Thursday, February 20, 2020

Enemies of the New Sun in the Wilderlands

I read Shadow of the Torturer five times in a row before I got my hands on the rest of the Book of the New Sun. The whole thing was like a cruise missile right into my brain, and I haven't seen many people (except WWCD?) try to adapt anything from these books into their games. I introduced a Postulant of the New Sun in Land's End recently. I don't know if his involvement in the campaign will be significant, but I thought some highly enjoyable homework would be in order.

It's time to look at the mysterious ur-monsters of Urth! Details on these creatures are very scarce, so here are a few relevant quotes from the books. Glory in the masterful prose of Gene Wolfe for a little bit, and I'll try to make sense of it all further down.


Eric He

The Shadow of the Torturer:

- I saw a caique, with high, sharp prow and stern, and a bellying sail, making south with the dark current; and against my will I followed it for a time—to the delta and the swamps, and at last to the flashing sea where that great beast Abaia, carried from the farther shores of the universe in anteglacial days, wallows until the moment comes for him and his kind to devour the continents. Then I abandoned all thoughts of the south and her ice-choked sea and turned north to the mountains and the rising of the river.

- The water closed over me, yet I did not drown. I felt I might breathe water, yet I did not breathe. Everything was so clear that I felt I fell through an emptiness more translucent than air. Far off loomed great shapes—things hundreds of times larger than a man. Some seemed ships, and some clouds; one was a living head without a body; one had a hundred heads. A blue haze obscured them, and I saw below me a country of sand, carved by the currents. A palace stood there that was greater than our Citadel, but it was ruinous, its halls as unroofed as its gardens; through it moved immense figures, white as leprosy.

Nearer I fell, and they turned up their faces to me, faces such as I had seen once beneath Gyoll; they were women, naked, with hair of sea-foam green and eyes of coral. Laughing, they watched me fall, and their laughter came bubbling up to me. Their teeth were white and pointed, each a finger's length.

I fell nearer. Their hands reached up to me and stroked me as a mother strokes her child. The gardens of the palace held sponges and sea anemones and countless other beauties to which I could put no name. The great women circled me round, and I was only a doll before them. "Who are you?" I asked. "And what do you do here?"

"We are the brides of Abaia. The sweethearts and playthings, the toys and valentines of Abaia. The land could not hold us. Our breasts are battering rams, our buttocks would break the backs of bulls. Here we feed, floating and growing, until we are great enough to mate with Abaia, who will one day devour the continents."

The Claw of the Conciliator:

-"You were correct when you said Erebus and Abaia are as great as mountains, and I admit that I was surprised you knew it. Most people lack the imagination to conceive of anything so large, and think them no bigger than houses or ships. Their actual size is so great that while they remain on this world they can never leave the water—their own weight would crush them. You mustn't think of them battering at the Wall with their fists, or tossing boulders about. But by their thoughts they enlist servants, and they fling them against all rules that rival their own."

- "We watch the giant because he grows. In that he is like us, and like our father-husband, Abaia. Eventually he must come to the water, when the land can bear him no longer. But you may come now, if you will. You will breathe—by our gift—as easily as you breathe the thin, weak wind here, and whenever you wish you shall return to the land and take up your crown. This river Cephissus flows to Gyoll, and Gyoll to the peaceful sea. There you may ride dolphin-back through current-swept fields of coral and pearl. My sisters and I will show you the forgotten cities built of old, where a hundred trapped generations of your kin bred and died when they had been forgotten by you above."

The Citadel of the Autarch:

- Master Ash pursed his lips. “Your Commonwealth is stronger than I would have believed, then. No wonder your foes are in despair.”

“If that is strength, may the All Merciful preserve us from weakness. Master Ash, the front may collapse at any time. It would be wise for you to come with me to a safer place.”

He appeared not to have heard. “If Erebus and Abaia and the rest enter the field themselves, it will be a new struggle. If and when. Interesting."

- “But you were right when you called them the slaves of Erebus. They think themselves the allies of those who wait in the deep. In truth, Erebus and his allies would give them to me if I would give our south to them. Give you and all the rest.”

- "Why?” I asked. “Why?” I was on my knees beside him.

“Because all else is worse. Until the New Sun comes, we have but a choice of evils. All have been tried, and all have failed. Goods in common, the rule of the people ... everything. You wish for progress? The Ascians have it. They are deafened by it, crazed by the death of Nature till they are ready to accept Erebus and the rest as gods."

