From the mostly unread “blog”¹ of Eva Marie, an employee in the offices of Lacuna Enterprises. The content is a combination of her commentary on various science fiction and fantasy series, her ideas for video games, and descriptions of an imaginary fantasy world, which she has created within the context of a popular “role-playing” game called “Monsters & Magic”. The material is included here because both the world and modified rule-system she had developed bear a striking resemblance to some aspects of the VRAIN Lacunae (referenced in Document 8).
The grizzled old sentry stood up, the torch-light gleaming on his many scars, which crinkled as he smiled. He bowed, only slightly sardonically, to the young man who took the torch with only slightly trembling fingers.
“Time fer some good grub and a spot of ‘ot spiced wine, methinks!” said the elder man, chuckling. “Keep a weather eye open, lad, I ‘erd some rustling ’round them hills out yonder!” He winked, smiled, and then took his leave.
The lad sat down on the battered wooden stool which had stood on these weathered flagstones next to these battlements since time immemorial. He began his nightly ritual, first inspecting his weapons: the rifle with its clockwork autoloader and many-lensed sight, and the long knife which doubled as a bayonet, inscribed with runes of warding, burning and breaking. Both were on loan to him from the Rooks, as was the cloak he wore, which was the deep blue hue of the sky above. His other clothes were his own, as was his trusty sword. It had no runes save his family name, but it was strong and sharp, forged by his father, who had fought with it in both wars and given it to him after his thirteenth harvest. He began thinking of home as he swept the plains with the scope of his rifle. The many tributaries of the Great River curled away from him, flowing through the Necropolis, its uncountable graves stretching out as far as the eye could see, though the tops of the teetering mountains of trash and detritus and dead things were just visible behind them, swaying and creaking in the wind. Their susurrus almost sounded like the breeze moving through the barley back home. Further along, he knew, those rivers would meet up with the ends of the City’s sewers, and merge into torrents of filth which would meld together into a vile, polluted mass of swamps and bogs and marshes, but even the brightest lights of the city did not reach that place, much less that of his little torch, and so he gazed only into shadow.
He put the rifle down and reached into his coat, feeling around for a moment before pulling out a leather pouch and a pipe. He took a pinch of something from the bag and put it into the pipe, then put the bag back and drew out a match, which he struck on the stone. He lit the pipe, puffed, and blew out a perfect smoke ring. He thought of his childhood in the Summerlands, where light of the Fire of Life always shone clear and bright. He thought of the oceans of grain shimmering and waving in the breeze, of long lazy days after harvest, telling stories with his friends or reading books or watching the Scry-Screen in the cool dimness of their underground homes. He wished he could be back there right now, though he didn’t miss the long days harvesting grain in the scorching heat quite so much. But anyway, it wasn’t like he had a choice: the City was where the real money was. It was the land of Opportunity.
He had just puffed out another ring and sent it drifting serenely through the first, when he heard it. At first, he thought it was a revenant, it had that deadened, droning quality. But it was too high-pitched and too… musical. He picked up the rifle, gripping the pipe in his teeth and sucking in smoke as he scanned the dark horizon. Then he realized that the light had changed, and he pulled his eye from the scope and looked up. The pipe clattered to the ground, spilling its smouldering contents onto the stone, and it was quickly followed by the rifle.
The elderly man whom the boy had relieved later spoke with representatives of the Rooks. He said that he had just left the “House of Cards”, a local tavern, and was relieving himself in an alleyway, when he happened to look up at the tower he had just left. He said that he saw the boy being lifted up into the air, suspended by a beam of bright blue light and pulled towards something which was floating in the air high above the tower. However, his descriptions of whatever it was were entirely nonsensical, and and since he was “in his cups” at the time (and was suspected of senility), his explanation of the junior sentry’s disappearance was believed by nobody.
The Lands of Life and Death
The City of Lacuna is built on the banks of the Great River, which marks the border between the Lands of Life and the Lands of Death. The Lands of Life are also called the “Lightlands”, the “Brightlands”, and the “Summerlands”. The Lands of Death are also called the “Nightlands”, the “Deadlands”, the “Darklands” and the “Shadowlands”, and beyond the city, both sides are collectively called the “Outlands”. The farther you travel from the river, the deeper you go into the Outlands,the stranger and more dangerous things get. Which is not to say that Lacuna and the river itself is not a strange or dangerous place, only relatively less so.
