Wednesday, September 4, 2019

Hummingbees

To the unfamiliar, hummingbees are not easily distinguished from hummingbirds, their close relatives. The big giveaways are their bright plumage in bright violet and deep black, and their longer, thinner beaks, which get longer and sharper as they grow older.

Hummingbees live in colonies of a few dozen, building large nests out of thin sticks and mud in the crooks of trees. All their eggs and young are raised collectively. The birds are thus willing to sacrifice themselves in the defense of their nest, knowing that their young will still be cared for. They attack intruders one at a time, oldest bird to youngest. They attack by darting quickly and powerfully at the enemy, piercing soft tissue with their needle-like beaks, aiming most often for the eyes. The wounds inflicted are small but deep and can often kill through blood loss or infection. Most animals have learned to avoid hummingbee nests.

Where it comes from: They are born from small blue eggs and raised by all the adults of the colony.

What it wants and needs: Hummingbees eat both for themselves and for the young in their nests. They eat massive amounts of nectar, supplemented by small insects.

What it will fight for: Hummingbees will always fight in defense of their nests.

What happens if you eat it: Delicious!

What can be crafted out it: Their beaks can be used as needles, awls, or shanks.

Monday, August 5, 2019

Nootropics

The stuff isn't addictive, per se, but I promise you'll never go back. Because my stuff works. Genius in a pill, take one a day.

Suddenly the world is simple. Everything is obvious. You'll have so many ideas.

Don't go off it. You'll remember being smart, remember enough, that, when you quit, you'll feel pitiful, slow, damaged. The thoughts will come slow and arrive half-formed. You'll know you can be better. You'll know it, but its just not coming together. Not without my help.

Or maybe you've been taking it for years. You've built a career. An identity. You won't be able to keep up without it. You'll be drowning in your own life.Your coworkers will wonder what happened, why you can't get anything right anymore. Your dreams of inventions, discoveries, or artistic masterpieces? Impossible now. Unless you take another dose.

First time's free.

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Zombie Troll

Zombification is a disease, passed through saliva like rabies. Trolls are large humanoid monsters known for their ability to rapidly heal. When a troll contracts the zombie disease, a fierce stalemate results, the disease continually spreading and the troll continually recovering.

Where it comes from: It is not easy for a troll to catch the zombie virus, as they are both strong and fast. Usually it happens when a zombie stumbles upon a sleeping troll.

What it wants and needs: To eat. Half the monster is a zombie, and half is a troll, and both are hungry. The troll pursues prey, the zombie bites, and so both creatures are fed. The hunger never leaves, however, and it will eat soil if nothing else is available.

What it will fight for: Food. A zombie troll will not stop trying to eat, no matter what. It does not feel pain or fear. It can be distracted, however, by a more convenient meal. 

What happens if you eat it: Your death will be complicated and agonizing. The zombie tissue will cause food poisoning, abdominal necrosis, and possibly zombification. The troll tissue will attempt to reform itself inside you, absorbing your flesh to create more of its own. You may be turned into a new zombie troll, as the zombification of your flesh is matched by the growth of the troll, or you may be slowly torn apart, as your flesh is killed by zombie toxins and your body burst open by a troll teratoma. Or both.

What can be crafted out it: If sterilized, dried, and powdered, zombiefied troll flesh is a powerful addition to healing potions. The hide of a zombie troll is very tough, albeit uneven, and requires a great deal of work to be turned into leather.

Friday, July 19, 2019

Anteaters

The eusocial arthropoids of Sirius are not ants, and the mammaloids that prey on them are not anteaters, but that it what they were called by the rushed survey team, and that is what stuck.

Neither species truly resembles ants or anteaters. The "ants" are usually about a centimeter long and half as wide, with translucent, slightly shiny exoskeletons. They spend as much time as possible in their underground colonies, hiding from the sun. The "anteaters" have six limbs, but only walk on four. Their front two limbs are asymmetric: one is strong and has large claws to break open colonies, and one is long and dexterous for snatching up ants.

It turns out the anteaters are sentient, something the survey team missed on their first visit. In their defense, the anteaters have no technology. Their social structure, however, is sophisticated, and their politics fast-paced and lethal. Everything revolves around the care and breeding of the ants, which they have domesticated. Leadership is equated with ant farming; their autocrats are expected to "farm" their society like they do their ants.

