Alright, this is something I’ve really enjoyed about Melbourne. A lot of the graffiti is really high quality.
I sort of made a habit of photographing street art during my long sojourn in Canberra, and followed Abyss‘ harlequin tinted, occultish murals wherever I could find them. I think part of the appeal for me has always been the temporary, transient nature of the art itself. Being illegal most of the time, its only a matter of waiting until its either torn down or usurped by something else.
I don’t think the lens captures what the eye sees, but I’ve made a go of it. Without further ado…
A lot of folks have taken to decorating council breaker boxes.
But, as ever, the wall remains the favoured medium of operation.
Got some audacious stuff in there. It should probably go without saying that this isn’t my art, and I don’t actually know who did it. Just thought I’d share it with y’all before it disappears.
Kind of reminds me of a story in Prague, an example of street artists kind of winning out over local council. It may be apocryphal, but hey, most good stories are. There’s a statue – right outside the James Dean American Diner for those who want to find it – probably ten feet tall, a kneeling cubist fertility goddess, all chrome finish. Story I heard says it appeared overnight, and when the council found it they realised they couldn’t afford a rig big enough to move it. So they declared it city property, gave it a plaque, and as far as I know she’s still there.
Interesting thing is that it keeps happening. There’s more than one Kafka themed statue in the city erected without planning permission, which was kept on account of frankly impeccable craftsmanship. Probably a better approach than paying millions for public art of questionable quality, but hey, local councils here tend towards the bureaucratic and stupid, so I’m not surprised. Doesn’t really dull the disappointment, but that’s just the way some of this goes.
Hope y’all like the pictures, dear imaginary readers.
Given your loyal following, I figured I should fill you in on how things are going in my little corner of the world, and perhaps give some explanation for recent behavioural trends.
You’ll probably have noticed I’ve mostly been smashing out a lot of roleplay related stuff and most recently a little zeitgeist article; basically, stuff that I can write easily without having to leave my chair. You’ll also notice a fairly substantial decline in my recent foodie posts. The reason for that is that I’ve largely been eating lentils and jack all else, which I figure doesn’t make great reading.
Now, these are just symptoms in honesty.
The reason for the shut in lifestyle is that, with my partner and I having just moved to Melbourne and lacking jobs, we are poor and things like tram travel and interesting ingredients are expensive. So you get the musings I can make without leaving the house.
But! Fear not. That looks set to change fairly soon, and I shall keep you updated on our various adventures when we have a workable budget to go places and do things again.
Why? Because I’ve been reading the Necronomicon. Coincidence? No longer my call. Ask Yog Sothoth.
Anyway… Here’s another photo to whet your appetites
This place is so damn neo-Gothic. I look up at night and see the city from Gargoyles.
Anyway, on to the second part of the post that I promised you in the title, with the attention grabbing sub-heading of…
Thanks for the intro, LSP.
Anyway, having worked out what was missing in my chilli, but being unable to locate the canned refried beans my pal in the UK uses in my new environs, I had to make my own.
1 – Get red kidney beans. Canned are good, but if you get dried you’ll probably have to soak them.
2- Fry the beans. Then mash them to a beany paste.
The instructions are on the can, if we’re being totally fuskin honest with ourselves.
Anyway, I’ll leave you with my recipe for tasty vegetarian bean chilli.
The Recipe Aforementioned
Refry your beans!
Annihilate one onion and one capsicum into pieces, tiny parodies of their original form!
Put them in the pan of frying with the once-beans!
Add tomatoes similarly destroyed! Leave no portion upon portion!
Add red lentils for bulk as you desire, but remember that once the lentils have arrived, they cannot be escaped…
Pour hence water, boiling in fury!
Add the mystic powder! (Now, I know its kind of cheating to use the store bought stuff, but fusked if i can nut out what’s in it… the closest approximation I can manage so far is a combo of cumin, paprika, pepper, lime juice and Cajun style roux…)
Stir with an instrument hewn from the flesh of a tree!
Serve upon an altar of rice or crunchy corn chips! With cheese…
And, there you have it. A feed fit for Azathoth himself. Well, I guess that puts it in league with everything else in the material universe, but hey. Its good vego chilli.
I begin to fear that I’ve been shut in too long.
Once again, photos have been used under a Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike Non-Commercial agreement, so as I’ve said many times I ain’t making money out of this blog, and you can butcher it and use it however you like as long as the relevant folks are credited, you stay unpaid and LSP ain’t altered.
And Azathoth won’t make you any money either. Though props to the first person to send me some Lovecraftian Romantic Comedy fan fiction. I will send possibly interesting comments in exchange.
Anzac Day came and went some time ago, and yet my brain does not cease to turn.
Late article, I know. The furore has passed.
For those among my imaginary readership who did not grow up in Australia, Anzac Day sort of sits as a second Remembrance Day marking the catastrophic failure that was the Gallipoli campaign in the First World War, the first large scale engagement of the Australia and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC), and despite attempts at appropriation by nationalist elements is usually a reflection on the futility of war and the suffering it causes.
And suffering is the right word. Lacking a glorious, mythic history to look back on, Australia’s military campaigns have in general been brutal, unforgiving attrition, all the more thankless for, with the exception of the jungle war in Papua against the Japanese in WW2, being unwanted deployments in the face of a local population that did not want them.
The film Gallipoli, starring a very young Mel Gibson, really jabs that home, and is a decent primer for those unfamiliar with this little bit of history.
So I begin to ponder the why of it. In the case of the Australian military the objective for the most part is appeasement; an ironic idea for those who remember the demagoguery of the Cold War. Once again excepting the Papua deployment, which is arguably symptomatic of the greater system, all of Australia’s military actions have ultimately been blood sacrifice in an attempt to secure the protection of the most powerful empire of the time; first Britain then, after the fall of Singapore, the United States. In a strategic sense, the far off battlefields of Europe, North Africa, Korea and Vietnam mean very little to Australia, and few of them at any point have been capable of generating any real threat with reach enough to reach the South Pacific. But the Empire of the day deemed them worth dying for, and so the Australian government jumped at the chance to feed its paltry forces into the meat grinder, despite the abandonment by one empire and statements from the latter suggesting that they would do the same if it was in their interests.
