Monday, December 28, 2020

They Skitter

The World-Spider came, and those who heard its approach were the first to go.

It started off as a distant scratching at the door, or the rustling of thick, bristly hairs over cloth. They tried their best to ignore them.

But the sounds came closer, and grew louder, until they proved too difficult to ignore- or to deny.

Soon they entered those ill-fated minds, and took up scratching and bristling against the backs of their brains. The sounds reverberated outward across their nerves like vibrations on strands. Actions ceased to be of their own volition, and thoughts of alien origin became the norm. With time, even the frantic undercurrent wishing for those scratching, skittering sounds to stop was subsumed.

What was leftover was a vessel.

For some time, they managed to look outwardly normal- at least at a glance. Speech became halting and unnatural, and virtually all daily routines were abandoned. But they retained their shape, and general knowledge possessed by the people who once were. And these qualities were used to their advantage. Few could hold themselves together long enough to infiltrate high and mighty places, but a body with only two legs was good enough when seen from a distance. No time could be wasted in their attempts to prepare the way.

Soon they were drawn together by strands of silk that only they could see, led to empty and desolate places where they could unsheathe themselves and work unobstructed. They tapped into the underlying web beneath all things, and sent such a tremor through it that the location of the world was impossible for the World-Spider to miss. They also kept abreast of anyone or anything that has heard the scratching at the door, but has managed to resist- or worse, work against it.

Once all legitimate threats are eliminated, and the World-Spider has been summoned irrevocably, its extensions may finally know the end. When the sky is wreathed in its silky cocoon, and the soft cries of reality itself can be heard, they are the first to be unmade. All becomes twitching legs and needle-like hairs for one moment of awful exultation, but just as suddenly the writhing mass dissolves into liquid potential.

They are spared the sight of fangs piercing the heavens as the world dies, though few of their many eyes would even be functional enough to see.

Of course, even that end would be welcomed, after so long spent under the direction of Mr. Sticks.

A nest of skittering signs and rumors

  1. Dust and cobwebs are accumulating at an alarming rate all over town. They seem to return after every footstep or broom sweep.
  2. Parents are alarmed at a new game which has taken their children by storm of late. It is called "Feeding the Cellar Door".
  3. The sudden surplus of fine silk on the market has caused massive devaluation, economic shakeup, and a growing fashion war between the upper and lower classes.
  4. A curious delicacy has begun appearing in coastal restaurants catering to the fine and exotic. They call it "land crab", and it is said to originate in Other Parts.
  5. Paupers and transients have been vanishing off the streets in increasing numbers for weeks. The authorities are only becoming concerned now that a few members of their secret police have gone missing undercover.
  6. Astrological circles have been in a bit of a tizzy recently. They insist that the stars seem "wrong" somehow. No one is listening to them.
  7. A string of grizzly murders has been committed. Each victim has been drained of bodily fluids through massive puncture wounds. Specialists suspected an unsanctioned vampire at first, but those do not grow barbed hairs like the ones found at each crime scenes.
  8. Something has been eating people's pets of late. Even when they are behind locked doors, several stories above ground.
  9. Services at one of the city's chief temples were interrupted when the high priest tried and failed five times to speak their god's name. On the sixth attempt, they vomited a mass of animate spider legs that then fled into the rafters, catacombs, and dark corners of the temple. Extermination is ongoing.
  10. Increasing numbers of clerics (as well as the odd warlock) are reporting that their patrons are responding less and less to their prayers, and that their voices sound faint and somehow 'peckish'.
  11. Spells tied to conjuration or the manipulation of planar magic are fizzling, being disrupted, or having wholly unintended effects.
  12. A wealthy noble's scion was spotted departing their estate with a strange gait one night during a storm. Their family has quashed all search & rescue efforts.
  13. A geomancer from one of the frontier areas was arrested for disturbing the peace. They insisted that the earth is 'thrumming in fear'.
  14. Nearby farmland is covered in record numbers of cicada exoskeletons, but not a single cicada was seen or heard, and the next brood wasn't expected for several years.
  15. The old, disused trestle bridge seems to be under renovation now. What else are all the ropes and midnight lamps for?
  16. That band of herb-burning itinerants hastily packed their wagons and left the vacant lot the other day. Most of the locals say good riddance to them, but their manner as they departed seemed strangely mournful.
  17. The provost has ordered the urban park to be closed with no warning or explanation. The guard will not release the people trapped behind its gates.
  18. A fire destroyed large sections of the local monster hunter's guild hall. No fatalities were reported, but untold sums in specialized weapons and equipment have been lost.
  19. Some new skin disease has been making the rounds lately. The rashes and peeling are bad, but it's the crawling sensation that is the worst.
  20. The man in the handsome suit is back. He's traded his face for a bowler hat.

Orts of the Lastgod.

The World-Spider came, and only dregs were left amid the riven strands of silk.

The cocoon closed the world off from everything. Nothing--no ghost, god, or spirit--could get in or out. 

Not even the prayers of the desperate fodder could escape it. While the world dissolved, the gods in their heavens starved.

Lean times set in. Having grown used to the sustenance of prayer, the gods found their withdrawal symptoms sudden and agonizing. Even the mightiest deities withered into emaciated husks.

All of them had a breaking point.

Ravenous hunger alike to that of the Enemy gripped them, and in their frenzy they tore down and devoured the essence of their own planes and servants.

When the World-Spider moved on, as it always did and always would, the gods descended on the scraps it left behind. They devoured the emptied lands before them, for matter was naught but spirit-stuff of their own contrivance, once upon a time. They drank of the lakes of liquified thought and potential. They huffed the clouds of dust and dismay that yet clung to the ruins.

And still they hungered.

Their bloodshot eyes turned toward one another before long. The smallest and feeblest among them were the first to go. Land-spirits, tutelary deities, and the odd surviving demi-god were snapped up like morsels. But they did not satisfy. A food chain shrank as rapidly as it came into existence. "Eat or be eaten" soon became "eat and be eaten", which further devolved into the mindless mantra of "e a t".

Roiling, half-digested spirit-stuff spilled from opened bellies until the selfsame feast came to a grizzly conclusion, and the last of the gods were consumed by an encircling sea of chaotic juices.

Only, not all of the gods destroyed one another like that.

Perhaps it had once been a god of sneaking and opportunism. Perhaps it had just adapted very quickly. It couldn't remember, and frankly it didn't matter. What mattered was the work it had put in before all the other gods spilled themselves.

The last god cobbled together all of the wretched castoffs of its kin and the Enemy. With skeletal fingers it sculped an island, and with spit, glue, and hope it held it together. It even managed to scoop up a few overlooked creatures who had been floating adrift since the World-Spider's coming.

It nurtured these half-dead, maddened beings until they could scratch an existence out of the rocks, at which point the last god turned from savior to jailor. Even as it raised new shreds of land from the roiling sea, it jealously guarded and browbeat all within its domain. All formality was abandoned, and the intercession of religion was done away with. The true nature of the relationship between god and mortal was laid plain, bare, and raw: one is the reaper, and the other is its harvest; flesh and prayer are just different mediums for the same outcome.

The mortals slipped down from the jagged, hollow breast of their god. They died. They spread, multiplied, and mourned. They died. They looked out upon the sea of chaos and recoiled with fear. They died. They bowed their heads beneath the lurid, bloodshot gaze of their titanic keeper. They died. They expressed their anguish by acting in the god's image and enslaving the beasts and briars of the earth. They died.

Ages passed. The god's name was forgotten, even by itself. In its place it took the title of the Last God. 

