Saturday, 29 April 2017

The Not-Mice

They live in the dark cupboards, the cracks between the walls, and under your bed. They eat your food, and you don't see them. Your cat dies after catching a mouse, and you never suspect it might have been poisoned.

Your children complain of small hands skittering over them at night, and you dismiss it as the foolish thoughts of a child.

They come for you in the middle of the night, with poisoned needles and feral grins, and you finally believe.

Cinderella 1950, courtesy of Disney
"No! It's my turn to stab them!"

Nobody knows where the not-mice game from, nobody knows what they want. Anyone who tries to determine their inscrutable goals is found dead soon after.

They are susceptible to the same weaknesses as normal mice, but are far more cunning. Your cat may need to have a protective spell cast on it. They must see you eat the cheese you poisoned before they trust it. Mousetraps must be cleverly disguised.

They are evil and cunning incarnate.

Saturday, 22 April 2017

The Races of Lint

You don't need a description of these guys. Unless you are one of my stranger readers, you probably have cursory knowledge of them. But, there is something I do want to talk about.
I want to talk about the ever present horror in any fantasy or sci-fi setting with non-human races: 'What makes humans special?'

The common answers are 'jack of all trades,' 'anti-magic,' or sometimes 'virility' (this is less common, because of goblins and orcs). In Lint, humans are certainly jack of all trades characters, but Embraced can literally transfer any knowledge they share between them in a matter of moments. They are not anti-magic at all, and might even be more susceptible to it than other creatures. As for virility, while they do have the more children than other races, and in a faster time. However, I think it's a bit of a cop-out, and if I ever want people to let their children read my stuff, I can't have the most interesting bit about humans be how much they have sex, can I?

So what did I want it to be? I finally decided on Religion and Community.

Other races don't really have gods. They don't become gods, they don't worship them, they don't bother with them. To the non-humans, gods are just very, very powerful beings, deserving of respect but not worship. Since gods want to be worshiped, this means that they generally favour humans.

This doesn't mean that the odd non-human will not become follower of a god they like. However, they may be one of a dozen or less of their species who chooses to worship that particular god. For less known gods, they may be the only one of their species.

Community is pretty self-explanatory. Other races are generally solitary or come together in small groups, nothing near like what humans create. We are very social creatures, which is possibly our biggest strength, and what allows us to survive in the world without the advantages of all other creatures.

The most common mistake anyone makes about ghouls is that they are undead. They aren't, although they like to cultivate that image, to provoke fear.

Ghouls were originally humans, thousands of years ago. In fact, they were the original worshipers of Child Eater, long before she became the wife of Gothos. They were the ones who named her, after the name their enemies gave their warriors.

They were a cannibalistic tribe, eating all those that they killed. Degenerate man-eaters, soon to be extinguished by their opponents. Child eater made them something more.

Some called it a blessed curse, others a cursed blessing. Whatever the cause, the cannibals became warped, and strange. They became ghouls.

Ghouls have a body shape that is identical to a humans most of the time. However, under close scrutiny, or when the ghoul is hungry, changes become apparent. They have sharp, vicious-looking claws and teeth, perfect for grappling a foe and rending them limb from limb. Their insides are some of their strangest parts: a ghoul's organs are alien, all in the wrong places; someone using knowledge of human vital spots will find ghouls much harder to put down. In addition, their stomachs are suited for an entirely cannibalistic diet, where they can consume nearly an entire human being without noticeably gaining much body mass.

 Josu Hernaiz, 'Hunted Ghoul'
Ghouls are, when fed, witty, friendly, and have great senses of humour (although some find it a little morbid for their tastes). They are rarely suspected by even the most diligent of men. If you are close enough to a ghoul to know it, you are most certainly within range of their teeth.

However, when hungry or hunting, ghouls are the stuff of nightmares, like fast moving shadows with glowing eyes and sharp fangs. Their bodes warp and bones reshape, letting them scale walls like spiders, or leap between buildings with ease. Combine this with their unnatural endurance, they are nearly impossible to outrun. Their claws and teeth combined with great Strength makes them nearly impossible to outfight if unarmed.

