The Stone Doorway
0 comments The Journals of Edheldrin August 14, 2009 21:40
The twin Domes of Tari Surion, when they stood unbowed by time, must have been the greatest of all the wonders of the world. They were set in the ground, as nets which had somehow caught the stars themselves, and beneath them were carved out massive caverns. It is in these caverns that we live, to this very day. Their story has been lost to time, and so I cannot relate who built them or why. I can only tell you of them as they stand now.
The Domes are twins, and if they were whole, they would be alike in every detail. They are constructed from a type of material which is unique to them. It is harder than diamonds and milkier than moonstone, and even the tiniest slivers of it are revered as sacred items. It is not glass, and it is not a gem. How it came to be formed is another mystery, for any particle of it, no matter how tiny, is just as sturdy as the parent material, and cannot be cut or reformed by any substance or tool that is known to us. Only by magic can these little bits be worked into desirable shapes, and it is a tricky thing to do, even for the greatest masters among us.
This material is known as Surionite, or Domestone in the common tongue. It is formed into panes as if it was glass, and these panes are then placed into a large dome-shaped net of metal, in the manner of a stained-glass window. The Domes do not have any pictoral shapes, nor any colors, for Surionite is as white as mother’s milk. Yet the net is as beautifully and delicately woven as any spider’s web; indeed, the pattern of their interlacing is reminiscent of such a web. For this reason, the Dome which remains splendid in its unbroken perfection is known as the Spider Dome. Its sister is called Broken Dome. No one knows how it came to pass that Broken Dome was broken. It must have been a terrible thing indeed, for the Domes are a marvel of engineering perfection.
My people live under the protection of Spider Dome, and it is a place of wonder and beauty. Light filters in from above, but because the panes of Surionite are not clear, it is not possible to see the sky. It would be unlikely even if the panes were clear, for Spider Dome is so high that it would be impossible to come within sight of it without the trees.
The trees are massive. They are Redwood, and truly are they named, for healthy specimens of this wood are as crimson and orange as an old rusty nail. We do not cut the trees – nor would we dare to even if we wanted, for they are so enormous that the falling of one of these trees is a horror and a danger to everyone. Nevertheless, some trees occasionally do fall on their own, and these fallen trees provide wood enough to satisfy all our needs.
Every manner of creature that can be imagined lives in the forests which grow under Spider Dome. There are spiders, of course, but there are also butterflies and ants, stick-bugs and caterpillars, and every sort of insect that can be imagined. There are animals of every shape and description; large ones and small ones; birds and deer and lizards of every size and inclination dwell in the safety of the trees. A multitude of other plants also support the forest; there are smaller species of trees, and herbs and flowers and grasses, and any sort of growth that one could desire. It is the best of all possible lives, and we would not leave if it could be helped.
Yet, Broken Dome compels us to go.
We have known for many years that the ground and water of the surface world is hopelessly poisoned. Indeed, to this day there is lively debate about how this poison came taint the ground and water, and what sort of poison it could possibly be, for its deadly strength appears to be as potent now as it has ever been throughout our history.
It is certainly the reason that the domes were built in the ages long ago. The waters that flow underneath Spider Dome are as pure as any that presently exist in the world, and the ground untainted for the most part; but the forest under Broken dome is a different world entirely. The trees are as large as those under Spider Dome, but the poisoned water has had its effect even on these giants. Many are dead or dying, or treacherously hollow. The hollow ones fall too often, and they are so enormous that even the shell of one carries such a weight as to make the very domes themselves shake. Few are the plants that grow, and of these the primary varities are brambles, thorns, and poisoned mushrooms. The fruits and nuts are treacherous and toxic, and the animals are sickly and twisted, with missing limbs or too many eyes.
It is our great misfortune that Broken Dome is upper dome of the pair.
Thus, the majority of lives are spent in two pursuits. The first is the ever-continuing work to protect Spider Dome from the poisons of its broken sister. I shall speak of the second in due time.
It is only with the greatest difficulty that the poisons in the water and soil of Spider dome have been kept to minimal levels, and yet, with all of our efforts, we are slowly but surely losing the war. We are a dying people. Without the assistance of the Triune, we certainly would have already passed into memory.
The Triune consists of three members, each of whom represents a stage in the cycle of life. The greatest of these, and the one which we worship, is the god Zachnarae, the Diety of Renewal. His sister is the Goddess Ellasterii, Diety of Creation, and his wife is the Goddess Lloth, the Diety of Destruction.
Their relationship with each other is a complicated one, and thus our relationship with them is also complicated. Zachnarae is the primary diety of the trio. It is said that he tamed the ferocity of Lloth with his longsuffering patience, and through his faithful service, he won her heart. Thus the fury of Lloth, which is greater than all the swords and spears in the world, is contained by the mildest of words from the one that she loves. This is the most sacred of all principles. Lloth and Ellasterii are polar opposites; yet each loves Zachnarae, and so they can be coaxed to work together for his sake. This is the second sacred principle. Finally, like any family, the triune would be broken if any of its members were taken away. Lloth is unpopular, and yet she is needed for the good of all; one could no more dispense with her than one could dispense with Zachnarae himself. This is the third sacred principle. It is a generally accepted view that all three members of the Triune are invested in our continued survival.
Zachnarae’s contribution was the simplest, and yet, the most crucial. He simply told us what needed to be done.
His sister Ellasterii is credited for the existance of the Black Quarry. The Quarry is an awful and treacherous place, and yet it suits our needs so exactly that it hardly seems possible that it should be present by accident.
The Quarry is made entirely from a black stone which cannot be found in any other location. It is terribly heavy, but chalky to the touch. Its texture is reminiscent of charcoal, though it is far heavier, and for this reason it is most often called Black Charcoal. It is dreadful stuff to work with for its sheer inertia. It cannot be burned, and is too flaky to hold together well, but far too dense to easily break apart. Yet it must be mined so that it can be carried to Broken Dome, and so the Black Quarry is a constant beehive of activity.
The work is dreadful, and for that reason, no one is allowed to work at Black Quarry for too long at a stretch. Besides the hard work, the dust from Black Charcoal can get into the lungs and make one very ill. Thus those who are assigned to the Black Quarry are sent there for a two month rotation, and then are moved on to other duties. Two months is long enough to make the Black Quarry one of the most dreaded of assignments, but it is too short for the dust to make anyone truly ill.
The hardest work is done by Elementals, which are of course raised from the Charcoal itself. Charcoal elementals are the strongest of the Stone Elementals; but, like their element, they are terribly prone to inertia. Once started, they are difficult to stop, and once stopped, they are reluctant to be coaxed back into movement. The stone resists being cast into an elemental shape; but the elementals resist being dispelled back into stone.
Yet, the magic-wielders are obligated to struggle with them, for they are absolutely indespensible. No other type of stone elemental can dig Black Charcoal. Any other golem, once it was coated with charcoal dust, would freeze in place, and no amount of magic would be sufficient to make it move again. It would take many, many elves to haul the amount of Black Charcoal which we require, and for all their faults, the Charcoal Golems can carry amazing weights…. given enough time. It is a common sight to see a Charcoal golem plodding along with an enormous boulder of Black Charcoal, seeming to barely move, hopelessly outrun by galloping snails, only to place its burden in a cart for transportation, then turn and begin walking back to its post at the exact same pace as before. Indeed, the phrase “Slow as charcoal” comes from their famously plodding walk.
Once extracted, the charcoal is broken down into small chunks. This is done by those Charcoal Golems who are so slow as to be useless in moving boulders. There are many who are content to stand in place and smash rocks all day. Once broken into manageable pieces, the Black Charcoal is then loaded onto carts, which carry it to Broken Dome.
Working in Broken Dome is as treacherous as working in the Black Quarry is miserable. Every river or water source that flows from Broken Dome to Spider Dome has been mapped, and these rivers are meticulously maintained. It is horrifying work: but we dare not cease it.
The sole redeeming property of Black Charcoal is that it absorbs the poison which is present in the water. It is because of the charcoal that the waters of Spider Dome are still sweet. Each river that flows to Spider Dome has been routed to flow through certain checkpoints, which are monitored and maintained throughout Broken Dome. At these checkpoints, long riverbeds of Black charcoal have been installed, over which the poisoned water flows. As it does so, the charcoal absorbs a bit of the poison with which it is tainted. Thus, the water downstream is purer than the water upstream, and over the course of many checkpoints, the water becomes sweet enough to drink… yet, even then it is not truly pure. It is not possible to remove the poison entirely.
Maintaining the checkpoints takes a great deal of time and effort, and mistakes can be lethal. The main work is done by water elementals, who remove the old, spent charcoal, and distribute the new stones which are dumped into the water.
Unfortunately, the water elementals are all poisoned. None of them can truly be called sane, and they tend to form in twisted, bizarre shapes, regardless of the skill of the magician who has cast them. Working with a poisoned elemental is a bit like working with a lit firework; it is possible to achieve desireable results, but any mishap is likely to take your hand off. The poisoned elementals usually have short life-spans, for if kept in elemental form too long, they become violent, and will fly at their masters in the most terrifying fashion. Unsummoning the elemental does not always help, for even being splashed with the poisoned water can have deadly results.