Centuries more dragged by. The title became its name, spoken in anxious, placating tones by every soul with a voice in that realm.

The Lastgod is jealously protective of its scraps, castoffs, and orts. Dismal wealth and mighty doom await.

Rumors on the Orts

  1. Some farmland has started to moan and weep vinegar. The town would like help quieting it.
  2. The Lastgod chipped a tooth on a sacrifice recently, and smote the offending village. Now neighboring communities are warring over the ruins for possession of its rotten molar fragment.
  3. A child born under a skittering cloud has finally come of age, and must be escorted under guard to the ribcage tor where they are to be broken upon the rocks.
  4. Mud puddles forming in the Lastgod's footprints are tinged with nourishing ichor from a recent injury.
  5. A new island has risen from the roil. Settlers are already preparing fresh, noisy skinbarges to row to it.
  6. Sacrifice is fast approaching, and the herders are alarmed that every animal they slaughter seems to start rotting immediately.
  7. An old patch of forest has grown too old. The wood is spongy, rotten, and mildly carnivorous.
  8. An apprentice boneturner needs live and dangerous specimens to continue their experiments in creating bipedal animals.
  9. The Lastgod has not accepted the monthly sacrifice prepared by a nearby village, and seems to be completely ignoring it. The villagers are panicking.
  10. Harvested grains are bursting out of their silos and smothering people. Again.
  11. A plague of rampant gut fauna growth is sweeping through several towns. A dozen people have already ruptured.
  12. Part of an island has sloughed off into the roil. Its exposed face is honeycombed with dozens of deep, spiraling tunnels.
  13. A temper tantrum put the Lastgod's foot through the ground and revealed a hidden vault underneath. There is glowing in the depths.
  14. The smoky night sky opened up briefly over a mountaintop to reveal stars. Horrible, lurid stars.
  15. Clutches of rancid, undulating eggs are being uncovered in cellars and burial pits.
  16. One of the Lastgod's centennial bowel movements has left a smoking crater in a nearby acid river valley. Swarms of parasites are emerging from it.
  17. A raving prophet touched by the Lastgod has been raised from the nearby serfs. No matter how much they gorge themselves on food, they continue to waste away.
  18. Something with Too Many Legs was spotted lurking around the old temple.
  19. An ephemeral godling has congealed out of the roil to reach its pseudopods onto land and threaten nearby villages. The Lastgod must be lured over to stop it.
  20. They say someone has found a shred of spider's silk.

Monday, November 30, 2020

The City on the Steppe

Untitled engraving by Gérard Trignac
for Jorges Luis Borges' "El Inmortal"

There is a City here, out on the steppe.

It is here now, but it wasn't last month.

Nothing was here, except grass, and herds, and blue sky.

But all those are gone now. Now there's only the City.

The City, and the people who are drawn to it.

The City presently covers an area of approximately 100km² upon the inner steppe. Sandwiched between taigas to the north, mountains to the south, deserts to the east, and spiderwebbing river valleys to the west, the steppe has been thought of as a central heartland by many, and as an empty wasteland by many more. This is beginning to change, as news of the City spreads farther.

The City appears to grow at a rate of about 5 meters per day, with the expansion occurring at random intervals between 00:00 and 04:00 every night. This always coincides with particularly heavy cloud cover blocking out the light of the moon and stars, making the event very difficult to observe. The outskirts of the City expand outward when this happens, pushing up mounds of earth and even causing small tremors. It is speculated that 'new' City appears near its center like lava rising up out of a divergent boundary between deep sea plates, but this hypothesis has not been confirmed.

The City is staggering. It is extremely dense, its buildings exceeding the size and scale of those in any other urban center in the world. It is the place where urban planning has come to die, possessing almost no rhyme or reason to its layout and construction. Nor could it be said to have evolved 'naturally' like older cities. It is somehow far older feeling. Buildings shoot up for dozens or even hundreds of stories at random, making the City's skyline a jagged assortment of teeth.

The City is an inturning jumble of structures in disparate, anachronistic architectural styles; a roiling chaos that seems to be frozen in stasis for the moment. Some buildings are immensely tall and fully fleshed out, while others stand half-built, crumbling, and skeletal, like the remains of trees who lost the battle for sunlight in a climax forest. All are built from the same materials: basalt, marble, plaster, and something flammable yet not quite organic which has been conveniently dubbed 'City-wood'.

The City is a place of alienating familiarity, and elegant dysfunction. Vaulted domes sit freestanding and inverted like immense bowls. Bridges span the gaps between doorless and windowless buildings with no access points. Colonnades that lead nowhere stand apart from everything else, perched upon yet more columns like legs or stilts. Buildings can lack doors entirely, or have them placed meters above the street level. Houses can intersect at the edges as if they are superimposed, or fitted together like puzzle pieces.

The City is almost deserted. The herds of horses and sheep, as well as the people minding them on the night of the City's arrival at that site vanished without a trace. Despite rumors of figures spotted on the streets and in windows in unsanctioned areas or during curfew hours, the City does not appear to have any native residents, or any local animal life for that matter. Animals are loathe to come near the outskirts, with the exception of some birds who have begun roosting in high places. Rare gardens boasting exotic plant life have been discovered, but the most vegetation anyone is likely to find are weeds or lichens chipping away at the cracks in streets and foundations.

The City offers sparring hospitality to those who venture deep enough. A flying aqueduct may spill potable water down an alleyway to create a small river. A bazaar might have market stalls stocked with random items and passably fresh food. A sealed room, once broken into, could have a cozy little hearth readied with oil and a stack of dried City-wood.

The City has drawn many people to its outskirts, and a small handful to its interior. A series of camps ring the City, set about half a kilometer out from its creeping limits, where the folds in the earth stop, and horses can tolerate staying. Tensions are already running high across the camps as competing factions arrive to stake claims or assess risks amid a growing sea of settlers, refugees, and curious onlookers.

(The City should have a certain timeless or time-lost quality to it, but the world it has appeared in can be more grounded and defined. Anything from an Iron Age to an Early Modern Period inspired setting could work- too much earlier than that and it becomes unrecognizable for lack of what we consider 'normal' cities, but any later and technological advances can begin to cut into the mystery of it all.

On a whim I plugged Central Asian and late Imperial Russian influences into my host-world for the City, so I'll roll with that for the rest of this post.)

Agents of the Czar and His army are eager to know first if the City is a threat to the Empire, and second if it can be exploited to its benefit.

Clandestine revolutionaries seeking a glorious people's uprising see the City as a new frontier for their cause, if the Empire can be beaten to it first.

Dispossessed nomads and impoverished Sarts struggle to make the best of the bad situation their homeland has fallen into, with agitations for independence quietly starting again.

Natural philosophers and other men and women of knowledge have come from far lesser cities to marvel at the City and all its mysteries.

Fortune-seekers and ne'er-do-wells of all classes and backgrounds have come to plumb the depths of the City for unknown riches, or simply to rob those who already have done so.

