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Peacock Stone Statuettes

“Master! I have found your amulet! It is here, in the mouth of the dog statue!”

Master Wassien turned slowly, then walked the length of the room towards the statue with narrowed eyes. Taking care not to get too close, he peered into the statue’s mouth. Sure enough, there was the compass amulet. However, there was no means by which it could have passed the statue’s rows of pointed teeth.

“A riddle for you, boy. My amulet is in there as you say, but it is impossible to remove and therefore would have been impossible to insert. What do we conclude?”

Resentful at having his moment of triumph turned into a lesson, Wassien’s apprentice frowned at the statue.

“That we must break it?”

“Well, maybe so… But never mind that. What we must conclude is that this statue is able to move!”

The boy stared at the statue. Move? The teeth looked sharp. Its skin, though marbled with exquisite colours, was hard stone. If it moved, it could be very dangerous!

Time passed as his master paced back and forth, lost in thought. At length he seemed to reach a decision.

“I think you were right after all, boy. Go and fetch the heaviest plant pot you can carry from the garden.”

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Named for the remarkable iridescent colour of its surface, peacock stone is a material prized by sculptors and used both for artworks and to decorate the houses of the wealthy. Certain statuettes made from this stone conceal a powerful secret. Particular words, spoken nearby, cause them to live. They retain their carved forms, but move and act as the figures depicted. Then, when a second word is spoken, they cease to move once more.

Although typically small in size the statuettes have nearly the strength of humans and move with surprising speed and agility. The winged ones are even capable of flight over short distances. Those with hands or claws can carry small objects.

As well as the words used to bring them to life and return them to dormancy, the statuettes can sometimes understand speech. Indeed, it is possible they all understand speech, but their language varies. None of the statuettes speak.




Commanding the secret of the statuettes safely is a subtle art. Any statuette brought to life wishes only to escape its servitude, but it cannot simply flee or its master would speak the word at once to halt its flight. Likewise, no statuette can simply turn on its master and kill them. Nonetheless, a statuette’s master must remain forever vigilant to either of these possibilities and must only use the statuette for tasks which do not present risk of escape or treachery. The stauettes are not bound by any instruction given to them, but tend to obey for fear of being left forever dormant.

Additionally, care must be taken with who might overhear the command words. A listener with a keen ear might be able to learn the word with sufficient accuracy to reproduce it, at which point the statuette might be stolen with relative ease if the listener were so inclined.

Moon Puppets

“She is almost at the house, make ready!”

“I have Mungquin already at the door and Pikenose to take her coat.”

“The dinner is prepared. The Tall will wait the table, whilst Ellabeth works the kitchen.”

“She is here! Right, I have the coat. She looks a little taken aback, but is proceeding to the dining room.”

“Oh! Lights, I forgot the hall lights. I shall put Ellabeth down for a moment and have Barrel get them. There we are, just in time. OK, he is out of view again I can put him down.”

“Mungquin has shown her to her seat and now is carrying her case to the guest bedroom.”

“The Tall is just entering now with the bread rolls and wine.”

As the strange spindly figure bent to pour her wine, the guest asked rather timidly, “Excuse me, but are there any… people here? In the house, I mean?” Her waiter said nothing, but after a short pause it put down the wine bottle and slowly shook its head.

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Of the many strange secrets of the Moon, it is moon puppetry that is the most often practiced and most often encountered by travellers. A moon puppet is any being with no volition of its own, which is controlled by means of strings, spiderwebs or silver chains by a puppetmaster on the Moon.

The nature of a moon puppet is invisible to most onlookers on a moonlit night. When the Moon is full some puppets are stronger and swifter than any human. However, when clouds cover the moon they slow and weaken and during the day they are motionless as though claimed by an impossibly deep sleep.




To make the physical form of a moon puppet is no great feat. Indeed, a puppet made for another purpose by one ignorant of the secret is just as fit for the task. Attaching the strings is very difficult and is a task best left to a master of the secret. Controlling a moon puppet falls somewhere between the two. It requires knowledge of the secret, but the basics are not too difficult to learn.

The strings of a moon puppet cannot be grasped or cut by mortals, but can sometimes be seen by those with image blood. A moon puppet also cannot be slain, since it is not truly alive, but if dismembered it can no longer be controlled and the separated parts can do nothing more than twitch ineffectually.

