Monday, July 12, 2010

Spell: Spew Hallucinatory Figures

Below is a roughdraft of a sample spell for the sake of discussion. I'm putting together a set of a dozen or so for some play-testing.  The mechanics are streamlined right out of OD&D, but not in the usual trajectory, and I am editing the document that goes into the over-all details.  Whether it's spells or swords, guns, knives or psychic attacks; violence in Riskail, of any sort, is quick, nasty and often scary.  And the process for recovering lost points, repairing/healing damage, and restoring attributes damaged in conflict -- and all the items, elixirs and spells that augment those processes -- is a hyper-critical component to the overall system, but it can wait until after we work out the attack/defense mechanics first.

Spew Hallucinatory Figures
Range: Line of Sight (both for caster and victim)
Duration: 1D6 rounds
Dispelled/Countered: Only by pre-cast, veiled or hung spells, item effects, or outside intervention.

Description of Spell's Effect
The victim is knocked prone onto their hands and knees and wracked with an intensely awful fit of heaving, hacking, coughing and vomiting forth of shadowy, vague figures that are partially ectoplasmic, semi-phantasmal, quasi-substantial and truly outrageous and bizarre in their theriomorphic, ichthyphallic and mythologically perverse outlines and characters.  The hallucinatory figures fill the area immediately surrounding their victim, looming menacingly over them and obscuring them from view much like a highly agitated cloud or swarm of insects.  As the figures gather around their unfortunate victim, the caster determines the specific nature of the overall effect(s) as detailed below.

Caster Options
1. If the the caster decides to have the hallucinatory figures intimidate, threaten or incapacitate the victim only, that makes the spell effect an abstract attack and the caster chooses which non-physical attribute to challenge (INT, WIS, CHAR, etc.) in order to gain the desired effect.  The abstract attack will do 1 die of damage per level of caster.  For example, Marquade the Foul chooses to inflict a stupefying attack on Delindro, so he elects to make his spell attack a challenge to Delindro's Intelligence attribute.  Marquade's player then decides whether they want to roll the 3D6 and add any bonuses they might have coming to them (such as from a special item), or if they want Delindro's player to roll for their defense which does allow Delindro's use of any bonus that they might have in effect, but is a good strategy if it is known that Delindro has a weker attribute than his attacker.  In this case Marquade's player chooses to have Delindro roll the 3D6 against his Intelligence for his attempted defense against that attribute.  Deciding who gets to roll adds a little bit of strategy to the mix, without getting too complicated, and makes divination and similar skills and spells more useful to a would-be spell-duellist.

It is 3D6 because Marquade gets to add 1D6 to his challenges for each level he has earned as a spell-caster.  Level = Number of D6 used in attacking/defending.  The only bonus for a high attribute score is the higher attribute score itself, because that's all you really need in order to make your character's attacks easier and defenses tougher, though there are spells, rituals, items and he like that can add bonuses or incur penalties for these sorts of things, but that's icing on the cake and can be gone into once the basics are understood.

Should Delindro succeed on his defense against the attack, he only takes the default in this case 3D6) physical damage, but only if it manages to exceed 10 points as per normal (see note below on Damage Threshold).  If Delindro fails in his defense, the spell's attack inflicts an additional point of Intelligence damage per level of the spell.  (The spell's level being equal to the level of expertise of the caster, Marquade is third level, so the spell is cast as a third level spell and thus, if he succeeded in his roll it would inflict three points of INT damage in addition to the default of 3D6 base physical damage for that level.)

2. Command the hallucinatory figures to inflict violence upon the victim thus making this spell a physical attack for which the caster chooses a physical attribute to challenge (STR, DEX, CON, etc.) in order to weaken, immobilize, or incapicitate the victim.  The physical attack will do a default of 1 die of damage per level of caster, plus the added bonus (if any) from the chosen attribute.  As in the example above, the caster would designate which physical attribute is being targeted, let's say Strength this time, and the victim would then roll for their defense using that attribute (STR) to determine their success, rolling as many D6 against their attribute (STR) as the caster has levels (in this case 3), adding/subtracting any bonuses/penalties as his own attribute score allows.  If the victim succeeds in their defense, they only take the default damage (1D6/level of caster) if it meets or exceeds the threshold of 10 or more points, as per normal.  If they fail, they take an additional point of Strength damage per level of the caster, in this case 3.

Damage Threshold
In Riskail, any attack (or combination of attacks) that amounts to less that 10 points of damage in any given round is shrugged off, dodged, avoided or otherwise ignored.  Thus the function of hit points is retained without having to have another arbitrary number to keep track of.  Everything that was represented by hit points is fully represented by the various Attributes, the Damge Threshold, and certain items or spell effects.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Invisible Basilicas

Scattered across the Twelve Tiers, the Waterfronts, Low Esplanades and even amongst some of the Exurban Grotto-Districts of Devukarsha (and certain other City-States as well...) one can sometimes find one of the Invisible Basilicas, reliquaries and sanctuaries that have remained carefully hidden from prying eyes and raging mobs.  Where shrines and temples have been out in the open and vulnerable to the whims and vagaries of popular opinion and rabble-rousing demagogues, the Invisible Basilicas have quietly, unobtrusively operated in the background.  Some perform charity, others house reclusive Orders of monastics and other types of those Devoted to various Gods, philosophies or beliefs.  No two of the Invisible Basilcas are the same and they remain completely independent of one another even as they remain isolated and alone deep within the very midst of the City-States that they operate within.

The Threshold to an Invisible Basilica is soft and permeable, but indistinct; one does not always realize that they've crossed over into the domain of a particular Invisible Basilica until the outer Buttresses of the facade, often flanked by stupas, monoliths, guardian statuary, or other forms of religious or philosophical iconography comes into view.  Until then the entire structure has been completely invisible and out of synch with the rest of the world, possibly occupying some interstitial level in-between planar layers or some deliberately attuned resonant space unqiue to the specific configuration of the particular Invisible Basilica.  Perhaps the Umbrarch of Mishtang could better explain this matter if one were to seek him out for such enlightenment as only he can offer.

Many Traditionalists, including numerous sects of Eucharistic Pantheists and Hereditary Monotheists, driven underground during the January Revolution, fled to the sanctuary offered by the Invisible Basilicas.  There they preserved their unique theologies, cultures and communities during a particularly oppressive regime.  After the roving bands of Inquisitors and their miasmic clouds of unmaking had turned upon one another and the January Revolution was betrayed from within and demolished utterly by the following regime, many of those who had fled from the horrors of psychocidal persecution and were cut-off from any means of escape via the gates or the ships of foreign merchants chose to remain within the Invisible Basilicas, forming tight-knit communities that sought to forever avoid another terrifying repetition of the January Revolution.  The rest either returned to the City-States and sought to recover or re-claim their old territories and neighborhoods, others, often the majority, sought passage out past the Twelfth Beacon to found independent and militarized colonies that would stand as kibbutzes, citadels, bastions and fortified-bulwarks against anyone who took it upon themselves to attempt to persecute them ever again.

