And woke up this morning (at 5 am, having gone to sleep at midnight...) with this idea slowly surfacing to rummage through my head. This is the entirety of a novel concept thus far. So far only one character (Zel) has a name and I know it is set in an analogue of Venice. Also, that I might end up working on this rather than a short story in the magician series en route to work today :)
The weirding is a river though it doesn't flow where rivers flow. It is felt as much as seen, shadow as much as breath. Silent as often as it roars. Where it touches, it scars and scours to leave nothing unchanged. The learned call it it magic while the few magicians harness it as one would a river and become awful in the making. Everything it touches changes: things twist and bend in ways the world should not allow, others are made strong in all the wrong places. Weirdcasters who can predict its movements shufle about the city, paid by the rich and connected to warn them when to move, to draw ancient symbols into stone and air that – sometimes, oh, sometimes – blunt the terrible powers that wash through the world like a waking dream to leave nightmare behind in its wake.
It was not always like this. There are still places in the city that the weirding cannot touch, walls in which it flows around. The city was more than this once, more than stone and rivers of shadow-twisted waters, but that was long ago. Now the last of the magicians fight battles to hoard knowledge of times lost and those who can afford their services pay for light to hold back things far worse than the dark. Old charms and talismans still hold some power: bells ring to warn the living, sometimes too late. It is enough to survive in the city, but to leave it, to face the weirding with no protections or warnings, that has created the merchant lords of the city and destroyed so many others.
Which is not to say that one cannot survive in the city. Life, as the Speakers say grimly, finds a way. But even their gods are silent before the weirding and what power they had has long since worn away. It is said that there are no children in the city, and this is a true lie. For there are the young, but they scramble to survive as much as anyone else, as thieves who steal to feed their hunger or runners who dash messages between places of the city, trusting to luck as much as skill.
Zel is such a runner. Half a year, as summer flees to winter, and she has survived the city after the weirding swallowed up her family. Some consider her a talisman and wish to steal her fingers for wards, others wisely call it luck and wait for it to run away and leave her. She is a survivor, in a city littered with the same, and thinks nothing more of it it until she runs into thief changed by the weirding whose pain offers hope and sets them on a path for something better and perhaps to roads more dangerous than even the weirding has prepared them for.