People who might be found in the camps around the City include, but should not be limited to:




Imperial Official


Enterprising Merchant


Roving Cossack


People's Revolutionary


Venturesome Boyar


Aspiring Homesteader


Bereaved Herder


Secessionist Sart


Moonstruck Philosopher


Very Drunk Burlak

1) Imperial Official: You serve Crown and Country, and you will not let a little otherworldly apparition get in the way of business as usual. You will analyze the situation in full and send word back to the Ministry, or the Czar's secret police will want to have a word with you.
  • Possessions: badge & seal of office (authentic), warm uniform, pistol, bureaucratic I.O.U. for pistol shot, unfinished report on the City, list of local suspects.
  • Quirk: At the cost of burning what little goodwill the Empire has left in the area, you may requisition a service from a camp at no cost.
2) Enterprising Merchant: The world is changing, and you know it. Titles and oaths are on the wane. Money is power now, and money comes with opportunity. Something that defies all expectation and explanation like the City is a source of potentially infinite opportunities.
  • Possessions: merchant's scales, chest full of paper money, prybar, certificate of merchant guild membership.
  • Quirk: You have already established trade contacts throughout the camps. There is a decent chance you can buy or barter for common items at a small discount.
3) Roving Cossack: Things got a little crazy while you were pacifying that village. You were separated from the rest of your host, and worse yet, from all of the loot. This strange new City seems like a place where you could find a bit of either.
  • Possessions: skittish mare, weathered old papakha, broken shashka, fistful of coins (rubles or tankas).
  • Quirk: You have seen and done things. Committing deeds of ruthless pragmatism are less draining on your psyche than others... for the moment.
4) People's Revolutionary: The flash flood of revolution is already on its way, or so you are convinced. You need only add cracks to the dam of autocratic iniquity, and give it a vessel to surge into. The City could serve both purposes, in the right hands.
  • Possessions: badge & seal of office (counterfeit), contraband pamphlets, your own manifesto (very rough draft), list of local sympathizers.
  • Quirk: You are a bit of a firebrand. Whatever your usual charm and charisma, you can deliver an impassioned speech about your cause that can win common people over to the movement- enough to aid your party, not so much.
5) Venturesome Boyar: Your highborn parents don't exactly approve of you going off on another adventure when you should be at home looking for a spouse to hold onto what little the family has left, but they can't exactly stop you, either. The novelty and adventure of the City call to you.
  • Possessions: legally mandated shaving kit, bird gun & pellets (3 shots), signet ring, beleaguered servant.
  • Quirk: You may send a letter back home asking for help in solving one problem you face at the city. The letter takes a week to deliver, and your parents refuse to help for a month afterward.
6) Aspiring Homesteader: It took such haggling, and you may have sold one of your relatives to do it, but your feudal landlord finally allowed you a temporary reprieve from serfdom. Now you must race against the clock to claim a home- and what cheaper real estate is there than allegedly haunted land?
  • Possessions: shovel, axe, old burlap clothing, contract for free movement from your feudal lord (deadline fast-approaching), sack of buckwheat cereal.
  • Quirk: Food is a luxury for you. Lean years and ruined harvests have shrunken your stomach. You can go longer than others without eating.
7) Bereaved Herder: Your forebears suffered much when the Empire abolished the old khaganate. Your family suffered when its pastures were repossessed. Now, you have suffered the loss of kin and kine to the City. But unlike those past grievances, you have the power to change this one.
  • Possessions: resigned nag, itchy wool deel, prayer box (real wood), tiny (but vicious) sheepdog.
  • Quirk: You are hardy. You've endured wind and winter out on the steppe a number of times. Exposure hurts you less than it does others.
8) Secessionist Sart: Your oasis town was once a grand city- a flower of the wastes. Now it is just a stop for thirsty vagabonds destined for greater places. You know where the fault lies for this. The village elders and you agree that the City can be a catalyst to destabilize the Empire elsewhere.
  • Possessions: sumptuous silk kaftan, ancestral tamgha banner, aqsaqal correspondence, dried peaches, heirloom saber.
  • Quirk: Being from the arid, desert parts of the steppe, you are better at locating water than most. Somehow this applies even within the City limits.
9) Moonstruck Philosopher: While most have come to gawk at the City, you have come to study it. Something about it has enchanted you and lured you to it, and you will be damned if you don't learn why- or perhaps even then.
  • Possessions: voluminous notes (any discipline), stack of books & journals, unnecessarily sharp letter opener.
  • Quirk: Choose one or two of the sciences and/or humanities. If you choose one, you have expert knowledge to offer in situations involving that subject. If you choose two, you have moderate knowledge.
10) Very Drunk Burlak: Where did the river go? Where is the barge, and the artel, and your pulling crew? Were you transplanted here by the same strangeness as the City, or did you simply wander here on another bender? Your head hurts.
  • Possessions: leather yoke, coil of rope (15m), bottle of alcohol (vodka or kumis), a bad case of kyphosis.
  • Quirk: You've seen stranger things while sober. The weirdness of the City doesn't hurt your psyche as much as it does others, so long as you possess alcohol.

Saturday, November 7, 2020

On the Pain-Tasters of Najis.

Najis is the godhead of harm and healing, and the cycle of endurance and suffering that they perpetuate. While not uniformly sadistic in their depictions across the known world, the cast of the deity's clergy and most fervent devotees tends to be somewhat grim. It is the only known cult in which self-flagellation is a competitive sport, and the 'self' part is often omitted.

Even so, the god's focus lends its followers a keen understanding of the bodies of living things, and the myriad problems and ailments that can befall them. While they may approach infirmity with more spiritual glee than more mundane healers, the priests and surgeons instructed in the ways of Najis are often skilled and sought-after doctors all across the Basin. Sought-after, but not necessarily wanted- one of the more infamous pieces of commonly known Najisi stricture is the forbiddance of any and all anesthetics during procedures: pain is life, and so the absence of pain is an abominable miniature death.¹

The most (in)famous of these healers are the Pain-Tasters.

Barber Surgeon (Zweihander RPG)
Dejan Mandic

While their name is a bit too on-the-nose, their expertise is remarkable regardless of whether you have a high or dim opinion of the order as a whole. The Pain-Tasters are alumni of the highly prestigious and highly secretive Sodality of the Blissful Scourging, a medical school and seminary in Serminwurth with another extremely on-the-nose name.

The Sodality is open only to Najisites of demonstrable faith and fervor, and the vast majority of students already have successful medical careers prior to their induction. Students are forbidden to leave the school until they have either dropped out or completed their training, which is a process that can take up to a decade or more. More than one disappearance or suspected murder in the city has been explained by a new entry to the Sodality simply forgetting to alert every relevant party in their life of their aspirations before cloistering.

Most students do not complete their training. The isolation, coupled with rigorous daily schedules and study regimens that blur the material with the arcane, can lead many to burn out within their first year or two. Surprisingly, these dropouts are often allowed to leave and resume their lives in the outside world, though they all share some dismay when they wake up and find that much of the knowledge they acquired at the school has been obliterated by an as-of-yet unknown agent--possibly a potent and specialized drug--employed by the school.²

Because of these measures, very little slips out about what actually goes into training a Pain-Taster, and its members are quite tight-lipped about it. It doubtless involves mastery of any and all bleeding-edge knowledge and technology of medicine, as well as liberal addition to the 'bleeding' side. It is also possible that they undergo a series of inoculations against any diseases they could conceivably encounter during their practice: Pain-Tasters are well known for how fearlessly they throw themselves into highly contagious situations, yet rarely ever seem to grow sick themselves.

The rumor that the government of Serminwurth hands certain condemned criminals over to the Sodality for clandestine vivisections is unsubstantiated, but it would surprise absolutely no one if it came to light as truth. They possess insights into the physiology of humans and many other living things that could only be obtained through intimate familiarity.

Once a Pain-Taster has graduated from the Sodality and donned their ceremonial mantle of knives and needles, they have a wealth of options available to them. Most hospitals in any given area will accept them outright- if not as full-fledged members of their staff, then at least as advisors and specialists kept at a cordial arm's length. They may emphasize their religious training and become members of the formal religious hierarchy. Or, they go wandering in search of new avenues and methods of practice.

