Fit for a King

Kiyoshi would never have believed it if someone had told him that he would be wearing a mechified training harness to his father's funeral. Yet there he stood in that hot, noisy apparatus trying to pretend he was a street cleaner or some such. It was humiliating, but necessary; one did not tread without care when Goshi wanted you dead, and there was no dishonor that would have been worse than not being present for his father's burial; and his own, he thought wryly, looking at the second casket symbolically laid out for himself, the report being that his body had either been incinerated or had been blown out the window and fell into the deepest parts of the mines, never to be seen again.

He watched somberly as his brother, Ichirou, spoke of their father's many deeds and awards. Nearby stood Ichirou's wife and their sister, Naomi, consoling each other in their grief. Kiyoshi wished very much that he could go to them, let them know that he was alive and well, and the real reason that their father had died, but he dared not. When those who hunted him were telepaths, the fewer people who knew he was alive the better. Speaking of which... Kiyoshi felt the tingling of something gliding over his mind, and quickly entered the Void to block access. In his heightened state of awareness he looked about, and, sure enough, there was a familiar pink-haired girl glancing about at everyone, her expression bored and yet almost... hopeful. Kiyoshi was incensed that she would dare to sully his father's funeral, but knew that the best thing to do in this case was to hide, so he carefully moved away from her, only dropping his combat meditations when he felt her probing stop.

He now found himself standing close to a gazebo that had been set up to shade its owner, none other than Tsuchinaga Yamoto, the man who, Kiyoshi knew, had paid for the funeral. Oh, he had not told him that we was going to, and would deny it if pressed, but Kiyoshi knew. Yamoto had been friends with his father as well, and if he wanted to contribute to make sure his burial was fitting to the lord that he had been, then the disguised young noble could find no fault. He just hoped that his attendence did not bring undue attention; besides Aimi poking about, Yamoto was one of a bare handful of Biomade in attendance, even though Lord Daitokuji had been one of the most important men in the city in his way, the Grand Master of the finest Mecha Academy in the world. Still, Yamoto was rich and powerful in his own right, and had made slipping away from trouble with seemingly no effort almost an art form, so Kiyoshi figured he would be alright.

Kiyoshi directed his attention once more to his brother, just finishing a speech about Kiyoshi himself, and the tireless efforts he had made on the part of his fellow Cheldrun. Ignoring the uncomfortable feeling he got from hearing himself described thus, he thought that it was a tragedy that Ichirou, not even middle aged yet, would soon bear the burden of being Lord and Patriarch of the entire Silver Phoenix clan. If only he could be there to lend his mind and knowledge of administration! But no, first he had to find a way to protect himself from Goshi. They would not want any witnesses to what had happened during that demonstration, even if said witnesses had no idea what had really happened. Ichirou had left the podium and a new man, the new Grand Master of Washisan, apparently, had started in. Kiyoshi could not remember his name; he had never paid much attention to the politics of the Mecha pilots.

When he was finished, Ichirou himself threw the first symbolic handful of dirt over the caskets, along with flowers from Naomi, and Daitokuji Noboru, Patriarch of the Silver Phoenix clan and Grand Master of Washisan Academy was laid to rest beside his wife and, so most people thought, his second son. There was a sudden commotion then, as every single pilot of the Academy, student and master alike (and more than a few visiting from other cities to pay their respects to the fallen master) summoned their Mecha and stood in a line, gleaming in the sunlight. Surely a more impressive sight had not been seen in an age as dozens of Mecha saluted his father in a final farewell.

Kiyoshi had to turn away, a sudden gout of smoke from his suit causing his eyes to water (or so he told himself). And so he found himself face to face with Aimi, standing less than a meter away and peering at him, an expression of sadness on her singularly expressive face. Their eyes locked, and for a single, horrifying instant Kiyoshi thought that he would have to strike her down in the middle of the funeral. She just looked at him, however, and he heard a voice in his head. "I never had a father, but I think if I did have one, and he died, I would be really sad. I am off today, anyway. I just wanted to say... I am sorry for your loss." After this silent communication, she stood up on tip toes and placed a small kiss on his dusty, tear-streaked cheek, then turned and walked away without a word. With one last glance at his siblings, Kiyoshi resolutely did the same.

A View from the Gallery

Guard duty really sucks sometimes. Today it sucks more than most.

It was supposed to be an easy job. I wait on the stairs, I check the security clearance of anyone who approaches. If anyone gives me trouble, I shoot them. That’s what the chain gun arm is for. No problem. Goshi Mining Corp pays pretty well when you’re a bullet-spitter, and with what they promised for this job, I’d be able to afford that new black rock processor upgrade.

It was all going well, not a person in sight. Nobody takes the stairs in a building like this, after all, and if someone did try to break in via the stairway, there are three hundred and thirty three stories. Good luck with that, punk.

Then she arrived.

She didn’t look like much. Just some pale Biomade girl. Maybe nineteen. Dressed up in one of those form fitting body suits that her parents should have told her not to wear, if she had parents. That’s a fucking shame, by the way. How can they not have parents? Never having a father or a mother, never having even the possibility of BEING a father or a mother, it makes me wonder if they’re even human anymore. That’s a dangerous thing to think, but at this point, I don’t give a shit. She had red eyes. That’s rare. Actually, now that I think of it, I’d only seen it twice before, and both of those were earlier the same day. Anyways, she comes walking up the stairs, one of those sonic dampening devices slung over her shoulder. It caught my interest, as I’d often thought about incorporating one of those into my upgrades. It’d be damn useful, if I could ever afford it. Mechanical upgrades may be many things, but quiet isn’t one of them.

“I.D.,” I say. She’s Biomade, so either she has clearance to be here or she’s working for one of Goshi’s competitors. Either way, at least I’m not bored out of my skull anymore.

She keeps coming up the stairs towards me, and I shrug my shoulders, spin up my gun arm, and repeat my request. “I.D.”

Then she blurs forward and kicks me in the chest. Damn. She hits way harder than a girl that size has any right to.

I open fire.

Bullets start flying everywhere, but before I can blink, she’s behind me. She kicks me in the face, and my whole head feels like a watermelon that got a little bit too close to a sledgehammer. Then the world tips over, and I go tumbling backwards down the stairs.

Ow.

By the time I come to my senses, she’s gone, and I’ve got a hell of a headache. My right arm’s broken, too. I knew I should have replaced that with an upgrade. Still, it’s my duty to report it. So I do.

“You gotta be kiddin’ me,” my supervisor replies over the radio.

“No joke, boss,” I say, and it annoys me to call him boss.

“Well, don’t just stand there, get after her! If she’s an assassin, we’ll be in a world of trouble.”

I look up the stairs. “Uh, boss, you know I’m only on the thirty second floor, right?”

“So?”

“This building is three hundred and thirty three fucking stories tall!”

“Yeah, and if you don’t follow her up those three hundred and thirty three stories, your ass is going to be stripped down and sold for spare parts.”

I grind my teeth. “Well, when you put it that way...”

Three hundred and thirty three stories.

Whoever this girl is, I think I hate her.

It takes forever to get to the top. Flight after flight after flight after flight. Then, finally, when I’m FINALLY at the top, what do I hear but the sound of gunfire coming from the room where the VIPs are gathered?

This just isn’t my day.

I make it up to floor three hundred and thirty three just in time to see this fat fuck grab onto some white stone. Then everything goes white.