- And yet there is a third explanation. No human being or near-human being can conceive of such minds as those of Abaia, Erebus, and the rest. Their power surpasses understanding, and I know now that they could crush us in a day if it were not that they count only enslavement, and not annihilation, as victory. The great undine I saw was their creature, and less than their slave: their toy; it is possible that the power of the Claw, the Claw taken from a growing thing so near their sea, comes ultimately from them.

The Urth of the New Sun:

- "...Great Erebus, who has established his kingdom there, will soon be driven before them, with all his fierce, pale warriors. He will unite his strength with Abaia's, whose kingdom is in the warm waters. With others, less in might but equal in cunning, they will offer allegiance to the rulers of the lands beyond Urth's waist, which you call Ascia; and once united with them will devour them utterly."

- "The armies of Erebus follow the waves," he said, "and all the defeats they suffered at your husband's hands will be avenged."

- "When has Abaia sought our good?"
"Always. He might have destroyed you..."
For the space of six breaths she could not continue, but I motioned Valeria and the rest to silence.
"Ask your husband. In a day, or a few days. He's tried to tame you instead. Catch Catodon... cast out his conation. What good? Abaia would make of us a great people."

Putting It All Together

According to Wikipedia: Erebus means 'darkness,' and can refer to either a primordial god born of Chaos, or "a place of darkness between earth and Hades." Abaia is a huge eel from Melanesian mythology.

I suppose this might explain where Wolfe got the words, but not his inspiration in creating these entities. If it weren't for that underwater monster in The Knight (I think aquatic things are a bit of a preoccupation for him) I would say the inspiration is pure Lovecraft. To wit:

1 - Live in the ocean (Erebus in the cold northern waters, Abaia in the equatorial ones)
2 - Of enormous size, too big to walk on land
3 - Space aliens who landed on earth aeons ago
4 - Could destroy humanity but would rather enslave it

Sounds just like Chthulhu, right? But what it also reminded me of is Armadad Bog, the god of the Viridians! Reading through the Wilderlands book gave me a few ideas:

Erebus, Abaia, and Armadad Bog are aliens from a far-off planet. They fell to the seas during the Uttermost War and remained after the other races departed. They predate the gods and most other sentient beings. Perhaps they were bio-weapons created by the Markrabs? Perhaps summoned by the Demon Empires, or even the elder races? Nobody knows anymore.

By crossbreeding humans with aquatic races (merfolk, deep ones, skum, etc) and their own alien genes, they created three of the peoples of the wilderlands:

-In the Sea of Five Winds, Abaia created the Orichalans, purple-skinned and hated by everyone for the excesses of their lost Dragon Empire.
-In Trident Gulf, Armadad Bog created the Viridians, decadent green-skinned imperialists.
-At the same time[1] in the Uther Pentwegern Sea, Erebus created the Avalonians, tall & pale ice-wizards of the far north.

This Lovecraftian crossbreeding was essential to the system. The entities can only exert psychic control over:
a) those who open their minds to them (the Ascians, madmen, or your classic Chthulhu Cult)
b) their children: the Viridians, Avalonians and Orichalans.

None actually know it, but the Viridan and Orichalan Empires were driven onwards in their conquests by the alien seed in their blood, which wanted only the enslavement of all humankind. Tragically, these cultures continue to choose their leaders from the "truest" among them: the greenest Viridians, the tallest & palest Avalonians, etc. In other words, those who have the most alien blood, and are most susceptible to influence by these malignant beings! Emperor Hautulin Seheitt of Viridistan has been acting strangely of late, and nobody knows why. Armadad Bog is stirring in the Gulf, and his dream of a global Viridian Empire rises in his children once more...

Armadad Bog is worshipped clandestinely as a god in Viridistan, and Erebus is venerated in Valon as Aram Kor, patron of wizards and lord of ice. Almost nobody knows the truth about them except a hidden sect which has guarded this lore throughout the ages. In Viridistan it's called Mer Shunna and I'll write them up for the next Nameless Cults!


[1] According to the Wilderlands timeline, the cities of Viridistan and Valon were founded only 19 years apart.

Thanks to Steve for giving me the idea for this post in the first place. I'm pretty sick and have a harsh headache right now, which is why I'm writing this up instead of working on playable material for next game (or doing work). Oh well!


  1. Here's another excellent sea monster in the same vein:

    1. Oh man! Thanks! I LOVE the SCP but I had completely forgotten the website! This shit is so much fun.

  2. Nice. Good timing, I decided to start re-reading the whole series again just yesterday (I've only read the first few books then had to wait for the last two to arrive and when they did I had lost my mojo).

    1. You shall read until all secrets of the Increate are made known!

  3. I just wanted to say, the linked gallery of pictures by Eric He depicting the events of the first novel is wonderful. Thank you for sharing!