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Fan Fic / Paris Burning

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“In a world where cities are personified and history hollows out their bones. What started with Paris Burning is now blazing out of control. Do not expect a happy ending.”
- caption on thecitysmith’s blog

Paris Burning is a Les Misérables fanfic written by thecitysmith. It imagines a universe in which all cities with a sufficient population and sense of group identity have near-immortal anthropomorphic personifications. Grantaire is the personification of Paris, driven by the accumulated trauma and bitterness of his long life to flee from his role as City and distract himself with drink. The fanfic became the seed for an expansive worldbuilding project by thecitysmith and fans of the story, involving headcanons about numerous Cities throughout the world and a plot dealing with the intense politics amongst Cities, the increasingly fraught relationship between the Cities and humankind, an uprising of vengeful Lost Cities, and an Eldritch Abomination or five.


Paris Burning can be read here. The additional worldbuilding can be explored on thecitysmith’s blog and in the Paris Burning tag on tumblr.

  • Adorkable: Washington DC has a massive crush on Canberra and a tendency to pine in his diary.
    • London takes on shades of this in her romance with Lisbon.
  • Alternate Universe: Whilst obviously originally being a Les Mis AU, the City Verse is more of an AU of history itself.
  • Always a Bigger Fish: "Humans fear Cities. Cities fear Atlantis. Atlantis fears the dreamers underground. And the dreamers…don’t look up."
  • Ambiguous Gender
  • Ambiguously Human: Though Cities appear, for all intents and purposes, human, they are distinctly Other.
  • And I Must Scream
    • Atlantis inflicted this upon Roanoke after the latter refused to join the former's cause.
    • Conversely, Atlantis also liberated Memphis (the ancient Egyptian city, not the current-day US city) from such a condition, after which Memphis was only too happy to join him.
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    • Just to round things out, Atlantis himself spent the first few centuries after he sank as a disembodied consciousness overwhelmed by pain. He restored himself to corporeality and (relative) sanity through sheer force of will.
  • Animated Tattoo: Paris (and a few other European Cities with Celtic backgrounds, including London) once had Celtic war paint that would appear and disappear in response to the City's emotional state.
  • Anthropomorphic Personification: The Cities themselves.
  • Arc Words: There are rather a lot of these.
    • Related to Atlantis and the Lost Cities: "Atlantis lives", "there's something in the water and it knows your name", "singing in the deep"
    • Related to the being in Antarctica: "join us", "lovely and (cold)"note 
    • Related the other Eldritch Abominations of the world: "praise them", "don't fall asleep"/"please wake up"
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    • Others: "Capitals are not kind", "the Cities are getting angry", "Cities are good at keeping secrets", "don't look up"
  • Ascend to a Higher Plane of Existence: Transcended Cities, those who have died and choose to stay in the world out of love. It has been implied that they may have an important role to play in defending the world both from Lost Cities and encroaching eldritch abominations.
  • Assimilation Plot: The mysterious being in Antarctica appears to have this intention.
  • Asskicking Equals Authority: Capital status is usually held by Cities who have won it in Silent Wars, which involve both social manipulation and combat. Part of the reason Planned Cities are frowned upon is because they attain authority without earning it through asskicking.
  • A Taste of the Lash: Paris was subjected to this by order of King Charles VII as punishment for his unauthorized attempt to rescue Joan of Arc. This was one of the events that drove him into drunkenness and reclusion.
  • Atlantis: A major plot element. The legendary disaster was caused by the City of Atlantis himself, who wanted to wipe out his humans in order to be free of their control. Having succeeded in this, he decided to share his newfound freedom with his fellow Cities… and if they didn’t want it, he would just have to force them to accept it. For their own good, of course.
  • Bad Samaritan: Atlantis often positions himself to act as such to ghost Cities and others who seem close to the Despair Event Horizon, offering them a new life with renewed purpose, free from human influence. None of which he's actually lying about, but the agenda he asks them to serve is rather monstrous, and any City who refuses him had best be prepared to defend their decision with their life.
  • Badass Pacifist: Jerusalem is held in awe by Cities throughout the world because she has endured so much violence and strife over the centuries and because she has consistently avoided taking sides in any conflict and shown compassion to everyone who passes within her walls.
  • Beethoven Was an Alien Spy: Cardiff is King Arthur.
  • Big-Bad Ensemble: Atlantis, the Thing in Antarctica, and the various other Things Dreaming.
  • Bloodbath Villain Origin: Atlantis' massacre of his own humans.
