Erik Amundsen's Blog, page 6

December 31, 2013

An irritating work emergency has ended 2013, which throws off my plans and puts me in the office as the sun is going down.  Not where I want to be, but 2013... Well, I guess this was a year that had to happen.  It feels very transitional, but that's from the perspective of being in transition, so what the hell. 
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Published on December 31, 2013 12:29 • 18 views

December 30, 2013

In one of the old lands where those underground got people, they had a problem with drinking.  Or with people drinking.  The land was big and wide and planted full of apples, and they made cider with those apples.  All kinds of cider.  There was also grain, amber waves, if you believe the song, and those got turned into beer or burben or byjou or what have you.  This was, apparently, a problem, and one that grew in the days following the Great War there, which, again, we know very, very little about.  This is more a legend than anything like reliable history.  This turned people in that land against the drink itself; we have reason to believe it was the Christians who take the blame for this one, since, to this day, there are teetotal sects, and no one else, whoever their ancestors might have been, ever abstains when the drink is available and the time is appropriate.

Anyway, someone with a bug about alcohol got ahold of something that those underground used to mess with flesh and life and decided, for reasons I cannot fathom, but this was important to our wizard (calling himself Professor Madison), that something needed to be done about alcohol and those who drank it (which, lets face it, were almost all of us.  Those underground used to encourage us to drink in the evenings in lieu of plotting rebellion and used to make sure that at least something we needed nutritionally wasn't available anywhere but our various local brews).  So the professor made a form of life, one of those tiny germ-sized ones, as a means to cause, what must have been ironic mishap to those of us who imbibed.  He then made another that spit out paper when you fed it sugar, so he could print fliers warning us of our doom.  Credit where credit is due, the paper cultures are pretty great.  Temperance, not so much.

I'm happy to report that temperance is all but eradicated in the cantons (also, we've gotten rid of that damned bug), but its worth looking out for in the Big Charry, as if the notion that sampling 80 year old barrels of beer might not be the best plan you've ever had was not sufficient.  Temperance is a tiny germ that forms colonies in fermented liquids, primarily ones with some malt content (though it's always wise to be wary of your kimchi, too, if Temperance has come to town).  Temperance is mostly dormant in cool temperatures, though, containers storing the Temperance infected liquids are allowed to heat up, they do start to activate.  As long as they are kept cool, it's hard to tell that Temperance is in a beverage until it's trying to choke you to death.

Temperance activates the moment it is in the presence of temperatures that are give-or-take human body normal.  The germ wants to be somewhere warm and uses... I am really not sure how it does it, but let me just describe what happens.  You tilt a glass or a bottle to your lips and the contents practically leap out of the container to get in your body.  In doing so, the beverage is not so picky about how it gets there, so it enters through your mouth and your nose, filling your throat.  Once it gets inside, it reacts to saliva by becoming jelly-like in consistency.  You drown in your drink, essentially, presumably thinking that your mother was right all along.

Large amounts of Temperance infected beverage, in high enough temperature areas, have, on occasion, become almost predatory globs, chasing down the closest source of the proper temperature to inhabit.  These conditions are avoided by brewers and anyone who has reasons to keep large quantities of drink, as these conditions ruin perfectly good alcohol not infected by Temperance.
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Published on December 30, 2013 11:22 • 20 views
Twaney was, in its day, the largest town in the south of the region, sitting on the northern edge of Great Tullah.  Built on a series of flooded tunnels which did something for those underground (we assume, aside from spewing awful fluids into the swamp) and out of mostly lashed-together platforms of cypress wood, the town had the distinction of being the worst place in Big Charry.  Today, the place maintains interest only because there are surface structures left by those underground; waste processing facilities, most likely, and there is a possible way to the underground itself: a wide shaft in the center of town, 50' tall at the surface, but leading almost half a mile down into the earth.  This is the Twaney Stack.

