Friday, June 28, 2013

Beyond the Leaning City: Part 4

Well my wife came home from her vacation and helped me figure out how the days of the week work again so I now know that Friday only happens on Friday.

Actually, I had some crazy bad hay fever last week and wrote a shit ton of stuff for the in progress novel. I literally lost a day somewhere in the anaphylactic/antihistamine/writing/caffeine/thc/ yard work haze, which is why I posted last week's chapter two days late, accompanied by an apology for being one day late. Making shit, it will fuck you up.

Anyway, among other things, I'm working on a 30th century space setting for ICONS, I'll throw some of that up this week, once some of the art (there is a ton already, somehow) is cleaned and colored, and maybe some more Black Smoke Sea stuff as well.

And now...





Financing at first seemed an insurmountable problem, but Kal came up with a solution almost immediately. Early the next morning, he went into Xiang-Xiang.

He took a cab from Troublecox landing to Fish Street. The morning's first hours he spent sitting in a greasy, little cafe drinking green tea; two cups was all he could stomach, and after nursing them as long as he was able, Kal paid the score and left. Outside, he mingled with the growing crowd and walked the neighborhood.

He made one short stop, after which he turned east and ascended onto the High Palisade. Shortly before noon, he crossed the channel and made his way back to the bungalow. He found Thront on the rear patio, basking in the sun and reading a tattered copy of Snobig's "Sassina".

"What do you think?" Thront lowered the lurid tome and lifted his sunglass.

Kal nodded. "Easy enough."

Two more days passed. On the morning of the fourth day following the theft of the memory egg, anxious to make last minute preparations, Thront departed the bungalow in the early morning, headed for the pier.

Kal stayed behind and indulged in a breakfast both leisurely and decadent.

Not long after Thront's departure, before, in fact, Kal had even dipped a spoon into the trinnx jelly, Sursha stepped over the threshold.

She looked splendid, clad in a minimal white garment; her burgundy hair, sharp-cut just above the chin, a curled and shining strand hanging between her eyes; a slender white ribbon spiraled the length of her slender tail and her lips were painted to match her hair.

Kal sat at the table, nearly naked, his tail bunched up in the seat of his ragged undergarment was natty and ungroomed, his hair unwashed and matted, and his face smeared with food and dirt.

She smiled at him.

"Sursha," he said, his tongue felt like a dry and floundering flipper.

"I have brought my ankle bells," she said and gave her bare, golden foot a ringing stamp.

Kal released a dry, piping little scream and dashed into the bathing court.

He splashed around in the water, scrubbing his skin and hair frantically. He leapt out of the tub and rubbed himself dry.

All the while, gentle chimes drifted in from the main chamber.

He dashed up the rear stairs and rushed to his bedroom.

He went to the large wardrobe at the corner of the room and opened its lowest drawer. His supply of items for the rite of reunion was stacked neatly within. He pulled on a pair of white ceremony shorts, worked his tail through the hole, and wrapped it with a white ribbon. He combed the water out of his hair and tied it back with another ribbon.

He painted a horizontal blue streak under his left eye, and a lightning bolt that trailed from his lower belly to the tip of his phallus.

He ran out of the room and halfway down the stairs. He had forgotten his pipe; he reversed his course, retrieved it and descended once more.

She awaited him at the bottom. Two ringing stomps and he came to a halt at her feet.

"I have brought my bells." Sursha bit her lower lip and wriggled in a teasing and anticipatory way.

"I have my pipe," he said, locking his eyes onto hers; his chest was hot and tight; he was out of breath, he made several small inhalations, swelling his lungs with air; he raised the pipe to his lips and prepared to play.

Sursha threw out her elbows, arched her back, and ran her hands through her hair. Her tail lashed with excitement. The gentle tinkle of her bells resonated through Kal like a hammer blow on a drum. The pebbled surface of her pointed, blue nipples shone through the fabric of her garment; Kal liked his lips and-

"No time for that!" Thront stood in the entranceway.

Sursha turned around. "Thront," she said. "How good to see you; do you think you could leave now?"

"I am afraid not."

"Why?" Sursha looked at Kal.

"We must hurry if we're to put out to sea today. Hasn't Kal told you anything?" Thront clapped his hands together.

"No I've only just arrived, we were in the process of exchanging the traditional greeting."

"Traditional greeting." Thront blinked three times in rapid succession. "I know all about that. Takes too long. Come on, boat’s all loaded. You can exchange your greeting in the cabin."

Sursha looked at Kal. "No we'll do it here; could you wait outside please."

"Impossible. Every second we waste counts against us; there is treasure to consider."

"Treasure?" Sursha pursed her lips. "What are you talking about?"

"We found a treasure map, someone stole it from us." Kal was still looking at the floor.

Sursha laughed.

"It's no joke, Sursha," Thront said.

"We'll have to take a vote then," Sursha said. She arched her back and gently swept her foot in a ringing circle across the floor.

"Now or tomorrow," Thront said. "I vote now."

"I vote tomorrow." Sursha moved her hands over her bare belly and slowly up her torso; she was shaking her foot. "Kal?"

"To- to- I-, you see Sursh- there, there's this thing, and the hats and I made a prom-"

"Vote!" Sursha put down her belless foot.

"Wister stole Kal's reunion gift for you," Thront said. "We're going after him."

Kal blanched.

"Is that true?" Sursha said.

Kal nodded.

"Wister the Gurrd?" Sursha folded her arms over her chest. "How did you get involved with him, and how were you going to complete the rite without the gift."

"We-I- got caught up-"

"All questions will be answered at sea." Thront scooped up Sursha's baggage and rushed out the door.

There was a long and silent moment at the base of the stairs during which Kal examined his feet.


They drove to the pier without speaking.

"When we go on board," Sursha said as they debarked from the truck, "someone is going to tell me a story. And for their sake it had better be a good story." She gave Kal's tail a viscous little yank, cuffed Thront on the back his ocular case and walked up the gangplank.




Beyond the Leaning City


"That's it?" Sursha was seated on a coil of rope with her knees drawn up. They sat in the Siren's cabin; the little steamboat pitched and yawed as it crossed the choppy water; beyond the blue tinted canopy, the sky was a magenta canvas ornamented with the scintillating presence of four moons. Seawater splashed the exterior deck.

"And the Hats," Thront said. "You didn't mention the shameful hats."

Kal looked at Sursha; his stomach lurched. He spoke slowly; each enunciation sent a new wave of misery into his gut. "They. Made. Us, Wear. Shame-"

"Oh, be quite," Sursha said. She turned to Thront. "What makes you so sure that it's a treasure map."

