Monday 31 December 2012

Radiolarian (and Trogloraptor)


These were old when life was young and bear no sign of age. Each seems quite new and freshly made. You imagine polishing hands wringing each gleam from the liquid shard-like spikes, then wandering off, just as you arrive, to leave it shining whitely in the butter-yellow light.

The shapes a jewellers drunken rave, a Fabergé masturbatory fantasy. Endlessly symmetrical disco-ball-bright pinpoints. A prism'd interior. The lantern light refracts and paints wierd spectra on the sallow rock.

Not all the Radialaria were fossilised in precambrian ooze, or leant their genes to species yet to be. Some survived, exceeding their design. An unpredicted maladaption cracked their genes and killed them as a breed. But kept them as one thing. The humming engine of evolution, unchained from sex, went mad inside the cell.

These are not the children of the creatures of old. They are the very thing. The same anonymous cell that floated in the worlds first sea, but still alive, and vast.

The liquid crystal has a hippo's mass, but packed with mind. It needs the size to store its plans. Neither predator or prey, the Radiolarian has two to three million years of survival oriented molecular memory held in recombinant chains. It cannot think. They have no brain as you would understand, but acts, reacts, adapts, recalls. The surviving Mega-larians have faced almost every threat that life can face, and many lost to time. They know it all.

Sometimes they need to eat.

They move like leaves, dancing down a street in wind. Corrugated edges kissing at the ground. Or spooky children racing in a twilight park. They're light, or seem so till they hit, pinning you bloody on the rock. The liquid spikes like supple knives curl round. They drink your blood. You watch the red mist briefly in the gem. Then gone, like match-smoke patterns in an opened room. They need your GATTICA spirals to wipe clean, and re-record with threats they've yet to face.

Careful observation of a Radiolarian before or during combat, can give you clues to the kind of threats present in the local volume. A beast begrimed with ice might have fought the Ignimbrite Mites, a creature wild with multicoloured light may have duelled the Eigengrau.

Radiolaria will adapt to any blow, spell or tactic, no matter what it is, the moment after it is used, or, if the players are being boring, the moment before. Interesting players may survive. Dull ones never will. Plans don't count. The Radiolarian already has all the plans. Innovation counts.

I have a problem with this thing. It's already a blind, climbing, cave dwelling spider with awful hooks that point each limb. And it's real name is actually Trogloraptor, which is better than anything I was going to come up with. I was going with 'Hook Spider'.

There's almost nothing I can add to make this more charismatic or unnerving than it already is.

Perhaps it carries children on its back as eggs. Like anyone's children. Yours maybe. Attacks like a hook horror with eight legs. Intelligent. Translucent ochre. Needs more kids to put its eggs inside. And the kids are still alive and crying for help. Because that's it's hunting tactic. It eats the parents when they come looking.

Obviously I'm making it giant, and self-aware. Though I'm tempted not to as the child-egg-bait thing almost seems more horrible as a fucked up hyper-specific evolutionary tactic. So maybe as smart as an Orca or a wolfpack.

The sound of weeping children in the darkness is a classic. Because you know there are kids to be rescued. And you know the only reason you can hear them is because Trogloraptor is hunting you and it wants to draw you in. I'm imagining one long slender limb curving up over its own back to gag a weeping child that's bound in silk. It stares down from the wall, watching the lanternlight pool, waiting for you to approach.

Saturday 29 December 2012


The shell is pearlescent, beautiful and elliptical, like two contact lenses pressed together, edge to edge. It's four feet high and almost sharp. The lantern light collects, reflects from ridges, barely discernible rock-splash ripples. The curving shell-tip wobbles softly and slowly side to side. They herd in groups where lichen drips from limestone cracks and lick the rock with agonising care.

They remind you of yachtsails, anchored in ranks on a dark and windless sea, a windowless room of broken metronomes. They clack, and tap, off-rhythm in the dark.