They are perfect hunters of unsuspecting humans.
 Anna Steinbauer, 'Falkenrath Gorger' 
Ghouls don't have a society like we think of it, or even a clandestine network of communication, like some particularly paranoid humans expect (although, when there are man-eating monsters hiding among your colleagues and friends, most would say the paranoia is justified, but as they say, ignorance is bliss). They operate more like tigers, or other solitary animals. 'You stay out of my way, I'll stay out of yours. You let me share your meal, I'll return the favour.'

Being obese in ghoul society is something to respect. A ghoul has to be an accomplished hunter and manipulator to even be able to get fat in the first place, and maintaining the fat is even more difficult, as now they have to hunt with a hundred or so extra pounds of flesh weighing them down.

Ghoul children can only be born if the mother of the pair eats a human baby before conception. The pregnancy is generally very quick, lasting less than a month. The children, although they do resemble their parents, will grow up to look very much like the child they would have been (there has been at least one case of someone meeting their ghoul 'clone,' who was a twin stolen at infancy).

They live quite a long time, and the average ghoul lifespan (not including violent deaths) is a little over a hundred years old.

Not all ghouls are the evil and remorseless beings that one would usually expect from a species that needs to consume other sentient creatures on a near-biweekly basis. Some of them are truly remorseful, or pay off gravediggers to get them their meals. Many become soldiers, although they rarely last long, due to the lack of privacy allowed in the army, especially around the recently dead.

There are records of ghoul assassins, who charge extra for their services, but can make a person disappear fantastically well. 

Ill-don, also called 'the eel-men' or 'mermaids' by sailors, are a progenitor race older than humans. They bear a strict resemblance to eels, with slippery (and often black) skin, long tails, and thin fins running down the top and bottoms of their bodies.

Ill-don are solitary creatures. They live in shallow-sea caverns or rivers, dependent on their surroundings for survival. They hunt with rocks and flint daggers.

However, some Ill-don become tired of the solitary, hunter-gatherer life. They come into contact with humans, offering their services as guides, navigators, or treasure-hunters.
 fuuryoku, 'Mermaid'

A long time ago, the Ill-don had a great oceanic empire, stretching from shore to shore. Ocean travel was impossible for nearly every other creature in the world, preventing any sort of trade or exploration for hundreds of years. There were ocean wars, which the Ill-don won every time.

Hundreds of men and women were captured on floating mounds of hollow bones, built into floating prisons. The Ill-don barely had to do anything, just chain the barge to the ocean floor, and throw fish up on a daily basis. Any dead were dumped over the side, and escapees were welcome to try. There are very few records of anyone escaping an Ill-don bone-barge.

However, like all great empires, it could not last. Nobody knows exactly what happened to it; slave rebellions, civil war, a great beast beneath the sea... Whatever the cause, the Ill-don rule of the ocean was gone for good. It's members scattered across the sea, hiding themselves away unless they were called by another of their kind.

  Erica Batton, 'Eel mermaid' 
They are quite friendly beings nowadays. They have mostly forgotten about their empire, and it lies rotting somewhere on the ocean floor, just a few mad zealots still residing there.

The Ill-don have eyes that are not well-suited to the darkness they live in, and so rely mainly on touch to work their ways around their caves. They hunt by snapping out and catching prey in their hands, before bringing it to their mouth. A second pair of jaws reaches up from the inside of their throat, takes hold of the fish or crustacean, and it is ground down and swallowed. They are strictly carnivores. Their language sounds like the screaming eels from the princess bride.

Pine Men
Far, far to the north, where the Utakita tribes roam and the Nosi hunt and ancient beasts sleep in glaciers that touch the sky, live the Pine Men. 

They speak in the language of the great trees that create an enormous boreal forest up north, a strange tongue that sounds like wind and creaking branches.

They hunt all who come into their lands, driving off anyone curious or foolish enough to come looking for them. Some leave to discover more about the world, but almost all of them are exiles, for crimes that we do not understand.

Physically, a pine man is made of a thick, sticky, sap-like substance, overlaid and surrounding bones and skin of bark. Their eyes appear to be made of a similar substance to the veins in a tree leaf, overlapping into a rough orb shape. Their brains, when dissected, look like a multitude of pine needles slotted into specific spots in a hole-filled head.