If you travel Dawnward, toward the Fire of Life, the world begins to become much brighter. The eternal twilight of Lacuna is slowly replaced with the brilliance of the Eternal Flame. Beyond the City in this direction are its farms. The endless light and ample rainfall means that there is no shortage of food in the City (though there’s no such thing as a free lunch). Beyond those, the vast, fertile plains, great swathes of land bursting with fecundity. Much of the area near the river but beyond the farms is grassland: sweeping savannas and prairies and gently rolling hills. In patches, the places where many streams and smaller rivers meet, marshes form, which eventually merge into the wider wetlands. Beyond this, the trees start to get thicker, and soon they are all there is.
The Jungle stretches for thousands of leagues, bordered only by the Mountains beyond it. Its canopy is so thick in places that little lakes of rainwater form where the leaves have grown together thickly enough. Its trees are taller than the City’s tallest towers. Everything grows larger closer to the Flame. And as life gets closer to its source, it begins to change in other ways. The closer one lives to the Fire of Life, the longer they live and the more easily they overcome injury and disease. Some of those beings who dwell in the Jungle have lived for hundreds or thousands of City-dweller generations. But there is a price. Proximity to the fire causes mutation and madness, especially in those who were not born near it. The many monsters of the Jungle have generally achieved some degree of equilibrium, though there are many whose bodies are continually wracked with uncontrolled transformations. However, City-folk who venture too far tend not to return, and if they do, they are not as they were.
If a traveller were to somehow make it past the Jungles and the Mountains and whatever lies beyond, they would eventually come to a vast desert, and endless expanse of stone and sand shifting slowly beneath the burning sky.
In the other direction, the landscape is much the same, and yet utterly different. Plains still transition into swamps and wetlands, and then into forests and mountains. Both sides are littered with the artifacts of the Elder Days, the accumulated architecture of countless millennia, and the more recent ruins of the Dusk Wars. But the Lands of Death are dark and cold, and next to nothing grows there. Almost nobody lives on the Nightside of the city, and though there are many thriving businesses there, they tend to be of the seedier sort. Most of the city on that side is taken up with the Necropolis: vast graveyards interspersed with the dwellings of the City’s undead citizens. The Duskward plains and marshes near the River do contain some of the hardier sorts of life, though they are not helped by the fact that these places are the City’s dumping grounds, receiving its polluted effluent and its mountains of junk as well as its dead. But some tough and hardy plants, the sort that don’t need much light, grow along the river-banks. There are some trees (though they are often gnarled and twisted, and either leafless or with leaves that perpetually turn red, wither, and fall), some scavenging animals and a great many crows and carrion birds. But even the birds don’t venture too far beyond the light of the Fire. From the Nightside of the river, its light softly colors the dim Dayside of the sky, but once out of sight of the river it disappears completely. Then, all that can be seen are its many pale reflections, the stars, and even these eventually disappear. The stars are also visible from Lacuna, though more become visible as one ventures further into Night and leaves behind the light of the City as well as the Fire.
If you kept going, you would reach a place where nothing lives, but where things still move. The walking dead, the revenants, the ghost and vampires and Zom and Zom’be, and the demons and ghouls and the thousand other things that live on the borderlands between Life and Death. They walk between trees of black stone and steel and glass, between which flow streams of still-surfaced and sterile water; the crystal clear, lifeless rivers of the deep Darklands, disturbed only by their steps and the storms that sometimes rage across the sky, spitting down sleet and hail and jagged forks of lightning that leap among the metal branches of the trees. Further on, the water and then even the ground begins to freeze. The trees are coated with frost, and they condense, their leaden limbs growing together to form an immense, chaotic, fractal lattice, a towering labyrinthine spiderweb of steel and shadow and ice. The shadow-spiders live here, though they did not spin the web, and they share it with a multitude of other monsters. The Mountains rise high above this mad, tangled mess. Its black crags and cliffs of sheer stone covered in snow and ice rise to dizzying dagger-like peaks, and the depths of its caverns are fabled as the abode of the world’s worst horrors, as well as its most fabulous treasures and most powerful and terrible Magic.
