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!

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

We, The People [Session 6, the Finale]

The morning was still young when the trio were awoken by a panicked messenger. They were needed urgently in the command tent. They all knew what was going to happen today, yet as they rushed to ready themselves, going through their normal morning routines, it was still yet to kick in. The morning was foggy as they left their dwellings, and little light managed to break through.

“One of the nearby towns, Elise, has fired a flare off. This means the garrison who decided to stay in the town has been accosted by Red Tide Rising. This also means they will die soon, if nothing is done. It’s a bit of a drive there, and we’ve already got reports that Red Tide Rising are beginning to form into units and arm themselves for battle. If anyone does go to help Elise, they may not be back in time for the fight.” Mayor K. Peterson looked solemn. He was wearing flak armour instead of his usual suit, yet his bow-tie remained tight around his throat; he had no intention of forgetting who he was, or why he was here.

No one said anything. Everybody was willing to consign Elise to death, to protect there own. Peterson was about to continue onwards, until a hand rose at the back. All eyes turned.

“I’ll go,” Zanderkar softly spoke. “They won’t die. Not here.” He stood, and without waiting for anybody else, he left the command tent, returned to their nearby vehicle, and was gone. Everybody watched him leave, unsure if they would ever see him again.

“We have much to do..” nodded K.P., and after a sort explanation everybody went on their way. Darius Gould, so-far the hero of Viradenne Drop, went to track down Granth, the teams four-armed saviour after the disruption in Newarth, and the betrayal of Zackery. Augustus, meanwhile, was lost in thoughts of the battle. He followed Dunyain; he knew death would stalk the battlefield beside them today, and he knew many would not return to see their liberated town, assuming they even won. He strode calmly to the battlefield, standing at the edge of Viradenne’s grassy knoll, and removed his weapons. With his suits vocal amplifiers turned to maximum, he began to pray to his God.

“Listen, I’ll do what I can, okay?” returned Granth. Darius was asking him for his support. “The Cutter barely got out of Newarth in one piece, okay? This was a hack job to save my – our – skins. The desert air has chewed the engine to pieces, damnit!” He threw the wrench he was holding onto the ground in desperation. He was tired, having worked almost all night on the ship to get it ready. It still wasn’t even near. Darius knelt down, and picked up the wrench.

“We only want you to do what you can. Just like last time.” He smiled, and Granth took hold of the wrench; Darius refused to let go. “Okay?”

Granth smiled, and laughed once, a tiredness in his laugh. “Okay. Okay!” and he patted Darius on the shoulder.

It didn’t take long for Darius to get to the field. He saw Augustus’ prayer meeting, growing in numbers by the hour. Everyone sought salvation, and Augustus was the only priest here; the town had always followed Sammael, but now more than ever they needed that feel of salvation, to quench their souls. Dunyain ruled over stability, but also suffering, and most importantly, battle triage. Now, more than ever, they needed his kindness.

Darius gathered enough men to finish the trenches, and begin digging enough holes for land-mines, provided by the TOWER weaponsmith they had liberated from their control but a few weeks ago. They set up four marginal patches at key locations across the field. By the time they had finished, almost the entire defensive force had gathered. Four units had formed, with almost 100 men in each, and a few mercenaries sticking around to keep the units in control. The trenches were full with men, with three units equipped with rifles, and one with enough RPG’s to really cause some damage.

An hour passed in the trenches, maybe longer. Words weren’t spoken. The fog was finally broken with the sounds of soldiers marching, laughing and firing into the air as they went. Howls and the barks of vicious dogs caused Viradenne’s barely-trained ‘soldiers’ to panic, but the officers kept them calm and under control. Worst of all, Zanderkar still hadn’t been in touch about the situation in Elise. Tensions were thin. Darius knew someone had to say something, to inspire the men and keep them fighting whatever the cause. He stood, and spoke, loud and clear across the trenches.

“Free people of Arcan! I call you free people because today you chose to stay and fight against oppression and corruption! Today you will need to fight with not only determination but with fire in your hearts and guts in your bellies. Take a look at the brothers in arms around you. I say this because it is your job to keep them alive as it is theirs to keep you alive. After this day world will get back to the whole of the ARC, of how free defeated many and stood against a corrupt TOWER to fight for a fair and just world!”

