Planescape: The Peace of Bones
Excelsior! And by that I do not mean wood wool, a wood sliver material used for packaging, for the pads in evaporative coolers, and for other applications. But rather I do mean an expression of excitement and joyful superiority. Perhaps “Eureka!” would be more fitting? In any case, here I am in a previously undiscovered Prime Material world. Will my feet be the first to tread its sands, and will my lips the first to drink its waters? Are my hands the first to pick up fistfuls of the heavy blue sand, and am I the first to allow it to trickle through the crevices in my fingers? And if not, who has been here before me? Oh, divine is the experience of exploration! Surely now I know the mind of that god who gazes out upon his creation for the first time.
This journal has been enchanted such that my scribblings will appear in a corresponding journal in the personal library of Factor Ombidias, such that he might stay apprised of my findings. Hello, Ombidias! I hope all is well with you at the Great Foundry.
I have dubbed this world the Land of Blue Sand. I admit that it is not the most creative of names, but I do enjoy the internal rhyme, and it scans well. And, unlike many of the world names I have come across, it is apt. Precision is perhaps more important in this regard than poetic fancy.
I spent the day in discovery. My wanderings led me across a cold desert, up dunes and down dales, all composed of granular cobalt salt compounds. I can but speculate on the economic viability of exploiting all this cobalt, which exists in a near infinite supply here in this world. I do not know if there is sufficient demand among dyers and potters and painters for all this blue pigment, but surely it could be harvested with incredible ease here.
In my wanderings I have discovered little that could lend support to life. Is this world so sterile and stillborn as all that? A great node of geology, bereft of biological interest? Akidindelay’s Axiom states that “Where there is space, there is life, and where there is no space, there is life also.” We have observed life in the crushing depths of great mountains of elemental earth, writhing in the hearts of pure fire, traipsing about in the void of the upper airs. I have even heard tell of an insect that lives only in that flashing plasma of a lightning bolt, maturing and mating and dying inside the fraction of a second that the lightning lingers in the world. Surely something lives—in some form or another—in this world as well?
In faith, this world has a great many qualities that would recommend itself to natural life. It is far from being a lush garden paradise, but the atmosphere is breathable and the gravitation is Sigil-normal. The temperature falls a little on the cold side of comfortable, but I have certainly experienced worse in my ventures into the Demiplane of Ice and the Quasiplane of Vacuum. Does it not follow that Nature, as inventive and persistent as she is, should have found some purchase here?
In the meantime, it is well and good that I have brought with me sufficient provisions for the journey. Not trusting to chance to supply me with what meager provender I require to sustain my own small life, I took pains to garner provisions at Tivvum’s Antiquities prior to setting forth on my journey onto an unknown plane. I am glad of my Everburning Torches, my Eternal Quill, my Everlasting Rations, and my Instant Campsite. My Evernatty Leather Jacket and my Alwaysjaunty Fedora are working well to keep my warm in the cool that prevails here, although I have some doubt as to the continued efficacy of my Infinitelyunstinky Undergarments. Perhaps it would be possible to request a refund of Ms. Alluvius Ruskin when I return to civilization?
After another day of hiking up crests and down slopes, I have seen little evidence that there is anything here of note, other than the seemingly vast desert of cobalt aluminate sand. The night sky is quite the sight to see, with its three moons of varying colors and stars as bright as bonfires piercing through the spare atmosphere. But aesthetical phenomena aside, I have yet to discover anything that might recommend this world to further exploration.
I do not recall that I have ever been alone for this long. There is something stark and terrible in being utterly alone on an alien world. The wind acquires qualities of humanoid speech, sometimes yelling in rage, sometimes murmuring to comfort me, sometimes whispering paranoically at the edge of audition. And yet I know it is just wind, just air moving across the sand.
A point of interest! After achieving the top of a particularly persnickety dune this afternoon, I saw, in the distance, a curving band of purple snaking its way across the landscape. The purple was billowing in the stiff breeze, in a manner suggestive of the animation imbued in vegetation by a wind. My initial suspicions that this is a riparian area in the midst of all this magnificent desolation will have to wait for the morrow for confirmation.
