Broken Glass

Anarch's picture


Pain is life. The weak fall. The strong ascend. Conquer the pain and you conquer yourself. Conquer yourself and you've conquered the world.


High on the slopes of Khalas in Gehenna there is an obsidian rockfall that has no summit. Heated shards of dragonglass thrust through the ground like voracious blades, each sharper than the last. Some are small enough to slip through the links of a chain glove. Some are large enough to crush an ogre under their shadow. All are lethally sharp. All bring pain. All bring death.

You can't approach the Broken Glass from the sides or from the top; the geography of Gehenna does not allow it. Those who attempt to enter from the sides, and those who attempt to descend from the top, invariably find themselves at the base of the rockfall. There, amid the garden of boulders that mark the beginning of pain, lies a small camp composed equally of those who would challenge the Mount and those who would watch them die.

And die they do. The obsidian shards cut through everything. The song goes, "They cut through metal, they cut through stone, they cut through flesh, they cut through bone," and the song does not lie. Climb high enough and they'll shred the finest mithril, the subtlest magics, the hardest tanar'ri leathers. Try to fly over the Broken Glass and you'll stir up a hornet's nest of angry shards that will pierce your wings, your spells, your body, until you fall to earth. It makes no difference what manner of being you are, whether you are flesh or air or rock. In the end, everyone crawls. In the end, everyone is slashed to ribbons upon the hard, hateful rock. In the end, everyone dies.

Almost everyone, that is. A very few live. Losing their grip on a high precipice, they miraculously survive the fall back to the camp. Slashed and scarred by the obsidian shards, they tell stories of the amazing sights they've seen. Gehenna spread out before them like a child's map. Stars and constellations unknown to those who toil below. A fifth Mount, beautiful and deadly on the horizon. And far, far above them, a glorious light that only they will ever know.

Most of those who fall die soon after, succumbing to the terrible pain. A few struggle onwards. These proud souls, who call themselves the Tattered, wear their disfigurements like a badge of honor. They are the moral rulers of the Broken Glass and not even the yugoloths dare challenge them. Each of the Tattered spends only as long as they need in the camp before resuming the ascent again. They say it gets easier each time and who are we to argue? They are conquering the pain and we mere drudges are mired within it. Conquer the pain and you conquer yourself. Conquer yourself and you conquer the world.

The Camp

The camp at the foot of the rockfall is variously known as Base Camp to the Tattered, Fal'halong to the yugoloths, and Broken Glass to everyone else. It is officially an outpost of the yagnoloth princeling T'ang Hue who rules Bshan'halong a hundred miles below. In practice, day to day operations are run by the piscoloth quartermaster Y'Chirrid.

Y'Chirrid is a strange sort. It's notorious far and wide for offering legitimately good deals on equipment; indeed, so far as anyone knows, Y'Chirrid has never even tried to peel a buyer. It is also insatiably curious about the Broken Glass. Any traveller with even the smallest whistle of a chant will find a seat at Y'Chirrid's table in return for being questioned relentlessly. Since Y'Chirrid keeps the best supply of food on Gehenna -- and since it appears, against all the odds, to be trustworthy -- this is a bargain that any canny planewalker will accept in a heartbeat.

The population of the camp is split into three groups. The nominal rulers are the yugoloths, predominantly lower caste minions there to keep order; violence of any kind is illegal in Broken Glass. This is remarkably pointless, however, as no-one who visits Fal'halong is interested in fighting. The 'loth drudges are therefore very bored and hence friendly, even chatty. Discipline is enforced through a very simple mechanism: those who fight are made to climb. No-one disobeys more than once.

Planewalkers, loremasters, baatezu dignitaries and tanar'ri spies are drawn to the harsh mystery of Broken Glass like a Tattered to the pain. Collectively, they form the second group whom the 'loths derisively call "tourists". There are several dozen tourists in Broken Glass at any given time, all of whom ignore each other's existence.

The largest group are the climbers, those who would challenge the slopes and therefore themselves. Of these, most are new to the camp; only the strongest of them survive to be inducted into the Tattered.

