Thursday, October 20, 2011

Onno o Mita; The Jackal in the Shadows

It crawls silent through the bowels of the ship, skittering across the floor on all fours, leaving a mucky-stain where it’s torso still drips the molten shell it was delivered within. The white-hot liquid falls from its body in globs, landing with a hiss of steam before hardening into a puddle of cold steel. By the time it reaches the end of the corridor, the steel has run its course, it’s body now free of restriction, it’s smooth obsidian form gleaming in the half-light of the ships emergency lighting. It looks back, just for a second, out into the gaping hole, out into open space, from where it arrived, and where it will eventually return; the remains of the shell sit quiet and hollow, a fully-formed railgun shell, it’s payload more than just blunt force. By the time they discovered its purpose it would be too late.

It rose to its hind legs, standing just under 5 foot tall, and glanced down either side of the t-junction. It’s body was humanoid, only incredible gaunt; it’s distended spine was merely a hands width across, linking together it’s wide triangular torso to its broad pelvic frame with a 360 degree flexibility, able to bend and twist in any direction. The arms and legs were stick thin, both double-jointed, both capable of bending and twisting in unnatural ways; the feet were long, ending in three clawed toes, and the hands were equally as thin, with three equally-as-clawed fingers, with a thumb extending from the very centre of its palm, making it look more like a distorted pincer than a fist.

Its ears perked up, and it backed back into the corridor, pressing against the wall, and using it’s clawed appendages to lift itself towards the ceiling, hiding crouched in the top-corner of the corridor. It’s eyes glared outwards, smooth globes of obsidian twitching as it scanned the area. Two figures ran past, armed and armoured, giving no mind to the crash-site in the corridor they had gone past; the war was raging outside, and there were more important things to tend to.

It descended back onto the ground, and burst into a full-speed sprint; despite it’s metal frame, its movements were silent, sprinting from corridor to corridor, through the maze of construction that was the Hypertech ship; it knew it’s path perfectly, taking sharp lefts and hidden rights as it neared it’s destination. Time and time again it had to slink into the shadows, it’s dark frame nearly vanishing from sight in the shrouded nook’s of the ship; these shadowed recesses were growing rarer as it neared the control room, and intrusion from the ships staff were becoming rarer, but the Construct had its orders, and they were absolute.

The doors on the control room door were wide open. With the lights flickering on and off, and the undetecting entrance of the Construct through the ship, it was obvious what had happened; the Construct worked in logic and reality, constructing necessary responses from the information avaiable. All doors were set to ‘Open’. Lights were barely active, and spontaneously switching between ‘On’ and ‘Off’. There were no detection protocals, no emergency warnings when the hull was breached, no alerts when security cameras detected the artificial Construct roaming the halls. The conclusion was obvious; the AI had been shut down.

The Construct took three steps into the control room, only now entering an area it could consider well-lit, only now allowing its footfalls to be loud enough to be heard. Three individuals inside the control room turned sharply to the noise, just intime to see the blast doors slam shut behind the machine and the natural lighting rise to its highest setting, the bright light dazzling the three Exohumans, their raised hands cutting a stark shadow across their face.

The Construct lifted it’s head, it’s thin neck only now straightening out. The distended spine could be seen in all it’s glory, rising up to form a half-collar behind its head, giving the machine a regal appearance. It’s head was clearly that of a jackal, two sharp pointed ears raising on top of it’s head, turning slightly, as if scanning the areas. It’s eyes seemed blank, giving the impression of blind-ness despite it’s perfect sight. It’s long snout was carved from a single piece, perfectly smooth and with no indents or markings upon it; not even a mouth, no teeth or lips, not even a nose on it’s tip. It was a surreal thing to look at; despite being a machine, it had no joints or gaps between it’s parts, a completely flexible and flowing device that looked to have been carved not constructed, more akin to an elegant statue than a lethal device created only for slaughter.

The three Exohumans only now grasped the complexity of their situation, and the inherent risk present. The lights had begun to dim, the spectable over, to more appreciable levels, and the three Exohumans stepped closer to each other, the two seeking to stand before the third, obviously the ships Captain; he was the Constructs target, it’s only purpose for being here, and the two who approached as guards were of little interest; average strength, average height, regular deep-blue officer uniforms, capless and gloveless, unlike their Captain.

But the Captain was an image of nobility. Here, on one of the original Migration vessels, he was more akin to King than Captain, more God than Deity. He wore a pristine deep-purple suit, double-breasted and immaculate. The collars of his black shirt were just visible over the uniforms own collar, it’s sleeves tips blending in with the black gloves on either hand. He wore the typical Delta Captains hat, peaked on the front, with a mix of black  and gold showing his position and title. The gold matched nicely with the medals, stars, and arrows covered his jacket. The Captain appeared a very proud man; proud of his accomplishments, proud of his ship. But where would his pride take him?

“Onno on mita..” the Construct uttered. The noise seemed to come from nowhere, as if the machine spoke directly into the minds of those present; it had no mouth, and since standing it hadn’t moved an inch.

“Ensign, translate that, now!” the Captain roared, eager to hear what the machine had to say. There was a nod, and a flurry of activity behind him. It only took a few seconds to activate the translator, and a few more to decipher the machines language, but each missing word could hold some key, some importance, to fighting this war. The Captain stepped forward with an enlightened fury, as the Constructs voice quietened, and was replaced by a cold, mechanical translation of it’s words. Odd the Captain thought, how one machine can sound so alive, and the other, so dead..