For now, I comfort myself by dreaming of trees. Surreal purple trees they might be, but trees they are, and the company of another living creature in this world—vegetal creature or no—will be a balm to my lonely soul. In faith, it has been many years since I have seen a true plant. I would not count the scummy razorvine that infests the city of Sigil as being honest vegetable growth; it would be a disgrace to compare it to the staunch oaks, attarine roses, heavy-fruited apples, and sensitive ivies that I remember from my youth.
It is a river! Or a creek, more properly, as it is but ten feet wide and no more than one or two feet deep. The water flows at a moderate pace over rounded black rocks. Discretion might have insisted upon my testing the water for its fitness to drink prior to indulging, but I was so eager for the creature comfort of engage in a biological manner with the world once again that I threw caution to the wind, and determined that it was not poisonous (at least not immediately so), although it did possess a distinctly metalline taste. I have named this welcome discovery Respite Creek.
The vegetation that grows along the banks of Respite Creek is indeed after the fashion of trees. There are several species, but all are united in achieving a maximum height of perhaps fifteen vertical feet and having bark that is silver or grey in coloration and leaves that hew to shades of purple. I’ve distinguished three distinct species, one being most analogous to an oak and another to a balding willow. There is one tree with cork-like bark and five subulate leaves that radiate out from its boughs in a radially-symmetrical and star-like configuration. I have not seen a tree of quite this stripe before, and it may prove to be unique upon further study.
Even more interestingly, I am quite certain that I caught sight of some animal life skittering about among the rocks of the river. Several times I glimpsed flashes of vivid orange among the black rocks and blue sand. I did not get a sufficient look to satisfy my curiosity, but tomorrow I shall endeavor to make the acquaintance of whatever creature it is that lives in the river.
It is difficult to write today, as I am feeling faint and flush and feverish. The quill leaps and jumps in my hand as though it were playing at some kind of erratic dance. But the cause of natural history must go on!
I was certainly successful in my efforts, and now have a poisonous wound by way of proof. The flash of orange among the rocks revealed itself to be a myriapod, some three feet in length with an atrocious collection of scuttling legs and writhing antennae and mandibles like the recurved claws of a bear. I was able to get a look at the creature in some detail after one had latched onto the tender flesh between my thumb and first finger as I was in the river, overturning rocks in an effort to greet the natives. After I determined that much screaming at volume and flailing of the limbs was insufficient to dissuade the creature from its lunch of short pork, I was compelled to draw my dagger and render the creature down into its component segments. But even parting the body from the head did not cause those pinching jaws to relinquish their terrible death grip. At this point, I was in a utterly amazing amount of pain, and it felt as though the blood in my veins had been supplanted by molten gold. In spite of this, and in spite of the shuddering of my arms and the unsteadiness of my vision, I had to proceed with the delicate business of paring the head away from my hand with the point of my dagger.
There are many times in the course of my adventures when I wish that my dear Meglinde could see me in a moment of triumph. I wish that she could share in the exaltation I experience when coming upon a forgotten artifact, or being the first to glimpse a city that has been lost to history for ten thousand years, that she might understand what it is that draws me away from her loving embrace and her always succulent portobello pot pies. And then there are times when I am glad that she does not share in my adventures. This was one of the latter.
Subsequent examination of the creature’s corpse determined it to have features much in line with that of the centipede, though of an order of magnitude quite greater than that of most common species. It has sixteen body segments, each sporting two nasty little yellow legs. I would hazard that the orange color that predominates its carapace is aposematic, but what predators is it trying to warn away? I’ve yet to encounter any other animal here, and I dread to think on what horror might view this creature as a decent meal.
I have dubbed the creature Scolopendra Torgii, and bequeathed it the common name of the Motherfuckingnasty Myriapod. I briefly considered naming the new species after my chief rival in the field of natural sciences, one Trujillo van Chang, but I thought that he might interpret the taxonomy as praise rather than the ironical insult it was intended to be.
Scolopendra Torgii is undoubtedly venomous. The injury it gave me has turned a noxious black in color, and I still feel quite unwell some hours after being envenomated. I must rest for the remainder of the day. At least I have the soothing sound of water and the speech of the trees to keep me company now.
Still unwell. Vomited twice.
“Infinitelyunstinky Undergarments” is definitely a misnomer.
Still recuperating. Better today than yesterday.
