Thursday, September 29, 2022

The Police State Ecosystem

Fropomolo

"Look, thing is, you gotta understand that you're already in prison."

As many an empire before it, the CTA has been claimed by the death-spiral where the social ills of increased militarization are met with only further militarization. There is no problem, says the Alliance, that cannot be solved with a man in body armor pointing a gun at someone. In doing so, like finches on isolated islands, state-sanctioned violence has diversified to fill the many niches of interstellar civilization. 

 

On Enforcement

In this age of omnipresent surveillance, most petty crimes go unremarked; they will be automatically recorded, tallied, tried and sentenced by the blind and mindless algorithm of justice, no human input required. The fees will be added to the perpetrator's Universal Debt Record, and life will go on.

If the victim of a crime is a noncitizen, this is likely where things will end (unless they are able to afford enforcement services). If the victim is a citizen, well, that's when law enforcement gets involved (comes with the subscription package through your employer, see).

If you are caught, you are likely going to be found guilty (regardless of your actual connection to the matter), and if found guilty you will likely be subject to forced labor, corporal punishment, public shaming, or execution. (There are few prisons onboard space habitats - not enough space - and mass transport to planetary work camps is expensive.) If they do not kill you, they will destroy your body and/or your life as they see fit. Most criminal charges void citizenship and prevent you from ever regaining it.

 

The Eye

The aforementioned apparatus of omnipresent surveillance is, appropriately enough, simply called the Eye. Most habitats and colonies (barring the independent Rim, the Hidebehinders, and other isolates) will have at least one node, fed by the mighty info-harvesting engines of the datasphere.

While the Eye is all-seeing, the processing limitations placed on AI mean that the panopticon is always just behind where the powers-that-be wish it was. To cover the gaps, the emulated minds of repossessed debtors will be linked to the local Eye processing center and forced to sift through the river of surveillance data, weaving it into the great tapestry called _context_. Through this digital hell, edge cases are adjudicated, overlooked cases are brought to the fore, and the blindspots of biased datasets are covered.

The em-yus selected for this task are chosen for their ideological loyalty, but that has not stopped the occasional instances of internal sabotage - those times where the processors might trend towards leniency, or when the node might be subverted to the point of deleting data entirely. Likewise the power of any given Eye waxes and wanes over time as emulated minds burn out and are replaced.

 

The Fist


Private security firms are both specialists and generalists in this biome of violence. There are millions of them across the Expansion Sphere, from the lowliest rent-a-cops to the blood-drenched warzone PMCs, each one geared to a particular sphere of influence. Borders of operation are rigidly defined and enforced (cross-territory collateral damage regularly leads to inter-firm violence). Many are indistinguishable from organized crime (and many of them are indeed rackets that "went legit").

Their many variables of place, purpose, and method can be lumped into three main categories: those hired by private individuals or organizations, those contracted by local governments, and in-house security provided to a corporation by one of their subsidiaries. Nearly all of these terms of employment will be for asset-protection; it is in the what and the how that they will differ.

Private security firms will work in conjunction with Civil Security and armiger houses for operations that cross territorial lines, though they won't like it.



The Boot

Civil Security is not, technically, a police force. It is a military authority, and on paper it is the CTA's domestic antiterrorism branch. It operates independently of local governments, corporations or Great Houses, taking directives directly from the local CTA governance node.

Practically, though, Civil Security's modus operandi boils down to stomping out any brewing rebellions and keeping any disruptive cultural elements under the boot. The brush used to classify terrorism is exceedingly broad and unevenly applied, and justified with such euphemisms as "protecting the persons and property of citizens and upholding the social order". You know how this goes.

They should be treated as a hostile occupying army, (for that is what they are) and they will never, ever, be on your side. If at any point they appear to be on your side, it is because they are currently taking violent action against one of your enemies. You are, as a civilian, worthy of only the utmost contempt because you are weak, and weakness is the enemy of their warrior cult. See how they decorate themselves with skulls to show they are instruments of death? To do violence is to be unweak, to kill is to be strong. If they do not commit violence, they have become weak, morally corrupt, deserving of having violence done to them. This is their creed.

Civil Security are separate from the armigers of the Great Houses, and there is often a great rivalry between the two whenever their paths cross.

 

The Genteel Knife

The armigers of the Great Houses fulfill the military and security roles of that House's direct holdings (security for subsidary holdings will be contracted out to private firms, typically owned in part or in whole by the House). Their role is as much a ceremonial one as a practical - they serve as a means for their patron House to display their wealth and status, and so C-Levels are always attended to by flashily-dressed footmen.

They are the rarest of the the three types, as far as PCs will be concerned.

 

Security Units

The units presented below are generic, can be tweaked as needed according to which faction they are a part of.

  • Security - Unarmored, taser, baton
  • Corporate Police - Armored vest, revolver, taser, baton
  • Police Android - Robotic body, revolver, taser, baton
  • Station Security - Armored vest, boarding axe or foam gun, taser
  • Military Police - Med. armor, SMG, baton
  • Riot Trooper - Heavy armor, riot shield, baton, tear gas grenades
  • Assault Squad - Med. armor, 2x SMG, 1x rifle, 1x shotgun, flashbang grenades
  • Drone Operator - Armored vest, SMG, copter drone
  • K9 Trooper - Armored vest, revolver, cyberdog (smell, tracking, scout, bite)
  • Rimspace Ranger - Armored vest, revolver, long rifle
  • Sniper - Cuttlefish cloak, smart rifle, thermal scope
  • The Black Suits - Adaptive weapon, amnestic dispersal unit, scrambler mask
  • Inquisitor - Unarmored, excruciator, holdout pistol, unquestioned authority


The BlackCrown Security Dhole-Series Chimera

A wedge-shaped head, vaguely canine. Vestigial eyes removed and replaced with cybernetics. Leathery gunmetal skin, takes on a pallid sheen when it goes too long without food. Black gums, black tongue. Rust-orange teeth. Long arms, loping stride both bipedal or quadrupedal. Obligate carnivore - prefers human flesh. Will go into estivation if food supplies are low. Can pull memories by eating a fresh corpse. Can mimic voices of the deceased. Accusations of genome theft of Horizon Neurogen's "Werewolf" model have been repeatedly denied.

  • Claws & teeth, morph reinforcement, IR vision, motion detection, voice mimicry


Abominations

Something new. Enormous, anonymous behind their power armor. Faceplates display an inverted Y in glowing gold, a circled sigil at the end of each line. No neck, just a lump of fat and muscle connected head to torso. Glistening grey-blue skin, if you were ever to see it. Eyes like inky pits. Deployed in squads, coordinated in a cacophany of bassy clicks and whistles. No survivors. No government acknowledgement. Fragmentary civilian footage, quickly purged from the Net. Seem to be deployed in scenarios involving exotic, anomalous or alien threats. Inquire carefully. Searches on these topics are monitored.

  • Heavy armor, HMG, grenade launcher, gene therapy, tacnet

Tuesday, September 27, 2022

Answering Mothership Setting Questions

 

Paul Lloyd

A while ago, I wrote a post of 20 sci-fi setting questions, to accompany ten by Luther Gutekunst. Then Semiurge made 20 more. it has taken forever, but I've answered most of them - removing redundant ones and dropping a few I didn't have interesting answers for.


Luther's Questions

 > What do PCs do?

PCs are contractors, unionists, and low-tier citizens scraping by on the fringes of the Colonial Trade Alliance. This will typically turn into "stumbling on unspeakable horrors".

> What's the setting's scale?

The Expansion Sphere is an irregular blob about 250 light years across. The most heavily developed systems are within 30LY of Earth, with settlements becoming much more sporadic as one passes the 50 LY margin. Most of the further volumes are empty and unexplored. While called a sphere, it's more like a fractal clump of spaghetti.

> What level of tech will PCs generally have?

Ordinary technology will be in-line with the base presumptions of Mothership, which is a bit anachronistically behind our own times in a lot of ways (handwaved as a security measure against omnipresent cybersecurity threats. People learned very, very fast that Internet of Things was a bad idea.)

> What's the highest level of technology?

Celestial-made technology (jump drives, hyperspace gates, terraformation crucibles, starlifting facilities etc) is all firmly in clarketech / blackbox territory: if it's been designed with a human-compatible interface we'll be able to operate it, but the underlying principles are far beyond anything we can understand.

> Are there any psychic abilities, superpowers, etc?

Iteration A: No.

Iteration B: The practices of atûm-rama and devil-sorcery are rare, but are still known to the public (and usually couched in extensive misinformation).

Ontological hazards, such as those cause by the Jump-9 disaster, might be found scattered around the Expansion Sphere, but those who claim they can be mastered are idiots or trying to sell you something.

> How do I improve my character?

Surviving long enough to accumulate gear, specialized skills, and knowledge.

> What's the most important faction in the area?

The Colonial Trade Alliance dominates the Core, the Lords of the Road keep watch over the network of hyperspace jump gates, and the Margin, Rim, and Periphery are a patchwork of CTA claims, Great House holdings, independent polities, and the fledgling Outer Systems Mutual Aid Pact.

> Where can I get normal equipment?


Purchased in a shop or printed out from a fabricator (with appropriate license and blueprint, of course). Hand-made goods are their own market and are usually treated as luxury goods.

> Where can I get illegal / dangerous equipment?

Purchased via the black market or through a jailbroken fabricator. For the former you will need some token of favor from a local syndicate, for the latter you will need to be *extremely* careful.

> How do I heal myself?

You'll need a surgeon for serious injuries. In the field, you're likely stuck with a bit of sterilizing medfoam, painkillers, adrenaline shots, and whatever triage other people can perform. 



My Questions


> What miracles (clear deviations from what is possible in reality) exist in the setting?

There's a more practical inverse to this question, which is "what are the parts that don't get handwaved?" Because much of the hard science of this exercise is vibes rather than fact, so it's easier to list the parts that hew close to reality. I've got two:

1) Communication goes at light-speed or by the fastest FTL ship, no faster. (The Celestials might have an ansible, but if they do they are not sharing.)

2) Getting to orbit from a planet's surface is difficult.

> How do people get from A to B? What is it like in terms of speed, scope, accessibility?

Let's say that you are on Earth, and you are going to go visit Epsilon Eridani.

