Sunday, June 26, 2016

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Saturday, June 25, 2016

The Halls of the Mountain-Kings


The dwarfs had always been isolationists, and with the curse killing the human world they had a reason to indulge their most paranoid instincts. The gates of their great halls were sealed, but that was only a temporary solution. Once they had a reasonable semblance of security, they fell restarted all their old feuds. Now, however, the old arguments were framed by a larger concern: how to survive. The surface world would not be reconquered, that was agreed. They must reclaim their most ancient heritage and seek self-sufficiency underground. The dwarven kingdoms almost erupted in civil war over how this could best be done.

Eventually, it was decided that every hall should be allowed to take its own path. A single strategy would either fail or succeed, but out of one hundred strategies, surely at least one would succeed. They constructed great vaults, each with its own strategy for self-sufficiency, survival, and security.

Many vaults have been discovered by adventurers over the years. They are treasure troves of technology, magic, and lore, but the one thing they have in common is a lack of living dwarves. So far, no successful vault has been discovered. What has been discovered includes a vault shielded against all magic that developed sophisticated gearwork and explosive powder, a massive terrarium vault containing the last of the thunder lizards, and a populated vault, populated not by dwarves but by intelligent fungi that seem to have hijacked their bodies. There are surely many others.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Coins

The ancient city-state Sansalem is ruled by many courts. Each court funds itself and its activities by minting coins. In theory, this prevents any one court from holding total power, as the more costly their activities, the more they inevitably devalue their currency. For example, the military funds wars with its own coins, marked by a vulture clutching a bundle of arrows, while the state religion uses coins whittled from wood. Crowns, minted by the king, can only be exchanged for other coins, not used to purchase things in and of themselves, and are used by the king to influence the value of other coins.

The islanders of the Cayenna archipelago use the shells of a certain species of beetle. The beetle filters numerous metals out of the ground to make its shells, resulting in concave disks of nickle, iron, silver and gold. Since trade with the outside world began, every village maintains at least one colony of them, still sticking to traditional barter internally. Several trading companies have bought live beetles and attempted to breed them back home, but they can be delicate, and none have survived the journey.

Ammandu is an isolated land of ancient and deeply held superstitions, among them, a dislike of all forms of money. Recently, however, they were conquered by the Empire of Thunder, and as part of their assimilation, they were required to adopt a provincial currency. They followed the letter of the law, while flaunting its spirit. All their coins have prime values (eg 3, 7, 13, 19, 29...) so that making exact change is as difficult as possible. They are now developing a new set of superstitions, on who receives the extra change.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

The Year of Plague and Plenty

At first it seemed like some old testament blessing. Forests began rapidly reclaiming land, crops seemed to grow as fast as they could be planted, and every birth was twins. Any joy at what seemed good fortune was restrained by paranoia at the strangeness of events, a paranoia that would prove justified. The inexplicable fertility boost applied to life of all types and every scale, and soon crops were being devoured by pests as soon as they could be planted, fruit rotted on the vine, and every birth revealed a new type of birth defect. The year of plenty was the precursor to the "the terrible winter", when food stores proved inadequate, the triple flu burned the world, and half of humanity died.

Then changes began to appear in larger forms of life. Animals with birth defects began to survive, even interbreed, becoming new species. There are, for example, the blind dogs, eyeless but with incredible hearing and smell, which have largely supplanted coyotes and wild dogs. Earth's ecosystems now include carrion monkeys, horse-melds, gossamer spiderlings, and many, many others. Some breed true, others appear to be unique. Humans are not immune to these changes.

Food now is a source of continual paranoia. Crops are often lost to diseases or pests. When harvested, foods are immediately placed in sealed containers. They are not removed until necessary for processing, at which point they will be examined for infections, sterilized (typically by UV light), and repackaged for sale, typically in clear plastic containers. The only truly trusted food sources are the sterile vertical farms of the white zones, and even then, the most popular cooking technique is thorough boiling.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

The Creation of Men

If God did not exist, it would be necessary to invent him.
Voltaire

The bunker is old. Larger than it needs to be and virtually self-sufficient, built for the worst possible wars. Even before the worst came to pass, the scientists who live there rarely left. With every trip to the surface revealing only greater reasons for despair, they buried themselves deeper and deeper in their work.

Their project had been the creation of a proof-of-concept for super-soldiers. As large as possible a spectrum of ideas and techniques were collected and tried. Genetic engineering, psychological engineering, in-utero surgical modification, drug glands, lifelong 24-hour training regimes, even fringe ideas like sensory deprivation while on psychedelics and nested coming-of-age ceremonies, both designed to impart a lasting paranoia about even the most basic facts of reality.

Finally, with all avenues explored, they realized they could proceed no farther without putting their methods into practice. Producing super-soldiers was now pointless, but they were terrified at suddenly living without an explicit goal. Finally the solution came to them. The world above was chaos, cults and clans in slow decline. It needed unity, purpose and leadership. They must create hope. They must make a god.

