Minutes of the 1,307th Synod of Sages in Wai’Toshi, Master Prime Baldeen presiding
[Baldeen] A good evening to all of those joining us for the final portion of the one thousand, three hundred-and-seventh meeting of the Synod of Sages in Wai’Toshi. A special twilight welcome to our distinguished Southern guests, the esteemed Coral Collective of the Doorn College of Biomancers. I am told that they have decompressed enough from their journey by this time…
At Baldeen’s word, several apprentices wheel forward a cylindrical metal tank, big enough to roll on gimbals sized for an oxcart. Blue-tinged alchemical fluid bubbles in an assortment of tubes and valves on the top of the chamber. The end facing the assembled Sages is clear, thick glass. The decompression chamber hisses quietly, accented by muffled coughs and shifting amongst the assembly.
Ah, yes. Here they are. We’ll have you right back to air soon enough, my young masters. Odd that all of your biomantic work hasn’t given you gills yet, eh? [a few scattered laughs]
I am gratified to see so many of the journeymen of yesteryear in this hall- and gratified too, I will admit, that a few of my former students are not! The day’s talks of study and discovery have been truly illuminating, and I particularly commend the Gate College for a riveting talk on the micro-distortion of leylines with common salts. Who knew? The geomancers of Doorn have also given us a great deal to digest with their core samples from Wanpukhea, and our own Artificer Kemp has given a wonderful demonstration of the very alchemical breathing liquid that our guests are now using to recover from their deep-sea journey. He may not speak for some time, but I’m certain that he will be all the happier for it.
Before we begin, I must thank our own College of Pyromancers and their associates at the Adventurers’ Guild for addressing our crisis at home. The sequestration of Mado’Pai, though regrettable, will save a number of lives. We can only hope that the efforts of the Order of Librarians will serve to prevent the need for further dealings with… those better left undisturbed, and that our next Synod will see the matter closed without further suffering. Though our morning has been one of refreshing interdisciplinary collaboration and fruitful discussion, it is time that we come to the matter at hand. The present convocation has been called by request of our guests from the University of Doorn for a problem as grave as Mado’Pai’s upon their own shores- an infestation of fearsome new Trolls. To describe the beasts and the menace that they present to the Nix more thoroughly, I invite the Coral Collective’s Master Nan Ja Ek to the podium. Master Ja Ek of the College of Biomancers is the University of Doorn’s specialist in Trolls. Master Ja Ek?
The delegation from the University of Doorn consists of three Nixies, who remain in their amniotic decompression pod to speak. The first, a young individual of bright-blue skin and wearing the net-stole of a Master, takes up a position at the front of the pod. Several sheets of notes float near her hands. She attaches a suction-cupped device to the glass, and snatches the first grey-green sheet from its place. When she speaks, her strong, clipped voice is projected to the whole assembly.
[Ja Ek] My thanks, Master Prime. I have been asked to discuss the physiognomy and behavior of the Bo’Pha Troll for this body, that all concerned may apprehend the scale of our trouble. My peers in this institution are no doubt familiar with the Trolls of this northern clime- foul, feral creatures of cave and fen, heavy of hair and long of arm. Those of the South are different entirely. They gather in tribal groups- the “Tikkis” of which you have heard- under huge, brutish specimens. These “Kahunas” dominate their lesser kin, forcing a semblance of order upon the beasts. Though Trolls have long been known to use weapons and even build their own lairs, these Tikkis show unprecedented cooperation.
I have been largely responsible for investigation into this matter on behalf of my College. The northern Bo’Pha Islands have become a hotbed of Troll activity, with nearly half again the number of reported… incidents in the last year as compared to previous assessments. The sheer strength of Trolls makes Personal Exclusion Systems dubiously effective at best, and most communities lack the resources to create defenses beyond the mundane palisade. This has led to scores of deaths in coordinated raids on Nix settlements, especially over the last three lunar cycles. Master Sol Gan will discuss these shortly.
Samples derived from our cleanup efforts have been very instructive, yielding a great deal of information about the species in general and these new groups in particular. First, we know that they are changing. Recovered limbs show a significant increase in the frequency of mutation, even beyond the scope of the Troll’s typical genetic instability. Second, they seem to have gained a concrete understanding of their own regeneration. Typical Trolls are bold creatures, but may be driven off by organized resistance with flame and force. Survivors report that these new Trolls fight with near-fanatic zeal, ignoring dismemberment and even militia actions that would cow normal specimens. Some have begun augmenting their own bodies with parts of other creatures; specimens have been found with chitin-embedded skin, grafted pincers and arachnoid limbs, and even subcutaneous venom sacs. These appear to have been implanted in most cases by mean force. Almost all lack the careful placement of surgical augmentation- a skill that would be astonishing in so brutish a species- and look to have been grown into place with some difficulty.
