Ascending the stairs they came to a great castle. It seemed to them that it hung suspended in the air from a thousand white ropes. Its walls were not like the great limestone blocks of the Gymondan palaces, nor like the dark brickwork of Relgen Tower. Instead, they seemed to be assembled from a great miscellany of stones, rocks and even wood. The clouds that clung to the hills seemed to surround the building also and nothing distant could be seen. Once the stairs were lost to view there was no sensation of being in the sky. Rather, the place seemed to hang in a great web, forever changing, with connections slipping and unmaking even as other formed.
The Wraithweb palace is barely a real place. It is much more a thing of image, and yet just real enough that a mortal might walk there if they could somehow find a path to it. The warrior Kellin Drasna is said to have travelled there once, despite wielding no secrets of any kind. (He was in the company of Garath - who was called The Necromancer - who went on to become the new master of the palace. Whether he could otherwise have found his way there is uncertain.)
In the same way that Glandorfin is seen symbolically as a place of beginning, the Wrathweb palace is a place associated with endings. Both of its known masters, the former being Oyishu Han Taig, had close associations with death. Time is said to work strangely there. Many of those who enter never leave.
Anyone seeking to locate and enter the palace has a difficult task on their hands. The mere fact of its existence is not widely known, even amongst those who study the secrets. Of those who know something of it, many assume the palace is a myth or that it once existed but stands no longer. And even if the palace can be located, the outer doors will be locked to most.
As for why one might wish to enter the palace, there are many reasons. Knowledge is the most likely. There are beings living there capable of answering questions no other could. Seeking power is another possibility. There are ancient artifacts long lost to the world hidden within the palace’s many rooms. Also, for the right cause, there might be allies to be found here. Finally, there is the endless mortal obsession with extending life. When all else fails, the palace is rumoured to hold ways to avert oblivion.
An archway at the far side of the room marked the continuation of the tunnel. From it stepped a short, bulky figure. They almost ran then, fearing some ancient guardian left in the tunnel for centuries. Then the figure spoke in welcome.
As it stepped into the light they saw that although it wore a cloak it was not a human. It had no head. Its cloak hung slightly open and upon its chest was a broad face. From its chest spread four arms. With the light of the lantern full upon it they saw that its skin was grey stone. It wore a belt hung with many tools and pouches, but they saw no weapon.
The travellers were in no danger. The four-armed stranger was a Gozmorran. It was they who had built the tunnels and they lived there still. Humans were not their enemy and they rested safely there and were given water and shown maps. But their meeting had not been by chance. The Gozmorran sense all that moves within their tunnels and they had long waited for someone to head North. As the travellers departed they sent word with them of the Garun Dashi nest beyond the water to the Southeast. This way, the message would reach Relgen Tower and aid might be sent in time to stop their conquest.
Once the travellers had gone, the Gozmorran returned to the deep tunnels. There stood the gameboard upon which such matters were recorded. It moved a piece to represent the message sent. Then it returned to the room where it was been meditating to await the next event.
The Gozmorran are a race with a strange history. They seemingly woke up towards the middle of the Age of Exploration having slept for many dozens of centuries. However, although they recalled details of their past lives, they knew nothing of events of the wider world having apparently previously lived too deep beneath the ground to cross paths with any mortals.
Gozmorran view the passage of time as a giant pattern full of regularity, which they seek to understand through a complex game they play with one another. This game involves a multi-layered board and dozens of small, stone playing pieces in various abstract shapes. The game is impenetrable to outsiders, to whom it would never be explained.
Gozmorran are elemental beings, but have not been drawn to the world from further up the Staircase. They have unbounded lifespans, but are not immortal. Gozmorran are, for this reason, very cautious with their own lives and respond to threats by retreating deep into the earth rather than with warfare. That said, when Gozmorran do choose to fight they are fearsome warriors and hard to kill, although they cannot move very quickly.
The Gozmorran have also been known to wield secrets. This is rare, and few are motivated to do so, but those who do can become extremely accomplished due to the opportunity for centuries of study. It is said that the first ever alchemists learned their art from an ancient Gozmorran.
“And how will we get out again, when it is time?”
“You will find a way out,” she reassured him, “and if you do not then in six months I will send someone for you. I promise this to you.”