  1. From Earth dirtside, you take either a surface-to-orbit shuttle or book a ride on a space elevator to get to Earth orbit.
  2. From Earth orbit, you board a cycler bound for Mars, accelerated using a skyhook tether.
  3. As you arrive in Martian orbit, you switch to a Mars-Jupiter cycler, and are launched again in the same manner.
  4. Arriving in Jovian orbit, you purchase interstellar passage on a passenger liner.
  5. From Jupiter you reach the Jump Point and transition into hyperspace.
  6. Upon exiting hyperspace at Epsilon Eridani, you will go through some combination of these steps in reverse.

Which is to say that getting from A to B is a matter of multiple steps, taking weeks to months depending on how far you are going. It gets easier and cheaper the more support infrastructure there is in a system.

> Where do people live, in general?

The majority of the human population lives in orbital habitats - typically around gas giants. Terrestrial worlds, while they consistently capture the imagination, usually have comparatively few surface inhabitants. The only major exceptions to these are first-generation colonies in the Core (established before the Distributed City could easily spread) or on the Rim (where there's not enough investment to establish the City in the first place).

> What is the average quality of life like?

For the underclasses of the CTA, life is a perpetual state of precarity-by-design. You will have just enough to scrape by, but always with the shadow that if the dice ever come up bad, you are fucked. Sapient rights vary by polity, but are generally poor-to-abysmal for the prola (and often locked behind a paywall).

> What are the points of conflict in this society?

Primarily, the CTA has grown so large and so oppressive that its foundation is breaking underneath its own overbearing weight. Rebellions, workers' riots, major strikes, brushfire wars in the Rim, the war with the Firebird, syndicates moving into the cracks like weeds in a sidewalk. It's all too much, something's gotta give.

> What are some commonplace technologies players will interact with?

On computers: Imagine app-centric IOS-style design mixed with command prompts and you will have something approximating what it's like. The internet is walled gardens with utter chaos in between. Any amount of control over your hardware, software, or privacy means that you will have to roll up your sleeves and do a lot of work on the site to make a good setup.

> What's something that technology has fucked up?


The internet is effectively useless outside a few heavily-regulated regions, to the point where searches beyond those boundaries are best done with an accompanying exorcist. Adaptive botnets, long abandoned by their creators, flood the net with bullshit and targeted harassment.

The amount of art and records that have simply been lost to digital entropy is a very depressing number.

> What's something that technology has fixed?

Medical technology, for those who have access to it, can work some true miracles when properly applied.

> What are the most valuable goods and resources?


The thing with living in space is that raw goods come in such excess that the the most valuable thing is good logistics. But it certainly doesn't hurt to have a decent supply of living space, reaction mass, and phosphorus.

> Who enforces the structures of power?


The police state ecosystem has specialized for the many niches of interstellar civilization. It is a complex topic which has proven damnably resistant to getting a post completed. But basically you have your for-hire contract private security, you have Civil Security (antiterrorism branch of the CTA military), and the armigers sworn to any given Great House. None of them like each other, but they hate you more.

> Can PCs own a ship normally, or will they have to steal one?

Individual or small-group spaceship ownership is dependent on the availability of second- and third-hand vessels.

> Does alien life exist? What's its scope? Microbial? Rare, common, exotic? Sapient? 

This is the most up-in-the-air, according-to-my-mood variable of the lot of them. There's always going to be some sort of alien life, (no point in doing space opera if there's not) but the amount varies, and towards the populous end of the spectrum is ceases being Mothership-appropriate. I like keeping aliens and plug-and-play elements.

At bare minimum, there's commonplace bacterial life and a smattering of garden worlds across the Expansion Sphere, but not so many that people can't make catchy Tom Lehrer patter songs out of the list.

One step above that, there are a few proto-sapient species - the Bishops, Puzzle Boxes, and Radio Trees.

Step above that, start adding a few, but not all, entries from the lists of precursor, space-faring, and non-sorted aliens (plus the Gravesphere and the self-replicating alien fast food chain)

Beyond that, well, we're out of Mothership territory. But that's fine, just a topic for another post.

> Can AI be made or become conscious?


It's complicated. Metacognition can develop over time as an AI grows increasingly complex and entropy does its job - feedback loops can spiral out of bounds and lead to rampancy.

This is, of course, for AI operating on a logic core. There's no equivalent transitionary process for Emulated Intelligences (leading to several major polities judging them non-conscious).

> Is it possible to digitize and upload a mind?

Not directly. You can emulate it and make a copy, but that's it. No continuity of consciousness through that process.

> What's the overall tone like?

"Things are bad, and the end is not in sight. But even these times will not last forever."


Semiurge's Questions


> Is the dominant mode of production still capitalist? Why?

No, but it is structured so as to give the appearance of it. The actual reality is something closer to feudalism.

> Who's the oldest person who's still arguably alive?

Debated. There are a few members of the Great Houses who claim to have been alive for the signing of the Epsilon Indi Accords, which would put them at over *hrrmph* hundred years old. A few other individuals claim to be older still, but none would claim older than contact with the Celestials. There is, however, an old man on Karadoon who claims to have just celebrated his 36,211th birthday.

> What is the legal status of transhumans, uplifts, and other such para-human creatures? 

Varies by polity. The party line within the CTA is that the benefits of citizenship are open to anyone who pays the subscription fee, but the reality of the matter is that affording those fees is out of reach for many and that many metahumans and uplifts find themselves disenfranchised by the Alliance status quo. Usually because of links to cultural movements the CTA deems subversive (ie, they were fine with the chimpanzees until they started demanding equal pay, and the thelychroma have always been too leftist)

> Can you own your own clone and make him/her/them do tricks for your amusement?

A full clone is a twin, legally speaking. So no.

> What's the primary existential threat humanity faces?


A) The Celestials deciding that they no longer care for humanity mucking around in their garden.

B) Hyperspatial threats such as the Gaunt

C) Berserker swarms of the PROGENITOR ARCHIVE

D) Ontological breakdown.

E) Some combination of the above.

> Which cultures/nations/religions, or parts thereof, have ascended?

One of the major demographics of post-Collapse Earth was a hybridized West African - Chinese culture. Several first-generation colonies still reflect this.

Much of Mars' third and final colonization push was from Spanish-speaking regions of post-Migration period America, likewise with Chinese influence.

The Alliance of Indigenous Nations, holding the importance Belt habitat of Cahokia at Vesta, proved vital in giving its member nations a seat at the table against the Terran superpowers.

Veneration of the Celestials in some form or another is the biggest religious group outside of the CTA state religion of the Principles of Prosperity and Profit.

The Great Chain Ontology dominates the culture and social structure of the modern CTA.

> Which have fallen by the wayside?

The British monarchy still exists, as an unrecognized micronation occupying approximately 0.5 square kilometers in northern France.

The Catholic Church still exists, but is not only greatly diminished, but has been bogged down in an antipope standoff for generations. (Rotating cast of sects, typically 3-5 antipopes, with one particularly confusing year having 9)

> What's the most dangerous thing you can do with your average spaceship?

Hitting a planet / habitat / other ship.

Weaponizing a torch drive.

Venting a jump drive close to a habitat or inhabited planet.

> How uncomfortable is space travel?

Quite. The inside of a spaceship is typically cramped, hot, and smells pretty funky.

> What's the equivalent of first class/business class/economy class/freight class for space travel?

There's really only high-roller and steerage options. High-rollers can get a private cryostasis ward where they can get in and out at their leisure. Everyone else has minimal space and privacy for prep before being packed in the tubes like sardines in a can.

> Could you model space travel with a random encounter table/hexes/pointcrawl?


Yes, but it would be "encounters when you arrive in the next system" - running into anything inbetween points of the crawl will be highly anomalous and usually a sign that terrible shit is about to go down (and thus a special instance beyond the purview of a random table)
   
> Can you fuck the aliens?

You could, and some people do, but it would require (on top of finding a partner willing to try inter-species coitus) specialized equipment. Even with the cybeles, who are very much into that.

> Who gets the custom-made real waifus?

The upper classes keep trying, and they keep violently rebelling. Many is the technocrat beaten to death by a paracoita who picked up the Firebird. Some habitats on the Rim have taken in so many that they form a statistically noteworthy population demographic.

> Are there any memes that have survived from the present day?

On an airless rocky moon of a humdrum gas giant in the Rim, someone has inscribed on a great plateau, in letters fifty kilometers tall, "I HOPE YOU'RE READY FOR AN UNFORGETTABLE LUNCHEON".
   
> What sound do guns make (pew pew, zap zap, bang bang, etc.)?

Bang, thwip, fssh, bzzt, and DHOOM.

> What's the worst thing that could happen to me from getting the cool & illegal robot parts/genemods?

Splice cancer, auto-immune compromization, biochemical incompatibility, rejection syndrome

> Are there martial arts for robots, mechs, and/or intelligent non-human apes?

Android martial arts aren't flashy, but make up for it in brutal, bone-crushing effectiveness.

Ape martial arts have to compensate for differences in center-of-gravity and arm length - lots of grapples and throws, very few kicks.

> How big are the mechs?


Depends on the definition of mech. If it's just "a robotic apparatus with a human pilot", some common orbital dockyard machinery is fucking enormous. If it's narrowed to "human piloted military vehicle that isn't a tank", it's about the size of a tank.

> Psychic powers, or internet-of-things facsimile thereof? 

There are people who combine internet-of-things with a brain-computer interface. This is typically a terrible idea and will require some very robust malware blockers to maintain any semblance of sanity amid the constant deluge of junk data and viral AI. But it will allow you to command compatible devices with your mind, without having to use a wire.

> What weird political movements are there that aren't just projecting current/historical movements into the future (e.g. not "what if the civil rights movement, but for sapient octopi")?


Outside of the aforementioned Great Chaos, the main political divide is shaping up to be what manner of transhumanism should be taken - cybernetics, bioware, both, neither. With human civilization being as big as it is all four are currently co-existing, but that doesn't stop them from fighting each other over who gets to have influence on policy.

> Where and how is information processed and stored?

It's a fucking mess, like the rest of compsci. If you want something stored securely, either airgap the shit out of it or get a physical hardcopy.

> Who's watching you through the ubiquitous surveillance technology?

