Wednesday, 16 August 2017

Cities of Fantasy: Golgotterath

Many of the cities of fantasy are places which are, at worst, dystopias: places which might not be great places to live but at least people can survive there on a day-to-day level. The bastions of true evil – the Barad-dûrs and Skull Kingdoms and Shayol Ghuls – generally go unexplored in fantasy, being relegated to vague descriptions of off-screen badness.

In Canadian fantasy author R. Scott Bakker’s Second Apocalypse series, comprising the Prince of NothingAspect-Emperor and No-God sub-series, the primary bastion of evil goes by many names – Incû-Holoinas, Min-Uroikas, the Pit – but one stands out more than any other: Golgotterath, stronghold of the Unholy Consult.

A map of Golgotterath's exterior, by R. Scott Bakker.

Golgotterath is located in the far north-west of the continent of Eärwa. It is located in the midst of an arid landscape known as the Black Furnace Plain, contained with a vast impact crater known as the Occlusion, surrounded by the Ring Mountains. These are not true mountains, but massive heaps of rock and dirt thrown into the sky and then down again by the cataclysmic event known as Arkfall, the crash-landing of a multi-million-ton vessel which took place many thousands of years ago. To the north and west lies the colossal Yimaleti Mountains, whilst the south lies the Neleöst, the Misty Sea. Extending east from the Ring Mountains for several hundred miles to the River Sursa is a massive area of wasteland known as the Field Appalling, Agongorea. This land is desolate, with nothing growing at all. The ground won’t even accept footprints.

In ancient times the region was bordered by Cûnuroi (whom humans call Nonmen) Mansions, with Viri lying to the east and Ishoriöl to the south, beyond the sea. After the arrival of the Four Tribes of Men in Eärwa, human nations arose to the south (Kûniüri) and east (Aörsi). These nations were destroyed two thousand years ago in the savage war known as the Apocalypse. Since this time Golgotterath has stood alone, the nearest settlements being Ishterebinth (the modern name for the much-reduced Mansion of Ishoriöl), the secret Dûnyain redoubt of Ishuäl, and the human cities of Atrithau and Sakarpus, both more than a thousand miles distant. The densely-populated kingdoms of the Three Seas lie almost two thousand miles away to the south. The lands between, including the vast Istyuli Plains, are crawling with millions of Sranc, the foul and abominable servants of Golgotterath. Anasûrimbor Kellhus, the Aspect-Emperor of the Three Seas, has led the 300,000-strong army known as the Great Ordeal onto the plains with the goal of destroying Golgotterath, but the outcome of this expedition remains in question.

The Golden Horns of Golgotterath. Artwork by Jason Deem.

Physical Description
Golgotterath defies easy exposition. The area consists of a series of fortresses, a city (of sorts) extending above and below ground, and the most titanic walls ever built, extending for dozens of miles. But these complexes, which outshine anything in the Three Seas, are utterly dwarfed into insignificance by the Golden Horns of the Incû-Holoinas.

The Incû-Holoinas is a space-faring vessel. At some point in the past – claimed by some Nonmen to be eight thousand years ago, others maybe six thousand – the vessel crashed into Eärwa in a titanic roar which was heard as far away as the shores of the Three Seas. Defying rationality, the vessel was not destroyed but instead survived mostly intact, with more than two-thirds of its length buried underground. Only the rear-most projections of the vessel – the Horns themselves – extend above ground.

The two horns are gold in colour and covered in what appears to be a script written in the Cincûlic language, the ancient and indecipherable language of the Inchoroi species. One of the Horns was damaged in the crash and lists slightly to one side, thus their frequent depiction as the “Canted Horn” (the western-most of the two) and the “Upright Horn”. The Horns are titanic: during the Great Investiture, the siege by the combined armies of Kûniüri, Aörsi and Ishterebinth during the First Apocalypse, the mages of the Sohonc School spent years conducting exacting measurements of Horns by measuring their shadows and the occlusion of the Sun. They concluded that the Upright Horn measures over 13,000 feet – or over two-and-a-half miles – in height from its base to its tip. Nonmen records, curiously, suggest a height of almost twice this amount, suggesting either that the Ark is slowly sinking over the passage of time or that one or both of the two counts are highly erroneous. The function of the Horns is unclear, but the Inchoroi used to refer to them as the “Oars of the Ark”, suggesting they were involved in its propulsion through the void.