The battle seemed to fall upon them in mere moments. Troops were a distance away, marching onwards. Barely a breath had passed, and the Red Tide Rising soldiers had moved into range of the Viradenne troops. A second moment passed, and the dogs were approaching the trenches. Shots were fired either side; most of the panicked men in the first trench were shooting at nothing but the dogs, their fear of snarling teeth and claws drawing their aim, but the small and lithe targets were too fast for small arms fire.

It seemed whenever a Viradenne Drop conscript stood to fire a shot, a torrent of heavy machine gun fire would chew them up before they could let off a burst. The unit to the far right of the battlefield was pumping out shots on the trenches, drenching them with hot lead. Many had already fallen. A second unit came charging from the city behind them, more conscripts arriving late to the fight, but Red Tide Rising had a near-constant stream of warriors from their camp.

Mines began launching flame and dirt high into the air, catapulting the hounds straight over the trenches, leaving the soldiers soaked in a gentle rain of blood and gore. Rockets from the now-set up Viradenne unit began arcing overhead. Still, the heavy machine guns cut a swathe through the entrenched units, and what started as a means of defence was quickly becoming a mass grave. “Someone gets those damn machine guns!” Darius roared into his radio. An unexpected voice answered the call.

“I’ve been saving this beauty for some time. No one takes this town without the Mayor’s say so!” Mayor Peterson rode past the trenches with a fully-loaded APC, pouring out a unit of men, and letting rip on the vehicles heavy machine guns. The enemy’s response was sluggish; wracked with fire, they panicked, before attempting to reposition and fight back. The remaining dogs poured over the side of the trenches, but there were so few left that the conscripts managed to finish them off with little struggle. The men cheered heartily, and prepared to open fire.

“This is the time! Your time! Show them the darkest hour of the day isn't in the night but here and now where we will show them no fear, No surrender! and no mercy! Open fire!” roared Darius. Their cheers were cut short, however, when they a tank began forcing its way onto the battlefield. It’s treads caught the dirt and much easily, so the vehicle moved at some speed. It came to an abrupt halt behind the soldiers, rotated it’s cannon, and let off a uproarious blast which collided with the dirt besides Petersons APC. “That was close! Little help with that tank?”

No one responded to Petersons request. The battle was becoming close knit, with only a couple of hundred yards between the two opposing battle lines, grenades and arms fire being exchanged rapidly. Augustus’ unit began to steel themselves for combat; the heavy guns had slowed their fire, reloading their weapons, and it was almost time to strike. The tank readjusted it’s aim, and fired another deafening shell from it’s cannon. This struck the side of the APC, which rocked hard to one side, then regained it’s footing. Peterson began to panic.

More reinforcements began to arrive for Red Tide Rising. It was with a cheer, and a sigh of relief, that a familiar voice responded on the radio; “Zanderkar here. We’ll take those heavy gunners from behind. We haven’t got the men for sustained battle though.” Augustus laughed, and spoke a silent prayed to Dunyain. “We’ve got your covered Zanderkar, on the way!” The two units merged in unified combat against the heavy gunners, and Peterson started to reposition the APC from the tanks fire.

Near the rear of the battle, though, a sequence of heavily-armoured trucks with an all-too familiar logo pulled onto the battlefield. “Logant wants these piss-ants taken care off. They fucked with him, they won’t fuck with anyone else. And whoever brings Granth to him alive will get more money than they can dream of!” The hired hands cheered, and rushed into battle, their combat weapons glistened in the scattered light thrown across the battlefield by the fog.

Units on both sides were struggling now. Viradennes men were defended, but as the enemy closed, they found their defences meaning less and less, and their lack of armour meaning more and more. “They have breached the trenches! At them! Push them back kill them all. Make them regret jumping into this trench with you!” responded Darius to the encroaching enemies. Red Tide Rising, meanwhile, were advancing on near-open ground; even with the conscripts lack of real training, it was a straight shot to kill a mercenary, something any strong-armed male could accomplish with ease.

The hatch for the tank opened, and a Red Tide Rising mercenary stuck his head out the top to get a better view on the APC, their designed target. The sniper shot struck him hard in the back of the head, his body slumping back into the tank. “Icarus here. You got a tank problem KP?” The Cendran mercenary let off an uncharacteristic laugh, and replaced the empty shell in his rifle. “As long as we’re not paying you by the kill!” Peterson retorted, and ploughed his APC through a unit of unsuspecting Red Tide Rising mercenaries. Realigning his scope, Icarus watched just long enough to see his armoured golem collide hard with the head of the tank, wrapping it’s arms around the rear entrance, and tearing off the armoured door in one fell swoop.