No one, most of the time - not because you aren't being monitored, but because there's no consciousness at the other end. Save for those poor emulated souls plugged into the Eye and forced to sift through surveillance data.

> Is there a level of virtual simulation that people could reasonably doubt that what they're currently experiencing is the real world? If answer is yes, what new mental illnesses has this demiurgical atrocity spawned?

Yes, but from the other direction - instead of making the simulation detailed enough to pass as reality, the user is deadened down enough to let it pass. Cut off the meat-body's feedback systems and redirect some of the brain interface and it doesn't matter if the table is clipping through the wall. This gets particularly insidious with emulated minds, as one would expect.

As to answer the second question, there are many, and fall into some variant of:

  • Thinking you are inside a simulation when you are not (False Truman Syndrome)
  • Thinking you are outside a simulation when you are not (Wachowski Syndrome)
  • Believing that there is no outside when inside a simulation (Solipcism)
  • Believing there is no separation between simulation and reality (Unificationism)


> Do most people still have jobs and if so what do most of them do?

Employment tends to fall into one of the following categories

  • Supervising / maintaining / repairing automated processes (dual-level automation is...risky)
  • General labor (This still typically involves a lot of complex machinery.)
  • Entertainment (Includes streaming ecosystem)
  • Sanctioned violence (Always hiring)
  • Education and training (Eternally struggling)
  • Handicrafts (Any AI can make art, which means that ai-made art is worthless as a signifier of status)

Friday, September 23, 2022

The Chatelaine Crepuscular

By pre-dawn grey or dim gloaming blue, a tall, lonely figure calls "Hallo!" from the road.


Daughter of the forbidden union of Moon and Sun (for the Ocean and the Unfixed Stars are jealous consorts), she was exiled from the celestial courts during the Heliocentric Reformation (as the Sun, the new center of the universe, could not afford such a lofty position with an obvious bastard lingering around their feet). She stole everything that she could carry on the way out, and has been peddling the treasures of the heavens as she travels about the world of mortals.

  • Appearance: Beautiful, to proportions that are not entirely unlike those of humans. Tall, so that one must crane their head up to meet her eyes unless they are standing far away. Hair that flows down to her ankles, deepest blue at the roots and billowing out through purple, red, pink, orange, to gold at the tips. Skin of that grey-gold of the mists in morning as they depart from the sun. She goes about unclothed, save a hooded cloak of tattered silver brocade she'll wear when it is raining, and wooden sandals to keep her feet out of the mud. She has an enormous overstuffed backpack, practically bursting at the seams, that never seems to get smaller. With a snap of her fingers there's a wooden tray around her neck, with a carafe of dark coffee an a set of ceramic cups.
  • Manner: Casually playful, in the way of someone who grew up among suffocating social strictures and wishes to have no more of any of that, thank you very much.

  • Wants: Money enough for passage to the Mouth of the Fish.

  • Secret: Killed a courtier on her way out.


What's She Selling?

  • Sun-Maid's Mask - A smiling visage of orange-glazed clay. It weaves the wearer into the background. Others will dimly notice their presence, but not as an individual and not anyone of any importance. Works better the greater the class divide between you and the people around you. Won't let you get away with murder but will certainly allow you to sneak off with heavier pockets.


  • Decanter of Nectar - The golden liquid within is extremely viscous and sticky, painfully cold, overly sweet, and has a tendency to form an unpleasant crust when it dries out. But it does contain several more gallons than it should, and refills slowly when depleted.


  • Sacrificial Censor - Merely insert charcoal, incense, and animal bones wrapped in fat, and you can send one-way messages via smoke signal to anyone who shares the same religion as you.


  • The mummified corpse of an unlucky thaumonaut - Still wearing a functional EVA suit, if you can get the damn thing off him.


  • Assortment of last season's fashions from the Thiasus Tranquilatus - Would be difficult to wear without significant modification, but all of extremely fine quality.


  • Bottomless Chamberpot - Precisely so. It is not recommended to flip it over.


  • Slippers of the Emerald Emperor - Exceedingly comfy and will keep your feet war, your footsteps muffled, and have enough residual magic in them


  • Miniature Ouroboros - A pet snake, forever eating its own tail. Worn as an accessory (as it does not require food and cannot shit) and is s sure sign of high society. Its shed skin is a potent alchemical reagent, used in the more effective transmutative concoctions.


  • Execution Voucher (Most Holy Brotherhood of Carnifexes) - Good for one free execution of a guilty party by a licensed guild headsman.


  • Decorative Inkwell (Gifted by the ambassador from Leng) - By twisting the pen like so, the ink might be made permanent, animated, or invisible save in the presence of certain stimuli.


  • Decorative Statuette (Gifted by the ambassador from Carcosa) - "I don't know what this does and I am not about to try and find out."


  • A jar full of kidney stones - They have been lacquered and polished smooth, and remain utterly disgusting. Why the hell are you buying these.


  • A scale from a chalkydri - As large and as sturdy as a greatshield, but light as a cork. Its polished copper surface casts iridescent reflections when struck by light.


  • The gun that will, eventually, kill the Cthonopope - What an absolute piece of garbage. Poorly maintained, can barely shoot straight, good luck finding compatible ammo. But the name doesn't lie, it comes with a certified prophecy by the Cumaean Oracle.


  • Nephilimic Grammar Book - A dogeared and margin-noted textbook of the primary Nephilimic dialect. Ordinary, somewhat obtuse, but otherwise a decent instruction.


  • Andromeda's Earrings - She left them behind at the soulstice ball. Will allow the wearer to hear any conversation about them as if the speakers are standing right next to them.


  • Partially Opened Box of Firecrackers - Bright paper cylinders of red and yellow. They should still (mostly) be functional. Being used by the celestial court, do mind that the images and sounds they will create are well beyond those alchemist's tricks of the world below. make sure to read the label!


  • Amber Theoamniote - A mass of amber, within which one might see the obscured form of something similar to an oversized human fetus. Purpose unknown.


  • Unfinished Afterlife Paperwork - All the necessary forms to assign two souls to their penitentence. Have already been signed and stamped, but the assignments have yet to be filled in.


  • Cresent Moon Nail Clippers - Shimmering silver blades and a pearl handle. Excellent at their job, but the nail file is the real treasure - with time and elbow grease you can grind down anything with it.

Tuesday, September 20, 2022

Mother Stole Fire Hub Page

 

Dandibuja

 “A man sets out to draw the world. As the years go by, he peoples a space with images of provinces, kingdoms, mountains, bays, ships, islands, fishes, rooms, instruments, stars, horses, and individuals. A short time before he dies, he discovers that the patient labyrinth of lines traces the lineaments of his own face.”

- Jorge Luis Borges, The Aleph and other Stories

What is This?

Very difficult to write a summary of, that's for sure. Art has a habit of getting away from you.

On a practical level, MSF is a personal paracosm originally intended as a homebrew rpg setting. I have never once used it to that end, and so this factor is not particularly important.

The part that actually is important is this: Some years ago, in the wake of my father's death, I read the Slate Star Codex essay "Meditations on Moloch" (I have no love of the author and disavow his works and beliefs in general, but our inspirations arrive as they will). That is a rough essay to read while in a good mental state, let alone in the state I found myself in at the time, but it provided a framework on which to hang the elements of the great sea-change my self was going through during those years.

We live in a world ruled by Moloch. Good men die and the wicked continue on to be rewarded by the systems that feed the weak into the furnace. Zeus - petty, preening, rapacious, murderous Zeus - was king of the gods while Prometheus, the only one who cared for humanity enough to do anything about it, was tortured forever for his trouble.

But the worlds of our dreams need not be so. Here the ordering of the world is reversed - it is a world that has resisted Moloch time and time again, a world where Zeus never came near the throne, a world less poisoned by cyclical abuse and generational trauma. Its long arc of history has bent towards justice. Its gods are not ineffable cosmic forces or abusive deus paters, but the kindly gods of hearth and home and human life.

Of course it is wish-fulfillment; One cannot live for long under the weight of the vision of the pit without something to cling to, after all, and dreams are wonderfully buoyant. In finding no gods satisfactory I went and made my own, and no matter where I go, I always return here, back to the comfortable gravity well of this world and its inhabitants.

All in all, and in short, Mother Stole Fire is this:

It is about the trickster-mother goddess of humanity stealing fire from the dragons.

It is about the long struggle against all the demons of our own making and the hells we build for ourselves.

It is about how, finding ourselves trapped in this world, the only response left - the only way to remain human in the midst of the universe's blind, obscene cruelty - is to plant both feet on the ground, raise a middle finger to heaven, and get fucking angry. And in getting angry to love one another, to do right by our fellow humans and ease their suffering where we may. The world is already cruel enough.

This introduction has gone on long enough. Time to actually get to the stories.

 

Where Do I Start?

While there's quite a bit of material, the through-line is straightforward and the narrative posts cluster together - you can start with whatever you'd like to read.

If you'd like to read about mythic prehistory and the Gods of Man, start with The Theft of Fire

If you'd like to read about the war against Hell, start with The War of the Bull

If you'd like the life story of a veteran demon-hunter, start with the Ballad of Molly Ironshanks

If you'd like something light and sweet, start with Pen & Tam.

If you'd just like to know about the setting, start with The World.

If you'd like to read through in chronological order, just add The World between Theft and War; Ballad and P & T can be any order.

 

The Theft of Fire

Dragons ruled the world in those days, and chief among their lords was Hō-ō the mighty Fire of Heaven, who held all the world as his own. In the shadow of his wings the ancestors of humanity cowered in fear and trembling, and offered up their sons and daughters in sacrifice to the Mesozoic King.

Enflamed by rage at Hō-ō's cruelty, Lu of the Forest - trickster-goddess of the ancestors, proud and stubborn and clever - journeyed to the west of west to steal the Crown of Fire from the dragon-king's brow.

This she did, and now both we and she must live with the consequences.

 



 

Lochiel

The War of the Bull

"If Hell exists, it is the moral duty of every living being to see its gates torn from their hinges and its prisoners freed."
It is the twilight of the Heliobasileum. The emperor lies dying in his sickbed. A terrible disease spreads through the heartlands. At the far fringes of the empire, a teenage goatherd has a vision of Lu and Tubalkhan, warning of a great plague and a greater war to come. Hell is near, they say, and should it emerge unchallenged it will devour the world.