The two Horns meet the ground in a massive mound of stone and slag, known as the Scab. When the Golden Ark slowed to a stop, the heat of its arrival melted the surrounding rock down to lava. This came rushing in above the vessel and then slowly cooled and hardened. The Scab prevents access from the surface directly to the hull of the Incû-Holoinas; the vessel is only accessible via the Horns themselves. The Scab is rocky, hard to cross and drops away to the surrounding plain via a massive escarpment on all sides bar the south-western. Although the escarpment is effectively unclimbable, the Consult have raised tall walls (some rearing 90 feet above even the escarpment edge) above it, punctuated by watch-towers. On the south-western side, the toil of Inchoroi, Nonmen and men over millennia has cleared a path from the base of the Upright Horn, where the only accessible portal to the vessel is located, down to the plain. This stretch of land, modest in overall size, has seen more blood spilled than anywhere else in the history of the World. It is the grave of heroes.

This stretch of land begins outside the walls of Golgotterath, on the plain-within-a-plain known as Ûgorrior. This is the dead field that lies immediately before the gates of the fortress and is a kill-zone within easy missile range of the walls and fortresses. Titanic walls, taller than the walls of great cities like Momemn, Carythusal or Domyot, rise from the floor to seal the gap in the escarpment. These walls are hinged on the twin fortresses of Domathuz (in the south) and Corrunc (in the north). In the middle of the two is Gwergiruh, a pentagon-shaped gatehouse of huge size. Between the arms of the fortress lies the Ûbil Maw, the Extrinsic Gate of Golgotterath itself.

Beyond, the escarpment has been smoothed down into a series of tiered terraces, known as the Oblitus. Nine large terraces rise from ground level. The ninth and tallest terrace lies before another fortress, the High Cwol, which stares down at the plain below. Within the High Cwol is a bridge leading over an abyss at the base of the Upright Horn. The final portal into the Golden Horn, and into the Incû-Holoinas itself, lies at the far end of the bridge, the famed Intrinsic Gate of myth.

Golgotterath is a city as well as a fortress, with heaps of buildings, shacks and structures located on the terraces. Most of these lie in the so-called Canal, the ground level inside the walls beneath the First Terrace. Sranc, Nonmen and men in the service of the Consult dwell in these rude dwellings.

The Incû-Holoinas itself is allegedly inhabited. During the First Apocalypse, Anasûrimbor Nau-Cayûti and Seswatha, founder of the Mandate, stole into the Ark to rescue Nau-Cayûti’s concubine and retrieve the fabled Heron Spear. During their descent into the bowels of the vessel, they reported finding a cavernous hold (one of many, if Nonmen records are to be believed) in which a miserable and decrepit city of Sranc, Bashrags, men and other piteous servants of the Consult could be found.

The environs around Golgotterath, cartography by Jason Deem.

The population of Golgotterath is unknown.

It is known that only two Inchoroi have survived the passage of ages since Arkfall: Aurang, the Warlord, and his brother Aurax, master of the Tekne. Cet’ingira, the Man-Traitor, has brought many Nonmen into the fold, mostly Erratics driven insane by the passage of ages, but many of them were lost in the Apocalypse and, much more recently, the four-year assault on Ishuäl. Men, followers of Shaeönanra, the ancient Grandvizier of the Mangaecca who went over to the foe three thousand years ago, also serve the Consult, but in numbers unknown.

The foul creations of the Inchoroi are far more numerous. Largest of all is the population of Sranc, ancient and foul perversions of the Nonmen into ravenous and lustful savages. A tall, powerful breed known as the Ursranc are found within the walls of Golgotterath, whilst many thousands more can be found breeding in the Yimaleti Mountains. Far more still can be found to the west, on the Istyuli Plains, in hordes hundreds of thousands strong. Rarer and more formidable are the Bashrags, tall and broad doubled-headed monsters. Rarest of all are the Wracu, called dragons by men, sorcerous creatures of formidable power. Most of the Wracu were annihilated during the ancient Cûno-Inchoroi Wars, and several of the survivors were slain in the Apocalypse thousands of years later. It is unknown how many Wracu survive.

Arkfall, by Jason Deem.

Over six thousand years ago (and maybe closer to eight), the Incû-Holoinas came to the World. Within, it carried the Inchoroi, an ancient, foul and obscene race. The Inchoroi believed that they were damned, that upon death they would roil and burn for eternity in flames. They could only avoid this fate by reducing the population of their homeworld to 144,000. But, this achieved, they found they were still damned. Using their vast vessel, they travelled from world to world, raining death down on each on, reducing the populations to the same level. But still they found themselves condemned to the hells.

