Alternative Names: Ossilegium (collection of bones), The Fadecliffs, Longhenge, Vindheimer, Enalos, Jotenryger, many others.
World in which Located: The Vault
Vocabulary: To understand what the text below says, it might be helpful to know what Vault-related terms mean. You can read more about the Vault by clicking the link above, but here are two key terms for those who would prefer to read on without changing pages:
- Hexad The Vault is artificial–a Dyson Shell, the inner surface of which comprises zillions of hex-shaped terrain masses. The borders between hexes, called hexads, are normally too subtle for ground-dwelling residents to recognize, but they are there. They also move, often unpredictably changing location within the Vault.
- Cardinal The point at which three hexads meet, a cardinal has magical utility. The most important characteristic of a cardinal for the article below is that cardinals are among the only reliable points for teleportation or teleportation circles in the Vault. Teleporting from any other position carries very high risks because the hexads move about.
Brief Description: Ossilegium, or the Archipelago, is a corrupted mountain range of staggering proportions. Viewed from impossible heights, it would look as though someone took a ridgeline larger than any world, pixelated it into 25-mile-wide chunks, and then randomly, in shotgun patterns, deleted half to two-thirds of the “pixels,” resulting in pillars of stone thousands of feet high, terrifying cliffs on all sides. These 25-mile “pixels” are called hexads throughout this text and other texts related to the Vault setting. (In the Archipelago, all of the terms here will vary by culture or city-state, but the terms italicized throughout this article are usually taken from the Millen culture; see Major Civilizations, below.)
At the tops of the pillars, the setting thus resembles a chain of cloud-skimming islands, though each island does have a foundation on land far, far below. Some hexads stand alone; others remain in clumps of up to 10 hexads. In any case, a mountain hexad or collection of adjoining mountain hexads is called a plinth. Some plinths are uninhabited. Others feature city-states or small countries that must survive, trade, and defend themselves at altitude. Moreover, because of the nature of the Vault, the plinths of the Archipelago often find themselves with new neighbors, spying the silhouettes of distant plinths that weren’t there the night before.
Size: Approximately 25,000,000 miles long, and up to 500,000 miles wide at points.
Distances: Each hexad is 25 miles wide. A plinth is made up of one to ten adjoining, mountainous hexads, with steep drops down the edges. The distance to sea level from the tops of the cliffs ranges from 3,000 to 15,000 feet along the flanks of the range — and 15,000-25,000 feet along the spine of the formation, down the middle. Rumors exist of some plinths that reach higher, but even if such plinths were found, they would be difficult to explore.
The surface along the feet of the plinths ranges in nature from apparently endless seas to deserts, all in the shadows of the mighty monoliths; in some cases, the corrupted hexad structure of the vault gives way entirely, and what appears to wait at the bottom of the cliffs of a plinth may well be … nothing. Distances between plinths is always in increments of 25 miles, so the closest two plinths can come without joining together is 25 miles. Due to the internal curvature of the Vault and the heights of the plinths, though, residents on the top of one plinth can often on clear days make out several distant lands.
In a few areas, the Vault structure has been so corrupted that bits of land normally occurring at sea level appears several thousand feet in the air, on par with the height of some of the plinths, except that in these cases, the land masses appear to float. These floating island-like masses, or skymines, are frequently mined for their bedrock by races able to reach them. The reason for this mining is that even when the rock is transported out of the skymine’s hexad, it retains its peculiar quality: it tends to want to float at a fairly consistent altitude, though it retains the inertia otherwise due its mass. The best known skymines look like they’ve been stripped down and riddled with holes, and are often jokingly called bonelands.
Transportation: Transportation among the plinths occurs either through flying beast, through lighter-than-air craft, or through teleportation gates called step-stones or conveyance stones: menhirs through which one can walk, emerging in another hexad — and often, on another plinth. (These conveyance stones are always located at cardinals. See definition above.)
The art of using and mapping conveyance stones is known to relatively few, however. Airships and other reliable lighter-than-air travel tend to be restricted to a few powerful cultures, each of which controls a limited range of the Archipelago. The Millen have a fleet of airships, for instance, and one known nomadic culture lives on airships, enabling trade among neighboring plinths in exchange for a cut of each deal. Some civilizations have turned sky grooms (see Fauna, below) into beasts of burden.
More common than large-scale transportation is personal transportation. Some cultures have, for instance, tamed and mastered the riding of giant birds or bats.
