Tuesday, September 29, 2015

In Transit Monsters 20! (A Story of the Hecate Project)

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Charlie (H minus One Month, 17 Days)

I tried to focus my Oneiros.  Screw what Nasr had told me.  I could find her.  Whatever she was.
 Nicky's body looked like it had melted into some sort of monster.

"What's going on?"  A nervous Whiskey clung to my arm.  "Did you find whatever-that-was?"

"I-"  I tried to split my concentration between my friend and tracking Nicky's slinking form.  "I exposed her, I think."

"Exposed what?"  Foxtrot interrupted.

I froze.

"Charlie found something."  Whiskey told Foxtrot.  "I don't know what, but she says it's important."

My oneiros recreated the offices Nicky had escaped through.  I couldn't pin her down.  My dream-spiders were scouting through the net for a open port she had a connection to.  Oneiric nanobots blew around the air vents, seeking her out.

I tried to sink back into my concentration.  My awkward silence while Foxtrot and Whiskey talked.  I didn't want to talk with the redhead.  Everyone talked with Foxtrot.

"What did you find?"  Foxtrot asked.  It had been the third time she'd been asking.

"I..."  I couldn't find the words.  One part of mind touched onto oneiric feeds.  The other stammered for something to say.  "Er... I-"

"What is it important-"  Foxtrot starred at hole I'd punched in the wall.  "You broke the window.  We aren't supposed to do that."

"It was necessary.  Hecate showed me how to read the thoughts of others and..."  My cheeks flushed.  My plan sounded kinda stupid spoken aloud.  "I had... to stop the person planning to something to... the transit."

"You couldn't, the glass is carbon or something we can't break.  How did you even do that?"

"A little bit of Goetia."  Whiskey chimed in.  "And C's trying to get a fix on her now."

"'Her?'" Foxtrot asked.

"Nicky.  She's trying to sabotage and kill us."  I said.

"After you read her thoughts."   Foxtrot observed.

"You teleport. Whiskey makes things with glowing sparkles."  I pointed out.

"Seems less weird put that way."  Whiskey said.

I saw Nasr walking a catwalk between rooms.  No light.  I could make things out based on his movements.  My dream-bots had found a relevant port into Nasr's feeds.  I listened into it, trying to pierce clues as to where I could direct the microscopic dreambots trying to virally attach themselves to her.

"How could she kill us with Transit?"  Foxtrot asked.  "I thought it was safe.  I do it all the time."

"I... I don't-"  I paused.  I did know, but I didn't want to tell Foxtrot.  "Could you mind your own business?"

"Hey, I'm just trying to help."

"C's trying to work.  Give her some space."  Whiskey interjected.  As always, Whiskey to keep me from starting fights.  Even though I never knew how or why I always started them with Foxtrot.  Something about her asking me things.  It always made me nervous.

Foxtrot had a talent for getting everyone else to talk with her.  Even Whiskey, who tended to side with me, could have long conversations with the redhead.  I never could past a single sentence without getting annoyed or having Foxtrot annoyed with me.

"I think I can see where Nasr is."  I paused for a moment.  Then I one of my nanobots confirmed a connection to Nicky's BrainSys.  "I've got her!  I've got a dreamspace up with Nicky!"

"Ok, now what?"  Foxtrot asked.  "Can you do anything with that?"

I blinked.  Of course I had no idea.  Could I?  What could I do with it?

"You can slip into her head."  Whiskey nudged me.  "Then go into her head then.  Be a distraction."

"Oh."  I thought that through.  It wouldn't violate Nasr's idiotic rule either.  He loved people following his rules, playing his games.  Breaking it would be neat.

"Ok... Just keep an eye out for Aunt Miri for me ok?"  I told Whiskey.  Then I got my body comfortable in the water.

Foxtrot rolled her eyes.  "Whatever you're doing..."

She walked off.

"What is her problem?"  I asked Whiskey.  Whiskey gave me a shrug.

"You two, who knows.  You never seem to get along."

"You didn't say that the last time she tried to poke her nose into what we were doing."  I said.

"Yeah."  Whiskey agreed.  "But I also don't always have dreamspace stuff to run back to.  Sometimes you got to learn how to get along with people to live with them, C."

"See you in a few."  I closed my eyes and entered into a dreamspace with Nicky's BrainSys.

Ghale (H minus One Month, 20 days)

After one of the longest pauses in my life, Moira looked back up at me.  There were tears in her eyes.  There was a look too.  A familiar one.  The one I'd shared with Morgan years ago.

Moira didn't have a split persona or anything crazy like that.  Somedays she wanted to be a woman.  Others she felt like a man.  For the sake of her career, she gave each gender its own name.  Most places respected and laws that let her live her life in peace.  Only rarely had either of us run into anyone so put off by her genderfluidity that both of us spent more time being surprised than scared or offended.

But sometimes I swore I could tell a difference in his face when Morgan looked at me.  Something in his body and mind.  I don't know how to describe it.  Maybe I'm the one with a problem, that I think I can see a difference at all.

"So... Miri took our child's fetus... and saved her?"  Moira asked.

"What?"  I blinked.

"She saved our child."  Moira repeated.  "I mean, she undid the abortion, sure.  But-"

"She took it without even asking."  I growled.  "She just did it, probably minutes after I told her."

"You knew she wouldn't have approved of the idea."  Moira pointed out.  "She and your mother, both of them think its wrong to get an abortion to begin with.  Even ten years ago, justifying it like we did wasn't that sound.  We both knew things other people didn't."

"We both knew that humanity had ten years, maybe eleven, left."

"From simulations, yes.  I reported on it, you helped create the AIs that figured that out."  Moira put a hand on my shoulder.  "That isn't the same thing as knowing.  Even then, we both were unsure.  I've regretted doing it some nights- I mean, you've told me you sometimes wish you could've undid it."

"That-" I jabbed a finger at her.  "That isn't what happened here.  Miri ignored me and used her body to make something... to make this thing..."

"Person."  Moira corrected.  "You've said that all of these monsters are people, just bigger and more cybernetic."

"In some ways."

"Charlie was the first successful subject then?  How many failures did they have?  How hard did Miri try before defecting to this choice?"  Moira pressed.  Her journalist voice kicked in.

No, this wasn't how this was supposed to go.  Moira was supposed to agree with me.  Someone who would've been just as hurt as I had.

"Who knows, it's Miri!"  I exclaimed.  "She always gets her way in the end, even with you!"

"Hey, that's not fair."  Moira had tears in her eyes.  "You just told me the kid I thought I'd buried ten years ago is alive, healthy and has something she can do with herself.  I could understand you getting upset that Miri mad your child into a weapon, but we both know you just are pissed that Miri hid it."

"Yes!"  I tried to rein in my anger.  I wanted to throw something.  "No!  I don't know."

"And when you found out, you tried to wrangle me to help you prove something over Miri."  Moira shook her head.

"You make me sound like a child."

"And didn't say that."

"Might as well have."  I tried to look up at her.  My eyes stung from tears.  "Morgan- Moira- I don't know.  My daughter's a monster.  I didn't see it.  It took the military liason five minutes to pick up on it."

"You didn't know."  She assured me.

"Of course I did.  I should have."  I shook my head.  "I administrate her project.  Why didn't I find this?  Why didn't I just stop her?"

"Do you think Charlie can win?"

I tried to process the question.  Each member of the new species Hecate designed was a giant lifeform capable of surviving multiple environments.  As Nasr had reminded us time again and again, Humans weren't built or able to handle combat with the Enemy.  We had trouble comprehending tactics, let alone devising tech the Enemy couldn't scramble or destroy.

"I..."  I shook my head.  "Martin and I have seen so many projects fail.  All of them promised so much, but we always know the hard numbers."

"Hard numbers aren't the same thing as belief.  Faith."

"Faith won't save us."  I bit my lower lip.  "Monsters... I don't know if they can.  I just don't know."

"That's fair I guess."  Moira slumped.  "Sorry... I just slip into journalist mode so often..."

I laughed.  "It's alright.  I deserved a bit of a reality check, I guess."

Moira took my hand.  "I want to meet her, Ghale.  We both need to help her."

I gazed over at Moira for a moment.  I didn't quite comprehend.  Then it clicked.  I opened my jaw.

"'We?'"

Moira shook her head.  "We're her Mom and Dad, Ghale.  We both need to tell her that.  We both need to get involved.  Help her understand what she's fighting for- I can't just live my life knowing she's out there, whatever she is, and never having met her.

"This... is a miracle, Ghale.  All things we create are.  I mean, it sounds like one of those old science fiction horror stories, but even then, those still touched on the same miracle of it all.  Even if Miri and some machine altered or recombined her, she's still something we made.  Even if she's never seen us, we are still a part of her.  She owes us a debt, and we have to help her through that.  That's what parents do."


Monday, September 28, 2015

The Center Cannot Hold: Ropers or the Cht-Rang of the Hollow (Fate Core)

As is my usual habit, I created a dungeon and asked my players for ideas for traps, puzzles and monsters.  I typically hate dungeon crawls, instead improvising or getting the players to give me fuel for them.  If I can, I'll even have them help me create the map during play.  This all stems from the idea that crawls are a form of railroading, and I can bypass that if I get other heads in on the scheming from the start.