This train of thought followed to another. The idea of sacrifice is often brought up at national memorial days, but I don’t think that it is fully understood, especially within this particular context. The Anzacs sure as hell didn’t die for our freedom or prosperity; powerful though the Ottoman Empire may have once been they were never going to invade Australia, and had plenty on their plates to deal with at that point already. Instead, it was blood spilled to placate another dying empire, Australia’s erstwhile guardian. It was an offering of human lives, like the Aztecs used to give to the sun, hoping that it would ensure the British Empire’s protection.
That it did not only makes it all the more tragic.
Upon further consideration, I realised that this idea can be applied to warfare more generally, especially within the context of the Western Hemisphere. Feeding the earth blood to ensure future fortune is no new idea, and has an added layer of economic rationale; the idea of waging war over resources is familiar and common practice for everyone between the Vikings and the US Army and many more besides, but the newly controlled resources are not the only gain for those controlling the war. The ensuing bloodbath means there are fewer left to share those resources.
It took me a little while to get over just how messed up that was.
But on a purely rational level – the kind commonly deployed by psychopaths, for instance – it makes sense. Those who arrange for wars to occur, and usually benefit most from their occurrence, certainly aren’t those on the front line, and thus are probably going to make it to the end of the conflict to enjoy the spoils. They will face less local competition for those resources, allowing them to capitalise even more aggressively. This is a pattern very much in line with Western European conflict throughout history; seize lands to increase agricultural capacity, and there will be more resources available to those that survive. This can be contrasted with the South Asian Mandala system, which had comparatively rich resources with fewer people to work them, whose wars tended to focus on slaving to better extract those resources, and though I won’t go into too much detail I felt it bore inclusion. This is a psychology that appears to have persisted into modern warfare; a means for power groups to raid for resources while shedding surplus bodies.
It might appear that this does not hold for the example of Australia; after all, the country was crippled by the two World Wars, with the workforce significantly drained. I would argue that those undertaking the sacrifice do not always have any benefit from doing so, just like the Aztecs of old. The Australian sacrifice contributed to a reshaping of world politics, that led to their allies becoming the only viable imperial forces in the world. By assisting the United States, both militarily and perhaps more importantly on a political level, the mountain of Australian corpses has assisted the USA in maintaining its current primacy. The sacrifice has aided the country’s guardian, certainly.
And so we come back to Anzac Day, and can ask again what the men and women of the Australian Defence Forces throughout history really died for. What the sacrifice they made, that is extolled each year, really gained. What we have today is a world of American primacy, bull headed patriarchy and free-wheeling capitalism, in which the wealthy can control lobby groups that arrange for governments to send their young citizens to die for resources valuable to unregulated heavy industry, who in turn lobby for more. It leaves rich, old, white men, the traditional brokers of capital in our society, with an even greater stranglehold of its resources.
Where a side of horse meat may make the difference between a poor man and a rich one.
Remember your Trumbo children; you have no duty to die for the rich man. It is your duty to live; for yourself, for your family, and for the fact that you are a thinking, talking human being and for that reason alone your life has importance.
Don’t let the rich man make a sacrifice of you.
Photo “Occupy D.C.” courtesy of Devin Smith, aka Devinish on Flickr. Hope my ramblings didn’t hurt your ears, dear imaginary readers, but this little economist does get very excited on finding new supply and demand forces.
Well, I never did plan to repeat this exercise, but I had fun with the first one. Once again we have a randomly generated character, just like Vik was a week ago, and I’ve often enjoyed the strange stories that are created when you’re relying on the often contradictory outcomes of dice rolls (digital ones in this case). In this case, we got a fairly unified if nomadic character.
So here’s Parvati Gairola; militant async, once dead and heavily edited, and continuing to hunt an enemy that seems to have left humanity behind.
And to make it all just that little bit more complicated, she’s getting married.
So like the last post, I’ve written you some fiction. Crunch pages connect at the bottom.
“Are you alright Vati?”
She snapped back to alertness, but caught the cold mug of tea before it fell from the camp bench.
“I’m awake, Shadow.”
Her muse swelled in her AR feed, a reflection of her own face made clear and hollow and filled with an unknown starscape.
“This is the alarm you requested Vati. The fabber has completed your order.”
“Thank you Shadow. That’s all for now.”
Parvati took one forlorn glance at the tea, and threw it out against the dusty wall of the dugout. The mining lights strung along the supports registered her activity, flaring into illumination. She reflexively connected to the nanodetector above her and the Guardian nanites swarming around her feet. No intrusions registered. She took the Hive from its place under her camp bed and dropped it in the pocket of her cargo pants, ordering the swarm to return home.
She glanced at the fabber, the four hand sized blocks of plastic explosives, the little tag of a remote detonator sitting beside them, cooked up and ready to go. She hefted one of the blocks, her memories resurfacing in the perfectly orderly fashion they always did.
The flare of the explosives, the almost impossibly slow caving in of the hatch. The guns, both sides, flaring to life. The TITAN worshippers were panicked, and she locked onto their fevered brains and squeezed until they collapsed, clutching their misshapen skulls, and still she fired.
The riot-shot that hit her full in the chest and carried her out the window in the pale Lunar gravity.
“Are you alright Vati?”
She was still cackling down the comm when the evac hit.
She sat down on the camp bed and began to strip and clean the battered sub-machine gun in its chrome case.
“Re-establish the connection to the transceiver. Download and parse anything its picked up, then seal us off again.”
The muse faded momentarily, and Parvati locked the clip back into place, dragging the hammer back and setting the gun across her lap. She reached across and opened up the red leather case, spinning up the ancient turntable and letting the strains of Nat King Cole hum through her subterranean world.
Shadow reappeared in a burst of starfire.
“You have received several important messages, Vati.
“Prioritise as normal.”
“There as been an additional request from Miss Queen.”
“She has requested that once the target point has been secured, that we attempt to salvage a sample of the device.”
Parvati glanced up at the ephemeral form of her muse.
“She has requested that you secure a sample of the target.”
“That wasn’t part of the deal.”
“Miss Queen acknowledges this, and has agreed to provide additional payment or rep boosts by negotiation once the sample is delivered.”
