Saturday, September 4, 2021

Dimension of Candle Canyons

Light a candle and hold it to your breast. Go into the mountain pass, turn past the silent stones and look not where you go. Before you know it- now you're here. Endless sky above and crag below; where you are you shall not know.

The Candle Canyons
This is an alternate dimension. To arrive here requires a magical portal, or for one to arrive through a small ritual as described in the poem above. The land is craggy and mountainous, becoming incredibly steep and impossible to proceed upwards; mostly you will pass through canyons which, much like a natural labyrinth, seem to extend outwards infinitely in all directions. While you will never see the sun or source of light in the sky; there is both day and night here.

However, even during the darkest nights light is abundant in the form of the candles. The candles are everywhere in this realm. They float in the air; appearing as traditional, generic beeswax candles, but made by unseen hands. All of them are lit, and gently float over the passes and rocks of the canyons you are in, always providing a gentle light with which to see. It seems as though the candles are less numerous in the day, with more and more of them appearing at dusk, being strung along by invisible, undetectable winds. This has given rise to the belief that somewhere in this realm is a great candle-maker, who makes these candles by day and lets them fly at night to light all corners of this realm.

If you manage to reach up or shoot down a candle, you will find it as it is- a wax candle. You can carry it around or use it to light fires or whatever. It's just a candle. Once a candle has been knocked from the air, it will not fly on its own power again.

The land and stones of the Canyon are very uniform. The air is dry and arid, with a hint of warm desert breezes just above the canyon you are in, floating on the sky. The air here is strange, charged with the magics of air and fire, making it difficult to float or fly any higher then a few feet- going high enough to scan the entire range seems nearly impossible- though the few who have only report seeing an endlessly stretched mountain range in all directions. The rocks are a light brown, with deeper reds and oranges in the underground and the soils on the ground. There are plants here, occasionally, but all of them are shrubs, small patches of wild grasses, and a very rare collection of mountain flowers on slightly more open areas. Without trees, finding firewood is near impossible- but thankfully the candles eliminate the need for light for camping and the rocks absorb the heat from the day beautifully, making the days and nights both pleasant and comfortable. However, you will have to rely on magical fire or simply get used to dry and cold rations for eating if you spend a long time here.

As for the wildlife; shrubs and grasses are most common. Small streams of water sometimes pool from the rocks and spill down the canyon basins, creating small green ravines in little creeks, but then the water will just disappear into a crack of under a heavy stone and be gone again- the water here is too uncommon and unpredictable to act as a landmark or guide- there are no rivers branching to form a great ocean. The most common creatures here are the rock lizards, who come out during the daylight hours to eat the occasional rust-red gnat or wasp. Small bee hives are sometimes built in a crevice, complete with lazy bees seeking mountain flowers and making golden honey.

The only other natural animal that seems to exist here are wild mountain goats. They are only about the size of a domestic goat, are always a ruddy rust color, and are always found alone. They are incredibly skittish, despite having no natural predators, and seem to almost purposefully avoid leading tracks on soft sands- despite predators using scent more often, almost as if they are avoiding intelligent trackers who may try to find them. Their droppings are also the color of the rocks here, which ends up making their leavings look like little pebbles, and the goats are said to lick the stones at some places to give their digestive tract their unique coloration. These goats are rare, and hunting one with anything but a very skilled tracker is impossible. Some believe that this indicates they are going extinct and the remainders have evolved to avoid capture, while others think they are just this wily as a consequence of being created to live in this realm.

Stone Etchings
All around the canyons are etchings in the stone. These primitive drawings vary in style and subject, but all seem very old. The etchings usually depict humanoid creatures with long limbs, drawn with white circles on the head to depict wisdom or, in some interpretations, magical ability. It is unknown if these drawings were made by the many-limbed witches of the candle canyons, or if it was survivors, or a yet unknown dead culture who made them.

The stone etchings are also not on the surface; they lead inwards. The canyons are sunk into the endless stone and mountains of this realm; but even then there are inlets. Cavities grown in the rocks and stones, these caves are thankfully shallow- and always lit with candles, who float inside to keep the darkness away. The etchings are most common in these places, shelters for whoever created the scratchings. Here the subject matter varies; some will draw the goats that inhabit this realm, where as others draw landmarks or arrows to guide whoever reads them long after. Sometimes, these stone etchings will lead to treasure caches hidden between the crags of a stone- but they won't always warn of what lies inside those cracks.

While nobody is sure who made the etchings, everyone is sure of what they used to make them. The occasional dark gray colored stone found in these chambers or among the stones of the canyons is not of the same material as the rest of this world. Instead; these dark stones contain ore for a dark heavy metal- a stone of this material with a sharp tip can easily scratch the red dusty stones in this place.

