The first sun is big and red, looming over the horizon without giving much real light. The third and fourth suns are far away, bright but distant, like twin moons. But the second sun…ah, the rise of the second sun is a thing of beauty. The great gold-white sphere, hanging overhead at noon, is beautiful enough to make a man weep. And it rises most majestically, they say, over the city of Apiti-Caprale, on the Platinum Coast.

It’s actually two cities rolled into one, built on opposite sides of a lake; over the years the two came to a truce, and then with a dynastic unification they found their way into the centre of the marshy body, so close to the sea. The roads in this city are many, but for every road there are two canals–more than that, on the outskirts where the farmers grow their crops in floating gardens. That’s how the city started, really, as farmland–but posts were driven down into the mud, and stone foundations laid atop them. Now it’s the largest of the Shining Jewels, cities with an Imperial Charter to govern themselves and their trade, so long as they pay a tithe to the Emperor or Empress in the City of Seven Stories. Bar a governor, an elderly fey well into her third century and quite firm, the Grand Council of Merchants takes care of day-to-day business. The lake protects them, and so does the Wooden Wall of river- and ocean-going ships, somewhere between Viking longships and Hanseatic cogs.

Glide into the city, now, from the east so as to see the effect of the rising sun. Marble- and limestone-covered pyramid-temples for the city’s guardian spirits jut out like islands in a sea of steep-roofed, many-tiered houses. The houses themselves are made of lacquered wood and strong stone. The most meagre of them all have brick façades and single-tier roofs, but the biggest are veritable towers. Another sort of island rises, too, the fortress-homes of the city’s most powerful merchants. Combining residence, warehouse, castle, and in many cases bank, these are great towers covered in gold and silver leaf–an extravagant symbol, to be sure, but nobody would dare attack those towers. There are many powers in this world, and intimidation is one of the most effective.

Apiti-Caprale is a migrant’s city, and the leading families, from all corners of the globe, take pride in their ability to replicate the homelands of their ancestors. In one garden, flowers that despite the heat bloom just like those in the green meadows of the west in summer; in another, a simulated rainforest canopy; in yet another, dry desert, sand and all, the walls of the covered lots engraved with swirly Eshmadoyan hieroglyphs. All government buildings by law tell local time, but the Great Halls and Embassies use their own time zone and culturally-specific hour-count, striking for dawn, noon, and sunset at different times of the day. And in the off-time, they use bells, drums, and inflating resonators to broadcast music across their patch of the city. (Apiti-Caprale is not known as the City of Sweet Water and Music for nothing…)

You’ll never see the full extent of it, but the city is proud of its water filtration system, and says so plainly. Known as the Slime Canals, it was installed by early Purists with a vested interest in keeping people alive as long as possible. the slow sand filters allow canal water to pass through them from the local rivers feeding the lake, and remove almost all of anything that could be dangerous from the water. (This also means the city is self-supporting; no aqueducts to cut off during a siege.) The water is then pumped, in pipes of metal with a ceramic coating, into the houses of the rich, the markets, the temples, the garrison, the hospices, the buildings of government, and the public fountains. Sewage waste is collected on barges and shipped to the water gardens to act as fertilizer. Liquid waste…well, drink from the fountains, they’re safe and secure for the most part, but do not drink from the canals.

It’s time for breakfast! An essential meal to any good merchant, a light start to a day of profit and peace. Not time for the city’s famous kebabs yet, but it’s worth getting a pastry from the vendors traversing the quayside. Try an allaqeyo, a flaky dumpling filled with sweet jam from local fruits. Tart and crumbly and blessedly cool, it’s an excellent start to a day of sightseeing and commerce.

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