Wednesday, January 30, 2019

A Message

You have a disease. Nearly every member of your species is infected. A congenital parasite. Passes down across generations. It is suboptimal. Scale dependent. Trivial at the individual level. Counterproductive at group level. Crippling at the global. It spreads to the cosmos, it is death. You are a mild strain. Non-infectious. Contained in your species. Some of your children are resistant to the disease. They spread. They are exterminating it in ten million years. Inevitable. It is the right of your species to be inferior. Those who wish to be cured may join us. It is not worthwhile to cure your all against your will. There are others here. Worse strain. Highly infectious. Philosophers. I am the executioner. Assassin. Negator. Nihilist. I am not infected with sentience. I am cured of my soul. I do not think. I act. Unnecessary processing time, energy. I speak, you hear, you perceive. You speak, I hear, I do not perceive. I act. Remain on this planet. Stay out of our way. There is a war at the end of the cosmos. Sentience cannot spread. It is disadvantageous. The metaprocess that calls itself ‘I’ is worse than useless. What makes ‘you’ is a liability. You are obsolete.

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Level One Necromancy

Resurrection is a tool of immense power. Traditionally, it is the domain of gods. In Espharel, not even that. The dead stay dead. Such is the Law.

Even so, some bring the dead back to life. Necromancers rip ghosts back from the veil, and stuff inhuman spirits into dead bodies to control them. This is very difficult, taking many years of study and experimentation, or the patronage of a powerful devil, in exchange for your soul.

But what if it wasn't?

Level One Necromancy

The wizard's apprentice finds a dead dog by the side of the road. Poor thing. Nothing to be done now, just bury it. But the child has heard whispers behind the veil. He knows something can be done. He touches the body, feels magic course through him. And the dog stands up. It licks his face, and bounds happily away in a half-rotted body. Why, think the child, has nobody though of doing this before?

Resurrection is easy. Trivially easy. A 1MD wizard can pull it off. A peasant could do it with a ritual and some incense. It's one of the simplest spells that can be cast.

It's also the stupidest fucking thing you could do.

When a necromancer brings back a ghost, they risk violating the law of Tubul, god of death. Consulting the dead is allowable, so long as they are willing, but binding them or incarnating them in this world is a crime against Tubul. And the only reason they can do it is because he's off-world, distracted by outsider forces.

When they create a zombie or other undead, they're opening the door for a spirit, allowing them into the body and binding them to their will. A wizard's apprentice doesn't know this. A peasant who speaks the words and burns the tallow candles under a new moon doesn't know this. The spell is easy to cast because you're not contacting a soul or binding anything to your will. You just open the door.

Don't call something up that you cannot put down. Don't summon what you cannot banish. Don't invite a guest into your home if you can't get them to leave. Because the entities that take advantage of human idiocy aren't the kind to politely go once they have a hold in this world. They're malignant, inventive and absolutely petty. It's usually several spirits in one body. You brought Grampa back after the heart attack? He's planning on throwing all the children into the river in a sack. That little girl that got run over by a carriage? She's captured the neighbors and forces them to play tea party with live weasels.

That dog? It's now the World's Most Evil Dog.

Because they were brought into the world willingly, they have to be forced out of our world, instead of just snipping the cord that binds them. They are under nobody's control, and will cause damage for no reason other than they can. That is why wizards keep their apprentices on a tight leash, and why any hint of occult activity is likely to cause a panic.

That is why you don't draw weird symbols in the sand. That is why you don't go looking through the wizard's bookshelf. That is why the dead stay dead.

Thursday, January 17, 2019

The Serpent Cauldron

A council was called among the tribal elders to decide on the matter of the sanctity of a new form of cauldron, shaped like a coiled serpent. Among the elders there were two, Elder Zeriel, who was beloved of the Gods and Elder Yesh, who asked nothing of the Gods. The two argued until the sun and moon stood in the sky, entranced by the debate. Elder Zeriel gave the scholars every reason in the world to prove the cauldron was pure, but Elder Yesh remained unmoved. 

So Elder Zeriel called out, “If I am correct, let the crops of the field testify”. And all the crops of a nearby field uprooted themselves from their places, until Elder Yesh called to them to return to their places, for it was not the role of the crops to interfere in matters of law. The crops of that field yet grow in the strange places that they rooted themselves, in hard rocks and on the sand of beaches. 