A moth as large as my head flitted through the firelight tonight, but did not linger long enough for sufficient observation.
Still feeling somewhat shaky, I endeavored to raise myself up and continue my explorations this morning. I opted to follow Respite Creek in the assumption that, if there is any civilization or any wildlife to be found here, it might well be found in conjunction with water.
I was not let down. Several hours of trekking along the course of the stream led me to a small farmstead that stood next to a field of dessicated cornstalks and withered bean vines, quite incongruous in all the deadness of the desert. Beyond the farm, in the far distance, I could see a great clustering of forms out upon the blue sand like so very many stunted bushes. The dim sunlight shone on scattered surfaces among these clustered lumps, and I wondered if these were outcroppings of gypsum crystal or deposits of metal that had been scoured to shining by the wind. I closed carefully on the farm, fearful of any antagonism but eager to know the inhabitants; I had to see them for what they were, but what if they were sentient variations on the theme of Scolopendra Torgii?
As stealthful as I thought I was, I was nevertheless detected, and several creatures came boiling forth from the small doorway set in the circular farmhouse crafted of round black riverrocks. The first thing I saw was a monster not unlike some form of cnidarian that floated above the blue sand as its cousins float in strata of seawater. It was a pale white in color, and sported two eyestalks that bulged up from the top of its bell. When I saw this bizarre creature, I was instantly reassured. The other inhabitants proved to be of the Hin kind admixed with an infusion of human blood. Not natives to this world at all, then!
When they saw that I meant them no harm, they rushed me inside and slid a heavy stone slab door over the opening. They offered to share a humble repast of corn flatbread and bean mash with me. I made the counter-offer that they might all share of my Everlasting Provisions, and they were quick to accept.
The farmsteaders had come to this land through a random portal. Rather than seeking egress, they had opted to make a go of it here in the cerulean desert, as they had been searching for a place where they might live their lives in peace, away from the strife and factionalism of the planes. I took this knowledge in stead; I had not been this world’s first lover after all. But it was well, as the farmsteaders had had no interest in archeology or natural science outside of what was required for them to establish their stake.
It seemed, though, that archeology had taken an acute interest in them. For half a year had not gone by after the founding of their farm before a great army had encamped itself a mile distant in the desert. That had been the forms I had seen before and mistaken for bushes. But it was not a regular army at all, but an army of corpses—the thousand thousand dead of a whole civilization, disgorged by the sand to lay in wait around the farm.
This took me aback! I was eager to investigate the army, but the farmers were adamant in their discouragements. It seems that, at times, this great army of dessicate skeletons rose up into a parody of life and assailed the farm with volleys of crossbow bolts and surges of silent, death-sworn soldiers. The farmers were very much afeared that any provocation might animate the army once again, and involve the farmers in a desperate struggle for life. These battles had become wearingly commonplace, and even though the farmers had managed to dispatch many dozens of the twice-alive warriors by means of deftly-placed slingstones, every time there were many dozens more that sallied against their inadequate little fortress. The farmers had observed that there was one figure who rose above all the rest—seated as it was in a palanquin borne on the bony shoulders of four bearers. They estimated this figure to be a commander of some kind, although he had always been surrounded by so many rings of waiting soldiers with naked weapons that the farmers had never managed to get close to him. The family’s patriarch once attempted to slip past the inert skeletons unnoticed and dispatch this commander, but was lost in the effort, and a daughter had been lost to an unlucky crossbow bolt, as well.
I listened to this tale and gave it its due consideration. It was just as well that my oft-times companion Murin had not accompanied on this particular venture, as he would most likely have insisted on rushing off into the thick of the army and laying waste about him with his axe at that very moment. I would cast no aspersions on Murin’s abilities, but I do not think he is capable of dispatching an entire army by himself, even if he is capable in his own muddled mind.
I pressed the farmers for further details, and they informed me that they were aware of some kind of abandoned city a day’s travel from their farmstead. One of the sons had discovered it on an abortive hunting expedition and shied away for fear of ghosts and ancient curses. I pledged that I would go to this city and seek out any information that might be helpful to them in their struggles against the skeleton army, as would befit any right-souled explorer and Believer of the Source. They met my proposition with equal measures of doubt and enthusiasm. They insisted that I stay the night with them, and I rested on a cramped (even for me!) cot near the hearth. That night, I thought I could hear the jangling of bronze and the clacking of bones coming in from the desert, but I could never be sure that it was not my own imagination.
