Saturday, October 7, 2017

Choice: The Sorting Hat (Random Thought)

Time for a bit of a ramble.  I love the idea of the sorting hat in Harry Potter, but not in that it chooses which house you belong in.  The amazing facet of Hogwarts, and any setting with its own distinct houses, guilds, factions or whatever, is how those let the audience choose what they want to align with.

Legend of the Five Rings seem crafted just for that, same as Game of Thrones.  People love having a faction they feel aligned with.  The audience chooses a faction or group that aligns with their own personality.  They get to personalize the setting a bit more.

But here's a dealio: the idea that the Sorting Hat is a choice, and not something up to chance.  No, my headcanon is that everyone who goes to Hogwarts gets to choose.

The idea that it's chance seems less interesting.  If the Sorting Hat itself asks each student which house they want to be in, that seems boring.  It picks the two most relevant houses, and the student chooses which.  Either conscious or unconsciously- the nature of the choice is another rant.  The student chooses which house they want to be, not the one they "belong to."

This is the most basic empowerment I can think of.  The option to choose which faction, which house you belong to.  In a lot of these settings, you can't choose to be in another house.  A character belongs to a house or guild or clan based on their birth.  Chance decides for them where they go.

Interesting storytelling isn't pure choice, of course.  But "facing the odds" isn't as true as a blend of chance and choice.  The fantasy of being able to choose who you want to be is what fiction (novels, tabletop rpgs, what-have-you) can be best for.  Choose who you want to be.  Align with who you want to align with.  Follow whatever house best suits you.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

City of Curses: The Iktomoyate, or the Spiderkin

It stood about a head taller than a man.  Eight, black eyes focused on the thread, not me.  It's purple carapace seemed to do well in the dark here.  Long, thin limbs flew across threads with skill.  Green energy seemed to glow from the thread as they moved.  The spell light illuminated the spidery being's dark robes, finely woven with minute details and thousands of glittering beads.

Mandibles twitched as it continued its work.  They didn't seem to notice me, if at all.  It wove and wove.  Each thread glimmering in the dark.

Iktomoyate once dwelled on Kestan Hill.  A quiet, long-lived people, they never grew to large numbers.  Although sometimes referred to as shapeshifters, Iktomoyate themselves only refer to three different shapes they can shift their bodies into, from a human-sized spider to a form that looks almost human.


Today, they dwell underneath Kestan Hill in their own quiet, insular community.  Almost all Iktomoyate are excellent weavers, able to craft almost anything from the thread as well as tell any sort of story once they know enough details.  Almost all Iktomoyate possess spinnerets and can spin their own silk.  A rare few are born without this capability, known as the Spinless amongst their own kind.

The Tomasi Empire learned Psychomancy from the Iktomoyate, treating them as fellow citizens.  Unlike the Ursyklon, which the Tomasi long distrusted for ruling over them centuries before, the Spiderkin were seen as fellow seekers of arcane and other knowledge.  Spiderkin all are innate Psychomancers, able to thread mental magicks into their own webbing.

When Othebea came to dominate Ith, they came into conflict with the Iktomoyate.  Largely this was due to cultural misunderstandings between their peoples.  At its height, the two peoples crafted magical weapons they employed against one another.  Othebeans found the Spiderkin to be cold and cruel, seeing their hatching rituals as cannibalistic.  The Iktomoyate hatch from thousands of eggs, but their young, known as Spiderlings, are regarded as vermin.

Spiderlings remain small and seemingly without intelligent thought until they mature at roughly a century of age.  They vary from the size of a human hand to ponies.  Iktomoyate don't regard them as children.  They will even kill Spiderlings if they find them in the way.  Only when a Spiderling shows some use of Psychomancy will other Spiderkin adopt them into their society.

This attitude leads Spiderkin to sometimes clash with others.  In the case of the Rosac Humans, this led to a conflict.  The accidental death of human children and spiderlings spiraled out of control.  Othebean monster hunters assumed the worse.  Iktomoyate psychics tried to use psychomancy to show memories of what truly happened, but their spellcasting was seen as an attack.  A lie crafted to draw them into the web.