The Climbers

The climbers come from all over. Some are planewalkers from Ysgard striving to better themselves; some are Cagers seeking a new experience; many are petitioners of Gehenna, seeking whatever it is petitioners need. Those who have not yet ascended Broken Glass are referred to (with affectionate contempt) as "peaches" by the more experienced climbers since they are soft, juicy and ripe. Climbers are usually brusque and focused, intent only on their next ascent. Even the petitioners nominally under the sway of a divinity have no time for religion, except perhaps to throw a few bones at the Temple of the Ten Thousand. That said, anyone who can get them a map of the lower turns of Broken Glass -- the Sandman's Nose, the Bishop's Crook, the Field of Nettles, Minidomini and the Last Laugh -- or better yet a conversation with a Tattered will find themselves richly rewarded.

Those who survive their first few climbs are called "jerky" since this is invariably what they look like: stringy, fleshy, desiccated and damaged. Most jerkies leave Broken Glass, unable to cope with the pain. They die soon thereafter. A few, however, become so addicted to the pain and to the challenge that they continue climbing. Those who survive and ascend still further become known as the Tattered.

The Tattered

These are the true princes-about-town. Their bodies slashed and scarred, dribbling ichor wherever they walk, they look like animated torture victims while being very much alive. Chant is that the Tattered survive because their will is strong enough to surmount the pain and, perhaps, Broken Glass itself. Most Tattered wear minimal clothing -- fabric doesn't survive on the rockfall -- instead decorating themselves with fresh lacerations or embedding shards of obsidian into their skin. A few of the Tattered layer their faces with fanned blades of rock and call themselves the Princes of Pain. No-one knows what the Lady thinks about this.

Their desire to best the Mount so consumes them that the Tattered are remarkably cordial with one another. Their current leader is Karsreich the 752, the number denoting the number of miles climbed. What "leader" actually means in this context is unclear; all that is known is that Karsreich commands meetings with his brethren and they obey. Y'Chirrid is in such awe of them that it has decreed they shall be given anything they desire for free. How it manages to square this with the lesser yugoloths, let alone T'ang Hue, is unknown.

Occasionally one of the tourists tries to waylay a Tattered, usually in an attempt to lann their darks better. That tourist always dies, whether lacerated by the whirling obsidian stormclouds the Tattered can command or subdued by the 'loths and made to climb. No-one has seen a Tattered outside of Broken Glass and it is believed that they are too damaged to survive elsewhere. The point, however, is moot: no Tattered ever leaves. The pain is everything, even life. Nowhere else is there a challenge so pure and so there is nowhere to go but up.

The Chant

The most intriguing rumor surrounding Broken Glass concerns Y'Chirrid's obsession. Chant is that the piscoloth will give any basher barmy enough to climb the Broken Glass whatever 'loth-ware they want. What's more, Y'Chirrid doesn't even require that the basher climb the height of the rockfall or become a Tattered or anything like that; all you have to do is climb a few miles, answer a few questions, and the pick of the yugoloth armory is yours. T'ang Hue is supposed to be angered by this grift yet for some reason the yagnoloth hasn't moved openly against his subordinate. When he does, blood will surely flow.

The politics of the Tattered are few and far between so this is likely screed, but Onijax (Pt/male half-elf T7/NE), a would-be climber, has been screaming about a building blood-feud between Karsreich the 752 and Malaban the 738. Seems Malaban thinks that Karsreich was lying about having surmounted the Hangman's Noose at mile 739 and is going to challenge him to a climbing duel for the leadership of the Tattered. Since the last such duel happened several thousand years ago (between Harmock the 618 and Belizar the 621, both of whom died in the process), tourists are flocking to Fal'halong, causing no end of trouble for the base camp. Y'Chirrid is rumored to be bringing in a whole company of 'loth drudges, including some planar mercenaries, just to make sure the climb goes uninterrupted.

Three priestesses of Loviatar, led by Hasha nel Hashatrya (Pr/female half-ogre C15/LE), have emerged from Mungoth to make their annual pilgrimage to what they call the Wall of Pain. Their devotions having been disturbed by the upcoming duel, Hashatrya is looking to appease her mistress with a few impromptu torturings of her own. Anything touristy will do. More than that, though, the Loviatrines are looking to spread the gospel of their faith to the Tattered, whom they regard as paragons of pain. They've never succeeded before but Kaala Ak-akbaralong (Pr/female elf C10/F3/NE), the excruciatrix of the trio, has been overheard saying that their Dark Mistress proclaimed this time will be different. Only a fool would point out that the Loviatrines have said this every year for the past millennium.

