Saturday, June 8, 2019

The Town of Blue in the Desert

This town was built around a prosperous market on a busy trade route, but the sand has swallowed the roads and most of the town too. The houses are half filled with drifts of orange sand, preserving carved wood furniture and brightly colored frescoes. Bright blue lizards sun themselves on cracked rooftops during the day, then fill houses with warm sand to sleep in at night.

The lizards are very intelligent, but reluctant to speak to visitors. They can be tempted into conversation with gifts of rare meats and liqueurs, and when drunk will wax philosophical about the cycles of life and history. They keep many secrets, buried in the sand, and cannot be persuaded to part with them, but their eyesight is poor and their hearing worse. If you can present them from smelling you, records of ancient empires, strange and beautiful artwork, and books with no other copies might be dug free.

Friday, June 7, 2019

Psionic Lich

A being with incredible willpower, perfect focus, and endless patience, can make their way through the ordeals necessary to become a psionic lich. The only way to kill one will is by destroying its mummified corpse, without which its mind will dissipate in the astral.

What it wants: Inscrutable. Many liches act in ways that seem random: observing unimportant doings, making seemingly inconsequential adjustments to the world, or simply wandering, gazing implacably at whatever they encounter. Others pursue obsessive tasks, building labyrinths, shifting rivers, experimenting with animals. A few have understandable goals, such as protecting nations or eradicating certain monsters.

What it needs: Nothing.

Where it comes from: Potential psychics must practice meditation. If they have the talent, diligence can uncover it. Once their talent emerges, they must continue their meditation to refine their power. To become a lich, they must gain perfect self-knowledge. When they believe they have have succeeded, they must prepare their body. They will drink nothing but a special tea, containing toxins that polymerize the body, shutting down a preserving organs one by one. When this process is complete they will be paralyzed, and must be sealed in clay and buried in an unmarked hole. If their self-knowledge is truly perfect, their psychic power will allow them to survive the death of their body. They will be trapped in their mummy, but their mind will persist. After centuries of constant meditation, they will learn to create an avatar of pure willpower, with which they can interact with the world.

What it will fight for: The avatar of a psionic lich will engage in combat only if it doing so is interesting to it. Otherwise, they will leave. The exception is if its body is threatened, in which case the lich will not retreat and continually escalate the fight, tearing apart the area with psionic force.

What happens if you eat it: The flesh was toxic when buried and its time beneath the earth has not improved it. Also, this would be cannibalism.

What can be crafted out of it: Mummy leather blocks psychic influence, making it useful for shields, armor, and wallpaper. The dirt surrounding the mummy is often suffused with psionic energy and is prized by psions as a stimulant.

Monday, June 3, 2019

Millisnake

Millisnakes are snakes with hundreds of tiny, gecko-like legs along their bodies, as well as oversized, viper-like vampire fangs. Their legs allow them to cling to any surface. They hang from branches or ceilings, then drop on to the backs of passing animals, biting down and sucking as much blood as they can before the animal manages to dislodge it. Excess iron is suffused into their scales, giving them a rust-red color.

Wants: When one has eaten enough, it will attempt to find a mate. Millisnakes hide their eggs by attaching them to the undersides of objects, and both parents will protect them until they hatch. Once hatched, the male usually leaves, while the female stays with her young as long as possible, feeding them regurgitated blood.

Needs: Blood. Millisnakes are hemovores, gaining almost all of their necessary nutrition from blood, occasionally supplemented with small insects.

Morale: Millisnakes are ambush predators. If their ambush fails, they will attempt to flee. If they mange to cling to you and bite down, however, they will not release until injured or full.

What happens if you eat this monster: They taste like metallic snake-meat. They are not poisonous, but eating too many of them can lead to toxic levels of iron in your blood.

What can be crafted out of this monster's body: Millisnake hide is an excellent material for belts. Millisnake meat, cooked in a stew, is a traditional remedy for bloodloss.

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

The Warrior-Monks

Our monastery was on the eastern slopes of Pavonis Mons, so that it was illuminated in the morning by a soft blue sunrise, only to fall into shadow in the early evening. It was in the blue light of dawn that we practiced the traditional forms of our ancient martial art.

We, the students, were all young women, pleased by our strength and eager to test it. After our exercises, we would often gather to relax and chat, discussing rumors we had heard from the lowlands. We had just heard about the fall of the Olympian Dictatorship, and the tumult that was following.

"Couldn't we help?" Arbella was saying, "We may not be masters, but we know how to fight."

"We could take bandits, I'm sure. Not much, but it would be better than nothing," Yen agreed.

"Or beasts. I've heard several geneticists had their workshops destroyed and their wares escaped and have started breeding. We could help a lot of people by hunting them down," continued Arbella.

Our teachers seemed ageless, and infinitely patient. They never raised their voices in anger, but only as a means of focusing our attention. So, when the voice of Teacher Scythe suddenly cut across our chatter, we immediately stopped talking and listened.

"Do not fool yourselves. What we do is not practical. You would not survive real combat."

"Surely it cannot be useless," objected Arbella, but was quickly overruled.

"You have learned how to fight unarmed against other unarmed humans. That is all. Do you think you could even survive in a fight with a man in a hoplite suit? A manticore? A sentient weapon? We practice to keep tradition alive, nothing more. We are monks, not warriors."

He paused, seeing that some of us still weren't convinced.

“Tomorrow you will fight a boar. It will be given no means of escape, and that will make it desperate. It will attack you however it can. It will not care about pain. It will not fall for feints. Few of your techniques are of use against a four-legged animal. I do not expect you to win. I expect you to learn."

Friday, May 24, 2019

Hamun-ran

South of the mountains streches a great salt desert, white dunes as far as the eye can see and a wind that stings the eyes. It is not hot, but rain never falls, and the air is drier than anywhere else in the world. There are no rivers, but there are oases, where water bubbles to the surface. The greatest of these springs is surrounded by the palace of the god-king Hamun, which is surrounded by the city of Hamun-ran, "Hamun's Household," built entirely out of salt.

Hamun has absolute control over the spring. Not a sip is drunk in the city without his blessing. It is his terrace-tower gardens that supply all food. It is his masked and voiceless guard who keep the peace, it is they who prevent any from leaving the city.

Hamun's wife, the Queen of Birds, keeps watch over the people through the eyes of vultures. She alone lives in a building not made of salt, but a gilded stone tower whose shine becomes painful to look at when the sun has risen. No one has seen the Queen of Birds, and it is rumored that there have been many Queens, discarded and replaced at Hamun's whim.

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.