More of the Red Tide Rising reinforcements began swarming across the battlefield, though. As the soldiers looked to the sky, however, a large-scale cutter, large enough to easily hold hundreds of soldiers, began to descend to the rear of the battlefield. Worse still, it’s accompanying gunship, sent to ensure safe delivery of the troops, quickly separates from the cutter, and makes a beeline to the Viradenne soldiers, it’s large mounted plasma cannon making short work of the defenders unlucky enough to fall within it’s sights.

“You know, you can’t pay for those weapons if you die.” Leonard Lucas, the weaponsmith from Hess, spoke through the radio. “I’ve sent you some men. Heard they’ve just arrived. Volunteers from Hess, too. Don’t let them all die.” Darius spoke a quick thank you to Leonard as his men unloaded from a set of trucks, similar to the ones the weapons had arrived in almost a day ago; two full units, one of conscripts similar to the men already defending, and one a smaller unit of well-trained men, probably some of Leonards own bodyguards, equipped with heavy missile launchers and ready to fight.

The tide of the battle began to shift quickly. The Red Tide Rising battle lines, despite reinforcement began to weaken. Their reinforcements began to thin. A commander had stepped into the centre of the battlefield, made visible by his shouts and calls to his fellow men, demanded loyalty, and expecting the utmost. Soldiers around him began to fight harder than ever. The commander himself was a sorcerer, who was launching bouts of raw energy at the conscripts, burning many alive. Next to the sorcerer, bound by spoken chains, stood a monstrosity; a creature of pure flame and ash, an Elemental, defined and enslaved by the sorcerer. The creature released a torrent of flame on any target within reach, scorching whole squads alive.

“Vile abomination!” roared Augustus; he was a Priest, one who spoke out against the whims of sorcerers, and their most vocal opponents. A Priests faith in their God was enough to produce miracles, and yet a sorcerer took those miracles and corrupted them, working and reworking them on a daily basis. Augustus struck out from his unit, and charged the sorcerer. The Elemental reached with flaming arms to knock Augustus back, until a well-placed shot from Zanderkar sent the creature reeling. It’s flaming eyes turned back to the Indrafil sorcerer, and each half-wrapped in the Unreal, they began to duel.

Augustus had reached the sorcerer. He drew his short sword, the sorcerer lifting his curved sacrificial dagger, and the two began to swirl around each other in lethal combat, swapping blow for blow; the sorcerer dipping into the Unreal to predict and respond to Augustus’ blows, where Augustus using his faith in God, and his suits inbuilt computer, to respond in lightning speed.

In the battle, the gunship was tearing apart the soldiers of Viradenne. The cutter began to unload scores of men, the trained elites of TOWER sent to ensure success, and they were attacking as only a trained and unified unit can. The golem belonging to Icarus quickly made short work of the tank, and turned to plow headlong through the units around him. Icarus himself had loaded his rifle with ‘Killer’ rounds, utilising the extra armour piercing to begin tearing through the gunship with the rifle. The unit sent by Leonard was preparing it’s heavy launchers, waiting to get a lock on the gunship.

Peterson, meanwhile, was driven into a fury by the TOWER units, driving his APC head-first into the masses, firing as he went from the heavy mounted machine guns. Few could respond to this armoured threat. Logant’s men, meanwhile, had managed to get into close range of a number of Viradennes unit, and was overwhelming them with superior strength, firepower, and equipment. Until the radio crackled to life one more time.

“Darius, I owe you this, I guess,” muttered Granth, as his own personal cutter roared to life over the battlefield. The passenger hatch opened wide, a pair of heavy gunners were raking fire across Logants men. “And Logant, you bastard, I owe you this too!” The squad was quickly torn to shreds, as Viradenne soldiers swarmed over them. More mines were exploding as Red Tide Rising soldiers tried to close the gap against their enemies, and quickly found themselves overwhelmed.

The Elemental was silent as it unleashed flaming bolt after bolt at Zanderkar; it was silent, unspeaking and uncaring. Zanderkar deflected the majority of the blows with his own grasp of the Unreal, his knowledge of Arcane power, and redirected mental blasts of energy at the creature, together with shots from his own ranged weapons. The creature looked sad, not angry or enraged, as first it’s leg, and then it’s arm, simply faded to ash and dust before it. But it fought as a prisoner fought; ruthless, and without care for anyone around it. The Elemental erupted, spreading molten fire and igniting the air around it. Zanderkar was hit hard, but was still standing; many Red Tide Rising soldiers were simply burnt alive.