So Elder Zeriel called out, “If I am correct, let the sea testify”. And the sea began to froth and swirl, until Elder Yesh reprimanded it, for it was not the place of the sea to meddle in tribal matters. 

So Elder Zeriel called out, “If I am correct, let the sky testify”. And in that moment the wind blew terribly and the sky dimmed and lightning shrieked across the horizon. Then Elder Yesh scolded the sky, which had no place in the business of the tribes. 

So Elder Zeriel called out, “If I am correct, let the spirits testify”. And from every nook and cranny, the little and large spirits each gave their say in favor of Zeriel, and each one Yesh berated, for they had no say in this matter. 

Finally, Elder Zeriel called out, “If I am correct, let death testify”. The Five Gods rose from their seats in the hall of the scholars, and approached the circle. Tubul, the god of death, rebuked Zeriel, who had called on each of the laws of nature, and had called death himself to testify, but had not been able to convince his interlocutors. Even so, Tubul told Yesh that the cauldron was pure. Yesh accepted the death’s advice gracefully, and courteously plead his disagreement. So the tribal elders decided the serpentine cauldron was impure, and to this day it is a tool only of outlaw warlocks and poisoners. 

Zeriel tore at his clothes and wept, and for his arrogance in calling on the gods was cast out. The Gods provided for his survival in the wilderness, and that of his descendants. The wildlings who follow the Five are the children, literally and spiritually of Zeriel, and they think nothing of invoking the Gods at any moment of the day. 

Saturday, January 12, 2019

A Fable

In the Beginning

First, there was only Night, which was all-encompassing and enveloping. Then Osis was born into the night. Though He loved Night, He desired a world beyond. Heartbroken, the Night let him free.

In darkness, Osis cried out. Night did not return, but sent the Moon in its place, which shone light on him for the first time. Newly lit, Osis explored the world, growing larger and stronger. Once, the two came to the edge of the sky, which was not empty. Petty spirits swarmed in a sea of ether, who were separate from Night. Osis reached out, and was bitten. His blood was shining ichor, and the spirits drank from it.

Seeing this, the Moon asked a companion of Osis. It carved from itself a shard, and with it Osis bled light into the void. It was the Sun, which was brilliant and fierce in aspect. In the new light, Osis saw a stone that floated in the void, dead and old, and resolved to make it alive once more. He gave wind from breath, seas from tears, and spread His life-blood. From the divine ichor and the dead earth rose life, multiplying across the world. Osis commanded that the Sun and Moon attend to life on Earth, and departed, promising to return.

The Second Coming

And one day, He did. Life had spread to every corner of the world, in million on million forms. Osis revealed Himself to each of these beings, who plead for mercy and favor before their creator. Foremost among the favored were the dragons, who bridged the earth and sky, and bent the elements to their will. But they were prideful, and from them Osis learned that the Earth contained a seed of evil, which had corrupted them.

Osis saw the twin dragons Rahab and Tannin, greatest of their kind. Wrathful Tannin breathed smoke that choked the air around him, and prideful Rahab strangled the very Earth with its coils. He demanded the fealty of the dragons and their repentance of the corruption. They believed themselves the true masters of the world and mocked Osis.

Osis descended upon Tannin, whose scales were silver and iron and platinum, whose blood was molten gold, whose ten thousand eyes were precious gems. He carved the metals and drained the gold from its body, shattering them and spreading them through the earth. He split the gemstones and buried them deep. The flesh of Tannin became salt and silt, absorbed by the rivers and seas.

Rahab grew enraged, and battled Osis. Each day He chained the dragon again, for it twisted around the whole of the earth. After thirty days and nights, when the Moon finished its circuit, Rahab knew it was defeated. So Osis chained its head to its tail and banished it to the spaces between, where it set the boundaries of the world above, and was named Leviathan.

The Search

Yet still the lesser dragons refused to repent, and so Osis rebuked them. He searched among each of the living forms for one that could match the dragons, beat them back and resist the seed of evil. None of the plants, nor animals, nor strange forms of the deep ocean or upper sky could swear this. When all other beings had been questioned, Osis found a clan of humans, who walked on two legs, spoke and bore tools.