They are about the same height and build of a large human, but are warped. They look like someone tried to sculpt a human while only ever having seen them in armour. Their limbs are overlapping bits of bark and wood, held together by flexible 'tendons.'

They are created with a ritual performed by a pine man druid, where a specially prepared head is made, inserted with pine needles, and buried underneath a sapling. Throughout the next several years, the sapling will grow into the shape of a pine man, before uprooting itself and setting off to find it's tribe.

Anyone who makes a joke about
them being 'pine men' gets slapped.

They are very hostile to visitors, and even the Church of the True God, usually so stubborn in spreading word of their god, gave up on the pine men.

When out in the world, they speak of a city beneath a glacier, a place warm enough for plants to grow freely and happily, forever. They say this is their paradise, given to them by the great spirit of the north. Why they do not live there remains a mystery, and they guard their clan secrets with undying devotion.

Pine men so rarely see the sun up where they live, and so are constantly amazed by sunrises and sunsets, which they often wake early to watch.

Sunday, 16 April 2017

The Eldritch Truth About Humans

Humans and the Ascended
Imagine a baby bird. Featherless, unable to fly, confined to a little stick structure, being fed caterpillars on an hourly basis.

This is a human. This is their whole life, from the moment of their birth up to their death.

Imagine an adult bird. Now fully grown, it can see the world. It can fly, it can love, it can sing. But with this comes new needs. The need to build a nest of your own. The need to find your own food, find a mate, avoid predators, and everything else the new freedoms require.

This is what happens to a human after death. They become something more, something other.

And sometimes, they come back to the nest where they were born. We call these former humans 'the Ascended.'

When in this world, it is hard to describe them. Sometimes they take forms we are comfortable with, sometimes they are invisible. Most of the time, seeing one is like looking at a humanoid kaleidoscope while on acid. Hearing one speak is the same, but for your ears. Fighting them is like trying to beat up the kaleidoscope with a kinda pointy feather, while also attempting to keep your footing because oh my god the floor is actually a rosebush!!!!

Simply put, they're really fucking weird.*

*Like everything else in this goddamn shitshow of a world.

 However, unlike most things on Lint, the Ascended have a bright side. They generally have our best interests at heart.

But of course, every rainbow has it's potential flood. To continue the bird metaphor, sometimes a chick needs to be pushed out of the nest for it to try to fly. The chance of a person becoming an Ascended is much higher if an Ascended kills them, and so, since most of them love humans so much, they want them to experience this new, beautiful world, even if it means they have to prematurely leave the old one.

This of course also comes with the risk of the baby bird dying as their wings aren't fully developed to stop them from going splat on the forest floor. Without using metaphors, this means that the person will fall into a crack in the world, landing in an everlasting plane of torment that they do not even understand.

But the Ascended didn't mean to do it. It just happened. It's your fault for not being able to keep yourself aloft, and they shouldn't have to feel bad about it.

Some of them understand that humans generally don't want to die, so they respect their wishes. Most don't care. They'll get this bird to leave the nest, no matter what.

If it weren't for gods, the Ascended would certainly be worshiped as divine beings. Instead, they are feared and loved at the same time. And, like the old gods, they are unpredictable. An Ascended might save a city from destruction from an Eldritch abomination, only to turn and kill every person with red hair in that same city. It is not malice, or anger, it is ignorance and love.

Ascended have multitudes of abilities, most of them are stupidly physics-defying. They speak underwater, or pull the stars from the sky and chuck them at people like little death-pebbles. They disguise themselves as humans and live among them as a beggar for a hundred thousand years, before deciding to go back home on a whim.

They split the time stream and ask you a question, then rewind and ask you a different one. Maybe they get bored and see how easily your skin breaks, or give you a magic sword. Then they ask you more questions, rewind, and repeat. By the end of a conversation with an Ascended, they will know everything about you. Or they'll choose to not know anything about you, and keep rewinding the same moment until you get the message, trapping the two of you in a time loop for as long as they feel like.

Luckily, they aren't very common.

Of course, there are the predators. The weasel than climbs into the tree and eats all the baby birds. They generally aren't so friendly. They are the 'Others.'

