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Ecology of the Megaliths and the Norns Cycle

by LoZompatore from Threshold Magazine issue 9

Ecology of the Megaliths and the Norns Cycle

by LoZompatore

Michele “LoZompatore” C. played BECMI for most of his life, starting way back in 1987. He, most of all, likes mixing and matching canon and fanon material about Mystara to see how many new adventure hooks can be churned out. In the little spare time he has away from Mystara he helps other guys in designing oil and gas pipelines around the (real) world.


An incorporeal conversation between Tiresias and Ssu-Ma1, somewhere way above Mystara, AC 1015

The Incorporeal Form of Tiresias appeared over one of the many clusters of asteroids surrounding the low orbits of Mystara. The glowing, incorporeal silhouette of Ssu-Ma was already there, contemplating the changing landscape of dim and bright dots, sunlight briefly reflected by other, faraway asteroids moving on their path around the planet2. An impressive view impeded for most of the mortals on Mystara by the absorption properties of the Skyshield3, the Immortal pondered.

Ssu-Ma: So you are here, Tiresias. Our master Noumena4 gave you fairly accurate indications and a proper timing about my current location, I see. Welcome to my favorite meditation chamber. As you see its floor, its walls and its ceiling still have to be found.

Tiresias: I am glad to meet you, master SSu-Ma. Mortals know me as a teller of legends and a weaver of prophecies but, in truth, so many things are beyond my grasp. Look at the Brasol Range, right below us at this moment. There, right now, in the labyrinthine tunnels of the Horst of Kirac, the prince-priest Paha is laughing and scoffing at the best advices his wisest clergy is giving at him. Day after day, that old prince is growing more and more self-important and presumptuous.

Ssu-Ma: A definitely bad attitude, especially from someone in charge of the destiny of so many of his people.

Tiresias: Indeed. The prince is coming to believe that the sturdiness, and the nearly-immortal life span of his race, will by themselves prevent any external menace, allowing his rock-men people to live forever in safe and splendid isolation. Unfortunately I foresee that, within the next century, those who follow his guidance will be literally smashed and shattered into pieces by the foul Crystalline Army of geonids led by the King of Isigg. The King of the Deeps is assembling his army right now, covetous of the gemstone marvels waiting for him in the Heart of Kirak.

Ssu-Ma: Rock-men are a quiet, meditating kind. I believe they should ponder better about their environment. Being able to detect enemies is a necessary skill for every living being, the more so for the civilized ones. I come to suspect that such naivety, such wickedness is due to the interference of the entropic agents.

Tiresias: So do I. That’s why I would like to counter such interference by providing the rock-men with proper advice. I wish to spread new legends about the ancient past and the far future of the world, to shake their false confidence in an unchanging environment.

SSu-Ma: And now I’m starting to figure out why you asked for this meeting.

Tiresias: Master Ssu-Ma, in order to be able to relate more information to the mortals, I need to know more myself. Our hierarchs told me that you hold the secrets of the past, the present and the future of this world. Some mortals believe I am some kind of jealous keeper of secrets, which I am not. Actually I am just a humble Temporal of the Sphere of Thought formally asking the help of a mighty Empyreal of his kin. Will you disclose those secrets to me, for the benefit of our Sphere and for the balance of power in the Prime Plane?

Ssu-Ma: You spoke about secrets, but secrets they are not. The truth about this place has always been known by some, while countless others rediscovered and forgot it many times over the ages. I understand your scopes and I respect and appreciate your efforts, so I will tell you about what you are asking for.

Let us just hope that our little meeting will yield fruitful consequences for our Sphere and this part of the Prime Plane…

Ecology of the Megaliths5

Ssu-Ma: I need to start by telling you something about Megaliths, the mighty living beings like our beloved Mystara6 below us. They are highly-magical, intelligent creatures, only apparently similar to moons, rocky planets, gas giants and small dust nebulae7. They are extremely old, they were already there when the first, forgotten Immortals surfaced in the Multiverse. Megaliths do not reproduce and, when asked, the first memories of all of them are to freely float in the void or to orbit around the very first stars in the Prime Plane and nearby locations8. We strongly believe they all were created by the Old Ones at the same time of this colossal puzzle we call the Multiverse.

Megaliths seem not to age - albeit our Entropic colleagues might say something different about this - constantly rejuvenating their surface through an endless set of cycles of activity and slumber. Think of this cycle as the common “days” and “nights” of a mortal being, only millions of times slower. You could consider it as the true pace at which the Multiverse flows9.

A megalith may stay awake, or slumbering, for as little as 10’000 years, and up to 100 times more, and its communication is usually just as slow as well. The same information conveyed in a conversation of a few minutes between mortals or even Immortals usually needs centuries to be delivered by a megalith, even if its quality, fineness and depth cannot be reached even by the finest philosophers of our Sphere of Thought.

As I told, megaliths are very intelligent, and highly magical. They may generate a mighty magic field that can be extended to bath their whole external surface - which is ultimately the source of most magic in Mystara10 - and they are able to open or close large gates to the other Planes - especially the Elemental Planes - at will.

Megaliths are also able to modify the shape of their external surface with ease, a continent rising two or three miles from the seafloor is nothing but a wrinkle on the external skin of those creatures11. With manipulation of their own magic they can create artificial gravity fields, anti-magic shells and keep or release an atmosphere or an oceanic layer at will.12 They are able to teleport themselves onto other orbits - or move away to orbit around another sun - even if I must say that the drainage of magic in such cases is so massive to be detected in the whole solar system of departure.

But, most important to all, megaliths may create life. We believe they are the only beings able to do so, together with us Immortals and some major elemental powers. Life may spread and colonize other barren and dead places including “common” planets but, in the end, from our knowledge all this life comes from just one of the three sources.

While in its active phase, the megalith is wide awake and uses its powers to create life and an environment suitable for its development, all the while attracting existing life from other places of the Multiverse. This usually involves the opening of many gates from the Planes of Air and Water to create an uniform worldwide ocean.13 The continents are then added later by gates from the Earth and Fire Planes, and by subtle pressure on Mystara’s will by the available Immortals.14

On the contrary, during its slumbering phase, the megalith loses interest in keeping life forms on its surface, it accelerates its rotation to cool down and to expel all air and water over itself, and it shuts down the magical energy field. In this phase the megalith no longer cares about keeping a stable orbit and repels any communication attempt. If disturbed, it reacts with violence by means of huge earthquakes and volcanic eruptions so fierce their lava is able destroy even artifacts and Immortal bodies.