These augmentations suggest a disturbing trend toward intelligence in the Trolls of the Bo-Pha, elevating what was once a hazard of island life to an active threat to the Nix city-state. The very nature of the grafts themselves imply outside interference, and we suspect a source from the Outer Realms. Even without these improvements, though, the Trolls of our region seem more difficult to destroy than those of the North. Their regenerative capacity appears to be greater overall, and though biomantic analysis has not yet identified the origin of this development, direct study has shown improvements in the healing time of local Troll specimens as compared to both contemporary foreign samples and retained historical samples from the area. Fantastical rumors abound in the Archipelago about fabulous healing gems held by great, bloated Troll gods, and crackpots and adventurers make absurd claims about the “dust of life” in Troll blood, but the extensive research of the Biomancer’s College at Doorn has found no such additive in Troll blood, nor evidence for extraordinary minerals. So-called “anti-Troll charms” have become widespread throughout the Bo-Pha, ranging from simple good-luck charms to full-fledged tonics made from Troll ashes. Most are harmless, aside from their… explosive emetic effects. Others have proven to be more dangerous, including one islander who died when his “Troll-proof” helmet filled with water on an otherwise normal dive. Efforts proceed apace to reduce the spread of such nonsense amongst the populace, while we investigate notions with more substance. The College of Biomancy is currently looking into the idea that Trolls reproduce through some form of spore dispersal, the suggestion that they might be actively imported from another planet, and- in partnership with local clergy- the idea that they are some sort of deific scourge, sent to cleanse the Bo’Pha of heretics.
I should note that our faculty is not unaware of the travelogues of this body’s professor-at-large; your Lin’Chi’s account has been thoroughly studied. Some of our number have met Lin’Chi and had the dubious distinction of joining him in various hookah lounges. While we think much of the tale to be fanciful, in part due to these… prior interfaculty experiences, we nevertheless consider his tale to be an informative account of the nature of a developing Troll culture, and a weighty endorsement of the theory that Outsider entities are interfering with the affairs of Veldon yet again. The former hypothesis is threatening in its own right, suggesting a level of organization and efficiency sufficient to pose mortal peril to all of the islands of the Bo’Pha. The latter, if it is even possible, is worse still; Master Gan will touch upon this as well. Thank you.
The second Nixie floats to the front of the chamber, and a watery sound echoes through the assembly as she clears her throat. Her near-emerald skin and gold net-stole identify her as Master Sol Gan, so well-known as a scholar of the occult that she needs no introduction. Her voice, familiar to many from soundplates and lectures, is soft but clearly enunciated. It has the curious harmonic undertones common to Masters of the various Gate schools, and is much easier to hear as a result. Despite her fluency in the tongue of Waitoshi, her speech still carries a distinct Southern lilt.
[Sol Gan] Khabissol … the Spider Queen, the Suckler of Poisons, the Lurker-in-Webs. These names mean little to some of you. Others know them from mentions in ancient tomes, or from references in texts that you read for apprentice classes. Even children unknowingly speak of the Spider Queen in rhyme. Here is one derived from your Apikan clans to the East:
‘Spider, spider, on the wall,
Watch him spin and watch him fall,
Webs in shapes that fill your head,
Mother calls you to her bed.’
It sounds harmless, but the versions sung in the North near the ruins of Grosstrag make the connection clearer:
‘Spider, spider in the hay
Watch him creep and watch him pray
Webs that show you what he saw
Walk straight into Mother’s maw’
‘Spider, spider on the mound,
Takes you to The Upside Down.
Close your eyes and count to three,
Burning skies you hope to see.’
‘Spider, Spider on your hand,
Listen close to understand.
Speaks to you about the other,
Now it’s time to meet his Mother.’
The origin of these rhymes is largely lost, but to those of the Gate College the name is still intimately familiar. Regardless, I will not repeat it- we all know what may result. She is an Outsider from Burning Gehenna, a paragon of Daemonkind. Tall tales and scholarly accounts speak of the Spider Queen’s empire as a huge web hanging above the Burning World. There she lurks, incubating her terrible brood inside ruined planetoids and sending them out to war upon mortals.
