From the outside the City of Infinite Ruin looks a little like Constantinople. Its walls are high and strong and roughly circular and a charming pink-white that glows deep pink-red in the summer sun. There are various guard towers and gates, each with their own storied histories, and from the outside you can see some of the most recent spires and minarets poking up.
It's impossible to accurately measure the walls of the City of Infinite Ruin, either their circumference or their height, and for a long time it was assumed that this made it immune to siege, because how can you build a siege tower or a ladder to get up there when you don't know how tall it is?
It turns out that if you just take a rough guess and built a bunch of different siege towers and ladders then roughly half of them will be the right size (or too tall, but then you can climb down from the tower on another rope ladder).
So the City of Infinite Ruin is not immune to sieges, it just takes a stupidly large amount of resources to besiege. Plus, if you win, the current rulers of the city will just retreat deeper into its infinite ruins and possibly launch guerrilla attacks from the inside.
HOWEVER, that problem tends to solve itself as the infinite ruins are also full of all the previous rulers of the City of Infinite Ruin, and all the escaped ghettos and archeocultures and shadow empires etc., and all those people tend to be pissed off at each other for some reason, so soon your former enemies will be busy dealing with their former enemies.
(Plus no-one really want to throw anything big at the walls of the City of Infinite Ruin as that might damage them, but more on that later.)
Regardless of its exact measurement, the general circumference of the City of Infinite Ruin seems to vary between 18 to 20 miles at the maximum, (about an eighth of this fronts the ocean) although, from the outside, it never seems to take up any greater area of land.
The city is not growing, not growing out anyway.
Think of the city as the rings of an onion, each of the rings are roads (none of the roads inside the city are perfect rings, they always cross over, stop and start, meet squares, etc. but you can think of their general layout in that way) so the outer road, the road closest to the city walls, that runs around the city just under them, on the inside, is 18 to 20 miles around, just like the outer wall (probably a little less), the next road in, the one just a little further inside the city, is 19 to 21 miles around, the next road in, the third road, is 20 to 22 miles around, the next is 21 to 23 miles around and the circumference of these 'ring roads' (that aren't rings) keeps growing and growing and growing without end.
So the deeper you get into the city, the bigger it is.
Arguments differ over the maximum depth yet explored. The greatest extent of 'official' circumnavigation of the city is set at 2660 miles in from the walls and 2681 around for a total round-trip journey of roughly 8000 miles, although probably if we include diversions and so on it amounted to about 10,000, though in fact none of the original members completed the actual circumnavigation. All died or were lost in the cities infinite depths, but a slave, or servant, that they picked up on the original penetration did manage to complete the journey to the rim, bringing back the expeditions notes (assuming the notes are real and not forgeries created either by the original explorers out of madness or cupidity or by one of the shadow empires for more mysterious reasons. (Or are notes from one of the suspected parallels somewhere in the depths (or an alienist plot to indicate the existence of such parreles)).
The City of Infinite Ruin is one of the only cities in the world where the most valuable land and important buildings are all close to the city walls. You can get around the inside in a day, if the traffic is good (though you may need to cut deeper into the inside, which will take longer of course). A good parkour messenger who can leap and climb over and under the permanent traffic jams and can catch a fast gondola across the infinite docks, can do the whole journey in around four hours and doing it inside five is a condition of membership in the messengers guild.
All the 'rulers' of the city (to the outside world at least, philosophers will argue that obviously, no-one can rule the City of Infinite Ruin), the people who’s flags are on the buildings, who are currently the primary patrons of the Mosque of Conchodeus and who's bureaucrats will be collecting your taxes, have their palaces next to the wall and so do all the major elites and the primary organs of 'government'.
Then closer into the centre you get the professionals, army officers, lawyers etc, then the middle classes, shop owners who often have to commute out to the wall districts, then the working populations, then the slums (some of the nicest slums in the world), (and of course, the slums are very lightly populated while the most important and high-status rim areas are very densely populated, leading to a situation in which the rich and wealthy struggle to cram themselves into close, tight, densely-packed living situations and where the poor starve in palatial and silent ruins), then some of the inner villages or outposts or watchtowers, and then, and then...
There is no exact point where the culture of the city gives over to the culture of 'the depths'. Populated areas get fewer and further between and along the boundaries of the infinite docks there are some towns six-months sailing away which technically still pay fealty to the rim.
The city is growing, continually, into its own interior space. In typical magical or cognitive-bias fashion you can't actually see this happen but it is growing at a rate of about a centimetre a year (Probably. It might be faster or slower), so if you were to build a house adjacent to the city walls and leave it for 100 years, when you came back, there would be a metre gap between the wall of your house and the city wall (possibly with a duke squatting there and claiming the space).