"The display image showed gold and Zorms, jewels; all sorts of loot."

"Has it occurred to you," Sursha looked out over the sea. "That this treasure is fairly well advertised."

"What do you mean?" Thront swiveled his neck, looked at her.

"That if it ever did exist, it probably doesn't now."

"Wister seems to think otherwise; he tried to kill us for it; and he resorted to trickery; debasing and-" Thront's knuckles went white on the wheel.

"Yes. Yes," Sursha said. "The shameful hats and all." She looked pointedly at Kal. "Tell me, how did you pay for the fuel and all the gear."

"That's another story," Thront said. He looked out to sea.

"Where'd you get the Zorms?" Sursha leaned close to him. "Don't tell me you took it from the treasury."

"Actually, your highness, we didn't touch the treasury. Wister paid for the whole thing," Thront said. "We broke into his shop and cleaned him out."

Kal laughed. He regained his composure for a moment and said. "Left the door to his shop wide open too; his neighbors will take what we didn't."

Sursha's ire faded a bit. She laughed. "How naughty of you," she said. Her face brightened and she tossed her hair and licked her lips. She turned to Thront. "You said something about the cabin?"

Thront jerked his thumb over his shoulder; "Back there- I even cleaned it for you. I'll sleep out here."

Sursha smiled. She turned to Kal, eager to take him in hand. Much to her dismay, he had ducked out the hatch, and was leaning over the side, retching into the sea.

Sursha released a huffing angry sigh and stalked back to the cabin, the gentle chime of her ankle bells drowned out by the roar of the sea.


The next two days passed without incident. Kal's seasickness gradually lost intensity, but left him weak and unfit for strenuous activity of any kind.

On their second morning out from port, the sky darkened with clouds; it continued to dim as the day wore on. The following sunset and dawn were lost to them; late that evening, the Siren entered a fog.

"The Sea of Mist, it really does exist" Thront said. He was hunched over the navigation wheel, attempting to plot their course northward.

"Maybe we'll find the Ship's Boneyard." Sursha said. "Or encounter Glingoo's specter."

"I dislike sarcasm," Thront said.

Sursha giggled and went below to check on Kal, leaving the monoch to his charts.

When she was gone, he removed a thick volume from the cabinet below the chart table. The title "A Portion Of Vaszt, Vol. 26" was embossed in heavy silver letters along the spine.

He located the desired passage and read to himself.

"SEA OF MIST, THE: A roughly circular expanse of ocean centered perhaps a hundred medspens northeast of Xiang-Xiang (see chart d-32.5 for navigational instructions.) The Sea of Mist lives up to its name, and its constant shroud of fog is seemingly permanent; there is no evidence to the contrary, and there are legends dating back as far as the time of Autotrax Himbilort Mudfinn about its existence-"

Thront closed the book and looked at his map, the sea's entirety was represented by a gray discoloration across the top of the chart. He frowned and, before returning to work, brooded for a moment over the absence of the memory egg.


The Coming Cataclysm


Vissel Hroof idly picked at his fourth and most recent holy sore. Vissel Ommman was preaching again. Hroof could barely force himself to pay attention to the long-winded fool, but it was necessary.

The Dark Concordance and the succession of power it heralded were nearly upon them. Soon the arch-Vissel Nooten would rule no more. And that was for the best, he was after all a blathering, quaking old fool. Hroof's only concern was the identity of his successor. Ommman, it was obvious, shared his concern, or perhaps interest was what they shared. Yes, interest or perhaps desire. Hroof smiled and refocused his attention on the speech of his rival.

"Last night in a dream, to me, the great Icyarch spoke." Ommman raised his hands high as he talked, contorting them in a manner that magnified the effect of the lamps shining behind him. "He said that our brother, Vissel Droon was successful, and that our seed, the sacred Lurr, is soon to return to us." Hroof had to admit that Ommman's light sculpting technique was masterful; he maximized every beam and ray from the lamps, achieving the most powerful and colorful refraction; when he spoke before the lights, Vissel Ommman's gelatinous braincase glowed with color, shone through with power and luminance. It was the light of leadership and purity. Who could doubt that he was beloved of the Icyarch? Who could doubt even that the Icyarch spoke to him in dreams?

Hroof doubted it, of course, knew it to be pure foolishness, in fact, but he was informed. One day, not long ago, while he and all the other Vissils, including Ommman, had attended a religious observance, Hroof had arranged to have Ommman's cabins searched. His agents found a tracking device; when they described it to him, Hroof became convinced it was somehow linked to the Lurr. Consequently, Ommman's predictions came as no surprise; no doubt it would come true, and soon.

After a delivering a bit more semi-mystical nonsense, Vissel Ommman ceased speaking and returned to his chair. A grumble of conversation followed. The meeting came to an end. Vissel Hroof filed out of the temple dome with the others. Outside, on the rocky beach, his broodservents waited for him, palanquin at the ready; they carried him to his longboat and, as he sat sipping from a flask of fire-brandy, rowed across the narrow band of water to the ring.

Hroof considered stopping off somewhere for a pinch, but he was too apprehensive for company; he bid the oarsmen take him home.

Once there, he went to the lowest of his cabins and looked out the wide crystal window set into the floor; he gazed at the seabed for a long, thoughtful while. Lights from other such windows lit up the depths, and Hroof could see for a good distance.

To the north, far past the ring's inhabited center, near its far edge, he saw a massive, dark shape, surrounded by several shadows, similar in form, smaller, but still of considerable size.

The Icyarch and its children.

Hroof had seen them in that same place on the last three days. He shuddered. Was the prophecy true? Was the Icyarch waiting? He took a book off the table beside him; it bore no inscription or title, and needed none: it was the holy book. He opened and began to read.

He passed the night searching the holy writ for a sign to guide him. Occasionally, he would pause to think, or moisten the gelatinous surface of his head with a wide flat brush he kept in a bucket beside his chair.

By morning Hroof had reached a decision. Regardless of the cost, he must keep Vissel Ommman from seizing power.


NEXT WEEK: An Encounter at Sea!

Monday, June 24, 2013

Monday Morning Confession and a map.

I really hate Gandalf. Really. like I wish he was real so I could kick his ass, eat his lembas, smoke all his weed and vandalize his car. Fuck you, Gandalf, you are a punk, do not park your shit mobile in front of my house, and no, I will not pick you up 'a little something' at the 'clinic' bitch.

Please share your own secrets in the comments- if you dare.