Some of the best details on Pain-Tasters outside of Serminwurth have been recorded in Deneroth, where a permanent office for one has been in place ever since the founding of the city by Laizij. Here, a senior Pain-Taster operates out of a small Najisi shrine that has nonetheless been granted the flattering title of "basilica". This taster acts as the personal doctor for the city's Steward, as well as the Directorate of Ivory Tower University.

The voluminous notes taken at the latter location has teased out many details about Pain-Tasters over the centuries, much to the chagrin of the Sodality. But in the interest of maintaining the relationship between the two cities, Serminwurth does not object to these incidental gleanings.

Foremost among the abilities of a Pain-Taster is their skill at diagnosis. This is where their name comes in, and they live up to it every bit. They can reportedly see, smell, feel, or occasionally even taste the onset of an illness hours or days before visible symptoms appear in a patient.

They can identify broken bones or ruptured arteries at a glance, and even make educated guesses at the exact breed of parasite infesting someone based on the 'look' of their eyeballs or the smell of their bodily waste. They operate on the threshold where preventative medicine is no longer possible, and treatment and pain are the only paths forward- precisely as Najis would will it. Their senses seem to have been honed by years of study and memorization of subtle cues coupled with experience, but something about it is downright preternatural.

Just as they are skilled in determining what will happen, they are unerringly accurate with what has happened. Pain-Tasters can act as coroners, able to detect even subtle causes of death some time after the event, at least so long as the cadaver has not undergone considerable putrefaction. The most famous instance of this comes again from Denerothi records, in which the senior Pain-Taster of the basilica determined the cause of death of Laizij.

The rumor that had spread like wildfire upon the discovery of the Eternal Scholar's body was that he had been poisoned, or smote by black magic conjured by everyone's favorite scapegoats, the followers of Dherna. The taster was able to determine quite confidently that he had died of blockage related to a truly prodigious collection of gallstones. The taster reportedly came to suspect this after ingesting a piece of Laizij's raw, jaundiced skin. After the requisite amount of bureaucracy was waded through to receive a permit to perform an invasive examination, the gallstones were found. 

The chronicle then takes an extensive sidetrack relating the legend of how these stones were inscribed with motes of wisdom that were then sought after or scattered with the winds, in good Denerothi fashion. But the procedure itself is corroborated in similar cases elsewhere, adding to the Pain-Tasters' lengthy list of qualifications for everyone else's reluctant respect.

¹ To say nothing of the fact that one common depiction of the afterlife in the inner esoteric circles of Najis-worshipers is a perfect perpetuation of life-affirming, exhilarating pain via stabs and scrapes.

² This memory erasure does not appear to be flawless, however. Mersind, once an aspiring biologist and anatomist of Serminwurth, was expelled after breaking some sort of grave taboo during his second year at the Sodality. Yet descriptions of the pale, enigmatic man suggest that he fled the city with his memories of the school almost fully intact a decade and a half ago. Ever since then, his former colleagues have been keenly interested in returning him for examination, and to put a stop to his more well-known excesses (while also seizing all of his collected data for their own research).

Saturday, October 31, 2020

Carving Mouths with which to Scream.

The forested hills that the Esgodarrans now call home boast considerable farmland, dug into the slopes and concealed by the trees. These terraced gardens favor smaller numbers of nutrient-rich crops quite unlike the vast fields of grains from the plains dominated by modern Ersuunians. Among these staple crops are included a variety of gourd vegetables in diverse colors and shapes. Just as diverse are the customs and cultural traditions surrounding many of them.

Some gourds are grown solely for the purpose of housing medicines or sacred substances for the holy folk of the hill people. Others are used as food, or animal fodder, or their rinds are ground up for several purposes. One type of spotted vine fruit is even known as a source of a potent intoxicant, when fermented properly. All of these uses and more are ingrained in Esgodarran tribal memory by a wealth of stories and songs.

One story in particular is told and retold every harvest season, to explain why so many of the hill tribes hollow out different gourds, carve their sides into elaborate shapes, and then plant them around the tops of specially prepared torches as part of seasonal celebrations.

Once, long ago, the Esgodarrans were fighting a losing war against the encroaching Haraalians. Before the chariots and the saddled archers of the horsemen, they fell like so much scythed wheat. As they retreated into the hills where they eventually built their holdfasts and villages, they brought the bodies of their dead with them.

When the first crops were planted in soil ill-suited for farming, pragmatism led to a creative, albeit somewhat grim, use for those bodies. The dead became fertilizer, so that their families could live to see the coming year. And their sacrifice was not in vain: the legend claims that the hills bloomed with produce, chief among them being swollen gourds of proportions that any farmer then and now would be envious of.

But when the harvest season drew close, the Esgodarrans sensed that something was wrong. The gourds seemed to be disturbed ever so slightly when looked over every morning, and at night strange sounds could be heard coming from the gardens. These happenings continued and intensified over the following weeks until the hills were weighed down upon by a terrible pall- the people were sure that a curse had settled upon them like clinging spider's silk.

Eventually, the source of the omens was discovered. It was the gourds themselves, writhing and moaning upon their vines as if they were alive. When terrified tribespeople dared to stalk closer, they found that they could recognize the pained, muffled sounds as human- even as the voices belonging to their deceased loved ones. Terror gripped one and all as they realized that in growing their food from the corpses of their kin, they had unwittingly trapped their souls.

A wise and skilled woodsman proved to be their salvation, as he stepped forward brandishing his biggest and sharpest knife. One by one, he cut the gourds from their vines and then cut into their sides, carving faces into their hard outer layers and allowing their soft insides to spill forth. Blessed with eyes that could weep and mouths that could scream, the gourds wailed their horrors out. They had been reliving the moments of their deaths over and over again while trapped in the blind silence of the earth, and only through the woodsman's cuts were they able to rid themselves of the accumulated pain.

Days passed as the hillsides screamed and lamented, the sound of which drove even the most stalwart of god-king Haraal's soldiers away from the hills in fear. The Esgodarrans stuffed their ears with tree cotton dipped in beeswax to block out the worst of the wailing, but it grated terribly at even those steady folk before the end.

One by one, the gourds expelled their anguish and gave up their ghosts. The nightmare ended at last when the final gourd's voice quieted to a pulpy sputter, in which it thanked the woodsman and their tribe for the mercy. It bequeathed the banquet of their bodies to the people of the hills, but warned them that never again could anyone be buried beneath a garden. With that, the last trapped Esgodarran soul sloughed out and moved on to the afterlife.

Ever since that day, the use of human fertilizer has been strictly forbidden among all of the Esgodarran tribes. As a reminder of that grave mistake, the people carve more mundane fruits into contorted faces or depictions of other mythological scenes every year, and place them on display for all to see.

A popular trick aimed at children or very wayward lowlanders is to throw one's voice so that it sounds as if a gourd is speaking--or screaming--at the observer.

Thursday, October 15, 2020

Another 1d6 Backgrounds for TROIKA!

Here's another couple of backgrounds for TROIKA!, the game I have now written more content for than any other system despite having never played it. As always, the balance is probably nonexistent. Check out my first 1d6 backgrounds here, and be on the lookout for more in the future. Eventually. Like, deep cosmic future...





Blood Wasp Hive


Endling Terminarch


Esuvee Rancher


Heinous Idolater


Koilotheist Murmurer



Blood Wasp Hive

You were lonely, once. But then the swarm came, and burrowed deep into your flesh. Your abdomen bulges like papier-mâché, and your head is barely distinguishable from the honeycombed masses through which they fly and crawl. Now you have friends in multitudes. Now they sing to you- a never-ending, buzzing chorus, urging you forward to new lands and new friend-hives.


