The Dancing Goat Theatre

The most popular theatre in Teleleli, and therefore in the known world. Many come to Teleleli hoping to make a career on the stage. Successful examples include the troll Hugh Granite and the genie I. Dreamov.

The Telelelene stage is divided into three rows. In the back row stand the gods and ancestor-spirits. They are represented by stylised paintings, with the actors offstage and unseen. The actors speak in verse. Plays always begin with an introduction from the gods. The middle row is for heroic characters. The actors stand onstage and, like the gods, speak in verse. They stand elevated from the front row, which is for comic characters who speak in everyday speech.

The gods are understood to be able to see the action in the front and middle rows, whereas the front and middle rows can’t see them or each other. The middle and front row are understood to represent scenes happening at different times or places. Often the dialogue in the two rows alternates, with the front row characters comically or tragically undermining the middle row.

Plays usually take place ‘in the time of the Great Race’. However virtually nothing is known about the Great Race, and plays often comment on current events.

Apprentices begin as comic characters, then become journeymen and portray heroic characters, and finally masters of their craft and play the gods. This has caused some resentment and conflict when comic or heroic actors become popular, or when an actor finds themself better suited to a role from which they have been promoted.

Since the place is as much devoted to social gatherings as to the arts the more expensive tickets are boxes, elevated so that the entire audience can see one, and the very prizest seats are on the stage itself.

The theatre is a centre of prostitution. Well-known prostitutes include the gigilos Michael Morecock, Onan the Barbarian and Lance Dragon.

Stage-hand is a traditional occupation for out of work or retired ninjas. This is why stagehands dress in black ninja garb.

One play, The King In Yellow, was closed down after it drove all who saw it mad. The critics raved.

It is sometimes whispered that the ‘goat’s dance’ refers to the twisting of one who is hanged as a sacrifice; a human sacrifice being called a ‘goat without horns’. Whether this is coincidence, or points to a sinister connection, I do not know.

Alien Forehead-Bumps

Many species of the Celestial Realm resemble humans, but for a pattern of bumps and ridges on their foreheads. Each such pattern is distinctive to a particular species.

It has been speculated that the patterns are letters in the language of the gods or the Great Race, who in this theory are supposed to have created all such species.

Advocates of this theory are generally evasive about how these letters would have been used. Some resort to a mystical interpretation, while others assert that the Celestial Realm was used as a gigantic equivalent to a crossword or Scrabble board, with each species counting as a single filled-in letter or tile, and its planet of origin being the square.

The smooth foreheads of humans are said to be analagous to spaces, or to blank tiles.

Abominations of the True Form

This book of unknown but ancient origin is the most wide-ranging and reliable guide to the creatures, intelligent and otherwise, living in Teleleli and the lands around. Many of the descriptions here are partly or entirely taken from it.

The entry for each creature consists of a drawing of adult members of the species, a description of its attributes and habits, and a lengthy and vicious description of the punishments said to await them in some future time which seems to be the afterlife. The latter section is nearly the same for each creature.

It is not known who wrote the book, or even which species. There are no references, even tangential ones, to the nature of its author or authors (it is widely speculated that the religious elements have a separate origin, but the two kinds of entries have a similar vocabulary and structure, as if written by the same hand). This lack is unlikely to be accidental – we would expect a book written by humans to have at least one description such as “about the size of a child” or “have been known to attack humans” – but the reason for it is unclear. It is unknown whether the species that wrote it has its own entry.

It is widely believed that one or other group of angels wrote the book, although they all deny it. Strangely, almost no one has suggested that it was written by the Great Race. This may be becaue the irrational hatred displayed in its pages does not fit any common beliefs as to the Great Race’s nature.

>The Worshipful Company of the Veil

>This secret society of wizards believes that all things in the material world are imperfect reflections of ideal forms, which exist in a place called the Heaven of Perfect Forms.

They possess spells which create visions, which they claim show the Heaven of Perfect Forms. Thus, they say, their illusions are more real than the reality they obscure. This may account for the rumoured ability of these illusions to do actual harm to those who believe in them.

>Shield Designs

>It is the custom in Teleleli and surrounding areas to decorate shields with images of leering faces.

It is said by some that this is the remnant of an ancient custom, which may still be practiced in its original form other lands, of stretching the actual faces of one’s defeated enemies across a shield.

Others claim that it is an imitation of the sorcery of the Great Race, who were able to trap demons within their shields.

>Humans: Their Relation to Dwarves, Elves and Halflings

>Many scholars have suggested that these four groups, who resemble each other at least in appearance, share a common origin.

Laodameia suggests that the four were created when an ancient race, who may or may not have been the Great Race, were each split into four parts. Her writing is obscure and mystical, but she seems to suggest that each currently living member of these groups has three counterparts, one in each other group. Unlike the similar story told in our world by Plato, she does not seem to be offering a metaphor for love. For example she specifically states that members of a group will not recognise their counterparts as such (although a cynic might argue that this is indeed a metaphor for love).