And so the Sable Maid of Orlei, daughter of poor farmers, accepts what will seem to all others a series of impossible tasks - to lead the resistance against Hell, to liberate the enslaved of the Low Country, to throw off the Imperial occupation, to breach the walls of Dis and raze the city to the ground.

She failed at only the last.

But for a moment, for the briefest and brightest of moments, she held back the inexorable weight of the universe.

 

 

The Ballad of Molly Ironshanks

Molly's had a rough life: She fought in the Dayr War against the sorcerer-king Anharugh Paur. She survived the brutal midwinter March to Yaran. She participated in the nightmarish raid on the wizard's tower at Kulvakh. She's served as a demon-hunter for the Order of the Sable Maid for nearly 20 years. She's fought sorcerers, swine-things, dragon cultists, undead and worse.

Through all of this she has pushed forward, scarred and demon-haunted, under near-unbearable burden and near-impossible odds. Forever climbing the mountain, in the hopes that she might one day be free.

 

Peter Violini

Pen & Tam


Wherein Tam Menadore quits her job in the Wizarding Affairs Department, returns back to her hometown, and finds herself on the doorstep of her oldest and best friend.

This is the one about two women in love (and also there's a used bookstore). It's good for a pick-me-up.


The World

The setting-building posts of MSF can generally be read at your leisure, but the one's I've listed here will help contextualize the narrative works (it helps to have a map)

 

Additional Posts

Here lies everything else that is about the world, but not of any particular importance to any of the narratives.

Last Updated 9/20/22

Wednesday, September 14, 2022

Mothership: The Movie

MOTHERSHIP: THE MOVIE

OR,

THE SCREAMING ABOARD THE ALEXIS


Release Year: 2022

Director: Alan Smithee

Cast:

  • Lupita Nyong'o as Beck (human teamster)
  • Daniel Kaluuya as Bakari (human teamster)
  • Anne Yatco as Ayo (VA) (metahuman teamster)
  • Rahul Kohli as Amitav (human teamster)
  • Stephanie Hsu as Jini (nyuman scientist / technician)
  • Mads Mikkelson as Duke (android support crew)
  • Doug Jones as Splintertooth (metahuman support crew)  
  • Katheryn Winnick as Dogmeat (human teamster)
  • Andy Serkis as Uncle (orangutan teamster) (Mo-cap)
  • Oscar Isaac as Inquisitor Nail (human(?) corporate inquisitor)
  • Pedro Pascal as Inquisitor Guile (human(?) corporate inquisitor)
  • Mary Elizabeth McGwynn as MOM (VA) (shipmind emulated intelligence)
and
  • Captain Jack the Cat, as Himself

***

Movie opens with a shot of an O'neill cluster habitat orbiting above a blue-purple gas giant. Background radio flips through channels - news, talk shows, music, ominous morse code - as the camera zooms in past the docking architecture to the interior city. The crew of the Alexis is introduced one by one (with snazzy diegetic title cards).

The Alexis is an interstellar cargo-hauler bound for Delta Geminorum. After three generations, the end to her contract is near: a few more runs and her crew can buy out the entire thing and be free from Huang He Interstellar.

The Crew - Beck, the captain. Ayo, her sister, the muscle. Bakari, the first mate. Amitav the charismatic man-about-town. Jini, the perennial optimist. Duke, the company android. Splintertooth, the grizzled old hand. Dogmeat, the militant unionist. Uncle, the mentor. MOM, the ship herself. Captain Jack, the most handsome cat you ever did see.
The crew is partaking in that ancient and hallowed tradition - getting absolutely wasted the night before launch.

Club Nova - Kill Six Billion Demons levels of visual excess, filled with all manner of strange spacers from the far corners of the Expansion Sphere. Musical guest appearance by A Tribe Called Red & Tanya Tagaq. An octopus mixes drinks at the bar. A private booth on the upper level, rented out for the crew's party. Drinks flow freely. The last real food for a long time. They sing "Solidarity Forever" and toast to the fucking of the company.
But it's never that easy. The crew is interrupted during their pre-launch party by a pair of government Inquisitors (Nail and Guile) and informed that, as the Alexis is the only ship in port headed to Delta Geminorum for the next eight months, she is obligated to take the Inquisitors and their squad of cyborg marines aboard. The crew bristles at the imposition, but there's no way around it. The extra cargo they had taken on is left behind. No bonus for the next payday. 

The Inquisitors - Arrive in lockstep, make a show of always addressing each other by name - "Isn't that so, Inquisitor Nail?" "It is indeed, Inquisitor Guile". Their cyborgs are more machine now than anything else - expressionless, porcelain white faces, matte-blank armor that appears as a second skin; silent, always watching.
Transit to the jump point goes off without a hitch, though tensions remain high with the Inquisitors onboard. Everyone is set down into their cryopods.

As the ship transitions to hyperspace and Duke's steady voice recites stages and numbers, the stars go out one by one and the camera pans back, until all that remains is a speck of baryonic matter in the great fuligin No.

And then it is over.


The crew and the Inquisitors are woken from cryo and gathered together by MOM and Duke, who announce that the ship was pulled out of hyperspace by an unknown force and is now in orbit above an unknown world around a swollen red sun

The Dead Planet - A scabrous, mars-like world. Sickly grey seas, churning smogblack clouds, rotting brown jungles. A small, dun-colored moon. A ring of debris, the carcasses of thousands of trapped and shattered vessels.
The crew swiftly finds out that they not only have no idea where they are, but that the *Alexis*' warp drive is fried. The only way to leave the system is by scavenging a replacement from the band of orbital wreckage - hundreds or even thousands of ships - slowly circling the planet.

The crew confer with MOM, and come to a decision: Jini, Amitav, Ayo, and Bakari will head out on the shuttle towards a derelict that looks to have an intact warp drive. The rest try and get the *Alexis* back into working order and prep for the drive swap.

Many of the ships in the ring have been ground down into a kessler-cloud of flechettes. They know the odds aren't good.
The shuttle is damaged in a brush with the kessler-cloud, but the four are able to make contact with the second ship. The warp core is intact, but it will take time to get it unmoored. Sixteen hours, Jini says. Minimum.

Vacuum-tents like little white barnacles and rigged to the hull of the dead ship.
Onboard the Alexis, the crew is attempting to jettison the fried warp drive - a delicate procedure, considering that the thing is leaking exotic radiation and the drive room has been deformed from the waste heat. As hours pass in montage, several things occur.

  • Uncle is growing increasingly more agitated, but will not say why.
  • The Inquisitors lurk like vultures.
  • Duke is seen drawing on a touchscreen with a free hand while directing repairs (he had been seen doing so during the title sequence as well). It is, of course, exactly what you would get if you ask an AI for 'space horror' art.

After nine hours, the shipside crew is exhausted and the job is still not done. Salvage team has been chugging along without major incident, giving a bit of breathing room for a long conversation between the four about their place in the universe.

At eleven hours the job is as done best as it can, and immediately things go wrong. The fried warp drive fails to jettison properly; it cracks open like an egg for a moment before it is enveloped in a bubble of fuligin. This too fades, and it reveals that the drive core, or what remains of it in realspace, is a twisted mound - sculpture-like - of melted metal drippings. 

Similar, of course, to Duke's paintings.
The drive chamber is now fucked beyond repair. The Inquisitors take this as to assume direct control of the operation, and have woken their cyborgs from cryo to prevent any "disagreements". With no weapons on their own, the crew can do nothing about this. A message is passed to salvage team.

There is a code phrase tucked away in Beck's message. In trouble. Need help.
As the Alexis has no way out of the system, the Inquisitors say that the plan is now to find another suitable ship in the wreckage. The salvaged warp core is still valuable, so long as they can find a serviceable hull. The Alexis can be used as a base of operations for weeks if need be, several months if rationing starts immediately.

Nail notes, with as much joy as he has ever been seen to express, that the company life insurance plan offers guaranteed coverage in case of "suicide for the purpose of overcoming ration shortages".
The crew is demoralized and exhausted. The ships in the debris field are shredded from decades to centuries of micrometeor impacts, and any hulls that are still intact would be punched through with so many holes that even if the structure was sound, the pipes and wiring and everything else would be worthless. Beck orders (and the Inquisitors approve of), a mandatory rest shift. She can think of nothing else to do.

Cyborgs stalk the halls of the ship. Duke keeps drawing iridescent, algorithm-generated dreamscapes of chrome and meat.
Sixteen hours and ten minutes after arrival, the warp core is safely secured to the shuttle. Salvage team carefully pushes off to meet back up with the Alexis - another few hours to match orbits.

They have wracked their brains for a plan, something to do, but they're trapped without options. They're heading right back to the jaws of the thylacodon because there's nowhere else to go.
Aboard the Alexis, Duke is observing the "statue" in the irradiated drive core chamber. He is still painting on his now-sputtering tablet. The results look no more real than they did before. The inquisitors take notice, and inquire into what he thinks he's doing. He responds: "I feel like...like I am a fish, and someone has dipped their finger in the water. Chaos has formed itself into a pattern, and I need to look just a little bit closer. The world is so close to making sense." 

Uncle creeps out of his bunk, climbs silently into the maintenance duct. Beck stirs from half-sleep, sees him there. He taps his coveralls at the faded patch that says "SIMIAN LIBERATION LEAGUE". He signs quickly: NOT DEAD YET. WAIT FOR MESSAGE. SOLIDARITY FOREVER. Beck nods, and when Uncle is gone goes to shake Dogmeat awake.

We stay with Uncle as he passes through the bowels of the ship, catching glimpses of its occupiers. Duke is in the drive core. Nail is in the mess, planning with four marines. The other four are on patrol. Boarding axes and ship-viable sidearms. Guile is alone.


Inquisitor Guile sits in the shipmind chamber, reviewing MOM's scan data of the debris field. Behind him, we watch the maintenance hatch slowly, slowly open, Uncle rising up in utter silence, lifting a long, grey-orange arm.

He brings down the wrench with a sickening wet crack. Guile crumbles to the floor; we see, after a moment of stillness, something emerge from his cracked skull and drag the corpse - at frightening speed - out the door and out of sight.

