River of Shifting Sand
A white walled merchant city at the mouth of a great river that comes from the dark interior of unknown lands. The shifting sands of the delta hide a whole people, and make the pilots guild powerful. The river valley is verdant and cultivated (subject to annual flooding), and beyond that desert, and distant mountains. Overland caravans cross harsh deserts with exotic spices & silks. Ore, jems and hardwood are sought up river by those mad enough to face the mountains and jungles. The river is plied with large feluccas both up river and down.
Magic is extremely regimented. If you are not Guild-licensed, it is a capital crime to practice magic. Despite that, most people have the capacity for magic-use though not the training. The elite are inheritors of large, powerful magical machineries, but have forgotten the secrets of their creation. High level spells now require elaborate, precise rituals, components, and time, and are known only to a few. The flexibility of “street magic”, itself suffering under the magical drought, is seen by the powerful as a threat because of its flexibility, spontaneity, and that it is still relatively unimpaired, so far. Heavy restrictions on magic, including draconian measures against its practitioners, have been implemented.
The merchant class, always important in a city founded on its location at a crossroads, has made riches from the trade in magical goods, or even suspected magical goods. Though magical items are required to be forfeited to the king under pain of death, a strong black market exists, with the collusion of many who are meant to be enforcing the law. For the first time, the historical coziness of the mercantile and the aristocracy is threatened, with a real power struggle predicted by some.
The area was conquered long ago by the current ruling class, an invading foreign race. Purity of bloodline, language, culture, and magical practice is still seen as part of the qualifications to rule, although varieties of mixed blood pervade all levels of society. The current oppression of “low magic” lines up with the historical oppression of indigenous people, because of course it’s their magic, language, culture, and genetics that are seen as “low”.