The tortoise heads, and snouts, that poke below are pale, like everything here, and (if possible) slower and more careful than the real thing. Craning and stretching like failed origami. It takes twenty years for the shuffling ToRaptoise to lick its fill from a vein of slow-growing abyssal lichen. It speeds up fucking quickly though, when it wants to.

When meat is scented, grazing pauses for a moment, the shells half-turn, the eyeless heads curl round and gossamer vipertounges lick patterns in the air. If meat is strong they stop, and lick again. If meat is weak, and they will always know when meat is weak, the shivering starts.

The heart rate climbs an hundredfold within a minutes time. The raptors shake and buzz like junkies. The shells begin to clack clack clack, then crash like fallen dishes, hum like bicycle rims, then whine like bees. The muscled upper legs extend, babyflesh wet. The shell tilts up, the foot-worn frontal knuckles crack, uncurling fresh/old claws that climb. The head comes up, whistling one continuous circular breath. The jaws extend. The tongue whips out in motion-capture sine wave blurs.

This creature will burn a century of slowly hoarded calories in one hour-long high-speed underground hunt. If the pack fails to down its prey they can all die of starvation, sometimes within a few minutes of each other. The shell is almost inaccessible even after death, the ToRaptoise is denied even the cannibals dividend. They fight together, they die together, they cannot be broken once a hunt has begun. They will bet, in their animal way, every single second of a quiet centuries-long life on one brutal super-fast fight. You or them.

No-one is betting on you.

Friday 28 December 2012


These are from the dawn of life itself, when RNA bounced around centreless cells like tapedecks in the 80's, recording and exchanging.

The Archea are an ancient Phylum, exiting the common path before even fungi and plants separated. These cells bet their lives on strange transformations in impossible environments and lifespans in the aeons. Slow, sombre molecular clocks ticking with the speed of funeral bells. They feed on things nothing else can feed on, in places nothing else can live.

They haunt volcanic rims and know the terrors of the Igneous Wrath and see the hunts of Pyroclastic Ghouls. Albino crabs that bathe in sulphur fumes from deep-sea vents might startle at the touch of pale metallic fingers, climbing precisely and blindly up out of the boiling smog and into the abyssal sea. In pressure-liquid lakes a mile beneath sub-arctic frozen seas a ferrous-copper eye might blink. On xenolith interior moons. In mines. Between rocks and within them. Without light. Without heat. Without time. They feast on radiation, blackness, and great silence.

A kind of elaborate rare-metal corsetry, like bones designed in dreams or armour made ablative to the eye. Within: a kind of bubbling gas/plasma hybrid thickening impossibly at room temperature like mercury reversed, a gas that flows and holds its form. A stained-glass window burned with copper-gold, the pigments not quite mixed, melted in a snake that drips from vacant frames and almost cool, slowing almost imperceptibly. Colours in the hundreds. A face and flame-like top, an oil-slick halo of metallic fumes. This is the form of the Archean.

They are not elemental, magical, alien or divine. They are simply a slow product of time and life, evolutions children just as you.

We know very little about the Archeans. They are old, indifferent, and need little from us. They are, for the most part, outside the cycle of organic life. We know they tend the Atomic Bees and seek the deadly honey. They can speak the language of the rust-monster, or perhaps of the symbiotic bacterial stacks that ride them. They know the Ooze.

They are slow but stabbing an Archean is like assaulting a lion with a pork chop. Weapons don't last long. Photon-blind, the caves are blurred to them. Tachyons and cosmic rays don’t interact with rock too much. The ultra high-energy low-frequency particles they sense makes their sight more like hearing in definition and sharpness. But their sensitivity to the deep radiations of creation means their sense of cosmology is very advanced. They can see the still expanding primal fires of the universe very well.

Archean Lithomomers use different strata of rock to lens cosmic rays, this lets them see things close-to and make shadow inferences about the nature of surface cultures on their own world. The better the Lithonomer, the closer they can see. Some even claim they can see the shadows of people, moving around up there. Radical Archeans are amazed and impressed at the rapid-burn super-fast turnover and micro-lifespans of light dwelling organic beings. They have questions about they kind of culture that can survive when its constituent members die every 80 years.

