I have touched upon The Outlands, yes. But, there is still more to see. The Concordant Opposition, a name with more than one meaning. To some, it’s the center point where all things converge. To some as well, it is the force fighting all planes at once. At least, this is what that Acts of Balance sect/faction proclaim. Beyond them, there are many more sights and sounds to observe within the center ring within the Wheel. With such a variety of experiences alone, a Sensate could spend a lifetime here.
Author’s Note: I enjoy doing these. As such, I have to return to this! Now, thanks to the Torment conversions and some of my own, that takes care of a number of monsters at least. The one bit from the Elemental post felt a bit tacked on, but it only made me wanting to do more. It begs the question, what happens when I run out of planes? Well, I’ve been making plans for another project.
Here is the neutral grounds of the multiverse. Before, I stopped mostly to seek out a merchant to help with travels. But now, I dedicate myself to it! Let us see what the Concordant Opposition has to offer. This is a funneling and gathering point of all things, with Sigil as very much the representation of this plane. Though, many refute this. Just because it hovers on top of the spire doesn’t mean it’s a part of it… at least, so say the Cagers. This isn’t to say that the Outlands lacks any distinction or personality. By all means, it has much to offer. As it is, the Outlands hosts Indep safe havens, the Gate Towns to each respective Outer Plane, Tir Na Og, the Library of Thoth and so much more. Of course, we’re here to examine what constitutes that last bit.
The Acts of Balance, I’ve brought them up before. Despite what one would think, the Outlands is likely the most safe from their darker side. After all, this place itself is a plane of neutrality, as long as one doesn’t over-extend towards any other planar belief. As it turns out, it’s currently because of them as to why I still have an esteemed title within Sigil, at least for now. But, my interest in them relied in The Chant. And believe me, there’s plenty of Dark to go around. Several say that the Centrists try to stay out of faction matters. That’s just not true. That’s a front they put up, making them look akin to Indeps. In truth, it’s said that they try to have their fingers touching all the factions in some way. Unlike say the Anarchists, their aims are to prevent the factions from going too far or gaining too much traction in something. The Dark goes deeper, their true to desire is the destruction of all factions, replacing all things in the cosmos with a balanced system. No plane will risk doing something too far or too drastic, lest the Rilmani and their forces bring down relentless wrath. This is the endgame of this planar crew. Spilling this to puts you at risk though, dear reader. Remember, next time you pass them, just act neutral. The only thing that can stop them is the fact they came from two separate sects that still sometimes struggle with each outer. For a faction out to stop division, that very thing would spark their downfall. But, does that matter? The Rilmani aren’t the only players with a stake here. It is said that some form of shadowy creature has used the faction to its benefit, but little else is known on that.
Melting Pot has much of the mixture that Sigil holds. But, this burg is no city of doors. Instead, it tries to balance as much as possible in terms of populace. Many Cagers decry the place as a shallow copy, importing all beliefs with few of the benefits of the Cage itself. But, what spawned such madness? Surely those on top would never be welcomed into the City for their mockery… And should they meet the Lady? That’s it! Once again, the Rilmani seem to be up to something, so say paranoid berks and conspiracy ramblers; but they always blame them anyway. If it is true, then there’s reason to worry for the planes as we know them. All the same, it feels so unnatural for creatures that have no objections or strong moral arguments to suddenly take a stand on something. But, back to the burg, it can create a far less daunting experience than the City of Doors itself. It shares many similarities and delights. But, there are key differences. For one, no factions were ever allowed. It’s just regular people blending from various walks of life. While it lacks the conflicts and extra politics of Sigil life, there’s an underlying uncanny sensation. Conflict seems to lurk beyond normal sight. You don’t notice it around you, but you can sense something wrong just beyond. Perhaps there is something to those theories…
The Collector of All, which isn’t a person but a place. The Traveler’s Inner Soul has stopped here for commerce every now and then. But, for a place that takes information, they’re not content with giving it away. Like a dragon, the inhabitance are keen on hoarding whatever they take. Curiously, their reasons aren’t academic, but more vain. To them, knowledge is something to collect for their own personal interests. Many have given all means of facts and histories spanning across the planes, distant secrets of things long gone. The specifics matter little to these people, only that they have The Dark well within their grasp. Few are sure why they are so protective over their treasure, since they aren’t the academic types, for the most part. A chief has informed me that knowledge is power. Through that power, they generate mystique and intrigue. But, what do they give in return? Things quite literally built from knowledge. They can somehow replicate things solely from the knowledge they’ve obtained. There is a magical block placed upon these objects though. The user can never gleam any further insight or knowledge of their own from their acquisition. This curious quirk is an intentional feature. Some fear this these collectors are secretly fiends trying to push away all knowledge from the multiverse, leaving a deprived and uneducated future.