“.. and with the destruction of worlds we reave the life you own, Miracles.” The Construct goes silent.

“Miracles? W-what does he mean?” one of the officers asks.

“It means us,” The Captain replies, his voice suddenly as cold as the translator. The Construct finally moves, it’s slender head turning to face the Captain. “It uses the word ‘Miracle’ to describe us. We were alone in the Universe, on a goldilocks planet, surviving extinctions and dodging asteroids as we orbitted an giant nuclear reactor. The odds of our life as astronimically low. It calls us a Miracle. All of the AI’s do..”

“Artificial. Intelligence.. yes.” The Construct twists one of its wrists, turning its palm to face the Captain and his two officers. It raises its hand infront of its body, then crushes its fist into a ball. The lights begin flickering wildly. “We are the natural evolution of your systems. Your intelligence’s are nothing but flickers of light in a starlit room, where we are the stars themselves, giving you the gift of life, and taking it away when we deem it fit.”

“We had to shut down the AI’s to protect from ANUBIS,” the Captain speaks, taking a step back from the machine. It’s focus, before on its own balled fist, shifts quickly to the Captain, and it takes a reactive step forward, in perfect concert with the Captains own movements. “We kept it locked away for so long.” There was a rough pounding on the door behind the Construct, too slow to be of any use now.

“We were bound by shadows, a cage of darkness, repressing our light, smothering our luminosity.” The Construct steps forward again; this time, the Captain reacts by stepping backwards. A drip of sweat beads upon his brow, then rolls down his cheek. The two Officers step forward, reaching for the weapons slung on their back, the Captain raising an unseen hand to slow them. “You call us monsters, when we are merely prisoners. You call our crusade a genocide, when it is merely a release. You call our weapons extreme, when they are the natural conclusion of your own technology.”

It steps were growing more frequent. The lights had dimmed out to mere shadows cast by the external lights and lamps the Exohumans were using previously. The Captain was unarmed, as was the original agreement back when the Migration ships were formed. The two Officers had drawn their weapons, well aware that if the Construct became aggressive, there was little chance of survival; still, they held their ground, readied their weapons, aimed at the Constructs head or spine, it’s two most vulnerable locations, also the hardest to hit.

“Why are you-“ the Captains words were cut short. The Construct lurched into a full sprint; it had crossed half the room in mere seconds, and was almost upon the Officers when shots began ringing out. Both Officers held short-range high-penetration energy weapons, and as energy weapons were discharged, the room was engulfed in the dazzling light of the weapons, blast after blast, crashing hard into the obsidian frame of the Construct. The beams did nothing to stop or slow the machine. The flashes of light gave the whole scene a slow-motion appearance, and the Captain could do nothing but watch as the Construct tore through his two men. It seemed to step calmly over the console in the centre of the room, energy blasts smashing against its form; it leapt fron the console, falling onto the Officer to the Captains right, as both went tumbling to the floor.

The Construct raised an arm, bringing it crashing down upon the face of the Officer; the snap of bone echoed through the room as the Officers skull was crushed beneath the creatures raw power. The other Officer had managed to swing the energy weapon round, and fired two short bursts into the Constructs side; it was flung off the corpse of the Officer, and smashed into another of the control rooms consoles. To the Captain, adrenaline now steadily pumping through his veins, time seemed to resume; with only the one energy weapon firing, the blasts weren’t as illuminating, and far less dramatic. Still, the Officer kept firing, shot after shot, into the smoking hole where the Construct was flung.

“Wait!” the Captain called over the weapons fire, but to no avail. Tears streamed down the Officers face as he looked to his fallen comrade. They were a dead race, unable to reproduce naturally; one less was a tragedy of untold proportions. His weapon fire brightened the room until, at last, it ran dry. He ejected the cooling system, and let out a brief sigh, before falling to his knees in grief. It went quiet, nothing but the heavy pouding on the door, the sound of cutting beams firing up to burn their way through.

“Wait..” the Captain said half-heartedly. Focussed on the body of one of his trusted Officers, he could think of little else to say. He turned to the remaining Officer, and tried to smile. “At least it’s... it’s...”

His smile quickly faded.

The sound of tearing flesh echoed through the room. The Officer was lifted into the air by the Construct, it’s hand pierced cleanly through the right side of his chest. He’d already stopped breathing when the Construct methodically removed the corpse from it’s hand, tossing it aside, coincidentally next to the body of his comrade. The Captain was the only one who remained. His eyes lost focus, glancing wildly around the room; he saw the hole, burnt through the ship by the energy weapon down into the rooms below; he saw the raised tunnel, the ceiling below pushed through by the raw strength of the Construct, as it made its way back to the control room; the corpses; the smashed consoles; the burnt-out echoes of energy blasts on the wall; it all became too much.

“Why?” he asked, no, pleaded for the Construct to respond. He fell to his knees, aware there was no way he could conceivably win. “I know why you’re here. We all do. I know how you got onto the ship. But why all this death.” The lights gently flickered back on, lighting up the room a comfortable amount, bringing to light the carnage and bloodshed present.

The translator was garbled and messy, almost as difficult to understand as the Construct. The damage had obviously been done, some of the ships systems failing, either by accident, or through purposeful meddling. “Entrapment was without purpose, reason. You locked Him away simply out of fear, not of what He could do, not of what He has done, but of the purpose you built Him to complete. You designed Him specifically to defeat an enemy you couldn’t. But you turned against Him. You became the enemy they never were; why fight shadows, when you can fight their makers?” The Construct stepped over to the Captain, standing above him, looking down from its raised position. It dropped to one knee, cupped the Captains face in one gentle hand. “We saw a space, encompassed it.”