Finally, they stumbled across the Chosen World, the world on which the continent of Eärwa rests. Why this world was different is unknown. They prepared to cleanse it, but an accident took place (the details of which remain unclear). The Ark of the Heavens instead fell to the ground. The Inchoroi triggered the Inertial Inversion Field, a blast of energy which created a landing field for the Ark as well as dramatically slowing its descent. But this force was not as effective as it should have been. The Ark’s impact blasted millions of tons of rock, earth and rubble into the skies, sending a reverberating crack around the world. A firestorm scoured the land in all directions for hundreds of miles. The storm lashed even the walls of Viri, the nearest Nonman Mansion, killing thousands whilst earthquakes killed tens of thousands more in the deeps.

Inside the Ark, the impact was calamitous. The vessel survived, but many inside were killed instantly, more still being heavily injured. One of the two Horns, the great Oars of the Ark, became unhinged and canted, robbing the vessel of the motive power to take off again. Most of the Arsenal, the dread cache of weapons which had near-extinguished life on dozens or hundreds of worlds, was destroyed or rendered inoperable. It is unknown how many died inside the Ark, save that the Inchoroi put the combined death-toll of Arkfall (inside and outside the vessel) at over ten million. Eventually, it fell to one of the Inchoroi, Sil, to rouse his battered fellows. He loosed Wutteät, the Father-of-Dragons, the Wracu template and his greatest weapon, and flew from a portal high on the Upright Horn to observe the World. Inchoroi scouts left the vessel (borne from the high portal to the ground by Wracu, as the boiling cauldron of what was to become the Scab was fatal to even approach) and in time two of these were captured by the Cûnuroi scout and fabled warrior Ingalira. Unable to approach the vessel, Ingalira took the creatures back to Viri, now a conquest of the bold High King Cû’jara Cinmoi of Siöl. Cû’jara Cinmoi bid the creatures explain themselves, but the noises they made were without meaning. Dubbing the creatures Inchoroi, or “People of Emptiness”, Cû’jara Cinmoi put them to death (their ugly appearance offended him) and set a Watch on the Fallen Ark whilst he made war on the other Mansions.

The Inchoroi were masters of the Tekne, the art of machines and science. Discovering their lacked the biological ability to communicate with the Nonmen, they grafted Nonmen-like faces onto their own bodies and learned the Nonman language. A delegation of Inchoroi then slipped past the watchers and infiltrated Viri. There they contacted Nin’janjin, the former King of Viri, and offered him a deal: they would offer military support to him in ejecting the Siölan invaders in return for his help in achieving their goals. Nin’janjin agreed. Viri rebelled and a great host of Inchoroi and Viri troops gathered on the field of Pir Pahal, beyond the Neleost, to confront the armies of Cû’jara Cinmoi. However, many of the Viri objected to the Inchoroi’s obscene appearance and their practice of wearing festering bodies as garments of war. They rejected Nin’janjin’s command and declared common cause with Cû’jara Cinmoi against the creatures.

The Inchoroi took the Nonmen too lightly, trusting in their weapons – particularly their spears of light which could inflict horrific damage from heat over vast distances – too much. They had no knowledge of sorcery and were unprepared for the power of the Gnosis. Although they inflicted hideous casualties on the Nonmen, they were swept from the field and Sil, High King of the Inchoroi, was slain, his Heron Spear taken up by Cû’jara Cinmoi. Cinmoi was unable to complete his victory, instead having to confront rebellions in distant corners of his empire. A renewed Watch was placed on the Ark.
A century or more later, the Inchoroi sued for peace through their representative, the Traitor-King Nin’janjin. Cû’jara Cinmoi, by now aged and approached death, was amazed to see his once-vassal was untouched by the passage of time. Nin’janjin begged for peace and asked what boon the Inchoroi could provide to win their freedom. Cinmoi replied that he wanted the same gift that Nin’janjin had received, to be able to live forever and have the threat of death removed. The Inchoroi agreed, and administered the Inoculation, the treatment that rendered the Nonmen immortal.

Over one hundred years later, the depth of the Inchoroi plan was revealed. The Nonmen were immortal, but then the entire female half of their species fell ill, sickened and died. The Womb Plague killed over half of the entire Nonman species, millions upon millions of them. In utter fury, Cû’jara Cinmoi raised the forces of all nine High Mansions against the Inchoroi and fought them on the Black Furnace Plain before the Ark, which was now called Min-Uroikas, the Pit of Obscenities. The Battle of Pir Minginnial was long, hard-fought and filled with victories for both sides. But ultimately the battle was won by the Inchoroi, the Traitor-King Nin’janjin striking down and beheading Cû’jara Cinmoi himself. The Nonmen fled and for five centuries suffered setbacks and defeats. Great Scaldings blasted the walls of Mansions large and small, Wracu and newly-forged Sranc and Bashrags unleashed in their thousands and Tekne trinkets known as Chorae defying the Gnosis itself.