Tiresias: Master, most of this information was already known to me, and I am grateful for the extra details you provided. It conveys the notion of an ever changing world and also gives a maximum time limit for life to prosper on the surface of Mystara. If properly weaved, such information will shake the misleading self-assurance of the rock-men in an unchanging world. But I also know that the Hollow World deep inside Mystara is used as a - rather static - storage yard of worthy cultures, species and races by my fellow Immortals. What is the fate of such a place, and how is it possible to keep this artificial equilibrium when the very rock over which this museum is built is going to change anyway?

Ssu-Ma: My dear Tiresias, you just hit a very sensitive nerve crossing and splitting our Immortal community in many opposite factions. Actually, the Hollow World will be turned into a wasted, lifeless surface like the external skin of the megalith when the slumbering phase begins. At every cycle the huge, dark, empty cavity at the center of the world is rediscovered by the available Immortals and used in a different way.

As you know, during this cycle the hollow is some kind of eternal museum. In other, previous cycles of the past it was used to double the surface of Mystara, to host alien breeds of creatures of the night, or it was not considered worthy of an use. I know that there were even some cycles during which the cavity was not discovered at all, being sealed from external screening by the powerful anti-magic layer created by Mystara’s magic lava.

Notice also that the Spell of Preservation is a rather recent add-on, at least in terms of Mystara’s life cycle. This spell was cast about 6’000 years ago15, while the current active phase is about 500’000 years old, and it will last for as long as this time16, as I’m going to tell you. The Immortals are divided about this spell. It was cast during an emergency and it served the scope, but now it is causing stagnation among the living. While the Sphere of Matter may be proud of such stability, and even our Sphere of Thought may appreciate the clever tricks used to preserve every culture without overly violating the free will of their components, the Sphere of Time is more and more vocal about the removal of the spell. Even the Sphere of Energy is going to believe that the potential of so many races and people is bridled without scope. What is worse, the Sphere of Entropy is pretty much satisfied that, in order to get stability, stagnation was summoned to the hollow world. This is something that the Spheres of Life should fight with all their powers to avoid it becoming permanent. But I digress.

Megaliths as planet builders

Tiresias: You mentioned many different uses for the hollow world of Mystara, except possibly the proper one. What is the real scope of the cavity inside the megalith? Why it is shielded by a powerful anti-magic field produced by Mystara itself? What is the point in sheltering an empty space?

Ssu-Ma: It is because such space is not supposed to always be empty, at least that’s what the current generation of Immortals believes. We presume that the hollow space inside megaliths is nothing but a womb to create new planets17. I don’t have final proof of this - I don’t think any of our kin has - and, to my knowledge, no Immortal has ever attended the birth of a new planet from a megalith. The megaliths themselves are very elusive about this subject. If this task was assigned to them by the very Old Ones maybe they fear unwanted attention from the Sphere of Entropy.

What follows is just the sum of our speculations so far. We believe that when the building of a new planet is in place, the anti-magic aura of the Wordshield totally seals the internal from the external surface, to prevent any physical or magical interference. It seems also that, in order to create a planet, very specific requirements - which are currently not met in the void around Mystara - must be in place in the surrounding space. That’s possibly why we have not seen our megalith involved in the creation of new planets since its first meeting with our kin.

Tiresias: Which kind of requirements may be needed in the void, master?

Ssu-Ma: Well, most of them should be related to the amount of elemental matter available around. You already know that new stars are created at a steady rate at the very center of each galaxy through the opening of special gates from the Elemental Plane of Fire18. We Immortals do not have any control over this process, which is entirely regulated by the Elemental Master of Fire and its servants19.

New stars are created without planets - as planets are not made of fire but of many different kinds of elements - and they slowly spiral away from the center of the galaxy to its periphery, a process which usually takes dozens or hundreds of millions of years. It seems to us that the main scope of the galaxies is to fill the void of space with stars. We don’t know if this task will ever be completed, as the void itself is expanding - and I strongly believe Entropy is involved in this process - but new stars are created at a regular pace.

Somewhere along the route of the new star, at a distance far enough from the crowded and potentially disruptive center of the galaxy, new planar rifts form in space, this time connecting the Elemental Planes of Earth, Air, Fire and Water to the Prime Plane. Such gates occurs very close to each other around a promising star, as every elemental Sphere races to fill the space around the new sun with its own element. Again, such gates are governed by the will of the Elemental Masters and their servants. After a first, enthusiastic and turbulent flood in the void of space, the gates end up impeding each other and they are shut down by their own controllers. Long chunks of elemental matter drifting around the new star are the remnants of this process.20

This is where we believe the megaliths come into service. There are sightings of them teleporting in these pristine solar systems and orbiting there for hundreds of millennia. Over time, there is indeed a reduction of elemental matter and the sudden appearing of celestial bodies of many different sizes, always smaller than the size of the megaliths currently orbiting the system. We believe that the elemental matter is drained by the megalith from the solar system and assembled in a new planet inside the cavity. The newly built planet is then teleported into a suitable orbit by the megalith.

Sometimes it was even possible to see the megalith teleporting somewhere else in the solar system, leaving its previous position occupied by a new planet. In this case we believe the megalith just did the opposite process, by teleporting its own body away from the planet it had just completed inside its womb.

Image: Path of a new star in the galaxy

Notice that other explanations are possible for all these processes, maybe the stars themselves teleport the planets from faraway places, or the elemental matter from the gates is slightly magical and suddenly self-assembles to form planets, or maybe other hidden powers and forces are involved. We simply do not have enough information to provide a final theory on this.

As megaliths say they are unable to reproduce we believe that onlystandard”, lifeless planets and moons will be created in their wombs21. It is even possible that many of the oddest shapes of the worlds of this galaxy may hail from some megalith wishing to show its “artistic talent”22.

We believe that megaliths are able to imbue common planets and moons with magic fields - albeit usually weaker in intensity than Mystaras’ own - by draining magic from other worlds of other Planes of Existence23 and passing it to the new celestial body.

Usually the new planets are found to already include some habitats filled with basic forms of life. At least in this we are almost sure that the megalith was involved, as it is the most obvious agent able to spread life on a nearby lifeless body.