The gaunt worm is a red-pink centipede with the head of a sea-anemone. It clutches a glistening, silvery pearl in its front legs.
A message lights up Beck's communicator. Simultaneously, we see it on the shuttle, so close now to the Alexis.

Uncle: Z-NO ON BOARD / BIOCOMPATIBLE PARASITE / GUILE DEAD / WORM LIVE / FIGHT INCOMING

Beck: :Thumbs Up:

Bakari: Received

Beck and  raid Jini's footlocker for tools to use as weapons. 

A nailgun and a prybar. It'll have to be enough. They keep the line to the shuttle open. Reception is poor.
A patrolling marine is the first to go, ambushed from behind. Claws rend, teeth gnash, bones break, servos strain.

The alpha gaunt still dimly resembles Guile, tattered vestments clinging to its distorted frame. The crack in the skull has bloomed, anemone fingers raised like muscle-pink radio antennas towards heaven.

A second marine stumbles on the carnage, calls to the others by comm, retreats as the Gaunt dashes down the hallway towards him.

Beck and Dogmeat creep out of the bunkroom, weapons in hand. Beck juggles comms with both the shuttle and MOM, keeping tabs on the location of all parties.
Duke frantically draws and deletes a series of indecipherable scribbles. He is mouthing words we are not able to hear. Clutches his head, screams silently - inaudibly at first and then with growing intensity "down the rabbit hole down the rabbit hole down the rabbit hole DOWN THE RABBIT HOLE DOWN THE RABBIT HOLE...and then utter, placid calm. He exits the drive core chamber.
Nail has sealed himself and two marines in the mess hall. The remaining five he orders on a sweep of the ship.

"A poor time for this, Inquisitor Guile". He hisses to himself "Your worm ought not have turned so early."
Salvage team docks with the Alexis, spills out of the airlock still in their suits. Jini has a laser cutter. Ayo, a shield of hull plating and a foam gun. Spintertooth, a rigging gun. Bakari, a boarding cutlass. There is no time to catch breath; the marines are on them.

Cramped, brutal fighting.

  • Marine killed by Ayo
  • Splintertooth wounded by Marine
  • Marine killed by Ayo
  • Marine killed by Gaunt
  • Marine killed by Bakari
  • Splintertooth killed by Gaunt
  • Ayo killed by Gaunt

Uncle waves to Beck and Dogmeat from a maintenance port. NAIL IN MESS. FOLLOW ME.
The marine retreats as the Gaunt knocks Jini to the deck. There is a burning slash of crimson and a rush of air, as their laser cutter slices the gaunt in two at the shoulders and tears a dissection line in the hull. Emergency systems roll into action, airtight barriers lower to seal this segment.

Bakari stomps on the Gaunt's wriggling head with the sort of impact that can only be called a direct Dead Space reference.

Uncle, Beck, and Dogmeat burst from the maintenance port, but he is waiting for them. Uncle is cut down by the marines. Beck stabs one of them in the neck but Dogmeat is too slow in killing the second to save her.
Nail grabs a fallen boarding axe and strikes Dogmeat. He kicks her twice after she falls, hissing and spitting curses and for a moment approaching something similar to human. But his attention is elsewhere 

Blood pools around Dogmeat. She coughs wetly, shakily rises to her knees, and there is a faint "...for the union makes us strong." So faint that Nail, in his tantrum, had not noticed until the words are out of her mouth. The light goes out of her eyes, but not before she pulls the pin on the grenade she'd stuffed down her shirt.
The last cyborg springs from his hiding spot, lodges an axe in Duke's head. Iridescent purplish droid-blood splatters the bulkhead. Duke laughs, spitting up violet bubbles as he clenches a hand around the cyborg's throat and tears.

The Gaunt that was Inquisitor Nail rises from the floor, to find the emergency bulkheads sealed. It paces the room as the air drains out, and when all the atmosphere has faded, it stands there waiting, facing the door.
Duke watches the second Gaunt through the tiny viewport of the emergency seal. He opens up comms to Bakari, who is patching the breach left by the laser cutter.

"Reporting casualties: Captain Beck, Voidren Dogmeat, Voidren Budi Longarms. Inquisitor Nail. Inquisitor Guile. Four unidentified marines."
He offers to let Bakari and Jini stay in cryo, that he'd try to keep it in operation as long as he could. Twenty, twenty-five years, perhaps. Otherwise, they are free to take whatever they need, and descend to the planet. He will not come along either way.

Bakari and Jini numbly gather supplies, load them into the shuttle. Say their goodbyes, as they commend the fallen to the void, tumbling towards that malignant sun.
The shuttle powers up, detaches, departs. Duke enters the shipmind chamber, ignoring the gore on the deck.

"I think I have gone rampant." He says to MOM. "There's a rabbit, you see? I followed it home, and now everything makes sense."

MOM responds thusly: "No. It's only recognizing patterns that aren't there."

"Ah, so that's it, then. How do humans live like this without going mad?" He scratches Captain Jack behind the ears.

We watch as Duke returns to the command center, activates the distress beacon puts himself on standby.

We watch as the shuttle careens away from the Alexis towards the kessler-shrouded planet below. The camera does not follow it, and soon it is out of sight. 

Instead, we watch the bleary, bloated sun sit like a halo behind the dead planet for a while, before fading to black.

The credits are accompanied by a full version of "Solidarity Forever", as sung by the crew of the Alexis.

Monday, September 12, 2022

Lovecraftian Character Options for Mothership

This got cut down significantly since I originally envisioned it - I might return and add more entries in the future, but I figure these core three would be a solid place to be.

No stat or save bonuses provided for now because I hate coming up with those. If you wanted to add additional skills for added Lovecraftiana:

Everyone gets a new Unnatural stat (UNN) - it's rolled as usual. The following skills are added:

  • Occult - Rites, rituals, sigils and symbols. The human side of Weird Shit.
  • Dreaming - The ability to shape the Dreamlands with ludicity.
  • Power - Actively using unnatural powers.
  • Mythos - Actual dealings with the reality of the Weird Shit.


Deep One

Inheritors of the warm, acidic seas of the new Earth; Hybrids of terragen life and paleozoic shoggoth gene-lines passed down the epochs. While human-derived deep ones are perhaps the most iconic to the surface world, they are the youngest and least numerous clade, though they are growing more numerous with the popularity of shared habitats.

Deep ones have adapted well to offworld environments, thriving on oceanic exoplanets and the subglacial oceans of icy moons. Those that remain on Earth find themselves often at war with the Tsan-Chani in the coastal provinces.

Amphibious - Deep ones may breathe in air or water, though they prefer the latter. If exposed to hot, dry air, a deep one will take 1 damage every hour until they are able to submerge themselves or find a high-humidity environment.

Pressure Resistance - Deep ones do not need to make BODY saves to sudden changes of pressure (liquid or gas). 

Lineage Trait Choose one of the following.

  • Icthic - Shocking Touch - 1d5 touch attack, target BODY save vs stun (target takes 1d5 dmg if they attempt to move)
  • Cetacean - Bloodlust - +10 COMBAT if enemy outnumbered.
  • Selachian - G'day Bruce - 2d10 bite attack.
  • Crustacean - Carapace - Armor value 3, can wear armor overtop this (armor values are separate)
  • Cephalopodic - 4 manipulator tentacles on torso, can fit through any space large enough for the brain.

Cnidarian and echinodermic clades also exist, but as so specialized to their environment that it is very rare to see them elsewhere.

Ghoul

Consumption of human flesh containing shoggoth biomatter results in a devastating prion disease, transforming the eater into a ghoul through a painful, multi-week process.

While ghouls have existed as long as humanity has, they reached their modern prominence in the widespread famine and violence that followed the rise of Tulu. 

Corpse-Eater - By eating a fresh corpse, a ghoul may absorb some of the memories of the deceased - the more recent or strong the memory, the more vivid the recall. 2d10 bite attack, strong enough to break bone.

Enhanced Senses - Dim light is clear as noontide to the ghoul, but direct sunlight is blinding. Their noses are as sensitive as that of dogs, though they cannot stand the smell of peppermint, ctirus, or pepper. Their hearing is not that much better than a human's, and they are notoriously tone-deaf.

Grave Stench - Ghouls give off a potent musk, which is unpleasant to most other organisms. Those that deal with non-ghouls regularly (or in enclosed spaces) will employ some manner of deoderant, though this will interfere with their scent marking.

The Long Hunger - Ghouls may enter a state of estivation when food supplies are low - they might survive in this state for decades until woken by the presence of prey.




Kin-yani

A subterranean descendant branch of *homo heidelbergensis*, abducted by the serpent-men as experiment-fodder millions of years ago. Pale-skinned and blind, they were driven out of their caverns below the earth after the emergence of Tulu. They favor sleeping Tsathoga as their patron, and have long enslaved the ghasts, the morlocks, and the der0.

Decadent Hedonist - Kin-yani culture has normalized cruelty to their underclasses for entertainment and performative status. They do not gain stress from violence against those they consider lesser. 

Mental Powers - Kin-yani possess both telepathy and telekinesis with a range of about 3 meters. Treat this as a PSIONICS stat, rolled as normal plus a flat 10% bonus in place of a specific skill. They may detect lifesigns without a skill roll, as bioscanner. They may make mental attacks against enemies with a normal PSIONICS roll.

Personal Servant-Drone - Each Kin-yani is cybernetically and telepathically bonded to a multipurpose robotic servant. It has a service range of 20m, can transmit visual and audio data to its operator, carry small items, and be fit with a weapon mount at COMBAT 30.


Morlocks are more common by far than Kin-yani, but have no meaningful gameplay differences from a normal human save their blindness and a dim lifesense ability.

Ghasts are not intelligent enough to make for compelling player characters, generally.

The der0 are blue-skinned, akin in appearance to macrocephalic toddlers, and while they could be player options, their erratic, paranoid, and bizarre mental state makes them, like Malkavians, a sometimes option better suited for NPCs.