They may seek to speak to you, but they don't really understand that you are a whole thing. They think of you as something between a hive member and a meme-transmitter.

Likely questions of the Archean radicals.

1- Have you spoken to the sun?
2- Why identical forms for many*1 but constant changes*2, why not individual forms for all and less change?
3- Where do the cities go? Are you a cancer of the cities, did they make you?
4- Is 'food' something you are or something you do. This is unclear.
5 – What is your understanding of 'land' during its mid-magmatic state. I.e after being magma, before becoming magma again? Is there 'ownership' of this 'land'?
6- What is 'weather'? Why do the mountains die? Why is there a limit to lens-size? Can this 'weather' be stopped? Can you stop it?

*1 They mean species. They don't really fully understand what a species is.
*2 Evolution.

Thursday 27 December 2012

Something Like Men

These things are people (in the way we understand the word).

Proteans or 'Olm'

These are virtually human, only about a million years old. Cave-salamander people. Long white bodies, seven feet tall and slender as a child. You could almost fit your hands around their waist. Elongated limbs with small child-like three fingered hands. Bright vibrant gill tufts like rose-head ruffs, Elizabethan punks. Slender tails.

Their faces are blank, eyeless and beautifully shaped. Red vertical nose-slits shiver open when they leave the water. Almost-lipless mouths that gawp a centimetre, showing sharp pinteeth and indecent pink tongues. They're kind of hot, but in a way you'll never mention to anybody else because they'll think your mental or perverted.

Bodies weave endlessly like slow sine waves from a dreaming mind. They appear to drift but they can feel movements in the air. Faces and bodies thick with invisible hypersensitivity.

As you swing your weapon towards them they drift aside. Like being impossibly dodged by an old old man. But if you can see, you have the advantage. In air count them as unarmoured. When they slip into the water, it's like gifting them an extra sense, AC as plate. The whole wrap of stream around them becomes another organ of discovery.

They have the same intelligence and emotional complexity as humans, but shaped by a dark world of endless famine and a braille-wise underculture of ultra-sensory contemplation.

They can learn and speak other languages. The only time you'll ever hear them is when they speak your tongue to trade, or the faint whistle-pitched mouth clicks of a war party as it emerges from the flow in the darkness.

They know what sight is and they are not stupid. They think about it the same way you and I think about allen keys or fishknives. Clearly very useful in a highly limited set of circumstances, but a fucking bitch to carry around with you and a poor use of resources. They will trade when necessary, or to accomplish sight-useful goals.

Protean reasons for trade:-

1 Identifying something in the distance of an airy space that cannot be climbed.
2 Chief has a new status-signifier-item, is meeting with sighted peoples, needs to know if the 'colours' have dignity. But you have to describe it in terms he can understand.
3 Bad air is killing us. Follow us through the area, watch your 'lantern' tell us if the flame changes 'colour'.
4 Games for the feast, stand ten meters away, we change position, and again, now tell us which one of us is which. HOW DO YOU DO THAT?!?!
5 Radical touch-bard needs new sense-words, is seriously angling for a classy new mate, needs to knock it out of the park at the great gathering, is willing to cross weird cultural boundaries to come up with stuff no-one has felt before.
6 Shaman saw colours after mushroom dream-flight, needs someone to talk him down, but no-one understands. Like Grant Morrison after he met the 5th dimensional aliens in Katmandu.


Imagine six gigantic fat translucent milky cells in a tube about five feet high. Then two stalks poking out the top. Each stalk made of three thinner cells in another tube, and where they meet at the top, a bunch of six foot antennae and some kind of boiled-egg sensory thing.

The Cambrimen were the first attempt of eukaryote cells at a human shape. But life didn't have enough genetic complexity to build anything good, so they ended up like this. They don't look like creepy primal cthuloid entities, they look fucking useless.