  • Boisterous Bruiser: Copenhagen.
  • Break His Heart to Save Him: In order to maintain secrecy while infiltrating Atlantis' group, the members of Ocean's Eleven had to pretend to those outside the group that they were becoming Lost, thus breaking the hearts of their humans and their City friends and loved ones in order to help save the entire world.
  • Bunny-Ears Lawyer: Aberdeen, in her capacity as an MI6 contractor. Her apparent inability to speak a recognizable language leads people to talk carelessly in her presence; she also has a City's awareness of what goes on within her boundaries and considerable breaking-and-entering skills. This makes her a worthy hire despite her unintelligibility and general eccentricity.
  • Cast Full of Gay: A good number of the featured Cities so far are decidedly Not Straight or Not Cis.
  • The Cavalry: Arguably the team dubbed "Ocean's Eleven" - Alang note , Bacolod note , Portsmouth note , Galway note , Hamburg note , Seattle note , San Juan note , Cape Town note , Recife note  and Maracaibo note , plus Fukushima note  as Mission Control.
  • Co-Dragons: Ys, expert in naval combat, and Paris, expert in land warfare serve as Atlantis' lieutenants.
  • The Corrupter: Atlantis and his followers have spent the last several millennia persuadingnote  vulnerable Cities to embrace violence and hatred.
  • Crossover: thecitysmith and her followers sometimes engage in speculation about the Cities of other fictional universes. Examples may be found here.
  • Deader Than Dead: Death is a multi-layered affair for Cities. Usually, if a City's humanoid body is killed, their Healing Factor allows them to recover within a few days. A City can die permanently if the city they personify is totally destroyed or abandoned, if their body is destroyed by fire (although Capitals can survive that if the physical city remains intact), if they suffer a bodily death in circumstances so traumatic that they don't want to recover, or if they stay outside the borders of their city for too long. In any case, a dead City continues to exist as a ghost and eventually passes through one of three "doors" that determine their future:
    • If the City wishes to remain in the world in order to avenge their death or otherwise cause harm to the living, they become Lost.
    • If the City wishes to remain in the world in order to help and protect the living, they Transcend.
    • If the City wishes to leave the world behind altogether, they become capital-D Dead, which is implied to mean Cessation of Existence.
  • Death by Despair: This befell Old Rome; the despair of knowing that her own ruler had deliberately set fire to her and that she would most likely die from it killed her before the actual fire did.
  • Different World, Different Movies: Discussed here. It has also been established that Atlantis: The Lost Empire was never made in this universe, which is probably for the best.
  • Downer Ending: Unsurprising, since it's based on Les Misérables, but it's still pretty upsetting.
  • Dreaming of Things to Come: Sometimes experienced by Cities. Several examples are described in Paris Burning, and it was a dream that lead Paris/Grantaire to find Enjolras and his group.
  • Driven to Suicide: Pompeii threw herself into the volcano after a human lover was killed, causing the famous eruption. Her ghost was subsequently recruited by Atlantis.
  • Drop the Hammer: York starts off carrying a normal hammer that he uses in his work as a blacksmith. As he becomes involved in City politics and starts dueling other Cities for Capitalhood, it gradually morphs into a colossal war hammer.
  • Dysfunction Junction: The lives of Cities are difficult, violent, and lonely. An entire cast of them pretty much inevitably falls into this.
  • Eldritch Abomination: Several of these inhabit the Paris Burning ‘verse, the most prominent of which so far is the being in Antarctica. The tag on thecitysmith’s blog for posts about the Antarctic thing is “join us”; posts about other abominations are tagged “praise him" or “praise them”.
  • Everyone Can See It: Berlin and Portsmouth. See also Open Secret and Everybody Knew Already.
  • Evil Former Friend: Just about every Lost City is this to some surface-dwelling Cities. Notable examples include Atlantis to Athens, Ys as St. Malo's Evil Former Lover, and Paris to the French Cities.
  • Eyepatch of Power: Lisbon.
  • Fake Defector: The members of Ocean's Eleven.
  • Fan Verse
  • Fantastic Racism
    • Many human cultures regard Cities with wariness and seek to control their activities and/or expect them to be paragons of virtue and display perfect, selfless dedication to the needs of their inhabitants.
    • On the flip side, Cities tend not to regard humans as equals, although most are kindly disposed at least towards their own citizens. At the extreme end of things, there's Atlantis' faction, who regard humans as the irredeemable tormentors and enslavers of Cities and intend to wipe us out.
