Emo Champion: One Disturbed Little Girl

The Emo Champion Award goes to the character who most players agree provided the most emotional drama through roleplaying through the entire season. This prestigious award is accompanied not only by the trophy emblem (right), but by 5, count them 5, of the coveted green Never Gems. The honored recipient of the second ever Emo Champion Award is Rei, the psychosis made flesh.

Player characters as a species are not known for being psychologically stable, but Rei really exemplifies the unhinged protagonist role. From her shaky concept of self to her sadistic passions brought on by an abusive childhood, Rei gives expression to the breadth and depth of the DSM IV.

"That girl's invented whole new ways to spell 'Fucked up'," Moses told me, in a rare candid moment when he employed his miner vocabulary.

"Indeed, I think we all thank the First Minds that we are not ourselves telepaths and thus we have been spared greater insight into the working of her twisted mind." Even as Kiyoshi said it I could see the others were in agreement.

"We definitely do not want to know what's going on in there," HD added, pointing to Rei and then indicating a giant Sygola nut with eyes full of significance.

But being mentally disturbed by itself is not what earned her the title of Emo Champion this season. Some of her companions have mental issues of their own (Una). What really made Rei stand out above the others was her recent childlike discovery of morality.

"There have been times when I was not certain if Rei was any better than the Oni we are trying to destroy, but lately she has given some hopeful signs," Mokuzai admitted when speaking with me one-on-one. "Occasionally she suggests nonlethal ways of resolving conflicts nowadays, which under the circumstances is pretty miraculous."

There may be hope for Rei actually becoming a good person, as indicated by recent epiphanies - but it's too early to tell.

"I definitely think she has a shot of coming around. I mean, she's threatened Kiyoshi with a shovel various times out of some kind of misguided loyalty to her assassin sister. That's almost noble," Una suggested hopefully.

But not all the signs point uphill for Rei. Her emotional rollercoaster included laughing in glee at the pain of everything living on Karia. Whatever her moral choices in the future they will doubtless lead to further bizarre emotional displays. While she's not exactly the kind of girl who wears her heart on her sleeve, her feelings are still readily apparent. They come boiling out through her eyesockets like virulent acid.

She is Rei. She is our Emo Champion. She is one disturbed little girl.

Narrator's Best Friend: the Singer of Peace

The Narrator's Best Friend Award goes to the character who most players agree consistently added great stuff to the story be it with NPC's or character choices through the entire season. This prestigious award is accompanied not only by the trophy emblem (right), but by 5, count them 5, of the coveted blue Never Gems. The honored recipient of the second ever Narrator's Best Friend Award is Mokuzai, the Peace-loving Prill.

Indeed, it can hardly be doubted that the elderly former guardian of the Song of Tempest was a constant friend to the narrator this past season. The pretext for the entire season was a journey to the Grand Chantry, something which was only possible due to his patient, if frequently exasperated, leadership. Mokuzai calmly helped steer the party in all the right directions - whether that be to recover his staff from Ben Hamor and the revelation of the Gods, or the opening of the sealed chamber and the unraveling of the mysteries. The plot swirled in delicate eddies around the rock of Mokuzai all season long.

Rei and Moses are grateful to the old fox-son for taking on this role. "Last season, in Geneva Prime, the story kept driving us into uncomfortable interactions with my dysfunctional family or Moses' unwilling instigation of a civil war. Frankly it was exhausting, we're glad he took up some of the burden this time around."

Though Moses didn't speak openly about the pains of being last season's recipient of this award, it was clear that he didn't relish being in the spotlight again. "He can have the award every season if he wants it. As long as people stop killing each other and blaming it on me."

Not everyone felt that Mokuzai was the best anchor for the collective storyline however.

"He's a stodgy old man," High-Dive confessed in a back room. "You should have seen how he flips out over a little piss on a stinky book." She would have said more, but just then Una shot her a disapproving glance.

"Mokuzai cares about the legacy of the Dusk Sages," Una contributed. "We shouldn't underestimate how much it has cost him to choose to follow this path, unraveling these mysteries. He's trying to solve the riddle of peace and that's no small thing."

No small thing at all. This distinguished Prill has collected Dusk Sage artifacts and wisdom like nobody's business, and though he knows their histories and names and functions, the rest of the party just refers to them as "plot devices A, B & C".

"Yeah," Kiyoshi quipped "That staff is a damn handy escape trick, and a mask that sees a giant arrow in the sky pointing us in the right direction? I mean, can the GM be any more obvious?"

Mokuzai really is the man who keeps the story moving, and that's why this Singer of Peace is the Narrator's Best Friend.

Episode 18: Mysteries Unraveled

We stood under the central plaza in the Grand Chantry, awaiting whatever unknown horror might come out from behind it. Other people might have been expectant of great knowledge to be revealed (tomes tucked away for our perusal perhaps), but we knew better - or at least we had come to expect nothing so optimistic. Mokuzai's tension was palpable as he began to sing.

The doors opened to blackness. Not darkness. Blackness. It was alike a nearly-palpable wall of night. After some careful prodding, then HighDive's 'ballsy' rush in, we followed in kind. What we witnessed was some sort of ghost-view of a trial that happened long ago. A Dusk Sage in chains was being judged by the rest. His mask was torn off...the same mask Elder Winter had passed on to Mokuzai.

The captive Dusk Sage only had time to apologize for what he was going to do (that didn't give me warm-fuzzies) before his chains broke. I ran hell-bent from the room, Mokuzai managed to close the door, and we waited. Only to find that he had floated through the ceiling of his chamber into the plaza above. He floated above the ground, but we all jumped at him to see if we could deal any damage at all. I put on his old mask and found that I could see a unique spot in his torso - that is where Griever found its mark. While we all tested our battle theories, we also started to attack each other...WTF?

Not hand-to-hand, but it felt as if our kata-karianas were ripped from our bodies towards our allies. Thank goodness the Onis hadn't done that to us! And just when things couldn't get any worse, a crud-load of Hei-Shi just *appeared* all over the Chantry. Bullets, blue blades, and katas were flying everywhere. Damn it, just die Sage! I jumped up to attack, and I don't remember hitting the ground...


I woke up on the top of a mountain. Lovely. There was a Hei-Shi beside me. Hmm. He had his blade halfway through my neck. (Gather malice) **NNNOOOOO**
As I lost consciousness again I was treated to the sight of a horrible Goshi soldier turning inside out in a spray of blood.

Kick-Ass King: The Blade of Judgment

The Kick-Ass King Award goes to the character who most players agree did the most devastation in the coolest way through the entire season. This prestigious award is accompanied not only by the trophy emblem (right), but by 5, count them 5, of the coveted red Never Gems. The honored recipient of the second ever Kick-Ass King Award is Daitokuji Kiyoshi, the human cuisinart.

Kiyoshi is a no-nonsense flayer of flesh and destroyer of all who are foolish enough to engage him in melee combat. Wielder of the incomparable First Mind artifact, Keibatsu, he has honed his mind and body to the point that cleaving heads from shoulders is less effort for him than trimming toenails (which is tricky to do with a katana).

Party members will doubtless be haunted in their nightmares by memories of him opening opponents up from shoulder to hip with his blade - or the terrifying revelation that he can in fact shoot silvery phoenixes from his sword attacking foes at range as easily as up close.

"That was a real lifesaver, that technique" Una pointed out. "I used to have to fly him around the battlefield so he could get close enough to do his thing. Now he is much more deadly at any distance."

Rei agreed, "But you really haven't seen Kiyoshi at his full potential unless you've seen him go to work against the Enemy."

