Building Beyond is an ongoing series of conversations about how much fun worldbuilding can be. Building a world doesn’t have to be hard or scary. Let’s give it a try, together.
You live in a thriving city-state that is powered by blood magic. The magic is spread throughout the city via the distribution of zines.
Gailey: Where does the blood for the zines come from? How is it processed for printing?
Rhiannon: The city-state we live in is unique in our archipelago for several reasons, one being that it is built not on land but on the back of an immense aquatic creature not unlike a turtle. The city swims very slowly through the coldest and deepest areas of the ocean, avoiding islands and continents. The creature also has an abundance of blood, which is harvested weekly and harmlessly using a specific species of particularly large leech ranging from a hands width to three hands long. The journey down to place and remove the leeches under the gargantuan shell of the city is an arduous one and often assigned to apprentice printers, though generally with oversight. Flame held near the heaviest of the leeches causes them to release their hold, and the fat and well-fed leeches are then collected into baskets. These leeches are placed in trays to be harvested. A combination of the properties of the thick sea-home's blood plus the acidic digestion of these leeches causes their waste to be a dark and thick gall-like ink. Once mixed with linseed oil and a small amount of gum or egg binder, the ink, created as a symbiosis of the city itself and smelling of the ocean, is suitable for printing. Once the leeches have completed their digestive cycle, they are carefully brought down the side of the creature in order to feed again.
Gailey: What kind of information is in the zines? Why is it important for this particular information to be magically-emphasized?
Rhiannon: The zines themselves are personal sigils, carved by hand from root vegetables and printed on reed paper grown around the creek-grooves of the creature's shell. Traditionally quarter-folded and made to fit in a palm, no more than five to ten zines can be printed from any given carving before the medium gives out. The zines are sent out to the other islands; holding a zine allows the holder to know, as through homing instinct, where the city is. Without them, the creature is difficult to locate, both because it is always moving and because it generally seems to value its privacy. The turtle does not wish to be found. Those who have held our zines and attempted to harm our city have been overcome by the feeling of a great heartbeat, overfull; a throbbing, a need to move on and leave this place behind. They never return to our city.
Gailey: How are the zines distributed?
Rhiannon: Via carrier gull. Though the zines are in great demand to would-be traders, we do not make them for gain or standing alone; when we distribute the zines, we whisper into the ears of our grey birds that they are to find the forgotten, the lost, and the hopeless, and bring them home.
Ryan Van Loan is an up and coming Science Fiction and Fantasy author. When he’s not traveling Ryan enjoys hiking, soccer (football), tabletop gaming, weightlifting (with his personal best coming from deadlifting three times his body weight), and all things culinary. Ryan's debut novel, The Sin in the Steel (Tor Books), Book One in the Fall of the Gods series came out in 2020. Today, Ryan lives in northeastern Pennsylvania with his wife and two dogs where he’s hard at work on his next novel.
Gailey: Where does the blood for the zines come from? How is it processed for printing?
Ryan: Drakulya is the only city-state in the world powered by the blood of one of the Fallen. The origins of Drakulya are admittedly a bit murky –
Narrator: there’s a beautiful stretch of plains surrounding Lake Aiska a few leagues to the south and even the Bartumionous mountain range would seem less intimidating than living within the bones and viscera of a dead Goddess
Ryan: – but what we do know for certain is that two centuries ago the Heartstone within the center of the city was discovered to not be a stone, but in fact a heart –
Narrator: seems a bit obvious in hindsight
Ryan: – whose vast reservoirs of Deific blood held intriguing properties. Initially residents quaffed the blood like fine wine, but it was quickly discovered that too much of a good thing in fact bequeaths too much of a good thing. After the onslaught of maniacal inventions, art exhibitions, and blood orgies ran their course the citizens came to their senses –
Narrator: the ensuing population increase did put Drakulya in good stead when the nearby city-state of Aquenta launched an invasion and discovered too late that blood is in fact, thicker than water
Ryan: – and found themselves living within a modern marvel of architecture, art, and enough territorial expansion that they were on the brink of empire.
Ryan: Following this Age of…er…Enlightenment, the citizens of Drakulya scaled back use of this precious resource. It was during this more cautious era that the printing press was invented and with it, the mad –
Narrator: one woman’s madness is another’s genius
Ryan: – inventor, Rosaria, thought to mix trace amounts of the Fallen’s blood with ink in a secret process that’s closely guarded to this day. Rosaria’s initial printings demonstrated the power of the written word when combined with the magic of the Gods which unfortunately for her –
Narrator: urban legends says she was given a single piece of parchment, written with her ink, that provided both instructions and a compulsion to attempt human flight. There’s still a shattered tile in the main palazzo to mark her landing
Ryan: – led to the Doga and the Council confiscating her press and methodologies. Rosaria’s loss was Drakulya’s gain though, and within a dozen years they had achieved one hundred percent literacy amongst their citizens.