“We’ve been on this rock for three Martian months, and she only thinks to tell us now? Does she know how dangerous these things can be?”
“Judging from the text mode, Vati, Miss Queen does not appear to be attempting to deceive us. On the balance of probabilities I would say our benefactor has suffered an unexpected turn of events.”
“Alright. Anything else?”
“Marco has sent another message.”
Parvati sighed and ran a hand through the stubble of her raven hair.
“He knows when I’ll be back, why does he keep trying to find me?”
“He appears to have sent a selection of colour swatches.”
“Cache it for now. We’ll respond once we’ve handled our objectives.”
“He’s requested a response as soon as possible.”
“Dammit Shadow, he has a date, what is he worried about?”
“Are you alright, Vati?”
“Your endocrine levels have spiked. Do you want a dose of Komfurt?”
The memory resurfaces in its neat little box, empty blackness on either side. The frazzled artist took a knee and proposed in a storm of petals, hanging dreamily in their languid Titanian fall.
“Will you be wearing a dress?”
“I’m sorry, Shadow?”
“Marco has asked if you intend to wear a dress for the ceremony.”
“Save the message. We have work to do. The mission comes first.”
She knew this was important, but couldn’t place why.
“Can’t let my groom marry a pauper, now can we?”
“As you wish, Vati. I will inform Miss Queen that we have received her request and then sever the connection.”
Thank you Shadow. She wasn’t sure if she’d said it or just thought it.
She placed the explosives in a case, and stripped out of the light coat she’d been wearing. She took a moment to run her eyes over the coffee coloured warzone of her skin, the scars she had kept against all advice. She opened the box of memories that each was connected to. These bones, these muscles, the skin and all the machinery. These were hers.
A little girl feels her head snap backwards, feels her limbs tumble away beneath her. Feels the smothering weight on her chest, crushing out her breath and forcing the darkness into her heart.
“My God, are you alright Vati?”
She flexed her shoulders, and pulled on her combat webbing. The armour twitched, and cinched itself in around her, its weight familiar and comforting. She keyed her ecto into the jury rigged network they had installed through the weeks of digging.
“Morgan? Skald? You still with me?”
“Ready and waiting, fearless leader.” Came Skald’s rapid fire reply. He slept even less than Vati did, but in his case it was a voluntary condition.
“You got eyes on Morgan?”
“I got eye’s everywhere, boss. She checked out for some private time. You don’t want to hear what I do…”
“Get her prepped. Its time. Be at the B Point in 10.”
“At long last. See you there…”
Parvati hefted her gun, packed down the listlessly spinning record player, and stepped out into the tunnel.
The dreadlocked, muscular Fury morph shimmied down a narrow section of tunnel, pulling up her industrial mask as she spotted Parvati. She stowed the heavy rifle, and crouched beside her hunched leader as Parvati strung together the packages of plastique. Morgan’s font flared across her AR feed.
“Time to take out the trash?”
Parvati kept her focus on the explosives, and twitched back a text response.
“Same plan as ever.”
“You just be ready to drop those flashers.” Parvati continued, “I’ll take point.”
“You get all the fun.” Morgan texted back, and casually prepped a grenade. Parvati stood up, shooed the mining bot down the hall ahead of her. Skald slid into sight from the shadows, winked, and did a last prep on his observation drones and pistol. Parvati nodded back.
“Are you alright Vati?” murmured the tattooed journalist.
She sent a note to her squad: “Ready. Breach in 3. 2. 1.”
The rock wall gave way in a burst of heat and shock, and Parvati felt the surge of enhanced adrenalin and the hammering of her heart.
The way is open.
She saw the flashbangs register and flare on her Tacnet, and sprinted through the opening.
She let herself sink into the dark part of her mind, the place she had sunk to as a child and had returned when the TITAN’s had tried to take Luna from her. The dark place that the doctors had called The Virus, but she recognized as Death.
She sensed six targets, their mind scrambled by their exhuman sensed, and her body began to ride ahead of her mind, her thinking mind sitting back and letting the scene unfold. A multi-limbed sentry tried to raise a rifle, but fell to the ground screaming as the dark place reached out. She let herself be born away with the inexorable slowness of her clip draining to nothing, the sprays of blood and shattered bodies collapsing into scrap meat. She felt the pin click, and dropped the gun, her claws already sliding into place.
Her mind started to come back as she was pitched headlong into a bank of machinery that looked like it had grown from the surrounding bedrock. She tried to roll, but heard a rib crack, managing to turn before the crawling, insectoid combat morph leaped towards her. She tried to get hold of its mind, to crack it open to madness the way she had been taught, but the inner dark slid from its mind as, moments later, her claws glanced off its bio-mechanical carapace.
The sound of a heavy machine gun had never been so welcome.
The thing collapsed on top of her, and she felt the activity of its brain twitch off. The chitinous arms twitched frantically, and she hauled her claws up in a boxing guard, letting the dying limbs scrabble against her vambraces. She heard a couple of cursory guarantee shots before the massive Fury hauled the serpentine corpse off her.
“You alright Vati?”
The little Splicer retracted her claws, and winced at the pain in her chest as she tried to drag herself to her feet.
“Final sweep Morgan, keep an eye out for any synths. I think we got ’em though. You got your footage Skald?” she shouted across the cavern.
The little man, his drones hovering like vultures over one of the corpses, gave her a thumbs up sign. She called the mining bot to her, and when the spider legged thing arrived she popped its stack; Celia was reliable as AI went. She then keyed a timer on the incendiary charges built into the robots body.
A few more shots rang out. She couldn’t tell if Morgan had found new targets or had just gotten bored. The timer began to tick down.
“Time to bug out everybody!”
She saw her team pack up and begin to make for the tunnel by which they had entered. She took one more glance around the immense chamber, seeing the marks of the TITAN’s on every face; the inexplicable machines, the insane nanoforged sculptures, the maddening scale. The exhumans hadn’t built this, and she wondered what it was they were looking for.
She drew a sample bag off her belt, and extended her claws again. With three hard strikes, she took the insectoid creatures head from its neck, and shoved it into the bag before running for the exit.
“Are you alright, Vati?”
“Fine Shadow. Just sore. How long to evac arrives?”