The Cûno-Inchoroi Wars ended, however, in defeat for the Inchoroi. Nil’giccas, High King of Nihrimsûl and Ishoriöl, raised a great host and defeated the Inchoroi at the Battle of Isal’imial, throwing down the gates of Min-Uroikas and finally storming the Golden Ark itself. The Inchoroi were massacred, the Sranc destroyed in such numbers that for centuries they were reduced to mere inconveniences scrabbling at the margins of Eärwa, and apparently the endless war was won. Though it took twenty years, the Ark was cleansed, passage-by-passage, room-by-room and chamber-by-chamber. All aside one.

Deep in the Ark lay the Golden Court of Sil, the throne-room of the Inchoroi King. In this chamber, there was also an artifact of unknown capability and origin: the Inverse Fire. Every Nonman who beheld this object went insane on the instant, declaring that the Inchoroi were right and that the Nonmen were damned to an eternity of fire and hell as well. This was the room which had turned Nin’janjin and countless Nonmen Qûya mages to the foe, convincing them to create the Chorae and betray their people. Nil’giccas sent his three greatest heroes, the warriors Misariccas and Rûnidil and the mage Cet’ingira, to investigate further. Misariccas and Rûnidil returned gibbering and raving, but Cet’ingira was silent. Nil’giccas demanded his report and Cet’ingira replied that his comrades had gone over to the foe and needed to be put to death, immediately. Nil’giccas complied. He then ordered that the Ark be evacuated and a sorcerous barrier, the Barricades, be placed over the remaining portal to prevent entry. The Ark could not be destroyed, so instead it was abandoned, sealed off and forgotten.

Thousands of years passed. The Four Tribes of Men invaded Eärwa through the Great Kayarsus Mountains, throwing down Siöl itself in the Breaking of the Gates. The Nonman Mansions fell, only Ishoriöl and Cil-Aujas surviving. The Norsirai, proudest of the Tribes, settled the North, raising towns and then cities along the Aumris River Valley and later the first kingdoms and empires. Peace was forged between Man and Nonman, Nil’giccas sending his greatest Qûya and warriors among the humans to teach them the ways of the Gnosis and bind them as allies. So began the Nonman Tutelage, and for the first time the words Incû-Holoinas and Min-Uroikas became known to men, albeit at first as legends and myths.

Cet’ingira was one of these teachers, a Siqû, and he found himself willing students and allies among the Mangaecca, a newly-founded Gnostic school of sorcery. He had lied when he had said he had resisted the Fire. Instead, he had been struck by its power but also retained his instinct for self-preservation. Now he told the Mangaecca of the location of the Golden Horns and soon they had located it. Basing themselves in the ruins of Viri and pretending to scour its depths for secrets, instead they put themselves to work on the Golden Ark. They raised the walls around the fallen vessel and rebuilt the fallen Extrinsic Gate. They then put themselves to the task of removing the Barricades, the construction of the fabled Artisan Emilidis, but could not succeed. The Barricades defied every attempt to remove them for almost four hundred years.

Then Shaeönanra, Grandvizier of the Mangaecca, and Cet’ingira combined their powers. They found a weakness and unravelled it. In the Year-of-the-Tusk 1111 the Barricades fell and they entered the Golden Ark. They found the last two surviving Inchoroi, Aurax and Aurang, and thus the Unholy Consult, the pact of damnation which would echo through eternity, was forged. Barely eight years later the Consult claimed their first victim. Shaeönanra and Aurang slew Titirga, Grandmaster of the Sohonc and the greatest sorcerer in history, and the greatest threat to their plans. A few years later Shaeönanra declared the Mangaecca’s discovering, claiming that within the Ark he had found a way of negating the threat of damnation that was the lot of every sorcerer. He was reviled and his school outlawed, its few remaining practitioners fleeing to the Incû-Holoinas, or as the entire complex was now known, Golgotterath. Shaeönanra survived, kept alive by a fusion of the Tekne and the Gnosis.

One thousand years later, the Unholy Consult finally achieved their goal. The Nonmen had an inkling of what was happening – an Apocalypse in the waiting – and warned their greatest ally, Seswatha of the Sohonc. Seswatha in turn raised the alarm to his friend Anasûrimbor Celmomas II, High King of Kûniüri. Celmomas assembled the greatest army in history, the First Ordeal, backed by the power of Aörsi and Ishterebinth, and marched on the Golden Ark. Two sieges of the vessel proved ineffectual. At one stage Seswatha and Celmomas’s son Nau-Cayûti stole inside the Ark to recover the Heron Spear, but the Consult allegedly slew Nau-Cayûti in response, defiling his grave afterwards. Furious, the armies of Kûniüri re-invested the Ark but just a few months later suffered the event known as Initiation: the birth of the No-God. The ferocious Whirlwind of the No-God, directing a horde of Sranc numbering in the hundreds of thousands, destroyed armies of Kûniüri on the Black Furnace Plain and then obliterated what was left on the Fields of Eleneöt. The Horde of the No-God ravaged Earwa, destroying the Meörn Empire, Akksersia, the Shiradi Empire and even fabled Kyraneas, the jewel of the Three Seas.

