Chronicles of Askellon
Desoleum is a planet dominated by three enormous hive cities, into each of which a population of dozens of billions is crammed, though accurate counts are impossible to undertake and the true figure is likely to be several times greater. The planet’s pre-eminent hive city is the eponymous Desoleum, sometimes called Desoleum Primus or colloquially elsewhere as Prime. The triad of Hives Desoleum, Jarvin, and Suzzum, the latter two named for the nigh- legendary figures said to have founded them, account for the bulk of the industry on the planet, while countless lesser hives and manufactorums are to be found throughout the wastes.
Out in the shifting sands beyond the walls of Desoleum is Port Gyre, the world’s primary transportation field. Vacuum transit-tubes and bulk roadways connect the sizeable port with Primus and the other great hives. A ragged circle of ramshackle settlements here caters to a nomadic population of workers, traders, and down-and-outs. There are also lesser starports near the other hives, but their operations are limited to serving bulk lifters; these import gigatonnes of raw materials, such as organics to produce much-hated ration packs (Desoleum’s largest industry), so there is always much traffic both in and out of the system.
The planet’s surface is barren in the extreme and apparently once hosted a xenos species. Savants disagree over details about the race, but look to the blasted landscapes of liquefied sand and hundreds of bizarre cyclopean structures seemingly sculpted from the kernels of long-vanished mountains as evidence it destroyed itself with terrifyingly potent weaponry, and is safely long extinct.
The ultimate masters of the hive city of Desoleum Primus, the Consortium, exist at the apex of a rigid system of fealty and servitude. The hive is ruled by the maintenance of unimaginably strict bonds of obedience, enforced by the implementation of a network of oaths that intertwines every single level of its highly stratified society. This complex web links every possible sphere of life, regulating everything from the subtlest of manners to the span of years a worker-serf can expect to live. All hivers carry a special cogwork device that indicates their work area and their oath of servitude. Those above them hold these oaths in their own oath-cogs, micro-embedded as tiny wheels, each an intricate snowflake of brass and wire. The more dominions under an oath- holder, the more elaborate the device. Lady Desoleum’s oath-cog, encompassing the entirety of oaths throughout the hive and across the planet, is supremely ancient and dense, a massive snowstorm of whirling cogs that takes years to alter for new oaths. It is brought out only for affairs of state, as it is far too heavy for normal wear. Entire cloisters of Mechanicum drones exist purely
to maintain its proper functioning, and legend says that should it freeze up, the hive would surely collapse.
The higher up the pyramid of oaths, the more formalised these oath-bonds become, the most ancient and binding of them set out in charters written millennia ago on parchment so old they are stored within impregnable stasis caskets. At the very bottom of the pile, even the lowliest beggar is bound by the oaths of his station, and any deviation from convention is met with righteous indignation, soon followed by brutal retribution. Strangely, even behaviour outsiders might regard as criminal is regulated by the strict codes, for oath-bonds are far more binding than any rule or law could ever be. To be cast outside of the oath is the ultimate punishment for any hive native, and most would prefer death than to be known as oathless.
The Sanctionary Bondsmen of the Oaths Involute
Given Hive Desoleum’s impossibly strict canon of oaths and codes, it is hardly surprising that the city should employ an especially uncompromising law enforcement body. The Sanctionary Bondsmen of the Oaths Involute, more often referred to as the Sanctionaries, act to maintain order in the hive, but this is in practise the lesser part of their duties. Rather, the Sanctionaries are ever vigilant for lapses in the rituals of the oath-binding. Should a Sanctionary witness a Desoline act in any way counter to the strictures of his oath, the offender is summarily censured, often brutally. Those offenders occupying the lower rungs of the hives’ society are punished by the immediate application of a highly ritualised beating, while those further up the scale are more likely to suffer other fates, such as a ritualised dismissal from their post. Those at the upper echelons of society are just as likely to be punished for their transgression as those at the bottom, but the punishment must be administered by a Sanctionary of sufficiently senior rank. The Sanctionaries themselves wear large and ornate oath-cogs that act as badges of office, but also as brutal melee weapons, a visible reminder to any would-be oathbreakers.
In the face of it, there is scant reason for outsiders to visit Hive Desoleum, and every reason for them to conduct their business through brokers experienced in the myriad subtleties of the oath- binding. In fact, a great many outsiders come to Desoleum Primus, for the profits to be made are simply so tempting they would be foolish not to. The hive has several “stranger’s quarters,” where offworlders feel relatively safe to conduct their affairs, and these have grown into highly cosmopolitan and exotic places themselves.