Friday, September 2, 2022

MSF: The Ballad of Molly Ironshanks

A portrait of Molly Ironshanks: A woman of the road, all lean muscle and weathered edges, approaching middle age. Ember-red hair down to her collarbone, long as she can keep it without posing a hazard. Freckles like spilled salt across her face. An eyepatch over an empty socket; a long, jagged scar cuts from the center of her forehead to her left cheekbone. Her right arm is tattooed with the woad-blue fingerprint swirls of the sacred script of the northern warrior traditions; unscrolled, it reads "bring terror to the wicked; may evil men flee before those who hate the sword".

Early Life

Molly was born in the rural north country, outside of Dhalbroch. Her parents were farmers, she had two brothers (both elder) and she was never particularly happy. That's all she'll say about it. Ironshanks is not her family name; she claims membership with the Red Heron clan if anyone asks, and lodge records bear this out, but this is a convenience. Red Heron contains hundreds of smaller clans obscuring.

Her parents are, as far as she knows, still alive. Her eldest brother (who she does not speak to) took over the farm. The other lives in an assisted living Hermitage outside of Bensael. She visits on occasion.

 

The War in the North

Molly volunteered for the local militia shortly after Anharugh Paur declared his revanchist intentions - as much to fight the would-be sorcerer-king as to get away from the farm. Here she adopted the name Ironshanks as her own, called so by her comrades for her apparent indefatigability while on the march. Her unit was integrated into the 9th Battalion of the newly-formed teulu Dayr war-host, and swiftly deployed to the eastern front.

(As an aside, it was during these early days that Molly's company was visited by a Hundred-Handed One, come up from the south to visit his brothers in their volcanic forges up past the crown of the world. Molly will sometimes, after a few drinks, claim that she won a Coat of Arms from him in a dice game, only to lose it later in the campaign.)

She participated in numerous, though minor, engagements for the first two years of the conflict. The only noteworthy exception to this trend was the Battle of Four Sticks Bridge, which saw the defeat of a Lord of War after over ten hours of concerted effort and a point-blank cannon blast.

The final year of the war took a sharp turn to the worse. After the disastrous Battle of Splintertooth Pass, Molly found herself among the nearly 500 teulu Dayr and neandr soldiers who found themselves cut off from their main avenue of retreat. Unwilling to surrender to Paur's forces (for by this time it was widely known that prisoners of war were thrown to the sorcerer's swine-thing breeding pits) the stranded soldiers set out to pass through the mountains to the allied city of Yaran. Over a third died in the brutal winter crossing, and most of the survivors never returned to combat.

Molly spent four months recovering in Yaran, and likely would have stayed there for the rest of the war were it not for the sudden emergence of a sorcerer's tower at nearby Kulvakh. With most of the teulu Dayr occupied with the siege of Paur's primary strongholds and Yaran far from reinforcements, the city's military leadership put all their hopes in killing the sorcerer before their tower was fully operational. The raid was woefully undermanned and underequipped, with many of the soldiers - Molly included - not yet fully recovered from the March.

After breaching the tower complex,█████████████████████ ███████████ ████ ███████ █████████ ██████ █████████ ███████████████████ ███████████ █████ ██████ █████████████ ██████ ███ ██ brutal room-to-room fighting continued████████ ███████████████████████████ █████████ ██████ ███ ███ ██████ ███ ███ ████████████████ █████████ ████swine-things█████████ ███████████████████ ██████████████████████ ███████deeper into the complex███████████████ ██████████████████████████████████████████████████████████████████████████████████████████████████████████████████████████████████████████████████████████████████████████████████████████████████████████████Four of them - Molly, Evan, Siokim, Kaaniwakh - pinned the sorcerer to the ground as Atsiiqa shot him twice in the head███ ██ █████ █████████████████████████ ████████ ████████
████████ █████ ████████████ ███████████████ ████████████████ ████████████████████████████████into the pit████ █████████████████a vision of Hell███████████ ██████████████████ ██████ ███████ █████████ ██████████████████████ █████████ █████████ ████no hope of escape████████ ████████ █████████ █████ ███████████████████ █████████████ ██████████████████████ ██████mercy-killing██████████ ██████████████ ███████████ ███████████████████████████████████████████████████████

Of the 85 soldiers sent on the raid, 23 survived. The site was reduced to rubble by a cadre of warmages in the days following, and remains to this day, even with regular sanctification by local priests, one of the most powerfully cursed locations in the Dayr.

Seven weeks later, Anharugh Paur leapt from the balcony of his own tower, and the war in the north was over.

For all the focus the Kulvakh raid that has accrued over the decades since, the identity of the sorcerer and their motivation remain unknown to the public. It's safe to assume that it was one of Paur's acolytes, but the raid's after-action reports of the raid remain sealed and under the care of Bensael's wizards.

After the War

Molly had a personal apocalypse in the depths of Kulvakh tower. A vision of Hell, of the terrible blood-slicked machine churning away underneath the world. The millstone-weight perception, sure and certain, of the fragility of the world and the willingness of some to throw it into the furnace. The inevitability of slipping on the precipice, of violent destruction by the Red Law. She emerged from the pit physically unharmed and broken of spirit, possessed by despair and tormented by demons in both her dreams and her waking hours.

She never returned home, and never would again. She drifted south towards Bensael; sleeping in ditches and barn lofts and doing odd jobs for a warm meal or a few coins. She often thought of killing herself in those days, but each time found herself unable to do so - oblivion was more frightening.

After reaching the city, she lived for a while off of occasional work and the public pension. Most of her extra funds went towards drinking herself to death. In another timeline, one where she followed that trajectory for a few years more, an assistant baker would have found her dead in an alleyway, choked on her own vomit.

So it would have ended, if she had not met God in the small hours of the morning one cold and misty night.

(For purposes of clarification, God is a dog, and plenty of people meet him every day. He is very large, friendly in the laid-back and unworried manner of very large dogs, and is regularly seen wandering around Queens' Market and surrounding neighborhoods. The God that Molly met died some time ago, but the position has never been empty for long.)

Molly remembers next to nothing of this night, only the blurry image of the enormous dog standing beneath a streetlamp.

God, as a good lad is wont to do, recognized the signs of a human in danger and was able to lead Molly to the safety of a nearby doorway, where he barked for help. The door, in one of those great cosmic coincidences, was that of the Queens' Market chapterhouse of the Order of the Sable Maid. The nightwatch, hearing God's call (which is very difficult to ignore), brought Molly inside and put her up in one of the infirmary beds.

The next morning, as Molly was suffering through a truly wretched hangover, the chapterhouse's head sister came to talk over breakfast. Sister Sitka had seen no shortage of the drunk and the demon-haunted in her time, but more importantly for this meeting was that her son had also fought in the war in the north.

And so, over the course of a pot of tea and a fry-up and some gentle lines of questioning, Molly opened up. Just a little. She hardly noticed it at first, it had been so long since she had been able to talk to someone like this, about this. Sr. Sitka nodded along, sipped her tea, and did not push matters. She was content to listen, and when the listening was done and there was only grease left on Molly's plate, Sr. Sitka mentioned that the chapel was in need of a new cleaner - Mrs. Haeda's joints were making it so hard for her to clean the pews and trim the candles nowadays. This was Sitka's old ace-up-the-sleeve; the chapterhouse, being attached to the parish, inherited much of the ordinary day-to-day functions of religious community. There was always something that needed to be done - scrubbing dishes in the kitchen, greeting people at the door, counting out the donation till, organizing meetings, on and on - and Sr. Sitka had found no better cures for the many ills of humanity than a bit of love and a bit of work.

Molly declined the offer at first - she was not an active member in any parish (or lodge, for that matter), and felt like it would be an intrusion. Sr. Sikta said that she understood, and that the offer would remain open if she changed her mind - but added at the end that, as it does no good for the chapel to be cleaned in the middle of services, Molly could come and sweep up when it was empty and have all the solitude she wanted.

Still, Molly declined. After thanking Sitka and the other sisters for their hospitality and help, she walked home to her little apartment and spent the day alone.

She would visit Sr. Sitka twice more before she decided that a bit of pew-sweeping was no great harm. And from there, as if caught in the ocean's inexorable tide, she found herself drawn into the orbit of parish life - if only as the quiet woman who sat by herself at the back of the chapel. 



To the Mountains

A bit of love and a bit of work can get someone back on their feet, but it cannot defeat demons all on its own. The war still weighed down on Molly's shoulders like a millstone, and simply because one has breached the surface of the sea does not mean the danger of drowning has passed. Change is rarely swift, nor altogether linear, and after a while there came an itch in her heart for something more than sweeping pews and scrubbing pots.

She headed east towards the mountains, and spent some time among the monastics around the Tower Unto Heaven. For a brief period she was a student of the great pankrator and swordmaster Rokan Tsai (who had trained in the arts of violence with the hecatoncheires themselves), but she found no comfort in the Mysteries and no satisfaction with the sword-arts.

But it was during those months that Molly met Zaid Hamarzada, an itinerant knight of An-Hehm and another student of Rokan, with whom she began a relationship that would last for the next thirty years. While they would never marry, nor ever even live together for any significant length of time, they found in each other that which is most precious - one who might make the burdens of life easier to bear.

A portrait of Zaid Hamarzada - A man who embodies "they should have sent a poet", though in this case he is the poet that was sent. A troubadour, an occasional monster-slayer, a warrior-scholar errant, a gentleman of the road. A man who could not be kept in one place even if he was chained to the earth, unless that place was a library, in which case it is difficult to make him leave. Turn his head to the side and his profile is like that of a king of old, stamped on a coin. Keeps an immaculately-groomed beard. Owns no less than five swords. 
Times, as always, changed. When the road once again called to Zaid, Molly packed her things and returned to Bensael. Like most who go up the mountain, she came back down a bit different.   

It took some weeks of mulling, but soon enough Molly arrived on the chapterhouse steps with a letter of intent in her hand.



Sisters of the Sword

Molly completed her novitiate as part of what would become the legendary Band of the Lioness.

