Monday, 7 November 2011

More on Sands of FATE

My current design name seems to be Sands of FATE but I think I might have to change that, given how close it is to Strands of Fate.
Whilst I'm working on how the powers/magic might work, I'm doing some more design work on the setting itself. I thought about using Islam itself, but realised that, given I have very little knowledge on the subject, it might be best to change it and have a pervasive religion that is very heavily based upon Islam, but is not Islam itself. Whether this is more offensive than getting important details of a real world religion wrong, I can't really say. So feedback on that appreciated, as always.

In days past, when the world was young, the peoples of the world worshiped many different gods, spirits and idols. Whether these were different understandings of the true nature of Elohim, the Hand of Fate, or whether they were the machinations of evil Daeva or misguided men, we cannot say.
What we know as truth is that the Prophetess Mursaliah, may she be praised, was visited by the Wardens of the Most Benevolent, and gifted with the words of the Qitab. Within those words were the methods by which all, both man and jinn, could live a good life, and go on to an eternity in paradise.
As one, people from the Great Garden City to the City of Waves embraced the teachings of the Qitab, knowing its words to be the true path to the Almighty Elohim.

Those that chose not to follow the true path were cast out from society, but still managed to survive in many ways. Those men that made pacts with the Daeva are believed to have been the forefathers of the Shaitan, the men with horns, arcanists, conjurers, necromancers. Those jinn who gave in to the urges of the Qareen, the voice that whispers corruption, became the Ghilan, evil shape-changing eaters of rotted flesh.

Whilst the Qitab continues to guide the Followers of the True Path, the Qareen continues to whisper to the hearts of men and jinn alike. It is only through prayer and pilgrimage that one can follow in the footsteps of the Prophetess. With the guidance of the current Calipha, all the peoples of the known world seek to better themselves and achieve an eternal paradise.

Thursday, 3 November 2011

Wednesday Dresdnesday

Yes, I mispelt the title on purpose!

This week a very interesting time was had in Nevermore. Also, mildly scary.
I'll begin with the new character, who had to leave early and didn't get to interact with the rest of the group. We shall call him Mr Demon. Guess what he does?
Mr Demon works in a library. He processes new library cards... particularly for children... by getting them to tell him their name... Yeah, dude may be entirely evil, certainly misguided.
His adventures involved bustling about the library and noticing some interesting trends in borrowing behaviour. It seemed a lot of books had been taken out (particularly in a certain restricted section) regarding faeries. And also a large number on ferrous metals. He set about researching this, and the connection between them (cold iron! Yay!)

The rest of the group began with the Lycanthrope receiving a job from the new gangleader in town, known to us only as Walter. Walter wanted to know why a house the Lycanthrope had recently robbed had fallen down, and whether or not it was connected to a certain crazy Mexican wandering around town.
The crazy Mexican awoke in his university office to an alarming crashing noise, as the large pile (weighing in tons) of cold iron piled in the middle of the floor decided to take a trip downstairs, and take a shortcut to do it. Not wanting it to seem like his fault, he used magic to blow a hole in his ceiling. Which revealed blue sky. He fired off a fireball into the blue just to make sure the edges of his new skylight looked scorched from where the 'cold iron meteorite' had crashed through.
Pure Mortal went looking for answers to his magical Indian tribe's past, calling on a local shaman to meet him in Starbucks. He didn't find out much, and when he went to leave almost got arrested due to a tip off from the Priest last session. He managed to lose the cops, book a room at a motel with his credit card (to lead the cops away out of town) and then listen to his answerphone messages. Walter wanted him to meet up with the Lycanthrope and help him investigate a knocked down house and Mexican. He went off to find him.

The Ectomancer needed a job, as paid medium work wasn't working to well. She headed over to the university campus in the hopes of some office work, especially in the history department. She instead ran into the Sorcerer, whilst a crowd of people talked about falling rocks and fireballs. Knowing his madness was catching, and unable to find any jobs at the university, she headed off, stealthily followed by the Mexican.
The Cryomancer needed some help shaping his cold iron into something. He put some feelers out, and came back with Clint, a ferromancer, and arranged to meet him later.
In the meantime, he bumped into the crazy Mexican stalking the Ectomancer down a street, noticed he had a new cold iron shovel, and asked for his help in shaping the cold iron instead. Before she ran away, the Cryomancer was able to give the Ectomancer some job contacts.
The Sorcerer managed to give himself a nasty migraine shaping cold iron into a bracer, then wandered off back to the university to recuperate in his office.