Quickly she closed the door and covered it with the curtain. Outside in the street she could see the armoured thugs sent by the Parliament of Prime. They knocked, then immediately entered, finding the shopkeeper gathering empty bottles.
“Ale and bread, lads?” she asked. Without a word they searched the shop, then the storeroom, then the bedrooms. At last the curtain was pulled back. Two of the men touched hands to their sword belts. A third pulled back the curtain and opened the door. Beyond was a small cupboard half filled with logs and coals.
The search party departed and the shopkeeper went upstairs to speak with her son.
“Tarquoan dreams today of three travellers,” the boy said, his hands folded in meditation, “They are hungry and lost. He is going to bring a boat to them with food and blankets. Then tomorrow he will send a rainstorm. Then on the day of the new moon he will send a dilemma to test them.”
“Will they live?”
“That will depend on the choice they make.”
Tarquoan appears as a pale skinned man in early middle age. He is tall and lean, typically dressed in good quality clothing of very poor repair. He is the Earthly form of a being from a remote land high up The Staircase. Xoane Malthene knew of him and called him a demon. However, he has very little influence upon the world around him. The one form of influence he does exert is very peculiar indeed. Tarquoan is able to enchant doorways such that they can thereafter open into a world within his mind.
Tarquoan’s world is a protean place. It is shaped by his wishes and even by his idle thoughts and also his dreams. Tarquoan does not need sleep as humans do, but when it does sleep it can be for weeks or months on end. The world in his head has no fixed size, but it is typically not large. On a typical day it is not much larger than a town and its surrounding fields.
Although Tarquoan’s world frequently obeys familiar natural laws, it need not. Likewise, many secrets work there in practice, but might not at any time.
Despite his nature, Tarquoan is to some extent easily influenced. In particular, he has more than once been befriended by mortals, who have persuaded him to open doors in particular places or even to make specific changes to his world.
Attempting to gain entry to the world without using a doorway is difficult but not impossible. Locating Tarquoan himself would be required, together with some suitable secret to detect and enter the world. Attempting to exit the world in such a way would be impossible, however, so the decision to enter should not be taken lightly.
Within the throne room it was almost dark. In the warm glow from four hanging braziers the messenger could make out the steps of a carpeted dais. Upon every step were treasures, weapons and offerings. The air was thick with a dozen perfumes. The space could have seated a hundred courtiers, but there were none. The messenger bowed her head at once before the tall figure in the throne. She unrolled the scroll, but had no need of it to recall the message. The war proceeded well and the forces of Vaught had been driven back across the river to the South. Regrettably, half a troop had been lost in the fierce fighting, but the enemy had lost twice as many.
Imperiarch Rojan, leader of the unified army of all humankind, said nothing. Why, after all, should he speak with a humble messenger?
The messenger repeated her message later to a functionary of the court. He was a quiet, dour man and he recorded every word in a ledger even though the scroll bore them as clearly. And a curious daydream came to the messenger then as she listened to the scratching of the pen. When she had knelt before the throne, had the Imperiach truly been there? She could recall nothing of his appearance, nor even his clothing. It must have been opulent, she supposed. Perhaps it was of ceremonial crimson, made from velvet? And she had seen engravings of the crown he wore. So now, she supposed, she had seen it for herself.
A scroll with new orders was given to the messenger the next morning. With a new horse, she began the long ride back to the warfront. Her mission had been a great honour. She could regale her companions with tales of the Imperiach. He was tall and strong. He offered kind words of thanks to her, despite her humble station. He was magnificent in ceremonial crimson, with his greatsword at his side and his crown upon his head. Long live the Imperiach!
In times long forgotten during the Mythic Epoch there was a vast war, so great that all of humankind took up arms for their very survival. Their ruler and champion, Imperiarch Rojan, took up arms as a young man and fought tirelessly throughout his life, never knowing peace. And he lived a far longer life than most, sustaining himself by sheer force of will and the determination to achieve victory. Despite this long struggle his foe, the Gurak Vaught, was never defeated. Vaught was a beast of a man, seven feet tall and as strong as a bull. It was said he had two hearts and could never tire. When a hundred wounds and as many years forced the Imperiarch to retire from the field he continued to guide the war from his palace in Stonehargh. Over time he became the ruler of the city and all the lands around, despite the fact that it belonged to a kingdom with its own royal family. The king was declared an outlaw in his own nation, to be hunted down and arrested if he dared show his face.