Those few buildings 'attached' to the city wall are very valuable as they are 'carried' with the wall like an anchor stopping them from being pulled gravatically into the cities depths, but almost all of these are run by the security services and there are strong laws prohibiting any more from being built as no-one wants to weaken the walls.
Everyone is quietly terrified of what might happen if the walls come down. If the walls broke, the city might escape. It might spill out into the world. Then the whole world would be like the city.
The Aurulent Empire is alleged to have besieged the City of Infinite Ruin purely in order to repair its walls. Legends claim that they sent in crack troops of suicide bricklayers and combat masons while the (at that time) corrupt and nihilistically mad rulers of the city hurled bucket of their own boiling piss at them and tried to loose the City of Infinite Ruin out into reality.
Eventually the Aurulent Empire took the city and drove its evil rulers deep, deep into the interior, from whence they have never returned (but they might), and then ruled peacefully and wisely for a millennia until they too gradually passed away into the interior (where they might still be).
But they did leave the walls in very good repair and subsequent occupiers have worked hard to keep them that way.
SO, what happens to the space between the buildings? (You are probably asking.) As buildings are swept into the interior of the city, and as they occupy longer and longer roads, then surely the space between them should open up, after all, if all the buildings that occupied a 20 mile-round road are now pulled into a 50-mile round road, what happens to the extra 30 miles, is it just left empty?
A few things happen. Near the rim, where things are 'civilised' and the population is dense, new space is filled very quickly (space is at a premium) and new buildings and houses are squeezed into the tightest possible spaces, and then gradually expanded as they sink deeper into the city and space opens up (losing value all the time).
But even with that, since the space inside is infinite then the city of infinite ruins should really be the city of some ruins and a whole lot of nothing.
Deeper in, something slightly more disturbing happens, in areas outside regular human notice, places people won't look at, new ruins seem to auto-generate. And by new ruins, I mean ancient ruins, ruins that have always been there. Ruins that might have always been there. It's hard to tell. Old buildings gain extensions, a church might gain an extra nave, a house might get an extra wing, roofs will extend and merge, buildings and colonnades will grow.
This is deeply worrying and interesting to a variety of people, especially a class of people who exist only in the City of Infinite Ruin, the alternate-architectural-history-explorers, Alterologists or 'Alters', because when a building 'grows' as it falls into the depths of the city, it only grows in a way that extends or deepens the natural state of that building. It isn't just a case of random bits and pieces of architecture and stone being added on. Each incarnation of that building, or complex of buildings, or city block, or sub-city, or mega-city, depending on how deeply in it has fallen, is a coherent whole, making complete architectural and historical sense.
From some perspective.
The history of a building several miles in will not be the same as the history of that same building near the rim, though it will be related, grown from the same seed if you will. Perhaps the history of the same family, or the same god, or the same guild, from a world where they were just a little more powerful, able to build a slightly larger house or hall or church, and then as the building falls deeper and deeper into the city, it grows into a palace, a complex.
What if the same family or guild could build a quarter of a city? What if they could build a whole city? Still in the same style, still a coherent aesthetic whole, but now a metropolis of its own?
The Alterologists, or ‘Alters’ travel deep into the city to investigate these ruins and bring back their strange knowledge to the rim. (And irritate the fuck out of everyone by doing it.)
TYPES OF ALTEROLOGIST
Textualists – Probably the closest to real historians and in many cases are former historians. These alters range about looking for inscriptions on buildings deep in the interior and try to use the knowledge gained from these to ‘contextualise’ or add meaning to ‘actual’ or ‘real’ history. They are generally despised by real historians who fight a constant war against ‘counterfactuals’ to keep what they regard as false evidence out of the historical record. Textualists are thought of as academics too flaky to make it as the real deal though, as they never tire of reminding people, a handful of genuinely brilliant historians have turned textualist and have used the evidence gathered thusly to write truly brilliant and field-defining works. All textualists think they are one of those few.
Portraitists – Pretty much just a textualist but for the arts. They follow statuary, mosaics and (much more rarely) portraiture and stained glass. The power balance between the portraitists and the academy is close to the inverse of the textualists as they are regarded as braver more interesting artists who actually get out of the house occasionally, though they are utterly despised by Original Artists who actually create their own work.
