Fantasy


Maybe, maybe it’s the clothes we wear,
The tasteless bracelets and the dye in our hair,
Maybe it’s our kookiness,
Or maybe, maybe it’s our nowhere towns,
Our nothing places and our cellophane sounds,
Maybe it’s our looseness,

But we’re trash, you and me,
We’re the litter on the breeze,
We’re the lovers on the streets,
Just trash, me and you,
It’s in everything we do,
It’s in everything we do…

The Ark has 174 People but few heroes. This story is not about its heroes, or its champions, only its desperadoes. There are four of them:

  • Barathos, Gearhead, who we find eating food from a can with a faded label of an angry, dangerous cat. His mutation: luminescence
  • Chang Chang, Fixer, sitting on an old packing crate eating his last twinkie. He is mutated into a symbiotic fungal life form, giving off a strange pungent smell and able to explode with clouds of virulent spores. No one knows Chang Chang’s sex, but most of the People think he is both, because he is fungal.
  • Bloody Jack, a smalltime Boss, always accompanied by a couple of her flunkies, today leaning back to eat fresh potato and dried, rot-free fish being fed to her by one of his gang. Bloody Jack is a revolutionary, leader of the 7th Revolutionary gang, which doesn’t mean much because there is nothing to overthrow and no means of production to seize. She flicks through an old comic that teaches her the ways of the Diadactic Materials, a strange cult; in mimicry of their mannerisms she wears a suit and a ludicrous top hat. She has frogs legs, and can leap faster than you can blink to put her knife in your throat.
  • Lonnie, the Stalker – every band of desperadoes has a stalker. Connie is eating white mush from an unlabeled can, thinking it is powdered potato and eyeing Bloody Jack’s real potato with carefully disguised envy. Connie is androgynous, a little slip of a thing in black leather, spends so much time in the shadows no one really knows who she is.

That is the team that Shellah sidled up to, grimacing and duck-walking carefully into the light of their trash can fire, hands close, coat clenched tight around her. Shellah is a stalker, like Lonnie if Lonnie had less charm and more integrity. Everyone calls Lonnie Loonie Lonnie because it sounds good, but nobody jokes with Shellah about being mad. She’s always one twitch away from running or fighting, and she’s seen so much out there in the ruins. Nobody really talks to Shellah at all if they can, because she doesn’t always make a lot of sense and she creeps you out with her stare and her hissing twitching ways. But everyone knows Shellah spends a lot of time Out There, Zone-walking, and she brings things back. Everyone trusts Shellah. But nobody who goes out with her seems to return, so she goes alone. Always alone. But everyone trusts here in the Ark.

This little gang of desperadoes know each other but let’s not wind this story up so tight it snaps like one of the threads on Grim Delilah’s razor-sharp yoyos, the ones she plays with when the Trash Hawks come around: they may know each other but they aren’t friends. They’re gathered round this fire in this trash can on this night because even inside the Ark there’s comfort in numbers, especially now when the Elder isn’t coming out of the gondola and there’s too much coughing and wailing going on in there, and his old speeches are too few and too weak to hear anyway, so that now people don’t come to listen when he drags his old bones out into the little pool of comforting watery sunshine that always bathes the gondola – they’re too busy now clustering around one or other of the bosses, picking sides for the trouble we can all feel is coming. People are starting to look at each other now, not like comrades in the gristle and bones of this shattered world, but like rivals for the last bits of tattered flesh – or like useful idiots in the struggle to put a new boss in the gondola when the Elder’s coughing stops. Bloody Jack is a boss, Chang Chang is a fixer, and Barathos and Lonnie are useful. That’s why they’re hunched around this trashcan, wondering why Shellah is sidling out of the darkness with one of her don’t-look-at-me-I-didn’t-do-it-I-swear-that-thing-didn’t-follow-me-back-from-the-marsh expressions on her face.

It’s Chang Chang who has the best rapport with Shellah, because she finds and he fixes. “What is it Shellah?” he asks all innocent, knowing from the hard squint of her eyes and the frown that she’s going to tell them anyway. “Find something out there?”

She snorts and grabs a can from Bloody Jack, who always has one spare for times like this, squats down and snaps it open with some ingenious tool, slugs it down over a minute or so of furious gobbling, splattering smacking sounds, all the while shuffling and throwing dagger glances all around like there’s a Zone Ghoul right there waiting to pounce as soon as she lets her guard down – which she never does. Throws the can over her shoulder into the darkness, some kind of wicked little knife-fork-opener thing slides away into her coat with a glint of viscous orange trashcan light on pewter. “Yeah Chang-a, yeah yeah, found something.”

She draws a thing out from under her coat, flashes it around just quick enough for everyone to gasp as the amber firelight flickers over the ammunition case’s curves, the bronze glint of bullet casings flashing at them from their rightful place, then slides it away as fast as it came. Her voice drops to a conspiratorial whisper. “Found something, something good.” Takes it out again, where people can see it more clearly: it’s an assault rifle clip, maybe 30 bullets intact in the case, dirty and a bit rusty on the outside but the bullets are as clean as the inside of one of Fanged Rothery’s dinner cans (Fanged Rothery is a rot-eater, teeth like iron and a tongue rich with spines, he can lick a jagged steal tin cleaner than your favourite knife in no time at all).

Bloody Jack reaches for it, just to inspect of course, he wasn’t going to take it I swear! But true to her style Shellah has it back under her coat and she’s right back out to the edge of the trashcan glow before Bloody Jack can get a hand on it. “Not for you Bloody Jack, not yet and not you. We gotta deal to make.” She looks behind her sharp as a Trash Hawk’s claws, like she always does when she has to deal with Bloody Jack. Bloody Jack may talk a lot about justice and equality, but Bloody Jack isn’t above using her little band of zealots to even the scales on her own account, which I’m sure you guessed because as sure as you hear me telling you this, you’ve seen her kind before. So has Shellah, and Shellah is not one to trust anyone more than she needs to.

“A deal, Shellah?” Chang Chang asks, all innocent and surprised like he really thought Shellah was going to keep all thirty bullets for herself, she who never uses a gun and only ever keeps bullets to trade for grub. “What’s that then, you running out of grub?”

Shellah shakes her head and hisses, duck-squats her way back into the light a little. “No Chang-a, I don’t need me no grub.” Brown and broken teeth show as she bares her teeth back and lobs a fleck of spit into the fire. Rumour has it Shellah is a photosynthetic, gets her nutrients from the sun and doesn’t need to eat. A handy mutation, until someone locks you in a box. She looks around at them. “I need me a deal for protection. You know the story People – the Elder’s goin’ inta history, and the Ark’s running out of food, the bosses are startin’ to look at each other like they know what’s what and everyone’s starting to pile up their food, getting it ready for when the time comes. But people like me, me and you Chang-a, we don’t have no gang, and when the trouble comes we aren’t gonna have anyone to look after our backs.” She pauses and Bloody Jack takes the time to look affronted at the mere suggestion that she wouldn’t help out these her dear friends Lonnie, Chang Chang and Barathos. Are they not friends? No one is impressed by her performance.

“That’s why I wanna cut a deal. ‘Coz see I found this bullet case, but I also found the gun it came from. It’s a big gun Chang-a, and whoever or whatever holds that gun is gonna be in a mighty good position when the bosses start quarreling. And I tell you I want to be behind whatever boss has that gun, which is why I came to you first, because I trust you more than them others. I’ll give each of you three bullets now from this case, and tell you where the gun is, if you promise me you’ve got my back when the trouble starts.”

This kind of thing, now this kind of thing to Bloody Jack is like purest nitro to a helldriver. She swings her arms out expansively and begins one of her speeches. “Comrades! Comrade Shellah in particular, on this dark night and in this pinched moment of dire need, when the bosses Foremanize and Capitalistate and take and take, do I seem to you like the kind of Comrade who would abandon her … her duty of … Comradelyshipness, and sell you out to those who would tread the Workerman into the swamps and the rot? No, my gang fights for the good of all, and once we had overthrown the Yoke of Tyranny no doubt I would find a place for you in the new order. There is no need for this conniving and scheming to make deals! Are we not all one in the Eyes of the Great God Of Equals, Marx-who-was?!”