A Jar of Crimson Honey.

Tattered rags.

D6 Sheaves of Waxy Paper.

Advanced Skills

1 Acrobatics

3 Disturbing

1 Heal

2 Poison

3 Secrete Honey


You can expel a cloud of agitated blood wasps from your torso once per day. They seek out and aggressively invade the mouth, nostrils, ears, or equivalent orifices of one target of your choosing. This functions as the Drown spell, except that anything that dies from the blood wasp infestation becomes a new (but inanimate) hive.

Endling Terminarch

You are the youngest and spriest of your dying, desiccated kin. Your joints creak, and your mind wanders, but there is time yet for your kind to be remembered in greatness. When you are gone, there will be no more. When you breathe your last rattling breath and the blood in your veins congeals into dust, the universe will sigh at your passing- it is up to you whether that sigh is relieved, or mournful.


A Runed Cane (Damage as Club).

A Reliquary of your kin's ashes and skulls.

D6 Scrolls detailing your people's achievements.

Scrivener's Kit.

Advanced Skills

3 Astrology

1 Club Fighting

1 Etiquette

3 Mathology

2 Mortuary Science


You can recall any piece of mildly useful, parabolic advice relevant to the situation at hand by telling a long and rambling story from your youth, full of tangents and chiding interjections aimed at any party members younger than you. The tale takes 10 x d6 minutes to tell, and the moral of the story is decided on by the GM.

Esuvee Rancher

You were a cityslicker once, but you soon heeded your calling and headed out to the saw-grassed prairies of the Teal Wastes. Now you ride with the esuvees, with musk in your lungs and chrome on your boot spurs. You know the secrets of the majestic, mechanical beasts, how to treat them right, and how to pull the tightest turns on one without so much as a tip. You also know to avoid the herds during mating season, so you decided to take your trusty electro-gelding and explore for a it.


A Box of Chewing Scrig (10 Uses).

Blue Jeans & Leather Boots.

3 Days of Esuvee Feed.

Electro-Whip (Damage as Hammer).

Advanced Skills

1 Acrobatics

1 Awareness

2 Drink Alcohol

2 Herding

3 Riding

1 Strength

1 Tracking


You can tame and ride wild esuvees, or other similar electro-mammals. You never fall off your mount while riding. Any vehicle you are piloting cannot be rolled over or tipped. You also have an acquired tolerance for fox-urine whiskey.

Heinous Idolater

You and your stocky lowland kin worship against a variety of loathsome entities, trapping their selfsame manifestations of disaster and bad luck inside of grotesque idols that you then deface and damage in order to weaken them. There are many evils out there, in need of trapping or keeping trapped. Pray they never escape- or remember you.


Carver's Kit.

A Big Lump of wood, stone, or bone.

Fermented Alpaca's Milk.

An Excessively Wicked-Looking Knife.

Advanced Skills

2 Astrology

2 Evaluate

2 Harvesting

3 Idol Carving

1 Knife Fighting

1 Swim


You can take one day prepare an idol meant to embody an evil out of a huge and unwieldy hunk of wood or similar material. The evil in question must be very specific, such as drowning, deception, or haunting by the ghosts of eyeless children. You can mar a respective idol to grant yourself or another person a +1 to one Advanced Skill roll or Roll Versus that evil. After marring an idol 3 times, it is destroyed. An idol takes up two inventory slots.

Koilotheist Murmurer

You were shunted out of your lumbering stone god-beast, either by its death or by the cruelty of your fellow passengers. Now you wander the spheres, a tatterdemalion savant seeking out new, resonant hums with which to harmonize. Orichalcum nails stud your body, and leather cords drag in your wake. Your eye sockets are empty, but your ears and mind are so full of wonder at the susurration of the spheres.



10 Pounds of Leather & Chains (Light Armour).

Walking Stick (Damage as Staff.)

Seashell Ear Trumpet.

Advanced Skills

3 Astrology

1 Awareness

1 Languages

3 Second Sight

2 Singing


You can hear snatches of thought, psychic background static, and celestial music at all times. This counts as being under the effects of the Thought Vapor spell, except it is auditory in nature, rather than olfactory.

You can also Harmonize with one target within speaking distance. The target must Test their Luck or be entranced by your humming for 1 minute. You are unable to act for as long as you are Harmonizing.


You have seen the darkness that gnaws at light, metal, and flesh with teeth like fractals. You have smelled the sickening odor of unrefined pallite. You've heard the howling screams coming from beyond the light fences. You have felt the sweet, cancer-inducing radiance fill every inch of your body. You've set out to challenge the darkness, before it swallows up another sun.


Fractal Scars.

Battered Pallite Carbine (Damage as Fusil).

4 Pallite Batteries (as Plasmic Cores).

Radiation Skin & LEDuster (Modest Armour).

A Bottle of Vitamin D Supplements.

Advanced Skills

1 in a Fighting Skill of your choice

3 Awareness

1 Firemaking

2 Fusil Fighting

2 Pallite Refinement

1 Run

1 Strength


You can see perfectly in total darkness, but not magical darkness. You are never afraid of the dark. You are not disoriented by sudden bright lights, and are immune to the Flash spell. You also definitely have some form of cancer, but it's a kind of cancer that kills every other kind before it can affect you.

Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Koilotheism: Walkers of the World Beyond

 When a world ends, there are often survivors.

Despite the scale and severity of the destruction that the death of a god can cause, a few generally escape unscathed thanks to sheer, callous luck.

Most die shortly thereafter, either in mourning or on the hellish march into the wastes.

A few live on past that point, thanks to the cruel hand of fate. It becomes their lot then to throw themselves upon the cold mercy of another hollow god-beast's passengers, in the hopes that they be welcomed into the fold.

Some people, for whatever reason, do not elect to prostrate themselves in the path of thousands of tons of rampaging stone.

Instead, they set off on their own path. They become the Walkers of the World Beyond.


Any castoff can become a Walker, though some are more likely than others.

The most likely candidate for the unlucky life of a Walker is a Watcher.

Watchers are the people most exposed to the outside world, spending the majority of their lives in the crags and tunnels of their god's rocky skin. In some communities they are treated like professional soldiers deserving of regular cycles between leave and active service. In others, they are considered a separate caste of people who should rarely, if ever, enter their god's Hollow.

Regardless of context, Watchers are always in possession of the best knowledge of the wastes around their god-beast. They know the paths, the limited resources, and the dangers- the many, many dangers. If a god falls and the Watchers avoid being crushed, or if some other upheaval leaves them without a home, they become the most able and perhaps even willing to brave the World Beyond.

Far less likely are the common folk: Hollow dwellers. The passengers who rarely if ever leave the placid confines of their god's empty mind are, overall, ill-equipped to handle the physical or psychological challenges of existence outside of what is both figuratively and literally their whole world.

This does not completely preclude them from survival in the wastes, of course. The incalculable widths and depths of a god's unconsciousness hosts many diverse dreamscapes and societies. If the powers that be in a particular koilos has deemed it fit, the Murmurers have helped sculp desolate landscapes which are not a terribly far cry from those of the World Beyond. And if the nation is a sharply stratified one, rest assured the least affluent and most persecuted groups will wind up in those parts. In this unlikely way, survivors are forged in the furnaces built by those who hold them in such contempt.

Rarest of all Walkers are individuals with some talent for the Murmur and the Hum.