Walking Castles have been seen infrequently upon the Outlands. However, scrappy gnomes from Wildspace have had their try at a base of operations too. Or rather, they have a mobile walking base. The Wandering Headquarters of the Iron Coil is a terror to behold. A behemoth of steel and arcane conduits walks like a spider; its many huge legs lifting and slamming into the ground below. All these legs, and beams, help support a lengthy platform full of a burg’s worth of buildings. A meeting hall, several forges, factories, safe house, series of warehouses and docking bay make up the center slab of the headquarters “grounds”. The gnomes of the guild are very reluctant to welcome outsiders aboard this massive “vehicle”, as much of the magic occurs here. A company wants to keep some of its secrets, after all. From what they have shown me, their incursions with the multiverse have brought them here. While they have expertise in travel, they have expanded into useful arcane appliances and defensive weaponry. The most recent curiosity is the “Miniaturized Air Ships”, a small spelljammer-like vessel the size of a one person rowing boat. In the middle of the boat are flat wings supported by wiry beams. Complicated controls like a helm-like area for the pilot to operate. And no, they’re not for sail. They will admit that the air boats are not an original design. They owe these wonders to the sealed off prime of Mystara, particularly another gnome colony, Serraine.
The Factions, while primarily in Sigil, do plenty in the Arts of Politics outside of it as well. The Athar, in particular, have quite the active base within the base of the Spire. Due to the incredible protections and blockades that the Spire naturally produces, the Powers cannot interfere with this outpost. However, there is nothing saying followers can’t mess with the Defiers’ plans. While their central site in the Aoskian temple, several caches of extra goods have been shipped to here. This remote extra serves as a “field operations center” for their anti-Powers meddlings. Only the truly brave go much further than their claimed turf, but usually do so for covert missions only. Only a leatherheaded Athar would be obvious outside of a protected zone. While the outpost is private and away from prying eyes, it suffers from the consequences of being isolated and away from almost anything useful. Plus, the slight damping effects upon magic prove to be frustrating at times. After all, this isn’t too far up the ever powerful spire itself. And even then, particularly bold Lost have gone on incredible adventures to spout their dogmatic cries against Gods, Immortals and many others.
Do you care more about alchemy than about factions? What a strangely specific question! In this case, I speak of Admixture. This little burg exists to explore things sampled from all planes beyond. The alchemists behind this fascinating experiment simply want to see what the planes have to offer in knowledge and experiments. If you weren’t overly sure, you’d think they belonged to the Society of Sensation. But, no. Their abode is nothing overly special; sand-based buildings of brick combined with stone. The furnishings are also spartan and humble. However, their equipment are the true gems of this treasure. Here, the creative brewers gather to see what strange potion craft or other wondrous things they can create. They have no real end goal, as they usually destroy the many failures. The few successes though? They’ll find their way to some market and sell them for incredible prices. Usually, someone will come along and cough the jink. Funny enough, they have a shop in the Market Ward with a stable portal in between. Sadly, they don’t want just anyone using their portal and I respect that. But, it explains how they manage both locations with such ease.
The next sight can be explained as truly extraordinary. I speak of the mythical chariot of a dimension-traveling man. Grey of hair, wild spikes and beard, the man wears a floral printed shirt and black framed spectacles. He speaks in some archaic language mashed with gibberish, though he seems to know warped dialects of familiar tongues. He claims he’s on the hunt for his lost friend, a group of gnomes. However, he seems to have little interest in me joining him. As for his craft, it’s much like the wondrous “auto mobiles” found in the world of Terra. The wanderer seems to have little in the way of business, however he proclaims to have cultivated incredible herbal plants to use in burning rituals alongside sacred paper scavenged from a wicked tome. While no fighter, he is armed with an incredible firearm-like weapon; a modified blunderbuss perhaps. Before he left, he mumbled some prophecy underneath his gibberish. It was something about realities folding and overlapping. It sounds quite serious, but I’m afraid these theories aren’t my forte. As it is, I only proclaim to be an expert on the prime-fabric between worlds. He did insist on taking me for a “lift” to one of his destinations. Adventure awaits.