They’ve all heard it before of course and are unimpressed, so Chang Chang waves her quiet and asks in a low voice, “Where is the gun, Shellah?” Shellah shakes her head furiously and points at Bloody Jack. “Make that cursed boss agree, and you all too – even you Barathos, sitting there watching me with your eyes all glowing, I know what you can do and you won’t catch me so quick! Make a deal or I’m off into the shadows to talk to one o’ them up there.” She points to the bleachers, where no doubt some other boss squats in the darkness, scheming or maybe picking the scabs on his feet.

Chang Chang looks around, waits especially for Barathos to nod assent – that this really is a part of a gun, and they really have a chance to find it. “Sure,” He says, nodding quickly. “If you tell us where it is and we think we can get it, you give us the bullets you promised and we’ll go, and Bloody Jack’s gang and all of us will have your back when the bosses start their stoushing. Deal?” He spits.

Shellah looks around, seems satisfied after a moment and then spits back. “Elder’s Tears, Chang-a, you and me and these here in the light have cut a deal, and only the Elder or the Rot can break it.” She drags herself closer to the fire and hunkers up. “I found it at the base of one of the two towers.” Seeing their disbelieving looks she snarls a curse. “I swear I did! Went down to the river and sniffed around the tower on this bank. It stinks around the river but I’ve been there before, it’s safe if you don’t get too close! No one else goes there so you can find things, and I found this! It was in a patch of fungus at the bottom of the tower, like it fell there. Fell there it did! And when I looked up I saw the gun sticking out of the tower window, way up high. You can climb it I tell you, the outside all covered in leaves and vines or maybe go through the door in the base. The guns there, stickin’ out of the tower window, you can just take it!”

They all look at her in disbelief. The river?! But it stood to reason, if there was a weapon as dangerous as that any closer to the Ark someone would have found it by now. And nobody else would be going down there looking, because that meant slinking past the shadow of the Dark Castle, finding a way through the rot and probably cutting through the Crash Zone, which creeps anyone out. But if they did it … a gun … dreams of power.

They look at each other, shifty like there in the flickering light of the trashcan fire, wondering who amongst them is going to crack or be the first to venture some spirit. Somewhere behind them in the shadows of the Ark someone cried in pain, and a boss’s muffled imprecation followed, a wet thud. Maybe now was a good time to be looking for new weapons.

“Okay Shellah,” Barathos ventures finally, his cracked and deep voice cutting through the sudden silence. “Tell us exactly about this tower …”


They set off the next day, no fanfare, just a quiet exit at dawn into the Zone south of the Ark. The four of them went, packing only three days of food, accompanied by two members of Bloody Jack’s gang, her trusty Enforcers Carrot and Lennie. First they pushed into the sector they knew, sticking to trails everyone had seen before. Here was all overgrown ruins, thick patches of fungus crawling up over broken buildings, bushes and vines curled around and through old vehicles and shattered strange shapes of metal and stone and plastic. It’s clean around the Ark, but soon the fungus and the trees get higher and thicker and the air stills and you can smell it, that strange acrid stench of Rot, the Rot that suffuses this whole stinking Zone and rises from the earth to make the People crumble and fade. You have to move carefully through this place, and if you haven’t got a stalker with you you can get lost in here and then the rot takes you, or something worse gets you first. But Lonnie knows her work and got them to the Crash Zone fine. The Crash Zone was as far as they’d ever been before, and not without trepidation for very long at all. It’s a long streak of destruction through the middle of the Zone, a swathe of open air about a kilometre long that runs from near the slopes to the Dark Castle roughly parallel to the river, ending at the shattered carcass of a giant sky whale, one of those wondrous inventions of the Ancients that could fly even though it was heavier than steel. This one had two decks of seats all the way along, a huge thing bigger than anything the People could dream of building or finding, broken into three parts along the end of the Crash Zone. It used to have wings, or so Barathos insists, but those wings smashed into the buildings along the side of the swathe, tearing them down and making great piles of rubble behind it, shattered arcs of stone and steel and glass spattering out from where it bounced screeching and fiery to its end. You can tell it must have flown on booze or so Barathos says, because the buildings along the way were scorched and burned and if you pick over the ruins of the swathe of open space behind the sky whale you can find blackened stuff from an intense fire, melted so bad it isn’t even scrap. No one usually digs around in the swathe or spends much time in the Crash Zone but they were feeling brave and after a bit of egging on and a spot of booze Barathos ventured into the rearmost section of the whale. Here there were many skeletons still strapped into their seats, many broken badly, bits of roof and seats from the deck above smashed and pushed into the seats below. Some people might have got out or died in the aisles between the seats, and there were grass and moss and fungus and other things growing in between the bodies. He picked over the parts until finally he found a box, made of card and plastic, faded and rotted, and dragged it out. Inside was a little wind up train, made of brilliant green and blue plastic that shone in the pale sun, and a set of lines you could stick together to make it run around when you wound it up. “A clock!” Barathos said, “This can be a clock, look it runs for a time and stops! Maybe we can use it for timing things,” and he packed it up with care he would never show a person and hid it in his pack. Lonnie looked around at the gathering clouds and the distant watery sun heading to its zenith and whispered, “Wanna cross the section before lunch,” and they trudged off, crossed the Crash Zone and headed further than they’d been before.

Past the Crash Zone the ground started sloping up again, until they found themselves on a kind of ridge rising a little above the ruins around. This ridge was covered in small stunted trees and bushes, and gave them cover right up to the tower itself. The tower loomed over them, the tallest thing in the near hereabouts, a squat and powerful thing of stone and verdant overgrowth, still mostly undamaged after all this time since … whenever and whatever happened in the world-that-was. This tower was paired with another one on the other side of the river, and the two were joined near their top by a nastily uncertain looking gantry. The towers, the gantry and all the space between was overgrown with vines, creepers, plants and fungus of all descriptions, with vines drooping down from the gantry to hang over the limpid, dark waters of the river as it sluggishly rolled beneath, stinking and deadly. At the base of the tower near the river, facing the other tower, a kind of barrier stuck out over  the river, pointing diagonally up at the sky like an accusing hand demanding a query of the uncaring sky. “Why me? Why do I have to stand sentinel over this stinking sewer when all the others of my kind were knocked flat in a time before memory!?”

They crept up close to the tower and Lonnie moved ahead to look around. She found the place Shellah said she found the cartridge and there it was, the hole in the fungus patch still glowing slightly as the fungus repaired itself, and up above something sticking out of the tower window, pointing east. What thing? Lonnie couldn’t tell. She moved around a little more and checked the rest of the base of the tower. A kind of path of black stone led into the middle of the tower, which arched over it, ending at the unheeded barrier, and on one side of that tunnel a door barred an entry into the tower. Everything was still and silent. She called them up, and they examined the tower together. Barathos, looking up, grunted and hissed. “Not a gun,” he cursed, though he could not tell what it was.

Discretion would tell them now to retreat and return to the Ark defeated, but that ammunition box didn’t fall from the sky – it must have come out of the tower. Even if the thing sticking out of the window was no gun, there must be something in there. They forced the door and pushed their way inside. Here they found a small room, musty and empty, with stairs leading up into the tower. Another door beckoned, but when they forced it open they were greeted with the deep, repulsive stench of Rot water. Stairs led down into murky blackness, and from down there came the stench of Rot, strong Rot. Chang Chang tried to convince Barathos to go look but he refused, and no inducements could get him near that rot. They headed up, Barathos glowing gently with his strange pale blue luminescence to light the way. His mutant light seeped out of his eyes and through the murk like glowing tendrils, casting a flickering eerie light over the walls of the narrow staircase and putting no one at ease.

At the top they found a large room. A long narrow broken window on the east wall faced along the direction of the river, giving them a stunning view over an endless domain of broken, ruined nature. The wall on their right was also partially open, leading into the shadowed recesses of the gantry that connected this tower with the sister tower over the river, but it was overgrown with vines and shadowy, and they did not want to venture in just yet. There was a single body on the floor, and the whole room was musty and ripe with fungus and small plants. The thing they had seen sticking out of the window was here, on a kind of tripod of metal, dull bronze coloured and standing serene amongst the dust pointing east.

They searched. The strange pole-like thing sticking out of the window had glass ends and after some inspection Barathos was able to identify what it did: It made distant things suddenly closely visible, like the cracked glass lenses that Elomere the Strange wore when he had to stitch up the skin on his constantly-erupting boils, only much more powerful (and with no stench of pus). Barathos took it gently from the tripod and pocketed it. This, he said, could be useful for scouting the Zone. On the body they found a piece of paper in a plastic sleeve, with markings on it, and around the body a few old wrappers of what might have been food. They were just comparing the symbols on the wrappers with a symbol on the paper in the sleeve, and realizing they held a map, when the spiders came.