Userkaf believes that each group is associated with a season. In ancient times, he writes, only a single group would be conscious. The other three would sleep or die. He draws correspondences as follows:

  • Elves – autumn (because of their beauty, and their association with decay and passing away)
  • Dwarves – winter (because of their stoicism and fortitude)
  • Humans – spring (because they are the most varied and unpredictable)
  • Halflings – summer (because of their optimism)

Userkaf seems to assume that the ancient world had the four seasons familiar to us as opposed to, for example, the situation in Teleleli, where the three seasons are monsoon, a short winter, and a long summer.

>The Red Land

>The Red Land (Barsoom in its former inhabitants’ own tongue) was once the home of a great civilisation. It is now a howling desert, and its people scattered to the four winds.

The desert brings no storms to wash away, nor damp to rot, nor plants to choke, and thus their ruins stand unravaged by time. Only the underground-dwelling rats-with-human-faces still live there, and they have no interest in precious spices. Nor will they attempt to carry away the stones of the temples for fear of the guardian golems, the “silver-studded, sabre-toothed dreams.”

Records of the Red Land are written on tablets of unknown metal. They rise from the desert about a mile, so that from a distance they seem like a city. It is unknown how much is buried beneath. Those who have read them say they claim that the Red Land was created first, centuries upon centuries before the rest of the world. It has been suggested that this might be a misreading, and records may be poetically noting that the civilisation discovered the rest of the world centuries after its founding, or that it was civilised while the lands around wallowed in barbarism.

One thing that is certain is that the inhabitants of the Red Land were not the Great Race. For their artifacts are unlike any others. No Glorious Hand has been found in the Red Land, and radium swords are found nowhere else.

The civilisation of the Red Land had declined greatly before its final destruction, and so there are few records of its fall. However it appears that the land relied on a certain plant, to purify the atmosphere of poisonous vapours that were otherwise prevalent. This plant appears to have faced extinction. It also appears that their system of canals had fallen into disrepair. These canals, miles wide and connecting every city-state, seem to have served as roads as well as methods of irrigation.

They appear to have had two entirely separate priesthoods. One performed weddings, funerals, and other priestly duties that we would be familiar with. The other was entirely devoted to the maintenance of the canals. No written records of the canal-priests’ fate survive. Oral tradition speaks vaguely of a descent into wickedness. Certainly this priesthood is dead among the Red Land community in Teleleli, and other cities where such exist.

Their canal-priests may be compared to the priesthood of Healos Athair. However they appear not to have had the same smothering dominance, and the cities of the Red Land appear to have never been united in empire. Or perhaps the Red Land was once another Healos Athair, but the priesthood were thrown down by disaster or rebellion?

Physically the inhabitants of the Red Land are rather like lizards or crocodiles, but with six limbs rather than four. In colour they range from red to green. Many of the pets and herd animals they have brought from their home are likewise six-limbed. Some of their scholars claim that the lizard-folk of other deserts are related to them. In support of this they cite a supposed legend of the lizard-folk, that their ancestors had six limbs, but the gods caused two of them to drop off in punishment for various sins, or that they agreed to lose them in return for permission to commit certain acts necessary for survival in the desert, such as killing excess children.

>Talking Animals

>In general, for any species, there might be a talking, intelligent version, as well as the mute, bestial version that we are familiar with.

Some sages believe that apes and humans form such a pair. Yet there are rumours of bestial humans, and what of the Ape-Rajahs of the brass-walled City of Dust? Though some say that they are not true apes.

Teleleli is home to large numbers of talking animals, particularly cats, dogs, and mice.

Talking cats reach about five feet tall in adulthood. Young adults (toms and queens) rather remind one of characters from The Three Musketeers.

Normal cats have the ability to sense entrances to the underworld, and the desire to enter them (this is why they spend so much time under houses, and why they frequently disappear, never to be seen again). Some believe that talking cats have a dim echo of this sense.

Courting among talking cats involves toms displaying agility, for example by balancing on a fence, while playing the bagpipes. Talking cats are unique in their love of this instrument. Its music also affords the toms further ability to display their grace, by dodging the objects thrown at them by the neighbours. Queens are only allowed to court toms on one day of the year, the holiday Lost Saturday. This rule, being the command of the church, is universally obeyed, just as in our own society sex outside of marriage is unknown.