Like all of her ilk, this Paragon is a symbol of death and carnage. Nevertheless, there are those that worship the Suckler of Poisons. Among mortals are madmen and fools, who see her sigils in the curve of spider webs and hear her voice in the throes of poisoned ecstasies. Like many Daemon-worshippers, these twisted souls peer deeper and deeper into the awful minds of their “patron” until they are reduced to gibbering husks. Those few that are not snatched up by the Outer Dark go on to form the backbone of cults that fester in the underbelly of our societies. These are the cancers burned out daily by holy warriors the world over- Waitoshi’s own Amber Order is one such, as is our own Stillwater Inquisition. [Gan nods to the heavily-armored Apikan guardsmen standing at the broad double-doors in their characteristic brass-accented chainmail.]
Still other beings worship Daemons- alien civilizations already poisoned to their core, or religions warped by the unchecked influence of Outsiders. The noble but backward Troglodytes of the planet Teotem are of this latter type; ethnographic studies have shown the worship of their many-limbed death goddess to be a more recent development of their faith, and certain reports suggest that fearsome and foreign arachnoid beasts inhabit the caverns below Teotem’s surface. Then, too, are the beings that Daemon Paragons make to feed their own hungry maws and egos, the slave races constructed in Gehenna’s laboratories and hatcheries. The Spiderfolk are one such, a species designed to venerate the Spider Queen.
All of these misguided souls engage in the detestable practices common to those who have forsaken civilization for the mad entities of the Outer Planes. They slaughter in the Paragon’s name, take prisoners for sacrifice, and delve into forbidden lore both dangerous and antithetical to mortalkind. As my colleague mentioned earlier, signs and sigils of the Spider Queen have been found amongst the Troll Tikkis of the Bo-Pha, and their frequency has been increasing.
It was my personal investigation of one such incident that provided the impetus for this Synod. We do not speak the names of the dead; suffice to say that this town was on the island of Hod-log. I was alerted by courier. Some of you may be familiar with Doorn’s counterpart to your own SCRYpool, the TeRN system- I knew as soon as I plunged the bird’s prongs into my skull and accessed the hivemind that the raid on this settlement was on a scale hitherto undocumented. I set out at once in Doorn’s fastest vessel, leaving the harbor of Don-gil-Gan within the afternoon and arriving some half-day thereafter. The damage was even worse than I had anticipated.
I entered alone, the only scholar with clearance for investigation. At first, the village appeared empty; the wind bore no sound through the gaping hole in the palisade. I noticed the smell first- charred wood and flesh. I engaged my Personal Exclusion Zone, setting it to air opacity to block the smell and to conceal my own scent, should Trolls still be near. I crossed the palisade as quietly as possible, and found the northern half of the town largely intact. Sensors found no signs of life, and so I progressed quickly to the central green.
The green was a horror. I recorded much of the atrocity that I found- those interested may examine the records.
[Here Gan gestures, and two apprentices bear forward a stack of ivory soundplates and looking glasses. They set these gingerly on the heavy wooden table before the podium, in clear view of the assembled scholars, and back away in silence.]
Suffice to say, for the purposes of this body, that the gnawed bones of three dozen Nix and several (no doubt visiting) Apikan were laid out across the whole of the open space. What at first appeared to be a scattering of remains soon came into hideous focus as a great mandala, a tributary symbol to the Spider Queen Khabissol resembling a great arachnid of femurs and skulls. Those few cauterized Troll limbs that remained from the battle were arranged in a fantastic pattern in the center of that terrible arrangement, buried in the ground like a garden of flesh and raised in supplication. Examination revealed all of these limbs to be left arms, and each held a still-bloody organ from one of the dead. The regularity suggested intentional amputation, and the arrangement an even more hideous purpose than carnage for its own sake. Leyline and lifesign readings remained static, but I knew that something occult was afoot.
Having returned to the University in haste, the College of Geomancy took my recommendation to resolve the situation by removing the affected portion of the island entirely; the Chair agreed that the nature of the incident suggested direct interference by the Spider Queen’s thralls. Doorn’s senior faculty used a leyline disruption to drop the village promontory wholly into the ocean. Needless to say, not all of the Troll incidents in our archipelago can be so crudely resolved. I have made formal recommendations to this assembly for the intervention of other Outsider entities with faculty support; my recommendations will remain available if this body can be bothered to take the issue seriously. The Spider Queen’s rivals are well-known, and the issue can be solved with acidic slime or celestial radiance if our collective faculties are bold enough. To give the issue more context, I cede the podium to Master Fon Bin, our historian-in-residence. Thank you.