Normally, this high sensitivity to the Hum directly leads to a Murmurer's death from the psychic backlash of of a god-beast's demise. Their deaths are often very loud, and very explosive, and can easily lead to chain reactions which cause even greater destruction. This can explain--though far from justify--a fraction of the bondage and scrutiny Murmurers are often held in.

Some survive the death of their god and vessel, and though most are killed either as consequence or out of fear of Dissonance, it is at least possible for a Murmurer to set out into the Wastes. To what end is unknown.

The only group who has essentially no chance of survival outside of one's koilos is one who was literally born of it. The practice is rare, and requires a highly skilled and controlled tradition of Murmuring, but mortal life can be harmonized into shape from the Hum of a god. These beings act like mundane humans in every way, and are often treated as equal persons- not that that is saying much, depending on the koilos. Some may be slaves, others kings. They can even reproduce after a fashion resembling that of humans, though their children are also concocted from the psychic energy of their originator.

The major difference is that when these Godborn die or leave home, they leave behind no bodies. They dissipate into their base elements on the spot and rejoin the koilos, accompanied by a vague and forlorn-sounding susurration.

When a god dies, every one of its godborn is simultaneously extinguished. Large populations of them can often lead to god deaths of truly explosive proportions, their shockwaves able to be felt across the wastes.


Anywhere but here.

Resources are excruciatingly scarce in the World Beyond. Where vegetation and potable do water exist, they are not likely to remain for very long. Life is like a fickle rodent, poking its head out of one of dozens of holes leading to its burrow. This can be an especially jarring discovery to anyone whose god-mind provided all sustenance, or even suspended its passengers' need for it.

Living outside of a koilos therefore calls either for ceaseless itinerancy, or impeccable conservation- oftentimes both. Fortunately, the world is utterly massive. There is always new and unknown land to venture into. Unfortunately, all of it is almost uniformly desolate with the same few pockets of solace amid deserts, crags, brackish seas, and stranger landscapes. Whatever ruined the World Beyond was truly massive--almost incomprehensible--in scope and intensity.

Perhaps the best path to follow, or at least one that is as good as any other, is one left by others. There are hints and suggestions across the world of former habitation, of the migration of foot-people. Sometimes a strange landmass sighted in the distance by Watchers is actually a shelter built by Walkers. More explicitly (and tragically), unfamiliar human corpses sometimes turn up in the wake of a koilos after it has rampaged over a hill or crag.

If the lucky ones are learned from, perhaps they might guide you somewhere. They might even lead you to a crossroads of wanderers, where words and goods are exchanged far more freely than between passengers. The hardest lesson for many new Walkers to learn is that the stranger from over the horizon might not be your enemy.


People tend to have purpose thrust upon them in this world. They may be psychic nourishers of the koilos, protectors of a god-beast, rulers or administrators, or Murmurers. Everyone fits- everyone is forced to fit. Those who don't, simply cease to be.

When a person who has spent so long as a vessel for their station in life finds themselves suddenly emptied of it, they tend not to react positively. Many of them crack, and few who do ever uncrack. But those who either keep themselves together, or cobble a semblance of themselves back together, often attack this new crisis with a vigor they never knew themselves to possess. They have to acquaint themselves with novel new forms of purpose, such as staying free of old bonds, or living for oneself for once. Freedom--true, awful freedom--often leads to profound changes in a person.

It can be as intoxicating as the certainty and security of a slowly grinding hierarchy.

Other, more grounding motivators also exist. One is highly unlikely to survive the World Beyond alone. Whether they are cemented by blood, suffering, or coincidence, families are a rare and precious resource that few are willing to part with once they get a taste.

More rarely, this familial bond extends further outward. It dulls a bit, intensity sacrificed in the interest of broad reach. But the communities it creates are unlike any that exist anywhere in any koilosphere. They grow to fulfill needs and strike a delicate balance between forces in a very direct and approachable fashion, unlike the distant hierarchies of home. Here, you won't be executicated--that is, excommunicated from the governing religious body in an overwhelmingly lethal manner--just for hashing out a disagreement with the spouse of one's neighbor, or similar banal acts.

Communities out on the wastes are never large- just a few dozen individuals pushing the envelop on how large a population can be sustainably scavenged for. But they offer the rarest and most vexing sensation in the world to those who struggle alongside them: hope. Hope for normalcy, hope for the land, hope for the future, or even just a vague and ill-defined infection of it.


Not all who wander are lost, but all those who stay behind absolutely are.

As brutal as the march into the wastes is, staying behind when a god dies is often far worse.

When a god dies, its mindscape quickly tears asunder and shunts the vast majority of its contents out onto the dead earth. That does not mean that they cease to be, however. Fragments of a god's psyche can and do persist long after it has died. They are no longer contained within a placid mind, and they tend to bleed out of the cracks in the dead beast's titanic corpse over the ensuing centuries. Godborn unlucky enough to die in the explosion can languish this way, starving and dwindling as they haunt the area like specters.

These fragments are often highly erratic in nature, able to influence nearby phenomena and people to devastating effect. They are like palpable waves of fever dream washing over the sand and rock. This unrestrained deific energy will pool wherever it can, and mortals have always been excellent vessels. The person does not need to have previously attuned to the god, nor do they need to demonstrate any sensitivity to the Hum at all. The dying echoes will fill in whatever it can until that is all that is left.

So it is that Resonance becomes Dissonance.

The most obvious evidence of a dissonant area is the way the land warps and changes. Sand twists around itself and rises up into glassy horns. Rock crumbles and grows spongy. The air dances around and loses all uniformity, with complete vacuums accompanying highly localized fog banks or storms.

Just as the land is altered, so too is the mind of anyone who dwells overlong in those places. Of course Dissonance doesn't turn anyone it pools within into a raving, violent lunatic. As evidenced by the wars between and within dogmatic passenger cultures, startling violence is and has always been the expertise of the terribly sane.

What it does, is greatly warp one's mindset into something that is not conventionally human. There is a reason most Murmurers are kept under such excruciatingly tight control by their communities- prolonged exposure creates quirks. Context, both for the self and the rest of the world, gets greatly shaken up by immersion in Dissonance. This alien worldview makes interfacing with more hidebound societies impossible, leading the latter to shun the former at large.

Not all see it as heresy or madness, however. Some, mostly the mobile Walkers, regard it merely as a byproduct of trying to stay put- a minor issue not of their concern, to be given little more than distant pity. Others, such as residents of the precious few permanent settlements that survive and even thrive in the wastes, see it as a form of enlightenment. Some go to great lengths, going on pilgrimage to seek out the graveyards of fallen gods where Dissonance is still strong.

What would happen if a talented Murmurer communed with such a location is not known.

Hidden Grave by Kevin Hou

Sunday, August 16, 2020

Lamplighters: Darkness

"Intan, shine your spotlight over toward that mass over there please."

"What the hell is that, Doctor?"

"An umbral mass that is undergoing the final stages of absorption."

"What did it used to be...?"

"It could have been a cow. Or a freight train. It gets difficult to tell. Come this way now, please."

- Radio chatter from a routine field work assignment at the Elu Igwe Land Reclamation Front

 "All that is, is kith and kin. All is stardust. As moon reflects sun, we reflect moon.

Darkness gave way to light, absconded with it, and shall yield it again soon."

"Prayer against the Dark", Kith of the Moon

The human instinct to fear the night once served a valuable role in self-preservation.

Now, with darkness ever-present and deepening, it is perhaps humanity's greatest distraction and detriment.

Learning to temper one's fear of the dark with a healthy amount of something else--stoicism, hate, prayer, professionalism, the list goes on--is a vital lesson that no one grows up without. Even in the heart of a settlement's pallite processing facility, the dark is never very far away. Exhausting, miserable vigilance is the only way forward, even if "forward" only leads to a slightly more delayed death.