The monster I got back was the Roper, which I found myself wondering about.  Ropers are classic #DnD.  They go way back, and are probably older than I am.  So I came up with a explanation for them in #Crux.  Ropers have a alternate name I created, and I borrowed a bit from a issue of Atomic Robo (silicon-based rock life living in a "hollow" earth).  Perhaps later I'll find more underground monsters that could fit this paradigm, but here for now, be the ropers.

Ropers
"Fascinating."  


The thick accent threw me off.  Then again, I was being dangled in front of a ten-foot tall rocky cone with a single purple eye.  Its- hers- his? maw spoke Tomish, although I couldn't parse what dialect for the life of me. 

"Yes."  I tried to resist the urge to cross my arms.  "But that's how Ith functions.  Sorcerous have rights.  You have to prove the ability to use sorcery."

"Capability to prove citizenship."  The conical monster gurgled a laugh.  "Citizenship.  State.  Government.  Your kind... so absurd.  You insist on freedoms, yet submit to others."

"Without it things fall apart."  Sometimes I wish I hadn't been a philosophy major.  But for the last day it'd been keeping me alive.  Talking helped, since it kept me from thinking of my friends this thing had eaten.  "Anarchy."

"Individual capability.  An extension of this... sorcery rule.  Why not let the world decide, why enforce such ideals?"

"You've circled back to the start of this again."  I pointed out.  "Next you try to explain how religion causes us to chase after the same set of manic tendencies over and over."

"Well..." It paused.  "If this is circling back around, then maybe perhaps it'd be better to get back to the meal then?"

Yay.

The Cht-Rang come from the realms of Hollow, a very deep and very ancient part of Orphos. Within the Hollow, some believe ancient species and empires hide from the world long before Humans, Ursyklon or Tengu came to be. The Cht-Rang believe their kind came to Orphos from the Sacred Fist, an ancient asteroid that impacted Orphos billions ago. The Cht-Rang are one of a dozen stone-races who find the carbon lifeforms of the surface alien and strange.

Cht-Rang like to talk philosophy with those they catch, especially in regards to religion. Cht-Rang like to eat and catch prey that come across them. The Cht-Rang usually eat the stony creatures of the Hollow and the underground realms. Of course, they can find and each organic life. But the difference between the hard, stony creatures and those of flesh and bone, is that Ropers get a high from organic life. Especially Ursyklon, something about Ursyklon is addictive to Ropers.

A cadre of Ropers have moved underneath the Blood Quarter. Being solitary creatures, though, they tend to compete for victims that fall between the cracks from the vampyres. They know very little of Crux, and think the city and the stories about general and true for all organics across the surface, despite claims otherwise.

One last note: Ropers or Chk-Rang have no protections according to Ithic law. Most don't even know or acknowledge Ith as a state- they find the concept of governance amusing and absurd. All Ropers are considered unsorcerous, the rare sort of monster that are unprotected, and tend to act in ways that make most who hunt them feel no guilt whatsoever. If what the Chk-Rang believe is true about the Hollow, though, it could mean that they are just part of some larger, silicate lifeform civilization that has yet to make its presence to known to the rest of the world...

Roper Aspects: Stony-Skinned Roper; Ursyklon Blood Addiction; Six Sticky Strands;  Flammable
Roper Stunts
Silicate Flesh. Ropers are monstrously tough.  They have two more Physical Stress boxes than organics do.  Further, they have Armor:2, reducing all physical stress dealt against them by 2 shifts.  Their Armor cannot be used against fire.
Pull. Ropers have a +2 on Forceful rolls to create advantages that involve grappling or entangling others with their strands.
Eat Their Strength.  A Roper can spend a fate point and cause anyone it has grappled to take on the moderate consequence Strength Sapped.
Spell Resistance.  A Roper's flesh is resistant to some forms of magic.  It gains a +2 to its Physique, Reflex or Will against major spells.
Ambush Hunter.  Ropers hunt from the darkness, and as such gain a +2 on Stealth while waiting to ambush someone.
Vulnerable To Fire (Drawback).  Roper flesh is easily ignited.  Those attacking a Roper with fire gain a +4 instead of +2 when invoking its flammable aspect.
Barely Moves (Drawback).  A Roper can barely move, if at all.  Given time, it'll slide gently and be able to move from place to place.  But it is too slow for a Roper to be able to flee danger, even if given a head start.

Note on one of these drawbacks.  Vulnerable to Fire I've decided to treat as a stunt those fighting a Roper get access to, if they are aware of it.  In its case, it helps the whole flame weakness thing along, to stay in traditional flavor of Ropers and all that.  I think using stunts as a method for flaws is kewl, and reading the Atomic Robo RPG has sort of given better ways to implement it than my sloppy work.  

Also, these were just my rough notes for my home game... I imagine it could be easier to just make this up as one went along, but... eh?  Why not?

Still, always glad for any ways to improve! :D

Friday, September 25, 2015

City of Curses: "When The Last Aeons Fall."

This Crux post continues on the ideas I started with unicorns.  Time travel.  Like planar travel, it allows Crux to sort be a Crossroads even for moving from one era to another.

This post is about a connected timeline of Crux set ten-thousand years in the future.  Very long into the future, when Crux has long since been gone.  I plan to use this in my upcoming home Crux game, in that I have always wanted to use time travel in a tabletop RPG session.  IDK why.

I blame Doctor Who personally.


Journeys

#Crux itself is a crossroads.  Not just a nexus point for the Maru Sea and the Deep Sea, the continents
of Necruxa and Ainesia, the City of Curses is home to a cadre of gates and doors.  Some of these doors or gates are connections to neighboring planes and realities.  Orphos and Crux connect to them through space.  Faerie, the Aether and other places can be reached through Crux.

There are neighboring satellite communities in each of these planes that connect with Crux.  In Faerie there is hob-town, the Aether has the Fission.

Other doors or gates do not tie Crux to other points in space or the realities between worlds.  The most dangerous paths are those that bridge Crux to other points in time.  These tend to be one-way.  The Prince forbids knowingly taking these paths, having provided for the Timewalkers Guild to seal them away for one reason or another.  Most of the time, if one is lost through a door that crosses through time, one can't often find a way back.

Not without taking dire consequences.

Age of the Last Aeons
My hands were cold.  Fields surrounded me.  The grass wasn't alive.  Translucent.

Ghosts.  The plants had become ghosts.  I couldn't see any sign of any buildings.  Just a spit of land, covered in ectoplasmic plants.

The sky had gone black.  No stars.  No clouds.  Just a singlular, hanging dark purple depth above.  I looked for anything of what Crux had been.  Nothing.  Even the hills had been ground to dirt.

I tried to find the edge of the sleeping straits.  Instead I gazed down at where the oceans should've been.  I gazed into a dark abyss.  No ocean.  Just rocks hanging, bobbing in the darkest reaches of the night.

Animal life had gone.  Nothing human or ursyklon remained.

The Age of the Last Aeons is the most depressing of Crux's connected chronal junctures.  What remains of Crux is barren, hanging in a dark abyss with no stars or sun.  It isn't pitch black- the ambient glow of millions of manifested ghost plants illuminate the scattered fields.

Nothing remains here of what Crux had been.  No human, no tengu, no ursyklon can be found.  Not even their bones.  Few or no living creatures can be found here.

Speculation is that the Age of Last Aeons exists so far in Crux's history that we can't comprehend.  Timewalkers insist that it must happen relatively soon.  On their scale, that is within the next twenty thousand years.

Most then try to understand what happened.  Prospective future archaeologists are prevented from visiting it by Timewalkers.  Others try to see through prophecy and divination.  No one has a single answer, only that the Age of Last Aeons seems tied to some dark threat that evades most attempts to comprehend it.

Village of Mourning
The Skullmount is gone.  The sleeping straits has drained, becoming nothing but empty space.  No buildings remain.

But there is a settlement.  The village of Mourning can be found in the age of last aeons.

Ancient androids tend to gardens of ghostly animals and plants.  They whisper forgotten memories about those they once knew.  They've outlived all others.

The other denizens of Mourning at the millions of ghosts.  Insane from thousands of years trapped.  Almost none of these ghosts can be calmed.  Most rambly.  Mourning suffers from bouts of ghoststorms from time to time.  Androids tend to the Ghosts, doing their best to try and keep them from spiraling too much out of control.

Leid
There is one other entity.  Only Androids seem to be able to be ignored by it.  Each time a human or another non-Android travels to the Age of Last Aeons, it attracts Leid.

Woe to those caught by Leid.

The Age of Last Aeons is a grave.  Leid is the ghost that haunts that grave.  Leid is the Ghost of Crux.  The city's entire cursed existence, dead and trapped.  A ghost of the place, still wanting to be that place.

Leid is ravenous for anyone alive from Crux.  A ghost of a city creeps upon it victims.  Streets appear from nowhere.  Moments scattered across thousands of years are relived, but incomprehensibly.  Signs are written in gibberish.  People are appear, but their faces are wrong.  Things are just wrong.

