A city of ruthless hierarchy and razor-blade blessings. No art without suffering, and preferably yours. No transaction is without debasement and sadistic, gleeful thrills. None escape untainted - either tarred forever in the eyes of the inhabitants as a weak supplicant or hated and feared as a steel-fanged oppressor - such a duality itself being delightfully cruel.
The cruelty, of course, would be hollow without comparison. Some of this is afforded by the visitors - but never enough. No, the cruelty of cruelties is the deliberate fostering of hope and love and kindness in the spined depths of the city. Always, there are brave and hopeful rebels willing to love and die and resist. Sometimes they succeed - for weeks, the city knows joy. Then the cruelties seep back in, the poison of a toxic city. A ripe harvest of pain.
Where in the cycle is the city?
Misery runs rampant. Cruelty is omnipresent and half-hearted, a going-through of the motions. The aesthetics of pain but none of the spite. Empathy is nominally punished by the black-clad secret police, but most have given up, the monstrosity of their work roosting in minds barren of hope. Cruelty auto-cannibalizes.
A spark of hope - a vision of a city unburdened by these barbed-wire shackles which seem so entrenched - no, the shackles are rusty and we have the strength to break free! Bide our time and we shall know victory, comrades!
Freedom calls, and we must answer! It is time to rise up and overthrow the oppressors - to take ownership of our lives and to know that in our struggle we live free of such cruelties and may breathe air clean and unsullied by the stink of sadists! The city burns as the lackeys of the old order fight a retreating battle through the streets, ever pushed back.
A bounty of kindness - the milk of compassion overflows and floods the streets. Travelers and inhabitants alike are joined in song and share willingly, knowing that they have secured joy and harmony. The leaders are just and noble and live the principles they sacrificed so much for.
Cruelty sets in. The revolutionary structure calcifies. Hierarchy insidiously rebuilds itself, the old foundations wearing the veneer of the new. Distinctions between groups are drawn up and bloom fresh enmities.
Sadism is ascendant. The arts are interrogated, and all pretense of empathy destroyed. Only ego and pain exist. Special groups of people are designated and protected, their right to assert superiority enshrined in law. Oh, the laws - they rise above, protection over justice. Prisons never exhale, only breathing more and more prisoners into themselves, where they enact cruelties upon one another. Hate is alive and vicious, coiling through the city, tense and ready to strike.
42 Troika the Vaporous
Oh, to define Troika! Such is the idle dream of poets and philosophers. And yet, we shall while away the hours trying to specify some element, some kernel of essence of such a city. The boundaries are hazily defined - one may be out meandering only to realise they are within the city itself. Indeterminate buildings forever on the edge of reach and vision simultaneously. Who lives there? Well, you know. Faces swim and drift and shake. A warm insubstantial glow and amnesia caress.
Ah, of course.
Not at all.
I dimly recall.
Nothing of the sort.
43 Troika the Entombed
The city itself is dead - we are all carrion-feeders, gathered throughout these decaying stones and clawing our way through clotted streets. No air stirs the lungs of this city - no rivers pulse with life. A city of eternal decay, the sky a flat grey curve - the roof of this tomb.
The dead, of course, must be honored lest they return with a vengeance - and so great a corpse must have been terrible in life. Funeral processions are constant, Bewailers and Dirgists trying to out-grief one another, rivals in the funerary arts. Out of respect for the deceased, only black may be worn in the city. The shrines to give offerings to this tomb-space are found on every corner, stacked high with untouchable grave-goods. To steal from one of these shrines ensures that you will join Troika in the slumber of death.
What is the Funeral Rite currently?
Animal Sacrifice - great heaps of butchered giraffes, defeated lions, bloody sheep and burnt swine fill the streets with a charnel drift. Endless crates of bleating braying roaring whining beasts are imported - all of the dead doors of Troika are thrown open to receive more and more animals - all to show how very dearly missed Troika will be!
Reconstruction - around the outskirts they build other Troikas - fine representations of what they imagined the city looked like in life. Architectural critics wander through these, viciously attacking any deviation from the current popular imagining - creativity is only bent to the meticulous imagining of the past. Innovation is despised.
Consumption - the living must, respectfully, consume the dead and by doing so carry them onward and within them. How one eats a city is a somewhat open question - all manner of stone broths, air-dried meats and fermented root vegetables are offered, each claiming to have the truest essence of the dead city within them.
Cremation - traditionally, such an act would be known as arson - indeed, the crematory technicians of Troika are recruited from all manner of pyromaniacal places. As the corpse of Troika is all stone, damage is more limited than one would expect - however, all are expected to contribute some small chip of their domicile to add to the pyre. Many will gladly pay others to substitute chips of their own buildings - cremation-by-proxy.
