Day 14. 64 pages, 30,044 words. Long Easter weekend flatline, although I will probably still be deleting and adding stuff throughout.
They re-entered the central well at Fallenstar and descended into the darkness of Underhell.
Earth and Hell shared a sun, which rose in the morning and set in the evening above the former and sank in the morning and ascended in the evening above the latter. Cursèd, the misbegotten and dusty work in progress beneath Hell, didn’t have a sun – and never had.
“I think the grand Divine Plan is to finish Cursèd, then add a whole new flatworld in and bump everything upwards,” Çrom said. “Then put in a sun to orbit around Cursèd and the new world, like the one that services Earth and Hell. The Eden Road holds it all up and the suns are meant to stabilise it somehow, I don’t know. I’m not a megaengineer.”
“It seems as though the grand Divine Plan has been suspended somewhere in the middle of the Cursèd-building stage,” Lotus remarked as the darkness closed in around the hopper.
“The devout might say it’s a long-term plan,” Çrom attempted.
“Are either of us that devout?” Lotus snorted.
“Are either of us going to be around to see the finished product?” Çrom shot back mildly.
“I intend to be,” Lotus declared. “You – as per our arrangement – will be dead.”
“Ah,” Çrom nodded. “Just making sure you remembered.”
There were no further checkpoints or stops. It was evident that nobody cared. They dropped through the deep dark of the stairwell, the ruddy light of Hell swiftly fading above them. Another hour ticked by.
“Most step-hoppers I have seen in action actually hopped from step to step,” Lotus noted. “This is quicker.”
“Well, down is easier,” Çrom said. “Most Eden Road traffic is either high-speed through the well, or step-hoppers crawling across each step and up. This is basically just a glorified freefall, though, so it’s not too much of a drain on our Plant feed. On the way back up, we’ll be going from step to step to allow the hopper to get its breath back each time, and it’ll take longer,” he looked back at her. “Assuming we make it back.”
“Assuming we need to take the hopper,” Lotus added challengingly, “rather than flying on Angelic wings – or swimming the darkness of Gods and Demons.”
“Well in either case, I’ll be driving the hopper,” Çrom said firmly. “Neither of those other alternatives particularly appeal to me. And besides, Clem wouldn’t want me to leave his hopper parked on the Rooftop. Remember the stern look.”
They emerged, not into darkness but the eerie pallid glow of a storybook cave. All blues and greys and pale greens, the freezing light of Cursèd came from a variety of lichens and vast fungal stalactites clinging to the ceiling of the Underhell. Or possibly the Overcursèd, Çrom speculated, although he’d never heard it called that. Maybe he could bring the term into popular parlance.
“The glowing mushrooms are a bit much, aren’t they?” Lotus interrupted his terminological reverie.
“They’re pretty bright up here, but by the time you get down to ground level the only ones that really cast much light are the big hanging ones,” Çrom told her. “And they don’t shed much. Untreated phosphorescence just isn’t a good illuminant.”
Material Depot #1 was pretty much exactly what it sounded like. From the altitude of their emergence from the central well it looked somewhat like a rather drab and utilitarian city, until you stopped to think about just how far away it was. The stacks and blocks and towers of stone and metal and other world-crafting materials were enormous, rearing over the ridiculous crumpled paper of the landscape itself, dwarfing the mountains that were themselves huge and ruggedly impressive.
Çrom had never understood why God needed a construction site for creating worlds, but he had to admit that Cursèd made a pretty breathtaking one.
You just didn’t want to spend too much time outside appreciating it, because ‘breathtaking’ was about right. It was lethally cold, and if the freezing atmoplane didn’t get you, the Ogres would. The big hairy bastards were all over the place down here, and while they had basically endless patience while waiting for the next time the Pinians pointed them at something that needed smashing, they also weren’t all that particular about what they practiced on in the meantime. The Material Depots were really the only safe places for people to live, since the Ogres – for whatever reason – steered clear of them.
It was possible God had urinated on them before going back to Heaven for an extended smoke break. Çrom didn’t like to speculate.
There weren’t many people living in Cursèd anyway. The human population numbered in the hundreds, and the local sentients – aside from the Ogres, if they counted as local or sentient – were a strange bunch. The lines were blurred this far down, and you were as likely to find a denizen of Castle Void shambling across the frozen gravel as you were to find a Cursèd native wandering the Rooftop. Of course, in the case of intruders from the Castle, you were in fact more likely to find their frozen remains smeared across a wide area and cratered with club-prints.
“Are we really going to stop at Material Depot #3?” Lotus asked.
“For the record, officially, yes,” Çrom replied. “We have to, in order to keep our flight plan intact and everything hunky-dory with the Eden Road authorities. But once we get there, it’s a relatively simple matter to slip out over the edge and drop to the Rooftop. There are several smuggler’s routes…”
“What about getting back up?”
“Slightly more complicated,” Çrom admitted, “since we can’t take the stairs. Too much security above Cobler’s Farm. But we can arrange a lift,” he tapped in a set of location confirmations and the flight plan for their final leg, which was pretty effortless since air traffic was basically zero. “Five and a half hours to Material Depot #3,” he announced. “Might be a good time to get some sleep. It’s been a long flight.”
“When you say ‘arrange a lift’,” Lotus said, “what exactly are you talking about?”
“Some of us have friends in low places,” Çrom replied, climbing out of the sling and stretching his back with a little groan. “I don’t think it’s anything to worry about, considering that the next part of our journey is down into the Castle itself and your plan is still pretty much a blank page apart from the final goal. You’ll notice I haven’t been quizzing you-”
“Çrom,” Lotus said sharply. She was looking past him, through the broad helm window.
“Ah,” he said.
“Is that what you’re planning to ‘arrange a lift’ with?” Lotus demanded.
“No,” Çrom replied faintly, gazing at the monstrous pale crescent of the Category 9 Convoy Defence Platform Destarion gliding through the frozen atmoplane towards them. The four great curved spires of her upper turrets shone in the lights of the giant fungi above, the colours and intensity shifting swiftly as she cruised beneath the phosphorescent carpet. The Godfang was positively clipping along. “No, that’s not how I intended to travel,” he went on, “and it’s really going to complicate things.”