You can actually see the cell core floating around in there like a murky walnut. If you held in in your hands you'd feel your palms tickle as their crap analogue genes divided.

Pathetic, failed beings. Legs barely differentiated. If they stand still too long the legs grow back together. Just a stupid tube really. Chatter and wander around like fucking idiots. Nothing wants to eat them because their stupid giant cells just mash like jelly. Even oozes won't touch them. So so so hard to kill because simple makeup means no nervous system, so no trauma damage. No complex biological transmitters means no poison. Can't drown. Can't breath. Barely grows old. Has something like a pseudo-culture, like a subnormal child reading the back of a book upside down because it's seen you do it.

Attacks as a 1 HD monster. Has 5-8 HD. Takes hours and hours to kill as it flails at you uselessly.

Wednesday 26 December 2012


Long ago it was thought that certain degenerative diseases, apparently immune to medicine, could be cured by sufficient clean cold air.

This lead to an exodus of victims to brighter climes. The sick thronged, muttering and promenading, by clear seas and cold hills. But, some doctors doubted the clarity of even these infusions.

They settled on caves.

Caves breath after all, and the deeper and larger the cave then the longer and more powerful the breath. What could be safer, more regenerating than to bask in the cool airs in the womb of the earth itself?

Things did not go as planned. Within a few weeks of total darkness the body's immune system drops to zero. This, and other strange qualities of the darkness lead to unexpected reactions in the interred, violent reactions.

When the plague victims were finally forced back into the cave system, a wall was built to hold them there. That was many many years ago, but they still wander the underground. The same individuals. You can sometimes hear their endless muttering as they engage in pleading negotiations with the disease that now preserves and animates them.

Tuesday 25 December 2012

Kolkbläser Monsterhöle

On the last day of christmas Patrick gave to youuuuuu

Two Hundred and Seventy Four names from the Abyss.

For people, places, things, whatever.

Below the cut

(Also why are you on the internet? It's christmas, go and tolerate your insane family.)

Monday 24 December 2012


A clanking patchwork of clay and stone. The rough form of a man formed by a hundred hands*. The statue pieces that make his body are ruined scraps from the fallen idols of cities lost beneath the earth.

The hands arranged to strike down gods that eyes were carved to see. The chest a daemons, weirdly shaped. One leg of marble made to hold up worlds, the other treading snakes as ancient foes. The curling serpents carried still upon the toes, and worn with endless tread but writing still. The nose, patrician emperors the chin, a saints, the hair, arranged from naiads, nymphs and fools.

This creature questing endlessly and lost within it's memories halls. But filled with fiery purpose to some end, and knowing absolutely it was made for some great act. Or condemned for crimes it can't recall.

It may be right.

(mashed up collective memories of a dozen cultures could perhaps be useful to adventurers.)

*Ok, probably not a hundred.

Sunday 23 December 2012

Fossil Vampire

Vampires cannot die. Long ago, in pre-history, they infested the earth so totally that they swarmed starving beneath the soil on every available surface and piled in the seas abyssal deep beneath the reach of the suns rays.

Ultimately nature revolted against this grotesque perversion and, somehow, in one blinding flash, they were totally destroyed.

When they were finally wiped out there were so many that the calcite remains formed an entire geological strata. But time has eroded and folded them so now the thin band of pale rock that is the only remnant of the first great age of vampires is only another geological phenomena.

But, still, they cannot die. Very occasionally one was fossilised wholly enough that, millions of years later, freed by erosion and decay, it can wriggle loose from the soft rock.

The fossilised stone skeleton of a precambrian vampire. Cracked and deranged by its entombment. Utterly totally insane.

Saturday 22 December 2012


We can think of culture, the product of civilisation, as a living thing. Then consider the means of culture to seek it's own survival.

Those means will include a freight-train sized centipede.

The Civilopede is a scavenger/predator. When the cities of the Underdark burn and fall, the Civilopede arrives to hunt through the wreckage, discover and preserve the artefacts and records, and ruthlessly hunt the survivors.