Earthstones

Long before recorded history began there lived a great boar with a serpent head. It was forever hungry and could eat a bull with a single bite. If it smelled any creature nearby it would chase it, felling trees and leaping rivers in its haste. No spear could pierce its hide and no fire could burn it.

One day this beast had devoured all living things within a day’s journey in every direction. Enraged, it began to tunnel into the ground in search of hidden prey to devour. Finding nothing worthwhile it dug deeper and deeper until at last it arrived in a great cavern beneath the ground in which stood a colossal rock shaped like an egg. So intense was its hunger that it swallowed the rock in a single vast bite.

On many occasions before the beast had eaten bones and trees and shells and even weapons, but the rock was another matter entirely. The beast found itself unable to move, unable to digest the rock and unable to disgorge it. So it was that the beast died there and they say the perfect rock rests still within the cage of its mighty ribs as its remains lie deep beneath the ground for eternity.

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The earthstones are deep reservoirs of nameless power in the form of smooth, dark rocks. Although earthstones have a variety of appearances and sizes none of them exactly match any kind of mundane rock. They are said to be found naturally only in extraordinarily deep caves, although many have been carried closer to the surface.

Earthstones are essential to the lives of gozmorran, who draw sustenance from them. Although gozmorran can survive for many weeks away from a stone, they prefer not to. The attentions of gozmorran do not deplete the stones, or if they do the drain is so small as to be insignificant even with the passage of centuries.




Earthstones are nearly indestructible, but if one is somehow broken the fragments are extremely sharp and carry enough power in their own right to be potentially useful for a variety of sorcerous or alchemical purposes.

Earthstones radiate tiny amounts of warmth, which can mean small ecosystems form around large earthstones in cave systems where water is found nearby.

Soul Prisons

Every generation has a child or two who cannot be persuaded to fear the wood. And as is the way of such things the people of Owl’s Crossing make the best of this by choosing them to carry the offering to the wood at first frost. This year, though, they are worried. Mally, the child who is to take the offering, lost her father not six months ago and her mother lies in a dark sleep from which she seldom wakes. Is she truly a child of the wood, or does she simply not care whether she returns?

Two days pass and there is talk of sending a search party. Nobody lost in the wood has ever been found, but Mally’s family are well liked in the town and they cannot bring themselves to give up hope. Then, even as preparations are being made, the girl returns. She is muddy from the rainstorm, but wears about her neck a garland of small wildflowers and carries cupped in her hands a small, bright gem.

Her cousins and her aunt pester her with questions, but Mally weaves around them and into her house and to her mother’s bedside. There she opens her hands and lets the gem fall into her mother’s mouth. Her aunt cries out in alarm, but at once Mally’s mother wakes, smiles, then draws Mally into an embrace. Within a day they are setting the house to rights and within a week they are working hard in the fields, preparing for winter.

Of the gem and her mother’s recovery, Mally says nothing except “the wood returned what was taken from her”. And none pressed her further, so great was their joy at all that had come to pass.

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Soul prisons are small, bright gems, usually transparent crystals. They were originally made by the great powers during the mythic epoch to preserve the souls of their favourite mortals when their bodies were destroyed and in some cases to reincarnate them. Since then, many more have been made for other purposes by a variety of beings both immortal and mortal.

Empty soul prisons are indistinguishable from semi-precious stones, except by those who wield the secret required to use them. Occupied soul prisons glow with a faint inner light and are therefore visible in darkness. If one is destroyed, the soul within it is freed, and although this is not easily done it is not necessary to employ secrets to accomplish it.




To trap the soul of a dying mortal in a soul prison is relatively easy to accomplish, but there are those who can steal the soul of a living being in this way. A person having their soul removed in this way is not fatal, but it gives the bearer of the soul prison potentially great power to control them.

Rarer still are those with the power to craft souls to store within the prisons, for later use in animating beings of their own making or the bodies of the dead.

By means of the soul prisons it is not impossible to arrive at a situation in which one being has two souls. What strange consequences this might have remains an unexplored question.

Arilzean the Cold

Two riders came around the far side of the canyon. Their mounts were not fast riding horses, but the heavy warhorses favoured by veterans of the war. They wore no livery, but nor had they taken much trouble to hide who they were. From behind two more riders approached and hooded figures with crossbows could be seen behind the rocks.

The man who had been surrounded rode a long haired draft horse, built for neither speed nor battle. He dismounted and held his hands slowly skyward, acknowledging their presence. He could be a merchant, but for his lack of goods. He could be a messenger, but for his horse. He wore no armour and held no weapon.