Everyone nodded when she said that, though Moses looked vaguely nauseous.

It's true that Kiyoshi is exceptionally gifted at laying the smack down on the eyeless demons that haunt the Cheldrun from across the blackness of space. When putting the dead back to rest, or turning an Oni into sludge, Kiyoshi not only deals catastrophic damage, but perversely he also regains strength he has lost.

"Thank the First Minds for that," Moses said. "In that last Oni fight, it was just me and him left, and I didn't have the firepower to take that demon out. Even though Kiyoshi was naked he seemed invincible, which is really useful, when you think about it."

High-Dive grinned, "Yeah he gave that demon a rough time, though nobody should forget that I dropped a tree on it." Across the room, Mokuzai said nothing, but his glower suggested that he hadn't forgotten.

If you ask Kiyoshi about his sword he gets uncharacteristically shy, "It's my heritage, really. I'm just doing my best to use it as well as my ancestors did."

No doubt. He "inherited" one helluva sword and all the Gogajin ladies hope to see how well he uses it.

He is Daitokuji Kiyoshi, the Blade of Judgment.

Another Season in the Bag...

The Second Season has come to an end and the Heroes of Karia Vitalus Awards Ceremony has been held.

In the category of Best Episode of Season Two the surprising winner was the emotionally charged episode, Don't Cry Sweet Mokuzai. Perhaps it garnered the award for being fraught with human drama as the importance of family and love were pitted against duty and heroism. It does go to show that we have an unusual gaming group when their favorite episode of the season is one which included no combat.

In the category of Favorite NPC of Season Two, the dangerous tiger Kufu narrowly took home the honors. There were a number of other well-loved NPC's from this season, including Edana Griolsa and Elder Winter, but Kufu charmed the most people with his honest malevolence and full-frontal nudity. He will be remembered for ambushing Rei (twice) and crunching on the bones of the psychotic Biomade sniper Eris.

The player-characters also voted on awards for each other. The winners of these awards will be profiled in subsequent days.

Ruin and Rebirth

The last things I remember is a flash of silver light somewhere behind me, Una's horrified face in front of me, and then there is pain. Pain enough to last a life-time.

I awaken to the feeling of a cold floor beneath me. I open my eyes. I am lying face down in a cold, concrete prison cell. It is functional. There is a toilet and a cot.

'Holy shit. I can't believe I made it out of that alive.'
A mind.
'At least I did my job. She's safely captured. I suppose they'll probably dispose of her, soon.'
Thoughts of fear. Thoughts of relief.
I rise to my feet.
'Oh shit! She's awake!'
There are no bars, but only a brilliant blue barrier of coherent energy. I know better than to touch it. A Heishi stands just on the other side of the barrier, and I immediately know where I am, or close enough: I am in a Goshi prison. Somewhere. The cold chill in the air makes me think mountains, but the prison could also be refrigerated as a part of the effort to break down the will of prisoners to resist.

My gaze meets his, and I know him.
His name is Acid. He has served with the Heishi for three years. His favorite colour is orange. His lover's name is Sakura. She is also a Heishi, but he has not seen her since the... DisLocator? was installed...

His mind goes blank as he finally musters enough of a mental defense to keep me out. I could break through it if I wished, but I do not care. The Fire simmers there beneath the surface. The pain of Karia simmers there beneath the surface. I want it. I want it all. It frightens me. 'I wonder what your pain will taste like?'

"Do you know who I am?" I ask.

He flinches away from my gaze, and I briefly perceive him as a shimmering mass of fractals, floating in the air before me.

"You're a prisoner," Acid says. "And you'll be dead soon. Anything else doesn't matter"

I move up to the shield, so close that my nose is almost brushing against it. I can feel the static charge. "Wrong," I say. "I am the consuming fire." I feel it. Hunger. The need to kill. The need to drink in his suffering. The need to drink in the terror and agony of his final moments. My voice lowers to a whisper. "Burn with me."

A golden light fills the room, and there is a terrible roar and a rush of heat. I see the flames reflected in his eyes even as they widen in panic and horror. The barrier pops like a pricked soap-bubble, the walls of the cell explode, and for one brief, glorious moment, I am with him in his agony. His pain, his horror, his sheer terror floods through my mind, and it is beautiful, even as the sight of his flesh consumed in a matter of moments is beautiful. His charred body goes flying, smashes into a table covered in medical instruments, and breaks apart into ashes against the wall.

Silence. Beautiful, beautiful silence. I savor it like wine.

A groan. A moan of pain. "Oh God," comes a pained voice. Male. Middle-aged. I turn. The wall of the cell next to me is gone, and an Allskin man lies half buried in the rubble.


My gaze meets his frantic, panicked, pained gaze, and I know him. A noble. A member of the house of Yamoto. He has been held here since... since... since just after Lord Tsuchinaga died. He was heir. Goshi decided otherwise. Imprisoned, beaten, tortured, but not broken. That gives me pause. Wasn't Tsuchinaga a Biomade? How... oh, I don't even care. Allskin houses becoming Biomade is probably the least interesting subject in the world.

"Help me!" he says. "Please... I think my leg is broken."

"Yes," I say pleasantly, walking across the rubble to reach him.

"There should be supplies in the main room. You can make a splint. Something."

His pain and his horror become my whole world. I feel drunk. How could I ever have thought this wrong? I want more.

Hatred rises up in my chest like a burning fire, and I realize with a shocking suddenness that I hate this man. I hate this would-be heir to the Yamoto family. I hate him. I hate the TeeShee. I hate the Heishi. I hate Goshi. I hate them all. It's like a thick smoke in my lungs, and it's so... petty.

I don't even realize that I'm moving until the first splatter of his blood splashes against my leathers.

"NO!" he screams, but I don't stop. I can't. His agony is everything. Pain is everything. Hatred is everything.

The suffering of this Yamoto. The suffering of the Heishi. The suffering of Karia. The suffering of all my victims. The floodgates burst open even as blood begins to flow freely, and my whole world becomes a haze of joy in suffering, and then...


"It is enough."
The voice is male, and warm, and vaguely familiar.

I look up, quickly scanning my surroundings. The cell is gone. The heir of Yamoto is gone. All is dark save where I stand. An empty void in every direction, save for the circle of light that I stand upon.

The empty void. A shudder of horror passes through me. Here I am. "Who...?" I ask.

There. He stands there in the darkness, his face faintly illuminated by the light upon which I stand: Inase Spark. I have never seen him before, but I know him. His thoughts are silent, but his voice is not. "Is this really what you want, Mikomi?" he asks. "Is this really the path you have chosen?"

Mikomi. The name tears through my heart like a bullet, though I can't say why. I stare at the image of my creator for a long, dumbfounded moment. "He can't be here," I say. "Who are you? What do you want?"

Spark smiles faintly. "Perhaps I am an hallucination. Perhaps I am the psychic imprint of Inase Spark left upon your mind by your telepathic contact with him as a child. Perhaps I am the conscience that you have ignored for too long; perhaps I know that the only way you will listen to me is if I wear this face, and bring you here. It doesn't matter. What matters is your answer. Is this really the path you want to walk?"

I look at my feet. After a beat, I glare at my creator. "I don't have any choice. I tried to choose something different, and it only made things worse. I saw her pain. The pain of all of Karia, and I..."

"And you liked it?"

"Yes. If I'm a monster, I should act like it. Stop pretending to be anything else."

Silence. And then, "Obsessed with death, with pain, with suffering. If death is all you can see, then death is all you deserve. But is this the path you want to walk, Mikomi?"