A few librarians and archivists are spared, they enter into a symbiotic relationship with the Civilopede, becoming its back-riding teamster-curators.

The nerdy remnants of every race swarm on the creatures hide, arranging and re-arranging the endless piles of art, artefacts, museum pieces, records, writing and treasure. Anything you could find in a gallery, museum, archive or library will be stored there.

The only place in the Underdark that culture could be preserved in this way is by something big, scary, violent and dangerous enough to keep it safe.

The Civilopede never stops moving in its endless perambulations beneath the earth. It can be mounted, with great danger and risk. The curators will turn against any invaders unless they bring or produce culture, so boarders can exist safely, but trapped in a kind of endless salon. Decadent aristocrats of civilised races sometimes try to board for exactly this reason.

Friday 21 December 2012


Long white, looks like a lion on meth. Blind. Claws drip slowly with Alkhest, the universal solvent. Can ultimately claw its way through anything.

Lives in vast alkali caverns formed from the decayed rock it scraped away to form its lair. Salt-mine warrens are its hunting ground.

Has symbiotic relationship with fungal spores that form its ruff. Like a host of dandelion seeds, but six or seven feet long and projecting forwards, you cant really see its face. When the lion hungers a few spores break off and float off half-intelligent like dandelion seeds on the wind. Wandering through caverns. When they find flesh, the lion awakes and follows.

Empty white salt tunnels with occasional bright spiked floating seeds caught in the lanterns glow. The seedstems flex and bend towards you as if alive. You turn back but then there's another, and another and another.

Thursday 20 December 2012


A cave bear made of clay. The head a stump, a chunk of wood jammed in the neck hole, and on it, the skull of an ancient bear. Made by our ancestors and imbued with magic from the hunt. The holes in its clay sides were made by spears and javelins as they danced around it, maybe some fragments of ancient wood still remain within.

It's clay claws won't cut but can smash bone. It is waiting for the song to complete so it can go back to being earth, but the culture that sang it is dead for thirty thousand years. If you know the song and can dance the dance like the shaman of old then dance it and calm the bear. Otherwise the hunt goes on.

Wednesday 19 December 2012

Slime Shark

A killer shark that has symbiotically bonded with a huge slime. Can move freely around out of water. Skin dissolved, organs floating free in a kind of pale yellow amniotic bath. Cartilage skeleton curling upright as if in prayer. Jaws and jaw muscles kind of hovering in a halo above the skeleton. Whole thing moves fast like putty sliding down a windowscreen. First the slime pulls you in then the sharkjaw slooowly lowers itself over you and sloowly bites down. Then the shark and slime share your calories.

Tuesday 18 December 2012

Castellian Caddis Larvae

Giant caddis fly larvae that builds its tube-like shell from metal and lives long in underground rivers. The only metal that won't eventually corrode in these conditions is either gold or magical steel.

The shell of the Castellian Caddis Fly is made up of shields, swords, spears and other weapons of legend. All washed clean of markings by the rivers flow. A shell of blades. Each one was the legendary blade of a particular culture or hero-cycle, made to kill gods and defeat evil. But eventually forgotten and lost. The shell is more dangerous than the fly inside it. Heaves itself up out of the white water, plumes of foam spilling on its spiked and shining sides.

When the fly needs new stuff for its shell. It finds the river system below a climax culture and waits a few thousand years for it to decline. Once the museums have burned and the hero's are dead, the blades will be forgotten and lost. Eventually they will end up in the water sink and the fly will recover them.

Monday 17 December 2012


The Nightmare Whale. An insane, screaming, albino, telekinetic whale. Yeah Moby Dick had psychic powers, you surprised? Surface beings rarely meet these creatures from the under-ocean. Sometimes they go fucking crazy and get trapped in a nightmare they can't wake up from. Their telekinesis means they lift out of the ocean and, vertical in the air, heave screaming through the underdark, wailing crazed songs in ultrasonic.

