The Perse Hollows:
Depths of Sele
Part 3: The Mears of Perse
Saturday, May 19, 2018
Welcome back for Part 3 of my miniseries on the Perse Hollows, the vast cavern system beneath the Galan capital of Sele.
This week we're going to take a look at the two entrances to the Perse Hollows: the upper one, Crawler's Mouth, located in Sele itself; and the lower one, Sand Maw, at the altitude of the Sodaplains. Roughly two vertical miles (and considerably longer than that in terms of the actual progression of the caverns) separate these entrances!
Much Galan cultural weight is given to boundaries and thresholds—a fact also true of myself—and so these splendid entrances, which are both quite large, deserve their own consideration.
Join me, then, and let us peek at the Mears of Perse.
The What Now?
The Mears of Perse, you foolish Earther! Mear is one of my favorite obsolete words; it means "boundary," "limit," or "threshold." I don't remember how I learned it, but I have a vague impression (quite possibly fantastical!) that I was studying real property law and the term came up in the legal jargon.
Regardless, the word shows up twelve times in the Prelude, though, granted, eleven of those are in the form of the name of the powerful dwend Mearulay, who manifests the boundary between worlds at the top of Galadrim.
This is the collective name for the two entrances to the Perse Hollows, and it is straightforward enough. It isn't widely used as an actual landmark or reference, however, due to other types of names filling that role, but it does show up in technical documentation and also in some Galan art as a poetic name for the realm and dominion of the Perse Hollows.
Crawler's Mouth: The Upper Entrance
The upper entrance to the Perse Hollows—and for Galan purposes the far more important and commonly used entrance—is located in the City of Sele itself, in the Butter Bowl District, so named because of its unusual shape on the Sourran Landstorm.
Crawler's Mouth is the name given to the entrance itself, but it makes more sense here to describe the entrance in three parts: outside the boundary, the boundary itself, and inside the boundary.
Outside Crawler's Mouth: The Butter Bowl District
The Landstorm, discussed in much more detail in the existing episodes of The Great Galavar, covers much of the east of the world and consists of a vast wasteland of "fingers" of relatively flat land at different altitudes from each other, separated most often by sheer cliffs.
In contrast, the Butter Bowl District resembles a shallow, wooden butter bowl, as its slopes are hillsides much gentler than sheer cliffs, and the depression is much larger across than it is deep. This is an unusual (though not unprecedented) feature in the Landstorm, hence the name.
Geographically, the Butter Bowl District is the most central district in the city, encompassing the point of intersection between the city's west-east and south-north centerlines. It is located south of Swan Ridge, moderately west of the city's Galadrim meridian (and thus southwest of Galadrim itself), and is one of the core districts whose development dates to the founding of the city.
The Butter Bowl District—sometimes shortened by the Selish to "the Butter Bowl" or just "the Bowl"—is also the most significant cultural locus of the city. The bottom of the district, which enjoys a measure of protection from the winds the blast the Landstorm, is not only the location of Crawler's Mouth but is also rich with cultural refinements like libraries and museums, sports centers, theaters, outdoor parks (which in this climate are not the placid green things you might be expecting, but more like rock gardens), and some of Sele's most prestigious workshops, offices, cafÃ©s, and restaurants. There is also luxury housing, at least by the Selish sense of "luxury"—which deserves its own article some other time.
But, most prominently of all, this is the location of the Academy, the home of Sele's children. It is actually the Academy that spurred much of the cultural development in the rest of the Butter Bowl District. I'll discuss the Academy in more detail later.
Crawler's Mouth: Something of an Afterthought
The Perse Hollows entrance in the Butter Bowl is formally called Crawler's Mouth, because the entrance is very shallow, essentially like an extra pocket of bowl tucked beneath the visible bottom of the valley. However, this name isn't often used, because other names convey the same idea in different ways.
It spans roughly eighty feet high at its highest, and roughly one hundred thirty feet wide at its widest. The boundary is completely reinforced, for safety. There is no crossing station, no guard or patrol, just a vast arch crossing the boulevard, welcoming to the other side those traveling across the threshold.
This arch, which is a part of the reinforcement structure, is painted a richer shade of perse on the outside of the entrance, inlaid with pieces of perse-tinted glass that sparkle in the morning sun. From the inside, the boundary is painted lustrous white and is lit by a network of spotlights that make the shimmering paint appear to move when an observer moves.