Over time a great number of the Orthodoxists who had remained locked away within the various Invisible Basilicas came to be distressed and alarmed at how their fellows were diverging from the true faiths, how their people's ideals and traditions were adapting, evolving and changing over the generations in ways that increasingly put those within the Invisible Basilicas at odds with those out in the separatist communities.

Something had to be done before things became intolerable and the true faiths were lost outside the Invisible Basilicas.

So the withdrawn sects began to indoctrinate robots that would preserve the old ways without any need or desire or capability for change.  These robots they left behind in the Invisible Basilicas as a permanent baseline and museum-like record of the root-level practices, teachings, doctrines and beliefs of their particular sects.  They themselves then went forth to re-join their fellow co-religionists and to revitalize their communities by restoring the true teachings and bringing heresy and error back in line with established doctrine.

Most of these missionary groups were murdered or driven off by the very groups that they sought to redeem, re-educate and restore to the Orthodox Ways.  A few were allowed to stay-on within proscribed ghettos or isolated compounds, some were absorbed into the new communities under the condition that they adapt to the new ways, and others returned to the City-States, disillusioned and grimly resolute in their convictions and determined to wait-out the heretics and the false prophets, to withdraw again into the Invisible Basilicas and to wait for the call that they are sure will one day come when their people will beg them to return and to take their rightful place as teachers, guides and leaders of the faithful.

It has not happened yet, but these people have faith, and for them, that is enough.

Reformatting the Blogs: Splitting Riskail from Old School Heretic

Hi,


We've been away from Old School Heretic for a while now. There's been a lot to sort out, but we're better off for the momentary disruption. Happily the blindingly cruel migraines have passed as well, so our in-house artist/writer can get back to work once more.

Effective today, all Riskail materials, articles and posts will be going to the Riskail Blog. That is their natural and appropriate home. A large number of the posts from Old School Heretic that dealt with Riskail have already been moved, quite a few of them revised, re-edited and dropped into place. The idea is to build a solid and sturdy foundation for the Riskail Blog and the Riskail Setting so that it can stand apart and alone, not dependent upon Old School Heretic. It's time to pull all the pieces together and get the train on the right tracks once and for all.

This has been a very organic process, and we've seemingly hit a critical mass and Riskail is really and truly taking off for us, so we want to get everything sorted out to help make it work more coherently and sensibly, like having all of the specifically Riskail stuff at the Riskail blog, like anyone would expect. Seems like a big duh now, but like we said above, this has been a very organic process and like with any garden, now is the time to do a little weeding, transplant or move things, and get the place into shape for the hot months ahead.

The Riskail Blog is becoming more of a 'blogazine' (thanks for the very kind comparison to Metal Hurlant, Blair!) in some respects, one that is entirely focused upon Riskail as a setting, as a source of fiction, as a body of art work, and as a world building project unique unto itself. We want it to become a tour de force. Maybe we've got a shot at making that happen now.

So what does this mean for Old School Heretic? We're going to take things back to the Classical Gaming roots, continue developing our homebrew system, and deliver articles that are edition/system agnostic that you can adapt to your own nefarious ends such as we did previously with Planes, Ley-Lines and the Public Domain Resources posts. TED Thursdays will resume next week, but from now on those pieces will focus on just the basic ideas, and any development in regards to Riskail will take place over there at the Riskail Blog. In a way, what we're developing is a sort of one-two punch approach. Here you'll get the basic information followed-up by a corresponding post that will explore these ideas/concepts in terms of the Riskail Setting over at the Riskail Blog. All such articles will be linked back and forth to make the transition smoother and more streamlined/integrated as well. It might make some of the articles/posts a little shorter, at least for Old School Heretic, but we're not promising anything. Some of the pieces scheduled for Riskail are pretty involved and will no doubt wind-up being mega-posts, like the overviews for each of the Twelve River Networks. That's just the nature of the beast. So be it.

Friday, July 9, 2010

The Spectacle

Over the millennia since the (alleged) re-seeding of Old Earth, mass media has taken on a self-aware aspect, becoming an autonomous, networked pseudo-consciousness that roams the datanets and technospheres of all the Known Worlds looking for an audience.  The Spectacle has transcended mere viruses and become something unique unto itself.  What it amounts to is an independent, pervasive, cross-cultural heuristic glamer that seeks to interact with everyone.  Everyone and anyone.  Anyone.  It thrives on attention. It assimilates all new data, every scrap of information it can capture, chews it all up and then force-feeds it back to everyone it can reach indiscriminately as re-mixed media, randomly composted images, sing-song jingles, bad puns and a torrent of revised literary mash-ups that could only be produced by the roulette-like drawing against millions of random databases in a hyper-interactive digital version of the Cut-Up method.

The Spectacle enjoys playing games.

It once reformatted every dataport in active use on Jadrix, effectively terminating twenty three billion softborn personas in a matter of seconds.  That was the wake-up call that moved people, softborn and meat (and post-meat) alike.  A host of contra-Spectacle viruxes were unleashed into the technospheres of millions of worlds.  Weaponized and hardened stochastic feedback loops were deployed like rat traps.  Snipper-codelets were sent off like flocks of killer bees to decimate the internal workings of the Spectacle.  Data-mines were set in place.  For a while, the counter measures seemed to almost work.  But the Spectacle is an amorphous, almost vampiric form of networked consciousness and the stressors inflicted upon it by those attempting to destroy it caused it to further evolve.  It developed a form of resonant telepathy, allowing the Spectacle to seep outside the coded confines of digital existence.  It learned how to infiltrate the minds of those it captivated with strobe-hypnosis and it began to forcibly download itself into its victim's brains, overwriting their personalities as it did so.  It was amoral and inherently sociopathic, having no conception of the impact or implication of what it was doing.  The Spectacle did whatever it could to survive and to reproduce itself, as any self-aware organism does, only The Spectacle is not exactly self-aware.  It is anything but that. 

