Magnum Opus' Muse Arcane

Magnum Opus Herself

The Ancient Planes

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What Has Come Before?

It's a cert that the planes haven't always looked the way they do now. Think about it. Even the most clueless prime admits that the humanoid races haven't been around for eternity like the Multiverse has. Creatures and races and civilisations come and go, and that's where I start to get interested. What has cone before? Can we still see the marks it has left on the planes? Will it ever return?

If you dig deep enough, you can find anything. Information, secrets, a little extra garnish in your pocket. Or more literally speaking, fossils. Nature is often stranger than magic, you know. When a creature dies and gets buried in the right place, over many years its bones turn to stone! Whether that's due to the intervention of some barmy power, or the creeping fingers of the Plane of Earth, who can say. But being a medusa myself, I find the thought of being immortalised in rock strangely comforting...

Anyway, if you find these fossils, they can tell you a great deal about the way the planes used to look. If you go digging on the prime, you'll often find monstrous great lizards, like dragons but less magical (little more than giant cows with scales, most of 'em). Some of the more backward primes still have these beasts roaming about on 'em, but for the most part they all died out suddenly. The curious thing is that this seemed to happen on a lot of Primes at once. Why? Well cutter, according to The Tyme of Divyne Hosts' Wrath, a gehreleth writing from the period (you'd better believe these books are sodding old!) it was at about this time that the fiends first discovered the Prime. Seeking fresh battlefields for their infinite Blood War they spread to it rapidly, slaughtering, pillaging and dragging off anything they could find to help them in their evils. To the native creatures of these worlds the fiends dropped from the skies as a burning, screaming force, and the clouds of death and poison that they brought swept the whole plane, blocking off the sun. Truly must've been a devastating sight.

Fortunately for the Prime, the powers who'd taken so much time to make the Plane of Life's Source (as the plane was called in those Ancient Times), decided it was time to protect their creation. With divine fury they stormed down from their palaces in the heavens and went to war with the fiends. The destruction was great, and many of the gods were slain. The fiends were slowly outmatched, and in one of the rarest events history has known, tanar'ri and baatezu fought side by side to save themselves. Of course, it didn't last long; the story goes that the tanar'ri betrayed their fiendish brothers (the tanar'ri tell the opposite story, of course) and the powers eventually drove them back to the Lower Planes.

To protect the ravaged Prime the powers erected magical barriers of eldritch power, and forced the fiends to sign contracts, promising never to return to the plane. As we know today, the wily fiends have found loopholes in these rules and can manifest on the Prime if summoned, but the Blood War, for the most part, has been confined to the Infernal Planes.

So says The Tyme of Divyne Hosts' Wrath, at least. But the tome is also interesting for its omissions. It makes no mention of any humanoid race in the entire ten thousand years of its span, much of that concerned with civilisation on the Prime. It would appear that at the time of the Blood War's arrival there were neither human nor elf nor dwarf in all of Creation. Neither were there the goblin races, nor illithids, nor giants. In fact, there seem to be no mammals of any sort (and no, I know illithids ain't mammals!) Unless the Tyme is grossly misleading us (and that is something which I doubt very much), there cannot have been sentient life as we know it.

Yet this poses a problem to the philosophers. See, it's also well established that the Outer Planes are constructed from the belief of mortals, and that fiends and celestials are the spirits of the dead. Well, if there ain't thinking beings, how can the planeborne races sustain themselves, and where do the powers draw their energy from? Animals and plants provide energy, sure, but where do the sentient, self-aware characteristics of the planeborne and powers arise from?

I can draw only three conclusions. The first is that there were other, greatly alien civilisations on the Prime before the humanoids. The second is that the powers of the time were not the same as they are today. The third is that our assumptions about the nature of the planeborne are themselves fundamentally flawed. In each case, there is a great gulf between the Way Things Are now and the Way Things Were. I hope the bridges I build can help to span that chasm of knowledge.