The knights approached slowly. The crossbows remained levelled. The traveller did not move.

“You stand accused of killing his most noble majesty King Medreil of the Six Castles!”

The man could be seen slowly nodding. He could see the foremost of the knights shifting in his saddle and adjusting his grip on his weapon.

“Yes, I killed him.”

Time passed. It was clear the man would be killed now, but nobody moved.

“You are wise not to strike me. I know none of you. I therefore wish you no harm, but equally would not mourn your passing. You have no doubt heard what happened to the King, in his own court, surrounded by guards. And yet here I stand.”

The knights did not attack. At length one of the crossbows called out: “Are you the one they call The Cold?”

“I am.”

The traveller continued his journey. That day he did no harm and those who blocked his path stood aside and did not speak of their meeting again.

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Perhaps the most mysterious of mortal heroes, Arilzean was a traveller, a scholar and the master of many secrets. If records are correct, he lived a remarkably long life, so may not have been entirely human. He was born somewhere in the farming villages North of the city of Catsebor. After briefly living in the city whilst studying as a healer, he fled East as the curse began to claim it. He made some of the earliest maps of the Six Castles and the wild lands between Llaewar the Gymondan Empire. He traded in rare antiquities and researched the fragments of knowledge surviving from the Mythic Epoch.

Arilzean seems already to have been widely known by the time he arrived in the court of King Medreil and assassinated him. He was thereafter feared in that part of the world and widely reviled, but in truth this act was instrumental in saving the kingdom from the Garun Dashi threat. The vast migration of the Dashi also served to draw the attention of the beast Jeknalamanen, which was Arilzean’s primary goal. He had for many years been planning to slay it, but on this occasion was warned by the Lethleinein not to attempt it.

Records from the early history of the Cartographer Adepts in Granmark record that Arilzean was for several years apprentice to the Grand Geometer Neddra Kallis. It was also their collaboration which led to his learning the secret of warp crafting. This was the weapon with which he was ultimately able to slay Jeknalamanen.




The last record of Arilzean tells of his planning a great journey South towards the ancestral lands of the Ronunskei. By this time he would have been well over two hundred years old, but still appeared only to be in early middle age.

The Images living at Eyestone Hill were once asked if he had Image blood and replied that he did not. Nonetheless, speculation along those lines remains a feature of many accounts, which is perhaps not surprising given his remarkable life. In 754EK an expedition was mounted to attempt to locate Arilzean’s final resting place, but it was unsuccessful.

The Unseen Game

And in her dream she saw a room. All about was smoky darkness, but in the centre flickered a pool of copper light from a chandelier hung with lamps. Four figures sat close about a low table, upon which was a game board. The board was marked with a winding labyrinthe of spaces, each made from a wooden tile inlaid into the board. Most stood empty, but upon some were playing pieces carved in the forms of demons, humans, beasts and gods. Some were of ornamental stone, others of polished metal and still others of wood or clay.

The four figures playing the game were rude and loud. They pushed each other and spat curses. They spilled their drinks across the floor as they leapt from their seats in outrage. They laughed and cried at misfortunes real and imagined. Yet in one matter alone they were disciplined: the game. Each took their turn and took care to move in accordance with the rules. Care too was taken not to improperly disturb the pieces or the board. And many minutes of deep contemplation were involved in the making of any move.

As is the way of dreams, she was able to move close to the board, unseen by the players. There upon space in the middle of a courtyard she saw a tiny likeness of her father. Then onto an adjacent space was moved a tall piece like a tree with three bovine heads. Its great scythe made clear its role in the game and she woke, then.

Her delight at finding her father alive the next morning was great indeed and she embraced him tightly, crying with relief. Her relief was short-lived, for two days later he fell sick and by the end of the month he had passed away.

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Called variously ‘The Unseen Game’, ‘The Game of Ashes’, ‘The Board’ and variations on these, this mysterious and complex game has been documented on many occasions in both written accounts and stories passed amongst travellers. The details of these accounts vary dramatically, but they have a few elements in common.

First, the game board itself is always enormously complex to the extent that none who have seen it are able to reconstruct it from memory. Likewise, it invariably has too many pieces upon it to recall the details.

Second, the board is invariably found in a mostly dark space with only the board and the surface it stands on illuminated.

