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The Belvedere of Skulls

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The BELVEDERE OF SKULLS is, like so many other magical items and places, the result of an experiment gone awry.


Originally, the idea was to preserve the knowledge of wizards and experimenters from the Shadow Guild, a secretive order of necromancers, by preserving the skulls of past members, as a link to their spirits and their accumulated knowledge. A wizard with the proper spells and safeguards could step into the Belvedere and question the masters of yesterday about specifics, spells, and practices, as a research aid. As a starter, several of the elders of the Shadow Guild offered to donate their own knowledge and remains to the project upon their deaths.


And had it been left at that, the project might not have been such an explosive failure.


The Guild was never a large organization, and its members were hardly inclined to hasten their deaths in order to contribute to the project... and the younger wizards were impatient. So they began by seeking out the remains of necromancers and wizards outside the Guild, to obtain said remains to move the project forward. This was a mistake on two fronts; few spirits care to have their rest disturbed against their will by nosy strangers, and at least two of the practitioners in question had obtained power by mortgaging their immortal souls with denizens of the infernal planes....


As the project began to take shape, one of the young wizards in question had an idea: if the elder masters would not share their accumulated lore at his convenience, would it not be easier to arrange their demise, build their skulls into the Belvedere, and interrogate them at leisure? Without bothering to consult with his fellows, he inhumed three of his elders, disposed of the bodies, and added their cleaned skulls to the pile of raw materials. This, too, was a mistake; the spirits of murder victims are seldom inclined to cheerfully cooperate with their murderers, and often retain considerable confusion and/or anger over their sudden demise... and spirits are often not good at telling one living person from another...


In the fullness of time, the Belvedere of Skulls was complete. Its construction had not been rapid, and its originators and architects were long since dead. Several had, in fact, contributed skulls for its construction. And this was the final mistake its makers made: when you're undertaking a complex project, it is almost always a bad idea for the project in question to pass through a succession of work crews. Differences of opinion, perceived improvements, and design changes tend to slip in.


And on that day, when the final Speak With Dead spell was inscribed and laid in place, and the Permanency spell cast to preserve the Belvedere for the ages, the ranking Guildmaster, Drorvik the Elder (privately known as Poochie to his friends) stepped into the Belvedere to ask the first question of the many, many souls bound to the most unusual library ever built.


His head didn't quite explode. He might have been more fortunate if it had; the psychic feedback from dozens of willing souls, several unwilling ones, a variety of rather surprised ones, quite a few enraged ones, and at least two infernals of indeterminate nature is not a thing a single human mind could handle. His body survived the experience, but for all practical purposes, his brain might as well have been a cold bowl of Malt-O-Meal. To call the Belvedere "haunted" was an understatement on par with calling the Tarrasque "a sort of pesky varmint." And what's worse, some of the spirits in question still had access to spells...


Some of the necromancers survived. Several city blocks did not. Twelve hours later, the Belvedere and several local landmarks and natives were gone. Some of the landmarks and natives reappeared in time, at various distances from their previous locations. Others did not.


The Belvedere of Skulls is best described as a Genius Loci suffering from a really bad case of multiple personality disorder. Its location changes periodically, from city streets to desolate mountains or deserts, and occasionally on other planes. Depending on which spirit's in charge, which ones are paying attention, and/or who's screaming the loudest, it can be remarkably helpful, even pleasant... or very much the opposite. Experienced wizards and bards, and individuals with high Charisma can have bonuses in dealing with it, or not. To step into the Belvedere can be to have questions answered, spells learned, replenished, or taken away, or to be psychically assaulted, or to see strange places and things from the memories of the souls within. At least one character was suddenly awarded 20,000 experience points, but was then told to make a Will save at -10 to avoid going insane from the influx of alien memories.


One thing is certain: if you value life and sanity, don't EVER call it a "gazebo."


Recently, one of the finest hobby shops in the area closed down. I was deeply saddened to see it go. This did not stop me from taking advantage of their Going Out Of Business Sale. And among the things I wound up buying were several packs of Skull Life Counters, pewter skull beads on a string, intended to keep track of your Life Points in a card game I think we're all familiar with. Twenty skull beads for a buck. I bought all the remaining packs. Only afterwards did it occur to me to wonder what I'd DO with the things.


...so today, in a memorial for Bonnie Brae Hobby Shop, I began assembling a structure...



Edited by Dr.Bedlam
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"Do what?" said Niven Of The Three Chords.

"Just go stand in it. I'll do the rest," said Lorad Of The Hastily Improvised Name.

"Why him?" asked Arnulf Braidbeard, the party's token dwarf. "If the lad had half a brain, it'd die of loneliness."