There was just one at first, crawling silent as the Winter Plague out of the whole in the southern wall, but they felt its malignant gaze and then smelled its corpse smell before it could get to them, and managed to spring away from the body and fight. Bloody Jack was just beating it out of the window when another one emerged, and they were fighting that one when Barathos, leaning out of the window to hit the first one, was hit by its web and dragged outside to dangle upside down from one leg, helplessly twisting in the faint breeze. As he hung there he saw the giant spider hauling its spiny, corpulent bulk back over the windowsill and inside the tower, no doubt looking to snare its next prey, and heard grunts and screams from inside. Looking along the tower’s edge he suddenly realized, as a rare break in the clouds suffused the space between the towers with a golden glow, that the entire space between the towers was spun with many webs of delicate, shimmering filigree. Strange black lumps he had mistaken for fungal growth now revealed themselves to be the cocooned, shrivelled corpses of Trash Hawks and Zone Crows – and there, crawling out from that hideous larder, a third massive spider, scuttling across the wall towards him. He started screaming, and someone hauled him up just in time. They took positions back to back inside and beat off the three spiders, finally killing them all, and a fourth that came skittering out of that wall to join the fray.

Panting and panicky, they ate and rested. While they rested Lonnie and Barathos pored over the paper inside the plastic sleeve, and they both concluded the same thing – this was a map, and the markings seemed to indicate that just south of the river, near the towers, was a food store. They had found no rifle, but they had found food. Again, where wisdom would advise retreat, they pressed on, crawling across the gantry to the tower on the other side. Here they found two more bodies, one carrying an ancient revolver that they tucked away for the Dawn Vault. Then Barathos climbed onto the roof to use his newfound artifact to scout out the surrounding area, and they ventured down to the ground, becoming the first of the People to set foot south of the river.


Following the map they headed west along the river from the base of the second tower. The land here had less ruins than the north side of the river, perhaps because they had been destroyed by some great calamity or perhaps because the city-that-was had been different here. Nonetheless as they followed the path along the rivers edge they could see rubble scattered in amongst the trees and scrub of the sector, and occasional jagged columns of stone or grass jutting out of the vegetation. The path they followed lay close to the river but some 5 metres above it, and the landward side rose steep again to the wooded landscape of the south, meaning they could not get far from the river. They could not head inland in any case, because from her vantage point on the tower Lonnie had seen the telltale yellow mist of acid rain, as low-hanging clouds swept along the southern side of the city streaming vile and deadly rain over the Zone. This rain could be deadly for anyone not under cover, and to trudge through it for an hour or two seeking grub would be a death sentence. Fortunately the clouds were skirting the river, so they were able to find a safe path, but even then they had to deviate inland after an hour of careful walking, because the path entered an area of broken stones and fallen buildings, from which they could see the Sunken Ship.

The Sunken Ship is near to a myth amongst the People. It was once a huge beast of grey and silver metal, festooned with guns and heavily armoured, but when the world collapsed it sank on its moorings so that most of it was submerged in the river. The tips of its guns and the bulk of its mid section still stuck above the water, festooned with reeds and dark vegetation and creating little eddies and muddy streaks in the torpid flow of rotten river water. From the north bank it was visible, rich with the promise of the artifacts of the ancients, but there was no way to get to it without going into the deadly water of the river. The Sunken Ship was also rumoured to be the home of dark and deadly secrets, beasts that come at night to snatch those passing nearby and unseen horrors that will snatch anyone attempting to pick their way over its muddy and partially-hidden deck. Nobody had been this close to the Sunken Ship before, but the explorers did not want to disturb whatever beasts laired there, and so cut inland through the broken piles of rubble, keeping bushes and old stonework between them and the foreboding steel bulk of the thing. Their path brought them perilously close to the acid rain before they could cut back towards the river, but they escaped the pinch safely and soon found themselves climbing another gentle slope, this only lightly wooded, that then broke into a series of culverts leading down to a large, abandoned building. The building was actually a complex of separate sections sprawling across quite a wide area, with big open gateways linking the buildings together. Parts of the roof had fallen in and weeds and bushes had grown up to block some of the pathways between parts of the building, but other parts looked roughly safe to enter. The area was dangerously quiet and they thought they could see evidence of habitation, but they could not be sure. This was the closest they could find to the markings on the map – this was their place. Perhaps once it had been a series of warehouses linked together, or maybe a farmer’s barns or a market – who knew what strange ways the people of the world-that-was held their food? Whatever it had been, now it was the cradle in which their Ark’s future lay – they must go in.

They approached the entrance cautiously, careful to keep under what cover they could find and scanning the silent walls for signs of threat. A large archway entered the building, surmounted by words in some ancient language they could not read, carved in faded and mouldy brass. They ventured in, stepping cautiously over rubble and scrap and looking for signs of ambush. Inside was a large open area, thick with fungus and weeds growing between crumbling wooden carts and tables. It had been a market! They fanned out a little and began searching, moving carefully and slowly further inside.

The rooms here were empty of any food, but for obvious reasons – someone lived here. A group of people probably, who had picked the outer areas clean of any signs of food or scrap and who must be living in the inner area. The group crossed a small road that bisected the buildings and through another archway into a wide path between two buildings. As they moved down it they heard voices, and froze. Lonnie moved stealthily forward and, looking around a corner, saw what they suspected – Zone Ghouls! There were eight of them, skinny dirty humanoid creatures a little smaller than a small adult human, heavily wrapped in cloth over every part of their body, wearing hoods and carrying bicycle chains and slingshots. They were squatting in a group in a kind of semi-protected space made by pulling three rotten wooden stalls into a semi circle. They had a small fire and were eating what looked like fresh food of some kind. Across from them on the far side of the room was a huge pile of cans, all with their labels long since torn away, and also strange plastic packets, bottles of amber and red liquid, even strings of onions, all stacked neatly in many piles. Behind them was a gap and then against the far wall of the building a tiered array of clay and wooden shelves on which stood pots and jars full of fresh herbs and strange red fruits. Further away large tractor tires had been converted into potato beds. It was a utopia of abundance!

Which they had to take. Lonnie moved back to the group and explained the situation. Bloody Jack indicated the roof, and jumped up into the shadows on her strange frog legs, motioning for her two gang members to stay and help. She leapt again to a perch near the broken roof above the Ghouls, and waited. The rest of them moved forward and burst into the room, ready to do violence – only to find themselves confronted by equally prepared enemies. The Zone Ghouls had heard them and stood ready in the shelter of the stalls, slingshots out. Now it was eight against six with no surprise, and no one was willing to act first. Chang Chang tried speaking with them but they could barely understand the Ghouls’ garbled, high-pitched grating speech, and the Ghouls seemed not to understand them. They stood at an impasse for a moment but then finally someone moved wrong, and the whole tense coiled moment sprang shut like a rusty bear trap. The Ghouls started firing their sling shots, Chang Chang dived behind the cans for cover, Carrot and Lennie charged forward, Bloody Jack dropped down from above, and battle was joined.

The fight was short and brutal. The Zone Ghouls gave a good accounting of themselves, hurting Barathos and Chang Chang and Bloody Jack, but six of the Ghouls died before the last two broke and ran. Barathos shot one dead as it fled but Bloody Jack managed to catch the last, springing onto its back from 10 metres away and dragging it down. They dragged the Ghoul back to the warehouse and tried talking to it but it was useless – they could not understand one another. They tore off its hood to reveal a skinny, almost human face, blinking back at them from large, dark eyes before it started screaming at the sunlight. Barathos bound it up tight, and they decided to drag it back to the Ark as a slave.

Their battle was done. They picked up as much food as they could carry and headed back to the Ark, climbing delicately across the tower and down the other side, lugging their prisoner and their food back through the Crash Zone to the comfort of the Ark. As soon as they returned Bloody Jack pressed his gang to work, taking them back to the ruined market to grab as much food as they could. They traipsed back and forth, exhausted and damp and tired and scared, for two days, constantly lugging as much as they could carry, until someone heard a crash and a strange haunting piping wail somewhere in the shadows of the market, and they decided it was too dangerous to stay any longer. After two days of work they had done enough though – the Ark was safe for a little longer, the food crisis averted, the bosses content, their life of hard scrabble unchanged by conflict and death. They handed the Revolver to the Dawn Vault, congratulated each other on a job well done, and tried not to face Shellah when she demanded her rights. For a little longer, the Ark would hold.