My heart clenches, and I look away. "Mama Pain started it. She taught me. Showed me how. Showed me how to like it."

"Will you continue it?"


"It doesn't matter who started it. What matters is what you choose. What will be left for you, for anyone, if all of creation falls around you? No hope, no life, no future. Is this the path you want to walk?"

I shake my head, "I don't understand."

"I know. But you must see the battle for what it is, Mikomi. You are not alone. We are all fighting: we are fighting to save one another. All of us. Together. And you have a chance here, now, to become something better, something far harder than you were before, but you must choose it. The path you have walked, the path of death, of suffering, the path of hatred: is this the path you want to walk? I am not allowed to ask again."


"No." At first, I don't even realize that it was me that spoke, and it is barely more than a whisper, but it is there.

It is enough.

I look up, and he holds out his hand without a word, nodding encouragingly. I stare at the hand for a long time, then reach out and take it.

Inase Spark vanishes. The empty void vanishes.
I vanish.

... I come back to my senses with the suddenness of a swimmer who, lungs nearly bursting after a dive into the deep, dark depths, suddenly bursts to the surface and breathes as though she had never breathed before. I stare wildly at my surroundings, at the broken, battered body of the noble of house Yamoto as he sucks in breath after agonized breath.

I stare down at my bloody hands.


Slowly, I bring my hands up to cover my face. What is this? What is this feeling? It hurts. It hurts in a way I've never... never...

He's looking at me, and I have never seen anything so terrible. I fall into a sitting position on the rubble.



A great wracking, shuddering sob shakes me to the core.


There, with the sprinklers pouring water down all around her, surrounded by rubble and concrete, Rei brought her hands up to cover her face, and wept.

Prelude to the End of Season Two

Ara Satoshi, Vice President of Operations for Goshi Mining Corporation, scrolled down an inventory of repairs and upgrades that would finally begin in the ravaged mines of Geneva Prime as soon as he gave the approval. Three months ago something inexplicable had gone on a rampage through the city which ended in an explosion that leveled an entire sector and in the aftermath the insurgency had finally been stemmed. Pictures of Acetylene Sue's severed head were plastered around the city. Moses was declared dead in the explosion (again) and the Underground Mechified Army laid down weapons the next day. Every day since then had been a dreary cleanup operation: cataloging the dead, clearing rubble, restoring basic services, flushing out the last few stubborn insurgents - a real nightmare of tedium.

Now, at last, the real work of rebuilding could begin and within a few weeks it might even be feasible to start making projections about the long-term profitability of the mine in light of the costs of the upheaval.

Satoshi was a money man. He took personal pleasure in making the difference between the income column and the expenditure column as heavily weighted toward the former as possible. He loved money, and not in an abstract way. Those digits in black ink were more than a symbolic representation of effort over time. To Satoshi money was an addictive drug. Money presents options. Doors open at the behest of stacks of cash. Mouths open and spill their secrets too. Even legs can be made to open with money.

His love of money had made him a good, efficient executive for Goshi, but he'd seen a great deal of his efforts crumble and burn this past year. None of it would endanger the company. Goshi profits from previous years would easily sustain them through this period of readjustment, but the infrastructure he had so carefully installed was in total disarray and despite his past successes Ara Satoshi had no illusions of being irreplaceable. Typhon, Kiyoshi, Hurricane and Yamoto... the names of fellow directors, executives at Goshi, who within the last year had "been removed". Only his colleagues Rain and Dr. Omura remained with him in the Executor's employ.

Not for the first time he wished he could get his hands on Moses and his associates who had been largely responsible for spurring the insurrection to such catastrophic heights.

Just then the light on his intercom flashed. The voice of his secretary came through, "Director Satoshi, that man claiming to be from the Black Lotus ring is here to see you."

"Send him in."


Deep in the jungle, Kufu settled down for a nap, but could not sleep. One of his meals, a few weeks ago now, was still giving him indigestion. Each time he closed his eyes a rushing succession of gory images would roll through his mind. Eyeless corpses. Swelling, pulsating red tumors. A bloody lagoon. Incomprehensible voices from slathering maws on the edge of a hungry abyss.

That hunger which he had always known as a Jevumm was sharper and more urgent now, and somehow, even he recognized it, insidious. Rather than hunting once or twice a week Kufu had been hunting nearly every day lately - and not for small game. He was driven further and further north on his hunts, out of his own territory, close to the Cheldrun frontier. His hunger was specifically for their flesh and he tasted it almost nightly. Not only was he killing more frequently, but as he did he could hear childish feminine laughter echoing from his own mouth.

One afternoon he pounced on the Mechified driver of one of the great logging behemoths the Cheldrun drive over the jungles, when a bullet stung his side. A distant sniper, recently placed to protect the loggers because of Kufu's attacks, was lining up a second shot. Kufu disappeared into the underbrush and crept to the sniper's position. He tore the sniper's arms off first, so he would not be able to resist while Kufu snacked on his entrails.

As the sniper's corpse grew cold, Kufu sat in his perch, looking over the Cheldrun camp lit up at night. He had eaten his fill, but the urge to kill had not subsided. Changing into his human form, he picked up the sniper's rifle and it occurred to him that he knew precisely how to use such an instrument. A maniacal woman's laugh rang through the jungle as he peered through the scope.


The Griolsa Clan celebrated tonight as they did most nights, but on this evening there was a special occasion. The last cairn was built, the last dead were buried. Tonight they celebrated, for the last time, the fallen of Ben Hamor.

Looking around those gathered at the fire she could see that the clan was disproportionately made of children, now. So many of these children would soon be embarking on their adolescence and may not come back. Normally this would have been no concern, but with their numbers so diminished, every child lost was another blow to her battered soul. She refused to dwell on that tonight, though. Tonight was a time for joyful remembering.

Larkin lead the children in a dance around the fire. As the drums and the fiddles played he extemporized a song about the battle of Ben Hamor. "The demons they tore at us, but could not bring us down, for we fought alongside the Gods no less, and did not give the ground..."

Sloan slid up next to Edana and handed her a horn of mead, "That's a colorful way of putting it, don't you think? Demons and Gods?"

Edana sipped from the horn and nodded, "Colorful and true."

"One of the adolescents ran into Angus out in the fields this morning. Said he thinks he's ready to come back. Normally, Angus said, he would have thought he was too young, but us bein' in the state we are, we could use another strong back."

Edana said nothing, but smiled to herself.

"And besides, we haven't been attacked recently, and the scouts have been finding the Eyeless corpses everywhere. They just fell down dead, like whatever was driving them suddenly got switched off. Winter's here, it'll rain hard in the next few weeks. We might be safe for a while, if the demons are really gone."

She finished draining her horn and looked at him with a mischievous grin, "Why are you trying to have a serious talk with me tonight Sloan?"

With that she tackled him, knocking him into the mud. They rolled over several times, as he tried to get his bicep around her head and she kneed him repeatedly in the stomach. Eventually she dragged him away behind one of the huts and ripped off his clothes. She grabbed the roof of the building, accidentally tearing away thatching and pressing her face against the stone as he groaned behind her. She didn't hear a thing.


"Think about it, Rain. You need a chance to test out the new DisLocators that won't trigger too many warnings among other members of the Yogensha League, and we both need something to impress the Executor with." Ara Satoshi's voice came over the telepathic network, through the speaker phone on her desk. She could hear him inhaling his cigarette between sentences.

"You're wrong, director Satoshi. The Executor cannot be impressed. We would do better to simply be efficient at our jobs, rather than improvising."