The sorcerer was tiring, keeping mental control of the Elemental while fighting Augustus. A parry to the left, a lucky dodge, and an overshot from the sorcerer gave Augustus the opportunity he needed; he plunged his short sword hard into the sorcerers chest, who gasped for air. He fell to his knees. The Elemental was already beginning to solidify and crumble. With a final blow, Augustus cleaved the sorcerers head clean off, ending the creatures foul connection with the Unreal. The Elemental crumbled; flames ruptured from it’s body, burning those too close, including Zanderkar. A one-armed, one-legged statue was left standing in it’s place.

The battle was nearing it’s end when the radios again buzzed to life, this time with a message of hate, not support; “You fools! You pay good money for mercenaries and they send you these useless bastards who couldn’t even take a peasant town if it was handed to them on a plate! You won’t get past me! Not now! I’ll raze your town to the ground!”

The battlemech stood four stories tall, and towered over the battlefield. Administrator Albert Simms looked confident in the cockpit, even as the battle fell apart. The Inferno cannon mounted on the mechs back rages into life, and wipes out an entire unit of Viradennes conscripts in an instant, reduced to nothing but shadows and memories. Darius redirected almost all fire towards the mech; they had to take it over.

A swift shot from Leonards men, and the gunship was brought crashing down into the now-empty trenches. The APC and the Cutter, with Peterson and Granth respectively, had removed their targets and turned to face the mech; the APC began raking it with heavy weapon fire, and the Cutter flew lazy circles around it, firing off at-will. Icarus used his rifle to target key areas, while the golem lifted the tanks remains into the air, and hurled them at the mech, to little effect. The rocket troops re-grouped with Leonards men, and began unleashing punishing volleys of concentrated fire on the mech, together with the remaining soldiers and their small-arms.

The mech turns hard, attempting to swat down the Cutter; it’s powerful pulse cannon firing five times, hitting the Cutter only on the last. It was enough though, and the craft plummeted to the ground through a haze of smoke and flashing alarms. “Aim for the leg!” shouted Zanderkar, mentally weakened from his battle and quickly falling back with the rest of his unit. Darius saw it, and so did Augustus; when it turned, it’s weight shifted hard onto one leg.

The mech turned to shoot once more. Before the shot was unleashed, the order was given; rockets, high-powered rifle shots, a thrown piece of the gunship, and small- and heavy-arms fire all collided hard with the left leg of the mech, a few pinpoint shots colliding hard with the joint, and the other shots breaching the armour, leaving the leg a mess. It fired hard from the pulse cannon, but it still stood. “Once more!” roared Darius! “It’s got to work,” he spoke, softly this time, more for himself and his God than his men.

The Inferno cannon began to charge, and aimed at the bulk of the surviving men. The barrel lit up brightly. And it fired. The blast of energy shot off into the sky above Viradenne Drop, and the leg crumpled, the energy discharged from the Inferno cannon throwing it completely off balance. The leg remained standing, while the battlemech fell hard backwards.

Everyone cheered, throwing their weapons into the air as the colossal machine crashed to the ground. Many rejoiced. Until the battlemechs free arm lifted, and began firing cannon shots wildly, both at the men it could still target, and at the town itself. Few connected, but those that did were devastating.

Augustus was already there though. He climbed, then punched hard, again and again, through the glass of the cockpit. “You don’t want to do this! Let me go, I can make you rich! Take you back home to Cendra! Or..or.. to the ARC! Loadsa nice tech, chapels and temples for every God. Women?! You want Women?! Money?! He rapidly tried to undo his belt, but he was trapped, and all of his men were dead. The class shattered, and before Simms could respond, he took a hard blow to his forehead, and everything went dark.


The party was huge. Everybody from every town nearby had gathered. Leonard had arrived to celebrate. Icarus helped an injured-but-well Granth to the head table. Darius, Augustus, and Zanderkar took the head position at the table; behind them, Albert Simms was tied to a post, long-since given up struggling and screaming, now simply tired and defeated. Peterson patted Darius on the shoulder, while bringing another drink for Zanderkar. A few scribes knelt next to Augustus from the local temple, desperate for him to pray with them in the next service. Darius stood, and everybody went silent.

