At this hour the avenue was clogged with traffic and storefronts, business and pedestrians mingling without definition in the tight space. Uneven cobbles tripped those who traveled on foot and made the going slow for eight-legged Carriages as they sifted through the throng and balanced on their rusty hinges. Children dodged the arachnid machines and tossed rocks at their dented carapaces, hoping to elicit a response from whatever Elite was hiding inside the foreboding, tinted glass shell. They could not comprehend being ferried anywhere, those gutter boys and girls who bounded on shoeless feet through their dirty, lowly lives, so they chased the Carriage through the street until they had wandered too far from their derelict homes and were forced to allow the creaking monster to wander on its way.
Uncontained sparks of industry illuminated the alleys and dark shops where the bulbs had been replaced with medieval torches due to theft and scarcity. Shrill metal bangs reverberated through the air, as did the fizzing crackle of old and dying wiring that sputtered with sparks that rained down on pedestrians in occasional showers of hot embers. Neon signs flickered on and off, rusty from years of use, pointing into bakeries of stale bread and bookstores of local literature, all of the wares old, faded, and torn. Most of these were passed by the aptly named passerbys, in no mind or wealth to frequent the shops or peruse the shelves of some tinker's cart, brought to the city from the fields where they labored in the time that water was briefly abundant.
The sky was never quiet. The rumble of artificial thunder from the profusely smoking engines of low sailing ships shook the shacks of the populated areas beneath, most held together with sheets of thin metal patching holes in their walls. Those sorry fixes were shaken loose by the passage of the flyers, causing their occasional overhead flight to become anything but an exciting occasion. Mostly, however, the six-winged gliders never came near the polluted and poor back alleys, weaving in and out of the grey clouds, framed against the eternally red sky. They did whatever it was that they did, bathed in the bloody horizon, and were none so bothered by impoverished ground-dwellers.
All the many suns beat down in lightless heat. Azaz’el, the largest and brightest, framed by his two lesser brothers, Div-e Sepid and Ördög, sat still in their constant, watchful way. Days were measured by the rise and fall of their legions of moons, from black Murmur to small and white Bune and the circular formation of waxing spheres that made the Ring of Vine. The moons ascended and waned and drifted around the three suns, which never moved from their high and foreboding perch in the red, red sky. The oldest of the people down below, lying restless and blind on their deathbeds woven of straw and foul weed-root solely for dying, spoke of the days before Div-e Sepid had taken his place beside his brothers in the hazy crimson heavens, but all who walked and baked in the heat of the triple suns knew that the minds of the old were confused and decayed; there had always been three, and always would be.
The tireless heat continued through the day, and those who did not need to be outside retreated to their hobbles and shacks. There was no shade, no shadow, and no respite. Laborers and storekeepers suffered through the sticky peak of Azaz’el’s vengeful, moody heatwave, forced into the light by the need for supplement and pay. Few patrons visited their shoddy establishments to purchase rotten wares, though children aplenty did their best to thieve with their emaciated fingers and sinewy, slippery forms. Many shop owners lost a few of their cheapest and least-guarded vendibles to the wiry urchins, usually only to have it or other goods pawned back to them when the gutter-dwellers grew too starved to cling to their shiny trinkets.
Soon the heat swelled to a point where even the street urchins were forced to find what minimal shelter they could and every door was shuddered shut against visitors, not that anyone would brave the sweltering temperatures to visit. The only ones to labor in the peak of the “day” were the lowest, those who worked yet were poorer than the naked children of the city trenches, some there in willingness, but most there by force. They hauled and stacked and assembled, building stone by stone a looming likeness of the Dread God, one arm extended to gesture ominously over the city, as if to say that all beneath was His, and indeed it was. The jackal-like head was unfinished, the scaffolding in place, crawling with laborers so high above the ground they seemed to swarm over their giant effigy like ants. When they fell, there was nothing to do but get out of the way, far down below.
