Valiance: Manifold Palace

Sand. All around is sand, golden and drifting, broken up by white-gleaming ziggurats and their sprawling cities picked out in azure and jade, by fallen tawny ruins, by precious expanses of pale green growth ringed around pools of sweet water dark as the eternal night above with its rippling sky-vault and great electrum stars. The Sage Princes gather their hosts, raise festivals, bar doors and great white walls against the sable-coated hunting cats that prowl, singing, in the night.

Sea. All is sea, wine-dark, flecked with waves and foam, filled with coiling glass-clear arms of deeply things and the swirling bronze shoals of long-finned swimmers, dotted here and there with islands and island-citadels of pale sandstone spotted with precious orchards from which the fleets of the Reaver Commons sail their uncountable ships beneath the endless day, that golden dome spotted with turquoise moons.

Between, the thinnest wisps of cloud and mist, and the cloud serpents, and the flocks, the bridges of birds, a riotous rainbow of wings that have no care for where they began, the sand or the sea. The messengers who cross that Fulcrum with far more ease than the great speckled wicker-ships, the shimmering fishscale-ships, of the endless battles of day and night as they wing across to clash and contest against each other for glory and for memory.

So it has always been, so it shall always be.

* balance * duality * questing * opposition * heroism * opportunism *

Quietus, the Iron Court: Manifold Palace

There are realms which unfold beneath the great expanse of the skies, whatever those skies may be. There are planes of seemingly infinite void, with or without structure or object to mar them.

The Iron Court is not one of these realms.

No matter where, no matter how one passes into Quietus, one’s arrival is always the same: within a soaring, sharp-ribbed hall of dizzying immensity, lined with uncountable blackened pillars — and the statue-still guardians that stand at the ready behind the podiums that line that hall, engraving pens and glaives at the ready — beneath the strange chiaroscuro light of flickering godtallow lamps.

The guardians will hear your case, your plea, your reason for entering the Iron Court.

They do not like disruptions.

They will guide you to what you require, if that is necessary.

Beyond the Hall lie: labyrinthine corridors of curving plates and mathematically precise riveting and portals that pivot on unseen hinges;
ornate courts of trial, awash in godtallow light, the ranks of the courtroom hidden from each other with elaborate and precisely symmetrical screens of intricately pierced and patterned metal;
serried warrens of scriptoria, where scribes draft and copy, illuminate and elaborate, in endless scratching whispers of metal against metal;
soaring archives dating back, back, back beyond mortal ken, records of iron, of massive slabs and delicate sheets the envy of a goldsmith;
immense domed arenas where iron legions mass, unmoving, baroque and sharp and silent, waiting.

Waiting for the word from the depths of the Court that the Black Iron March shall contend with violation beyond violation.

There are those who seek out the Iron Judges: the Iron Court will rule on oaths, uphold contracts, draft proclamations, make judgement on disputes, issue condemnations, research prior principles. It will render these things to any who petition.

None wish to see the Iron March.

The March does not occur on a whim. Quietus does not act on whims.

All is precise.

All is weighed, analyzed, deliberated, judged, composed, filed.

All beneath the weight of endless black iron.

The iron that is Quietus, from the most ancient First Pillar — its ribs worn smooth from ferrous caresses — to the tightly-pulled metal flesh and angled bone of the sharp-chiseled Judges who deliver the judgement of the Courts implacably and without remorse.

* judgement * legality * bureaucracy * preservation * precedent * inevitability *

Nadir: Manifold Palace

Everything is the maw slashed into existence.

Existence is nothing except the maw, this endless chasm with no terminus; endlessly extending, splintering; endlessly long, endlessly plunging into the darkest depths, reaching endlessly upward with its bleakly striated walls towards the thin wan slit of pale-ghost light scavengers and exiles, bone-wings and darkcrawlers, hermits and exultants call the sky.

Try not to fall.

The darkness below croons a melody in the heart; ripples now and then with motion, dark on dark.

Try not to fall.

Winding up and down the chasm’s fissured faces, like the tiniest ants, look there: thin tracks carved into the cliff-face, splitting and meeting, hugging the wall, at times hemmed in with flimsy fencing, most times open to the air and the maw below, leading to tiny pockets of ruby-green, coiling weedery; or to larger, spiral-carved ledges and rough-hewn uneven cells stacked upon each other, like clinging growths emerging from the dusty sooty stone before burrowing deeper within its face. And within those cells, light flickers and furtive figures flit.

Penitents find their way here, and exiles, and those who know no other way, seeking release. None trust the strangers who seek to mine the maw’s splintered faces, nor the fools seeking the melodious dark.

And here, and there, strange luminous spars — like green-white glass, like smoky ghost-amber — reach fitfully across the maddening gulf. Creeping, inching, a hair at a time, tiny ripples of new growth stretching across the darkness. Sometimes they even meet. More often they shatter, and the denizens of the cells scavenge what they may.

Do not answer the melody.

Try not to fall further.

* isolation * unbalance * loss * bleakness * privation * penitence * abyss *

Luminous: Manifold Palace

Welcome to the void, traveller — a void lit by a softly pastel, softly golden, softly bloody numen that never relieves the velvet lack-of-colour of the plane’s black emptiness.

But you are not alone, not at all, here within. You stand — as all things must — on bone dense as ivory, pale and tawny, indigo and maroon, golden and splintered, waxy and sporting strange patterns and ripples beneath it ancient cracked skin, like ripples in sand, like the dapples of a rice pudding, like a spiderweb of maddeningly intricate lace.