But they all knew it was not enough. Where next for their precarious little community, balanced on the edge of starvation and violence, trapped between the Dark Castle and the River? And what could they do now to make a future for the People, and for themselves?

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Hey, hey
So why should I care
If somebody let you down?
That’s nothing new
I know just what that can mean
Hey, hey
Well, the way that they talk
The talk is all over town
And it’s no surprise
Little girls hurt sometimes

 

When last we met our heroes they had just blown apart a drug dealing operation with extreme prejudice, pushing back a gang from their turf and doing a big favour for the yakuza gang that officially controls their area, the Golden Dragon. Their Fixer, Anansi, had made contact with that gang, and now they had a chance to make their name known to the criminal bosses who controlled the shadows of Havensport. So it was that they found themselves in a meeting with the Golden Dragon’s boss, Mr. Tsiu, who thanked them for cleaning up the dealers on his patch, and assured them that they could operate with impunity in his territory provided they obeyed his laws – which would of course change at his whim, and in retrospect. Sometime in the future, he promised them, they would receive an opportunity to profit from their newfound position of the trust, and in the meantime they were welcome to make free in his territory on their own business.

But the future is another country, and while they waited to get there they had need of fast cash. Fortunately Anansi was in close with another crime family, a yakuza gang just beginning to spread their wings in New Horizon, in the wilds of Tolo harbour. Their patriarch, Shoji Yamada, had a pressing need of a good team of killers for a very important job: guarding his daughter at a concert by the heavy metal band Troll, a band named after the race of its members that could be characterized by two extreme properties of its performance: volume and violence. Any good girl slumming it in such an environment was going to need bodyguards, especially if her daddy had just started a gang war with a rival triad and was up to his neck in trouble with a bunch of other multinational gangs. Mr. Yamada promised them a decent payment for guarding his daughter; and in between setting the mission, he also .

Having applauded him on his principles of good governance and accepted their child minding job the PCs were on their way, to research both the yakuza daughter and the band. The daughter was as expected – a spoiled sullen brat with a penchant for slumming it in grease paint and crosses. The band was a little more complicated – a Troll heavy metal foursome with a reputation for extreme crowd violence, who run their shows exclusively in illegal spaces in dangerous areas. They would hijack an abandoned warehouse or an old market space, turn it into a killing zone, and rock it out while the crowd destroyed each other, until the police turned up or they ran out of juice. Standard sprawlzone stuff, but not the kind of place for a delicate wannabe rebel girl from a rich family – unless she was guarded by a crack team. Though in truth the PCs were less worried about the crowd than they were about the possibility one of the yakuza enemies would follow them and use the chaos as cover for a snatch-and-grab. Losing this girl in the crowd would be a one way trip to a bad place, no mistake.

Still, beggars can’t be choosers, and they had a perfect set up really – John capable of killing intruders from orbit, Jayden immune to surprise attacks, and Adam a master of crowd control. For this job their fixer had also set them up with a Technomancer, Heckerman, who could give them some forewarning of any impending assaults. An easy evening at the proms, right?

Their girl, Tegami, met them at the front door of her parents’ sprawling mansion, slouching out from behind a huge iron-studded wooden door through a moss garden to their car, remonstrating the whole way with the house butler, Mr. Niwa. Adam opened the back door of their hired car for her, and she flopped inside with a sneered remark about Koreans in suits. The butler raised an eyebrow at Adam and gave a small nod of shared sufferance before shambling away to the house. They were off.

Tegami chan was dressed in standard punk fare, carefully ripped and textured to look not too new but just stylish enough to mark her out as not from anything resembling the social class of the band she was attending. Nothing screams “slumming it” like a sullen little rich girl in faux dirty designer punk kit, wearing the most expensive make up money can buy (smeared, of course!) and staring resentfully at her bodyguards.

Still, they were professionals, so whatever, right?

They turned up at the gig fashionably on time. Last time Troll had commandeered an apparently abandoned yacht, which had only one entrance, and when the drug lords who owned it turned up to secure the supply hidden in the hull the ensuing carnage had been slightly chastening even for a band of Troll‘s infamous level of chutzpah, so this time they had scoped out their venue with an eye to avoiding suicidal escape stampedes, and set up a series of barricades around a complex of narrow streets surrounding a central square in a largely abandoned industrial park. Ragged semi-abandoned warehouses loomed over the streets on all sides, and the multi-racial, multi-species crowd moved with edgy caution between stalls selling vat-grown sausage hot dogs, Troll shirts (unofficial of course), stimulants and downers and personal defense weapons. The PCs left their hired car within easy calling distance of a larger entrance and walked Tegami chan through a distressingly security-free series of barricades. Troll bodyguards loomed menacingly around them but nobody bothered to check them at all. Normally entering a danger zone armed is sweet relief to a mercenary, but knowing the only reason you’re armed is that nobody checked the rest of the crowd offers cold comfort. They decided to get cautious, and John retired to one of the decaying warehouses, climbing up high to a point where he could get a view of the whole zone. Adam and Heckerman fell back a little, leaving Jayden and his heightened sense of danger to keep Tegami safe while they scanned the crowd physically, astrally and electronically. Jayden stood near Tegami chan, assuring her that all old men just loved the moshpit and she should really try it, thus ensuring that she didn’t go near it for fear of appearing uncool – and protecting her from the crowd of spiky, rage-pissed, insanely high troll fans currently grinding each other to mush in front of the stage.

Unfortunately the threat wasn’t in the stage. At some point a man turned up while Jayden was pushing away some random weirdo, and started talking to Tegami chan in a low voice, pointing back to the heights of a building on the far side of the square and muttering something about a private viewing area. Tegami probably couldn’t hear him over the pulse and throb of Troll‘s most famous song, The Other White Meat, but Jayden wasn’t taking any chances, and moved in to push the dude away from his girl. The man slunk away in short order, but then Heckerman told Jayden that the man had put something in Tegami’s bag.

Jayden didn’t waste any time – he knifed the guy in the back while Adam rushed forward to check the bag. Unfortunately for Jayden the room that ostensibly held a private party actually held a sniper, who hit Jayden with a tranquilizing dart that knocked him out for the rest of the night. Such a shame to miss such great music! As Jayden sank to the ground John shot the sniper in the head, and Adam and Hackerman drove the guy on the ground away. Jayden was down and done for, with no treatment in sight, so they dragged him to a quiet area of the barricades and returned to guarding Tegami chan. Tegami chan, of course, thought the entire scene was so completely uncool and couldn’t they just let her enjoy this great music? So hard to be a teenage girl …

Nonetheless Heckerman managed to check her bag and uncover a bug, which probably no one knew they knew about, and carefully left it broadcasting in the bag. They would tell Mr. Niwa about that later …

The rest of the night passed uneventfully, especially for Jayden lying paralyzed in the shadows of the barricade. Aside from some lethal side-eye from their ward the PCs experienced no other trouble, and things were just beginning to wrap up when the troll and his human buddy emerged from the crowd, clubs in hand, and marched determinedly towards Tegami, damaging intent in their eyes. With Jayden down and out, Adam and Heckerman had to take these two guys on right there in front of the whole crowd, while Tegami clapped her hands and cheered. Fortunately John was in his eyrie, unnoticed by the trolls, and managed to shoot the troll down before he could flatten Adam. In turn Adam and Heckerman managed to subdue the human with a combination of magic and good old fashioned brutality, and were able to drag Tegami chan away before anything really bad happened. They bundled the man into the car but decided that whatever awaited him at Mr. Yamada’s House of Polite Yakuza Questions would be beyond their stomach to bear, and dropped him off a few minutes later. Successfully out from the crowd, they returned Tegami chan to the house of her Honourable Father.

Mr. Niwa greeted them with a sigh of relief, Tegami chan’s rude greetings washing off him like engine lubricant off an ersatz duck’s genomic feathers. They warned him about the bug and suggested that he might want to keep it in her bag and use it to lure in whoever planted it, and showed him pictures of the troll and human who had attempted to hurt Tegami chan at the end of the night. “The Russians,” he sighed with an expression of weary expectation. “I’m sure we will Deal With It.” He thanked them, offered for them to stay in the guest room drinking tea as long as they wanted, and only barely perceptibly relaxed his manner when they declined his invitation and headed home.

