One thing I have a lot of fun doing is imaging fantastic landscapes and settings. I described one here once before, an ocean city, but I'm thinking I might try to post those sort of ideas more regularly. Maybe once a week. One of these days, I'll train myself to draw. But for now, I hope I can paint it well enough with words (with the help of some internet pictures).
I've always thought atolls are awesome.
Imagine gazing out across a great lake and seeing, in the middle of the lake, a thick cloud of steam stretching into the clouds. From time to time, you catch a glimpse of something past the steam, high above the water, but you can't really make out what. However, you can see a thin stretch of land, like this, leading out from where you stand, across the lake to what looks like a small grotto similar to this (just the stone architecture). The grotto stands just out of the steam's reach, near the center of the lake.
If you were close enough, you'd notice that the grotto contains two massive doors. Those doors open into a tunnel which leads beneath water, forward a couple hundred paces, and up into the city hidden behind the steam.
Remember the part in LOTR: The Two Towers when the Ents break the dam and release the river onto Isengard? Do you remember how Isengard was surrounded by deep, fiery pits, and how the river flowed into those chasms?
There is a fortified city in the center of the lake. All around it (except for the thin strip of land that the tunnel leads through) is a 50-foot wide chasm which leads down beyond vision, at the depths of which is an active volcanic lava flow. Two rivers feed into the lake. As they do, the lake constantly spills into these chasms, resulting in the massive cloud of steam that rises high into the sky and slowly swirls around the city. The steam hides the city, like a great cloak.
From within the city, one can see tall, dark spires. You can see and hear the steam (like constant thunder) that surrounds the city. The cloud blocks out the sun. So, day and night, the city looks the same, illuminated by a thousand lamps and mirrors. Many structures are also covered by a soft glow, emitted by a type of lichen kept moist by the steam. The buildings seem both beautiful and eerie... a twilight effect caused by the strange combination of white shells, abalone, black volcanic rock and volcanic glass in the city's architecture.
Outside the city, the steam feeds the clouds above, resulting in a nearly constant drizzle of rain all around the lake and surrounding valleys.
I'll stop there, but I imagine a locale like that could inspire a pretty interesting culture that resides there. =)