“Men and Women,” he sighed, then smiled as he looked around. So many people, young and eager, aged and experienced, all looking to him. “Today you not only did yourselves proud, but also your friends and families, comrades, and above all, Me. It may not seem like a victory as the casualties were high but Tower will think twice about attacking again. Remember the dead as they sacrificed there lives for this town and neighbouring towns survival!” Everyone said a solemn prayed for the dead, took a drink, and the festivities continued deep into the night.

Young women approaching an otherwise-shy Darius, asking to dance with him next, even though he hadn’t stopped all night. Zanderkar spoke with the men of Elise, speaking of his knowledge of the Unreal, and his battle with the Elemental. And men, women and children all gathered around Augustus, familiar with his prayer before the battle, begging him to tell the story of Viradenne Drop one more time…


“And Simms?..”

“Gone, Sir. The battlemech is damaged, but intact. He was captured.”

He sighed. The Chief Administrator looked out over the planet Arcan from the TOWER capital ship, high above the planet. Here, he could barely even make out the entire Cain region. The continent in question was smaller than his clenched fist.

“Okay.” He span the chair to face his second. “I want news leaks sent out immediately, dated two weeks ago, about the rogue status of Albert Simms. Something along the lines of ‘due to the murder of his family blah blah blah he went rogue in the Cain region blah blah blah.’ He’ll be blamed for the terrorist activities over the last few weeks, and listed as their ringleader. He took a unit of freelancers and attacked TOWER outposts in Cain, and we responded with our trained elites. Many innocents lost their lives, but he was eradicated. Get reliable witnesses. You'll have to kill his family, too, but I think that goes without saying.”

“Of course, sir. And the body?”

“Well, we’re just going to have to get it back..”

“Yes, Chief Administrator Healy.”

The Chief Administrator turned back to the planet. “At least they lost,” he mused. “God knows the political backlash if he had won and taken Cain. Hopefully they kill the bastard. It’ll save us doing it…..”

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

We, The People [Session 5]

They landed in a flurry of activity, as if the welcoming party hadn’t had time to set up. Clay, Darius, even Granth, felt rather smug thinking that these people were here to greet the returning heroes (minus one, and plus another), who had a sizable sum in their back pocket for the town. They stepped off the cutter proud of themselves, if a little weary. They even saw Mayor K Peterson, his short legs taking him as fast as possible from the Town Hall to where they had landed the craft.

But as they looked around, their opinion began to change. The townspeople who were running around were in a blind panic. Many were boarding up windows or doorways with scrap timber, and others were arming weapons and sharpening blades. Cars, pack mules, carts, and even the backs of people, were being loaded up with a families belongings, as if they were preparing to leave their homes. It was chaos. And Mayor Peterson only confirmed that.

“They’re coming,” he gasped, exhausted from his run. “We’ve gone too far. They’ve got a..” another deep breath, “..a fucking army!” Eyes widened, and all three took a mental step back. They were expecting retaliation from TOWER, but an army? The three were led into the Town Hall, now a Command HQ, where a group of mercenaries stood over a paper chart of the area; the power was still out, so a sequence of lanterns hung from the roof to light the room.

Peterson explained that the mercenaries began showing up a few hours ago, sensing an easy buck for fighting alongside the townspeople. They were up against a brutal and vicious mercenary group called Red Tide Rising, and where they were well equipped, they weren’t well trained, and were little more than a barely-organised lynch mob.

Everybody was talking simultaneously. There were six main requirements; restore power to the area, acquire enough weapons, purchase armour, train the soldiers, convince nearby towns to help fight, and scout Red Tide Rising’s nearby camp for information. All of the mercenaries knew that they knew best, and all of the townspeople, those brave or experienced enough to be considered Generals, were too scared or overwhelmed to make any real decisions. “ENOUGH!” Darius shouted, smashing his fists hard against the table. There was silence.

One Cendran, clad in the usual enviro-suit they are never without, stood. His green-lit visor seemed like the only power in the area, and the Grey Pyramid on his chest, over his heart, showed his belonging to one of the major Cendran factions, this one from Eradrea. His voice was calm and smooth, modulated through his breathing apparatus. “This war will end real quickly without guns.”