Third, if the players are present - and they are not always - there are exactly four of them. They are, however, not always the same beings. Their apparent genders vary and whilst sometimes they are human, in other accounts one or more have the heads of beasts. Some later scholars claim that the players are always present if the board is encountered in a dream, but always absent if it is found in waking life.




It would be a brave mortal who moved any of the pieces on the board, but if the players are absent then nothing prevents anyone from doing so. The changes made will reshape the world, but perhaps not in the ways that were intended.

Seeing the game in a dream offers no opportunity to make changes, but by watching the moves made the dreamer may learn something of events yet to unfold.

The Scrolls of Kouros

Old Iogu was approaching his end. He had slept for two full days and even now as he woke his eyes were only half open and had a darkness about them that spoke of sickness, demons and death. He called the woman to him. He no longer recalled her name.

“For six seasons you have come here, bringing me water and sweet figs. You have washed linen for me. You have swept my floors. You have cared for my dog. You have done all this and never once stolen from me, though I am too frail to stop you, and never asked for anything in recompense. I feel that I shall soon pass from this world, so you may make one wish and I will grant it.”

The young woman cried a little then, for she loved Iogu and was sad to think of his passing. She knew he could not grant any wish she might make, so she made a whimsical one in the home that it might as least make him smile. She wished that her lost love, who had been slain by a bear whilst out hunting, might be with her once more.

Iogu patted her hand, then rose with an effort from his bed and began to rummage through his belongings. She wished that he would rest, but he was so determined to undertake this task that she thought it better to let him finish. At last he found an old scroll and began to read from it. As he did so he moved around the room with lurching steps and great sweeps of his free arm. Like a dance, he would sometimes stamp a foot against the boards. His few wisps of hair flew around him.

Night fell and Iogu slept. The dawn came and he did not wake, having passed in his sleep. The woman held his hand, reluctant to depart for the last time, when she heard the sound of a horse approaching. There upon its back was her love and at his side was a purse heavy with coin, he wore a cloak of good blue cloth and upon his back was a fine bow. She rode with him then as if in a dream, but he had missed her not one single day and it was the fateful hunt which was a dream and it was her dream alone.

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Kouros was a city rumoured to have existed during the mythic epoch, but no trace of it survives in recorded history and nothing is known of its former location. Aside from stories, the city does live on indirectly through a set of artifacts which allegedly originated there: the scrolls of Kouros.

At the height of Dornade’s struggle against the Etiki he managed to obtain the scrolls in exchange for a number of priceless treasures. He then attempted to employ their power against the Etiki, although he was only partially successful in wielding it, since by then illness had begun to cloud his mind.




History follows only a single path as perceived by mortals, but often along this road there are branching possibilities in which different choices might have led to different futures. The true power of the scrolls of Kouros, known only to a few, is to reach across to these other paths and exchange elements from them with our own. By means of this power a broken sword might be made whole, a timid monarch replaced by a version of himself who is brave or a blank canvas transformed into a masterpiece that was before painted on the next one sold by the same trader.

For all the many possibilities, the difficulty of wielding the secret of the scrolls lies in knowing how to find the possibilities one seeks amidst the whirling tangle of possible histories and then how to enact a careful change without unrelated elements being drawn in.

Alchemy

The setting of the sun marks the start and the flame is lit under the copper flask. Slowly, steam begins to emerge from the tube and the heat causes a liquid to form on the surface of the resin, which drips slowly into a bath of oil. From time to time the alchemist stirs the mixture with a glass rod, occasionally dropping a single drop onto a sheet of paper beside the apparatus. To begin with it is too pale. Then, satisfied, he fills a tall bottle from the liquid and moves quickly across the room to the body. He forces the mouth open with the rod and pours the contents of the bottle slowly in. Then he holds the nose of the deceased and waits.

By midnight, the body is dry and leathery and the alchemist unrolls his tool pouch and gets to work. Hours pass, with many tiny, careful cuts made until at last he finds what he is looking for. At once he puts down his tools and picks up the egg he has removed from the man’s heart. It looks like a stone, rough and pitted, but he knows it for what it is.

The alchemist walks briskly up the stairs, never running. He arrives at the chamber of his Lord, who has not slept.

“Revered one,” he says, “it was too late by far to save him, but I have what we need.” His Lord nods wordlessly in assent and they walk together through the cloister until they arrive at a tall statue which bears a metal dish. The egg is placed into it. The alchemist brings a taper to a nearby lamp and lights the egg, which burns with a fierce light. The statue speaks.

