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Thursday, 11 March 2010

Slaves of Sardonyx

Here's some more unearthed material from the Invaders & Ancients campaign setting that was to have formed later books in the Dragon Warriors series. The picture above (by Russ, of course) shows the wharf at Tamary, a depot town halfway up the huge River Ophis where intrepid merchants of the two coldly warring civilizations come to trade.

The nonhuman there is a habdigar. These creatures are slaves of the Ancients, who without them would have been overrun by the Invader race long ago. The habdigars, unlike the Ancients and the Invaders, are of a completely nonhuman evolutionary branch. They are short but thickly set, with powerful muscles running in bands across their back that give them a hunched appearance. They walk upon two long hind legs, using their shorter forelimbs for carrying objects. They have a snout with upcurving tusks and a vestigial horn. The eyes are forward-looking with multiple nictating membranes which filter light in a range of illumination levels. When these membranes are drawn across they make the habdigar's eyes seem to glitter like pearls. The habdigar's auditory organs are set in bony chambers which form a kind of segmented crest running laterally across the top of its head.

The first of the pictures below is by Iain McCaig and depicts a group of adventurers of the Invader race who have been invited to dine in one of the great houses of Sardonyx, the Ancients' capital. You can see a more polished version of this drawing, and some more of Iain's artwork illustrating the Invaders & Ancients world, in his book Shadowline. Hmm, I only just noticed how appropriate that title is, seeing as how so much of the DW2 material was inspired by the works of Joseph Conrad. Iain's way ahead of me as usual.
To close off, an excerpt from The Land Below The Sunset, a novel Oliver and I started writing that was set in the Ophis campaign world. Here are our heroes encountering one of these strange critters for the first time over in the Old City, the ruins across the river from Deliverance that are nowadays used as the Invaders' necropolis. It has been the scene of many a harrowing moment in our games, I can tell you:
The four of them ran along a ruined colonnade and out into dazzling sunshine. They were on a terrace overlooking a vast square. Some way to the right, a dark hunched figure was scurrying down a flight of steps. Every so often it would pause to pick its way slowly past a clump of weeds, and then take a long grasshopper jump that carried it half a dozen steps at a time.

"It's not human!" said Nephithia.

The creature stopped as it reached the square to look back at them. The broken flagstones blazed like polished metal in the sun, making its heavy black features difficult to see. They got an impression of tusks, a bony crest, eyes like black opals. The body was squat, with long backward-flexing legs and small forelimbs.

"A habdigar," said Chendu, out of breath as he caught them up. "The Ancients use them as servants."

From standing poised like a statue, the creature came back to life and bounded along the side of the square. Its path would take it right below where they were standing. Taltivin bent and put his arms around a block of shattered masonry, raising it above his head with a grunt of effort. He stood with muscles bunched. The veins standing out on his neck made it look like the stump of a strong tree. He sucked in a lungful of air, pulled back, and with a great roar flung the rock into space.

The habdigar stopped short at once as it heard the sound, freezing stock still and swiveling its head around. That reflex, which for its ancestors might have been a survival trait, was its undoing. The block of masonry smashed into its shoulders with a muffled crack, pinning it to the ground like a crushed bug. Nephithia grimaced in disgust to see the hideous flurry of its limbs as it jerked over onto its back. The long legs pounded futilely at the air.

Its muscles locked rigid as it gave vent to a long agonized howl that ripped through the silence of the Old City. The howl went on and on and then suddenly stopped, like a trumpet blown until it breaks. The habdigar's body lapsed into spasmodic twitching.

"Shall I get the body, sir?" asked Taltivin without enthusiasm.

His words were all but drowned out. A chorus of howling welled up from every empty window and doorway throughout the derelict buildings across the square. The sound grew, a deafening wave of noise in answer to the dying call of the habdigar that lay squashed on the stones below them. It was not so much terrifying because of any suggestion of danger as for the quality of utter alienness. That strange ululation might not have been a threat, might not even have been a lament for a slain comrade. It came from nonhuman throats, resounded from bony cavities no human skull possessed, had its origin in thoughts and feelings no human could even guess at.


  1. i really enjoyed listening to that, but where can i find the other episodes?

  2. That wharf at Tamary piece by Russ Nicholson is amazing!Thank's for posting the large version, ever since I saw a small cropping of this piece I really wanted to view the original.Lovely lineart.