The Hollow Moon, Patera and the asteroids

Tiresias: Master, if the theories of our Sphere are true, it seems likely that megaliths create places suitable for life, but that they cannot always care for the life forms they nurtured due to the slumber which inevitably falls upon the megalith sooner or later. I’m starting to figure out the real scope for the many habitats the Immortals established in the space surrounding Mystara. I guess that, when the right time will come, people and races from the two surfaces of Mystara will be moved away from the megalith in some of the habitats, to wait until the slumbering phase is over. Is this the way in which the megalith is repopulated at the beginning of every active phase?

Ssu-ma: You are right, Tiresias, indeed this is part of the truth. Many of the life forms now living high above Mystara are potential candidates for repopulating the world in the next cycle. Matera and Patera, the two moons are possibly the most important places for this task.

The Immortals believe Matera to be the last creation of Mystara24. For sure the megalith itself is pleased to have this moon orbiting around itself like some kind of jewel or decoration. Patera was actually built by the Immortals in a way that I’ll describe in a moment, while the asteroid fields - like the one we are contemplating right now - are part of Mystara as well.

Let me digress for a while on the asteroids, as they are the easiest to describe. These debris may have three possible origins. They could be nothing but soil, water and air expelled from the external surface at the beginning of previous slumbering phases25; they could come from solidified lava extruded to repel intruders while the megalith was hostile to any contact and communication; lastly, they are pieces of of the external surface torn from some cataclysmic event during the active phase.26 As they are discarded pieces of Mystara, the Immortals see them fit for every kind of experiment, without worrying about possible opposition by the megalith itself. Many new races and cultures are first tested here before being moved to the moons or to the surface of Mystara27. Unfortunately the asteroid habitats themselves, while many, differentiated, and growing over time28, are not enough to repopulate the whole surface of a megalith, with its myriad of ecological niches.

Tiresias: And I guess, this is where the two moons come into play.

Ssu-Ma: Exactly. Early in the collaboration between the Immortals and Mystara, our kin made a special agreement with the megalith, who allowed them to modify Matera, the only moon orbiting the world at that time. The Immortals then carved a huge hollow space inside the moon29 . The “marrow” resulting from this operation was compressed into a dense sphere 950 miles in diameter and placed in a polar orbit around Mystara to form its second moon, Patera. Both moons were to be used as the main staging and storage habitats for cultures facing destruction or wishing to be preserved by the Immortals.

Further modifications were added on Matera: in order to prevent the collapse of the thin shell now forming the old moon, the central layers of the shells were turned into a dense and nearly-unbreakable translucent crystal with a thickness of 30 miles. This crystal was partly covered on the interior and exterior surfaces by layers of original lunar soil, not thicker than 10 miles each. The whole far side of Matera was not covered with soil and was turned into a colossal, semi-transparent window to let the sunlight enter the interior of the hollow sphere. The Hollow Moon was thus created.

At the same time a powerful invisibility field was activated on Patera, bending most of the visible light around the moon to prevent its detection by the mortal beings of Mystara.

A special spell called the Spell of Remembrance was cast on the Hollow Moon: it prevented all cultures placed in the hollow moon from forgetting the knowledge and habits of their ancestors, at the same time allowing for that accumulation of cultural and technical knowledge we usually call “progress”.

Image: Mystara its moons and the asteroid fields

Differences arise between the three habitats. Any people or race in the asteroid fields is allowed to freely interact with any other culture on Mystara - people living in the asteroids are just difficult to reach. Those living on Patera may do the same, but they have the advantage of almost complete invisibility to Mystaran denizens. The Immortals would move to Patera the cultures they wish to continue their development through interaction with the rest of Mystara, but which wish to spare from extinction. Note that, thanks to the polar orbit of Patera, its denizens are able to fly over - and potentially reach - any point of Mystara, sooner or later. It is not uncommon for the denizens of Patera to establish small colonies back on the Mystaran surface30.

Finally, people living in the Hollow Moon do not usually interact with the external worlds. They may evolve and prosper in a cyclic way from barbarism to the peak of their civilization, and then revert back to barbarism due to the periodic global cataclysms that happen on the moon.

When Mystara reaches its slumbering phase, and this can be calculated fairly accurately, the Hollow Moon will likely host those cultures of the Outer World and the Hollow World the Immortals will deem worthy of survival as-they-are. The cyclic pattern embedded into the Hollow Moon habitat will prevent extreme changes in those cultures until the end of the slumbering phase of Mystara. Usually the Hollow Moon is progressively emptied soon after Mystara becomes habitable. Sometimes - like during the current active cycle of Mystara, for example - the huge cavity inside Matera is left unused for dozens or hundreds of millennia, until worthy enough cultures develop on the surface of the megalith. Irrespective of this, at the end of the active cycle of Mystara the Hollow Moon is usually full of races, people and cultures31.

Cultures left on Patera and the asteroids when Mystara enters the slumbering phase will be usually left free to evolve, develop, and interact with the additional threat of the showers of new debris ejected from the surface of Mystara to be faced and avoided.

At that time many Immortals of the Spheres of Life will abandon Mystara. Most of them will try to bring with them their followers, sponsoring migrations to other planets, stars or Planes of Existence32. They usually never come back, but sometimes an Immortal from a previous cycle will show up with its retinue and ask Mystara and the local Immortals permission to settle its evolved group of followers on the surface. Not always this right is granted33.

The Council of the Norns34

Tiresias: Master, you just said that the end of the active phase may be predicted with great accuracy. This puzzles me. Isn’t the future unpredictable by its own nature? How is it possible to foretell the effects of Entropy and the actions of countless Immortals and other intelligences in advance of hundreds of millennia? Surely Mystara may be induced to exit its active phase sooner or later than the due time, or there can be short outbursts of slumber inside a longer active phase.

Ssu-Ma: This is the core of the question about the cycles of life and death on Mystara, something that wraps the past and the future, and the Immortals and the megalith, in the same unique pattern.

Eons ago, the very first group of wandering Immortals who entered the solar system of Mystara and made contact with the megalith, realized that Mystara’s surface was an ideal place to establish projects aimed at the testing and birthing of new Immortals. But assembling this kind of project is never an easy task, as you know much better than me. You need millennia, a developed historical and biological background and a more or less stable and predictable environment to breed suitable candidates.