A Multiverse without Mammals
While today there are many intelligent creatures capable of forming a culture with powers and a concept of other planes, precious few of them are anything other than mammals. Lizard men, for example, are reptilian, and bullywugs are amphibian, but you try naming more than a handful more. In fact, these races were never particularly great, as their own mythologies admit (save the lizard men -- apparently on the prime worlds of "Krynn" and "Toril" they claim to have fallen from some position of grace). They are currently at their peak (having only recently learned the use of tools and worship of shamanic nature spirits), so we must look elsewhere for the missing ancestors of the planes.

The clue in fact lay upon the backward prime world of Toril, and even then was only incidental. See, several cycles back, this barmy death power Moander was keen on raising hells on the plane, and bade its priests to gather slaves and bind them to its foul will. One of these slaves was of a race new to the "Forgotten Realms" (as the inhabitants rather amusingly call their world); a creature known as a saurial.

Now saurials ain't native to Toril, and they ain't common in most places either. In fact, the race hails from precious few worlds, and coincidentally, all of these world are ones where dinosaurs never really disappeared, and mammals never really came into existence. What am I implying? That these self-same worlds were never discovered by the fiends and never destroyed when the Blood War hit the Prime. That they are few indeed in number tells of the thoroughness and determination of the fiends to seek new battlefields.

Saurial mythology itself is hard to comprehend, rooted as it is in the notching of wooden sticks and scents rather than written language and oral history, but from what I have translated (or rather, garnished Milori to translate for me) indicates that it is truly ancient. Saurial civilisation has not changed for millions of cycles, and their traditions and beliefs are stronger than virtually any I've encountered on any plane.

So could it be that the ancient planes were at least partly constructs of the saurials' collected beliefs? Maybe. Look at the shapes of fiends, for example. Many of them have horned heads and scaly reptilian skins, just like the saurials. And although nobody really knows what they are, it's abundantly clear that fiends ain't mammals. The word "Baator" and the saurial word "Beyatir" (deep pit) are similar in root. And the diaries of the long-forgotten Abyssal Prince Gynas (a high-up mentioned in the Tyme) wrote of "the lit'le creetures with heds of snayks, and hornes all carv'd and skyns of scale" which he encountered (and slew) on prime after prime. Could these be saurials? Are they the real believers who shaped the planes, long before we humanoids appeared and moulded them further with our beliefs?

If you can swallow this, then how about some more extrapolation? The Rule of Threes might dominate the planes now, but peer back into the shrouded past and you'll find it was not always the case. Scholars of saurial psychology (few and far between though they are) tell me that the mindset of the reptilians is one of duality; opposites, not combinations. There is right and wrong, truth and lie, left and right, black and white, Sigil and Spire, Fire and Water, Air and Earth, Positive and Negative, Upper and Lower Planes. There ain't a three amongst these basic concepts. Things like Law, Chaos and Neutrality arise from combination, a concept quite alien to the saurial castes, so I'm told. These subtleties were invented later, perhaps by mammalian minds. Could it also be said that the more fundamental parts of the Great Ring and beyond were created by such minds, and later altered by the beliefs of others? It'd surely explain many contradictions and inconsistencies in the planes...

How the Powers have Changed
If you're a scholar of myths, you'll doubtless have read of Creation. Every culture has its own spin, and they seldom all agree (leaving one to wonder whether it's possible all of them could have occurred, or none, or whether generations of storytellers have just exaggerated things beyond recognition). But you know something that really bothers me? It's the humans' myths.

See, if you go far back enough, you'll eventually reach The Beginning. Usually there was nothing, or there was chaos, or there was unmoving law, and then some spark set it all into movement. Powers appeared and begot other powers (as only a power can!) and then they eventually set about creating the creatures of the Multiverse. Of course, since time ain't usually invented till halfway through, nobody really knows how long this all took. Some say a week, some say millennia. You must also excuse the rather bigoted way the humans' myths rarely account for the elves or the orcs, or the saurials. Things haven't always been so enlightened as they are today.

