Chapter 2: City of the Sun
By the time they took the trolley and arrived home, the sun had come back out and it was early in the afternoon. The weather may be at the mercy of the whims of the sea, but it is almost always sunny in Lucent. The three of them went into the small apartment building, which is located between the edge of Shantytown and the Philistine. The city-state of Lucent is split into 3 main districts; Shantytown, where the lower class live, the Philistine, where the middle class live and where the shopping district is, and Beau Monde, where the upper class and the aristocrats live. The political center of Lucent, as well as the capital of the Exalted Ones, the Citadel is located just past Beau Monde.
The city was built around the design of a massive spiral, with the lowest part, Shantytown, being closest to the wall and to the ocean. The highest part, Beau Monde and the Citadel, is the furthest away. The walls in Shantytown are always leaking and in need of constant repair. The famous bazaars are located in the shopping district, and visitors from the 9 other city-states come to Lucent for the bazaars. The bazaars are always busy from dawn to dusk, with boorish fishmongers and sleazy sellers of fine goods filling the air with their haggling. There are several bazaars, each dedicated to a certain category; one bazaar is the fish market where harvests from the sea can be found, one is for meats, fruits and vegetable as well as various foods, one is for fine goods like silk and jewelry, and more still. Each bazaar is relatively close to one another, and there are various entertainments such as jesters, street musicians and even a fire-eater. There are small cafes and sitting areas located in and around the various bazaars of the city.
The Philistine also features Roseus Park, where the beloved pink quartz crystals peek out from the bottom of the ponds. The quartz crystals, after which the park is named for, are unique and no one knows where they come from, but they are rumored to have magical or healing qualities. Some say the crystals can even bring love and romance. It’s one of the city’s top tourist attractions. However, due to the epidemic that is spreading throughout the city, tourists aren’t visiting Lucent like they used to. The epidemic is worse in Lucent in comparison to the other city-states.
The Center of Archaeology and its museums are located in Beau Monde. There’s a huge focus on science and research, as well as a number of anthropologists and historians preserving relicts from before the Great War. The Center of Archaeology regularly sends out expeditions into the Lostlands to recover artifacts and conduct research into the past. The Great War of 400 years ago nearly decimated the population, and so much history was lost. Even now, society barely remembers anything from the distant past.
The Center of Archaeology usually sends out about 8 or 9 expeditions each year. However, it’s highly dangerous as the Lostlands are rife with raiding groups of Lostlanders that attack the caravans, as well as monstrous beasts that prowl from the darkness. Armed mercenaries act as guards and protect the expedition and its steel-motorized caravans, but sometimes even that is not enough. Usually one or two expeditions are lost each year, and a small memorial is built in the Garden of Memories in remembrance. Once an expedition returns with something really good, however, they are hailed as heroes. The Archaeologists are always looking for hirelings as caravan guards or assistants to the researchers, and that means job opportunities for the desperate and the poor. They pay well too, in consideration of the high risk and danger.
At the highest peak of the city-state lies the Citadel, where the Exalted Ones, priests of Solis, rule the city from up above. The Citadel is at the highest point of the city, in order to be as close to the sun as possible. The Exalted Ones are pulling the strings behind everything, even the Governor has to answer to them. There are a few smaller Ecclesiasticals scattered throughout the city but the Citadel is the crown jewel of Lucent. Each city-state has about 1 to 5 Ecclesiasticals, and Lucent has 3. Each Ecclesiastical holds a small number of the clergy, lesser priests, and is strictly devoted to the worship of the God of Light and the Sun. There are 40 Exalted Ones located throughout the 10 city-states, 20 men and 20 women. When an Exalted One dies, a new one sheds their old name and take their place. There must always be exactly 40 Exalted Ones, no matter what.
They are rarely seen in public, however, occasionally one will make a TV appearance on the news. They are the noblest of all, and are decked out in the finest robes, gowns, and décor. They wear only light colored clothes, to reflect their purity and “lightness”. Common colors include champagne, taupe, cream, white, silver and gold. The more “important” ones wear ornate masks, covering part their faces. They’re all beautiful and young, which is important as beauty and youth are seen as virtues of the light. The Exalted Ones are of varying ages, from as young as 12 to 150, conversely they all look mysteriously youthful although no one knows their secret. When an Exalted One reaches the end of their life, they go through a process known as “the Quickening”. They rapidly age within the course of a few months, losing their youthful beauty. This is considered a shameful and private process, so they retire from the public eye. This time period gives the Council time to find a replacement.
Only the richest and most important people are invited to one of the infamous balls at the Citadel, and get to mingle with the Exalted Ones. Those that are lucky enough to meet one report their amazing beauty and how serene they seem. Each Exalted One is always accompanied by 3 attendants. The attendants must dedicate their every waking moment to their patron, and it is considered a great honor. It’s also a noble sacrifice as once an attendant is chosen, they must leave their family and old lives behind to spend the rest of their lives at their patron’s side. These attendants do everything for their patron, from fetching food and water to speaking for them. Although, it’s considered more arrogant for an Exalted One to speak through their attendants.
