No-one is quite sure exactly where the Ladder is, or even if it shares the same world as normal folk. All that is known about it is that sometimes, certain places lead to the Ladder that would normally lead somewhere else, that sometimes turning quickly round a corner will take you there or going to sleep at night will have the Ladder great you in the morning. For most it’s a myth, but for many more it’s a real place, full of real people. The University of Doors is one of the few places that know quite well of the Ladder, though they know not what mechanism it employs to grant people access to it, nor what system it uses to allow people to leave. The University treats it has a high-risk place of study, in extremely interesting, but unpredictable set of Doors into, and out of, a place not of the Ninth World, though such a claim can not yet be proven.
To those that find themselves in the Ladder, they find themselves inside an immense, well-lit tunnel. The tunnel, along it’s central axis, has a large, twisting, glowing ladder that runs far into the distance in either direction and after a moment of examination, you soon realise that gravity is pulling you towards the outside of the tunnel and that ‘up’ is towards the central axis of the tunnel through which the Ladder threads. If you chose to, you could walk the entire circumference of the tunnel wall, but it would take many weeks on foot to go full-circle, even when walking over the perfectly smooth, empty terrain. In fact, the tunnel itself is made of a material you can not identify and seems immune to any form of damage whatsoever, it’s perfectly smooth surface almost slippery to the touch.
The Ladder itself must be several hundred miles away from the outer-walls of the tunnel with no visible way to reach it, however space and time seems to bend weirdly in this place and those that try to step onto, or grab onto the Ladder, find they can reach it, even though their feet still touch the ground of the tunnel hundreds of miles away. Lifting your feet from the tunnel floor, you find yourself stepping onto the Ladder as if it was a mere step away. The Ladder has it’s own gravity and you feel nothing of the pull of the outer walls whilst stood upon it.
The Ladder, up close, seems to be made of a bright, white light, yet solid and unyielding underfoot. The ‘rungs’ are maybe 10 miles long end-to-end and a mile wide, with no barriers to stop people falling over the edge. Equally, the sides of the Ladder are approximately a mile wide and stretch infinitely away into the distance in either direction. Stood on the Ladder, the tunnel appears to go on forever, perfectly straight, uniformly illuminated, perhaps by the Ladder itself. The surface of the Ladder is just as smooth and barren as the tunnel floor. There is no sign of any life or activity, not even dust. The entire place is eerily silent.
With nothing else to do, you start walking. In the uniform brightness and with the perfectly unblemished surfaces, it’s hard to tell how long or how far you go and oddly, you feel neither tired, nor hungry, nor thirsty. You may have been walking for years, maybe even centuries without knowing and still there is no sign of the tunnel ever ending. Nothing seems to age in this place, nothing seems to get older or wear out.
Eventually, after much travelling, you come across a settlement of sorts in the distance, built upon the Ladder. As you get closer, you realise it’s built from bone and crudely stitched leather skins, a series of tents made from human flesh. The people there look wild, driven mad by an eternity spent in this place and worst of all, some of them have your face and wear your clothes, other yous, perhaps from the future or maybe the past that you’ve somehow caught up to in this timeless place.
A sharpened bone spear skitters along the ground as it misses you by barely an inch and a coarse scream is let out by the people of the bone town as they descend upon you. You run and just as you think they are upon you, you step through reality and find yourself panting, gasping for breath back in the same place you were before you found the Ladder, time having seemingly stood still as if nothing had happened while you were away.
- Zepft, Vehma Ller
- The Ladder Hearsay:
Drit is the largest settlement on the Ladder, so named for the large amount of drit that is collected and closely guarded in the Central Gardens of what has come to be known as the capital city. Since only material that has been brought into the Ladder from outside seems to exist, the drit is highly valued because plants can be grown. While no-one has a need to eat in the Ladder, plants are useful because they can be used to create ropes and fabrics and other materials. However, like most other settlements in the Ladder, Drit is built upon a bedrock of skin and bone, the most common material by far in the Ladder. Scavengers roam the Ladder, looking for unwary travelers, the dead or the discarded, collecting their precious materials for sale and trade in the markets of Drit. Those new to the Ladder should be wary, least they find themselves sold for parts.
Zepft the Builder
Zepft, the varjellen who founded Drit, claims to have been in the Ladder for many hundreds of years. He built the city himself with his bare-hands, so the stories go, and much of the Drit comes from him. Unlike most people, Zepft is one of the few to have left the Ladder and then returned and on his second step back into the Ladder, his paranoid obsession with storing important and valuable items upon his person paid off, making him an extremely powerful, wealthy individual in the Ladder with his multitude of equipment, drit and other items from outside.
Zepft is a harsh leader, after all even with the slowly developing garden within Drit people still have to rely on what they have with them, but he is fair. He is also revered as a saviour or messiah by many, due to his return to the Ladder, a fact he abuses to secure his position of power.