The lay of the entrance is oriented just a hair north of west, meaning that at the right times of the year the morning sun reaches a little ways into the Hollows.
The Perse Way: Boulevard to the Underworld
That boulevard I mentioned is The Perse Way, a sprawling and elegant road that crosses the Butter Bowl District, heading up to Swan Ridge in the east and into the Perse Hollows in the west.
The Perse Way is iconic in Selish culture—not quite on the level of New York's 5th Avenue, but in that vein. The lights shine brightly here; everything noteworthy about the Butter Bowl District is concentrated here. A center for parades, street fairs, concerts, and a famous meeting place for first dates and business meetings, the Perse Way is second only to the Vedere and the Mercade of the Sky as a happening place in the city.
The Perse Way is one of only two structures to actually pass through Crawler's Mouth itself, the other being the Academy immediately to the south of the road, which has an indoor apriceway.
Astoria I: The First Cavern of the Perse Hollows
The Perse Hollows feature thousands of charted caverns. They are named into groups of related caverns that easily flow into one another. These groups comprise "neighborhoods," each of which is given a single name. The individual caverns are then numbered.
Immediately beyond Crawler's Mouth, the first neighborhood of the Perse Hollows is named Astoria, and the very first individual cavern is named Astoria I.
Astoria I is very large—one of the thirty-nine "titanic" Perse Hollows caverns, vaguely ellipsoidal in shape, spanning roughly three-fifths of a mile long at its longest, a third of a mile wide at its widest, and stretching rough a quarter of a mile high—giving it roughly one-quarter the usable land area of the Butter Bowl District, which, for an underground space, is quite significant.
Culturally and economically, Astoria I is a continuation of the Butter Bowl District. It features many workshops, restaurants, and so forth. The major difference is that it's underground. As I mentioned in an earlier installment, this lent itself to the idea of building the entire city underground for safety, to protect against the weather and even to avoid light pollution that would alert people in the region to Sele's existence—which was to be kept a secret.
Sele, of course, was built mostly above-ground after all, with the help of mild tenebrus clouds above the city to handle the light pollution issue (a fascinating topic that also deserves its own article at some point, as these clouds are one of the Nine Clouds and are extremely dangerous).
Astoria did nevertheless see some development of shelters and havens for the purposes of disaster planning, and it also became a major storage center for delicate or volatile materials. However, its main development echoed that of the Butter Bowl District.
The other feature that really sets it apart from the surface is its vast fields and courts used for sporting events and athletic practice. Grass is very difficult and wasteful to grow on the surface, and there isn't much of it underground either, but instead there is a species of remarkably hardy moss that grows happily here with a little watering and overhead lighting, and serves as a turf material for sports and events that require turf.
Astoria I's lighting scheme is incredibly elaborate, consisting of a system of light sources, reflectors, and diffusers that create a bright, even light that fills the cavern during the daylight hours, and dims considerably, also changing color to perse, at night.
Most of the development takes the form either of normal edifices as one might would on the surface, or "tubes" that span from the ground up to the cavern ceiling. There are also some viaducts, bridgeways, catwalks, and other suspended or elevated structures up in the vicinity of the ceiling, though not terribly many, owing to their relative impracticality and the glare of the enormous amounts of light I mentioned. There are however a number of cafÃ©s and restaurants that mitigate the light problem and offer a view of Astoria below.
Beyond Astoria I lies Astoria II, the next cavern in the network and itself almost as large as Astoria I. But the true interior of the Perse Hollows is a topic for later in this miniseries!
The Academy: Spanning All Three Parts of the Boundary
The Academy as a whole is going to get its own miniseries at some point, so I won't talk about it too much here. But I do want to describe it in terms of its relation to the entrance to the Perse Hollows.
The Galan Academy—where all Galan children are raised and housed—was built in the style of Ieik's Academy: a sprawling, vast indoor complex that is essentially a horizontal arcology.
The Academy technically touches three different districts of the city: The main part is located on the southern slope of the Butter Bowl District, and is essentially a hillside neighborhood with a (mostly) contiguous roof overhead. As I mentioned, it is the Academy that accounts for so much of the refinement and centrality of the development in the Butter Bowl District.
It extends upward and south before topping out as one of the tallest buildings on the Lip—the ridge opposite Swan Ridge that forms the southern and western slopes of the Butter Bowl, and a small district in its own right.
