It’s real – dozens if not hundreds of kilometers of tunnels, dug out during the Cold War at the order of Mao, meant to house hundreds of thousands of Beijing citizens in case of a bombing. At least that many “volunteers” – that is to say, people who didn’t want to be singled out as unenthusiastic about digging a giant tunnel network – hewed the complex from the foundations of the city over the course of several years in the 1960s. The upper levels include a hospital, classrooms, and business places ranging from restaurants and mushroom farms to a barbershop to a silk textile factory. There are lower levels as well, but if you’ve arrived with a minder you won’t be allowed down into the unmaintained, dark, rubble-strewn tunnels. You’ll pretty much be restricted to a very small part of the network, in fact.
The main publicly known entrance is 62 Damochang Road, just south of Tienanmen Square. This one is open to tourists, who will be watched over carefully by their English-speaking guide (who will happen to be a trained soldier of the People’s Liberation Army, and hopefully will not have occasion to demonstrate just exactly what the rather specialized training is in). Oddly enough, though, locals aren’t let in. I emphasize: tourists yes, locals no. The Army doesn’t want to risk having one of the permanent residents of the tunnels recognize someone.
Those permanent residents are ghosts – thousands of them. If there’s one thing China has in abundance, it’s manpower, and if there was one thing the Great Leap Forward produced in abundance, it was dead manpower. Dying in a time of fear, famine and war, doing backbreaking labor in dark underground tunnels, in the name of a personality cult... yes, that will produce an unsettled spirit here and there. It was looking fair to produce a Tether to Fate, too, which the brighter of those ghosts realized. As none of them wished to exist next to a staircase to Hell, a desperate plot was hatched. Some of the building materials for the project had been scavenged from ancient archaeological sites in the city, destroying a Tether to Penglai in the process. By hook and by crook, several key stones were distributed to significant points throughout the network, and the ghosts anchored not only to them but, somehow, to each other. The Essence flow from the project was halted and reflected back in to the population. The forming Tether was instantly disrupted.
However, the barrier had a side effect: deaths that might not ordinarily have produced a ghost now did so more frequently. Deaths not just in the project, but in the city above, resulted in more and more trapped spirits. Dig out your Liber Umbrarum – there are all types of restless dead down here. It’s all that the modern Army can do to keep them contained in the lower levels, away from casual inspection by locals.
However, the human citizens aren’t the main travelers in the labyrinth. The intent of the labyrinth was to be accessible quickly to residents all over central Beijing, so entrances can be found, mostly unwatched around odd nooks and crannies within a few minutes’ walk of anywhere in the central city. Of course these days most entrances are kept locked, if not particularly well-guarded. Another is in the Great Hall of the People; another is in a carpet factory in the Chongwen District. The tunnels are known to go at least as far as the International Airport (20 km NE), northwest to the Summer Palace, and west to the hills west of the city. Rumor has it, though, that spurs go as far as the city of Tianjin, 100 km to the southeast. An underground labyrinth of nearly-deserted tunnels, giving access (especially for someone that can pass through a locked door easily) to almost anywhere in a major city, is an express-lane highway for celestials, who regularly use the tunnel network to get from Point A to Point B in the region. Valeforians particularly love the place, and demons of Fear and Death find the atmosphere quite homey. Angels in need can also use the network, though they will be more likely to encounter foes, not to mention disturbed spirits that are consciously or unconsciously drawn to someone they don’t need to hide from. The main reason they might descend into the labyrinth is hot pursuit, but if doing so they will more than likely find themselves working in enemy territory.
Very... dungeon-like... enemy territory, at that.
Of trivia interest to cartographers is that northwestern China holds within its boundaries the “continental pole of inaccessibility,” the point on Earth furthest from any ocean. It happens to fall in the desert a few miles from a small oasis town of a few hundred people, called Hoxtolgay, and a few hundred miles from the nearest city of significant size, Urumqi on the old Northern Silk Road. There’s a good reason the place is so unpopulated, of course – humans settle near water, especially on coasts. Being in the middle of a desert a long way from an ocean makes a place very inhospitable to settlement.
By humans, at any rate.
Plenty of old celestials know all about human migration and settlement patterns. If you’re Renegade or Outcast, and not in any particular lather to switch Sides or involve yourself with humans, a place with extremely few people and a half-decent climate could be just the ticket. So over the centuries, a fair number of disfavored celestials have made their way to this remote region. Some settle in to roles as nomads, herding goats or pretending to take small jobs; some don’t even do that, and simply wander. The latter is a particularly attractive option for celestials with animal Vessels that can fit the region.
Celestials that come here are looking to avoid contact, but with enough of them, staying for long enough, and simultaneously avoiding human presences, there will be contact among the refugees. An informal code is passed around to the newcomers: avoid making Disturbance if you can, and run away if you hear any. Don’t rat out any of your fellows if you go back. If you’re Malakite or have some other compulsion to hit particular targets, leave; there are all kinds mixing here and nobody wants trouble. If you’re Lilim, don’t Geas anybody without permission. People here take badly to being tied down; you’ll find that the game isn’t worth the candle.
Astute humans eventually twig to the possibility that some of those wanderers seem to have been around in grandfather’s time, too, and occasionally someone hiding from human perceptions in celestial form still gets noticed. So legends spring up – the mountains are called things like Tien Shan, mountain of spirits, or the celestial mountain, and a goddess is said to guard an orchard up there with trees whose peaches give immortality. But the legends are no stranger than mountain-legends anywhere else, and there is little to stir up the War around here, so neither Side pays it much attention. Oh, both know about it – more than one celestial has been there and either returned to his Superior, or switched sides fully and borne the tale to his new boss – but as settlements of Disfavored go it’s thin on influence and so it’s tolerated. Every now and then a quiet messenger is sent to look for someone in particular, perhaps a Game or Judgment specialist who knows how to track in the wilderness, ask questions quietly, and ignore targets of opportunity to focus on the job at hand.
