The Dying Cities
Jak dove to the ground in mid stride hauling his sister down behind the fallen log, as he wrapped his cloak around her face to muffle her cry. He struggled to control his own ragged breath as he took out his Gun and removed the oily rag covering the priming pan. The things that hunted them were far enough away (he hoped) that they would not have seen them drop out of sight. Jak and his sister had been running for the best part of an hour, deeper and deeper into the forest. The shadowy creatures followed, always at the edge of vision, flitting from tree to tree, ever closing.
It seemed like ages had passed since they had been sitting together in the family tower. Jak leaning against the window and gazing over the interminable forests as his sister bemoaned her fate. Their step-father, never the diplomat had announced her betrothal just the day before, with the wedding itself to be in two weeks time. Just long enough for the groom’s family to travel from the nearest city-state rival, Kellinstat. Jak had always wondered what lay beyond the next hill. What it meant to survive beyond the walls and confines of the dwindling citadel. He hadn’t really thought Sarei would agree to his suggestion when he challenged her to run away with him. Right now, he wished she had put up some more resistance.
The cities hold the last libraries above ground, as well as tight clans of old families, generally inbred as well as dangerously paranoid and xenophobic. Around the towers of the highborn cluster ramshackle cottages and tightly packed terraces of houses, where dwell the serving classes, artisans, and merchants who deal with the outside. Highborn of the cities tend to be educated, and have access to certain technologies such as arcane magic of the Wizardly variety, and alchemy such as black powder, steel, primitive steam driven machinery and coal-gas. Use of these and other technologies is by no means widespread in the cities, but neither is it unheard of. Most of the tools and dies used in the creation of the technological items are ancient beyond knowledge, and cannot be re-created by any techniques available at present, but there are dies and diagrams for making crude pistols and blunderbusses, as well as single-piston reciprocating steam engines, crude airships and a terrifying inventory of torture devices.
Rumours exist of even more exotic artifacts in the holding of some of the oldest families – weapons so terrible that whole armies might be vanquished if they only had the key to their function – or the fuel they required.