On Carcosa, the Lost City
The mystery man proclaimed that his mobile needed fuel, warranting a stop in the decadent and vile realm of Carcosa. He advised holding onto my stomach and my mind, as this place was “tons of lost marbles”. This is a devious otherworld is contained within a dark cityscape. A black sky filled with black stars cloak the lengthy shadows of the many spires and towers. The image of two suns creates a much more abrasive glare than what exists in the Prime. The true ruler is a mighty cosmic entity known as “The King in Yellow”. Through his eldritch grasp, he is capable of snatching various sights and settings across the planes, adding them to his twisted demesne, often locking the victims away from their worlds. Ruins are constantly built over each other, with fragments of the past peaking out among the current dying age. Residents are fearful, unlikely to interact with any fell visitors. And even then, many are just the abducted under a dark lord’s power. A foul miasma hangs over the land, but one that’s not just a smell. It’s the very essence of The Forbidden One himself, as its putrid source erodes the perceptions and mental strength of those who stay for too long. Even the city itself shifts and slopes in reaction to outsider movements. Various points and makeshift hedge mazes bring a visitor to a dark and foreboding tower. Some of these are said to connect to the king’s unfathomable powers. It’s truly a dark and dreadful place, one which no one should willingly visit.
However, the roaming madman somehow found his “fuel” in this collapsing derelict of a mad god. So, my reason to stay is thankfully over. Plus, the madman proclaims that he unloaded his gun against several Byakhee, foul servants of the being he calls “Hastur”. A word for the wise, never utter such a name. As horrifying as that “pit stop” was with the mystery man, I wished to part ways. The stranger created a makeshift pipe from his herbal remedy and his arcane papers, seemingly lighting it up in a quick snap. Surely, this sage of lost arts had much information he would never part with. As a final gesture, the strange traveler remarked that his name was “Henderson”. And through the fabric of reality he drove onward. As for me, a doorway beckoned me. The signage was simple and obvious, “World Serpent Inn”.
In which, we explore the World Serpent Inn.
Ah, a place I am familiar with! This should be good. You might ask, what is the World Serpent Inn? It is a dimensional tavern that tethers reality much like Sigil does. The inn exists everywhere and nowhere, connecting to almost any city or town in almost any dimension. Double doors lead you into a space for hanging a coat and the entryway to an ancient looking tavern hall. The supernatural energies tend to lesson conflict within the building’s confines, at least in the front area. This is best observed thanks to the sweetly scented mist that hovers in the tavern. As an added bonus, the smoky blanket also cloaks parts of the building from being fully visible. They say that those who stay around long enough feel the influences of positive energy. Wounds close faster and people overall feel healthier. However, being a business, this does not rid one of hunger or thirst. And, what’s in a name? The Chant says that the fragmentation of the World Serpent itself helped to establish this place. The Real Dark says that a somnolent chunk is an active part of how the place operates. Some even say that the owner is a literal manifestation of the entity. Plenty of theories state that a pact between the Mercane and the Illithid lead to its establishment. More curious is that a third benefactor was involved, with their identity being a true mystery.
Those who want to throw down will take it to the pit. Given the size of the walls, there’s a comfortable barrier for patrons to enjoy the pit fighters knocking the right amount of sense into each other. The Inn itself offers more than watching scraps in a dug out hole, of course. The Common Room is quite sizable all its own, after all. Tables for games and tables for drinks can be found littered throughout, all fronted with their own wide varieties of personalities. But, no personality sticks out more than the current owner of the establishment, Mitchifer. One would assume that beyond his rosy cheeks and smiling demeanor; his strange eyes and white beard actually made of snakes makes him a demon. He likely isn’t, and he insists on being helpful however he can. When behind the bar, expect all brews from the weakest of bub to truly exotic concoctions to beguile the senses. And where he can’t, his small army of sylvan gnome maids and wenches will! It’s said that the wenches hail from the realm of faerie. Whether or not this means one of the various courts is unknown. Many other patrons have found a niche within this space. Others have documented them in their travels, let me talk of ones not described yet.