Inevitably Leid swallows whole the energy of whoever it catches in its psychic maw.  Leid sobs.  Leid tries to remember what it once was.  Then Leid fades a bit more, the last echo of the City of Curses.

Leid, Crux's Ghost

Aspects Ghost; Used To Be The Center Of The World; Fades Into Darkness

Approaches Sneaky Superb (+5), All others rated at Great (+4)
Skills Ghost Great (+4), City Good (+3), Memory Fair (+2)

Stunts
Size of a City: Leid is huge, so big that it occupies an area as big Crux was.  It can manifest streets or buildings as it wants.
Taste Of What Was Lost: Leid automatically senses whenever something alive touched by Crux comes close to it.  
Ghost City: Leid cannot be touched by a living soul, not unless they use magic of some kind.
Unseen: Leid always uses Sneaky for rolling for initiative.  Leid gains a +2 on Sneaky to creep and trap living victims.
Consume Minds: Leid inflicts mental stress instead of physical stress.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

The Center Cannot Hold: The Fae

The Fae.
The Ursyklon call them the First Totems. Humans have always known them as Faeries. The Tengu call them the Kodama.

The Fae find all three names amusing. And childish.

They believe themselves to be the eldest children of the world. We can't really comprehend them. There are a few truths we know about them, but even those aren't insights into what they are. Or what they can be.

Fae can be tiny winged tooth-eating pixies. They can be gigantic child-snatching Trolls. Dryads can almost freeze time with their beauty. Maenads can make entire cities fall into madness with their songs.
Faeries cannot Lie. This is the first thing we are certain about. They can deceive, trick and manipulate in all sorts of ways. But lying is something they are incapable of doing.

Faeries are ageless. They know they will outlive any human or ursyklon they meet. Fae will use that to achieve their aims. As ageless as they are, many Fae are addicted to youth. Be it children or time magic, something about being young draws them out like moths to the flame.

And Fae have lords. The Sidhe. They are masters and mistresses of metaphors and legends. To hear a Sidhe claim to be Count of Singing Fire, that isn't a fancy title. They are that flame, manifested. Entire parts of planes and realities are tied to what they are.

The Sidhe are demigods.

Few mortals have dealt with them and won. They are easily stirred to anger. More frightening, the Sidhe seem to only be stayed by threats from powers most lack context or communication. Angels. Ancient beings from between the stars. Demons.

Fae have their own goals. Mad goals. Ones that don't make sense. And when you begin to understand them, you begin to fray apart.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Random Musing: Carl John and Other Thoughts


Sometimes I write, and I feel uninspired.  Stupid.  So I write anyway.  I listened to Neil Gaiman's
advice on Writer's Block once, it was simple.  Write whatever feels like it should be written.

So here we are.  Writing what should be written.

Typically I don't just "blog" out something.  I like fiction writing and setting musing and all that.  I've never considered my life interesting enough to share.  It's this sort of nagging reminder that I should keep my mouth shut.  No one else cares, so why should I?

His name was Carl John.  If you haven't heard of him, I'm sorry.  Your life clearly needs something like him.  Carl John, King of Sweden.  And Norway.

Carl John is interesting for a key reason: he was born french.  As in, Jean-Baptiste Bernadotte.  You don't make people like this up: he was elected to become the heir to the Swedish royal family.  AFTER he had served as a general for Napoleon.  Napoleon had made him a Prince.

So let that sink in.  What does this have to do with me wanting to blog.  Carl Fuckin' John has always appeared, at least in conversation, when I seem to be unable to get anything done.  A frenchman that served under Napoleon (the two had a rocky relationship, so maybe it makes sense) who got elected to be King of Sweden and Norway.  How it happened also sounds strange: a Swedish courtier initiated, and because Carl John had been kind to Swedish prisoners, the Riksdag of the Estates (Riksdag is the most metal name for a body of government; this goes without saying).  The courtier, Baron Karl Otto Mörner, offered him the gig without anyone's approval.

The Swedish government arrested Mörner.  And Carl John more or less set up Sweden to be an enemy of Napoleon.  Guess who thought the idea of Bernadotte being King of Sweden was absurd?  Yeah.

Carl John is one of those figures of history you have to go double check.  Like, you don't believe it happened.  His line is still the dynastic line of royalty in Sweden.

Things like that make me excited for Crux, although its hard to fit some in.  The President of Ith, Adais Silverune, is modeled off of Andrew Jackson.  I find Jackson interesting as a character, like Carl John, even though the man's presidency sort of frightens me in its scale and precedents.  So I've done it before, could I use Carl John as the basis of something?

I don't know.  Part of what makes Carl John's rise to King so interesting is how much it screwed over Napoleon.  Not the cause of his fall, but obviously the guy didn't mind sticking it to his old boss.  That ain't so new, it seems.

So maybe the real point is that sometimes, opportunities find you.  But that seems misleading.  It implies some sort of reward for not working for those opportunities.  That isn't what Carl John did.

I think, he is a example how people get pushed into power.  That I think is kinda more interesting to ponder for something.  It strikes the same cord that Paul Atreides does.  A figure who comes to be King who shouldn't even accept it by someone who shouldn't give it.  Who does something no one else can dare think to do.

Something to let boil in my head I guess.  

Monday, September 21, 2015

In Transit Monsters 19 (A Story of the Hecate Project)

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Nasr (H minus 7 years, 4 months)

I let Dom almost tug my arm out of my socket.  Part of the joy of this sort of thing, spending time with him, was the tugging thing.  I don't know where he pulled the bad habit from.

"You are really into this."  I observed.

"C'mon.  It's a rodeo, Al.  You gotta see this."  He gestured at the bull riding going on below us.  "You only get this sort of thing here."

I looked down, a hundred feet below us.  This part of Haven had been heavily settled by rural Argentinian and American Settlers.  All of whom loved their rodeo.  Loved it.

Haven had been one of the rare worlds with a biome close enough to Earth that it took little time for us to migrate to it.  It had been mostly plants, with few fungus or even insects.  We'd moved in and twenty years later, entire swaths of the garden world had looked more like Earth than alien.

The closest thing I could remember back home had been camel racing and possibly the idiotic practice of hacking autodriving cars in order to compete in driving tricks.  Even then, growing up, I'd preferred Soccer and Esports.

"My name isn't Al."  I said.

"And my name is Domingo Badarte, not Dom."  Dom said.  "I don't complain."

"And you know this isn't that real."

"So, they are artificial lifeforms.  That doesn't make things any less interesting, Al.  I mean, each one is programmed to give the rider a unpredictable challenge."

Biodesigning artificial lifeforms that didn't have conscious capacities for pain had happened years ago.  None of the animals in this rodeo were real.  Along with labmeat, humans didn't need ranches or to maintain herds of livestock anymore.  Yet we still had to have rodeos.  Not in dreamspace, but out here in the real world.

Dom watched transfixed as a woman on a bull below us narrowly dodged a horn.

Six seconds.  That meant she hadn't scored or something.  I barely understood the rules of these things.

"Without a BrainSys."  I shook my head.  "Worlds get overrun, and people are busy trying to find entertaining ways to get themselves killed here."

"Hmm."  Dom said.  That meant he heard me, but chose not to acknowledge it with an actual answer.  We'd done this talk before.  His guttural way of putting up with me.

"Have to enjoy life, Al."  Dom said.  "This is life.  Stinking animal shit, people falling in the mud, bad jokes by announcers..."

"Yeah."  I paused.  The battlefields on the outer worlds had been nightmarish.  The Enemy had been relentless.  "I just..."

"Things you can't unsee."  Dom finished my words for me.  "Sorry that I don't what to say about that.  Aliens.  Even three years later, I still don't know what to think about it."

"I'm glad I've got a home still."  I said.  "Some planets have been lost... but they still take fewer planets than we settle each year."

"And yet, we haven't won a battle against them yet."

"Yet."  I scratched my chin nervously.

Dom and I stood there together above the fray of the bull-riding for a moment or two.  My BrainSys recorded it.  I filed it away in my personal dreamspace.

Then something screamed from the sky above us.  The pit of my stomach fell out from under me.  Not human screams.  Something else.  Something from high above.

Locusts descended onto the grandstands.  I use locust in the broad sense.  A meter long, each long, slender thing had six fluttering wings.  No eyes.  Like so many of the Enemy's different composite members, it had no eyes and looked pinkish orange.

Their stomachs looked engorged.  Each of their carapaced limbs ended in twisted tentacles.  The locusts landed like felines, their tentacled limbs sticking to surfaces.  People ran from them.

I grabbed Dom and went on automatic.  We ran.  You don't stay around in situations like that.  There must've been forty or fifty of the locusts.  They didn't attack anyone.

They just sat there, their bellies hanging off them.  We rushed for the nearest stairs.  I remembered yelling, backing orders and getting people to move in a organized fashion.

Then one of the locusts opened its mouth.  It expelled slime and something from inside its abdomen.  A human-shaped creature rose from the slimy mess.

It stood up.  I tried not to focus on it.  A child.  A naked boy, probably no more than four or five.  His face and head was covered in pinkish slime.  It clung like some sort of fungal growth.  He tilted his head.