For this reason, beds of the freshest Black Charcoal are always kept near the checkpoints. Anyone even suspected of having gotten wet is taken to one of these black charcoal beds, and covered from head to toe in pea-sized stones, leaving only their mouth, so that they can breathe. Many are the unfortunate elves who have had to spend a long day resting in one of these beds! Other remedies are also possible; slurries and steam can be made as needed, and any variety of pastes or ointments. Deaths from the poisoned water are rare; but they do occur, particularly at the uppermost checkpoints, where the elementals are the least stable. Even the smallest checkpoint has a healer or cleric on duty at all times.
Another problem is snow. Broken Dome allows snow to drift in from outside, and like all water sources in Broken Dome, the snow is nearly as poisonous in snowflake form as it is while it is liquid. For this reason, checkpoints are usually situated in nooks or crannies which receive little snowfall. These areas are then placed under tents and sails made from cloth which has been well-soaked in Black Charcoal, to ensure that no treacherous bit of sleet or snow can find its way to poison those that dwell within. Pathways are also made from charcoal pebbles, and the stones of the floors in the buildings are cut from it. Even the boots which are issued to the workers are lined in Charcoal-cloth. The main road which connects all the checkpoints is known as Charcoal Road, and it has long since turned black from dust and pebbles escaping the transport carts.
The final step in the purification of the waters involves disposing of the spent charcoal. Of all tasks, it is the disposal which is the most treacherous. The poison is so potent that it poaches the blackness right out of the Charcoal, so that eventually the black stones turn white.
White Charcoal is the deadliest substance of which we, as a people, are aware.
The smallest pebble of White Charcoal is sufficient to poison the tallest, largest redwood tree. So concentrated is the poison of the White Charcoal that merely approaching it too closely is often enough to sicken the healthiest elf. Its toxicity is such that it cannot be handled by any living creature. Even more unfortunately, White Charcoal still retains much of its original properties, and is as heavy as ever. No magic user would ever dare to make an elemental out of such a substance!
The necessity of its disposal was what drove us to the most terrible of actions. It has come to pass that we, ourselves, are the main contributors to the extensive damage that Broken Dome now displays.
Surionite is the only possible substance in which White Charcoal can be transported with any degree of safety. Though it is exceedingly difficult to do, each year teams of skilled craftsmen enter Broken Dome with the intent of harvesting a few panes of Surionite. Once removed, these panes and their supporting metal structure are returned to Spider Dome.
These occasions are marked by both great triumph, for the panes are all but impossible to remove, and solemnity, for every pane means that a bit more of our protection has been stripped away, a bit more poison will filter into Broken Dome, and a bit more Black Charcoal will be required to keep it at bay. Every year we search for an alternate solution. And every year, we again discover that there is no alternate solution. None at all.
Surionite is impossible to cut: but it can be formed by magical means. From it, a number of containers are made. These are mostly jars, but other shapes, such as sieves, boxes, and caskets, are also possible. Surionite is so valuable that not even the most minute speck of dust can be wasted. Most of the common folk have never seen Surionite, save for Temple ceremonial items. Every vessel is planned with the utmost care.
It is into these jars, then, that the Water Elementals place the White Charcoal. The poison in these cursed stones swiftly drives them mad, and often it is necessary to summon a new elemental for every pebble that is removed. Black Charcoal is layered in with the White, to try and allay the effects of its poison, and so a jar, once filled, shows both black and white stones. A thick layer of Black Charcoal is then poured in on top. Finally, the jar is sealed and tightly wrapped in Charcoal-cloth, which is itself then sealed.
When a sufficient number of jars has been gathered, an expedition is made to the Fury of Lloth.
The Fury of Lloth is a tall mountain on the surface of the world, which lies in close proximity to Spider Dome. Thankfully, it is at a somewhat lower elevation. The Fury is not a particularly active volcano, as volcanos go. It has never actually exploded; but from time to time, the liquid rock within it will overflow and gurgle slugglishly down to the river, which hisses and spits in the most violent manner. Sometimes storms are caused by these occurances, and these storms are particularly ferocious, sometimes lasting for weeks.
In the long past, the Fury of Lloth must have been a much greater volcano than it is now. It is sometimes called Fire Dome, for its shape is vaguely reminiscent of the twin Domes of Tari Surion. Fire Dome shows signs that once, in ages past, it must have been filled with molten rock, to its very brim. Now, however, the magma is far below the level of the dome. The dome is punctured with many holes, and it is possible to look through these holes and see the bubbling lava far below. The most accessible of these holes is known as the Mouth of Lloth. It is not the largest hole, but it is of sufficient size for our needs, and in spite of its depth, the ground nearby is not so treacherous as the uncertain terrain around most of the Dome. The drop to the lava below is particularly long, and it seems to burn especially hot deep below the Mouth. It is an eerie place; sometimes it burns with a queer, greenish flame. Nothing lives there, not even an insect, but this is not uncommon on the blighted and barren surface.
The journey to Firedome is nonetheless a treacherous one. Everything is poisonous, the snow and the stones and those few twisted monsters that are unlucky enough not to live underground. Most of the work is done by Strawmen, which are grass golems grown for the express purpose of making these pilgrimages. But grass golems are not clever, and so there must be magic users to oversee them; and magic users could potentially be endangered by some of the wicked surface monsters, which have been so deformed as to be immune to magic; so soldiers must accompany the magic users.
And the common folk accompany them all, for the Surionite jars do not only contain the toxic White Charcoal. They also contain the remains of the dead.
It is said that elves are immortal. This may be true for other elves; but I think perhaps the elves for whom this is true are those who are so fortunate as to live in lands that are not so deeply poisoned. We have long lives, it is true; but we all die and, barring some accident, we all know how it will happen, for the poison in the waters and soils eventually collects in our bodies. We are as white as the poisoned snows that we fear, and the White Charcoal that we dread. We know when our time comes. It is a thing that cannot be explained; it is simply understood.
It is the gift of Zachnarae that our souls are able to commune with each other. When one comes to understand that one’s time is upon them, a priestess is summoned to the deathbed. The priestess brings with her a purple widow spider, which is given to the invalid along with final rites. The poison of the purple widow is swift and painless. It is always the choice of the invalid whether not to use the spider; but most do rather than face the long and protracted death.
Once the passing has occured, though, the body must still be disposed of. It cannot be buried, for it is full of poison, and good land is too precious a commodity to risk. It is therefore burned, and the ashes sealed in a Surionite jar. These jars are then taken to the Mouth of Lloth along with the White Charcoal. Many are the grieving lovers, siblings, or parents of the deceased who wish to accompany the pilgrimage, and with their own hands consign the sacred ashes to the flames.
This is done by the use of magic. The White Charcoal must be disposed of; but the Surionite jars are too valuable to be lost. By magical means the jars are levitated over the mouth, opened, and their contents dumped into the flaming rock. By the time that this is done, the White Charcoal has usually succeeded in corrupting the Black, and so the stones are invariably white, regardless of how much black was present to start with. The charcoal-cloth is dumped as well, as are the grass-golems, and everything else for which disposal is required.
It is a mark of the strength of the Surionite that the jars, themselves, are not poisoned after containing the deadliest of all things. Nevertheless, no chances are taken. The empty jars are wrapped in fresh Charcoal-cloth, then taken back to the Black Quarry. There the cloth is examined for any trace of discoloration – a sure sign that the White Charcoal has managed to contaminate the jar itself. This happens only very rarely, and only with the oldest and brittlest of jars.
The death of a jar is a terrible thing. Sometimes it can be saved; but most of the time it must go to the Mouth of Lloth with the next expedition. No matter how careful we are, it seems that every expedition carries with it a broken jar; and every year, we must harvest more panes from Broken Dome to replace them.
All jars, no matter their condition, are rested for three years following an expedition. They are buried in the jar-beds in the Black Quarry. The jar-beds are a bit like the beds used in Broken Dome, filled with pebbles from top to bottom, but they are smaller, and the pebbles are finer. The unearthing of a fresh batch of jars is always a cause for celebration, and occurs three times a year. The unearthed jars are then sent to Temple for inspection. Only when they are certified as fresh and undamaged can they be brought back to Broken Dome.
These three tasks – the gathering of Black Charcoal, cleansing of the streams, and disposal of White Charcoal – are known as the Three Duties, and every able-bodied elf is conscripted to do them. Two years out of every ten each elf must serve in the Common Forces. The Common Forces can include military troops, but more often involve services doing or supporting the Three Duties. Magic users are in the highest demand, but every field and profession is needed in some manner or other.
The Three Duties are the first of our tasks.
The second is simply called The Promise. Its proper name is the Prophecy of Zachnarae, but it is only called such during ceremonial occasions. Whatever it is called, it has soaked into our lives as deeply as the poisons around us.
The precise words of The Prophecy of Zachnarae are too sacred to include in a common letter such as this. The Prophecy is read once every ten years, during the Year of Harmony, so that even the smallest child may be familiar with it; but its exact words are not spoken at other times. It is too holy for that. The promises are actually three promises, one from each member of the Triune.
