Saturday, December 29, 2012

Sockpuppets and trainwrecks

Sigh...I guess I just can't avoid being dragged back into the Dark Phoenix Publishing mess. It's certainly not for lack of trying to avoid it. A few days pass, it appears that the stupid subsides a bit, and then I wind up finding something else double-take worthy.

The latest sad development is the posting of a review for Vampire: Undeath, by none other than "Mark Smith". This is so obviously a sockpuppet review it just stops being not funny and diverges into really pathetic. The choice of words, grammar, Unnecessary Capitalization, and odd turns of phrase ("in the modern nights") are dead ringers that it was penned by our friend Mykal Lakim. In addition, the review does nothing but directly address talking points Mykal Lakim himself has made (using levels, the wound system, Empathy, etc) or justify/defend problems that RPG.net review and others have brought up (lack of distribution, editing, ads in the middle of the book). Mentioning Vampire: Undeath is part of the "Wastelands of Damnation series" is another dead giveaway. The name for the series wasn't coined until after Vampire: Undeath was released - yet the review tries to come off as someone who just randomly bought the product and Vampire: Undeath says it's part of the G.A.M.E. or L.I.F.E system.

While it's possible that because of the minor amount of attention that the game has received an independent party went to the Dark Phoenix Publishing Facebook page, perused everything, and then came to the decision to support the underdog and buy the book - it's much more likely that this is a sockpuppet. "Mark Smith" created a Google+ account and immediately posted the review, on a blog creatively titled "Vampire Undeath Review", that has precisely one post. "Mark Smith" and "James Pendragon" - the other suspected Mykal Lakim sockpuppet account - have similarities in the way their information is wordedIt's really not surprising, as Mykal Lakim was banned from RPG.NET for confirmed sockpuppeting - so this review is just continuing sad behavior from someone who can't seem to quit sad behavior. 

Friday, December 28, 2012

Cara Gray'on (sample character)

Cara Gray'on is a Joanite Templar from a minor offshoot of the Uhan'on clan. She was a Blade for number of years, serving along the Seven Fingers. While leading a raid on a Serf settlement in the No Man's Land between Vimary and Hl'kar, Cara and her fellow Blades were attacked by Z'bri defending the village. Many of the Joanites died in the first few minutes of the battle, and the survivors sought refuge in a mostly collapsed ruin. Cara defeated a monstrosity made up of the corpses of her Joanite sisters in single combat and,  unlocking an unknown potential for powerful Synthesis, successfully drove back the Melanis Iv'chet leading the defenders. For her devotion and bravery, Joan made Cara a Templar on the spot - an unusual, but not unheard of, move on the Fatima's part. For Cara it was a bittersweet triumph, as her longtime companion Selia was killed in the battle.

Since becoming a Templar, Cara has joined the small number of voices speaking out against Judge Cylix Seth'on and the burgeoning Watch. She believes the creation of the Watch was misguided at best and a blatant power grab at worst. She sees what happened to her in Hl'kar as a symptom of a Nation that is becoming complacent and opening itself up to a large-scale incursion by the Z'bri. Her opposition to the Watch has made her a small number of influential allies in the Grand Council, but also attracted the attention of much more powerful political adversaries in the form of both Cylix Seth'on and Shaman Storm Cry. Of late Cara has noticed that Joanites Blades are disappearing in small numbers - not enough to raise suspicion that it is nothing other than the normal risks Blades take, but still enough to worry her. All of these factors are making it harder and harder for her to ignore her principles when she sees abuse by the Watch or remain silent while Joanite battle readiness deteriorates.

Character Aspects

  • Templar of Joan
  • Tribal
  • Opposes the Watch
  • Handpicked by Joan
  • "The Z'bri cannot be ignored"
  • Blames Herself For Selia's Death

Specialty Aspects

  • Joanite (Strength)
  • Devotion (Dream)
  • Fury (Dream)
  • Exceptionally Strong Dreamer (Willpower)
  • Blade Blessed By Joan (Resources)
  • Many Sisters Within the Blades (Resources)
  • Blinded By Principles (Persuasion)

Abilities
Physical: Agility: 2; Endurance: 2; Perception: 2; Strength 3
Mental: Craft: 1; Knowledge: 2; Reasoning: 2; Willpower: 2
Social: Deception: 1; Empathy: 2; Persuasion: 2; Resources: 1
Affinity: Dream: 3

Advantages
Dreamer

Power Advantages:
Synthesis
Rotes:
Battle
Force

Interesting news

On January 1st, Lucien Soulban, Jean Carrieres and Ghislain Barbe are announcing a new project. All three of them are former Dream Pod 9 staffers and have extensive experience in the tabletop rpg industry, as well as video games and entertainment. Lucien Soulban wrote for the Tribe 8 rpg;  Jean Carrieres worked on Heavy Gear, Jovian Chronicles and Tribe 8; Ghislain Barbe was responsible for the distinctive art style in the Dream Pod 9 games. The last time all three of them worked together that I know of was Tribe 8. This doesn't mean that the new project is an rpg, but regardless of what the project is I am very, very intrigued.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Werewolf wangs need to be...just...right

I know that I really didn't want to post any more about Dark Phoenix Publishing. But this was too good to pass up and I just had to capture it. Annotated so you can zero in on the good parts.


Sneaksy

I was finally able to start Dishonored last night. Mental note: when trying to configure a hard drive and a little voice keeps telling me "You've done this before" don't answer, "Yeah, so why isn't this working?" and keep bashing my head against a wall for over an hour. It means you've done this before and there's a drive with Windows installed on it in the desk drawer, already configured, from the last time the SSD died.

Dishonored so far is very much in the same vein as Thief, which makes me pretty happy. Stealth games are typically so much better than regular old FPS frag-fests, and the Thief series is one of my all-time favorites .I would go further and say Dishonored is a perfect bookend for the Thief series (at least until a new one comes out, hopefully next year). I was able to slip right in to Garrett mode, and the guards seemed like old friends, just with different slang and new tunes to whistle. It was liking putting on a nicely worn-in pair of old boots.

One of the things I miss about Thief is the light gem. This one little UI element, indicating how illuminated your character is, helped immensely in remaining stealthy. A few times it even reminded me I still had a weapon drawn ("I'm totally in the dark, why isn't the gem black? Oh, I still have my sword out."). Deus Ex: Human Revolution was able to make up for the lack of a light gem by having augmentations for displaying what direction the enemy is looking and their alertness level. Dishonored has a similar power, called Dark Vision.

Playing video games - especially good ones - makes me think about roleplaying games and how their concepts and subsystems might work in a roleplaying environment. When well done, video games excel at setting tone and mood. I've wanted to run a Thief-like game for a very long time, borrowing stylistic elements and tone, but it's always seemed hard to get the feel right. One concern is the genre wouldn't seem to lend itself well to multiple characters, since they are almost always very solitary. This is hardly a huge deal, and I might tackle it in a later post. But the most important thing is stealth has to be done right - possibly even as a mini-game.

Stress Tracks...Again?

Coming at it from a FATE perspective (specifically, Strands of Fate), my first instinct is, "Stress track!" Our sneaksy characters would have a Stealth custom stress track. I'm thinking it would have stress boxes equal to something like: (Deception + Agility + Other Modifiers) - Size. The character's own actions and movements mark off stress boxes, with Consequences representing miscalculations or other events ranging from "Stepped on a stick" to "Knocked over a box" to "Caught in the open". Stealth stress boxes clear at the end of the scene, but there might be actions which could clear some as well.

As an alternative, or even a counterpart, guards and other characters may have an Alertness stress track to represent how alert they are. An Alertness track is a little trickier, because it runs "backwards". More alert characters would have a smaller track, while distracted or less alert characters would have a larger one. One solution would be to have the track start at a fixed value - let's say 6, but it could possibly vary by the quality of the guard - and subtract Perception plus any other modifiers. Consequences would reflect increased levels of alertness, from "I think I heard something" to "I should check that out" to "Raise the alarm!". Like the Stealth track, Alertness Consequences would clear over time or after performing specific actions. For both Stealth and Alertness, various Edges and Determinations can be set to represent specialized equipment or the mental state of the stealth character or the guards (setting up the classic situation where the guard is always trying to catch the thief).

These ideas, or something similar, combined together could create a mini-game where stealth is the focus of the action, almost like "stealth combat".

Zones

The final consideration for a stealth-centered game is how zones are set up. By necessity the map would look a lot different than one set up for a swashbuckling fight or a shoot out. It would probably outline zones of various light levels, little or lots of cover, or alternate routes such as overhead or underneath an area, etc. Aspects like Intermittent Light or Hard Metal Floor or Soft Carpeting would round out a good stealth zone map. Combined with some stealth track and some alert guards, this looks like a promising framework for all of the sneaksy stuff I'd need in an rpg.

Sins of the Sister, Part 2

I had no sooner sent an initiate to bring some mulled wine, when Nostra Guy'on appeared in the doorway of my chamber. His Templar bodyguards were not with him, but I thought there was someone standing in the shadows outside the doorway. Dressed in a long, simple robe Nostra Guy'on looked more a tired old man than a Grand Councilor. He unarmed - not that he needed a weapon. His weapons were power and his armor subterfuge, and he used them with a deftness unmatched by any Dahlian or Magdalite.

"You know why I am here."

"The boy," I responded.

"He is secure here in the Tower?"

"Yes, he is in a cell awaiting an Inquisitor." My throat tightened around the word.

"And the others?"

"The girl was found and turned over to the Red Gaol, who will deal with her. The boys will attend to me, until such a time as Joan deems all of them fit for the Arena." I paused for a moment, carefully choosing my words. "Not to disrespect, Elder, but I don't think you came here to check on an imprisoned halfwit and a handful of derelicts."

Nostra worked his nearly toothless gums for a moment, his eyes dark and cold. "Your actions have placed us in a difficult position. Shaman Storm Cry was disrespected, gravely so, and you acted against his - and the Council's - authority."

"But Joan spoke through me. Her will..."

"Do not confuse Joan working through you with knowing Her will. Joan seldom speaks, much less through her Templars. It is not surprising you would be a little confused."

His words stung like a slap in the face. I knew what I had experienced, what Joan had said through me, and there was no mistake. "That cannot be. I felt her anger and her frustration. We have had so much taken from us...Vimary stands half-defended our fate has been placed in the hands of others? Joan is..."

"Enough!" Nostra snapped, then sighed deeply. "The Beasts' backs were broken when Joshua slew Tibor. That was nearly three generations ago, they are no more than shadows on the wall now. Darker forces are at work within the Nation, but you and the other crusaders fail to see it. You want to stand on a watchtower," he motioned skyward with his hands. "Ever vigilant for a threat that has long since been cowed by the Fatimas' power...even if it means the rest of the Tribes fall into degeneracy behind you. The Tribe of Joan must stand with all of the Tribes, for the purity of all of the Tribes. That is Joan's Will." He pinched the bridge of his nose with thumb and forefinger, looking at me through hooded eyes. "That is why you will do as I say or I will throw you to the Beasts myself, since you seem to prefer their company to your own kind."