    • Within City culture, there's a prejudice against Planned Cities - those that were built as whole cities with a specific purpose rather than growing "naturally" from a small town.
      • Belmopan, capital of Belize, is a Planned City who thinks she and those like her are superior to "natural-born" Cities, although she doesn't seem to bear any active ill intent towards them.
  • Fighting Irish: Galway - with good reason.
  • Fisher King: While Cities are usually influenced by the state of their lands and people, the reverse is not unheard of. For example, in one chapter of Paris Burning a torrential rainfall is triggered by Paris' emotional turmoil. Yangon, former Capital of Burma, weaponized this ability to fight the Lost Cities.
  • Ghost Memory: New personifications of cities whose old personifications have died experience echoes of their predecessor's memories. Brighton experiences a similar phenomenon after absorbing Hove.
  • Gods Need Prayer Badly: The non-Antarctic Eldritch Abominations are so insistent on being praised by other beings because, while awake, they depend on worship for their survival. While they are asleep, however, they can't die.
  • Gossipy Hens: All the Cities. Usually via text. Usually about Berlin and Portsmouth.
  • Happily Married: London and Lisbon considered themselves married after same-sex marriage was legalized in the UK, although given their differing nationalities and the legal complications of their Cityhood, it is unclear whether their union was legally formalized. They remained happily married until Lisbon found out that London had been keeping Paris' continued existence secret at the beginning of the Atlantis arc.
  • Hazardous Water: Yeah, thanks for that, Atlantis.
  • Healing Factor: All Cities are capable of quickly regenerating damaged body parts and reviving from lethal injuries. Capitals have a superior healing factor; while any City can recover from a temporary death within a few days, Capitals can heal instantly (unless the damage is caused by fire, to which all Cities are vulnerable). This is explained in greater detail on the blog here.
  • Historical In-Joke: The premise is ripe for them.
    • The Mona Lisa is a commissioned portrait of Florence, a fact she has never made public because she was dissatisfied with the portrait.
    • Several figures of Arthurian mythology were Cities. The King himself was Cardiff, disguised as a man so her presence on the battlefield wouldn't draw undue attention. Sir Gawain was Edinburgh, the Lady of the Lake was London bringing Cardiff a spare sword, and Merlin was a Transcended City named Avalon.
    • It’s implied that Washington DC assassinated JFK.
    • Plato's Hemocrates, a lost dialogue which would have contained details of the downfall of Atlantis, was suppressed by Athens to uphold the Cities' Treachery Cover Up.
  • Humans Are Flawed
  • I See Dead People: Worcester has the ability to communicate with human ghosts.
  • I'm a Humanitarian: Atlantis and his allies took advantage of the Titanic disaster to grab a bite to eat. thecitysmith explores their motivation for this practice here.
  • I'm Having Soul Pains: Cities suffer this when their humans suffer on a large scale, such as from a natural disaster, famine, or civil unrest.
  • Identity Absorption: Happens when one City's entire territory and population become part of another City. The instinct of Cities to grow is so strong that a City may absorb their neighbor without consciously attempting to do so, as happened with Brighton and Hove.
  • Immortality Hurts: Affects almost all Cities. Particularly applicable to those with human lovers.
  • Incompatible Orientation: Plymouth (lesbian) has a long-standing romantic interest in Bath (heterosexual woman).
  • In Spite of a Nail: Despite the existence of personified Cities (including mythological ones such as Atlantis and El Dorado) and eldritch abominations, the history of the Cityverse isn't very different from that of our own world. There is ample justification for this:
    • Cities generally have very little power in human politics and society, both because their minds and wills are influenced by the will of the people and because they usually choose to avoid any behavior that humans might regard as interference in our affairs so as to minimize interspecies conflict.
    • The Things Dreaming, as the name suggests, have been asleep for most of human history.
    • On a non-diegetic level, thecitysmith frequently incorporates fictional elements into real-world historical events rather than inventing alternate history. Examples include the attribution of JFK's assassination to Washington DC, the fall of Pompeii, and the implication that Antarctica and/or the Northern Ice may have been responsible for Earth's last great Ice Age.
    • Cityverse history begins to diverge significantly from real-world history around the Second World War, after which City-human tensions begin to escalate dramatically and Atlantis starts to put his plans into motion.
  • Kill All Humans: Atlantis’s goal.
  • Kill It with Fire: The only certain way to permanently kill a City. Because of this, fire imagery, particularly burning buildings, is regarded in-universe as being equivalent to graphic gore.