Darius and Peterson nodded. Every townsperson in the room was looking towards Darius for leadership, as he had already done so much for the town; even Peterson’s decisions as Mayor would be highly influenced by him. “Okay,” Darius spoke, taking a deep breath. “Cendran, you’re with me. We’ll go get the weapons. I need another volunteer.” An Indrafil, sitting quietly at the back, raised his hand. “I’ll follow..” he muttered, and Darius nodded again. “I want three of you to begin training the people here, and prepare for more incoming. You two, scout the facility, see what you can see. Lets go.” And with that, everyone went on their way. As they were leaving, Clay approached Darius with a sombre expression; “I can’t fight this one. I’ve got.. things I need to do.” The resolve in his eyes was certain, and although they hadn’t known each other long, Darius felt as if he’d lost a good friend when he saw Clay drive off into the dust.

In a vehicle loaned by Peterson, they drove across the sands to acquire the weapons, speaking casually along the way. Zanderkar was an Indrafil, a biological construct with a connection to the Unreal, trained in the Psukhe, a sorcery based on emotions and empathy, by an off-shoot faction of Indara’s Waterbearers. Augustus Faustino Maynard, as he introduced himself with pride, was a Cendran Priest of Dunyain, travelling the area in the hopes of returning this chaotic place to stability. The three got along well.

It wasn’t long until they got to Hess, a large town well known for it’s black market weapons smuggling. The guy they were after was called Leonard Lucas, a big weapons dealer in TOWER-controlled Arcan; TOWER had near-complete control over the production of weapons, and their sale, in the territory they controlled. Lucas was one of the few people who had made a living in the otherwise very-hostile territory. The town was full of armed and dangerous people, and the team split off; Zanderkar went in search of information from the townspeople, while Darius and Augustus tried to go through more official channels.

Zanderkar found middling luck with a group of armed ruffians, who at first reluctant to release any information, were quickly convinced otherwise with Zanderkar’s silver tongue, and more important, his silver credits. After a few drinks each, they let go with the passcode to get into Leonards base of operations; sadly, they didn’t know where he was.

Darius and Augustus had just as much luck. In the Town Hall, they came across an aging Councillor, who explained the towns problem with ‘unmentionables’ coming here for the black market supplies. After a heated conversation, the Councillor admitted he had no real power to despatch men to help Viradenne Drop, and he couldn’t say where Leonard was; but, if they got rid of the black market ring, he would convince the other Councillors to act in the name of Viradenne. They left annoyed.

When the three met again in the centre of town, debating their options, they were approached by two scruffily dressed men, carrying a message. “You’re looking to buy weapons, I hear? TOWER are transporting raw materials nearby. We need raw materials to make weapons. Get what I’m saying? LL”

Combat was short and restricted. Their civilian vehicle parked across the road as if it had broken down, the 18-wheeler truck, devoid of all TOWER iconography, pulled up to see if they could help. The driver and altruistic passenger were both dressed in regular jumpsuits, just haulage workers. A third man, dressed in general TOWER security fare, was also present. The team were set up; Darius distracted the security guard, while Augustus and Zanderkar prepared for the ambush.

As the passenger and TOWER personnel began looking at the engine, a convincing Darius informing them of a breakdown and apologising for blocking the road, he got in position. It was over in a few minutes; the passenger, not wishing for a fight, ran into the distance as soon as gunshots were fired. With the help of Zanderkar’s handgun and Darius’ ‘Head Cleaver’, the TOWER guard was quickly brought down before he could retaliate, and Augustus, despite a fumble, managed to tackle the driver to the ground, and acquire the vehicles keys. An intimidating speech later, and they even gave the driver a lift back to the town.

They drove back into town, given no directions or instructions on what to do after acquiring the raw materials. They weren’t given much chance to rest; as they pulled up in the centre of town, letting the terrified driver out, they were approached by four armed mercs, who led them, sans truck, to a large warehouse just on the outskirts of town. Waiting in there were a dozen guards, and in the centre of the room, a tall balding man with a V-shaped scar running from his forehead and meeting inbetween his eyes. He was frowning.

“You’ve done well. I hear you killed the guard. Now a fan of TOWER, I take it?” The party replied in the negative, trying to restrict their words a little; the guards looked nervous. “What are the guns for, friend?”

“Viradenne Drop. A small town not far from here. Mercenaries are going to overrun the place. TOWER mercenaries. We need guns to fight back. And people too, if you’re interested..” The large man simply grinned, uncaring about Darius’ emotional please for Viradenne. “They’ll overrun Viradenne, kill everyone there, and the whole of Cain, damnit! Red Tide Rising do not play around!”