The link was sending signals of exasperation. She could tell he really wanted to try this, and she was, despite herself, intrigued by the prospect. "Rain, darling, I've been with Goshi for a long time. Longer than you. No doubt you're more in the Executor's favor than I at the moment, but I think you need more perspective. How do you think Blade got into the position he's in? Not by being afraid to take risks, and though he'll certainly keep you around if you aren't making too many mistakes, he will make your life miserable if he ever finds out you failed to capitalize on an opportunity. This is an opportunity."

Rain, did some calculations silently to herself. Satoshi was hearing it all, no doubt, but that was irrelevant.

"Very well. Who is your source?"

Satoshi's response was eager, "A Zipsum. An addict. A low-level errand-boy for the Black Lotus ring. Not the kind of person who inspires confidence, I know, but his descriptions were extraordinarily accurate and he possesses information that he couldn't have known unless he were recently in contact with them."

Rain grimaced, "Sounds like a setup to me."

"I thought the same thing so I had this guy..." There was a pause as Satoshi looked at his notes, "Tricks. I had him subjected to some of the enhanced interrogation techniques that Dr. Aliya Pain developed, you know, the ones that Blade recommended to us a couple years ago. He certainly didn't realize what he was getting himself into when he came to me he was just looking to score some cash to feed his habit, but I think the information is solid. The revolutionary Moses, former director Daitokuji Kiyoshi, the foundling from Project Scion, one of our Prill test-subjects, an unknown Zipsum, and, of all things, a Vorax! They're all in a place called the Grand Chantry."

Rain was growing less skeptical, "And you think this addict's description of the constellations is accurate enough for us to develop some coordinates for the DisLocator's?"

"I do."

The pause as Rain decided was considerable. "Thank you for this information, Director Satoshi. I'll take it from here."

"But... wait!" the link was radiating irritation, "I got this information. I think I should be involved."

"You've already been involved quite enough. As acting director for security at Goshi Corp, the specific arrangements and strategies for deploying the Heishi are mine to handle. Good day."

She severed the connection.

Leaning back in the chair, Rain began running a variety of strategies through her mind. This had all the makings of being a classic security disaster. After witnessing the two security directors before her disposed of for mistakes, she was determined not to step into something without having accounted for all the factors. Without question, this situation presented an interesting opportunity, but however events unfolded, she would not be the one left holding the bag, when it blew up.

Episode 17: Don't Cry Sweet Mokuzai

Ah, home sweet home. The feel of a fresh set of robes and the distant sounds of rehearsing choirs makes me feel younger by the minute. Pity everyone around me seems to be trying to stuff me into a pair of grown-up diapers.

Moon is more beautiful than I remember leaving her. Perhaps the horrors I've been through of late make things of beauty seem more beautiful, but no matter. Hiro and Ai came to visit me. Words can't describe my pride at how they turned out.

Damn that voice. It never heralds good news...

Ah, my grand-children. To think that Koume and Lyre are already looking to mates of their own... Maybe I growing a bit old for this. Koume is pregnant you say, Ai? And her mate is having trouble choosing a choir still? Bah! Tell her to do what makes her happy! Stuff the taboos if need be. Good thing I'm no longer an elder. I doubt I'd get away with saying that...

Mokuzai... Mokuzai, visit me...
Shut up! Can't I spend some time with my family in peace?

The funeral for Elder Winter was beautiful. All due respect was paid. Good. I can only hope for such a sending off when my time finally comes. High-Dive didn't even try to ruin it in some perverse way. Maybe she's growing? My own grandson Twilight Sang the final hymn himself. How old was he...? 15? And already capable of leading a song at such an important occasion? My dear little Twilight, how much I've missed in such a short time...


Moon spends a great deal of time passing Elder Winter's wisdom and insights to us. She tells us the meaning behind the Wandering Star, and how it applies to us. She tells us what conjecture and myth surrounds our apparent fates. She tells us that all arrows seem to point in the direction of the Sealed Chamber. That it may well contain the key to our fates. And after a lot of one-on-one time with each of us studying our Katas, she tells us what our apparent... profiles... as gods are. It seems so strange to think of ourselves as Gods. She doesn't tell me what my profile is right away. She knows I know she's hiding it from me. I don't blame her. She wants me here. By all rights, my family needs me here. I'm going to be a great grandfather.

FINE! What is it?

The feathered face reveals itself in the Sanctuary. It tells me of the choice I must make. The choice between my family and my own peace, or a chance to bring peace to all. The terms it states are far more vague than that, but that is my interpretation. To choose between my purpose and my desires. Moon is crying, I can all but smell the tears of my children, grand-children, and yet unborn great-grandchildren. My happiness lies here. The sum worth of my life, my legacy, is here. But my purpose, the protection of said treasure, lies within the Sealed Chamber.

The memory of the Tee-Shee's nightmare flows through my head. Cheldrun missiles tearing vast voids in the Chantry, bullets perforating the faces of my friends and acquaintances, Heishi descending upon the huddled figures of my family, all with bloody voids where there should be eyes...

"Grandfather, leave the mourning to the professionals." Such wisdom from one so young...

"Dereliction of Duty is among the most honor-less of acts." Uncompromising men are easy to admire...

I pray my decision will lead to my own pain, and not the pain of my family. Martyrdom has never seemed so appealing.

Of Tearing Flesh and Singing Screams

Cold. Dark.

Agony that burns like fire. Consciousness dissolving into...
pain life death agony screams screams that sing like birds and fly into the sun with bleeding strips and tearing flesh with misty wrackings wracking coughs and cancer in the soul shredding soul of darkness black and singing with the joy of pain the joy of death the joy of battle microbes melting joy and pain forests dying trees in agony beasts in agony karia in agony joy of pain and flicker flicker flicker flicker

"How is she?"
Cold. Dark. Damp earth and corrugated metal.

'A twitching brain can dance within...'
'How did you know I was looking at you if you weren't looking at me?'
'It's the thing you hate the most.'

It was different this time. Different because there was an I, and therefore a context. Thoughts. Feelings. Memories. Pain. She screamed her voice away, tears flowing from her eyes, and still the thoughts flowed through the empty void. The empty void. The hollow girl. Zero. The null state.

'Sing the wisdom of the dusk sages, sing the joy of their work, sing the rightness of their guidance. Sing the dusk sages.'
'It's the thing you hate the most.'
'Sing, goddess, of the ruination of all our dreams...'
'Wrath, ruinous wrath that brought woes innumerable, and hurled down into Hades many strong souls of heroes, and gave their bodies to be a prey to dogs and all winged fowls...'
'Pin my ear to the wisdom post, hang me up and drain me dry'
'I want...'

Smooth acrylic surfaces. Memory or reality? Simulation or simulated? The pain of all of Karia.
Flesh tearing, flesh ripping, screams singing, joy and satisfaction: Schadenfreude. Power humming beneath the surface. Power like eyes rotting and bursting and screams, so many screams. Pain. Voice hurts. The pain we caused. We. We. We. We.


She looked up into the luminous eyes of a TeeShee.
'You're right. I do hate you.'

'The same.'
'No progress?'
'I don't know if you'd call it progress.'
So many voices. So many. Voices beyond count. It had always been so. She couldn't remember a time when she wasn't all of those voices.
... No. That wasn't right. She was distinct. There was an I.
The I was drowning in suffering and death. Like always.
Like always.


May your sun be blown out like a candle
May your sea burn like tar
May your sky be rolled up like a scroll
May your blue moon drip with blood

Why had she agreed to this? Kiyoshi.

