“Tales out of Anchor” is set in The Rockery - a series of vast rocks floating over a saltwater sea. In the beginning, so it is said, only Shackle was inhabited and lay in the water. A great fog rolled in and when it cleared the inhabitants found themselves in the sky. Each rock is chained to (we must presume) the ocean floor, by a series of vast double-helix chains made of a dense black mineral. Most of these rocks float below the cloud-deck - the thick mass of cloud that covers the sky. Below the cloud-deck, the Rockery is beset by water - at worst, it tends to have light mist and drizzle, through which occasional patches of bright sunlight shine. At worst, when the seasons turn, it is wracked by torrential storms that make it difficult for airships to fly.
*Art by Megan Williams
The rocks, for the main part, remain motionless in the air, chained in position. There is, at times, a light bobbing motion in some of the higher rocks, gradual over time and imperceptible by their inhabitants. However, a century ago a cataclysmic lightning bolt surged from the storm and struck Anchor - on which the bustling capital city was piled high. In a few short minutes, Anchor began to rise, hurtling up as yet more and more vast links of chain unravelled from the depths of the ocean far below. At first, the rapid, unpredictable ascension of the city caused widespread damage - buildings toppled, towers fell, and the city was plunged in to chaos. And then, gradually, the movement slowed to a gentle drift, until finally Anchor stopped rising entirely, high above the cloud-deck.
Here, high above the clouds, it hardly rains at all - with only a gradual yearly dip down into the cloud-deck allowing for a dozen weeks of fog and less rain. Now that the capital has reached what its citizens hope will be the height of its rise, water on Anchor must be delivered from basin rocks far, far below and the daily grind of industry has adapted to support the city's new needs - just as, year by year, the city has adapted to its new position in the sky.
Cartography has always struggled in The Rockery. Caught between the difficult conditions and the Bureaucracy's need to measure in order to control, cartographers have struggled to map the known islands. Anchor is probably the most concisely mapped, although even there buildings can tumble or streets are regularly rebuilt, giving the cartographer's office plenty of work to do. Nobody in their right mind has yet tried to map the Tunnels beneath. Maps of The Rockery as a whole do not exist - navigators have been unable to accurately measure distance and direction in the endless fog; and tracing the routes between the islands has hitherto been beyond the role of the Bureaucracy. Rumour has it that the Skydancers possess secret maps, explaining the ease with which they seem to travel between islands. If they do, then their navigators keep this secret well.
There are no ungulates in The Rockery which means that agriculture has developed very differently. Ploughs are still hand-pulled on Basin and few animals are bred and kept for meat as they would consume valuable land resources needed for crops to feed the human population. There are few cereal crops either and no wheat at all. Rice is the staple food crop.
Bamboo is the main building material. Trees need a lot of water and shelter from harsh winds - rare conditions in The Rockery- or they will grow short and stunted. Only a few islands - Basin and Rivet for example - are able to support the great numbers (and sizes required) of trees for use in scaffolding and ships. Most islands have low shrub like trees that are twisted by wind since they have very little to hold off desertification. Bushes and shrubs are far more common, so some firewood is possible, but the wood required for ships such as oak is very limited and strictly controlled as a result. As in many other areas, Arboreta favour trees with culinary uses. When an arboretum tree dies of old age, if the wood is salvageable, it will be used to make luxury items - for example cherry wood becomes glass-smooth when sanded.
In terms of materials and fabrics, cotton and flax used for linen, are both common on Shackle and the few islands surrounding it, prolifically growing in the wet conditions. Silk is extensively farmed from silkworms and has been since civilization began on Shackle. In the absence of sheep, wool is mainly taken from angora rabbits and the few other small mammals which exist. Leather is as rare as meat and is worn as a show of wealth. While leather gloves may be relatively common, even though they are extensively patched and handed down over generations, larger leather garments such as jackets or trousers are exceedingly rare. What leather is mostly sourced and used for is the production of footwear. For many years, the must-have item was a pair of Ghizao boots. Again, boots and shoes are often cobbled, patched, re-tooled and handed down where possible. Long, red leather gloves are also a vital piece of equipment for Scarp Eel handlers.
Food is prepared and eaten very differently in the Day City to the Night City. What is consumed; and how much of it, also depends on one's social status - Nobles still give sumptuous feasts, whilst many exist on a rather more basic diet. Some - notably the Tunnelers - manage by scavenging alone.
Image: “Roast Locusts” - Daisy Wrightson.
