Tales from the Burned-Out Shell

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The Ash Statues (by Scott Perry, edited by Brannon Hollingsworth)
Prize Winner
by Nezor Deird

The following story was lanned by Sydney Silamander, managing editor of The Lady's Sharper Eye, through a contact at the Citadel of Chiselled Enlightenment. The individuals contained within this story have been verified through sources of Ashenbach, owner and publisher of The Eye. However, the validity of the story is left to the determination of the reader. Please enjoy its content or, should you believe the story to be of a true nature, heed its warning.

"The light from my stone was running out. I had lost my way after departing from the Crumbling Citadel. The portal I was trying to reach in the Core had alluded me and I guess I had stumbled into the Sparkling Vast. Travelling through any of the Inner Planes is nowhere near easy, even for a member of the Doomguard. I wasn't sure how much further I could go. That's when I saw them, standing like eerie silent pillars before me, the ash statues. These statues were unlike any that I had ever seen. The detail and design appeared to be extraordinary. Then I remembered the stories that the Vast contained an area that would harden any moving object and had frozen many lost sods. I suddenly felt so cold that I thought my protection had failed me, but it was only raw fear gripping my bones. The Vast has been reported by greybeards as a region of splintered glass that sparkles and gleams brilliantly when exposed to light, but I never believed the stories of a field of ghostly statues. I might have still not believed once I saw them, if one hadn't spoken to me.

"The statue that spoke to me was a bariaur, or at least it had been before its transformation. The bariaur now stood still as a grey sculpture made of solid ash, but the voice that echoed within my brain-box was alive enough. The field, like its otherworldly occupants, appeared to be devoid of all life - except that the eyes of the statues had retained their colour and still glistened with some form of basal essence. The bariaur had hard, black eyes that glittered like twin onyxes on its flat grey face. Its lips did not move, but its voice, growing clearer as I approached it, was still within my head. The poor sod was sobbing and crying. I called out to it in my mind, "Who are you?" The answer was short and soft, "My name is A'ram of the Steelwool clan." I wasn't sure if my mind had begun to decay or if this ash statue had actually answered me. Since I doubted I could find my way to the Core and had no hope of returning to the Crumbling Citadel, I decided my best chance of giving this place the laugh was to continue the conversation before the blowing ash put me in the dead-book.

"The bariaur turned out to be quite friendly, if not a little barmy. A'ram had been frozen here over a hundred cycles, since before the beginning of Hashkar's reign in Sigil. He was very pleased to see me, as apparently the ash statues can only speak to unfrozen souls and then only to one at a time. So even though we were surrounded by hundreds of these "living" statues, the poor sod was as lonely as a Signer in a Bleaker's cell. I lanned all sorts of darks about how he had come to be here and where he had been going, but he mainly wanted to discuss my journey. He seemed to thrive on chant from the Outside, as he called it, and was most inquisitive as to my recent origins and intended destination. Standing in the quickly piling ash, I quickly grew colder and weaker. I decided that I had to move our conversation along. I asked A'ram how the statues are formed and was there any way off of Ash in this region. He explained to me that the statues were formed by the removal of all heat by the Ash and the emptiness imposed by Vacuum so that only the soul remains, helplessly trapped inside a frozen body. I felt terribly sad for this honourable bariaur, member of a vibrant and joyous race. To be robbed of the movement and vibrancy of life, for him, was unthinkable.

"After revealing how the statues come to be, the bariaur told me that I still had a chance to survive and escape the Ash. He described the location of a secret portal, which would take me to the elemental plane of Earth. Seeing as I had a better chance for survival on Earth than Ash, I began looking through the macabre, silent field for the portal. A'ram told me that the portal was near the field of statues and would be recognised as five ash-dried bones lain in the form of a circle. Somehow the ash would never cover the bones from sight. The portal would only activate if a person declared their love for Ash. I figured this as quite unusual, but beggars can't be choosy, especially when my zone of breathable air had almost run out. I found the portal about 100 yards from A'ram. I marked it with my pack and quickly returned to A'ram to say my farewells. As I turned to leave him, he asked me to free him. I fully understood his meaning and with a slash of my sword his imprisonment was ended. His soul was freed from its timeless cage. I wished that I had time for the others, but my pack would soon disappear, covered by the quickly falling ash. I ran for the portal, began yelling my love for Ash, and jumped into the circle of bones, hoping that the portal key hadn't changed. My surroundings blurred and I became ill. I couldn't focus my eyes and fortunately slid into the blissful arms of unconsciousness.