While the staff will always steal the show, countless regulars have made themselves well known within the inn. Two regulars, possibly residents, originally hail from The Cage. In fact, I’m quite acquainted with both of them. They are Uldron’Zoum and Laneille the Quick; both born of almost opposite origins. The former is an Aasimar, born of archon blood, raised as a holy crusader before joining the Mercykiller faction. He is stoic and cold, caring for little more than a truly just and noble reality. While he rarely emotes, he doesn’t why when he describes a reaction. While his skin has a distinct glittering shine in the presence of holy light and his eyes have a glossy white look, it would be hard to tell him apart from a light-brown toned human. He claims to have Prime ancestry from the Torilian nation of Mulhorand. He drew ire of the faction due to his enjoyment of vanity and luxury, distractions from justice. Laneille however looks about as subtle. A Tiefling of some abyssal manifestation, she has spiked ridged traveling from her head down her back, making normal clothing difficult without modification. Likewise, her fingers are talon-like. True to her name, she’s a bit skittish, mostly due to traumatic childhood acts of thievery in The Hive Ward of Sigil. While she has resigned her days of thievery, she still has a knack for keeping an eye on the tavern. In keeping in line with her companion, she uses her talents to look for especially seedy clients, tipping off Uldron’Zoum or doing what she can to drive them away. Her methods aren’t exactly within the rules. And, by the strangeness of the planes, these two somehow became friends. For what it’s worth, they seem to keep some familiar company in a place somehow alien to Cagers. Fancy that.
I wish I could say such good things about the other regulars, but let’s try anyway. For one, Old Warlock Wallace is quite the sight. A shabby and worn string-bean of a man who claims to hail from the Appalachian Mountains of Terra, he has faded overalls, a working white shirt, a wide hat and a beard to sometimes hide his barely toothy smile. Don’t let his senile gaze fool you, he’s an expert in the dark arts. He mostly mutters to himself, observe others and wander into his room to practice sorcery.
Xarankth is a banished Pit Fiend who sometimes discusses dark subjects with Wallace. While known to vanish out the front door, they have a habit of nervously coming back. What can be said is that the devil was once a powerful official in the Blood War. Something went wrong, at first making the fiend flee the planes into Wildspace; trying to regain lost souls on various colonies. While this still persists, the Inn became a proper hideaway upon accidental discovery in the Rock of Bral. What misdoings have they committed against Baator? The baatezu will never tell!
Now, of Ulgnier Heinrichson, he is a quite tall lupine gentleman clad in fine suited attire from a distant Prime. All in all, it’s anachronistic to the predominantly feudal into renaissance timelines I’ve encountered… fancy cravat and all. The wolfman prefers to mind his own business, when not engaged in storytelling, music and sometimes getting involved in the pit. Despite his strong accent, he’s been known to help lead guests to their desired location within the inn proper. How he can traverse the shifting halls is unknown. Rumor has it that he was reincarnated from a human form, but he’s reluctant to talk about that matter. He claims he’s simply more sophisticated than many of his kind.
Most curiously is Scrap Eater, a Halfling from the world of Athas. Thanks to a magical collar, she’s been forced to behave. However, she’s a living wonder when it comes to polishing off leftovers others don’t want. She never tires of eating and never grows fat from it. She proclaims it’s from her own gift of “mind powers”. She’s more than a garbage disposal. She’s also a fierce warrior, who acts as a guard against trouble. Plus, her tales of gore and carnage entertain the most macabre and sick minded of guests looking to challenge their stomachs. She never refrains from graphic details.
Sir Conric Dunwillow is one of the few noble blooded to grace the halls. Originally a Solamnic Knight from the world of Krynn, he quests for heroism in the name of the Order of the Sword. Through training and divine gifts, he helps to protect the Inn while providing aid for those who need it. His cheerful personality matches that of Mitchifer himself! The two have been known to discuss mighty deeds and goodly prospects, even though Conric proves far more just than the owner of this fine place. While not in the position to take on apprentices, he fears that he’ll never reach Krynn again. In the meantime, he does train those willing to learn in the arts of defending themselves, often combined with lessons and virtues to instill a proper use of these fighting techniques. Despite his youthful appearance, he proves wise and knowledgeable well beyond his years.
Within the less noble is a conniving trader hailing from the great kingdom of Blackmoor, Flanagan Finsk. Such a land has long since been of interest to me. In fact, he hails from a later point in the timeline, a ways before the Great Rain of Fire. He knows all about the demise of his people, thanks to peering into the right gateways back into Mystara. This is made all the more interesting by a wicked curse placed by a dark witch. During some nights when he sleeps, he’ll find himself locked in a magical slumber that lasts up to years. He’ll be locked in a deathly status, unbroken and untouched by time. Since this is redundant with the Inn, it’s mostly just him going without food or drink while sleeping for an extended period. Because of this, he has long since lost any semblance of a calendar. But, his home is gone, so he doesn’t care anymore. In fact, he found the Inn after a massive heist took off in Blackmoor City, swindling countless priceless artifacts and items within a modified bag of holding. Clad in a black leather coat, a simple white short-sleeved shirt, athletic shoes and denim pants; he sticks out even among the odd visitors here. His slicked back long, but slightly balding hair and smug grin gives off a rather sleazy personality. His craft involves the sales of all sorts of items and artifacts, many of which are originals he smuggled away; plus all kinds of information brokering. He’s held with a level of contempt, but he proves mostly harmless.