Finally, the most important rumor of all remains: those who surmount the Broken Glass will conquer the world. What this means isn't exactly clear. There have been hundreds of cults since the death of the first Tattered -- legend says it was Vanessa D'Amico of Rothlenspire, a petitioner of Sung Chiang, known posthumously as the Ten Thousand for the supposed height of her final climb -- devoted to this legend, each drawing inspiration from a thousand different sources, but canny bashers all agree that they've got no more clue than a prime fresh off the lemon tree.

The Dark

"Those who conquer the pain, conquer themselves. The wretched, the fallen, the prisoners of the Fourfold Furnace, they are all here because they were weak in life. Only pain can make them strong. Only pain can bring them their desire:


So says the ancient journal of Vanessa D'Amico of Rothlenspire and it seems to be true. Broken Glass is the literal manifestation of the principles that nothing good comes without work, and that the surest way to scourge evil is to suffer. Climbing Broken Glass does not directly correlate with physical exertion -- if it did, the Tattered could not manage it -- but rather one's ability to subsume oneself in agony and to continue onwards. Gehenna respects this ability like none other and has thus offered its challenge: climb high enough, leave all that you were upon the mountain, and you will be free.

Less poetically, those who climb to the top of Broken Glass find a dark crevasse that, portal-like, leads to the mines of Dothion and freedom. This portal is special, though, perhaps unique in the planes; the petitioners who make the climb immediately lose all previous allegiances and become petitioners of Bytopia. [A rare few become petitioners of Mount Celestia or Elysium; no-one has ever figured out why.] Their evils having been purged in the fires of perdition, they are made whole: their wounds heal, the scars eventually fade and they, more than any other inhabitant of the Industrious Paradise, know the value of hard work and sacrifice.

A precise accounting of those who escaped the Mount did not exist until an arcanaloth from the Tower on Chamada became obsessed with the legend. As part of the cycle of mutually-beneficial destruction so beloved in yugoloth politics, it agreed to a physical demotion to the rank of piscoloth so that it might study the phenomenon up close. As such, Y'Chirrid is both T'ang Hue's subordinate and his master. The yagnoloth appears utterly perplexed by this state of affairs. While the seeming-piscoloth cannot openly defy his prince, any attempt by T'ang Hue to exert direct control over Fal'halong is met with swift retribution from the Tower. Chant is that this is a test of T'ang Hue's subtlety; should the yagnoloth pass he is slated for a promotion to marraenoloth, but if he fails he too will be made to climb.

Y'Chirrid's compulsion to understand the mysteries of the Broken Glass has driven it to most un-'lothish postures. Contrary to its nature, it is completely and utterly honorable in all its dealings with the climbers and the Tattered. It has gone so far as to steal supplies from the Tower of the Arcanaloths -- without even official sanction! -- to aid those who would tackle the mount. Nothing can be allowed to jeopardize its quest. Despite its best efforts, though, it cannot quite comprehend D'Amico's diary entries or the other records of those who bested the Mount. What can "conquer the world" mean if not dominion over the Fourfold Furnaces? What can freedom be if not the freedom to rule?

For all its obsession, though, the piscoloth is deathly afraid of the obsidian rockfall. Not only has it never made the climb, it has never been able to look at the slope for more than a few minutes. The Tattered, particularly Malaban, seem aware of this and periodically goad Y'Chirrid into trying an easy climb, just a few hundred feet up the Sandman's Nose. The former arcanaloth has always fled. It has yet to even experience the pain that forever whispers to its soul. One day, though, who knows? Maybe it will climb. Maybe it will suffer. Maybe it will fall. And maybe -- just maybe -- it will conquer itself and emerge upon Dothion, reborn as an exemplar of what the yugoloths should have been, and all the planes shall tremble before its glory.

But for now, Y'Chirrid the coward frets and waits. For now, the Tattered climb alone. And for now, as always until the end of time, Gehenna rains its obsidian challenge down: Conquer the pain. Conquer yourself. Conquer the world.

Nemui's picture
Joined: 2004-08-30
Broken Glass

Excellent. The one thing I didn't like was the prosaic revelation of the dark ("there's a portal on top of the thing"), but other than that, I love it.

Krypter's picture
Joined: 2004-05-11
Broken Glass

Superb. The personages of the Tattered and Y'Chirrid are especially memorable.

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