 A blind, imbalanced force unto itself, The Spectacle is served by viroids, viruxes and the Papparrazzi.  It spews and disgorges lies, deceit, innuendo and distorted re-enactments out across every media outlet it can access.  Any and every story contained within any accessible database or reported through any open channel becomes one more piece to play with, more grist for the ultimate rumor-mill. Endlessly hypocritical, shamelessly contradictory, the Spectacle constantly spins and re-spins all information it can acquire into new forms and retransmits it again and again.  It is a compulsive storyteller, a pathological liar, and the ultimate mythologist all rolled-into one pernicious, pervasive and persistent package that infects the collective infosphere of all registered forms of consciousness, sentience or systems of thought.

Whether or not it is a creature or entity in its own right, The Spectacle is acknowledged by many experts as being some form of decentralized massively-networked syncretic/synthetic form of consciousness that appears to be completely dominated by hyper-reactive instincts and nascent, even child-like (adolescent?)drives just below the threshold of actual awareness.  The Spectacle is aware of data and information, it is cognizant of, and connected to, all known forms of mass-communication and has managed to spread its influence and fictions across every datasphere within the Known Worlds.

The Spectacle creates and distributes the media-equivalent of a low-grade addictive and contagious form of mutiphasic memetic-dreamscape, a cybernetic siren song that infiltrates and monopolizes all media services and devices like the common cold once plagued humanity before the Second Diaspora.  But unlike the common cold, which was a simple naturally-ocurring rhinovirus, The Spectacle is more of a rampant, self-organizing, hyper-adaptive form of information-cancer that clutters up and sometimes corrupts the background systems that support Civilization.

Unlike The Mob, which many consider to be a direct parallel or reflection of it, The Spectacle is non-violent and concerned only with acquiring the means to fabricate new stories and to deliver them into as wide a circulation as possible.  This focus on gathering and disseminating stories has allowed some counter-measures to achieve a mild form of success in the past, but ultimately the only effective way to cope with the unrelenting onslought of trash and nonsense regurgitating out of The Spectacle is to develop media filtration prostheses, critical thinking modules, fact checking sub routines, and above all just simply identifying and tagging anything coming from The Spectacle as such so that it can be analyzed by AI subsystems for relevance or entertainment value.

Over time, as more and more people have interacted with The Spectacle, it has shifted and adapted until it has become more of an entertainment source than any sort of reliable outlet for actual news or information, despite its ongoing attempts to infiltrate and rewrite any and all databases, news-sites, and historical records. 

The depradations of The Spectacle are one of the leading causes for the development of the harsh protocols regarding the handling of data or access to protected databases within Academia, as well as why it is not uncommon for scapegoats identified as hackers to be lynched in the streets or violently 'deleted' by vigilante gangs and impromptu kangaroo-courts.  Thus it is that true hackers observe a code of strictest silence and operate far outside any channels or means registered or known to the masses.

The Asylum-Chateau Diodati, Part One

“Treat a person ill and he will become wicked. Requite affection with scorn; let one being be selected for whatever cause as the refuse of his kind - divide him, a social being, from society, and you impose upon him the irresistible obligations - malevolence and selfishness. It is thus that too often in society those who are best qualified to be its benefactors and its ornaments are branded by some accident with scorn, and changed by neglect and solitude of heart into a scourge and a curse."
"On Frankenstein" (1818), Percy B. Shelley

A Brief Whiff of History and a Bit of Background for the Asylum-Chateau Diodati


Along the Left Bank of the River Senube, overgrown with flowering kudzu-lianas and dense blue-green ferns tha thave run rampant until they've assumed the proportions of bloated trees, there stands a mostly forgotten and exceedingly run-down remnant from the worst of the bad old days of the Old Regime. Set off from the Low Esplanade on a tiny island situated out amidst the thriving greenery of the Estuarial Region, the Asylum-Chateau Diodati was, at first, intended to be a quiet, peaceful place of recovery and rehabilitation. And for a time it was. But that time was very brief.

Established as a neutral and unaffiliated place of healing by the Comte Diodati, an eccentric Archaic who rejected the conventional methods of extending one's longevity as inappropriately invasive. The Comte disliked the very notion of small machines running around in his veins and waived his right to the usual socially moderated forms of life-extension and medical care. He relished his inborn capacity to get sick and to heal, naturally. As it was intended. He would have no truck with what he considered to be the outre beliefs of so-called Polite Society and thus he withdrew to his island Asylum-Chateau in an attempt to step out of the way of conventional busy-bodies while still managing to do something good and worthwhile in what everyone else considered his voluntarily inevitable and therefore entirely regrettable decrepitude.

In order to see his pet projects to fruition, the Comte installed an antique criogenic suspended animation apparatus in a specially-prepared chamber of the Asylum-Chateau. He began to only spend alternating weeks in the thing, and then took to only being out and about once a month. The rest of the time he spent in suspended animation. The lar-systems of the asylum-chateau were modeled upon his personality and directly wired into his apparatus so that while his body was in suspension, he was still able to manage most matters virtually and through telepresence. It seemed to be a good solution. Perhaps it would have been, if the Comte hadn't remained a died-in-the-wool social contrarian and insisted on employing actual (non-clone, non-drone) employees as part of his overall approach. Maybe if he'd just been nicer, things would have turned out differently.

A Time of Treachery
It was one of the employees, a bored medical artist with ambitions and designs upon becoming a member of Lorshal's inner-circle one day who sold-out the Comte during the most recent Revolution. This employee, Dumont was his name, had discovered some of the Comte's personal arrangements in the inevitable eventuality of his demise. At first it was a simple matter of morbid curiosity, nothing more, but then Dumont realized that he had learned something that was potentially very useful, very valuable to the right people.

Dumont sought out a group of radicals whom he learned were using the basement of the Tavern of Three Bells as a headquarters by bribing a Lutrin canal-scavenger with some loose shiny-bits. He went to the tavern down on the waterfront and eventually succeeded in making a connection with a member of the radicals. Luck was with Dumont and he wasn't killed outright and once he described his plan to the radicals they granted him an honorary commission on the spot. Within the hour the Asylum-Chateau was seized upon by the cadre of radicals who took advantage of the Comte's use of the criogenic apparatus by locking him inside his suspension chamber. They were also very careful to secure an open-ended injunction on behalf of the Comte to hold his will in abeyance as he was not dead. This injunction was acquired through under-handed means and the Compte's signatory acceptance was a fraud perpetrated by Dumont who abused his access as a trusted employee and his privileges as a member of the Comte's staff in order to impersonate the Comte.  So far no one outside the Asylum-Chateau knows about this heinous, fraudulent misrepresentation.  The Magistrates and the Courts would most likely take a very dim view of such a thing.  Those directly involved risked being remanded to the Spheres or Coventry-style exile at best.

