The underground city of Caverna is one of the marvels of the world. Here the Craftsmen fashion delicacies so extraordinary that they wring out reality like a wet cloth. Here special unguents and cordials allow the elite of the Court to live for centuries, if they are not slain by their rivals. Nobody is allowed to leave or enter Caverna, and within it thousands live, die, strive and work without ever seeing the sun.
Five hundred years old and planning to live five hundred years more, the Grand Steward long ago decided that he could trust nobody in the city that he rules. He never truly sleeps, for to do so would be to let down his guard. Instead, the two halves of his brain take it in turn to sleep, so that one of them is always awake. They have very different personalities – one is cold, curt and does not suffer fools gladly, while the other is mute and unpredictable, communicating only in gestures. Year by year, the Grand Steward's soul is becoming numb, and the mighty of Caverna vie with each other to provide him with delicacies exquisite enough to make him feel alive, if only for a fleeting moment.
Treble is the leader of the Enquiry, the Grand Steward's special law enforcers for dangerous or peculiar cases. She is known to be ruthless and ambitious, and sometimes goes into conversations the way a battering ram goes into a door. Being an Enquirer gives her a lot of power, but also a lot of work, for the Court of Caverna is full of dangerous and peculiar cases.
The Childersins are one of the most powerful vintner families in Caverna, and possessors of vast vineyards in the overground which they have never seen. Vintners hate nothing more than other vintners, and the wine families are known for their bitter and deadly feuds. Maxim is a force to be reckoned with, clever and charismatic enough to keep his family in line and alive. Indeed, some have remarked that the Childersins seem unusually alive, healthy and statuesque…
This fourteen-year-old great-great-great niece of Maxim Childersin has shown particular promise, both in the dark arts of wine-making and the darker arts of intrigue. It is an open secret that she is a favourite of Maxim, and some even murmur that he may be grooming her as his heir.
The babies of Caverna do not learn expressions naturally, and must be taught them, one at a time. The poor are taught only a handful, while the well-to-do know hundreds. The very richest, however, are able to hire Facesmiths to design and teach them new, exciting, or fashionable expressions to suit every occasion. Madame Appeline has been one of the most sought-after Facesmiths ever since she brought out her 'Tragedy Range' of poignant 'Faces' years ago.
There are many that the fickle Court casts aside when they fall from favour. Cheesemaster Grandible is one of the few who have cast aside the Court. Tiring of the treacherous feuds of his peers, he has retreated into his cheese tunnels, and for years refused even to take an apprentice. Curiously, he changed his mind about this one day, and apprenticed a young girl of unknown background, a mysterious child who is never seen without a mask.
The first five years of Neverfell's life are a blank. She has reached the ripe age of twelve-probably, but can remember nothing before her appearance in Cheesemaster Grandible's tunnels. Indeed, she cannot remember anything outside those tunnels at all, for the Cheesemaster never lets her out. She has never seen a mirror, and assumes that her master makes her wear a mask in front of visitors because she is hideously ugly. The true secret behind her mask, however, is soon to be uncovered…
For ten years this unpredictable thief has been the source of scandal and surmise. Some of his thefts are daring, whilst others can only be described as deranged. There appears to be no obvious sense or pattern to his crimes – he is quite willing to break into a strongbox, then steal the box and leave the contents. Nobody knows his name or what he looks like, or indeed anything about him at all, except that he seems determined to cause as much confusion and inconvenience as possible.
There are thousands of them, barely noticed. Who pays attention to the white-clad servants of the palace, or the uniformed guards with their matching expressions? And why would anybody take notice of the countless drudges who perform the city's menial and difficult tasks, keeping the city running? Perhaps one of the ragged errand boys skimming around on their battered unicycles is named Erstwhile. But does it matter?
It is easy to forget that all of these nobodies have names, thoughts, eyes and ears. Sometimes forgetting that fact can be very dangerous indeed.