its clocks have no tick); all the public clocks of Xopht are water clocks. At well as this, every house and business has one.
Even in the dry heat, the low plinking sound of rainfall is continual, the dripping of each clock coming so faintly from each house and home that it is individually inaudible, but combines to a susurrus of rainfall.
The third sound of Xopht is the tuneless piping of the Black-Sun monks. This mendicant order of zen-like meditatives has its House in Xopht, (and always has done), they are a common sight upon its streets, sometimes constructing complex mandalas of Owl-Feathers, inevitably blown away by the dry wind, but more commonly piping through their basket-masks, wandering at a slow, arrhythmic pace.
A common sight on the streets are the black carriages of Xopht. Anyone of certain status is expected to maintain a carriage, even if they don't use it, simply to be respected at the invisible circles through which such respect is allowed.
The carriages are pulled slowly by the pale horses of Xopht, a breed unique to the city and capable of dealing with its heat, fine air, high altitude and spiralling streets, through they only move slowly and cannot run.
The only roads with a low enough incline to be horse-accessible, spiral and crook up and down the city in switchbacks and curves, while pedestrians can tramp directly up or down steep stairs. This means a walker heading up or down can encounter the same carriage with the same pale horses, slowly ghosting past them, from side to side, again and again.

At night the stars are incredibly bright. Xopht is high and the atmosphere clear. By law lamps must be shaded from above, to save the sight of the sky for the cities astronomers (and astrologers). The only time you might see the bats of Xopht is as one flashes between you and a dim lamp, its orange glow further dampened by the bats translucent wings, for a second of time.
The locks of Xopht glitter and sparkle in the starlight, for the city has no keys. Its old way is that every door has a silver combination lock, with its symbols in the glyph-tongue of the city. So that in Xopht, access comes not through objects, but knowledge. Perhaps this serves to deepen the culture of the city in which the sharing of any information is to be approached with significance and care.
Strange smells abound on Xophts night streets. The city is said to have many Opium houses and, beneath the surface, a serious drugs problem, not that you would be able to tell. A pungent aroma may be such, or could be simply the venting of a greenhouse, perfumier or night-grinding apothecary.
As dawn come, the silver dew of Xopht sparkles on the silver locks and the white stone walls. Though it rarely seems to rain, the dew comes every morning and the city has many dew-traps and water catches set to replenish its stores of water.
Xopht has few industries, focusing on craft and high-skill work, but almost all the work it does is quiet. The city is known for it’s perfumiers, painters, embroiderers, tailors, beekeeping, the gardening of rare or dangerous plants in greenhouses, scribing and illustration, watchmaking (but their clocks have no ticks or alarms), pottery and fine ceramics, bookbinding, heraldry, astrology, astronomy, kite building, papercrafts, locksmithing, the production of cards, tokens and other gaming ephemera, cosmetics, apothecaries and drugs, medicine, psychology, bookshops, fortune tellers, wines and spirits, baking, scholarship and religion (in particular the House of the Black Sun Monks is here, and always has been). Xopht has a well known, and highly specialised university and there are many private libraries - (open by invitation only), as well as a and a world famous public library (open to scholars) of the occult.
Xopht largely seems to govern itself. Composed largely of scholars and skilled workers, with functional power split between guilds and councils of its various professions and groups, Xopht is almost completely unpolitical in a wider sense, the city drifts through the penumbras of Empires and Hegemonies as they rise and fall, without ever seeming to change.
Those Civil Matters which require government are managed by the Tired Council.
Its full name; The Tired Council of the Moon Under Water
The Moon Under Water is the most venerable Games House in the City, (of which there are many). When Xophts last hereditary lord gave up in despair and went away (where, no-one knows), its greatest and most wealthy gamesters became the de-facto ruling council of twelve (the 13th vote is always given to the moon).
To gain a place on the council  you must beat seven of its members at a game of their choice, the whole council will then vote on whom to eject in your place, with the Moon deciding any split vote.
To come before the council is much simpler, anyone may approach the Council with information and they listen with feverish attention to everyone, beggar, madman, child or fool, it makes little difference to them.
The Tired Council is said to command an unmarked police and investigation force called  the 'Nemo People', for in their work they have no name.


  1. This feels very dreamlands - something about the feel of the descriptions. Tremendously atmospheric but what does one do there?

    1. Investigate (quietly), dream, take opium, research the occult, enjoy the baked goods and play games.

  2. Very nice. Where do they get the water for the water clocks?

  3. Lovely as usual, reminds me a fair bit of Calvino's Invisible Cities.

  4. Ambience and plug n play - great stuff!