While Mystara was more than willing to help the Immortals and the lifeforms they wished to implant on its surface, at that time it was not possible for the megalith to fully control its behaviour. Sudden “naps” - outburst of negative, disruptive slumber - were always possible without warning.

A complex set of agreements was thus established between the megalith and those early Immortals to create the needed stability35.

Mystara agreed to extend the duration of its active phase up to the maximum possible value for its own biology - a sheer aeon one million years long - and to keep this phase as stable as possible. In order to comply with this request Mystara needed a following slumbering phase some 500'000 years long. During the deep sleep all communication would have ceased and all the Immortals' projects on the megalith would have been erased. Finally, Mystara requested a small, but permanent, contribution of Immortalslife force to help the megalith with staying awake (or sleeping) all the time during the active (or slumbering) phase.

Three female Immortals of the original exploring party were selected for the establishment of this lasting bond with Mystara, partially merging with the megalith to provide, in turn, the required flow of power.

Tiresias: Master, this is the first time I’ve heard of such a link between Mystara and some of our kin.

Ssu-ma: As I told you in the beginning this is not secret information, but the actions of the three Immortals are dispersed over so vast a time span, and so taken for granted, that most of the youngest Immortals do not know about this. Some of the youngs are even barely aware that Mystara is a megalith, an ignorance the Sphere of Thought is steadily trying to dispel. The hierarchs of each Sphere and their servants, however, are all fully aware of the three ancient Immortals and their fundamental contribution to the cause of our kin.

Over the epochs, the three Immortals changed many times name and status. Currently they are known as Urd - of the Sphere of Matter, Skuld - of the Sphere of Entropy, and Verthandi - of the Sphere of Time.

I believe they are among the oldest Immortals still active in this part of the Multiverse, while I must admit that very old beings like Ixion and Thanatos might be of different opinion.

When the agreements were finalized, Urd was a Hierarch of the Sphere of Matter, Skuld a Celestial of the Sphere of Entropy and Verthandi an Eternal of the Sphere of Time. The three Immortals established a cycle in which two of them simultaneously gave part of their power to the megalith while the third Immortal was "off-duty" and busy in slowly regaining her power after the long drainage36.

In that archaic time Urd and Skuld were drained first by Mystara, giving time to Verthandi to gain enough power to be able to replace the weakest of the couple at the right moment. Skuld - being lowest in power - was immediately absorbed into the megalith itself - temporarily disappearing from the ranks of the Immortals. This adsorption was part of the agreement, as a "guarantee" for Mystara that the Immortals would never leave their service in fear of an excessive dwindling of their power.

This sequence of events was repeated over and over for every cycle of wakefulness and slumber of Mystara. As all the three Immortals reach hierarch status sometime during the cycle - although never all of them at the same moment - their group is officially addressed as a Council by the rest of the Immortals.

The three Immortals collectively call themselves "Norns" which, in an old language of those forgotten origins, may be translated as "Those who secretly communicate"38. This name refers both to the ability of the Norns to communicate with Mystara through a preferential channel, a channel which is denied to all the other Immortals, and to the possibility that the Norns have to use Mystara's vast array of natural phenomena to send cryptic messages to mortals and Immortals alike39.

Like the Norns themselves, their Council is possibly the earliest and the longest lasting Immortal's Council in this part of the Prime Plane.

Other consequences of the agreement between Mystara and the Norns

Tiresisas: I cannot believe an Immortal deliberately wished to face such a wearying service for millions over millions of years. From what you say, Master, the Norns never have the opportunity to become the Full Hierarch of their Sphere, even when they fully deserved such honour multiple times.

Ssu-Ma: Those Immortals of antiquity have slightly different beliefs on what constitutes true power than we do. Becoming a Full Hierarch is not a priority for any of the Norn. As our colleagues of Time may teach you, the more we glance into the past, the more the very Spheres of Power and their relationship with the Multiverse are different from our present day experiences40. But this is a subject for another lesson.

Back to topic, the close relationship between the Norns and Mystara provides other important consequences, including a few benefits for the three Immortals as well. Let me just describe some of these other aspects, and many more things will be clear to you.

First of all, the agreement permanently seizes inside the megalith 3/4 of the current life force of the Norns. This is part of the "guarantee" that Mystara will always have enough Immortal power to stay awake (or remain in deep sleep) for the agreed time. This seized power is not in the availability of the Norns anymore; for their everyday tasks, the Norns appears as Immortals of a ranking which is just ¼ of their true power. Moreover, as I already told you, Mystara automatically absorbs all of the Immortal life force if the unadjusted power level of a Norn drops below a given threshold41 at any time42.

While adsorbed into Mystara a Norn cannot use most of her powers. Her life force is spread within Mystara's molten mantle, from which she cannot escape without Mystara’s permission. She cannot use planar or dimensional travel, create avatars nor use spells. She can communicate only with Mystara and the other two Norns, even if a careful manipulation of the megalith’s environmental phenomena enables her to send cryptic messages to informed recipients43. Mystara always allows the trapped Norn to listen to their followers' prayers and to grant clerical powers44 and benefits to worthy mortals in order to prevent the Norn from fading45.

Thanks to their special status, the Norns act as the main ambassadors between Mystara and the Immortals. At any time Mystara may temporarily absorb all the life force of a Norn for "talks" inside of the megalith's mantle. Usually the most powerful “in-duty” available Norn is taken. Such talks are not very common. They may happen when some earth-shaking event perturbs the surface, causing major changes to the environment and to the mortal beings living on it46.

As I told you before, communication with a megalith is a very slow matter, so this kind of talk may require years before the Norn is released. Moreover, Mystara is notoriously meticulous and deeply-pondering before taking any action. The disappearance of Verthandi during the last chain of events47 - a disappearance which greatly alarmed some groups of mortals and low-ranking Immortals - is due just to a round of such talks. Verthandi will surely be released within a short time, to the disappointment of those among mortals and Immortals who believe her disappearance to be a bad omen foretelling the end of the world48.

Among high-ranking Immortals a member of the Council of the Norns is always much respected. Both "on-duty" and "off-duty" Norns, irrespective of their current level of power, are granted honors and privileges usually not available to the other Immortals and, while acting as ambassadors of the megalith's will, they have immediate access to the Full Hierarchs of all Spheres. After all, even the most selfish and evil-oriented Immortal is forced to recognize the important service the Norns provide for the development of all the Immortals' projects - including the Entropic projects - on Mystara.