The Spiderkin remember it as a tapestry.  Once they lived in thick web mazes a top Kestan Hill.  Then humans in shining armor, fire and black robes drove them away.  Punished for trying to tell their side of the story.  Even then, they admit to some fault.  The tale still hasn't ended.  The Spiderkin keep their wrath restrained, only maintaining their ancient weapon against the Othebean invaders, an amnesiac fog.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

I Serve the Darkness 2


"C'mon!  Get moving, man!"

The screaming voice startled me.  I looked up and turned red.  I hurried to the other side of the crosswalk.  I felt blush from my distraction.

I had stopped in the middle of the road.  I just stood there, in my imagination, going over the last night's session.  Over and over.  Every single moment of awesome.

"You need to pay attention," I admonished myself.  "Someone will run you over if you just get stuck in your head all the time.  Besides it wasn't that good."

That was a lie.  My head still strode in the table RPG session, my domain as Game Master.  Storyteller.

I had woven a complex game. A harrowing urban adventure.  The players took on the role of occult investigators in a fictional version of Portland.  I'd sprung the big twist on the players.  It took us until midnight to unravel it.

"But every moment mattered,"  I told myself as I reached my bus stop.

I looked up.  Music rumbled in my earbuds as I said down to wait.  No bus.  Heavy metal rumbled in my ears.  Then it slid sharply to Johnny Cash, then some random pop songs I'd gotten hooked onto at work.

A figure approached the bench I sat on.  My automatic, introvert sense kicked in.  I moved away, giving the stranger space to sit down.  He didn't.

He moved in front of me again.  I looked up, a bit of anxiety sinking in.  A one-armed figure towered over me.  His white beard looked stained by tobacco.  He wore a dark grey baseball cap.  It looked like it seen better days.  His army jacket hung on him, it didn't fit.  It fit with his greasy t-shirt, which had something in German on it I couldn't recognize.

I could smell him too.  I winced.  He kept talking and gesturing at me.  With apprehension, I took out my earbuds.

"Can't you hear me?"  He sputtered at me.  "I ask you to forgive me.  I know who you are!  I know what you are!  Please forgive me and listen!"

"Uh..."  Eloquence and quick language skills.  What everyone can expect from every introvert.  Especially when confronted with a crazy person on the street.

He grabbed me by the shoulder.

"You are of the blood!  You need to find it.  Let me help you!"

As if by a miracle, the bus appeared.  I hurried to it.  The old man stared at me, his eyes desperate.  Like they were trying to make me realize something.  That same look trolls online must get from people who try to out argue them.

"Look, I... I got to go."  I pulled out a five dollar bill.  "Here, just take this.  I'm sorry I don't have anything more for you.  Get to a hospital or whoever can get you this blood you're looking for."

As the bus drove off, I could see the old man's head fall.  He murmured something to himself.  He looked back up.  Surety in his face made my skin crawl.

Then he was gone.

Rain started to splatter the windows as the last bus of the day took me closer to home.  Or home here in the city.  The home I made.

"Tired,"  I told myself as I put my earbuds back on.  Music drowned out the rain.

I felt tired.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

I Serve The Darkness 1

Marie found the girl in the ruins of a wagon.  She had expected a demon on this hunt.  Not this.

She and her mule had crested the prairie hill.  Marie had smelled the smoke.  Her hand rested on her satchel.

"I'm not using you yet."

The item inside the satchel seemed to ache at her.  Irritated she ignored those whispers.  She guided the mule down the hill toward the smoking wagon.  It must've been on fire earlier in the day.  Marie didn't hurry.

Her hunt for demons had taught her to be careful.  She didn't hurry.  Her mother's people knew to keep an eye on the shadows, to not give demons the chance sneak up upon her with them.  Her father's ways, though, knew the names of the White Demons and how to turn their cunning against them.

Something had struck the wagon down.  The wood had been shattered in places.  Marie could see marks where something had charged into the wagon, breaking the wheels.  Charred bones remained yoked, the rot of meat making Marie's nostril twinge.