The sum of the Promise occurs in three parts or stanzas. The first of these is dedicated to Lloth, whom Zachnarae loves above all things, and speaks of the Fury of Lloth. It describes the intervention of Zachnarae with Lloth herself, and of Lloth’s agreement to stay her hand until the Promise can be completed. This time is referred to as the Era of Patience, and it is the Era in which we currently live. At the end of the Era of Patience, the Fury of Lloth will present itself in a mighty explosion which will shake the very foundations of the world, shattering both Broken and Spider domes, and filling the caverns with molten magma. There are certain signs and portents that are associated with the unease of the mountain; and each expedition that scales the slopes checks for them carefully. It is the promise of Lloth that the mountain shall not overflow while we yet remain under Spider Dome.
The second stanza of the Promise refers to a new place, as yet unknown to us. This new place is most commonly called “The caverns of light and darkness,” and is said to be housed in cliffs of glass. Much work and sacrifice will be required for this place to be found and prepared for us. In this we are to model ourselves after Zachnarae himself, whose love for Lloth allows him to bear all things for her sake. It is the promise of Zachnarae that we have not been forgotten, and that somewhere a new home awaits our coming.
The final stanza is dedicated to Ellasterii, and the new beginning which shall occur in the Caverns. This stanza is considered the most beautiful of the three, and certain phrases from it are often recited at joyous occasions such as weddings. It speaks of the growth of a new forest, of new plants and animals, and of the beauty of the Caverns. It is the promise of Ellasterri that we shall not pass into history, but that we shall live, and begin anew.
The keeping of the Stanzas is our second task.
Each stanza is considered to be the responsibility of the corresponding Acolyte. There are three types of Acolytes, each following a member of the Triune: Acolytes of Lloth, Acolytes of Zachnarae, and Acolytes of Ellasterii. All Acolytes are considered equals to each other.
It is the responsibility of the Acolytes of Lloth to monitor the mood of the Fury of Lloth. Careful observations are made of the amount and type of smoke produced, the amount of space between the lava and the dome high above it, and the type and frequencies of any overflow. It is the Acolytes of Lloth who are responsible for the disposal of White Charcoal; it is also their responsibility to bring Purple Widows to those who wish them. The Acolytes of Lloth, like the Goddess herself, tend to have temperments which are somewhat volatile, and thus the Order tends to experience a great deal of flux within its own ranks, with members promoted or demoted much more quickly than the other Orders. The ranks of the Order are overwhelmingly female, and many are deeply involved with the Acolytes of Zachnarae.
The Acolytes of Zachnarae tend to be the most mild-mannered of Acolytes. It is their responsibility to ensure the digging of Black Charcoal, its transportation to Broken Dome, and the maintenance of the River Checkpoints. Their craft halls are also responsible for producing Charcoal-cloth, and the various products, such as slurries, which are made from Black Charcoal. Their ranks are overwhelmingly male, and many are deeply involved with the Acolytes of Lloth.
The Acolytes of Ellasterii perform those duties which relate to the Promises. When we leave, what shall we bring with us? What shall be saved from the Fury of Lloth? These questions, and many others, are of vital importance to this Order. The Order of Ellasterii is responsible for the working of Surionite, but they are also responsible to maintain preparations to leave the Domes, and move to the Caverns of Light and Darkness.
Such is the importance of the Promise of Ellasterii that the available supply of Surionite is split between the orders of Lloth and Ellasterii. The Acolytes of Ellasterii have made a passion out of cataloging, a field which they pursue to this day. It is their intention to save specimens of every type of creature that exists under Spider Dome; for the promise is that none shall be wiped out. Thus they have collected a great number of Surionite jars, and in these jars, our future is stored. The Acolytes of Ellasterii have stored seeds of every description in these jars; but much more has been stored there as well.
In a Surionite jar, it is possible to place things in suspension, by means of certain magical weavings. This suspension is useless for any day-to-day purpose, for the weaving and unweaving take such power, skill, and time that any common usage is worse than impractical. For extremely long-term storage, however, it is a wonderful thing, and this Order has perfected its use. There are many jars in which eggs have been Preserved in this fashion; they will remain just as they are, for all eternity, until they are removed from their jars, at which time they will hatch in the usual fashion. Many tiny things, such as insects, have been preserved whole.
Our entire way of life has been focused upon the idea of packing up and leaving at a moment’s notice; and it is the Acolytes of Ellasterii who are responsible for coordinating it all. Every household is arranged so that the occupants may grab their things and fly out the door; every road is designed for evacuation; the Temple itself is set up to be broken down, picked up, and carried away. Thus do we live; for it is the opinion of all that the time of the Promises are close upon us.
Of this, I may speak no more in this letter, for my own time grows short; but I shall elaborate further when I write again.
Until then I remain, Edheldrin
0 comments The Journals of Edheldrin Part II
August 14, 2009 21:41
When last I wrote, we were speaking of the Acolytes of the Triune, and their place in our society. I would speak more of this, for there is a great deal yet to be said.
To better understand the system of Acolytes, it is first necessary to have a better understanding of Temple; and for that one needs to have a better understanding of the way that the Kingdom of Luthien is laid out.
Luthien is tiny as lands go, only as large as the boundaries of Spider Dome, but we are the only underground kingdom of which we are aware. The surface lands are endless, sprawling, and mostly barren. We know of only one river, which flows into the Tari Surion and out again; to the east and west of it are endless, poisoned deserts. To the North and South is open, rocky land; but it is mostly unexplored and unmapped. Those maps which we do possess are the result of certain bargains made with the Colara .
The Colera are one of only two surface races which are known to be intelligent. These fortunate creatures are immune to poison – and in fact, their tough pelts, stiff fur, and thick armor make them almost immune to harm of any sort. They resemble bears in appearance, but they are pure white, as are nearly all things who have survived the poisons of the world. They have jewelled eyes, by which it is possible to tell them apart; for otherwise they are identical. They are deeply magical creatures, and it is said that they can sing to each other, no matter how distant they may be, and they can also sing to the stars themselves. Not all of these songs are audible to the Elvish ear: but some are, and it is considered good fortune to hear the song of a Colera.
They are shy creatures, even with each other, and it is unusual to see more than one at a time. In fact, I myself have seen multiple Colera only once in my lifetime, and that was a sad day indeed.
Under normal circumstances, Colera are only seen by the odd expedition. We feel that it is our duty to recognize their solitary nature, and so we rarely seek them out. Occasionally, though, an expedition will meet a Colera, and when this happens, it is possible to bargain. Without exception, these occasions have occurred only after all white charcoal has been disposed of, and the expedition is on its way to return to the dome. We aren’t sure why, as it seems that Colera can survive proximity to White Charcoal. Only one has ever commented directly upon this substance, and his comment is still being debated, years afterwards: “Too spicy,” is the way that he put it.
However, the Colera view Black Charcoal as a certain type of medicine. It seems that it is possible for even the tough Colera to have an upset stomach, and Black Charcoal is soothing to them. It is possible to find Black Charcoal on the surface, particularly on the slopes of the Fury of Lloth, but the Colera claim that this surface Charcoal is salty and bitter, and not at all pleasant to chew on. Queasy Colera are much happier to gnaw on Black Charcoal from the Quarry, and there are reliable reports that some have even eaten stones whole.
For this service, they are usually willing to trade songs or information from other Colera about the conditions on the surface. This is very useful to us, and whenever possible we make bargains to receive information about the surface conditions for the next expedition.
It was from a Colera that we learned what had happened to my sister’s expedition.
Her name was Lessien, and she was my older sister. My father is Maranwe. He lives still, and rules the kingdom with a just hand. My mother’s name was Tamuril, and my father loved her more than anything else in the world.
But they were both very old, and it happened that the time for my mother’s passing came sooner than my father’s. Sometimes the poison in the world means a long, slow descent to death, and sometimes it means a purple widow. But sometimes it means going to sleep in the night and never waking again in the morning; and so it was with my mother. Father was devastated, and so, indeed, was the entire kingdom. Mother was very much loved for her gentle wisdom and her quick laugh, and her death was deeply mourned by everyone.
But not even death can erase the need to pursue the Three Duties, and so Lessien took up the mantle in her stead. Although she was more like Father in manner and appearance, and never had mother’s gentle nature, she was nevertheless very talented in her duties, and so quickly became revered for her cleverness and decisive manner. Father came to rely on her greatly, as did we all.
Mother’s Guardian was an Acolyte named Earwen, and upon her passing, Earwen became the guardian of Lessien. As was traditional, Earwen was an Acolyte of Zachnarae. As I, myself, am not a member of this order, I cannot present it in the wealth of noble history that it deserves, but present it only in basic outline.
Those that require Guardians invariably draw them from this Order. Their members are noted for their prowess at combat. It is not wise to engage an Acolyte of Zachnarae in a fight! They are skilled with all weapons, but are equally as fearsome when empty-handed.
The Order believes in the nobility of loyal service. While they train ferociously, much study is given to the life and temperment of Zachnarae, who turned aside the wrath of Lloth not by fierceness of weapons or force of will, but rather by service, wisdom, and patience. A mild temperment is considered to be a great boon among these Acolytes, and they deeply value times of quiet contemplation. Their Temple is an oasis of tranquility, situated in one of the least-poisoned valleys under Spider Dome, and features soft burbling streams, well-tended trees, and gardens of pebbles. Yet, they train ferociously, and their order holds other contrasts as well.