Efka Farstrider"I awoke to find that my trip had ended successfully. I found myself lying upon a bed of marble at the Citadel of Chiselled Enlightenment, on the elemental plane of earth. The cleric attending me indicated that the Citadel was an institution of knowledge and wisdom. My body felt cold and stiff, I assumed from the flaying of my skin by the ash. However, the cleric indicated that she had attempted to heal my wounds, but had been unsuccessful. It seemed that something was blocking my recovery. She told me to rest and see if my condition would improve. But I felt like I was growing colder, even colder than I had been on the Ash.

"Over the next three days I learned what was hampering my recovery. The portal was evidently either cursed or caused strange side affects. I briefly wondered if A'ram knew the portal was corrupted. Regardless, my guess is that the moment I stepped into the portal, a transformation began. My legs were the first to be affected. I found that I could no longer stand, for my feet had turned the colour of grey ash and would not move. The condition continued to move slowly up my body. It was only a matter of time before it would reach my chest and I would be no more. I didn't know if my soul would stay in my body like A'ram. Since my time was growing short I told my story of the ash statues to the cleric that attended me. She wrote my words carefully and told me that I would be remembered. On the morning of the third day, my chest grew very heavy and then everything faded to black."

-- Transcript of the traveller Nezor Deird as recorded by Vaka Tomebinder, elementalist sage and High Scrivener, of the Citadel of Chiselled Enlightenment.

[Clerical note: Once the transformation of Nezor Deird was completed to a statue of ash, contact could not be established with him of any kind. It was debated whether his statue should be destroyed to possibly release him just as he released the bariaur A'ram Steelwool. It was decided that his statue would remain, because as his body froze his face was smiling. His statue remains at the Citadel today as a testament of his journey.]

Ash Xorn (Anonymous submission)
by Hadjenn, an Ash Genasi of some note

Now, one of the only societies you're likely to find in the Ash is that of the ash xorn, a peculiar offshoot of the Earth's famous race. They're not much to look at - trilateral symmetry, with a single three-flapped mouth, long arms, short legs, and huge pearls for eyes. They're ill-suited to speaking any of the Trade Tongues, but a few have learned -- you'll find one in each successful tribe -- so communication shouldn't matter unless you're a Mindlander unfamiliar with out variations of Planar Common (or, better yet, Planar Uncommon).

The Ash Xorn're found mainly in three distinct regions -- the Ash's core, which makes up most of the plane, the Wasting Place, where the Ash meets the Dust, and the Cinder Wells, where the Ash meets the Magma. They aren't a highly organised society (like, say, the efreet are), but rather are clannish, and live in small nomadic tribes. Each tribe has one concern - finding enough to eat.

You see, like the Earth's xorn, ash xorn eat minerals and gems. However, their dual nature (being that of earth and dust) forces them into a more restricted diet. They eat gems called 'Firesouls' in their language - like diamond, but much softer and made from compressed ash, and they eat smelted metal, much like the kind which can be scavenged from the shores of the Cinder Wells. Rumour has it that they also eat frozen flames from the edge of the Fire, but most I've talked to have never done it themselves, nor met anyone who has.

Because there is less food for them to scavenge, ash xorn are cannier than the Earth's xorn (one argues that the increased competition has bred more powerful minds in them), and are incredibly skilled in a mystical art which allows them to find metals and minerals from a distance, using only their minds. However, since the Ash is so sparsely populated, ash xorn're much less confrontational - there are few borders they are required to respect.

Ash xorn're on good terms with the native quasi-elementals who, in general, consider them natives and a pleasant alternative to ash mephits. Since the one doesn't eat the food of the other, they exist as separate parts of the ecosystem, and rarely clash.