  • La Résistance: Les Amis and Ocean's Eleven.
  • Lame Pun Reaction: During the introductory Ocean's Eleven story, an interesting variation, made possible by immortality and the legacy of British imperialism, occurs:
    "I’m just saying," Seattle held up his hands. "We’re working in the Atlantic Ocean. There are Eleven of us. Clearly, we should be Ocean’s Eleven."
    There was a chorus of groans. Alang punched Portsmouth's arm.
    "Ow! What was that for?"
    "Your language. Your fault I can understand that pun."
    "Fair enough," Portsmouth rubbed his arm.
  • Landmark of Lore: A couple of these (Uluru, the Grand Canyon) have been identified as the locations of Things Dreaming. Stonehenge has also been implied to have some significance. A few famous mythological or real-but-mythologized cities have appeared or are listed as Lost or Transcended Cities.
  • Loads and Loads of Characters
  • Love at First Sight: Berlin for Portsmouth and London for Lisbon.
  • Love Redeems
    • Bath seems to be hoping to deliberately enact this trope. Plymouth objects.
    • Also discussed (in the tags) here, wherein an unidentified Breton City accuses St. Malo of trying to love-redeem Ys.
  • Magnificent Bastard: In-Universe example: London admired Henry V because she saw him as being one of these, and aspires to emulate his ruthlessness and political skills.
  • Mayfly–December Romance: Human-City romances invariably fall into this. Cities are said to prefer human partners who have established themselves as leaders or public figures of some sort, so that after the human shuffles off this mortal coil, the City will not be the only one to remember and admire their former partner.
  • Minion Shipping: Dresden and Rungholt, Lost Cities in love.
  • My Grandson Myself: "Edinburgh ... turns up to battles to die heroically so he can turn up again in a few years to avenge his ‘father’. He thinks it’s very clever and that no one’s noticed. Everyone has noticed, they just haven’t mentioned."
  • Mysterious Antarctica: you want to know about us? come visit! :):)):))):) join us! :)):))::):))))
  • Mysterious Note: The messages from Antarctica.
  • The Napoleon: London, ironically enough.
  • Nations as People: Cities, rather, but still under the general "sociopolitical entities as people" qualification.
  • Never Got to Say Goodbye: Arguably applicable to Berlin and Portsmouth, in the Ocean's Eleven part of their story. Though Berlin's subsequent actions probably could not be called 'brooding'.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Well Intentioned Extremist: Atlantis woke up several eldritch abominations by singing a song he stole from one of them. This is inevitably going to bite him (and the rest of the world) in the backside.
  • Not Brainwashed: "Galway refuses to believe [Waterford] became Lost willingly. He’s wrong."
  • Outnumbered Sibling: Copenhagen is the only male City in Denmark.
  • Playful Hacker: Hong Kong.
  • Psychic Link: Cities are linked to their inhabitants. This leads to some troubling questions of free will, as Cities are highly susceptible to having their beliefs and opinions shaped by those of the majority of their people. The link goes both ways; a City’s emotional state may influence their people’s moods or dreams, and when a City is attacked their people may experience a psychic compulsion to protect or avenge them.
  • Queer Romance: And lots of it!
  • Really 700 Years Old: Almost all of the Cities.
  • Real-Person Fic: "People write rpf about the Cities. They think it’s creepy."
  • Running Gag
    • London's sensitivity about her height.
    • Washington DC's incomprehension of Eurovision and the related traditions of the European Cities.
  • Scars Are Forever: Cities, despite their Healing Factor, can acquire permanent scars from events of particular emotional weight or historical significance. Scars may come from an injury to the City's human body or be symbolic of damage to the buildings or inhabitants of the physical city.
  • Scar Survey: Paris Burning has a scene like this between Paris and Enjolras.
  • Screw Destiny
    • Atlantis and Destiny don't seem to get along very well. He was the first City to reject the basic rules that govern the species' existence, and he remains the only person ever to refuse to serve as a Thing Dreaming's Herald.
    • Minneapolis and St. Paul may be thumbing their noses at Destiny by refusing to acknowledge their bond as twins.
  • Seeing Through Another's Eyes: Cities can see through their peoples’ eyes.
  • Secret Keeper
    • During Paris Burning, Enjolras agrees to help Grantaire keep his true identity a secret. It later emerges that, unbeknownst even to Grantaire himself, Combeferre had deduced the truth some time ago and had also kept quiet.
    • London keeps the secret that Paris is still alive after the events of Paris Burning.
