Where aphotic sea does deny,
Reflections of a xanthous sky.
And black stars reign without ascent,
Echoes of what was never meant.
A city built in unknown times,
Upon the bones of countless crimes.
Stranger yet is found within,
The chaos court of strife and sin.
The mad dance here without control,
As all must play their given role.
For those beyond our mortal ken,
We die and live, and die again.
Our Lord does writhe atop his throne,
Before his glory, we atone,
With this, our blood, it is the Hanged King's,
So shall we suffocate upon his puppet-strings.
I write to you, dearest reader, from a certain bibliothecal nexus. I have bartered with the shades and expect my latest travelogue to, piece by piece, reach the infinite worlds: they know of the dark corners, the secret places and Janus Doors, in which to deliver my folios.
I bleed words and have obliterated myself upon these pages for your entertainment and enlightenment.
A Wandsman in the Court of the Hanged King:
I remember the rich aroma of decaying flowers as it struggled against a sharp, metallic scent for supremacy - neither lingering odor able to disperse the other. Clutched within my talons was a flesh-bound grimoire, the ill tempered tome biting my hand at its first opportunity. I felt acquainted with its contents, as if having finished reading but moments before, and returned the spiteful book to its shelf.
In retrospect, I am unable to recall a single word of it.
There developed an itch about my left eye. Instinctively trying to soothe the irritation with a scratch, my talon sliding across a polished surface. A porcelain mask, seemingly irremovable, disguised my features.
I cawed in frustration, the grievous itch beyond reach.
A tall and conical entity wagged diverse appendages and trumpeted a shush. The Frmmmk'l Frmamem of Frm was right to be bothered as I was, after all, within a library. Bowing my head apologetically, I took my leave of the aptly named Athenaeum of Severed Tongues, eager to explore.
I arrived at the Hall of Mercurial Virtue with anomalous speed, unaware what occurred between the here and there. Such was the nature of Alagadda, the restraints of time and space being mere suggestion, not law. Even as an experienced wanderer, I too succumbed to the city's dreamlike malaise.
The Hall of Mercurial Virtue blurred the line between the beautiful and grotesque. Pilgrims and emperors, gods and monsters; entities from all possible realities playing their role in the eternal masquerade. Driven by ambition as black as the stars above, most sought a boon from the Hanged King itself.
My talons clicked together, my mind overstimulated by the grand chamber and its curious inhabitants. A decadent display of insidious glamour, Alagadda was hardly the dismal realm initially anticipated. A moniker such as "The Hanged King" conjured forth images of death and decay, desolation and despair - not revelry. My eyes contain sixteen spectral receptors and yet I only observed red, white, black, and yellow - the color scheme unexpectedly limited. Stranger still was the persistent taste of purple - near hidden beneath the reek of lust sweat and sweet meats.
I tried to ignore the perplexing glare of anarchy and watched from a corner (relatively speaking - Alagadda the epitome of non-Euclidian architecture).
Certain observations are simply too salacious for me to put to writing; however, when considering the infinite orgy, one may simply allow their imagination to run wild. Whatever you could possibly conceive - you'll find it within the Hall of Mercurial Virtue. Suffice to say, expect to see a diverse array of shame organs - usually entangled with other shame organs. Which brings me to my first observance:
A Flesh Shaper of Adytum, their pale mask asymmetric, fondled a Blood Vestal of Daeva with hand and tentacle - the two whispering terrible secrets into each others' ears. Their auras revealed a history intertwined, their copulation practically incestuous from my perspective. My revulsion gland nearly full, I sought something more palatable to my senses.
A Centaurial Dreamsmith of Oneiroi bargained with the Deathless Merchant of London, the one closest to real having the apparent upper-hand. The Merchant spat legal jargon, nasally articulating his terms of agreement. I detected no past or future for the Dreamsmith, though an ephemeral existence is challenging to read. In contrast, the Merchant cast a long shadow, where dead souls accumulated and pointed accusatory fingers.
A trio of godlings, entities so often thought to be in opposition, mocked their mortal faithful - their barbed tongues spitting venom and condescension. The three consisted of a Horned Tyrant of Panthiss, a Bedlam Sprite of X'nol'zok'thussss'i, and a Hierarch Cherub of Eldonai. Betwixt the godlings resided an altar, carved with symbols that twisted and blurred and seethed.
A chitinous servitor delivered a hatchling to the shrine as one might deliver a meal. With dagger raised, the retainer chanted words that escaped translation. I averted my gaze, unwilling to watch their mortal strike. I heard the blade enter the flesh and the spill of blood.
The servant removed the ghastly corpse and surrendered a curtsy before vanishing in a blink. Dinner had been served and the cultivores appeared satisfied; feasting upon not the victim but rather the symbolism of the atrocity. Symbols, I remind myself, have power to such creatures.
Casting my eyes skyward, I beheld the legendary Masked Lords of Alagadda:
The White Lord, Wearer of the Diligent Mask - a porcelain guise with eyes narrow, the mouth little more than a flat line.
The Yellow Lord, Wearer of the Odious Mask - a porcelain guise with brow furrowed, the lips curled into a hateful sneer.
The Red Lord, Wearer of the Mirthful Mask - a porcelain guise with eyes wide and manic, a smile carved from cheek to cheek.