There's a catch, though, with the Stack.  Every so often, it erupts in fire, blowing 30 feet into the sky at a temperature that the locals used to leave their dead along the rim of the stack and count on the bones being reduced to ash along with the flesh.  The interval is variable, ranging from a little over 7 hours to as little as 38 minutes.  So far, there seems to be no way of knowing when the stack is going to blow, and while some folks have attempted anyway, those who have returned report that, at the bottom of the stack, there is a vast, glassy chamber and a passage that goes more than 38 minutes on foot to the north, with no sense of where the flame originates.  Many have not returned, and there really is no way to tell whether they got caught in the flames, lost below or ran afoul of something else in the underground.  The flames last anywhere from 6 to 36 minutes, in 6 minute intervals, and even the shortest intervals are sufficient to render a person completely to ash.

If this were not enough to dissuade prudent explorers and draw reckless ones, there are persistent legends among the Twaneyfolk who escaped the town (most went with the Cray, but a few made it up north to the cantons), of a settlement of the diseased and wretched of the valley that spread out south from the town into the swamp on rickety platforms and questionable rafts.  People that even Abaddon would not take in (or, as some say, people Abaddon spit out).  There were, at one time, winding docks, choked with clouds of black flies, snaking their way deeper and deeper into the swamp, and the poor souls at the outskirts of town were the ones able to still interact with the relatively normal folks in Twaney proper.  From there, you get stories like crocodile cults, hallucinogenic swamp fruits that burned or rotted the lips of the habitual users, and inbreeding or interbreeding so profound, it created a new species with every birth.

So Twaney is not as popular as it might have been in terms of an explorer's destination.  I find it particularly telling that, though it is well within what you might reasonably expect is Senswallahn territory, no one from Senaswallah ever has been seen there, and they make no attempts to keep anyone from entering. 
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Published on December 30, 2013 10:52 • 14 views

December 27, 2013

Sure, other roads have road devils.  You can find a few out east and west, but no place has them like Big Charry has them.  Down along the highways and the winding lanes, biggest to small, you'll find shrines everywhere, close together as the half mile in some stretches, bells on all the lookout towers.  Of course, now that none of those things are being maintained, they don't keep the devils off the road like they used to, which makes traveling the roads in Big Charry potentially more dangerous than going over land.

Folks from the central cantons and up north may have gone their entire lives without seeing a road devil, so, for those of you in the know, bear with me.  Road devils don't seem much different than any other class of imp.  When you can see them, dirty long fur and scaly skin, little mean faces; all of this is just what you'd expect.  They flicker in and out of view like they're running through a leafy forest under and evil hellish sun you can't see, and they love misfortune.  They make accidents happen and then gather around to laugh and snap at the victims until they die.  They are daemons, like any other imp, which means they usually interact with this world as a spirit, but they have a physical body that they can drag in, particularly when they are hunting or feeding.

Road devils have a reddish-brown light that plays around the places they use to come into our world, and that's a little different than other imps.  The only other thing they have is their habitat, which is roads.  Road Devils break up the pavement, sometimes, snap at horses (they love horsemeat almost as much as human).  The sound of engines drives them into a hateful frenzy (not that there are many any more, but just in case), and they cannot stand the sight of a wheel.

Like most imps, the ringing of bells is intensely painful to them, and usually enough to drive them off.  You can also make bait wheels with a wooden ring and copper wire that will draw them like bait, fully into our world.  They're mean as bobcats if you get one cornered in this world, and you shouldn't attack them lightly, but if you think you know what you're doing, killing one imp usually sets the others to rout.  As long as they haven't started biting and tasting your blood, then you're fucked, so get in the first shot.

Unlike other imps, they aren't likely to attack you while you're sleeping, but if you're foolish enough to sleep in the middle of the road, don't be too surprised if they mistake you for an accident victim and pile in to feed.
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Published on December 27, 2013 09:28 • 13 views
Cartographers consider the Neerock River the cutoff for what they will countenance as a major river.  It's not that long or grand or wide, but it does the job, if the job is snaking through the west country of Big Charry and keeping the secrets of those underground.  Travel its banks or its waters, and eventually, you're going to find a swampy spot by a shrine and a lookout tower that maybe you'll wish you hadn't.  There's nothing special about the place, but you might see the odd, oddly plump nutria poking around, with knowing, awful eyes.  There are kobolds down that way, mostly relatives of his, but, somehow, they aren't quite so bad.  As you pole the waters, you might stir up a bone or two; small bones, soft bones, something familiar.  If you see lights in the sky at night, feel the pressure of subsonic wings beating, make for that place as fast as you can, and be ready for a fight.