“The shuttle is due to land in twenty three minutes.”
She looked up at the cold stars above her.
“I’d like to talk to Marco now.”
“Of course…” the muse paused a moment, “Though I’m afraid I can’t reach the system Mesh at the moment Vati. There appears to be some signals interference, I’ll let you know once we’re back online.”
Of course. Alone. The cold dark above, and the cold dark within, alone with the Virus and a body that isn’t mine, it isn’t mine, it isn’t mine, why the hell am I still here?
The little girl’s neck snaps backwards, and the darkness smothers her.
“Are you alright Vati?”
Tears and heavy breath began to mist the inside of her mask.
“No Shadow, I’m not…” She whispered, looking again into the void above her, “I’m getting married.”
So that was that. Once again, we had a fairly interesting turnout from random generation, and I didn’t have to replace a single result. I think the life path really gives a good jumping off point for playing around with some fiction, and I’ve enjoyed it so far, but I think if I were to do it again I’d use something a little less in-depth than Eclipse Phase…
Anyway, as promised, the nuts and bolts.
Parvati Gairola has led a thoroughly fractured life.
She was born to a small commune in Northern India’s agricultural belt, and lived there until she was seven years old, a happy if rustic childhood. It was a quiet place; there were days when not a single car passed through town. It was a terrible twist of fate that the car that did come through on that day in her seventh summer was the one that killed her.
Her parents and community were naturally distraught. Before the funeral was held, however, the local doctor presented her parents with the little girl’s cortical stack. He said that here, at least was a silver lining; their daughter was not truly dead, just waiting for her chance at rebirth in a new morph, or even as a datalife angel in new, networked communities. But the Gairolas were a poor family in a poor community, and could not afford server space, let alone a new body. The cortical stack itself had been contentious, only installed in the end due to the large government subsidies attached. But Parvati’s mother, Gaya, decided to take a chance that her daughter’s soul might still be linked to the little gem, and arranged for the stack to be sent up the beanstalk, to the glittering Lunar colonies, and a wealthy uncle she had known when she was small.
Uncle Rajesh received the package, and the old man had his grandniece reinstated as quickly as the process would allow. Parvati awoke, naturally shocked; she was in a new body, a new place, with an unknown relative and the memories of her own death lingering still far too close. She was in a state of near panic for weeks, but slowly began to acclimatise. Rajesh arranged for her education, which was idiosyncratic to say the least. Having observed a number of curious warrior traditions in his long life, he had come to the conclusion that war was the natural human state and thus his granddaughters, and his newly adopted grandniece, should be the best at it to ensure his family’s survival. Most twelve year olds don’t receive smartgun systems for their birthdays, but Rajesh had grown to trust that Parvati would make good use of it.
As she reached her majority, Parvati had volunteered for testing of new psychosurgical methods, and found that her mind reacted well to the editing. Some parts she had removed wholesale, freeing up capacity for her to focus on what she felt was most important, but she insisted that she keep the memories of her last day on Earth. For her, death had become a strange portal, a conundrum in itself, and she knew if she lost that referent she may be cast adrift entirely.
It was something to be treasured, and it proved to be the last time she would see her home planet after all.
The TITANs launched their horrifying assault when she was 25. The flood of terrified refugees into the lunar colony brought with it stories of monstrous, indestructible machines, but their eccentric ancestor had taught them that any obstacle can be overcome with determination and the right tools. Signing on with local militia with her cousins, they met the waves of kill drones and exsurgent freaks head on. After a furious firefight that left them adrift in a partially destroyed tin-can station, however, Parvati found herself losing time, and on her return was diagnosed with a strain of the exsurgent virus. She waited weeks, but the expected madness and mutation did not come. She found her senses acting in strange ways, finding information and locating people they had no right to be able to. When a woman wearing a Lunar Defense Force uniform arrived and offered to teach her how to use what she had become, she agreed, and bore out the Fall taking the fight to the TITANs, her mutant psyche wreaking havoc on enemy biomorphs.
And then, it ended, and she was cast adrift after all. Trained and conditioned for a war that ended without explanation, she has drifted, using her skills to eliminate any TITAN remnants or exsurgent threats she finds. She has been contracted repeatedly by Firewall proxies, but has yet to understand that her various employers are linked by the same conspiracy. She fell in with the Autonomists through her nomadic lifestyle rather than through fervent belief, but they have proven good friends. She stayed on TITAN, for a time, and there met Marco, the man who asked her to marry him.
But the Hunt goes on, and she doesn’t know if she’ll stay. In her mind, the war never ended, it just changed its face.
Like I said… fractured, but hey, it makes a decent story. For those of you who care, yes, the rulebook also told me she was getting married, which was a nice story point. PDF character sheet is attached below.
And here we have it, another installment for Changelings of the Outer West. I was able to find one of my old notebooks from when we ran this, so my report may be marginally more accurate than it would have been with just me memory! Yay! For those of you just joining us, the previous installments are available here: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3 and Part 4.
As a refresher, our protagonists are Anais, a Fairest Dancer and escapee from the Maze, Blaize, a Fireheart Elemental also fleeing the Maze Lord’s diabolical clutches, and Father Callahan, a Wizened Brewer and former slave-alchemist in the Witch of the Wilds’ Midnight Forest.
Having secured their new transport the motley set out to fill their side of the agreement with Mama Park. Pedaling their bicycles through the early twilight, they reach the outlying town of Black Hill as the sun is fading away into nothingness. The place is eerily quiet; most of the buildings on the outskirts looking to be either abandoned or in a state of disrepair bordering on collapse. As they move towards the center the signs of habitation grow thicker, but without the vivacity that normally comes with a town center. It doesn’t take an expert to see that Black Hill is dying, but Anais struggles to understand why anyone would stay at all.
As they lock up their bikes, they notice a group of kids throwing pebbles at the windows of a house. The kids scatter when Callahan calls out, but Blaize smells something off. She ruffles Owl’s feathers, and lets him fly off into the night (he’d been riding in the bicycle basket up to this point), but not before her eyes have grown reflective and sensitive like the little bird’s (through the use of her Contract of Fang and Talon). Using her night vision, she picks out that the little stones are oddly shaped, and one picking on up sees that it is a human tooth.
