Designed and written in collaboration with Andrew Milner
The city of Valdrilla wasn’t always like this. The rusty bones of a once great city are all that remain in this desolate place. A framework of the past, these remnants are the only surviving evidence of the once thriving metropolis. Pipes and fixtures and reservoirs and aqueducts are all that is left, loosely implying the form of the city that stood here before. They are forever interwoven in an intricate connection of waterways that cover the entire hillside on which Valdrilla once existed. Yet now, some 200 years after the Great Blaze, from my perch high above the city, I can still smell the char of the wood and I can still see clouds of ash kick up in the occasional gust of wind. I must tell you the tale of the rise and fall of Valdrilla so you can understand how this burnt city of pipes came to be.
This great metropolis began as a meager village upon a hillside back in the days of the Ancients. They had vowed to make this new home a fresh start, a place void of all the pitfalls and crime and squalor that had plagued cities before. These initial settlers each brought to this place their own unique sense of the ideal city, colored by their past experiences. Some came from the cave dwellings of the North, some from the floating towns of the Far West, and even several from the vast unexplored regions of the frozen South. Together, they formed the beginnings of a new type of place, a place where they would not be held back by the mistakes of their past lives, where people could live freely and openly. Such high hopes were necessary to the creation of this new fledgling town, but with these lofty aspirations came a hint of the darkness from which they were derived.
At first, Valdrilla flourished. Built on the shores of a lake, it had access to all the resources it could ever need. The forested hills yielded lumber for building and wildlife for nourishment. Water and fish were plentiful, and quickly became a central part of the economic development of the city. Trade and business were soon booming due to this happy juxtaposition of diverse inhabitants and abundant natural resources. Valdrilla became known as a vibrant trade city, the streets packed with merchants and artisans, simultaneously crafting and selling goods produced from their native land. But there was something peculiar about this lakeside settlement. The houses and buildings of Valdrilla were all built along the lake, with high streets whose railed parapets looked out over the water. The still reflection of the city in the surface of the lake was a mirror image of everything that occurred in the city. Nothing happened in the one Valdrilla that didn’t happen in the other, reflected Valdrilla. The city’s inhabitants knew that each of their actions was instantly replicated in the surface of the lake, and acted accordingly. Good deeds, common courtesy, and honesty were well-known features of this great new establishment.
Alas, amidst the fantastical aspirations and boundless ambition that flowed throughout the streets in Valdrilla’s early years, a dark greed began to seep into the cracks. The core values on which the city was founded were slowly eroding as it grew, diluting the strong sense of peace and wholesomeness that ruled the land. The more it grew and thrived, the more the citizens veered from the primary course set long ago by the Ancients. The ever-present reflected city in the lake was the only thing that kept this humming new metropolis from falling into utter chaos. Without this tool for introspection and self-awareness, the city had potential to become just like all the failed civilizations of the past.
Oblivious of the importance that the lake presented to the city as a whole, and blinded by the promise of profit, these new inhabitants took advantage of the immense, untouched body of water at the base of the hills. Newcomers began to build a system of plumbing to harness the untapped power of the lake’s water. Gradually, larger reservoirs were constructed, power plants were built, and a network of pipes started to creep out from the downtown center to the sprawling residences at the city limits. At first, no one took much notice. An errant dripping pipe here, a new bathhouse there, these incremental additions meant little to the average passerby. But the greater the greed of a small few citizens grew, the more the network of pipes expanded, and slowly but surely, the shores of the lake began to recede inch by inch.
As the once great lake shrunk further and further in size, so did its reflection, and the virtuous social values that it encouraged. As the reflecting qualities of the lake’s surface waned, citizens of Valdrilla were reminded less and less of the consequences and values of their own actions. Instead of the constant reflected city in the lake urging them to act in honorable ways, Valdrillans lost sight of the greater good, and the idea of self-interest took a strong foothold in their society.
This was the beginning of the end for the once magnificent experiment of urbanity that was Valdrilla. The insatiability and self-indulgence of its inhabitants grew proportionally with reduction of the lake. Once begun, this process was unstoppable. Morality, decency, and ethics eroded into crime, cruelty, and distrust. The abundance of water that this place was founded on was drained to the point of exhaustion. The city had grown too fast, in a sort of disorganized flurry of ad hoc expansion, and the system of pipes that were now the backbone of the built environment was more expansive than ever.
One fateful morning, a small plume of smoke could be seen from far off, its origin somewhere deep downtown. There hadn’t been a fire in Valdrilla in decades, and the residents were no longer equipped to extinguish such flames with all their water backed up in the reservoirs and aqueducts and plumbing networks. No one knows how it started, but the fire soon consumed entire city blocks, violently eating away at the thin walls and impromptu favelas that had become the fabric of the city. The Great Blaze, seemingly fueled by the dark tendencies of the city more so than its physical structure, enveloped the entirely of Valdrilla over the course of a few days. Inhabitants fled or perished, and by the time the cold rains came and put out the flames, not a soul was to be seen.
And so I sit here, day after day, up on the highest remaining pipe in the city, the last remnant of history in this place. Whether it is nostalgia or mourning that keeps me here, I do not know. But day in and day out, I gaze upon this charred, burnt ruin, my memory of the past fading with the passing of each moon. Take this tale of the rise and fall of Valdrilla to heart my friend, and be ever-aware of your own actions, that they may always reflect your best self.