The Others are big, sneaky, and really dangerous. Trying to fight one is like a baby bird trying to attack a weasel. You don't fight, you just die. And of course, a dead baby bird is never going to fly. They'll never have their feathers, never get to see their world. They'll just be gunk inside the weasel's stomach.

Luckily, these eldritch abominations never stay in the world for long. They have better things to do, they just like the easy treats that they get here. It is unknown how they come to be, or their motivations.

 An interdimensional 'weasel.'

There are those who can fight them, warriors who prepare their whole lives to protect their village or city from an Other. They almost always die, but the point wasn't to survive. It was for everyone else to survive. Often, they are forgotten as they rot in the wounded being's body, their connection to the rest of the world severed, and all memory of their existence gone.

It eats away at people, thinking about what they could have lost to the Others. They could have been kings, before their kingdom was devoured. The boy born without a leg might have only lost it a few minutes ago, and no one remembers...

There are no records of devastating attacks by Others. People might remember it happening, but the paper and ink do not. The Ascended, those not-quite-dead humans, are the only ones who can keep proper records. And they rarely concern themselves with the needs of the erased.

I'm not going to provide stats for these things, cause each one is unique and too weird for stat blocks. 

Monday, 10 April 2017

The Grave

The grave is grey, misty, and a mile across in any direction. It is filled with dirt, bones, and wood, all mashed together to form an enormous mass of grave dust.

The headstone reaches halfway to the clouds, taller than any tree on Lint. The letters engraved on it reach seven feet deep in some places, and they speak to the world, and they say:

"Here lies a traitor.”

The body of whatever lies there was so big that no bacteria could put a dent in it, no scavenger finish it. The body has calcified into stone, it's thirteen staring eyes forever watching the world around it. It's mouth gapes, and all who enter return, but their minds do not. 

A half-mile long sword impales the corpse, thrusting through what could have once been it’s heart. All who look upon the sword feel pain, sharp stabs to their chest they cannot be rid of.

Wary and wise are those who ignore the grave. Wary and wise are those who ignore the callings entering from that cursed being’s mouth. Wary and wise are those who tread no further.

A Few More Gods and Followers

This is a spiritual successor to my last post, which people seemed to like for some reason (thanks, by the way! That was my most viewed post ever).

And, before we get on to the gods, a little tidbit about followers: Priests and Chosen.

Big difference between the two. Both follow the practices of their religion, but each one works a little differently.

Priests and High Priests practice more traditional worship. They pray at temples, spread the good word of their god, that sort of thing. This is always a choice. In addition, not all priests have magical abilities, and all priests started without magical abilities. Any god who has priests generally has lots of followers.

Chosen and High Chosen, however, are different. Like the name says, they are chosen by their god. Sometimes they didn't even worship them beforehand, or it was just in the spur of the moment, or they haven't even heard of them. However, their god chose them, and they probably didn't get any say in the matter. A chosen is akin to a mini avatar for a god. They always have supernatural abilities, and generally there are much less of them that priests. They generally have a large share of their god's. Sometimes they are worshiped as mini gods in their own right.

And something people asked about: the subject of God's Domains.

These are pretty simple. As part of becoming a god (a process that is partially about willpower, and partially about reaching a sort of magical/spiritual critical mass and collapsing into the black hole of godhood), you gain access to a domain, which you can get to with more followers. A domain fits a god's personality, sculpting it into their perfect world, whatever that may be.

As a god loses power on Lint, they gain power in their domains, making them more responsive, more complex, and more interesting. This is why many gods want to have enough followers to stay there full-time; they love their own little slices of paradise, and want to stay in them. 

Lady Dogrunner
The Tamer, Fang Mistress
Like this, but with funkier hair and better clothing and more 
Lady Dogrunner is one of the oldest human gods. In life, she was a normal tribal girl, with what her family thought was an unhealthy obsession with wild animals. In secret, she caught and tamed a wolf litter, and their children, and their children.

She showed her tribe her mastery of the wild beasts, and was hailed as a goddess. Her tribe tried to make her chief. But Lady Dogrunner had grown fond of running with the wolf pack. She left with them, to find her own way.