You could try killing them, or waking them up. But who understands the dreams of whales? Surrounded by the force-ghosts of squid the whale is imagining tormenting it, and which are actually attacking everything around. Not a city destroyer, but maybe a killer of towns.

Sunday 16 December 2012

Tachyon Troll

White spindly troll encrusted with fungi which is itself symbiotically bonded to rare archean bacteria. These produce rare metals and impossible elements at a slow rate and encode them in micro-helixes inside the fungi. Like a polar bears hair has a spiral inside it that refracts infra-red. These things refract time. Troll looks kind of crazy and beautiful with weird glintings inside its fungal lumps.

Tachyon Troll starts at 1 hp. Looks all fucked up, like its just been in a fight. You have to fight it. If you don't the temporal energy released will slowly kill you until you do. Each blow restores hit points. When it reaches max it's regeneration kicks in. The troll knows all possible futures for itself and this has given it buddha-like wisdom. It doesn't hate you. It's trying to kill and eat you because this is the tao of the troll. Speaks calmly in gnomic parables while you fight it. Reassures you. Accepts death calmly when it comes. It was always fated to end this way. Maybe surviving a long fight with one gives you a new perspective on life, possible WIS bonus, free alignment change or life insight.

Sunday 9 December 2012

Ursus spelaeus

This is courtesy of Norbert Casteret.

It attained the size of a bull, but the bones of an Ox look fragile compared to a cave bear's. It's muscles must have been huge, judging by the muscular insertions of the bone; it's canine teeth were the size of bananas.

It penetrated to great depths, exploring the most out-of-the-way crannies.


Even in narrow vertical passages, where one can climb only by hitching oneself up like a chimney sweep, I have been surprised to find bear traces on walls covered with clay or delicate stalagmite. Sometimes long scratches tell of desperate efforts and dangerous slides: sometimes, too, I have found skeletons at the foot of pits or steep walls.

Eleven hundred yards from the entrance to the cavern of Montespan the bears noticed a narrow gallery opening ten feet above the water. Thanks to their great size they were able to put their forepaws in the opening, but a layer of soft clay makes the place peculiarly difficult to climb into.

Nothing could be more curious and striking than the many long scratches in the clay, which shows the bears obstinate attempts to hoist themselves into the tunnel. We can imagine the beasts falling back heavily into the water, growling as they got up to try again. Some of them succeeded in entering the corridor, which grows smaller after fifty feet. Here their size prevented them from going further, and they clawed up the earth.

The tunnel ends at an impassible crack after a hundred feet. At the end of this cul-de-sac a cub, which can have been no bigger than a poodle, has left the marks of its little claws upon the floor.

It is not surprising that the cub continued to explore the tunnel beyond the point where it's parents were halted, but the amusing thing, which sheds a light on the animals habits, is that the cub could not have climbed into the high tunnel alone. It's mother must have strained every nerve to hoist it up.

But not all the bears perished alike: some fled deeper than ever into the caverns ... the penetrating damp of the caverns caused a degenerative disease, whose stages are strikingly shown by the monstrous lesions of the bones still found in the caverns … There are deformed jaws, joined vertebrae, shoulder blades encrusted with bony tumour, long bones distorted by a sort of arthritis and sometimes grown together..”

I can't stop imagining them penetrating deeper and deeper into the earth, slowly changing.

Sunday 2 December 2012

Monsters So Far

Hook Spider
Translucent Mantis Shrimp
Blackfoot Gigaferret
Crawling Piranha
Zombie Coral
Fossil Vampire
Ultraviolet Butterfly
Fungal Hijack Crocodiles
Myconid Slaves
Slime Shark
Sonic Pigs
Atomic Bees
Panic Attack Jack
Igneous Wrath
Ignimbrite Mite
Pyroclastic Ghoul
Blastomycosis Megaspores
Tachyon Troll
TitanSkull Hermit Crab
Spotlight Dogs

I know what most of these are. Still not sure how zombie coral works. Spotlight Dogs are terrifying, halogen howl wolf whippets with thumbs, pack predators, matt black like new guns.