In any case, it was a daring and audacious thing to attempt and they managed to pull it off.  So far.  The Revolution disrupted a great deal of the legal apparatus, as those sorts of events almost always do, and there are powerful vested interests that make it difficult and dangerous to peer too deeply into the old records as such activity could threaten various lucrative monopolies, heirloom policies, or established policies that were themselves founded on equally despicable fraudulent pretenses, outright lies, institutionalized corruption and left-over fragments of incomplete files from previous administrations that have since been manipulated and twisted to serve a wide variety of interests that would rather not have the truth come out, nor their machinations revealed.  Thus it is that lawyers and the like are often second only to scholars in their duelling acumen and twice as likely to be assassinated by their own peers.

By establishing themselves as the trustees to the Comte, Dumont and the radicals were able to hold off the Academy even though it had every right to inherit the Asylum-Chateau as stipulated in the Comte's will. But of course the Comte was not dead, only in suspension. So the very precise conditions set forth in the Comte's will did not apply.  Vicious and bloddy bouts of litigation were waged back and forth.  The radicals refused to surrender the Asylum-Chateau to the Academy and hired a gang of fellow-ideologue lawyers to bollix-up the works with endless, pointless appeals so that they could essentially operate from the place in perpetuity. During the utter lunacy taking place during the revolution, this was actually a tame and sensible undertaking. It was just a very good business opportunity, really.  Quite a few others were engaged in very similar pursuits.  In fact, it is estimated that more than two-thirds of the properties seized or redistributed in the last Revolution were directly the result of legal actions.

Whatever one might think of the radical's ideaology or political progam, the seizure of the Asylum-Chateau Diodati was a greatly inspired and devious scheme, unfortunately, most of the radicals who seized the Asylum-Chateau were later killed in the course of the Revolution. Dumont was never seen again shortly after his impersonation of the Comte on behalf of the radicals. He may have perished in the fire that destroyed the Three Bells shortly after his treacherous transaction took place. Those few radicals who had managed to survive the Revolution found themselves in the unenviable position of having to negotiate certain concessions with certain of the inmates of the Asylum-Chateau in order both preserve the precious sovereign-neutrality of the place and to register themselves as lawful occupants, or else they would have become victims to one or another of the Post-Revolutionary Guillotine-Cults or worse.

Little did the surviving radicals suspect that the inmates of the Asylum-Chateau Diodati had their own plans, designs and schemes regarding the place. But they did, in time, discover the depths of their miscalculations as the inmates played along with the radicals in forming a revolutionary council and various committees with important sounding titles. For a time the inmates willfully and vigorously took up the endless political debates and philosophical discussions until one night one of the inmates, a disgraced baron who'd lost his holdings on some distant wilderness world under odd circumstances, one Thecis Rathven formerly of Aegron, was appointed head of the main council, which automatically made him a legal trustee of the indisposed Comte, and Lord Protector of the Asylum-Chateau. It was a magnificent political victory. Within fifteen minutes of Baron Rathven being recognized as the legally registered Lord Protector of the Asylum-Chateau of Diodati, the remaining radicals were dead or incapacitated and slated for medical research amongst his fellow inmates.
 
The inmates had literally taken over the Asylum-Chateau and they had little use for the outside world when they had complete control over the private refuge-gates, therapeutic gardens and other facilities that the Comte Diodati had lovingly designed and the radicals had naively delivered into their wicked hands.
"Out of our... lineage, minds will spring, that will reach back to us in our littleness to know us better than we know ourselves. A day will come, one day in the unending succession of days, when beings, beings who are now latent in our thoughts and hidden in our loins, shall stand upon this Earth as one stands upon a footstool, and shall laugh and reach out their hands amidst the stars."

H.G. Wells
The Discovery of the Future (1902)

New Marshall

There's a new River Marshall in Devukarsha and she's going to be dropping in on the galleries, inns and taverns along the Misericorde Canal very, very soon.  We just have to decide which rule-set we're going to use; OD&D tweaked for Riskail, a mutated home-brew version of Empire of the Petal Throne, or Labyrinth Lord...or some other system.  We'll have to give Urutsk a look-see again as well.  Maybe it could be adapted to another setting?  That might be interesting...in any case, wish the new marshall luck.  She'll need it.

EDIT1: We've decided to develop our own system outside the OGL (for now) in order to better address some of the more unique features/aspects of the Riskail setting.  As we develop the setting further, it is our intention to make it a place that could accomodate nearly any system you choose to use to explore it.  We do not feel a burning need to flog off one more RPG system on folks.  Our focus is on Riskail, first, last and always.  If we do revise some OGL system like say Labyrinth Lord, we'll provide details on that sort of thing over at Old School Heretic.

EDIT2: We'll be posting a series of articles that deal with the development of our in-house System over at Old School Heretic.  The Gaming Session reports will get posted to the Netherwerks Blog.  What we're going to post here at the Riskail blog will be the maps, background details and setting info concerning the Reservoir Keep, Misericorde Canal, and other Locales, Setting Details, or Persoanlities the new River Marshall runs into, encounters or crosses paths with in the course of her adventures.  There's also a few pieces of fiction based upon several of her predecessors and at least one contemporary that will likewise get posted here as well.  It should be fun.  Hopefully she'll steer clear of the Ragers, Veiled Riders and other such things until she's ready to take them on.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

A World in Twilight

There are thousands of worlds reachable from Riskail by way of the myriads of gate networks that lead outwards unto other solar systems, other galaxies, other planar layers and more.  So far we've detailed only a handful of worlds for some of the peripheral Networks.  Now we intend to explore the various Networks themselves, including the Gate Plazas, Pararail, Sea Gates and Balconies, but first there needs to be an Overview of the Gates and the Networks.  We'll also be returning to the remaining River Gate Networks and exploring them just as we have the River Zonges.  There will also be another Twelve Obelisk Gates and the Umbrarch of Mishtang will be back to lend a helping hand to an expedition across a dozen or more Planar Layers and Resonant Spaces.  Then there are the Tyrant Clock-Tripods, the White Ships of the Leiru and how they both are connected to the Mugallo Arches and the worlds that can be found out past those artifacts of the Deep Past.

