This was originally posted on my Patreon, and is an answer from February’s Q&A. Patrons get the chance to ask me (or my characters) anything, though I reserve the right not to answer anything I deem spoilery or inappropriate.
A question from Lizzie: You mentioned in the about section that the city in Argentum is clinging to the side of a caldera, how does that work geographically with the river? Have you considered making a map of the city?
So the main thing to know about the caldera is that it was the result of a magical explosion, and thus the geography around it is… a bit weird.
The second thing to know is that Sacaan didn’t start off built into the mountain. It started as a small settlement built into the foothills, around the River Aan (hence ‘Sacaan’, since ‘Sac’ here is a prefix meaning ‘on/around’ in one of the older languages of the continent). As the settlement grew, it expanded upwards until they were building onto and into the caldera wall itself (primarily because there’re natural caves in the rock which could be used for storage, shelter, and living space).
As the city grew, newer floors were added to the older buildings to keep them at the level of the newer streets – leading to some of the oldest parts of the city becoming a tangle of towering tenements criss-crossed with rickety bridges and ladders, where the lowest levels of the alleyways barely see sunlight even in high summer (the area of the city known as The Deeps).
Sacaan’s also technically built on more than one river – or, at least, more than one water source. The source of the Aan is outside the city, off in the mountains to the west, and by the time it reaches the city it’s wide enough that the bridges arcing over it are a major part of the city’s architecture (and wide enough that there’s an entire section of the city called Dockside), but there are two other water sources in the mountains above the city – these cascade down on either side of the complex which houses the Grand Temple, and then merge with the Aan as it flows through the city.
I am absolutely going to make a map of the city at some point (if for no other reason than allowing me to keep the details straight in my head), and it’ll hopefully make a lot of how this works a bit more clear.
In terms of how the city works in general, though, it’s divided up into Quarters and, within those, into districts (and smaller districts within those). The University’s in the University Quarter, the temples are in the Temple Quarter, and a pile of the richer members of society live in the Old Quarter (which is, confusingly, the second oldest part of the city – the River Quarter’s older).
So, for how this works: The Crossed Daggers (the tavern/thieves kitchen where Sabbat lives) is in Steepside, which is a part of Old Town, which is a district of the River Quarter. Dockside is also a part of Old Town (though there’s some dispute on that) and while Docksiders and Steepsiders pretty much hate each others’ guts they’ll band together against folks from outside Old Town – and if someone from outside the River Quarter comes causing trouble, Docksiders and Steepsiders will happily stand shoulder to shoulder with folks from all across the Quarter to kick them back to where they come from.
I’ll round this out with a chunk of description which I’m still proud of, because this city:
‘Once, when the city had been significantly younger than it was now, the River Quarter had been the entirety of Sacaan. As the city had grown, it had found itself overshadowed by newer, taller, grander buildings, until what remained of the oldest parts of the settlement was now a multi-level sunken slum, crisscrossed with rotting wooden catwalks and rusting iron ladders, and possessed of enough side-alleys and back-streets that even a vampire’s lifetime wasn’t enough to catalogue them all.
And, of all the districts which made up the River Quarter, Old Town was by far the least welcoming – a dark, claustrophobic huddle of creaking timber-framed tenements and half-width paths clinging like ivy to the side of the mountain spur on which several of the more salubrious neighbourhoods of the city were built, and spreading out at its base into a sprawl of shadowed streets running mazelike through a web of ramshackle taverns, boarding houses and brothels, most of which seemed to be almost constantly being added to, repaired, or otherwise worked on.’