I froze like everyone else did.  Because no one, not even someone like me who'd been in battles with the Enemy, had ever seen a human come with them.  The Enemy always sent its own composite members.

"It's a kid."  Dom said.  "His face.  His eyes.  They just... that slime."

"Like one of those ants."  I said.  "Fungal growth taking over the neurons.  Reprogramming the host for its own survival."

"Ick."

The tiny slime-covered child looked at the stunned crowd.  Then the locusts expelled more small children.  Each child was naked.  Each of their heads were covered in slime.

"Choice."  They all chanted together.  A unison no choir could ever hope to copy.  Almost like a computer in its sheer scale.  "Choice.  Infection can choose."

Each child pointed at it's slime-covered head.  Then they tilted their heads and looked at us.  We couldn't see their eyes.  But the slime left little pockmarks, little indents where their eyes should have been.  Only their mouths had been left open.

"I repeat."  Each child said in their unison voice, each not moving from where the locusts had vomited them up.  "Choice.  Infection can join.  Or Extermination."

Dom and I got down the stairs.  We kept going.  You do that in a crisis.  If you can't solve the problem, get away from it.

"This can't be happening."  Dom said.  "They haven't- why didn't they give a general warning?"

"I don't know."  I said.

"If they knew they'd landed on Haven they need to tell people.  This is like a major hub."

"Dom-"

"Why didn't they tell you or-"

"Dom, I don't know.  We can't know."  I said.  "Lines of communication go down.  Things fall apart.  Don't think about that."

"I'm no soldier-"

"You want to survive?  Listen to me."  I grabbed him and held him close.  "Those were the smallest kind of thing the Enemy is composed of.  Worse, they had to get those kids from somewhere."

"Oh."  Dom started to shake.  The ground trembled underneath us.  Something big.  Something big heading toward our position.

The Enemy had to be close to us.  A cyst had thousands of members.  Thousands upon thousands.  I tried to pretend to not be scared.

I pushed my fear down.  I had to do whatever I could to save Dom.  Haven didn't matter.  I didn't matter.  The most important thing for me was him.

Without him, I didn't have a reason to fight.  I didn't have a reason to live either.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

The Center Cannot Hold: Faiths: The Singer of the Song 1

A #Crux post this time.  I've been meaning to revisit some thoughts on various faiths in the setting, and this is the first one that came up.  I plan to continue this post, to create some faces and names to go along with the ideas going on.  The Singer of the Song, or Ariaism, is a faith about making the lives of others better through creating something beautiful.

For me, this is the whimsical part of the setting.  This exists because I love the idea of a religion like this.  What sort of whimsy do you end up putting into your settings and work?  I put this one in because I like the idea of a religion that openly claims to be selling a story.

"Church" of the Singer of the Song
Other Names: Ariaism, Melodism, Madrigalism
Names of the Singer: The City Mother, Queen Trickster, the Storyteller, The Lady of Song
Holy Symbol: Three Quarter Notes
Worshippers: Common people, Entertainers, Travelers
Holy Days: Lastsong, Charmsday, Tales Day

The Ariastic faith is one of oldest religions to be found in the Maru Sea.  Followers of the Singer of the Song believe that any sort of sin or evil can be prevented at its root.  Through song, art, stories or otherwise, individuals can be lifted up.  Entertainment can make people better.

Those who worship the Singer of the Song have three central tenets:
1. Sing the Song (a metaphor for creating art, whatever the medium).
2. Give it to the People.
3. Help the People to Sing Along.

Creation Myth
The universe is a Song.  Beautiful.  Perfect.

Before that song, there was Not.  Not isn't nothing, the absence of a thing.  Not, before the song, Not was the substance of nothing.

The Singer sung the universe into being.  But when she did, she created possibility.  To have possibility, one has to make some things unpossible.  Certainties were created; uncertainties, those became Not.  They weren't.

Within possibilities are the capacity for good and evil.  For want and satisfaction.  For love and hate.  The beauty of the world is meaningless without the other.  Yet there is always what cannot be told.

The Singer believed she had made a mistake in her first song, but refused to unsing it or stop.  She still sings that song.  When she ends it, so will the universe.  That song is in all things, and when embraced, that song can drive anyone to act with true harmony.

Cities
Cities are at the heart of civilization.  But that does not mean that Cities are a creation of lawmakers, politicians or bureaucrats.  A law did not create the first city.  No, the First Cities were born of a Song.

The City Mother is the one who sang that Song.  Her priests tell her story, of how she made the first cities by crafting a song about them.  She tricked other Gods and Monsters of all types, often to better the lives of mortals.  She was the one to first let Shraxes come to the World, and she was the first to trick the Black Rose into letting a soul come back from the dead.

Most give her a prayer when seeking a blessing while traveling through or doing anything within a City.  Her voice has influence over money, traffic and all the other myriad things that come with cities.  Her devoted followers are entertainers, Bards, Illusionists and Alchemists.  Those who seek song, seek out her Priests and Temples- her Temples are always also Taverns, Inns or Theaters.

Organization
Ariaism is decentralized.  Each priest or priestess is considered to be as valid as any member of their congregation.  Some do look at better artists or performers for leadership, but as a rule, even these leaders don't organize the church.  If you wish to become a priest of the Singer of the Song, you merely have to show the ability to sing or paint or tell a story.

That said, there are sects and particular roles that have grown out of Ariaism.  Its ancient roots have created many offshoots and particular traditions.  These roles may have their own particulars about membership, but they tend to work for themselves, not for anyone else.

Most relationships tend be either a mentor and her apprentices, often within a particular art.  Then there is also the relationship between audiences and performers.  Not all Clerics of the Singer pursue artistic or musical talents.  They gather audiences.  They speak with individuals.  They help even the poorest musician find food to eat.

Worshippers
Never truly a god of nobles or royalty, commoners and the middle-class of all races honor her.  It isn't uncommon for a small statuette of her to find her place in house shrines along with larger edifices honoring other deities.  Ursyklon, Tengu, even some of the fabled Aether-blooded have been known to carry a symbol of her along with their other gods.

The City Mother is often depicted as a young human woman carrying a fiddle with very short hair.  Her hair color and other characteristics often change based who is asked.  More than a few Tengu claim she has black hair with raven's feathers.  Northern Ironfolk from Ainesia give her blond hair and blue eyes, while Saltfolk from the southern seas call her hair green, and say she is blind.  It varies, but no one seems to care if they differ, often believing that her myriad of appearances are just another part of her stories.

Holidays, Rituals and Prayers
Lastsong is a holy day in late winter.  It tends to vary from city to city, but most often happens in the month of Newrose.  During Lastsong Ariastics sing songs of repentance.  It is encouraged for others to join in, but not always required.  Ariastics on Lastsong sing until the Sunrises.

During Lastsong, clerics forgive anyone who comes to them.  This is no matter the crime.  Clerics do not promise to not turn in those who've committed worse crimes.  They encourage them to go to authorities, to obey the law.  Unless they disagree with the law.

Tales Day marks a day in early spring, where Ariastics reverse the tables: audience members are pulled in, they sing the song, tell the story instead of the normal performers.  Even those who think they can escape getting roped into performing, often somehow are convinced to do so.  Ariastics, of course, always claim to use no charm magic whatsoever to do this.  Others disagree.

Charmsday, on the other hand, most cities tend to ban.  Diehard ariastics still practice it, although whether they use magic or not depends on the nature of the adherent.  During Charmsday, ariastics go out of their way to do matchmaking.  The goal is to help others connect to love, although some ariastics worry it crosses a line of some sort.

Roles
Within ariaism, there are a cadre of different roles.  Decentralized, some of these roles are even directly opposed to each other.

Divas are the Paladins of the Singers of the Song.  They follow their own strict code, even requiring all their members maintain the appearance of young women.  Divas take on the form of street corner performers, often taking advantage on being on the street to face down monsters or other threats to people around them.
Possible Diva Aspects: A Moment of Perfect Beauty; Street-Corner Diva; "Sing It For Them"

Gourmands are the Divas opposite.  Antipaladins, they focus on perfecting their art, sometimes to the point of obsession.  Gourmands create fabulous foods.  Sometimes they push any extreme when following the first tenet.  Sometimes what they choose as ingredients crosses some line.
Possible Gourmand Aspects: Food Is Life!; A Gourmand Never Rests; "Best With A Bit of Spleen."

Speakers are the closest thing to a inquisition that the Ariastics have.  Even then, they focus on helping provide for artists and performers.  Even though their preferred art is to write, they are attracted to helping others stories become known.  Speakers deal with printers, creating posters advertising Divas or new singers or whatever local ariastics need done.  As such, Speakers tend to be good with contacts and always able to scratch up enough cash to get a performance done.
Possible Speaker Aspects: Use My Words!; A Speaker's Job Is Never Done; "You Want to Hear Something Amazing?";

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

In Transit Monsters 18 (A Story of the Hecate Project)

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Nasr (H minus One Month, 17 Days)

"Only three at a time?"  I asked Nicky.

The young woman shrugged.  "Our transit site doesn't have enough power to move them all in one transit.  Too many things around here can't have their power shut off for it."

