The Gate of Bones

All secrets require sacrifice. All mysteries lead forward.  
— Skull of the Warrior
  The Gate of Bones is a collection of thaumaturgic knowledge written across thirteen skulls of ancient origins. Despite the limited space on each skull, readers find that new text will be waiting whenever they twist and turn the skull around to continue, and hold text is lost. It has made the skulls difficult to use for reference material, though some claim they have unlocked the secrets to reading the Gate of Bones. Every skull holds just a piece of the puzzle, and it is believed that the mystery that can be unlocked by having all thirteen skulls will lead the reader to great power - or damnation.      

Scribed Skulls

Cast the bones into water, and follow them.  
— Skull of the Magistrate
  Each Skull in the Gate of Bones is treated by an expert Shikei, with exacting inscriptions that have resisted all attempts by time or violence to erase them. Some are gilded with metals or precious gems, adorned with horns and Chitin. Though no name is ever given to the skulls within the inscriptions, those who know about the Gate call them by their general appearance. Each have been worked with Thaumaturgy, melding bone and twisting matter into impossible shapes.  

Skull of the Warrior

A robust, heavy skull with a jaw of iron and the horns of a Suryō Spider melded into the bone. It is generally accepted to be the first part of the narrative, though some argue otherwise.   The Warrior draws strife to it and has changed hands more than any other Skull.

Skull of the Sacrifice

Sparsely adorned, the Sacrifice shows signs of abuse, central of which is a fist-sized hole at the top of the skull, ringed with teeth of gold that have been merged with the skull.   The skull of the Sacrifice speaks of how to engrave the thaumaturgic runes on flesh.

Skull of the Scholar

The most heavily engraved Skull of the Gate, every surface of bone carry minute runes and hieroglyphs, including the bloated shell of chitin attached to it.   Many of the other Skulls are impossible to read without the ciphers on the Scholar.
 
Only seven out of the thirteen skulls are accounted for, with the others lost to the dark wilds of Araea.
 

Skull of the Magistrate

Richly decorated with gold, silver, and unknown, vibrant metal, the Magistrate serves as another cipher along with the Scholar.   In addition, it contains advice and thoughts on leadership and administration mixed with the arcane.

Skull of the Monster

A horribly malformed skull that looks more at home among the beasts of the Far Deep than a human, the Monster's vicious fangs is ringed with metal and notations.   Some fanciful scholars claim it to be the skull of the author.

Skull of the Kaia

Somewhere in the middle, the Kaia picks up in the middle of a sentence and ends with no particular conclusion.   Without its brother and sisters, it can be maddingly baffling to those who study it.
 

Skull of the Slave

Attached to a loop of heavy chain and with studs of metal hammered into the bone, the skull of the Slave is said to be the final chapter in the Gate of Bones. Even when undisturbed, the chains rattle ever so often when out of sight.   No one knows what form the lost Skulls take or what knowledge is hidden on them. Every so often, fake reproductions reappear here and there as someone tries to make money on the legend, though most people would rather not anger a thaumaturge.
 

Corpse-Walkers

Some claim it is from the Gate of Bones that the Corpse-Walkers have amassed their unusual arcane knowledge, and it is certainly true that they would go to any lengths to acquire the skulls. At least one is already in their grasp, and whoever is known to have another will run into the Corpse-Walkers, sooner or later.    
Thaumaturgy gleaned from the Skulls focus on the manipulation of bones and flesh, almost to the exclusion of every other matter.
   

Artifice

The Gate of Bones is especially helpful to Artificers, going into great detail about enchanting bones and crafting terrible from corpses, both human and monstrous.   Read More About Thaumaturgy - Artifice    
It is said that the skulls of the Gate will chatter and talk to each other when brought together.
 

History

The Gate of Bones is first mentioned in the annals of Tshoggan history, as a dark and blasphemous secret. Said to be the work of a court Wu named Akung Xie, the Gate was the culmination of a lifetime of sacrifice and bloodshed. He manipulated the city's magistrates into doing his bidding by wielding terror and magic, demanding ever greater atrocities to feed his magic, god-brewing cauldron. Human sacrifice is rare in Tshoggan, and it is believed that spirits who once taste it will never settle for a lesser meal. Such belief precipitated a terrible reign of murder at the hands of the power-hungry Akung, who indulged it frequently and used the killings both to display his power and cow his opponents. Some of these sacrifices would become the Gate of Bones.   After almost thirteen years of horror, Akung had grown complacent, and his rituals increasingly served no purpose beyond satisfying his own sadistic predilections. When the city could bear it no longer, a group of Magistrates conspired to rid themselves of the dreaded magician. At the height of yet another gruesome ritual, they ambushed him, downed him within his own cauldron, and decapitated him, at the cost of half their own number as it was revealed that Akung was a potent Thaumaturg. A violent purge wracked the city for years after as his supporters were rooted out and slain. At the end of it, Akung's skull was mummified and hidden away.  
Some believe that Akung's skull is still hidden somewhere in Tshoggan, imprisoned to keep the warlock from ever finding rest. It is not uncommon in Tshoggan for a corpse to suffer for what they did in life.
  Tempted by power, the Magistrates who found the Gate of Bones fought over the skulls. They drifted away - some were thrown in the pools, others thought destroyed, others locked away as shameful family heirlooms. The story of the skull-collecting warlock has reached an almost mythical status, growing wilder with each generation and each retelling. It continues to be told in the city-state to this day - particularly when the city's shamans and magicians need reminding of what happens to those who overreach their station.

Comments

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3 Dec, 2020 16:19

I love that you took the time to write out the meanings of the skulls, and the fact that there are still some missing. It really makes the reader feel immersed in the world.

You should check out the The 5 Shudake, if you want of course.
4 Dec, 2020 08:35

Thank you :) Going to add some more context at some point, with some history, some hints of the remaining skulls, and where things are now!

3 Dec, 2020 21:23

I suddenly feel the urge to go to any lengths to find the thirteen skulls :O

Creator of Black Light, a science-fantasy universe.
4 Dec, 2020 08:32

I'll be running some Araea at some point, I'm sure :)

Sage Serukis
Dr Emily Vair-Turnbull
3 Dec, 2020 21:33

I really want to know what the other six skulls are like! Curse them being lost!! The Skull of the Slave scares me a little. I don't like the thought of the chains rattling on their own.   This is a really unique, interesting concept for a document! Great job, Q!

Emy x   Welcome to Etrea!
4 Dec, 2020 08:32

I wanted to try something a little different for my document. :D   Thank you :)

11 Dec, 2020 00:26

I imagine that when one unlocks the secrets of these skulls they will know it in their bones. Great article!

11 Dec, 2020 08:53

Thank you! :D

31 Dec, 2020 10:41

Very nice article indeed. The story, the skulls known and unknown, the flavor texts. Of course that is par for your work.