This one is for Arnold, who sent me a book.)
Everybody knows where the Ogre came from, though nobody was there to see it done, and no-one knows how it attained the Golden Bird, (did he always have it?) and no-one knows how the Ogre got his twin, (did he have a twin within the pit? Were they down there together?), and no-one knows where the Ogres Palace came from.
From the Golden Bird somehow.
It seems right that the owner of the Golden Bird should have a palace. A mighty treasure should be protected,the golden bird could not be kept within a cave. Diamonds end up in palaces and crowns, either their owners get one, or the treasure changes hands, so maybe it worked out like that with the bird.
Someone threw a baby in a pit.
The pit was deep, with vertical steep-sided walls: close-packed soil that collapsed under the hand. They threw scraps in every couple of days, or not. Other than that they forgot. They didn't talk, they didn't look, they didn't think. No-one went there and that went on for a good long time.
Then the baby escaped. It had turned into an ogre in the pit. It was huge and strong and smart and mad. Its hair was a matted mess, its skin was brown from filth. It drooled and twitched and gnashed its teeth and peered with short sighted eyes at a world that it had never seen. It was naked and its skin was full of scars. The scars were words, (phonemes really), the baby had survived and taught itself a language, one made from the wind and rain and the glimpses of the sky, the stars telescoped by the rim of the pit as they moved across the night and by the curling of worms that fell from its sides and by the bones of birds that died and were preserved as treasures by the Ogre-Child.
It was a language no-one else would ever speak or learn. It sounded like a river of mad noise, but it served to Ogre well enough to abstract and divide the world.
The Ogre had built steps, carved the black earth of the pit into a step-well, slowly moving soil down and around over years, not that impressive intellectually, you could have thought of the same thing but the Ogre thought it through from nothing, from raw nothing, it invented the idea from solid black.
(Also it came up with language on its own, which is more impressive, though less practical in the circumstances.)
As to what happened to whoever threw the baby in the pit, here stories divide, for some it's a revenge drama and the Ogre tears them up, in others he just leaves. However that goes, everyone knows where the Ogre ends up: in his bifurcated castle with the Golden Bird. And everybody wants the Golden Bird, especially the Mad Thief League, who have all tried to steal it and failed. And that's where the PC's come in, an encounter with the Mad Thief League.
THE MAD THIEF LEAGUE
It's exactly what it sounds like.
By its own mad law, every mad thief, anywhere, is a member of the league, though they may not know it.
Some thieves who are absolutely active members of the league do not know they are. Some do not know they are thieves, some do not know they are mad.
What binds the active members together is that they have all tried to steal the Golden Bird, and failed.
The Mad Thief League wants you to steal the Golden Bird.
(Everybody talks about the Golden Bird like it's the most incredible thing they can imagine but they're a bit short on specifics. They know it's very gold, it's beautiful, how wonderful its feathers are, how wonderful its song is, how beautiful and rare and unique and precious it is, but exactly what makes it so great is hard to put a finger on. They don't know, for instance, what species it is, or what gender.
They really want it though. When they mention it they get a dreamy look in their eye and even the maddest thieves grow quiet and calm. Eventually, you'll probably just give in and agree it's pretty great, everybody else seems to think it is, so why not go along with them?)
The Mad Thief League are not the *only* ones who want the Golden Bird, sorcerers, kings, madmen and monsters all want it too, it's just the Mad Thief League that wants it *most*.
The only people who don't want it are extremely worldly, boring, materialistic persons, who regard it as a silly fad, but anyone with half a gram of poets heart wants the Golden Bird within their hands.
Members of the Mad Thief League get caught a lot. They are mad. Some are severely retarded. Some are effectively immobile. Some can't stop hooting under stress. This makes no difference, the League still brings them along on capers, heists and robberies. If they get caught, the League just steals them back from jail.
The talents of the League, as a whole, are enough to accomplish any task. They have savants that can open any lock, those who can forge any object, those who can simulate any personality, those who can see perfectly in the near-dark and those who can perform any athletic maneuver even if seen only once. They have people who can draw a complete building plan after glancing at it once from the corner of their eye, they have people who can imagine a heist in such concrete, absolute and perfect detail that they can visualise a city block and know which locks will need oiling, which guards will cough, and when, which tumblers will turn and why, and be right, all in advance.
They have any talent necessary for a crime, somewhere, though that talent probably goes along with a bag full of serious neurological and psychological impairment.
The greatest of the League are fractured geniuses of crime. People with incredible powers of lateral problem solving and fine expression, though also always severely fucked in the head. As in, they might hoot at you and flap their arms, lunge spastically, throw things, not be aware you are a person, not be aware you are not a collection of objects, not look you in the eye, not understand basic social cues, not understand that language is real, not understand that they are not the only personality in the cosmos, not understand that they are a separate thing to the environment around them, not remember anything done after a certain date, not be able to see or not be able to hear. They may think they are someone else and try to arrest themselves. They may think *you* are a member of the Mad Thief League and attempt to find out what you want. That can be a complex conversation.