There is a flash in her memory, the old forest and the pack.The tear of human flesh between once human teeth.
She shakes off the haze, and glances at the windows. Signalling for her comrades to wait in the alley behind, she creeps up to the open window and slips through. The house inside is dusty and almost forgotten, but the fire sprite can hear someone in a side room. She moves as quietly as she can between stacks of newspapers and meticulously stacked garbage, and sees a hunched, wheezing figure in the front room, shrouded and leaning heavily on the window frame. Between laboured gasps, Blaize can hear the figure whimpering out a prayer. She leaves them in peace.
On returning to her motley, they come to the conclusion that there is something much worse at play here than a recession. They ascend the last streets to the old town center, and see the church and its cemetery on the other side of the green. A number of large black carrion birds lurk in the bare trees of the park, taking wing as the characters approach. All Blaize gets from their caws is “poison”.
They follow the path of darkness to the side door of the church, and quietly spring the lock. The church seems normal in most ways. It has pews and a heavy altar in the Catholic style, but it also has an odd set of banner strung along a ceiling that seems lower than it should, and grates in the floor that even Blaize’s owl-eyes struggle to see far beyond. The Father follows his instincts, and locates the hidden staircase at the back of the vestry in short order. The three changelings began to ascend, and found themselves in a long room with a loft at the other end, a lamp glowing on a desk. They fanned out and began to make their across the silent room.
Callahan moved to the bookshelves, and in the low light of his smothered torch saw an occult library fit to make the eyes bleed. As he passed, a book feel from the shelf. He turned, and the old leather bound book on the floor has fallen open on a print: I white man gesturing over kneeling slaves. The priest notes the title page: “Superstition Among Antebellum Slave-Peoples”, and puts it back in its place. When he turns his back, he hears it fall again. Its around this point that Anais screams.
She had been moving towards the lamp, across an open stretch of floor. One moment she was there, the next she was falling. The Fairest tumbled, and managed to catch a banner rail before the floor four meters below had the chance to break her legs. She hung maybe a meter beneath a gap she had thought was solid wood. She called to her compatriots, and together they managed to haul her back up through the gap; it took a moment, but eventually their fae-selves were able to to reconcile the illusion for what it was. As they did so, Blaize heard a giggling, and looked up to see a scrawny figure scramble on all fours toward the stairway. She immediately gave chase.
Sensing they were out of their depth, Anais made a careful break for the loft, hoping the book they were looking for would be in one of the cases up there. Callahan moved to the table, only to have the chairs hurled at him by an unseen hand. He dove for cover between the bookshelves, and pulled the fallen tome into his satchel; it had opened on the same page once again.
Blaize ran after the spindly gremlin, down the step and through the vestry. The creature darted through a door, and Blaize made to barge through after it… and promptly knocked herself into near unconsciousness against the heavy wood of the locked door. She fell, her vision swimming. Anais scrambled up the steep steps to the loft, and saw a book that looked very much like the one Mama Park had described under the lamp. She raced to the reading bench, when a freak gust blew out the old lamp flame. Running her hands over the table, all she could feel were old, heavy chains. A ray of moonlight fell across her face, and across the face of a tall, heavily muscled African man, his neck in an iron collar, and his eyes weeping liquid darkness. A whisper cuts through the dusty night air.
“Would you die without a name?”
A moment later, the Fairest crashes into the railing of the loft, and before she can cry out she is airborne.
Father Callahan heard Anais hit the floorboards hard, clutched the silver cross around his neck and muttered something that doesn’t bear printing. Bracing himself, he makes a run across the open floor, only just ducking under the table as it is hurled after him. He grabs the unconscious dancer’s collar in his skinny fingers, and drags her frantically back towards the stairwell. The broken furniture rattles ominously, and he sees a hugely muscled silhouette against the moonlight for just a moment before he reaches the stairs and slams the door behind them.
Blaize manages to drag herself to her feet, and found a conspicuous note on the desk, obvious enough that it seemed strange they hadn’t noticed before. Written in what looked like spilled ink, it simply read “Forgotten”. Callahan slumped down the stairs with a barely responsive Anais in his arms, informed Blaize that this was no time to practice her reading and that his noodle arms weren’t going to cut it on this one.
Together they began moving their unconscious friend towards the exit…
And the air reverberated as the main doors were pushed open by none other than Father Damian Crowley. The hatchet faced old man, with a number of people behind him, strode down the aisle of the church, switching on lights as they went. The motley backed rapidly into the vestry and Callahan, hoping he wasn’t making a big mistake, put a hand on the arch of the stairway, called up his Glamour, and asked it to Let Him In.
The Hedge Gate shimmered open, and the motley didn’t wait to see if anybody was following them. Dragging their fallen friend through, Blaize and Callahan fell into a sucking mire of mud and creeping thorns, with little in the way of leaf cover or trees. The Gate closed again behind them, with no normals having had a chance to look through, the arch standing like a tombstone in the mire. Blaize kept watch in the moonlight while Callahan managed to coax Anais into drinking a concoction he’d distilled from the Hecate’s Eye fruit that grow in the Mirrorbird’s Grove. Soon enough, she was back on her feet, and the gang began trooping off in what they hoped was the direction of the River.
After a few hours of scrambling over the morbid quagmire that Black Hill’s Hedge had devolved into, Blaize took a tumble down a ridge and landed in rich garden bed of ripe hedge fruit. As she picked herself up there was a frantic rattling from inside the corrugated iron shack rigged up under the spindly trees around the grove. With a shout, a half clad man with an akubra hat, a beard made of long insect legs, and a shotgun burst out, and an ominous rustling rose in the trees behind her. Glancing over her shoulder to see the six foot tall redback spider that had flanked her, she made a show of dropping her knife and told the others to come out slowly.
Things went better after the Skitterskulk, who introduced himself as the Wrangler and his enourmous arachnid pet as Scuttles, was convinced that these still badly injured strangers weren’t here to kidnap him, and mentioned that there had been some Cuckoo trouble in the area recently. When questioned as to what a Cuckoo was in this context, he responded;
“Er, right… slaver types. Folks like us who’d sell folks like us back to… folks like Them.”