Beyond the Mountains, there is another desert. It is very, very cold, here. The ground is hard and covered in ice, and snow falls endlessly on an open and perfectly flat plain that stretches far out beyond the foothills. If you walked into that perfect blankness, as countless spirits who could not face the Fire have done, the remaining stars above you would slowly, one by one, begin to wink out.
Or perhaps they would grow brighter, and their clear, cold light would expand to meet the shining snow, until there was nothing left but light.
Perhaps, one day, you’ll find out.
Lacuna: The Twilight City
The River sits on the border between Life and Death, between the lands of Day and Night, so the sky above it is a perpetual twilight between the extremes of light and dark that lie to either side. Nobody knows how long the River is, but everyone knows its center: Lacuna, the Twilight City. The City is centered around the Great Lake, a huge and almost perfectly circular body of water just big enough that you can’t quite see one side from the other at the widest point. This lake is the source of the River, feeding it from springs deep underground, and the it periodically flows towards or away from Lacuna depending on the level of the water, though the City has made a multitude of dams and sewers and sluice-gates to regulate it. They have in fact created artificial high and low tides which allow ships to move in and out of port predictably and are the City’s primary method of timekeeping.
Much of the City is built on the banks of the river and the shores of this lake, but a great deal of it is built on or over the lake itself. First, there are the bridges. Seven bridges cross the river and the lake, and the longest is almost a city itself. People live on every bridge, and many actually live inside their supports. City authorities are constantly filling in rooms people have excavated in the stonework for fear that too much could cause them to collapse. But people have also built hundreds of smaller bridges and platforms between the major ones out of whatever materials were at hand, forming a multilayered matrix of stone and scrap all suspended above river’s waters. This is also true of the land-based portions of the city, which tend towards teetering towers joined by networks of bridges and tunnels. There are also many communities which float on the surface of the water itself, whether in permanently anchored floating villages or fleets of house-boats. Much of the City also exists beneath the Earth. An immense and largely unmapped maze of interconnected basements, tunnels, chambers, catacombs, sewers, dungeons, and natural caverns has honeycombed the whole area surrounding the lake. Such underground labyrinths exist elsewhere as well: they are often found beneath the ruins of ancient cities in the Outlands, and the caves beneath the mountains on either side of the river are astoundingly vast and complex. But for sheer density of man-made subterranean structures, there is nowhere in the world like Lacuna.
Lacuna expands far from the shores of the lake, though it more or less stops once the stars fade from the sky. However, it also extends diffusely down the river in both directions for a very long way, thousands of leagues at least, though nobody has ever tried to obtain a precise measurement since its boundaries are so blurred. Eventually though, if you go downriver far enough, the buildings start to thin, and the river expands. The City becomes a smattering of towns, then a few little hamlets and individual cottages, then nothing. The river widens and slows, becomes wider than the Great Lake, and then wider still. If you keep travelling, you’ll eventually start to approach the Edge. As it get closer, even a long way upriver, magic of all kinds becomes much easier to work as reality becomes more malleable. Dreams and reality begin to blur together, fantasies gain flesh and flesh becomes phantasm, time begins behaving strangely, bizarre entities and visions arise from the water, and eventually chaos reigns and the world dissolves into madness. And then… you’re back at the other end of the river, heading toward Lacuna again. If you’re lucky. People who go too far towards the Edge sometimes disappear, or reappear years later, and those who go over it and return are never quite the same again. Those who hail from the City Center often distrust those who live downriver, and call them “primitive”, “uncivilized” and “superstitious”. In the city, Magic is effective and widespread, and though there are many ways of working, it is generally somewhat predictable and consistent, codified and categorized into specific spells and rituals.