Somewhere upstairs they saw Tegami chan’s pale moon face looking out of a window, watching their car pull away back into their wild unfamiliar world, her hand half raised in an unconscious gesture of farewell, make up smeared as if she had stopped cleaning up halfway through and run to the window. The lights of their car drifted off into the humid New Horizon night, leaving sullen little Tegami chan in her gilded cage, wondering at lives that could have been.

They didn’t wave back. They were already counting the money.

Gank it!

Gettin’ robbed, Gettin’ stoned
Gettin’ beat up, Broken boned
Gettin’ had, Gettin’ took
I tell you folks
It’s harder than it looks
It’s a long way to the top
If you wanna rock ‘n’ roll

Our heroes stood in the smoking ruins of the abandoned railway platform, the two surviving gangbangers on their knees before them. As they took stock one of the two shuddered and passed out, all his remaining energy draining out of him as the combat drugs he had taken wore off. The other sat quietly on the ground, waiting his fate. Adam busied himself healing John and Jayden, and then while John kept an eye on their prisoner Jayden and Adam shuffled down the platform. At the far end they found a construction zone, separated from the platform itself with a temporary wall covered in DO NOT ENTER signs. The wall was riddled with bullet holes and the door hanging ajar, possibly broken open with a grenade. From inside they could hear heavy breathing and muttering. Assuming this must be Anansie, Adam called out a greeting and they cautiously entered the construction area.

They found Anansie behind an upturned cabinet, seriously injured and leaking from multiple bullet wounds beneath his armoured vest. Adam healed the worst of the damage and they helped him out of the room. As they passed the unconscious gang banger Anansie casually shot him in the head, but they managed to convince him not to waste the last survivor. Moving slowly under the burden of prisoners and injuries, they emerged from the underground into light evening rain, Jayden supporting Anansie and John escorting the gang banger. They all slumped against the nearest wall while Anansie put in a call to “a guy I know,” who turned up very soon after in a spacious van with tinted windows and menacing corners. Everyone piled in and they headed to Jayden’s apartment.

Jayden’s apartment was a shabby little one room carved out of a storage tank in an old water purification plant near the industrial end of Havensport. The water purification plant was no longer used for its original purpose, and its standing water towers had been converted into cheap apartment blocks. Piles of shipping crates had been stacked between them, and people lived in those too, though that lifestyle was barely better than squatting and Jayden, though dirt poor, still had the scrip to elevate himself above them. His room was one of a block of four that had been set up in the rear half of one of the water towers, walled off from each other with cheap drywall and opening onto the front third of the tower, which formed a kind of common area and laundrette. Rickety stairs wound around the tower and into this common area, which they trooped through armed and pushing their prisoner without attracting even a passing glance from the other residents. Either the residents were used to Jayden’s line of work, or they were all into the same business. Inside his room Jayden flung open the windows, revealing a view of looming chemical refraction towers, gestured for people to sit where they could, warned them away from the damp and mould on one wall, and handed around beers. The refreshing sound of cans opening set them all to relaxing, and after a moment to savour a cold beer after a hot day’s work, they all turned to look at their prisoner.

He was remarkably forthcoming, and told them all he knew. The Red Hand gang had a job out on Anansie, they didn’t know why, but all the lowest level squads were out looking for him. Their squad had been directed to his safe house by a higher up in the gang, a woman called Fay, but when they got there they found Anansie gone and the dwarf hacker and the orc dead. So they left, but later they got word that Anansie had been seen and they tracked him to the disused subway station. They went after him and were in the middle of the battle when suddenly their leader got a call – the prisoner doesn’t know who from but guesses it was Fay – warning them that the PCs were incoming. And just when they were about to complete the hit too! And the rest, as they say, was history. He couldn’t tell them why the Red Hand had a job out on Anansie, he was too low down the food chain to learn that kind of info, but no hard feelings and could they maybe see their way to letting him go?

They did, Jayden giving him a quiet word about bygones being most certainly bygones before kicking him out the door. Anansie then filled them in on some of the details. Havensport is the turf of a rival Triad, the Golden Dragon, and the Red Hand usually restrict their activities to a different part of New Horizon, but recently they had been mounting raids into Havensport and causing trouble for the Golden Dragon. Anansie is just a fixer, but he has it in mind to start working for the Golden Dragon too, or at least operating with their license in their Havensport turf, but to get such a market position he needs to present himself to the Golden Dragon leadership and he needs to be carrying a strong letter of introduction. His plan had been to form a team of independent runners and send them in to bust up a Red Hand drug factory that had been set up in Golden Dragon turf, and present its destruction to the Golden Dragon as his letter of introduction. Unfortunately the hacker and the street samurai he had intended to be in the team had been slaughtered by some kind of maniac when they came to his safe house, and he had been forced to run when he found the mess, which was why he had not been able to make it to his meeting with the PCs. His plan had been to offer the PCs to join the team he was assembling, and although his plan had been partially derailed by the killing of the hacker and the samurai, he was still up for doing it now before word of his inquiries into the drug gang got out. Would the PCs still be willing to do the raid? They would need to act quickly, because eventually the drug makers would learn of his interest, but if they acted in the next day or two they would surely have surprise on their side.

They asked a few probing questions. The drug makers were a gang under the control of a psychotic dwarven fire mage called Hui. Anansie did not know exactly where they were, but he had narrowed it down to a block of buildings up against the old section of New Horizon superstructure that separates Havensport from the Kwun Tong industrial district. He would pay them 12,000 nuyen as a group to go in, bust up the group, kill Hui and deliver all the drugs and gear to him. They would need to spend some of that on a hacker to help find the exact location, since the hacker he had intended to hire was dead. Once the job was done he would put in a good word for them with the Golden Dragon, so it would be a job with more than just financial benefits.

They agreed. They all needed the money, and none of them seemed particularly unhappy at the idea of busting Red Hand gang bangers after their recent run-ins. With that, Anansie gave them what info he had and disappeared into the night, leaving them to set up their run. Over the next day they acted fast, assembling gear and hiring a hacker to do a more detailed scout of the area they needed to go to. They also hired a getaway driver with a decent vehicle, and got their hacker to break into a cheap van they could use to get close. This took them longer than they thought, so they were only ready to go in on the second night after they rescued Anansie.

In a stroke of good fortune, that same afternoon a storm swept in over New Horizon from the sea, and their approach was cloaked in blinding rain squalls and darkness, the streets empty of bystanders or witnesses. They had found the factory in a building that rested right up against the border wall with Kwun Tong, a huge remnant fragment of the original New Horizon super structure that loomed over the area’s four- and six-storey buildings. This wall was honeycombed with tunnels and roads and even old building structures, and relatively easy for them to move through undetected. Once they reached the building next to their target Adam levitated them down onto the rooftop and they took up positions. John used his low light and thermographic vision to scan the rooftop of the drug house, finding a single guard standing desultorily in the rain. There was only one door onto the rooftop, and their brief reconnaissance of the building itself suggested that the floor below the rooftop was abandoned, with most activity happening on the lower two floors.

Jayden leapt across the gap between the buildings onto the roof of the drug house, and crept up behind the guard while John took aim. Their plan was simple: kill the guard and go down the stairs. John fired, killing the guard with a single shot, and Jayden drifted over to his body to check for access cards and other details. He dragged off a lanyard with a swipe card, and also cut off one of the guy’s fingers just in case they needed prints to get in, and was just moving towards the door to the stairs when Adam Lee, using his magical sight, saw a magical alarm trigger, and something come rising up through the building. The guard had been rigged to give a signal if he died, and the fire wizard had conjured up a fire elemental to clear the rooftop!

It appeared moments later, roaring to steaming life as it manifested right in front of Jayden, but thanks to Adam’s warning they were ready. John shot the thing, and Jayden was able to dodge its first attack. He struck back, but instead of doing any damage found himself engulfed with fire wherever his knife sunk in. He fell back, dodging a second attack, and let John destroy the beast with a second shot from his rifle. The creature disappeared screaming into the abyss, and the rooftop went quiet. Jayden, seriously injured just from standing near the elemental, ran back to Adam’s side, where he was healed, before running over to again take cover behind the door onto the rooftop. John took aim at the doorway and they waited.