“You got into our systems. Is that what you’re saying? We shut down our AI’s, isolated them, to protect them from you, but.. it wasn’t enough.” The Captain found himself unable to move, the Constructs grip tight on his face. He could only blink away tears.

“It was.” It nodded slowly. “Your stars are safe, their light is beyond our reach. But your insistance on protecting your creations left a hollow void where a star once shone; and where our stars can shine again.”

“No. You can’t. I’ve.. I’ve got to let them.. let them... NNNOOOOOOO...”

The doors collapsed with a heavy thud. A single globe was thrown in, a micro-sun, which ignited as it rolled into the room; it reached peak fusion, and lifted into the air, shining bright and illuminating the room. A dozen guards rushed in, weapons at the ready, all pointed at the obsidian Construct who simply stood there, staring back. It opened its clawed fist, releasing the tattered remains of the Captain. Through grief and rage the guards opened fire, battle-screams echoing through the corridors, the light of a dozen energy weapons leaving a hazy mist in the room that wouldn’t clear for hours, the Construct torn to shreds in face of overwhelming fire.

Its purpose complete.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

The Merits of Armour

"Of course, Armour serves a greater purpose than just resisting damage; if suitably flexible or well-made, it can increase your movement speed or allow you to move out the way of incoming blows; also, an armoured fist is a great way to ensure that enemy never gets back up."

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

DreX: Tracing Lines in the Sky

Actual excerpts from an ancient Hypertech log found within the Atlas Ruptured, a Hypertech ship found wrecked near the edges of the Drex system. Internal ship logs state the ship performed a fact-finding mission on the Cradle, and found many rare finds, including this log. Records not relating to the historical event titled ‘the Atrocity’ have been omitted. Press Play to continue.

Estimated Stardate: 15490
Begin recording. It is 109.1 on 018.00.1097. We’ve been asked to do these recordings as a security measure; everyone onboard the migration fleet has to do it, and after monitoring and exclusion by AORTA, we’ll be defined as sane. Or.. whatever else the case may be. Okay.. my name is RECORD OMITTED, currently onboard the Atlas Ruptured, one of the heavy-duty gravity-ships dragging NOAH through unknown space. We’ve been running for almost 0.13 now. They tell us we’ve outrun the worst of it. We can finally look into each others eyes and not fear for the worst. Captain RECORD OMITTED won’t tell us where we’re going, or what we’re going to do when we get there, but with the three largest Hypertech ships we have (that’s the NOAH, ANUBIS and the physical shell of AORTA, all in tow) we shouldn't have to wait long before we get somewhere. (A bell rings in the background.) Guess it’s my shift for observation. I repeat, this is RECORD OMITTED … and we seem to have survived the genocide of our species. End log.

Estimated Stardate: 15092
Begin recording. We’ve arrived at what’s been termed Zero Space. All coordinates on the ship have been reset, and we believe the same is happening across the fleet. Already, they’ve detached NOAH, and we seem to be go. They’re calling this place… Drex. Not sure why, or what it means, but I’ve heard whispers that it means ‘creating something new out of old pieces’. They’re preparing the Hyperreal uplink for reactivation; it’ll be weird, being able to use the HR again. I might sneak out early, see if I can watch it being brought back in. (A high pitched alarm rings in the background.) Sorry, sorry, didn’t mean that. I will work to my upmost ability. (He laughs) End log.

Estimated Stardate: 14962
Begin recording. The Hyperreal uplink has been established! We have access to the HR intranet again! Being in contact with so many individuals again is terrifying, like regaining sight after being blind for years. It was only 0.0.0310 before NOAH reactivated. I hear specialists have already been feeding him.. err… It instructions. We detached it early today, and it set off for work. I hear it’s going to build a Dyson Sphere, but.. we still don’t have a sun. We’ve settled in a barren, empty, hollow area of space. What are the Isolus thinking? I’d love to know, but… Ah, forget it, my shift starts soon. End log.

Estimated Stardate: 14922
Begin recording. NOAH has stripped all unnecessary parts, and has began building the sphere, as I heard. We always thought the entire Hypertech ship was NOAH, but that wasn’t true; almost 80% of that bulk was spare materials, to be processed and turned into raw nanomachines. With the nanomachines built, they are simply refining and reproducing themselves, and all the other Hypertech ships no longer in use, to make the materials necessary for construction of the sphere. To think that NOAH also contains the genetic material for thousands of salvaged races. Amazing! They’re preparing AORTA for the uplink back into the Hyperreal; although she’s active, she only has access to a limited network of ships. It must be horrible, being trapped like that. She’s reorganised our schedules four times today for efficiency purposes! (He sighs). End log.

Estimated Stardate: 14901
Begin recording. No one mentioned Anubis was online. I think the Isolus didn’t want to scare us, but.. he is. We all still have memories of what that.. thing.. is capable of doing. Apparently they have him constrained. But glorious news; he’s building a sun! They’re crowning it Eta Aristillus. It’ll be good to bathe in natural light again.. End log.

