There is just one hard and fast rule in the recursion known as The City Beneath The Cloud: do not harm a Snatcher. Every inhabitant knows this rule and it colours their every action. Any recursor arriving in the city will quickly learn it, either by being told by an inhabitant or simple observation of a Snatcher in action. A few quick questions will explain why the law is obeyed with such intensity: the rest of the Snatchers will swarm any transgressor, before hunting down all those who are close to them, no matter how long it takes.
The City Beneath The Cloud is a mysterious, fearful recursion whose ruler is so unknown that explaining the point of the recursion is, in itself, difficult. The great towers of the city are packed with people who live every day in fear of the Snatchers, the inscrutable lords of the City. Great winged humanoids, the Snatchers swoop down from the clouds overhead, grabbing a single victim before returning to their hidden eyries. No one, either recursor or inhabitant, knows what happens to them within the cloud layer, but they do know they never come back.
Physically, The City Beneath The Cloud appears similar to any Earth city whose skyline is dominated by skyscrapers. Indeed, the only major difference is a lack of roads, replaced instead by wide boulevards between the buildings. Long pipes run down the sides of the buildings, supplying water and gruel, the only food available within the city. A thick grey cloud hides the city’s upper stories, making it seem as if the clouds are swallowing them. The image is not lost on the people who live beneath it. Night and day are foreign concepts in the city, which maintains a perpetual flickering twilight thanks to crude biogas powered gas lamps. No one knows how big the City is, as its inhabitants are too busy to travel it and no recursor wants to stay long enough to explore.
The human populace of The City Beneath The Cloud live with a constant gnawing fear of the Snatchers. Attempts to fight off the Snatchers begin with swarms of Snatchers descending to attack and end with your entire family being taken. By now, it’s considered foolish to even try and resist. Yet this inescapable terror has shattered the city beyond belief. There is no central government to the City, no organised resistance or leadership. Instead there is a mish-mash of apocalyptic cults, psychotic gangs and brutal protection rackets that run individual buildings and streets. Indeed, it’s not entirely uncommon to see opposing toughs glaring at each other over a busy street, gruesome cult sacrifices or brawls breaking out over entryways. The only thing that unites these brawling factions is their fear of the Snatchers.
Survival, beyond the inevitability of the Snatchers, fills the minds of every inhabitant of the city. While food and water is freely available from the pipes from above, getting at those pipes is often difficult. The local powers restrict access without fealty, forcing most of the population to work for them in some way. There’s a grinding desperation to life in The City Beneath The Cloud, working unpleasant, debasing work for the privilege of food and drink. Perhaps even worse than this, everyone knows that there is something wrong with the situation the city is in. While no inhabitant can tell you what it was, they all know that the city wasn’t like this once.
It is perhaps unsurprising that there is a steady stream of people offering themselves up to the Snatchers, sacrificing themselves in a desperate attempt to gain some meaning in their lives.
Almost every Recursor who’s visited The City Beneath The Cloud has done so due to the city’s incredible supply of Ciphers. The Heralds, the disturbing mouthpieces of the city’s mysterious master, will, for decent prices and with no restrictions, supply any cipher requested. This incredible deal attracts the attention of everyone, but almost no one willingly returns to the city willingly. The despair, acceptance of death and total debasement is repellent to all but the most hardened recursors.
Many turn to the hidden tops of the towers for answers, but no one has ever travelled into the cloud layer and returned. Rumours swirl among those who have visited the city as to what could be up there. Some claim that a mundovore, tired of simply seeking worlds to devour, has instead created a world it can eat forever. Others believe the Snatchers and Heralds are the servitors of some otherworldly conspiracy, turning their victims into both ciphers and more Snatchers, until they have enough troops and money to conquer the Strange itself. The oldest and wisest recursors simply say that the actual truth is probably far worse.
Huge winged humanoids, the Snatchers are the silent masters of the recursion. Human-sized hawks, their black feathered faces are entirely featureless, lacking both beaks and eyes. The great grasping claws on their feet give them their names, strong enough to effortlessly lift a grown man.
Snatchers are silent hunters, dropping from the cloud layer to sweep up their targets before they can react. No one knows how they pick out their targets, but it is well known that they will have a specific target when they attack. Snatchers will ignore any and all distraction in favour of their original target, suggesting that there is more to their plans than indiscriminate slaughter.
Most disturbing is the Snatcher’s final resort. If brought down to the ground, their black feathers will ignite, setting the Snatcher alight. This drives the Snatcher berserk and it will attack anything within reach. Striking out with flaming wing and talon, it will rampage before its body burns down to ash.
The speakers for the Snatchers, the Heralds appear to be young children clad in long cloaks of black Snatcher feathers. Unlike their larger masters, there are no rules surrounding the Heralds. Killing one does not bother the Snatchers and a new one will quickly attend its predecessor’s murderer. The Heralds themselves do not seem to care.
While the Herald may seem childlike, once you speak to them, it becomes clear that they are anything but. All Heralds share the same dispassionate tone, utterly uncaring of the niceties of dialogue and only interested in the sale of ciphers. Pressing them on any other subject simply results in silence. Indeed, many recursors theorise that the Heralds are utterly incapable of talking about anything other than their duties, that they might simply not know anything more.
Intriguingly, the Heralds are utterly uninterested in the City’s inhabitants themselves. While it is undoubtable that some would be able to afford some Ciphers, the Heralds are utterly unwilling to deal with them, even on pain of death. The main explanation from observers is that they or their master might be worried about the ability of Ciphers to change the balance of power between the Snatchers and their prey.