She checked for good meat in the oxen's corpses anyway.  Marie couldn't find much between the char and the rot.  But she did find something feasting.  A little gray and white pup chewed on a hoof left by destroyed wagon.

"Hello, wee thing."  Marie knelt down.

Sensing her, the pup wagged its tail.  It seemed happy to interrupt its feast to yap up at her.

"I see.  Where?"

The pup ran toward the wagon.  Marie nodded, getting the canine's meaning.  She followed.

Something shivered in the wagon's remains.  It tried to not move.  Marie sighed, pulling the child in the red dress out of the debris.  The girl, Marie surmised, had not expected Marie's strength, yelping in fear as Marie pulled her out in one go.

"Hey!  Let go!"

The cream color of the child's skin clashed with Marie's ruddy, sun burnt hands.  Marie tightened her grip on the squirming child.  She studied it.  Looking for any sign.

"That hurts!"

"Quiet,"  Marie said.  She closed eyes, trying to let her senses search for any dark magick.  For any demon scents.  For anything...

"No,"  Marie told herself.  "This isn't possible."

"Can you let go of me now?"  The child cried, trying to free itself.  Marie absentmindedly let them go.

The child fell flat to the ground.  That was when Marie saw the swollen left ankle.  The pup came over and licked the child's face.  Red freckles and brown eyebrows furrowed in pain.

"I thought I was..."  Marie's hand had returned to the satchel.  She felt its tug.  Answers came with that power.  That call.

Marie could use it, find the trail of the demons that had done this.  Power.  Her magicks would be powerful enough to find all of this child's secrets.  It would let her prove whether or not this child was of the blood or not.

"Who are you lady?  And why do you talk so funny?  If you are going to take me away to eat me with your chief or what-"

"Shut up."  Marie snapped.  Stupid whites and their bullshit.  They never seemed to see the veil, yet the world always seemed to favor them.

After a moment, Marie looked at the child with her blue-green eyes.



"You will call me Redstar and obey me if you want to eat tonight."  Marie grabbed the child, hoisting them onto the mule's saddle.  "If you prove your worth girl, I'll treat you well."

"You aren't going to eat me?"

Marie sighed.

"You are of the blood and you don't know it at all?"

The child looked at Marie like she'd said something strange.  Marie pinched the bridge of her nose.  Time to move.  Marie had a guess that staying near the wagons might attract whatever had taken it down.

So Redstar moved on, irritated and with a child in tow.

"C'mon.  Let's get moving."

Monday, July 24, 2017

City of Curses: Vault, the Floating Frontier

The eerie continent of Vault appeared after the Night of Fire.  Its sudden appearance is just one of its mysteries.  That the Vault floats in midair, roughly eighty handspans from the surface of the Ocean is another mystery.  For millennia, the Prince had cloaked it from all vision.  Prior to 1786 AO, most of the world had been unawares of the Floating Frontier.

The Old Prince had restricted access to Vault so tightly that no one had suspicions of it.  The adamantine and other mysterious ores the Prince smuggled into Crux were thought to be just another part of the greater mysteries that surrounded him.  His successor has taken no interest in Vault.   He gave up most claims to it, save for the massive Castle on Vault that over looks the Secret Sound.  The new Tinkerer has announced plans to construct a bridge linking Vault to the mainland of Crux.  Once completed, Crux will no longer connect just two continents, but three.
Vault is unique.

The mechanism that causes it to float is unknown.  Some speculate it could be the result of some ancient artifact the Old Prince had hidden.  Others surmise a mineral or substance within Vault causes the floating effect.

The fauna and flora of Vault differ greatly from Necruxa and Ainesia as well.  The megafauna of Vault seem related to animals found throughout the rest of the world, but are bigger, or are vastly different in how they appear.  More that are discovered remain unique and different from those found elsewhere.  The megafauna are matched by the Vault Giants, an introspective folk who seem to find other intelligent folk intimidating, despite any size advantage they might have.