People have often wondered why the tunnel remains so pristine. In the aeons the Ladder must have been around, surely detritus from all those trapped within must be littered across the surface. Some of the bone tribes talk of mites that emerge from perfectly seamless hatches that open in the tunnels surface, that eat anything they find, cleaning and polishing the tunnel back to it’s perfectly unmarred smoothness. The stories crop up every now and again, but no-one seems to no anyone he has seen one first hand and many have waited on the tunnels surface, sometimes for years, waiting for one to emerge without so much as a peep.
- The Weird of The Ladder:
The Stepless Miles
Due to the weird, space-bending phenomenon the Ladder exhibits with the tunnel surface, many people have developed a way of traversing it far more quickly. By reaching for the furthest away point of the ladder they can see and ‘stepping’ to it, they move laterally along the tunnel as well as to the center. Equally, they can step down from the ladder to the furthest away point on the surface they can see. Using this method, people zigzag back and forth between the Ladder and the tunnel surface, traveling many hundreds of miles in only a few steps. Due to the disorientating nature of the stepping, training is often required to fully take advantage of the phenomena without making oneself extremely disorientated, dizzy and ill.
Time passes weirdly in the Ladder and worse, it seems to overlap itself. Those that have traveled far enough along the Ladder often find places and people they have seen before, even themselves, but older, or younger, or slightly different. Many think that the Ladder crosses all of space and time and probability and that if you travel far enough and long enough, you will see every possible variation across time and space of everything that exists within the Ladder. Due to the timeless effects that inhibit entropy within the Ladder, no-one ages and nothing wears out or breaks. With what many people assume to be the infinite expanse filled with infinite variations of the same contents, many people set out to steal from the alternate copies of their new settlements, or visit a possible future version of it to bring back news to the ‘past’. Others team up with their counterparts and some small nations within the Ladder are comprised entirely of the same individual, from different places and different times, multiplied a hundred fold. As a side effect of the agelessness, no children are born with the Ladder and no-one gets pregnant. In fact, no-one in the ladder has ever seen a pregnant person during their time there and many wonder if perhaps the Ladder never summons those that are with child.
Leaving the Ladder
Just like there seems to be no obvious way of entering the Ladder, leaving it seems just as random. Some people have been trapped within for centuries, some blink in for only few moments before showing up again back in their world. At any time whilst moving (walking, running, flying, falling, etc) roll 1d100 and on a 1, you appear back where you were before you entered the Ladder as if no time had passed. However, many people have their own theories and tales of methods for leaving the Ladder. Some claim that Zepft first escaped by killing and eating the heart of one of his alternate selves. Other think that you have to accept your fate here, lose all hope of returning and than in an act of cruelty, the Ladder restores you to your home just as you have given up. Whatever the secret is, no-one is telling because those fortunate enough to learn it tend to use it straightaway.
- Points of Interest:
Drit is, technically, an infinite number of cities. However, for most practical purposes Drit is considered a single city, in many ways the capital of the Ladder due to it’s size. Ruled by the ruthless, but fair Varjellan Zepft, it is one of the few places in the Ladder where things grow, thanks to a large collection of drit that has been collected from those that have found themselves in the Ladder.
Drit occasionally goes to war against another, alternate Drit somewhere further along the Ladder in an effort to steal their resources. However, since most Drits are so similar and most Zepft’s know what plans they are likely to make, stalemates are often the result and so they mostly keep to themselves and do not interfere with each other.
The most prized possession, and the most heavily guarded, of Drit is the Central Gardens, for which the rest of Drit serves as a defensive wall. A cultivated plot of land built upon the surface of the Ladder, many useful plants are grown there, even some trees. How they even grow, given the timelessness of the Ladder and the lack of water, no-one knows, but grow they do.
The Test are a tribe of people who have been driven mad by their eternal, undying stay in the Ladder. They have come to worship and fear the Ladder as a god, believing they are in a hell and being tested, only the worthy being set free. Armed with weapons and equipment carved from the bones of their victims, the Test stalk the Ladder, hunting down and murdering people to make complex shrines of skin and bone to their almighty god in the hopes that one day they will create the correct design to please him and pass his Test.
The Nation of One
The Nation of One is the main competitor against Drit in terms of size and population. Exclusive and secretive, the nation is populated by only one woman, Vehma Ller, in thousands of variations from different times and places. They have built a nation on ego and self-adoration and hate all others unlike them. They capture any stray variations and force them into the fold, brainwashing and indoctrinating them in the ways of the One. Unlike Drit, with it’s many copies, the Nation of One exists as only one nation, a huge nomadic tribe that, when finding it’s copies, embraces the, and absorbs them into one greater whole. They travel eternally down the Ladder, seeking more of their kind, crushing any who are different that stand against them. Secretly within the ranks of the Nation of One there is discontent, some of the variations do not believe in the distinctions the Nation makes between them and wish all to be treated equal. For example, variations that were born male in other world are shunned as alien and different, as are those that do not conform to within a certain range of expected norms. While billing themselves as a democracy where all are equal, the Nation is really controlled only by a powerful few, those variants that are the smartest, the most beautiful, the most powerful and ruthless, the others merely an indoctrinated flock of followers.