Arranging the board

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The city of Treydolain was enormous and sprawling, one of the largest cities on the surface of Evinden, though nobody outside of the Lagonian valley was aware of this fact. The citizens of Hollanhead, on the coast to the south, went about their business convinced of their superiority in all things cultural, technological and societal. The old, united tribes of Safast, across the ocean, were proud of their history of art and pioneering sciences, believing themselves the spark of the world, even as their power had waned in the last century.

Then there was the valley, with the city of Treydolain at its centre, alone, unaware of and unconcerned by the outside world, a secret jewel nestled within its crown of mountains. Its people cared not for what lay beyond those steep obstacles, for the valley was all that one needed.

Lagonia was its own hidden kingdom, divorced from the corruptions of the lesser peoples beyond the mountains, and the temptations of inferior civilisations. Lagonia carved its own path, a part of Evinden but set entirely apart. The valley was an anomaly on the planet's surface, delivering a society in microcosm; a bubble world that lived by its own rules and was happier for it.

Treydolain shone as a beacon in the centre of the valley, showing the way to a bright future. That had always been its role, ever since the founders first set foot in the valley, climbed to the top of the mesas and planted their flags. The city was split into districts, each distinct yet blending into one another. Along the southern shore of the lake were the grand estates of the aristocrats, leading to the commercial district, which in turn shifted towards the docks where the fishermen brought in their hauls. Across the river the poor quarter sat in its walled-off ghetto, tidied neatly away such that everyone else could pretend it didn't exist. Yet another pocket universe, existing within the larger valley's imposed boundaries. Next to it was the somewhat euphemistic theatre district, delivering its curious mixture of art and debauchery, while following the river upstream towards the gorge revealed manufacturing and the shipbuilders - vessels for both air and water - before the mesas began to rise steeply out of the hills, bringing with them the diplomatic and military core of the city, where barracks, homes and guest houses were carved into the rock, spiralling up to the palace grounds at the very top.

Jed Garron worked on the shore by the lake, fixing nets and mending boats. The attention to detail appealed to Jed, keeping him focused and helping the day to drift by. In the summer months it was a good job, sitting out on the jetties as boats went about their business on the lake and people passed to and fro in the streets. The winter was harder, especially if the lake tried to freeze over, though that hadn't happened for years.

After a long day of working with his hands, Jed would take his pay from the fishing master, pocket two thirds of it and take the remainder to the Jolly Fish & Crown, the tavern on the lakefront that was a second home for most of the dockworkers and fishermen. It was very important to not spend it all, he'd decided, as one day he'd find himself a lovely girl who he'd want to look after. Each day as the sun dropped behind the distant mountains, he'd swing open the door to the tavern and enter into its lamp-lit, ramshackle interior - a single large room with a curving ceiling barely supported by splintering beams - and order himself a pint of the strongest ale they had on offer. He'd find a spot at the bar, lean back and feel the amber-brown liquid start to return warmth to his belly. Almost everyone in the place knew each other, and workers stuck together. There was an unwritten rule that none of the bosses went to the Jolly Fish.

"Saw a queer thing today," Jed said, to nobody in particular. A couple of other men turned to regard him curiously - they were called Neal and Shay, and were good fellows. Worked over at one of the rival fisheries, but none of that mattered in the Jolly Fish.

"What's that?" Shay asked, already slurring a touch.

Jed frowned and took a sip from his drink. "There I was," he continued, "minding my own business, hammering some new sides onto this rowboat, when I smelled this awful stench."

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