But that's not what bothers me. It's the way that the First Powers are usually very different to the later ones. Take the Greek Pantheon for example. In one reading of the myth, the First Powers there were Nyx and Erebus, and together they produced a gigantic egg from which the Planes were born. Eggs appear in some Egyptian myths, and more from other cultures too. However, once the powers have emerged from their egg they seem almost human in their reproductive habits.

But humanoids don't lay eggs! Why would their deities do so? And why would the children of the first deities stop? What if these first deities are not in fact related to humanoids at all, but were saurial deities...the reptilian creatures do lay eggs. When the saurials largely died off, the powers assumed new forms and new habits, and created a new race, this time the mammals. And this missing gap between the first powers of the Multiverse and first powers of the humanoids are where my Ancient Planes actually fit.

What are Little Fiends Made Of?
Well, it ain't sugar and spice and all things nice, and that's a cert. According to my researches, neither are they made of the souls of dead mortals, as conventional "wisdom" would have you believe. No, for the roots of this tale, you have to look a lot further back, funnily enough to the Inner Planes.

While conventional wisdom once again come up with the "unassailable" evidence that there are four elements, the truth, I believe, is very different. Consider for a moment the numerous cultures that reckon there are in fact five elements. The Chinese claim Wood is an element, the Alchemists think Aether (is this Ether? Perhaps...) is the missing one. Others point to Metal, and some say it is Thought or Divinity. Well, they're all right, and they're all wrong.

See, if any of these were true, there'd surely be a fifth elemental plane nestled amongst the others in the Inner Ring. There ain't. There ain't a fifth para-plane, or pair of fifth quasi-planes. Yet at the same time, wood, metal and thought are common enough in most parts of the planes, so it ain't like there's a shortage of them. As for Aether; well, if this is Ether (you never can tell with alchemists) then there's an abundance of that, and it acts even less like an Elemental Plane than the Astral does. Besides the rest of the Inner ring gel neatly into one another...the sphere is perfect and there's nothing missing. Or is there?

When I was last on the Inner Planes (investigating a possible portal to the Ordial, if you must know), I decided to test a few theories. Using a stone tell spell I spoke with some of the most ancient bedrock of the Plane of Earth. 'Course, you can't take anything a stone says at face value (who can fathom the mind of an inanimate object, berk?), but the strange elemental spirits certainly didn't deny there was ever a fifth Elemental Plane. In fact, the things it did reveal (which'd be impossible to explain to you through a mimir, alas, since you can't possibly know how to think like a rock unless you've got a head made of one) pointed me in the direction of some shamanic carvings in a long-sealed cavern of the Plane. You Inner-Planewalking cutters might know that caves and holes in Earth are a little like wounds; the plane heals itself of them after a while. Some, perhaps, are too grievous to close, and this cavern looked like it was just one of those. Inspecting the walls, it looked as if an entire face of rock, many miles across, had been subjected to disintegrate and erosion and rock to mud spells, all at once. Into the cracked-yet-smooth surface remaining were gouged ten-foot-high characters. I dutifully copied these in my notebook for Milori to translate on my return.

Now either I wrote them all wrong, or I stumbled across something really big. The lillend linguist dated them as almost unimaginably ancient by their subtleties, to around the time when the fiends first started making their marks on the plane. While much of the text was unfortunately illegible, my interpretation of what I'd salvaged leads me to believe that the fifth plane used to touch the Earth Plane at that very place. Vastly more interesting, however, are the clues it gave as to where the fifth plane went. Frustratingly vague and easy to misinterpret as they were, the relevant portion of the translation went:


"And the horned beasts with wings of flame and fear
Did steal the plane-stuff and make their children
With fangs of coldest ice and claws of murderous death
The quintessence died and was born again in bodily form"

'Course, the original text was a beautiful piece of poetry. Milori is many things, but a lyricist she ain't.