Here's your map. The site is located in (check it out I'm going to link myself multiple times, and I am not even using lubricant) the Hidden Forest which is part of the Caverns of Empire. The shrine, or at least the idea behind it, is based on Chavin, but with a stronger technological flavor. The narrow hatched rectilinear features (see the chapel walls) are flat screen displays. Also the place is very old, and the enchantment that holds it together is fading. The result is that the entire thing is on the verge of collapse. Also, worrying is the fact that the Monotaur will not enter the shrine. Perhaps it is the structural instability that keeps it away; perhaps it is something else.

This and all the realted stuff are all part of the framework/ setting for my new (in progress) novel, Underland. I'm currently working on the secomd chapter. Fiction writing is for fucking tools, btw.


Sunday, June 23, 2013

Beyond the leaning City: Part 5

Sorry, I forgot to put this up yesterday.




The Rite of Lawful Obsequiousness


Kal woke up with a pounding in his head. No, it was in his left leg, his knee. What had he done to it? He was sprawled on the bathing pool's reclining edge, half submerged. He pulled himself out of the pool and hobbled across the room and flopped across a low couch. For a moment he became involved in the tactile sensation of the couch's fabric against his skin: smooth and soft and-

No use pretending. The pounding existed in neither his head nor his knee.

Someone was at the door.

They weren't shy about using the knock plate, either. Kal forced himself to sit up. Very unpleasant. The main room/bath area was wrecked; empty jugs; furniture overturned; garbage littered the floor and floated in the tub; Thront, his snores sounding rather congested, lay eye down in a congealed pool of suspicious origin.

Kal stood. Painful. He considered hand walking across the room, but decided it would be pretentious, and hopped to the door on one foot instead. He paused on his way across the room long enough to deliver three bouncing kicks into Thront's side.

"Get up," he said. "Someone's here."

The pounding continued. Kal hopped the remaining distance to the door; he passed the looking glass on the way. The green shirt had a dark stain shaped like an open lotus, almost; his sash was gone and the tan leggings were a muddy brown; dye dripped from them onto the floor. His hair had lost its gloss and was bunched together in steel colored tufts. He was amazingly unsightly and he became distracted by the sight.


The pounding. Always the pounding.

Kal opened the door. The morning light was too bright. He held a hand before his eyes.

Two nort stood at the threshold. They were impeccably dressed, in formal orange, the color of the buerophant caste, and wore impressive purple ribbons tied into intricate bows at each joint. One wore a complicated harness-sash around his sub thorax and abdomen. Each bore a polished and ornate powerstave.

Pained by the too bright morning's light, Kal looked at them through splayed fingers.

The nort in the harness-thing leaned forward, lowered a long snout and looked down it at Kal with black, oval shaped eyes.

"Why have you not reported for the March of Lawful Obsequiousness?" The nort bent and swayed on its four hind legs. The tube of its muzzle terminated in a diamond shaped orifice, which, during speech, convulsed and folded in unlikely ways.

"March?" Kal rubbed his head and squinted; his tail was bunched up in the seat of his trousers; it was beginning to itch, and his left leg ached badly. A march? What a terrible idea.

Best to be brisk with these official types.

"No thank you. None today." Kal swung the door.

The en-harnessed nort thrust the butt of his powerstave into the door jam. He made an inarticulate noise, consisting mostly of guttural clicks and buzzes, and turned his eyes once more towards Kal. The other buerophant turned away, as if in polite embarrassment.

"'No thank you', unfortunately, is not an option this morning my foreign, little friend. I am the sub-arch prefect of this district, and it is my honor to inform you that it is the law that you participate in the march on the first full day of every five moon cycle in which you retain a residence in Xiang-Xiang or on Zimtur Isle." He interposed a scroll made of glittering plaspyrus. "Punishment for non- compliance is as follows: Offenders shall have the flesh of one primary appendage flayed, or removed in a fashion that is most painful to the individual offender. Said offender shall forthwith be driven from the provinces of Xiang-Xiang and banned from their use forever more."

"Flayed..." Kal was waking up.

"You have no vestments?" The Buerophant leaned close.

"No vestments." Kal repeated; the flat black eyes had a hypnotic, anesthetic quality about them. "Are we really expected to keep track of a custom that only comes into play once every five hundred years?"

The sub-arch Prefect turned to his companion.

"Ah, these foreigners: they dwell in our bejeweled city and make use of its luxuries, but they cannot be bothered to learn even our most fundamental customs." He wagged his long head. "Larvabrother Thane, will you return to the car and fetch a set of the robes."

"What happens here?" Thront stood behind Kal.

"What indeed?" The nort replied. "Sir," it addressed Kal. "Please inform your domestic that you have failed to prepare yourself for the March of Lawful Obsequiousness and that if you do not do so and report to the courtyard before the Rook Mesiquitar and join in the mandated observance, the full penalty of the law will be visited upon you."

"Did you refer to me as a 'domestic'?"

"Yes. I see that I have erred." The nort twisted its head up at Thront. "I feel it necessary to apologize for my transgression; I also feel it needful- for no particular reason- to remind you that striking a member of the Buerophant caste is an offense of the highest magnitude, and could lead to punishment as severe as whole body flaying, or even lethal orifice expansion." The other nort came up the steps. The sub-arch prefect looked at him sadly. "My apologies, brother; but would you be so good as to fetch another vestment. A rather large set, please."

"I-" Thront began.

"You will remain silent." The Prefect arched his neck and thrust his snout into Thront's face. "I will hear no further protests, or complaints; you should be grateful that I have saved your hands from the Hungry Glove and your household from eviction."

The other buerophant reappeared. He carried two bundles of brightly colored cloth.

"Come now, don the garments." The Prefect clucked.

"If you run you can make the next ferry and still have enough time to walk across town."

"We can afford a cab-"

"No, it would invalidate the ritual; be thankful you are not compelled to swim the channel. We have talked long enough; put on the sacred garments and be on your way. Or we will call the guard and have you taken to your reward."

Without further ado or complaint Kal and Thront donned the costumes.

Kal locked up the house; goaded by the nort, he and Thront ran down the lane, towards the ferry. The sub-arch prefect and his companion were walking towards the next house as Kal rounded the corner.

They ran down the street, turning at the swaybacks. The costumes were puffy; complicated affairs, with bells sewn into the hem of the robe, and whistles fitted into the headdress; they made an awful racket descending the hill, and by the time they came to the bottom they were being followed by a group of curious children.

When they reached the pier they went immediately aboard the ferry, which was for the best; the curiosity initially exhibited by the band of children had swiftly transformed into hostile ridicule; rocks and other small missiles followed them up the boarding plank.

They had the ferry mostly to themselves.

"Strange. You would expect more foreigners with the rite and all," Thront said. The ferry paddled away from the dock. "Never heard of it- what's it called again?"