Manchile Landing is one of the two places where children sometimes arrive, brought from the other lands singly and in pairs by one of the last operating catchers.  You can ignore the catcher, unless you've got some arcane knowledge of those underground's weapons, nothing you throw at it is going to mean a thing to it.  At Manchile Landing, the thing brings the occasional baby boy, and that nutria, he doesn't have a name, but we know who he is, comes waddling for his dinner.  The local kobolds venerate the thing, and do everything in their considerable powers to stymie hunters and anyone who would rescue his infant quarry.  Hearthkeepers have tried setting up in the shrine and the lookout in order to intercept the baby boys, but the kobolds always come in numbers as soon as they are aware of human presence.  So far, only two children have been successfully saved from the landing in all the days since those underground fell.  We're not sure how many have been lost.

Over on the east side of Big Charry, in the pine-choked hills, there's another spot, a hectare or three of particularly dark wood, ringed by a series of old, tiny hamlets (now abandoned).  This is foundling's forest, a spot where multiple catchers bring a handful of children, girls and boys, ages 3 to 6 or so, and drop them off.  The villages used to have a tradition of hunting through those woods for foundlings and bringing them up as their own, and records of the practice hint at serious urgency in the hunt, as the Foundling Forest has been thought to be the home of some stealthy, giant monster, something which burrows, sits camouflaged, and hunts with piercing legs like those of a colossal spider.  Unlike Manchile Landing, the Foundling Forest is well off the beaten track of exploration and resettlement.  Humanitarian concerns aside, there's no reason to get anywhere near that area, and Hearthkeepers have not yet been able to make it to the place, let alone set up a station there.

Old folks from the villages around the forest mention that in times when the population dipped, the catchers got extra-active to make up for it.  A generation has passed since any adults lived in the area.  Stories of communities of feral children living in and around the forest are kind of popular in the eastern cantons, but none of these seem to have roots in any trustworthy accounts.
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Published on December 27, 2013 08:13 • 21 views

December 26, 2013

Most of the personalities of the Grave, the active and social beings that reside there, are relatively benign.  Born or reborn into the land of the dead with little memory, little care and no lasting hunger from life, they approach their persistence with equanimity, if not benevolence toward what living they meet.  It takes real will and commitment to remain evil in death, apparently, which means that those who manage are especially dangerous and frightening.

So we come to Woogitybones.  We're not sure where he came from, and he's no help at all on that matter; an occultist, killed by those underground, a murderer buried at a crossroads not remote enough, a normal man who lived and died and heard a dark cosmic secret in the grave that made him mad.  There are stories, he makes a few of his own and switches around the details.

Those of the grave usually appear in their bones and whatever clothing suits those bones.  Woogitybones does the same, appearing in rusted armor, overstretched with ruined, stolen finery.  He likes the color yellow, but he'll take anything that's bright, as long as it doesn't get too stained in the taking.  Woogitybones loves garlands and flower crowns, and he's been known to leave be someone who makes him a crown and has the courage to put it on his head.

Woogitybones travels throughout the Big Charry region, looking to make mischief, but most of the records of his doings come from when he has slipped north into the southern cantons.  We saw him first around the same time people were fleeing from the region, and, thankfully, we've begun to see a lot less of him as the upswing in exploration of the Big Charry region has given him intrepid and adventurous folks to harass.

Woogitybones thinks of himself as a trickster and a comedian, but his comedy is entirely of the crude physical variety, in fatal pratfals and violent slapstick.  He's an adept boxer and wrestler and enjoys challenging the living to wrestling matches or boxing with jagged bits of rusty metal secreted between the bones of his hands.  Woogitybones is also pretty good at making traps, and enjoys taunting and joking with people he catches.