Bias in the Norns Cycle and the Ages of Mystara

Tiresias: I never had the opportunity to know Urd in person, as she disappeared long before my ascent to the ranking of the Immortals49 - now I understand that she is merged inside the very substance of Mystara. Skuld, I tried to talk with her in the past, but she is extremely reclusive, I never suspected such a great involvement in Mystara’s affairs. I thought she was deliberately avoiding me because I am of lowest ranking, some Entropic Immortals give these things a lot of importance. About mighty Verthandi, she was definitely more talkative but, again, before her disappearance she never spoke about the heavy burden she has to bear.

Ssu-Ma: That’s because the three Norns have performed their duty for so long and believe their service so common that it is not even worth mentioning. You are less than two thousand years old50, a newborn Immortal by the Norns’ standards. They tend to forget there are many like you in our ranks, who cannot know their whole story.

But we are now to the part of the Norns Cycle which likely will fascinate you most. Its about the effect of the Nornsservice on Mystara and its inhabitants over the epochs.

As Mystara drains power from a specific Norn, it is impossible to avoid a slight bias in favor of the Sphere of Power the Norn belongs to. Two Norns are always drained at the same time, but one of them is almost always drained more than the other. Over centuries and millennia of continuous draining from the same predominant source, this "bias" slightly affects Mystara's behavior. As most of the mortal beings living on the megalith are made with the same elements which Mystara itself is made of, this bias is also effective on these beings and on the cultures they produce.

The results of this biasing are different cycle after cycle and they also depend on a myriad of other factors - the most prominent being the will of the Immortals and the peculiarities of the intelligent mortals living on the megalith at a given epoch. Nevertheless, it is possible to recognize six, very broad, general patterns during a full cycle of Mystara51.

Assuming that year 0 corresponds to the awakening of the megalith from the previous slumbering phase52, we have:

0 - 100'000: Entropy and Matter biases are almost equivalent. Mystara awakes from its previous slumbering era and the building of a new surface begins. Water and air are drawn on the surface, while a volcanic cycle and a magic field are established on the megalith. There is an initial succession of building up and catastrophes - less and less violent over time - involving, in this temporal order, continents, large landmasses and mountain chains. This turbulent activity usually attracts many Immortals from other parts of the Prime Plane, who start establishing their own projects on the megalith and take advantage of the turmoil. At the end of this phase a few, sturdy intelligent living species are usually firmly established on the surface and in the oceans. This final part usually coincides with the moving of most of the species and cultures of the Hollow Moon and surrounding celestial bodies to the surface of Mystara.

100'000 - 500'000: Matter bias is prevalent - although constantly dimming over time. Stability is predominant. Species and cultures tend to live without major modifications for ages; less evolution and innovation is produced in the world with respect to subsequent eras53. While no proper stagnation is ever in place, at the beginning of this phase the practical effects on mortal cultures and biology is very close to the Spell of Preservation currently cast on the Hollow World.

500'000 - 600'000: Matter and Time biases are almost equivalent. This is a golden age for life on Mystara54, as the stability inherited by the previous epoch mixes with new ideas and changes brought on by the bias of the Sphere of Time. Species tend to change at an accelerated pace, ideas and philosophies spread and evolve faster and faster. A widespread sense of progress is established in the world.

600'000 - 1'000'000: Time bias is prevalent - although constantly dimming as this epoch draws to an end. This is an eclectic, long-lasting era which builds on the conquests of the previous golden age and in which change is predominant. No two places in the world look similar, at least not for long. There is a progressive dispersion and fragmentation of species and cultures which leads to the greatest splendors and the deepest sorrows of the whole active cycle of Mystara. Conflict is common throughout this age, even if proper, violent, destruction usually happens in a later stage, when cultures also begin to stagnate and become decadent due to the growing influx of Entropy55.

1'000'000 - 1'100'000: Time and Entropy biases are almost equivalent, marking the end of the current active phase of Mystara. The fragmented species and cultures of the previous eclectic age are led to extinction by the efforts of Entropy. It is also an era of cataclysmic events of every possible kind, as Mystara enters its slumbering phase and slowly removes any support for life like air, magic and water. By the end of this phase the megalith is but a dead body, devoid of all life. While the Norns still tend to Mystara, most of the other Immortals of the four Spheres of Life usually leave the megalith - often taking their followers with them - to continue working on their projects elsewhere on the Prime and other Planes. This is also an important event, as many of these Immortals, who were born on Mystara, never come back to their birthplace. In this way, the megalith effectively acts as a diffusion point for the Immortals in the Multiverse.

1'100'000 - 1'500'000: Entropy bias is prevalent - although constantly dimming over time. This is a quiet era of decay and oblivion. Under the careful supervision of most of the Immortals of Entropy every ruin, every bone, every written glyph, every remnant of previous civilizations and cultures is slowly erased from the megalith. Mystara itself avoids any contact with other intelligent beings and violently repels inquisitive intruders, including its previous denizens now living on the moons and asteroids. During this phase increasing numbers of Immortals of Entropy leave the megalith to pursue more attractive objectives elsewhere. A few of them even self-destruct once they believe their task on Mystara is done. At the end of this phase Urd, the Norn of Time, takes over the supply of immortal power and slowly begins the awakening of the megalith for a new cycle.

Balance of the Spheres in the Norns Cycle

Tiresias: Master, what you just disclosed to me is amazing. By using this general pattern as a guideline it would be possible to create prophecies and legends dipping into the most remote past and referring to the end-times of the far future. With this, I’ll definitely be able to shake the false foundations of the rockmen prince.

Ssu-Ma: I’m really glad you consider the information I provided you useful for your goals, then.

Tiresias: One last question, Master. While I agree that the effect of the biases induced by the Norns are small and become effective over very long times, how is it possible to preserve the balance of the Spheres?

Ssu-Ma: This balance is still preserved overall, but in a very subtle way. The aims of every Sphere are satisfied by the full cycle and its effects. I’ll delve more in detail into this.

The Council of the Norns definitely provides stability - as in the main scope of the Sphere of Matter - to Mystara and, in doing so, to the "backbone" over which most of the Immortal projects are established and developed.