The entire building had been cordoned off whilst the metal lumps were moved with a crane. Whilst the Sorcerer argued wildly with a police officer to be let through, the Lycanthrope caught up with him. As the Lycanthrope attempted to help by moving the Mexican, he got angry and lashed out wildly with his shovel, hitting the Lycanthrope in the face.
As police rushed in, the Mortal arrived but lay low and watched the scene. Whilst the Lycanthrope (a known criminal and suspected murder) and the Sorcerer (a suspected criminal and the real murderer) were carted off, the Mortal jumped in a taxi cab to follow.
Pulling a gun on the driver and telling him not to slow down, he shot out a tire of the police van carrying them (the Sorcerer deliberately holding back his hexing until his own plan was ready). As the van stopped and police appeared, the Mortal managed to take out three and open the van. The Lycanthrope headbutted and knocked out the Sorcerer before he could do anything silly, and the two managed to drag him off to Walter's.

The Ectomancer ended up near a junk yard as the truck carrying a large amount of cold iron pulled up. She immediately bought it all, and had it hauled to her place, where she covered every window and doorway with it. Then went off and got herself a telemarketing job (which involved a lot more stress trying not to accidentally hex any of the equipment).

The Cryomancer met Clint in the local magic bar, showed him the already completed bracer but wondered aloud if it could be hardened in some way (perhaps with some kind of folding technique as used with swords). Clint agreed, and even to a rush job for cash. He offered to throw in a design for free, and the Cryomancer went for some runes he'd been working on. Then he sat in the bar, researching local leylines and their intersections using a map he had drawn.

The Mortal, Lycanthrope and Sorcerer were arrayed in Walter's office. When the Sorcerer woke up though, rather than waste any time, he opened a portal to the Nevernever and leapt through, closing it behind him. He'd accidentally taken the Lycanthrope with him however.
The Mortal was told what had just happened by Walter (who, for unknown reasons, was all too aware of what had just transpired). Since the Mortal was agitated that his friend might be lost forever, he suggested finding a wizard who could use a tracking spell, and suggested the magical bar as the place to find one (how he had known of the bar is anyone's guess at this point, since no one in the bar knows much about Walter at all).

In the Nevernever, the Sorceror and the Lycanthrope found themselves standing on the surface of a burning ball of something, which reverted to being called 'the Sun'. The Sorceror attempted to find a path back to somewhere he knew, and ended up descending and invisible staircase inside the glow. Along the way, they both walked past some kind of building in the glow, but couldn't make out a purpose for it.
The Nevernever being what it is, and the nature of time being what it is, it seemed to take them years to walk back to familiar ground. They both ran into the affectionately named Bill the Babykiller, a wildfae who may or may not be the Erlking, Lord of the Hunt.
The Sorcerer seemed very anxious to have the Lycanthrope tell Bill his name, so he instead gave him his nickname. He managed to find an open portal to the real world and go through it, only to find himself at the scene of the crime for the murder he didn't commit. The Sorcerer went off in search of more adventure in the Nevernever. Since they'd both been walking for years, they had managed to swap languages, the Sorcerer having learnt the Lycanthrope's native Russian, and vice versa.

The Lycanthrope headed back to Walter to catch up on what he'd missed over the past few years, only to find he'd been gone for about an hour.

The Ectomancer had been heading to the bar to burn off the pain of a horrible day's work, and ran into her old acquaintance the Mortal. As they both walked into the bar, the large doorman asked the Mortal to check his possessions, where he dropped three pistols on the counter.
Inside, he asked around, and the Cryomancer was instantly able to help him sort out a tracking spell with the Warden, who was sat at the end of the bar. Using skin cells and blood from the blow to the face left on the shovel, the Warden was able to pinpoint the Lycanthrope as being in the warehouse district, not the Nevernever. And on a map, he was clearly back at Walter's. The mortal set off back there, but not before the Cryomancer absconded with the cold iron shovel.