There are three intelligent race thing in there. 

Proteans - white, blind sinous salamandermen.
Cambrimen - ancient pre evolved pseudomen, transparent skin, undifferentiated organs, segmented bodies, slow and stupid.
Archeanids - aysymmetric stews of ancient phylum chemistry.

The Tachyon Troll is already badly woulded from the fight your about to had, but if you dont heal it with the edge of your blade the temporal distortion will kill you with years. Plus, it's trying to eat you.

I need 12 more so I can fill out the main encounter chart. Noisms is right. Making new monsters is hard. (My hook spider is different to his and I thought of mine first)

Tuesday 27 November 2012

An Ur-Text about violence

We think we understand the world

We think we can control it
Why does he want it? This is never explained.
every painful failure of my life
The 'good' rabbit hides. He surrenders to violence and hides. He didn't even get his own carrot in the first place. His mother gave it to him. Goodness is weakness it seems.
and then, like the wrath of an indifferent god..

This is a man with a gun. This is a man with a gun. This is a man with a gun.

Beatrix Potter understands violence too well.

But what is left after an act of violence?How can we know what happened? War destroys memory as well as flesh.

The 'bad' rabbit escapes with minor mutilation. The good rabbit still gets nothing. The hunter, who wanted a rabbit, gets a carrot.

Thursday 22 November 2012


I am meant to be thinking, and writing about caves. Instead I found myself thinking about this.


Even the caves die. They were made by life and time. Limestone is a corpse-stone compressed from the empty shells of another ages brightly-lit life.

If you stand on Limestone and imagine, a handful of millions of years ago, looking up from the same place, you will see light. The old and faintly moving light hanging in the darkness, held in momentary shards by waves rolling a mile above your head. You will be standing in a drizzle of the tiny dead, their calcite skeletons pattering down.

Those bodies turn to rock. The rock folds in the earth and churns to hills. The rain falls on the hills and eats the rock. The caves are born. But rain alone is not enough, there must be life. Growing things on the surface of the earth to lend the rain it's teeth. Carbonic acid cuts the caves.

As the land heaves up and water seeks its home the caves remain. They fill with air and darkness. Gravity, water, air and time paint the caves in three dimensions. Wild speleothems crackle into being, stalagtites, mites, richly banded flowstone, pearls of bone, crystals and gypsum flowers, the mad capillary curls of helictites.

This all takes long enough for life to change its form. New breeds and creatures, pale, transparent and sinuous. Somewhere a salamander closes its eyes for the last time. It's children will never hold the language of light.

The stone is slowly dying. It came from life, it returns to life, it's erosion and destruction cannot be stopped. In-between the caves are allowed to exist as a strange cradle for forms that have no other place. This process, invisible to us, locks the caves in time. In the whole history of the earth, they could only exist now. We think we see eternal stone, but this is just a blade of time, florescent-flicker-fast.


Not many people build their empires around a spine of mountains. Rivers are a more popular choice. The Inca perhaps.

When the Ghorids built their Turquoise Mountain, the city made to rule the plains, they made it from the bricks and blood of other peoples.

The Ghorid chieftain then forced the inhabitants of Ghanzi to carry every mud brick of their city on their backs up to the mountains of Ghor. There they executed the captives and mixed their blood with mud to make more bricks for their highland capital the Turquoise Mountain.”

The Ghorids built towers and left relics in the rock, carefully placed and held in space between the pillars of the earth.

The domes were positioned in the centre of a symmetrical plateau, which was lower than the western approach ridge. From above, they had no silhouette and from the bottom of the slope they were invisible. Only for a moment, halfway down the slope, did they rise above the skyline. They were then lost again until the summit of the final climb when the curved roof slowly reappeared framed by the mountain range beyond, with the shape of the arches mimicking the shape of the peaks.”