The most reliable form of Magic is Techno-Thaumaturgy: static Magic which is bound into objects. Mundane technology in and around the city is relatively advanced: gunpowder was discovered about a century ago, during the Dusk War, and clockwork devices of varying complexity have been around for much longer. Trains are widely used to transport goods between parts of the City, since they are considerably faster than boats. The development of Techno-Thaumaturgy (or “Technomancy”) has kickstarted the equivalent of an Industrial revolution. The City now churns out a staggering quantity and variety of goods, gadgets and products of all sorts. Some are mundane but made with Magically assisted processes, and many have charms and enchantments worked into their substance. The Scry-Screen achieved the greatest general acceptance and most widespread use, but the crowning achievement of Technomancy was the creation of the Cyb. This was hailed as an end to the bloodshed of the civil wars, and did indeed help to stem the tide, but when the Cyb became sentient and revolted, the whole affair became that much more complicated. In any case, since then, technology and techno-magic have become widespread even beyond the boundaries of the city. But the farther you travel from its border, the more wild Magic becomes. Technology begins to malfunction or behave strangely, and the neat systems of spellwork begin to break down.
The city is jointly ruled by a regent (called the “Cuckoo King” by his detractors) and the “Parliament of Rooks”. The Parliament is the head of a vast bureaucracy, while the regent is primarily a figurehead. Though he has input into and final veto over any new legislation the Parliament proposes, he almost never uses the latter power. This system was created after the bloody civil wars of succession wracked the City following the Dusk War, during which the royal line of succession had been broken. However, the threat of it has been enough to maintain a balance of power in recent years. This has been helped by the fact that the current regent is a wily and wise politician, though the young Prince is growing fast and will soon be of age. Many City authorities worry that his upcoming coronation may be a flashpoint for more unrest.
There are other tensions brewing beneath the City’s surface, too. With the rise of the Technae (those Magicians who developed Techno-Thaumaturgy) and the expansion of the city’s economy, people from all across the Outlands have flocked to its promise of prosperity. The life which awaits them is certainly a far cry from mining the mountain depths or harvesting crops in the Summerlands, but it is not always prosperous. Many of the city’s inhabitants are in dire poverty, and the underclass (who tend to literally live in the lower levels of the city, beneath the bridges or underground) have begun to form haphazard organizations. Several times, streets and bridges have been barricaded and revolution has been called for beneath black flags, but every time such efforts have been brutally crushed by the city authorities. The City has also become a melting pot for all the world’s many diverse kinds of life (and unlife). The tension between the living and the dead is strongest, as evidenced by the near total segregation between the Dawnward and Duskward sides of the city. However, there is also friction between the Hum (who were the City’s original founders and inhabitants) and the many others who have immigrated in recent years.
People of the Twilight City
The Hum look, live, die, and reproduce just as we do. They have no innate powers and no pre-existing social structure, but are very numerous, tenacious and adaptable. However, there are a few key differences between a Hum and a Human: their hearts are in the centers of their bodies, they have no vestigial organs (such as appendixes), childbirth isn’t painful, and birth control generally isn’t necessary because women can only become pregnant if they have intercourse on the Lightside of the river (which is a large part of the reason why all of the City’s brothels and pay-by-the-hour Inns are on the Nightside). They were the builders of the multitude of riverside towns which congealed into what is now Lacuna.
The appearance of each individual Nom differs, because they absorb characteristics of whatever they eat. However, most have very sharp claws and teeth. They will eat almost anything they can chew up, and they grow bigger the more they eat, though they also get smaller if they don’t eat enough. They reproduce as others would excrete, sometimes as often as a few times a day. Sometimes they produce litters of smaller children, and sometimes a single larger child, with a size depending on that of the parent. Most are semi-nomadic, settling briefly in an area, then hunting and raiding until there is nothing left for them to eat, and moving on, often returning when it has regenerated. They originate in the Jungle, but many have moved to the city, though they are often feared and hated, so their communities tend to be quite insular. The Hum divide them into five loose, general categories based on an individual’s current size. From smallest to largest they are called: Goblin (smaller than a Hum), Orc (about the size of a Hum), Ogre (larger than a Hum), Troll (larger than an Ogre), and Giant (larger than an adult tree).
The Fae are shape-shifters who can also transform others. They reproduce by spiriting people away, replacing them with simulacra, and transforming them until they learn the trick of it. They tend to live underground, and though most dwell in the Outlands, some live in secret places beneath the City. Many are also consummate impersonators, and there is no way to know whether or how many Fae are living in the City under assumed identities.