"The March of Lawful Obsequiousness, or some such." Kal placed a finger on his lips. "Odd isn't it?"

"That we've never heard of it? No not really, the norts are law crazy; who can keep track-"

"Why do you suppose the prefect had a radiation detector?"

"A what?" Thront stood up; his headdress whistled and rang.

"You didn't see it?"

"Why didn't you say anything?" Thront tore at the 'vestment'.

"I thought you saw it," Kal said. "Are you insane, don't destroy that, we'll get flayed.".

Thront blinked hard; a green film slid over his eye. "Don't be stupid," he said. "Come on." He ran to the side of the ferry and vaulted the rail into the channel.

Kal returned to the bungalow some time later. He found Thront sitting in the drawing room. The house was much as they had left it, but for the smashed in front door and the hole dug in the courtyard floor.

"They take my 'caster too?" Kal asked.

Thront bobbed his ocular case. "And they made us wear shameful hats. There is no greater insult."

Kal perched on the edge of the stone table.

"They were friends of Wister. As were those blackguards that accosted us last night" Thront waved his arms. "Of that I am certain."

"We must recover it. We must. Wister knew it was a treasure map, that's why he turned it off. We need to retrieve it."

"That will most likely be impossible, at least in the short run." Thront took a carafe of nhurr out of the cupboard, flipped away the lid with his thumb and took a long drink. He put the vessel on the table and sat down. "They're probably on their way there right now."

"How can you be so calm? We've lost a possible fortune."

"There is no reason to get excited, beyond the fact that we have been betrayed and robbed, anyway; you see, I memorized the map last night."

"Memorized it?"


"Than we can go after them," Kal said. "Maybe we can catch them."

"If I am correct in my assumptions catching them will be the least of our problems. Wister owns only one boat: a barge, we could leave three days from now and still overtake him. But I doubt we could afford to finance such an enterprise with our current resources."

Kal swung down from the cabinet and took a drink of nhurr. "We must find a way; there is more than treasure at stake here."

"I agree." Thront slammed his massive three-fingered fist down onto the table, shaking the entire house. "We must swear a pact! Someone must pay for my wearing of the shameful hat."

Thront held out his massive hand. Kal grasped it, and they made an angry oath, both swearing never to rest until they had taken the full measure of their vengeance.



next week: Sursha.


Friday, June 14, 2013

Beyond the Leaning City Part 3

This one is longish and full of violence, drug use and maybe a laff or two.

Note- I deleted my G+ account because it is getting more and more like the forums every day and, you know, fuck that. Feel free to mail me if'n you want to talk, or say whatever (and I do mean whatever) in the comments of any post.



Rise of the Fifth Moon


Kal selected a forest-green tunic and soft tan leggings; Unable to tolerate formal shoes, he passed over the soft, shiny toe-slippers and wore his scuffed trail boots instead. He found a flashy and wide bladed falchion at the rear of his armoire; the weapon was dull and poorly balanced, but it looked splendid, and with the sheath of supple, black hide and the matching sash of glossy charcoal, it seemed perfect for festival.

Thront wore a simple gray robe and a black ocular hood. He came down into the front hall and took a long look at Kal, who was posing before the glass with the falchion.

"You're looking rather warlike," he said.

"Its just for show." Kal tumbled across the carpet and slashed at the air with the falchion.

"Were going to the Festival of Five Moons, not the Rape of the Horn Coast."

Kal frowned. He sighed and dropped the falchion onto his dressing table.

They stashed the memory egg and Kal's static caster in a secret encystment under the courtyard floor and left the house.

An entire bottle of nhurr was taken from the world on their walk down to the ferry.

The ride across was pleasant enough. Revelers packed the decks, singing and laughing. Unexpectedly preoccupied with thoughts of Sursha, Kal remained silent; Thront planned the coming evening,

After they debarked, they joined the boisterous throng flowing along the quay, pausing only to acquire a fresh cask of nhurr at a stall near the mouth of the Boulevard of Happy Coincidence; Thront drove through the tap and secured the cask to his shoulder with a broad leather strap. So equipped the pair walked through the jammed streets, drinking, singing and laughing.

Vendors occupied every available space, and many unavailable ones as well; musicians played in the street; wealthy nort families, borne about en mass on palanquins, watched the jocular activity around them with aloof distance, veiled and tapered snouts bobbing above long-sectioned bodies.

Moving away from the pier and into the central, more constricted part of the city, Kal and Thront went from stall to stall, drinking retz, nhurr and Xurian fire brandy. Kal sampled several narcotics, and purchased a bunch of dreamfruit; he munched on one as the fifth moon glowed below the horizon.

Thront was nearby, they were on a terrace above the Thread, an especially narrow street in one of the leaning city's less reputable neighborhoods.

One bite, two.... Kal smacked his lips; they came together like two fat snakes.

Juice ran down his chin.

His mouth burned numb; below, above, the streetglows swayed.

He smiled, and reeled across the cafe to where Thront was engaged in an arm wrestling match with a large albino sauttyle. Kal paused, considered the match and contemplated the assailants; he leaned close and expelled a painfully loud wail of festive joy.

Someone splashed a drink in his face. Someone else shoved him. Kal laughed and stagger-danced away to the edge of the terrace. Below on the street, several figures hunched under the frame of a great paper Ux; they danced and shook the costume; its shredded wings trembled and swayed; nort in shaman's garb danced on the rooftops and in the streets; pipes trilled and drums rumbled; dark petals of the flower called 'Autumn Sadness' fell over the street like snow. Kal was caught in a swirling, and spiral blizzard of musical sky flecks.

Hooting, he scrambled up the steeply canted, ivy covered side of a wooden house; his feet hung out in space beneath him, pointing at the ground.

Nails pulled, wood creaked. Kal made the roof; below, Thront sang out in triumph- he'd won the arm wrestling match; above, the fifth moon was clearing the jagged western horizon and all five satellites occupied the sky simultaneously for the first time in five hundred years; fireworks: flares of crimson and blue and green and magenta and white traced across the night, exploding simultaneously- a thunderous announcement; The Festival of Five Moons commenced.

A tremendous cry went up; countless guns fired into the air; glass broke, young beings screamed, or laughed; people fell into the canal. Confused by the great clamor, leatherwings and vibrils blasted through the air above the city's alleys and narrow streets, frantic in the search for open sky.

Kal howled at the moons; flyers expelled shot up from the street below, the rustling, cooing flight surrounded him, and for a moment he felt that he flew with them, and then they were gone.

He was left with only the sky.