If you should meet any xorn of the Ash, they're sure to ask you if you've seen 'food' - tell them of any veins of metal you've crossed, and any gems you might have found. the help of an ash xorn is far more valuable than a few baubles, and the pleasant creatures will do much to aid an honest and forthcoming employer - the life of their tribe depends on food, so they get it by any means.

The flip side, of course, is that those who refuse to help ash xorn are likely to upset not only them, but any quasi-elementals friendly to the tribe. If the xorn think a person is hiding food (through their mystical art, for example), they will probably attack to get it if polite requests are refused.

There are no ash xorn cities, to my knowledge, but there are a very few hermitic xorn to be found. The industriously inaccurate chant has it that some ash xorn have mastered a sort of magic - the truth is that they have mastered something much stranger - an art humans have called 'psionics.' Through their minds alone, these mystics can form food of their own from the land around them, which they trade to travellers in exchange for news of the multiverse, luxury goods, and training in new powers.

One last thing to remember about ash xorn - they aren't grazers like the Earth's xorn are. They are scavengers, who live by their own laws to get what they want. They may be a bit weaker, but they will ply their impressive intellects to defeat any foe they need offensive. They make excellent guides and unparalleled prospectors, but they also make fearsome enemies.

In the Wake of Destruction (by Jason Ng)
by Wreik

The quasi-elemental plane of ash, perhaps one of the harshest and at the same time most beautiful planes of existence. This is the plane that symbolises what is left in the wake of destruction, nothing but ashes it is from this plane were we call our home from the Crumbling Citadel.

You see the path of consumption has left behind many things of use to us, from the result of consumption we can see straight into the past of what once was and will never be again. The Ash holds many of the secrets of the multiverse, and so we are here to learn of them.

Perhaps a most interesting specimen of what once was, was this small discovery made a few movements of the cinders past. A cloud of ash that was caught on a net was determined to be one of something that once lived. It is rare that we find such a specimen, so looking back through out the ages gone past we tried to determine its ancient history.

We learned that it lived here alone long ago, isolated from the rest of its kind. Perhaps it was exiled or maybe here of its own choosing in what was at the time a plane of burning embers. It called this plane its home for years before its isolation got the best of it. So it felt that it needed company, it needed followers to serve it. It travelled some of the planes until it discovered people that would serve it. These people came from the Plane of Negative Energy, souls of a long dead race not content to spend their existence in the plane of all consuming eternal oblivion.

Together it along with its followers laboured for years and toiled to create a place of their own inside very heart of the empty winter. What was constructed was that of a great citadel, one that they could call their home. And for aeons they lived, until a powerful force came from a place that lay quite far away from here as far as these planes of substance goes. Their appearance commanded a strangely powerful presence, as our specimen's followers could do nothing but watch in all as they were all annihilated by a power that none of them could even hope of matching. It was the sharp chilling bite of cold that all of its followers fell to, and as they destroyed more and more of its followers the embers of the plane began to die out slowly. In the ages to come those dying embers failed to give heat and turned this plane into one of dying heat. It seems that these massive beings of power were here to seek out our specimen indeed, they asked it a question and it answered in silence. Soon what followed was consumption in flames that carried the chilling power of the cold.

It took us a while to learn of that secret and it took all of our best to pull together this story. This has left us with the knowledge of how this plane once was. A sign that entropy even started long before. As for the citadel, in our vision it was never destroyed by the outsiders that came, perhaps even we have seen it and called it our home once.

-- Wreik of the Doomguard

[Author's Comments: What this is supposed to suggest is that at one time the quasi-elemental plane of ash was warm, an ancient being travelled here gathered another ancient race from the negative energy plane and built a citadel later to be known as Cavitus. The ancient beings where eventually eliminated by the sleeping ones that are supposedly found on the para-elemental plane of ice, the ancient being might have been a sleeping one too.] 

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Copyright 1999, text by various authors,
graphics by Jon Winter and Jeremiah Golden

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