I silently nodded my capitulation. He gestured and the person outside the doorway stepped into the light. She was short and slender, covered completely in a burial shroud of black muslin. "This is Den'a. She is a Sin Eater."

I tried to speak, but the words stuck. The Yagan Sisterhoods were secretive, but the Sin Eaters made them look like an Evan gossip circle. Stories about Sin Eaters were the kind repeated only in hushed tones: they had transformed themselves into wights, struck pacts with the Z'bri, or were responsible for Zom attacks. I found myself suddenly wishing for the wine.

Den'a unwrapped the layers of fabric concealing her features and I was surprised to see a beautiful young woman instead of a wizened crone. Her face was round, the death mask tattoo contrasting with her bone white hair and pale skin. The tattoo was unlike any I had seen before, shifting subtly in the shadows cast by the firelight, coalescing into another visage...Nyeda. A chill ran through me. Mercifully she looked away slightly so I would not have to avert my own gaze.

"At dawn, you will accompany Den'a, the boy, and the three young Joanites to Mortuary. You will do exactly as Den'a asks of you. You will tell no one that you are going or of what transpires afterward, upon pain of Banishment or worse. This is the decree of the Grand Council and the Fatimas' will." He rose from the chair slowly and left without another word, Den'a following close behind. She glanced back at me before disappearing into the darkness, her eyes sympathetic.

I sat on the edge of my bed for a very long time, staring into the darkness beyond the doorway. The shadows moved, forming shapes the flowed into one another before they could become anything recognizable. I knew whatever awaited Robbo in Mortuary would change his life. Naively I failed to see it would change mine as well. With the weight of the day pressing down on me, I silently began my preparations for the next.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

So no Dishonored for me

At least until I get Windows re-installed on my secondary drive. This is the second SSD I've had fail - both OCZ Vertex 2s. I guess they're not the most reliable things on the planet, as the first lasted about 14 months before it croaked and the replacement lasted about 2 1/2 months. I love the speed of an SSD, but the cautionary tale here is the extra $100 or whatever that's saved by going with a cheaper brand is more than compensated for by the flakiness of the drive. Meanwhile, the secondary drive that will get pressed into service is a Western Digital SATA drive that must be well over 6 years old. It's slow, and noisy, but perfectly serviceable. When I get the new SSD back, I'm not even going to put it back in as the system drive. I'll wait until I can get a newer, more reliable drive and even then I might have second thoughts.

EDIT: OCZ responded back and said they would upgrade the drive, most likely a Vertex 3. I asked if they could make it a V4, because I know several people who have them and haven't had any issues.

Vampires and Trainwrecks

Near the end of November, discussion of a little known (as in, nobody seemed to know about them at all) "game company" called Dark Phoenix Publishing began to pop up on tabletop roleplaying game forums. The subjects of the games that this company purported to publish seemed very familiar - vampires, werewolves, mages, faeries, ghosts. A review of the vampire book, Vampire: Undeath, by yours truly confirmed that the system and concepts were extremely familiar and the product was a hot mess.  Sure, there are minor changes from White Wolf's system and the fluff isn't word for word, but you can't spit on the book without hitting a direct parallel between Vampire: Undeath and Vampire: the Masquerade.

Since then, the whole thing has turned into some kind of weird slow-motion trainwreck. It dips it's toes into the league of much larger trainwrecks, such as Paul Cristoforo/Ocean Marketing and The Oatmeal vs. Funnyjunk dispute, but never goes all in. The reason for this is Dark Phoenix Publishing's "CEO" and apparently the one-man-band behind the company, Mykal Lakim, has no personality. With other trainwrecks we had dudebro Cristoforo or Ramones-shirt clad, bad song-writing Charles Carreon. Mykal Lakim has condescension, but it's the whiny teenage angst of "You just don't get me!" He has the legal threats that are so characteristic of one of these trainwrecks, but never came close to following through and the threats faded into whimpers. Marketing and public relations? No spine there either. Mykal Lakim just isn't rising to the challenge set by previous trainwrecks.

Of course, it could be said that the trainwreck was over long before it started. Mykal Lakim apparently has been involved in the Indiana LARP community to some degree for a very long time. He has obvious and verifiable familiarity with White Wolf's offerings, despite protests that he hasn't paid attention to them since NWoD was released. Apparently NWoD upset him, as it did many others, and he decided to stop playing White Wolf games (again, as did many others). After that he seems to have gone off the rails. This is speculation, but it looks like Mykal Lakim thought White Wolf had "abandoned" the OWoD and it became fair game to start creating thinly veiled carbon copies of their properties. In essence, he pulled the same stunt that my kids do when they start playing with somebody else's toy the moment the other kid puts it down. "But you weren't playing with it anymore!" "I had to go to the bathroom!". Never mind that ceasing publication doesn't invalidate a company's copyrights, or that any number of OWoD books are available in PDF format, or that Onyx Path is actually publishing OWoD books (at least in the form of anniversary editions). Why they would keep their IP for OWoD alive isn't anyone's business, either. For his troubles, Mykal Lakim has been blocked from White Wolf's Facebook page and had his pages deleted from Wikipedia. His explanations of all of these events amount to nothing but double-downs and more bullshit.

It's these double-downs, and others, that really bring out Mykal Lakim's spinelessness. Dark Phoenix Publishing claims to have at least two dozen books in the pipeline, under a release schedule that even the biggest companies in the industry can't match (or at least, can't match and keep their fanbase). When told his claims of having 20 employees seem far-fetched, Mykal Lakim's response is "Also, why would over ten employees make us big? If other companies don't have that many people working for them that would explain quite a bit." Never mind the fact that any company of the scale Mykal Lakim claims Dark Phoenix Publishing is would be very well known by now. Dark Phoenix Publishing can't even get a distribution agreement with DriveThruRPG - solo game authors are able to at least get that much done. Everything has an excuse as well. The failure to get products on DriveThruRPG? It's due to "moral reasons." When it's pointed out his "artwork" was mostly lifted from other sources on the Internet without attribution, suddenly the pieces are placeholders (in products that are already being offered for sale or were available as demos ). When the horrendous editing and writing are brought up, it's because the books aren't done yet (again, on books people can buy). When the questions and criticisms get too uncomfortable, Mykal Lakim simply blocks the people asking the question, deflects it or ignores it.

Every time I've discussed this with people outside of a small group, the question seems to come up, "Why do you even care?" It's a valid one, too. Dark Phoenix Publishing doesn't really warrant a lot of attention, especially when there's Dishonored to be played and really great rpgs that need to be read. In the end, Mykal Lakim is a wannabe game designer without a single clue how the gaming industry works. He doesn't comprehend why people would compare his games to White Wolf games. He has no concept of how to write rules or put together a product. He can't communicate with customers who pose difficult questions without resorting to calling them "Trolls" or dismissing them completely. Anyone who defends White Wolf is automatically a shill or part of some conspiracy. He wants so hard to be in big leagues and the only way he can keep up the charade is to double down and shovel bullshit faster. The only people who take him seriously are those that buy the bullshit, at least until he finally missteps and gets smacked down by a team of crack White Wolf lawyers.  The entire situation screams that we just put it out of our misery and forget about it.

That is exactly what is happening, fortunately for Mykal Lakim who is probably breathing a sigh of relief. As people forget about him, he's free to rebuild his little bubble where he's an awesome game designer with radical ideas, shaking people up and scaring the big gaming industry. The "haters" and "Trolls" can be easily pushed off the page with irrelevant crap or memory holed. But ignoring Mykal Lakim means nothing changes for him. He's still ripping off White Wolf, he's still claiming he's not, and he's still selling crap. So even if Mykal Lakim and Dark Phoenix Publishing isn't something that I particularly want to continue writing about, at the very least I will keep the issue alive (if only by virtue of the fact that I wrote this post, even if it winds up being the only one on the subject).

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Sins of the Sister, Part 1

From the confession of Cara Gray'on:



It began with three members of the Watch - two boys and a girl - beating a boy in the street. Tensions between the Watch and the Templars had forced me to turn a blind eye to these sights more often than not, but this time I knew something was terribly wrong. Maybe it was because the figure on the ground just lay there, not crying out. Perhaps it was the expressions of the small crowd that had gathered, standing between the cobbled together merchant stalls or overhead on the bridges between the upper levels of the crumbling sky towers.

"What exactly is going on here?" I said, my voice echoing off the stone buildings around us.

Two of the them looked up at me, eyes widening when they saw I was a Templar, and clumsily stopped mid-blow or kick. The third was so focused on kicking the person on the ground, the girl had to grab his arm and pull him away.

"He...he killed a Joanite Blade..." The girl said in a quavering voice. She couldn't have seen more than 16 summers, barely old enough to raise a sword.

It was then I saw the Joanite laying face down just a few paces away, blood slowly seeping from underneath her body into the dirt. Her sword was sheathed and a bloodied blade rested on the ground nearby. I looked down at the crumpled form of her alleged attacker expecting to see a Squat or perhaps one of the Fallen. To my surprise I saw Robbo.

Robbo was a simpleton, the son of an Evan family living just outside of Bazaar. Evans put disfigured children to death, as was the custom of all of the Tribes, but sometimes it took a few summers for any problems to become obvious. Children able to work were spared. Robbo was one of those children, incredibly strong and hearty but unable to speak and only able to understand the simplest commands. Instead of an ox, his mother had him draw a wagon full of crops and other provisions to Bazaar so she could barter for other goods. His mother was harsh with him but not cruel, and Robbo always had a smile for everyone and everything. Many were uncomfortable around him despite his kind and gentle spirit. The few words he spoke were always prophecies of death and ill-fortune. Despite this, until that morning he had always seemed harmless.

"Who is this?" I asked, taking a step toward the Joanite lying on the ground. I know this armor, I thought. Please, don't let it be her.

"We...we do not know." The girl answered, lowering her eyes to avoid my gaze.

Of course she wouldn't know. Both of us were from the Tribe of Joan, but lived in different worlds. I stood tall in full armor adorned with medallions, prayer strips and inscribed sigils, a sword blessed by Joan herself at my side. The three children wore ill-fitting leather jerkins and bore weapons hardly suitable for training, much less common use. They had never faced Squat savages or fetid unholy monstrosities made of the corpses of their own brethren. Such things were little more than fables to them. Their enemies were thieves, miscreants, political opponents, undesirables.