"They're going to have to be transited from here to Mars."  I pointed out.  "Maybe we need to expand that site's capacity."

"Why not use another transit site altogether, anyway?"  Nicky asked.  "Our facility lacks the space for all of them to be close enough for a transit too.  It seems impractical."

"It could be helpful I suppose.  I haven't submitted my operational suggestions to the UN security council yet."

"Suggestions?"

"We've never deployed these kinds of soldiers before. We don't even have decent terminology for them.  You people call them monsters as a whole, but they aren't completely human.  They won't act like infantry, drones or any other military outfit I compare them to."  I said.

"YOu havE BEEn learnINg thEM THen toO."  Hecate suggested.  I nodded at the holo of the old woman the AI used.

"Of course.  I've been prepping a series of Daemons to command them.  Even then, no one knows what their total capabilities are.  The monsters have never certainly pushed themselves or their abilities."  I said.  "This is a new form of warfare, and I've been improvising since I got here."

"Even that thing with making them repeat the same event over and over?"  Nicky asked.

"You mean the groundhog test?"  I smiled.  "That sort of thing tells to get people learning fast."

"What do groundhogs have to do with it?"

"Oh."  I paused.  "Two words.  Bill.  Murray."

"Now you are just confusing me more."

"SOMe peOPLE can't BE HElped."  Hecate told me.  "NICky, it is a claSSIC ComeDY.  CUte, one MIGht sAY."

I blinked.  "The super-intelligent AI knows about 90s movies.  I didn't expect that."

"Not everyone has seen everything."  Nicky said.  "Major, it looks like things are ready for the transit."

"Good.  Set it to Nubia.  We'll start transiting them in fifteen minutes.  You have the coordinates?"  I asked.

"Of course.  Setting them in."  Nicky waved her fingers in the air above a Circle.  Lines glowed and flowed in a holo as she did.  She set the transit up, messaging the monsters to enter the site in sets of threes.

Her hand hovered over the holo of the activation.  All Nicky had to do was wave her hand through the red transparent light, and we'd begin the in-field training.  She never did.

Instead, the window looking out to the monsters cracked and shattered.  Glowing energy motes clung to the pieces, as a an arm reached through the opening she'd punched through.  An arm of one of the monsters.  It moved lightning fast.

Nicky had her back to the window.  The arm and fist snapped into her.  She tumbled away, flying into the wall across from the window.

"What?!"  I screamed and moved toward Nicky.  I should have gotten some sort of weapon.  I should have gone to the Circle, and used it to Conjure something from the printers in the room.

Instead I did what I always did.  I ran after the body.  Nicky's body had slumped down against the wall she had hit.

@Charlie: @Nasr_Muntaqim, stand back from her.  She's not what you think.

Nicky still had a pulse.  I gazed up at the arm that had thrown her.  The massive hand of one of Miri's monsters.  At the end of that far too long arm, I saw Charlie's short black hair.

@Charlie: @Nasr_Muntaqim Its... it's not what you think it is.

"Charlie... How did you-"  I paused in thought.  The glowing motes from before.  Whiskey had helped her weaken the glass and carbon fibers, enough that Charlie could punch through it in one blow.  A part of my rage took a second seat to my fear.

Charlie could manipulate dreamspaces.  But Whiskey could create and alter materials quickly.  If the two of them were working together, that could be worse.

Nicky stirred.  Charlie reached out for her.  I dragged Nicky away from her.

@Charlie: Look at her ARM!

A sharp pain.  Then my left arm felt hot and wet.  I looked at it.  Something black had pierced my left forearm.  Blood splurted from it.

"Too late."  Nicky's voice sounded digitized.  She slid up.  Black coating covered her arms.  Nanosheath.

I blinked.  "Nano... sheath..."

Nicky hissed at me.  Her eyes were bleeding.  I fell back.  I stumbled back toward the Circle.  I needed a weapon, something to help fight her off.

Nanosheath.  Of course I panicked.  Pygmalion had invested and designed it as a form of armor for soldiers in the field.  It would create carbon fibers as an extension of the soldier's body.

The coating would keep the enemy's slime from infecting a subject.  Even better, it would provide laser sharp and organic weapons that could function in almost all situations.  The Enemy could create zones that prevent electronics from functioning for long periods.

The problem had to do with where the carbon fibers came from.  Materials came from the wearer.  The coating took from bone, flesh and blood.  It could do amazing things.  But it would cost your life.  The by-products of creating an carbon sheath stronger than steel left toxins.  No soldier had lived longer than a few days after using it.

We had used in the field.  All the time.  At the battle of Fuegos we'd lost more soldiers to the Stheath than the Enemy.  They were called the Berserkers.

@Charlie: She reprogrammed the Transit.

Wait.

I looked at Nicky.  She blended into the surrounding around her.  I put myself next to the Circle.  But I tried to keep an eye out for her.

I tapped the Circle that Nicky had been about to activate.  I looked at it.  It took a moment for my BrainSys to understand it.

A transit point to the sun.

"You have got to be-"  Lights flickered out above me.  "Alright.  Charlie, please remove your fist from this room."

@Charlie: You sure?

"Charlie, I can deal with Nicky."  I thought about it for a minute.  "You'll be more help not being in my way."

@Whiskey: C, move!  Did you get her?

"Ok."  I said.  "Quiet for a moment.  Charlie, good job."

@Whiskey: quiet?  something went quiet?

I accessed a part of my BrainSys I'd left alone for awhile.  It had been there ever since Haven.  A reminder of everything I'd lost.  My faith at least had kept my spirit up.  Memories had faded.

Activate Daemon.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

The Center Cannot Hold: Unicorns, or the Kilani (Fate Core)

In a recent session of my home #Crux game, one of my players suggested something for a future session involving #Unicorns.  I think it was meant as a joke or something.  But it got caught in my maw: what are unicorns in Crux like, and can I make something weird I'd like out of them?

So, I got the idea of suggesting unicorns and their healing powers are based on them being "unstuck in time."  They flow through time in their own manner, sometimes contrary to how time should flow.  You know, walking bubbles of temporal instability, enigmatic and obsessed with preserving beauty for eternity.

Unicorns.
I never meant to be late that night.  But things happen, I guess.  The night I saw the black unicorn, that really did it.

Like every night, I entered the grove to hunt rabbits.  My father never liked my penchant for catching them.  


"Rabbit, dammit, what is it with you and the damn rabbits?"  He'd tell me.  But he'd eat it.

So I went into the grove.  I didn't mean to see the Black Unicorn.  The stories people told about it never made since.  Not once.  Especially since, if the Black Unicorn did exist, it would mean Old Missus Migeros wasn't the crazy bat she'd always been.  Everyone knew she had made up the black unicorn to explain what happened to her husband the year before.

Drek.  Turns out Old Missus Migeros wasn't crazy as a bat.  Great.

After checking my third empty snare, I tripped over a nearby rock.  I winced and looked down at it.  The rock floated three to four inches off the ground.

Looking back up, I stared into the maw of a black creature I'd never imagined before.  The size of a deer, a long golden, spiraling horn protuded from its head.  Its very equine head.  But the eyes looked human.  Silvery, glittering with some intent I'd never seen in a horse or a goat before.  Its hooves were like that of a horse, but its mane flowed nothing like a horse.  No equine had glittering fangs either.

"Uh..."  I stumbled onto my ass.  I stared at it.  Nearby leaves floated up, back to the twigs they'd fallen from.  

Something smelled like rain.  The hairs on the back of my neck stood up.  

"Lucky for you, I'm not hungry."  The black unicorn told me.

"Uh..."

My legs didn't move.  I just kept staring.  Like an idiot.

"Have you enjoyed our time together here?"  The Black Unicorn continued.  "The years spent?"

"What?"

"Or have we just met?"

"Uh..."  I continued in my dignified statement of the universe.

The Black Unicorn sniffed.  Then it turned around and walked away.  My head stung for what felt like an hour.

I stood up.  My hand clutched onto a skeletal corpse of a rabbit.  I blinked my eyes.  

I stumbled out of the grove I'd been rabbiting.  The world outside had changed.  Fifty years had passed.  I hadn't aged a day.

Twins-damned unicorns.

The Kilani
Unicorns, or the Kilani as they prefer to be called, are a very rare species on Orphos.  The Kilani are the remnants of a starfaring race on Orphos, who either came in the distant past or the distant future.  It is hard for us to know, because they seem to obey the same rules of time that other lifeforms do.  The Kilani or Unicorns seem to flow through time whichever direction they wish.

Their appearances suggest rarity, but it could be due to non-Kilani being unable to perceive them due to how they move through time.  Most claim that Unicorns are creatures of pure white, with the bodies of stags, the manes of goats and the tails of lions.  But they aren't limited to just this folkloric interpretation.

Nor are all the Kilani pure.  There are tales of them healing entire villages; others of black-coated Kilani devouring children in the streets.  More tales of red-coated Kilani abducting people and transporting them years into the past or years into the future.

The blood of the Kilani can do miraculous things.  It always has.  It can heal any wound, stop any disease, and restore youth in the aged.  Even the horn of the Kilani has magical properties.  Often it can restore purity to any object, even ones long destroyed or rusted.  All Unicorns physiology seems to cause these sorts of reactions in others.