The Sphere of Time is obviously represented by the cyclic pattern established by Mystara and the Norns. Notice also that, while every cycle has the same phases and broad succession of events of the previous ones, the Sphere of Time also takes care that no two cycles are exactly equal: events may be anticipated or delayed by a few thousand years, without any major disruption to the overall pattern. For example, in the current cycle Urd was absorbed into Mystara after the Great Rain of Fire, some 4000 years before the expected time. This difference means very little in a cycle spanning over 1'500'000 years.

The Sphere of Entropy, on its side, ensures that, during every cycle, some part of the "backbone" is permanently lost, depleted or destroyed and that, at the beginning of a new active phase, the background is slightly less stable and safe for the implementation of projects of the Immortals of the other Spheres. Moreover, Entropy is effectively in charge of the slumbering phase of the megalith - by all purposes, with the final effect of subjugating a hostile and dead planetary body in which every trace of the previous cycle is forgotten and cancelled.

The Sphere of Energy, while not represented by a specific Immortal, is anyway an essential part of every cycle, as the constant flow of Immortal power - the gainings by the three Immortals and the subsequent drainage by Mystara, and the building of new projects at the beginning of every cycle - is undoubtedly within the scope of this Sphere.

Finally, as you may guess, the whole arrangement of the cycle sequence, as well as the choice and power level of the initial Immortals, was set by the Sphere of Thought. Even if a specific Immortal of Thought is not directly involved in the Norn’s cycle our Sphere, as a whole, gets great benefits as it manages to order and control many powerful beings of the other Spheres - including Entropy. Mystara itself may be considered under control, as the whole cyclic mechanism prevents excessive, unpredictable behavior from the megalith.

With this in mind, my lesson on Mystara, its true nature, its past and its future is over. With the new information in your possession you could definitely weave more effective prophecies to warn the mortals of the future of this world.

I’d like to leave you by remarking upon the many questions still to be answered in my speech, as I’d like you to ponder about them.

Is this cycle endless? Will Mystara be destroyed by Entropy, at last? Do megaliths truly build planets and moons? Will this process end, sometime in the far future? Do the megaliths know anything about their original creators? Were they the Old Ones? Questions like these, and many others, are still beyond the grasp of even the Immortal kin.

While the last question was still echoing inside Tiresiasmind, the glowing silhouette of Ssu-Ma disappeared from the asteroid field. Tiresias lingered for a while focusing on a distant party of raiding rakastas pursuing a voidship of some kind through the asteroids, possibly an Heldannic Warbird. Both groups, likely unknowingly, were moving close to the ancient Nithian wreck of Nebta, guarded by one of the fiercest and largest onyx dragons of its kind. The voidship crew would definitely need some good ideas to escape the dire situation, the same for the raiding rakastas if they really want to gain their loot. Maybe it could have been an interesting challenge to watch and, possibly, to direct in a way useful for the Sphere of Thought. Tiresias moved faster than light away from the tumbling rocks toward the place of confrontation.

Appendix: Scheme of the Norns Cycle in game terms

As a reference for DMs, in the following scheme the total, unadjusted Power Points of the three Immortals are represented over a full cycle of the megalith. As every cycle is slightly different from the previous ones, drifts of a few thousand years in the power level of each Immortals are possible. The sketch just depict an ideal cycle.

References to official products

AC10 Bestiary of Dragons and Giants

BECMI Immortal Set

CM1 Test of the Warlords

CoM Champions of Mystara Boxed Set

DA1 Adventures in Blackmoor

DotE Dawn of the Emperors Boxed Set

DT Dragonlord Trilogy Novels

GAZ4 The Kingdom of Ierendi Gazetteer

HW Hollow World Boxed Set

HWR2 Kingdom of Nithia

IM1 The Immortal Storm

M1 Into the Maelstrom

M4 Five Coins for a Kingdom

O2 Blade of Vengeance

Original D&D Supplement 2: Blackmoor

PC1 Tall Tales of the Wee Folks

PC3 The Sea People

PT Penhaligon Trilogy Novels

VotPA Voyage of the Princess Ark

WotI Wrath of the Immortals Boxed Set

References to fan-made products (sorted by authors name) by Giampaolo Agosta by Cab

Threshold Magazine Issue #2 article on the Hollow Moon by John Calvin

Codex Immortalis Tomes 1 and 2 by Marco Dalmonte by Marco Dalmonte by Francesco Defferrari by Robin Dijekma

by Robin Dijkema collection of articles about the Hollow Moon by Sharon Dornoff by Bruce Heard by Bruce Heard by Bruce Heard by Travis Henry by Kheldren by Sheldon Morris

1 According to the Codex Immortalis by Marco Dalmonte, Tome 1, Tiresas is a Temporal of the Sphere of Thought whose main interests lay in dreams, prophecies and legends. Ssu-Ma is an Empyreal of the Sphere of Thought widely considered as the patron of memory, history and written knowledge.

2 Asteroid fields between the Skyshield and Matera are described in VotPA episode 8 (events of Eimir 16, 1965). The Princess Ark find some clusters of asteroids after 1 day of space travelling from Patera. This moon is some 51’500 miles away from Mystara, which also corresponds to 4 days of Princess Arks space travelling beyond the skyshield. By doing the math these asteroid fields should lay between 38’000 miles and 65’000 miles beyond the skyshield. In the same episode it is inferred that the Heldannic Knights may have some kind ofvoidshipyardin outer space, likely in the asteroid fields themselves.The Emerondians (from VotpA episode 13) may come from similar asteroid fields as well.

3 See Champions of Mystara boxed set for details on the Skyshield

4 Noumena is a hierarch of the Sphere of Thought patron of knowledge, inquiry and research. He is fond of investigations about the mysteries of the Multiverse.

5 What follows assumes that Mystara is a megalith as per the original Immortal Set, and that an endless cycle of creation and destruction happens on this celestial body. This is a very different view from the other possible approach taken by the fan community in which Mystara is, more or less, an Earth-like world with a proper geological and biological prehistory (for a summary on this see, for example, Francesco Defferrari article here: Note that canon material (especially the HW boxed set) is intentionally vague about the ancient past of Mystara, so both scenarios are possible. Other fan-made theories say that Mystara is now a dead megalith, possibly killed or incapacitated by some giant impact with and asteroid in the faraway past

(see the articles by Marco Dalmonte: or by Robin Dijkema: and also here: ).