Which brings me to now. Yeah. Now. I wake up in midair, falling. Towards the pavement three hundred and thirty three stories below. Let me tell you, it’s a whole lot quicker to take three hundred and thirty three stories in freefall than it is to climb them. As the ground gets closer, I can see the security forces swarming around the base of the building. One of them looks up and points at me.

In I come.

Guard duty really sucks sometimes.

Pilot Episode: Goshi's Prototype

The flight to the city went fairly smoothly, despite the gagging clouds of smog that emanate from Geneva Prime. I felt like I'd have to clean out my sinuses with a giant pipe-cleaner, but I regress.. When I placed High Dive on the roof and my own feet landed, I suddenly felt the firm possibility that I might see another Vorax again, on this very day! My rising excitement could barely be contained, and all that HD's pipsqueak brother could go on about was how his neck was in so much trouble, and how he would only go so far with us. There was so much love between them that one of their fingers could have been chopped off, and the other wouldn't offer help. Man, the things you take for granted when your population is booming.

*sigh*

Despite my grumbling, he really was perfect at getting us safely to the site of the lab; well, at least around the corner from the lab. We had to knock out the three guards that were grumbling about how they were there on duty, instead of getting knocked up. We gave them a close alternative, I think. After getting in the lab a sing-songy voice called to us from behind a door, and HD immediately did some stellar work with cloth, chemicals and a lighter to get the door open.

Imagine my gigantic disappointment (literally) when therein resided some bedsore-ridden hulk of a man that was not the elegant Vorax I was seeking. Arghh! Luckily despite his bulk (and balls that High Dive's brother could have really used) he knew exactly how to get us where we wanted to be. So up the elevator we went until we hit a ceiling door that HD was more than happy to destroy.

When she set the explosive, Tanuki the hulk and I backed out into the hallway, only to be greeted by Ravers'R'us (TM). One guy was wicked with his floating chain and the other very nearly severed my head from my body. *whew* It was way too close. I got a couple good cuts in myself, but I was very glad when some girl dragged chain-boy away.

By the time I made it through the hole in the elevator, I was in a large room filled to the brim with havoc. Bullets were flying everywhere. Bless HD, she was already running toward my fellow Vorax, standing in the middle of the room. He was horribly chained and at some strange half-way point in his shift. What had they been doing to him!?!?! I made my way through the barrage with a few lucky rolling flips and noticed Tanuki spinning on his toes and making his blithe way to the white stone hanging above my fellow's head. I heard Tanuki happily exclaim, "Mana!"... Then there was nothing.

Everything went white, then came back, but without the noise. I felt like I was walking through cotton air. Now a white and glowing cloud floated in the center of the room, and I quailed as red tendrils came from the cloud and began to wrap around my Vorax. No! I ran to push him out of the cloud, but some mechified beat me there. Luckily the smoking-man didn't seem to intend any harm. As I ran, I smacked the glowing purple blade of some guy chopping it up way too close to my compatriot. Just a warning, no time for anything else now.. I caught up and took the Vorax's hand - finally - and he squeezed back. Exaltation! He's going to make it!

Unfortunately, my joy was short-lived. When he opened his eyes to look upon the mechified, blood poured out, and incomprehensible words flowed from his lips. The mechified dropped him as if he'd seen his own ghost - and ran. I tried and tried to call back the Vorax that I knew was in there, but the red tendrils possessed him. Everything in the room began to levitate like the creature.

I made to run away as well..the mechified beckoned to me..but then I realized that my dear, dear fellow Vorax had become an aberration and had nothing of noble avian left in him at all. These formative moments might be the only chance anyone had to destroy this new creature, so I turned around and struck out with my scythe. I struck true. Breath. Then some incredible force emanated from the creature and he rushed out the window, with me still attached. We had well over 300 stories to fall, then into the mine. That was just the beginning of a very looong adventure.

Karia Vitalus

From the beginning she was watching. At first she watched merely because she was curious and because, if she was perfectly honest, there wasn't much else for a planet to do except spin around and around all day getting dizzy. She watched oceans bubble up and freeze, then melt and shift around. She watched continents playing their games of bumper cars, bouncing on tip toes across beds of hot magma. She watched bacteria fizz and eat and multiply and diversify and start piling on extra cells until some of the cells on the outside started getting crispy and hard and they turned into trilobites.

She watched trilobites for a long time. What is it about them that they stick in the fossil record so... adamantly?

She watched fish and reptiles and algae and plants and insects. Sometimes, though she hoped they didn't notice, she napped. She took a long snooze through the cretaceous. Despite what most young boys believe, dinosaurs are not that interesting.

She watched ice come and retreat, and come and retreat again dozens of times. She watched births and deaths and usually she had a hard time telling the difference. She watched a lot of things, but through all of it she was watching indifferently; watching only because the cosmos had seen fit to put her here and give her something to watch. It wasn’t much of a show either.

Until lately.

Lately she hadn’t just been watching, she’d been positively glued to the screen of her own cosmic drama. It started when the tall lithe ones in the masks suddenly began whispering, and staring at scrolls, and shaking their heads, and pointing to the stars. Then, just as suddenly, the stars were multiplying, and then they were falling and the sky was full of fire, and the forest was burning and life and death and safety and doom were passionately dancing a tango across her view.

She observed transfixed, for though the literal fires were extinguished, the conflagration became an inferno and these little creatures, these little people, they cared. They cared and they were dying, and living, and fighting (and there was a difference between birth and death!) and more and more she realized that they cared, not because they were selfish and afraid, but because it mattered. It mattered who died and who lived and for how long, not just to them, but to everyone and everything.

Everything. She knew it wasn’t just hyperbole. It really did matter to absolutely everything. When she looked out across the cosmos she saw the sun and the moon and the planets, and the stars all standing on tip-toe to peek over the head of the person in front of them. She wasn’t just the one watching, she was being watched! They were watching her, because what was happening right now, on her little islands, in her little oceans, was the most important thing in the whole universe.

Bursting with pride and trembling with fear she scanned and she delved and she tried to discover the future, but it was stubbornly opaque. If there is one thing that watching for billions of years makes you good at, however, it is being observant. For though the future refused to yield its secrets, she could see the past working its way out in her present and she began to understand.

They would come. All of them. From everywhere. They would come and they would be there, all of them, together, in one place, her place, and when they did it would matter who was there and who was living and who was dead. It would matter in that moment and it would matter for all time. And because it would matter she would not be content just to watch, she could reach in. She could see and she could act.

She would give gifts. And curses. But the gifts would be cursed and the curses would be gifted. Then she would watch. Not because she had to, but because she could not resist.

They’re coming.

They’re here.

She’s watching.

Elder Winter

Elder Winter sat by the bonfire long into the night. The forest grew thickly all around him, great tree trunks seeming to peer down at him and his fire.

The other Elders were long gone now, retired from the vigil. Only he remained.

In his lap he held an elaborately carved wooden mask. Hollow eyeholes peered up at him. Silent. Empty.

Empty.

Still, there was a trace that yet lingered. A faint impression left in the very fiber of the mask that yet carried the distinctive scent of the one who had worn it, long ago.

Elder Winter was the oldest of his tribe, extraordinarily long lived: it was the nature of his Song to long endure the frosts of age, waiting for the renewal of the world that would inevitably come with the spring, when the flowers once again bloomed gloriously beneath the sun.