“I was slain by a young woman in blue, who placed poison in my drink unseen. As I lay dying she placed coins in my pocket and a knife beside my belt.”

The Lord nods and motions to the alchemist, so he leaves. The next play in the game is already in motion, but his work is done and now, at last, he can sleep.

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Alchemy is perhaps the single most widely practiced secret in the world. The grand schools of alchemy throughout the Lossanbrandt, Urthauld and Llaewar all trace their roots back to Granmark and the great alchemists whose work underpinned that city’s rise to power. However, there are many other traditions of alchemy with their origins in more than a dozen nations and still other alchemists who have taught themselves all that they know from first principles.

Alchemy is the study of the substance of the world. It concerns metals and gemstones, vapours and liquids, energies, plants and animals. The wider concerns of alchemists extend to cover every branch of philosophy and the common thread running through their researches is the search for a fundamental truth underlying all of existence.

The vast majority of alchemists are specialists since the field is simply too large to permit deep study of every branch of alchemical knowledge. Some are metallurgists, some mix potions from rare ingredients, some pass light through polished lenses and others study the mechanisms of the human body. There are a dozens more disciplines besides, some more reputable than others.




Whilst a well-equipped laboratory in the Lossanbrant could cost a small fortune, many alchemists make do with very little equipment, only those reagents they can find or make themselves and whatever space they can make within their living quarters. As important as experimentation is, the true search for knowledge is conducted in the mind and important work has been done in the past with nothing more than a slate and chalk.

Of all the secrets, alchemy is perhaps the most able to interact with other secrets, but this versatility comes at a price since it takes years of study to master even the basics of alchemy and most rituals and processes take considerable time to carry out.

100 Secrets

Nope, despite appearances the project isn't actually dead, I've just been painting a cover for it. Having now finished it, here it is:

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I've also been thinking about what to do with the written bits in terms of which direction I want to take the project in. More of that in a future post.

Mirrors

Waiting impatiently for the return of her husband, Lady Joy took his visitor for a walk around the South wing to admire some of the art. She was nervous and Lord Joven, her husband’s guest, was clearly bored and impatient. She provided what commentary she could concerning the pieces they stopped by, hoping that he at least did not know any of them well enough to contradict her.

They paused for a moment by a wooden sculpture of a boy holding a dog. Then a movement caught Joy’s eye. Lord Joven’s reflection in the hall mirror was beckoning to her even though he himself stood motionless. She almost ran in fear, but if she did then she would have to explain herself later, to her husband and maybe also to her guest. The reflection held up a piece of paper and moved it towards her. Pretending to adjust her hair, Joy moved to the mirror and took it.

Once her husband - Lord Villefontaine - had returned, Lady Joy excused herself for a moment and went to her chamber, where she opened the note. It read: “Return to this mirror after nightfall and be sure you are alone.”

Joy was more afraid than ever, but when night fell she could not resist returning. And this time she was not surprised to see Lord Joven’s reflection there without him. How was it possible, she asked, for a man’s reflection to be there without him? He replied that what was a reflection depended on which side of the mirror one was on. Then he held out his hand. She hesitated, so he asked: Do you dance?

Joy stepped through the mirror and they danced.

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The mirror secret spread to Urthauld from the far West, early in the age of exploration. It cannot be learned; either one is born with access to it or not. The reason for this is simple: most people’s reflections copy their actions precisely, with never the slightest difference between them. To harness the mirror secret, that symmetry must be broken.

Although the most common route to possession of this secret is to inherit it, there are masters who can manipulate the reflections of others in such a way as to bestow the potential for the secret upon them.




As for what can be accomplished with mirrors, the range of feats is almost as numerous as the practitioners themselves. The root of all of it is the ability to separate one’s reflection from one’s own position. From there it can be sent to explore or spy on others unseen. Next comes an affinity with one’s own reflection enabling a sharing of emotions or even thoughts. In an environment with many mirrors this is almost like being in two places at one time.

More difficult to learn is the art of passing through mirrors into the mirror realm. Once mastered, this technique can be used to hide and can smuggle the secret wielder into otherwise inaccessible buildings. It is possible to create pairs of mirrors each of which shows the reflection from the other.

There are places in the world where the mirror world itself differs entirely. Whole buildings stand there which would be invisible without the aid of a mirror and an innocent traveller might pass right through one, aware of only a faint unease as their reflection was forced to take a more difficult route.