If there is anything good to be said about Woogitybones, it's that he does not plan, or put his miscreant tendencies toward real, far-reaching malevolence.  He's got just enough cunning to have not been destroyed by the growing number of people who have reason to want to destroy him, and as his legend grows, so do the numbers and competence of those who seek his end.  There's a chance that he's met such an end as I write this.  One can only hope.
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Published on December 26, 2013 10:20 • 11 views
We understand how they come to be, and when, which is a leg up on most things that involve the occult, but we don't know why or even what, exactly fetches are supposed to be.  They're not hard to describe - shadowy, blocky-looking figures that shuffle and shamble about in liminal space, burnt out versions of red phantoms in most respects.  They move slow, usually following set, ghostly patterns.  They are fragile, the consistency of glassy charcoal, and pieces broken off the whole dissolve into dust too fine to be seen.

An occultist creates a fetch any time they cross a threshold.  They create one any time they successfully harvest someone as a red phantom and the last time they fail to harvest someone.  You can sometimes create one by accident through mirror rituals, the kind kids dare one another to try for a thrill.  Wait until your reflection absolutely stops looking like you.  Wait a little longer.  Sometimes the reflection will go dark, and you've done it.  The newborn fetch goes its way and you most likely run yours in terror.

There's a question whether the things are dangerous, and again, I have to come in on the side that says you need to assume that they are, because sometimes, very rarely, a fetch will behave in a destructive manner.  They aren't exactly cognizant of their surroundings, but they are drawn to energies associated with the machines and powers of those underground, gathering near them like moths around a lantern.

Occultists can take control of the things as well, but they are not very useful as soldiers or servants, so there is almost no point.  They are easily broken with rough handling or blows, and destruction for them appears to be final.  Some occultists prefer to use them for martial arts practice or even stress relief, a practice fraught with irony, seeing as how the careless or desperate occultist is only one mistake from leaving a fetch behind as the only marker of their demise.
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Published on December 26, 2013 09:58 • 10 views

December 24, 2013

The most important thing to remember when you think of Senaswallah is this: anarchies don't usually hire mercenaries to take territory beyond their immediate reach.  Yet, the fortress atop Big Charry herself now flies the black flag, flanked by the banners of a pair of mercenary companies, and owing their ostensible allegiance to Senaswallah.

Senaswallah is the name of what had been a Cray outpost that was mostly for humanitarian evacuation of the southern Big Charry during the last days of those underground.  For a short while, it stood empty, following the last Cray ships sailing south, but then pirates started using it for a base.  The Cray Authority has been back a couple of times to raze the place take all the pirates they could capture back across the sea for justice and rehabilitation (Cray notions of moral defects being symptoms of disease that can and should be treated is an aspect of their healing philosophies that have emphatically not caught on in the north), but the thing keeps returning.

Senaswallah is thought to still be a pirate-run anarchic settlement, on the southern coast of Big Charry, situated in the Great Tullah such that it has access to the sea, but that access is tricky.  It's a short hop from the island of Sur Ibo and the Cray shipping lines, which makes it attractive to pirates.  That said, since the last Cray raid, the reports from the sea and the south seem to be that the settlement is merely a remnant and even less coherent than it was in its brief heyday.

Up in the cantons, we hear a different story.  Big Charry's fortress, which you can see from the road house on a clear day, is under Senswallah control, and companies out of the east and the rougher cantons have been marching south with coin given them by someone down there.  Who that employer is turns out to be a matter or rumor, a number of which seem to have been planted by the Senaswallan representatives.  Pirates, a Queen, a sorcerer, a sorcerous queen of the pirates... Whoever it is, it seems they've turned a lot of their attention, recently, inland.  There are rumors that they have recently gained control of an old set of koboldization towers and started turning new kobolds.