I knelt down next to the woman and slowly turned her over. My stomach tightened as I brushed the hair from her face. Oh Nyeda, what could have happened? I thought. Last I heard she had been on the Seven Fingers planning a raid into No Man's Land. What business did she have in Bazaar? Clearly she was taken unawares. The blade had penetrated her plate and shattered and shattered the mail underneath. Robbo certainly had the strength to do this, but where he would have gotten a sword or even known how to use it? I placed two fingers to my lips and then to hers before standing.

"Did you see the boy do this?" I asked, my back still to the three of them.

"N...no..." the girl replied.

"We came when that merchant called for the Watch," one of the boys said, his voice more confident than hers. "He was kneeling beside her. The merchant said he had done it."

"Did he threaten you?"

"No, he was on the ground, sitting beside her..." I could hear the puzzlement in his voice.

"So you began beating a simpleton, on the word of another?"

"It...it is our duty as the Watch..."

Anger and grief washing over me, and I nearly lost control. The River of Dream responded to the rush of emotions, rippling the air around me like an invisible flame. All three of the youths stepped backward in fear. The youngest boy began to shake uncontrollably, a wet spot growing on his breeches.

"It is your duty to watch." I shook my head, trying to clear any rash thoughts before they became something more. "You three are but children...we may as well let Agnites keep the peace. Were you even intending to arrest him? Question him?  Or were you content with just killing him and denying Joan the right to justice?" None would meet my gaze. Robbo remained curled up on the ground, his arms wrapped tightly around his head, not making a sound. He was still breathing, at least for the moment.

The confrontation had attracted a larger audience and more attention. Two large Joanites pushed through the front ranks, followed closely by a rotund Evan man. He strode forward purposefully, a multitude of beaks and claws clattering against his raptor skull topped staff, a feathered cloak marking his station as Shaman of Eva. Shaman Storm Cry.

"Storm Cry," I said dryly, rising to my feet. He huffed from exertion and scowled at me, dabbing at his face with a finely woven cloth. Even with the morning chill, sweat glistened on his bald head. My disdain for him and his political maneuverings were extremely well known. He and the the Tera Sheban Judge Cylix Seth'on were turning the Watch into their own private army of thugs. An Evan, no matter how powerful, had no right meddling in the affairs of Joan.

"Please tell me you have not interfered with the Watch performing their duty, Cara Gray'on," He said. "What is going on here?"

"The only thing I interfered with was your breakfast, Shaman," I replied. He was a hand shorter than me, but outweighed me by at least ten stone. "I merely stopped these three from beating this boy to death."

He ignored the jibe and looked down at Robbo with obvious disgust. "What was his crime?"

"I see no crops or livestock here. His crime was against Joan, not Eva."

"This is a matter for the Watch," Storm Cry admonished me. His tone made the blood rush to my cheeks. "Now you," he pointed to the girl. "Tell me what happened."

"A merchant called out for the Watch. When...when we arrived we found this Joanite dead, and this boy next to her. There is a sword..."

"And then what happened?"

"They started beating him," I interjected.

"It is the Watch's duty to keep the peace. If they witnessed this boy strike down one of Joan's Chosen warriors..."

"We..we didn't..." The girl looked close to tears, glancing furtively between the two of us. Her resolve was beginning to crumble as the situation sunk in.

"None of them actually saw the attack take place," I said. "Nyeda Morth'on was a daughter of Joan. Judgement on her murderer shall be passed by Tera Sheba, and no other, as is Joan's right and Her will. I have more standing in this matter than you, Shaman. No Joanite will betray honor or oath by taking the Law into their own hands."

Storm Cry raised his voice, making sure all could hear him. "Her attacker could have been Fallen, and there may be more of them! The Watch must ensure the safety of everyone!" I made note of the two fully armed and armored Joanite warriors standing behind him. Luther'ons, both of them. The Luther'on clan was prominent and intensely steadfast in their allegiance to the Watch. Regardless they were still Joanites, and I was still their Templar.

I was about to respond when a woman, sobbing uncontrollably, freed herself from the crowd and ran toward us. I was sure it was Robbo's mother. One of the Luther'ons lunged forward, knocking her to the ground with the pommel of his sword and bringing the tip of the blade to the back of her neck. It must have been too much for the young girl, who screamed and fled down the street without looking back. The second Luther'on drew his sword and started to run after her. The crowd erupted into cries of panic and anger, and the situation looked as if it would spiral out of control.

I yelled "NO!" and mentally opened the floodgate to the River Dream. A torrent of Synthesis rippled down my arm, my sword leaping from its scabbard like a silver fish. The flat of the blade caught the first Luther'on square across the chest with a thunderous clap, throwing him back a good twenty paces. I thrust my other arm toward the second Joanite, palm outward. The warrior slammed into the ground hard enough to knock the wind out of him. Everything and everyone froze, the only sound Robbo's mother softly sobbing. The boy remained perfectly still, but for the briefest moment I swore I saw Nyeda stir.

"How dare you strike my personal guard? Arrest her, NOW!" Storm Cry roared. Both Luther'ons remained on the ground, dazed. The two remaining Watch backed away from me, their eyes white with fear. Stymied, Storm Cry stammered, his voice shrill. "I...I..will have you Banished for this insolence! All of you!"

I returned my sword to its scabbard, feeling disconnected and distant after the release of Synthesis. Conflict rippled through the River, opening a conduit to Joan, and Her will rose within me. "The Daughters of Joan are not yours, Shaman Storm Cry. Your hubris has gone too far. You may be Eva's Chosen, but Cara Gray'on is my Arm and my Blade. I will strike down your lapdogs where they stand should they be dishonored."  My mouth formed the words, but Joan's voice echoed off the buildings.

"You will regret this." His voice trembled, defiant even in the face of Joan's voice. "You do not know..."

"ENOUGH! Your business is done here." The sun broke through the clouds, creating swirling wings of shadow around me that lengthened to darken Storm Cry's face. "The boy will return to the Watchtower, and you will go back to Sanctuary until Tera Sheba has words with Eva about this." Without another word Storm Cry walked away, shoving his way through the crowd. His Fatima had not come to his aid; Eva obviously had deferred to Joan in the matter. Joan left me as soon as she had come, and it was all I could do to keep from falling to my knees.

"Thank you, Templar," Robbo's mother choked out between sobs. She was kneeling on the ground near Robbo, her head down. A tiny drop of blood blossomed on her neck where the blade's point had touched it. I felt sorrow for her, but no remorse for what I needed to do.

"Return to your village," I said quietly. "Robbo's fate is in Tera Sheba's hands now."

She looked up at me, her mouth twisted in a wordless cry of anguish as she shook her head, then buried her face in her hands. I motioned to two Evans standing at the front of the crowd, who gently helped her up and led  her away. The crowd had already begun to disperse, murmuring about what they had just witnessed. By nightfall word would spread throughout all of Vimary, if not further.

"You," I said, motioning to the boys and the Luther'ons. "Find a cart, so we can get Nyeda and this boy back to Joan's Tower."

Monday, November 26, 2012

Vimary Zones and Locations

Finally, I completed my write-up of various zones and locations from Vimary. More accurately, I decided to not include Distance stress tracks for the locations. My intention is still to use them, but they a) were a pain to write up and b) I'm actually thinking they shouldn't be set in stone. It's probably a lot better to set Distance stress tracks depending on the journey, time of year, and other circumstances so that they can be varied for each trip (or ignored completely if need be). Anyway, without further ado you can grab the document below. An updated Vimary zone map will soon follow.

Vimary Zones and Locations

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Took a little break

Between vacation, end of summer type stuff, computer issues, work, kids going back to school, etc. I haven't had as much time to update things. I am still working on details of the Vimary zone map. Plus, I have some original short fiction that I'm working on that will get posted at some point.

In the meantime, here's a pretty awesome gallery of post-apocalyptic images. Below is one of my favorite pictures out of the dozen that are up.

Ultima - Digital Image Series

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Juniper's Journals: Final Entry

Entry 23

There are a few things in life that strike me as strange or amazing. After all, the world we live in is fraught with perilous and wonderful effects. However, nothing came as strangely to me as the events which unfolded over the past few days. Listen closely to my words, for I fear that they will be the last you may hear. Much has changed and there is nothing you or I can do to make things as they were. Maybe that's where we went wrong in the first place. Rather than taking the challenges that confronted us with the hopes of attaining something new, we struggled to recreate that thing we could never have. The solace of belonging to an established order or a set of traditions, to have a home to awaken to and family to guide our mistakes. We are on a new road now, one that I fear may lead us to our ultimate demise. But you know what they say. . . "Blood and Sacrifice."

The River Dreamers met us at the river's edge, their boats ready to transport us to Bazaar. Our plan was to contact Daryck in the hopes that he would shed some light on what was to come. We also had to tell him that there was a face behind the Clinic and its evil. A face that belonged to Cylix Seth'on!

The trip was uneventful and we maintained a certain silence. We were free of the dangers from the Yagan Flesher Assassin, at least for a little while. The manner in which she was dispatched still held me with awe, but I was more curious to learn of Raven than fear him, as I sensed the others did. By the time we reached the Sunken City, it was very dark and the city was shadowed under the moonless night.

There were more River Dreamers with us on this journey, than before. People we hadn't met. There was a tall, gangly fellow and a shorter stalky one as well. We didn't chat much, but they seemed nice enough. They offered us assistance in our duties, but as usual, we declined their offer. We parted ways: us on a secret visit with a member of the Watch, and them, on an innocent task of gathering supplies and trade goods. We didn't know it then, but we wouldn't be parted for long.

We reached the fountain that was near the entrance to the underground tunnels. We had traveled it so many times before and foolishly felt comfortable in our wanderings. It is always unwise to expect things to be as they were when you were last there. If Dahlia left us with one lesson, it should have been that change is always occurring when you least expect it.

The hall was dark and we hadn't brought with us any torches. Cinder made use of her Eminence of Shadow to consolidate the black ink into pools, leaving a faded light in its absence. Unfortunately, her Synthesis was weak and as the darkness regrouped and overlapped onto itself, we were left without any means with which to see. It was the opportune time for the beast to strike.

We heard it first, a slight hissing noise, followed by a dull clicking sound. We backed against each other, creating a defended circle. There was a deep resonating sound in my head as my blood ran at the pace of melting ice on a hot summers day. My breath was rasping in my throat and true fear grasped me with its unflinching hold. My knuckles turned white as I tightened my grip around my staff. Then, a flash as Cinder created an illusional flare that pervaded the hall.

I saw a glimpse of it as the light reflected off of its eyes. It was long and lithe., like a weasel or ferret. Except it was larger than a man and had a cunning look about it. One that held intelligence.

" The illusion won't last, I can feel it waning," said Cinder.