Stylists – What many people think of when they think of an ‘Alter’, essentially archaeologists of alternate realities whose histories they divine through full-spectrum study of the entirety of a ruin, building or city. They belong to an academic branch all their own and produce works following the development of entire alternate culture or world. This branch contains both geniuses and flakes and since their entire study is devoted to alternate realities it’s really hard to tell the difference between the two.
Adventurists – The ones who think it’s completely reasonable to search through ancient ruins several miles deep for treasures from an alternate world which are almost never there but which to be fair, have actually been found once or twice. Adventurists hate Adventurers since Adventurists all believe (or are meant to believe) that “it belongs in a museum!” Everyone thinks Adventurists are actually Adventurers and snarks over them A- never finding anything and B- secretly being in it for the money. “Adventurist” was actually a derogatory term invented by the Textualists but was adopted as a Badge of Honour. Adventurists are very chippy and they tend to pronounce the name of their faction with the quote-marks included. “Yes, I am indeed, an “Adventurist”.”
Garde-Arriere – The Garde-Arriere are artists who explore the infinite ruins in a similar way to the Portraitists but with the deliberate idea of mixing up, altering or re-arranging what they find, bringing back ideas and examples of ancient alternate arts not just to make money from it, but to re-introduce them to current society specifically to create the greatest degree of shock and derangement. No-one is sure what to think of the Garde-Arriere. Original Artists suspect them of being secret conservatives and Portraitists and the Academies suspect them of being secret radicals (who they will then try to co-opt).
Originalists – Originalists search the infinite ruins for those single elements which were the true, original and real seeds for the endlessly-proliferating fractal histories that surround them. This requires a staggering amount of contextual knowledge gathered in extremely difficult conditions. They are regarded with distant respect by Historians as chief allies in the constant war against counterfactuals and with a degree of I’m-glad-someone-is-doing-this-and-equally-glad-it-isn’t-me piety. Originalists tend to be patient, serious and sad.
Alienists – Alienists believe a variety of scary shit that everyone else pretends to regard as crazy talk while at the same time secretly believing that its likely to be true. It’s not clear if the alienists are intelligent and imaginative enough to spot what no-one else can see, brave enough to say what no-one else will say or just dumb enough not to realise why no-one ever says it. Alienists suspect that the city rim they come from is not the only city in the City of Infinite Ruin. They think the endless parallel expansions into the interior are actually slightly off-parallel and that other city rims on other worlds may exist immeasurable distances away, slowly vomiting out their own alien histories into the infinite vastness of the Infinite Ruins, and that deep in the ruins these architectural histories may mash and merge, creating impossible hybrid cities on the borders of infinity. They also suspect that there may be all kinds of weird shit deep out in the depths, stuff like auto-nomadic shadow empires, reality breaches, places where the city fades into Nightmare or the Plane of Shadow etc. and so on. They are the kid that goes to paddle at the beach and keeps talking about kraken.
The City of Infinite Ruins sits opposite the Straights of the Ithsmus and controls one of the worlds major trading routes. Outside the city on the seaward side is an extensive system of docks and a canal system actually leads these docks through special gates inside the city walls.
No-one knows which empire or culture first began this process but it was clearly an incredibly stupid thing to do. Once a dock was created inside the walls it became part of the built environment and began gradually falling into the cities infinite depths like everything else, which meant they had to add more docks to keep it linked up, and so on.
So now a gigantic series of stagnant drydocks reaches deep, deep into the city, gradually spreading out like the branches of a tree into the infinite space.
No-one knows if the same force that grows new-old ruins replicates the stagnant water in the infinite docks or if all of it runs in from the sea, but no-one wants to take the chance. Since there is enough space in the infinite city to suck up all the oceans of the world, all new docks and canal systems have to be built so the water is pumped up into the city. If anything breaks down or a dock door fails the situation must be that what’s inside flows out instead of in. (Though there is a slight possibility of cyclic failures from deep in the city causing a flood effect which torrents infinite gallons of stagnant water out into the sea, but this is considered a lesser risk than maybe having the world’s oceans just drain away by mistake.)
There is a special ‘Dock Guard’ who are actually the oldest continual organisation in the city. They wear armour of rose and dusty gold and their entire duty is to repeatedly and ritually patrol the boundary between the docks inside the city and the docks outside the city, to make sure each is safe from the other. Their squires deal with aquatic traffic violations and police the Gondolas and the dock bureaucracy.
The relative wealth of the docks and the comparatively easy passage they afford into the interior means they form a counterweight to the power of the rim. There is a continual tug of war between the two powers and revolutions against the rim have often begun in the docks.