Death on the Street of Faces


Well after midnight, tired of the press of crowds, Kal and Thront took themselves, a fresh cask of nhurr, several plugs of drogo, some fruit, and a loaf of black bread to a concealed ledge along the Street of Faces.

"See the way that dancer was looking at me?" Kal said, he spoke of a rungian girl they'd seen perform in a cafe earlier.

"No." Thront manhandled the jug out of his companions grasp.

"She was." Kal got up and walked the edge of the scaffold heal to toe. "Looking right at me. Me. As in not at you."

Long practice allowed Thront to ignore Kal with ease; instead, he examined the near most sarcophagus. A rock fragment carved in accordance to the forms of the Delvoniat Hierarchy of Balance rested on the adjacent klutr shelf. An expensive piece, especially for a corpse, how could a dead being experience the true joy of such an item? Thront suppressed the desire to steal the sculpture, and looked below.

It was bad luck to fraternize with the dead during times of joy, therefore, The Street of Faces was closed by mandate of the Arch Beurophant during festival, but Thront could see a number other trespassers along the length of the tomb way. In fact, one group of several figures moved up the street with surprising boldness.

Thront turned to his companion. Kal was about to eat another dreamfruit. "Don't you think you've had enough of those?"

Kal made a rude motion with his tail, and bit into the fruit. His world constricted. Black shapes moved across the moon, and a flash of yellow. He took another bite. The shapes solidified; burning cold, fruit sap dribbled down his chin.

"This shouldn't be too difficult," said an unfamiliar voice.

"Keep your distance," Thront said. Kal watched the moons dance; he thought about leaping into space, but he had the vague notion that there was social activity transpiring around him. He tried to focus.


Yellowface talking.

"Just pass it over and we'll leave you be," Yellowface said.

Kal stepped back from the roof's edge and faced towards the interior. Several shapes crowded in a crescent around Thront and himself.

Meafles. Lots of them, too: maybe ten? Dressed in black toopas and carrying blaze-poles of gleaming, amber metal. Kal stumbled back a step, almost to the edge. Someone was retching among the tombs in the street directly below.

"-" Thront opened and closed his mouth.

What was this 'it' that they were after? Kal wondered. His vision wavered and liquefied around the edges. The time had come to get tough, and let these fellows know exactly where they stood.

"Forget it. Move along before you receive the beating of your life," Kal said.

Someone laughed. Kal thought of the fruit in his pouch. He thought of the shapes clouds make on blustery spring days, how sometimes if you look really hard you could see a face, or a bar of soap, or a vhane's head, or some other shape, or something...

One of the meafles took a step forward; his blaze-pole activated and he pointed the flickering, buzzing head at Kal's chest.

"Shut-" He flinched. Kal ducked under the pole tip, and tumbled forward; he rolled onto his hands, placed a precise toe-kick into the soft fur of the meafles throat, and followed up with a less elegant, but more forceful kick to the gut.

The meafle folded up into a gasping heap.

A bellow shook the rooftop- Thront charged, plowing into four of the meafles and sweeping them off the roof. Unfortunately, his shoulder-mounted cask was still quite full, and the sloshing weight of it pulled him over as well. Five shapes hurtled towards the pavement.

Kal found himself alone on the rooftop with six, possibly seven, but maybe four assailants, one of who was almost certainly unconscious, perhaps. He looked down; he was holding a blaze-pole in his grasp. Someone made an angry noise and reached for him; Kal jumped high and to his rear, performed a full aerial inversion, and fell head first towards the tiny ribbon of white marble below.

He thrust butt of the blaze pole at a klutr shelf, and used the force from the impact to vault onto the scaffolding on the other side of the street, one level down.

Upon landing, Kal deactivated the weapon and crouched in the darkness for an instant. His head swam. He remembered something about a fruit. He heard a commotion below. Thront was down there.

-But according to the marks on its stone lid the sarcophagus beside him had been interred during the Second Thidart Theocracy; Kal owned a vase from the same period; the nort of that time had been extremely competent artificers. The disturbance in the street beneath him continued. In fact, it seemed to be escalating; Kal leaned over the edge of the scaffold to see what it was all about; to his surprise he saw Thront in the street. He seemed to be involved in a row. With a bemused shake of the head Kal returned to his thoughts.

The most interesting thing about the Second Thidart Period was not the carving, however-

Meafles: a lot of them too; he counted ten. Why in the world was Thront beating them so?

- As stated, the primary feature of said era, from an archeological viewpoint that is, was the emergence of the nortish wind-harvesting technology. Somehow, between all the pogroms and inquisitions, the Thidartists had managed to build an awful lot of windmills- the noise from below was dreadful. Kal had tolerated it as long as could be expected, longer even; he found it impossible to think under such conditions or even to keep facts clear, much less extrapolate and draw conclusions.

Kal sprang from the scaffold and plummeted to the street below; he landed with a rolling somersault and came up behind the meafles.

Cornered, Thront held a stone bench over his head; his eye was narrow and mean, a trickle of blood ran down the exterior of his ocular node, but otherwise, he appeared to be uninjured.

The street itself, at least in Thront's immediate vicinity, was a shambles; several of the caskets were torn out of their moorings- former occupants, mummified and unconcerned, relaxed in the gutter; nhurr dribbled down the walls, and pooled on the uneven cobbles; fragments of the broken keg were everywhere; three dead meafles stretched across the pavement.

Thront raised the stone bench high. A red flush colored his chitin; he bellowed and rushed forward.

Meafles flinched and dodged, several stepped backward towards Kal, who activated his blaze-pole and charged; purple energy hissed as it passed through the air.

Kal became distracted at the last instant, and his first strike went completely wide; the buzzing head of the blaze-pole impacted full on with an ebony sarcophagus, smashing the chiseled snout at its base. A terrible noise- like a cross between the emasculation lament of a north plain forest zpracht, and the surfacing warble of ten thousands rack-faced thurms- filled the street. Sparks jumped; razor sharp crystalline shards skipped across the air; huge, stone nostrils were knocked asunder; separate, but largely intact, they skittered and hard-bounced across the marble.

The tumultuous spectacle afforded Thront a chance to brain two more of his assailants. Another fell, knocked senseless by a fast moving, fist-sized tomb fragment.

Kal charged on. Four meafles remained standing. He somersaulted over them, howled and struck down with the blaze-pole.

He came to ground behind them, and launched into a bizarre, taunting, manic dance. Drool trailed from his mouth, and his hair stood out at strange, unsettling angles; his tail lashed in a jerking, crazy fashion. He waved the blaze-pole around over his head, creating glowing magenta loops of crackling energy while beating his chest with one fist; he thrust his pelvis at the meafles, blew his nose in their direction, growled like feral vermin, and gave voice to a lot of screaming, incoherent, drunken, drug induced nonsense.