Winter had been waiting for the spring a very long time.

Still, he could not but continue as he had, waiting for the ones who would bring about that renewal. And though the one who had worn this mask had told him that he would not die before he saw those that would be the instruments of the world’s renewal, the old Prill found those prophetic words harder and harder to believe with every day that went by.

He had been given something important to keep for that day, but he was old. Impossibly old and unutterably weary. His bones ached, and he was nearly blind.

Still he lingered on, day after day, holding to the promise of the Dusk Sage that he had called ‘friend.’

There he sat before the bonfire, watching as the flames died away into embers, the embers into ashes.

When the last ember flickered out, the leaves of the great trees rustled in a sudden breeze, and the stifling, hot air of the old forest was lifted, if only for a moment.

It smelled like spring.

Childhood Memories

Smooth, clear acrylic floors. Power humming beneath the surface, channels of bright psychic energy flowing out through the room like a vibrant, pulsing, pink spider-web. Voices.

This was nothing new for Rei. She had known the voices of others for longer than she had known herself. What was new was that she had been given her very own desk to study at, transluscent, made of a reddish sort of acrylic substance. Even immersed as she was in her brand new copy of 'The Stardown Codex,' the latest mystery novel by the famous Biomade novelist, Tsunami, she would have been foolish indeed to ignore these particular voices.

Sever.
Stitch.
Her brothers.
Behind her.

She took very deliberate care in putting a bookmark on page 107 of the novel, shutting the book, and putting it down on the transluscent red desk. It was stupid, she realized, to have put the desk where it was, facing the wall. Sitting at it, her back was to the door. If her trainers found out, she'd never hear the end of it.

She turned around.

Immediately, their thoughts washed over her awareness, and for one confused moment she couldn't tell if she was herself or if they were her. The nine and a half year old twins stood not five yards distant, their faces lit up with innocent smiles that belied the mischief of their thoughts.

"No," Rei said.

"No what?" Stitch asked.

"You can't borrow my knife," Rei said, feeling simultaneously offended and annoyed in a way that was almost teenagerish.

Sever's smile faded. "We need it," he said.

Rei stared at the twins. "It's mine," she insisted. Property. Something that was hers and not theirs. It was a strange concept, but she liked it. She rose to her feet and took a step towards the twins.

That was when she stumbled, put off balance by the sudden discovery that her shoelaces were tied together, and fell flat on her face.

Hyena-like laughter rose up from the twins, and Rei felt a sudden flush of humiliation rising up in her chest. More than that, though, shock rippled through her mind: they had hid their intent from her! They'd lied to her in their minds! She'd never dreamed that such a thing was even possible. Anger. Resentment. Fear. They were laughing at her. They were laughing at her, and PEOPLE COULD LIE TO HER IN THEIR MINDS.

By the time she managed to undo the knots in her shoelaces with her own comparatively feeble telekinetic powers, the twins were long gone.

So was her knife.

Pulling Strings

Kiyoshi had to consciously keep himself from sneering when he looked upon the recumbent form of Tsuchinaga Yamato. Most Biomade were in great physical shape, but this one was positively corpulent. Yes, Tsuchinaga was one of Kiyoshi's only Biomade friends, and, yes, the old warrior had probably earned the right to some luxury, but in looking upon the enormous man lying back on his silk cushions, surrounded by platters of food and wine, overwhelming incense and young girls who really should not have bothered to wear anything at all for all the good their outfits did them, he could not help but look upon such gluttony as weakness.

"Kiyoshi! To what do I owe this honor, Director?" Even the man's voice was larger than normal, booming jovially.

"Director no more; I have been relieved of my position, as you have probably already heard, Yamoto."

His host sighed. "That I have, but I was hoping it was not true."

Kiyoshi lifted an eyebrow and regarded Yamoto coolly. "The decision was unanimous, 'old friend'. You were one of the signatories on the order."

"Yes, but I had hoped they would not get enough of them! Not everyone on the Board was against you, as you know. Still, there are certain persuasive factors that would have made it very unwise for me to side with you. Surely you did not expect me to stand up to the likes of Blade?"

It was the young Allskin's turn to sigh. "No, I suppose not. Now at least I know I still have one ally left on the board who can keep me in the loop as to what is going on."

"That's the spirit m'boy! And I have a couple of choice bits for you now, if you've a mind to listen."

Kiyoshi simply nodded and sat upon one of the many cushions scattered about.

"Well, most importantly, there have been attacks on some of the directors recently. A couple of them have even been killed!"

Kiyoshi made an encouraging murmur, knowing his large friend's flair for the dramatic. It was obvious that there was more to come.

"They say that someone attacked Katashi Blade himself; he was unharmed, of course, more's the pity. Typhon was found dead in his office, not that anyone will mourn that one." He paused, obviously waiting for encouragement from his audience.

"Really now? And what else?"

"Well, it looks like your pet project is starting on its own! A Mechified revolt down in the mine, they say. A small incident, but you know how these things can grow; they say that one of the AD's got killed in the scuffle, Jung or Jun or something... I don't know, all those little pencil-necks look the same to me."

Kiyoshi cursed. "Those fools! Don't they know that if they try to revolt now it will be a bloodbath? Without the support of the Allskin families, the Biomade will simply slaughter them, if they do not do it first themselves!"

Yamoto shrugged. "What's done is done, m'boy." He squinted shrewdly at his young guest. His gossip dispensed with, he was determined to get his price of a new story. "They say that the circumstances of your dismissal were... unusual. They say that you had a visitor; a young girl. Someone you would normally think would be spending all her time rebelling and listening to that 'raving' music you kids love so much."

Kiyoshi nodded. "An agent of some sort, a mind reader. A bit... unorthodox, but definitely more dangerous than she looked."

"Did I not just finish telling you that someone's trying to off Directors?! She was an assassin, mark my words!"

Again, a nod. "She admitted as much. But she was not there to kill me; apparently I am not important enough to kill." That last was almost bitter.

"Maybe not, and you should be glad of that," said Yamoto somberly. "But remember who you are: the second son of Daitokuji Noboru, one of the Grand Masters of Washisan Academy, a man who has personally trained some of the finest Mecha Pilots in the world, including your older brother and younger sister. Someone might see you as a weak link to strike at them."

Kiyoshi's fists clenched as he said "They would be most grievously mistaken in that."

Yamoto waved his hands. "Whoa, whoa, m'boy! You don't need to convince me of that! I was just speculating." He peered at Kiyoshi again. "I always did wonder why you didn't become a pilot like the rest of your family though."

Eyes flashing, Kiyoshi sneered. "Because I thought my intelligence should not be wasted on nothing more than going to brawl every time two cities decided to squabble over who owned a piece of Blackrock! My father agreed; that is why he helped me attain my position at Goshi when no other Allskin would have been considered."

The older man nodded. "Still, you should be careful. Give me some more info on that girl who visited you and I will look into it; see if I can figure out who she works for, at least."

Kiyoshi half-smiled, something that was not lost on his observant host. "She was very... distinctive. Tiny, not more than five feet tall. Lithe. Wild, bright pink hair. Blood red eyes." He shrugged. "Cute. Like someone's little sister that grew up and decided to start rebelling."

Yamoto nodded again. "Red eyes, you say? Where have I heard that before? Ah, it'll come to me. I'll look into it, lad, don't worry."