Of course, one can't get along with plucky determination alone. One has to know the enemy.

Qualities of Deeper Darkness

Everyone learns about the mechanics of that which perpetuates the Long Night differently. Some lucky enough to receive a formal education are taught about its dangers in the form of lectures and texts. Most learn more informally from parents or other community members growing up. A few learn firsthand, and a few of those even survive.

Deeper Darkness (DD) is a phenomenon that breaks most previous understandings of physics, thermodynamics, and a slew of other fields in ways that are still being accounted for, decades after its first appearance. This has not stopped certain, more practical pieces of information about it from becoming common knowledge today, fortunately. What little is known about is as follows:

It is Spontaneous

DD does not appear to stem from any single source. Any shadow, if left undisturbed by light for a long-enough period of time, has a chance of generating a patch of DD. Controlled experiments with pallite cannons have concluded that the probability of DD generation increases exponentially over time until it reaches 1.

The speed of this increase varies considerably depending on circumstances that are not fully understood yet, but which likely include preexisting local DD density- this is why it can spread rapidly in trackless wilderness, but is relatively manageable when it appears in an untouched storage room in a populated area.

On average, DD can manifest anywhere from minutes to weeks in a darkened area. Shining a light upon a darkened area, even a low intensity one, is sufficient to reset the clock on generation so to speak. Only sustained, direct bombardment by high intensity light can dispel DD once it has accumulated in an area, however. Exact brightness varies, but a general rule of thumb is that the ideal "scrubbing" light has a high enough luminosity to blind operators without proper protective equipment.

The task of keeping every surface within a space illuminated or scrubbed regularly enough for it to remain habitable is a major preoccupation of the vast majority of human beings at present. Pallite light arrangements need regular maintenance, and demands for energy efficiency encourage the use of claustrophobically small spaces with sparse furnishing. Major settlements often have enormous custodial departments specially trained to remove and prevent domestic DD deposits.

It is Palpable

Describing DD as "caking" over things or requiring "scrubbing" is not an elaborate extension of metaphor. It is an actual, physical thing. It can be interacted with in a range of ways, including not only the visual, but also the tactile, olfactory, and (highly discouraged) gustatory senses.

Observing samples of DD for full knowledge of its physical properties is a challenge, because the light-absorbing properties of DD renders almost all known areas of the spectrum unable to penetrate its aura or 'halo' of anti-illumination. This halo of darkness extends beyond the physical body of a DD sample by anywhere from several millimeters to meters, depending on size and relative strength of its steeping. Pallite is one of the few forms of lighting known to penetrate the halo and reveal what is underneath.

Prolonged exposure to pallite causes DD to deteriorate over time. (Un)fortunately, the world is in no short supply of DD samples, and most lab technicians need only walk a few meters beyond their settlement's safety fences to obtain more.

DD in its natural state superficially resembles a severe mold infestation growing upon any surface. Large, spot-like structures radiate outward into smaller and smaller blotches in uniform fractal patterns, forming a pulpy, fibrous carpet that ranges in thickness between a few millimeters and several centimeters deep.

It is tough and slightly spongy to the touch, difficult to damage in any meaningful way with small arms. It is also extremely flame-retardant, mitigating the effectiveness of controlled burn methods used for containment.

The color of DD is so uniformly black that it looks more like a hole in reality than a physically present thing. This is due to the fact that it absorbs ~99.9998% of all light across the visible and most of the invisible spectrum.

Prolonged exposure to pallite causes DD to stop expanding, shrink, and 'die' so to speak. Its halo diminishes, and its spongy growths become weak and brittle, like a dry old insect hive. Larger structures slough apart, and with enough concentrated illumination, any trace of it other than leftover scars will sublimate into apparent nonexistence.

The general consensus is that DD has a smell, but what exactly that smell is depends upon the observer. Some accounts describe it as one or several smells of rot and decay, burning plastic, bleach, or a particularly cloying, artificial fruit candy scent, among others. These smells may be due to the breakdown of the matter that DD has grown over, rather than a product of the DD itself.

Dubious reports claim that DD tastes like the color purple. Subjects who taste or ingest a sample are rarely able to articulate the flavor more fully than that before rapid infection and fractalization sets in.

It is Mobile

DD 'grows' at a constant rate unless checked by pallite illumination. It can attach to and spread over any surface, whether organic, inorganic, living, inanimate, or artificial. Some of this new mass can be accounted for as previously belonging to thing which DD has broken down, but most appears to be continued spontaneous generation of matter.

Like the rate of spontaneous DD generation, the speed of DD growth is highly variable depending on environmental conditions. Growth is fastest within the halo of an existing mass, and slowest within an area of shade that is entirely surrounded by pallite.

Minor domestic growth can be managed on a daily or even weekly basis, but objects left unattended within areas of wild dark are rapidly enveloped. Caravan vehicles that have gone dark have been observed to become caked within a matter of hours.

Lingering pallite radiation seems to slow the growth of DD. This is supported by evidence of Lamplighter lamp-wagons taking days to fully succumb to envelopment, even after running out of pallite fuel. Pallite miners and Lamplighters themselves, living or dead, have been known to possess a sort of "resistance" to DD growth, remaining incorrupt after hours of prolonged exposure with minimal protective equipment.

DD particles suspended in the water or air large enough to sustain DD can also turn into micro- or macroscopic orbs of darkness, ensuring that danger and limited visibility are three-dimensional and omnipresent within areas of sufficient steeping. Drinking water must be run through pallite filters, as does air in any facility with extensive ventilation shafts that could house patches of darkness.

Atmospheric conditions and prevailing winds permitting, clouds of airborne DD particles have been known to form and blow across the land, distributing DD across a very wide area. This phenomenon is known by the unoriginal but sufficiently ominous moniker of darkstorm. Darkstorms are extremely dangerous, and are one of the leading causes of settlement compromise and loss of reclaimed territory. They resemble sandstorms or blizzards of black snow, and have been known to consume entire kilometers of illuminated land in a few hours.

It is Corrupting

Deeper Darkness does not fit most definitions of what constitutes a living thing. Some have compared it to a slime mold or even a virus, but it does not reproduce or depend upon hosts, nor does it "eat" in any conventional manner, regardless of what it seems to do to living tissue that it absorbs.

Regardless, it sometimes behaves like a living thing, or perhaps a force of nature that trends toward an end goal of expansion and absorption. Considering its antagonism toward the human species (alongside just about everything else in the world), it is all too easy to ascribe a malevolent intent or intelligence to the darkness. The topic is subject to extensive debate across many fields, and is beyond the scope of this piece.

When DD interacts with matter, it breaks it down into its most base elements and adds those elements to its own mass. At some point in this process, those base elements are converted into more pure DD. Even after being subject to illumination, no trace elements of absorbed matter can be found where a DD sample had once been. How exactly this conversion process occurs is not known.

Living tissue is not spared by this process. It breaks down all the same, causing severe damage to any organism infected with DD as it expands across and throughout the body. Bodily trauma is inevitably fatal unless the infection is quickly neutralized by pallite illumination and radiation bombardment. Survivors are known to bear deep, sprawling, fractal-shaped scars which are prone to act as sites for spontaneous generation, and therefore reinfection.

Early stages of DD tissue damage.
Subject I-82 of the Lavada Project.
Limb later amputated to prevent spread.

Infection can occur from prolonged bodily immersion in darkness, or from direct contact with DD, even under controlled conditions. Ingesting contaminated food or water, or breathing air with darkstorm particles in it, can lead to a far rarer form of internal infection.