The suffering of Karia: the joy of Rei. Waiting, waiting, waiting for the silence. The Silence of the World. The blessed, joyful silence as the target finally slipped away and its last thoughts, its last agonies, hung like a perfume in the air before...
Before what?

Except... "Except... it isn't right, is it?" Rei whispered aloud.

A TeeShee cocked its incorporeal head sideways, looking at the young Biomade curiously. She wasn't responding to this the way she should. Was something wrong? Had they been mistaken?

The Vorax died. The Gogajin died. The Zipsum died. Eyeless. Horror.
'But it's so easy for you...'
'Here's how to order...'
‘Looks like you gained a few pounds, you cow.’
‘Do you often sing or whistle just for fun? What does that mean?’
‘I wonder if the test type has the same problems as the prototype?’




Smooth, clear acrylic surface. Damp soil, damp earth. Misty forest air.
Power humming beneath the surface.
Voices. Her voices, all of them. Her voices, none of them.

Do you want to be young?
Do you want to be big, small, fat-skinny tall-short nobody-somebody?
'How would you feel if I dug you up and made a soup of your bones?'
'I want...'

As suddenly as it began, it was over. Rei came back to herself, and it was dawn. A mist curled around the trees in the forest, and the faint glow of the Tee-Shee glimmered here and there in the distance. Tears flowed down her face, and she was haggard.

A pool of roiling water. The pain of Karia passed over her and through her. She had been well trained, and contrary to her instinct on the matter, she knew that it wasn't her pain, wasn't her suffering. She had always known. She was not Karia, no matter how much that here, kneeling in the mud, she felt as though she was.

The calmness descended again. The suffering of Karia faded into the corner of her mind where she kept the suffering of all of her victims. And yet...

The suffering of others.
The suffering of Karia.
Rei's lips twisted into a sick smile, and her fingers clenched into fists, squelching into the mud beneath her. When she spoke, her voice came out as a hoarse, scream-shattered whisper.
I want... (it's not right!)
I want... (there's something...)
I want... (there's something wrong with me)


Fractals Unfolding

Stochastic. Random.

Rei begins inputing measurements of lines, degrees of angles, and equations to describe curves and slopes. Countless little ways to calculate dimensions in space and in the stochastic mode the results of your computations never quite match the integers involved. At the end of the day, all of your work leads to something unpredictable. Unforeseen.

It is randomness that gives life variety. Randomness that makes one person's smile so attractive and another person's just average. Randomness that determines which granules of sand the tide will take away and which will be replaced. Randomness that ultimately shapes a coastline, the branches of a tree, the path of water down a rock. Randomness is not chaotic, it is fresh and inspiring. It enables life. Without randomness everything would be crystallized and inert.

As Rei's calculations continue the fractal begins to change. There is no question any longer of this being a deterministic fractal. It could not even be reconstructed as one any longer. The twisting shapes are too wild. Wild and beautiful.

Despite the wildness there is clear intent here. It is not that the randomness is purposeless, but that the purpose is revealed to be unable to be restrained by determinism. Inase Spark knew that the future itself was unpredictable and thus he accounted for the diversity of possibilities by an equation that would mutate along with the vagaries of fate. Here in this journal, Rei was encountering, not a dead letter, but a living testimony of the greatest geneticist and mathematician in recent memory.

Then, one night long after she should have gone to bed, the fractal suddenly opened for Rei like a rose. Staring at the looping shapes till her eyes blurred she perceived a message. It was a visual language. The angle was a question, that intersection the predicate, these sweeping lines the subject. At once she read a geometric sentence: Can you hear me, Mikomi?

The command prompt appeared again, the cursor blinking...

A Pox On Your House

Fucking Jungle.

Ryuunosuke squinted into the dawn sun, fixating on the billowing plumes of smoke from the far shore of a massive lake. It was the first sign of civilization in a long time, but rather than being glad to know that he was less than a day from the city of Stardown it merely stoked his anger - and angry he certainly was. Seething, is really the appropriate word.

Seething at his preposterous situation. Led by an illiterate Ass out into the inhospitable wild by a transparent trick, which he had somehow been taken in by, only to be suddenly assaulted by an army of (what?) eyeless Zipsum who overwhelmed the village and separated him from his companions, who were probably all now dead (and who knows also eyeless horrors roaming the jungle), having come within milliseconds of completing his delicious vengeance only to have it stolen from him by a bird, and then having to flee hundreds of kilometers through the jungle alone.

But now he was arriving at the city of Stardown. Fellow Cheldrun were within sight, along with their hospitals, and recognizable food, and beds. Rather than feeling relieved, he felt his rage flaring even more.

Rage at this fucking jungle. Since departing Ben Hamor in haste Ryuunosuke had fallen into two ravines, been hunted by Jevumm three times, been attacked by six types of insects, including a swarm of hyper hornets, nearly drowned, removed twelve different blood-sucking arachnids and three different shapes of leeches, eaten some kind of poisonous fruit, and contracted a disgusting pink rash from who knows where. If not for his absurd stamina, agility and auto-immune system, Ryuunosuke would never have survived the journey. As such he hated to admit that the jungle had so nearly defeated him, the Dragon.

The bile rising to his mouth was especially intense at the word 'defeat'. Ryuunosuke does not lose. Ryuunosuke does not retreat. His blood boiled yet more fervently.

Of course, he had not really lost. Nor had he really retreated. He had destroyed Kiyoshi. It had been something short of the humiliating defeat in a single duel that he had wanted, but the cuts were just as deep, the blood just as red. Without access to a hospital Daitokuji Kiyoshi, his old adversary must certainly have died from those wounds. He had won. Kiyoshi had been too naive to see the attack coming - just as sure a victory as one earned in single combat. Right?

Jolted by a pain in his fist Ryuunosuke realized that he had been unconsciously punching the tree beside him. The spot was cracked and splintered where his punches had been landing.

The wrath was not retreating. Nothing would comfort him or restore his wounded ego. No matter how he retold the story, Ryuunosuke grew only more and more certain that he was being mocked by Karia herself. He would not be satisfied until Kiyoshi had paid sufficiently for insulting him and since Kiyoshi was now beyond his reach, Ryuunosuke would attack that which Kiyoshi loved most dearly - his precious clan and their honor.

Prior to departing Geneva Prime, Ryuunosuke had done a little bit of snooping around and learned that the Silver Phoenix Clan, under their new patriarch Lord Daitokuji Ichirou, were quietly resettling in Matamos. The scandal of Ichirou's betrayal was big news at Washi San Academy, but it was not nearly as scandalous as his acceptance into Kensei Do Academy in Matamos. The people of Matamos had only been too happy to receive a champion of his caliber into their midst despite their political ties to Geneva Prime. As vulnerable guests of the city arriving on a wave of scandal the Silver Phoenix Clan would be in a tenuous position, indeed. A position Ryuunosuke could exploit.

Out on the lake Ryuunosuke spotted a trash barge carrying Stardown's waste out to the deepest parts of the lake to be dumped. Trotting down to the shore he began waving his arms to get its attention. His fury gave him purpose and direction. First, into Stardown to recover from this cursed jungle, earn a little money from street-fighting and vent some aggression on the fools of this city. Then, catch a train to Matamos where he would find the Silver Phoenix Clan.

If by some chance you survived Daitokuji Kiyoshi, I hope you make it one day to Matamos to find the ruin of your entire clan. They will die without honor or glory and no one will remember your house anymore than they remember the irrelevant teachings of the Saishi.