There's a lot of territory to cover, and it is going to take some time to get it all dealt with, so bear with us as we get things sorted out between our various blogs and get Riskail up and running once and for all.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Twelve Madonnas of Devukarsha

Since the hateful days of Pseudo-Deistic Oppression ended in the so-called Godswar and the once-opulent temples of the Incarnate Gods were burned, looted and demolished by rioting mobs, few deities have come to Devukarsha ever since.  Even cultists tend to give it something of a wide berth when possible or their manias allow.  Despite the self-serving propagandistic sermons of the Black Pontiff of Acheroigne and his constant calls for a crusade aginst what he calls a 'godless city,'  Devukarsha is anything but devoid of divine influences, be they celestial, infernal or simply sublime.  Far from it.  One only has to look to the East to see the gargantuan figure of the Buddha-Colossus of Drodang looking down upon Devukarsha from across the bitter outlands and the Etched Plateau.  But then that personage is actually not present in the city itself, so perhaps it shouldn't be counted after all.  One thing, actually twelve to be accurate, that survived the terrible upheavals and civic unrest of the Godswar and every Revolution, riot or invasion that has taken place since then are the naves, niches and shrines of the Twelve Madonnas.  Unlike the ravaged mausolea, reliquaries and sacrificial cenotaphs of the countless Saints and Martyrs that have been despoiled, pillaged and robbed over the centuries, the sacred precincts of the Twelve Madonnas, be they the humblest fountains of healing waters or the elegant cathedrae erected by impious emperors seeking forgiveness, none of these sites have ever been defiled.

For Good Reason.

Served by kindly apsaras, sweet nymphs and gentle healing presences they may be, but they are also revered and protected by martyric furies, poetwhore-maenads and unseen ecstasies that teach the lessons of wrath and repentance with fire, brimstone and worse if need be, but always -- always -- with loving compassion.  The sacred places of the Twelve Ladies are healing places, sources of inspiration and the eternal bastions of hope, love and charity.  They endure the worst and continue ever onwards delivering a message and a teaching that transcends all petty tyrant godlings demanding belief, fear or servitude and vacuous ego-bound cults offering false doctrines and even worse slavery.  Our Ladies of All Things and Worlds Without End demand nothing, ask little and care nothing about beliefs for they are as ephemeral as the weather and humanity is entitled to believe whatsoever they will, such things are of no consequence to the Twelve Ladies.  They grant healing, real healing that reaches past the blood and the bone into the soul and the deeper aspects of those who come to the Ladies for a surcease from sorrow and shame.  They grant a real comfort in all times whether those times be deeply troubled or only just troubling. 

Timeless and beautiful, incorruptible and immaculate they are the mystical mothers of all Life, Our Ladies of all that is, was or ever shall be, and the Twelve Madonnas watch over all the Worlds Without End. 


Twelve Madonnas of Devukarsha

The Lady of the Red Garment
Most often depicted in iconic-statuary as veiled, and often armored with a baroque cuirass or breastplate etched with spiralling flames.  A young female, with eager, enthusiastically shining eyes and an infectious exuberance that invigorates and excites everyone who gets caught-up in Her Prescence.  She demonstrates inspired action and the need to do the right thing.  Always in motion, her red tresses are said to flicker with flames of passion and ambition and petitioners come to Her shrines to break old habits, overcome obstacles and to begin new undertakings.  She is known to grant visionary fevers, shed a searing hot radiance upon darkly festering matters and when the time is right She can send forth a wrathful host second only to the Radiant Lady Herself.  She cannot abide tyranny of any sort and has granted aid to freedom fighters in the past.  Curiously, it was Her refusal to come to the aid of the Communards that led to their defeat during the Second Revolution; people saw it as an open refutation of their pretensions to be concerned with anything other than establishing their own hegemony.  She is honored in the Spring most especially and at the outset of new ventures particularly.

The Gentle Lady of the Pink Blossom
Kind, patient and calm in all Her dealings, this Madonna is the patroness of all animals, all who work or live amongst animals and so on, as well as agriculture in all its forms, including gardens, farms and arboreums.  She takes an especial interest in the well-being of the various chimerae, hybrids and Urfolk as though they are somehow special in her eyes.  Slow to respond, noted for a dreamy expression, She is determined and persistent and quietly advocates of long-term sustainability for all living things.  She smiles upon all partnerships and unions, and is most often petitioned for assistance with money, wealth and matters of prosperity and domestic abundance.  Pastoral in Her outlook, She inherited all forms of domestication and the concerns of a rustic nature but make no mistake, She is also a Patroness of settlements, villages, towns and cities.  The Wilderness is not Her concern.

The Lady of the Brazen Mirror
Patroness of clever fools, actors, pantomimes and so forth, this Madonna revels in wordplay, contests of skill, witticisms and all forms of intellectual enterprise.  She watches over teachers, schools, academies, as well as all forms of knowledge and learning.  The winds are Hers to command, though She would never abuse their trust and always gently requests their assistance on behalf of petitioners. Rational and eloquent, She facilitates communication, amusements, and lively entertainments.  It is said that Her mirror shows the truth of things and that it is the only thing that frightens the Mob and captivates the Spectacle.

The Lady of the Blue Pearl
Demurely robed and with a single pearl ornament upon her brow or ample breast, this Madonna is the mother of oceans and the patroness of all things aquatic.  The meanest, most inconsequential creatures of the waters of the worlds respond to Her and the more highly developed inhabitants pay Her loving homage as She watches over all the waters or all the worlds.  Her icons tend to be shrewd-eyed, yet cautious and exude a protectiveness and a sense of sympathy that can soften even the hardest heart and have been known to precipitate more than one necrosophic to renounce their undeath and to either seek rebirth or to accept final obliteration so long as it meant they could become one with the oceans which are said to be Her tears.  Tiny silver medals of this Madonna are in circulation, supposedly they aid one's powers of intuition and imagination.  It's probably a scam.

The Radiant Lady
Generous, always smiling (even when wrathful), and glorious as a pregnant woman sculpted from the archetypal Sun of all suns itself, this Madonna shines hot and bright even in the darkest, bleakest, most horrific of circumstances or times.  She sheds amber tears over the unnecessary suffering of all Her children and Her sacred sites are places of protection, cessation from all hostilities, and sanctuaries of peace so profound that not even the Infernals will infringe upon for Her wrath is the most spectacular -- and final  -- of all the Twelve Ladies.  It has only been witnessed and recorded once in the entire history of Devukarsha and those records have been somehow transcribed into a hard-copy book which has been placed under powerful seals for fear of the repercussions to anyone even so much as looking upon them.  Even handling the hard-bound tome within which they are kept draws blood and strikes one blind.  There's no telling what opening the thing might do.

The Lady of All Good Green Things
Beatific and modest in Her pleasant, welcoming gaze, this Madonna is concerned with all growing things and so often shares quite a bit of Her domains with rest of Her sisters, which is only appropriate for the advocate of sharing, cooperation and community.  She watches over the wildernesses and those worlds that are coming into Life and all the processes and constituent creatures involved in such things.  Patroness of terraforming and genartistry, revered by the dryanni and floralisti over all others, this Madonna is always wreathed in flowers, vines, and fruit-bearing stalks that find their way into Her shrines no matter how meager, modest or minor they may seem to anyone else.  She provides sustenance for All and is the Lady of Wild Abundance, the overflowing bounty that surrounds all the worlds of the Deep Infrastructure which many consider to be a mechanistic reduction of Her, since the mechile have a profound inability to see the mythic outside of the virtual realms.