The ceremony of Auction is one of these contrasts, and shows just how deeply the concept of the faithful servant is ingrained.
This is a joint ceremony which takes place to mark the graduation of the Acolytes of Lloth and the Acolytes of Zachnarae. The hopefuls for these orders spend much time in preparation and study. For the Acolytes of Zachnarae, the ideas of selfless service are emphasized. For the Acolytes of Lloth, the ideal is one of noble leadership; the noble leader does what is necessary to survive, but does not do so selfishly; the concept of “no one left behind” is a potent driving force.
Legend has it that Zachnarae was auctioned as a slave, and it was Lloth who purchased him; and this legend is honoured in the ceremony of Auction, as are the highest ideals of both Orders. The hopefuls of Zachnarae allow themselves to be auctioned as he was. In doing so, they give up their former existance, and become full-fledged Acolytes, choosing to dedicate their lives to loyal service. The hopefuls of Lloth take the first step of Leadership, choosing someone to serve them, and in doing so become full-fledged Acolytes.
Others may take part in this ceremony as well; Houses that require Acolytes are sometimes allowed to participate in the bidding along with the hopefuls. This spurs competition, which is fierce among the Acolytes of Lloth in particular. It is by no means certain that an Acolyte of Lloth will graduate; an empty-handed bidder must remain a hopeful until they can try again during the Auction of the following year. It is not uncommon for a Hopeful of Lloth to try five or six years running before successfully obtaining graduation. Once the Auction is over, it is traditional for the new Acolytes of Zachnarae to be taken to their new home, led on a rope with their hands tied. Often people will cheer when the new Acolytes come from Temple to the square. Once the Acolytes reach their various new homes, (or the inns where they are staying, if they have come into town specifically for the event) the ceremony is concluded.
By tradition, once the ceremony has been completed, there is a feast. The feast is given by the Acolytes who graduated the prior year, and all the new Acolytes return (without the ropes this time) to the square, where this great event is celebrated by everyone. Those who were paired in Auction sit together, and if there are any House bidders, who might have come to employ two or three new faces if they represent a large House, they also sit with their new Acolytes. Everyone knows that the following day will bring hard work for all; but the evening is given to celebration. Families give gifts to send their children off to their new homes, and the magical Guilds pride themselves in displays of magnificent, sparkless fireworks.
The ceremony of the Auction is meant to pay homage to the terrible ferocity of the first meeting of Lloth and Zachnarae, and to that end it tries to replicate some of that dread atmosphere; but it is in truth a joyful thing. With the exception of certain meditations, which can be fiercely painful, no Acolyte of Lloth would ever dare to harm an Acolyte of Zachnarae! To do so would be to invite the wrath of the Triune, not only upon the one who had given the offense, but upon their entire House! Even those Houses who are not part of Temple respect this rule. The Acolytes of Zachnarae are dedicated to service; but this service is an honoured and respected thing among our people. Their opinions are often sought, and given careful consideration when obtained; indeed, the giving of good advice is considered to be a mark of skill among these Acolytes. It is an honour to have an Acolyte in one’s house, and they are treated with the courtesy that their rank demands. If an Acolyte were ever to express the sentiment that they were in a House which was unsuitable for any reason, they would be instantly removed, and all the Houses know it.
This is how most Acolytes are sent to their assignments. However, Earwen did not come to us in this way, exactly.
The Ceremony of Auction is too important to the Acolytes of Zachnarae to dispense with; but my family cannot participate in it directly. Such is the honour and deference shown to Father by the common folk, that an appearance by him in Auction would be disruptive. But, the mental and spiritual implications of the Ceremony are such to the Acolyte that it cannot simply be dispensed with.
Thus, Earwen came to us – or specifically, to Mother – via a small specialized subset of this Ceremony, known as a Private Showing. Unlike the usual Auction ceremony, those presenting themselves are not the hopefuls, just graduating into adult Acolytehood, but rather those experienced veterans whose skill, character, and prowess make them fit for such service, and who wish to volunteer for a specific opportunity. When Mother was a girl, she attended such a Showing with her own mother, and selected Earwen out of the hopefuls presented. She grew up with him; he was there when she married Father; he was there when Lessien and I were born. After Mother’s death, he guarded Lessien with the same faithful patience that he had always shown to Mother herself. When Lessien died, he was there, and died with her. I suppose that would have been the way he wanted it.
The Colera who witnessed the event told us later what happened to Lessien.
One of Lessien’s duties was to escort the expeditions to the Mount of Lloth, and of course Earwen went with her, as he always did. The expedition was uneventful until they were on the Black Plain. At that time, the Black Plain was the canyon by which magma always spilled during those occasions when it burbled down to the river. Needless to say, expeditions were not mounted during these times! However, the magma only rarely spilled over, and most of the time, the Plain remained a gently-descending slope with a rather rippled pattern to it, surrounded on both sides by great climbing walls of steep rock. Sometimes snow would stick to it; other times it would be too warm, and the snow would melt, making it contrast very nicely. Expeditions do not follow its length, but cross at the botton of the canyon it in a perpendicular fashion. This was what Lessien’s caravan was doing when disaster struck.
The Colera was following the expedition, with the intention of bargaining with it once it returned from the Mouth of Lloth, when there came a great Earthshake. We had not had these Earthshakes previously; but we have had several since. The Earthshake dislodged many of the loose stones and boulders which had previously set high above. A few of the most precarious came tumbling down at once; and in their wake, a gigantic avalanche followed.
The expedition tried to take cover: but luck was not with them. One of the very first stones struck one of the carts. Surionite itself is too tough to be damaged by such a stone, but the stone ripped the Charcoal-cloth, shattered the seal beneath, and dislodged all the jars. The unsealed jar went flying with the rest, and its white charcoal contents burst in every direction.
Everyone died. Just like that. They had no marks, and felt no pain, and fell dead before the Charcoal hit the ground. They were dead when the avalanche reached them, and buried the valley in stones, nearly all the way up to the top. Everything was lost; the expedition was lost, and the jars were lost, and Earwen and Lessien were dead.
So said the Colera, whom we found shortly afterwards. He was very sick – in all of our history, we had never before seen a sick Colera. He was too weak to chew, and so we brought him Black Charcoal slurry, which he lapped as often as he could for the next several days. We wrapped him in sheets of Charcoal-cloth as well. At length other Colera came to take care of him, which they did by licking and grooming his fur almost hair-by-hair. Though we had never seen a Colera with messy fur before, his was matted and tangled together as if it had been felt, and the Colera explained that it was this which was making him so sick. They showed us how to wash the fur in Black Slurry. We were afraid that he would die as well; but after several Slurry washings, some significant loss of fur, much grooming, and much combing, he declared that he was feeling better, and sat up, and told us what had happened.
This event – the loss of the expedition – is considered to be the beginning of the end of the Era of Patience.
Father was mad with grief, and the kingdom was all but paralyzed with the shock of this horrible disaster. But our trials did not end there.
The Black Slope was now blocked with boulders. The shape of the Mouth of Lloth, (if taken in its entirety, rather than just considering the small hole we usually utilize,) had until that time been rather mouth-shaped. That is to say, it had been in the shape of an incomplete circle, its lines interrupted by a long “tongue.” With the Slope blocked, the circle is now unbroken, the “tongue” has been cut, and the magma no longer has a way to reach the river.
We had hoped that the next eruption would produce magma of sufficient weight to dislodge the blockage and again continue to the river, if in a messier fashion than normal. We even sent parties to the area in the hope that they could study the fall, and sabotage it in such a way that the next eruption would be sure to break through it. Unfortunately for us, that did not happen. In the next eruption – which occurred only two days after the expedition had been lost – only a trickle of lava was able to escape the boulders and find its way down the slope, and it soon cooled, blocking its own path. The remainder of the lava produced served only to cement the loose boulders together into a solid mass. None of the material from that eruption escaped from the Mouth, and no more magma has since been seen on the slope.
As might be expected, the level of magma inside the mouth is now rising. We know this beyond a shadow of a doubt, for we long ago marked the Mouth in many places with fire-glyphs which indicated the depth of the glyph in relation to the top of the dome. Four sequential glyphs have so far been covered, and it is expected that a fifth shall be drowned either this year or next. Though we never before knew Earthshakes, we are experiencing them with increasing frequency and severity. It is the view of all that it is now only a matter of time before the Mouth of Lloth erupts as was prophesied.
But, to return to the aftermath of the disasterous expedition; Father was beside himself with grief. He was so distraught that I was afraid he would do himself an injury. The kingdom was in mourning, Temple was in chaos, and I was abruptly put in a position of leadership.
In my opinion, this did not work out at all well. Lessien was extremely clever at such things, and her talents really showed themselves when facing some crisis or other. Unfortunately, I possessed neither Lessien’s raw talent, nor the benefit of Mother’s endless ages of experience, and so the transition was overwhelming. To this day I believe it was sheer luck that the kingdom survived intact.
And it was during this time that Arveldir came to be in the family.