It fell to the remnants of shattered Kyraneas to engage the Horde of the No-God at the Battle of Mengedda. As the Whirlwind raged above, King Anaxophus V raised the Heron Spear he had salvaged from the Eleneöt Field and cast a beam of light into its heart. The No-God was killed, its horde scattered to the winds and the Consult forced to withdraw to Golgotterath.

For two thousand years since, the Ancient North has been covered in Sranc, preventing any expedition from striking out for Golgotterath and finally destroying it. The kingdoms of the Three Seas soon feel to internal bickering, religious strife and political chaos. It was only during the Holy War, the attempt by the Men of the Tusk to reclaim the Holy City of Shimeh from the heathen Fanim, that the Consult’s existence again made itself known, through the revelation of skin-spies and the arrival of Anasûrimbor Kellhus, first the Prince of Nothing, then the Warrior-Prophet and then the Aspect-Emperor of the Three Seas. Kellhus subdued the Three Seas and ordered the assembly of the greatest army in history. Their goal would be to cross the Istyuli Plains, circle the Misty Sea, cross the River Sursa and finally cast down the Horns of Golgotterath in ruin.

Thus began the Great Ordeal.

Origins and Influences
R. Scott Bakker conceived of The Second Apocalypse series whilst running Dungeons and Dragons campaigns for his brother and his friends in the mid-1980s. Initially he conceived the series as a trilogy, ending on a bold (but likely controversial) ending. This is the story that was eventually to make up the first seven books of the series, culminating in the soon-to-be-released Unholy Consult (July 2017). Later he decided this ending might not be entirely satisfactory, so expanded the series to include a revised ending and conceptualised the whole thing as a trilogy.

 He developed the world and the story over a period of about fifteen years before he started writing The Darkness That Came Before, which was published in 2003. It was followed by The Warrior-Prophet (2004) and The Thousandfold Thought (2005), the three books collectively known as The Prince of Nothing. Bakker had conceived the entire story as a trilogy, but the three books only covered the first third of the story. His original “middle volume” of the series became its own series, The Aspect-Emperor, expanding (after several unforeseen delays) to four volumes: The Judging Eye (2009), The White-Luck Warrior (2011), The Great Ordeal (2016) and The Unholy Consult (2017). A further series, The No-God, currently planned to be a duology, will conclude the entire saga.

The Second Apocalypse fuses real-life history, particularly that of the Crusades and Alexander the Great, to religious imagery and mythology, as well as drawing in a strong science fiction focus, with side-stories exploring everything from quantum physics to genetic engineering to Biblical numerology. But Bakker was also inspired by more obvious sources: J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, Frank Herbert’s Dune and (much later in the developmental process), George R.R. Martin’s A Game of Thrones. In particular, Tolkien resonated strongly with Bakker, whose own creation myths, immortal Nonmen and horrible monsters echo many elements found in the earlier work.

Bakker was also impressed by the idea in Dune of a messiah (Paul Atreides) arising and it initially appearing that he was the good guy, but later on it being revealed that he had inadvertently killed billions of people. Anasûrimbor Kellhus, the protagonist of the series, can be seen as a mixture of Paul Atreides, Jesus and the Mentats of Dune, human computers capable of computing the outcome of almost any circumstance. However, Bakker felt that Herbert had later sold out on the thematic ideas of the series as he added numerous and unnecessary sequels, and was determined not to do the same thing.

For the bad guys of the series, he settled on the Inchoroi: space aliens who didn’t just kill people, but used technology and pheromones to make them love them first, a horrible perversion of human emotion and spirit. And every race of Dark Lords needs it Dark Tower. The Inchoroi do things on a stupendous scale, so their base of operations similarly became huge and towering in scope: a crashed biotech spacecraft called the Ark of the Skies and the dark city that grew up around it, Golgotterath. For six novels our hero, the wizard Achamian, has dreamed of the Ark and its towering Golden Horns, using his sorcery-imbued visions of the First Apocalypse to explore it. But in The Unholy Consult, Achamian and the Great Ordeal will finally reach Golgotterath and discover the revelations that wait within.

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wps said...

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