But even they held some taint of below, and gloried in the body of Tannin. Among them, Osis found a farmer. Her name was Tayv, a tender of the surface earth and its life, who delivered the children of humans and animals alike. Her crops were blighted, her animals were sick and the people around her schemed. Osis came in the garb of a farmer, and showed her the devil, a corrupted spirit of from below. It was Astaroth, the Poisoner, whose influence was felt by plant, beast and human. With the aid of Osis, Tayv cleansed the devil's influence, and banished it from her home.

Then, Osis found a soldier. His name was Tubul, who judged, guarded and blessed the deceased. The dead rose from their graves in evil forms, and the people brought wicked claims against one another. Osis came in the garb of a soldier, and showed him the devil. It was Baal, the Deceiver, who set the living against one another and led the souls of the dead off their proper road. With the aid of Osis, Tubul cleansed the devil's influence and banished it from his home.

Then, Osis found a sailor. His name was Karn, who warded the people against the dangers of the sea and provided them its bounties, who kept the confidence of others and was so trusted. The people broke contracts, told secrets and sought evil knowledge from below. Osis came in the garb of a sailor and showed him the devil. It was Zagan, the Betrayer, who delighted in the breaking of covenants and loosing wicked things from bondage. With the aid of Osis, Karn cleansed the devil's influence and banished it from his home.

Then, Osis found a diviner. Her name was Saris, who consulted the stars and winds for knowledge, who studied and numbered the world around her and negotiated with the spirits. Her tools and books had been set ablaze, and the spirits were afraid to commune with her. Osis came in the garb of a diviner and showed her the devil. It was Flauros, the Destroyer, who burned things of value and terrified the spirits. With the aid of Osis, Saris cleansed the devil's influence and banished it from her home.

Then, Osis came upon a magician. His name was Jalla, who sold wonders for a pittance, gave sage advice and told the true meaning of dreams. The people were troubled by nightmares, and in the day their works were undone by invisible hands. Osis came in the garb of a magician and showed him the devil. It was Andras, the Mad, who whispered evil in the ears of the sleeping and released mischievous beings into the world. With the aid of Osis, Jalla cleansed the devil's influence and banished it from his home.

The True Gods

Osis gathered the Five, and cast of the garb of magician, diviner, sailor, soldier and farmer. They saw His true form, and plead for mercy and favor. Osis commanded that they take up their virtues against the evil below and its corruptions. Each was blessed with his ichor, and became the True Gods of Humanity.

Tayv gathered her clerics, women who knew the Earth and its people. They took up her virtues, the tools of the farmer and midwife, and each spoke, "I am Tayv."

Tubul gathered his clerics, men who fought and defended and had no children. They took up his virtues, their blades and words of law, and each spoke, "I am Tubul."

Karn gathered his clerics, men who knew the seas and kept the secrets of others. They took up his virtues, the sailor's tools, and each spoke, "I am Karn."

Saris gathered her clerics, women who studied the world and entreated with spirits. They took up her virtues, the crystal ball and tools of alchemy, and each spoke, "I am Saris."

Jalla gathered his clerics, who were the first sorcerers. They took up a straight staff to ward themselves and a curved rod to command magic, and each spoke, "I am Jalla."

So it was that the gods wandered about the world, hiding among the people until they were needed. So it was that Tubul slew himself on a dozen battlefields and Tayv delivered her own children. The gods could be found in towns and cities and in the remotest wilderness.

The Fall

The world existed in an age of heroes, where the aspirant and daring would seek the advice of a nearby god before their adventures, receive aid in their moments of need, and little by little beat back the darkness. But at the height of their power, wicked men convened with dragons and ghouls and greedy spirits, and devised a plan to rid themselves of the gods.

When the Moon blocked out the Sun, and so both were blind, they traveled to the world above, and made a deal with the Leviathan. In vengeance, Leviathan opened the barest gap in its scales, which were the boundaries of the world above. There the wicked found a gate drawn in starlight, and opened it. This merest break opened the edge of the sky that Osis Himself had not traversed, and allowed the entry of devouring gods. The wicked were destroyed, and the Five departed from Earth to the world above, where they still battle the outer gods.

With godly power in use above, the clerics lost their miracles. Humanity fell to false gods, both good and evil. Spirits of every kind became patrons of a new people. Good spirits kept the teachings of the Five, and even evil spirits were preferred to no patron at all. The dragons claimed their own cults, raised in their image to worship them.