Finally, more than one civilization knows rituals for calling the Wind Kings (see below) and will make offerings in order to barter for transportation. No one rides a Wind King, however. One creates an object for it to carry in its claws — and then hopes not to be crushed if the Wind King is unhappy.
Significant Fauna: Unsurprisingly, the Archipelago’s apex fauna tend to fly: griffons, wyverns, giant eagles, giant bats, giant vultures, pterodons, and the like dominate the landscape, making roosts and homes in the cliff-faces of the plinths. (These homes are not without risk: Sometimes two plinths will find themselves adjoined, with unfortunate consequences for anyone climbing or living on one flank.)
Some plinths may be home to flying humanoid races. Two in particular war against each other: the Aerie and the Voltori. The Aerie, sometimes called Half-Eagles, are essentially were-eagles. The more vicious Voltori are were-vultures.
Although dragons do make their home among the crags of the Archipelago, they are not quite as numerous in most areas as one might expect, and where they are seen, they are often either young or belong to dwarf species–in either case, seldom much larger than a griffon. Some sages speculate that the Wind Kings (see below) feast on dragons that reach a particular size or age, tending to keep their populations in check and young–and creating an evolutionary pressure that has resulted in dwarf versions of the various dragon types.
Other plinths are home to human and other civilizations that were stuck on the plinths long ago when the range first corrupted, leaving them stranded at the top of a new, pillar-like world. Some of these civilizations fly tamed griffons or drakes or dragons. Others have tamed sky grooms–gargantuan, near-mindless, naturally floating creatures that resemble a cross between a transparent sea cucumber and a jellyfish: the tubelike beasts, each larger than a galleon, slowly jet through the air, sifting bugs, microscopic life, and water from clouds and sometimes using tentacles around their large mouth (at one end of the tube) to clean the sides of the plinths of whatever might be clinging to them. (In some cases, a sky groom might by happenstance gobble up — or attempt to gobble up — a person climbing on the rocks or a pegasus or something, but it isn’t personal and if the creature gets away, the sky groom doesn’t pursue.) Tamed sky grooms, fitted with gondolas, function as aerial ships for some cultures. Most civilizations that choose to tame and use sky grooms could also build other mechanisms for getting about, but sky grooms heal quickly and few other options are self-repairing and self-feeding.
A final major life form in the Archipelago is the Wind King, a race or family of unusually intelligent rocs often worshiped (somewhat understandably) as gods and accustomed to occasional sacrifices or offerings. The Wind Kings each have distinctive markings and names, though it is considered in most places highly dangerous to speak of a Wind King by name unless one is also making an offering — and the offering is worth the named one’s while.
Major Civilizations: One large civilization within the Archipelago calls itself the Millennium and reportedly controls more than a thousand plinths. Millen civilization (as it is called) is relatively high-tech (with primitive firearms, cannons, navigation equipment, clocks, and printing presses) and is one of the few civilizations along the chain that appears to have chosen the aerial life.
According to its historians, the Millen culture started on the surface far below as one minority mystery cult within a larger, oppressive civilization. Lore had long held that the gods lived at the tops of the plinths, and since the plinths were nigh-unclimbable, that seemed a reasonable guess. But the Millen, though pantheistic, revered a god in the pantheon named Iicorda, who had promised them a better life after death provided they lived according to his code, for as long as living mortals observed his rites. Otherwise, they were likely to be reincarnated in the current world, where enough of the other gods and entities of the pantheon were thirsting for their souls that at some point the odds would catch up with them and they would run out of chances.
Because the promised afterlife would only last for as long as some among the living observed the rites of Iicorda, the Millen are (whatever their noble qualities) aggressive evangelists and missionaries: They aren’t just fighting for the souls of the converted–they’re protecting the souls of their ancestors.
This behavior did not endear the Millen to the majority of the older civilization, though, and so the Millen became vertical pilgrims, inventing and building hot-air craft (after many failed experiments with ornithopters) in an attempt to reach the homes of the gods directly. Instead, when they reached the top, they found primitive peoples–heathens in need of saving. They then moved into the skies in droves, and their culture has spread as much through conversion as through birth rate.
Millen generally consider themselves adventurous and enlightened (they climbed the pillars, after all, and built airships), but they tend to be patronizing and superior toward the unconverted, freely engaging in most of the sorts of activities that are often associated with colonial empires–except for slavery, which is firmly against their code, partly because their god has dictated it, but also because they were themselves once slaves. Helping themselves to the lands and resources of heathens, however, is completely okay with most of them.