Ship captains who fail to pay their dock fees can be moved to the back of the queue for spaces in the canals, meaning they have to move their ships deeper into the stagnant water of the infinite docks. The deeper in they go the harder it is to make the money to move back up the queue and so some ships can wallow for ages, their crews fled and the Captains mad.
Some might even decide to sail the infinite docks deep into the interior and these ships do allow the government of the rim to keep in contact with those of its colonies in the depths. The docks though, might also be a method of passage for something coming from inside the city…
THE ENVIRONMENT IN THE DEEPS
Many texts speak of the conditions deep inside the City of Infinite Ruins. It is dry, with few sources of water outside the infinite sewers, which are often filthy near the rim as all the waste of the polity is pumped into infinite space, but much cleaner further out.
The air is said to be deeply still and the overwhelming silence and emptiness is remarked on by all travellers, as well as the ease of getting lost in the infinite streets with most navigation being done by way-markers of particular buildings and general position being known by the drift between the aesthetic of different architectural cultures.
The interior feels little effect from the seasons, with winter and summer leaching away, resulting in a continual cool, temperate climate.
It’s possible to force agriculture in the interior. First a ruin must be demolished or a street pulled up to form a field. Soil may have to be gathered from the gutters of local buildings. In some cases an overgrown park forms an easy start.
Then dryland crops like winter wheat, corn and beans can be grown using water from the infinite sewers, though yields are low, keeping most efforts at the subsistence level, if that.
Nomadic cultures can feast off birds like pigeons, which feed on the plants growing in the cracks in the buildings, or on goats, which are expert at climbing the walls to reach grazing, but even so, the numbers that can be supported are vanishingly small per area. It is a hard life to lead.
In some places large areas of parkland can provide concentrations of agricultural power and plants grow quite vibrantly in the paving stone cracks near the infinite docks, making these a favoured position.
Deep voyagers into the interior report all kinds of crazy stories, storms coming from inside the city, nomadic archeo-cultures, dimension-bending squid living in the infinite docks (effectively the size of an ocean a hundred miles in) and all the usual alienist claptrap, best ignored by normal decent people.
The people of the City of Infinite Ruin live on the borders of an incalculable and impossible interdimensional wilderness in which anything might exist. They are really good at not thinking about it. A kind of survival-based delirious narrow-mindedness leads them to spend lifetimes struggling for social positions, cramming themselves closer and closer to the rim, in ever greater crowds jammed into ever closer spaces, as if the density of people will somehow force out the annihilating silence of the city deeps.
They are fond of cults of mediocrity and knick-knacks and doily’s are popular. The room of an average teenager can look like that of a crafting-obsessed pensioner from our culture and the room of an actual pensioner can look like that pf a very brisk Miss Haversham.
People are big on hobbies and the hobbies are never very interesting.
The ‘cultural’ life of the city goes on at right-angles to this enforced mediocrity and is resentfully tolerated, most of the time as a major source of the cities wealth and fame. At various times different sumptuary laws have forced the different Alterologists into ritual masks and robes of various kinds (apart from Alienists who are not required to wear them but insist on doing so anyway) and these laws have never been repealed.
Sometimes the psychic pressure gets too much and there are terrifying pogroms of various intellectual groups.
Silence and space and emptiness are death, and, more importantly, low status. Busyness, loudness, crowds and density are life, and, more importantly, high status.
Most people in the City of Infinite Ruin lie about their address (placing it closer to the rim) and lie about where they were born in the same way. Everyone wants to be close to the wall and “having your eyes on the rim” is a positive thing to say about someone, indicating ambition, drive, will to exist and wise close-mindedness.
Being from the depths is bad, and being from the deep depths is somehow devilish. Everyone is deeply aware that that only thing keeping them away from some kind of interior barbarian or impossible alternate self is simply distance. (The possibility of doppelgangers is a major source of hysteria in the city and a general doppelgangerphobia exists. It is not good to look too much like someone else.) Though this is true for all nations, and though the distance between the people of the city and whatever might threaten them is actually probably much larger than for any other nation in the world, (as the interior is infinite), it’s still somehow worse because they are inside the city.
Nevertheless, the city does have the relics of infinite culture and an extensive amount of immigration. With infinite space inside, anyone from anywhere in the world who wants to escape somewhere can go there, and anyone is welcome, so long as they go straight to the back of the queue, out in the palatial and silent slums, miles from the rim, and then work their way up.
As much as they have their “eyes on the rim”, the people of the City of Infinite Ruin generally don’t have their minds anywhere beyond the rim. People who leave and then come back are pitied. They will have to start all over again at the back of the queue, and why would you want to leave anyway? This is the greatest city in the world!