Clark Ashton Smith - Some Ideas and Descriptions from his Stories
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Inspired by the rules and setting of the Astonishing Swordsmen and Sorcerers of Hyberborea boxed set and the discussion of the same on the OD&D Forum I have started sifting through my collection of Clark Ashton Smith for ideas.
7). The Planet of the Dead
Thameera [NPC] female
He was standing on a road paven with cyclopean blocks of grey stone - a road that ran interminably before him into the vague, tremendous vistas of an inconceivable world. There were low, funereal, drooping trees along the road, with sad-colored foliage and fruits of a deathly violet; and beyond the trees were range on range of monumental obelisks, of terraces and domes, of colossal multiform piles, that reached away in endless, countless perspectives toward an indistinct horizon. Over all, from an ebon-purple zenith, there fell in rich, unlustrous rays the illumination of a blood-red sun. The forms and proportions of the labyrinthine mass of buildings were unlike anything that has been designed in terrestrial architecture; and for an instant, Melchior was overwhelmed by their number and magnitude, by their monstrosity and bizarrerie...
He, Antarion, a renowned poet of the land of Charmalos, in the elder world that was known to its living peoples by the name of Phandiom, had gone on a brief journey to a neighboring realm...
...and glad that he was now approaching his native city of Saddoth, where dwelt her dark and splendid palace of past aeons the beautiful Thameera, whom he loved.
...the world where in he walked as Antarion was incomputably old, and the ages of its history were too many for remembrance; and the towering obelisks and piles along the paven road were the high tombs, the proud monuments of its immemorial dead, who had come to outnumber infinitely the living. In more than the pomp of earthly kings, the dead were housed in Phandiom; and their cities loomed insuperably vast, with never-ending streets and prodigious spires, above those lesser abodes wherein the living dwelt. And throughout Phandiom the bygone years were a tangible presence, an air that enveloped all; and the people were steeped in the crepuscular gloom of antiquity; and were wise with all manner of accumulated lore; and were subtle in the practice of strange refinements, of erudite perversities, of all that can shroud with artful opulence and grace and variety the bare uncouth cadaver of life, or hide from mortal vision the leering skull of death. And here, in Saddoth, beyond the domes and terraces and columns of the huge necropolis, like a necromatic flower wherein forgotten lilies live again, there bloomed the superb and sorrowful loveliness of Thameera.
He and she were the last representatives of noble ancient families, whose untabulated lineage was lost in the crowded cycles of Phandiom. Like all others of their race, they were embued with the heritage of a complex and decadent culture; and upon their souls the never-lifting shadow of the necropolis had fallen from birth.
Thameera was even more sensitive, more visionary by nature; and hers was the ultimate refinement that is close to an autumnal decay. The influences of the past, which were a source of poetic fruition to Antarion were turned by her delicate nerves to pain and languor, to horror and oppression. The palace wherein she lived, and the very streets of Saddoth were filled for her with emanations that welled from the sepulchral reservoirs or death; and the weariness of the innumerable dead was everywhere; and evil or opiate presences came forth from mausolean vaults, to crush and stifle her with the formless brooding of their wings. Only in the arms of Antarion could she escape them; and only in his kisses could she forget.
Antarion was once more admitted to the presences of Thameera by slaves who were invariably discreet, being tongueless. In the oblique light of beryl and topaz windows, in the mauve and crimson gloom of heavy-folded tapestries, on a floor of marvelous mosaic wrought in ancient cycles, she came forward languidly to greet him. She was fairer than his memories, and paler than a blossom of the catacombs. She was exquisitely frail, voluptuously proud, with hair of a lunar gold and eyes of nocturnal brown that were pierced by fluctuating stars and circled by the dark pearl of sleepless nights. Beauty and love and sadness exhaled from her like manifold perfume.
They saw below them the ruinous and forgotten roofs of Urbyzaun, which had lain unpeopled for more than a thousand years; and beyond the roofs, the black unlustrous lake surrounded by hills of bare and eave-corroded rock, that had once been the inlet of a great sea.
...the crumbling palace of the emperor Altanoman, whose high, tumultuous glories were now a failing legend...
Beneath the black midnight that hung above them like an imminence of, unremoving wings, the streets of Saddoth were aflare with a million lights of yellow and cinnabar and cobalt and purple. Along the vast avenues, the gorge-deep alleys, and in and out of the stupendous olden palaces, temples, and mansions, there poured the antic revelry, the tumultuous merriment of a night-long masquerade, everyone was abroad, from Haspa the king and his sleek, sybaritic courtiers, to the lowliest mendicants and pariahs; and a rout of extravagant, unheard of costumes, a melange of fantasies more various than those of an opium dream, seethed and eddied everywhere.