They did not have to wait long before a team of men spilled onto the rooftop. The battle was short and brutal, with John picking off fighters from the next building over as Jayden moved amongst them, stabbing and hacking. When Hui emerged, steaming and hurling fire bolts, all three of them focused their fire on him and took him down before he could harm them. Jayden made sure the unconscious mage was permanently out of combat, Adam used his levitation magic to throw a guard over the edge, and the final guard gave up and fell to his knees begging for his life. With the benefit of surprise, darkness, the storm and John’s phenomenal sniper rifle they had made short work of six goons, a fire elemental and an insane dwarven fire mage. They collected themselves, gathered what information they could from their sole surviving enemy, and prepared to head down into the drug den …

Hiding from tomorrow
and hades wrapped in clouds
ride the breeze
so cold as ice

The faithful, the fallen
have faith to the ones with pride
the faithful, the fallen
and glance of day will never shine

We find our heroes at a moment of crisis. They have negotiated their way out of a tense and complex situation with a band of 20 knights of the Order of the Morrigan, an order of ruthless mercenaries who go to war in honour of their foul Fomori wargods. Although they have avoided slaughter at the hands of these evil folk, they watched as 10 of the knights departed in haste for the town of Crois Arald to hunt down the Fomori deserter that the PCs knew was hidden there. Having already hatched a suspicion that these Morrigan were somehow connected to the slaughter of those deserter Fomori, the PCs needed to get back to town quickly to help the lone Fomori hiding there. They took their leave of the leader of the Morrigan and headed as fast as they could back to the town.

Unfortunately the PCs were slowed down by two wagons – Xenobia of course rode in her noblewoman’s wagon, accompanied by her manservant Wagonsworth, and also by her maid Purple; but they were also slowed down by the wagon of a Korr called Percivole, who they had rescued from the necromancer[1]. So they were not able to keep up with the detachment of Morrigan, and by the time they reached the town the Morrigan had already begun to execute their search. They had begun dragging people out of their houses and forcing them into the central square, while some knights had fanned out to search more outlying buildings. In the center of the square a Far Daragh stood on a platform, massive sword in hand, red armour gleaming in the sun – Far Daragh are Fomori executioners, tasked with killing Fomori who have broken the strange and evil codes of that ancient and vicious race. No one was yet hurt, although they had beaten the sheriff unconscious when he tried to assert his authority, but it was obvious that if anyone resisted they would die. Worse still, the PCs knew that the Fomori deserter, Ilid, was hiding in a building on the southern side of the town, and the Morrigan were approaching it. They were accompanied by a Seacal, a kind of dog-human race that is renowned for its tracking skills. They had to act fast.

They split up. Ichimusai and Leantoir walked towards the main square from the east, to disrupt the rounding up of citizens and in hope of making a distraction. Xenobia and Korr parked his wagon on the road heading out of town, to block entrance to more knights from the north, and headed along a different road to the square in Xenobia’s wagon. Idril climbed a watchtower on the edge of town to get an overview of the area and be able to cast spells at anyone in the area. Fellan slipped into the shadows of the buildings and headed south to try and get to their Fomori deserter before the Morrigan.

Xenobia and Persivore reached the square from the northern road and began talking to the guards just as Ichimusai and Leantoir were stopped by three guards on the eastern road. Ichimusai was wearing a banner that proclaimed him “Ichimusai, greatest fighter under heaven”, intended as a challenge, but the Morrigan were not stupid enough to accept his challenge, so they stood in the road watching each other warily. Xenobia began asking the guards who stopped her what was happening, but as the conversation began the Seacal saw Fellan, and fired at him with a bow. The arrow struck Fellan hard in the side and as he fell the Seacal let out an unholy howl. Hearing that howl the Morrigan grabbed their swords, which Ichimusai interpreted as a challenge, and battle was joined. As the battle started the guards speaking to Xenobia panicked and, thinking her a normal noblewoman accompanied by her manservant, dragged her from her cart and into a nearby building for her own protection, one standing in the room facing the door as a guard while two more stood outside covering the door.

Xenobia waited until the guard’s back was turned and, gesturing to Persivole to draw his pistol, stepped forward, touched the man on the back of the head, and began to rip his soul from his body. He resisted, but the pain and damage was intense, and as he struggled he turned, wreathed in crackling black lightning, to face Persivole, his face drawn and withered, skin taught, veins standing out black and pulsing against unnaturally pale skin, eyes pools of black dripping tears of blood. Persivole shuddered and shot him in the face, blowing his head across the windows and walls and making a huge hole in the door. The guards outside turned in shock, not yet knowing what horrors lay inside that room.

Across the square Ichimusai and Leaintor went to work on their opponents, who acted first, attacking the huge and intimidating druid with their great swords and beating him near to death. Ichimusai killed one with the first swift and silent draw of his weapon, and Leaintor beat on another one. From the tower Idlir cast healing magic on both Leaintor and Fellan, who rushed towards the house where the Fomori was hiding. Unfortunately for everyone, as Fellan was rushing towards the house the Fomori emerged and ran towards the Seacal and one of her accompanying Knights, attacking them in a mad suicide mission. The other two Knights accompanying the Seacal had broken back to the square, hearing sounds of slaughter and gunfire.

Xenobia and Persivole stood in the room, waiting patiently for the guards to enter as Xenobia screamed for help and the Korr reloaded his pistol. Smoke and cordite mingled with the steely smell of blood and the strange, oily stench of dark magic. The guards rushed into the room and Xenobia hit both of them with a crackling nimbus of dark energies, rotting the flesh on their bones as they rushed in to come to her aid. Persivole shot one in the chest, blasting him back out of the door. He flicked the shell from his pistol and tried to act calm as the room filled with the cawing of distant crows and the stench of rotting corpses. Xenobia’s magic has a certain signature.

On the far side of the square Ichimusai and Leaintor pummeled on the remaining two soldiers, killing one and badly injuring another. Idlir stunned the knights facing Fellan and the Fomori as Fellan, dodging another arrow from the Seacal, charged into battle and struck the dog-man in the face with a powerful sweep of his longsword. Now the Seacal was injured and Fellan was whole, the tide of battle turning slightly towards the Sidhe assassin.

In the room Xenobia and Persivole shared a brief glance as Persivole dodged the surviving guard’s sword blow. Xenobia stepped forward and touched the Morrigan, striking him with such a wave of black power that his soul was pushed from his body whole, briefly appearing whole and intact and glowing pure and steady in the air of the room before turning black and crystalline, mouth opened in a silent scream of terror, and then dissipating on invisible winds of dark magic. Somewhere funeral bells rang and the room hung heavy and cloying with the smell of charnel houses and rose incense. Persivole, gagging, flung open the door and fired his pistol at a guard standing on the far side of the square. At the same time Ichimusai and Leaintor entered the square, Ichimusai leaping over one guard to land on the far side of the square facing the guards coming from the south.

Down the south road the Seacal dropped her bow and leapt at Fellan, attempting to knock him over and savage him but missing. Fellan pushed her down and beat her with both his swords, hacking at her head until she lay still and broken on the roadside. Then he and the Fomori set about the callous murder of the other Morrigan soldier while in the square Persivole, Leaintor, Ichimusai and Xenobia teamed up to finish off the remaining three Morrigan. Moments later the battle was done as fast as it had begun, 10 Morrigan and a Seacal dead and the party largely unharmed, except for Ichimusai who stood purring and swaying at the edge of the square, near done for under the weight of multiple sword strikes. Leaintor stepped forward and placed a gentle hand on the giant cat man’s arm, suffusing him with the glow of druidic healing magic. Xenobia moved to pat Persivole on the shoulder in a gesture of triumph, but he ducked away from her touch with an expression of horror. Behind them blood dripped off the windows, and whispering spirits subsided into silence.

They saw the citizens of the town back to their homes and negotiated with the Far Daragh, who looked nonchalantly about him at the ruins of the Morrigan, announced “Nothing to execute here” and walked away. Fellan followed him at a discreet distance, hoping to find out how the Fomori returned to their kingdom beyond the mists. Ichimusai fashioned a banner that stated “Your men were slain by ichimusai, unequalled under heaven” and planted it in the middle of the square. Hours later Fellan returned to tell them that the Far Daragh had taken a horse, and he had lost track of him, but before then the Far Daragh had met with the other half of the Morrigan force and told them about the events in the town. They debated whether to set up an ambush in the town, and finally decided to head out of town and lay an ambush in the hills to the east. If the Far Daragh’s report did not convince the Morrigan to seek vengeance on the party, Ichimusai’s banner surely would.