The soft faint light registers from that bone. The bony remains of some great unknowable — sage-beast, demon-saint, fell-angel, dead-god — immense, incalculable, spanning from horizon to horizon, as far as senses grant you. Twisted limbs, arms, wings, stranger things yet, arc upwards, downwards, skew-wards, framing the velvet of the void. Shattered fragments drift and return, swaying in place gently. So many limbs. So many ribs, curves of vertebrae, beyond comprehension. So many blank bony visages, looming, crowned with shattered osseus glory.

From these remains spring life-giving rivers, nurtured crops beyond imagining. And carved from the fallen — in wide shallow pits like open sores, in twisting tunnels — are bone-brick complexes, towered and domed, of lacy wonder; cysts of that numinous power, soft osseus jewels pastel and sanguine, murmuring spars of bone-amber thick with ancient faith and archaic enlightenment.

All worthy of the the great bone-ships that fly to war to spill ichor and blood across the remains of deific death. All worthy of the mighty powers that come to prowl and glide and slowly trail along the great bones, from across the realms entire, to seek greater power yet — or to humble themselves, to be humbled, by what they find.

All desire the light of divinity lost.

* revelation * mortality * covetousness * reincarnation * tranquility * parasitism * hubris *

Hundred Crimson Garden Duchies: Manifold Palace

Behold, a place unfolding before one that could near-belong within the Corerealms: snowy mountains, rolling plains, deep forests of mystery and ancient growth, stony badlands and foam-lashed coasts.

Here countless freeholds and kingdoms, petty baronies and free cities — and, yes, many proud duchies — wheel and strive, bicker and war and trade and draw up great binding oaths between them, sealed by the acknowledgement and kiss of one or more of the Great Elder Suzerains who speak with commoners and kings alike between their deep and unpierceable slumbers, deep within their puzzle-box domains high in the peaks and far below the soil.

Oh, they farm and joust, craft and ornament and dedicate and trade — trade in such lovely things as silvery moon-lace and a dizzying array of blossoms of all hues and patterns, tastes and scents, prized enough to send wise rulers to war and worse.

But then, but then: there is the sky, as dark as gore; and the sun, like an orb the colour of a dragon’s-blood ruby. And the ivory claws, the moon-shine eyes, of the Suzerains. And, above all, the great rivers and delicate springs and blessed pools alike, that run not crystal clear — though there do be those — but with a sweet-salt live-giving liquid far thicker, and more ruddy, than water or wine.

Those who come to the Duchies are often shocked to their marrow.

Those who leave the Duchies behind find themselves shocked to require more lively sources to quench their thirst.

* cultivation * bonds * sanguinity * courtliness * beauty * genealogy * the great game *

Fidelity: Manifold Palace

A world of light. A world of glass — or something akin to glass, perfect in its transparency, brushed with the faintest of golden sheen, painfully precise in edge and angle, facet and pitch.

Beneath one’s feet lie perfect pebbles of that glass, oval or lenticular or granular, truncated pyramids and slim symmetrical stars; above one’s head, a sky so bright and shining on can barely make out the seams of prisms beyond imagining through the dusting of golden glimmer, the thousand thousand spectra cast across the gleaming lands.

Look all around — over streams of crystal-clear liquid droop slender trees of pristine angles and crosscut leaves, while other reach limbs of dizzying symmetry towards the skies above. Great mountains loom across the lands, like ranges of ponderous, perfect glass, pyramids and rhombuses and other stately shapes. And towers, clustered like crystals, their slim prisms like vitreous razor blades soaring.

All is precise, angled, ordered, perfect. Peer closer at the glass, past the shimmer and the spectra. See beyond the razor edge to glimpse the infinitesimal latticeworks, the flowing perfect lines of figures and factorings, ever-moving, ever-correcting, ever-calculating.

All is precise. All is in harmony.

See, now, the drifting light-forms of prismatic wings, sharp as scalpels, singing of the Great Pattern?

They would make you so, if you wish. If you permit. All must be in harmony.
All will see the unity of things.

Do not spill your blood on the razor’s edge of their purity; do not disrupt their precision with shattered forms, with crude chaoses.

* purity * clarity * precision * calculation * purging * conformation *

Cerulean Hell: Manifold Palace

A miraculous place, this. Wondrous, truly.

Or, places.

Some describe the Cerulean Hell as an endless rolling hillscape of spiraling terraces and copper-winged gazebos beneath a burning blue-flame expanse.

Others tell tales of billowing gold-painted draperies of inhuman complexity concealing magnificent miniature gardens, the skies unseen, all a endless sprawling palace of dizzying mosaic and sculpted pillars and flower-fire breezes.

Yet petitioners murmur of rivers of cool, soothing fires choked with lilies the colours of the sky, or soaring black marble spires carved in intricate relief-work of war and reward, rest and paradise, while overhead roils a tempest of seafoam and glittering diamond.

All these and more, a hundred hundred retellings.

Perhaps the Hell is, in fact, Hells.

The softly smiling, sharp and shapely devils do not say, no more than they name their homeland. The only constant is the deepest, most beautiful of blues — of sky, of water, of the heavens so many small mortal lives strive for — in flame and thunderbolt and softest whisper, the delicate finery and brazen horns, like sweeping lyres, strung with jewels, the cerulean scrolls offered by jeweled talons, and the soft susurrus of a cry that carries through silences.

The Cerulean Hell is pleased to enter any contract, supply any desire, destroy any obstruction, purge any sin. The price may be high, the exchange dear, but what is desired shall always be made so, without fail. All contracts must be honoured so; the devils pride themselves on the pleasure of their clients.

Faith and hope and good-will and more may falter, but the Cerulean Hell upholds its work.

* legalism * temptation * promises * decadence * want * need * inexorability *