The Imperiarch at some point took a wife. Her name was Heria of Stonehargh, the wise administrator of the city, who understood more of the Imperiarch than most. It is said she truly loved him. She had two children by him also. Many years later, her daughter Calypso went on to rule in the Imperiarch’s place, though her regime was very different.
Always deeply involved in the affairs of the Imperiarch was the mysterious Guild of Reflections. They were the keepers of a secret truth: that the Imperiarch was much older than the stories claimed and had in most senses died centuries ago, as had Vaught. Such was the intensity of their endless war that it could never cease and the need for their leadership sustained their existence. So it would remain for eternity.
The question the Guild of Reflections never considered is: did Imperiach Rojan ever exist? Heria existed and although she lived an exceptional life she was ultimately human. Little is recorded of her son. Calypso, her daughter, was a gifted wielder of secrets and appears in several stories. Stonehargh is a real city and she is remembered as one of its earliest rulers even though no records from that time survive. In the light of these facts it seems probable that Rojan was an image - albeit an enormously powerful one - and it may well be the case that many of those with image blood in the known world are descended from him. Certainly he took many lovers before marrying Heria.
Although the Guild of Reflections is lost to the Mythic Epoch, if any of their knowledge survived it might represent one of the few ways for a scholar to understand something of the true nature of image blood and the sorceries it unlocks.
No change took place in the cave and the stone did not move. Yet the adept became aware at once of a presence within the stone. So formidable was the presence that she found herself barely able to speak. She spoke nonetheless, her years of training serving their purpose.
“Oh wise Etiki, I seek your counsel. The master of the cloister has died and the four days of mourning have been observed. Who among us should become the new master? We humbly ask your guidance, for we cannot see as you do.”
With outward patience the adept waited, but inside she was fearful. It was unlikely she would be chosen. There were surely better candidates. If she were, though, could she guide the cloister through these difficult times? It was said the unrest in the city was becoming worse and many of the people were hungry. If the harvest failed then…
“No new master must be chosen.”
The adept gaped in astonishment, her worries forgotten. The Etiki continued to speak.
“Three thousand men come from the South bearing arms. They will sack and burn the city and loot its treasures. The cloister will fall. Each of the six adepts must take one dozen initiates and travel with them along a different road. When you can travel no further, find a place to build a new cloister.”
It was not until that moment that the adept truly devoted herself to the service of the Etiki.
Behind its silent, stone eyes, the Cave Etiki was satisfied. Now whether or not the army did as it had been instructed, victory was assured. Strengthened in their loyalty by the certainty that they had been spared a terrible end, the six new masters would extend its influence to new lands. The great plan was proceeding well…
The Philosopher Kings of Altekal crafted the first Etiki forms long ago as representations of ancient gods which were worshipped at that time. That these forms came to be inhabited by beings who spoke to them did not seem strange to them. The guidance of the Etiki kept Altekal safe against many threats. By the time the kingdom finally disintegrated into city states the Etiki had spread far into the surrounding lands.
Centuries later, the demigod mage Dornade began to perceive the terrifying extent of the Etiki’s influence and thereafter dedicated himself to freeing mortals from their grip.
Not all Etiki are identical in nature. The simplest and oldest forms are openings through which spirit beings who do not inhabit the mortal world are able to converse with those who do. Typically each Etiki form is used by exactly one such being. Should that being ever depart or die, the Etiki form becomes an empty shell, although such shells may later be adopted by another spirit.
Less common are ‘created’ Etiki, in which a sorceror has bound a spirit which cannot leave it. These can be amongst the strongest and most dangerous, since they may contain spirits which would not otherwise involve themselves in mortal affairs and which are motivated to find ways to free themselves. Some such Etiki may even contain more than one spirit.
Rarest of all are groups of Etiki which stand very far apart in the mortal world and yet allow the spirits who use them to pass swiftly between them. Misleadingly called Doorway Etiki by some mortal scholars, they are of great importance since they allow the Etiki to pass along knowledge from distant lands.
Although Etiki may wield a wide range of supernatural powers, most of their influence arises from the cultural habit of consulting them on important matters combined with the capacity of many Etiki to converse with one another outside the mortal realm. By gathering information from a variety of sources and trading knowledge, then guiding mortals through their counsel, the Etiki can exert sufficient influence to enact their plans.