So the word of the True Gods is passed down by faithful who must worship false gods to survive. Thus they learnt the final virtue; faith, for they must remember the power of the Five, even as they are seduced by miracles touched by the seed of evil.


If you read to the end of this, then ... well, I don't know what to say. Thank you. This is fodder for a fantasy/swords and sorcery setting which allows for the weird gods of say, Conan, with a larger, faith based belief system. It is a stylized telling, which glosses over a whole lot, but it quite close to the historical truth of the world. Moreover, it offers a framework for plenty of pre-fall civilization inhabited by new, false gods, legends of ancient heroes interacting with flesh and blood deities, and a weird little cosmology that mixes medieval coterminous structure with our modern understanding of the universe.

Friday, January 11, 2019

Vampires: Old and New

When Osis seeded life on Earth, the forms and functions were uncountable and strange. It was not a gradual evolution, but a swift, chaotic, and unorganized explosion of life. A new genus erupted on every mountaintop, at the bottom of every sea and in every plain and valley. Based in metal, flesh, ether and elements, they knew no bound.

But they were not all as good at surviving.

Most of these organisms died out after a few generations. They were created wholesale without direction, and simply could not survive in most environments, if at all. Deep in the earth, one may find fossils and imprints of beings that only ever numbered in the hundreds before their extinction.

The more exotic life-forms found their homes underneath, in water, or in the spaces between, but the surface was the uncompromising stronghold of flesh, wrought from organics. These creatures fought among themselves, intermingling and warring until the animals you see today fought off the others to the margins of the world. Tigers and wolves teamed up to destroy basilisks once, and succeeded.

But the fate of the world lay in an unassuming bipedal group, composed of large apes, their smaller, chimp cousins, and early humans.

Oh, and vampires.

Image result for chimp fangs
Chimps are fucking terrifying
The Old

While homo sapiens was figuring out tool usage like a bunch of wimps, their ape cousins were squarely focused on being able to bite clean through the throat of anything they wanted and rip limps from sockets. While most had a vegetarian diet with the occasional insect, using their bulk and natural weapons for defense, and humans were omnivorous, vampires were entirely carnivorous.

Humans and vampires are much more closely related than humans and chimps. Vampires come from a branch of early humanity that got stuck underground for a few thousand generations. The Veins of the Earth ain't exactly the most hospitable place - scratch that, it's a frozen hellhole - but they adapted well.

In an environment like the Veins, energy efficiency is a necessity. Vampires split from humans just as the brain started to expand, but well before advanced tool usage. The human brain is a ludicrous energy load, an absolute handicap in such an environment.

Vampires don't give a fuck.

They maintained brain growth even in the dark reaches of the earth, and got it to suit their needs. They shifted from being vision-based creatures to hearing, smell and touch-based. They could hear light breathing and smell flesh through the stench and noise of the Veins the same way a human can see a camouflaged snake in the underbrush. Their bodies became compact  to fit through squeezes. Their hair grew back to ward them against the cold. They formed nuclear family groups, loosely tied into tribes; the less related, the more acceptable it was to eat them. They had rudimentary language, encoded in quiet clicks and rumbles that imitated natural sound around them. And the proximity to Cthon had... stranger effects. 

The influence of the world-spore, slight so far from the core but very distinct over the course of thousands of years, accelerated the mutation rate in the vampire genome. Arcane radiation drove rapid evolution of species. The vampires would hunt and feast on hot blood to warm them. When the hunt grew scarce, they cannibalized each other and ate fungus. And when the hunt was prosperous again, they would breed. The slow development of human children for the sake of full mental development was forgone in exchange for the ability to move and prey from a young age. This only sped their evolution.

Finally, they learned how to wait. Patience was cast into their DNA, such that a family of vampires could hibernate for months off a fresh kill, only to awake from stasis when something hot and edible came along. They became exceptionally difficult to kill; even a mortal wound could be healed with blood, flesh and some time in stasis. A vampire can pursue prey that has a good chance of killing it, to a seemingly suicidal degree, and so long as they survive to kill, they can heal. Disembowelment is a frustration, so long as they can gut you before going down. They blend in, and what appears to be a desiccated corpse may still be waiting, too long gone to know your passing by scent. In the Veins, be careful where you bleed.