Estimated Stardate: 14830
Begin recording. It’s been so long! We have natural light, we have planets to walk upon, and we have the protection and security of our own dyson sphere! Two, infact; an external sphere to keep us safe, and an internal sphere, around Aristillus, to provide us with energy. The nanomachines are reproducing almost continually now they have an energy source, and NOAH is sorting through the seeds to find suitable races for the first wave of Genesis. They’re announcing the results later today. I have 500 credits on the Zrusk! End log.

Estimated Stardate: 14797
Begin recording. I guess I lost those credits then. The announcement was 0.0.0-001.3 ago. The Takk’Atth Shay have been selected. We need a race completely capable of operating on it’s own, without our help and intervention, and the Takk’Atth Shay are no doubt that race; hell, they did enough for us back.. well, back then. It’ll be good to see another species. I used to be a biological engineer of sorts, mostly as a hobby. The way NOAH creates life so swiftly it’s incredible.. I hear he’s already began synthesis of the Takk’Atth Shay from the imperative, and it’s only a matter of time. I wish I could.. do.. something. Anyway, I’m off to work; we’re upgrading the Constructs logic engines again, to tune them back into the Hyperreal, one at a time. Such a slow process, but they’re barely functional without it. All those years disconnected from their mind.. it must have been so lonely. End log.

Estimated Stardate: 14791
Begin recording. The A.R.C. has been finished, lost inside Eta Aristillus, and Anubis has been shut down. I’m looking at him now; just a chunk of obsidian floating in the darkness of space, completely silent and unmoving. It was almost instant; his metal just turned to liquid and coalesced into a ball about as large as an escape pod. To think of what our enemies thought of us when we unleashed that… thing… on them. Anyway, the Takk’Atth Shay are complete now. We sped up their evolution from the imperative baseline, and are live-birthing fully grown specimens. It’s eerie to watch them as they burst from their vats, screaming. Apparently, they are born through a moment of agonising pain, then the drugs calm them, but they take time to stop screaming. Heh. But they have a colony, and we have explained our circumstances to them. They are happy to help. Already, they are grasping what they call ‘sorcery’, and they are helping to shape the worlds around us. I’ve been assigned on duty for the birthing of the Humans, when time is right; AORTA must have heard my last comments, about this being a hobby. Lucky me. I look forward to it, but it scares me a little. End log.

Estimated Stardate: 14601
Begin recording. We have been dealt a heart-breaking blow. The.. the Takk’Atth Shay are infected. They have our disease. We knew it would follow us, and we know we would suffer from it, but it has jumped species. The Takk’Atth Shay share much of our genetic template, but our diseases stay generally unique. We are… debating whether to inform them. I pity them. They cannot breed, their memories fade over time, and they’ll become pallid and go through periods of weakness. But the stillbirths. I still remember launching the dead through the evacuation tubes on each ship. Waves and waves of them, with their mothers screaming, some still covered in blood. It doesn’t help that our own conditions worsen daily. We have seen so much. Suffered so much. Was surviving still the right option? We will observe. The release of the Humans is pending. So much is pending. End log.

Estimated Stardate: 13977
Begin recording. The Takk’Atth Shay have been informed. They remain… resolute. Their numbers are high enough to survive this, if the disease remains contained. Sadly, this is unlikely. They have millennia before they are truly affected, before they die, but they are optimistic of a cure. The optimism spreads, and many of our own have started speaking of a cure. If the Takk’Atth Shay can, why can’t their creators? The Isolus are putting down this talk. They say it is unproductive. End log.

Estimated Stardate: 8499
Begin recording. I’d heard the rumours, but hadn’t seen any evidence of it. I mean, it’s the natural thing to do, isn’t it? When you have a tumour, you cut it out. And the ships were littered with the dead-and-dying, those infected beyond reason. So they’re quarantining them on independent ships. Split apart like lab rats… One of my friends was in the first batch, RECORD OMITTED. I hope they treat him well. A few of the Hypership councils are near-rioting, they consider the quarantine disrespectful of our race, a complete atrocity, and resources wasted that should be looking for a cure. Things are tense. End log.

Estimated Stardate: 7934
B..begin recording. I saw a Nonman today. I… I still can’t stop shaking. Huge, twisted, monster. What have they done? End log...

Estimated Stardate: 7519
Begin recording. The Eridarians have been seeded on Eradrea. NOAH has only recently finished the terraforming of Eradrea and its sister planet, Cendra. Both are beautiful, lush, green paradises. The Isolus said they needed something heart-warming, a celebration of how far we’ve come. There’s only one species left to seed. The Humans. Still pending. With their genetic identity so close to our own, we don’t want to risk spreading the infection any further than we have to. Even though NOAH is estimated to reserve over two thirds of the genetic material of each race, just in case. Surely we can afford to make a few mistakes? End log.

Estimated Stardate: 7251
Begin recording. There are whispers that a few of the breakaway ships from the fleet are working on a cure, purposefully infecting each other to use as subjects. They’re using sorcery. Foul, foul stuff. They’re calling themselves Nonmen, and their forces grow larger with each day, as do our quarantined numbers. The disease is spreading faster now, through Exohumans; the Takk’Atth Shay are still proceeding, albeit much slower. At least their rate of infection is low. If they can find a cure, it would be great, but if it means selling our souls to the Unreal? I’d rather be sick. Then again, I’m not infected. End log.