The biggest threat that exists in this realm to outside explorers is, by far, the spiderwitches. These many-limbed witches appear as old crones with extra arms and legs, often stretched to exaggerated lengths. They can crawl over the stones- and while they move silently, their distorted shadows over the rocks, backlit by a floating candle, or their occasional mumbling in an ancient language, can give you a warning that they are coming. Spiderwitches are incredibly solitary; but seem to exist in a hierarchy, with ever larger and more powerful witches calling upon a handful of smaller ones if you offend her.

The Spiderwitches are predators. They attack on sight, except during the night- they would prefer to retreat. It seems they are more audacious during the day, as though the lack the candles around encourages their behavior, while the flying candles repel them. Beyond being dangerous foes in a close range fight, with sharp claws and wild flailing arms and legs; they are also skilled with magic and curses, and are known to be very territorial and aggressive.

The Spiderwitches seem live on the top of the mountain peaks- a few shallow crags and stones for shelter during the night, hiding away from the light of the candles that float down into the valleys and crags of this rocky realm. Whenever you see a dark peak in the distance, untouched by the candlelight, you can assume a Spiderwitch is up there. Worse yet, she is watching you.

Finally; the dangerous witches do have some amount of treasure. It's never in gold or jewels, nor the rotting bone charms and unspeakable substances smeared on their skin, but in the biological anomalies that lie within and on their bodies. Some think that the spiderwitches were never born, living in this realm since time began as nigh-immortals, and are all incredibly old- old enough for some very interesting things to grow from their ancient dusted flesh. If you slay a spiderwitch, you will find something interesting in her flesh- roll on the table below.

Spiderwitch Anomaly Table - Roll 1d10 for Regular Spiderwitch, 2d12 for an Ancient Spiderwitch
[1] Knot of Hair. Found in their filthy, matted hair. This gray ball of hairs seems harder then it should be- blades break before it is untangled. If smashed with hammers and fed into a forge the blade made with it will be magic, granting +1 to hit and damage and being immune to most magic spells. Whatever metal the blade is made with will also turn a dark gray-black and have no shine.

[2] Armpit Mushrooms. Found in the crook of the arm, filthily humid. These tiny black mushrooms seem to squiggle around in your grasp and live on past the death of their host. If cut into pieces and dried; act as a potion reagent that cures insanity and demonic possession. If you're dumb enough to cook and eat them the food will taste absolutely delicious. They are also highly addictive- causing a levels worth of drain if you go a month without a meal laced with them.

[3] Squiggling Thing. Found in the folds of a sagging stomach- or an unexpected marsupial pouch on this witch. Appears like a tiny pink embryo of some nameless mammalian creature. If you bury it in the earth you will be relieved of one disease or curse that ails you. If you eat it live you will gain +1d6 Hit Points and +1 permanent Strength, but will be reviled by all sentient creatures for a year and a day. It will die in three days once removed from the "mother".

[4] Flesh Roach. Found in an open wound- it obviously lived under that skin before the cut. It's a large black roach with a foul attitude- need a pair of metal calipers to pull it out, it will bite your fingers off (2 damage) if you try to pull it out with your hands. The roach is a parasite and will burrow into any living flesh it's placed on, granting whoever is implanted with it +1 AC and the ability to climb walls like a spider, at the cost of aging at double the rate.

[5] Scarified Skin. Found on (several) excess hands, from the palm to the elbow. These hands have been scratched with ominous bloody patterns, long since scabbed over and healed. They also have arcane formula inscribed on them; and could act as a form of mobile spellbook. Magic users could inspect these and study them to find a new spell, but have a 1 in 6 chance of activating a curse that reanimates all the severed hands in an attempt to strangle the one stealing their secrets.

[6] Venom Gland. Found in the mouth. Spiderwitches are not known to bite- but perhaps this one may already show you what her venom does. It's a tiny black-gray sac which contains a potent venom. Anyone struck by a weapon coated in this venom must save or take 2d6 damage each day for the next five days. Each day, they also shrink about 10% of their height, which does not come back, as their body crushes down on their innards. If you trick someone to drink this there is no save, but the venom tastes so bitter and horrible that its taste is almost impossible to mask. The gland contains 2d4 doses.

[7] Great Seed. Found in the stomach. It is a small tan seed that has somehow resisted being digested for who knows how long it laid in her acidic stomach. The seed will grow into a massive tree- though it will take many centuries to fully grow- which reaches to the first heaven above. Strangely, the seed doesn't seem native to the Candle Canyons dimension, and the soil here is too arid and poor to cause the seed to germinate at all.

[8] Witch Roe. Found clinging to the inside of the thighs. Tiny green "eggs". If you eat some, god forbid, you are wracked with terrible nightmares and maniac episodes for about a year. In exchange, you also learn a new random 1st level spell which you can cast once per day, permanently. If you are not a magic user, scale this spell as though you are a magic user of 1/2 your level.