Before they left the town the Fomori deserter thanked them, and by way of thanks gave them a fragment of a diary she had found in the ruins of a church to the north east. This document described the final movements of a famous woman who had previously defeated the Fomori in an earth shattering war 300 years ago. The Fomori deserter thought that this letter might be relevant to the reason the Fomori had recently made war in this area – perhaps they were seeking the “memento” the woman mentioned in the diary. The characters decided that once they had killed the remaining portion of the Morrigan they would seek more information about the contents of this diary entry. Thanking the Fomori deserter, they headed out of the town towards the east, to set up an ambush for the Morrigan and lead them to a certain fate…


fn1: I completely forgot to mention this in the previous write up. Korr are a kind of dwarf-like race of engineers and grumps, and this Korr had been turned into a chicken by a trap in the necromancer’s lair, but when they killed the necromancer he returned to his previously slightly larger form. They recovered his gear and his wagon, and now he traveled with them

They stand together in our wildest dreams

We invoke the Fomori

Strangers with the eyes of men

And they fall from grace

And they fall from light

Two hundred angels

Black rain from the clouds

And they fall from grace

And they fall from light

Blackened forsaken tears

Snake down my face

The high order of the Fomori

The sons of god, they never dream

Strangers with the eyes of men

  • Lament of the Watchers

[Faustus’ note: We have played 3 or so sessions of Undriel, of which only the last two sessions I have joined, and for reasons unrelated to the game I haven’t been in the mood to do write ups. I’m catching up now with this brief summary of the two sessions I joined].

Background

The party consists of five members:

  • Ichimusai, a Milesian warrior who does not speak. Milesians are a type of giant cat-people, much larger than humans and hailing from a strictly heirarchical and warlike society
  • Leantoir, a human druid, a great bear of a man from a nomadic and empoverished background, who combines magic and a very big stick
  • Idril, a Sidhe Draoi priest. Sidhe Draoi are a type of forest dwelling ancient that resembles a humanoid grown from a tree. Imagine an elf that mated with an Ent.
  • Fellan Braeduth, an Aes Sidhe assassin with a very short fuse. Aes Sidhe are a more classic type of elf, though they’re of dubious morality and probably more Drow-like than one should be comfortable with
  • Xenobia, a human noblewoman, unwilling necromancer, who uses her powers to investigate murders, deaths and other unsavoury deeds

The land of Undriel has just recovered from a shattering war with a race of evil outsider-like creatures called the Fomori, who come in many forms ranging from the beautiful to the monstrous. The party are veterans of that war, who have teamed up to travel across the war-ravaged lands to a regional city. They have stopped at the town of Crois Arald, which sits at a crossroads south of the city they are traveling towards, and is beset by many troubles. Seeing the chance for fame and fortune, the PCs have decided to help the citizens of the town to deal with some of their problems.

In the first session (which I did not attend) they stumbled on a gang of Fomori and slew them without negotiating, in an orgy of spectacular bloodshed (or so I am told). They kept one survivor, who they handed over to the town guard. The next two sessions begin here.

Interrogating the Fomori

The Fomori proved to be a most accomodating prisoner, willing to answer all our questions without trouble, although the interrogation still took half of the session because we were so stupid and indecisive. She revealed that the Fomori gang they had murdered was part of a splinter faction of Fomori who had opposed the war and were fleeing east to the Kingdom of Reynes, which is offering sanctuary to Fomori who opposed the war. They were heading to a rendezvous point with the rest of the tribe, which would then take some secret faerie route to cross the oceans to Reynes. Unfortunately the PCs had murdered her gang and she was unwilling to reveal the location of the rendezvous point. After much debate they agreed that she was being honest, and let her go.

Bandit and bear

Having “solved” the “problem” of the pacifist Fomori the group decided to take on a clearer problem, a gang of bandits preying on caravans on the western road into town. They set up a simple trap consisting of a wagon decorated as a noblewoman’s wagon, with Xenobia riding the front of the wagon as bait and the rest of them hiding in the back, while Fellan stalked ahead. This trap worked beautifully and the bandits, unable to resist such ripe and easy fruit, attacked without plan or sense. The resulting battle was a vicious bloodbath, with half the bandits falling in moments and the other half cut down in the forested slope as they fled, one having his soul ripped from his body to power Xenobia’s dark magic and the other being gutted and left to die slowly. (Apparently a slow death from disembowelment is more civilized than being rapidly drained of your life essence by a necromancer!) They then followed the path to the bandit’s camp and killed the rest of them in short order. While they were searching the camp they were disturbed by an enraged bear because of reasons; Leantoir tried to calm it but this failed, so then Ichimusai cut the bear in half with one stroke of his katana.

Ichimusai is large, and deadly, and very very quiet. Xenobia likes him.

Dark magic in secret places

The PCs rested a little before setting out on their next adventure, a quest to investigate a group of caves near the town that had recently been declared off limits on account of their being the source of a plague or curse of some kind. They traveled to the area and found the caves, which lay inside a narrow culvert cut into some hills. Stone outcrops just inside this culvert bore marks in Fomori script indicating it was death to enter; intrigued and unworried, they entered. Near the cave entrance they found the bodies of two Fomori, who bore the same markings on their clothes as the pacifist Fomori the group had previously mercilessly slaughtered. Xenobia investigated the bodies and found that they were occupied by a strange dark magic that would animate them as zombies, and was able to disable the magic just before they rose. They appeared to have been killed by black magic, the same kind of soul-stealing weapon that Xenobia uses and marker of necromancy.

Concerned that reanimated corpses might be immune to normal weapons, Xenobia enchanted some of the group’s weapons with coruscating aurorae of shadows, which would disrupt the animating magic of any corpses they encountered. Ichimusai and Leantoir initially resisted this magic but finally consented, but expressed extreme distaste at the slippery, slightly greasy cold feeling it imparted to their weapons and the strange whispering of dying children that they heard whenever they swung their weapons.

Xenobia shrugged, and they ventured further in. Here they found more Fomori from the same tribe, some of whom animated and attacked them. They cut them down and proceeded until they found an inner cave where a necromancer was engaged in a horrific ritual, stitching together the body parts of dead Fomori to make new monstrosities that he perhaps intended to turn into an army. They killed the necromancer and his minions, though this battle was tough and his powers frightening. Behind the ritual cave they found a smaller cave where the necromancer slept and studied, in which they found a strange orb hanging in space, which was obviously some kind of communication device.

Obviously something big was going on here. It appeared that the pacifist Fomori tribe had been meeting here, and the necromancer had killed them as they gathered, though they could not identify his purpose. Some dark plot was being executed here, and it was obviously being coordinated from somewhere far away by someone powerful.

Tensions with the Morrigan

When the party emerged, covered in blood, from the caves they found themselves facing a large squad of Knights of the Order of the Morrigan. This order are a kind of elite military force among the Fomori, and this band had been wandering the local area looking for remnants from the war. They were led by a big soldier called Rumiel, but in their midst was a sinister black-robed woman called Aredhel. When they encountered the PCs a strange, tense encounter unfolded, in which they seemed somehow altogether too interested in the manner of the Fomori’s deaths, and altogether too aware of what might have happened here. At the same time the PCs immediately distrusted this group of soldiers, and tried to angle the encounter so that no one from the group managed to get inside the caves and see the clues of necromancy. No one could quite say why but we all had a suspicion that this band was connected to the deaths of the Fomori. Aredhel also expressed an intense interest in any survivors of the group, and the PCs immediately suspected she was looking for any pacifist Fomori who might be drifting through the area. During this encounter they managed to organize a formal cremation of the dead Fomori, and also managed to escape with their lives. Unfortunately the Morrigan somehow found out about their past prisoner, and sent scouts to town to investigate further. So after they had parted company with this band of ne’er do wells, the PCs also decided to rush back to town to see what they could do to protect their erstwhile prisoner.

And on this strange and confused note the session ended.