If the need of the Mad Thief League is simple and direct, their methods are are infinite and oblique, including, but not limited to:
- Blackmail, either with real sins or fictional ones confirmed by exhaustive, but false, evidence.
- Threat, or offer of, Assassination.
- Hearts Desire.
- Revenge of any kind.
- Imprisonment, or freedom from imprisonment.
- And of course the offer of staggering amounts of cash, a figuerative, or literal, Kings Ransom.
- Or just an actual King, if you want a particular one?
Once PC's have been persuaded to accept their 'mission', they will be told about the Ogre and his palace, and his bird.
THE PALACE OF THE OGRE KING
There are two Palaces locked onto the dark rock, mirrors of each other. The sides that face each other are nearly sheer. The sides that face away are crenellated, towered, encrusted with keeps and details, bridges and roof's, multi-levelled, staggering and slipping down to the walls and the glinting hematite on which the palaces reside.
The two sides match each other almost perfectly, the divide observable only from a narrow axis.
Stand here and you can see the gap between the palaces, like the gap between close skyscrapers, and the slender bridge of white that forms their only visible link, hanging high in the air in the near-centre of the buildings shape.
There are no gates to the Palace of the Ogre King, you have to climb in through a window, or sneak in through hematite caves down below where the Onyx river gusheS from the rocks.
ITS LAYOUT AND OCCUPANTS
The Palace, or Palaces, is/are occupied almost exclusively by animals of varying levels of intelligence.
Their arrangement is as so:
The Dungeons of the Worm
Deep in the bowls, below the Onyx river, where the black organic walls are hung with ooze and mats of simple fungi droop into pools of soft invertebrate life, there is only a gigantic worm. The worm is huge and consuming and eats anything it finds. it never leaves the dungeon. No-one is sure what it looks like, or if it matters that it looks like anything, it is a worm, mindless and alive it seeks only to feed and live, no more detail is required. It fills corridors and runs through rooms like a freight train.
These dungeons are the only other place, other than the silver bridge, where someone can pass back and forth between the two palaces, but they must brave the darkness and the worm to do it.
Above the dungeons are almost dark corridors lit by dim blue lamps and reflected light, most of them hip-high in the water of the Onyx river. Fish live in the corridors exactly as if they were the river. The fish have few duties, they swim and feed and mate, sometimes mammals harvest their parts for the work of the Palace. Some fish may speak a little, single words.
The Reptile Halls
Hot and steaming are the Reptile halls, hung with tattered finery, full of crocodiles, chameleons and snakes (not all the Reptiles in the Reptile Halls are true reptiles, a ball-park similarity seems to be enough to get you in), tortoises and Tuatara's smoking cigarettes. It's here that the work of the Palace truly begins. The Reptiles chew wood into simple tools, gnaw things into shapes that might at one point be useful when combined with something else. The Reptile halls are full of fine trash that might not be trash, but something being re-purposed or transformed into useful stuff.
The Reptiles are still reptiles so, even though they have a modicum of intelligence regarding their mono-focused task, they still find manipulating things very difficult, it takes a long time for a Tortoise to gnaw out a simple picture frame, or for a snake to weave cloth.
The Mammal Rooms
Ballrooms and parlours and kitchens and armouries and endless painting halls. It becomes clear here that though the work of the Palace includes every kind of object and construction, its real work is the production of paintings. Most animals tend to have two jobs, whatever their main job is, and painting. Or at least, facilitating painting. The wolves, antelopes, pigs, cows, dogs and zebras are bossed about by tribes of fast monkeys that run back and forth constantly, checking and manipulating. As soon as something is ready, maybe some blotches of colour or lines on some canvas, or some other work of rudimentary art, then it is snatched up and taken to an apes tower.
The Ape Towers
In the towers that encrust the palaces Artistic Apes do their keen work. Gorillas, Orangutans, Chimpanzees and slutty Bonobo's. The Apes make art, or re-interpret and finish art that's brought to them. Over half the art is paintings but they do sculpture, music and poetry too. The music sounds like wind and rain.
Apes tend to hyper-specialise
The fast monkey tribes run back and forth between the towers of the Apes, bringing art supplies and sometimes moving art around. (The Apes like to be inspired by and to re-interpret art made by other Apes.) When it looks like something is quite done, the monkeys, or sometimes an ape, grab the art and take it to the Skeleton Aristocracy.
The Skeleton Aristocracy
At the front of the Palaces, above the gushing waterfall of the Onyx river, are the many-windowed parlours of the Skeleton Aristocracy. While almost every animal in the palaces has the purpose of creating art, these Skeletons attired in finery have the deeper purpose of appreciating it, of understanding it, to this they devote enormous energy and drive, sometimes (rarely) entering mutual duels and often (with the Mirrored Skeletons of the Twin at least) engaging in massive arguments.