The last of the three speakers drifts through the alchemical fluid to the pod’s round porthole. His fins have the diaphanous look typical of old age, and his hair floats in an ice-white cloud around his thin face. When he speaks, his voice is so soft that he is nearly inaudible despite the amplification.
[Fon Bin] As you know, Don-gil-Gan- the Hidden Sea- is the capital of Nixie lands, and the only city of our race. Regardless of your stance on the historicity of our Diaspora, it is the soul of our people, and a wonder of the modern world. Though many- even in this body- have enjoyed the hospitality of the Nix, few know more of the city than hot springs and shipyards.
Don-gil-Gan’s underwater forest is composed primarily of a unique variety of mangrove, a tree suited to the constant influx of ocean water. Though their origins are unknown, biomantic study has shown them to be derived from a similar species in the northern Bo’Pha islands, but with significant changes to cell structure. They also reproduce parthenogenically, a property unique among known tree species; the entirety of the city is a clone colony of linked organisms. These trees form the foundation that keeps the city separate from the seafloor, and support most of the buildings. In the distant past, I recall that they were somewhat…
[Master Bin is inaudible for some time. The recorder has been chastised for falling asleep]
… In the present day, these trees do much of the work of keeping back the sea, with a wall of tangled roots that reaches all the way to the surface. These are enhanced by ward spell tags, of a type thoroughly described by our own Jin Wol’s tome “Paper and Providence”. These physical wards reach even further beyond the surface, creating a variable barrier that blocks waves and intruders alike. This application of Renghis’s Adaptive Warding Principle has been instrumental in the creation of other technologies, such as the Paper Tiger Golem and the more familiar Personal Exclusion Zone used by this body’s Order of Librarians. It’s all based upon the living nature of the paper, you see; the old wards from my apprenticeship used gold filaments, and they just overheated all the time…
In any case, the trees did not always form the basis of the city’s construction. After the Diaspora, the last elder priest of the Nix sang for three weeks to the goddess of the sea next to a tiny coral atoll, and was finally swallowed by the waves. In reward for his service and the loyalty of his followers, the goddess pulled back her robes to give the Nix a space on the sea floor. The disciples of the unnamed elder are said to have spent the rest of their lives in a circle on the seabed, using all of their strength to keep back the waters until- sixty years after the elder’s feat- the first of the great mangroves were planted by my predecessors in the School of Geomancy (Master Gell, I think? Zell? No matter), and ward tags were invented by mages returning from their far-flung retreats throughout the southern oceans. The city slowly grew as the trees multiplied, unto finally it reached the great size of today.
I know that many of you scoff at the imprecision of the divine, but even those who have never had contact therewith ought to be able to acknowledge its puissance here. Sparse records notwithstanding, there is enough oral history and consistency to suggest that the legendary account is largely accurate. Archaeological records have recently borne out the stories as well, with core samples of the Coral Stairway showing traumatic growth patterns centered several centuries ago that transition into the modern, altered aerobic structures. These core samples have in fact become fashionable decorative pillars in Don-gil-Gan among collectors for their striking visual representation of our history. I don’t like them much. [Bin sniffs derisively, which sounds unnerving in liquid. He carefully removes and replaces the amplifying disc in exactly the same place, apparently changing nothing.]
Regardless of origin, this system has served us well- weathering storms and even the invasion of the Grosstrag Empire in the last century. I remember it well. Though our true defenses remain intact, our fortress is also our weakness; the Nix are a trading race, and our city is entirely dependent upon shipping. While outlying islands have been raided or razed seemingly at random, the disconcertingly orderly attacks of these Trolls have diverted many of the vessels bound for our harbor. If something is not done about this disruption soon, the whole of Don-gil-Gan will begin to starve. Without the hands to man our ships, they will be at our gates with spears and their foul spider-pets! These young biomancers tell me that Trolls are afraid of water, but- as my old Master used to say- a candle won’t stop a shark. Every day, ships of refugees arrive from the outer islands, further taxing an already strained population. The future of our university, our city, and our race is dependent upon the assistance of Wai’Toshi’s University and its Adventurers’ Guild. Our thanks again, Master Baldeen, for having us here.