Flying in a blue dream …

Last week in Tokyo was Golden Week, the long week of public holidays that people traditionally use to travel. I stayed in Tokyo and chose to use one of the days to visit what I thought of as “the Mucha exhibition” at the National Art Center, Tokyo. This exhibition was timed to coincide with the 10th anniversary of the opening of the museum, the 60th anniversary of the reestablishment of diplomatic relations with Czechoslovakia, and the Year of Czech Culture, 2017, so I guess it was intended to be something special. I had previously seen a Mucha exhibition at the Kitakyushu Art Museum in Fukuoka, where I saw primarily a collection of his illustrations and advertising work, and I was expecting the same in Tokyo but perhaps expanded, so I was completely stunned when I walked into the first room and found myself facing an 8m x 6m canvas of luminous beauty, The Slavs in their original homeland, pictured above. In fact this exhibition was displaying almost all of Mucha’s Slav Epic, a collection of huge oil paintings describing key events in the history of the Slavic peoples, which he painted over an 18 year period (1910 – 1928). These pictures showcase incredible art nouveau technique, while displaying striking mythical figures and key historical events in splendid beauty, and their impact cannot be appreciated by viewing them on any screen. Take the picture above, for example: The god on the right of the picture must be 4 or 5 metres high, and the two human figures at the bottom centre are almost human sized. The god doesn’t just loom over the viewer, but seems to actually float out of the picture, and really dominates the space around the picture in a way that even the best onscreen rendering cannot picture. The glowing fires at the centre left also spring to life with an almost feral radiance when you view the picture in person, the stars actually seem to sparkle, and those semi-corporeal distant figures on horseback are vague and indistinct in just the way you would expect if you were standing before that god, looking into the real distance to see oncoming soldiers.

The other pictures in the series are similarly dramatic, and to stand near them is to feel as if you are part of the unfolding drama rather than a witness in an art gallery – and this despite the fact that, because it was golden week in Tokyo, this gallery was packed. The photo below, which I took in the area where photos are allowed, gives a sense of the scale of the pictures and the crowd at the gallery, and the way the pictures stand imposingly above even this many people. In some ways the crowd was a boon, since it forced one to move back from the pictures and view them from their proper distance, as well as helping to keep the scale of the images in perspective.

Let’s enjoy Red Square together!

I’m quite a fan of art nouveau – I visited the Tiffany Museum in Matsue when I lived there, and I’ve visited Mucha and other similar exhibitions before where I can. I know a lot of people probably view it as not real art – kind of effete and shallow, the way perhaps some people view the romantic poets or perhaps like the pop music of art, but I think it has an evocative beauty that also speaks of a rare period of time in history when our developed nations were not yet modern but were full of hope and idealism and looking forward and upward. I also think it reflects non-European influences and I appreciate its intricate connections with advertising and popular theatre, which gives it a kind of populism that I appreciate in art. It’s not as “experimental” as some of the other movements that came at the same time, and for that I think it gets frowned on, and I think some modern art critics probably don’t respect its simple enjoyment of classical or saccharine beauty (especially feminine beauty). But I think at its best it is able to capture something of the human soul or the desire humans have always had to find transcendent beauty in their surroundings, and I think it must have been really stretching the available techniques of the time to achieve that sense of liminal and supernatural beauty that it aspires to. If I ever had any doubt about just how well art nouveau was able to achieve these goals, Mucha’s Slav epic dispelled them. This series of works is a masterpiece, and a perfect showcase of all the best aspects of this style. Walking through the halls of the epic is like drifting through an art nouveau dream, full of diffuse lights and ghostly figures, radiant spaces, beautiful ethereal women and striking, tragic moments. After viewing these massive pieces there was a large collection of his other work but some of his famous pieces – like the four flowers – which would have been masterpieces if they had been shown on their own were anti-climactic after the gigantic dreamscapes of the main display.

This is probably the third really great exhibition I have visited in Tokyo. In 2007 I saw Ashes and Snow at a temporary space in Tokyo Bay, having no idea really of the scale of its content; then quite recently I saw The Universe and Art at the Mori art museum,  and now within a year I get to see this unique apotheosis of art nouveau. This is one of the really good things about living in Tokyo – it may happen only once a year and they may be very crowded, but the quality and global nature of the content is really high. This exhibition lasts until the 5th June, so if you are in Tokyo I strongly recommend getting along to see it. Even if you aren’t especially into this particular artistic form, I think it will capture you with its scale and ambition, and if you do appreciate art nouveau I doubt you’ll ever get the chance to see as good an exposition of its best qualities as you will when you visit this exhibition. So, go, and get lost in dreams of Slavic history.

She'll tear your heart out, and store up the pain for next time

She’ll tear your heart out, and store up the pain for next time

With the Spiral Confederacy campaign rolling to a close my regular gaming group is about to embark on a new campaign in a setting called Undriel, using a variant of World Of Darkness rules with Ars Magica type magical system. Undriel is high fantasy with a strong flavouring from Irish folklore. This is my character for the new campaign.

Xenobia was born the second daughter of a noble family in Garias, that rich and fated kingdom on the shores of the western isle that is rumoured to have had a long dalliance with dark magic and the Fomori. The particular name of her noble family is of no matter, because she has been cast out from them. Raised with the expectation that she would marry young, promised to a much older man in a marriage of convenience and politics, Xenobia rebelled against her gilded cage and ran away from home in her teens. Tricked by a handsome, mysterious older man from a lower-ranked family, she was lured into eloping with him with promises of adventure and love. Finding herself alone in his remote and cold mountain castle, she slowly began to lose her confidence and her happiness, as he set about systematically degrading and debasing her. Finally she discovered that all of the abuses and cruelties he visited upon her were part of a great ritual, in which he intended to break her innocence and then sacrifice her life on a dark altar to some great evil. At the last she slew him, but the backwash of dark magical energies released in his ineffectual and incomplete ritual washed over her and cursed her, soaking into her so that she suddenly became magically endowed.

Unfortunately this magical awakening was not a pleasant one. Stillborn in a dark ritual interrupted by murder and flight, her magical powers manifested themselves as necromancy and death magic. Xenobia is cursed so that she cannot easily cast any magic that is not based on death, fear, pain and darkness[1] – she is an unwilling necromancer. She can destroy flesh, conjure the spirits of the dead to fight for her, shroud herself in shadows and drive her enemies away in fear, but in order to heal an ally or to conjure a light spell she must suffer the pain in her own flesh. Over time Xenobia came to understand this curse, and during her sojourn in the lonely tower she crafted two magic items to help in her work. One, the burnt eye socket of her cremated former lover, stores damage or essence that she drains from others, that she can use it to restore wounds or injuries in herself or her allies; the other, a battered necklace of emerald, stores the pain she causes to others as a flash of light inside the gem, which she can then call upon the next time she casts a non-necromantic spell. By unleashing this stored pain she can, for that one spell, avoid the penalty of her curse. But if she does not harm others, she cannot store their pain, and must instead suffer that pain herself.

Xenobia has long since been cut off from her family, but she has retained the resources her dead lover had hoarded to himself, including his tower in the remote mountains of Garias. She carries herself still as a noblewoman, dressing elegantly and in the latest fashions and always acting with the etiquette and formality her status demands of her. Those who spend time in her company might notice that she lacks some of the airs and accomplishments of her fellow noble ladies, having missed finishing school and the finer lessons of court life while she wrestled with her curse and the awakening of her powers. Xenobia is also scarred, one side of her face permanently damaged by fire; every moon she casts a spell to renew the perfection of her appearance, and uses make up in the latest courtly fashions to ensure she remains perfect in form. When she casts her dark magics that scar briefly shows through the transformed flesh, revealing the ugliness beneath her courtly demeanour. However, aside from those times when she must hide away to recast the spell, Xenobia is to all outward appearance a normal minor noblewoman. She is pretty, young, slim and small, physically unopposing and apparently mostly harmless. This apparent weakness enables her to insinuate herself into positions where her rougher companions might not go – and belies the ferocious, destructive and unsettling nature of the magic that she carries into battle with her.

Xenobia travels the lands of Undriel seeking a cure for her curse, and a renewed purpose to carry her life forward now that she has been cursed with magic. Will she find that purpose, or will the dark nature of her magic overwhelm her, and draw her into the same evil that consumed her ex-lover? Only the Gods can know …


fn1: Manifesting in game terms as a 3 point flaw that causes her to suffer wounds, increased difficulty or greater spell use costs if her spell does not have one of these features, with the costs growing with the essence cost of the spell.

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