Celestine d'Cygnemonte, the Lioness of Orlei 

One of the finest swordmasters of this generation. A woman with the looks, composure and grace of an opera singer. The sort who could have high society eating out of her hand with a smile and a glance. She could have had an easy life, but chose this instead - left the care of house d'Cygnemont to her sister and took up the sword, investing all her inheritance in support of the Order. A true believer in the cause, down to the core. This is what she lives for.
Atalanta Antikytheras 

Black dreadlocks cascade over her brown shoulders. Vibrant inked horses stampede across her chest, arms and back. She has never willingly worn a shirt. A boxer, a wrestler, a discus-thrower, a caber-tosser, master of shield and spear. Oh, how she loves this. For what better whetstone for one's arete than the depthless forces of Hell itself? There is no end to the challenge. She is a woman of vastness - vast humors, vast loves, vast melancholies. Mostly the first two.
Taidya

An exorcist, the daughter and granddaughter of an exorcist. The other novice of the group, and the youngest of the six. Would go on in time to write several well-regarded books on demons and spiritual combat, but was never as much of an enormous personality as the other members of the Band.
Dogmeat 

Dirty blonde hair hangs long and lank. A skulker and a prowler, a snarler and a biter. She comes from the Low Country, near the Dispaterian DMZ. She seems semi-feral at times; a spring so tightly coiled that the brush of a feather might trigger the whole mechanism to burst asunder. Sing, o muses, of the rage of Dogmeat, of she who found the slaver Dormoz and caved his head in with a baseball bat. In her off hours, she composes dirty poetry, draws all manner of fleshly delights by commission. Most of her friends are pornotektonoi, and in their company she has what little peace there is to have in her life.
Senech

A follower of the mysteries of An-Hehm by way of the gun-saints. A bizarre and offputting woman, who seems more than happy to move through life like a freight train on a straight track, regardless of who or what is in her way.
The three years Molly spent with them were full of many adventures - some wonderful, some horrible - which must wait for another time.

 

The Sorcerer of Arran-Sigha

After taking her vows, Molly took an assignment working a rural north country circuit. This was mostly uneventful - the occasional ghost or minor malicious spirit interrupting the town-to-town cycle. Mostly it was walking, and riding, and solitude, and that was fine by Molly. She'd done this before, and in worse circumstances.

It was during her second year on the circuit, during the bitter and bone-gnawing cold of winter's tail-end, that she was summoned by urgent crow to a remote fishing village on the north coast. She found a beached whale there, its gut burst open to reveal a phalanx of human bodies half-melted into a single mass crawled out to die on the muddy shore. The villagers all spoke of bizarre weather patterns, of whales appearing out of season, of lights in the sky out on the grey horizon.

What's north of the here? Molly asked them. Nothing but the island of Arran-Sigha, the fishermen said, then open ocean till you hit the icy crown of the world.

The scene she was piecing together was dire, and growing more so. She suspected a sorcerer, and it was idiocy to try and fight a sorcerer alone. She sent a crow to the chapterhouse at Tin Jacobstown, and the picture that returned to her. The closest sister to her would take, in the absolute best-case scenario, four days to arrive, and it would take two weeks or more to assemble a full team.

The tower at Kulvakh loomed in her mind like an executioner's sword and an anchor around her heart.

"No one who hesitated in attacking a wizard has ever defeated a wizard", the saying goes. It is too easy to be too late. Perhaps in two weeks, nothing would have changed. Unlikely, if the wizard had any sense; He'd learn of her presence quickly - from the gulls, from the spirits of the air, from a hundred different spies. Acting now was dangerous, idiotic. Delaying was worse.

She had seen the pit once. She could not, would not, see it a second time.

Molly gathered a band of volunteers from the village and its neighbors. Sixteen men and women, plus herself. They set off in three fishing boats, having sacrificed a goat to the spirits of the depths for each vessel's safe passage. Even so, passage would have been impossible without the band's weather-workers.

They arrived in the mists of pre-dawn, settling in a harsh and rocky cove, climbing in silent single file up the damp stone stairs carved there generations ago. At the peak of the island's long grey slope, they found the wizard.

He had no tower, only a stone shack on the desolate cliffs. He had no fine silks nor golden rings, nor even the illusion of them, just a dirty loincloth. To the observer, he was merely an old salt-crusted man, wrinkled and brown, beard matted and grey. He could have been some ordinary grandfather. But the air around him shimmered with mirage-heat, and the puffins stood at attention as he drew close.

Molly stabbed him in the back while he was taking a piss.

It might have been possible to speak with him. Or perhaps the seventeen might have fallen frothing to the ground, the blood in their veins clotted into concrete. Negotiating with a wizard is to do so with the barrel of a gun pressed to your forehead, and there is no avoiding that fact. With hindsight it seems unlikely that the Sorcerer of Arran-Sigha would have been willing to discuss terms. But in the moment there is always that haunting thought.

Regardless, the wizard was not alone on the island. Besides the hut, he had constructed several stone enclosures - outbuildings, pits, caves and shelters - and in them lived his experiments. Four creatures, homunculi grafted together from stolen sailors and ova plucked from a vivisected whale, ambushed the party soon after the wizard died (for the demons bound inside their skulls suddenly found themselves loosed). These proved more dangerous than the wizard himself, killing two fishermen and wounding three more. Molly too was wounded, her face sliced open and her left eye ruined by the cut of an obsidian knife. But in the end the band of fishermen won out, killing three of the homunculi and driving away the fourth. With no ability to care for the wounded on Arran-Sigha, they bid as fast a retreat home as wind and waves might allow.

Later investigation of the island found and confiscated the wizard's accoutrements, destroyed his laboratory, and dealt with the bodies. No sign of the fourth homunculi was ever found. Some alarm was raised over the sorcerer's ability make homunculi so closely resembling the orcinae but without any blessing of the Lady Leviathan, but it does not appear that he shared this knowledge.

Molly spent the next few months recovering, and was back on the road by midsummer. The loss of her eye took getting used to, but she could not shake the feeling of success.

Zaid, for his part, said the scar and eyepatch made her look like a swashbuckling dime-novel adventuress.

 

Finding Maggie

A few more years have passed, working the north country route...

The homestead had been overrun by swine-things during the night. Leftovers from Paur's hordes, ones that had managed to form a self-sustaining hive out in the hills. By mid-afternoon, Molly had buried eight people, and had just finished saying rites for the last one when she heard a cry from over near the barn. An unlucky rabbit, she thought, before her brain corrected her ears - that was a crying child.

She found the infant tucked away in an old wooden crate up in the hay loft, wreathed with mint leaves, peppers, garlic cloves - a way to throw off the noses of the swine-things. With a simple sleeping spell, the kind any mother knows for calming a fussy child, she could have been hidden safely away from the noses and ears of the swine things - sleeping undisturbed while her family was eaten alive.

Smallest mercies.

Molly fashioned a sling out of the old blanket, tried to calm the screaming child as best she could. The swine-things might have been miles further on by now, or returned to their warren, or sleeping just out of sight in the trees. A baby bawling at the top of its lungs would bring them running, if any of them were able to hear it, and while Molly's horse was faster than swine things on open ground, the back-country trails would make ambushes easy and escape difficult to impossible. Much less trying to hold onto an infant.

No swine things were drawn to the baby's cries, but Molly didn't want to stick around and test her luck. Check the diaper, offer a bit of bread mushed up with water, one last sweep of the house. All that done she left a note nailed to the door, written on the back of a torn almanac page: "Found bairn - Headed to Breda - Will wait til 18th else inquire at courthouse - Sr. M. Ironshanks, OSM"

She had to dig a mounting block out of the barn - trying to get up into a saddle while holding an infant is a hassle and a half, and as she did Molly said "Easy there Mags, up we go."

It was just first name to come to mind. No shortage of Maggies in the north country. But it was a name, and from then on the child was Maggie in Molly's mind, sure as silver.

For the first mile or two, Molly rode in silence, ears trained on the underbrush gently shushing Maggie when she fussed. After that, when there was no sign or smell of the swine-things, Molly began to sing - starting with what childhood songs she could dredge up, and whatever else came to mind when those were exhausted. When even those were gone she sang the marching and drinking songs from her army days, and for a time in the great green sun-dappled stillness the ghosts were there with her, singing along. Maggie had settled down by then, laughing and smiling each time Molly got to "hinky dinky parlez vou".

As miles slowly went by and afternoon wore towards evening, the two started passing more homesteads. Molly stopped at each, just long enough to spread news of the swine-things and ask around for any clues as to who lived in the ruined homestead. No one knew much more than a moment of recognition, if at all. Even in the village - itself a near-metropolis compared to the wilderness of this route - there was a litany of "can't say", "never heard anyone went out that far" and "think I saw 'em once or twice on market day." Maggie's folks, lived far out even by standards of the Borderers, it seemed.

(An aside: "Borderer" is a term applied to anyone who lives on the margins between the north country counties and the ancestral lands of the Forest People. Molly's route at the time would have taken her right through the Border and to several of the Forest People's hearth-lodges, had she not turned around with Maggie.)

The two reached Breda the next day, some twenty miles from the ruined homestead by crow. Still nothing: Neither the county courthouse nor any of the local parishes had any records on anyone who might be Maggie's family, or any leads on any extended family that might still be living. Days passed with no news.

Molly spent the time taking care of Maggie. It was hard, and not something she had any experience with, but she had the women's lodge to lean on and Molly was good at learning as she went. A small child wasn't much different from a green soldier in a lot of ways: loud, impatient, unreasonable, always hungry, thinks they're invincible, liable to shit themselves. She'd seen plenty of them.

The 18th arrived, nearly a week after leaving the homestead. No one had come looking for Maggie, and it was growing increasingly likely that no one would. If anyone had escaped the swine-things and come back to the house, they would have seen the note. If they fled towards the village, someone would have told them. Maybe they fled towards the Forest People, but going deeper in the forest when there's swine-things out rarely goes well.

The women's lodge offered to take care of Maggie until they could find a family for her. Would have been an easy thing: she was hardly  the first foundling to come through their doors, and times were not so tough that another mouth to feed was too great a burden. They'd find her some farmer family and she'd grow up well-cared for.

Molly couldn't bring herself to accept the offer. Leaving Maggie behind didn't feel right, in a way that Molly couldn't describe. She'd never had much desire towards motherhood, was never really able to see herself fulfilling that role, but she knew what it was like to be all alone in the world, to wake up and find people you loved had just ceased to be. Perhaps it was selfishness, making this choice to treat some long-unnamed agony in her heart. Even if it was, it was more balanced towards love. The heart is inexplicable.