Kiyoshi stood and nodded to the only man he had ever let call him names such as "m'boy" or "lad", probably because the old warrior called everyone by such names. "Thank you. Be careful, though; you are a Director too."

Yamoto looked around in mock surprise. "Me? Ah, I may not be an Allskin, and therefore not worth killing, but I have worked long and hard to make myself too indispensable to get rid of. Besides, I don't cause trouble, unlike some young men I can name, so why would anyone want to bump off some fat old has-been?"

Kiyoshi chuckled as he bowed and left. Once he was gone, Tsuchinaga Yamoto watched the door that he had went through for a good, long time. "Who indeed?"

Story Time

This story is about love.

Well, it’s about plenty of things, but love’s as good a place to start as any, isn’t it? It starts with a young man with dreams of adventure, of grand chases and maidens what need saving, riding on the backs of dragons and battles with the dark magics of the Karians.

Ryu Washisan was his name, a member of some clan or another. It was hard to keep it all straight in his head. He’d grown up like most Allskins in a world of tattered finery and faded glory. He’d spent hours and hours and hours learning all sorts of useless things, like which fork to use with which dish, when to swap out his spoons during a meal, why he should always keep his word of honour. It hadn’t stuck. Well, except for that honour part. A little bit. ... Less than his family would have liked. ... Well, he did ok.

Come time for his teenaged years, Ryu didn’t think much of his family. They were holding him back, he thought. They expected him to be some kind of gorram Messiah, and he just wasn’t interested in fighting in the arena. He was much more interested in finding out if any maidens needed saving.

He didn’t have much luck in that regard.

All of that changed in his twenty second year of life: the day he met Sylvia. She perfect in that airbrushed Biomade sort of way. Hair just so, proportions just so. Long blue hair, expressive blue eyes, nary a blemish to be found.

Ryu was young and foolish, and he was in love scarcely before she’d so much as said, “Hello.” Well, in lust anyways. That’s how it started. They saw each other pretty regularly for the next couple months, and soon enough he had started to mean it when he swore his undying love for her. Another couple of months passed before (much to both of their surprise), she found that she loved him back.

Course, that didn’t help either of them when she tried to pilot his mecha to save his life when the vengeful student of a rival school went after him a year after their first meeting. Or maybe it did. First Age artifacts don't work for Biomade, after all, but it responded to her touch. Or maybe the dragon-mecha sensed its master was in danger, and simply tolerated her touch. It doesn't really matter at this point, considering what happened. The dragon-mecha responded to her touch and flew to his side in a matter of seconds. Now, there are many horrible ways to die, but burning up in the molten remains of what used to be the cockpit of your mecha after a burst of dragonfire hits it dead on? Probably one of the worst. Ryu wasn’t sure if the poor sap had drowned or burned first, but whichever it was, it had looked painful.

Unfortunately, as is the case with most things, the victory came at a price. There on top of the dragon-mecha, her hands still clasped around the reigns, Sylvia was fading. Fading like a ghost. The dragon’s metallic eyes pulsed again and again, and with each pulse, Sylvia faded a little more.

That didn’t go over well with either of them.

They tried everything they could think of with no success. Then came the tears, the anger, the recriminations. Then Sylvia was gone without a trace, and the dragon's eyes gleamed fitfully in the light of the setting sun.

Heartbroken and unwilling to go back to the life that had started all of this business, Ryu, scion of the Washisan Academy, climbed onto the back of the dragon-mecha, whipped its reigns savagely, and flew off into the setting sun, never to be seen again. Or at least, he was pretty thoroughly determined never to be seen again. You know how it goes, though. Going unseen is easier when you aren’t flying on the back of a metal dragon.

So that’s the story. Just one more tragedy in a world full of them, I guess. There’s a moral here somewhere. Guard your heart, maybe? Hide your love away? Maybe it’s better to have loved and lost? Whatever. The point is, it's a story about love, and loss.

Don't give me that look. Were you expecting something more? Something less depressing, maybe? Well, maybe there's more to be told. Maybe that's not the end of the story, with Ryu heart broken, leaving behind every obligation for a life of freedom in the wilds of Karia, and taking the very source of his grief there with him.

Time will tell. It usually does.

Winds of Change

"Something is changing in Karia Vitalus." The voice was an old man's voice, heavy with the weight of years.

--------------

In the great city of the Cheldrun, two bodies hang by a pair of ropes around their necks some two hundred floors up, lab coats fluttering in the breeze. A man and a woman, both Biomade. Though they were each attractive in life, death had done them no favors. Pale and bloated now, they swung like ghastly piƱatas, waiting, oh just waiting for the chance to spill their gruesome cargo onto the streets two hundred stories below.

--------------

Far away, the sun rose over the jungles southwest of Matamos. Just above the canopy grew a single, thick, bare branch; thereupon a strange, sinuous shape rose with the dawn, lifting its cold, reptilian eyes to the heavens in silent contemplation of the wonder it beheld there; for one shining moment, a new star was born above those jungles, rivaling the sun itself in brightness. There and gone.

The Anakarix frowned thoughtfully.

Those who have eyes, let them see.

--------------

"The wind doesn't taste like it used to." The same old man had spoken again. We can see him now: he is a Prill, grizzled and weary, and there is wisdom in his countenance. "The flame that was sparked on the night of the bonfire skies spreads unchecked across the land."

--------------

In the depths of Geneva Prime, a Mechified dreamed of freedom, of revolution. As he looked down upon the body of his Biomade supervisor, the thought rang clear in his mind: ‘We are not your appendages.’

Those who have ears, let them hear.

--------------

A Zipsum raced from tree to tree, trying desperately to evade her would-be-captors. Her cheeks bulged strangely, ill-fitting around the data pad she held gently in her mouth as she ran - what she had risked her life in the Cheldrun city to obtain: the operational planning for the next great logging operation into the jungles of the Anakarix.

Hard metal bullets ravaged the trees around her, turning their trunks to so much splintered pulp, sending splinters flying in all direction: the sound of gunfire was deafening.

Pain. Burning pain. A spear-like shard of wood had lanced into her vulnerable belly. Biting back tears, she raced onwards, and soon she was beyond the reach of the bullet-spitters, and of the angry metal bees that they spat.

The shouts of angry Cheldrun echoed loudly in the woods behind her.

Bleeding from the stomach, agony racing through her mind, she ran on.

--------------

"How did it go?" Rei asked. She already knew, but it was polite to ask anyways. She walked down a corridor of light with another girl about four years her junior. There is both a striking similarity and a striking contrast between the two girls: Rei's hair is off-white and the other girl's is shockingly pink; Rei's appearance is neat and functional, while the other girl's is meant to entice; Rei moves with an unconscious grace, while Aimi's movements are deliberate and calculated, though no less graceful. And for all that, they could be sisters. They are sisters, actually. Two distinct variations on the same DNA recombined in slightly differing ways. It was like that with all six of them: genetic siblings, all of them. Three girls, 00, 01, and 05. Three boys, 02, 03, and 04.

Aimi met Rei’s gaze, doing her best not to giggle at the thought of her meeting with that young man. "You already know," she said. "You're the one who can't turn it off, after all."

Rei nodded faintly and said nothing, allowing Aimi's irritation to pass over her and through her, leaving her self unmoved in its wake. "Yes," she said. It wasn't worth it to argue over this again. She knew that the others thought her defective. "You..." she trailed off.