The presence of Kilani can cause an area to be unstuck in time somewhat.  When a place is known for multiple sightings of them, it often has other strange occurrences as well.  Rivers that flow up, rocks that float in midair, and so forth.  These timeless groves also tend to attract Faeries, like moths to the flame.

Fae
Faeries are drawn to Kilani.  Groves that Unicorns frequent also become dens and nests to Fae of all kinds.  Some Kilani drive Fae away, enraged by them.  Others work with Faeries, sometimes creating traps for mortals the Fae can take their pick from.

There is a alchemical concoction of silver, powdered unicorn horn and unicorn blood.  Any mortal who drinks this is irresistable to a faerie.

Potion Stunt.
Elixir of Unicorn Blood.  After you drink this alchemical concoction, you gain the aspect Enthralling to the Fae.  This lasts for a week.

Kilani Culture.
Research into unicorns has revealed some sort of underlying culture among them.  In addition to their time-bending abilities, they all seem perfectly capable of shapeshifting into humanoid form.

They do not possess their own language, or if they do, no one has witnessed it.  Ursyklon have long held contact with the Kilani, sometimes even considering them allies.  But the Kilani seem to hold the Ursyklon in contempt for some past or future crime.

Kilani seem to enjoy beauty in all its forms.  Some have speculated that their distaste of ugly mortals will drive them to slay them.  That, cases of them healing or helping beautiful maidens has nothing to do with virgins, but instead is some driven urge to make something beautiful last as long as possible.

The Curse.
Unicorns can lay a curse.  Some spend their entire lives trying to obtain it.  The curse was thought to be folklore, but the Church of the Machine has documented at least two cases of it.  The Curse of the Kilani causes the victim to age backwards or cease aging altogether.

The effect is magical.  Despite what could be perceived as benefits, both recorded cases of victims of the curse committed suicide.  It seems to also alter the victim's perception of time, causing them to have dreams of several events at the same time.  A victim might dream of being born, while at the same time experience meeting a love for the first time, all while remembering what it felt like to die of old age.

Citizens.
In Ith, there are fifteen known Unicorns who've obtained citizenship due to their magical natures.  Even then, their whereabouts are never easily ascertained.  As such, the protections of citizenship is often extended to them.

This means hunting or murdering one of their kind is persecuted to the full extent of Ithic law.  It also means that any unsorcerous humans whose lives are temporally altered by them have no recourse.  A child whose experience with a unicorn causes her body to age into that of a old woman, is in the same category as a victim of any vampyre or wizard, so long as they lack the basic sorcerous requirement under ithic law.

Unicorn Aspects.  Enigmatic Mystic; Experiences Nonlinear Time;  Mortals Are Such Fragile Things;  Addicted to Beauty.
Approaches Flashy Great (+4), All other approaches are rated Good (+3).
Skills Unicorn Fair (+2), Stealth Average (+1), Arcana Average (+1).
Stunts.
Shapeshifter.  A unicorn can shift into a human or ursyklon form of any sort, changing their bodies to do so.  This requires an exchange to occur, but no roll needed.  
Vanish.  A unicorn can spend a fate point to gain the situation aspect Vanished.
Healing Blood.  A unicorn's blood can remove any consequence, but it causes the Unicorn to take at least 2 physical stress in the process.
Tough.  A Unicorn has two additional physical stress boxes.
Pure Flesh.  A Unicorn uses Flashy instead of Physique for determining their number of physical stress boxes.
Curse of the Kilani.  A Unicorn can lay the Curse of the Kilani onto another as a severe consequence.  This requires the expenditure of a fate point and the Unicorn must take on a severe consequence of their own as well.  The Unicorn can lift it, but it will not remove their own severe consequence.  Convincing a Unicorn to do so often requires some difficulty (read: Superb or thereabouts).

Unicorn of Crux.
Tyrana of the Grand Bazaar is as unique a creature as one can find in the City of Curses.  The blue unicorn sells her own blood as a healing elixir.  She only does so once a week, at a specific time.  Some think she might be looking for a particular customer; she has been maintaining her booth for about a century now.

The street she appears at, Bent Street, is avoided by most.  Most citizens are aware of how time flows wrong there.  But those desperate for healing without having to go to the Church of the Twins or even venture to the Church of Shraxes, pay Tyrana a visit.  For her part, Tyrana rather likes the local "color" as she puts it.   

Friday, September 11, 2015

In Transit Monsters 17 (A Story of the Hecate Project)

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Moira Hobb (H minus One Month, 20 Days)


#InTransit@GhalePutnam


My BrainSys pinged in my mind.  Being on the receiving end of a transit always felt strange.  The crackle boom of two points in space.  I'd read that the sound was because of some pressure differential.  Or something like that.

The stranger part took place with your eyes.  It takes faster than a human eye can process.  The two points flicker so fast, people look like they just popped out of nowhere.

Ghale in blue jeans and leather jacket appeared.  Her black hair looked frazzled.  Rings under eyes.

"Here."  I handed her a bottle.

"You know I don't drink."  She said.  Her practiced, tired tone.  The one she always repeats when people offer her alcohol.  I remember because Ghale hates being drunk.  Nothing medical.  She just hates losing control of herself like that.

"Yes."  I kept the bottle thrust out.  "You look like you need it more than me."

The Eurydice Pub looked empty.  Which made sense, considering the place had just opened.  Ghale and I were adjusted to East Standard Time, and the pub being in Spokane Washington opened early for me.  Normally the Eurydice would've opened after six.

We'd gone here back when the two of us lived up in the Inland Empire.  Washington state, even after the automation of the economy, the mass migrations and the war with the enemy, still was one of the most pleasant places in North America.  I'd grown up near Spokane.

Lovely place.  Just... empty now.  Half a century ago, Spokane must have been exploding with young people.  These days there were barely any people here.  Most of it was abandoned.

Eurydice catered to those in Spokane who missed the old days.  Hence the name.  Some people always have to look back, even if it might take everything away from you.

"This place hasn't changed."  Ghale shook her head.  "I'm glad I listened you about it."

I shrugged.  "Well... Remember that night here?"

"Yeah."  Ghale slid into thick red leather booth.  It had been stitched up in a few places.

I joined her.

A light flickered from the Circle in the table's surface.

Welcome to the Eurydice.  Would you like audio service or have you a pre-selected order?

I waved the waiting service off.

"What's been going on with Miri, Ghale?"  I asked.

Ghale blinked up at me.  The bags under her eyes had become more pronounced.  "More of the same invasion of privacy as before... just more wrong."

"I never understand how you two manage to make your rivalry so long and so damn bitter."  I said.

"Yes."  Ghale looked into the bottle.  "Last time we came to this place, we lived here.  I miss Spokane."

"I miss it too."  I said.

"Its..." Ghale sighed.  "This whole Hecate Project is... I don't know.  I keep spending more and more time on it."

"And running into Miri over and over again."

"It's not just that.  I mean, at first, I kinda wanted the chance to end our flame war."  Ghale said.  "I guess its because we're waiting.  Everything is just... waiting now."

I nodded.  I resisted the urge to pepper her with questions.  My memories of Pygmalion and its child programs were all based on what Ghale had been willing to tell me.

"There isn't much on the Net about Hecate.  I mean, only that it's going to be supplying some banned experiment to help take back Mars..."  My voice trailed off.

It felt like a relief to not dwell on the choice we'd made ten years ago.  Miri and Ghale had clashed over that one.  Which made sense.

The Putnams were a old, conservative family.  They'd had trouble accepting our relationship.  But there always had been this expectation Ghale had grown up with.  She was the oldest.  She would have a crop of kids, with Miri being the happy Aunt.

"Mom and Dad understood why I did it."  Ghale whispered.  "Even up to their assisted suicides two years ago, they told me they didn't blame me.  They thought I'd made the right choice.  But Miri...  But Miri isn't happy unless she gets to be queen bitch of the universe."

"Yeah.  I still don't get that."  I said.

Ghale looked up at me with a level stare.

"Whoa, I'm on your side, remember?"  I lefted my hands in acquiscence.  "But she thought you weren't going to do it.  She genuinely thinks Hecate is going to save us all."

Ghale took a deep swig of the bottle.  She grinned at me.  "Root beer."

I shrugged.  "I said I remembered."

"Why did we break up?  Was it just because of the abortion?"

"Did we?"  I asked.  "My dad used to say people change.  That's how it works.  People grow apart.  Always said that whenever he went off about the Civil War."

"Maybe we should've stayed together."  Ghale said.  "How often are you Moira?  It isn't because of-"

"No, it isn't."  I said.  "Just haven't felt very much like being... Morgan, you know.  I mean, I don't think its bad.  But every time I think about being a guy for awhile... I just feel regrets.  Kinda messed up."

Ghale nodded.  "I keep having the dream.  And each time Miri gives me that look, that knowing look, that she's so much smarter and better than me, and that she thinks she could've talked me out of it...  I just snap.  I want to beat her with the nearest chair."

"And whatever she's doing with Project Hecate..."  I processed what she'd been telling me.  "Wait.  What exactly is Project Hecate?  If Miri had done something with the dead fetus- Ghale, you couldn't have known.  You gave her space."