The tension was broken by the door opening, and two guards entering, dragging along the driver the party had released earlier. They threw him against the wall, and the one guard approached the larger man in the centre of the room. Words were whispered. The large man nodded, and raised his hand in an overt gesture.

“No they do not..” said a voice from the back. The large bald man, originally thought to be Leonard, stepped aside, and from the darkness strode a much younger man. With an expensive red short, bright red hair and a very young face, he didn’t look like the dangerous arms dealer so many pegged him to be; he looked more like a pop-star or model. “Sorry, we had to vet you properly. You wouldn’t believe the trouble I’ve had with TOWER lately.” He grinned. “Leonard Lucas. I hear you need guns.”

After a guided tour through the factory, and a in-depth conversation discussing the weapons at hand, the party found Leo to be an incredibly likable man, and not the bloodthirsty psychopath most weapons dealers generally were; he was calm, resolute, friendly, and very welcoming. “Take my card. Call me if you need anything else.” And with that, the party were gone, complete with two new trucks full of weapons.

Viradenne was still in disarray when they arrived back. Training had begun, and the mercenaries were doing a good job of turning these regular citizens into soldiers, albeit at a slow pace. The weapons were unloaded, and with no reports yet from the scouting team, Darius and the others decided to continue onwards; they had weapons, so they could at least retaliate, but it would do them no good if they couldn’t take the blows.

The town of Mason was little more than a huge factory complex, with live-in workers and a small farming community to provide food and sustenance year-round. The whole place was fenced and guarded very well, but that was no real surprise; Mason was one of the largest armouries in Cain, and supplied armour and protection to security forces across Drex, even supplying some of the lower-priority forces of TOWER.

But it wouldn’t be as easy as just waltzing in and purchasing armour. They had to have a plan.

“Our of the way!” Darius proclaimed, pushing through the front doors and towards reception. Augustus trailed slightly behind, walking at a casual and regal rate, with Zanderkar behind him, staring menacingly at all who dared to look towards them; the sharp horns emerging from his forehead helped reinforce the stare. “My Lord and Master, Augustus Faustino Maynard demands the immediate purchase of armour for his personal security force back in Maynard Manor!”

The secretary, a young Eridarian male, was most definitely flustered. Looking confused for a few seconds, he muttered a gentle reply; “If you’d just wait a few…”

“Wait?!” Zanderkar roared, slamming his fist on the reception table. A Priest of the Psukhe, he could manipulate his own emotions at will, and was using it to full effect. “Lord Faustino Maynard does not wait for anybody!” Again, he slammed his fist, making even Darius jump slightly. Luckily, a salesman rushed towards reception, ferrying the trio off to lavish surroundings before Zanderkar had to back up his anger.

They were in a large room above the factory, looking across the working floor, with food and drinks provided, “free of charge” the host graciously added. It was explained that Augustus had a sizable private force, and his wealth was coming under threat by raiders; as such, he needed armour, and fast. A contract was struck out in an instant, the salesmen being exceptionally good at his job, and the armour was agreed to be delivered to Viradenne before sundown.

Augustus managed a sigh of relief through his envirosuit as they left, and the trio returned to Viradenne with the good news; the towns they passed were a desolate and harrowing sight. Most were abandoned, some were fortified to the point of letting nobody in, even those fighting to defend Cain. A few silver words here and there, and some were convinced to join the fight at Viradenne, but just as many were heading in the opposite direction, people Darius knew and recognised from his years living in Viradenne Drop. It was a painful sight for him.

They returned as sundown approached. Reports had come in from the scouting party, but with little effect; rough estimates of upwards of 600 soldiers, as well as heavy weaponry and attack dogs, but they didn’t have the men (or the courage) to stay too long. Red Tide Rising were known as a brutal and vicious private military, who never took prisoners. The men were as trained as they could be in a single day, but were exhausted, and wished only to rest.

No one knew what to do. Trenches were dug in the waning hours of light, but would good would they do? Nobody knew what to expect. “Get plenty of rest,” Mayor Peterson would urge those returning to town, “We have homes and beds for everybody here, families and all.” The tavern was filled with patrons, but most drinks were left untouched, watered down with fearful tears. Places usually replete with laughter and warm stories were hollow, and the few stories told seemed forced, getting little attention.

It would be an early night for all.