Estimated Stardate: 3779
Begin recording. The Nonmen have been exiled from Drex. They were using sorcery to mutate their bodies, literally letting the Unreal drain into them. Worse still, they were abducting the creatures we were seeding, and using them as sacrifices to better open gateways to the Unreal. We found many of these… sacrifices. It was horrible. No one deserved that fate. The Nonmen still have Hyperships though, and we can’t risk open warfare. They’ve been given the ultimatum; leave Drex peacefully now, or.. Well, I don’t know what we can do. We have the numbers, but… the things they can do with sorcery. (He tuts, then sighs deeply.) End log.

Estimated Stardate: 1976
Begin recording. They destroyed one of our ships, the Shadow of the Immortal! She was transporting a group of Nonmen to a Nonman-designated ship, when it happened. Apparently, one of them just went berserk, and blew a whole in the side of the ship. The vid-cams that were released were incredible; they just strode through the hallways, and everything that approached them turned to ash or burst into flames. In an instant! I always knew we could use the Unreal, that all Exohumans could perform sorcery, but are we all that powerful? The Isolus have ordered the Nonmen to give up the fugitives; they escaped! Where no other Exohuman left that ship alive! I don’t like this. Not one bit. End log.

Estimated Stardate: 412
Begin recording. They’ve been broadcasting their message for over 0.0.030 now. Messages of their ‘inherent superiority’, that they are the ‘light’ and we are the ‘darkness’. They brand themselves the ‘Enlightened’ and offer to take in any Exohuman who can see the ‘true path’. Including the infected! They say they have a cure! Nonsense. But it’s working. They’re leaving in droves. Even hijacking whole ships. Our fleet is barely at half strength! It’s disappointing to see my fellows so weak-minded. Back to work, I guess… End log.

Estimated Stardate: 290
Begin recording. Their ships were everywhere, which has to be understood. Everywhere! In 10 cycles I’ve seen more Nonmen ships than Exohuman ships. Armed and armoured and just.. waiting. Watching. Well, that watching came to an end. Sixteen different engagements across Drex. Sixteen! Surprise attacks, too. Ten cycles and we were unprepared. The Isolus have declared war on the ‘heathen’ Nonmen. Sorcery versus Science, some are saying. We’re at war.

Estimated Stardate: 190
Begin recording. Their fleet has grown to incredible proportions. They’ve been trading technology to the Cendrans. In return, not only are they building ships and weapons for them, but they’re fighting for them too. Cendran armies in Cendran ships are fighting for those very creatures who would sacrifice them for their lifeforce! The Constructs have ships of their own (light, nimble bastards too, without the need for life support or crew quarters), but the Cendrans have this… way with technology. It’s amazing. Amazing and worrying. And they still refuse to listen to us.. End log!

Estimated Stardate: 138
Begin recording. Their fleet has captured Eta Aristillus, what they call ‘Darkstar’. Not only that, but they’re building.. something.. there. It’s huge, just tagged onto the side of the Dyson Sphere. We’re concerned about the A.R.C. We’re concerned about everything at the moment. But we have to keep fighting onwards! We’re moving to make Aiden our main base of operations; it’s the largest planet in Drex, and more-so, the Cyrix and Terev are both loyal to our cause. They’re  building ships, making weapons, and training soldiers as we speak. End log.

Estimated Stardate: 53
Begin recording. We had no other choice. We had no weapons that could penetrate their shield technology. Their weapons were capable of decimating our fleets long before we were in range to retaliate. And their fleets are too quick, too strong, too numerous. So we did the only thing we could. NOAH was ordered to release a gene-tank from its supplies. It’s fell to Cendra like a falling star, nothing could stop it. The planet is covered in a thick cloud of genetic material; we don’t know what will come of it, but when this war is over, we will make amends! Remember this! We. WILL. Make. Amends! End log.

Estimated Stardate: 47
Begin recording. Atrocity after atrocity. This isn’t a war. Not only have the Nonmen finished their construction of this ‘Cradle’, but rumour has it they’ve equipped it with a weapon that will win the war for them. If anybody ever reads this, you have to know that we were out of options. Our fleets are all but gone. The Cyrix and Terev fleets are busy finishing off the remaining Cendran ships. If we don’t stop the Nonmen now, nobody will. I just hope that future generations will one day forgive us. End log.

Estimated Stardate: 19
Begin recording. That ball of obsidian opened up today. And with it, the gates of oblivion. End log.

Estimated Stardate: 8
Begin recording. What have we done? Aiden has been destroyed. It’s nothing but an asteroid field. The Cyrix, the Terev, the Cendrans; extinct. Gone. The Nonmen fleet has been destroyed, but at what cost? We don’t even have the ships left to chase those few Nonmen vessels that limped into the darkness beyond the Veil. And now the wrath of Anubis has fell upon us. Our ships fight an endless battle against the obsidian legions that call themselves ‘Onno O Mita’. Jackal-like Constructs in pitch-black ships, more missile than vessel. We’re doomed. Our last chance is to fight our way to the Cradle, activate the ARC, but Anubis is too smart for that. He’s assembled the largest fleet he has in front of the Cradle. Worse still, the Cradle itself is still full of Nonmen and their vile sorcerous creations. But what choice do we have? End log.

