October 31, 1927. The night that never ended. For almost a century, the city has waited for a dawn that never comes. Whole generations have been born, lived, died and haunted Manhattan, an exiled city that keeps the Dark at bay with an almost frantic energy. People dance and sing, drink and make love, they work and play hard and try to never look higher than the tops of the skyscrapers.
Tesla’s wall glows like the northern lights on nights when the fog rolls in, holding the thick mists at bay, because the fog brings change and danger. And a chance to make a fortune, for the brave, the bold and the foolhardy. Out of the fog comes horror and wonder, creatures of myth and scientific conjecture. Angels. Demons. Faery queens and strange beings that claim to be from the deserts of Mars or lands of high magic and low technology. A surprising number of them end up citizens. It takes all kinds and the city has always been a melting pot.
Mayor Edison runs the city from 1 Centre Street. Or maybe he IS the building, these days, having found immortality as the ghost in the machinery of government. Under his dispassionate, often ruthless leadership, the city has survived and thrived. Tesla, unwillingly inducted into the ranks of the undead, is holed up in his lair in the Hayden Planetarium working on returning the city back to the where and when it should be and unleashing the occasional wonder.
The shadow council of the nightfolk has infiltrated high society by giving the wealthy and powerful something they can’t buy: immortality. The faeryfolk inhabit Central Park and the city’s green spaces, using fae magics to grow crops, feeding a million people without true sunlight and welding the kind of political influence that comes from feeding the masses.
Strong trade unions, more like medieval guilds seek advantage for their workers while mobsters, human and otherwise, seek to prey on the vulnerable and venal. Unified Science Council and the Hermetic Order of professional wizards vie for prestige and power. Add captains of industry and old money to the mix and the political landscape of the city is robust.
Which is a polite way of saying ‘wild and full of predators’.
But it isn’t all fighting back monsters and backroom machinations. Most people have regular jobs. They work, earning money to afford nicer homes, material goods and entertainment. The city might have a minimum stipend for everybody, but if you want (and most people do), you can get ahead and live better than that, if only by a little.
The city holds back the Dark with lights and music, movies at the cinema, shows on the flicker (technically, the Farnsworth image oscillite, but nobody calls it that, preferring the nickname earned by the flickering light of the screen), dance halls, nightclubs and of course, Broadway. Getting dressed up and hitting the town is a popular activity across the social spectrum, with sartorial elegance and general savoir faire being admired and sought after commodities.
The constant threats of the early years did a lot to break down the prejudices of the 1920s. When gargoyles were coming to life or nameless horrors trying to pour across the bridges and through the tunnels, it didn’t matter if the person manning the barricades with you was a woman, or black, or queer. Nobody had time to care. And by the time they did, the city was already hosting creatures far more ‘other’ than just another human who might be a bit different. Eventually, the most common of those others, broadly lumped into the categories of nightfolk and faeryfolk, were also integrated into society, more or less.
That isn’t to say that there aren’t still some people who are biased against a given gender or orientation, ethnicity, just that it tends to be less acceptable and far less common than prejudice against certain kinds of fae and nightfolk. A man might never dream of discriminating against his lesbian neighbors, as long as they are human. But a family of goblins or ghouls? Well, there goes the neighborhood.
Cutting across all social strata and all species, though, are the Mistrunners. As glamorous as movie stars, as dangerous as gangsters, romanticized and idolized, the Mistrunners are the wild heroes of the age. They are the people who cross the bridges and tunnels when the fog rolls out to scavenge what they can from what were once the other four boroughs of New York.
It’s dangerous work. The fog always changes the landscape. One day they might find apocalyptic ruins, the next day mysteriously empty streets, another day wilderness. Or they might find hell itself. Most Mistrunners don’t make it through their first year. But those who do stand a good chance of getting rich, if they live long enough.
The city needs things it can’t make to survive. Truckloads of metal, cases of canned food, any kind of materials, really. And they crave luxury goods. A bottle of good wine or aged scotch can keep somebody living the high life for a month. New records, new books, new films, all of those things are so sought after that a good team of Mistrunners can write their own checks.
Of course, there are things the city government claims (and pays for, but not as princely a sum), like medicines and munitions. The USC claims technological artifacts and the mage’s guild expects first pick of anything magic. Both usually pay, but are known for trying to hoodwink and bully runners. In response, some runners take the risk of trying to unload those contraband items themselves, even though that might bring down all kinds of wrath. Sometimes trying to slip one by the authorities is worth the risk, but more often it is an even quicker way to end up dead.
For the last fifty years or so, City Hall has licensed these adventurers and they even have a union, the Mistrunner’s Guild. You can be a Mistrunner without joining, but good luck if you end up hurt or screwed out of your payments for delivered goods. On the other hand, if you’re registered, the union takes a percentage, the city takes a percentage and you make a little less than an outlaw runner. But you gain access to the resources of the guild, which includes housing, meals, discounted supplies, retirement and medical benefits and a host of other services.
One of the more controversial services is that of ‘city work’. Rumor has it that city work involves machinations between the various power factions in the city, tough, rough and demanding work that only somebody as crazy as a runner would accept in the first place. But it also pays very, very well and more than one runner, looking at financial trouble, has engaged in a ‘run’ or two that didn’t involve leaving the island.
This is the city, circa 2015 AD. Or 87 ID, as some count it. Eighty-seven years In Darkness. And counting.