She is the patron of dog-tamers and any who hunt with dogs, as well as those who run long distances (yes, she is the goddess of marathons as well as endurance hunting). She generally stays out of the mortal world whenever she can, spending time in her realm, which is an endless lichen tundra, full of prey. She hunts with her wolf pack there.

Lady Dogrunner has two High Chosen, both children. A twin brother and sister, both found lost in the wilderness at a young age. They have been raised by the man who was previously her high chosen, a hunter named Riskar Dral. He is exceedingly grateful he no longer has to do her duties in the world, and is glad to have human children of his own to raise

The Girl in the Fire, the Hospitable, Flame Daughter
 AireensColor, 'Hestia' 
Yeah, this picture is a cop-out, but it's so perfect for her
Hearthkeeper was a young girl, her name lost to history. She was hospitable, friendly, and always had a fire going for visitors. But she trusted people too much.

Hearthkeeper was killed by visitors before reaching her sixteenth birthday, and her body was thrown in the same fire she worked so hard to keep going. The house was burned, and the bandits went on their merry way.

But wherever they stopped, wherever they tried to find shelter, they were turned away. They tried to take what they wanted by force, and the buildings they attacked burned down around them. They died alone and forgotten, nobody to give them shelter; not even their own families.

Hearthkeeper appears as a face in the flames of a hearth, or sometimes as a young girl tending a campfire alone in the wilderness, or a cabin thought long forgotten. She requests only kindness, and offers it in return.

She is the goddess of hospitality, kindness, and fire.

Her High Priest is a peasant girl not unlike herself, named Aselis. She lives in a small, unnamed village, and it is said that she can let people who ask politely step into her fire, and travel to any other fire in the world.

Shadowwing, the Knowledge-Thief, Owl-King
Lothris, although you would be skeptical after a conversation with them, was human. Theoretically.

The first mention of them was a little under one thousand years ago, near the forming of the Taleyan empire. There came rumours of a small being, a childlike thing with wings, attacking Taleyan soldiers. None had been killed, but many were traumatized by their experiences. Reinforcements were sent, and did not return sane. Thinking it was a spellcaster, a cadre of mages was sent out to deal with the threat. They came back telling tales of boiling swamps and glowing eyes and birds bigger than any seen before.

The threat was responded to with ever increasing displays of force. It seemed to work, once, where a soldier reported hitting the being. But then the being disappeared. Soon after, so did the nearby baron's eldest son. He was found three days later, sitting in the bottom of a well, muttering to himself about birds. He never recovered.

But Lothris remains. They were a constant thorn in the side of the Taleyan kings. They rarely killed, but many would argue the madness they bestowed was worse.

Lothris ascended somewhere along the way. As with everything they did, it went silently and unnoticed, only being realized after the fact. Some say they stole a fraction of divinity from the gods themselves. One theory says Lothris has existed for much longer than we think, and what we regard as their ascension was simply them stealing everyone's memory.

They are the god of knowledge, thievery, secrets, and owls. 

Their high priest is a crazy old man named 'Odinkinkin' (he named himself), who chained himself to a grain mill and spends his days trying to scoop up and eat nonexistent flour, occasionally disappearing and reappearing with some royal treasure in his hands, which is quickly sent back to it's original owners by his descendants.

The True God 
The One God, the Mighty, Truth-teller
Less than two thousand years ago, nearly everyone in the Taleyan empire experienced a vision. None were the same, some lasted for days, some for seconds, but the general meaning of all was the same.

There was one true god. And he was ready for their worship.

Most of the visions didn't seem to have any effect, but some began worshiping this new god. They were shocked and awed by how much power they gained from it, and how willing he was to give it up. His following grew quickly, and formed what they called 'the Church of the True God.'

He had few rules, many of which were created by his early High Priests. He never spoke to anyone, never touched the world except indirectly. While most gods seem content with spending at least some time on Lint, the True God was actively trying to sever every last tie he had from it. He was ready for his perfect existence in his perfect realm, and didn't want mortal squabbles to tie him up.