A nice long post, but a lot did happen! Looking forward to next week, although starting to worry that the Sorcerer is going to pick up Sponsored Magic from the wildfae! It's his player's plan after all.

Saturday, 29 October 2011

Arabian elementalism

Applying the ideas of elemental manipulation from Avatar: The Last Airbender and trying to drop it in a medieval/Renaissance Arabian setting has given me some ideas regarding how I would have it interact with the world.
I was searching for ways that the elementality of the djinn could follow through into other areas of their life, or might spring up around them involuntarily. The original idea was for the sword of an Ifrit to either set ablaze when he was angry, or else singe and burn at the best of times, and having the Eloi's blows land with small thunderclaps. But I was having a hard time with subtle offensives for the Dao and Marid. So far the best I've come up with is the Dao's blows simply having the weight of stone behind them, and the Marid to flow around a fight and dodge easily.
Having them have access to the signature water whip or stone armour/gauntlets occasionally seen in the cartoon series was already a given.

Other ideas that I've currently got involve the current djinn as being the descendants of humans and true djinn, hence their lesser abilities and more human appearance. I think the corrupted djinn may be the formation of the Ghilan, or perhaps the djinn who did not become a part of humanity are the ones that turned that way. Seems that a Ghul would not follow the Word of Elohim (or however I name the overarching religion).

I've dug up a bunch of books on Arabian culture that I'm going to power through in the next few weeks. I'm hoping to take a look at both Persian and Mesopotamian cultural roots too. I'd like for this to work on several levels of culture.

I had a thought regarding removing humanity altogether, and having the world of the djinn be the one played in, but I wasn't sure how happy I was with that, given how I'd like the bad guys to work. We'll see though. Would certainly lend an edge to how people would see the world as different.
As it stands, I think the different djinn are the ones in touch with elemental forces, whilst humanity is able to harness the arcane in both good and bad ways. Piety and prayer will avoid corruption, but there'll be plenty about, from pickpockets and hashish dens to necromancy and demonic bargains.

Also, packs of street rats with different skills, abilities, and skin colours from blue to red to grey are already running around sandy bazaars in my mind.

Friday, 28 October 2011

Yet more Dresden

I'm a bit behind on collecting together my thoughts, but here's the recap of Wednesday's session.

Crazy Mexican sorcerer attends the Priest's first mass in his new chapel. It does not go well for the mostly elderly congregation, as their hearing aids cease to function due to hexing. Priest is most unimpressed, but after mass gets a sense of being needed elsewhere.
With his Jesus-sense tingling (this is what he referred to it as), he set off apace. Sorcerer followed him, and when it became apparent that the Priest was much faster, used his shadow magic to grab his feet every time they hit the pavement. The Priest managed to dispel that quickly, and hightailed it out of there!
The Priest found himself in a dark alleyway, where a homeless man asked him for change. Very quickly, the homeless man burst from under a mass of trash to show he was in fact a Red Court Vampire. The Priest managed to force him out into the sun using his holy aura and burning touch attacks.

Meanwhile the ectomancer summons up a wizardly ghost to learn about faeries. She doesn't want them coming around and leaving her any more cryptic messages, and finds out that cold iron is the key. She goes off searching the city's magic shops, then instead the junk yards.
My cryomancer spent the night researching faeries that killed children, without getting very far. He can still see the image of a faerie surrounded by dead babies in pinpoint accuracy thanks to the Sight, so is a little hasty with shopkeepers trying to get some cold iron. A police officer manages to calm him down a little.
He bumped into the ectomancer, realised that they were both looking for the same stuff, and they team up.

The Mexican decided he needed some cold iron as faerie protection for next time he ended up in the Nevernever (which he plans to do with alarming frequency), so used a thaumaturgical ritual to allow him to literally sniff out cold iron.
After coming across the ecto- and cryomancers, he finds a bountiful source of it in the walls of a large house. Possibly as the walls, or at least their main support. It is certainly unclear at the time.