"It's more complicated than that."  Ghale said.  "I'll try to explain... you need to know about... Charlie."

The name put a knot in my stomach.

Charlie (H minus One Month 20 Days)

I blinked my eyes and woke up in a dark hallway.  My dream-avatar felt familiar.  It didn't resemble my realbody.

So Nasr hadn't sent me this Dreamspace.  My Oneiros adapted to it.  I looked down at my body.  It didn't look like my other dream-avatars either.

This room felt dark.  A smell.  A woody smell I didn't recognize at first.  The hallway stretched up and up from me.  My hands were tiny.

I wore a dress.  Red with white polka dots.  I looked down the hall.  Bookshelves lined the walls.  Each shelf towered over me.  Full of books.  Big books.

I knew what a book was.  I'd read about them in stories Aunt Miri had given me, like the Hobbit and Tom Sawyer.  I'd seen them in the Never-Ending Story vid me and Whiskey had watched over and over.

Then I heard the voice.  "So maNY, AREn't theRE?"

An old woman slowly made her way down the hall to me.  Bent over, she stood over me as well.  My dream-avatar must have been a child of some sort.

"Why did you make me so small, Hecate?"  I asked.

"WE All aRe smALL."  Hecate replied.  "COme."

She beckoned me to follow her.  The artificial intelligence always did strange things like this.  She first showed me my Oneiros to begin with.  Of course, she made my avatar that of a puppy.

Curious, I followed her.   We walked down halls and halls of books.

"MAde thiS SIMple fOR You."  Hecate explained.  "TOUch the spinES."

"Spines?"  I asked.  "What spines?"

Hecate stopped.  She grabbed my tiny fingers.  She guided them to trace over one of the book's ends, the ones where the lettering and words are.  "SPines."

Then I felt it.  "Dreams."

"NO."  Hecate told me.  "YOu senSE Them aS DReams.  simPLE MIStake.  datA.  CONsciouS FLows.  neT."

"The Net?"  I blinked.  "Wait.  The Net dreams?"

Hecate studied my avatar's face.

"Is it conscious then?"  I asked.

Hecate nodded.  Then she shook her head.

"It is and it isn't."

Hecate smiled at that.  Pulled down a book from above my head.  Huge.  It must've been a thousand pages.  On the green leather cover I could see a name inscribed.  My name.

"If this is the Net, why would it have my name in it's dreams?"

"DReams.  fiLES.  BACkups.  forGOTTEn packETS betwEEN Networks."  Hecate handed me the book.  "COnfusED THoughTS NOt cleAR AT firsT.  VERy similAR."

"These are files about me, the Net remembers and dreams about."  The book felt heavy.  Which was silly.  This was a dreamspace.  Even in the body of a small child, I could have super strength.  "Why did you want to show me it?"

Hecate opened the cover to the front page.  She tapped her finger on the mostly blank vellum.  The ink wasn't some print.  Handwritten script.  A woman's handwriting.

"'Forgive me.  I can't do this to you.'"  I read.  "Do what?  Hecate, is there something I need to download or what?"

Hecate flipped the next page.  The first page of the book.  Like other books, this one had the title and the author written on it.  I read it.

I read it aloud. "'Charlie Putnam-Hobb, Subject 003 of the Hecate Project.  By Ghale Putnam and Morgan Hobb, with editing by Miri Putnam and Hecate.'"

I tilted my head.  Fascinated, I started to read the pages afterward.  Hecate nodded.

"YOU Need to KNOw."  Hecate said.  "GHAle anD MIRi neeD YOUr helP, I THInk."


Wednesday, September 9, 2015

The Center Cannot Hold: The Ironfolk, The Jarn (Fate Core)

#Crux post for Wednesday!  The Jarn!  THE IRONFOLK.  *cues heavy metal*

Rather than go for the easy win of "vikings and ice and stuff" I instead did some research and tried to do something different.  Raiders that build their homes atop massive Mountain-Whales or Gerathim, the Jarn are one of the two peoples that hail from the ever frozen lands of Bor, north of Othebea and Ainesia.  Thanks for reading.  And as always, let me know whatcha think.  Input always helps makes these things kewler.

The Jarn
Jarnish Culture Aspects:  Gerathim Born; Might Makes Right; Death Before Dishonor; Ironfolk Medicine

The nomads of Jarn had long raided the lands across the icy seas of their frozen peninsula.  Hunters and herdsman, the nations of Jarn in Bor only have recently been brought under the heel of Othebea to the south.  Strong, hardy, the Jarn value survival.

Jarn human society has remained nomadic, even after the introduction of a number of technologies in the last century.  They have established cities, none of which keep the same location, always on the move.  Jarn villages are built atop Gerathim, or Mountain-Whales.  Each Gerathim is huge, colossally so.  Mammalian and yet relatives of Dragons, Gerathim hibernate during the coldest parts of the Borish winter.  During the summer, they can be coaxed into crawling at speeds that surprise outsiders.  Jarnish cities are built among herds of Gerathim.  Each herd numbers from four to thirty.

Each Gerathim can have three to four buildings built atop it.  Jarn have adapted outside techniques for their homes on Gerathim, using foreign materials to augment their own herdsmanship of each massive creature.

Aside from the Gerathim, the Jarn have always elected their own Chiefs based a variety of qualities.  Noble heritage is one.  The adherence to chiefly virtues, namely Honor, Bravery, Fortitude and Charity.  Societies cross tribal boundaries.  These vary from caste to caste for the Jarn.  Most are of two forms: ones for Warriors and those for Elders.  Warriors exist for young men and women who hunt, police and serve their tribes.  Elder societies form the basis of law creation and politics within a tribe, which individual Chiefs are elected to enforce.

Other societies exist amongst the Jarn, like the Whitewalkers, the Nightsisters, or the Devilcallers.
These are outliers.  Some are magical, others become trouble that Jarn Chiefs sometimes have to act to contain.

Jarn Tribes
The Jarn are a coalition of tribes.  The idea of any sort of central executive, even a king, disgusts them on multiple levels.  Each tribe elects two to four Shirts, who traveled between tribes to settle
quarrels and coordinate between tribes.  Often young, they also deal with foreigners first hand.

In recent years, the Shirts of each tribe have met in a Jarn Assembly, the Moot.  Yearly assembled, the Moot handles national matters that contact with Ainesia, Ith and Othebea require.  Othebea has
assigned Jarn a "governor" who typically handles all international contact with the Moot and the Jotnar's Queen (see below for how the Jarn and the Jotnar in Bor get along).  Along with other concessions, the Moot is one of the central conceits the Jarn of Bor agreed to when they signed
their treaty with Othebea in 1698.

Harsh, Bor has many different kinds of prey the Jarn have become adept at hunting.  Walrus, which coastal Jarn have learn tactics to wrestle.  Mammoths and Elk, whom northernly Jarn have learned to endure great cold to track.  Mountainous Jarn have become adept climbers chasing after the giant eagles.

Jarnish Diaspora
The Jarn can be found throughout the Maru Sea.  Their Gerathim cities had been able to navigate the cold ice around Bor.  They raided Othebea and Ainesia.  They've scattered, settling in places that they could conquer or raid.

Gerathim can't survive in the warmer water or lands of the Maru Sea.  Even on land, the warm temperatures cause Geruthim to overheat.  Jarn survived.  They assimilated into local cultures, to a degree.  Although most Jarn are worshippers of the twins, they've always also kept their own tribal forms of medicine in addition to the Clerical practices of the Church.

The long list of superstitions are central to the medicine their holy shamans practice is hard to convey here.  They know how to deal with the dead, help Gerathim go into heat, purify a meal and more.  Jarn scoff at outsider's sciences and claims that their medicine doesn't work.

Conflicts with the Jotnar
Where the Jarn dwell upon the Gerathim and wander, the Jotnar live atop the central plateau of Bor.  Both Jotnar and Jarn of Bor are bound by treaties with Othebea from centuries ago.  The Jarn of Bor have never had any kings or united government, except for the recent Moots.  Even those are only a conceit to Othebea.

The Jotnar have a monarch, their Queen, and a series of central settlements throughout the Bor peninsula.  The Jotnar and Jarn's history of trade, conflict and dealings stretches back to even before the Ursyklon invasion.  The Ursyklon didn't unite them, they sided with the Jarn against the Jotnar that they perceived as weaker for building their ice-spires.

Jarn speak their own tongue of Jarnish.  The Jotnar speak Ferrit.  For trade between the two of them, they have a separate language, Borish.  This is the tongue they use when dealing with the Othebeans.
Despite Othebean occupation in their lands, the old blood feuds between the Jotnar and the Jarn keep them from attempting any sort of united front.  The Jarn fear the Queen of the Jotnar and her witches.  The Jotnar still deal with Jarn raids atop their massive Gerathim settlements.  Should the two ever find some way to come together, it could create a new age for the lands of Bor.

Fashion And Wealth
Jarn prefer to wear things they've killed or taken.  They don't like wealth, not the gold or silver that
Ainesia and Othebea have long used for trading.  Even outside of Bor, the Jarn dislike paying for things.  This inborn habit sometimes is misinterpreted by outsiders.  What others see as intimidation and attempts at unconcealed theft, the Jarn view as a simple sign of strength.