Episode 16: Heroes of Karia Vitalus

Twenty four days.

Twenty four days spent hiking through the forest, mile after mile, every waking moment spent with Mokuzai and Kiyoshi glaring at me. Can't they find someone else to glare at? ... Besides High Dive.

At least we've left the jungle behind.
I really hate the jungle.

I could come to like the forest if I weren't having to hike through it for twenty four days straight. Una has taught me enough about how to operate here that I'm reasonably sure I could survive if I were separated from the group.

Still, twenty four days would be enough to make even Doctor Soren cranky. When we come over a rise suddenly and see a hundred meter tall redwood tree towering in the distance with a number of Prill camped out in front of it, my relief is palpable. To me, anyways. It takes me a moment to realize that I'm seeing living things and not fractals. ... the journal is starting to get to me.

We make our way down to them, and Mokuzai takes the lead. The Prill introduce themselves. One of them is Elder Moon. Mokuzai's mate. The thought is a creepy one. I don't have time to dwell on it. Moses introduces himself as a two-tailed digger. High Dive cites clan and family. Una is from the Reikoku nest. And I... am just Rei. The Prill seem confused, and it is awkward.

We are each given an escort. A caregiver. A guard. Male with female. Female with male. Fractals. Binary pairs. Relics. Vestigial. Archaeological. Redundant. Of historical interest only.
... The world snaps back into focus. My guard is named Ramora. Una has already retired to her tent with Maruko, Kiyoshi with Kiko, Moses with Zipporah, High Dive with Sings-Like-Frog. Ramora looks at me questioningly and I ask for soap and water. He brings it. I kick him out of the tent before I wash.

It feels good to be clean again. I tried to keep myself clean as we travel, but usable bathing water is not something we found every day.

Clean and dressed in the cleanest set of clothing in my pack, I come out of the tent in time to hear High-Dive saying very loudly that we need 'God-time,' and insisting that the Prill leave the camp.

It's always nice to know that no matter how rude you think you might be, High Dive is there to show you that you're not so bad after all. I smile faintly. Still, I don't like that word. 'God.' Whatever I may be, I don't think I'm a god, or a goddess, or anything else. They don't create gods and goddesses in laboratories. "I don't think it's wise to embrace the title given to us by such questionable sources," I say.

High Dive looks at me, clearly confused. "Who what now?"

"... Stop calling us gods."

Mokuzai nods faintly. "Thank you, Rei," he says. I can't tell if he's being sarcastic or not. I really wish I could read Karian thoughts, sometimes.

High Dive grabs a handful of some kind of gelatin desert that I'm pretty sure is supposed to be eaten with utensils, chomps it down, and swallows. "I don't know about you, but I glow green, leave trails of fire, and have a big green nine-tailed fox that eats demons for me. I'm a god."

I roll my eyes. I don't bother to tell her that if she were a deity, she would be a goddess, not a god. "Well, don't call me that, then," I say.

She shrugs.

There is some debate. The others don't think it's a good idea to approach the Grand Chantry. I don't see the problem. If the Grand Chantry is a resource we could potentially make use of, an intelligent enemy with the kind of overwhelming power our foe seems to have access to would destroy it even if we didn't go there, just to give us one less potential resource and one fewer place in which we could go to ground. It's basic tactics.

The others don't appreciate my input. Especially not Mokuzai. Did you know that your entire existence is expressed as a fractal, Mokuzai? ... No, I guess you didn't.
I don't say that aloud.

The Prill come back, and we eat. The thoughts of Moses and Kiyoshi are loud, but I ignore them. Even thoughts sound like formulas. Even voices seem like interlocking fractals. Predestined. It feels like everything that is said is said because it was inevitable. I wonder if it's the effect of studying the journal so much as it is Amaterasu? I know she wants me to feel this way. I know she wants me to see this. I don't like it much.

When I retire to my tent, Ramora comes with me. He has questions. "So you are... Rei?" he asks.

I nod.

"Just Rei?"

I shrug. What does he want me to say? That I'm the Empty Void? The Hollow Girl? No, I realize, he just wants to know about my family. So I tell him. I tell him a little bit about Biomade society. I tell him that we don't have fathers or mothers or families. I tell him that I was created in a laboratory. That five other Biomade were cloned from my DNA, each of them variations on the same genetic pattern. That we were unusual in that we were kept together and raised as a kind of family unit. My brothers and sisters. Malicious. Sever. Stitch. Nero. Aimi. Other Biomade aren't raised in family units. They're taken care of for their first two years by someone performing their civic duty and then placed in a school appropriate to their genetic predisposition.

I tell him that Aimi is the one Kiyoshi belongs to, and Ramora says that the Prill don't practice slavery.

I blanch. That's not what I meant. I tell him so.

I tell him about waking up suddenly out of a vast sea of thoughts and feelings and the horrified discovery that I'm not everyone else. I tell him of Mama Pain cutting into my head with knives both physical and psychic, making sure that I was real and not just a more stable gestalt. The pain felt pretty real, but that didn't satisfy her. She was rarely satisfied. I tell him how Mama Pain seared off bits of my awareness with psychic coals until I could only read the minds of people I was looking at. It was better that way: less of a security risk. Otherwise, I'd be reading the minds of everyone in a hundred meters of me all the time. I tell him about Doctor Soren, and about Home.

It's about this time that I realize that Ramora is staring at me in horror.

Why would he be horrified? "Something wrong?" I ask.

He shakes his head. "Maybe... maybe 'family' is a concept you can learn here, while you are with us in the Grand Chantry. Maybe that is what you can take with you when you return to your people."

I don't understand. I tell him so, and now there is pity as well as horror.

It's then that I notice a foul smell, like an open sewer line, or maybe a cadaver that has been left unrefrigerated for a few weeks.

High Dive bursts in a moment later. "Rei!" she says excitedly, "Danger! Enemies!"

I nod, and immediately rush out of the tent. My psychic knife flickers to life.

Outside, Una is flying overhead in her bird form. The smell is much stronger, and there is movement coming from the forest. My eyes narrow slightly. There's movement everywhere. Every... oh my First Minds.

The whole forest floor is writhing with insects. Worms. Beetles. Ants. All rushing away from us. Away from... something. The birds are gone. I can't hear any animal noises. The smell is getting worse. I look at Moses' tent, and immediately the feeling of some wonderfully rough bit of cloth scrubbing and polishing against my metal skin fills my mind, and I speak in his voice before I can stop myself: "Lower."

I shudder. Damnit. I don't have metal skin. *Moses*, I send to his mind.

'Huh?' he thinks.

*Moses, get out here. We're in danger.*

He seems to come back into a state of full awareness. 'Rei?' he thinks.

*Get out here. We need you.*

He comes.

Kiyoshi is easier to draw out of his tent. He emerges clad only in a blanket, Keibatsu in hand, and I wonder why it is that whenever we meet a new type of Karian, Kiyoshi inevitably ends up naked?

We have only a few moments to prepare. The insects are gone now. I make for the branches of the hundred meter tall redwood, as does High Dive. Una concentrates, and a brilliant blue light flares around her, accompanied by fresh, stink-free air.

A moment later, a dark presence crests the rise, and a thick black sludge that stinks even within Una's sphere of clean air pours over the lip of the rise and into the camp below.

Everything goes straight to hell.

My next clear memory is of falling. No, the tree is falling. The hundred meter tall tree I'm STANDING on is falling.


