2. The AntiGoblin Empire
3. The Whetstone Ridge
At some point in history, after the expulsion of the Crazed Theigns from the Wodlands, and before the fall of the Mystery Cults, the Master Mason went north to the plains.
She (or they, or possibly he) plunged their hands into the primal juice and began to re-represent reality itself into a more-perfect form.
Thankfully, (or possibly disastrously), she was stopped. Or maybe just blew up. Or possibly they succeeded and this is what they wanted? Or maybe they just transcended somewhere else and don't give a fig about what they left behind.
Anyway, they are gone now, and the Painted Plane, and Pigment River are what remains.
THE PAINTED PLANE
Everything is painted. The style is relative and shifts according to the place, the view and the time.
Beauty is everpresent. Every scene and every sight is composed. There is nowhere to look that is not. You cannot turn away from beauty on the Painted Plane. This can cause a kind of numbness or destruction of the sense of beauty, since it has no absence to give it context, or an obsessive refinement to ever-greater perfection. There are disagreements amongst the Picts over whether this is bad or not.
Its bright all the time. This can drive you mad.
The brightness is an illusion since light itself does not exist on the Plane, only colour does. There is no focus and no depth. Telescopes and lenses have no effect. Mirrors give no reflection. You never have to narrow your eyes to squint against sunlight (it’s only a colour), your eyes never have to change focus much. Night means a shift to nocturnes, rather than actual dark - it is rarely truly black. Lanterns barely work, they have a larger effect if the 'light' they give off is dramatic and adds to the scene.
However the Plains represent themselves it seems to ignore the optic nerve, or perhaps infiltrate it in reverse. The colours and shapes appear directly in the perceptual areas of the mind and flow outwards from there. Colourblind people aren't colourblind here. Blind people aren't blind here.
Physics are slightly fudged. It works of for human-relevant stuff *while directly observed* but the less based around the human life-world it is the more irregular it becomes. As if it were a simulated pseudo-physics.
Sound sounds 'wrong' especially if you close your eyes to escape the brightness. It’s as if all sounds are coming from the next room or are happening behind a curtain.
There are not enough incidental noises - wind, movement, your own breathing, animals, insects, water moving. It's there if you listen for it, but it fills in just a 10th of a second too late - sometimes you notice it gone, as if the sound of your own body disappeared, the you listen for it and it springs back.
The absence of sound is one of the reasons why sleep is scary. Most have the deep sense that while they are unconscious there is no sound. This is impossible to prove but it's like a terrifying absence around the borders of reality. Most visitors to the Plane wake screaming, multiple times a night for the first few nights of sleep. You feel dead when you wake up, as if you weren't really there while asleep.
EFFECTS AND DANGERS
Without any more specific dangers, simply visiting the Plane can have long term negative effects. The longer the stay the deeper the effects and the longer they take to abate once you leave.
Simply crossing the boundary makes the visitor look Rotoscoped. Over time they will become Pict-like in representation, eventually sharpening into a school and style. Most visitors become a relatively classic, representative school, putting them reasonably high up the Planes pseudo-racial hierarchy, but magic-users and some others can become Expressionist, or even surreal.
This effect fades when the visitor leaves but they can be left with;
- Beauty-Numbness, sometimes including a sense of general crawling disgust with the world outside the plane.
- Artefact Scars - brush-strokes in the flesh, relics of their painted selves.
- Paling - loss of pigment, shape or line.
These will heal eventually but almost everyone who has visited the Plane carries some small artefact scar on them, often near-indistinguishable from their normal selves. Something like a single painted eye, a painted foot or brush-marks on one limb.
Some Picts must be descended from the original people of the Plains, others from visitors, some are more recent immigrants. There is no prejudice between recent and late arrivals, or between genders, or races, or species. Instead they discriminate based on style and school.
Those from more representational or classical schools generally regard themselves as being above those from modernist, abstract, futurist, surreal or expressionist schools. Deep surreals or those whose form cannot be understood are often regarded as little better than monsters.
Picts tend to group themselves into clans, tribes, villages and organisations made up largely of one particular school or style, so if you encounter a group, they are likely to all be of a type.
This is only the racial/tribal element of Pict culture. interposed onto and mixed up with this are Pict Politics, based largely on which 'Hand' of the Master Mason each group is loyal to. Right-Handers, or Dexters, tend to be made up more of Classical and representatives. Left-Handers, or Sinisters, are more commonly abstract, expressionist or surreal.
However, there is no absolute stability between, or within, the factions. Groups change sides often and complex political/racial/aesthetic arguments and conflicts rage continually, sending individuals and schools from one side to the other.
Though the Picts are in a continual state of low-level civil war, only about one in four is a deep loyalist to their Hand, the rest being of the party but various kinds of ambivalent, usually. The hardcore belligerents continually berate the less active Handers, pointing out that if they would only pull themselves together, they would have fucking won by now.