" Let's get out of here, we are at a loss in the darkness!"

" No, we have to go on..."

" We don't have a choice, we are ill prepared. Let's turn back."

" I hear it. Cinder! Bring back the light!"

I heard a rush as it struck at the air. Mana managed to glance her sword in the arc of its attack, deflecting a blow that was meant to sever life and limb. The River of Dream exploded in a flurry of activity as we all drew upon desperate means to save our lives. Chaos ensued as we stumbled in the darkness, undecided as to which direction led to safety and which direction led to our deaths.

There was a scream and Chigger was torn from my arms before I could secure my grip. Cinder cried out for her sister and ran off into the depths of the tunnel. Mana grabbed me and pulled me in the other direction. Bastion took a hold of my loose arm and we escaped from the beast that stalked us. Except now, we were short another member of our cell.

Cinder came back to us after Bastion retrieved her, a torch lighting his way. We sat in silence in the Emporium, trying not to think of what the beast was doing to our lost companion. Cinder was quiet.

" What should we do?"

" There is nothing we can do. It is at an advantage in the darkness. We can't find it now. We have to leave."

" We can't just leave. We have to try. . ."

" We've risked ourselves before trying to rescue others of our group. Where has it gotten us? Remember what Mek said. . ."

" We went back for you, didn't we?"

" You put me there!"

" What are you guys doing here?"

It was Meg and the River Dreamers.

" Nothing, we're fine."

" Where's Chigger? Are you okay, Cinder?"

What were we to do. I felt that Eshlazi was toying with us again. He had likely sent a chained to gather and kidnap us again, so he could place new tethers upon us. What if the River Dreamers began to suspect our dealings. We would be as good as dead.

" She's gone. We're okay."

" What do you mean she's gone? Where did she go?"

" We encountered something in the tunnels. It took her."

" Well we have to get her back. Time's running out. Let's go, what are you guys waiting for. . .she's one of your own!"

" We can't. . .take you with us. There are things you would be better not to know. We'll go, but we go alone. I can't say anything more than that. She's my sister, and we'll do what needs to be done. Thank you..."

Silence.

" Let us go. We have done what we can. There are unseen and mysterious things taking place here. Let us go."

They left and I blamed myself. They should have helped us. We were more willing to accommodate a son of a Jo'Han than those with a more noble purpose. They would never trust us as they did. We had made a grave error at that moment in not accepting their offer to help save Chigger. An error I was destined to rectify.

The voice that spoke to Cinder was enticing. It told us where her sister was in the endless catacombs. We were guided right to her. Whoever it was that spoke to Cinder never showed themselves, but I had my suspicions. Were we going to walk blindly into a debt to further the evil that stalked us? We were playing a grand and dangerous game in which we were the pieces and the foul demons the players. My rope was wearing thin. I wasn't going to use it to tie my own noose.

Chigger was in good health. The beast apparently let her go after trapping her in its lair. She made up some wild stories about how she used flames to scare it away and how she chased it down a tight hole leading from its feeding grounds. The lies were steep and covered in half-truths and self delusion. I pitied her.

We went to a small merchants booth, as it was early morning, and managed to bribe some food and drink from his stall. The meeting wasn't going to take place and with Chigger safe and partially sound, it was time for some rest. As we sat and discussed certain matters, I questioned Cinder about the voice that guided her towards helping us find her sister.

" It's still with us."

" It helped save her. That's good enough."

" It's not. We are toying with something that's beyond our control. When will we be self reliant? When will we be able to function without it?"

" It saved me, whatever it was. You better not forget that."

" Saved you from a situation it placed you in."

" But saved me none the less. We should reconsider seeing if it will help us. . ."

" No! Never!"

" Listen to yourself, Juniper! You're scared of what it may do, that it may permanently harm you. But we saw things. It wants to help and it may be the only thing we have that can stop the evil that's taking place in the Tribes. Crimes against our people and our freedom. We may be making the biggest mistake at presuming it will help us at little cost to ourselves, but what else do we have? What else can we lose before it's too late?"

" Everything! Our souls, our lives, our minds, our freedom, everything! You want to take all of your chances and throw them away to some creature that cares little if you live or die. You would turn away the only friends we have in the hopes of covering up some scheme that involves the beast we hate, and with good reason to do so. There are so many ways for us to resolve our difficulties but, an alliance with the minion of the seed. . .that is something I cannot do"

" Face it, you can't believe that it loved Bastion. . ."

" That's another issue entirely . . ."

" No, it's not. You hate Bastion. Look at yourself. It's in your eyes, even as you say you don't. You hated him from the day you found out and you hate him still. He will never be forgiven in your eyes, even if you say you do. He is guilty for what he is, just as you think Eshlazi is to be punished for what he cannot change. Look at us. People persecute us for what we are, yet we know we are different than what they perceive. We aren't evil, Juniper. We're real, with feelings and hopes and mistakes and. . ."

" Aren't we. . .evil, that is? We who discuss making terms with the devil. I'll hear not another word. If you risk your soul, you do it on your own."

I rose from my chair and waited to see who would stand with me. Mana rose from her chair and I looked at her.

Silence.

" Fine! Fuck off, Juniper! Fuck off, all of you! You're all cowards and unworthy of leading us out of the hell we call home. Get out, I don't want to see your faces anymore. Get out!"

Mana and I left for the last time. I'll never forget the look of anger on Chigger's face that day. Poor child.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Juniper's Journals: Reconciliation

Entry 21

Cinder returned without Bastion and I was half expecting that he had left to rejoin his evil beast of a father. Unfortunately that wasn't the case. She said he was sorry he had dragged all of us through the horrors Eshlazi had to offer, but that he was willing to help us avoid any further manipulations from the Jo'Han because he loved Cinder and Cinder loved us. I didn't like it. It was too easy. He couldn't expect that we would just forgive him after everything he did. Besides, he was a Z'Bri sympathizer! Past loyalties aside, now knowing that he was actually, for the majority of his life, under the influence of such a creature had massive repercussions. Despite the odds stacked against him, Cinder defended him. So did Chigger. They said that in their experience before, he had sacrificed himself to save us and that he never told anyone what he had planned. I said if he was really sorry for what he had done to us, he would do it again to prove that it was true. Cinder said she wouldn't let him die. She had seen it once and didn't want to see it again. She trusted in her vision and refused to have Bastion carry out the ritual necessary for him to take the Spear. We argued for a long time.

I was really hoping for Mana to back me up, but she maintained her silence. I could have really used her then. I miss her voice. Anyway, I finally came up with an idea. I told Cinder to go get Bastion, and if he swore on his love for her that he would never do anything to betray us and to use his role as Eshlazi's son to get Slash back, then I would accept him, but with one condition. He was never to make any mistakes or actions against us. If he did, I would do everything in my power to destroy him and whatever he stood for. I mean, he wasn't even a true member of our cell. He didn't have the tattoo of our symbol and never took part in any of the rituals that made us a single unit. He was basically just Cinder's slimy, backstabbing boyfriend!

Cinder half agreed with my bargain, but she said she felt like she was betraying his trust and their relationship. I said I didn't give a shit, and if he wasn't willing or ready to give up his loyalties to his father then he was as good as dead. Cinder went to go get him from the main level of the Shelter.

While she was gone, Chigger asked me if I would really forgive him or not. I told her that she was the one who had the vision. All of this was completely shocking for me and Mana. I never actually experienced any of what she said. I never went with them to the Hive, Eshlazi wasn't dead, Bastion wasn't dead, Chigger never became a man and had her real body die, and the Squats never attacked the island! The girls never even went anywhere, so how could they have lived so many fanatastic things in almost no time at all? She couldn't expect me to instantly understand. I didn't even know if I would forgive Bastion, whether he decided to agree with my bargain or not. I just didn't know!

Cinder came in with him shortly after and it took all of my will to keep from jumping at him in a screaming torrent of rage. I was so pent up with anger I felt I would explode. Bastion said all of the typical things I would think a traitor would say. Stuff like , "I'm sorry, I never meant to hurt any of you," and, " I'll do whatever it takes to gain your trust," and, " I'll protect you from Eshlazi as long as you give me a chance!" That sort of hogwash.

He said he promised that Eshlazi would leave us alone as long as we promised that Cinder wouldn't use the Spear. He said as long as Eshlazi knows that we have the means to destroy him, he wouldn't be a threat. Bastion also stated he would force Eshlazi to let Slash go or we could attack the Hive with whatever we wanted. Inside I knew they were false promises. There was no way Bastion was going to let Cinder die in trying to kill his father. He was getting the easy way out. By threatening his father with our weapon, he was saving both Cinder and Eshlazi, and getting the trust of my friends. We started arguing over the proposition Bastion put forth.

I was saying that the Yagan Assassin was going to kill any one of us because we stole the Spear from them and murdered a bunch of them in trying to get it. If we didn't use it, we were going to die anyway. Also, Chigger pointed out that Eshlazi had done evil things and was going to continue to do evil things unless we stopped him. I agreed with her remarks but she went one step further. She said if we could threaten Eshlazi with the Spear, then we may be able to alleviate our Yagan problem with his help! I was appalled. Chigger was suggesting that we make a loose alliance with Eshlazi based on blackmail! I yelled out my opposition to her suggestion. It was bad enough that we were letting a Z'Bri raised child live, but allying ourselves with a Z'Bri itself seemed ridiculous, Yagan Assassin threat or not! Of course Bastion spoke in her support. I knew it. He was still loyal to the beast.

Bastion started speaking about how Eshlazi was trying to learn how to love. He said Eshlazi didn't understand how some death was good and deserved while others were considered murder. He went on and explained that the Z'Bri lacked an understanding about what made some sex pure and joyful, while other times, the same actions were considered perverse and immoral. He capped off by suggesting that of all of the Z'Bri, they mainly didn't care to uncover why we drew boundaries about these things, but Eshlazi did. Eshlazi wanted to learn to love and understand what made us human!

Bastion said a long time ago, Eshlazi was learning to take care of kittens. That he was attempting to understand how to nurture instead of kill. How to have emotions for a creature that weren't twisted and resulted in the creature's death or basic ill health. Bastion said Eshlazi was learning with kittens in order to transfer his knowledge to humans when he felt it was ready. Chigger clicked two and two together and realized that Tulka, the Joanite she had become in her visions, was the Templar who was trying to save Eshlazi!

The thought seemed ridiculous to me. Could a Z'Bri be saved? Could the beasts overcome their basic nature? Did Eshlazi want to become like the Nomads of Legend? Were we stupid to even think such a thing, and if so were we even more foolish to consider attempting it?

