There are many, many castles, keeps and towers in the Eclipsed Kingdom, but three above all are emblematic of that nations character, madness, faith and power. So long as these three still stand the Eclipsed Kingdom itself will still exist.
The Infinite Cathedral
In the exact centre of the Eclipsed Kingdom, and therefore in the centre of the world, directly under the black formlessness of God as he blots out the sun, and therefore at the centre of the Universe, is the Infinite Cathedral.
Here is the seat of the Black Pope; Pontifex Nigrum in Tenebras Exteriores. Here is the centre for worship and pilgrimage for a universal faith. Truly and literally Universal for not only on this world is the Gospel of Azathoth spread.
The Cathedral itself squats like a triple-lobed beast. In the centre, just below God, is the Basilica of Nyralthotep. Spreading out in three giant limbs are the infinite naves of the Cathedral. These vast buildings send out buttresses like tentacles into the earth and, though every surface is corrugated with towers, steeples, belfry’s and sometimes entire sub-churches, which obscure the shape of the Cathedral when seen up-close, from a distance the three naves can be seen plunging into the ground like vast curling roots.
The Monks of St Culix have explained the shape of the Cathedral in the following way, though few possess the wits to follow them;
By the grace of god it is a shape with one pole and no antipole, with one surface and no edge, with three separate limbs yet they are one.
|Like this, but a Cathedral.|
To stand in the centre of the Cathedral, before the throne of the Black Pope, is to stand where three gigantic naves meet. From inside the naves seem utterly straight, with no turn, bow or shift of orientation. Each one proceeds off into the distance as far as the eye can see.
The wise have said that if a member of the faithful begins walking down one of the naves, they will return to the point where they began without turning either right or left. This pilgrimage has tested many, for in the distance of the naves, the windows grow dark, the air cold, and then, after a time, the stained glass is lit by the terrible light of alien suns and the pilgrims encountered may be those from other worlds.
|This, but forever.|
The crypts of the Infinite Cathedral are likewise without end and these form the prison in which are held the most powerful and significant of the enemies of the faith. Also within these crypts are the souls and intelligences of those of the Clergy of the Church who have grown too weak to possess their next body and now wander without flesh.
The monks of St Culix have said that the Cathedral itself is slowly growing, relative to the world in which it is embedded, curling itself deeper and deeper into the earth yet always curling back upon itself.
It is here that the Cardinals of the Faith take their whispered instruction from the Black Pope, here that the Orders of the Holy Inquisition make their base. It is here that the power and glory of god is at its greatest. It is here that Azathoth himself will first incarnate himself on this world, when that time finally arrives, as it inevitably must.
The Silent City Of The Sleeping King
Before the great revelation and the coming of Azathoth, this castle and the city below were the centre of a golden age and the seat of a burgeoning Feudal World-Empire. Now they are the quietest place on earth, home of the Ordinis Carcere, the Silent Knights, and of the Dreaming Court of the Sleeping King.
He is still enthroned there, still with the thirteen poisoned daggers of the first Cardinals of Azathoth in his back, still sleeping, and kept asleep only by the endless insane tuneless piping of the chained and maddened bards who ring his court.
If the piping should ever stop, the King will wake and Azathoth will come for him. All will end.
And it will end, but until that day, he sleeps here. Around him are the selves of his dream. His court. They are undying vision-people conjured from his sleeping mind, as strange, incoherent, protean, beautiful, meaningless and meaningful as dreams themselves. And just as everyone we meet within a dream is us, all of the court are the King.
They dance and speak to each other, sometimes talking idiot poetry, sometimes murmuring only the forms of words like the background players in a masque, sometimes rambling mundanities or dangerously sparking into something near consciousness, their eyes fixing on an individual like the manic targets of a mad beggar. The Fool especially, if he is present, his jokes and bawds sometimes seem to hover frighteningly close to something like awareness of the real world.
Some dream selves fade in and out over a matter of minutes, never to be seen again, some are common characters, often returning albeit in different shapes and forms. Some are monsters, some nightmares, some beauties, some heroes.
The king has been sleeping for a long time and his dream has grown strange indeed.
The only person here who is not a dream, yet who seems like one is his half sister, the Cambion Sorceress Esmerillion.
Nevertheless, this is still the centre of the Temporal Government for the Eclipsed Kingdom. Every Baron must swear loyalty to the King and they must all come here, at least once, to do it.
Not all of them make it out. Some go mad due to the pipes. Some are killed by the Dreaming court for impossible dreamlike reasons; because they remind an imaginary person of a thought, because they have the wrong sign in their name, because they are too small or too large, because they have a look, because they do not have a look.
Others are given quests and orders by a member of the Dreaming court which cannot be completed. "Become your own son", "Bring me the colour blue" "Climb a tower in a ladies eye and bring back the treasure she does not have". Though these are but the dreams of the King, to ignore them might be seen as ignoring the will of the King, and the will of Azathoth, who's prophet he is, and many high lords have been forced to set out on incoherent maddened quests to impossible places, for impossible things, before they can claim their high position.
Beyond the throne room are the silent halls.
Though they were not always of this kind, over the centuries, the Ordinis Carcere have changed and adapted the shapes of the rooms and the nature of the walls.
Perhaps this was simply to avoid the terrible music of the pipes, perhaps it was to more deeply fulfil their oaths of silence, but they have slowly encrusted the halls and rooms of the Castle with strange repeated shapes and bizarre angles until, in every room, in every corridor, there is absolutely no ambient noise.
