The Geography of Uncity

Nobody knows where Uncity is. With the exception of necromancers, who contact and visit it mentally, and those dead raptured back to life, no-one who enters Uncity ever returns to Bratsk to tell the tale. Does it hover above the continent, or below it? Is it a geographical location at all, or just a figment of the universal mind into which one enters upon death? Is it an island off the coast of Bratsk, or indeed is it a region of Bratsk itself, as yet undiscovered by the living? Is it even possible for the living to enter Uncity? Perhaps that land of the dead is right before you now, only you are unaware of its presence until you meet your final end, upon which you realise the city of death was always with you, walked beside you, or lived within you.

Countless theories, myths and tales have been invented to explain Uncity’s location and what it looks like.

Most of these imaginings are the result of gossip, of snatched descriptions given by necromancers or by those few who have returned to life. From there, the imagination of the living takes over, and so, ever since people were able to conceive of life and death and capable of conceptualising the afterlife, all manner of descriptions have existed to explain and describe it. Some have been committed to writing and form a foundational part of mainstream and marginal religions across Bratsk, whilst others remain the province of idle tittle tattle shared orally around the hearth. It is the ambiguity of Uncity that casts such a long shadow over the thoughts of the living. Its vagueness is both alluring and terrible, its purpose ambivalent and mystical.

What exactly happens to you in Uncity?

For those who arrive in Uncity, the initial impression is anticlimactic, since it resembles an environment familiar to any urban dweller of Bratsk. There are streets. There are houses. There are tenements that, though immeasurably old and decayed, bear similarity to the large and small conurbations of the continent. Administrative buildings take pride of place in the centre of the city—the Court, the Archive, the Prelacies, all decaying, all crumbling, yet never repaired and never rebuilt. They seem to have a will of their own, some force that binds each of their stones and prevents their collapse. On the margins of the city, just like any other city, sector upon sector of ghettoes and derelict projects, rows upon rows of homogenized living space either abandoned or occupied by stragglers and hangers-on, those who have yet to be sentenced and have forgotten why they are here.

In the day, Uncity is washed in light, thereby invalidating the rumours of folk in Bratsk that it is a place of eternal night. Far from it. In the summer months—for summer exists here too—only a handful of dark hours exist before it is light again. The same is true of the winter months, when the period between getting out of bed and returning to it is reduced to the narrowest corridor of time, in which one must hurry if one wants to take a walk around the city before the darkness rises from the ground once again to swallow you whole. What causes the illumination of the sky is not clear. Certainly, there is no sun to speak of, and neither is there a moon. The sky, if one can call it that, is really just a stretched expanse of white that dims as the day progresses until it resembles a chalkboard in the evening. Not a single star shines at night, so that the only source of light comes from the candles burnt in apartment windows, and the gas lamps on the sides of streets. In winter Uncity is as cold as the Sealing Sea, and in summer it is as warm as the plains as the Nur-Dal. Signs of life are strangely present all year round, from the trees that lose their leaves in the autumn to the budding of flowers in the spring. To all extents, Uncity mirrors the seasons of Bratsk, and if it wasn’t for the fact that those who populate this place are not people but in fact the souls of the dead, one might be forgiven for thinking Uncity is a metropolis like any other. A particularly run-down, decaying metropolis, one of unfathomable age and time, but a metropolis all the same.

By day, the streets are alive with the talk of souls and the gleeful, life-desiring shouts of dead children. A bell tolls out the hour from the tower in the city centre, though no-one pays it much mind. A day in Uncity is much like any other. Life here—or more accurately death here—is experienced as the endless repetition of the same motif. Day in, day out, the same conversations, the same self-invented routines to keep boredom and desperation at bay. The only thing that ever seems to change is the faces of the newly arrived and the sudden disappearance of old friends, summoned during the night to pass through one of the seven Gates. Everything else remains the same. After a while, souls begin to look forward to their judgement by the Court; no matter which gate they are to walk through eventually, the afterlife appears as a favourable alternative to the numb mundanity of living in Uncity.

Beyond the decay, exhausted splendour and places of squalor the city offers up, there extends around the city a heath, its grasses and turf perpetually wet, is marshland treacherous, and beyond this, the forest. Far in the distance, the Abiding Veil rises from the ground and merges with the sky. Viewed from Uncity, the Veil appears as an enormous wave of water that runs not downwards but upwards, its frothy white crest merging with the bleak desolation of sky, its body bent backwards and disappearing over its own lip.

Pick any direction you wish—the Veil is always there, a thick morass of vapour and upwardly surging air that darkens near the earth and brightens towards its peak. Though countless souls have tried, it has never been reached, far less breached. Returning to Uncity exhausted and downtrodden, these intrepid wanderers tell of the way the Veil recedes the closer one gets to it, like the horizon of a desert—always there, and never here. And yet beneath the boredom of the day and the loneliness of the night, beneath the blank slate of the day’s sky and its void-like emptiness of the night, the sound of Veil, its waves crashing far away, its surging currents that lull and stir souls equally, is an ever-present soundtrack to the lives of souls in Uncity. Whether one wishes to hear it or not, it is always with them, only ever fleetingly ignored before its dull, low din reasserts its presence in the mind. It is an inescapable, audible reminder to each and every soul in Uncity that they are and forever will be dead, separated from life for all time by this infinite span of watery air, on the other side of which exists life, love, family, and the future. That is the greatest torment of all, and one which many a soul cannot endure, forcing them to seek not a postponement to their trial and sentencing but its expediting. Anything than have to face that melancholy reminder each and every day.

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