The Priest headed to the magical bar in town, and made up for seeing a vampire burst into flames by drinking. The ecto- and cryomancers turn up, the latter for work. He owes the ectomancer an iced coffee too.
The local Warden is talking to the Priest about what's happened, and introducing himself. The cryomancer catches his eye, and tells him that the Mexican went looking for cold iron, but was worried (as a parolee of the Doom himself) that he may have killed with magic. Warden got angry and left.

Sorcerer enters the house and hears maniacal cackling from somewhere inside. He can't get the cold iron out of the walls from inside, so goes back outside. Breaking himself quite severely in the process (getting a migraine and a phobia of laughter), he manages to pull all of the iron out of the house, and it condenses in a large ball in front of him. The house promptly collapses as the Warden shows up.
Whilst the Sorcerer has used magic to aid in killing someone, he actually buried the man alive using his trusty shovel (did I mention he's been carrying that the whole time?). The Warden lets him off with a caution, and uses magic to pull a fully-formed sword from the ball as he walks away.
Sorcerer uses his own magic to form a cold iron shovelhead for his shovel, then goes to get a bunch of Mexican labourers to help him move the ball back to his office at the university (where he is living).

The game ended there. It got a bit manic and sort of difficult, what with a Vampire: the Masquerade game happening at the other end of the room, sometimes quite loudly (too many badly played Malkavians). More next week!

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Using d12s regularly - ideas for a system that uses them

A recent posting on Google+ about the lack of use of the d12 got me thinking about ways in which to use it effectively. Talk of a tarot/zodiac system made my mind jump to Feng Shui. Whilst I haven't had any experience of playing it, I loved the setting idea for it. I can barely remember the mechanics, but I seem to recall a lot of d6s.

Anyway, ideas that immediately jumped to mind were a mish-mash of various ideas. Here's a shortlist of stuff floating around at the moment.

  • 'Exploding' dice on a 12, so automatic reroll.
  • Rolling a number of dice and aiming for a target number on each, each success more than the first a cool good thing happens.
  • Automatic fail on a 1. Something bad happens because of it (even if other dice roll successes - bullets ricochet in bad ways, your lie you speak is entirely convincing but you give off a physical tell that the bad guy now has a chance to notice, etc).
  • Favoured skills/maneuvers that drop the difficulty. You need a 9 to pull off a fancy stunt, but you do it all the time. Drop down to an 8.
  • Base difficulty I guess would be around a 7 for something that usually requires a roll. Maybe a 6 if it's something anyone (even a lowly NPC child) could do.
  • Some kind of point-buy system to get skills and maneuvers, max dice per skill probably 5. 
  • Unsure if I'd use base stats, might throw in FATE's aspects for character description/plot hooks/previously mentioned favoured abilities. 
  • Bennies get you an automatic success like a temporary willpower point in oWoD.
I have a feeling I might actually try and playtest this soon. Have some interesting ideas of where to take this.

Sunday, 23 October 2011

Sands of FATE: A pseudo-Arabian setting - preliminary thoughts

So last weekend I began thinking about using FATE to adapt some ideas that had been knocking about in my head, coalescing into some ideas I'm keen to use for a game in an Arabian Nights-like setting, also incorporating some nonsense about elemental harmony from a failed Avatar: The Last Airbender idea I'd had.

So far, I've got an overall idea of a few cities and settlements in a desert, notably the City of Brass and Jannah, the Garden City.
Strewn across the deserts are trade routes, settlements, oases, ruins, and so on. Hidden among all that are blood sorcerers, demon summoners, slavers, and caves full of thieves, bandits and Ghilan (plural of Ghul).

Now, as for protagonists and those they encounter, I've got djinn of four elements stolen from AD&D and modified, so I have Dao for earth, Efreet for fire, Marid for water and Eloi for air. Ghilan might be either djinn of darkness, or a magical experiment run amok. Perhaps something to do with a demon pact. I do like the idea of them being something like a were-hyena.
Djinn would be more in tune with their element, and could function in much the same way as the elementalist archetype presented in Legends of Anglerre. A human would be able to become an elementalist of any element, but then would be stuck with that choice.
An abundance of magic would be faith-based, so minor cantrips might be short words of prayer, a more powerful spell more powerful words or longer verses, and so on. (Orisons? Anyone remember them?)