On this, they settled in around the Wrangler’s campfire, and he fed them some Baconbloom (a furry, meaty, occasionally chatty tuber) that he’d grown in his garden. When asked about the taint in the Hedge near Black Hill, he mentioned that he’d noticed it, but it hadn’t found its way over the ridge yet. He also asked if they were coming to Market on Saturday.
Given our gang are clueless new escapees with only Solomon’s word (totally trustworthy) to go on as to what they are, they had no clue what the Goblin Market was, so the Wrangler took time to explain. Given the strange crossroads that seemed to form in the Cootamundra Hedge, the monthly Roped Lake market was probably one of the biggest gatherings of fae and hobgoblins in the region, all bent on engaging in their own twisted version of capitalism. He also made a point that they tended not to take cheques or cash, so bringing something to barter was probably their best option.
They talked a few hours more, until the sun began to rise. Then their new pal pointed them on their way down the River and described the Colonial stone bridge that acted as a Gate back into town, then said to give him a shout if they needed him. He didn’t often leave the Hedge, so he knew his way around pretty well. They picked their way downstream, strange figures of smoke and heat haze watching them from the other bank. When they reached the bridge, they sloshed out into the waist deep water and stepped into the dry bed that lay on the other side.
They began their long walk home, only now realizing that they’d left their bicycles in Black Hill.
I think that’s a pretty good place to leave our hapless heroes. More Changelings of the Outer West will surface soon, and if anybody wants to sling comments to guess which famous Australian figure the ghost in the church is based on, you’ll get a prize. Since I’m poor, the prize will probably be one of my trademark surreal compliments, maybe arranged as a jaunty e-card. No, my players cannot participate, cause they already know and get plenty of compliments anyway. Have a good one folks.
I’ve been reading up on my Eclipse Phase lately. As its all Creative Commons (something my regular imaginary readers will no doubt realize I make extensive use of) it makes a good way to smash your brain open and fly onto a new creative horizon when on a budget. Which I am. So I’ve smashed through character creation… which I’m going to come out and and say was pretty painful and drawn out, even with the handy module system in Transhuman.
But I came out with Vik Archaki, a bedevilled interplanetary historian and robot enthusiast. As its taken a few hours, I’m gonna reward myself by writing some fiction for y’all. The crunch junkies can get their nuts and bolts further down.
One more piece, and it would be perfect.
The metal guts came in to sharp focus in an instant, a nest of scavenged junk remade into something beautiful. Over that was a skin painted and finished so that it was just the way he remembered. Down to the finest micro-shade, it was perfect. Not even the mouthiest Neo-Raven could dispute him on it. Not this time.
His hand did not shake as the final element moved across the gulf of the valley, inexorably drawn to its rightful nest.
There was a sound like a shuttle ramming the door, and Vik clutched his ear, screeching as the metal fiber slipped away from his snatching fingers and tumbling away to the other side of the room.
Exhaling deeply, he unhooked his harness and let the microgravity buoy him, his little family moving off the tabletop and clambering onto his sleeves as he pushed off. The hammering continued. He punched the door control, felt the restabilization of atmosphere fumbling over his skin as the hatch slid open and his bots shimmied to his shoulders, forming a strange halo of antenna and gun barrels.
“What… do you want?” Vik stage whispered.
He took a momentary double take. He had been looking at the Gargoyle morph’s spindly, gunmetal torso. He looked up at the holographic face. Vik blinked, and the face changed, cycling as they spoke.
“Shop talk, Vik.” The elongated figure warbled, its voice shifting with its face. “You got time for a little chit chat, don’t you?”
Vik sniffed. Talbot. Had to be Talbot. She was the only one who thought that premium double-refined protective oil made any difference. Well, so did Jonah, but he wasn’t the door knocking type…
“Of course you do.” The Gargoyle clambered forward along the railings like a fluid stop-motion nightmare.
“Tchtchtchtchtch- Talbot… what’s it about?”
“Cool stuff.” The synth voice replied.
“Oh. Good.” Vik replied, and let her pass.
“What’s the project?”
“Just… just a memory. You know.”
“The gravity doesn’t make that tricky?”
“Oh it does.”
“I bet.” There was a moment of silence. Talbot’s holographic face shifted again. Vik struggled to reconcile her as a middle aged Javanese man with poor image quality, but before he could worry it changed again.
“How’s the new digs running?”
“Not the best,” Talbot replied, leaning casually against a work rig like a pile of brooms in a corner, “Had a burnout in the fabber on third deck, and a micro-meteor shanked our quarter a few days back. So byee to the atmosphere. Not such a problem for yours truly, but… its made things difficult for some of my pals.”
“Oh, it was a meteor?”
The synthmorph cocked a holographic eyebrow which changed from brown to grey. “You felt that on this side of the barge?”
“Maybe. 19ish ship time, two cycles back? Thought I heard a pop.” Talbot chuckled like broken glass in a blender.
“But we haven’t the spares to patch up that sector right now, so… I’m bunking with Teal until we make port. Which I think is why Indigo’s looking for you. She wants eyes on a piece of scrap, think it’ll have some resale.”
“I thought you hated Teal. He’s a dick.”
“I’m mostly bunking with Teal’s fabber. Gotta keep patched. I’m glad this place never sleeps, or I would get so bored… besides, he’s no more insufferable than you.”
“What?… You have eyes. Fancy ones. Why doesn’t Indigo want your eyes?”
“Because I’m just a sweet little spy,” Talbot lilted, “And of all things, right now Indigo wants…” She gave the best synthesised sigh she could muster, “… a historian, for reasons her own.”
There was a brief silence as Vik sucked the corner of his mustache.
“Cool stuff you say?”
“The fucking dickens.”
“Great.” The goatee’d Observer clambered through the hatch and hurled himself along the corridor outside, leaving his spindly compatriot to ponder where he had scrounged all that modelling clay.
“What do you care where I got it? And keep your hands where I can see them, Vik, you’re a shite thief.”
“Sorry, I just wanted a closer look.”
“O… kay. Can I handle the thing?”
“Why of course Vik, you may handle the thing. See? Politeness works wonders.”
