Tuesday, May 7, 2019

Making Use of an Empty Thing

At the north side of the steppe, where the great grey mountains that birth the ten rivers rise out of the grass, there is an ancient, isolated nation where they practice an ancient and terrible tradition called Making Use of an Empty Thing. They do not believe, or do not care, about the warnings and proscriptions applied by all civilized nations to necromancy. They had convinced themselves that as long as necromancy was practiced on beasts, and not on people, they were not doomed. As a servant of the Saint, it was Allix's duty to save them from themselves.

Allix had seen a military parade where the necromancers displayed their masterworks. Steppe crabs, killed with poison and then animated, riveted with steel plates and painted yellow-gold for the parade. They carried howdahs of black lacquered wood with tall banners and seats for two crab-knights, one armed with a pike, one with a long-barreled musket, and both in black chitin lamellar. 

Allix had fled the parade as fast as he could without attracting attention, and returned to the boarding house where he was staying, hurrying to his room and latching the door behind him. He felt for the burlap bundle beneath his bed and pulled it out, unwrapping it to check the contents. The larvae had almost finished off the pig carcass they had been living in, but it was no matter. Soon they would mature, and then the parasitic wasps they grew into would seek dead flesh, eating and growing and multiplying until no dead thing could last and every undead beast were devoured from the inside.

Wednesday, April 3, 2019

World of Grass

MONOGRAPH ON THE INHABITED WORLD GAMMA LEONIS 3
COMMONLY CALLED "THE WORLD OF GRASS"
PREPARED FOR THE VICEROYAL BY THE IMPERIAL ORDER OF SURVEYORS

Gamma Leonis 3 is an inhabited planet made habitable through terraforming. For reasons that will likely remain a mystery to us, as the relevant records have been lost, your ancestors, who terraformed it, introduced only grasses, and no other type of plant lives there. For this reason, it is called the World of Grass.

The biomes of the world are defined almost entirely by rain. The driest areas are like harsh deserts everywhere: sand and rock and no plants or animals.  Slightly more favorable deserts support poverty grasses. Rainier areas are grasslands, prairies, or steppes; the more rain, the higher the grass. Areas that receive the most rain become bamboo groves, with species as large as any tree. The planet is both colder and rainier than it should be, owing to the massive wildfires that regularly sweep the lands. Winters are unduly harsh.

The lack of any available wood forces its peoples into several limited ways of life, depending on biome. The people of the hills and mountains build homes and terraces of stone, reinforced with bamboo. The people of the river valleys irrigate large fields and build cities of clay. The people of the lakes and marshes weaves boats our of reeds and train birds to fish for them. The people of the seas and islands create ships of bamboo. The people of the steppes live by herding and hunting.

All of these peoples have but three domesticated animals. A species of elk, which was likely tampered with during the terraforming process, as it has many genes from horses and can be ridden like them, a species of bighorn sheep, and a species of guineafowl like great blue-black chickens. They have five domesticated plants, all grasses. They grow rice, wheat, barley, sugarcane, and a semi-domesticated strain of bamboo.

The people of the world of grass are almost certainly the descendants of an ancient colony. Like with most foundling colonies, the peoples of the world of grass are unusually culturally similar, even when great distance separates them. All of their religions are variants of ancestor worship and the worship of national heroes. All of their languages are derived from Anglish, presumably the language of the original colonists. Governments almost all contain technocratic or bureaucratic elements. All of their economies operate with an unusual degree of division of labor and specialization, with craftsmen expected to perfect one single part of their craft, and perform it as part of an assembly line.

You may find their morality puzzling at first, but its basis is simple. To them, all good is the same. They do not distinguish between being good at something and being a good person. They have one word for self-improvement, and one for the improvement of others. It's not charity, but something we don't have an exact word for it. It is tied up with concepts like stewardship and parenthood, a sort of earned superiority. Keep that in mind when you take the reigns of the planet.

The world of grass offers several prospects for exploitation. Its peoples are skilled sculptors and weavers, and their best works would be worth exporting. There are a few national epics and popular stories that would be worth translating and copywriting. Perhaps most valuable is biological information. The genetic templates of domesticated plants and animals always sell well, and the planet's unique ecology is of great interest to biologists, who would buy the templates of strange organisms like bloodgrass, saltgrass, and bamboo birds.

No derelicts have been detected in orbit, which raises the possibility that their colony ship landed on the planet's surface and never took off. Needless to say, its drive core would be the greatest possible treasure this planet could possibly hold. One clue as to its location may be the valley of faces, a narrow gorge the sides of which have been carved into massive statues, all dressed in garments that resemble spacesuits.

Saturday, March 23, 2019

Magic Circle

An explorer had found the site, noting it as a good natural harbor. Surveyors had mapped it and marked perfect circle surrounding it. Laborers had been stringing up the ribbon for days, running it around poles and trees to create a magic circle a kilometer in diameter, encompassing the harbor.

The ribbon was dense linen, interwoven with threads of gold wire which formed Enochian phrases. The phrases described how the city would be made: how stone would liquefy itself and flow into the shape of buildings, the pattern of roads and plazas, the design and placement of a city hall and garrison, and his own contribution, a new design of large warehouse, perfect for a colonial port.They could have fit a dozen more modules if they had used Hebrew, but British patriotism demanded Enochian.

He was only here to join the to ends of the ribbon, completing the magic circle. Once lighting struck the activation pole, each phrase would be activated in turn, until the circle, and the new city, were completed.