I sure thought so, but some of the others didn't. Chigger seemed all for the idea. Mana was indifferent,while Bastion, well that's obvious. Cinder seemed hesitant to agree. She suggested the risk to us was far too great. Not only for the sake of our souls, but also because of the threat from those who may find out. Hell, even thinking such a thing was grounds for death.

I left the room. I needed some air, and I wasn't certain if I wanted to hear anymore. I wish it was never brought up. Why couldn't Cinder just love someone else? Why couldn't I just walk away? I went downstairs by myself and cried.

Juniper's Journals: The Assassin's Assassin

Entry 22

Chigger came down to see how I was doing. She came up behind me and said she was sorry.

" I just don't want to keep anymore secrets, that's all." she said.

" How could you think such a thing? Eshlazi is everything that we hate and now you're talking about becoming its friend?! I don't want to do that . . . we could be killed for even thinking such a thing."

" I know, but we know what's right. We have to do what we feel is going to work and this is our one chance . . ."

" I don't want to talk about it. Let's see if Mari-Anne can lend some truth to your vision. Maybe then I'll know what you mean."

We left the common room of the Shelter and went to see if Mari-Anne was available. She joined us in the room Chigger was staying in. I didn't look at Bastion. . .I couldn't.

Mari-Anne was surprised that we knew so much information about events from before we were born. She seemed shocked and I almost thought she wasn't going to tell us anything, but she did. She didn't often speak about times before her banishment and I could tell she was uncomfortable with our questions.

" What you have said is true. Monika did have a father named Tulka and he loved her more than life itself. Unfortunately he made some powerful enemies and was banished shortly after the vote went through to stop any further Crusades. A lot of people blamed him that he was the cause of it all. His enemies, members of the Grand Council, accused him of being in league with the Z'Bri. I myself became disheartened that such a bold and honored warrior could be condemned by his own people. It was a factor that pushed me towards leaving as well. His daughter was taken in by a man named Cylix Seth'on. I never saw her after that. Something I still regret, as I cared for her as my own.

As far as Tulka's wife is concerned, she was said to have disappeared a few years after hearing of her husband's banishment. She learned that he was sacrificed in the Circle of the Chosen. What happened to her is a mystery. Some said she fled to the Outlands. Only the goddess can say for sure.

"So the Crusades ended. The last one was seven years before the final vote that you witnessed and was nearing its completion. I believe it was the Year of the Eagle. I miss those days. Days when the Watch stood for something besides the persecution of the Fallen and the condemnation of their fellow people. They started out as protectors, but now they're just wardens to a prison called Vimary!"

We listened for quite some time as Mari-Anne continued her tale. It made Chigger and Cinders' vision real. They actually did experience some things that happened, but why them? Only time would tell.

After Mari-Anne left we decided we needed to get rid of the Yagan Assassin problem. We didn't know how we were going to do that, but we had a fairly good idea of where to start.

On the way to Mek's one of the Dorks approached us and Chigger told him everything! Why would she do such a stupid thing? She told him all about the Mortuary Massacre and that if he or any of the other Dorks saw someone strange approach us, they were to make lots of noise and warn us. Sounded lame to me, but Chigger's got a big mouth anyhow. Why not just tell the whole world that we have a price on our heads? What an idiot!

When we got to Mek's training halls, he told us a little bit more about the past. He said Tulka almost single handedly removed any hopes of another Crusade. He said Tulka was a Z'Bri sympathizer and so no one was willing to support a cause that was leading to our strongest warriors being tainted. Mek didn't speak well of him. He did say that there were some who were opposing the Old Guard and were fighting to give new life to the Crusades. He seemed quite interested in the current events and I almost thought he was thinking of joining the Joanites if they did manage to start it all up again! I suppose he needed to fight, it was in his blood. We also asked him about what we could do about the Yagan Assassin. Mek looked at us seriously as he continued to sharpen a set of new blades. "You guys have a Yagan Assassin after you? Why? Were you the ones behind the Mortuary Massacre?" he let out a chuckle.

" Yes!" we replied.

He looked at us with a sad expression. " You're in big trouble. Yagan Assassins are a difficult lot to deal with. The only thing I can say is, keep it hush! Don't tell anyone and don't sleep. . . for the rest of your lives!"

Okay, we were in BIG trouble. Mek had no real advice. Oh shit . . . the Dorks! Chigger told those little blabber mouths and now all of Hom probably knew. We had to stop them. We ran to Junks.

* * *

When we got there, the whole room looked at us. I saw the Dorks and they came up to us. They said they warned everyone to help us out! Great! We went outside and told them to go hide and keep it a secret. As we watched them leave, a rough voice greeted us from behind." I hear you have an Assassin problem!"

" No, it's just a joke . . . you know Agnites and Dahlians, we're always joking! Hah! Hah!"

" Too bad, I heard about you guys killing a bunch Yagans at Mortuary. I like your style . . . if it were true. I could use people like you. If you promise to help me and my cell out, I could take care of your impending deaths!" he gave us a cracked smile.

" Sorry if we don't trust you, but we've been betrayed in the past. Who are you?"

" I'm Raven. If you let us take care of this for you, you help me later on. You've got nothing to lose, you're dead already."

"Okay!" we said.

" First, get rid of the kids."

We called the Dorks out of their hiding spots and gave them some crappy pretend assignment. We said we needed them to keep an eye out at the docks on the east side of Hom. They left.

" Hrmmph, I would have just killed them." Raven said as he walked away.

We all looked at each other in disbelief. Was he serious?

* * *

We were on our way back to Junks after picking up our things at the Shelter. We were going to meet the River Dreamers who had offered to give us a ride to Bazaar in their boats. That's when it happened.All of our torches went out and a shadow descended upon us with the swiftness of the wind.

Mana managed to deflect the initial blow and as the Assassin flipped to reset herself, a flurry of crossbow bolts came from a nearby alleyway. The Assassin stopped mid-flight and fell to the ground with a thud. A man with a long moustache stepped nonchalantly from the darkness and was reloading his repeater crossbow. Raven entered the street as well. " Good work, Mick!" he said. " Remember, now you owe us a favor." They walked away and we stood there with our mouths hanging open!

Monday, August 27, 2012

Juniper's Journals: A Lesson in History: Part 2

Entry 20

Revelations

Cinder was running way to fast and Bastion, Mana and I were having trouble keeping up. She was sitting there, in the Bin, all pretty and stuff when suddenly she propped up and screamed, " Chigger's in danger!"

Then she went racing off into the setting sun! What was she thinking?

Nonetheless, we chased after her as best we could and finally reached our destination. Cinder blew open the front door and yelled out, "Chigger!", then went racing up the stairs towards the chamber where Chigger was healing from her wolf bite. Cinder got there first and I managed to catch my breath, even as I struggled up the stairs.

" Cinder, what is going on?" I asked.

" Someone's trying to kill Chigger . . . a Yagan Assassin!" she replied.

" It's true, I saw her, but this time I escaped her poison because I knew what was going to happen!" said Chigger.

I sat down to regain my composure and Cinder stood up and said, " Where is Mana and Bastion?"

She left the room quickly and headed down the stairs.

" Chigger, what's this all about . . . do you and Cinder have a weird sister connection?" I asked.

" Err, it's kinda complicated. I'll wait for Cinder to get back." she said.

Bastion came into the room and Mana accompanied Cinder shortly after. The girls were carrying a jug of water which I happily drank from. Bastion looked at Cinder and said, " Okay, you got us all worked up, now what was the commotion all about?"

Cinder said, " You may not believe this, but Chigger and I know a lot of what is or was going to happen . . .actually, we lived it already!"

" There's a Yagan Assassin who wants to kill me because of what we did at Mortuary. Actually, she did kill me and I became someone else and we even went back in time and you died Bastion and we figured out a lot of things." said Chigger.

" We also know about what you're planning to do and why you never took the ritual to cleanse yourself from Eshlazi. We know your . . ."Cinder was cut off by Bastion.

" Wait, I don't know what you two are talking about, but could we not do this here Cinder?"

" We're a group and I'm not keeping anymore secrets. I know what you are. . ."

" Please Cinder, not here. Could we discuss this in private . . .for me?"

Cinder agreed and her and Bastion left the room while Chigger told the rest of us what happened except for one thing. . . something to do with Bastion's banishment!

" Okay, you guys may not believe me, and I know I've had some pretty tall tales and outright lies in the past, but now I'm serious and Cinder can back me up. Hell, I'm sure even Mari-Anne can back me up so just listen and try to understand!" We leant her our ears and only interrupted a couple of times to clarify some points but here's the story as Chigger described it.

Chigger's Story

" ...so after you ran to go get help to put out the fires and repel the Squat attack, Cinder, Mana and I all ran down into the heat of the battle. It was intense. We were chopping up Squats by the dozens until finally it seemed the wave of attackers was overcoming us. That's when we saw you coming down the hill towards us. Well, at least we thought it was you, but it was actually someone else. The Fallen all around us were fighting bravely and of course I was a huge, strong Joanite Warrior. . .a Templar actually! Except, now everyone around us changed. They were all Joanite Blades instead of being Fallen. The Squats were still Squats, but some Blades on cavalry called out to me and said, 'Karvy'on, come join our flank so we can squash these soulless bastards to their deaths' or something like that, so Cinder and I went towards them. There were a few Dahlians among us, but Mana was nowhere to be seen. One of the Blade cavalrymen looked at Cinder and said, 'Shalla, it is a good sign that you are with us. We cannot lose this battle now!'."

We joined their flank and, well, to make a long story short, we defeated the Squats with minimal losses. We regrouped and I found out that I was a Templar named Tulka Karvy'on. The importance of the clan name didn't hit me till later. Cinder was a woman named Shalla and it seemed she was somehow revered by the Dahlians that were with us. Even the Joanites looked at her with a sense of respect."

So there we were, riding back through Hom. The Fallen that must have been around were hiding in their hovels and broken buildings. Yes, the place appeared a little less organized than the way we know it now. Later on we discovered that we were about fifteen years in the past! A year before I was born!"

I'm getting ahead of myself though. We returned to the land area just east of Sanctuary and I was expecting to be split up from Cinder, or should I say Shalla! But instead, I was apparently staying with the Caravan of the Beautiful Severance, our parents' caravan! My duty was to travel as guide and protector and also to keep in line with a judge among them named Sakai.

When we arrived at the caravan, they put on a great show and feast in honor of our success in the battle. The rest of the Joanites had left for Bazaar, save for two of my guards. It was great . . .I had lackeys."

The strangest thing was, the man who joined us in the battle, the one that we thought was you, and who sat with us at dinner was named Dane. Yes Juniper, your father! Your mom was alive as well and she was beautiful and happy. They were planning on having you at the time and that's how we knew what year it was. My parents were there as well. Of course I wasn't born yet. Cindra, my sis, was there too. She must have been about three summers old."

