Travel writer Munse Egbert wrote, ‘The prow of a mighty, steep-sided plateau rose from a gently curling sea of cloud. It spread like a Fakhlan rug before a noble crag that stood between it and the glowering banks of brume that threatened to brim and wash down over it all. But covering the rug itself, another carpet: a gleaming one of construction, bristling with proud spires. From this distance one already sees how each was tall and stately as it was massive. Each met the sun in warm hues of bronze, copper, and gold, from immersed feet to tapering tips — a half-mile high, the greater ones were, yet none made more than a trifling contribution to the scale of the Gilded City. The skyscrapers of Malendar had always reached up, up out of the welter of brick, limestone and glass, reached to outdo their neighbours for a greater share of the sun’s grandeur. And around that shimmer of countless buildings – from the shoaling, darting specks that were planes to the quiet drifting leviathans that were unmistakeably the great dirigibles – aircraft, scores of aircraft once you looked close enough, the planes jostling and diving into the mass of construction, the airships – some trailing vivid billboards that would’ve covered a city block – lounging among the spires, circling lazily in clear skies, clustering to mast wherever city dropped off into cloud.
That plateau – properly a ‘mesa’ to the thriving geographical societies operating from it – that was Calenbar. Upon it, Malendar: capital of Federate Iara. When the sun slants into golden hour on a clear day, Malendar resembles a sheer-sided isle of jewels in the heavens. Sunlight, sparing nothing from the splendour of its touch, glances not only off the city, but in shades of brilliant ochre off the exposed plateau walls.
Other times the cloudsea rises to engulf the city, and all its souls with it. For full days at end one might be shrouded in wet, gray, chill murk too thick to drive a cart in. There will be little colour to speak of. No plane will fly, and such airships as can will have to grab and be dragged around dim urban fissures by straining locomotives. Malendar’s legion foglights will be roused to do battle with the murk, and in the white veil that follows, pilferers and misfits will in some districts outnumber the regular publick. One must be doughty to walk the streets then; most will quite sensibly prefer not to descend at all, but to strike for as many sky bridges as one needs to board the nearest el…’
So much has been and can yet be written of the gilded city; Egbert’s is but one account. This seemingly impossible place has grown over the centuries around foundations that have had to be reworked and strengthened with each generation passed. The plateau Calenbar’s largely rocky interior, in places brittle and porous, is now a fifth steel and concrete by volume, an amount which must surely increase until less than half of the original substrate remains. Five elevators the size of ocean liners shuttle goods and sundry to and from docks a mile and a half below; there steamers ply a maze of rivers and lakes lapping wanly through the gorges and caverns that radiate wildly across and under otherwise dry, barren tracts of land. A trip on an elevator is quite the experience. You leave the chill draughts and (often enough, at least) dazzling clarity of Malendar, plunge into the mile-thick, shifting innards of beleaguering clouds, and emerge in the span of a few minutes into a dusty, yellowed, stifling warm underworld. Few people care to live or work here; it is called ‘Wastes’ or ‘Lifeless Plains’ for good reason, and is littered with dead factories, dead towns, derelict engines, and the occassional shanty. Anyhow, one cannot go very far on the waters that snake furtively about this land. Excepting the one tributary that manages only just to reach the next state Eadar, they serve only the far towns of the metropolitan region before vanishing underground.
No, Malendar’s panCarigian interests are better served by rail and, better yet, by air…