"If you don't say it now, you'll only mope about how you wished you had said it for the next week," Aimi said, wishing not for the first time that Rei's mental shielding wasn't quite so well fortified. She supposed it was for the best. In Rei's case, it was either intense mental shielding or near-insanity. Even so, it was disconcerting, not having ready access to someone's thoughts. More so in the wake of recent events.

“You like him.”

Aimi blushed. “That’s private,” she said warningly.

“Sorry.” The teasing note was gone from Rei's voice now, vanished like the morning mist beneath the heat of the sun. A pause. “Do you really think of me when you think of madness?”

Aimi caught Rei’s eyes with her own, blood red eyes peering into blood red eyes. “What’s all this about, Rei? You don’t usually take an interest in other people’s missions.”

"Because it is so clear, it takes a long time to realize it,” Rei murmured cryptically.

Aimi smiled bemusedly. “In English?”

Rei shook her head. “You wouldn’t understand.”

For a moment, the shields wavered. For a moment, Aimi caught a glimpse of a Mechified Labor unit, (‘We are not your appendages!’ ) and a desperate sense of... something. It was gone. She frowned. “What was that?”

“Goodbye, Aimi,” Rei said. There was a note of finality in her voice. She walked away down the vast corridor of light, leaving her sister there near the entrance to the briefing room.

Aimi watched her go, confusion writ large in her expression. She wasn’t sure what just happened exactly, but she had the distinct impression that she had just missed something important. “Rei, wait,” she called.

“Go to your briefing, Aimi,” Rei said.

Despite her misgivings, Aimi did as she was told.

She always had.

--------------

“I fear that soon this fire may consume us all.” He shook his weathered head, pausing more from dramatic effect than out of necessity. “The magic of the dusk sages must be recovered if we are to have any hope of weathering the flames.” The old Prill looked at Inari with a serious expression. “This is your task, young one.”

Inari stared at the elder, wide-eyed. His task. His task! Finally, after years and years of demonstrating his cleverness to the whole choir, he had been entrusted not only with a song, but with a Task! A sacred quest! He was not totally successful in keeping the grin off of his face. “I won’t disappoint you, Elder Winter,” he said eagerly. He did not notice the very calculating look in the old Prill’s eye.

They sat in a clearing in the midst of a vast, old growth forest. It was dreary, and the light of the stars scarcely penetrated through the gloom of the place. The ground was treacherous here for any who did not know it well: for miles around the Prill village, sudden rifts and valleys opened unexpectedly in the wood, and sharp rocks were among the least dangerous of the things one might find at the bottom of one of these.

“I know you won’t,” the Elder said. “For the sake of us all, you won’t. Now, have you gathered what we asked for?”

“Water from a well holy to the Jevuum (and plenty of mud besides), a berry from the stores of the Zipsum, an Anakarix’s talon, blood spilled after insulting a Gogajin’s mother, a Vorax’s tail feather.” Inari frowned. “Elder Winter, did we really need all these things?”

Elder Winter’s upper lip twitched, as if he were trying not to laugh. “Indeed,” he said sagely as he collected the proffered items.

Inari looked unconvinced. The two red-furred fox-ears growing up from either side of his head twitched in irritation.

They were needed, mind you. They would make the blessing much easier. It’s just that other, easier to find items would have done the job just as well. Elder Winter put the items into a small leather pouch tied to his belt. “Come, Inari. You have proven yourself worthy of the task set before you. It is time to receive your blessing from the Choir of Elders.”

Inari nodded, his irritation forgotten. “Right.” He thought about it for a moment. They may be doing this to get rid of him, but it was still an honour to be chosen for a Sacred Quest.

Together, the two Prill rose to their feet and walked towards the distant firelight that came from the outer watch post of the village.

The forest allowed their passage only reluctantly, barely standing aside long enough to let them creep through, and closing immediately behind them.

The forest knew much, had seen much. Though it suffered the presence of the Prill, there were few others that walked on two legs that it would allow passage. Wooden creaks and voices like the rustling of leaves raced from tree to tree, and the air grew hot with anger. News had arrived from the distant north: another wood had fallen before the loggers. Murderers. Axe-bearers. Creatures of black smoke and steam.

Even as the song of the Choir of Elders rose into the air, filling all the land around the village with a sense of hope and glory, the trees took angry council together. No, it wasn’t time to act yet. They would watch, and wait, and plan.

For now.

Organizations Among the Cheldrun

The Cheldrun have a complex, multi-layered society. Structures and organizations interact with each other at various levels, creating a dense web of politics. What follows is a simplistic examination of some of these organizations.

MACRO LEVEL ORGANIZATIONS
At the highest level you have organizations which are really conglomerates of other powerful organizations. These organizations have little direct impact on people's day to day lives, but they shape the overall trends in Cheldrun politics on a massive scale.

Yogensha League - Even for the Biomade competition can get too fierce. When massive city-states with enormous military might are in continual conflict it spells disaster for all. Thus the seven most powerful city-states (Galatas, Geneva Prime, Ithica, Marina, Matamos, Omexon, & Zamar) made an alliance in order to control their rambunctious fellows. The Yogensha League is ostensibly the most powerful force in the land, because it combines the military threat of those seven cities. For a number of decades, uneasy peace has been maintained by the enormous shadow cast by this league. It is headquartered in Omexon.

CITY STATES
Over 60% of the total Cheldrun population lives in one of the 13 enormous City States. These City States are the basic political unit of Cheldrun life. Individual Cheldrun usually associate themselves in terms of citizenship with one city or another. The majority of Cheldrun blood spilt is over conflicts between them. Each City State is master of an empire of smaller towns and villages ranging from dozens to hundreds of loyal vassals.

Geneva Prime - In terms of population, economic clout, and military prowess Geneva Prime is the most powerful city on Karia. Geneva Prime is generally less respected than cities like Marina or Omexon that are seats of inter-city political bodies, but Geneva Prime is widely feared. It is built around the first discovered and largest of the Blackrock mines on Karia, which is the source of its wealth and pollution. Geneva Prime has been very aggressive historically, expanding its empire at the expense of its neighbors and foresting like nobody's business. It's depredations have been curbed slightly by membership in the Yogensha League, but it is still a capricious and dangerous power.

INTER-CITY BODIES
Some corporations and organizations have offices or operations in various cities. Usually these groups are headquartered in one city, but have extensions elsewhere. They operate under special treaties and exceptions which allow them to function according to the various different laws of the different regions.

Goshi Mining Corp - Owner of the Blackrock mine in Geneva Prime where they are headquartered, this corporation is widespread and powerful. Involved in everything from mining, to refining, to delivery and implementation, Goshi Mining Corp has its fingers in a lot of different pies. Almost every city has a Goshi warehouse or office building somewhere and Goshi Mining Corp frequently operates like they were a nation unto-themselves. In Geneva Prime, many of the law-enforcement and infrastructure responsibilities of civil government have been contracted to Goshi Mining Corp.

Biomade Oversight Council - Headquartered in Marina, the Biomade Oversight Council maintains two faces. Their public face is a propaganda machine presenting their methods as the future of Cheldrun society and the hope for a utopian civilization. Each year they determine the number of new Biomade to be introduced into the population (a number which has steadily been increasing). Most of the Biomade are produced in laboratories in Marina and then distributed as embryos to Council labs all over Karia. The private face of the Council is extremely secretive. At any given time there are 12 members on the Council, whose identities are unknown and whose route to power is inscrutable. The nature of decisions made, the goals and purposes of this organization, even their technological methodology is completely mysterious. Council vehicles and agents have diplomatic immunity in every city.