I was very confused and I played up our disguises and had a discussion with Shalla, a.k.a. Cinder. It must have been weird for her to see herself as a child. She made sure to get in a few snide remarks to our mother, Francine. Our mom was such a cow. Still is I guess. I finally saw how mean she was to the young Cindra. What a bitch. Anyway, Shalla always made sure she exposed my mom's rudeness, although she did it in a very tactful way."

I returned to my tent after the feast and guess who was there. My daughter, Monika. Monika Karvy'on! The bitch captain who was at this time only six summers old. I couldn't believe it. Here was my opportunity to set everything right. I could kill her in her youth and none of her evil Clinic garbage was going to happen. As I contemplated the possibilities, a familiar voice greeted me. It was Mari-Anne Melina! She was my child's caretaker! She told me that Monika was awaiting my return and was so excited to see me, but had fallen asleep because of the late hour. She also let me know that the little girl that I wanted to hate held me in the greatest of regards.

Mari-Anne was younger of course, and I spoke to her to try to figure out who I was and what I was all about. It turned out I was an important member of the Templars who was trying to oppose a new faction of Joanites and TeraShebans who wanted to stop the crusades all together! I was also married to a Crusader named Mirabella."

Turns out she was on a Crusade at that very moment and wasn't set to return till the end of the year. Lucky for me I guess. What would I, Chigger, have done with a wife. Well, I could guess but..."

Anyway, I needed to speak to Cinder, I mean Shalla, as fast as possible. I snuck out after everyone had retired for the night and worked my way to her wagon. She was waiting up, I guess half expecting for me to arrive. We discussed the reality of the whole thing and wondered if what we did was going to affect the future or if we were just in it for the ride. We also discussed whether we should kill Monika or not, but decided that murdering a child was bad for the soul. Besides, it just felt wrong."

During the feast earlier, there was a storyteller in the caravan that seemed to hold a lot of importance. His name was Janus, and Shalla and I both had the impression that he knew something was up. So we went to his wagon."

He was still awake when we got there and invited us in. We asked him what was going on and how come we were chosen to witness the events of the past. Yea, it seems weird that we were so forthcoming about who we actually were, but let me just say, that Janus wasn't an ordinary person. I have my hunches and Cinder does as well, but maybe, just maybe it was actually Dahlia! I don't think we'll ever know for sure, but he did tell us some interesting things. He said we had the possibility of learning many things because of who we were. We should use our intelligence and insight to help us in the future, and that many things would be revealed. Now that was the understatement of the century!"

That night, I couldn't go to sleep. I was pondering the weight of what was happening. I know, me pondering anything seems like a paradox. Nothing seemed to make any sense."

So, as I lay there awake I had a visitor. It was a white haired man with a tall frame and gaunt features. I remember he had really long fingers. He entered the tent and seemed to have had previous meetings with Tulka, so I played along. You'll never guess who it was. It was Eshlazi in a human form! He said he had made sure my wife was safe. He also said he was running out of kittens! He then pulled one from the folds of his cloth and was gently petting it. He said he was trying to nurture them but they often died under his care, although he was getting 'better'. I was so confused. He said he would maintain my wife's safety as long as I continued to aid him. He left and I sat there with even more questions."

Why was a Templar Crusader helping a Z'Bri. Eshlazi at that! I had first hand witnessed the evil that he represented and for some reason this Joanite, who I now was, was helping him. I had a very restless night."

The next day, we saw the caravan moving towards Bazaar. I was discussing some matters with Judge Sakai and he stated that an Elder Council meeting was going to take place in Bazaar to determine the future of the Crusades. He asked us to join him in his visit to the Council Building. On the trip, I spent some time with my daughter. She was cute, and I couldn't help but care for her. She had such trust in her eyes. Where did she go wrong?"

I also told Shalla about my meeting with Eshlazi and we speculated the repercussions of it. There were various reasons why he would have been helping Eshlazi, and we concluded that Eshalzi probably had Tulka's wife hostage."

When we arrived in Bazaar, we left with Judge Sakai for the Elder Council Building and witnessed the vote that made the future we live in the place it is. We saw speeches from several prominent Tribals and their viewpoints mainly said the same thing ; that the Crusades were a dying force that needed to be abolished. The reasons were varied and generally self justifying. At least that's how Judge Sakai described it. He was one of the few who spoke against dismantling the Crusades."

The major players who acted against it were an old Joanite Guardsman named Nostra Guy'on, a TeraSheba judge named Cylix Seth'on and another Joanite named Yasmin Luther'on. Judge Sakai said that Yasmin wanted to secure herself a seat of power among the soon to be institutionalized Watch. Now the Watch existed back then as well, but not as prevalent or influenced by TeraSheba as it is now."

We watched the proceedings until the vote was finally cast among the Elder Council. It was all in favor for the abolishment of the Crusades. After the vote, I was invited to meet with Cylix Seth'on and he offered me a position among the high seats of the Watch Wardens as long as I agreed to help take power away from the Templars. I answered in typical Chigger fashion. I decked him! He hit the ground faster than a Dahlian thief could pick a pocket, and even as I was dragged away to a cell I was cursing him and telling him that sooner or later, he was going to hell . . .by my hands!"

Well, my sis got me out of jail with a little bit of Illusion, and we hightailed it outta there before anyone caught on. We were racing to meet up with the caravan when we were suddenly attacked. Four Koleris warriors came at us from the darkness of the streets and dismounted us from our horses. Shalla, my sister, was cleaved in two and I was just barely holding off the Horde Warrior that assaulted me. Then came our salvation!"

Eshlazi struck down the Koleris that were going to devour Shalla's body, and then used some kind of Sundering ability on my adversary. He called him Sk'Ksul. The Koleris said one of these days he would destroy Eshlazi, and fled into the night. Eshlazi then used his Sundering and fixed Shalla and said he would be our salvation. . . if we would be his. He then grew a pair of wings and flew up to the towers above."

Shalla and I raced back to the caravan and we warned the others that there were Z'Bri about. The hunters took up their posts and we went to meet up with the families among the caravan. The last people we spoke with were Emron and his wife Celeste. Shalla gave Celeste her broach and said that one day, in the future, she was to give it to Cindra. I guess that triggered the journey to resort to its natural order and I found myself by the pond just outside the Shelter, almost about to shoved into the Yagan Assassin behind me. I looked at her and ran. I had avoided my death."

* * *

So, that's the story as Chigger told it. It seems far fetched and very strange, but whatever happened to the sisters, it held some truth. Whether it was a dream or a vision or an illusion granted by Dahlia is unimportant. What is important is that Bastion is the traitor among us and that he has a lot to answer for. At this point, I wouldn't mind seeing him dead! Everything that happened to us is his fault. Cinder was right in accusing him after Slash was captured.

Not only that, but now we know who is behind the Clinic. Cylix Seth'on!

Friday, August 24, 2012

Juniper's Journals: A Lesson in History: Part 1

Entry 19

We returned to Hom and, I of course was extremely confused about the current state of affairs. The whole thing didn't make any sense. We had defeated Eshlazi, or so I thought, and as to what exactly happened to Bastion, well the last I saw of him was that he and the Z'Bri were sucked into some kind of vortex! Chigger was unconscious and being carried by the Joanite, which is where things get way beyond me; but I'll try my best to tell you what I pieced together from Chigger's account and what I saw.

During the time when we were confronting the Z'Bri, Chigger was drawing on her eminence of Vengeance to protect herself from the evil Atmosphere. The faces of hundreds of people were drawn from the River of Dream itself and were watching over her and focusing her energy. Now, we all know that Chigger was poisoned by a Yagan Flesher assassin just before our foray into the Hive. This is where Dahlia apparently stepped in to completely change the whole order of existence. Chigger (or her soul or mind or whatever) was given the option of leaving her poisoned and dying body to transplant herself into a different, long dead shell of someone else. . . someone who's face was present and a part of her eminence at that very moment.

Chigger being Chigger, she decided that the life of a stumpy, loudmouthed, crazy-haired, oddly tattooed, banished Dahlian trickster of fourteen summer's age was passe. So, she opted for the massive, hulking, imposing and did I mention intimidating body of a Joanite . . . with the markings of a Templar at that! Don't ask me, I have no idea how it happened, or why, or even where to begin to figure it all out, all that I know is that for some mysterious reason, Dahlia wanted or still has some plan for Chigger. That's what I think anyway. I mean, why else would She save Chigger?

So, we took Chigger's 'original' body back to the Bin and waited for her to die.

It was very strange. Watching Chigger take her last breath. I mean that was it. She inhaled deeply and never exhaled. Her small, silent frame lay serene and quiet upon the table. But, then again . . . she wasn't really dead was she? She was still alive and breathing and walking and talking and making stupid smart-ass remarks, even as we carried her dead body to the Sepulcher. It was so surreal. Worse, Chigger was now a man!

Veruka had us say our last goodbyes and as we gathered around the old Chigger that I knew so well, and loved and hated all at the same time, I saw on Cinder's cloak a small glowing broach. It had the swirled symbol of Dahlia, inset with a white gem. I didn't take special notice it, but I recall seeing it before. Around the time the girls returned from the Secret Rendezvous location on their scouting journey to be exact. Where did she get it, and why was it glowing like that? I dismissed the distracting thought from my mind, gave Chigger a kiss on the forehead and departed the Sepulcher. Chigger the Joanite Templar was the last to say goodbye to Chigger the Dahlian Jacker.

Chigger came out awhile later and was crying. I guess it would be strange to see yourself dead. It would put a lot of things into perspective. Cinder took her sibling into her arms and embraced 'him' with unconditional love . . .the kind that comes from within. I knew there was going to be quite the adjustment period ahead. One that I didn't think I was going to welcome very easily.

Awhile later, we ran across Meg and Danelle from the River Dreamers. We never told them that the Joanite with us was actually Chigger. Meg was really sad over the news that Bastion had perished in the Hive. Her and Cinder held onto one another for quite some time and we intended to meet up with them later at Junks, to reminisce and help get over all of the changes.

Our intentions never panned out.

On the way to the Shelter we smelled smoke in the air. It was coming from the east side of Hom and large dark clouds could be seen from our vantage. It wasn't far from the Shelter, so we ran as fast as we could towards it. The sight that greeted us was shocking. Squats were attacking Hom and setting buildings on fire with complete disregard for the effects it would have. Already the raging flames were spreading from building to building and the Fallen were too busy fighting the raiders to concentrate on putting out the fire.

Cinder screamed at me over the cacophony of the battle to run to Junks and get some help. Her and Chigger and Mana raced to a nearby well in the hopes of dousing some of the flames. I spun about and ran as fast as the wind. I tossed my cape to the side in order to keep myself from being hindered. When I arrived at Junks the word had already arrived and many people were preparing themselves for the upcoming fight. Seeing that I was unnecessary, I yelled out the current conditions and raced back towards the Shelter and the full scale melee!