[9] Frosty Cataract. Found in one gray eye. This tiny hard disc of witch-material grants a certain degree of stealth. People around you seem to pay you no mind- they can perceive you, they just choose not to interact or think about it too much. Wearing an object incorporated with this cataract grants +3 to stealth checks or lets you slip up once without degrading to a lower stealth level. If you snap the cataract its magic is permanently lost but for the next 3 days everyone in the world forgets you exist and forget anything you said or did the moment you are out of their sight.

[10] Little Red Mouse. Found under the witch's tongue, trembling. These mice are impossible to find; if any even exist in the wild in the canyons. You can only find obedient, pet mice in the mouths of slain witches. Their relationship with the witches is unknown, but they probably eat whatever the witch eats. These mice can crawl up to an whisper in your ear- their whiskers hinting at ways to turn situations to your advantage- granting +1 to reaction checks or +1 in 6 chance for any role involving diplomacy or law/debate. If you open your mouth, it will crawl under your tongue and accept you as its new owner.

[11] Stone Arrowhead. Found a few inches from the heart. Made of the same unusual dark gray stone found in a few of the etching caves- this arrowhead narrowly missed its mark inside one of these fearsome witches and remained in her body afterwards. If you affix it to an arrow and fire it true- getting either an 18 or higher on your attack roll against a spiderwitch, it instantly slays her. Whenever this happens, you will find the witch's heart has turned to stone with the arrow still connected to it, meaning it can only be used once.

[12] Beast Core. Found in the chest, between the lungs, pulsing with energy. This core is normally only found in the hearts of powerful monsters- used by Xianxia cultivators for their endless quest for immortality. Anyone who eats the core de-ages towards their physical prime by 1d20 years and gain +2 to all saving throws permanently, but each year has a 1 in 6 chance to turn into a Random Animal. They will change into an animal for that year, acting as that animal would, until they return to their normal form with that time missing from their memory. They will always retain a small quirk of appearance or personality from this animal form.

Sunken Cisterns
Deep beneath the canyons, and in the safer caverns which are marked with the etchings of some ancient people or explorers from before, there lay hidden ways deeper within. Though hidden in the rocks, small "buttons" made of carved stones or cracks too smooth or straight to have formed naturally are incorporated into these etchings. If one is to press or pull on these subtle clues, they will be rewarded with a passageway opening up to them.

Within these carved passages are large underground cisterns; huge pools made of the rock of the canyons themselves, carved smoothly into massive cisterns and aqueducts. Water lays undisturbed here- the water here in this darkness is clean and fresh as any mountain spring, contrary to as it may appear and how long it is remained here. Some claim that there is a hidden network of wind traps and dew-creating etchings in the stone above them that catch moisture from the air outside; but no droplets seem to come down nor new water flowing into the cisterns. Neither is the water in the cistern at risk of spoiling or becoming dusty or fetid- the water is as clean as though it had just rained down that very day. The cisterns themselves contain small lakes worth of water; you could sink in one and not be able to reach the bottom in a single breath, and the great stone reservoirs are filled to the absolute brim- any breaking of the surface tension causes it to spill down onto the floor below.

Between cistern-systems are rocky tunnels similar to sewers, but clean and only present to move water. Many passages remain bone dry; overfill systems in the event the cisterns overflow one day. Unlike the caverns above, there are no scratches or artworks adorning the walls, besides the occasional sculpture garden. Perhaps the people above are ancestors, or descendants, locked away from these stone cities.

Dwellings are also down here, their inhabitants long gone. Carved into the walls of large square "courtyards" which are built around central stone fire pits. The places are studiously clean, the only hint of dirt or use by anyone are the piled up ashes inside the central firepits. The dwellings are like facades; rarely ever more then one room deep, always with a window or door facing the central pit. Off from these central "town squares" are small chambers; often heavily ceremonial but lacking in any utility or outside connections, as though they are only there to provide a private place to speak. Small stone firepits are central in these rooms as well; but small enough to produce light that is more intimate, unlike the bonfires of the great chambers.

The most perplexing thing about these ancient cisterns and the adjoining places around them, perhaps, is the total lack of remains or artifacts. No skeletons of ancient peoples, no long since rotted foodstuffs or rusting weapons of the ruling class. Almost nothing is down here. Water is plentiful, though light and food is not, and the chambers themselves seem almost bereft of living things. Even the spiderwitches don't come down here. The only real threat here is the size; the pure scale of things puts the upper world of endless peaks and canyons into perspective. In any direction you roam you will find stairs leading deeper and hallways in all directions. Identical smooth hallways stretching onwards into nigh-infinity. One could spend entire lifetimes walking the halls here and finding nothing except for the living places, the chambers, pools of clean water, and the statues which hold tiny carvings of ancient and forgotten words. The longer one roams the more one must consider the absurdity of this place; was this once the living space of an ancient civilization, who vacated or died off? Or was it being built for one, prepared and pristine, but never entered?

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