God's genes are a human ideal, and God's brain chemically shaped from the moment of conception and has been in an induced meditation for as God has had a brain. God was born into satori, never to leave, from there to unite humanity, to lead humanity, and to reshape humanity. Soon the bunker doors will open, and a bright light will spill out.

Saturday, June 11, 2016

The Dragons' Empire

Half of the ten dragons of the world joined, and became the Pentarchy. They crushed and conquered, destroyed and then created, until they had made a great empire in the south. They have given their empire no name and will admit to none for themselves. They are only called the Gold, the Silver, the Bronze, the Blue, and the Green.

Reptilians

The vast majority of the dragons' empire are reptilians, organized into a race-based class system.

At the top is the Pentarchy. The dragons' power, both personal and political, approaches godlike. Each dragon is unique, but can be briefly described by its niche in the empire. The Gold is a philospher-king, defining the virtues and values of empire society. The Silver is the master of masters, the greatest of scholars and craftsmen. The Bronze is the lawmaker and supreme judge. The Blue is spymaster and practitioner of realpolitik. Finally, the Green is a great hero, often leading the empire's armies, investigating mysteries, or solving problems for the people.

Second are the blooded. To be blooded means that you descend from a dragon, but this is not defined by who your ancestors were. You are blooded if and only if you manifest sorcerous powers as a result of your ancestry. If you manifest no magic, you are not blooded, even if you were fully half-dragon. Blooded are the only legal practitioners of magic.

Third are lizardmen, humanoid lizards averaging 2 feet tall, with small, beady eyes, they have great patience, a dulled sense of pain, and require little in the way of sleep or sustenance. They are the workers and soldiers on which the empire can depend.

Last are kobolds, child-sized lizards with large, snake-like eyes and great flexibility. They are noted for having no teeth, their diet consisting of small animals and large insects swallowed whole, although stews are becoming popular. They have much the same role in the dragons' empire as goblins do in goblinoid society.

Empire Society


The empire is a designed society. The dragons took scattered tribes, broke them, and rebuilt them. The empire has no state religion, because in many ways the empire is a religion. Virtue is defined by the Gold, justice by the Bronze, value by the Silver, truth by the Blue, and valor by the Green.

Sunday, June 5, 2016

The City of the Dead

The ancient people lovingly preserved the bodies of their honored dead, burying them in deep vaults.  At their side, statues of servants and animals to serve in the afterlife. The labor of millennia has expanded the vaults into a cavernous under-land. Deep beneath the desert, the dead have created their own paradise.

They have nothing but time, and endless practice has made them the greatest artisans of the world. The simple linens they were first wrapped in have been traded for fabrics of infinitesimally complex patterns. Every inch of their vaults and caverns are carved, from life-sized bas-relief to immaculate filigree. Their highest art, its origins stretching back to their beginnings, is the creation of living statues.

Their are no plants or animals in the land of the dead, but it does not seem so from a distance. The dead have refined the creation of living statues over long aeons, and having made enough servitors for many aeons more, have turned their efforts towards decoration. The caverns are filled with trees of stone and iron, in forms both realistic and fantastical. Animals move everywhere, playing at hunting and eating, while the whistling of glass birds fills the air. It seems alive.

The caverns are cold. The inhabitants ancient and desiccated, hiding themselves behind many layers of fabric. They have aged past boredom and passion. They have created their own afterlife, and surely, as they often tell themselves, tarnished gold is better than no gold at all.

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Methods of the Mi-go

The Mi-go lack most of what might be expected from interstellar travelers. They have no spaceships or spacesuits, nor do they use buildings or vehicles of any kind. Mi-go tools are custom grown appendages, ready to be re-absorbed and re-made at will. Their bodies can withstand the interstellar depths, and they grow massive, wing-like solar sails for propulsion. The Mi-go long ago became masters of practical biology, and have never stopped refining themselves.

The Mi-go focus on biology is the key to their interest in Earth. They are not seeking water, metals, or radioactive material, they are seeking life. Humans are of interest, but they are also a growing threat to Mi-go activity. The attempted American moon landing, although a tragic failure, was a turning point for the Mi-go. They could no longer remain hidden simply by keeping to the impenetrable mountains. The human problem would have to be solved.

Above every other goal in this war, above even victory, is the Mi-go determination to remain hidden. Second, again above victory, is the preservation of a diverse biosphere for future exploitation. The Mi-go wish to take humanity to the edge of extinction with a soft touch.

The Mi-go attack, like everything else of theirs, is biological. The introduction of a carefully engineered mutagen to Earth is turning animals into monsters. Every week there is a new disease, someone spots a strange new beast, or a strange new carcass washes up on the beach. From the bacteria up, Earth is swiftly becoming an alien planet.