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Juniper's Journals: Changes

Entry 18

The water reflected the night sky and the torches from the sunken buildings that surrounded us. Danelle and another River Dreamer named Shien were navigating the boat which held Mana and myself. Meg was commanding the boat with Cinder, Chigger, and Bastion as passengers. It was strange. After all we had done to come to this place, it somehow felt hollow.

Chigger had a deadly poison in her that we could do nothing to remedy. Cinder was likely going to perish in the use of the Spear that would destroy Eshlazi. Mana was mute, and yet seemed more natural now, with the hope of battle and the confrontation of evil. Bastion was shunned by those who should have protected him, his cell, and then there was me, Juniper, the misunderstood and overlooked idealist, risking his life out of some childhood loyalty to the very people who were likely going to die and take him with them. Yep, that's us.

The River Dreamers sensed an oddness about us, but we never told them our true purpose for needing to get to Bazaar with such short notice. They had helped us out several times now, no questions asked. We would, if we survived, definitely need to make it up to them. It was good to have friends like them.

My mind came back to reality as they carefully worked the boats through the hidden and unseen paths of the sunken city, all of us caught in a prayer like silence. After we docked, Meg asked us if we needed their help. Shien came up to her and simply shook his head. It was like he knew. We parted their company and I saw Bastion give Meg a kiss on the forehead. It was a parting gift to her, as though Bastion had resigned himself to whatever fate held.

But would I expect less from him? He loved Cinder and deep within me I knew, if she did not live through the ordeal, neither would Bastion. We placed our arms with the tattoos of the Cell's symbol in a circle, looking to it for strength. Only Bastion was lacking the markings, but he watched in silence as we mentally prepared ourselves. We then walked slowly towards the towering Skyrealm we called the Hive. It was a giant shadow against the night sky. It was our nightmares and fears. It was the one thing that kept us together.

As we started our ascent through the lower levels of the Hive, a tight tug in the gut of my stomach set in. Somewhere within this horrid place, our friend and companion, Slash, was trapped within. Were we going to join her or liberate her? Was it worth it? Was she even the same person? What of the Spear and its power? Was it going to aid us or hinder us in the final confrontation? These questions and more crossed my mind, but it was too late to have regrets. Whatever was going to happen was already decided. The moment we made the choice to come here, from the very first time, we were destined to arrive at this point, but somehow it felt wrong. Very wrong. I didn't voice my feelings, but I felt as though we had done something that had sent our paths on a spiral that we couldn't recover from. We were out of control . . . out of everyone's control. I pinpointed the feeling within my gut and understood it for what it was . . . chaos!

After several stories of climbing broken sets of stairs in perpetual darkness, we heard footfalls above us. We came to a door that was slightly open and gave way to a large area cluttered with debris. Cinder sucked all the light out of the area, transforming the entrance into an inky black void. Bastion and Mana placed themselves at the threshold, peering around the corner of the room. We saw half a dozen freaks, standing inside. They were unarmed and didn't notice us. We stormed them before they could set themselves a defense, and they fell within a matter of moments. Mana slashed at their flesh with large arcing slashes of her sword and killed three of them herself. I struggled with my opponent, until Chigger helped me finish him off. She had already dispatched her own victim. Bastion claimed the life of his adversary with a quick series of strikes with his hands and feet. He really knew how to strike a persons vital centers. Cinder aided us where she could, but it was important that she remain untouched until we met with our true opponent, the Jo'han Eshlazi.

We glanced around, scanning the room for others and checking to make sure our opponents were dead. We managed to escape without a scratch.

Before we could discuss our situation, the whole building began to shake. The very walls themselves were rippling and dust fell generously from the ceiling. We braced ourselves and made a circle with Bastion in the center. We watched in horror as the walls changed their appearance and the air became thick and misty. Instead of standing in a room of dead freaks and garbage, we were in an odd shaped chamber with walls made of a fleshy, cartilage like substance. The ceiling was made of a thin, stretched membrane that pulsed with the flow of fluids rushing through veined lines and arteries. I supposed we were in some sort of lung or organ made from the sick and perverted mind of Eshlazi. I covered my mouth, not wanting to breathe the taint that lingered in the air.

As we let the reality of our new surroundings sink in, a bulbous, boil or wart rose from the floor across from us. Within it was the fetal form of Slash, completely naked but seemingly uninjured and in good health. She was breathing a pink, translucent fluid. We stepped towards her, but at our first movements we heard the sweet voice of Eshlazi whisper in the air.

" I knew you would return . . . my kittens!"

" Show yourself."

" You couldn't resist!"

Cinder raised her arms and struck with the force of The River of Dream at its substance. How could she still channel eminence in such a tainted environment? She did it with all of the strength one would expect after hours of meditation! The fibrous ceiling tore down its center, dripping a red, puss-like rain upon us.

" Coward . . . show yourself!" yelled Bastion.

Chigger was striking at the air, performing a series of symbols that spelled Eshlazi's death. I found myself standing near to her. After all, this was maybe the last time we would ever spend together. Bastion's voice lingered in the air as another boil rose from the ground. Within was a twisted and deformed creature made of the bodies of three individuals, joined together in a perverse fashion. The boil popped, and the creature stood tall before us, razor sharp claws releasing from hidden folds of the skin of one of its arms. Its eyes, one in the base of its neck and another near two navels opened and focused upon us. Before I could act, Mana was upon it, slashing and carving with her sword. Cinder focused her dream essence upon it and released Puppet Show. The creature started to attack itself, each one of the three bodies hating the other. Chigger fell upon the beast as well, and I watched as Mana and Chigger were soon covered in blood and guts.

Cinder stood calmly in the middle of the room, and called for Eshlazi to show itself . . . It did.

The floor and ceiling and walls began to pull tendons and muscle and bone from their substance. The form of Eshlazi soon loomed before us, standing about nine feet tall and filled with a sickly sweet longing. For the first time, it was before us, face to face and in the flesh. If I wasn't filled with dread before, I was now!

" I was waiting for you. I am glad you have returned." said Eshlazi.

" Returned to see you die." said Cinder.

" But I have so much to show you. My kittens."

" You will meet your end here this night. You are a wicked creature. We want nothing of you or your kind."

" Ah, but among you the seed always lay. Even now, he stands among you. Let me show you."

Bastion

We saw a young child with the markings of a Magdalite. He was being scolded because he was not willing to partake in the lessons of pleasure and love.

" No. I don't want to. I'm afraid. You can't make me."

" You will learn, or you will be punished. What will the Sisterhood say?"

" No!" He bursts pass the older Magdalite and runs wildly away, only to be caught soon after.

" You will see what happens to undisciplined children who don't understand the way of the Lover!"

He is led into a group of teens, all disrobed in a candlelit room. They call to the young child.

" No! I'm afraid!" The child pushes the older lady, and she stumbles, crashing against the wall. Her body tenses and then relaxes as the blood pours forth from the hole in her chest, the candelabra clenched tightly within her fist.

The child lies, broken and scarred under a set of stairs, the markings of a Fallen scarred in his skin. A set of long arms lifts him from his sleep and carries his small body away from the cold floor.

It whispers softly into his ear, " You need not be afraid anymore, my kitten."

* * *

Cinder was right.

By the time I realized what was going on, Mana was trapped against the wall, her body held in place by a multitude of hands. Chigger was drawing upon her eminences, and the faces of hundreds of people surrounded us. The faces of those killed or tainted by the Z'Bri; Tribesmen Ancestors, the Fallen, and those lost to time. Cinder and Bastion were walking hand in hand towards Eshlazi, Bastion's eyes red with tears. No! What was happening. She had to resist it, but I couldn't move to help her. I was frozen to the spot.

Bastion placed his hand into the open hand of Eshlazi. He then reached for Cinder, and placed his free hand around her head, love in his eyes. I heard him whisper, " I did it for you, my love," and passionately kissed her. The Spear came flying out of Cinder's body and was sucked into Bastions. He pushed Cinder to the floor and embraced the Jo'han. " Father, I'm home!"

The bodies of Bastion and the Z'Bri Eshlazi began to meld. Bastions arms pierced into its chest and Eshalazi's chest opened up, his ribs and bones pulling Bastion within. Pure Dream opened up a crack in reality and an envelope of power glowed with an alternating orange and green hue. A sound, louder than the greatest thunderclap, struck the air and lifted our bodies like we were Agnite ragdolls. The walls began to bleed and I saw Mana rush to Slash who lay helpless on the floor. Another person stood near to me and picked the dying form of Chigger off of the floor. She looked unconscious. He was big and was marked as a Joanite. He looked like one of the faces brought about from Chigger's eminence. Cinder ran toward me and helped me, as I helped her. We ran.

We found ourselves outside of the Hive, the top tainted levels collapsed and gone from the death of the Z'Bri that gave it power. The Joanite placed Chigger gently on the floor and Mana did the same for Slash. I looked at Cinder who was staring up at the Skyrealm in a dazed fashion. Wait a second . . . who was the Joanite!

" Who are you?" I asked wearily, my staff at the ready.

" Your worst nightmare!" said the Joanite with a smile.

I yelled for Mana and she supported me, her bloody sword at the ready.

" I felt Dahlia. She gave me a choice. She was within me and allowed me to change. I can still feel her . . . is it me or her who speaks?! Is it me or him?" He looked at the silent and sick body of Chigger lying on the broken ground. " I sure am small aren't I!"

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Juniper's Journals: Vengeance

Entry 17

Mari-Anne Melina greeted us with her regular cheer, that is until we showed her Chigger's leg. She immediately called for some of her aides and took Chigger upstairs to redress and fix the wound. They worked for just under an hour, Chigger screaming at the top of her lungs about how she was going to kill the next person that touched her injury. Typical Chigger!

In the meantime, I took the opportunity to get some real food. Mana and I ate together, while Bastion and Cinder did some catching up. It was strange that he was back with us now, after everything that had happened. And what about Cinder? She apparently had this powerful weapon or Yagan bone-thing inside of her that could kill a Z'Bri! What did it mean and how was it going to affect our future? I still felt as though no-one understood me, but I really do care for my companions. They really piss me off sometimes, but I can't just leave . . . not yet. We haven't rescued Slash and the Clinic still stands as a blight on the earth. We have a lot ahead of us.

Mana fell asleep in one of the upstairs hallways, and I went ( with full stomach and clean clothes ) to check up on Chig. Bastion was speaking to Cinder in the hallway, so I went in to see the wounded sis.

" Hey Chigger. What's the word on your leg?" I asked.

" It's fine, they say about a week, maybe less! Then we can go kill Eshlazi!" she said.