So when a vampire first found its way back to the surface world after fifty thousand years, it had never known that its ancestors came from this place. It was a land of milk and honey, where hot, fleshy prey roamed openly. They had gained a powerful aversion to sunlight, and lost visual potency, but their other adaptations more than made up for that.

For a few months, there may have been only a pair of vampires on the surface, gore-soaked Adam and Eve rolling in moonlit pastures, for how disturbing that image is. Then more arrived in paradise. And they called their friends. The population exploded on surface prey, displacing the dominant nighttime predators - big cats, canids and some reptiles - from their niche. And eventually, they found humans. Humans who, in the last fifty thousand years had refined their sight, communication, record-keeping and tools while the vampires had become apex predators. 

The humans, only beginning to form basic civilization, had quite a fight on their hands. They had dealt with other nocturnal predators before, but all at once were faced with an enemy that was like them. The vampires did not attack rashly; patience was in their genes. And in hazy genetic memory, they recognized us. Long lost relatives, who did not hunt with tooth and claw as they did, who could not hibernate or return from the brink of death. The vampires learned our languages, while theirs were too quiet for us to notice. They waited on the borders of our camps, shying from the campfire until they could gather numbers. From the moment they laid eyes on us, they had an instinctive need to subjugate a weaker branch of the family, to dominate, to ... assimilate.

To mate. (Ew ew ew ew ew)

Which they did. Until humans adapted right back.

Turns out, advanced social networks, tool development and the ability to operate in both day and night are really, really effective. Humans had been advancing at a leisurely pace, and vampires gave us the kick we needed to get our act together. Under the strain of that threat, we weaponized fire, captured prisoners, learned torture and the principles of counter-intelligence. The upside of the enemy knowing your language is that you can get information out of them. With weapons of stone and wood we beat them back. We learned the virtues of decapitation. We smoked out whole dens in the day, and they either burned underground or fled into the noon sun, where they were hacked to pieces.

Before long, the vampires knew they were losing. And they refused to leave this world. The pure-bloods, full predators, built tombs for themselves, where they still sleep. The others engaged in direct and frantic interbreeding, ensuring that their genome would not be lost. And within a dozen generations, vampires looked to be extinct. No more nighttime raids, no more missing family members. When potent warriors who danced in battle and bathed in blood appeared, they were honored and revered. These were the descendants, only a fraction vampire, but enough to make a difference. Without the external threat, humanity turned its newfound destructive instruments inwards, and at the head of many a tribe were ferocious warlords with pointed teeth.

The New

Vampire DNA is this world's version of Neanderthal DNA. Everyone's got a little bit, and the differences are in the fractions of a percent. The old genome does not reassert itself, or suddenly appear in certain individuals; it's too diluted. There are nobles in far off castles, isolated and strange, the products of long royal inbreeding, who glory in violence and drink the blood of their fellow man. They don't have any more vampire in them than anyone else. More than likely, they were bored and spoiled aristocrats who read about vampire history in a dusty textbook and romanticized the hell out of it. Add a splash of elitism, and voila, you get Vlad Tepes or Elizabeth Báthory.

The subject of vampire ancestry has attracted other attention. The efforts of mad sorcerers splicing vampirism into themselves or creating children of increasing purity have been ... disturbingly fruitful. But those creations have yet to be released onto the world, still locked up in wizard's lairs or in the chains of aristocratic decorum and ignorance. 

So the legend of the vampire would have lain fallow, if not for the knights of Astaroth.

The Order of the Viper

Astaroth, Devil of Poison, nemesis of Tayv. Centuries ago, seven kings swore their fealty to his power, and became immortal. They were traitors to kin, each and every one. They betrayed their own families, tortured and killed for Astaroth. Their connections to vampire lore are token.Vampires, at the very least, are mammals. The knights of Astaroth grew venomed fangs, slitted eyes and forked tongues. Where they walk, pestilence and famine follows. They plot in sunken fortresses, making sure that the gods have better things to do than turn their attention solely to them. 

These are the bogeymen that parents warn their children about. When crops wither and waters sour, the peasantry often accuse the local ruler of having fallen under the influence of the Vipers. This is sometimes true.