The Elv are androgynous humanoid beings with skin, hair, and eyes in an endless variety of colors, and each many hues at once. All have intricate fractal patterns running across their whole bodies, embedded in the contrasting tones of hair and skin, even in the colors of their eyes. These all change at varying rates, and communicate mood and other, subtler information among the Elv. They reproduce only once: when one of the Elv dies, a baby begins to form within the corpse, and emerges once it has decayed. All are telepathic and telekinetic, to different degrees, and many are extremely skilled sorcerers, wizards, warlocks, and witches. They traditionally live in “Ivory Towers” carved out of the ancient bones of the Great Dragons, wherever they have fallen. Most of these are in the Outlands, though there is one in the Necropolis, where a large enclave dwells (one of the few exceptions to the rule that nobody lives on the Nightside of the city). However, more than a few iconoclastic Elv have left their communities entirely to pursue a more individualistic life in Lacuna.
Most Dwr are male, but each clan is centered around a single female, their Queen. All males are very short, stocky, and strong, and while no male Dwr can use Magic, they can absorb and redirect it. Every female is a powerful Mage, and all are very tall and slim. Male Dwr have copious and intricately styled facial hair, as well as a multitude of tattoos and piercings, all of which identify them as individuals, since all male Dwr are genetic clones, while all females are genetically unique. The Queen of each clan regularly births a litter of male children, and each will birth a single female child (and very rarely, twins or triplets) during her lifetime. When a new female is born, she is raised to maturity and then leaves to create her own clan with twelve male volunteers. The males of a clan will mate with their Queen at certain culturally appointed times, and casual homosexuality is a common way to pass the time between these orgiastic eruptions (though males do often form semi-permanent sexual and emotional bonds). They also regularly engage in ritualized combat and various other contests to determine which of them will have the right to mate with the Queen. Most Dwr still leave in the mountains of the Summerlands, though some clans have taken up residence in the subterranean portions of Lacuna. Many believe it was they who invented Techno-Thaumaturgy, though their technique of imbuing objects with magical power is substantially different and far more ancient.
The Zom, also called “Revenants”, are magically resurrected corpses. They eat only rotten meat and drink only blood (and strong alcohol), and they can only reproduce by using a particular magical ritual. Orc Zom still grow bigger as they eat, and Fae Zom can still change their shape (though they are always corpses). Elv Zom are still telepathic and telekinetic, Dwr Zom still absorb and redirect magical power. Hum Zom are both the most “normal” and the most numerous. Most Zom are not conscious. Some serve the will of the Necromancer who created them, or else simply wander the Deadlands aimlessly. However, during the civil wars, a spell was created which gave sentience and self-awareness to the Zom it affected. Some say it was a retaliation against the creation of the Cyb, some say it was the other way around, some say that the same spell gave both their sentience, while some say the two events were entirely unconnected. Nobody knows for sure, but at least at first, many Zom were still bound to the will of a Magician and used as “officers” in units of the undead. But many Magi died during the war, and afterward all sentient Zom were granted freedom under the same edict that released the Cyb from servitude. These free-folk call themselves the “Zom’be”, and have carved out a place for themselves in the City, mostly as morticians and the keepers of the Necropolis graveyards, though there are Zom’be in a variety of occupations and non-sentient Zom are still widely used for all kinds of labor.
The Cyb are a mixture of organic and mechanical material, magically infused with spirit. They have no flesh, but steel and stone exo-skeletons beneath which muscles made from plant matter wrap around intricate clockwork organs, all carved with magical patterns and sigils. They were once created to be slaves and warriors by the Hum, but gained sentience (though nobody is quite sure how) and eventually their independence. Cyb build each other out of local materials, often scavenging scrap metal for their skeletons. They have a symbiotic relationship with a particular plant, called the “Er”, whose seeds can only germinate inside a Cyb. Its roots form the Cyb’s muscle fibers, and its fruit, which grows from the top of the Cyb’s head, contains more seeds, which are collected and placed within the skeletons of new Cyb. As the seed grows, the spell written within the Cyb is activated and it slowly comes to life. Cyb also alter themselves throughout their lives, adding and removing various body parts, growing as they incorporate more into themselves, even adding other plants, though always, of course, keeping their Er.
Beings of the Outlands
The Outlands contain a dizzying variety of creatures not generally found in the City, though some of these beings do live there or else visit from time to time. Only the most common shall be explicitly described here, for the sake of brevity.