...The Ghorids seemed to have shared this delight in the shape and colour of rock. Unlike the Seljuks or the Mongols, they were not nomads from the steppes but instead, like the Phrygians, Medians and Persians, people who had lived for centuries among their mountains. …. A Pride reflected in the Ghorids use of the epithet Malik-I-Jabal, or King of the Mountains, as their royal title.”

The Ghorids run into a man burning his way through history. The Turquoise Mountain blinks from memory. Eventually, with the long passage of years, the descendants of this man, possessing both luxury and force, make themselves a meal for time. Time feasts on them.

A few centuries after that Rory Stewart decides he needs to walk through the mountains of Afghanistan. He thinks he needs to go on foot and never ride a wheel. In the valley of Jam he finds the tower of the Ghorids, from the top of the tower he sees the trenches ringing the valley sides. The villagers have found the Turquoise Mountain again. They are hacking trenches into the bare earth, down through the blacked roof beams burned by Genghis Khan, and tearing out every artefact they can find. The relics can sell for one or two dollars each. The people need the money, the valley grass won't feed a goat. There is no government but the dead empire of the Ghorids feeds the people of Jam as they send it into the darkness for a second time.


The islands of the Pacific were that last parts of the earth to be touched by the settlement of man. The navigators that took us from Asia to Hawaii and Easter Island did so without charts, mathematics, sextants, compass or metal instruments. They could not write.

They divided the sky with the stars. They could read the geometry of the criss-crossing swells and feel the knots of water when multiple swells combined. They could read the tightness of the water and judge the direction of the current. Read atmospheric pressure from the shapes and colours of clouds. They knew the birds, fishes, whales and reefs of each island, a fluid but regular biological cartography.

They could read nature but they could not read. They passed it on in talk. 'Kapesani Lemetau', the talk of the sea, by performance and by song. Not separate from the culture but part of it, weaved together at every level. Not a storehouse of knowledge but an endless flow of understanding encoded in living experience. Navigation, Theology, Social Code, Art and Political Structure all combined in one.

Then that culture met this one. It did not seem likely to survive. This mad collision of worlds is still going on. We are like an insect, caught in flight in the background footage of a car crash. Only visible when the speed is slowed. Right now people are riding the wave of cultural impact, hurriedly transforming the talk of the sea into something that can survive the storm of western culture.

The Simurgh lays it's egg in flight. The egg hatches as it falls and the chick learns to fly before it hits the ground.

The plankton-dust under the keel of the canoe is falling to the abyss, steeling itself for the long journey until it can form a crag or bound the edges of a cave.

Saturday 17 November 2012

Lazarus Taxon

"The first intense and continuous scientific study of a cave animal was of a cave salamander, Proteus anguinus. It was originally identified as a "dragon's larva" by Janez Vajkard Valvasor in 1689."

 "Local villagers had long believed that a dragon living in a cave at the source of the river Bella caused periodic floods by opening sluice gates when its living quarters were threatened by rising water."

Elvis taxon


 "A third trip was rewarded with the discovery of a transparent shrimp, visible only because of the shadow it cast on the floor of the shallow pool"

 Guacharo means 'one who cries and laments'

They sound insane. It's because they navigate by echolocation.
Oilbird chicks are so oily that you can knock them out of their nest, cut them open and pretty much use them to fill a lantern. 
The Indians of Northern South America thought that the caves the birds lived in were the eternal resting places of ancestral human spirits. "Going to the gaucharos" means "to die".

"The ammonia fumes are so strong that the fur of some bats is bleached a pale brown. There is a continuous rain of urine and feces and even dead and dying bats, most of them too young to fly. Still more disturbing are a fine steady rain of mites from the rooting bats and the swarms of blind flies that live as bat parasites. The surface of the guano stirs with life. wherever you look, insects are feeding on the carcasses of young bats. Thousands of bat skeletons, picked clean to the last shred of flesh, lie all about."  - Charles Mohr and Thomas Paulson

 And these happy glow worms?

  Are hunting for prey