Next, he exploded up into the air, bouncing from scaffold to scaffold. Whirling and twisting in an impossibly complex pattern, he struck at the crystal lanterns that hung above the boulevard.

He smashed each and every one of the lamps and, upon the shattering of the last, dropped to the street like a thrown harpoon; his garments rustled and snapped in the wind of his passage; unraveled, his sash trailed behind him, like a second tail. He came down amidst a hail of fire and the harsh chime of breaking glass; taking the impact on his left knee, he rang the butt of the blaze pole against the cobbles.

His face smeared with blood and ashes, he crouched motionless under the eyes of the dead; burning debris rained down around him.

Of the surviving meafles, only the fading sounds of their flight remained.

Thront dropped the bench and leaned against a wall. He was breathing heavy; he looked down at his companion, who remained motionless.

An alarm gong sounded. And again.

"We'd better go," Thront said.

"Sure." Kal stood. "Who were they, and why were they so mad?"

"We never really got that far," Thront said. He started back up the scaffolding, dragging Kal along behind him.

Dawn's light was on the waves by the time they got to the ferry. Kal went through his pockets en route, and was surprised to find that he still possessed a dreamfruit.

Thront snatched it away and hurled it over the side.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

[Map] The Bottom of The Black Smoke Sea, Inception

The Black Smoke Sea is the name given the enormous and relatively stationary volume of smoke and toxic gas that fills a large depression in the southwest region of the Deep Desert. The floor of the depression is a hellish place, hot, forever dark and choked with noxious clouds of poison. Strange life forms thrive there; aliens, machines, insects and fanatical nomads compete for the stingy resources afforded by the fouled wasteland. Savage predators stalk weird prey in smoke shrouded stone forests. Silverfish cluster and swarm, rushing across the broken earth in their clacking, rustling millions.

Gas masks, survival suits tanks, acid rain, e-rations, thirst, bugs, lava, smoke, sludge, air locks, trundles, blood lung, gas ghosts, slavers, domes, psionics, vulcanism, skin burn, contamination.

Sadly, I have done nothing new with elves here.


Friday, June 7, 2013

Beyond the Leaning City, Part Two





Wister The Gurrd


"You have no idea why it attacked you?" Thront leaned over the table and scrutinized the artifact with his one great eye. His hulking, amber-armored form reflected on its surface.

"No idea." Kal was perched on the rail, working the cork of a nhurr bottle with his knife. A warm wind drifted up from the south.

"You didn't attack it, or say anything rude, or-"

"Enough with that, you sound like Sursha, what do you think about the egg."

"Lettering looks like Nhadite epoch, maybe Gharnilt Dynasty. I don't know. Sursha could tell you."

"Sursha's not here," Kal said and frowned, thinking of that most unexpected disappointment, but, just then, the cork came free of the bottle; his face brightened at once, and he took a long drink.

"She'll be here in a few days," Thront said.

"Not soon enough. Anyway, I want to give it to her as my reunion gift. I need to know what it is... And consider this, One-eye, what if there are more of these-" Kal paused and hopped down. He paced, one finger raised in the air as if he were testing the wind. Lights of Xiang-Xiang burned over his shoulder, across the water, their essence gentled by distance and swirling seahaze. "What if there are more of these- ASSASSINS about."

"Assassins?" Thront reached for the nhurr.

Kal took another long drink before surrendering the bottle.

"Assassins," he said. "A dark brotherhood of squishy headed killers pledged to destroy me. And this," he held up the egg. "Our only key to the mystery."

Atop Zimtur Hill, and across the bay in the belfry of the Rook Mesiquitar, the tones of the hour sounded. Kal stared at the distant city; two moons hung in the early evening sky: Vasmet in the east, Sfent in the southwest.

Thront lifted the silver egg. "I know somebody in the city."

"Trustworthy?" Kal's attention remained fixed upon the bay.

Thront held the egg up close to his eye. An extremely curios piece. Very odd.

Thront moved the object closer, turning it slowly. "We'll see him in the morning. His place is on Fish Street." Thront continued to turn the artifact in his fingers. "We'll come back here after and get ready. The festival begins tomorrow night."

Kal nodded. The purpling of the sky was complete, and Geesta, the third moon, hovered on the eastern horizon.


Kal looked askance at the sloppy, peeling letters of the poorly painted sign.

"The Chamber of Unlikely Rarities," he read aloud, wrinkling his nose at the stink which issued from the fish stalls on either side of the tiny shop.

"Never mind how it looks," Thront said, "Wister the Gurrd knows artifacts, probably as well as Sursha."

Kal coughed and made an unpleasant face.

"Let's go inside then, if for no other reason than to escape this waft."

Thront nodded and shoved open the decrepit door.

An untidy cram of disparaging items awaited them beyond the threshold, a smorgasbord of device and trinket, like a dream overfull of image and portent.

Packed with merchandise, several long shelves and two locked display cabinets crowded the cramped space.

The only other customer, a tall and whipcord thin, yellow-furred meafle, examined a rack of knives, his snout crinkled in a dubious expression.

At the back of the room, behind a counter strewn with tech trash, perched atop a stool, was the owner, Wister the Gurrd: a tri-ocular being, Wister very much resembled a worn out and moldering bean bag chair, tied off at the top with a handful of living snakes.

After making a momentary show of examining the stock, Thront approached the Gurrd. Snorting in an attempt to blow the fish-stink from his nostrils, Kal milled about idly, browsing. He looked at the contents of the locked display cases.

Junk, just as I thought.

As he turned away, though, one item, a mace, drew his eye. It had a wickedly curved haft and a spherical head of shining metal. Kal blinked, leaned closer, and looked again. A Thunderfist! The finest powerclub ever made.

Further consideration, however, made him frown. Thunderfist or not, the weapon looked to be in poor shape; filaments and small components bristled out of breaks up and down its length. In working order, it could bring down a house with a single, well placed blow, but it looked to be in an order far from working,

It might be reparable, how much...

Kal pressed his nose to the glass.

According to an attached tag, the club was priced at two hundred Zorms. Considerably out of his range.

Unless, I raid the group treasury...

He huffed in mock disgust and walked away from the case. Wandering down the next isle, he glanced at the rear of the store. Thront and the bag-creature were talking. Kal joined them.

"You Kal? I am Wister. Welcome. Welcome to shop," Wister said. "Friend monoch tells me that you have artifact of interest."

Kal nodded. He placed the silver ellipse on the counter.

"To sell?"