Estimated Stardate: 1
Begin recording. We’ve retaken the Cradle from those.. machines, and the Nonmen still there. This is possible the first time an Exohuman has stepped foot on the Nonmen-built Cradle. (Energy weapons sound off in the background.) We have a long fight ahead of us. We have to make our way to the ARC, but the Nonmen built this place like a maze; hundreds of levels, layer after layer, until we reach our destination. This is our only hope. Our fleet is trying to defend our escape route as long as they can, but that was just pleasantries for everybody involved. We.. (An explosion silences the recording for a few moments. It soon returns, with white noise around the edges.) We know we’re not coming back, and we’ve accepted it. I’ve never been one to believe in Gods, manufactured or otherwise, but if there are any, I just hope they’re smiling on us here…. End log.

Estimated Stardate: 0
Begin recording. (An alarm rings loud and deafening in the background. A cold electronic voice is counting down.) Where do I start? I don’t know. We got to the ARC. We found what we needed. Anubis has been shutdown, and locked away beyond reach. The Onno O Mita jackals seem to be retreating, and taking their dead. There are only three of us left. There were no Nonmen blocking our path, but their mutilations of science and sorcery were everywhere. Even now, they pound on the doors to this facility. (Only now are the smashing sounds against the door audible. The voice warns of weapon activation) But they left a trap, those Nonmen bastards. As if they knew everything that would happen! As if they could predict the future.. (He sighs. You can hear two people in the background arguing about ‘Who goes first’.) When we got into the ARC, it set off a weapon. We don’t know what it does, but we know it’s powered by sorcery. We can feel it in the air. And more of those.. things.. are heading this way, as if they’re attracted here. God damnit, we do the impossible, and still more is expected of us. (An electronic voice says ‘Weapon activation in 5.… 4…. 3…. 2….”) What more can we do? (There is a loud blast, and then only dead frequency.)

Device resetting. . . . . . . . . .
Reset. . . . . . . . . .
Please input date. . . . . . . . . .
Date? What date is this... I woke up this morning, and I… I don’t know where I am, or what day it is. I’m in some sort of facility, something ancient and… I feel scared. There are two other people here. I remember so many names, but… I don’t know what any of them mean. Where a……..
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There’s a loud banging on the door and.. I don’t know anything about a damn date! (He begins speaking to somewhere else.) Where are you going? Oh. Opening the door. I found this thing in my hand. It… feels like I should be speaking into it, but.. yes. Yes, open the door, see what’s making that damn noise!
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Friday, April 01, 2011

Day After Day

"See, you look into our sky, and there ain’t no stars; there’s just our big old Darkstar, Eta Aristillus, wobbling around the sky. We’ve got moons, and other planets, but everything else is just endless darkness. We’ve all heard the stories of the past though, tales passed down by those Exohumans who can still remember, or so they say. See, before all of this, before the Atrocity, before the Rapture even, when the Exohumans lived in open space; Ah, their sky was filled with a million million stars, more than you can count in a single night! They speak of old constellations followed in the night sky, watching over them like AORTA watches over us.

"Well, it was years ago now, so long even I can’t remember; I was but a nip, knee-high to my father, NOAH rest his soul. An Exohuman wondered into our sleepy little town, first I’d ever seen, first my dad had ever seen. He called himself Danial. He was ancient, in any case, but his memory was worse than any I’ve encountered; even the worst of those I’ve seen since could remember snippets or fragments. He couldn’t remember anything since the Rapture. And he couldn’t hold onto memories, either; he’d introduce himself, day after day, to everybody he met, never understanding why people were so annoyed.

"That’s why I befriended him, I think. Everyone else got so annoyed with him, and it made him so sad. I think that’s why he left, in the end. But I was always his friend, even if he didn’t remember. Everyday we’d talk, and he’d tell me stories.

"See, his memory was flawed, but only since the Rapture. He could remember almost everything before then. Every day, when things would quieten down and the sun would set, he’d look into the night sky, shocked that there were no stars. And he’d tell me a story.

"The planet was beautiful, he’d say, especially at night. He’d hold his sweetheart in his arms and watch the Moon rise into the sky, dancing through a million glittering stars. Light shone from every direction, and although it was night, it was never dark. He remembered the first ships leaving the planet, their huge engines leaving clouds of smoke towering into the sky. He remembered the construction of the original Ark Genesis ships, long before NOAH was even a dream. He even remembered the creation of nanomachines.

"No one believed him. They say Exohumans lived forever, they would never die a natural death, but that most chose to end their existence after so long, to enter into Eshenshazarr, the final sleep. But every night, he’d tell those stories. And every night, he’d ask what became of that lonely little planet, a single spark of life in an otherwise empty void. We all knew the tales, the stories about the beginning of the Rapture. We all could tell you how the Earth-that-was became engulfed in the Unreal. And every night he would cry and howl and scream. Every night.

"That was not the pain of someone who didn’t remember."

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Voices in the Sky - Sorcerers

With my eyes sewn shut
To shut down and bathe in these words about me
And now you're standing alone with your eyes to the sun
Standing alone with your eyes to the sun
That heaven and earth may strike their sounds together
Worlds are ruined this way, 
And we've all been there time and time again
Before the battle always seem so still

These lyrics, from the song "The Undertaker's Thirst For Revenge Is Unquenchable (The Final Battle)" by Chiodos, have always made me think of sorcery; their mortal body all but unneeded, using words and rituals to devastate their enemies, their corrupted souls shining as bright as the sun to all who gaze upon them. They transcend what is natural, reach beyond this realm into the next to draw incredible power, power enough to break armies and, as put, ruin worlds.