The exact effects of internal infection are poorly researched compared to pallite poisoning at this time, but is believed to be rapidly and uniformly lethal, with organ failure the leading cause of death- euthanasia at the first sign of alveolar or lymphatic fractalization is recommended by the ethics boards of most leading medical institutions.

Darkness does not always kill, at least not immediately. Sometimes the rate at which it breaks down a host animal is slow enough to afford the organism hours or even days of in-tact motor functions and at least some mental faculties.

The near-universal violence and aggression displayed by these individuals can likely be attributed to mental stress caused by intense, nonstop pain. Their tendency to seek out sources of light may be rooted in a lingering association of light with safety, despite the fact that immersion in light causes harm once enough of the body has been assimilated. Their resultant efforts to smother light sources can therefore be interpreted as a misguided attempt to reach that safety.

The fact that infected organisms rarely attack one another, and instead make concerted efforts to attack uninfected individuals using a vast array of spontaneous mutations and bodily abnormalities, up to and including destroying light fixtures from afar, is not so easily explained.

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

Endlings & Terminarchs

Elves are a dying breed.

In fact, you could say they are already dead- the name "elf" certainly is, at any rate.

Those withered, rail-thin people were never the most vigorous. One of the reasons for their exceptionally long lifespan is that they acted upon the world with an almost geological slowness. Sure, they're hasty compared to a treant or an earth elemental, but they could outwit either handily- for their minds ran faster than a human's, allowing them to play every scenario out dozens of times before they commit to a single, stubborn course of action.

Some believe that they exist in multiple points of time or existence at once, and their slowness to act is a consequence of rallying those disconnected facets together.

Looking at them now, one could be excused for believing that they barely exist in our universe at all.

They resemble mummies more than anything, with bony extremities, sunken faces, leathery skin of a bruised, pale blue color, and torsos that leave little of their bone structure to the imagination. When they have hair, it is long, thin, wispy, and grey. Among those who still have functional eyes, yellow is the most common color- and they always seem to resemble the eyes of someone who is screaming. Distinguishing sex characteristics are almost wholly withered away, not that they had much of a use for them- they reproduced by some other means which is now lost to them, and it can never be regained.

They are loathe to speak of how this happened- they are loathe to speak in general, really. It may have been a curse, or a deal with some entity that came back to bite them. perhaps they were rendered infertile epochs ago, and only managed to get along by abusing a nonrenewable ritual resource plus borrowed time.

The youngest elves were born millennia ago, and they have already pushed their species' life expectancy with preservative magic. Now their life energy is stretched thinner than common sense is across aristocrats. It is only a matter of time, and none know that more keenly than the elves themselves, rapid minds left to race within their slow, ambling bodies. It is a hellish experience, not unlike a waking coma at times.

In their melancholy they renamed themselves the Endlings, and the youngest among them is their leader in futility- their Terminarch. The Terminarch is the most spry among them, relatively speaking, and they deal with matters requiring the most urgency. Other than that, there is little to the office- they primarily bear the burden of being the assumed last to die, and the immense psychic guilt that knowledge carries with it.

They walk in the most desolate parts of the world now, seeking out a secluded place where they might preserve the memory of their people before lying down to rot.

Or perhaps they seek out a way to liberate themselves from their wretched bodies- either through the release of death, or something more transcendent.

There might be some wisdom in seeking them out while they yet live, assuming they will hold audience with you- and that you have the patience to wait and listen to them speak in what is simultaneously the slowest and most frantic manner.

Ascendent Counselor by Andrew Jones

Monday, June 15, 2020

Koilotheism: Hollow Gods

Mind Palace by u/jdbugs

It was once a common thing for one to carry one's own god, or even gods, with them on their travels through the unmarred world. Sometimes this takes the form of carrying small images or symbols of said gods, and other times it involves merely carrying them in prayer. Today, both are quaint and old-fashioned at best, and blasphemous at worst.

It is of course absurd to think of anyone carrying a god with them. On the most basic level, they are simply far too big to carry, being hundreds to thousands of times the size of even the largest and strongest people. But the more important reason is that it is the gods who do the carrying. Such is the proper nature of things.

Whether it is on two legs, four, countless, or even none at all, the gods trudge across the wastelands like indefatigable barges, carrying their worshipers with them wherever they go.

Some of their mortal supplicants stand upon their backs and shoulders, or in the cavities across their bodies, surveying the world for dangers which their single-minded god cannot be bothered to perceive in its endless march. Far more live within them- not only within their stony, corporeal forms, but within their infinitely more capacious minds.

Every god has a vast, psychic landscape which puts so-called "mind palaces" to utter shame. They possess matter, laws, and physics, or can be made to possess them through the combined efforts of gods and their passengers. They can be tamed and expanded, made to hold entire villages, towns, cities. Thousands of generations live and die within the confines of their gods, with no thought or worry for the dead World Beyond, and with only a few prayers offered to the troubled Watcher folk who straddle the inner and outer realms as their ceaseless guardians.

These hollow gods do not eat or drink or sleep. They are sustained by the thoughts and prayers of those who live within them, and in return they sustain them. Those who are born able to Murmur may commune with the god's placid, droning Hum, which permeates its entire mind and being. Sometimes an understanding is formed. Other times, guesses and misgivings have led to centuries of internal conflict and dogmatism. It is a symbiotic relationship that can tilt toward commensalism or parasitism more easily than one might expect.

When two gods meet upon the wastes, they rarely register one another's existence. Rarer still do they interact directly, which is generally for the best. The titanic, animalistic battles between these beings have sundered and rearranged continents, to stay nothing of the populations stored within them.

More often, their worshipers make forays into the space between them, and deal with one another on behalf of their walking gods. Communication, diplomacy, and an understanding of difference are profoundly rare and precious gifts in the world, but even with all three, these meetings can turn tense or hostile. Most end with each party hurrying home to instruct a blinded and nailed Murmurer to tell their god to change its course away from the other.

Sometimes an understanding is reached, and news about the wider world is shared: news of recently dead gods and their shunted-out refugees baking in the sun, of lands recently made too dangerous even for gods to walk, of the almost unheard-of arrangement made to form a Procession between gods, or even Harmonic Communion.

Gods do not die on their own, but when something does kill them, the effects are immediate and disquieting. Most passengers do not survive the collapse of the god's mind, and of those who do escape the ordeal without becoming bloody smears with a sprinkling of stardust, most will die within the first few days of exposure to the World Beyond.

In these most trying of times, it falls to any surviving Watchers to lead these refugees away from their mountainous, broken wreck of a former benefactor. After generations of protecting their gods and its occupants, they are the few who know how to get along in the marred world. Any former passenger who tries to carry a piece of their god with them is punished severely.

When a column of bedraggled pilgrims ends its trail of exhausted dead at the feet of another god, the remaining passengers are absorbed into it if they are fortunate. It can be a profound or traumatic experience depending on the exact beliefs they hold. They are given a corner of their new god's consciousness to dwell within, and are often treated as second-class citizens until their first children are born there. Some truly ancient and durable gods have patchworks of peoples from other, fallen minds. Such a wealth of diversity in background and experience is rarely acknowledged.

The former Watchers and Murmurers of the dead god, as well as the more recalcitrant passengers, are executed or encouraged to commit ritual suicide, again depending on dogma.

The idea of exiles, surviving Watchers, or even whole congregations excavating and scratching out a living amid the crags of their dead gods and other stretches of the wasteland is unspeakably taboo, but not entirely unknown.