"I have not, as of yet, made a decision," Kal said in his most practiced, academic tone- he thought it important to sound important while dealing with the lower caste beings such as merchants. Thront rolled his eye. Kal ignored his companion or failed to notice, and went on, "But I would like very much to know what it is."

"Of course. Of course." Wister's voice rattled and was full of hissing, hard, flat noises, like a sliding avalanche of sand and small pebbles. Wister possessed no mouth, he vocalized by palpitating a drum-like fold of flesh at the center of his cranial tentacle node.

"Very wise,” Wister said. "Consultation fee two Zorms."

Thront slid the coins over the counter top.

"Memory egg." Wister, more flexible than he appeared, bent down and palpitated the artifact with his tendrils. Kal made a puckered face and took a half step back. "Sometimes can be turned on."

At first, nothing happened.

"Entertainment device. Most are pictures of strange budding," Wister said.

Strange budding? Kal looked at Thront, who shrugged.

Wister made a flatulent noise; Kal suspected it was a sigh of frustration, but held his breath to be safe.

The Gurrd probed and poked the memory egg.

A many hued, vertical plain, like a painting made of light, winked into existence directly above the object. Wister's lumpy profile shone partially through the semi-transparent image.

Asymmetrical shapes, hewn from light and sparkling dust, danced across the air. Ignoring the Gurrd, Kal gazed at them, rapt.

What is it? An abstract piece?

Kal reached out towards the floating picture with tentative fingers.

Wister flinched, and the image flashed and sputtered out of being.

"Shock. Shock." Rockslide volume. For several moments Wister went through a complicated pattern of tentacle positions. Thront laid his hand on the memory egg.

"Worth nothing," Wister said, at last, his voice measured and quiet. "Twenty Zorms."

"No thank you," Thront said.

"Worthless. More than worthless. Dangerous. Thirty Zorms."

"Not today, my good... er, Wister." Kal leaned forward took the egg from Thront. "I like it too much to sell, but my gratitude for your time." He bowed low, angling his tail (clad in a magnificent new sock of crimson silk, patterned with coiling serpents) in a general attitude of respectful appreciation.

They departed the shop. Thront caught the meafle staring as they went through the door. For a heartbeat he held its two eyes with his one. The door closed between them. Thront snorted with disgust and turned away.

Leaving the Chamber of Unlikely Rarities, Fish Street, and its attendant bouquet behind, the pair walked east to the city's edge, where they ascended a long flight of half-crumbled stairs and came onto the northern section of the High Palisade, a raised walkpath which ran along the top of the city wall. They moved slowly towards the Rook Mesiquitar and walked in the red taint of its shadow.

Late afternoon fog drifted southward from the sea of mist; ghostly fibrils of it hung low over the city. Below, to the left, surf crashed and raged, summer's placidity giving way to the will of the five moons.

Below, on the right, the thrashing sea was forgotten as the peoples of the city made ready for festival: scores of lamplighters spread hundreds of colored lights throughout the neighborhoods; children of innumerable species ran laughing over the cobbles, throwing bowls of colored water at one another in a mock recreation of Thingar's charge against the Meltarids; the bang and flash of fireworks, accompanied by occasional notes from festival horns, enhanced the burgeoning mood of festivity and abandon.

Kal and Thront paused on a landing just south of The Rook and looked down over a courtyard.

A newly erected stage stood against one wall. Small, hairy creatures, with a myriad of boneless and squirmy appendages, played a bouncing and discordant melody on angular, black-lacquered string instruments. A legless, bell-shaped being, rainbow feathered and with a convulsing, vertical mouthslit performed a wheeling, rolling dance on the platform before them.

Spectators gathered near the musicians, and at the far end of the courtyard, near the Dynastic Way arch, a band Thyggll were throwing brightly colored dart-worms at each other. Laughter and applause of a thousands sorts echoed, reflected, and vibrated against the flags.

The landing sported several benches. Kal and Thront took one with a good view of the court. They purchased cigarettes from a nortish vender and watched the activity below.

"Same thing every year. You'd think they'd come up with something new, with all five moons in the sky and what not." Thront moved his pupil in a bored fashion.

"He turned it off, you know," Kal said.

"I am certain of it." Thront carefully exhaled smoke; the wind blew some back into his eye. He blinked rapidly; seated close, Kal could hear the squeaking noise that accompanied each muscular contraction of the great eyelid.

"Perhaps if we experiment with it-" Kal stood up.

"That won't be necessary; I memorized the sequence and pattern of Wister's palpitations."

Delighted, Kal released a rather unpleasant laugh. "Why do you think he did it? Turned it off, I mean."

"We'll have to get it reactivated to know that."

"Home it is then," Kal said. "We can catch the half-day ferry, and come back across, later, when things get more interesting."

They resumed their walk along the palisade; all sorts of folk crowded the thoroughfare; Kal saw an entire party of dundaszi, a Jik, three zimtors, a few reptarchs, several beings he failed to classify, and a great many norts- the city's dominate species.

The crowd grew, progress slowed. In an attempt to numb himself from the displeasure of the press, Kal stopped off and bought a small cask of nhurr for the walk.

"Five, five, five moons arise, and then The Dark Concordance..." A doomsayer, a snit with a ridiculous, pink cranial fin, forced past them, presaging a larger crowd wending southward along the palisade.

The traditional parade form 'Seven Paper Behemoth's' rattled along the avenue, towards them. Fireworks flashed, snapped and barked at the feet of the puppet dancers.

Kal pushed back from the procession and took a drink. He passed the cask to Thront, and went up on the monoch's shoulders. Once up, he leapt onto the exterior wall, found handholds in the mortar gaps, and scrambled to the top of the battlement. He scanned the oncoming throng.

The festival was beginning early; already, he could see it would be a much more frantic affair than the year previous'; after all, it was the turn of the centiad, five moons instead of four. The Dark Concordance would follow, marking the passage of an age; and, it seemed, every yokel and fretseed farmbeing in all existence had traveled to the leaning city to celebrate the occasion.

The crowd surged and reveled as far as he could see. Travel any further along the High Palisade would be, if not impossible, at least tiring and inconvenient.

Thinking that backtracking might be faster, Kal looked south, towards the Dynastic Way stair; he caught a glimpse of something yellow in the crowd.

Kal looked closer, squinted; the meafle from The Chamber of Unlikely Rarities walked northward.

He scrambled down the wall and returned to Thront. He took the cask and had a long drink. "Being followed," he said. Blue drops rushed down his chin, vanished into his collar.

"Please." Thront squinted with amusement. "The fellow from Wister's? Are you just spotting him now?"

Kal snorted. "Don't be silly. I marked him a quarter span ago."

