There are colonies beneath the surface of Megakratheon, sites lost to archaeology but remembered by delvers and believers. There are halls of undying oxygen, heat and water, or none of the above, mere radiation or radiance that sustains life, or a void, a nothingness that consumes the pilgrims as is their right, desire or suspicion.
There are colonies in the megaliths too, equally far-flung, in the mile heights or deep within the icy stone, places aired and honeycombed by moisture long forgotten or coursing still with the rains, caught when the salt sea casts purity over the Twin Canals of Megakratheon. Caught and trapped, fertilizing stone itself until plants befitting stone as plants befit the soil come forth, unseen by natural light and as mineralized as fertilized. Crystalline, dark things or motile and consumed with their own bioluminescence. These have their stewards, observers, muses whose voices shape the plants’ future forms, possibility echoed into place by tenders’ or squatters’ voices. These places are fanes, hideaways, colonies, RGOs, drug factories, or insubstantial venues for the quests of visionaries as far flung as the Earthhearts, Affidavits, Plenarites, or those beneath the canals in up-down synchronicity whose lichen fanes and abyssal monasteries launch them through manifest conduits born of their own minds and spirits.
These places are sought, rooted out, catalogued, rendered legible and infertile, dead, ossified. by the agents of the Emperor or his agents unbeknownst to him. The hidden tastes of the Emperor are unknown in their full contours to those of his administration, but that his interest turns to the antediluvian, the archaeological, the arcogoetic is news to no one in Megakratheon and few among the isles and peoples. There are those who would steer the empire away from such things; those would would make Megakratheon into a candlelit cathedral of dead pantheons, dead powers, fossils osseous and devoid of poisonous psychedelic lifeblood, a place as known as stone and as slow-moving. There are rare others from without and within would would turn it into an array for energy of cosmic or pseudopsychological origin, a place of constant chaos and the only fit host for it given its ancient stability; the only place that could carry the chaos they seek, magical or personal or ideological. Some seek a transformation into destruction, some seek the creation of a great battery that will annex, ecncompasss, energize and revivify, or overload all things of man and material.
Petitioners and pilgrims of the secret places high and low are shorn of the conduits by the Death Brigade, the white-masked shades emerging in hazes of gunsmoke and infernal firelights. The Secret Police walk among the supplicants in their robes and jewels, blessed by their braziers or swaddled in their sackcloth, or naked and besmirched with industrial runoff or the stuff of the outlying muck paths of Megakratheon where the Twin Canals break down into rivulets, shorn veins waving in the wind cursed by something of the forge, something forgotten, or something rejected and turned out by the earth. Those places are often the beginning of the trail of cloister and all its turns and sumps pouring down to the secret places; rarely they are the root of the towered secrets, and one must go into the u-bend of the earth to find the graven stairway or infinite spiderweb to climb into underground peaks cloaked in stone and hidden from light and warmth. The temples of the top and the holdfasts in the deep share a terrible kinship given neither is flecked in sun except a few hidden holes in the topmost walls of the Twin Canals, places in the clouds between the vast hundredfloor apartments and the biplane bridges and secret skyvaults. There between places are some few hidden fanes and hermitages, places of knowledge, refuses of madness, and while one must wander to seek quick death beneath the earth there is always escape from the highest holes.
Some of the apartments are a hundred stories shorn of floors, a great vault inside a tower where one cannot see the ceiling, a place where things hang and are ill-perceived and forgotten in the darkness of the deep above. Upon the walls are placed things to rot and be forgotten, flags and sigils, skins and furs, weapons to rot and drop axe head and halberd upon unsuspecting guests who stand in the unmeasured magnificence. A place that can be forged into emptiness, forged into absolute control except for entropy and that can be accounted for, the path to death plotted with precision, that from without laid within to entomb and desiccate, turn the colors of the walls and the dark and fall to refuse upon the gaping guest and slave. There is the carpet, there is the table, theire is the family shrine and its many bones now turned to petrified wood and shale. There the mummies of old stood gilded in their armored bones and bejeweled in their puppet clothes, reams of ribbons red and black and majestic like single trail flames of an explosion of glory. Debutantes in a dress of tatters, debutantes from the past to lay on the psyche like anemics on a settee. Gather and plot the ossification of the world that all may be upon the mantelpiece, assessed, assayed, inert. The categorization and calcification of chaos.
In the streets there is more life, for the canals never cease in their streaming and whispering to pentitents along the shore, the boats barge and steam and belch, the blacksmog caresses and curses the curtains, the foreigner comes and leaves invisible miasma on the inviolable stones, at it seems he must. The eyes watch beneath razored hat rims, the guns shift next to beating hearts and share a terrible kinship of purpose, for the streets are a flood of footpads and ambassadors, agents of chaos to taint the sea’s firmament and the course of life through the Twin Canals. The Thief and the traveler are the same, the emissary and the eroder, the rookery squallholder with eyes of envy and shadow gems, reflections waiting to immanentize. Callous eyes and tongues paint death across the inside outsider, and in this place there is war within as war without, the mode of the ten thousand battles against Megakratheon’s enemies play out between enemies in Megakratheon, the war in the jungles and forests and deserts and rivers remembered and made manifest in the alleys and arcologies and galleries and graveries of Megakratheon’s streets and shores, ships and heights, depths and skin, river and stone. Thief Guild beheads Secret Policeman and Death Squad killer and Buildercult priest and recalcitrant slave and Canalite administrator and foreign tourist and wandering urchin and drunken sailor and spendthrift whore and debtor and junkie and witness and passerby and their skull-shorn head skins are draped on grenades and cast into the holes and houses and holds of their foes from tower to manor to closet to hamlet. The war of all on all bleeds in from the island and out to the frontiers and up into the towers and down into the cult colonies like a body with no veins, only wounds, where blood flows from blood and into every calcified place, draining life into places where there is none, horrifically resplendent, erupting and exsanguinating, a war for the dust of the jewel of the sea.
Prison and war and prison and war, such is life for a Canalite commoner not swallowed by a trade, not enslaved and overmastered in apprenticeship and given purpose and form and shape, shorn of the common mass except when it reaches a bladed tendril from the swirling souls of hell to scratch him or suck his blood or take his wife and child. There is much industry in Megakratheon, much making of things that were not, much giving of form; perhaps it is a great mother, as it is devouring and delivering, a place of chaos held in a body of stone, a chaos gate. For as death courses hither and yon like a runaway cannon that cannot stop its fire, so too is made a great surplus that trades hands like the cards of a game and goes out upon the sea and thence come fish and pearl, ship and shape, narcotic and nerve gas.
Thus teems the hive, thus teems its art, and riot its chambers and graven halls and there flies its stone in new towers and tumbles, there breathes the living blood husk titan of sea-girt Megakratheon.