Late in the evening, Antarion left by a postern door the tall and gloomy mansion of his forefathers, and wended his way through the hysteric whirling of the throng toward Thameera's palace. He was garbed in apparel of an antique style, such as had not been worn for a score of centuries in Phandiom; and his whole head and face were enveloped in a peculiar physiognomy of a people now extinct. No one could have recognized him, nor could he on his part, have recognized many of the revellers he met, no matter how well-known to him, for most of them were disguised in apparel no less outre, and wore masks that were whimsical or absurd or loathsome or laughable beyond conception. There were devils and empresses and deities, there were kings and necromancers from all the far, unfathomed ages of Phandiom, there were monsters of medieval or prehistoric types, there were things that had never been born or beheld except in the minds of insane decadent artists, seeking to surpass the abnormalities of nature. Even the tomb had been drawn upon for inspiration, and shrouded mummies, worm-gnawed cadavers, promenaded among the living. All these masks were the screen of an orgiastic license without precedent or parallel.
I have plundered 'The Planet of the Dead' for ideas concerning the isle of Ix, the city-state of Yithorium and a festival for the Zangeriosans.
Unspeakable Ix is a land of dark dreams and brooding evil. The isle at the rim of the world reaches far beyond any geographic boundaries and the great cyclopean roads that cross the isle run interminably into a 'vague, tremendous vista of an inconceivable world'. It is as if all the dead cities, necropoli, forgotten and abandoned temples, monuments and mausoleums of not only this world but also of untold alien worlds, bizarre and monstrous, can be found stretching endlessly into a distant horizon. That Ix sits not only on the rim of this world, but countless worlds and times, Wandering into these lands it easy to become lost and few who venture forth are ever heard from again.
But it is the living cities of Ix that those from Hyperborea first encounter; Great Saddoth, the capitol of Altanoman's small empire, the city-states of Charamol and Phandiom, and Urbyzaun, ruinous and crumbling, which lies on the outer edge of the kingdom, where the undead servants of necromancer's outnumber the living. Evil dwells in this land whether in the cities of the living or the dead.
Thameera, witch-queen of Yithorium, was once a princess of Saddoth. Her father, Altanoman necromancer-king of Saddoth, conqueror and ruler of Phandiom, Chamalor, and Urbyzaun, the last city-states of the living upon the isle of Ix, had dark sacrificial plans for his beloved daughter. With the help of her lover, the poet Antarion, she escaped and fled the isle, but Altanoman cursed them both. His power over the dead and death itself was boundless and so he cursed his daughter and her lover with eternal life. Thameera is immortal but each day is a torment, only with Antarion does she truly feel and though his curse is a kind of immortality he lives for only a month inhabiting the body of a man of his lineage before fading again to exist in a nightmare realm of the necromancer-king's devising.
Thameera's immortality has 'turned her delicate nerves to pain and languour, to horror and oppression' and without Antarion such is her rulership of Yithorium. Constantly she looks for ways to break Antarion's curse, though she has come to welcome the endless youth of her own immortality.
Yithorium is now a rich city, but it is tightly controlled by the witch-queen and her soldiers. There are parts of her city that are still no more than the ruins which Thameera and her band of mercenaries found long ago, but slowly she is rebuilding Yithorium, house by house and street by street.
There is a constant need for workers, both in the city, clearing and rebuilding, and in the mines where Thameera gathers her wealth. Adventurers of all types are sent to explore the ruins and all such are welcome, but the laws of the city are strict and the punishment for breaking those laws can be months or years working in the mines. Any male entering the city who bears a resemblance to Antarion will find himself invited to a private interview with the witch-queen, but eventually any relationship that develops will end badly.
Thameera is always eager for news regarding Ix or her father, the necromancer-king.
In Port Zangerios and the Zangerios Islands they celebrate the first night the Green Death came upon them in an orgiastic, night-long masquerade that flows through every town and especially the streets of the City of Masks.
This festival is called 'The Night of Death', but while the people of Zangerios honor the dead upon this day, the night is a celebration of life at its most primal. Children born nine or so months from this day are considered blessed with life but no one examines their parentage too closely.
From the most lowly beggar to Governor Haspa himself, all can be found in masked costumes ranging from rags to the most elaborate, unheard of, and extravagant. From the last rays of the sun through the deep of the night till the first glimmer of dawn, the celebration illuminates the streets in a river of multi-colored lights like a flood of jewels spilled from the coffers of a dragon's hoard.
The revellers rule the streets on this night and the laws are few. Murder and robbery are frowned upon, but appearing without mask or costume can quickly become a sentence of death if the fickle, cruel, drugged and drunken mob has its way. Those who do not wish to participate in the celebrations bolt their doors, shutter their windows and pray for dawn.