The True God left discrimination, decision making, and all that stuff to his priests and angels. Another layer to distance himself from Lint. In his supposed absence, the church thrived. New acolytes ran to them like a starving man towards a feast, and sated themselves on it's power. They were stronger than the followers of any other god.

The difference shrank, of course, as more worshipers came.

His priests began the process of creating orphanages to raise new followers of the One True faith, taking in any children that needed help, and kidnapping those who's parents were deemed unfit for them.

His worship, due to being mostly composed of man-made rules, is very accessible to the common folk. He has the most followers out of any deity on Lint, and so has the least direct impact on the world. However, his presence is felt by the symbols around the necks of every other man, and the churches in nearly every town. 

He has more sects than any other god, including the Knights of the Oath, the Martyrs, and the Ember Guardians (more on them another time).

His High Priest is a blind young woman, a prophet, called 'Hoyalan the Pure.' It is said that by her hand, any knowledge can be learned, any truth revealed, and any open wound closed up, to preserve the secrets of the flesh.

Mother of Ghouls, the Slithering Queen
Child Eater is a spirit, the wife of Gothos, and one of the lesser-known threats to humanity. She's been there for a good long time, lurking in the background, just out of sight.

She does not quite belong on this list, because she is technically not a proper god, but she is close enough, and rivals true gods in power. She came into being when the first human child died, eaten by a snake.

Child Eater was a human-made spirit, unlike Ithis. She never knew existence before humans, and so feels differently about them than the spirits that can remember the good old days. The driving force of most spirit's hatred of humans is to recover what is lost. A sort of nostalgia.

Child Eater wants to keep humans alive, because without them, there would be no more children to eat. Keeping them happy, safe, or whole? That doesn't matter nearly as much as keeping the other spirit's good books. And humans generally don't like things that eat children anyway.

Child Eater can appear in many forms, but each contains elements of snakes and centipedes. Her favoured form is an enormous serpent who's eyes and mouth are full of centipedes, spiders, and undead mice.

Child Eater's greatest accomplishment was creating the ghouls: cannibalistic, intelligent predators made to hide among and hunt humans. As a little hint to any who tried to seek her out, she made their method of reproduction involve eating babies. She gets bored, and the excitement of talking to an intelligent mortal thrills her to the bone.

Although not quite a goddess, she is still worshiped as one. Her followers are all ghouls.

Death Dancer
The Waltzing Mask, the Swordstring Player
Once upon a time, not long ago, there was a man. A man with a mask.

He was a noble boy, son of a great duke. His father wanted him to be a warrior, he had aspirations of becoming a roguish musician; a rake, of sorts. He fled his home.

He played his music, ever watchful for his father's groping, greedy hands, seeking to bring him back. The noble boy's talents allowed him to slowly, but surely, climb the societal ladder back up. He became the personal player to a Taleyan king.

But then, there was the king's daughter. A beautiful and fair thing was she, and smart too. Him and her matched wits against each other, long into the night. Their conversations became more than just conversations.

The King caught wind of this, and was furious. He demanded the boy's face, tongue, and fingers be removed, and then the boy killed. His soldier's delivered, cutting the screaming boy alive before his weeping princess, before throwing his body from the battlements.

One year past. The King threw a party, a birthday celebration for his daughter. Halfway through the celebrations, a masked figure entered.

The King demanded to know who the figure was, fully prepared to have him shot down. The figure produced a violin, and silently showed it to the King. It was the same one the noble boy had held the day he died.

He was ordered killed again. Soldiers rushed in, but the masked figure was quicker. He plucked a bow from his back with shadowy fingers, and began to play. He played the strings, and as he played the strings, he played the soldiers. They danced their own dance, turning the halls red with blood.

In the end, only the masked figure and the princess were left. He extended his fingerless hand and, as if under a spell, she took it.  

Death Dancer is a god of death, music, celebration, and everlasting love. His followers are bards and assassins, who turn their instruments into weapons. The strings of a lute become garrote wires, flutes become hidden daggers, and the bow of a violin is razor sharp.

His High Chosen is a woman who claims to be his descendant, simply named 'Mus.' Whether she was chosen because she is his descendant, or because he admires her audacity it not known. It is said that when she plays, the lost lovers of those nearby arise from the underworld for one final, loving dance.