Also upon the field were the bodies of countless defenders. Their silver arrows were spent. Their white hair and pale skin was stained with blood. Their slim swords were broken.
Within the carnage of battle, Glandorfin still stood. Its halls were all but empty now and the few who walked them walked in silence. The ancient trees around which the city had been built still lived. And - the only thing which truly mattered - in the highest room of the central tower the throne remained. Upon its narrow seat of polished wood sat the king, Tarnel the mighty. Grief weighed heavily upon him that day, mourning for his lost kingdom and for his people and their terrible sacrifice.
Into that chamber came Cingon the artificer and he bowed low. He gave to the king a scroll, upon which the future of the world had been inked, that the secrets and treasures of Glandorfin might be preserved. The king read it and saw that it was wise. He placed the royal seal upon it.
Glandorfin, the green city, is thought to be the oldest surviving tale from the Mythic Epoch. It was seemingly a real place, or at least was real enough to have influenced subsequent history. The peoples who lived there were not images, although exactly who they were has not survived.
As well as being a physical place, Glandorfin also symbolises beginning. It is, in some sense, the start of all things. Although no known secrets or artefacts can trace their ancestry to Glandorfin itself, many spiritual and sorcerous philosophies claim roots which trace back to Glandorfin’s legacy.
Tarnel the mighty himself is said to have possessed three treasures of extraordinary power: a sword, a shield and a suit of armour. They were named Grollantor, Fazonorgmi and Gendarmoglazor. Confusingly, in some accounts the names of the sword and armour are reversed. It is said these three treasures were the only three in the world which Cingon himself lacked the craft to make. (Who in fact did make them is long forgotten.)
Whether any part of the ruins of Glandorfin still exists is doubtful, but it is quite possible to see the place in visions and dreams. Moreover, for an image sorceror or a wielder of some other secret for which symbology is important, this could be a very valuable experience.
For some artefact to have survived somehow is more likely. Such a thing would be priceless, but not necessarily enormously powerful (although a few of the treasures there were). If such a thing were found it might make use of secrets otherwise lost to the world and could be of great value to a scholar of such matters.
There was a sound from the cityward path and Rachnivere turned to see one of the caravan guard. He stood, eyes wide, without his sword. His hands hung by his sides.
“You may call me friend,” Rachnivere called, “pray tell what happened here?”
“The Weapon. It was the Weapon.”
Suddenly afraid, Rachnivere glanced about in every direction. The shadows in the grass seemed to move. The dead breathed slowly out. Still he saw no enemy until he turned back to the guard. The man’s arms were spread wide and from behind him the severed head of another of the guards rose in the air, flickering with a grey tongues like eels.
“What is one more death?” the guard asked, crying.
Sianlocke was a scholar, sorceror and revolutionary who sought to overthrow the Parliament of Prime and destroy the Walled Stone. He failed and was executed for his crimes, but as his last act he released a powerful secret into the world. This secret - known within Monde simply as “The Weapon” - was created by Sianlocke himself over many years. According to the scholars of Llaewar this might represent the single greatest feat of sorcery ever undertaken by a mortal. However, since no contemporary written records of Monde survive it is not clear that Sianlocke was as human as he was later portrayed. Certainly it seems likely he had some image blood.
Some accounts of the story of Monde suggest that The Encirclement was created to prevent Sianlocke’s Weapon from escaping into the wider world. It seems unlikely that this is wholly true, since it is accepted that Monde’s true purpose was to imprison the images. Still, fears of The Weapon may well have been a more pressing concern for many who lived at that time.
The Weapon is intelligent in a sense, although it is not possible to converse with it. It can be called with certain phrases and, once called, can be set to various tasks. In order to manipulate the Weapon at all, the would-be wielder must first open their own mind to the Weapon. Although the Weapon does not directly harm its wielders, this is to some extent a self-sacrificing act. Use of the Weapon creates a kind of purposeful focus upon the task at hand which is difficult to set aside. So, for example, a general who uses the Weapon to win a war might thereafter struggle to live in peace. A thief who uses the Weapon to steal might never again be satisfied with any amount of wealth or possessions. Also, Weapon wielders tend over time towards amorality.
