The Forbidden City
Medium Amol-Kalit desert None
- Howling Staircase
- Serpent's Teeth
Snakes and scorpions None None Dearth and scorching heat None None
Glorious though it might've been, little has survived of the Forbidden city into this age. Its graceful architecture has been swallowed by time and sands, its foundations ground into the dust. Gleaming domes of gold lie cracked open like broken eggs, their bounty of worship and peoples long burst forth into the desert. Naught but ghosts and winds linger between these ancient walls, haunting the explorers which dare set foot upon the hallowed ground. Those brave – or greedy – enough may venture deeper into the ruins in quest for knowledge or riches, but few have ever returned.
Those who have are rarely of sound mind.
DemographicLong dead. Nothing is left of the people that built this place, save for the occasional sun-bleached, sand-eroded skeleton the wind sweeps out of the dunes on occasion. The only inhabitants of these ruins are now desert snakes and tiny, lethal black scorpions. Thankfully for the intrepid explorer, the latter prefer dawn for their hunting, and are thus easy to avoid.
DesignationThere are many theories on what purpose the Forbidden city might've served. Some contemporary scholars claim it was the capital of an ancient, forgotten civilisation that Amol-Kalit has long swallowed. Older theories argue that it was never inhabited in the first place, and that it has always been the necropolis known to the explorers of today. Whatever the truth may be, it lies well in the past, inscrutable as the desert itself.
Just because its settlers have abandoned it, however, doesn't mean the Forbidden city means nothing to anyone anymore. Certain schools of magic consider it a sacred place and consider trespassing on the grounds a grave offense to the spirits; other sects revere it just the same, but instead encourage its members to visit the ruins and thus pay their respects.
ArchitectureObelisks and spires, domes and towers, carvings and colonades. When the winds are merciful and the day clear, one can see all of this and more. The dunes give way to a brilliant lattice of white and golden stone, polished by the sand to a blinding gleam. The feet of giant statues wander disembodied through the streets, searching for the heads that have long rolled off towards the sea. Stairs rise and fall like the tides, leading everywhere and nowhere, but mostly... below.
As magnificent as the Forbidden city may seem on the surface, its greatest treasures of art and engineering lie in the bowels of Amol-Kalit. Many scholars who have visited the ruins in the past have lauded its excellent urban planning, its clear approach to hierarchy, and even defensibility. The tunnels dug into the earth stretch hundreds of meters in every direction, and no-one knows exactly how deep they reach. Those who have tried to find out have never returned.
Points of InterestHowling Staircase – A long, winding staircase that coils around itself like a snake as it burrows into the depths of the desert. Nobody knows what lies on its distant end. Those who have ventured inside have all returned shaken, raving, or not at all. The tales they bring back are as wild as they are contradictory: Elves speak of warmth and welcoming light; Humans cry about hounding nightmares and oily shadows; Dwarves say nothing of themselves, but they have all reported, down to the last, that the stone down there "isn't right".
Moondial – What was first thought to be a collapsed spire was determined by today's advanced science to be, in fact, a moondial. Which, of course, is odd, because anyone who has ever lived in the desert knows there's two things in abundance: sand, and sun. Nobody has been able to explain this curious phenomenon so far, although many have tried.
Serpent's Teeth – A collective name for the many towers that jut out of the shifting sands. It is more than just a witty metaphor, however; snakes of all breed and size seem to favor these stones best out of all the ruins scattered across the Amol-Kalit. Though few are so foolish as to stride through the Forbidden city during midday, many wrongly presume the ruins safe once dusk descends. Unbidden, the broken pillars have become tombstones to many of these erring explorers.
Maout-laxlx axa Exi-qon.
These are but a scant few names the Forbidden city has borne throughout its long history. Nobody knows what they mean anymore, not even the oldest people of the Amol-Kalit. Though intrepid scholars have brought many a Sand Elf to these ruins, none have been able to decrypt the sinuous hieroglyphics etched into the pale stone.
LoreAs I drew close to the Forbidden city I knew it must be cursed. I was travelling in a parched and terrible valley under the watchful moon, and afar I saw it protruding through the sands as parts of a corpse may protrude from an ill-made grave. Fear spoke from the age-worn stones of this hoary survivor of the deluge, and its viewless aura repelled me, bade me retreat from sinister secrets that no living eyes should see.