That said, Jarn tend to gravitate toward Police work.  It blends with their ideas of societies.

Jarn have long black hair.  They always favor beads, the more exotic the material the better.  They always hesitate to wear anything made of iron, which they think is a way to court death.

Jarn learned tattooing from the Ursyklon.  Like the Urskylon, they enjoy tattooing their face.  Their
tattoos, unlike the Ursyklon, are individualistic.  Ursyklon tend to obtain tattooes to reflect their clan or their faith; Jarn tattooes vary from tribe to tribe.

Their tattoos always have a dark, blue tinge with them.  This is from Gerathim blood.  Its dark blue
blood leaves a permanent blue mark when used as tattoo ink.

Jarn Naming Conventions

A Jarn's name changes multiple times in his or her life.  Whenever a significant event happens in their life, they change their name.  Their old name dies, and their new name, their new self, replaces it.

Birth names are unisex.  Since they last until a child reaches puberty, Jarn have never placed any importance of gender to them.  When a child reaches puberty, they are given a family name that lasts until they join a society.  This name is their family name, which family members might use, but otherwise they go by the name their society gives them.

When outside their tribe or gerathim, Jarn add a epithet to their name that reflects what Tribe and what Gerathim they come from.  This double surname sometimes is confusing to non-Jarn.

Birth Names: Ghumani, Rhaytan, Uhawee, Cawa, Ohiyosa, Snana, Misat, Paytah, Tazatan, Vota
Family Names: Ulgoma, Atameda, Ogasga, Jaci, Nurit, Kachina, Tala, Tadewi, Vashota, Minovan
Society Names: Arn, Eyo, Awi, Ota, Oga, Rhay, Nuri, Vask, Uha, Yosa

Tribe Names: Ragesinger, Nightsinger, Ghostsinger, Mournteller, Joyteller, Deathteller, Seahunter, Furhunter, Icehunter, Devilhunter
Gerathim Names: Blacksleeper, Longgazer, Crimsonswimmer, Blindwalker, Rockeater, Whitescreamer, Linemaker, Shipcrusher, Ice-Crawler, Spiremother

Examples: Yosa Deathteller Spiremother, Tadewi Seahunter Blacksleeper, Arn Ghostsinger Rockeater

Jarn in Crux
Most Jarn arrive in Crux as traders and merchants from all over Ainesia, Bor and Othebea.  Their population trails behind the Tomasi, Ramelin, Salish and Rosac.  But the Ironfolk can be found there.
The Ironfolk societies in Crux are a uniting place for the Jarn.  They cross tribal lines.  Societies like the Ironhunters, Teadrinkers or the Southwanderers are bastions of their culture in a foreign land.  Most visiting Jarn come to a local society, the closest one that matches one they belong to at home.

Jarn in Crux tend to join one of the byzantine police forces.  Carrying over their own preference for societies to unite them, Jarn like serving the community.  Of course, Tomasi and Salish compatriots have complaints about their Jarnish counterparts.
Jarn tend to never be punctual, eschewing clocks unless forced to.  They don't fear stealing, even as police or city watch, even from the thieves they catch.  Its hard sometimes to tell when a Jarn is a dirty cop, or just is claiming some right her people are used to having.

Jarn can be found in other places in Crux as well.  Professor Uha Deathteller experiments on Gerathim biology at Crux University.  His experiments are attempts to breed a mature Gerathim that can survive warmer climes.  He also is open to modifying their biologies further, grafting or changing them into eidolons or other massive war engines.

The Justicar Tala abandoned her society and tribe ten years ago to become one of the vigilantes of the Wish Quarter.  Her thirst for finding targets for the Iron Cage makes her popular among other Justicar, especially her talent for surviving whatever is thrown her way.

The Patrizo vampyre Yoza Patrizo Spiremother, came to Crux a century ago.  Trained in medicine and as a Shaman of the most honored Jarnish mystic secrets, she mixes water magic, blood and Jarnish mysticism in her service to the Patrizo clan.  She has been able to craft tainted poultices that can allow any vampyre to use their blood magic to dominate those who use them.

Monday, September 7, 2015

The Center Cannot Hold: The Tengu Rite of the Last Candle (Fate Core)

Last night did a number on me.  But alas, the blog must go on!  #Crux post today.  One of players had a Tengu character in our Crux game I've been running.  The player and I conspired and killed off the character- I could write a whole article on how to do that correctly- but it left me wondering, how do the Tengu conduct a funeral?  What are the dangers if it goes wrong?  Do they have enemies that want Tengu souls to not reincarnate?

Anway, enjoy.  And as always, thanks for reading! :D

Tengu Rite of the Last Candle

When Tengu die, the deceased Tengu's clan prepare a series of ceremonies.  Immediately after death, if there is a body, Clerics of the North Wind provide ice, while Clerics of the West Wind moisten the beak of the dead, and Clerics of the East Wind prepare wards against impure spirits on the body.  Each clan maintains its own shrine to one of the four winds.  At these shrines, the clan decorates a table with flowers, incense and a candle for each person the dead spirit still might have business with- often close friends.

Almost every Tengu who visits the shrine in memory of the deceased wears some form of white.  Guests to the shrine often bring gifts to the Tengu's clan, most often some form of condolence money.  At the wake, the rite of the Last Candle is performed.  A Cleric of each wind recites a sutra from the Tengu's life or one of their past lives.  Once each sutra has been chanted, each person that might still tie the Tengu to this world, each lights a candle.  After lighting the candle, they must say their goodbye or recite some memory shared with the deceased.

Once a candleholder has said their piece, the candle's flame will shift to blue.  Once all the candles are lit, the spirit of the deceased is allowed to move on.  To rejoin the great wheel and reincarnate into the next generation of Tengu.  The body is cremated and stored in the Clan's gardens.  Tengu do not maintain gravestones or memorials for their dead; instead, if the deceased warranted enough to be remembered, a shrine will be created in their honor.

Yokengu: "Children of the Ghost Wind"

Not all Tengu reincarnate.  The failure to succeed at the Rite of the Last Candle can cause their spirit to become lost.  These spirits are the yokengu, Children of the Ghost Wind.  If the last candle lit does not free the spirit to rejoin the great wheel, leaves them bound to this world.  Yokengu see this as their own failure, their own inability to communicate what they've left undone.

Even centuries of being stuck as Ghosts leaves them loyal to their clan.  Yokengu often observe and watch their descendants from the Clan shrine or Clan garden.  Some Tengu will consult them from time to time, but most Tengu try not to acknowledge them.  This is out of fear of drawing out the shame that such lost souls might have.  It is the most basic respect they know of.

Those Yokengu who become separated from their clan, their spirits tend to grow mad.  Shame and anger at not reincarnating cause them to become more and more harmful to the living.  Yokengu whose madness takes over them are called Pregaki.  They hunger.  Pregaki try to push and drive the living around them to help sate their own hunger.  It isn't uncommon for Pregaki to work to keep the living from reaching their desires either.

Pregaki are what Yokengu fear becoming.  Pregaki are mad, lonesome spirits who are driven to malovolence.  They are worthy of pity.  Tengu often make offerings of food and drink to Pregaki, always hoping to help them find some form of calm.

Pregaki Aspects: Hungry Ghost; You Will Be Lost Too!; Eat, Eat, Never Satisfied!
Yokengu Aspects: Banned From the Great Wheel; Trapped With the Living; Ghost Tengu

Oni.

These beings enjoy interrupting or corrupting the Rite of the Last Candle for Tengu.  The Oni, as a folk, hold hatred for the Tengu.  The Oni as a people were massacred by the Tengu thousands of years ago.  Binders of demons and ghosts, the Oni became a folk of all ghosts.
Artist's page can be found here.

A folk who remember the Tengu that murdered them.  Oni often are banished and warded away by the Tengu.  But the nature of the Rite of the Last Candle gives the Oni ways to creep through wards that otherwise would be closed to them.  They can interfere with the funeral of a Tengu, espeically one that opposed the Oni's own efforts to find reincarnation.

Oni often have complex schemes.  They are willing to learn or even manipulate non-Tengu to achieve their own ends.  The can chain and bind Pregaki to their service.  One or two mightly Oni Hari (Monarchs) command entire kingdoms of Ghost-slaves, bound to their will.  Tengu Shugenja often work against these, as all Tengu are certain the Oni are manifestations of the fifth wind.

Oni themselves struggle to find a way to reincarnate.  Nothing they've done has succeeded.  Worse, Oni must find Pregaki and other ghosts to enslave.  Without a ghost-slave, an Oni's spirit can be hunted down by one of the Riders.  Riders are servants of one of the many Hells.  They and their hounds emerge once every full moon.  Riders hunt Oni, dragging them back to hell- unless the Oni has managed to find another to take their place.  In Crux, Oni have found new sources of ghosts, and perhaps, ways to reincarnate the Tengu can't bar them from.

Oni Aspects: Ghost-Chained; I Serve the Hari; Damn The Tengu; "I Will Take You Down With Me."