THE OGRE KING
Everything in the Palace is ruled by the Ogre King (though the Worm just barely) and must obey his direct command (to the best of the subjects ability). Yet the King is silent and rarely commands at all. He is occupied almost entirely by his marvelous bird, which he keeps tenderly in a cage held in his hands. His only wish is to protect and preserve the bird and to understand its song. So, it might be truly said, that everything in the Palace of the Ogre King serves the Golden Bird, as much as it can understand it to do so.
The King does not live like a King or look like a King. He is still near-naked, draped in faded finery, with matted hair, and his language-scarred skin still visible. The King has a throne in a room above the well-lit many-windowed parlours of the Skeleton Aristocracy, but he is rarely there. Instead, he creeps about his own Palace, investigating it, trying to understand its workings. He creeps like a thief and no-one in the palace can predict where he will be. He roams the halls, hiding and waiting. Sometimes he hides his golden bird in some safe and secret place, but then, worrying about it, goes back to it to take it up, but then, fearing for it, finds some new place to hide it.
And so it would be hard enough to find and steal the Golden Bird, even if it were not for the Twin.
There are two palaces, linked only by the silver bridge and the dungeon of the worm. The Ogre King rules both and all must obey his unspoken commands, but the King only occupies one palace. The other is rule more fiercely by his twin.
The Ogres Twin is physically exactly like the Ogre King, but its behaviour is utterly different. While the King slinks through his palace silently, investigating, waiting, tying to understand, the Twin rules like a verbose tyrant.
The King himself can speak, but rarely does in the language of men, talking mainly to the Golden Bird, perhaps in the language he invented in the pit. The Twin however will not shut the fuck up. He even murmurs in his sleep. (He rarely sleeps.) The Twin talks and talks and talks, and the mirrored skeletons that serve him in his palace also talk and talk and talk. He talks enough to drive you mad, describing, dissecting, boasting, threatening, lying, persuading, whining, playing on words and making puns. He says some wise things, but they are drowned out in the torrent of words. Its as if his life was just a puppet to the words he speaks.
He rules his mirrored skeleton aristocracy like a tyrant and regularly sends them on mad missions in the palace or embroils them in strange conflicts. They have picked up from him his verbosity and argue with each other constantly, racing about the place on one mission or another. Many intrigue against him, thinking that if they depose him, they might rule in his place. He finds this hilarious.
The Twin wears a glorious wig to hide his scarred head, and has a golden crown on the wig. It's always about to slip off so he has a Rhesus monkey up there to keep it continually straight. The monkey falls off when he moves quickly and has to race back up to catch the crown. He wears glorious clothes and a glorious embroidered coat and wonderful silk shoes that wear out after half a day, and stockings around his huge thick legs.
The Twin is clever, snide, reductionist and wrathful. He hates being told things he does not already know and can only accept new information through a kind of invisible osmosis in which he persuades himself he always knew it, or was about to deduce it from what he did know. He loves novels though and has the Apes write him twenty a day which he reads voraciously.
It is a curious aspect of the Twin that he does not know he is, and has, a twin. He does not know that there are two palaces, that there are two Ogres, he does not know that he is not the King.
You can explain it to him, point out the other palace over the bridge and tell him about his brother, you can prove it to him, but he will rationalise it away with one of his endless lexical-spumes. Even if you can bring him to understand, even for a moment, he will quickly forget, and so will his skeletons.
THE KINGS SIDE
In the Kings side, the Skeletons are not mirrored, or very talkative. They are calmer, more aware, more silent and perceptive. The animals are calmer too, that whole side of the Palace is very quiet.
GETTING THE BIRD
The animals won't become aggressive right away, they don't really understand that you are not an animal like them. In fact, you seem to be some kind of ape. They will try to incorporate you into the work of the Palace, only if you resist or if a Skeleton notices you will they attack. Of course, the Twin will ferociously oppose anything that threatens him, but is insanely egocentric and easily flattered, at least until his mood changes.
The King will simply hide and run, protecting his Golden Bird. Even if caught, he has a final power. The Ogre King can, at any time, in the blink of an eye switch positions with his Twin.
This means to catch the Ogre King, you must also catch, or kill, his twin.
THE FINAL TRICK
Of course there is a trick and of course there are two reasons that the Mad Thief League has sent you here. If you succeed and retrive the golden bird, the Ogre King will die of a broken heart and the Twin will take over both palaces and rule ever-more insanely until the building collapses and a passing hero takes him out.
If you fight in the palace, if you kill animals, if you shatter skeletons, every piece of damage you do will be reflected in your own mind.
That's how Mad Thieves became mad. If you kill a skeleton you may become schizophrenic or autistic, if you kill an ape you may lose the power to perceive colour or shape, if you kill a mammal you lose memory or access to memory, or fine motor skills, if a lizard then you may lose basic motor skills. If you kill the worm your heart will stop.
The plan of the Mad Thieves is that, even if you fail, you will simply add to their number and allow them to send a better hero next time. (Assuming they have a plan.)