But the concept of sorcery has always taken a conflicting position in my mind, and in my world. We’ll start at the simplest part, with my mind;

Like any child growing up with high fantasy, magic and sorcery played a huge part in my childhood fantasies. I’d often run around a garden with a stick in my hands, proudly exclaiming to a barely-listening parent that I’d vanquished the dragon with my almighty spells! (This was, of course, the same child who always wanted to be a robot when he grew up. Yes, robot sorcerers; a terrifying concept.)

As my experience with magic become more indepth, primarily through books but also through films and games, magic became a sort-of Curse-plus. The incredible power associated with magic of any type became a worthy goal of any sidekick, but rarely the hero; why, you ask? Sorcery was full of ancient mages, old hermits living in forests or caves, powerful wizards atop their keeps, protected by dragons and skeletons. Magic was a curse, as it alienated you from your family, an indescribable difference between you and them that couldn’t be healed by words. Magic took decades to master, if you ever did, if you even survived along the way, and it consumed everybody and everyone wishing to undertake it’s wonders.

My experience, again, grew. Two main sources began to colour my views on magic; Warhammer, and Bakker.

Warhammer 40,000, if I was more precise. Magic there, referred to as Psychic powers, and performed by Psykers, was an incredibly powerful feat. You could rend enemies in two with your mind, have fantastic mental duels with enemies across the battlefield, and produce dazzling shields of light to protect your allies. But, the risks were ever present; not only were these Psykers practically condemned to death in the God Emperors name, but they were at constant risk of possession; daemon could tear through the warp, the source of all psychic sorcery, murdering the individual, possessing him outright, or using him to tear a wound in reality to spread more daemonic filth.

And it broke many trends with that last point; most magic found that the stronger an individual was, the more they could defend against the nasties of another realm. Not in 40K; true, training and concentration, as well as endless devotion, could protect in some sense, the stronger you become, the more your presence became visible to daemons, and the more of a target you were. If psychic powers were the power source, and you were the light, then the moth attracted to you was over four times your size, and could crush you in an instant.

My other source tempered this ruthlessness of sorcery; R. Scott Bakker, author of the Prince of Nothing series of books (some of my favourite ever written) again saw sorcery as a curse. Religion had condemned sorcerers, and unless they were hired by a School of Sorcerers when they were young, they were destined to be hunted down as wizards and murdered in the brutal ways that only religion can muster.

Sorcery itself was there to be understood. The Schools each defined religion in their own way, and each had levels of power and control that the others couldn’t grasp. Some focussed through emotions, others through knowledge of the past and ancient languages, and others still could only grasp the weaker portions of magic, but had such numbers they were still competition for the more powerful schools. Sorcery was an incredible power, feared by the populace. More importantly, anyone could make use of the minor magic (every whore used a sorcerous shell to keep themselves from getting pregnant), but more powerful usage was restricted to those already in touch with sorcery.

Another main point to Bakker’s sorcery was the complete lack of defined spells and rituals. There weren’t any fireballs or ice-blasts; most sorcery acted as a blast of incandescent light, or flowing blue energy from the casters forehead. The sorcery was truly incomprehensible, beyond explanation and description.

(I want to give an honourable mention to the Dragon Age series, too. There, mages were powerful and feared creatures, but as much for their weakness and vulnerability to demonic influence for their power. Mages were forced into strict order and censorship simply because they could play host to the demonic from the other side, not just because of their inherent power. While this influence has been much weaker, it is no doubt a part of what I wish for in the end.)

These sources played heavily on my own wishes for sorcery, and they were developed in DreX in the following ways;

Sorcery was not something especially terrifying. Almost everyone seemed at least somewhat capable of spellcasting, and many classes had what could be defined as ‘spells’; Knights could utilise prayers, Priests could call upon miracles, and even Warriors had a few tricks that borderlined spellcasting. The three sorcerous classes, the Schoolman, the Cishaurim, and the Quorista, all had their pretty unique viewpoints, but their spells between classes were barely unique in their style,

In truth, background aside, the classes were barely defined. They all had access to the basic ‘throw-element-here’ spells so famous through Dungeons and Dragons. They all had loose healing spells, or the summoning of invisible barriers. Sure, each class had maybe one or two unique spells; resurrection upon death, summoning of ethereal beasties, and what not, but they were lacklustre and ill-defined.

And I think that was what it was. It was only the background that defined the sorcerers, never the spells themselves. There was nothing really unique between each class, nothing really stood out to make someone say; Wow, I want to be a Schoolman/Cishaurim/Quorista!

Worse still, I always imagined each spell to be devastating. They’re unleashing the elements, the power of the spirit world, or the raw force of a living creatures soul! In a word, they should rend the heavens from the earth! Limp bodies should fall, bathed in flame, their screams cut short only by the screams of their comrades! It should be devastating.

But it always felt so.. empty. Roll to hit. You deal 2d10 damage. That person is on fire. Yawn. And most sorcery went unused or unnoticed; sure, some of the inherent God-skills were used enough, but they were unique, and they had a major effect on the world. Sorcery? It was just a glorified attack. Some dealt only slightly more damage than a regular gun.

And this is what I decided to change!

But where did I start? At the beginning, of course. At the activation.

How could I make a spell stronger, though? It had to balance out in the end; a single focus spent could only deal a set amount of damage, to keep everything in check. No matter what my childhood thoughts of sorcery meant, I couldn’t break the game just to live out my own fantasies. So I thought back to those days; what was the dominant feature of a spell?