They moved forward a bit. Thront swiveled his ocular case and panned behind. "He's still a good way back; lets split up- meet me at the ferry.

Kal nodded and without further discussion went over the side of the palisade. He leapt into space, careened through the air, and disappeared into a gust of roof fog.





Thront came off the stairs at a trot; he avoided the high traffic of Dynastic Way, and chose to travel the smaller, more residential streets instead.

Compressed buildings of blonde wood and azure mud brick crowded tight against one another. A mandate of the City's forgotten founder demanded style and cleanliness from residents; and indeed, stained glass, tooled woodwork, and tasteful fittings of magentax abounded; but although almost all the homes were attractive individually, and aesthetically pleasing in the context of their neighborhoods, a great many of them, the majority, in fact, were poorly built. Nearly every building leaked in the rain and exhibited cracks in its walls. Houses slumped and huddled, leaning towards each other across narrow alleys and constricted streets, like drunk and belligerent sailors.

There were braces everywhere, built of wood and stone, or sometimes hard, ebony crystal from Herratzu in the east. Many of these supports doubled as walkways and terraces; cafes were often built atop arches overgrown with flowers and leafy plants, further cluttering the upper spaces of the city, and hiding the streets below in nearly perpetual, if not unpleasant, shade.

Thront used the raised walkways and the tight, jubilant confusion of the narrow surface streets to lose himself. Emerging from the neighborhoods, he came out onto Troublecox Landing certain he'd thrown off any pursuit.

Kal awaited him on the ferry.

They crossed to Zimtur Isle and took a short, uphill cab ride to their bungalow. They remained outside the little house for several minutes, watching for signs of unwelcome interest.

The street remained clear. Thront gave a non-committal shrug and they entered the house.

After closing all the shutters and latching the front door, they set up in the oval-shaped drawing room. Kal activated a wallglow, and placed the memory egg on the table between them.

Thront leaned over and studied it for a long and silent space.

"My fingers are too large," he said.

Kal sat down and picked up the egg. "Tell me what to do."

Thront spoke directions in a quick, low voice. Kal's fingers moved over the surface of the artifact, applied pressure in a complicated way.

The screen of light came to life in the air between them.

"That's a map." Kal pointed at the dominant image he had earlier mistaken for abstract art. Pictures flashed along the square border: a huge dome of translucent red crystal, pyramids of glowing coins, objects of art...

"One moment." Thront dashed into the library; he returned with an atlas. He fluttered the pages. "That's the same coast- almost." He held up a map and pointed to a spot on its surface. "That's Xiang-Xiang, and here, that's the Sea of Mist" He shoved his finger into the screen of light.

Kal was infatuated with the sidebar images. "It's a treasure map."

"Don't be stupid."

"What is it then?" Kal said. "Certainly not 'strange budding'."

Thront looked at it the image; golden light glowed on his chitin. "An advertisement for a museum, perhaps from the Nhadite period..."

"If it is a museum from the Nhadite period, that works out to be a treasure map." Kal leaned closer to the glowing plain. "How far you figure that is?"

"Aboard The Siren? Three days, maybe four, but I cannot be certain; the waters are rough during the time of five moons, and during the concordance that follows, and, for a fact, the true dimensions of The Sea of Mist are unknown." He paused and ticked off figures on his wide fingers. "Even so, fuel costs for a short voyage would clean out the treasury, and I need to make some repairs. Sursha will be here in a couple more days. She can decide."

"I agree- er I mean, she should most certainly be consulted." Kal stood up and stalked around the room. "She doesn't need to know about our involvement with this fellow Wister, though, and we'd better hide this thing, just in case." He tossed the memory egg to Thront.



NEXT WEEK: All the nhur you can drink and dreamfruit you can eat as the Five Moons rise.


Thursday, June 6, 2013

Caverns of Empire, The Hidden Forest

Abstract: Ancient place, haunted by a tragic history. Quiet, but not silent. Peaceful, but not safe. Abandoned, but not empty.
Once a part of the main cavern network, the cave containing the Hidden Forest was sealed away from the other nearby areas in Kingdom times, and has since transcended concealment and become completely forgotten, or at least mostly so. A few explorers, escaped slaves, and slave chasers have stumbled into it over the years, but few survive and fewer still deign to talk of what they have seen.

Ape Burrows: these noisome caves are the residence of a band of white cave apes. Travelers will smell the place long before they see it.

Alabaster Landing: the Titan River touches the cave here, once there was a sort of temple in the place, but all that remains now is the odd pillar of mottled and dirty grey marble, and a flight of discordantly gleaming steps made of a stone so white that it seems to give off its own light. Curious ruinic inscriptions mark the steps.

Bonefloor: the floor of the entire Hidden Forest is covered in bones, remnants of an ancient battle. Over time, most of these bones have been covered with moss, fungus or some other living agent. In the rare places where this is not the case, a hard translucent mineral layer covers the bones.

Cave-in: area of the ante chamber comprosed of cave fall. The terrain is broken and jumbled here; it eventually becomes impassable as roof meets floor in a mad chaos of broken stone.

Camp: This is where Professor Goris (Troglodyte) has set up his residence while he works up the courage to explore the rest of the cave. He makes a good impression, but he was once described by an Endless as "that dimestore Rasputin." Although the meaning of the insult was lost on him, Goris has never gone a day since without pondering its significance. Usually, he decides that it was a complement.

Broken Bridge: A tumble down Kingdom structure; on either side of the river, the near twin remants of the bridge, each termainating in a blackened, shattered spur of sorcery twisted stone, extend less than a chain from the bank. Careful examination reveals the bridges destruction as a product of intent.

Mud Pools: Boiling mud comes to the surface in many places throughout the cave, but is most common in the regions at the cavern's northern extreme, near the Forgotten Road exit.

The Pit: Defunct surge hole, closed epochs ago.

Ruined Tower: A remant of the Kingdom's great anti-surge fortification.

The Sentinel: A huge reptillian beast of unknown kind stands guard over the Pit. Its eyes are vast dark pools in which it is said one can see one's own death. The mere sight of the creature summons up a feeling that surpasses both fear and grief at their respective extremes. Only the hardiest can remain in its proximity and any foolish enough to stay long, no matter their intial strength, succumb to madness.

A giant minotaur resides in the cave. He is a merceless hunter, never yeilding prey once he has made contact. He favors eating live game, and often carries about a still twitching victim while walking about in the bush. A noise like that of a thousand grinding and clanking machines emanates from the creatures as does an unbearable chemical stink.


Here are some bad pics of the master map, which is too large to scan.


Tomorrow, Beyond the Leaning City, Pt. 2