I’m attempting this with my Meridian material. I know it may sound pretentious, but why not? Aim for the stars, and if you only get to the Moon, then great. Not only would this allow other authors to write their own Meridian stories, but it grants me great flexibility in what some may think is a limited setting.
Meridian is a metropolis built on a large island in the Styx, a great body of endless black water. There is no sun, stars, or other celestial bodies in the sky; nor is there weather, other than near-continuous rain. Steam-powered technology keeps the city lit and its various machines operational, but barely. It is a city of the dead; an afterlife abandoned by its caretaker, Charon, and ruled by whomever can master the magic of the Tarot. The only food available is small amounts of kelp, grown in the sewers and parts of the undercity. Meridian is held under a dark power than makes all its denizens belligerent, hungry, and amorous—but amplified to psychotic levels. This combination has led to rampant murder, cannibalism and sexual assault. A few factions hold sway, protecting their own while plotting against each other. Key among these is the Clowns, a mob of brutal hedonists loyal to the Clown Tarot; and the Mechos, a rigid sub-culture obsessed with becoming the ultimate society of clockwork cyborgs. There are others of lesser influence: Gutter Knights, Sky Gypsies, Orphans, Knaves, Harlequins, Blades of Charon, the Wretched, and the Bone Guild. All of them have one thing in common: trying to survive Meridian and its merciless temptations.
Though everyone is dead, few realize this, or remember their previous lives. None age, and escape from the city is almost impossible. Overcrowding has set in, and the Bone Guild has difficulty feeding everyone—even though they serve human flesh. This intensifies the pressure, as rival factions teeter on the edge of open war. The only thing holding it all together is the city’s most powerful cartomancer, an individual attuned to the Tarot and its magic. By influencing desires, thoughts, and occasionally fulfilling those desires, one can keep the mobs in check. But not forever.
There’s more to my Meridian setting, much that will only be revealed in the stories themselves, but those are the basics. Though seemingly a place of inertia, the city is dynamic for those trying to survive its streets and alleys. It isn’t a place for the weak. Now, these stories aren’t meant as veiled support for social Darwinism; weakness doesn’t always have to be physical. Those incapable of resisting the city’s temptations, who gorge themselves on death, blood, and sex at the expense of others, become monsters in all but name. The city has claimed them.
Now for the mythology.
For those living in Meridian, it’s not just a horrid place to live. As far as they know, it’s the only place to live. The only place that exists. All else is just a Sky Gypsy tale or a Charon legend. To them, it isn’t unusual that children remain the same age, or that new ‘arrivals’ keep appearing in back alleys. There’s no need of sleep, so everyone is perpetually awake. Imagine what that would do to the psyche. Those who are strong-willed, though, they are the ones I write Meridian stories about.
So what myths would such a place have? Rumors about people who have escaped Meridian. Old urban legends about individuals who built boats and paddled off into the Styx. Some mad genius who constructed an airship in the bowels of the city. A stairway somewhere in the undercity that spirals down and down, leading somewhere else. Even a man leaping off a pier and swimming through the dark, liquid oblivion. Then there would be tales of people who refused to eat human flesh and never ate again. Decapitated heads that were reanimated by the Mechos, or Sky Gypsy tattoos that were as alive as their host. Character straight from the Tarot, haunting the dank, cobblestone streets. Prophecies about a savior, or ancient narratives about other cities across the Styx. When you’re starving, trying to resist the urge to murder others, and wondering if the love you have for someone is simply Meridian’s dark lust, you might believe anything. Anything to alleviate the darkness within and without.
Now, you may ask, how do such details count as mythology and not simply more world building? The mythology is part of the world building, but it’s also beyond it. It’s a certain vibe, a mental wavelength that underscores the prose, the characters. It’s more than just dropping the name of such and such kingdom or god, like you might find in a fantasy setting. It’s not the inclusion of fantastic technology so often used in science fiction. My Meridian mythology could be applied to other locales. It needn’t be limited to that dark metropolis; characters could see shades of it in ‘our’ world, before they die. You could use these elements in any historical period, even a futuristic setting.
But just like all roads lead to Rome, and like all Shoggoths and Dagon neophytes lead to the Great Old Ones, so too would Tarot readings, powerful desires, and slit wrists lead to Meridian.