In this article this approach is also dropped and, in the following, it is assumed instead that Mystara is so a big and old living being that could withstand possibly anything until the very end of times. Notice, however, that it is still possible that the Norns Cycle described in this article worked until the impact with a giant meteor - sent by the Entropic forces, of course - and that things involving the megalith and the Norns are going pretty differently since then. Maybe this is the last proper Norns Cycle of Mystara and theend of timeshinted in the following about the disappearance of Verthandi is really approaching.

6 In the following, the termsMystarais used instead ofUrt” - which appears in the original Immortal Set - to address the megalith. Both terms may be used interchangeably but, in this article, “Urtis dropped to avoid confusion with the name of the Immortal NornUrd”, which often appears in the text.

7 According to the original Immortal Set, megaliths vary in size between 3’000 miles in diameter - the size of Mercury or Callisto - and over 1’000’000 miles - which is 10% more of the diameter of the Sun. No real planet with such a big radius is known so far - the largest one being thepuffy planetWasp-17b which is about double the radius of Jupiter. Moreover it is assumed in this article that megaliths never resemble stars - albeit this could be an interesting variation. Thats where the idea of a gas nebula comes from. Nevertheless, there might be solid megaliths with such a huge size located somewhere in other Planes.

8 Megaliths could also live in the Nightmare Dimension. For a brief description of Tru, the nightmare counterpart of Mystara/Urt see this article by Travis Henry:

9 An article about dwarven timekeeping by Bruce Heard hints at the theheartbeat of Mystara/Urthere:

10 Magic power lines - or ley lines - across Mystara are regions where this field intensifies. Maybe ley lines could be considered as the megalithsmagic nervous system”. For a hint about a possible connection between such lines and Mystara/Urt as a living being see this article by Bruce Heard:

11 Thats why it is so easy for Mystara to change the shape of its landmasses and raise or sink continents. If the Immortals, or some other external force, will place enough power on the external surface of Mystara then the megalith will react by reshaping the surface itself. It could also be possible to persuade Mystara to raise or sink landmasses by its own will, even if such a process is slower, usually taking centuries or millennia.

12 The idea here is to assign to the will of the megalith most of the large-scale features of Mystara described in the various supplements (for example CoM, HW, DA1, PC3 and CM1): the Skyshied, the Worldshield, the magic field, the permanent planar gates like the Arch of Fire and the Whirlpool in Norwold, or the gates at the bottom of the Abyss in the Sea of Dread, and so on. Immortals may have a role in them, of course, but a large, permanent feature of this kind should need at least the tacit approval of the megalith to be placed on Mystara.

13 See PC3 “The sea Peoplefor a myth in which the Aquarendi (sea elves) are believed to be the first race living in the global ocean before the rise of continents. If the original D&D supplement 2 “Blackmooris used (see entry about the Shauagin) then it is also possible to assume that the sea elves, the mermen and the Shauagin are born from an original ancestral race during this early phase of Mystara.

14 See PC3 “The Sea Peoplefor a description of the struggle between the elemental powers about the rising of the continents. It is also possible to link such elemental upheavals to the global floods hinted in the original D&D Supplement 2 “Blackmoorabout the Shauagin race. In a late phase of the elemental struggle, tortles and snappers might have been used by the Immortals to do therefiningwork, raising or sinking single mountains, hills and plains,as per Bruce Heards article on the Vaults of PandiusThe Truth About The Ancient Tortles' Frightening Secrethere:

15 See HW boxed set for details.

16 According to the Immortal Set, Mystara as a megalith is approaching the middle of its current active phase. According to AC10 there are cloud giants on Mystara which are a few hundreds of millennia old (although they remember just the last decades of events due to their small brains), so the length of the active cycle already spent should be at least 300’000 years, with at least other 300’000 years to go. In this article the duration of the active phase was increased up to the possible maximum value of 1’000’000 years.

17 A different fan-made view on the Hollow World - as an extraplanar location - is suggested by Kheldren in his/her article here:

18 See IM1 adventure, “The center of the galaxysection. Here it is stated that the gate from the Elemental Plane of Fire is the only way for a galaxy to acquire new stars.

19 Again, from IM1 adventure of Note 13. The servants of the Elemental Master of Fire which are devoted to the task of opening or closing the central galaxy gate are called Firemasters.

20 The creation of the many worlds of Spillword described in DotE might match this process. No parent star is explicitly described in Spillword, but a source of heat and light should nevertheless be provided to these new worlds.

21 With this process even asteroid fields, planets with rings, gas clouds and even small stars may be created. Odder shapes may include hollow planets, rotating wheels, “naturaloNeill cylinders, flat disks, “peanuts”, strings of connected bodies and many others.

22 In fanon material the planet Damocles is shaped as a demi-sphere ( This could be the result of somework of artof an ancient megalith.

23 A similar interaction between Mystara and an extraplanar world - which ultimately was drained of all its magic - is described in the Penhaligon Trilogy novels. In the novels it is intentionally left unclear if the extraplanar world - populated by an intelligent race called the abelaats - was actually some kind of parasite aimed toinfectMystara and to drain the megalith of all its magic in turn. If so, the human race appears to have been some kind ofantibodycreated by Mystara to get rid of the abelaatsinfestation. A different view by Sheldon Morris on the creation of humans, involving the megalith and several Immortals, may be found here:

24 Notice that Matera is too small to be a megalith, as the moon has a diameter of 1000 miles, while the diameter of the smallest known megalith is 3000 miles. The same is true for Patera. Notice also that Mystara was not responsible for the creation of the gas giants of the Mystaran solar system (and possibly, also of M-Venus and the planet Charon described in the Immortal Set) as they are too big for the size of Mystaraswomb”.

25 If the megalith spins faster to remove all life support from the surface at least part of this material should end up orbiting the planet as a set of asteroid fields or as a faint ring system. The meteor that crashed on the Darokinian/Glantrian border during the Wrath of the Immortals (see WotI boxed set) may be part of this group of orbital debris. Notice that WotI suggests that such a meteor may be inhabited. The Shining Isles of O2 moduleBlade of Vengeancemay be another example of inhabited asteroids floating above Mystara.

26 The explosions of Blackmoor which caused the Great Rain of Fire and the giant eruption of Kikianu Caldera which created the Ierendian archipelago (see GAZ 4 for details) may be examples of such events. Other examples might be the volcanic eruptions of Vulcania after the Great Rain of Fire, the cataclysmic events which followed the loss of the insular civilization of Tangor (see HWR2: Kingdom of Nithia DMs booklet compared with HW pre-cataclysmic map for details) and the Glantrian catastrophe.