I see that the tree is falling towards the sludge-creature. I see that the sludge-creature is covered not just in sludge but in hundreds and hundreds of Zipsum corpses, and a sudden flash of inspiration comes to me: set the whole thing ablaze. Decomposition produces methane. Methane is flammable. Set the tree on fire as it goes down, leap clear, and watch as the sludge-monster burns itself out. Even as I raise my psychokinetic shield, I reach into myself and call the fire.

Nothing at all.

I experience a brief moment of panic, and before I even realize what I'm doing, I've leaped from the branches of the hundred meter tall tree and am soaring over the sludge-beast, blasting it with a pulse of psychic energy from my gauntlet. The pulse of pink light sinks into the sludge and disappears with a violent crackle.

The hundred meter tall redwood crashes to the ground with a thunderous roar.

I have a brief glimpse of Moses swamped by black sludge and Kiyoshi somehow freezing a large tendril of sludge solid with a swipe from Keibatsu, but I don't have time to marvel at this: three zipsum corpses connected to the main body of the thing by thick tentacles of ghastly sludge are flying towards me, their eyeless faces seeping with goo and pus and sludge.

I evade the first. I evade the second. The third collides with my psychokinetic shield and bounces off... yet something is wrong. The strength of my shield is diminshed. That shouldn't have happened. No arguing with reality. By this time, my hearing has returned after the crash of the tree.

I land feet-first on the far tree and look down into the seething mass of Zipsum corpses. I see the swirling fractal of their existence, and another flash of inspiration strikes me. I grin. I open my hand and summon a small sphere of golden light. "This could be a bit messy!" I call, and throw the sphere.

It lands in the center of the creature's mass with a sick schlurp. There is a muffled explosion, and then a sickening wet grinding noise, like a wood chipper cutting through a three month old, unpreserved cadaver. A whirlpool forms briefly within the creature, and then it splits in half, the sludge forming into a solid shape, leaving the decomposing Zipsum corpses whirling about within my ten meter sphere of telekinetic woodchipper.

I begin to regret having eaten dinner.

Moses glows now with an intense red light, firing a blast of intense energy into the sludgy mass even as fists of sludge beat fruitlessly against his form.

Kiyoshi fights like a god of war. Whirling, ducking, parrying, cutting, slicing. Keibatsu glows with brilliant silver light, and everywhere it touches, the sludge is sheared away, frozen, shattered, and crumbles to dust. I wonder if he feels it too, the joy of battle? My senses skitter across the surface of his mind, and I am disappointed to find only focus. Only the Void.

I can't see High Dive. I look for Una and Mokuzai, and my heart leaps up into my throat when I see them. Bleeding. Unconscious. Covered in black sludge. ... Old. Impossibly old. Una looks like she's in her forties. Mokuzai looks downright decrepit. I glance to Moses, and I realize that he too looks... old. Ten years. A wave of sludge washes over him. Twenty years. Another wave of sludge washes over him. Even the forest is dying everywhere the creature's ooze touches. Whole trees turn white and brittle and begin to fall apart. Kiyoshi alone seems unaffected.

I don't want to be old. I ignore the rising, terrified thought. There is work to be done. If that thing hits Mokuzai or Una again, they're dead. I call upon the Darkness, and the world dims around me. I leap for them, seize Una in a fireman's carry and Mokuzai in a telekinetic grip, and I run.

One thought echoes over and over in my mind: I can't let them die.

There is a flash of green somewhere behind me and the sound of Inari gekkering somewhere behind me. Gekkering. Una taught me that word.

I run.

There. The Prill. They've made it to safety. They eye me warily as I approach. I deposit Una and High Dive at their feet, and it is only when my darkness flows off of my friends, leaving them revealed there in the moonlight that I realize what I must look like to them: a vast, vaguely humanoid shadowy being with red-glowing eyes depositing a Prill and a Vorax from sheathes of darkness.

I don't care.

"Take care of them," I say. "Make sure they're OK. We might need them before the end." Then I lean down over Una, and a fierce anger mixed with fear rises up in my chest. "Una," I tell her, even though I know she can't hear me, "If you die, I'll... I'll let High-Dive cut off your fingers for souvenirs!" ... That isn't what I meant, but it will do.

I turn and race back to join the battle, but when I arrive, Kiyoshi and Moses have already slain the foe. "Is it...?" I ask.

Kiyoshi nods. His blanket is long gone, and I grimace. He doesn't notice.

It's then that I spot High Dive lying in a puddle of dissolving sludge, her fur bleach-white, her body withered, barely alive. I feel... sad. Angry. Mostly angry. I gesture, and she floats into the air.

She hovers above my palm all the way back to the Prill.


I awaken with the dawn. I do my stretches, my exercises, all the normal things that need doing to keep a healthy body in top condition. Kiyoshi is already awake, practicing with his sword. And not naked, for a change, which is a pleasant surprise. Moses fixed his Kimono last night. The others teased me for asking that Kiyoshi put on some clothes. They made all sorts of jokes about my reasons. I guess they probably can't know how impossible that is, but I don't tell them because I'm tired of people looking at me with pity in their eyes. But that's neither here nor there. Two hours later, I am settling into a familiar kata designed to upkeep my skills in the fighting arts when Mokuzai pokes his head out of one of the tents. He seems pretty grumpy. Moses and Una are awake a little while after that, and High Dive wakes up around mid-day.

They're all still old.

After I've bathed and eaten, I feel much better. The monster's stink is finally fading away. We pack up our things and set out for the Grand Chantry. It's big. I can't say for sure, but it might be at least half the size of Geneva Prime. Maybe more. The buildings are vast, carved into the huge petrified redwood trees, and it's beautiful. Nevergem formations are everywhere.

We are led to a grand hall where we are introduced to over a dozen elderly Prill. In the middle is an especially old man named Winter, carried on a bed.

Once we are done with introductions, we are each led away to the homes of our guards. Our caregivers. Our hosts. Ramora never looks at me but with pity in his eyes. It's irritating. Still, I'm grateful to be offered a place to stay.

Everything is sung here. There are songs for everything, and songs are everywhere. Even the doors open to song. I've never had much interest in music, but after this, maybe I'll look into it. It makes me think of... I don't know. Something good. Like Amaterasu at the exit to the mines, but without the hunger for blood and the need to destroy. I don't understand it very well. When we arrived, they sang some of the most beautiful songs I have ever heard, but it was very uncomfortable with everyone cheering for us.

The next day, Mokuzai looks really, really satisfied.
I don't ask.

Elder Winter calls for us. He is dying, and he wants to speak with us before he does. His house is small. He was the most honoured of all the Prill, yet he lived in no place of honour. Kiyoshi would have an apoplectic fit if someone did that to him, but Winter seems to like it well enough. He's so old his wrinkles have wrinkles, and he seems to recognize us. He tells us about our Destiny, and as he speaks, I can feel the fractals shifting again. I feel the threads of fate tugging at us. Directing us. I feel Amaterasu hovering over my shoulder, and I love/hate her.

When he has told us what he knows, that the burden of saving this world rests with us, that we will decide whether life continues to be, everywhere (no pressure), he lets us ask a few questions.

Una stares at Winter as if he were a First Mind incarnate, and nearly falls over when he gives us the mask of a thing called a Dusk Sage, which he says he knew before they left. It doesn't seem possible, but he says he's two hundred and seventeen years old.

I ask the question that's been troubling me: I tell him what Amaterasu wants of me. I tell him that I don't like what she's showing me, even though I feel the truth of it. I ask what he thinks I should do. Should I embrace what the Kyo-TeeShee say?

"Tell her to fuck off," he says.

I stare at him for a moment, stunned. I suddenly feel a great lightness, as though a mountain had been lifted off my back.