In and out amongst the shapeless foundations I wandered, finding never a carving or inscription to tell of those who built the city and dwelt therein so long ago. The antiquity of the spot was unwholesome, and I longed to encounter some sign or device to prove that the city was indeed fashioned by mankind. When night and the moon returned I felt a chill wind which brought new fear, so that I did not dare to remain in the city.
I had fled its whispers for my camp when I came upon a place where the bed-rock rose stark through the sand and formed a low cliff; and here I saw with joy what seemed to promise further traces of the antediluvian people. Hewn rudely on the face of the cliff were the unmistakable facades of several small, squat rock houses or temples; whose interiors might preserve many secrets of ages too remote for calculation, though sandstorms had long since effaced any carvings which may have been outside.
The dark apertures were low and sand-choked, but I cleared one with my spade and crawled through, carrying a torch to reveal whatever mysteries it might hold. When I was inside I saw that the cavern was indeed a temple, and beheld plain signs of the race that had lived and worshipped before the desert was a desert. Primitive altars, pillars, and niches were not absent, and though I saw neither sculptures nor frescoes, there were many rocks hewn into symbols by artificial means. Shudders came over me in some of the far corners; for certain altars and stones suggested forgotten rites of revolting and inexplicable nature. What I saw etched and chiselled into those walls made me wonder what manner of men could have made and frequented such a temple.
As I moved deeper into the cavern I beheld yet older traces of art on the ceiling; curious curling streaks of paint that had almost faded or crumbled away; and on two of the altars I saw with rising excitement a maze of well-fashioned carvings. Then a brighter flare of my torch showed me what I had been seeking – the opening to those remoter abysses whence the sudden wind had blown. I grew faint when I saw that it was a small and plainly artificial door gaping in the solid rock. I thrust my flame within, only to see a rough flight of small, numerous steps twisting into the darkness. Yet I hesitated only a moment before stepping through the portal and began to climb cautiously down the steep tunnel, feet first, as though on a ladder.
Time had quite ceased to exist when my feet again felt a level floor, and I found myself in a passage slightly higher than the rooms in the temples now so far above my head. I could not quite stand, but could kneel upright, and in the dark I shuffled and crept hither and thither at random.
Eventually I felt my way to the other side, where a small square hole opened into a vast, black abyss. Clinging to the cavern wall on my right was yet another steep flight of steps, but after a few feet the glowing vapours rising from the depths concealed everything. Behind me, swung back against the wall of the passage, was a massive door of brass, incredibly thick and decorated with fantastic bas-reliefs. I looked at the steps, but dared not try them. I touched the open brass door, and could not move it in my exhaustion, and sank to my knees instead.
Suddenly there came another burst of that acute fear which had intermittently seized me when I had first set foot into this uncanny valley. Despite my fatigue I found myself starting to a sitting posture and gazing back along the black corridor toward the tunnels that rose to the outer world. The feelings twisting in my gut were like those which had made me shun the city at night, and were as inexplicable as they were poignant. Before I could afford them proper consideration, I received a still greater shock in the form of a definite sound – the first which had broken the utter silence of these tomb-like depths. A deep, low moaning stirred the stagnant air, and the fog veiling the stairs seemed momentarily alive; as if a beast awoken from slumber had turned its pale eyes upon me. The volume of the baying rapidly grew, and soon it reverberated frightfully through the low passage. At the same time I became conscious of an increasing cold wind, likewise flowing from the tunnels and the city above.
I think I screamed frantically near the last – I was almost mad from all that I have seen during my long descent – but if I did so my cries were lost in the hellish babel of the howling winds. I tried to crawl against the invisible torrent, but I could not even hold my own as I was pushed slowly and inexorably downwards into the unknown world.
Only the grim brooding desert gods know what really took place – what indescribable struggles and scrambles in the dark I endured or what demon guided me back to life, where I must always remember and shiver in the night-wind till oblivion claims me. Monstrous, unnatural, colossal, was the thing – too far beyond all the ideas of man to be believed except in the silent damnable small hours when one cannot sleep.