27 The Outer World colony of Emerond on Davania (see Note 2) might come from this process.

28 If the Immortals manage to keep the orbits of the current asteroids stable - something that the Entropic Immortals are more than happy to disrupt - then the number of asteroids surrounding Mystara is going to grow as new rocks and elements are thrown into space at the end of every active cycle.

29 What follows is based on the Hollow Moon scenario by Sharon Dornhoff (see here: For a summary by John Calvin detailing Hollow Moon properties and geography see Threshold Magazine Issue #2.

30 The kingdom of Bellayne may be a colony of the rakastas of Patera (or just the opposite). According to CoMHeroes of the Princess Arkbooklet, rakastas of Bellayne use feliquines as steeds in place of sabertooth tigers, which they deem kind ofobsolete”. Looks like Bellayne is an evolved culture with respect to Pateras ones.

31 A note on the use of magic on the Hollow Moon. Assuming that magic on Mystara is possible mostly due to the magic field created by the megalith itself, magic on the Hollow Moon may be provided by the Immortals - who established a magic field similar to Mystara - or by the very sunlight, enhanced and concentrated by the semi-transparent material of the Farside. Notice that, according to M4 moduleFive cois for a kingdom” , the sun of Mystara is highly magical in nature.

32 The Alphatians may be travellers from another megalith who entered its slumbering phase. It could be possible that the final spell cast by the Followers of the Air on their original homeworld (see DotE and M1 adventure module for details) actually caused the megalith to enter a sudden slumbering phase. Local Immortals may have had a different set of agreements with their megalith and so no safeguard mechanism like the Council of the Norns was ever in place there - or such a mechanism might have been disrupted by an Immortal strife mirroring the mortal war between the Followers of Air and Followers of Fire.

33 Many extraplanar invasions of the past may be explained by a refusal - or by an agreement - to settle the surface of Mystara. The other Immortals may not be happy to share the surface with the newcomers, even if the megalith has agreed for the settlements to be established. Some other planets of the Mystaran solar system may be inhabited by people from previous cycles who were not allowed to settle on the megalith.

34 What follows may be considered a derivative work of the Codex Immortalis by Marco Dalmonte, with the attempt to provide a more detailed background about the three Norns - the female Immortals Urd, Skuld and Verthandi.

35 A set of special agreements between the Immortals and the megalith is hinted in the Immortal Set, while not explicitly described. In the following it is supposed that such agreements were made to maximize the duration of the stable, active phase of Mystara, while minimizing the duration of the slumbering phase to a defined and precise span ofdeep sleep”.

36 A scheme depicting the evolution over time of the power of the three Norns is included in the Appendix.

37 In game terms, every Immortal is released from Mystara to begin theoff-dutyphase once her unadjusted power is reduced to 1000 PP. See also Notes 41 and 42 below for further details.

38 This is also one of the possible meanings of the wordNornin the real world mythology.

39 As described in the original Immortal Set these messages take the form of slight changes in the environment, which can be detected and understood by druids as omens and signs coming fromnature”. Most druids of Mystara may actually be considered as clerics of the megalith.

40 Reference here is made to the ancient asset of the Spheres (four spheres of chaos and one sphere of life) established in primeval times and described in PC1 “Tall tales of the Wee Folkssupplement. Moreover, hints to previous epochs in which the Immortals were able to directly intervene in the Prime Plane affairs can be read in WotI, the original Immortal Set and PC3 module.

41 In game terms this threshold is set at 2400 PP.

42 In game terms, at present time the three Norns would have the following unadjusted power levels:

Taking into account the merging of 75% of their life force into Mystara, they are actually considered as Immortals with the following power levels (which are in agreement with WotI, HW and the Codex Immortalis):

43 See Note 39 above.

44 As an option such powers may be druidical in nature. If so, clerics of Skuld could be some sort ofevil druidsdevoted to the most disruptive expressions of nature. Druids of Verthandi would be mostly concerned with evolution and cycles of nature, while the portfolio of the druids of Urd would be centered on the buildup of ecosystems and their stability.

45 According to WotI, Book 1, an Immortal may fade into nothingness if it has no followers for some amount of time.

46 A couple of recent events of this kind are the Great Rain of Fire and the Wrath of the Immortals. For a fan-made novelization by Cab on how Mystarafeltafter the Great Rain of Fire see here:

47 The reference here is to the Wrath of the Immortals events.

48 See also Note 5 for a variation on this scenario, in which the disappearance of Verthandi would really foretell the end of times.

49 According to the Codex Immortalis by Marco Dalmonte, Book 1, Urd disappeared in 3000 BC, while Tiresias ascended to Immortality some time after 1000 BC.

50 See the Codex Immortalis by Marco Dalmonte, Book 1.

51 See the Appendix for a detailed scheme of what follows.

52 To have a reference for the current cycle of Mystara, according to the Immortal Set, present time may be set at 500’000 years since the last awakening of the megalith. See also Note 53 below for details.

53 This is an attempt to explain why the past of Mystara - say before BC 10000 - is so devoid of intelligent life, and why the Hollow World before 6000 BC was filled mostly with primitive cultures and dinosaurs. There are exceptions, of course - dragons, giants, treants and gakaraks, the carnifex people, the insectoid creators of the meks, the Eldar from the Dragonord Trilogy are all examples of very ancient races living in the distant past of Mystara. The underlying idea here is that the previous ages of Mystara were more static and produced less cultures and civilizations due to this bias coming from the Sphere of Matter.

54 According to the original Immortal Set, the megalith of Mystara is approaching the middle of its active phase, i.e. 500’000 years in the model described in this article. The idea is that the Wrath of the Immortals was (one of) the landmark event(s) signalling the middle of the current active phase and the beginning of the 100’000 years long golden age. Notice that this time span is so long that many civilization may rise and fall, even catastrophically, during this epoch. The termgolden ageapplies when compared to the other ages of the Norns Cycle described in the list.

55 At the end of this phase life on Mystara could be pretty similar to theDying Earthsetting by Jack Vance. Although the sun is not going to die at all, living conditions on the megalith are worser and worser over time due to the progressive shutting down of all life support by Mystara. Magic may become less powerful and unpredictable as well, as the magic field emanated by the megalith become progressively unreliable.