LOCAL ORGANIZATIONS
In every region there are countless smaller organizations ranging from small shops and franchises, to schools, to First Mind temples, to transportation and military and so on. These organizations are the most likely to impact people's daily lives and certainly fill up the most space, provide the most production, and absorb the most labor hours. Some of these local organizations are famous enough to have an impact beyond their reach.

Washi-San Academy - Every City-State has a Mecha-Pilot academy run by and for Allskin families with the heritage and talent to become gladiators using the ancient First-Mind Mechas. These academies serve the cities they are bound to by vows by producing champions who can resolve inter-city conflicts through single combat. The academy system along with the Yogensha League has helped to stem large scale warfare between the cities, though skirmishing over borders and the loyalty of specific towns is still frequent. Washi-San, situated in Geneva Prime, is a famous academy for the quality of the pilots it has produced. In the past 4 decades not one Washi-San pilot has experienced defeat in a formal duel. This fearsome reputation makes Geneva Prime that much more feared and hated.

The Mechified in Question

The Subject is Moses, a Labor unit modified for extreme conditions. You might have heard of him, actually. A delver. He's actually opened up at least one significant vein of Blackrock in a sector we thought was too hostile to tunnel in cheaply.

He's the second child of Hessia and Hammerhand. They lived in Sector 121 before the big collapse. Moses was 8, and he lived down there for days before a salvage crew found him. You might find some archived newsprints about it, actually. Most of the family is dead now - just a brother and maybe a couple cousins.

Caught the attention of one Namie Amuro - yes, the very same. She's his youngest daughter, and spoiled. She decided she wanted this Mech-kid as a friend - felt bad for him, or something. So they purchased his family debt and he moved in.

In retrospect, they should've gotten her a different fucking pet. But anyway.

He had the chance to learn more than they usually do, growing up in that family. He decided that he was a survivor, so he had to put that to use. He became a deep-delver, modifying himself in the usual ways. Made something of a name for himself, as I told you. Word is, he's pretty simple. Does his job but isn't deep, you know? Not a talker.

The key here is that, at some point, a certain artifact went missing from the Amuro family vaults. We're still subpoenaing the records, but we believe it was a First Mind artifact of unknown capacity. We've...interrogated some of the security staff, and one mentioned the words "Difference Engine". Mean anything to you? Yeah, me neither. But the last person, we think, to access the vault before it went missing was...you guessed it - Namie.

So the smart money is that Moses has this Difference Engine, and a few weeks later we have the incident with Assistant Director Ichiro Jun. Coincidence? We don't think so.

Whatever it is, it's a threat to us. Maybe something happened, maybe the AD got close. Who knows? The thing is - we need this artifact, and the easiest way is to cut it out of his corpse. Before this whole thing gets out of hand. You know how it goes.

Here's the file to look over. You'll probably have to go down there, and its quite a warren. Probably hire a guide - but not a Mech. Like I said, he was known. Too bad you have to (he looks her up and down) get your nice clothes dirty.

She smiles and rises to take the file.

"If blood washes out, dirt shouldn't be a problem."

I'm Sorry But I'm Leaving Now

You should know that I didn't mean to do it. And I'm sorry. But I can't come back.

I went to the entrance to the new tunnel in sector 137 because I heard that something bad had happened. When I got there, they were pulling them out on stretchers, the Canaries were, I didn't know them. They had breathers on. They go down when the air is bad.

The bodies were all twisted up, like it hurt real bad. They had foam on their mouths, and there was blood coming out of them. It had soaked the stretchers and some dripped on the floor. The Mechs still had their engines going, so you smell the smoke, and then the puke, and then you see them when they come out of the tunnel.

There was...the Assistant Director for that Sector. He was talking quiet to a man next to him in a 'viro suit. I didn't mean to hear, but it was so quiet, with some watching but not talking at all, and the stretchers, and the smell - no one else was talking, so I heard. They don't notice me - they say its loud down here, I don't know, it was quiet to me.

"Looks like our previous estimates of noxious gases were accurate after all. Must've hit some sort of larger pocket that was just slowly venting before through a crevice perhaps. Don't worry," the man in the suit tensed up like he's going to leave "it isn't dangerous for us up here. We can send more recovery teams to clear up the gases - they're mostly flammable, you know. But this shouldn't slow down production so much that we miss the quota."

The other voice was tinny and echo-y in the suit. "You'd better fucking hope not. You'll be lucky if you still have a job after this loss - its the third in this sector this week!"

And I knew. I knew their faces. Grinder. Junior. Clock. A cave-in when a support-beam went out. Joshua and Jens when a cable went. Now these four. I knew one of them, one of the Greaser twins, where's his brother? And there's a Gogajin. I saw their faces, all twisted so it's hard to look at them.

The AD was talking again "...understand, we actually save money this way. Canaries are expensive - hard to train, and the quality of the equipment they need means wear-and-tear really digs into our bottom line. They take forever to come back with a reading. And it wasn't a sure thing here. So we sent these down as a test-case. Its all in my report. Saved us a couple hundred, and will save more in the long run. This means that our third-quarter earnings..."

I wasn't listening anymore. I was behind them. I reached out to get their attention, but its my steel arm that reaches out, smears grease on the AD's suit, hits him kind of heavy. Something is happening. A test-case. No Canaries sent down first. And they knew. I feel really sick.

He turned around, red-faced, and I get the headache they give you, but its not so bad all of a sudden. A ringing in my ears, that's it. He's all white in the face.

"What the fuck do you think you're doing? Get your fucking appendage off of me!"

From nowhere, [APPENDAGE - APPENDIX - SOMETHING ADDED ON].

The thoughts came from the same place the pain does.

He didn't understand, but suddenly, I did.

I began to boil. "You - we're not - appendages!" Suddenly I was up in front of him, standing straight. "We're not added on! We're -" I couldn't finish. My hand...I had the hand on, and it gripped him, around the neck. Squeezed. Hard.

The man in the 'viro suit is screaming something in his helmet, making it fog up. He emptied a gun into me, and one bullet hit flesh, but I didn't feel it, didn't even hear it. I boiled and boiled.

The Assistant Director's face turned red, then purple, really quick. "Agk! Bragk!" He tried to say something. His legs kicked and kicked as I held him in the air.

I thought of something clear and I said it and only remembered it after. "You don't think we're listening but we are! You don't listen! We'll make you listen!"

He looked at me, his eyes all wide and staring, but he wasn't listening. He stopped kicking. His head hung at a bad angle, his face all twisted up like...like the others on the stretchers. The man in the 'viro suit shouted into a device and I got scared. I hit him with my arm and he crumbled to the ground. I heard a tinny voice coming from the device.

I looked up and the Canaries had put down the stretchers they carried. They were looking at me. Everyone was looking at me. Mechified, steaming, healthy heat coming off of them. All of us together, just looking.

One came forward - a Noomatic. She said "Moses. They'll come for you now. You have to run."

"Where do I run?" Down. There's always down. Or - up and out?

"We can help you, but you have to come with us. Now."

I was moving before I felt myself decide, the pain pushing me, like a hand on my back. I want it to stop making me do things. And I want it to make me stronger so no one can stop me.

Now the pain is all I have.

I'm sorry. I don't want to kill anyone, but...