    • Annapolis, Hong Kong, the Internet, and Cairo are Secret Keepers for Ocean's Eleven.
  • Silk Hiding Steel: "Bath learnt politeness very early; the mannered joust over tea, the sweet words that could cut a person down when they had no choice but to smile."
  • Species Loyalty: While Cities may fight amongst themselves for territory or Capitalhood, they all share a sense of solidarity in the face of the unique hardships and complexities of life as a City. There's a bit of a double standard arising from this: City-on-City violence in some circumstances is accepted as a fact of life, but any human who deliberately harms a City in any way is likely to face swift and violent retribution from fellow Cities.
  • Stock Unsolved Mysteries
    • The assassination of John F. Kennedy: perpetrated by Washington DC in response to some harsh anti-City-rights policy the president was planning to implement.
    • The Roanoke colony: a Lost Colony in more ways than one. Croatoan is the name of North America's resident Eldritch Abomination, who had chosen Roanoke to serve as his priest. This is expected to be a significant plot element in the future.
  • The Strategist: Annapolis is serving as such for Ocean's Eleven.
  • Synchronization: Occurs between Twin Cities. One twin's injury can scar the other, and only two cases of one twin surviving when the other dies are currently known.
  • The Fourth Wall Will Not Protect You
    • The polar vortex that affected the Midwestern US and Canada in January of 2014 prompted many jokes and comments from readers attributing the cold to Antarctica’s Eldritch Abomination. (Turns out it was "actually" the result of a confrontation between Antarctica and its sister who resides at the North Pole.)
    • About a month earlier, thecitysmith herself commented on storm surges in her native England, which in-universe could be signs of an immenent attack by the Lost Cities. The fourth wall will protect no one, not even the author.
    • "The further you go into this Verse the more likely it is that you’ll be noticed. Still. Stay safe. There's something in the water and it knows your name."
  • Thinks Like a Romance Novel: Bath, whose dreams of an idealized romantic relationship helped her cope with the prejudice she faced from human society in her early years. Lampshaded by Plymouth after Bath starts aspiring to redeem someone through love:
    Plymouth: "This isn’t one of your stories Bath, where, where true love conquers all. Where you have to be the heroine and put up with someone like him."
  • Time Abyss: Emphasized with the earliest African Cities.
  • Too Many Mouths: The Antarctic thing’s text messages often include smiley faces with two or more mouths :)) Some of them also have too many eyes.
  • Treachery Cover Up: After Atlantis' first war on humanity ended, the Cities who fought him destroyed all records of the war and forbade any information about it from being shared with humans.
  • Turn the Other Cheek: Living out this trope is how Jerusalem copes with all the centuries’ worth of violence she has endured.
  • Unfortunate Names: It’s been indicated that a couple of American Cities whose names sound like “Atlantis”, namely Atlantic City, New Jersey and Atlanta, Georgia, might be more susceptible to his influence than others.
  • The Unintelligible: Aberdeen.
  • Utopia Justifies the Means: Atlantis intends to create a utopia for Cities.
  • Violent Glaswegian: Uh...Glasgow. Subverted in that whilst he is Scotland's strongest fighter, he does it mainly because he likes to win.
  • The Voiceless: Sheffield and Mdina.
  • Well-Intentioned Extremist: Atlantis, plotting to wipe out sentient species for a better world since time immemorial.
  • Wham Line: The final line of Paris Burning: "Down in the deep, Atlantis waited".
  • What Measure Is a Non-Human?: Debate over what political and social rights Cities are entitled to, whether or not they have souls, and what their role in society ought to be has persisted throughout human history. Human attitudes towards seem to have grown more restrictive and demanding over time, and the growing frustration of many Cities with this issue is central to the narrative.
  • Who Shot JFK?: A City (implied to be Washington DC) did the deed, apparently to prevent the administration from implementing some policy that would have been detrimental to the welfare of the US Cities.
  • Woobie, Destroyer of Worlds: Some of the Lost Cities, with the tragedies that drove them into despair and hatred, could qualify for this. El Dorado, Knossos, and Pompeii come to mind.
  • Would Hurt a Child: Most Cities would not hesitate to kill a Could-Be City (personification of a smaller town with the potential to grow into a City, usually childlike in appearance) if the Could-Be City is perceived as a threat to the full-fledged City's territory or status.
  • You Can't Go Home Again: Ocean's Eleven must force their humans to believe they have abandoned them, meaning that they cannot return to them.

Alternative Title(s): Cityverse


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