There’s an intermittent Fire Tether nearby, the Flaming Mountains (so named for their appearance under the right weather conditions), which is watched over by a Seneschal but little trafficked, and a grotto within them of Buddhist murals – the Bezeklik Thousand Buddha Caves – where the Mountains’ Cherub Seneschal can often be found. There are some now-ancient ruins, the Jaiohe ruins, that serve as neutral ground when the locals need meet.
They don’t often. It’s hard to get word around, and besides, almost nothing happens around here, due to the rules and the lack of War activity. If you were an Outcast angel looking for some place where you could avoid Disturbance as much as possible, or a Renegade looking for a place where an ability to avoid notice and hide Disturbance was a survival trait, this stretch of Asia would be just about perfect.
In the early part of the 13th century, Temujin, known to later generations as Genghis Khan, unified the nomad tribes of Mongolia and swept out of the steppe at the head of a conquering force that would eventually oversee an empire rivaling Alexander’s or Britain’s in history. His hordes’ fearsome legends preceded them, and were often earned, such as the time he ordered an entire city’s inhabitants slaughtered when his son-in-law was killed during the siege to take it. Still, the Khan was a product of his times, and as empires went, the Mongol Empire was a fairly tolerant government, partially due to a habit of selecting administrators from among competent locals. Genghis himself held a preference for alliances which is belied by the historical record: it’s true that he conquered Khwarizmid Persia, but first he tried to open trade. It was after the trade caravan was robbed and his grievance-bearing ambassador murdered that he sent an army or twenty to negotiate more satisfactory terms of relations via the diplomatic tactic of pouring molten silver into the ears of the Persian official responsible.
He was vicious and feared, but a decent ruler and an excellent general. The empire engaged in ruthless collective punishment for cities that defied its rule, but instituted religious protections and well-maintained communications and trade networks, helping keep the empire unified and making connections from Europe to Korea that led to a flowering of artwork, cross-fertilization of ideas, and more. So whether he acheived Destiny, Fate, or both would all be GM choices that suit the historical facts.
One might suspect that such an influential man would have left behind a Tether or two which would give an indication of the ultimate balance of his effects on the world. However, it’s rare that a single Destiny or Fate, no matter how powerful, manifests itself in a lasting Tether. Much more important are the perceptions of that life that the masses hold, and the conquerors and the conquered tend to view such a life very differently. Temujin seems to have been at least vaguely aware of such matters, for his burial arrangements appear to have been designed for the express purpose of denying either Heaven or Hell a foothold on his tomb. He gave orders that:
Most celestials are interested in either establishing favorable Tethers or disrupting established enemy Tethers; some prefer to do the less glamorous work of trying to prevent Tether formation before there is an immediate potential in the making. Among those that know much about the theory (which is little better understood than the theory of regular Tether formation, so experts are thin on the ground), there is general agreement that the Khan’s arrangements, with a small amount of ritual support, could plausibly work to prevent establishment of the corporeal locus of a Tether.
What it didn’t do was stop a Tether from forming. Legends like Genghis Khan are hard to stop, and millions of people were affected by his life. (Millions of people actually owe their existence to Temujin, if genetic reconstructions are correct – a fair percentage of men in the region seem to have been descended from the widely travelled Khan and his close male relatives. This is similar to the extensive family tree kept by descendants of Confucius, which now covers tens of thousands of descendants. One might easily speculate that if either of these extraordinary historical figures were a Child of the Grigori, there would be quite a lot of potential candidates for that status populating China and nearby countries.) National pride and national resentment made for a peculiar Tether, though.
The Grave of Genghis Khan is highly unusual in that it has a corporeal end, but no corporeal locus: it is forked between the Groves and Gehenna, with each upper locus being stable but the corporeal end being inaccessible, if it exists at any physical location at all. Attempts to use it to transit to Earth bounce, and of course celestials of either Side are forbidden to use it to travel to the opposing celestial Realm. Each end takes on the appearance usually reserved for a Tether of the other Superior: the Grove end appears to be a stairwell leading underground to a stark concrete blast bunker like those in Gehenna, while the end in Hell takes the form of a stone hill rising to a wild-sculpted arch. Both sides are defended by thick guard detachments – either Superior could destroy his own end, but at the cost of showing weakness and doubling the already solid Essence flow both Superiors receive from the Tether, so at present the “back gate” is only watched.
The notion of a Tether without a physical corporeal locus is so unusual that an alternative explanation has also been proposed: namely, that the Khan’s arrangements ensured that, should a Tether arise either upon his grave or generally associated with his spirit, it would be both secret and one-way transitable to the upper end. The Khan himself was a Tengrist, a follower of a Mongolian shamanic religion with no particular attachments to monotheism, but he would have learned of Heaven and Hell, Buddhism and Taoism, in his wide-ranging conquests; it must be noted that, if one wished to construct a fortress from which one could access the celestial planes without opening oneself to an incursion in response, this sort of concealed Tether end would be one of the few ways to do it. If Genghis Khan has not yet appeared in Heaven or Hell in your campaign, then there just might exist the remote possibility that the Golden Horde could yet ride again...
The material presented here is the creation of William Keith, and is intended for use with the In Nomine system from Steve Jackson Games. This material is not official and is not endorsed by Steve Jackson Games.
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