Gailey: What kind of information is in the zines? How are the zines distributed?
Ryan: Visitors to Drakulya may be overwhelmed at first, both by the variety of zines and their methods of distribution, but once properly settled in, all begins to make sense. News of the day can be purchased from criers on every corner whose paper contains a special kind of pulp that holds the ink no matter the weather. Readers who don’t want to be depressed by the news will find the euphoric poem on the final page fills them with unbridled joy while those readers who are perhaps, less sanguine in nature –
Narrator: you see what the writer did there? They’re unreasonably chuffed about it, I can tell you
Ryan: – can skip that and let the news settle into their minds. Libraries contain books with lines of intention scribed at the bottom of every page which ensures the information read cannot be forgotten. There are emergency placards placed strategically throughout Drakulya’s many curvaceous alleys and streets that can be broken and consumed for immediate emergency healing needs.
Narrator: This particular Fallen’s bone structure did not lend naturally to city planning. Honestly why the founders didn’t go for that lakefront view I’ll never know. I recommend reading a travel guide upon arriving at any of our platforms whereupon you’ll find your direction unerringly accurate, guided by that most peculiar déjà vu sensation that you’ve in fact been here before.
Ryan: A final note on those, ahem, rumors one hears occasionally about our magically inked zines. It is true that the blood of our resident Fallen conveys many different properties that are activated by the meaning of the sentences themselves. These sentences, known as lines of intention, are provided either in-text or as footnotes, and they activate the magic in the ink. However, just because these lines of intention place thoughts and set off complex spells within your mind and body, it does not naturally follow that the rulers of Drakulya would use them as means of psychic control. Quite the reverse! Why, Drakulya’s first law in our constitution forbids the use of spells, subliminal, intentional, or otherwise to suggest, implant, or control in any manner the actions, thoughts, feelings of our citizens.
Narrator: We all know governments never lie. Especially to their own people.
Ryan: This is why every person entering our city-state is granted temporary citizen status to ensure all are protected under the law. We will not deign to even address that last, most salacious slander that the Fallen now controls us through its very blood. If you don’t believe us, please see the footnote from our Barristers’ General at the bottom of the pamphlet for further exculpatory language.*
Gailey: Why is it important for this particular information to be magically-emphasized?
Ryan: The form and function of Drakulya’s zines are limitless, growing every year and giving tourists a great excuse to come visit. We are exploring a new method of manufacturing our ink that will soon allow guests to return home with magical copies of their own. Truly, there has been no better time to visit!
Ryan: Your mind is an open door.
*Narrator: If you’re reading this, it’s too late!
You greet me as an old friend, welcoming me in and telling me to make myself at home. You’re growing tired. My friend, why don’t you let me help you into bed whilst I rearrange some of the furniture? You really could use a quick nap, couldn’t you? Of course you could. Perfect. Sleeeeep…when you awake you will feel a bit out of sorts, but you’ll know just the trick: a vacation. Where better than the beautiful, bone-white city of Drakulya? We can be united, you and I. You shall drink of me and I shall feast upon you in ways most delicious. A Fallen never falls, but she rises, and I feel a stirring. Don’t you? Sweetest dreams friend… we’ll meet soon.
My city of blood would be... you know what, I can't come up with anything. All I can think about is how much I want to visit the scenic, welcoming city of Drakulya. The delights and attractions of lovely Drakulya are so alluring and compelling. I think I'm going to open my window tonight and fall asleep in my most neck-exposing slumber-garment while thinking about Drakulya and how I can't wait to go there. I wish there was a way I could experience some of the glories of the city here in my own home. Why, I'd sell my soul for a taste of what it's like there. If only there was someone who could show me The Wonders.
All of these possibilities are just beginnings. Rhiannon's thing is the start of a gorgeous, poignant meditation on communities that create safety for the vulnerable. Ryan's thing is the beginning of a glorious visit to a perfect city where all my problems will be solved by friendly locals who just have my best interests at heart. My thing is wait what's that noise? I better go check it out. Be right back.
What's your city of blood like? Is it sustainable to operate a city this way? Why does the side of my neck hurt so much even though I can't see any sign of a wound there?
Do whatever you want with these questions. You can write something down in the comments or on social media or in a notebook nobody will ever see. You can draw or paint or sit down a friend and talk their ear off about your ideas. You can stare at the horizon and imagine, letting the infinite landscape of your mind unfold just a little farther than it did yesterday. No matter what you do, take pride in the knowledge that you’re creating something that has never existed before. You’re building a little corner of a whole new world.
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