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Skeletons

In the north, labor is the duty of the dead. Brightly painted skeletons farm, herd, build, and haul. The living are free to raid their neighbors.

In the south, combat is the duty of the dead. Skeletons, intricately carved with their deeds in life, defend against attack. They have perfect discipline, perfect morale, and perfect technique.

Saturday, January 26, 2019

Man-eater

Caves are not shaped for human convenience. Floors are rough, and not always horizontal. Passageways can be large or small, wide or thin, smooth or convoluted. Some passages are so thin that it is only barely possible to make it through, sometimes you have to exhale to fit. Bruises are common, cracked ribs and dislocated shoulders not unheard of. You struggle for every inch. You can practice with a wire hanger to get an idea of how tight a space you can get through.

Caves are dark. Not dark like at night when there are stars, or dark like in bed with street lights peeking around your curtains, but utterly dark, dark like trying to look behind your eyeballs. It is easy to take flashlights and headlamps for granted, but switch them off and you’ll see. It takes your eyes a moment to adjust to the dark, for afterimages to fade, and then you know longer know where the things around you are. Your world is reduced to your thoughts, the touch of rock under your feet and hands, and the sound of your breath.

Being eaten alive is the most horrible of deaths. Excruciating, but not the most painful. Drawn-out, but no the slowest. The most horrible. It means being totally at the power of something which is not even bothering to kill you, waiting in between bites for the chewing to stop and the pain to come again, wondering how long it will take you to die, whether blood-loss will get you first or if the beast will at last tear into something important, utterly powerlessness.

At first I was not sure if I was mis-hearing my own breath. I thought that perhaps sensory deprivation was causing my mind to tricking itself. I thought I heard the heavy breath of something large behind me. Then I was hit by the smell, strong and primal and awful, and then a hand, strong and rough, into my back, knocking me into the ground.

I had been found by the manticore.

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Crafting Magic

It was past noon when Alexander arrived at the farm, a small cottage with a larger barn. The farmer was an old man, wrinkled but wiry. Alexander's appearance did not make the old man reconsider for more than a moment.

"I assume yer here fer the rats? I'll show ya," he said, and began walking towards the barn.

"Large as cats, some of 'em, and not as afraid a me as they ought to be. I cooked up some poison but they ignored it. I need em gone before they get ambitions and go after my sheep." We reached the bard and showed me the holes he had discovered. They were uncommonly large.

"Shouldn't be a problem." Alexander said. "I'll weave some weasels out of sunlight. They'll be fierce and fearless and will evict the rats no problem. I'll cut some dogs out of the shadow of the barn, to chase down escapees. Come evening I'll weave an owl out of the wind, to stay with you and kill any survivors."

"How long will this take? And how long will the owl last?"

"It shouldn't take more than an hour. The owl will last one night, but you'll be surprised by how many rats and mice an owl of the wind can kill in just one night."

Told man nodded, and left Alexander to it. It had been some time he had woven creatures. He thought back to his lessons, trying to make butterflies out of candle flames. Ashpool had been the instructor, fond of lectures.

"To create, we combine two things: form and substance. You must have an intimate understanding of both. To know the substance, how tough it is, how brittle it is, how malleable it is, and every other property you can think of. To know form, you must know what the thing you are creating does, what stimuli it respond to, what you need it to do. The deeper your understanding of these things, the longer your creation will be able to last before disintegrating. With time, you will be able to create a sword out of wit, a ship of dreams, or a dog from a fond memory, but for now, concentrate on the flame."

Alexander was startled out of his reverie by a flash of light. The first of the sunlight weasels was finished, a silhouette so bright it looked like an afterimage on his eyes. He got started on the next.

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Humans

Many, many forms of people have existed, but most never last. These are those that have found a niche and proved themselves a survivable way of life.

Orthodox: The Orthodox are true humans. Some are born from gene-molds, or are the result of generations of genetic manipulation, or are unable to emerge from the suits that sustain them, but they are human minds, in human bodies, in human societies. They take pride in maintaining the ancient traditions of humanity. They are not united, but live in city-states, cult compounds, corsair caravans, and hundreds of other small societies scattered throughout the Solar system.

Amalgams: Not everyone takes pride in being human. Some look at the abilities of other life with envy, and seek to augment themselves by any means available. Haphazard augmentations often has unexpected results, and so every Amalgam is unique, with unique abilities, and unique disorders.

Multiple: Many minds in one brain in one body. Multiple personalities, multiple trains of thought. Range from attitude sets that share memories to independent people in the same body.

Blanks: Blanks have had their executive function removed. Their only desires are those that are implanted, usually survival plus subservience. Blanks are formidable, being just as intelligent as they were before the procedure, and are incredibly decisive, never hesitating to act or react. Blanks have no societies of their own, but are found everywhere, as they are useful and easy to make. In some places, becoming a blank is a form of suicide, in others, execution.

Shamans: Shamans do not much value conscious thought, but do not go nearly so far as to become blanks. They keep their consciousness, but replace rationality with hypercharged intuition. They have excellent social skills, and indeed their view of the world is primarily social, using anthropomorphization as a filter through which to view the world. They view all systems as persons, not abstractions, and thanks to their powers of intuition, can still be accurate. Their speech uses metaphors and analogies heavily. They use technology, but never invent any, and rarely even create it.

Relics: Relics are immortal human minds in robotic bodies. Most live solitary lives, wandering the system pursuing whatever arbitrary goals they might set for themselves. Their memories are not longer than those of a normal human, so much of their own lives are forgotten, but each and every one of them is a legend, and so many learn about themselves by collecting stories about themselves.