The overall theme would be that of faith versus corruption, with blood sorcery being a powerful method of magic, but with consequences (such as tearing holes in reality, breaking the laws of faith or some such).
As such, every character would also have a Qarin Aspect, a sort of voice that whispers to their soul and tempts them with impure thoughts or actions. This would function something like the 'trouble' Aspect in Dresden Files.

I'm still toying with some of these ideas, and particularly with a current image I have in my head of a man-sized mandrill wearing a shalwar kameez and a fez. Would I then have other animal-folk that for some reason had been 'uplifted' to more like a man, or stick with the man and djinn dichotomy. So far, mandrills, lions and capuchin-like monkeys seem to be buzzing around my head like this, though I might limit them to NPC interaction.

Any thoughts, please feel free to let me know.

Thursday, 20 October 2011

More Dresden

Another week and another adventure in Nevermore Baltimore. This time things got a little more interesting.
A new player joined us, setting himself up as a new priest in town. I spent my time looking for faeries and any and all information on them.
Mexican sorcerer knew about them, had talked to them, and we somehow ended up in the Nevernever.
Then we ran in to the local Warden, also in search of information on what was 'awakening' in Baltimore.

Sidenote: Is it possible for someone to get addicted to using the Sight? I've been using it far too often really, checking out the priest, his chapel, a Winter Court fae, the Warden (he stepped in front of the Winter Court lady), and then a little pixie wildfae who may or may not have been the Erlking in disguise.

Did get to rescue the Warden from the clutches of scary fae though. Maybe one day I'll escape the Doom of Damocles for that, right? ... Right?

Meanwhile, the former gang member Lycanthrope and mortal met up for the first time in a while, and more scary stuff happened.
Next week: we'll probably investigate 'the Blight' since it seems to be awakening, work out how it's connected to the mortal J.C. (and his magic grandpa!) and maybe teach the sorcerer some English. I don't hold much hope for the last one though.

Monday, 17 October 2011

Weekend musings

Over the weekend, I've had more than a few ideas knocking about my head. A lot of them involve the FATE RPG system and how I could apply it to various things, such as my new homebrew fantasy setting. Notable among these were how it would fit with a cyberpunk game I'm playing it and the world of Avatar: the Last Airbender. Googling the latter gave me more ideas since it's been discussed a lot it seems.

However what's been big in my mind all morning is a Middle Eastern/North African setting, partially based on Arabian myth and lots of films like Sinbad and Prince of Persia (and therefore the games too).
So far, all I've got is some cities by the sea, trade routes across plains and deserts, silk and gold and art. Accompanying that I've got an idea that any magic would be faith-based, and to perform anything like it without a grounding in prayer would be highly illegal (though it would be possible). Villains would include blood sorcerers and demonic pacts. Wizards could still fit in the setting, but likely with a faith-based magic, and would be responsible for any good-aligned magic items.
I was thinking that Jinn would perhaps be better served as playable characters, rather than making them powerful beings themselves. So the Ifrit would be stronger than a man, maybe more cunning, and I've a vision of them with glowing eyes and no hair. Marid would have flowing green or blue hair, having kinship with waterways and oases, and essentially wealthy being power brokers in the desert for their control over water.
Other ideas included a monkey or baboon-based group, though haven't really thought of how they'd fit in. Nomads maybe. Ghilan, or ghuls, would be a nasty raider threat; something like gnolls and orcs, with hyena-like features, maybe with a demonic bent too. Unsure.

I'm going to develop this a bit more and try and have a think. See what other people think. So far, with a brief chat with someone, we've come up with giant scorpions, Clash of the Titans and Jason and the Argonauts as references and perhaps having dragons and manticores in the deep deserts and mountains. Fun times!
More soon!