We are not your appendages.

An Opening Move

Daitokuji Kiyoshi made his way through the upper halls of the central offices of Goshi Mining Corp, ignoring the various messengers and assistants who quickly removed themselves from his path and bowed as he walked by. His was a warrior's stride, not that any of those he passed would recognize such. Of the Silver Phoenix clan, he wore the traditional pale gray kimono proudly, making him stand out among the various business suits that usually graced the halls. His appearance was striking not only for his clothing, however: unusually tall and thin, his features were pale and cruelly perfect enough that not a few people had mistaken him for Biomade at first glance. Fluorescent lights reflected off his glasses in such a way that it made it impossible to tell his eye color, but everyone here knew well that they matched his hair, silver even though he was still a young man, thick and unbound as it flowed halfway down his back. His coloration marked him as a pure blood of his clan, features for which it had been named so very long ago; not that anyone other than an Allskin would know or care. He held his position not due to the honor and history of his clan, but due to the influence of his father, Daitokuji Noboru, in the Academy.

He reached his office, unlocked it, and stepped inside. Flicking on the lights, he was immediately made aware of a most distressing fact: he had a visitor, one who was quietly sitting in his chair at his own desk, waiting for him patiently in the dark. Even more disconcerting was that this person clearly did not belong here: by all appearances some punk kid out of the nearest club! A young woman, barely of the age of majority, clad in black leather meant to accentuate what little form she had, the intruder could not have been more than five feet tall. Still, she looked quite sure of herself as she sat there, quietly watching the owner of the desk she sat at with large, expressive eyes made to seem even larger with expertly applied makeup. Like Kiyoshi himself, however, her most striking feature was her coloration. Like him she was alabaster pale of skin, but more unusual by far was the fact that her eyes were red and her short, raggedly cropped hair was bright pink!

Kiyoshi took a moment to take in her appearance as he calmly closed the office door. "Do you have any idea who..." he began, but she cut in smoothly.

"I know precisely who you are, Director Daitokuji Kiyoshi, son of Daitokuji Noboru, the Grand Master of the..."

Kiyoshi interrupted her in turn. "I am familiar with my own identity, and that of my father. What I am not familiar with is yours. I would suggest you explain yourself. Now."

"I am not just a 'punk kid', Director Daitokuji."

He narrowed his eyes at the girl. "A mind reader," he stated more than asked. She simply smirked. "Then you know precisely what I will do to you if you do not immediately explain who you are and what you are doing in my office."

Her eyes widened slightly. "My, my, how deliciously naughty. Very well, Kiyoshi. May I call you Kiyoshi?"

"No."

His rebuttal did not seem to phase her. "My name is Aimi."

"An assassin?"

She gave a shrug with just one shoulder. "Sometimes. Not today though. Today I am just a messenger." She gestured to a document sitting on the desk. Curious, Kiyoshi picked it up and quickly looked it over. It was a notice of his termination from his position on the board.

"By whose authority?" he asked, obviously agitated.

"Why, it was a unanimous decision by the entirety of your fellow Directors. Not even your father will be able to overturn this decision. Apparently your recent attempts to take jobs away from poor Mechafied workers did not go over very well."

He glared indignantly. "I have been fighting to improve their conditions! They are our fellow Cheldrun and the Corporation treats them like slaves! It should mean something more to be Cheldrun; they should not have to die in those forsaken mines for little pay and less recognition!"

Aimi gave a dismissive snort. "You Allskins, always so arrogant, so shortsighted. You just cannot stand not being in charge, so you would take work and food away from the mouths of your fellows just to show your power! And even if you got your way, how then would we get the Blackrock necessary for our way of life? Or would you have us all live in the dark for your arrogance?"

Kiyoshi snarled. "We have captured Karian war criminals, do we not? Use them! Work every last one of them to death for all I care! We, the Cheldrun, deserve better than what your masters would give any but their own!"

She shook her head, affecting a look of disappointment and sadness. "You would even seek to hurt the poor, misguided natives? Does your cruelty and ambition know no bounds? It is well done that you are removed from your position, Kiyoshi."

About to retort, Kiyoshi noticed that, despite her tone, her eyes were flashing with what could only be glee. This impertinent Biomade girl was enjoying this! He realized then that this was a battle, perhaps as deadly as any, and that he had to react accordingly. Anger had no place in battle, nor confusion. And so he did as he had been taught since he was a child: he fed his emotions, his very self, to the Void. When in battle there was no time for thought, no time for distraction, and so a true warrior learned to become one with the Void. What was not there could not be cut; what was not detected could not be defended against. In order to win, there must be no thought, only action, only the need to cut down one's opponent immediately and utterly. He entered the Void then and so became invincible.

He saw Aimi's eyes widen for the first time in genuine shock, even fear. He saw her start to reach for a concealed weapon in her vest. Any onlooker would have said that she moved astonishingly fast, almost faster than the eye could follow. It was not fast enough. The problem, as with so many others who fought but were not truly warriors, was thought. First she had to realize that something was wrong; then she had to reach the decision that something had to be done about it. She then had to decide what needed to be done and only then did her brain tell her hand to reach for her gun. All of this happened in mere fractions of a second, but it still took time. Kiyoshi did not; he simply acted.

Before her weapon was even halfway out of its holster, Aimi found a long, slightly curved sword resting at the hollow of her throat, deep purple runes glowing along the silvery blade. The blade had sprung out of the hilt that simply seemed to be in Kiyoshi's hand instantly, as though by magic. Slowly, she released her hold on her gun and put her hands in the air.

"How do you do that?" she gasped. "How do you keep me out of your mind? That should be impossible for an Allskin!"

His blade did not waver in the slightest. "That is the arrogance of your kind; you think that we Allskins were left pure for no other reason than to be a control group. You think that we are now obsolete, that our place in the Grand Experiment of the First Minds is no longer necessary. But perhaps your manipulations have not been as successful as you thought. Perhaps we, who have remained pure all this time, are evolving in a way you cannot comprehend, a way guided by nature instead of by the fallible hands of our fellows."

She sneered. "Nature is obsolete."

"If that is the case, why are you at my mercy? Why can you not enter my mind?"

Again, her expression changed, seemingly as mutable as quicksilver. She was now staring at him with what could only be described as open and unabashed admiration. "What a Biomade you would make," she breathed. "With some genetic enhancements you could be... magnificent!"

This sudden change of direction threw him off, and Kiyoshi felt his grip on the Void waver. "You are mad."

Aimi's face became stern and angry; she looked older now than she had before. "Do not presume to speak to me of madness until you have experienced what it is like to hear the thoughts of everyone around you, deafening, not being able to sort out one from another." The anger slipped away and she looked then like nothing more than what she was: a sad and frightened young woman, barely more than a girl, at the mercy of a man more than a foot taller and half again her age. Feeling disgusted with himself, Kiyoshi retracted the blade and turned away, the Void fleeing for now.

She spoke, her voice soft and wondering. "You are not going to kill me then?"

He shook his head. "No, there would be no honor in it. You cannot help the way they made you." He turned around to find her standing very close, only inches away. She looked up at him with her big, red eyes and then smiled at him impishly.

"Do you think I'm cute?" she asked out of nowhere. Startled, Kiyoshi stepped back and stared at her disbelievingly, coloring slightly. She took this as a cue to pose, then laughed in delight. "Oh, this is going to be a fun game!"