Although I have been unable to determine its truth, there is widespread agreement that a talking cat’s fur colour indicates a particular talent, as follows:

Black Held to have the ability to wish bad luck, especially hunger, on those who oppose them.
White, or van (coloured ears, rest of the body white): Believed to be lucky.
Grey “In the night all cats are grey” the Telelelenes say, since such cats are believed to excel in being stealthy at night.
Orange Believed to excel in predicting the weather.
Tortiseshell (black and orange patches) Said to excel in thwarting snakes, scorpions, spiders and like creatures, both normal and talking. Legend says that a tortiseshell cat defended the Tree of All Beasts from demons in the form of venomous animals, and was given this ability as a reward.
Tabby (light grey and dark grey-black stripes) Credited with an uncanny nack of locating hidden treasure.
Paws, chest, and lower face white – upper face, ears, legs, back and tail black Believed to excel in all matters pertaining to love, the home, marriage, and children.
Paws, chest, and lower face white – upper face, ears, legs, back and tail of any colour other than black Believed to excel in attracting the admiration of others (a most valued attribute for this generally vain and superficial folk).

Talking mice are about four feet tall, and generally have a similar style to talking cats.

Both talking cats and mice are physically ideal for the profession of burglar, but they are usually handicapped by their immense vanity in the first case, and their sense of fair play in the second. There are many famous cat-burglars, but few who are said to have lived for long. Some talking mice have become pirates, but talking cats generally disdain the sea – perhaps they retain some of their ancestral dislike of water.

Talking dogs can be any size from three feet to higher than the tallest human. Strangely, the variety of breeds in mute dogs is reflected in talking dogs. They believe that they were made thus by the Great Race. These theories are at least more credible than talking cats’ belief that they were created from the sneeze of a lion. The largest talking dogs of all are those with wolfish blood. True talking wolves are thankfully not seen in the city, but they are the terror of the forests.

Gangs of talking cats and dogs often fight each other. The main issue is religion, with one species being mostly Catolic, the other Eastern Orthodogs (except for some who follow the teachings of Martin Woofer).

Talking sea creatures can sometimes be seen in Teleleli, particularly around the docks. The mercantile Sell-Fish, ever seeking new markets, uses its fins as feet in order to walk on land. While on land, talking fish carry un-brellas. These devices look like umbrellas, but drop a constant stream of water on the talking fish. Talking dolphins transform into human form. Their human bodies are hairless, slim and muscular. They are said to have a city underwater, location unknown. In some accounts it is destroyed.

Talking sea creatures are largely uninterested in the religious conflict between dogs and cats. However they are sometimes the target of zealots from both communities, because of their liberal attitutes. For example prawnography is openly sold, and they have produced Salmon Rushdie, author of the controversial novel The Sardinic Verses. To protect themselves they have trained a force of Navy Seals.

Talking weasels are likewise uninterested in religious conflicts, due to their belief in the seperation of church and stoat.

Talking cockroaches, or Roaches of Al-Shahab, are about the size of a wolf or foal. They keep the streets reasonably clean by eating garbage. This reduces disease, and can keep away the eggs of many dangerous creatures such as the Invisible Worm Which Flies in the Night. Thus it is dangerous to drive them away, despite their many revolting habits. One such is that they dig up cemeteries. Although even this ensures that a place will not be infested by ghouls, who do not always limit themselves to those already dead. Another is their willingness to work with criminals such as the Bright Company, who use them to dispose of bodies.

Talking snails, turtles and tortises often find the pace of other creatures difficult to adjust to. Thus many of them live in the Slowtown district. Outsiders who enter this walled-off area are required to wear modified diving suits to slow them down. The economy of this district is largely based on the silver found in the trails which talking snails leave behind them.

Talking beavers mostly live in rural areas. However there is a small colony in Teleleli, who were driven here when their dam was destroyed by human farmers. Many of them listen to the bitter talking beaver Clint Eatwood who has sworn that he will take revenge, forcing the farmers to “go ahead punk – make my dam.”

Where most talking creatures are close to human-size, talking birds are the same size as their mute equivalents. Naturally many live atop the Roofs.

Lizard-folk are not talking animals, since their bodies are halfway between a human and lizard form.

>Companions of the Great Race

>These sea creatures are named for their belief that they are descended from the household of the Great Race, who were left behind when the Great Race rose up to heaven long ago.

In the sea they curl up into a ball, about the size of a loaf of bread. They travel in clusters of a few Companions. Each cluster rides within a skin that appears to be that of a dolphin. On land they hide the skin, uncurl, and grow, becoming a creature indistinguishable to a human.

At times they speak of their false dolphin skin as if it was an actual body, rather than a disguise, and of each cluster as a single being. However they seem to regard themselves as separate while on land.

They never forget the location of their skin and, if it is moved, will have a dim sense where it is. If the skin be destroyed, they seek out another ‘family’ and ask to cluster with them. It is unknown what happens if a cluster gets too big, or indeed how they reproduce.

>The Wine-Faced Sea

>Teleleli and the surrounding islands stand in the Wine-Faced Sea. Why the sea is so named is disputed. Some say that it is because it may be calm, even sleeping, and then suddenly violent, without cause, like one far gone in drink. Others claim that the Great Race, perverse in all things, drank light blue wine – or that the fluid originally referred to was something else entirely. Yet others point to the way that those most harmed by the sea can be most devoted to it, even against their will.