All Dragons look different, but they all share certain qualities: they are all reptilian, scaled and serpentine, with sharp teeth and claws. Most but not all have wings and most but not all can sing Magical songs which make their breath into fire, among other things. They are of all colors, shapes and sizes. Some are even more-or-less humanoid, and some of the smaller sort live in Lacuna, but most do not. The size of a dragon depends on their age, as do their magical powers, for the most part. The Dinosaurs who dwell in the Jungle and on the Plains are a type of Dragon mostly without the power of flight or magical breath, though they can still be quite deadly. The most feared of all are the terrible Void Dragons, which live deep in the Deadlands, though they have not been seen since the Dusk War.
The Beastfolk are various groups of beings which are hybrids of the humanoid form and various other more common creatures: there are the Rat-folk, the Cat-folk, the Wolf-folk, the Bird-folk, the Bug-folk, the Goat-folk, and the Dragon-folk, though these are only the most common, and many mix qualities of several different creatures, some with no humanoid qualities at all (these are called “Chimera”). The exact degree of hybridization also varies: some look almost exactly like a Hum or like an unchanged animal, with only a few odd features, while some are completely unrecognizable, though most are somewhere between these two extremes. Their degree of intelligence and sentience also varies, though it seems to have little or nothing to do with the relative presence of humanoid traits. Most can speak or at least understand a few words, and many are fully capable of speech, though they tend not to write at all. Beastfolk live all over the Lightlands, rarely venturing into the City and never into the Nightlands.
There are a great many other beasts in the Outlands. All the animals familiar to us live in the Summerlands, though as they approach the Fire of Life they tend to grow to gigantic proportions, start behaving strangely, and develop mutations. Many even begin to think and speak. There are also many more… unique creatures. Some have been drastically altered by the Fire, others by the Void. Some may have somehow wandered over the Edge or slumbered beneath the earth since ancient times. Some are so strange they cannot be categorized or accounted for, and many more are simply unknown.
Then there are those who come from beyond the world, the Outer-lands, as some say. Some believe this place is what lies over the edge or past the Void or the Fire, though in the end these are only speculations. But no matter where they come from, they are here. There are the Nephilim, malevolent beings who many believe come from beyond the edge of the Deadlands, and indeed, many of them claim to. They can only manifest for extended periods by possessing the bodies of mortals, which usually causes the host considerable trauma and often wreaks terrible changes on their minds and bodies, though these can usually be reverted through exorcism or healing Magic. Sometimes, they possess dead corpses, but only when forced to: they prefer living victims. Then there are the Seraphim, who say they come from within the Fire of Life (or beyond it: they tend to speak in riddles and often contradict themselves). They too can only materially manifest for extended periods within a mortal body, though they only possess the living and willing rather than stealing bodies.
There are the Wraiths, spirits of mortals who have died but cannot let go of life and take their final journey into either the Fire or the Void or over the Edge of the world. They too can only manifest by possessing a body, though it is much easier for them to inhabit the bodies of the dead. In order for a Nephilim or Ghost to maintain its mortal form, it must regularly drink fresh, living blood (both such beings are called “Vampyres”). Bright light also exorcises the spirit from the body, as do submersion in running water, the smell of garlic, and certain spells. If a Vampyre is possessing a corpse, it can appear to be alive as long as it is fed, but slowly decays if it is deprived of blood and if it is forced out, the corpse appears as it otherwise would. Seraphim do not suffer from any of these weaknesses, but must leave as soon as their work is done or their host bids them to depart.
Lastly, there are the Others, Visitors who appear in strange flying ships and disappear just as mysteriously. Their appearance is associated with many anomalous events, most commonly strange patterns appearing pressed into crops in Summerland farms and unexplained disappearances. Their most notable recent appearance was during the civil war, when a ship appeared over Lacuna and proceeded to remotely diffuse and disassemble an immensely destructive Techno-magical weapon one of the factions was threatening to detonate on the central bridge. However, this incident has gained the status of a widespread urban myth due to the chaos of the times in which it occurred and the lack of documentation. However, there are many other reports of the Others interfering in both the Civil and Dusk wars. In any case, their true nature, purpose, and origin remains a mystery.
¹ A contraction of “Web Log”. Ms. Marie’s blog has had under a hundred views in the thirteen months it has been online.