Rolling his eyes at her declaration, he gave her a curt nod and opened the door to leave what was no longer his office. There was nothing in there worth trying to retrieve under the eyes of the crazed Biomade. Just as the door was shutting behind him he heard a giggle and her voice saying "Your move."

Daitokuji Kiyoshi made his way through the upper halls of the central offices of Goshi Mining Corp, ignoring the various messengers and assistants who quickly removed themselves from his path and bowed as he walked by. He had contacts of his own, strings to pull. He found himself smiling and quickly schooled his features. He could not help but think that she had been right about one thing: this was going to be a fun game.

Anakarix

Philosophizing Lizards...

In the jungles of the southwest, unknown to the Cheldrun, there are sprawling cities resting on the top of the jungle canopy like crowns. Made from the woven branched of the Sygola trees, the Anakarix bask in the sun, gaze at the stars and debate the future of their endangered planet. The topics of their debates change as swiftly as the wind, but the habit of their long-lived race are as ancient as the forest itself. The philosopher lizards have been sitting here and thinking since the Dusk Sages first taught them to ponder.

Indeed, in those misty recesses of time, the Dusk Sages produced a remarkable change in this Karian race. Opening up to the Anakarix the avenues of critical inquiry and the philosophical pursuit of truth proved to be an addictive behavior. The Anakarix became so enraptured in their thoughts that they lost completely the secret of assuming their normal human form. Centuries and centuries of breeding have most likely removed completely the ability to metamorphosize common to the other Karians.

The Anakarix don’t regret it for a moment however. As a cold-blooded species, they associate knowledge and waking and cognition with the sun. There is no such thing as an Anakarix morning person, because of their cold-blooded state, and then after noon it is almost impossible for them to bring themselves to work physically because their minds by then are racing on overdrive once they’ve warmed up. Their love of the sun is even expressed in one of their many philosophical schools – heliophilism.

The Anakarix can be a very still and slow-moving people, plodding at best, except for explosions of activity when startled, or angry or when engaging in threat displays. When angered they can become inarticulate and change colors or even have brightly colored flaps of skin erupt from their head or neck, quivering. However, behind these animal displays and behaviors there is an uncanny intelligence, evaluating everything, rationally and disinterestedly.

Their love affair with reason can make the Anakarix seem like a heartless bunch at times, though nothing is further from the truth. Those Anakarix thought to be insufficiently intelligent are condemned early in life to become laborers, guards and foragers and live lives of frustration. However, a grudging respect for the egalitarian nature of inspiration means that any Anakarix, no matter how dim, is able to participate in the public forums. There have been instances in Anakarix history when a despised forager revolutionized a school of thought with an unexpected insight.

While the Anakarix make distinctions based on apparent intelligence they make no distinctions based on heritage, wealth or gender. Indeed, other races are sometimes puzzled by the complete lack of difference between the genders – who knows what’s in that cloaca? The Anakarix can always tell, but they are puzzled by others’ thinking it is somehow important.

Anakarix society is arranged around vast “agoras” or open-air markets and forums that become places of debate. These agoras are usually surrounded by a host of different academies and compounds that host the different philosophical schools in vogue. Young Anakarix spend a little time being fostered to each school before choosing one school at majority for which they will be an apologist the remainder of their life. Each school teaches a distinct philosophical worldview, which purports to explain more adequately than any other the “Truth”. In tandem with their philosophical outlook the schools are distinguished by patterns of life suited to each philosophy. The Renouncers live ascetic lives, while the Diggers extol physical labor, and the Astrologists seek to overcome their sun-dependency to become nocturnal. With the arrival of the Cheldrun a new school has been gaining ascendancy – the Nihilists.

One behavior common to most philosophical schools is a ritualized form of martial art. Their martial arts are taught like tai-chi, in slow motion and without an actual opponent. They emphasize discipline and spiritual harmony over physical prowess, though they are unquestionably effective. Public debates are often preceded by martial displays which are not accorded nearly the same honor as the debate, but nevertheless serve as an opportunity to intimidate your opponent and attempt to gain a psychological edge.



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Players who wish to play an Anakarix should decide which school they belong to and then begin to detail specifically the philosophical outlook of that school. What is your primary worldview? How do you obtain, filter, classify and make meaning of knowledge? What behaviors or life-patterns are required of members of your school? How often and well do you debate? (How many piercings are in your dewlap?) What relationship does your school have to other schools of thought? Which are similar or in harmony with yours? Which are opposed? How does your school explain the Cheldrun?

Appearance: The Anakarix are giant lizards, the size of Komodo Dragons. Varying in type and coloring from iguana-like, to gecko-like, to crocodile-esque, they are absurdly diverse. Some exhibit the bright colors of poisonous snakes and frogs, others are the muted tones of desert lizards. Most have some ability to camouflage themselves. Though they do not wear clothing they are famous for the many piercings they sport in the flap of skin below their jaws called a dewlap. These piercings, made of Never Gems, represent the victories of an individual Anakarix in debate, thus they are a status symbol and a warning to opponents. As Anakarix age, their scales turn gray and then white, thus the oldest of them are practically albinos.

Example Schools: Anaturists, Astrologists, Diggers, Heliophilists, Laughers, Naturists, Nihilists, Spiritists, Renouncers

Example Names: Asterakalys, Boristakon, Dankonubis, Hackara, Jujukamon, Keracka, Koriakalys, Monikostomon, Oblongata, Pukassa, Saborakalys, Vojashaka

Example Attributes:
Armour, Environmental Influence (fog), Heightened Awareness, Heightened Sense, Jumping, Melee Attack, Melee Defence, Mind Shield, Special Defense (poison), Tough, Weapon (poison spit)

Example Skills: Acrobatics, Area Knowledge, Biological Sciences, Climbing, Cultural Arts, Etiquette, Languages, Medical, Occult, Physical Sciences, Poisons, Social Sciences, Wilderness Survival, Writing

Anakarix attitudes towards….

Cheldrun

The riddle of the Cheldrun will be the defining question of our epoch. The school which most adequately explains this conundrum will be remembered as the greatest of all.

Allskins

The paradoxical Allskins are simultaneously the most exalted and the most despised caste of Cheldrun. Their tarnished glory is a moral lesson of great power.

Biomade

The reach of the intellect often exceeds the reach of true understanding. Observe these children of genius to learn the nature of hubris.

Mechified

Wisdom does not value a person according to the same standards. This caste is considered foolish by most, but they have an intelligence which pierces the mysteries of our physical world. A wise person will listen.

Karians

We are the answer to a question which is no longer being asked.

Anakarix

Does the planet know that we have been thinking about it and studying its secrets for so many millennia? Will it care when we are no longer around to ask questions?

Gogajin

The donkey-sons have never wondered why - a habit we simply cannot comprehend.

Jevumm

We can admire the cleverness of the hunters so long as we are safe in our tree-tops. They are the razor’s edge of wit – useful only to cut with.

Prill

The dedication of these singers to the past is remarkable. We commend their preservation of ancient wisdom and wish only that they would explore the possibilities of genuinely new insight.

Vorax

Even from our high vantage point we have never seen or known as much about Karia as these majestic birds. It will be a travesty when the last one is dead.

Zipsum

Life for a Zipsum is too fleeting to permit exploration of deep mysteries. The skip across the surface of the water, blissfully oblivious to the horrible depths below.


Ruins

Cities