I set out for the city early in the morning. I cast a glance over my shoulder at the encamped army, and wondered if those closest forms were not a little closer than they had been the day before. I traveled through the dusky dawn and through the diminished noon and on into the chill evening before I pitched camp. In the waning light of the weak sun, I thought I saw something polished shine in the distance. That must surely be the city.
There are tracks in the sand here, though the wind endeavors to erase them as quickly as it can and return all the world to a primeval blank. I wonder who has made them? The feet look little larger than my own. I must make sure to cast a protective ritual or two before I bed down tonight.
The city swells out of the horizon, its domes like mountains in the vast flatness of the desert. Three times now I have felt the uncanny sensation of eyes upon me, but the sensation vanishes as soon as I turn to look. Twice I have glimpsed some movement in the periphery of my vision, but never does the source of the movement tarry to allow itself to be studied. I know I am not alone here, but this new company offers scant comfort.
I reached the city at midday—if indeed the weak warmth and watery sunlight that seep down from the copper-green sky can properly be called “day” at all. Its outlying buildings were mere huts made from blue sandstone, and there were a great many of these, many with crumbled walls and nearly all of them with their roofs stoven in. The prickling sensation of being watched by unseen eyes was strong here. I kept my senses sharp, the whispered words of an almost-completed cantrip kept skipping along the edge of my tongue and the sparks of a nascent scorching burst falling in droplets from my twitching fingers.
I threaded through the huts dissolving back into the desert towards the city core and the two largest buildings. One looked to be a black onyx dome rising on tall pillars a hundred feet high, and the other a massy ziggurat that had so impressed me as a mountain upon my approach. And yet I was not so intent upon my destination that I missed the whir of a projectile piercing the air behind my head, and I ducked to the side. Several creatures clad in blue robes the color of the cobalt sand had appeared from out of nowhere, and were now bearing down on me with spears whose heads were cut from jagged glass. I tossed a burst of wizardfire at them, and they emitted a high-pitched chittering sound and fled back into the cover of the ruins, their robes smoldering. Apparently my sometime companions are afeared of fire. Surely these degenerate creatures were not the architects and builders of this city.
I went on, towards the ziggurat. The shining coming from its zenith grew more intense, until it was as if there were a blinking star set upon the apex of that artificial mountain. Each step ascending the front of the structure was almost as tall as I was, and it took me the better part of the afternoon to clamber up to the summit, even though it must be said that, objectively, it was a rather modest hill instead of a true mountain.
Along the way, I observed that the sides of the ziggurat were of carven metal. This was not the blue sandstone that had comprised the worker’s huts, nor the black onyx that made up the domed temple and the rocks of the river. I could only imagine the effort required by a primitive people to forge many thousands of tons of metal derived from some distant source and then pour all that into the construction of such a structure, and then imagine only barely. The metal was badly eroded by the scouring wind, and many of the carvings had been sandblasted away into muted curves and mere suggestions of lines. The edges of the steps and the tiers, too, had perhaps once been sharp but had now been sanded down until they were soft and flaked away at the slightest touch. I endeavored to be as gentle as possible, but even so my every movement upon that monument sent clouds of flaked metal tumbling away into the wind.
At the summit, I found an altar enclosed within an alcove. Upon the altar was a globe of some kind of clear crystal, and it was possible to see some kind of thin black substance that was neither quite a liquid nor a vapor swirling and condensing in its depths. When the sun struck the crystal, it glinted, suggesting the stationary star I had seen before. I did not need to perform any extended analysis to know that there was an intense magic in that crystal.
The three walls of the alcove had shut out much of the wind, and here the carvings were still intact. Some are representational, and some are clearly a kind of pictographical writing by virtue of their smallness and repetition. The representational carvings, even given their bold primitivism and lack of subtlety and sophistication in their depictions, are enough to give a person pause. Depictions of horrific acts of violence are common—there is one figure, whom I have named the Grim King, who shows up again and again in the art, and always engaged in an act of violence. He towers over the other figures, and is ever perpetrating some kind of horrific act upon them, whether it be ripping the viscera from their bellies or lathering himself in the fountaining blood pouring from a dozen cut throats. The sheer number of slaughtered bodies lain about his feet is staggering, enough corpses to populate a dozen such cities as this. In most of the pictures the Grim King is shown in profile, but in one of the pictures he is staring head-on out of the metal and across the elapsed centuries, and there is a ferocity in those carven eyes that I find unsettling.