"Yes, that's definitely what I would tell her. 'Fuck off.'"

I grin. I like this old man.

Kiyoshi asks, "How do you end malice?"

Elder Winter tells him that malice only works if you accept it. "You might get eaten, but it might work to tell it, 'No thank you. Fuck off.'" He thinks about that for a minute, and then says, "No, you should probably just say 'no thank you.' 'Fuck off' would be falling into malice."

High Dive asks Elder Winter if she can have one of his fingers. Winter laughs, and Elder Moon goes pale as a sheet. I can't help but laugh. "Sure," Winter says. "When I'm dead, I won't need them any more."

Una asks about the mark on her arm. Winter tells her it's a part of the Cataclysm. I ask him about White Rock, and he says that looks like Cataclysm, too.

I find this disturbing. If I was made with White Rock, does that make me part of this 'Cataclysm,' whatever that is? When I hear Una talking about whether or not she should cut off her arm to make sure this 'Cataclysm' doesn't spread, I decide that maybe it would be better not to mention having been made with White Rock just now.

Moses asks if there's anything we can do to make sure that the people here at the Grand Chantry won't pay the price that the Gogajin and Zipsum did for helping us. Elder Winter tells him that deciding how the price is paid and by whom is part of our destiny.

I trail off into my own thoughts. Elder Winter continues answering questions. Something about the Stony One, whether the Dusk Sages created the Kyo-TeeShee, and whether we could trust the Kyo-TeeShee. Winter laughs at that last one. "Hah! Trust the Kyo-TeeShee? Never. Well, unless you're trusting them to do something horrible. You can trust them to do that every time."
In the end, our questions are exhausted, and he smiles faintly. "I have one more gift for you," he says. Una thinks the Dusk Sage mask is more than enough, but Winter insists. He begins to sing in a strange language that feels like... I don't know. I can't describe it. It's beautiful, whatever it is. A light comes up around him, and when it fades, Moses, Una, Mokuzai and High Dive have returned to their rightful ages, and Winter seems even older and more decrepit than he was before.

And just like that, it's over. As he shoos us out, I turn back, overcome with a strange, unreasonable affection for the old man, and gratitude for the help he'd given us, and me in particular. "Elder Winter, I'm sorry you're dying," I say.

He laughs. "I'm not. I'll be glad to be gone! Now go away."

I smile, and as we leave the home of Elder Winter, for the first time in nearly a month, I don't see a single fractal anywhere.

And High Dive got her finger after all.

Balance, Mechanics & Fun

Howdy all.

Following last night's session, and indeed building for the last couple sessions, there have been some game mechanic concerns expressed by a few of you. In my estimation the game is going really well. I'm having a blast. The quality of the roleplaying is superb, the story and setting development you've all jumped into here on the blog has been fantastic, and I like you all as people and enjoy gaming with you. So, while I am bringing this up so we can address the topic, I don't want this to sound like the game is failing or anything.

Essentially, though it wasn't said directly, what we are engaged in here is a kind of extended playtest. BESM 3rd ed didn't get much playtesting on it's own and I added and changed a lot about the system in building the campaign, so we're really doing something completely original. That means that the rules will need work. Additionally, the system does not have any (I mean ANY) built in balance. It is effects-based and designed to cover a very wide spectrum of possibilities, thus all the balance has to be accomplished by social contract. We have to agree to try and maintain a parity between character's and their various abilities. I really appreciate the maturity of this group that we can accomplish this, and though it means the rules might get changed a few times during the course of the campaign to reflect our current play experience, I hope it won't impact anyone's fun negatively.

Here are a few things that stand out to me as needing addressed and some thoughts of how to address them. Please jump into the comments and express your opinion.

Problem: Gem Distribution. It is tough to measure gems distributed for subjective reasons like roleplaying. Some players feel like gem acquisition has become difficult enough that they won't achieve the rest of their Kata.

Solution#1: I recommend that we end each session with a brief 5 minute chat wherein players recap important moments and nominate each other (or themselves) for gems for things which the GM might have missed. In that time we should each account for how many gems received during the session so we can see if Gem distribution is roughly even - though I don't plan on trying to make it perfectly equal every night.

Solution #2: I'm going to start rewarding gems for failures. Technically this was always a possibility, but I'm going to emphasize it. If you narrate a failure in a cool way you get a gem, just as you would for a success. Furthermore, if you narrate a spectacular failure in such a way that it has a concrete impact on your character (ie: I fall down disarmed in front of my foe) then you can earn an additional gem for embracing the fact that fun doesn't only come from kicking ass. I hope this increases the number of gems awarded each session.

Possible Solution #3: I'm considering this, though I'd like your opinion first... what if Katas did not require gems to activate, but only to learn or increase level? This would increase gem availability by having one less cost. It might mean though that Kata's were used extremely frequently in the game. Not necessarily a bad thing, but I'm not entirely sure. I may increase energy costs or consider other costs for Katas if we did this.

Problem: Imbalances between characters. I do not want all the characters to be identical. Moses can take a ton of damage, but not every character needs to be able to. Kiyoshi can deal a ton of damage, but not every character needs to be able to. Nevertheless it is important that players feel there is some kind of parity between their characters overall.

Solution: Mostly this will have to be dealt with on an individual character by character basis, though I encourage you guys to talk to each other about it as well in a polite fashion, so that we can come to agreement about what is fair. One thing that would be a big help is if people had some idea of their "role". In general I see the roles like this: Moses is the Tank, Kiyoshi is straight damage, Una is the healer, Rei is the stealth, HD is speed/recon, Mokuzai is support/buffing. Those aren't written in stone or anything, but they're what I've been basically assuming.

Problem: Kata Kariana. Really there are two problems here. One is that the Kata's need to be balanced. Mostly I'm actually pretty happy with them, but in Mokuzai's case they need work. Please let me know if your Kata don't match your expectations. From the beginning I've stressed that the Kata are flexible/changeable if you have different ideas. The second problem with the Kata is that they are designed by me instead of by you guys. On one hand I really like this because it adds an element of "discovery" to the game instead of character building being all about planning out how to spend the points. However, many players like planning out how to spend their points. Sooooo...

Solution: One option is that I could open up the Katas and just tell you guys what I was planning and then you could have input in their design. I'm okay with this. Doing it here with the Prill even gives us a decent story justification for it, since they are planning to teach you about the Kata Kariana anyway. The downside is that it removes a lot of suspense each time you go to buy a Kata, you'll already know what you're getting.

Problem: It seems to me that the Character Points are causing some confusion. More than one of you have observed that you could come up with better ways to spend the points than the Kata, so why should you pursue them? Not only does this derail the plot a bit, but it presents the problem that I have to account for a much wider array of possible abilities than I'd like to in game planning, and it circumvents the gem reward system which I think of as one of the coolest aspects of this campaign.

Solution: I planned the campaign to go from 200-500CP, but then I found that the Kata ate up around 200 of those CP in design. Originally I made the Katas require both gems and CP because I was concerned gem acquisition would be too easy so having a CP requirement would help control the pace that the Katas came into the game. I was wrong. The gems control the pace much more than the CP. Therefore the CP for Katas is pretty much superfluous. I could set it up so that Katas no longer require CP, but then drastically reduce the amount of CP gain per session. Because there has already been so many CP distributed and some of you have spent more than others on their character build, it would mean that I would have to do some math to make sure that you're all equal in terms of CP spent, but it would remove the confusion about whether you should save CP for Katas or use it on abilities of your own design.

There are some thoughts.