Meanwhile, the Academy building also continues downward and northwest along the bottom of the Butter Bowl, passing via a large apriceway through the south end of Crawler's Mouth into Astoria I, where it the building fattens up again before opens out onto a number of ranges, yards, and fields.
It's quite a sight, consisting of many different architectural ideas combined into one, continuous wave of aede, decked out in thousands of sparkling lights.
Sand Maw: The Lower Entrance
Of course, there are two entrances to the Perse Hollows. The other one, eleven thousand feet lower, and hundreds of caverns away from Astoria I, is a very different place, with a very different role to play in Galan society.
The farther away from Astoria the caverns go, the less connection and interflow there is with the people and culture of Sele, and the more the Perse Hollows becomes its own beast. Eventually, there comes a point where the mood becomes frontierlike, with specific caverns dominated by single businesses or individuals.
The most prominent of these is Silence Terlais, without whom the full extent of the Perse Hollows would not have been a focus of development in the first place. While she was far from the only person to take an interest in the Hollows' potential, it was her initiative, and to a lesser extent her engineering genius, that spurred exploration and development.
It is fitting, then, that the lower entrance of the Perse Hollows is almost exclusively her domain.
The Stairs of Calamitous Understanding: A Convenient Decoy
Sand Maw was discovered several years after the upper one, from the outside rather than the inside. Silence, looking for a suitable port for her sandship, knowing that she intended to eventually build more of them, commissioned survey teams to scour the foot of the Cliffs of Raglan beneath Sele for suitable safe harbors with enough loose sand to permit the passage of sandships.
The search did not take long; a location perfect beyond hope was found only a short ways west of the Stairs of Calamitous Understanding. The Stairs of Calamitous Understanding, sometimes mistakenly called the Steps of Sourros, are the original, ancient, and extremely dangerous and arduous route up the Cliffs of Raglan, conceived of as the easiest way to reach the Depths of Sourros from the north. "Easy," however, is a relative thing in the east of the world, and in Sele the stairs are known by many nicknames, especially The Crazy Stairs.
For who would use them? They connect the vast and mostly empty Sand Ocean with the lethal and barren Landstorm by way of a winding stair chiseled into an eleven-thousand-foot sheer cliff. Galavar himself, on his return to Ieik from his world travels in younger times, climbed these stairs on principle, together with a very displeased DeLatia, and since then various Galan athletes, hikers, naturalists, scientists, and researchers have climbed or descended them since then, but otherwise they are simply not used.
Yet these stairs are virtually celebrities compared to the hidden and vastly more useful natural superstructure not far to the west: Sand Maw.
Sand Maw: The Hidden Harbor
The lower entrance to the Perse Hollows is essentially invisible from every direction other than straight up: There is a cleft in the cliff face, in the shape of a comma or a hook, that opens up an unseen channel of loose sand which passes behind the main cliff face before entering Sand Maw, the name given to the lower entrance itself.
Even at the time of ATH there are no edificial developments down here, at least on the outside, other than a watch station hidden in the cleft that commands a view of the Sodaplains. Everything else is situated inside the Perse Hollows. No hint is given of the enormous Galan naval presence hiding just out of sight.
Sand Maw itself is a much larger opening than Crawler's Mouth, spanning over three hundred feet in height and almost half again as wide. Moreover, the cavern immediately beyond the entrance, Rukbat I, is the single largest cavern in the entire Perse Hollows. Longer than Sele itself, nearly a third as wide, over 600 feet high, and filled with navigable sand, it can hold all seven ships in the contemporary Galan Sand Fleet, and is heavily fortified against invasion.
Though the fold in the cliffs is impressive, this prized secret would not be possible were it not for the extremely desolate condition of the Sodaplains in this region. None of the nomadic Sodan tribes or Sodish merchants come this way, nor do Imperial travelers, the Galans themselves, pilgrims to God, or virtually anyone else for that matter. But because of this desolation, Sand Maw, and Rukbat beyond, are the perfect port for the ultimate Galan naval installation: Charybdis Pier.
But that is a story for next week.
We've Seen the Mears
We've seen the mears of the Perse Hollows. We understand the context of the Perse Hollows in Galan society. Next week it's time to finally venture well and truly inside, and discover what's actually there. Join me then, on the greatest spelunk!
In the meantime, may the boundaries in your neighborhood reveal themselves to be enchanting places.
O day and night, but this is wondrous strange!