The halls of the castle are so quiet that those entering say they can hear their own blood pumping in their veins, that they can hear their own scalp moving over their skull. Any noise made is eaten by the strange additions to the walls and ceilings, as soon as a door is closed a scream inside a room cuts out as if a switch had been turned.
The Knights themselves make absolutely no sound whatever the circumstances, moving through the dead-quiet halls like ghosts.
It is here, and in the utterly silent dungeons that the Ordinis Carcere organise and disperse their forces, ranging all over the Eclipsed Kingdom and beyond in search of people to imprison, for whatever reason can be found, and searching also always for bards, to drag them back to the Court of the Sleeping King and set them to piping, for the bards themselves wear out quite quickly and become little more than dried husks after only a few days.
Down within the dungeons are the most significant prisoners of the Carcere, (those not surrendered to the Infinite Cathedral). Many of these are themselves prison breakers and escape artists. The Ordinis Carcere loathes and despises these people especially and makes a point of hunting them down and securing them absolutely. They are chained in cages in the centre of soundproof rooms.
The Castle itself stands on a promontory of volcanic rock. Its multiple battlements tumble down the sides of the stone into the roofs and pinnacles of the Silent City.
Once it was the home of the greatest craftsmen, artists, poets and lords of all the world. Though it is half-sunken in ruin and utterly quiet, this is still where the Eclipsed Kingdom holds the best of its artisans, scriveners, scribes and the small mercantile class which the Kingdom still cannot do without.
|I know he's basically the patron saint of the OSR at this point, but what can you do?|
Very little can be found in the city without first knowing what you are looking for, the centres of ruined buildings may still hold secret life, unlikely alleys or locked gates may disguise secret homes or places of work. Somewhere in this city a handful of people may still be getting very quietly drunk, or playing a game of silent chess.
The burgers of the town and True Citizens of the Silent City have all had their tongues removed and communicate only by written or gestured sign. Long ago this may have been in sympathy with, or by order of the Ordinis Carcere, but by now it is simply a ritual and proud sign of citizenship and of voting rights in the city’s silent council.
The people speak in whispers, if they speak at all.
The city itself is, in effect, an extension of the prison, and of the castle. At night the streets near the Castle are spread with quiet white sand by silent churls and any sign of a footprint before dawn is investigated as a capital crime until the culprit is found. The Carcere are maddened by the idea of one of their most special prisoners escaping, especially since they might well help more prisoners to escape elsewhere! Many citizens of the city have double roles as servants of the Carcere and report back to them in a complex network of informers.
Still, there are conspiracies and lies everywhere. The Kingdom has many enemies and even within the kingdom the various orders, factions, baronies, families and lines plot continually against each other for power. Some half-elven lords and ladies are actually plotting against themselves, with one half being either unaware of what the other half is doing, or simply out of deranged mania. Some sorcerers may be plotting against future or former selves, or alternate versions of themselves.
The Castle Of The Fissure King
Of all the Keeps of the Eclipsed Kingdom, the Castle of the Fissure King is perhaps the strangest and most mutable. Though the Infinite Cathedral twists back on itself in directions impossible to perceive, it at least has a reasonably stable outer form. The Castle of the Fissure King seems to change position, shape, nature and relation according to the situation of those who seek it.
· It is always the home of the Calicem Servi, the Grail Knights.
· It is always the resting place of the Grail itself.
· It is always somewhere in, or on, the Fissure.
Yet for all this, exactly what it is seems to vary with the observer.
Some describe it simply as a vertical castle cut into the walls of the fissure. Some as a single keep standing upon an impossible pinnacle of stone. Some as a kind of bridge-palace crossing the Fissure itself, or as two palaces mirrored, rising like recurved horns from the walls of the Fissure on each side and meeting in the middle. Some as a beautiful and classical castle poised on a mesa or hill in the valley of the Fissure itself. Some as a mansion on an outcrop of stone with a river passing beneath it.
The Fissure itself changes in its form depending on those who seek it, or who seek to cross it. On maps it is described, by most, as a deep, vast valley on the borders between the Eclipsed Kingdom and the wasteland beyond. But any map seeking to describe the Fissure will quickly tear or break, and the tear itself will be at exactly the place that the Fissure is shown in the map. It cannot be represented.
For those who have sought it out it has sometimes been a huge, verdant, valley with a river running through it, full of forests and incredible animals, even the ruins of ancient peoples and lost civilisations. For others it has been the edge of the world, a black cliff proceeding endlessly down into an unknown netherworld, the floor lost in howling mists driven by screaming winds that pile over the rim like tornadoes. For others it has been a deep crevasse, almost impossible to cross, but on the other side, a mirror world exactly like the side just left, or did the Fissure somehow turn them back on their path and return them to their origin? For some it has been a turn or curve in the world itself, where gravity twisted, as if the skin of the world turned over like the bent page of a book and continued on the other side, upside down. For some a rift valley, filled with lava and sulphuric gas with the black castle of the Fissure King rising out of the bubbling poison. Some find it the Cliffside border of a mighty black ocean that appears on no map. Some say it can only be approached from one side and that whatever side it is approached from is the only side that it has.
To seek out the Fissure King is to enter the realm of spirit and of faith. Those who are strong with faith in Azothoth may find their way easily, if their faith is true. Those who lack True Belief, or who deny his Truth may find impossible challenges and situations. Yet sometimes the Fissure will test the faithful and forgive the heretic.