Enshroudment - the city must have a funeral shroud. Buying such quantities of material (and paying for the daring expertise of such funeral-riggers) necessitates a city-wide effort - and is assisted by Sphere-piracy, golden barges tearing through spheres in search of bolts of cloth and fabric for this immense covering.
Beautification - no expense is spared in the complete and total renovation of the city. To account for the subjectivity of beauty, artists and critics of all stripes are imported in the thousands, given a patch of the city and set to work. The city becomes a right of competing aesthetics, a frenzy of artistic creation. Novel and heretofore impossible styles live and die in the space of days, localized to a few streets.
44 Troika the Consumed
Between the spheres dwell ecologies cosmic in scale. The scope of such things is more than most minds can comprehend, let alone contain. The cycles of predation are titanic, hungers the size of universes stalking one another behind the humpbacked sky. Of course, not all are predators - even these strange beasts must have some equivalent of the herbivores, and it is those who devour Troika. Some swoop and nibble-tear, the plankton of the void. Others, larger, tear great chunks of the city loose. Finally, there are many who happily swallow the city whole. Strangely, it is the last who cause the least disturbance - the rivers flow with aetheric digestive fluid and the sky has dim intimations of stomach lining, but otherwise much remains the same - treasure-hunters flock to the city to plumb the riches of a gut filled with the artefacts of the void, handily gathered into a concentrated (relatively) area.
What Consumes Troika currently?
Shrieking aether-prawns, hideous rainbow-hued crustanceans, armoured against the void, their locomotive gases mixing with the air to form poison fumes. Each "stands" some 10ft tall, a nightmare curve of shell, talon and mandibles. Despite their desire to feed on Troika, they are quite friendly if one can brave the gases, liable to apologise but firmly institing that they simply must have a few more mouthfuls of your roof.
Barnacle-buildings slam down from above, rooting themselves in place before spewing their digestive fluids, melting the city and funneling it toward their impact-craters. They are perfectly happy to be used as a replacement, warning their temporary residents before violently tearing themselves free and moving away.
Gargantuan mind-maws, the size of cities, subsisting on the idea of Troika itself. They swallow the city whole, humming contentedly as the concept of such a city fills them. Such consumption does not detract from the city - indeed, it reinforces the very concept - how else would they derive sustenance if it were not a city?
Vorpal-Nose Probisci, their entire form consisting of sky-scraper needles and great bloated balloons far far above human sight. They plunge deep into the city, draining it of some unknowable essence. Nihilists and pessimists flock to Troika as it is sucked dry of some essential, unnameable concept whilst the positive thinkers leave in droves, paying handsomely for passage anywhere else.
Parasitised Sphere, subsumed entirely to the will of some mechanistic intellect, directs all of it's energies and efforts to the deconstruction and assimilation of Troika. Such strange sustenance poisons the mind, and eventually the tide reverses - Troika begins to consume the Sphere in return, some strange symbiotic liberation-revenge. It is theorised that all the spheres would be overtaken by such machines without Troika.
Starving Star-Worm, unable to find an explosion to eat, instead lashes out and attempts to burrow into Troika. It bumps clumsily through the streets, smashing it's face repeatedly into the unfortunately solid structures and floors. If it finds liquid, it will drown. Otherwise, it will eventually bludgeon itself to death, and a glut of void-hardened worm-leather clothes and armour will flood the spheres.
45 Troika the Towering
Infinity is not horizontal you flat-minded peasant - it is vertical! The natural curvature of existence itself - up!!! Consider Troika, the fine city, that central spire of existence - it goes UP! Forever! You've never been??! Each tier of the city lies between another two - yes, sandwiched, if you must - in an infinite chain, each denizen of that city aspiring to move up to find the highest tier of Troika! Hm? Of course there is a top - otherwise it ceases to be a tower. Yes, it can still be infinite - and no, before you ask, it is most certainly not a loop. You cannot see the twinned tower, reversed, can you? No. It is an infinite spire crowned by what must be a glorious vision of the Sublime. No, I've never been.
46 Troika the Haunted
Troika is a city haunted by itself. What exists is but a pale reflection of the potential glories which could-have-been, might-be, were or currently are. Time itself wears thin in Troika, and as such the city is hyperpositioned atop itself, and those infinite possibilities influence one another in a reciprocal chain. All actions are not merely eternal, but may indeed influence themselves into stranger and more twisted forms, the ramifications echoing out across the layered possibilities. Throwing stones into ponds to see the ripples is strictly prohibited, the cascade of possible ripples causing break-downs in what thin walls remain between the realities.
Each possibility is struggling to assert itself as the primary ground of haunting, and as such tear at one another to assert dominance. This manifests as terrible reality-consuming pale flames, able to undo you with a mere spark. When such turf-wars between turf ignite, residents are advised to leave. Who advises them depends on who you ask - some would say it is the invading reality trying to encourage deserters.