The Exalted Ones hold their power through their status as priests of the sun god, Solis, and as the only ones who are fit to hear his holy voice. Solis is seen as the one true god, and Solisism is dominant throughout the city-states of the country of Lychinus. Technically, each of the 10 city-states have it’s own system of government, but that’s only a front as the Exalted Ones holds the true reins of power.
However, for most people like Del, the Exalted Ones and their power struggles seem so far away. Del couldn’t care less about Solis or whoever, she’s got more important things to worry about such as how they’re going to be able to keep the house. Gemma, Kermit, and Del gathered in the living room. Del’s cat, Scheherazade, or Zade for short, lounged languidly from the top of the decrepit bookshelf. Gemma sat on their old raggedy couch, and Del sat in Granddad’s creaky wooden rocking chair, and Kermit on the leather armchair that is basically falling apart at the seams.
Granddad’s fishing was their only source of income, and now that he’s gone, what are they going to do for money? Gemma is training to be a nurse, so she doesn’t have the time to take on a part-time job, and Kermit is still in school. That leaves to Del to be the new provider for the family.
“So, Del’s going to look for a job right?” Kermit signed inquisitively. “But what are we going to do about paying the bills in the meantime?”
Gemma sighed and gently massaged her temple with one of her hands. “I’m not sure,” she signed in response. “I’m honestly not sure…”
Del grinded her teeth in frustration. She had a job as a waitress until a few months ago, when she got fired over a confrontation with her boss. The “confrontation” was started over the fact that Del’s boss kept trying to play grab-ass with her, and she was not comfortable with that. She’s haven’t had any luck finding a permanent job since.
“Well, if I really have to, I can just find work as a Love Girl,” Del grumbled sarcastically. Shantytown is known for its infamous red light district, which features many prostitute houses that double as nightclubs and bar lounges, typically called love clubs. The prostitutes are commonly called Love Girls or Love Boys. Prostitution is technically illegal but the government turns a blind eye.
Kermit just rolled his eyes, he knew she wasn’t serious. However, Gemma ‘tsk’ed at that and shook her head indignantly. “Absolutely not! I’m not letting my little sister become a whore!”
Del pursed her lips and crossed her arms. “Why the hell not? We’re going to loose this house if we don’t start paying the bills again. We’re already three months behind. Or you can just ask one of your boy toys or sugar daddies for money.” Gemma has always been popular with men, and is never without a boyfriend or two, with multiple others pining after her. It’s easy to see why she’s so popular; Gemma is outgoing, friendly, and beautiful. She attracts others naturally, which admittedly had made Del jealous in the past. She even went though a short phase where she tried to compete with Gemma in terms of popularity with guys, but she quickly realized how stupid and pointless that was.
Gemma narrowed her eyes, “I don’t even have a sugar daddy! Don’t blame me because you’re always single and bitter. And what do my sex life even has to do with this?”
Sensing the same old tensions between his sisters rising again, Kermit tried to defuse it. Waving his hands, he said, “Wait, Del was just kidding about working as a Love Girl. Right?” He looked at Del expectedly.
Del huffed for a second and signed yes begrudgingly. “Whatever,” she grumbled.
“Besides,” Kermit continued. “We really need to focus on what we’re going to do about money.”
Gemma ran her fingers through her golden blonde hair anxiously. “You’re right… We didn’t expect Granddad to get sick so suddenly, but with the epidemic spreading and considering how old he is-was, we really should have prepared for this.” She chewed on her bottom lip. “Maybe I should drop out of nursing school, and get a job. At least just for a while...”
“No!” Kermit’s fingers snapped immediately. “This is your dream, you’ve been working hard forever, you gotta stay in nursing school!”
Even though there’s a bit of deeply set tension between Gemma and Del, Del had to admit that Gemma deserves this much at least. “He’s right, you need to finish your training.” She took a deep breath. “Let me worry about finding a job, ok? I’ll take care of it, don’t worry,” Del reassured her sister.
Gemma sighed deeply. “Alright, but what about this in the meantime?” She pointed to the stack of unpaid bills on the stained coffee table.
“Well…” Kermit shrugged, “There’s always the trash…” He grinned cheekily.
Del winked at him. “Good idea, problem solved!”
Gemma rolled her eyes and scoffed amusedly. “You two are ridiculous, I swear.”
Del laughed lightly, but inside she was still anxious. Now there’s even more pressure on her to find a job, and their savings has just run out. All this stress is making her crave for a hit of some Sunny Gems. Her buzz has long since passed. She would need to go get some more soon…