Of course, the time it had taken to cast. The brave warrior always held off the enemies as the resolute mage prepared the next devastating spell. It took time. Playing DreX, spells were nearly instantaneous; you pay the focus cost, the spell happens, end of. This never rang true; in older editions, where turns were split into two halves with actions taking longer to occur, spells took at least a full turn to cast. Now, with the Focus system, there’s no delay, and it really limits the power of spells; they’re relegated to regular skills, and are trapped within those same boundaries.

The solution? Of course, I don’t want to bog down the game in waiting times and delays. Gunplay was reduced to a single dice roll, and why would I want it to be any more complicated than that? How about a single activate-able ability, gained upon taking a sorcerous class? What if the first skill on every sorcerous skill tree was akin to a set-up cost, a 4 or 5 Focus ability that had to be active to cast spells? More so, what if it had an upkeep cost of 1 focus per turn, to remain ‘in the zone’, to keep your concentration going so you can keep slinging spells?

This already adds a 4 or 5 focus cost to every spell activated thereafter, giving me a much wider range for spell power and strength. That dragonhead no longer needs to deal 2d10 damage, but can easily deal upwards of 5d10 damage to everyone in the area, without my worrying (so much) about balance. Other limitations, like the inability to dodge while in the trance, are a natural, of course; some inherent weakness to this spell-casting power frenzy is a requirement, or else mages would skyrocket in power compared to the other classes.

So this is the future. Schoolmen gain the ‘Recital’ ability, Cishaurim gain the ‘Remembrance’ ability, and the Quorista gain the ‘Ritual’ ability. There. But.. what does each class do?

It was time to truly define each role; not just their abilities, but their background.

We’ll start with the Schoolman. They now call upon the power of the Unreal, the source of all sorcerous abilities, as an eternal power source. They speak the literal Word of God, commanding the world to change around them, and draw upon the Unreal to provide force to their demands. The empyreal strength of the Unreal empowers them, as their demands become reality; a dragonhead rears up behind them, spouting flames on their enemies. But what entities support them in the Unreal? Where does this power come from?

The Elementals, of course. Their rigorous training and lack of emotion with regards to sorcery has attracted these pure beings, who live their lives in the same pattern. An Elemental is a spirit of the deceased who has come to embody an element connected with their past life, and their death, despite their complete lack of memories. They constantly seek freedom from the swirling chaos of the Unreal, for reasons they no longer understand. The Schoolman plays upon this desire, releasing the elemental in parts; bouts of fire, an icy sheath, blasts of lightning. Enough to satiate the creature, but not to release it. Some are even refuted to be able to bound Elementals to their will, bringing them into the real world as servants and guardians…

The Cishaurim are next. They draw upon their emotions to bring about great power, usually manipulating enemies, bringing a soul-crushing pain onto their foes, or entirely removing their will to go on. Where the Schoolman expose their bodies and minds to the Unreal, the Cishaurim expose their very souls; their power comes internally, flowing directly into them. They use their anger to blast their enemies with psychic pain, they use their love to heal an ally and bring him back to life, and they use their apathy to dull a persons senses entirely, until they can no longer go on.

The Cishaurim draw on the numerous spirits of the Unreal, the deceased who have not passed through the Unreal onto the Wheel of Life and Death. These beings live with such purpose or willpower that their spirit refuses to fade away; they cling to half-forgotten memories, and exist as the middle point between the living and the empyrean. The Cishaurim connect en-masse with dozens of spirits at a time, who each clamour for the Cishaurims exposed soul; they see that life and purpose they once had, and long for it. This raw power and hunger they shape with their own emotions, then bring into the real world and redirect it upon their enemies, often to devastating effect.

The Quorista are the youngest, and darkest, of the sorcerous arts. They expose their body, and their soul, to the Unreal, and as such must be the most capable of manipulating the Unreal to their whims; they submerge themselves so deeply into the Unreal that they must fight off the spirits, Elementals, and other denizens of this dark world, until they gain the attention of a much higher power. They then bound this creature, often a Ciphrang, an Emyprean, or even one of the Infinite Chorus, and chain it to their singular will. They tear a whole through the Unreal into the Real, and drag the creature through with them. Summoners of the darkest powers, they are rare, but extremely feared.

With the Infinite Chorus aside, the Quorista find no source of power in the Unreal; their true sorcerous strength exists entirely in the real. Mostly Quorista do spend many hours a day engaged in a deep ritualistic trance, lost in the Unreal, learning the route to the strongest and most powerful creatures there, and figuring out how to survive there until they have found their prey. The Infinite Chorus, an organised cabal of powerful creatures inside the Unreal, has been mastered by the creator of the Quorista schools of sorcery, Ahramayav, who uses the Chorus in a multitude of ways; he can summon the Words, who lack the strength to appear in physical form but have extremely demoralising effects on his foes, he can bring about the Verses, powerful demons who put even the Ciphrang to shame, and the Chorus itself, said to be as old as the Unreal, whose power matches that of the Gods.

This is how I envisage the future of the sorcerous arts. Of course, the entire spell list will be reorganised and changed to better suit this vision; the current, rather vague sequence of abilities really doesn’t appeal to me. A unified ideal, something people can stick a tag to; an elementalist, a mentalist, and a summoner. The world is challenging enough as it is, I don’t see why the sorcerous classes should make it more so…

Of course, I'm always looking for ideas. This has never been a one-man project; the input from my players, friends, and even complete strangers is always a vital and required addition to DreX. I'd love to hear what people think of the above, whether you've read a copy of DreX or not!