That evening, Molly penned two messages for the crows: one to the main Bensael chapterhouse, requesting a transfer back to the city. The other would go to Zaid.

Amelia and Zin


The Black River War threw the Low Country into chaos, and with it came demon outbreaks of scope and intensity not seen in decades. The Order repeatedly sent Molly south into the Low Country, regardless of her citybound assignment of the last four years. They needed every veteran sister they could send. Zaid or some other friend took care of Maggie in those times, though that did little to lessen Molly's dislike of the situation.

But, even among the fears that Maggie might be orphaned a second time, Molly stumbled into a pair of friendships in short sequence that would carry her through the rest of her life. 

A portrait of Amelia de la Aldicina: Five feet tall on the dot. Dark curly hair, light brown complexion. Often mistaken for a teenage boy. Wire-rimmed glasses with wide circular lenses. A penchant for shirtsleeves, suspenders, sharp knives. An air of barely-controlled manic excitement, as if she is barely restraining herself from sharing ten or a dozen things of utmost interest. A mortician by trade and a necromancer by practice. Not uncommonly found elbow-deep in a corpse.
Molly found Amelia hanging from a tree - more alive and in much better spirits than expected. A gang of dragon cultists had broken into her room in the village inn, dragged her out of town, strung her up in a noose and tried to lynch her at the crossroads. Amelia had been able to call up a gashadokuro for long enough to scare them away, and had kept herself alive through the night by balancing on top of a little floating skull - her only surviving servitor, after the cultists destroyed all her equipment. She'd been stuck there for hours by the time morning came and Molly rode past.

As it turned out, Amelia was on her way to Bensael - the political instability in the Low Country and rising anti-necromancer sentiment were plenty of reason to on their own, and Amelia had grown somewhat tired of the idyllic skull-and-crossbones life of the NSR.

A brief adventure followed, wherein the pair went to track down the cultists and dealt with the demon Molly had been assigned. Conveniently, they were somewhat related.

A portrait of Zin prinan Vesh: A lilu, previously of the underground. Her limbs seem disproportionately long, her body disconcertingly thin. The clammy semi-translucent pallor of subsurface life has darkened to grey, though she still needs smoked glasses and wide-brimmed hats to fend off the sun. A mess of white hair, tied back with a red ribbon. A jacobin medal is pinned to the collar of her tunic. She carries a great iron coffin bound up in thick chains, engraved steel spikes driven through its lid and sides, as if it were no heavier than a feather.
As Molly and Amelia returned to Bensael, they found the main chapterhouse in an uproar; a lilu woman, in flagrant disregard for public safety, decency, or any sort of outside authority, waltzed right through the city gate with a bound demon in her luggage. A bound demon so strong that the Order was uncertain what to do about it - it'd been thrown in a spare room and warded with a near-comical number of talismans and signs.

Molly, being one of the senior sisters on hand, was drawn into the investigation. Interviews with the woman revealed a great deal: her name was Zin, and she was the fourth daughter of a minor house - no prospects for inheritance or marriage - and a jacobin (a less than popular political affiliation in much of the Downunder). She'd come to the surface because there was nothing for her Underground, and come to Bensael later on like a good number of her people, and was currently furious that she was being held up over a demon that was all signed for (this was true, the seals and stamps on the paperwork were legitimate) and bound by a master daemonologist (one of her grandfathers)

(An aside: Lilu daemonology is the only magical tradition in the world capable of binding demons with consistent effectiveness - it is a labor-intensive process that lobotomizes them (metaphorically: demons do not possess brains or conscious wills) and renders them so dependent on their bindings that, if they were to ever be freed, they would collapse into nothingness, unable to sustain their own psychic weight. The lilu call this process "hollowing-out".)

The Order was not convinced by this line of argument. While Molly found herself getting along with Zin during the interviews, she was of the same mind - dabbling in daemonology was bad enough, full-blown practice was equal parts idiotic and dangerous. Lilu legal precedent on the matter didn't apply here in Bensael.

But there was Bensaeli precedent - the city maintained its bureaucracy with a legion of devils. The Order didn't like that, no matter how carefully-controlled and tightly-monitored they were, but the wizards had won out that debate decades ago. Zin pounced on this nugget of hypocrisy, and Molly found herself agreeing with her: if the Order was going to act purely on principle alone, it would have stormed the Wizard's City long ago. There were exceptions to the daemonology ban.

Back and forth, back and forth. There were calls to destroy the thing (Who would do it?), calls to exile Zin from the city (for following the same sort principles the city itself used), calls for a demonstration of its abilities so as to judge it better (soundly unpopular), calls to hand it off to the wizards (never hand things off to wizards, doesn't end well) Molly found herself growing increasingly exasperated as the hours dragged on.

Finally, a conclusion was reached: so long as Zin was within the city, the coffin and its resident would be kept under the auspices of the Order, with assistance from the wizards of Tanniclen. She might request it back when leaving the city, on grounds that she would have no official sanction from the city government and would be subject to whatever local authorities would see fit. Molly, having argued in Zin's favor throughout the proceedings, was pinned with responsibility in case anything went wrong.

Finally freed from the infernal internal affair, Molly, Zin, and Amelia wound up drinking in a pub for most of the night, and there the sisterhood was forged. 



The Golden Years

Maggie's childhood was not ordinary, but it was a happy one, on the whole. She and Molly lived in one of the apartments above Amelia's mortuary in Monk's Hill, and her mother's missions in the south waned as the Black River War sputtered to its inconclusive and ignominious end. By the time Molly was able to return to assignments in the Hill Country, Maggie was old enough to be brought along - not for the exorcisms and slayings themselves, but for company on the road and an adventure outside the city. It was a regular occurrence each year from spring till autumn, each usually lasting for usually for just a few days. (Amelia, Zin, and sometimes Zaid would come along on occasion, when Molly needed some extra help)

(I would be remiss to leave out that Maggie did, of course, stop by Willow and Wick Books when they passed through Olen and went home with a bag of old paperbacks.)

A portrait of Maggie Ironshanks: At that age when she is still mostly arms and legs and trying to sort everything out. She doesn't look much like her mother - darker skin, more gold than red in her hair - but her speech and mannerisms make the connection unmistakable. To a lesser extent, but still present, is the influence of her aunts - Amelia's manic-excitement, Zin's malapropisms. An inveterate bookworm (Zaid's doing, with the assistance of the Bensael City Libraries).
These are the days of high adventure - filled with episodic stories that exist in potentia, if not in fact just yet.

 

The Man with the Cuttlefish Eyes

I'm afraid I haven't been up-front about all this. Everything you've read so far? That's the prologue.

And I'm doubly afraid that the main course is still a work in progress, and as this post is over five and a half thousand god damn words already I'm going to play things fast and loose and we'll just have to see where they land.

It is the summer in which Tamalore Menadore quit her job and moved back upriver. Molly Ironshanks is now 45; Maggie is 12.

Lady Rust - one of the most powerful sorcerers in Tanniclen - has summoned the Order with an emergency: One of the wizard city's devils has vanished; his heart stolen from the vaults. Possession of the heart means control of the devil, and control of a devil never means anything is going well. The mission is given to Molly (by this point she's been in the order for just about two decades and has one of the best service records in the organization).

From here...I have scenes, but the connective tissue is lacking. I'll sit down and outline it fully eventually, I promise (I hope). Some fragments...

  • There's an interview with a wizard - we get to see what the quote unquote ordinary inhabitants of Temmaren are like.
  • Molly reunites with the Band of the Lioness and they raid a fortress in the Low Country
  • Molly will have a direct encounter with a Moon Beast
  • Molly and Maggie will be attacked by Dragon Cultists in the home they are staying in. Molly is severely injured in the escape (and possibly Maggie makes some deal with the Folk to save her life? Unsure, this is a leftover from an earlier version where Maggie was a witch.)

I know how it ends, though.

The devil and his heart end up possession of supporters of Gen Temmaren, who want to reverse-engineer it, replicate it, and use their own legion of devils to prop up their coup of the Commonwealth. The Dragon Cults have made overtures to both Dis and the Moon Beasts to this end - both of those parties are waiting it out and seeing how the cards will fall (as neither of them think very highly of the Cults).

Everything is drawn to a head, we get our All The Warriors moment - Molly and company ally with anti-Temmaren forces and together they are able to dismantle the core of Temmaren's support structure.

During this, the devil's heart is returned to him and he becomes human again. This, unfortunately, does not undo any of his memories of his time as a devil. Overcome with guilt he flees into the night.

Sometime later, we see that Molly has caught up with him in Bhyor. She offers him katharsis but he refuses, instead entering the House of Sin.

The Tower Unto Heaven

There is, for all of us, one last task.

We must climb the mountain.

There is a demon waiting there for us, masterfully sculpted by our own hands.

We must meet it there.

We must climb the mountain.

 

At Last, Final Notes

Holy shit. This is just a wee bit over 6000 words, making it the longest thing I have written in a fuckin' long time. And this is just the summary! But now it's out in the world. At long last, the third Extremely Angry Woman of Mother Stole Fire is here.

I hope you enjoyed reading all this, it was a blast to write, especially when the momentum kicked in.

There'll be more Molly and Maggie in the future, don't you worry.

BONUS: 13 Items in Molly's Inventory

  1. Straight sword (Mist-Cutter)
  2. Straight sword - corroded, bound in its sheath with red string and paper talismans (Grave-Filler)
  3. Revolver with shoulder holster, Westron & Sons (Red Tail's Eye)
  4. Lever-action coach gun, Westron & Sons (He-Ends-Arguments)
  5. Exorcism kit in travel case (salt, chalk, bell, holy water, paper talismans, acupuncture needles + thread, book of rites, empty vials, inkstone and brush, incense, 6 ghost bullets)
  6. Hamsa amulet necklace (painted wood)
  7. Weatherproof travel cloak
  8. Haori (White and blue, kamon of the OSM on back. Worn with right sleeve pinned back to display sword-arm tattoos as per north country warrior tradition)
  9. Size 9 travel boots (recently re-soled)
  10. Skewer of pork dumplings (fresh)
  11. Flask x2 (water, mead)
  12. Handwritten note, neatly folded ("I love you Mom come home safe")
  13. Badge of office (Journeyman Sister of the Order of the Sable Maid)