So it is that, on encountering any particular group or settlement of Picts, you can never be sure of exactly who or what they are loyal to, what their political situation is (it will be complex) or how they will respond to you. Things can change in an instant if the only truly belligerent member of a group hares off to the Big Hands for Important Reasons, or if an Inquisitor arrives.
Most beings born on the Painted Plane will never leave. On removal they change slowly to their non-painted selves, this happens more or less slowly depending on the complexity and coherence of the being with the simplest lasting longest and suffering least.
Simple organisms in a naturalistic style, with a high level of skill, can often survive their transformation. Some birds of the Painted Plane can travel a long way before returning.
Complex intelligent beings, even if they are painted skilfully enough to survive the translation, can undergo massive identity reorganisation as they pale to their non-painted selves. (Some part of them always remains painted, even after transformation) because of this, few willingly leave.
Surreals and Impossibles can simply 'die' away from the Plains unreality. They decay into objects, forms, horrible mutants or just gloop. Forcibly removing them is essentially murder and even those formally exiled from Pict culture are not actually driven all the way from the Plains, but only to Gate Town, outside the Plains political influence but just within its reality - a precarious existence.
Though there are few monsters on the Plane in total, the _variety_ of Monster-like beings is staggering. Absolute codification is impossible but a few general types are below.
- 'Naturals' a painting of a perfectly normal monster, like a picture of a Manticore for instance. This will generally act like something close to its outer-plane version
- Violent Surreals. Some surreals can become predatory, perhaps because it is true to their painted nature, or simply because of the alienation and prejudice of Pict society. Some of the most horrific-seeming surreals are simply bandits with strange forms.
- Stains/Chimerae. The forms of these creatures are blurred and smudged. They are often assumed to be some kind of Tear (see below), which, if intelligent, they will always deny. Stains will often claim to be a modernist or post-modern interpretation of a known form and not a stain at all. Though this may be true they are rarely believed.
- Unknowables. A category used when no-one has any goddanm idea what something or someone is. They could be really radical art, a freaky import monster or 'natural' monster. Or some strange kind of Tear.
- Tears. These are creatures unique to the Plane and the most feared of all its dangers, especially by Picts. Thankfully, it’s impossible for Tears to leave the Plane (so far, probably).
A Tear is simply an area or volume of inexpressible anti-reality. In a world heavy like ink-wet paper, reality can sometimes 'give' and reveal an awful absence which seems to act with a terrifying anti-sentience. There are various types;
Inter-Object - made from the reality between objects and things - often sessile, angular, infiltrating, growing but thankfully usually slow or environmentally related
Intensity Tears - One thing being 'over painted' often in the shape of the thing that was represented. Sometimes animal or person shaped. Ragged, 'pulled apart' rather than angular.
Alteration Tears - From a thing altered or re-drawn too much. Too many corrections. Most like a Chimerae in 'form'. May act something like a Monster.
Intelligent Tears - mythical, nightmarish, demonic, unspoken, greatly feared and often denied to exist.
Tears attack Picts, and anyone in the Plane by Savaging - blurring and permanently shifting lines, by Removal - deleting or removing from existence entire limbs, bodies, beings or objects. By Tearing - like leprosy/cancer which can sometimes create new Tears or 'infect' a Pict with a slow-burning inner Tear, and by Annihilation - complete removal from reality, and communal memory. It's always possible that someone you know has been Annihilated, it’s always possible that everyone you know has been Annihilated.
A few methods work and making use of many of them, either culturally (to cross a Pict 'race' line) or practically, requires the intervention of outsiders, 'Visitors' or ‘normies’. This is one of the reasons that Adventurers are often welcomed on the Plane despite its prejudiced culture and fractious politics.
- Magic. This can work against Tears sometimes.
- Pigment. Taken directly from the Pigment River. If enough can be transported and thrown on the Tear it can be 'coloured in'.
- Non-Pict bodies or tools. Non-pict, or Visitor flesh and materials can damage Tears more than the local Pseudo-matter. Either in battle, or simply from the Tear choking on their still-real intestines.
- Modernist, surrealist or Abstract tools & weapons. The fact that these typically Sinister and low-status cultures can create useful and lifesaving elements has in no way altered the prejudice against them
- Conceptual weapons from the Utopian Ruins. (These are very powerful, but can create new tears, are generally feared and are looped in time so they appear back in their own path after a while, appearing in the ruins from where they were retrieved, having been there undisturbed for centuries.
Made objects from the Plane can be removed and will often retain their painted characteristics - little fragments of representational unreality. Their painted qualities can often make them 'magic' objects in the world outside.
Any trade in such objects is heavily controlled by whoever occupied the Hands.