The economy of The Rockery is based on the Water Standard - issued paper stamps representing the promise of one cup of water. The size of a 'cup' is negotiated between the Bureaucracy and the water barons of Basin annually, most often on or just after Audit Day when they are assured of their licences for the upcoming year. The Water Barons of Basin are often arrogant and self-important - knowing they call all the shots means they can often afford to thumb their nose even to the Bureaucracy, Church, and nobility if the mood takes them, though recent legislation has given the Bureaucracy considerably more leverage in recent years.
Fresh water is one of the most useful resources, but also one that is frankly scarce outside of Basin (though there are still some wells on Shackle). Access to fresh water is especially important during the part of the year in which Anchor is above the cloud line. Rainwater collection and storage devices are common additions to homes.
Image: “Herb Wall” - Daisy Wrightson.
The Water Barons of Basin exercise a tight grip over the economy of the Rockery. With water being the most precious and tradeable resource and with a single buyer (the Bureaucracy), these individuals and their families have managed the economy to enjoy personal levels of wealth and prominence once enjoyed only by the Noble Houses. For their part, many Barons believe themselves superior to the Nobles, having risen to prominence and maintained their power through industry rather than heredity. In turn, many Nobles often look down on the Barons as commoners lacking their social graces and established power bases - though some suggest there may also be a hint of jealousy involved.
Historically, Water Barons have been lavish patrons of charitable causes - infrastructure projects such as new buildings or bridges, monuments and museums throughout the Rockery have often been funded by Barons and their names are often associated with the results. St. Balthazar's Orphanage in Gongtredding remains the prime example of an institution built and funded by the largesse of the Water Barons. Food drops to Shackle have also become common recently following the latest locust attacks.
There have been occasional calls of greed and corruption from disgruntled citizens anxious at the prices they have to pay for water. These are thankfully rare, as most Barons fall short at breaking the law, but there have been recorded instances of bribing and blackmailing, coercing and threatening Bureaucrats involved in the process of water price negotiation. While the Bureaucracy comes down hard on these incidents, it also tends to maintain a stolid silence on them, in part because Bureaucrats in The Department of Sustenance believe in ensuring the citizens of the Rockery have access to water, whatever the price. They do take allegations of corruption on behalf of Bureaucrats extremely seriously and the Department of Internal Security (InSec) always thoroughly investigates those involved in such practices and punishes harshly. On some occasions, this has even been known to result in Recycling.
Every Audit day, senior Water Barons meet with members of the Bureaucracy and other interested parties to set the Water Standard - the measure of a “cup” that a single water token will buy you. These meetings are often held in the comfort of the Perches around The Plaza of Sands and usually comprise an extended series of shorter discussions and debates in the lead up to the lamp-lighting ceremony on Audit Day itself, when the Water Standard is finally set.
During the 12 days leading up to Audit Day, many sky-ships prepare for The Basin Run, a race to carry the first deliveries of water from Basin to the capital city of Anchor. Skyships are scored both on the speed in which they manage to fly to Libertys Docks, disembark their cargo and deliver it to the water tower on the corner of Fleasprout Road; and on the amount of water that they managed to have delivered in that time - and all before the beginning of the Lamp-lighting ceremony at St Balthazar's.
The Basin Run is often the subject of high-stakes gambling, with many Water Barons sponsoring a single ship in the race. The results are announced shortly after the Water Standard is set, once all the water delivered by the contestants has been tallied. The race is often a tight affair, with ships arriving within hours or even minutes of each other, followed by a bitterly contested race through the streets with the barrels that the crews have brought. Many ships involved in the race have their paperwork prepared well in advance, so that it can be stamped and approved by Customs officers in Libertys docks.
The Basin run began in YJ77, formalising a contest that had been in place for some years already. It was was called off in YJ100, due to the civil unrest - dockworkers strikes in Libertys and rioting in Gongtredding. In YJ101, many captains who were taking part in last year's race feel that they now have something to prove…
With wood at a premium as well, certain cooking methods become a luxury and ignitable oils used for heat and lighting are more common than the extravagance of a wood fire and a boiling pot of water. The attitude to waste in The Rockery and Anchor in particular is exemplified by the prevalence of the The Department of Recycling. Much is re-used in The Rockery from resources to finished items such as clothes, and water is no exception. Rock and bamboo are the only commonly available natural resources. Where space is also at a premium - notably Anchor, Clamp, and Hook - people have discovered many inventive ways to use that space, such as vertical hanging gardens and items of furniture that fold into the walls or stack with each other.