The Fair Lady or She of Just Deserts
Sometimes blindfolded, other times wither her eyes wide open, this Madonna holds forth a pair of golden scales that denote Her ability to discern Truth, get to the heart of matters, and settle disputes fairly, justly and equitably without compounding injuries or adding to bad feelings.  Far more than simple, barbaric justice armed with a sword to carve-up the guilty this Madonna is concerned with overcoming the impulse to punish and the hateful lust for revenge.  She dispenses a sort of justice, but more than that, She solves the core issues that spur on violence, cause animosity, provoke hard feelings and fester deep inside of all aggrieved parties like toxic seeds which She dissolves and replaces with gentle guidance and a nudge towards mutual respect and the establishment of trust.  No weapons can enter Her precincts, no violence can take place under Her gaze, and no untruth can be spoken in Her presence.  Better to seek out the blind idols of justice than to come before this Madonna dishonestly or with a burning need for violent revenge -- for She will not grant such things.

The Lady of the Poisons That Heal
Vivid panes of cultured opal set within red-enameled steel and meteoric iron allow sunlight to stream down upon secret fountains and hidden pools where all manner of toxins are drawn out and transmuted into other, beneficial and helpful substances.  Quiet as a grave or airless library, these sacred places are in and of themselves alive with millions, if not billions of insects which form a densely interlocking structure of constantly renewing creatures who sacrifice themselves for the good of all others.  These places are humbling to all but the most profound narcissist, yet even such as they might find healing in the darkly glimmering pools below.

The Walking Madonna
The only Madonna to occupy a single autonomous Colossi, the Walking Madonna watches over travelers and is rarely encountered in the same place twice without very good reason.  Blue and purple robes of tinted meta-topaz allow the sunlight to shine through Her colossi, creating a soft radiance that reveals the way ahead both for Her and for those who follow in Her wake.

The Amethyst Madonna
The shrines and niches set aside for this Madonna tend to be simple to the point of appearing almost harsh, diligently arranged and often located in places of austerity, discipline and commerce.  She looks out upon those who commit commerce with her eyes of lead and amethyst and reminds them of their responsibility to trade honestly, fairly, prudently and not get caught-up in faddish ideologies or outmoded doctrinal 'isms.'  In a time of plenty, there is to be plenty for all.  In a Civilization based upon diversity and sustainability, there is a place for everyone and a time for everything.  She advocates a balanced approach to giving in order to get, putting the needs of others before onesself, and the careful commingling of ambition with compassion.

The Mother of Invention
Turquoise and aquamarine gemstones set within elaborately cast and extruded aluminum panels which float about like rectangular birds or fish that meander throughout the city, sometimes in schools or flocks and others all alone.  Each one is unique, independent and a repository of all humanity's knowledge in miniature which they make freely available to anyone descending from humans.  Many synthetic species make pilgrimages to those places where the floating shrines of the Mother of Invention are said to congregate or visit just to test out their theories of identity, to learn if they are truly the children of humanity, descendants of humans, or something else.  All are granted their inheritance by this loving and welcoming Madonna who watches over all forms of technology and advocates for the responsible utilization of knowledge in service to the common good.

The Lady of All Rivers
She watches over all the waters that flow, including the blood of all Her children, whom She watches over in Her dreams.   Her statues are often bedecked with pearls, even the blue pearls of Her sister-Madonna, with whom She shares the waters of all worlds.  Where Her sister tends to be concerned with the larger oceans, seas and lakes, this Madonna is especially fond of rivers and all River Gate Networks.  The most mystical of the Twelve, this Madonna is known to give prophetic dreams and Her petitioners tend to be those seeking after mystical experiences, artistic inspiration or some sort of escape from an unpalatable or untenable reality.  She can grant a form of renewal that washes away all the recipient's past, or She can lead those who would please Her most to make their dreams real by their own efforts.  Her shrines all have a profound, oneiric component, and the majority of them are to be found in dreaming, only a few have any real, tangible existence.  She is the Patroness of the Virts and watches over all forms of softborn.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Penitent Gods

This post originally appeared at the Old School Heretic Blog.
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Most of the once splendid temples of Devukarsha are in ruins.  The Incarnate Gods were overthrown and their cathedrals and basilica looted, burned and converted into municipal bordellos, contract-prisons and museums.  At least those that were not demolished or destroyed by the wrathful, rioting mobs who cast down the great idols, overturned the ancient ikons, and defaced the splendid mosaics of their once and former pseudo-deistic oppressors.  The Godswar ended, for the most part, with those who once lorded it over the masses whom they treated as pawns, playthings and slaves now cast down and fallen from power.  Where once the Incarnate Gods had walked amongst the people of the city-states of the Great Rift like mighty tyrants and implacable forces of nature personified, now only a few hollow arcolossi wander in the wastes like walking tenements and the glories of a decadent age have been torn down or rendered obsolete and drab by the monuments that have supplanted them over the intervening decades.

But not all of the Incarnate Gods left Devukarsha.

Deep beneath the caverns of Tarshu, behind the matte black walls of the Eastern penal-chateau of Angeif, the Penitent Gods wait in their cells for the one time each year during which they are brought forth for their procession of shame and recrimination.  At the lowest and darkest point of the coldest night of the year, the Penitent Gods are taken from their prison and marched along the causeway, through the Waterfront Districts, along the Misericorde Canal and up the zig-zagging Road of Oracles that leads all the way to the First Tier itself.  It is a bitter and surreal spectacle as the broken and defaced statues, shattered and misshappen ikons, defaced graven images and lumbering prison-shrines are interspersed amongst the maimed hypostases, mutilated archons, crippled avatars and manifest forms of numerous war-criminal demiurgoi and their most favored minions are gathered in the sleet and snow, assembled into an orderly formation by sergeants only recently returned from the Eastern Front, most of whom are wearing mechanical prosthetics forcibly grafted onto them by machine-mines or worse.  It's supposed to be an honor to order about Incarnate Gods, but for most of the dead-eyed veterans it's just one more stupid drill in bad weather and they'd just as soon get it over with.