The crewcutted Fury passed him the padded wooden box, open at the top. There was a cylinder… a cylinder? A tiny replica of a monolith perhaps… Vik knew that it was almost… no. Exactly the length of his forearm, elbow to the little burn mark on his wrist from when his engine blew out over an unnamed ocean. His Speck bots crawled out onto his hands to inspect the strange object.
It was black, carved with swirling glyphs that seemed to leave the stone it was carved from unblemished. He ran his fingers along it. Too smooth for granite, too rough for any kind of volcanic glass. Like stone that he’d only ever touched once before. His eyes picked up unusual wave activity around the stone, like it was trying to drink in the light around it.
Just like in the ruins.
“It’s a hoax.” He looked up at Indigo reclining on the other side of the low glass table. It was odd to be in centrifugal gravity again. Everything always seemed more… left than it should.
“A hoax?” The towering woman cocked a flared eyebrow, the wing of purple tattoo following it.
“Where did you pick this up, Indigo? Some Souk back on goddamned Olympus? I could have made you a better one.”
“Great to have a volunteer Vik. Glad your willing to do a solid for the swarm and make us a better one, so we can, you know… patch the holes in the goddamned ship.”
“How do you know its a hoax, little man?”
“Oh, er…” he scrambled for a convincing lie, “The glyphs, they don’t make sense… its like someone was working from a good copy, but didn’t understand what they were making. A very good copy, don’t get me wrong. But still… hell, I’ll make your copy. Then we can see how much we can scam for it. Do you mind if I hang onto this… just for a little while?”
“As long as you don’t hawk it for yourself Vik.”
“No, its fine, I don’t need the money.”
Indigo looked at him sideways again, before snorting.
“You know, if you weren’t so weird that could be taken as an invitation to rob you.”
“Yeah… maybe. So where’d you get it?”
“I have a feeling we’ll be hauling that particular merchant in for a chat fairly soon. You can talk to him once I’m done. Now you make us a good replica of this, and we’ll be in the money. Just don’t drop it out the hole, there’s a good boy.”
The amazon clapped him on the shoulder, then pushed him back off her gravity.
Vik put it where it belonged.
The monolith sat in pride of place on top of the hill, over the minute replica of the city that he had been rebuilding from memory, a block and a street at a time.
It was perfect, this ruined city, and it was still waiting on the other side of the Pandora Gate.
You can’t dodge the hairy hand of Fate, his old man had once told him, on an orbital that had gone down with their lives during the Fall. And Fate’s fingerprints were all over this, and it was then that Vik knew that somehow he would make it back.
The city waited, and soon it would be peopled again.
So on that ominous twinge of obsessive weirdness (Author’s Rebellious Id: Ooh, do you mean the character or the one who wrote about him? Teeheehee!) that’s the end of my short fiction. If you wanna hear more from Vik, you just say so in the comments, otherwise he probably won’t appear again.
As for the nuts and bolts, Vik was created using the random lifepath tables from Transhuman almost entirely. The only thing I retconned was illiteracy… which given his origin didn’t really make sense. So here’s the fiction that ever entertaining random generation has gifted us with.
Victor Archaki was born in orbit over the Earth, his family the inheritors of an immense aerospace company that had left their native Poland for space when encroaching climate change made it unlivable. He was born and raised in the spotlight, and as he grew to maturity his expensive education focused on the best use of that. He achieved a level of fame as a director and practical special effects designer pre-Fall, though the glitterati he filmed drew most of the spotlight. This ended when the Earth did, as a swarm of TITAN attack drones tore open the habitat and left the inhabitants to the freezing void, returning occasionally for the memories in their Cortical Stacks.
It was a few years later that Vik was reinstated from backup by the Cognite hypercorp, looking to put his expensive education to use as a lab indenture. A few years after reawakening in his new Hibernoid body, Vik was able to reconnect with his family accounts, paid off his morph and hitched a ride as a techie on the next Scum swarm to pass. It was with the trailing space nomads that he remained, continuing his study and tinkering on board, until one of his many manic schemes came to fruition.
The lottery was taken, and Vik found himself on an exploratory mission to an extrasolar planet through the Pandora Gate wormhole. He doesn’t often talk of what he saw, but the cyclopean ruins of some dead species have left him thirsty for more.
And so that’s where we would probably start a roleplaying game with that character. Probably won’t though, as I said, the character creation system was a bit of a pain (maybe I’ve just spent too much of my recent life Powered by the Apocalypse), but we got some nuance. Here’s his character sheet for the curious, though I was tired enough by the end to not bother filling in weapons, armour or defaulted skills.
Tired, like I said, but I think Eclipse Phase works a lot like Call of Cthulhu in this respect, in that its extremely front loaded. Character Creation is a lot of work, after which the system gets out of the way with a level of elegance. And hey, from me trying to learn something you all got a nice piece of fiction, so that’s nice.
Another Scene from the City for you folks, with the return of a familiar narrator. And my oh my does she have some adventures this time… anyway, hope you enjoy. For those just joining us, prior installments are available here: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3 and Part 4.
The Young Thief
The window is small, but so am I.
It lies at the top of a spine formed of gradually rising rooftops, a great hunched creature slouched against the side of the tower in its death throws, a drunk leaning on a wall for support, a vomit of toxic sludge and refuse sloughing from its walls into the street. The thing’s uneven, clay tiled back leads to this window. The chill wraps the City, coiling serpents of mist in the streets below.
The window is small, but so am I.
To reach the old beasts spine, I had to cross briefly over one of the streets. The shopfronts I had reached were low, and their drainpipe was an easy grip. The rattle of my ascent barely broke the mist, and I had almost come within reach of the rooftop when the crunch of their boot heels on the cobbles drove the silence from the night.
Two men, a young man and an old one, in the colours of the City Guard. I froze, hugged the wall, knowing their path would take them almost directly beneath me. Knowing the scent of the old man’s pipe smoke as it wafted up to meet me, knowing the limp in the young man’s blistered feet.
Knowing that if I released the drain at the moment I already knew, I could use my falling weight to crush the young man’s face into the cobbles, and slash the old man’s throat into a toad’s smile before his smoke-addled lungs could raise a scream. I knew the arc his blood would make on the storefront, the portal of blank plaster it would paint.
