“Choice is the one burden we need not suffer.”
— Indentees of Gorgonid Mine
The Gorgonid is one of Sepheris Secundus’s largest and most productive mines. Though it is within sight of Icenholm and the royal palace, the structure and society of the mine itself is typical of many across Sepheris Secundus’s surface. The exact population of the Gorgonid is impossible to calculate, but it is vast, consisting of enormous hordes of serfs, most of whom never see the world outside the mine.
The Gorgonid is a vast open mine hundreds of metros deep. Rickety scaffolding reaches down into its lower depths, and countless pulleys and cranes lift containers of ore to the edge of the enormous mine pit, where it accumulates in mountainous heaps waiting for cargo ships to transport it off the surface. From the edge of the mine pit can be glimpsed the heaped-up wooden tenements known as the Commons, while cart tracks and well-worn paths lead below the edge of the pit towards the mining areas deep below the ground. Only the central part of the Gorgonid is open to the air. All the mining faces and many homes are below the surface, existing in eternal darkness.
Besides work, sleep and sermons by the lay clergy who represent the Imperial Creed in the Gorgonid, there is very little levity in a serf ’s life. The barons of the Gorgonid live in the Commons, tradition demanding that they live in fastness keeps and small castles. The serfs are expected to show deference to all barons, particularly the one who owns their labor, at all times. A baron travelling through the streets can expect to have serfs present him with small handcrafted trinkets or other gifts. He will then burn these outside the gates of his tower to symbolize the relationship between serf and master.
Most inhabitants of the Gorgonid live in the Commons. This is the collective term for the areas of built-up wooden housing where the serfs live. In theory, all of this is owned by the Gorgonid’s barons, who allow the serfs to live there in return for nine-tenths of everything the serfs mine. In practice serfs simply live where they can, often cramming large families into a single candle-lit room. The Commons are teeming, but it is not a boisterous, lively place. The serfs go everywhere with their heads bowed, trudging to and from the mine faces, snatching a few moments of rest in the squalor of the Commons.
Most barons have large entourages of troops and other servants to ensure that the serfs do not get too close. These include the distinctive Stench Wardens, servants who carry censers of scented water to help fend off the “Commons stink” when a baron must endure walking the poverty-stricken streets.
The Face is the term for those areas where there is ore to be mined, and it is here that most of the Gorgonid’s work is done. The Face consists of thousands of kilometers of open rock face stretching deep beneath the ground, from massive cliff faces covered in precarious scaffolding to narrow, stifling tunnels too low for a man to stand upright. Every serf has the right to mine a particular section of open mine, and the Face is covered in markers driven into the rock to state which serf is permitted to work that spot.
In times past, the serfs had to chain themselves, or one of their children, to the marker to ensure that the claim was respected. Nowadays, however, a smear of the serf ’s blood is enough to demonstrate that the serf is currently working the spot. Serfs must frequently draw blood to renew this mark, hence the process is known as “staking” a claim. The means by which the serfs mine is very primitive. Most use tools handed down by their forefathers, and fortunate is the serf who earns enough from his minuscule portion of the rock’s bounty to buy a brand new set of tools.
Each morning countless thousands of serfs trudge to the Face from the Commons and every evening they trudge back again, pausing only to pay deference to the barons who tour the Face to ensure that the slothful are punished. When the explosives engineers of the Disassemblers’ Guild blast a new area of the Face, a stampede occurs as thousands of serfs rush to stake their new claims. These occasions can be dangerous, as many are trampled or killed in fights over the best claims, but this is accepted as the price for making sure the fittest, most determined serfs mine the most productive seams.
The Shatters is the term given to the deepest, darkest, most dangerous parts of the Gorgonid, which even the barons recognize are too dangerous for serfs to work. Caverns filled with deadly gas, flooded, partially collapsed or simply lethally hot or radioactive can be found in the Shatters. No claim may be staked in the Shatters and ore mined there is not owned by anyone. The Shatters are home to the very lowest of the Gorgonid’s low, comprising two main groups.
The first consists of the dispossessed: those who have no master, either having been born outside a marriage sanctioned by the barons or condemned to lose even a serf ’s meagre rights after being convicted of a crime. These hapless individuals invariably die very quickly in the Shatters. Those who survive to illicitly sell a few handfuls of ore fare well compared to most. The second group consists of mutants. Mutants are common in the Gorgonid, as on the rest of Sepheris Secundus, perhaps due to the massive amounts of dangerous metals and chemicals that find their way into the dubious water supply.
In any case, mutants gravitate towards the Shatters, which is the only place where they can survive in any numbers without being hunted down by baronial troops or burned by torch-wielding serfs. Some mutants are well adapted to the hostile conditions, and a few even thrive in the Shatters. Mutants have their own crude society where seniority is based on brute strength and the degree of mutation. The mutant barons and kings, it is said, are inhuman monsters from the depths of a nightmare, hellish abominations that range from enormous tentacled horrors to three-eyed seers who can read thoughts.
The more criminally minded serfs buy the ore mined by the outcasts and mutants in exchange for food and other essentials, and a major part of Sepheris Secundus’ economy is made up by the labor of the mutant underclass. It is even possible that more ore comes out of the Shatters than out of the exhausted seams of the Face.
The Tumble is the only area outside the Gorgonid that most of its serfs ever see. It is a wasteland on the surface above the mine, dominated by titanic heaps of rock spoil and other trash. In this polluted twilight, thickly carpeted with toxins, shady deals are made that take place outside the mine’s proper feudal economy. These range from serfs selling off their surplus, to organized criminals selling their services as killers or smugglers. The mutants of the Shatters have a tunnel that links to somewhere in the Tumble, and on the darkest nights, shambling, hideous creatures emerge from the poison smog to take their cut. Barons and off-worlders are sometimes known to frequent the Tumble, every one of them eager to hide their identities.
Cults and MalcontentsEdit
The Gorgonid’s large, oppressed population has led to the formation of groups of criminals and other malcontents. The baronial troops eagerly hunt down criminals and execute them on the street corners of the Commons. Other groups are cults and secret societies lurking in the Gorgonid’s dark places. The Loathers, for example, is a group that has forsaken all happiness and hope, and sells its services as assassins and destroyers of lives to spread the misery that has afflicted them. Some whisper that cutting off a finger and nailing it to a signpost in the Commons will bring the Loathers to your doorstep when you least expect it, and that you can then bargain with them to destroy someone you despise.
The Orphans’ Crusade, on the other hand, searches discreetly for those with unusual abilities, reading minds or precognition for example, and spirits them away before they are handed over to the baronial troops by fearful relatives. No one knows what the Crusade needs these gifted individuals for, but the fate that awaits them can surely be no more sinister than being dragged away by the baronial troops, never to be seen again. The grey-hooded agents of the Orphan’s Crusade can sometimes be glimpsed at the bloodsport pits popular in the Commons or at the witherhouses where victims of diseases and accidents languish, always looking for something.
Perhaps most terrifying of all the Gorgonid’s hidden cults, though, is the Granite Crown. This group’s sinister symbol of a blinded eye is carved on many entrances to the Shatters and many an old serf miner tells tales of how the Granite Crown rules over even the mightiest of mutant shatterchiefs, who pay fealty to the Granite Crown’s lords. These “lords” are said to dwell in the most ancient of places beneath the ground. No one knows where these stories originated, let alone whether they hold any truth, but similar tales are told by firelight all across Sepheris Secundus.