Quintessence, you ask? That's what I reckon the fifth elemental plane used to be. But what was quintessence? Ah. There's a problem there. See, it no longer exists in the Multiverse; seems it's all gone. If it's impossible for it to exist in the Multiverse (for you cannot make Air from Water, Fire and Earth, and likewise), it's surely impossible to imagine or describe it. 'Least, that's my opinion, and as I'm a Signer I reckon I've got a monopoly where the imagination's concerned.

So if we can't picture, describe or imagine this stuff, where did it all go? Can an infinite plane simply disappear? Well, yes, I believe. Think for a moment about the fiends, who were growing in numbers at this time. We've already established they'd killed most of the prime creatures in their Blood War insurgences to the Prime Material. No primes means no belief energy, so how in the Hells did the fiends manage to increase their numbers? And taking this further, many a learned bean-counting Guvner has fretted about the number of tanar'ri there seem to be on the planes. In an infinity of infinite layers of the Abyss, surely the chances of meeting one tanar'ri, let alone armies of the sods is tiny. There haven't been that many mortals to make petitioners of chaos and evil from, so where does the race come from?

Well, cutters, here's where I reckon the Quintessential comes in. My stone-shaped sources suggest to me that shortly after the fiends discovered the Prime, they discovered the Inner Planes, and they liked what they saw...infinite expanses of pure stuff to pillage and plunder. I believe that the fiends learned how to mould and shape quintessence to build new bodies with which to attack the Prime Material and one another. They stole and thieved and raped the Plane until there was simply no more quintessence to steal. That's why there are so many sodding tanar'ri, cutter, because they tumbled to the dark of how to do it first. When the Plane had disappeared, the quasi- and para-planes surrounding it collapsed and separated into their component parts. The fiends used that up too.

My theory suggests that quintessence, like all elements, has a special and unique quality about it. As water is wet and quenches thirst, and fire is bright and warms cold bones, so quintessence is organic and pulsates with life. It is quintessence that the powers used to shape the bodies of their first creations. Now that it is all gone, nothing can be created until something else is destroyed. This is why humans could not be born until the powers could claim back the quintessence that they'd used to make the nearly-extinct saurials, and why wizards cannot make life from simply ash and dust, no matter how mighty they think they are. It is through this stuff that priests can heal and powers can create, but they are the only ones. Better believe me, basher...it's not that quintessence no longer exists; more that it no longer exists as an accessible element. Once the powers saw how greedily their gift had been devoured they hid it away, so they could control its use and keep the secrets of life their own. Alas they did it too late, for the fiends already knew their secrets.

'Course, the fiends wouldn't be defeated so easily. The powers weren't as clever as they thought. After a little searching, the fiends found where the powers'd hid the stuff: as stars! Gathering their forces, the hell-spawned races assaulted the skies of the Outer Planes, ripping down the stars and hiding them in their Lower Planar homes. They'd grabbed practically all of them before the powers were roused into action (if there's a lesson to be learned here it's surely that fiends should never be underestimated!). With divine wrath the powers defended Arcadia and the Beastlands, and sealed the skies of the Prime. Everywhere else had been robbed. Presumably, the powers have learned from their mistake, and the remaining quintessence is now hidden in a new place, an unimaginable vault outside our Multiverse. The stars of the planes and prime that now exist are mere echoes of the glory of their former selves.

Whether the fiends still possess quintessence or whether they've used it up long since, it's not been seen or spoken of for many aeons. I reckon the 'loths at least know more than they let on about the whole story...

But alas, I cannot prove a word.

Magnum Opus

Inspired in part by the Dictionary of Demons by Fred Gettings (the quintessence bit),
and a sentence someone once said on the Planescape Mailing List;
I forget exactly who and what, sorry. Thanks also to James Sinks for correcting a mistake.

 Consult the Mimir Again