PLACES IN THE PLANE
THE PIGMENT RIVER
The source of the Pigment River, popularly supposed to be the point where the Master Mason performed the Incredible Tear, is a pulsing vortex of blinding hyperreality burning like the bleeding artery of god.
If you go in you don't come out.
Maybe you translate into the transcendent whateverdom but if so no-one has confirmed it.
Reality blurs, trickles, softens and erupts into colour near the source. Movement leaves colour-blurs - you feel yourself softening and becoming brighter. It seems like there is something wonderful in there - shapes moving, adventurous and heroic you want deeply to go in.
Beyond its Spring, the river becomes a line of beautiful un-reality running through the unreal land.
The River is the Sun. The Sun itself is just paint, always out of reach but not that far away, and there's no real light anyway, but the river is always bright with pigment - like bright dyed thread in natural grass, or an iridescent snake. It has moods, sometimes seeming animated, sometimes like glowing ink, sometimes like CGI water. A mutable representation of itself
THE DROPS OF INK
Where the Pigment River falls into Palette Lake, the cliffs are a riot of multicolour. This also marks a wildlife break, climate shift and reality break in the Plane.
Around the Lake the last drops of alter-reality fade into Nature. This is one of the last places a highly-representational life-form can survive.
Below the falls the river looks like CGI or an optical illusion - no longer so terrifyingly, unnaturally bright. River-fauna looks glitched, digitised or like photographic collage - slowly become more 'natural' downstream.
The temperature increases, moving from temperate to near-tropical. Glitchy Crocodiles and Photographic Hippos appear. They never move above the Drops of Ink and Tears and dangerous Surreals have never been seen below it.
THE MASTER MASONS HANDS
The Picts believe that these fucking huge stone hands reaching out of the earth are the actual hands of the Master Mason. This has not stopped them tunnelling into them like bugs, transforming them into two huge Cappodocian stone labyrinths within.
Almost all politics and political violence on the Place washes around, or emerges from, the Big Hands.
The commanders or rulers of each faction occupy a hand each. Each is lead by a council of five, with each member occupying one of the big fingers and with their title being named after their finger - Pollex, Manus, Medius, Annularis and Minimus Manus.
So the master of the Left Hand Thumb would be the 'Pollex Sinister'.
Of course there are continual intrigues between the fingers of each hand, to add to the inter-hand conflict.
THE UTOPIAN RUINS
The only places in the plains apparently untouched by the paintocalypse and almost certainly products of the pre-paint Mason culture, these are villages and ruined towns based around big white modernist blocks.
Colour leaks in and stains the walls but always dries to brown cake and flakes away.
Deep within and beneath the ruins are dark dungeons walled in white stone, partly ruined by the civilizational collapse and often time-linked so that they cannot be permanently repaired. Here there is actual, real dark, one of the only places on the plane where a Lantern might actually be useful.
Over time Picts visiting the ruins can flake and brown away so 'normies' are needed to explore and penetrate them in search of secrets or Conceptual Weapons, time-looped archeotech capable of killing Alpha-Tears.
They are occupied by Bandits, Blurs, Tears, Surreals and (temporary) Civil-war losers.
THE GOTHIC FOREST
A good 1/4 of the painted plain is not actually plain at all, but crazy, often-Gothic, forest. In the forest, the trees are in different styles. A lot of the Northern Renaissance, engraved, ink-drawn and black and white stuff hides here. Some trees are pure Mondrian.
The forest is more 'winter seasoned' than the plains - snow can sometimes happen here. The colours are cool. Though the living can be hard, the war is not as common or as intensely pursued here. Since almost everyone is relatively low-status the Pict hierarchy doesn't sting quite as much (though it can still be unpleasant at the bottom). 'Monsters' come here for safety, and the poor-looking grotesques, cartoons (in the old sense, not the Roger Rabbit sense), as well as some abstracts, surreals and others.
Though peaceful in political terms, there may be more danger of tears, Unknowables, Violent Surreals and John Martin events. Most high-status Picts and political obsessives of both kinds dislike the Forest and blame its disorder for hiding potentially dangerous Tears and impossible events.
THE ORIENTAL GATE
The Gates, again, almost certainly bizarre relics of the Masons at the height of their pre-disaster powers, are insanely high, like a literal mountain in height - taller than most built things should ever rationally be.
They are accepted by all Picts as the political boundary of the plains, though the effect of the paint goes on much further along the pigment river.
So escapees, exiles (who usually swap over at each regime change), those who want to access the qualities of the Plain but who don't want to mess with the Picts, low-status Picts, petitioners and ambassadors from the Antigoblin Empire, the Imaginary City, The Wodlands, and wherever else all come here and form 'Gate-Town', a hive of crime, radicalism and equality.
There are less explicit racial divisions here, more cross-school relationships (the classic Masterwork/Cartoon romance), along with more Visitors, outsiders, and the usual freaks who can't get along in the system but who won't go live in the woods.