They have no tools, but their digging claws and organization are enough for them to construct city-scale burrow complexes. They do not use fire, but they practice eugenics. They are breeding themselves to excel even more at their social games, getting smarter and more cunning, yet specialized and incomprehensible. What would happen if this primitive but intelligent species were suddenly introduced to technology? The sector governor has decided to leave that question unanswered.

Saturday, July 13, 2019

The Swarm the Countess

The countess was a clever girl,
she wrote a grammarie of bees,
stole family jewels from an old earl,
a tuneless hum is on the breeze.

She grows her children in the wall,
they stare and glare and grow so tall,
her husband's useless as her thrall,
he sells strange honey at a stall,
his knight's their vows they don't recall,
they fight with splinters one and all.

Now she her thoughts are many thoughts,
her people work for her all day,
they choose who dies by drawing lots,
but from their labor they can't stray.

Saturday, July 6, 2019

Stunsnake

A genetically engineered self-defense tool, stunsnakes are a combination of electric eels and vipers. They have a viper's fangs made of a copper alloy. When they bite, their fangs create a circuit with their target's flesh, working like a stungun. A stungun that will automatically attack movement, penetrate light armor with their metal fangs, and wrap themselves around a target so that it can't escape. Stunsnakes are thicker and shorter than ordinary snakes, with shiny black skin.

Where it comes from: Stunsnakes are the flagship product of biotech company Practibeasts. The company ultimately went out of business, but not before they produced a run of ten thousand stunsnakes, which have found their way all over the world.

What it wants: Stunsnakes are engineered to be as easy to care for as possible. They spend most of their time in a light doze, from which they can wake at a moment's notice.

What it needs: Stunsnakes are obligate electrovores. They need electricity not only to shock their targets, but to live. Providing them with a sufficient charge is easy: their tails plug into any standard AC outlet.

What it will fight for: Stunsnakes will attack any movement. Familiarizing them with your smell is necessary to prevent them from attacking you.

What happens if you eat it: Stunsnake skin contains layers of rubber, and is inedible. Stunsnake flesh, if it carries a charge, will shock your mouth as you chew. If uncharged, it tastes like bland fish.

What can be crafted out of it: The electrocytes of a Stunsnake, if removed correctly, can be used by any bio-fabricator with a fuzzy logic module to make batteries. The skin is a great electrical insulator, and can be made into protective gloves or shoes.

Friday, July 5, 2019

Psysquito

These hand-sized mosquitoes use their steel-hard proboscis to penetrate skulls and suck out cerebrospinal fluid. The droning of their wings induces a hypnotic trance, allowing them to feed in peace. As both adults and gestating larvae they can sense sentient minds within 200 meters. The feeding is rarely lethal on its own, but the hole made in the scalp, skull, and meninges can easily develop a lethal infection.

Where it comes from: Psysquitoes grow in stagnant water, much like mundane mosquitoes. Unlike mundane mosquitoes, they can gestate for decades, only hatching when they sense sentient minds. Once they have fed for the first time they will lay their eggs, and then seek out more fluid to feed their young. 

What it wants: Psysquitoes do not need cerebrospinal fluid for themselves, but feed it to their larvae. The larvae drink as much as they can before going into gestation, and that is all they will ever eat. Adults can usually last for one to two months before dying of starvation, depending on their level of activity.

What it needs: larvae need ccerebrospinal fluid to grow, and will take in as much as they are given. As adults they do not eat at all, and live to serve their larvae.

What it will fight for: A Psysquito will only attempt a fight if starving. Otherwise, they always attack from ambush. If their drone does not work and their target fights back, they will attempt to flee, but will usually attempt another ambush. 

What happens if you eat it: Psysquito exoskeletons incorporate significant amounts of metal, and are thus inedible. The metal also allow their exoskeletons to be used like kettles; you can cook a psysquito into a thick nutritious soup simply by throwing it on a fire.

What can be crafted out of it: Drunk raw, partially digested cerebrospinalfluid is a minor stimulant. It is also used as the base for many potions that affect the brain.

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.

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.