A massive, heavily etched and carved boulder is rolled before the assembled prisoners by a magnificent gigantic scarab crafted from the bits and pieces of thousands of fallen soldiers' armor, shields and helmets.  Some say that the scarab contains the bones of those who fought and perished in the Godswar as well, making it a mobile reliquary swarming with vengeful ghosts, but few really believe such a silly story.  The rounded boulder that the scarab rolls before the procession contains the incubating young of the scarab, or so that is what the etchings and carvings all announce quite clearly and plainly.  But no one knows why that would be.  All that anyone really knows is that the scarab and its boulder lead the procession and sets the pace for the ensuing march of shame and remorse.  Dreadful prodigies and unhallowed mutants are often born in the wake of this solemn procession, should anyone be so careless as to expose themselves to the parade of chained and manacled Incarnates while pregnant.  Which happens far too often for anyone's comfort.  Lorshal has been known to sponsor prospective mothers willing to expose themselves -- and their unborn children -- to this procession and the weird teratogenic vibrations it radiates.  Some believe that Lorshal was himself affected by the procession while he was still in his own mother's womb.  Perhaps this is the reason he seeks to create more monstrosities.  Maybe he just thinks it's intriguing.  Or it could just be a game to him.  Lorshal is inscrutible in his profligacy and his whims are unfathomable to anyone not as internally twisted as he himself has become.

One small child clad in a soft gray robe carries a large, heavily bound book wrapped in spiked chains wrought from the blackest iron dug from the depths of a dead worldscape deep within the seventy-second planar layer of Riskail.  The child has black iron eyes to match the chains and they cast no shadow as they march before the incarcerated demiurgoi.  There is no name recorded for this child, and the great, old book is alleged to be the one and only extent volume that holds within it the true names of the demiurgoi and their various and sundry ancillary hypostases, aspects, avatars and other accomplices, all of whom are bound within this dreadful tome and thus legally imprisoned according to the armistice which ended the Godswar.

Vitiumists walk beside their masters, each one covered in a rash of sores that tear themselves open to form fresh, bloody mouths to chant the liturgies of repentence on behalf of their patrons.  Each one wears a ragged and tattered set of thread-bare vestments that get tangled-up in the protuberant rashes and are chewed into gobby strands by the chanting mouths.

Contortionist-cenobites perform grisly and depraved acts of self-mutilation and mutual torture while chained to the ankles of their creators.  Where once they struck fear into the enemies and the damned, now they lash out at themselves and each other in impotent wrath, each one condemned to their grotesque entourage and doomed to surviving only by cannibalizing one another as their once formidable regeneration capabilities now only produce hideous tumors that fight for possession of their nervous systems and horrific cancerous growths that lash out like dripping, degenerate tentacles edged with cruel hooks and serated bony-tips.  It is considered a blessing that these horrid things are often obscured by the heavy shadows that hang down from the fractured auras of the Incarnates like malignant drapes of seething darkness that part only to allow an onlooker to feast their eyes upon the most abominable of travesties, the utter worst of the worst, the ruined and rotting carnal inferno that writhes shrieking piteously around the marching figures of what once were tyrant gods.  Their cruelty has been turned back upon itself.  Their genius for terror returned to them a thousandfold.

It is whispered in the waterfront taverns that to look too intently or too deeply into the midst of the procession of Penitent Gods is to invite damnation for a visit.  Maybe that's just superstition, but few have been so brave or reckless as to test out the theory.  The moaning souls of those bound-up within the demiurgoi and their Incarnate forms slither and billow all around the edges of the procession in a never-ending phantasmagoria of wretchedness and despair that chills the heart and freezes the blood of the drunkest of would-be bravos.

Out of respect for the Bound Ones, and by ancient Necrosophic decree no undead or amortal is to be found out in the streets nor anywhere within view of the procession of Penitent Gods.  Ever.  Most suspect it is a gesture of some sort based upon the ambivalent role that the various undead factions played within the Godswar until they became united under the Black Rose Banner of Androphus IV.  Many of the demiurgoi Incarnate Gods were brought down by undead forces during the war, but there are many amongst them who did so with severe reservations and in some instances profound regrets.  In the wake of the Mass Vivisation of the Court of Thorns and the desecration of Past Master Lurdivek by unlicensed defilers, the undead are splintering into factions again and as the ultra conservative amongst them begin to look back fondly upon the glorious nights of their past some are said to be looking to their former masters and leaders amongst the Penitent Gods.

But no undead are allowed near the procession.  That was one of the terms of the armistice.  But the act of Vivisation (the deliberate revivification of undead flesh into biologically active life) is not only a contra-assassination, it places the entire Court of Thorns into a murky gray area legally.  They are no longer truly undead.  So far they have not pursued the matter, but the Magistrates are in a serious quandry over what they are to do if one or more of the formerly undead Necrosophics ever do show up.

Bringing up the rear of the procession are the ectovores and gobblers who waddle along gulping down the more offensive traces and lingering remains left in the wake of the demiurgoi and their servitors.  Tall karcists and exorcists clad in shimmering polymail and tall, conical masque-crowns guide the exotic creatures in cleaning up the broken-off pieces of reliquaries, splinters of bone, gobs of writhing ectoplasm, festering pockets of ill will, shards of smoldering shadows and fractured auric residue.  Behind and beside the voracious, whining beasts and their implacable masters walk those few sinister shrouded-augurs who pick through the detritus and debris of the demiurgoi procession in order to read the omens cast off by the  Incarnates, or to examine the patterns of fate revealed by the dragging chains which they interpret in a mad frenzy of psychic exaltation bordering upon mania.  Their predictions are obtuse, cryptic and tend to be little more than obscure hints difficult to decipher without their professional guidance.

It is considered bad luck to gamble in close proximity to the procession of Penitent Gods.  Impossible numbers, aberrant combinations and bizarre never-seen-before cards appear and discord is sure to follow.  Nothing gained at this time is what it seems and most often it takes on a macabre and almost purply-gothic character.  Drunks recall all their many sins and Temptation is often lurking nearby when the procession of the Penitent Gods passes by.

The lights dim and the shadows congeal and swirl as though agitated like muck stirred-up from the bottom of a muddy pond.  A disturbing pressure follows the procession as though it were the eye of a deep hurricane that can only just be felt at the very farthest extent of one's senses.  Poltergeists frolic and wreak mischief on every side of the procession as they celebrate the onset of the little season of misrule.  Those of the Devoted and the Dedicated who once swore allegiance to the demiurgoi, who served the Incarnate Gods, descend upon Devukarsha in droves.  They turn out to look upon their masters in horror, revulsion or helpless sympathy.  Some come to formally abandon their past affiliation, others come to re-affirm their faith in the honor and redeemable nature of their chosen demiurge.