All this work was overseen by those in the six-winged flying ships that caused the air around them to ripple and waver as they hovered unevenly in place. Their dark bellies held the Elites who did not like to dwell on the ground, those favored by the Dread God, or perhaps those who feared Him most. They were the ones who had found the veins of marble and silver, then made the poor masses dig their quarries, harvest their stone, and build their idol to appease great Azaz’el, whose son had become the Dread God, whose temper far exceeded that of his brothers’. But of course, just because the Elites did not dwell beside the filthy urchins of the street did not mean they were any safer than those laborers they so despised. It was not an uncommon sight to see a flyer shudder or cough and then tumble from the sky, crashing to the city and tilled fields, its wiring and metal parts hauled away for scrap before its pilot could finish bleeding out on the parched soil that craved their succulent blood. No, nothing was safe here.
And what was this land? This horrible, red land of suns? These hills and endless skies of no shade and yet no light, caught in the shallow place in-between, just as the people were caught in the technological pitfalls and medieval struggles of anachronic life? This was Koth. This was the Great Underworld, full of the wicked and deniers, forced to live rather to rest in prosperous death, to quarrel and struggle and toil under Azaz’el and Ördög and Div-e Sepid, the watchers, the governors of Koth, which had no kings or presidents, for Koth had no need of those mortal things. There was no crime because there was no law. No law but for the law of the Dread God.
All was not hopeless in Koth, or at least, not so hopeless as it seemed. In every city, in every great stretch of land, there existed the Gates, each guarded by the head of one of the suns, warded over jealously by the jackal of Azaz’el, the monkey of Div-e Sepid, and the goat of Ördög, respectively. The Gates were nondescript, vertical tunnels straight into the depths, each mirrored at very bottom so there was no true telling where each went. Each shaft was so long that even those who came to the Gates’ edge, who saw that two people could easily fit shoulder to shoulder down the tunnel, could not believe that anything larger than a wrench could fall through the tiny reflection below. Yet there were never many who ever came close enough to the pits to witness the phenomenon.
It was common knowledge in the Great Underworld Koth that the Gates were the only way to the lands beyond. Or, at least, one Gate was. It was written in blood on the walls of the Dread God’s tomb that those who had been chosen would know which path to take, and be taken to a better Underworld, to the unending Rest, the comforting darkness and the blissful light. The others, those who did not feel a pull upon witnessing the triple-guarded shafts, were not worthy of anything other than the misery of Koth. But surely there was a correct path, one that could be guessed by the desperate, looking for release. And maybe there was, but the general opinion was that each person, if worthy of ascension or unworthy of Koth, was called to a different Gate, whichever one would take them where they most needed to go. For that reason, the Gates were never frequented; those that wished to rid themselves of Koth feared even more what lay beyond it. They were the wicked, and they knew what they had done to deserve this place, contenting themselves with false assurances that this was not half so bad a fate as they might’ve been dealt. Yet a majority of the wretched population did not even know they were being punished, resigned to running their shops, their homes, their business, and living in the heat and the misery. These were the deniers, and they had no memory of their past lives, forever in the ignorance that had brought them deep to the Great Underworld.
There was no happiness in Koth, no love, no mercy. The noise of industry had replaced the song of birds, machinery made life more difficult more often than not, and the suns never, ever set from the red, red sky. And all the while, life went on, and on, and on, with no release but painful death, and then there was nothing, and there was little people feared more than the Nothing.
The heat of the day waned eventually. The wretched, starving folk, emerged, blinking, sweating, lethargic. They crawled and limped and cried in their misery, watching the towering statue of the Dread God rise above them, taller every day, a reminder to whom they belonged; Azaz’el peered hatefully down.
“Save us,” the peasants cried in the streets and the Elites whispered in their Carriages and flying machines. They wept to the heavens, those that were not yet as barren inside as much of the cultivated lands around the tumbling cities. “Oh God, why have you abandoned us?” But they knew quite well why, and all that was cold in Koth was its dried and dead sympathy for those that had doomed themselves to its red, red lands.