Before me loomed the vista of Khrem’s sunless canals.
A century or two ago, after a series of earthquakes, the tip of the peninsula that holds Khrem sank into the sea. And like many situations involving the history of the ancient city, the story isn’t quite that simple.
It seems that the earthquakes were doing quite a bit of damage, and people were getting desperate. Some were even fleeing the city for the outlying towns and villages. Merchants were closing shops and caravans were leaving town half empty and weeks ahead of schedule.
Then an alchemist named Orasvis announced that he had made a mechanism that would stop the earthquakes and save the city. Needless to say, the citizens were skeptical and Orasvis was for the most part ignored. Regardless, he publically claimed he would activate his “earth tamer” during the next quake and put an end to the devastation.
Five days later he got his chance.
History gets a little vague on what happened next, but the consensus is that once the quake was underway, Orasvis activated the machine that he had assembled in Admiralty Square. The machine spun into motion and there came a thunderous “SNAP!” that every denizen of Khrem felt through the bottom of his feet straight up to his teeth. The shaking immediately subsided, and silence fell over the city.
A great cheer then arose and Orasvis was proclaimed The Hero of The City, and the three Academies in Khrem all offered him professorships.
The next day the end of the city sank into the sea.
Apparently there were no quakes, thunder, or explosions…just the end of Khrem settling grandly into the Akartic Sea like a holed river barge. The process took about six hours, and a large portion of the old section of the city now found themselves standing on their second floor balconies and watching the water lap about a foot below. The further out towards the tip you were, the deeper you sank.
No quakes followed this event, and the majority of the city considered it a price worth paying to put an end to the troubles. They declared Orasvis a genius who had acted in the greater good and held a party in his honor.
The problem was that Orasvis lived in the part of Khrem that sunk, and his neighbors held a simultaneous party for him with torches and pitchforks…and a noose. That didn’t harm his place in history, though. He still got the professorships post-humously, and the greater part of Khrem considered the old-towners to be a bitter and narrow minded bunch who behaved poorly in regards to the whole affair.
I’m sure that made Orasvis feel better…not as good as a rescue effort might have, but I guess you take what you get.
Life went on…except for Orasvis…and the people of Khrem responded by simply building another floor on top of their now shorter houses. Since it is standard in Khrem for builders to have the higher floors extend further out over the street than the lower ones, the streets were already semi-tunnels with only a five to eight foot gap between the eaves. Nobody bothered changing the order of things when the new floors were built, and the sky disappeared over the new canals where streets had once been.
Now the canals are black tunnels that are plied by lantern hung boats, with the occasional manmade cavern where a square once stood, featuring a rectangular hole high overhead. Plank sidewalks jut from the sides of many of the structures and run along the gloomy waterways, with wooden bridges spanning the gaps between buildings. Some are hung with the occasional lantern, some are not.
And on this end, the dark urban rivers all emptied out into the Grand Canal that ran along the fault line that separated this part of the city. Orasvis Avenue ran along beside it, from near the Cambriatic Seawall all the way to the Nur River.
Fighting the urge to flee, I made my way down the stone steps to the landing where the boat awaited.