" Great. That's good news about your leg." Cinder came into the room.

" So Cinder, we can take Chigger back to the Bin to rest for the week and then follow through with our plans!" I stated.

Cinder looked at me and shook her head. " Mari-Anne said at least two weeks off of the leg and another two or three weeks after that for muscle damage and flexibility. Chigger's not going anywhere."

Well, that was not going to do. I complained to no-end about how Slash was in a dire predicament and that we couldn't wait any longer. I convinced Cinder that we should speak to Mari-Anne and and ask her to heal Chigger with the River of Dream. Cinder gave a shrug and I was off. I tracked down Mari-Anne and pleaded with her that a friend of our was in danger and that we couldn't allow Chigger to be in bed for so long. She saw our point and agreed to help with Dream Weaving an Aspect, as long as we promised to help around the Shelter in the Winter time.

Mari-Anne was rubbing an onion base brown paste into Chigger's leg. We knew it was going to stain her skin an oily brown hue for a very long time. The essence in the room could be felt moving in a spiral like fashion and pure life energy seemed to flow through everything. Mari- Anne continued the ritual, constantly mixing more paste into the wound as she worked. When she was finished she told Chigger to not touch it for at least a day, and that it would itch a lot. Hopeful that the Aspect of Anima would quicken the healing process, we left Chigger alone to sleep.

The rest of us thought it would be a good idea to see to other matters while we waited for Chigger to get better. Bastion and I were going to check up on the status of the Bin and make sure that no- one else had moved in, while Cinder and Mana were going to speak with Veruka about the importance of the Spear. We parted and went about our separate duties. When Bastion and I arrived at the Bin, the place was infested with vermin. Rats, insects, roaches ( those things can survive anything ), even a bird's nest! We cleaned the place as best as we could, utilizing our eminences to speed up the tasks. When the girls finally got back to the Bin, we were almost done.

Cinder said Veruka spoke about a bunch of cryptic and non-specific areas. I guess you have to be careful when people ask you questions about their fate! Veruka told Cinder that when the time is right the Spear will present itself to be used. So there would be no practice runs, or any idea what the power of the Spear was going to do for us when we finally faced the Jo'han. My earlier concerns about the cost of using the Spear resurfaced and I closed off from the others. It was strange, the feelings of elation and fear that I felt. I was anxious and excited that we had come so far in understanding the enemy that haunted us, but did we really know anything? We seemed very close to the edge of something that could change our destinies for ever. . . and I was scared.

Mana caught up on some more sleep, and I tried to follow suit. My mind had too many thoughts and I felt restless. Bastion and Cinder went off to the far room. Love or Lust?! Either way, by the time we all woke up, we decided that going back to the Shelter would be the best thing. On the way we encountered Meg, from the River Dreamers and a Fallen we see quite often, Nirvin Deker'on. Nirvin had something to say to Cinder in private, so I took the opportunity to see what the River Dreamers were doing tonight. Meg said they would be at Junks so I knew that Danelle was going to be there as well! I know she's older and everything, but she sure is cute. I think I might have a chance with her.

It seemed that the date was set and that we would all hook up at Junks later. We headed for the Shelter again. When we arrived, we heard Chigger had created some trouble for herself. She was wandering around, yes against orders, and had found her way into a storage closet. Of course, she wasn't exactly completely lucid and in trying to keep herself from falling, she took an entire series of shelves down with her. We were not impressed. The least I can say for it is Cinder did speak to her about it. Finally, Cinder was taking some responsibility for her bratty, unrestrained sibling. I had to laugh though.

When the time came for us to go to Junks, I felt bad that Chigger was not able to go with us . . . so I stayed behind. We talked about a lot of things and played some old Dahlian Dream games. Soon, however, the conversation turned serious. We started taliking about the Hive. Chigger told me she had a dream while she was sleeping. She said it was horrible. I listened to her, but she said she was afraid that the Jo'han was toying with us. That it had sent the visions to her to tempt her and scare her. Somehow I doubted it. We had broken its control on us. Chigger was probably just having nightmares because of her wolf bite. She didn't believe me.

* * *

The Dream

You see yourself standing before a table covered with various tools and apparatus of shining silver. You lift a needle, holding it gently between your thumb and forefinger, letting the thin strand of flesh attached to its end fall naturally to the floor. You stare at your face in the reflection before you and lift the needle to your lips. The first prick draws a brilliant red line of blood that trails slowly down your chin and neck.

The needle pierces deeper, and you tug at it ever so slightly, allowing it to resurface, drawing the fleshy thread into a stitch that joins your upper and lower lips together. A tear rises and then escapes your eye from the stinging pain. You continue to make more stitches, tightening each one with a quick tug of the wrist. As you finish, your mouth now completely sealed, you place the needle back with the others.

Your hand reaches for a set of pliers. You toss it in your hand, playfully rolling it about your palm. You then proceed to grip it to the end of your left pinky finger's nail and wrench it from its natural place. You would scream at the pain, if you could, but instead your mouth lets out a muffled whimper. The blood flows freely from your left hand's fingertips, your nails lying on the floor by your feet. You smear the blood onto your face and neck, your eyes shining brilliantly at the contrasting richness of color.

You pick up two of the nails at your feet and place one under each of your eyelids. The scratching, abrasive touch of them against your sensitive iris causes your eyes to slam shut. You place your thumbs on the top of your eyelids and press, the nails underneath digging into the soft, supple texture, blood mingling with tears. You fight to scream and the stitches you had so carefully created upon your lips rip, revealing broken lines along their edges.

You fall to the ground, the self-induced torture becoming too much for your body to handle. You weep at your sad state, knowing all too well that in the morning you will be healed by your captor, only to begin anew a day of fresh sensations; of fresh pleasures. The worst part of your realization is that you are starting to enjoy the perversity of it all. The sex, the torture, the death. Yes, especially the death. You wonder who will feel your pent up anger and hatred tomorrow, even as you bleed on the floor. The child you were given today didn't put up any resistance. But children do taste better.

A soft hand caresses your cheek, and lips kiss your forehead. You sleep . . . but do not dream.

* * *

The next day we went back to the Bin to arrange some supplies and carried out some other errands. Cinder told us, that at Junks, Nirvin asked for some help from us, if we were willing. It seems that our capabilities at arranging contacts in Bazaar were becoming better known to others. He asked if we would help set up a meeting with his sister . . . his ‘TeraSheban' sister, Isabela, who happens to be a ‘Word-Taker' for the Iris Medi'on of the Elder Council! Cinder told him we had some other immediate concerns, but that we'd let him know in the near future if we could help. It was starting to come together. . . a lot of what was happening in Bazaar now. Elder Council TeraShebans arriving with entourage. Joanite Blades from the Seven Fingers and beyond riding in as well. ‘The Date' mentioned at the secret rendezvous place. Something big was happening in Vimary, and I sensed it was going to affect all of us, Fallen and Tribal alike!

By the time we returned to the Shelter, Chigger had done it again. She had wandered away and was brought back by one of Mari-Anne's aides. She was feeling especially ill as well. She said she was just exploring the Shelter and the surrounding grounds and ended up by the pond several dozen paces away. A couple of kids were playing with sailboats and Chigger said another child had a boat that went really fast, but without any sails! The kids started fighting over the boats, claiming that the one in possesion of the sail-less one was cheating somehow. One of them pushed his friend into Chigger, who with a weak leg almost fell over. Except, somone stopped her from falling. A bald-headed woman. Chigger had no idea how that encounter would change her life!

We convinced Mari-Anne that Chigger would be safer with us at the Bin. ( Whether the Bin itself would be safe was another thing all together! ) When we got there, a sick and perverted sight caught our eyes. Hanging from the ceiling was a single strip of pure black cloth that barely touched the floor. A Yagan death rite, placed in a person's home after a recent passing of an occupant. Was someone playing a trick on us or were they on to us? We all started chattering, raising our voices to get a piece in. I was screaming to burn it, to burn the cloth and all that it represented. Cinder tore it from its place and folded it up and placed it on the table. This was bad. The Yagans, who we had recently massacred, were hinting that we were already dead! I stormed into the other room.

I heard a strange voice from behind me as I went and, upon turning around, saw a youthful Yagan wearing a tight top and a flowing set of pants standing on the table where the cloth was placed.

" You are the Spear holder," she said to Cinder. " Return with me, or the poison that was administered to your sister will slowly kill her. Her fate is in your hands."

" Bullshit!" we said.

Chigger was feeling very ill recently; throwing up, getting dizzy and such, but we thought it was because of the herbs Mari-Anne had given her.

" Witness her elbow. There is a scratch there from when I caught her outside by the pond. Only I have the antidote, so killing me will seal her fate. You must decide. Return what you have taken from the Yagan Fleshers and save your companion, or watch her slowly wither in the next five days and perish."

Cinder stepped forward and said very quietly," Why aren't you gone yet!"

The Yagan Flesher-Assassin left via the balcony entrance and we all stood ther staring at Chigger. We headed back to the Shelter.

" You went beyond the wards, Chigger. There is nothing I can do." Mari-Anne looked helplessly at her, even as she comforted our poisoned friend.

" What about Veruka? Maybe she can save my sister?!" said Cinder.

" Perhaps, but what will we do? Is this all worth it. Remeber what Mek said?!" I spoke with hesitation. Suddenly I just wanted to give the power back to the Yagans and save Chigger, but I knew Cinder would have to be sacrificed to do it. Maybe she would have to be sacrificed anyway? I was so confused. We spoke for a long time in the basement, and Chigger was really feeling that we had come far, and wasn't willing to let her sister go to the Yagans, whether it meant she would die or not. We were slowly moving towards the opinion that we were going to storm the Hive and use the Spear, regardless of Chigger's current dilemma.

I didn't like it. For all we knew, Cinder was going to get killed using the Spear, and Chigger would die soon after. No matter what the details, it seemed to me that at least two of us were going to die in the quest of destroying the Jo'han Eshalazi, if not all of us. I mean, was risking all of our lives to rescue Slash worth it? Was killing the Jo'han so imperative?

We needed to speak with Veruka. Only she would know if an antodote could be made without trading Cinder to the Yagans!

" A Flesher-Assassin's poison is unique and precise. I am afraid you have no hope in saving yourself, unless the Yagan gives you the antidote."

No! Veruka was our last prayer. Now, even she had no further advice for us. We again, discussed, in her presence, the importance of the choices that lay before us. It wasn't easy, and Veruka aided us by sending us each a vision of the horrors that the Sangis have enacted upon us. Upon humans. The visions re-affirmed our minds and set us on a course I knew I would regret. The Yagans vengeance was complete. We were going to use the Spear to kill the Z'Bri. The fate of Chigger was decided. She was going to die!