Father insisted – and the Order of Zachnarae agreed with him – that a new Guardian must be appointed at once. I had never heard of such a thing, or even conceptualized the idea of having any other Guardian than Earwen. He had been as much a member of the family as any of us, and the grief of losing him was no less than losing Mother or Lessien. The very idea was repellant to me. I didn’t want another Guardian. As if Earwen could have been replaced!
But Father was adamant, and not to be disagreed with. He would not be able to go to a Showing, and so I was to go in his place.
Father has not been able to walk from my earliest childhood memories of him. Such is the effect of the poison upon my people. This has not hampered him greatly, for he runs things from his palette in the Royal chambers, and has a litter bourne by four Acolytes if the need should arise for him to go somewhere. He dislikes using it, and prefers to stay where he is as much as possible. The Acolytes, on the other hand, have planned for his eventual movement, and have all but tilted heaven and earth to ensure that everything is always prepared for him. In spite of this, Father insisted that it would be improper to go to a Showing in this fashion.
It was not my wish to go to a Showing at all, and that alone would normally have been fatal to the idea. The concept of voluntary choice and free will is deeply revered by the Order, and under normal circumstances, no one would ever have been allowed to participate in Auction that had doubts about whether or not they wanted the services of an Acolyte. However, the concept of faithfully fulfilling one’s responsibilities was an equally important idea. In such an extreme time, it was judged that faithful responsibility outweighed doubt, and the Order agreed to the Showing.
The Showing was held one week after the loss of the expedition, and the day after we had definitely determined that the rockfall had been cemented together by magma, and that the tongue of Lloth was cut. I couldn’t have thought of a worse time in which to hold a Showing. Father had strictly forbidden me to shame the Acolytes by showing any reluctance or doubt towards them, and I did try, but I doubt I was very successful. Lessien was always able to project an expression of grave attentiveness, and Earwen of course was always an oasis of calm strength; but I have never been able to duplicate them. To this day I have what could best be called an honest face, and even though I have now had much practice at the “grave attentiveness” expression, it is not natural to me, and my face still betrays me when I am upset or surprised.
When I came to the Showing, I secretly doubted that any Acolytes would submit themselves to a family that, at that moment, really didn’t want them. It wasn’t until much later that I learned that all but the entire Order had volunteered for the post, and that the whole week had been consumed by the most ferocious competitions to determine those whose skills were so unparalleled as to be allowed to participate. Hundreds of Acolytes had tried for the position, and from these hundreds, some three dozen had been hand-selected for the Showing itself. I was greatly surprised to be presented with so many choices.
This was traditionally done in the nude, and at another time I might have greatly enjoyed a parade of three dozen nude men. That day I was hardly in the mood, for I missed Earwen horribly, and privately hoped that all of the Acolytes would be unsuitable, and that I would be able to go home alone, for I didn’t want another Acolyte to take Earwen’s post. Unfortunately, it didn’t take two minutes to see that every one of them was supremely qualified and a worthy heir to their predecessor, and from that point I was committed, like it or not – and I didn’t.
I am sorry to say that I was hardly a worthy participant of a Showing. Such times ought to be approached with a certain gratefulness and joy, in full awareness and happiness that a new member is to join the family, not with the sort of angry, miserable dread with which I was filled. I did try to be polite, for I felt bad for the Acolytes, and tried to remember everything that Father had told me in the last week or so; the importance of posture and stance, and what to look for in movement, and all the rest of it. I had been able to recite it fairly well before I left; but when the time came I couldn’t recall a word.
In the end, I chose Arveldir because he smiled at me. This was not forbidden, but it was, strictly speaking, to be frowned upon – especially in a private Showing, where Acolytes were supposed to retain expressions of calm neutrality. Arveldir, however, was clever and perceptive enough to realize what I needed at that moment, and brave enough to offer it in the face of Tradition. In the smiling, he reminded me a bit of Earwen, who had always seemed to know just what was needed at any particular moment; a scolding here or a kind word there; sometimes giving advice, and other times just giving a listening ear.
Tradition demanded that six would be selected in the first cut, and I did this as Father had instructed me. After this, the six contenders gave demonstrations of their skills; and what amazing demonstrations they were! I had to respect the fierce fighting prowess of those who had volunteered. After the demonstrations the contenders were Shown again. I took the full amount of time to decide that was alloted to me, for to decide too quickly would be to shame those who had so faithfully Shown themselves. The decision was supposed to be a difficult one! But, in truth, the Showing had been decided at the smile.
It didn’t take long after the decision to discover that I was entirely unequal to being a worthy host for an Acolyte. Arveldir held out his hands to be bound as was traditional, and I all but panicked, thinking that I had not brought any rope – only to discover that some had been put in my bag for me, and it had been there all the time. Poor Arveldir ended up holding one of the ends of the rope, for I was afraid of hurting him by tying it too tightly, and so it ended up being too loose. But it was sufficient for the occasion, and I led him home. There was some celebration at this, but it was subdued, for while everyone recognized that the appointment of a new Guardian was a good thing, it also freshly reminded everyone of the tragedy, and many people who tried to cheer ended up crying instead.
Disaster was again narrowly avoided when I got home. Thank goodness for the Acolytes of Ellasterii! Their specialty is organization, and it never showed so clearly. They had somehow managed to transform my rather uncertain orders before leaving for the Showing, (“We ought to do something so that he feels welcome,”) into fully-prepared chambers, something that didn’t even occur to me until we were all the way home. The traditional feast wasn’t considered appropriate under the circumstances, but they had set up a sort of solemn memorial dinner, which somehow managed to be welcoming even with the mourning drapes all around.
Poor Arveldir! He should have gotten fireworks, and great celebrations, and a warm welcome; but he got a brokenhearted father and a frazzled daughter, and a House in chaos.
After the Showing I didn’t see much of Arveldir for some time. I found him as likeable as possible under the circumstances, but I really didn’t want him. It was perhaps fortunate for me that Father needed more care than usual during this period, and so Arveldir served Father during the first few months. As clever as usual, he somehow knew not to approach too closely while I mourned so bitterly for Earwen and Lessien. He sensed when I was too grieved to be near him, and he sensed also when the grief lessened a bit, and I became more ready for a Guardian than I had been previously.
He integrated himself with such subtleness that looking back on it now, I am not sure just how he did it. Somehow or other we moved from an occasional, sullen “good morning,” or storms of tears, to actual conversation, and then to real duties. Today he is my right-hand man, and although I still love and remember Earwen, I would be lost without Arveldir. I count the keeping of an Acolyte –for he could have left at any time, and still could, to this day – as one of my successes. I am sorry to say there haven’t been many others to go along with it.
Lessien’s doomed expedition ushered in a series of disasters that I know she would have handled with practiced grace and aplomb – but with which I have struggled, as she never would have. Father being immobile, I am his “Girl on the ground” and am the one who responds quickly to crisis. We have had many of these lately.
The first of these was the cutting of the Tongue of Lloth. The second, which followed closely afterwards, was the discovery that some of the streams which ran through Broken Dome had been diverted by the Earthshake, requiring additional checkpoints and several new outposts, for which we really haven’t the manpower. Worse, a new stream had been formed, and wasn’t caught at once, with the result that one of the outlying towns was poisoned and had to be abandoned, and the entire area had to be burned to the ground. We now have three checkpoints inside spider Dome itself, and this is considered a terrible omen.
It was probably a spark from this fire which, in turn, set off the blaze in the tops of the redwoods. We thought for a time we would lose the entire Dome. In the end we had to fell a number of redwoods to create a firebreak, and although this was successful, and the fire put out at last, the entire area where the town once stood is now a blackened ruin. Though the Acolytes of Ellasterii are monitoring the area very closely, it is not known if the plants or animals will ever return – we may have lost that ground for good, and we have none to spare.
To make matters worse, the Earthshake let loose a great deal of snow, some of which fell into Broken dome, and caused storms that lasted for more than a month, which dumped even more snow on top. The result of all of this means that there is much more snow in Broken dome than had previously been present, and as this snow is poisoned, some of the upper checkpoints have gotten such a jolt of fresh poison that they have had to be closed, and moved downstream. The loss of part of Broken Dome to the poisoned snows is considered to be another terrible omen.
This great gush of poison has correspondingly upped the amount of poison in the water, producing White Charcoal from Black on a considerably faster scale than previously. More Black Charcoal has been required than ever before, and expeditions are now faster and more numerous than previously. At the moment we are able to keep up with this new frantic pace; but we fear we will eventually be overwhelmed.
The expeditions also face new dangers. Not only is the level of magma rising, but after the Earthshake, a new kind of creature has been observed near the volcano: a Fire Elemental made of sickly, poisoned green flame. It is our theory that the White Charcoal is driving these Fire Elementals mad, as it drives the Water Elementals mad; and that this new volume of White Charcoal is the cause. We have no other way to dispose of it, though we are making efforts to open new routes to other holes we have not used before, in the hopes that distributing the expeditions over a wider area will help to minimize these effects. Thus far, we have been unsuccessful.