I saw no sign of the Black Lord, Wearer of the Anguished Mask. This came as no surprise, they supposedly exiled to some forgotten backwater of dimension. It is written that the cause had been political in nature, the specifics unknown. It is difficult to imagine the court intrigue of such a place.
My feathers raised with a sudden shudder. Dread began its coil - transforming the music of my dual hearts to dissonance. A stranger, lithe and sable, made their opulent entrance. Accompanied by a coterie of harlequin sycophants and paper guards. They wore no mask, their faceless visage an aberration among the masquerade.
My hope grew dim in the presence of the Ambassador of Alagadda.
Their title was a misnomer, the designation unable to encompass the totality of their power and prestige. The Ambassador of Alagadda was the Voice of the Hanged King, their will made manifest, and to whom even the Masked Lords bowed their marionette heads.
I chose the better part of valor and made a casual retreat. The palace was a labyrinth, bereft of rhyme or reason. Drunk were the gods of physics, above and below without meaning – twisted by the pandemonium city.
I encountered myself several times, always located at some unapproachable location - iterations of my past and future self. My attire was red, yellow, white, black, and utterly garish; I apparently having more concern with the enforcement of Alagaddan fashion than the entanglement of time.
And then, a burgeoning terror - an unseen threat closing fast.
There existed a void where a memory should have been, unaware my arrival. Naked in my ignorance, I shivered as the chill gloom embraced me. The wind took pity and sung its sorrow song - as it diminished, it whispered unto me a warning: "In here is a tragedy".
I beheld Alagadda's shadow, an amalgamation of rust, rot, and misery - a dead city at the end of all things. Wandering its empty streets, I stepped over tattered banners and broken glass. Dust gave chase, granted life through my careless meanderings. The palace had come to ruin, its once splendid gates torn from their hinges.
The Hall of Mercurial Virtue was lifeless, a tomb for want and vanity. In the room's center was a gaping hole - no, not simply a hole; more an infected wound. A viscous ichor gushed from the aperture, an amber colored substance imbued with the sick scent of failed creation.
I entered the wound, crawling into the bowels of Alagadda. I know not what overcame me, never intending to come this far. Was I to play this role from the beginning? From where I now reside, I can look back and see the puppet strings. I remember only little of my descent - just the singular desire to find what hid beneath. I was a scholar, an explorer, and would play my part well.
The broken rules of time and space again summoned me elsewhere. A windowless room of humble stone, cloaked in a layer of sepia fog and bereft the opulence so common to Alagadda. I sensed no name among its shrouded corridors. Sickly vapor slithered around me, saturated with the scent of ripened books. At the far wall was a descending spiral staircase, its steps crude and uneven - comparatively primitive to the city above (or below; I could not know).
And still, to the boredom of my readers, I advanced - facing the banality of more stairs. I felt as if I was the fabled Xitheus, Retainer of the Fungal Crown - who quested through the Slough of Three Million Inconveniences. One step, then another - all fairly straight forward. As I neared the bottom I began to hear whispers - spoken in a tongue I could not understand. Cliche? If this was a work of fiction, perhaps, but know that chaos words represent the universal warning for having ventured too far (Consult Otherworld Laws and Universal Constants to learn more).
One step, then another, and I felt my soul burst into flames - immolating the ego and casting the psychic aftermath into the wind as cinders. Around and around my fragments twirled - pulled by gravity of something incalculably vast. I was as thought - a fugitive sentiment before an ancient intelligence.
Here among the dreaming dead,
I am ash,
And burning feathers,
Drifting through the firmament.
Carried by wind,
As if my wings were not vestigial
To land I am anchored
By murderous gravity.
I am reformed,
Only to be torn apart,
Of who I used to be.
I became blood,
On the hands of criminals.
I became the noose
Around my own throat
From death I am become
One step closer to real
From within the center of chaos my fragments felt the vibrations of a great scream, a living emanation of mad anguish. Matter and form grew enamored and gathered around the existential wound. Neither sacred or profane, the Hanged King took shape - the shards of my ego becoming one with the walls of its throne room and dungeon.
The veiled entity, asphyxiated by a noose of thorns, writhed upon its throne - bound in place by shackles, hooks, and spears. There, unmoved by the cosmic scream, stood the Ambassador of Alagadda. Although dwarfed by the Hanged King, the two were of a similar countenance - a resemblance not shared with denizens of their kingdom.
The Hanged King lunged at its tormentor, more primal than regal - their faces a mere breath apart. The Ambassador, callous and calm, lifted the veil with an ebon hand.
Instead of a face, I beheld a visage of nihility - a god shaped hole.
All was void.
First came a familiar aroma - a hint of vanilla, a drop of citrus, with a fixative of mold and mustiness.
I opened my eyes and saw a lantern aglow with spectral fire. Shelves overflowing with tomes both eldritch and mundane.
I dipped a finger into a clay jar to my left, swirling the contents within. Satisfied, I withdrew a now ink-soaked claw, placed it upon a scroll of parchment, and began to transcribe my experience from memory.
Ickis the Wayward, Wandsman of Kul-Manas - Walker of the Astral Plane, Sailor of the Celestial Sea, and Spelunker of the Dimensional Depths