I will set to work on translating the glyphs in the morning. I believe that Rokonkwer’s Axiom of Convergent Linguistic Evolution should hold me in good stead here, and, unless I miss my guess, pictographs should correspond to syllables in the Common tongue. It will simply be a matter of puzzling out which syllable is which by means of collating the frequency of recurrence, and hope that my sample size here is not too small or too riddled with outlying isolates.
I take no joy in sleeping under the gaze of the Grim King. I will be sheltered from the wind tonight, but I’d rather be exposed and have the flesh flensed from my bones by the scraping wind that sleep in company with him.
I haven’t much time, either in the immediate sense for the composition of this journal entry, or in the broader sense of the time that remains to me in this mortal form.
In my dreams I thought I heard the clash of metal on metal and the creaking of old sinew and the clatter of bone upon bone. But these were sounds from the waking world.
When I opened my eyes upon the sullen morning, I saw that the ziggurat was encompassed for miles in all directions by forms squatting on the sand. It was a contingent of that undead army, come to punish me for my trespass. The soldiers seemed to be little more than skeletons held together with strips of tendon and parchment-thin skin, but their weapons of polished bronze looked more than deadly enough. I did not see them moving; when I awakened, they were all stationary, sitting there dead and dessicated among the sand and the rubble as though they had been sitting just so for a million years.
I allowed some small hope in my breast of being able to slip past the thousand soldiers without their noticing, although the farmwoman’s admonition rang loudly in my skull. Nevertheless, I had to attempt it. So, I clambered down the steps of the ziggurat and attempted to slip past the first rank of skeletal soldiers in my stocking feet. As soon as I approached, a great tremor rippled through all of the squatting soldiers, and they began to rise slowly up to their fleshless feet. I leapt back and went tearing back up the terrible height of the ziggurat, and after I had gone some distance they shuddered all and sank back down again. I made the exhausting climb back up to the top again, and determined to hold out here as long as I could.
With no exit, I resolved to read the heiroglyphs and learn what I could in the time that I had.
Broken Axe-Sword Sinister: A as in Cat
Broken Axe-Sword Rampant: A as in Ate
Whole Axe-Sword Sinister: A as in Artifice
Whole Axe-Sword Rampant: A as in Augur
And that’s all I have to show for three hours of work! Linguistics never was my forte. It would take weeks to decipher the whole of this language. I do not think I have weeks remaining to me. But if there is a secret in here as to how I might repulse this army, I must find it.
Dive, thoughts, down to my soul. Something stirs among the soldiers.
Day 14 (?)
Is it night? Is it day? I cannot tell. The light has blurred. My mind is blurred.
Burned bodies, dead twice over, litter the steps. And yet they keep coming, and coming, and coming. Don’t they ever stop? I throw fire upon them, and they just march into the flames, heedless of their own second deaths.
They fire volleys of crossbow bolts up at me, every time preceded by that awful hissing sound and followed by that dreadful sucking sound. I have the advantage of height, and the aim of those archers whose skulls have been emptied of eyes is not the best, but even so, I cannot forever hold out against those thousands of darts that come clattering down around me. Every time I incur dozens of superficial scratches and minor flesh wounds. Once I took a bolt square in the shoulder, and another time one lodged a mere inch away from my spine. It will only be a matter of time before I am struck through the skull.
They have paused now to regroup. They cluster around the palanquin, and the commander gives them orders without voice or gesture. Even now, I can hear the clattering of their bronze pectorals and the banging of bronze swords against bronze shields that heralds an attack.
I am sorry, Meglinde. And Murin—it looks as though you shall have to find another chess partner.
Was warm at first, but now not
Fingers shaking and I
Want somebody to find it
Ketherek. The Grim King.
The sacrifices in the pictures—necromancy, tied with the dark powers of the moon and the alignments of forbidden stars
Murdered all the nascent civilizations in this world, leaving it stillborn
In the orb