And of course all of this is a strain on the supply of Surionite jars. We dare not harvest more panes – as it is, we are barely able to handle the level of toxins now present in Broken Dome. But we must have the jars. There is an idea that perhaps a broken jar could be mended somehow, and the poison removed with the aid of the poison-immune Colera: but we see them so rarely that these negotiations go slowly. In the meantime, the Acolytes of Ellasterii have had to give up some of their jar supply to replace the jars which were lost. The Order of Ellasterii got the lesser number of jars in the first place, so this decision was obeyed, but deeply unpopular and the source of a great deal of resentment.
In the meantime, our population has dropped over the last several years. Deaths occur more frequently, and very few new babies are born. This was not wholly due to the poison, however. There are still many fertile couples all across the valley; but the times are now so precarious that no one seems comfortable with the idea of becoming pregnant. Last year was the first year in which no new children were born at all. We are long-lived, so this phenomenon is not completely unknown in our history. However, like the more strenuous pace needed to manage the additional poisons, it is something which cannot be maintained forever.
To cap it all, Father is terribly weak. I am afraid that he is dying. He would never admit it, of course, but he is not so well as he would have me believe. I could never read Father as well as other people, but I can tell this, and this above all indicates to me just how sick he is becoming. He has many of the symptoms that Mother had towards the end of her life, and I fear losing him.
I fear if we were to lose Father, the people would surrender to despair; and this, they must not do. I try to relay hope to them, though I am not at all convinced of any great success in this. Father approves of the strategy… but he does so without much enthusiasm. I can’t tell if this is because of his advancing weakness, or if it is because he misses Lessien so, and is secretly disappointed in my less-than-spectacular leadership. Privately, I suspect it may be a bit of both.
However, there are some reasons for hope. We have recently begun to receive visitors.
The first of these are red-skinned creatures who call themselves the Entaine. They are agreeable enough, but very excitable, particularly when they gather among themselves. They insist the volcano is ready to erupt at any moment, and we must leave at once. To this end, they have been building a gate spell to get as many of us out as they may; but it is an enormous spell, and it is not yet completed.
The second are the Boatmen. They are tall and thin, and wish to help, although they have no particular evacuation skills. However, they have been good enough to act as ferrymen between a number of small outposts that have been set up along the river. These outposts are part of a series of outposts which have been set up all around the Fury of Lloth, and which monitor the volcano at every moment. Those outposts least likely to be overwhelmed in an eruption have had some considerable supplies stored there: not so many that we could not potentially absorb their loss if worst came to worst, but enough so that we would not be in immediate danger of starving if we were to lose the dome.
Finally, there are the Atmen. These are tree creatures, and they do not have the luxury of getting out of the way. They know they shall die; but they have sent us many seeds, cuttings, and even some saplings, which we have stored, and shall awaken when we arrive in the new lands. The safety of these saplings is of no less consideration than our own safety, and much care has been taken with the plans for their evacuation and preservation.
Various evacuation ideas have been tried, but none have produced anything truly useful. Some time ago, we tested the idea of having short-range gates through which we could evacuate from Spider Dome onto the surface. Several of these gates were even made operational, and some supplies were moved to the surface.
But, it was not to be. The short-range gates worked off of gate-runes carved into the ground, set with special crystals that could be utilized in the magic spell needed for teleportation. However, it turned out that the wicked green Fire Elementals were drawn to these crystals. No matter how far away the gate rune was placed, it was sure to draw plenty of green Fire Elementals, looking for a tasty treat. These elementals are indeed poisonous; and although their poison is not as pure as that of White Charcoal, that is hardly comforting. Several Acolytes of Zachnarae, working together, are generally sufficient to defeat one: but the risk to them was not worth it. The gate runes were abandoned, and so that effort came to naught. Other efforts, here and there, have been equally unsuccessful.
Evacuation by any means we currently know, it seems, will not work. According to prophecy, when they are needed, the Dark Ones will appear, and show us the way by which we may start our journey. So far, no Dark Ones have been sighted.
Thus we have settled for gathering and waiting for the pleasure of the Triune. Needless to say, this has caused some tensions between the understandably nervous common folke and the ruling classes. Since you ask, yes, I did give a speech on the matter. It was an impromptu speech, but some overeager scribe wrote it down, and so the text has been circulating for some time. The occasion where I spoke was the day after Auction Feast, where a great many people had gathered at Temple, and the mood was not at all cooperative. Many were shouting and shaking their fists at the High Priest, who bade me to come and speak to them, and I did so. Arveldir quietly directed several Acolytes of Zachnarae into the crowd. Later, I learned that they found Entaine among them, calmed them down, and lead them away to different areas, ostensibly to get a better view as honoured guests.
(As an aside, we have found Entaine to be excitable creatures, and so we generally don’t allow more than one to visit Spider Dome at the same time. It was a clerical error that had allowed for two of them to be present at once.) I had not given a speech previously, and do not intend to give one again if it can be helped. But I did give one, standing on a table in the midst of the crowd, and here is the text as the scribe wrote it down:
My people, listen You have come here seeking answers at Temple, and making inquiries of the priests. Listen to me now, and I will give you the answers that we have. You may not like them; but they are the truth.
The first question I hear, from all of you, is when do we go? We know the Mouth of Lloth is filling, why do we not evacuate at once? Am I right? Let me see your hands if this is why you have come to Temple today.
Yes, I thought as much. I tell you now that neither I nor anyone here can foresee the future. It is not within my power to say that we will be here or gone tomorrow. It is within my power to tell you what the considerations are for staying, and if any can refute them, I shall be glad to hear you at this very moment, and to give the most studied attentions to any wisdom which can be imparted.
The first question I hear, from all of you, is when do we go? We know the Mouth of Lloth is filling, why do we not evacuate at once? Am I right? Let me see your hands if this is why you have come to Temple today.
Yes, I thought as much. I tell you now that neither I nor anyone here can foresee the future. It is not within my power to say that we will be here or gone tomorrow. It is within my power to tell you what the considerations are for staying, and if any can refute them, I shall be glad to hear you at this very moment, and to give the most studied attentions to any wisdom which can be imparted.
The first consideration for evacuation must be: where, ultimately, shall we go? As of this morning, the lands promised to us have not yet been discovered. Every moment of every day, and every possible resource, has been employed to seek them; but as yet, they remain hidden to our eyes.
Shall we fly to the surface? It is true that this would certainly avoid the Fury of Lloth. Yet, what should we do there, once we have fled? Where on the surface can sweet water be found? Where, for that matter, can Black Charcoal be found to purify the waters, save for the Black Quarry? What will we do for water, once our supplies run out? For that matter, what will we do for food? Is there any inch of ground on the surface that will support the growth of a seedling? What will we do about the poisoned snow? Will we live in the desert and hope that somehow the sand there has somehow escaped the poison which taints the rest of the world?
Shall we fly with the Entaine? There are some who would. Those who wish to leave with the Entaine are, of course, free to do so. But there are considerations to be made. Look around you! Look at your children and your parents, your neighbors, your siblings, and all of those that you love. Look at the carts and beasts of burden that are gathered here. Imagine how many more live under Spider Dome, and simply did not come to Auction Feast this year. Are the Entaine really prepared to receive the population of an entire nation into their bosom?
The Entaine are good and noble creatures. We value their friendship, and any offer of aid they wish to make is of course gladly accepted. But they, themselves, admit that they are excitable folke. What is more exciting than living on the edge of a grouchy volcano? Yet the unexciting, dull, nitpicky details are equally important. Have the Entaine fully thought through the implications of their offer? Have they built towns and cities that currently stand empty, waiting for us to come and occupy them? Have they grown twice as many crops as they need for their own people? Have they set aside water that no one needs, to prepare their population to double in a single night? I submit to you that they have not.
And even if they had, how would we get there? The Entaine are preparing a gate spell, but it is not yet ready. If they had done all of these things, and it was our fondest wish to go with them this very day, we could not do so.
The harsh and unrelenting truth is that we must wait. We do not need to wait to show our faith in Temple or the Triune. We do not need to wait because your leaders are lazy, and doing nothing to plan for the future. We do not need to wait out of the hopes that somehow, the volcano will not erupt. We must wait because we have no other safe haven.
Again I bid you to look around you. Look around at the redwoods, whose braches are almost as tall as Spider Dome itself. Look at the grass and the birds and insects, and all the things that live here. In no other place in the world is the water so sweet it can be drunk. In no other place in the world can crops be grown. In short, no other place in the world is like this place. It is a gift. We must take advantage of it while we may.
What, then, can we do?
What we must do, all of us, is to be prepared to leave. Each and every neighborhood, city, and town has three ways to exit the dome. It has been planned so – if one way is blocked, you may leave through another route. Be familiar with those routes. Teach them to your children.
Make plans among your own families. If you are seperated during an evacuation, where and how shall you meet? We are all used to communing with each other, with sharing our public thoughts; but when the time for evacuation comes for real, your ears and mind may be filled with shouts from every direction. Many may need to voluntarily remain silent for a time, so that instructions may be given, and clearly heard by all.
Be prepared! The time is coming. It is not yet here, and so for the present we must wait in anxious uncertainty. We wait for the Dark Ones, who will come to show us how we may escape Spider Dome. They are not yet here. But they are coming, and when they arrive, we must be ready for them.
It is possible that our day may come in sunshine and good weather, and we may exit the dome while chatting excitedly among ourselves at our interesting adventure. It is also possible that our day may come in fire and smoke and the raining of ashes, and we must grab what we have prepared for ourselves, and fly out the door with sparks at our heels.