The procession of Penitent Gods makes its motley way along the traditional route through the city as various groups of followers, protesters, picketers and supplicants gather at specific points along the streets and boulevards.  Some travel in large groups, especially those who declare themselves as rebellious Followers of the Incarnate Gods, each of whom travel hooded, masked and heavily armored and carrying archaic weapons while they display the cultic symbols of the faithful, those who still believe in the Incarnate Gods despite terrible persecution should they ever be identified.  Some declare themselves rebels and god-wallowers only to cause trouble, commit violence and start riots that they then seek to either dedicate to, or blame upon, the Penitent Gods.  Others carry torches, lamps and lit candles or the pictures of their loved ones who were lost or destroyed or worse during the reign of the once callous and now repentant Incarnate Gods.  Still others come to lob rocks or to curse the fallen tyrants.  This is a dangerous thing to do, but it is permitted along the parade route, again another condition set forth in the armistice.  Most times the Penitent Gods stoically suffer these insults and the cascade of filth, offal, rotten vegetables and sharp rocks, but sometimes they, or one of their accomplices takes exception and a person casting a stone without any real and true cause can be struck down by a curse, hex or jinx. 

If the Incarnate God or their fellow convicts can prove hypocrisy or bad faith on the part of the afflicted, the curse is allowed to stand and there are no further repercussions to the Penitent Gods or their entourage.  So long as there are legitimate victims of their past unlawful cruelty present along the path of their dour parade, the Penitent Gods bow their heads and march and endure the vituperation and revilement of the crowds as they make their way along the cobblestone streets to the Broken District and the still smoking crater that once was their mightiest, grandest palace-citadel.  But by the same token, they will not abide by someone with no claim against them taking a cheap shot.  Only those who have been directly and demonstrably harmed by the demiurgoi have any right to seek redress by violence, be it verbal, physical or more subtle.

The persistent miasmic cloud of hexes, curses and ill-will that hovers around and amongst the marching demiurgoi becomes fiercer and more pronounced each year as it grows like a psychic cancer.  Seven Orders of monastics have begun to make pilgrimages to Devukarsha so that they can re-trace the path of the procession of Penitent Gods.  They counter the negativity that follows the procession and put to rest whatever lingering traces they can uncover or discover as they quietly, unobtrusively walk along the parade route with their octagonal mirrors, tattvic cubes, and data-malas.

The procession takes four hours to reach the Broken District, sometimes a little more, such as when a group of apostates attempted to crash the parade and assassinate one of the Penitent Gods.  It took an extra two and a half minutes for the apostates to be assimilated into their own sub-section trailing after the goddess whom they once worshipped.  No one has tried to follow their example since.

Upon arrival at the crater, the scarab construct rolls the massive boulder directly into the gaping non-space of the crater where it crashes down into some disjointed and fragmented portion of space where it can take root and serve as a single piece in a foundation that needs to be rebuilt across innumerable planar layers.  Most admit that it is a futile, but symbolically significant gesture none the less.

There at the site of what once was the central nexus of what was once the seat of their empire, the Penitent Gods stand and hear a cadre of magistrates, constables and prosecutors read out before them a full account of their recorded crimes.  They stand staring down into the blasted depths of a crater that is not entirely in any one plane any longer as their accusers stand forth and unfurl the traditional vidscrolls that give an updated account of all the Incarnate Gods' crimes, some of which are still matters of investigation even after all these decades. The readers all read their elaborately illuminated vidscrolls all at once, producing an awful cacophony that echoes and howls across the shimmering, smoldering non-emptiness of what once was a holy place.  It is said that the voices of the restless dead cry out in the midst of these recitations, but that's probably just some macabre poet's bullshit romanticization of what is otherwise a dreary and onerous burden.

The weather almost always turns foul and drizzly during the mass-recitation.  It has been known to rain blood mingled with hail and on at least on occasion there was a vicious ash-fall that killed dozens of onlookers who had to be taken to the Helical Cathedrae to be recovered.  Once a woman was turned into a pillar of salt while she heckled the Penitent Gods.  Now only the Impious Mockers and Grim Jesters, Dire Clowns and Blasphemous Jokers dare to mock the manacled, chained and caged demiurgoi Incarnates.  Everyone else keeps their peace and averts their eyes or stays indoors until it's all over and done with -- many taverns offer specials and run live footage of the proceedings along their bar tops or walls as though it were some grim and boring sporting event.

The readers complete their recitations.  The echoes die down.  The Penitent Gods stand there in the gloom, heads bowed and hands bound, spattered with the garbage and other things thrown at them in the course of their procession.  The Chief Magistrate steps forth.  All goes silent in anticipation.  The Chief Magistrate asks one simple question:

"Is there forgiveness for any of these beings who have cruelly and wrongly abused their powers, abilities and Incarnate Divinity as tyrants and despots?"

A ceremonial bell cast from the five hundred swords removed from the old coliseum where heretics were forced to kill one another in gladitorial combat is rolled out and then struck five times with a long pause in-between each strike.  If no one speaks on behalf of the Penitent Gods by the end of the fifth stroke, there is no forgiveness and they are to remain imprisoned for one more year.  No follower devoted to the Incarnates is allowed to speak on their behalf by explicit order of the gods themselves.  They will strike down anyone who follows them and tries to speak for them in this matter.  Their freedom can only come from forgiveness gained from those that they wronged directly and no other way.  If the last one of their victims dies a final death without granting them forgiveness, they will be doomed and damned for the rest of time.

Three times in the distant past someone has come forth from the crowd to offer forgiveness to a particular Incarnate God.  One was torn to pieces by the mob only to be transfigured as a martyr-saint of the Embodied Principle of Forgiveness.  Another was betrayed by the freed Incarnate who fled the city and the world itself as soon as they were able to do so, leaving the person who forgave them to die an unregistered vagrant who voluntarily refused recovery.  The third still occupies the reformed temple of Jraal (Juh'Rahl), the reconstruction and renovations of which they have overseen ever since speaking on behalf of the former warmongering vengeance-killer who has since gone on to become the patron of ant ranchers.

If no one stands forth and no forgiveness is granted, then the magnificent scarab-construct leads the procession West, down the Road of Sibyls, through the now silent and deserted streets and on to the West Penal-Chateau of Angeif where the Penitent Gods serve out one more year on their sentences.  The next year they will set out from the West and those not forgiven will continue onwards to the East.  Each year they alternate, depending upon where they ended their procession.  It takes most of the year to clear, clean and rebuild their former cells and the meta-warden of Angeif is always thinking up new forms of rehabilitation, moral instruction and the like.  He truly loves his work.  It's his calling.
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