"Dwarf's got a point," said Voluptua the Scantily Clad. "Even if it's in a good mood today, Niven's in no position to learn anything from it. Why not Zvezda of the Black Robes? He's a scholar of arcane knowledge."

"Because," said Lorad, "Zvezda's a Russian, and you NEVER give the Russian access to forbidden knowledge. Just ask Dr. Strangelove. Now GET IN THERE," he said, this last addressed to a skeptical looking Niven.

"But I'm a BARD," said Niven. "I don't even have Spellcraft. What am I supposed to gain from this? I vote for Zvezda."

"But you've got the highest Charisma in the party," said Zvezda the Arcane, who, Russian or not, was not without a sense of self-preservation. "Everyone likes bards. Try singing it a song. Make it happy. Maybe it won't kill you. And if it doesn't, you've got spell capability. You might get a boost to your Bardic Lore or something."


"And that's kind of my point," added Lorad. "Zvezda's too SMART. Even if the Belvedere is feeling cooperative, he could easily learn more than he could HANDLE, and it could drive him insane. YOU, on the other hand, can barely understand how to tie your own shoes. I'm sayin' that this could be what SAVES you -- your inability to comprehend what it might TELL you. Capeesh?"

Niven sighed heavily. "I want it to be known that I'm doing this under protest," he said, "as well as the fact that if I put up more of an argument, this story'd get to be too long, and possibly even boring." And then he stepped into the Belvedere of Skulls... and promptly vanished.

"Moradin's dandruff!" swore Arnulf. "The lad's disappeared!"

"Zvezda, detect magic?" said Lorad.

Zvezda had removed a bracelet and was holding it up to one eye, looking through it. "No, he's still in there," he said. "I think he's gone ethereal. Either that, or he just turned invisible. Hard to tell without getting closer, which I feel no particular urge to do at the moment."

Voluptua looked fretful. "Should one of you guys go in after him?"

Lorad looked at Voluptua questioningly, but decided not to go with the obvious answer. "He's only been in there ten seconds, and I haven't heard any screaming yet," he said. "Let's give it a--"

And two things happened abruptly: the Belvedere of Skulls vanished, and Niven reappeared. He staggered slightly; apparently an inch or two of the ground beneath his feet had gone the way of the Belvedere.

"Niven!" cried Voluptua, taking a half step forward and stretching out her arms, for the sake of appearances. "Are you all right?"

"Be ye still sane, lad?" said Arnulf with some concern.

"And did you learn anything?" said Zvezda, with some small note of greed in his voice.

"Um," said Niven, and promptly fell on his butt.


After a moment's hesitation, in which it was decided silently that the Belvedere wasn't going to come back, the rest of the party rushed forward and helped Niven to his feet.


"Um," Niven said again. "Um. Yeah. I think so. I mean, I'm not hurt. And I don't feel any crazier than I did an hour ago. And yeah, I think I learned something, but I'm not too clear... anyone know what a Unified Field Theory is?"



f83a027079315efde32b2ce525a955bc.jpg The second tier of skulls is added to the Belvedere.


Shown for scale: Zvezda the Wizard, from Zvezda's discontinued line of fantasy figurines. He was only a buck at Bonnie Brae. Dang, I miss that place, already.


Essentially, on a wooden coaster, I glued three plastic double-faced skull beads from a stretchy Halloween necklace, and then bent a heavy wire into a C shape. On the wire, I strung twenty skull bead counters, and glued them in place. After painting, I added a second C wire with twenty more skulls.

Am beginning to ponder how I will build a roof for this thing...

Edited by Dr.Bedlam
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Loving the wit in your background story for the Belvedere.  Sadly, I never made it up to Bonnie Brae.  Enchanted Grounds is the only Denver store I've been to.  Really appreciate how you're making this as a memorial to your favorite store. 

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Judging from the background fluff, you may have been possessed by the Spirit of Terry Pratchett...have you felt the need of a Banana Daiquiri? The preceding was meant as a compliment on your WONDERFULLY imaginative narration....unless you are in Daiquiri mode. Be that as it may, the Devise is almost as good as the background. GREAT STUFF all around!

Edited by malefactus
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And I finished before Bones III did!

054e16d0b67049c92515e6d619306745.jpg cebd895c8800f4622dec8900b814eeb6.jpg


The roof, such as it was, is simply tissue paper, stretched over a frame of skeleton bits that were glued to arch over the Belvedere like rafters. The capstone is a chrome bead, repainted. I bought three or four of the rose and calavera beads, and then found out they were just far enough off scale to be visually jarring... but they make great decorations! It's not my BEST work -- strictly tabletop quality -- but it's a visually appealing and spooky prop, and it was a fun way to use up a LOT of pewter skulls...

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