If our day is one of sunshine, remember that once we leave Spider Dome – and we will leave it – we will not be back. What will you miss most? Will you miss the redwoods? If so, now is the time to commune with them – for soon we will say goodbye. If we replanted forests in our new home tomorrow, we would be playing with our children’s children’s children before we would again see them so tall and proud as they stand today. Will you miss the rivers, and the overgrown valleys? Did you have a childhood treehouse you would see one last time, or a secret meeting spot which you loved? If so, now is the time to visit them. Do not be so hasty to go that you forget to bid farewell to the things here that you live. Meditate on those things which you have loved here. Prepare yourself emotionally to leave them behind.
Be prepared not only for the day of evacuation, but for the journey which follows it – for it will be a journey. We know that the new lands are very far away from here, for in spite of all our searching, they have not yet revealed themselves to us. We will not be transported to the new lands on lovely clouds and beams of sunshine: we will walk there, on our own two feet.
What we take on Evacuation Day, we will carry with us. When you go home this evening, look at the supplies that you have laid out for yourselves. Picture bringing them with you for a month, or a year, or five years. What would you need, not for a two-hour practice hike, but for a two-year journey? How much can you carry, from dawn to dusk, every single day?
Those of you who wish to leave this very evening – are you really prepared for that? Do you have the supplies you need? Are your packs packed as best you can? Have you set your affairs in order? Have you bid goodbye to the places you loved? Are your things set into place next to the door, where you can snatch them up at any moment, and take them with you?
If you are, I commend you upon your preparedness. You understand not just that we will be leaving, but that we will be travelling, and that our promise will not just be given to us on a silver platter; we must win it, and earn it, with our hearts and our own two hands. I bid you prepared ones to look now to your friends and neighbors. What good does it do you to snatch up your own things, only to discover that your sister does not have hers ready? What is the point of flying out the door, only to turn around and realize that your next-door neighbor is struggling with a relative who is old, or feeble, or injured?
To each of you, each and every one, I bid three things of you.
First, be prepared to leave, on the spur of the moment if necessary. Know that our time is coming. It is not yet here, but it is at the very doorstep. Be prepared not just for evacuation, but for the journey that must come afterwards. Be prepared with sensible shoes and practical travelling clothes, and backpacks with straps that are well padded. Be prepared not just with food but with tools, knowing that even when we arrive in the Lands of Promise, no grand palaces await us there. Know that with good hearts and strong hands we will build our new kingdom from the ground up.
Second, care for your neighbor. We at Temple cannot plan for every detail, down to your very doorsteps, but you can. Include those nearby in your plans. Many are those whom the poisons have blinded – does such a one live on your street? If so, how shall they arrive at the evacuation point, if they are seperated from their guardian? Are there small children that may be tempted to run off in great excitement? How have you prepared your family to work with the families of your neighbors? Many areas are holding baking days, or quilting days, to prepare for our journey. This is commendable, and a noble example to be followed. When Evacuation Day comes, let us not revert to an attitude of “every man for himself!” When we leave Spider Dome, we must leave together, as one people. We must watch out for ourselves, but we must also watch out for each other. Together, we are strong.
Third and finally – be prepared for a journey. We – are – leaving. We are never coming back. But if we were to leave today, it would not mean that we would arrive in the new lands tomorrow. We are certain that the distance will be long; we have no reason to believe that the journey will be short. A great deal of preparation time has been spent on evacuation plans, because of the nearby volcano, and because of our deepest wish that no one should be lost, if it is possibly in our power to prevent it. Yet we will spend much more time in the journey than we will in the evacuation. Be prepared for that. Once we go, be ready to sleep on a bedroll for the foreseeable future. Be ready to cook your meals over campfires. Be ready to walk in strange places, to climb unknown mountains, to ford new rivers. Be ready to be tempted by foreign lands which were not those promised to us, and in which we must not settle.
I assure you that our day is coming. But until it comes, we must wait. Let us be a patient and gracious people – but let us also be prepared.
It didn’t go over all that well, but it did help to disperse the crowd. I am told that it has had some long-term effects: among other things, “sensible shoes” are selling like mad.
But, I am again out of time. Until I can write again, I remain,
The evacuation has begun.
It is odd to write such a thing when we have not yet left Spider Dome. Yet, the Colara have sung us a song, a song meant for us, one that has been deliberately tuned to such a range that our ears can hear it.
The Dark Ones have been sighted!
There are two Colera that have currently been singing to each other. One is far outside our borders, at the frozen Lake of Glass; the other has come to a certain hill on the surface that looks down upon Spider Dome itself. The shy Colera normally never venture anywhere near Spider Dome, with all the people inside; that one has done so now, to sing to us, is a great honour.
At the very best, if the Dark Ones are already on their way to us, it will take them no less than three days to journey from the Lake of Glass to Spider Dome. If they run into complications, it may take them longer. There are many prayers that they will be able to journey quickly! However, the prophecy does speak of the “three days of anticipation,” and so it seems that the three-day estimate is a sound one.
Thus, everything that had been waiting for them has now been set into motion.
Everyone heard the song of the Colera, as I am sure that the singer meant. Upon hearing the song, while he was still singing it, the people of the outer villages all went home, gathered their things, locked their doors, and set out for the Capitol City of Lomithiel. The heralds we sent to them, to tell them it was time to go, encountered caravans already on their way here, and so ended up checking the towns to be certain that no one had inadvertantly been left behind.
I am happy to say that the in-dome preparations we have made have had a much greater degree of success than our few attempts at surface preparations.
The Order of Ellasterii immediately began emptying the storehouses that they had prepared for the journey. Each of the Acolytes of Ellasterii had long ago been given a certain number of jars for which they were responsible. It seems impossible to me that all the stores have been accounted for, for Temple had been filled to the brim with jars, from floor to ceiling. Some rooms had corridors between great mounds and pyramids of jars. And yet, somehow, mysteriously, all the jars have been removed, and all the Acolytes are carrying a few jars in their packs, and everything is working just as the Order had planned. They are, in truth, magnificent planners. That was their gift, from Ellasterii herself to be used just for this occasion; and it shines brightly at this moment.
The Order of Lloth, knowing our time is short, and the level of poison in our sister dome no longer matters, have finally dismantled what remained of Broken Dome. I would not have believed it was possible to do so in only two days; but it has been done. Like the Order of Ellasterii, the Order of Lloth was also charged with carrying a certain amount of goods and supplies. To this have been added panes of Surionite, so that every Acolyte carries a pane or two in their pack. Surionite is a heavy material, but not so heavy that two panes are burdensome.
The Order of Zachnarae is charged with guarding the people, but they also have packs. They carry mostly tools; for when we reach the new lands, we shall have to build our kingdom from the ground up. They also carry some food and other supplies, as do Acolytes in every order.
The common folke also carry food and supplies. After so many drills, everyone is ready for the real thing. Great tent-cities have sprung up around Lomithiel. It is our hope that we will be able to throw a celebratory feast in honor of the appearance of the Dark Ones; but affairs at the Mount of Lloth may not allow it, for reasons I shall clarify in a moment. There is a feeling that we may have to fly the very moment that the Dark Ones arrive. While we do wait upon their arrival, everyone is prepared to leave the moment they set foot inside the dome, if needed. Beasts of burden wait in their harnesses next to their fully loaded carts. Tents are only lightly pegged, ready to be taken down at a moment’s notice. Neighbors are literally waiting in the order in which they shall move out, with very little prompting from the Order of Ellasterii. The only topic of conversation now is the arrival of the Dark Ones, and whether or not they shall wish to
leave at once or if there shall be a feast, and when we shall fly. Packs that have been checked a thousand times are sometimes unpacked, rechecked, and repacked.
Everyone is nervous, and everyone has good reason to be.
The watchers upon the slopes privately inform me that the patience of the Fury of Lloth will last for another fortnight, at the very most. Though magma has not yet reached the top of the dome, it is quickly filling with gases. These gases are forming geysers, bursting forth unexpectedly with great blasts that reek of methane or sulfer. No magma has yet been caught in these bursts, but several new holes have been punched in the top of the dome. Furthermore, the green Fire Elementals are all but in a state of frenzy. The bursts of gas excite them and they run shrieking about when they feel one coming. This works well to warn anyone in the area, except that the poisoned Fire Elementals are likely to fly at them and rend them to bits.
Needless to say, the Watchers have all been drawn back. Several of them now sit near the Colera on the top of the hill, at the very entrance to Spider Dome itself, where they can duck inside if the occasion warrants. The Colera has graciously permitted their presence, and seems as fascinated as we are by the occurances on the Mountain.
The Order of Zachnarae has taken the greatest possible precautions with Father. I am certain that this is at the order of Arveldir, whom I have charged with his safety. Father’s bed, which has always been sort of a palette that lays directly on the floor, has now been moved to rest on top of his litter. Father is not fond of this, but recognizes its necessity. The side-curtains have been drawn back as much as possible so that, rather than sitting against the wall as he usually does, Father now sits inside a sort of little tent, with the carrying-poles ready at the sides. Everything in the room that used to reside upon tables or in drawers now resides in a pack on the back of an Acolyte of Zachnarae; if Father has need of anything, he simply calls for it, and the Acolyte that carries it brings it to him at once. He has easily three times the number of guards that are normally present for him, all of whom are ready to pick up the litter at once,
given the slightest alarm, and carry him to safety.
