Salt, Gold, Steel and Ghosts (Spellbound Kingdoms)
Situated on a high granite mesa in the western badlands of Akra, Hessek has long been considered one of the most defensible cities in the whole Claw. In the early days of the kingdom, Hessek’s impregnable nature was an enormous boon to the fledgling Akra but in modern days Hessek is more symbolic – Akra’s formidable army ensuring that invading forces don’t get within a hundred miles of the city. That Hessek has remained Akra’s capital despite sitting in the middle of endless miles of arid scrubland and the only entrances to the city being steep and winding mountain paths is strongly indicative of King Lucius’ priorities.
In the centre of the city is the fortresslike Royal Palace, a building dating from the Age of Cartonnage which seems to have been thrust up from the rocks themselves. It is the largest and most impressive building in the city by far – although the Cathedral and the Arsenal would certainly give the grandest buildings in most other cities pause. The city itself is split into five sections. The innermost Noble Quarter surrounds the palace and the cathedral and is surrounded itself by walls and gates. Radiating out from the Noble Quarter are the four main quarters of the city – Mercantile, Steel, Brownstone and Shale.
The Brownstone and Shale quarters are primarily residential – the latter being overall the less well-off of the two. Most buildings in Hessek are built from stone, even the poorest, and strict city planning makes the two districts a densely packed but highly ordered warren. The walls surrounding each district, the stone and iron guard towers, the watch posts and army of city guards make both feel more like a prison, however.
The Steel Quarter is largely given over to heavy industry. The Royal Arsenal is located here: a large and solidly built redoubt which churns out black powder, muskets, swords, armour and all manner of war machines. The rest of the district consists of factories, foundries, smithies, workshops and warehouses – with the ever-present guardhouses and watch posts. The streets here are paved and doublewide, to allow the constant flow of carts easy access. Another landmark of the district is the Royal Zeppelin Works, a House Anfield engineering company with a royal warrant who build the bulk of Akra’s zeppelin fleet from within their walled workshop.
The Mercantile Quarter is the largest and busiest district, mainly from the sheer amount of food and commodities that need to be transported into Hessek to keep it running – often from very long distances. The badlands have little in the way of farms and ranches to keep Hessek fed. The central part of the district is made up of a conurbation of several large indoor covered markets, originally servicing the different industries but now all merged into one large bazaar. The complex has a zeppelin hook and a main thoroughfare from the city’s main gate running right to it. Outside of the Grand Market, the rest of the district is the standard sprawl of franchises and individually owned shops, stores, inns and services.
Defensively, Hessek is a nightmare scenario for even the most impressive of invading armies. Before you can even get to the city, you have to cross miles of open, barren plains with little foraging available, no cover and precious few water sources – all of which are defended. The badlands are crisscrossed with canyons whose bridge crossings are jealously guarded by the King. The city itself is a walled fortress on a high, difficult to assault mesa. Surrounding mesas are also populated with forts and redoubts from which the King’s army can assault any besieging army from the rear. Once an invader gets within the city, there are two rings of city walls to get through, and each district is ringed with walls. The city streets are laid out to be a layered defense network of killing grounds and blockhouses from which the army can defend in depth and force the enemy assault into a slow, grinding bloodbath. The final defense point, the Royal Palace itself, is an Age of Cartonnage era castle built by a mad tyrannical king to be the centre of his reign – need more be said?
Most of the city’s water comes from aquifers, but the river Rux flows out from the Hessek mesa and a sizeable river port as well as a number of water mills cluster around the riverbank.