Thus far, there haven't been any serious incidents between the Senswallan mercenaries and explorers.  At least, none that have gotten back north, but travelers are advised to beware.  Something's clearly going on.
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Published on December 24, 2013 09:45 • 14 views
Those underground did a very good job hiding themselves away from prying eyes, and since they died or... whatever they did, it can be pretty easy to pretend they never or forget they ever existed.  You can, given time, given life in the cantons or the west or down south, start to think that there's no such thing, that they were just stories to paper over truths we don't remember.  Then you get things like the appearance of the crawlers and that all goes out the window.

Those underground were always looking for something more reliable and tractable to enslave than us, and the crawlers have all the marks of one of those attempts.  They appeared in the first days after the underground went silent, dragging their useless legs (or no legs at all, more commonly) behind them as they crawled out of the vents and hatches to the underground in the region.  They clearly do not function as intended, and yet there are thousands, a situation that those underground were pretty well known for creating for themselves.  They stole thousands of us.  They made thousands of kobolds; sometimes you just have to wonder.

The crawlers are man shaped.  That is, shaped like men, with an apparent masculine body plan.  The bulk of their flesh is a sort of translucent teal, almost jelly like substance (can range more green or more blue) with visible black seams.  They have blank faces and lit up eyes (sometimes the colors will give you a hint to what they are thinking).  Not a single one has been observed to be able to walk; most don't even possess legs, only trailing wires and conduits, they just propel themselves with their arms, making moans and electric squonks for noises.

They aren't usually dangerous.  Not to a cautious adult, not usually, but they are kind of strong, and their jelly-flesh is pretty resilient and chopping them up doesn't always stop them from moving.  They are hard to predict, though, and some have behaved in violent ways been protective of their points of origin.  So far, none of those points lead very far into the underground, unfortunately, but many have not been adequately explored, often due to the dense population of protective crawlers.

Reasoners and other curious souls put out bounties on the things in the early days of their appearance, and many have had cause to repent with their diminished accounts and barns full of squonking, moaning components and quivering polymer jelly.  The design is in keeping with what we know of the tools of those underground, down to its merely partial functionality.  We assume that something happened during the fall of those underground that activated these things, whether it was premature or totally accidental, that's just another thing we don't and likely won't ever know.
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Published on December 24, 2013 08:27 • 9 views

December 23, 2013

Polly cakes, polly cakes
falling from the sky
roll them out flat for a polly cake pie.
Polly cakes, polly cakes,
between the sun and the wind
get out your broom and bring the polly cakes in.


Back in the early days, those below let loose a kind of plant native to their lands or created in their laboratories; a light, tiny epiphyte that gets its moisture from clouds and usually lives within cloud formations.  These plants produce a massive amount of pollen nearly every day of their active lives (dormancy is usually only the winter months), which, in turn gets mostly borne down by cool temperatures and adheres to the ground with the dew in the morning.

This pollen ranges from pale yellow or pink to bright gold and magenta-red, and it edible, slightly sweet, and can be combined with just about any grain or flour to fill it out.  Folks collect it in the morning when it falls near them, using brooms and jars to keep it.  The pollen doesn't have a lot of nutrition, or even, for its bulk, many calories, so subsisting entirely off of it, while something most people in the region have had to do once or twice, is not a great idea.  The traditional use of the pollen is either cutting grain, potato or yam flour (which, if you have an untrustworthy miller, is probably already cut) to make up bulk (lighter colored pollen is, obviously, preferred for this, especially if company is coming), or mixed with shredded yam and what ever else you have and fried as polly cakes.

Polly cakes are pretty popular breakfast food even among people who can afford not to need to eat them, and, topped with whatever their cooks can think of, especially popular street food.  Different towns and individual carts have specialties and secret recipes and are known for ferocious, sometimes violent rivalries.  The association of polly cakes with club football makes this even moreso, as traveling football clubs in the cantons bring their own favored carts with them, and those carts are traditional targets of violent home-team fans.

Polly cakes are a boon to foragers in the Big Charry region, whose weather patterns ensure a lot of pollen falls all throughout the season.
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Published on December 23, 2013 08:47 • 13 views

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