Ruins from the Aetheric Empire are scattered throughout Vault.  Metallic, giant structures that vibrate with energies that aren't just magic but somewhere between science and magic.   They bear sigils that still need translating.  The recent discovery of the First City underneath the Skullmount has drawn comparisons.  Some of the ruins match writing found in the First City.  It remains a great mystery, however.  This attracts delvers and treasure hunters from all over the world to Crux to enter the Floating Frontier.

The Android who has taken on the title of Tinkerer has begun to construct a bridge between Crux and the lowest ledges of Vault, creating an easier means for the City of Curses to expand onto the once hidden continent.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Heart in a Box (flash fiction)

There once was a girl who kept her heart in a box.  A wooden box with glass inlaid in it.  It glowed along with her heart's beat.

That's where she kept it.  In a box. And never once did she want to put it back in her chest.

She would open the lid and listen to her heart sing its song.  The heart song would keep her dry in rain and cool in summer heat.

In dead of winter, her heart's song would make plants grow and move as if painted with brushstrokes.

She never wanted anything wicked to happen to her heart, so the box was always clean.

But she would never put it in her chest.  Never.  Ever.

Worse would be those who suggested she give it away.  How could she be without its song to keep her?

Without her heart, where would she be?

Besides, she would say, no one could keep her heart like she.

The girl who kept her heart in a box, kept it hidden from all others.  Sometimes handsome boys and wonderful girls would ask her if she would share her heart with them.  Some tried to steal it.

They failed.

The girl never shared her heart.  She kept it hidden in her box.  And she was happier for it.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

City of Curses: The Ainong or Starfolk (pt 2)

More on the Ainong tribe of humans in Crux.  Crux, City of Curses, is a dark fantasy setting of intrigues, early industry and more than a little horror. 

Sacred Crop

Each Starcircle is also defined by a signature crop.  For Northern Ainong Starcircles, they are known for honoring Phast as holy.

In the south, Starcircles seem to worship the rice they harvest.  In between, corn and other crops become sacred objects, central to their own starcircle.

Villages within a starcircle take special pride in their signature crop.  They often claim that their variety of the crop is the best in the world.  Each village has dozens of specialized varieties of that crop.  A few unique varieties are so rare that they fetch high prices in foreign markets.


Phast vines grow into the bark of trees.  It's hairy beards, much like lichen, can be harvested for use much like grain or rice.

Phast can be dried and ground up for flour or fermented into alcohol, or Siduri.  When ground or fermented, it takes on a red-purple color.

Ripe Phast beards turn a red-purplelor, but quickly turn white after being picked.  Phast grows clonally- that is, new grafts of the mother plant can be implanted into host trees.  Overplanting Phast is a common practice for quicker harvests, but it kills the host trees.  Conifers are best for hosts as some decidious trees are toxic to Phast growths.  Compared to Wheat or

Rice, Phast is always obvious in its red purple coloring, if ripe and proper.  Rotten or stale Phast foods tend to take on a blacker appearance.

Jiva Giantslayer

One of the popular folk heros of many Ainong tales are the Jiva stories.  Jiva varies from each story, always being a lazy girl whose own foolishness gets her into trouble- but she always manages to triumph through her own trickery.  She slays giants or steals vast wealth from Salira kings or Tomasi wizards.  Jiva always is seen as clever and young.  All Ainong know a Jiva story.

All Ainong claim Jiva came from their village, and that Jiva is the same Jiva in all the stories.  That the one true Jiva came from their village, not anywhere else.

Ainong Naming Conventions

All Ainong have a first name, starcircle name and a family name.  Family names among the Ainong are unique in that it is created when an Ainong couple first marries. Some keep their birth family's name, others don't.  The practice varies from family to family.

Each starcircle name is compounded together for each starcircle the Ainong belongs to.  The order of precedence is complicated, varying from geographic perspective to myth and legend.

First Names: Jiva, Cam, Gich, Kao, Nguket, Qann, Janya, Zhel, Ushkan, Rada
Family Names: Lastwater, Newblood, Heart, Cornwalker, Swordeater, Blackphast, Rootpicker, Rebel, Flagtaker, Suntiller
Starcircle Name: Bog, Rog, Lav, Vhi, Din, Thi, Juong, Ahi, Az, Urka