Day 12. 64 pages, 30,044 words. Entering long Easter weekend flatline.
It was another hour to Fallenstar with two stops along the way, one for a routine security sweep and the other for ‘atmoplanic adjustment’ to the thicker, slightly-human-incompatible air of Hell. The former stop took less than five minutes, the latter about fifteen while The Happy Bumfuck was flooded with pressure-correcting mesomain gas that smelled like slightly manky seaweed. The combination of the hopper’s inter-flatworld but non-hard-vacuum rating, and their flight plan showing that they were descending straight through, meant that they didn’t need anything more extensive than a quick patch.
Neither of the stops required any sort of face-to-face contact with officials, so The Happy Bumfuck’s computer bore all the social pressure.
It wasn’t so much that the atmoplane of Hell was incompatible with human life, Çrom explained to Lotus to break the monotony, but it was just the right degree of dense, muggy and sulphur-tinted to make said life an unappealing prospect.
“I have a theory that they make it that way on purpose,” he said. “There’s no reason for the air to be loaded with brimstone in this day and age, with scrubbers and filters and airborne bonding agents and all … but it limits the human population to the little group of insane nth-generation hellmonkeys they have in residence, and the authorities can spread their hands and make baffled, earnest noises about how we’d be only too happy to up our asylum quotas, but humans just don’t like it down here.”
Lotus made a soft sound of amusement. “That’s actually what they call themselves, isn’t it?”
“What, hellmonkeys?” Çrom nodded. “I’m afraid so. They’ve really internalised the old post-Cult anthro-guilt. Made it into something of an artform,” he leaned back against his saddle-cushion. “Plus it’s hot as … well, hot as Hell down there,” he went on. “Average temperature is around 50°C, and there’s not much seasonal or geographic variation. And no real oceans, just the occasional deep well and some canals between the circle-nations. Humans are generally restricted to environmentally-controlled habitats.”
“And no ice,” Lotus said.
“No ice,” Çrom confirmed, then added with a chuckle, “except in the Haffil Mograthea,” he glanced back at her and caught her puzzled head-tilt. “You haven’t heard that story?”
“I’m afraid I’m woefully ignorant of the geography and civics of our nearest neighbours,” Lotus admitted.
“Well, to be fair this is more about folklore than geography or civics,” Çrom told her. “The Haffil Mograthea is a house, or a fortress, or a vault, somewhere in the First Circle,” Çrom said. “A trove of the greatest treasures that the Pandaemonia stole from Heaven and Earth back in the bad old days when Hell was a rebellious frontier striving to secede from Pinian dominion,” he chuckled again. “It’s more myth than history, of course,” he added, “folklore, like I said. Hell never openly rebelled against Heaven, despite any little misunderstandings the Angelic Chorus and the Archangelic court might have had over who’s got the authority to do what. Loss of Brotherhood support would have basically left Hell vulnerable to infiltration by the Darkings, if not outright absorption – especially before Cursèd was made.”
“So it’s a make-believe house,” Lotus summarised, “holding the greatest treasures of Heaven and Earth … and some ice?”
“No,” Çrom grinned. “A single snowflake.”
“Ah,” Lotus said. “The proverbial snowflake in Hell?”
“Now you’re getting it.”
“What other treasures does the … Haffil Mograthea … contain?” Lotus asked. “I assume if any of them bestowed eternal life I would have heard about it.”
“Actually, most of the stories I’ve heard kind of make a big deal about the snowflake and don’t mention many other things,” Çrom admitted. “Some stories just conveniently link back to it and say that’s where other important items are stored. The Godslaying Gun, you must have heard of that one?”
“The weapon that slew Vort, causing Him to remake Himself as Endibline, and in turn allowing Endibline II to usurp the Darking Godhead?” Lotus asked. “I’d heard it was held in a place of high honour – and even higher security – in Palatia.”
“I’ve heard a lot of different versions of the story and all of them could be Pinian propaganda to make the Darkings look silly,” Çrom said. “They like telling stories about the Darking God getting killed. Some of the stories place the Godslaying Gun in Haffil Mograthea, though. Arguably safer than a guarded chamber in Palatia, on account of Haffil Mograthea probably not even existing. There is a sightseers’ version of the place,” he added informatively. “It’s got a special refrigerated display case with an ice crystal in it, and you can look at it for ten yachut and try to ignore the fact that the entire First Circle Tourism Board is laughing at you behind their pitchforks.”
“I know,” Çrom agreed. “Also, most people have, you know, refrigeration units in their homes. If you want ice, there’s plenty of ice. Just none that’s what you’d call naturally occurring.”
They descended out of the central well, curved across the drab grey surface of the topmost open step-nation, and dropped into the sky of Hell.
– Posted from my Huawei mobile phone while sitting in the carpark.