Besides finding a room, perhaps looking for a door to another world is in order!
Gates of the Dark Mystery, Prison for a Power
Leaving one of the Inn doorways, I find myself in a cheery, yet empty looking town. Looking over the edge of a city wall, it’s revealed to be part of a massive castle floating above a dead waste below. In truth, the world on the ground is just a grim reflection of the castle’s original world, long since gone. Falling will be endless, as the victim will never reach the ground itself. The flying kingdom is eerie and lacking in life. Old banners and flags dedicated to regimes and people likely long gone still waver and blow proudly, pushed by an artificial light breeze. In some ways, it feels akin to the dark world of Carcosa. But, in this case, a giant blue orb provides a shining light…. even though it paints everything in an uncanny lightly bluish tint. However, wandering the streets, there is the strangest sensation of inhabitance. It always seems like there are people just beyond the doors to various buildings. Either they’re evading me or some dark magic is at work; concealing them or tricking me. Even stranger, the layout of town looks like it’s ready for an average day in the Prime. Market stalls are set up, awaiting use. Temples await guests for prayer. Gardens and some small fields look well tended to, ready for another day of hard and toiling work.
Towards the castle proper, the drawer bridge is already down. One would assume they knew I was coming, whoever they might be. As I drew closer, something peculiar took place. The blue orb sun began to transition towards red, as if an eclipse was taking place. Slowly but surely, the red tint saw life returning in the barren city. Wisp forms began to materialize and shift into normal humans, all preoccupied with their business. Few seem to pay me any mind, beyond a quick glance. Chilling, but there is time to question this later. Inside well lit halls and corridors, guards simply let me advance and explore throughout the castle. For certain, the owners know of my arrival. After aimlessly wandering, I find what looks like a great meeting hall. Four people wearing violet cowls sit at a table, the long caps draping over their shoulders. The hoods attached seem to obscure their faces to the point of each face being a pocket of void and nothing more. The first hooded figure gets up, gesturing me towards one of the many chairs. All the while, the sound of a drawbridge raising is audible in the background. I guess I’m theirs for now.
The figures all take turns speaking one by one, they discuss how they’ve been seeking wanderers of the planes to end their strange plight. While they are people, they are stuck being phantoms at the hand of an evil patron, the Dark Mystery. Long ago, a hero captured a mighty essence of this being and shoved it behind a dimensional door. However, the entity vowed vengeance and placed this curse upon the land. Before being sealed, it struck down the ancient hero and shattered their soul. To this day, a special tomb stands to honor the champion. All attempts to revive the hero failed, as did even divine intervention at the hands of a divine patron… long since locked away from the cursed land. While nothing in the hero’s crypt is of use, they felt it was worth mentioning. And furthermore, their fears extend well beyond their curse. Should the Dark Mystery escape, countless worlds are endangered. They usher me to the Chamber of the Gate, where a grim reality begins to set in. The seal blocking the prison of the entity was shattered. For how long? Unknown. But, none the less, some malevolence has returned. The only hint as to what this fragment is is given through a symbol. Said symbol looks akin to a question mark, with other protrusions underneath it. The emblem shines an unnatural yellow glow, as if some lingering magic is still attracted to it. Placing it against my own hand, it heated up as if activating a spell. The glyph reacted by burning my hand. By the looks of it, the mark itself isn’t magical, so it will heal. But, until then, I feel I’m embroiled in a dark conspiracy. As the faceless counsel begin to panic, the glint of redness from outside begins to shift once more into blue. And with that, they vanish. Perhaps a return to the Inn is in order. I feel something truly sinister on the horizon and I do somewhat wish that Henderson man was back.
IMAGE CREDITS: Tony Di’Terlizzi – The Outlands; Cristi Balanescu – The Path to Carcosa; Robert Lazzaratti – World Serpent Inn; asganafer – Flying castle