The primary means of employing the Weapon - and certainly the safest - is to channel it into an object. A blade imbued with the Weapon will be swifter, lighter, sharper, strike harder and the wounds from it will be slow to heal. A key which holds the Weapon may unlock doors it was never meant to fit, although in doing so it will leave a mark upon them. A cloak suffused with the Weapon might hide the wearer perfectly in the darkness, but they may come to dislike light. Defensive uses of the Weapon tend to leave a mark upon the attacker. Sometimes this is a physical mark, but sometimes it is more like a presence, with flickers of the Weapon haunting them.
Also possible is to unleash the energy of the Weapon directly. The Weapon is chaotic in nature and tends to disrupt structure. Its energies linger in the areas where they are used and similarly can infect people who come into contact with them. They may experience visions or strange moods or in extreme cases even become sick.
Finally and most terribly the Weapon may be used to create monsters. Called “Weapon zombies” by the Lords of Tointier, these mindless creatures are not formed from nothingness. Rather, they represent complete enslavement of a living being by the Weapon. These creatures are very hard to hurt and anything they touch is to some degree afflicted by the Weapon. When created intentionally the zombies are under the command of whoever made them, provided they remain nearby.
Before axes could be set to the great gate, it was hauled open and a company of horse sallied forth, followed by two lines of pike to hold the gate until their return. They charged the enemy ranks with spirit, knowing that the day would be as good as won if the enemy could be made to fear approaching the gate again.
It was an ill-fated charge. Behind the enemy axemen stood a hulking statue of oiled metal. It had the horns of a bull and wide skull face with staring eyes the size of a man’s head. From within came a bellowing that brought at once pain and dizziness. The muddy plain before the gate folded itself into sickening spirals and the horses and riders fell about in disarray. There was nothing to be seen but whirling motion, the ground soon slick with blood and the air filled with shouts and roaring. The statue moved, then, though none could set eyes clearly upon it. It was amongst the cavalry, then it was amongst the pikes, then it stood in the castle courtyard as smoke and bricks tumbled about its hooves.
The formation of the Gymondan Empire was a long drawn out process that was to begin with primarily by way of military expansion and later by a sequence of treaties designed to dispense with the need for conflicts whose conclusion could never be in doubt. The critical battles of the early wars were in many cases won at a high cost both in human life and in terms of the sorcerous pacts signed by the Dukes of Guenkhan. One such resulted in the creation of the Brass Gorgon War Machine, a fearsome alchemical construct designed to render the Duke’s army unstoppable even in the face of superior foes.
The Brass Gorgon War Machine was used on only three battles before the Duke was temporarily forced to withdraw by civil unrest in his own lands. It was then stolen and taken to the far South. The thieves were allied to no faction in the war, but recognised the priceless nature of the artefact. They hid it in a ruin to the East of the independent city of Relgen Tower, but were themselves killed before finding a buyer.
To lift the Brass Gorgon War Machine would take ten strong people as well as strong ropes and poles. However, it is able to move itself when activated and it can be activated without any need to harm those nearby. First a fire must be lit inside and then a sequence of verbal commands issued in Gymondan. Some arts may allow the command of the Machine without a need to know the commands. For example, an alchemist of the Lossanbrandt might be able to devise a way to do so. Also, various other magical means could be used, such as Image sorcery.
The military capacity of the Machine cannot usefully be quantified. An opponent who flees swiftly upon its activation might escape. An opponent who hides might also survive, although the experience would stay with them ever after. A well prepared sorceror standing against the Machine might have some chance of quenching the fire and thereby deactivating it, but this would be a terrible risk and only to be undertaken if there was clearly no alternative. To stand against the Machine whilst it remains activated would be a feat beyond even the mightiest of champions. A few great powers might do so, but such beings do not involve themselves in the wars of mortals.
All old entries which were previously public have now been friend locked. In the unlikely event that there was anyone who regularly read my LJ who I haven't already friended, drop me an email and if I know who you are I'll add you.
Whilst LJ is no longer any use to me for keeping in touch with people - which is what I mainly used it for - I still like it as a platform and may repurpose this LJ for something slightly different in future.
For anyone who's not already aware, my games-related stuff now gets posted mostly to my G+ and personal stuff to FaceBook (although not much of it). Work stuff goes on Twitter. This doesn't imply endorsement of any of these platforms - they're all inadequate in various ways - but they're where other people choose to pay attention, so that's where things end up.