I knew the scent of smoke, the limp over blistered skin.
I knew the gaze of the sick woman. One of them… maggot ridden. Silent. Hungry.
Silent. Empty. Who would be across that very street at that very time but may not, her dead eyes on me even now but yet maybe not.
I let the guardsmen pass, and they did not see me.
After their footfalls had faded, I relaxed my chill stiffened fingers and hauled myself onto the rooftop.
I glanced behind me.
And… that sick one, maggot ridden Underkin… was not standing in the door, nor had she been.
The window is small, but so am I, and again I stand above a harsh drop to the street below.
The old, drunken beast slouches beneath the window, so close as to be almost touching.
The alley may be eight paces across, but the tower did not want the old drunk touching her.
Here, packed together in the filth and the sweat and the terrible cold, she still stands alone. Almost.
I back along the great beast’s spine, press my back against the old warmth of the chimney stack, and focus on the small, forgotten opening in the face of the dark monolith, gouging at the night sky beyond, like a thumb in a man’s eye. I breathe in the chill air.
I might have torn my way into this world as a bird, but that would be too great a change.
It is not so far.
The old beast slouches, almost touching the monolith’s face. Almost touching.
I drag the cold of the night sky into my lungs, and I run. I take three long steps, and on the fourth I take flight.
The mist wraps me for but a moment.
The birds here are sick and mangy things.
My hands flash out and I catch the window ledge. My feet move to the wall, to slow my flight, but the stones are wet and old, and I have no claws.
I hang from my fingers, and my ribs crash into the cold slabs. The weight of the sky flies from my lungs.
I hang from my fingers, far above the street, and my Sin surges into readiness, begging for a change, begging for the other path that we both might live.
I deny it.
I may have no claws, but my fingers are strong, and with a heave I force my right arm over the ledge and latch on to the inner side of the wall.
The window is small, but so am I, and my breathless right arm drags my thin chest between great, ancient stones that try to force me out, scratching along my ribs for my insolent intrusion. I fall into the empty, dark staircase, and I curl into a ball in the depths of the shadows. The life of the City has been pushed far away, and I am alone with my furious heart as I let my breath return to me.
My ribs would bruise, but they would heal one day too. It took time, but soon I could breathe with little enough pain that my chest didn’t shake.
I pulled myself to my feet, dragged my ragged scarf back over my nose for all the good it would do. I began to limp quietly up the stairs.
The bastard had not been precise. I had no map, nor even where his bounty would be in exact terms. What I had was the rest of the night, at the pleasure of a noble house grown into decrepitude.
And failing that, the window grew no smaller.
I took the stairs higher. The furnaces, the kitchen, they were most likely below me and held little of interest. The guardhouse, too, would be down there too, shrouded in House Raleigh’s tattered banners. Up here, it was just the remaining decadents, any treasures they had yet to pawn off, and a young woman blooming in her Sin.
These things I knew.
I began my search.
The first door I found ground open with a ghost of dust rising around my ankles, and I slid inside. The dust was within too, and not a breath of wind, guard or moonlight stirred. I wandered past racks of blades and shields, heavy things built to crush and hinder, some ornate but far too cumbersome to be worth my carrying. I pulled myself up a short ladder, and found the bunk room above equally still.
Running my fingers over the threadbare palettes, I heard snatches of speech, and a strange rattling croak above all. I waited in the silence until the silence remained.
The ceiling here was low. Whoever had slept in the upper bunks must have had to turn his head to avoid skinning his nose.
I pulled myself into an upper bunk.
I pressed my bare fingers between the stones of the ceiling, and no dust fell. I drew them back, and saw that they were stained even in the shadows that surrounded me.
We used it to proof the hides of ships, when we still made ships.
We used it to seal roads against the fury of the wind and rain, when we still made roads.
We used it to protect corpses from the weight of eternity.
And it was hungry.
It would take the animals of the forest or plain, four legs or two, and drag them down into the smothering dark, crushing, filling their lungs and drinking their voices for ever and ever and-
I wiped my fingers hurriedly on my shirt.
I rolled off the bunk, and did a cursory check of this old barracks room. Nothing shone, and I returned to the staircase.
The next door was grand and gilded, and I could find no quiet way through.
The next was of heavy wood that I could not force.
The servant’s stairwell was little more than a hole in the inner wall, and the door to it was ajar.
A smell like a cesspool met my nostrils.
But the warren in the walls might be a great opportunity to a thin little creature like myself. I slid sideways into the narrow stair.
After a brief but dusty crawl, I emerged from a small arch behind a dankly frayed banner, my feet on smooth wood.
On the other side of a railing, candles burned on iron stands, each a dozen paces apart. The platform on which I stood must have run around the whole inner wall.
To my left there was a strange chair that looked to have been carved from a single stone block bigger than I was, at rest near the rail. The scent struck me again, harder, as I slid forward in the dark between candles.
It was the stink from behind the fishmongers at the end of a hot day, where the ravens fight for scraps. It was the ocean as a plague.
The shadow was small, but so am I.
Peering between the uprights of the rail I saw two more stone chairs, bedecked in candles with their bases disappearing into a black and flickering pool of water. The candlelight caught the gilded door, and its steps led down into the pool.
It caught the shape of something moving beneath the surface.
The shadow as small, and within it I bit my tongue in silence.
The boards to my right began to creak with laboured footsteps.
And there you have it for another week my dear imaginary readers. A double plus bonus sized serve of fiction for you, to make up for the time the nasty, mean internet took away from us. Photo courtesy of Miguel Soll, aka 1nsomniac on Flickr. Creative Commons again, so you can use it yourself, and feel free to hack and slash at this chunk of fiction for your own works, as long as we’re credited and your not making money out of it. Have a good one folks.
I probably should have warned you all before this happened, but I moved to Melbourne about a week ago today, and thusly lacking an internet connection my capacity to send my charming diatribes to you was reduced to naught. So, for I think the second time in the history of the Next Best Plan, I will say this.
Now, to mark my triumphant return to internet land, here’s a spooky black and white photo of Elizabeth Street! I’ve got some more Changelings of the Outer West coming up, as well as the return of the Young Thief to Scenes from the City, so thanks for sticking around!