Day 13. 64 pages, 30,044 words. Long Easter weekend flatline, although I will probably still be deleting and adding stuff throughout.
“First time down here?” Çrom asked nonchalantly as they plummeted with deceptive grace alongside the Eden Road. He’d chosen the scenic route rather than simply plotting a course down through the central shaft of the staircase, even though it was slightly more work. The view was worth it.
“I’ve been to Burning Fweig once,” Lotus said, “but it was a covered and sealed transport all the way. Saves on the atmoplanic adjustment overheads,” she added vaguely. She’d risen from the couch and was standing beside the sling, looking out at the Hellscape below them with fascination and more than a little horror.
The circle-nations of Hell were arid and harsh, and for the most part obscured by the world’s heavy atmoplane in any case. It more than made up for that shortcoming, however, with the lurid glow of fire. Great pools, spirals and sprawling webs of red-orange outlined the vast crooked target-form of the circles, which were still barely discernible as curves despite the fact that the travellers were looking at them from an enormous height and the Eden Road sat very close to First Circle itself.
“It’s not actually as … fiery … as it looks,” Çrom tourist-guidebooked while Lotus stared. “There’s a lot of phosphorescent vegetation and geological formations that give off a red glow like molten rock without actually being all that hot. It’s still plenty hot down there,” he added, “but not exactly the famous lake of fire. If you want to see that, you go to a real Hell.”
“I’d rather not,” Lotus replied.
“Yeah, probably a good call.”
Fallenstar was an objectively more attractive city – or more specifically city-state – than the City of the Burning Fweig, despite the Infernal capital’s historical grandeur and its spectacular architectural extravagances. There was no Great Cathedral of the Sainted Madman here, no Pandaemonium Spire with its barbed and crooked tip that heated to a ruddily glowing evening beacon every day after the sun had swept by a few scant kilometres overhead. But it was picturesque, its aesthetic dictated by a more cosmopolitan philosophy that came from Fallenstar being an Eden Road city-state.
Its connection to the rest of the Four Realms was no greater or less than any other of the circle-nation cities, really – but that was easy to forget when you could look out of your window and see the stairway to Earth and Heaven rising up into the sulphurous overcast. When, in the middle of the night, the faint and diffused searchlight-beam of the Earth’s midday sun swept across your rooftop from the stairwell far above.
“Wait wait wait,” Lotus interrupted Çrom’s ongoing travelogue. “The Eden Road cuts down through the rock of Earth with no space around it – just the steps. Sunlight couldn’t possibly filter down from above.”
“Not as such,” Çrom said, pleased to have the chance to explain. “There’s actually a series of mirrors-”
“No there isn’t.”
“There is,” he insisted. “It started out as a misguided attempt to increase energy efficiency by redirecting sunlight back into Hell for a few hours each night to add to the daytime hours, but it ended up being a logistical nightmare that would only manage to pay for itself by about the Seventh Age, so they scaled it right back and made it into a sort of combination artistic installation and monument to Four Realms harmony and cooperation,” he peeped at Lotus and saw she was still looking at him flatly. “It’s true,” he protested. “Now there’s just this sort of five-minute sweep of faded light across the city around the middle of the night, and depending on the time of year. It comes from this place called Hindab’s Wink on one of the lower stairs – you can see it from the hopper as we descend into Fallenstar. Every few years the mirror gets overgrown with some kind of climbing creeper, and the citizens go out and tear it all off and polish the mirror and have a party…” he saw she was growing steadily less convinced the more he talked, so he shrugged and gave up. “You know why the city is called Fallenstar?”
“I had assumed it has something to do with Lucifer,” Lotus said, “but the fact that you’re asking means it’s probably nothing to do with him, and is in fact probably something breathtakingly stupid.”
“It is actually a little bit stupid,” Çrom admitted grudgingly. “But it is also to do with Lucifer. The city-state was originally called Fallenhome, but it didn’t really mean anything. It was founded by one of the early family dynasties of Pinian-worshipping Dragons, and Fallenhome – actually Fellynhame – was their family name. They did get a bit rebellious and secessionist-y though, and when they tried to expand their nest up into the stone of the Eden Road and control traffic, in went the Angelic peacekeepers.”
“Including Lucifer?” Lotus guessed.
“Lucifer was the Archangel in charge,” Çrom confirmed. “I’ve heard stories that the Fellynhame were actually under the influence of a Demon, and Lucifer – only an Angel at the time – killed it to earn the black wings. They also flaming-sworded the Fellynhame to kingdom come, and levelled the city that had formed around the nest. When Lucifer rose to prominence in the greater Theocratic Republic of the Circles of Hell, she oversaw the rebuilding of the city and it was renamed Fallenstar in her honour.”
“‘Her’?” Lotus said in amusement.
Çrom shrugged uncomfortably. “Lucifer doesn’t put much stock in the details, so sadly the majority of Earthly documents and stories use the masculine pronoun. For … reasons of hegemonic arrogation, I assume. But my sources among the higher undead assure me that she’s female – or she was. It doesn’t really matter, though.”
Lotus thought about this for a moment, but didn’t make any further objections. “Are there Dragons down here now?” she asked instead.
“A little clan called the Fellymae,” Çrom said, “most likely a remnant of the Fellynhame but you probably wouldn’t want to remind them of that.”
She shook her head as the Hellscape unfolded and more dark, sweltering details emerged from the smog. “What kind of humans would live here?”
Çrom smiled. “Why don’t we just continue on through without stopping to meet them?”