From where he sits now, he can overlook the city, and see all of the people gathered around the Great Door.
The Great Door is our most ancient artifact, and dates from the time that the Promise was first given to us by Zachnarae. It is a door upon hinges, in a frame attached to no wall, large enough to allow two wagons to pass through it, side by side. Legend has it that Zachnarae himself locked it; but no key for it was ever made. It leads nowhere. Nevertheless, it was around this artifact that Temple was built, and around Temple now are all the people gathered.
Now we simply wait for the Dark Ones. I will not write again from Spider Dome – I do not know when I will be able to pen another letter. Remember me fondly if I am silent for a time.
((Text of a speech given to the Poisoned Elves on the eve of their departure from the Spider Dome and arrival in the Caves of Promise))
My people -
The promises of Zachnarae have been fulfilled. The Age of Patience has ended, and the Golden Age is upon us.
I have asked everyone here, from the eldest wise woman to the smallest child, so that I may speak of what has transpired, and what is to come. From henceforth, today shall be known as a day of Thanksgiving, set aside to praise the Triune for our salvation from Spider Dome, and this week shall be a holy week. We will remember and honour the sacrifice of my father to bring us here; and we will remember and honour the beginning of the Golden Age.
For now, let us sit and sup together, consider our new circumstances, and speak of those things which are to come.
Up until now, our focus has been the maintenance of the Three Duties, and of the Promise. The Duties have ended with the Age of Patience; and two-thirds of the Promise is fulfilled.
What, then, shall we do with the remaining third, and the Promise of Ellasterii?
The Promise of Ellasterii is the most beautiful and most difficult of the three Sacred Stanzas. You can now see for yourselves, with your own eyes, what a lovely place has been granted to us! For now, it is untested and unworked. The temptation is to roll up our sleeves, and build at once: but we shall be patient for a little while, as befits the followers of Zachnarae.
First and foremost, we shall remember to praise the Triune, as is their due. How rude and ungrateful we should be if we were so excited by our good fortune that we forgot to thank those that made it possible! Many may wish to make sacrifices in recognition of our admittedly narrow escape. It is fitting and proper that those who wish to do so should have time to engage in the meditations which are needed for such rituals.
We praise the Triune; but, there are other conditions which must also be satisfied before we can begin to build. First, we must know more about the area in which we now find ourselves. Upon initial inspection, it seems perfect and suitable for us in every way: but we must verify that it is so. It is possible that there could be roaming predators, or areas which are unsafe for some reason. Furthermore, although there is every sign that the Caves of Promise conduct flowing water, we must find it and judge how it will best serve our people.
For the time being, all tents have been set around the Great Crystal, and seperated from the area where the Dark Ones shall reside. The Order of Zachnarae has posted guards and patrols, and I must ask everyone not to stray far until we know more about our new home. I do not want anyone wandering off and getting lost!
Since we have come to the topic of the Dark Ones, I wish to speak about them at some length. When we gathered today, certain of you were given wrist bands by the Order of Ellasterii. In a moment, I shall ask those of you with these bands to stand up.
We are all desperately curious about the Dark Ones! However, I must ask you not to carelessly approach them. Yes, I know they are a wonder that we are itching to know more about, but I have good reasons for making this request. I have spoken with their Queen at some length, and relay to you now the things which she has told me.
To get a clear picture of the state of the Dark Ones, one must first picture their society. I am told by their Queen that the Dark Ones had a kingdom with many cities, in which many Dark Ones lived, countless thousands of them, as many as the stars in the sky, or sands in the desert. She has told me that our entire population would not make up even one small House, in the realm where the Dark Ones lived.
Stop for a moment and picture what that must have been like. We know each other intimately, and have known each other our entire lives. There are no strangers. Remember how excited we were to meet the Entaine, our first visitors in a thousand years! We know every face, every child of every family, every priest or hopeful in Temple, every merchant, every matron. Imagine for a moment living in a city five hundred times the size of Spider Dome, filled with so many elves that not only were there strange elves you didn’t personally know, but that this remarkable occurance was so commonplace that it was considered normal, day-to-day living, not worth mentioning or even thinking about. Imagine wanting to buy a pair of shoes, and making your selection from a dozen merchants, all competing for your coin! Imagine the luxuries available to such a society. Imagine the intricate social and political systems that must have been in play. Picture Temple being five times the size of our entire population – picture multiple temples of this size. In this manner, the Dark Ones lived, like bees or ants.
Those of you who have been given wrist bands, please stand up.
Imagine that each of us represent a group of Dark Ones – twenty five for every man, woman, and child in this room. Are you still picturing such numbers? Keep them in mind.
We were blessed with the Promise, and the certain knowledge that one day we would leave our home for the Lands of Promise.
The Dark Ones were not given this blessing.
Their great society, numberless as the stars in the sky, stood whole and intact – one week ago. It stood as tall and proud as the trees in our former home – and, like the great trees, it fell in a day. I do not yet fully understand the details of the disaster which has struck them. However, I believe I have grasped its magnitude. Countless thousands dead. Vast cities crumbled to pebbles or burned to the ground.
Look well on those who are standing. They have been selected at random, and number one-twentieth of our total strength. Imagine that you are a Dark One, and those who stand are the lucky survivors, and everyone who remains seated has died – suddenly, and violently, as my sister Lessien did those many years ago. Look at children suddenly orphaned, Matrons without Acolytes, sisters without brothers, houses with no heirs.
Do you remember how grieved we all were on that dark day that Lessien died? Imagine that grief multiplied by ten thousand. The Dark Ones had no warning of their impending doom. Their families are gone. Their temples are gutted. Their economy has collapsed. Their political and social structures have been thrown to the wind. They come with few stores. They come without bedrolls or tents. Some of them come without shoes. And for now, they come in shock. The Dark Ones that come to us are the Dark Ones that have survived the end of their world.
Have you thought on this well? Good… please sit down.
I believe that in the coming days and weeks, the Dark Ones will begin to get over their shock, and when this happens, surely the most violent of emotions will take the its place. Who wouldn’t grieve at lost loved ones? Who wouldn’t rage at the end of the world that they knew? And when that time comes, the closest target – is us!
This is not a cause for alarm. It is improbable that any Dark One would be so grieved as to injure themselves – or one of us – and any in case, the Order of Zachnarae stands ready to soothe such incidents if they should occur. At most, it is a cause for caution. More importantly, it is a cause for consideration. We are unbearably curious about the Dark Ones, but they may not be ready to be the objects of such curiousity. They didn’t know they were coming. They don’t want to be here. Every one of them would rather be in their vast cities if the cities had not crumbled around their ears.
Let us therefore be considerate of the Dark Ones. For now, let us give them some space to themselves, and time to absorb the reality of their new circumstances. Let us display the patient and wise dignity for which Zachnarae is well-known. In time, when they are ready, they will come to know us. Until that time, we will not rudely thrust ourselves upon them.
Many of you have brought extra things with you – extra provisions, extra tents, or other things which you may wish to share with the Dark Ones in their time of need. Those of you who wish to make such contributions should not speak to the Dark Ones directly, but rather, speak to your local priests. Let the Church handle these arrangements, so that the Dark Ones may keep as much of their pride and dignity as possible in these awkward times.
Now, to other matters:
The Entaine have requested permission to have some observers stay here with us, to see how we shall build our society. I have granted permission for them to do so. Please show the Entaine every kindness and courtesy, for as long as they wish to stay.
The Boatmen, for now, also reside with us. Here they will stay for a brief time. We know there are rivers, but we must find them! As more rivers are located, the Boatmen will gradually leave us. They will be of the most invaluable assistance in mapping rivers, and have agreed to take map making materials along with them. Some of them have agreed to bear cartographers in their boats, once the new boats have been built. As with the Entaine, please show them every possible consideration.
The Dark Ones have their own guests. I am told that they have Fish-Men, who wish to build a city in the sea at the base of the cliff. Although it is probable that we shall eventually trade with them, it is unlikely we will meet them directly, particularly at first. If any of them should be encountered, please treat them as honoured guests, as if they were our own guests.
There is one final guest to be considered – the Dark Ones are also bringing an additional priestess – a priestess of Lloth. We do not know what this priestess shall be like, but it is probable that she shall be their most honoured High Priestess. Remember that the Dark Ones are followers of Lloth! For the time being, our Temple and the Temple of the Dark Ones remain as seperate entities, and it seems certain that her attentions will be entirely consumed with desperate needs of her people. However, it is possible that she could wish to visit us or our Temple. If she were to express this wish, she would be no less a Personage than the Dark Queen herself.
Dark days are behind us, but difficult ones are ahead of us. Our work is just beginning. For a time, many of us may rest while we explore a bit, and plan how best to begin our first settlement. Take advantage of this time. Meditate upon patience, for nothing will happen as quickly as we would like. Be ready to roll up your sleeves and take up your shovels when the time comes to begin building.