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Dresden Files: My first impressions of FATE

Today I finally got to use the FUDGE dice I ordered a few months ago when I sat down to my first game of Dresden Files.
The setting is based on that presented in the books by Jim Butcher, namely a modern fantasy incorporating modern city folk, some film noir tropes, and magic both fun and dangerous into a nice little bundle.
I'm playing Joe Smith (better name forthcoming I hope), a cryomancer with an addiction to facts and lore. The rest of the group is made up of a put-upon ectomancer, a gangland lycanthrope, a Mexican sorcerer who has trouble with English and a mortal with some connections to gangs and magic. Whilst we only played through one game day, we did get to play around with our characters, get a handle on the system and various plots we could stumble upon, and do some interaction.
Whilst the lycanthrope was hired by his old gang (with new leader) to steal a music box from a house filled with maniacal laughter, the mortal was sent a message via a magic chalkboard by his grandfather regarding a great evil coming to get him. The Mexican sorcerer began as a day labourer, got cornered by a pixie who told him exactly what the various holes under the construction site were for (bodies). He quickly dispatched his employer and all round nasty guy, then somehow got hired as a Spanish tutor at a local night school, spending the time between being hired and teaching by getting drunk. I was visited by the new Warden in town, reminded that a Doom hangs over my head (or is that neck?) and the proceeded to have a fight in a bar with a local chronomancer over it. The ectomancer was harassed by old ghosts, had a message scrawled in ectoplasm on her fridge by some unknown force ("BEWARE!" underlined twice.), then proceeded to get very drunk herself to cope.
The news in the bar was some nasty new bigwig had bustled into town and was upsetting everyone. This turned out to be the new gang leader, Walter. Mr Sorcerer's class was badly affected by technology breaking (particularly a ringing cellphone), followed by one student collapsing after mysteriously losing all the air in his lungs (he did ask a very clever question, so perhaps deserved it).
Carrying the drunken ectomancer home and using the Sight on her fridge, I was able to deduce that it had been written by some sort of powerful faerie from the Nevernever, not a ghost as was first thought. I also managed to give myself a migraine trying to count the underlining (turns out it was a lot more than two!)

Whilst the game was a hell of a lot of fun, it was using the FATE system that was the major interest for me. The four dice and ladder system worked really well to balance good skills with lucky moments. The spell casting system is easy to understand, one you get the hang of it. Using Fate Points to establish story by players, and compel character actions by the Aspect system was a really fun element. I've an Aspect of 'Shenanigans' which I offered the GM to compel in the bar, which instead became a compel for the Doom of Damocles and a bar fight by a patron over it.
Definitely looking forward to the game next week. As far as I've pieced together, the music box Walter wanted stolen has something to do with the great evil out to get the mortal, and is certainly likely to be the bad thing the faerie wanted to warn someone about. Whether the dead bodies at the building site had anything to do with Walter I don't know, but given the pixie appearance I'm hedging my bets with 'maybe'.

I'm now going to begin creating some sample Aspects for the fantasy setting I've been working on, both for races and regions, and maybe work on some stunts too. I do like this system. I hope it will be my friend.

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Story of a Young Bushi

(Originally published December 1st 2006)
Otaku Kiyomaro saw to his family's horses. They would need to be prepared for the spring and the long ride home.
The Winter Court of this Lion clan stronghold had been largely uneventful. Peace reigned, families met, clans exchanged words which would no doubt lead to fighting come the following autumn, a handful of marriages cleared the air for a time.
And here was Kiyomaro. Months from his gempukku, ready to come of age, trained as a Shinjo bushi with his fallen uncle's daisho.
His height and build were a problem for his parents. He was much taller than others of his age; he stuck out like a sore thumb. He would have trouble working at trade deals for his family, their livelihood, and they had all but given up on him.
His uncle had had the same problem, and his great uncle before him. The solution was always seen as thus: train as a bushi and earn his family honour and glory by leading a noble life or else dieing a noble death. His older brother also followed this path, though he chose to concentrate on higher social activities rather than intensive combat training. Still, Otaku Ryuken was already an accomplished samurai, known well amongst the Unicorn clan.
But Ryuken had been given the family daisho, a proud gift from his wise grandfather. Kiyomaro carried the daisho of his fallen uncle, the daisho passed back and forth between cousins in the Otaku clan for hundreds of years, the daisho that grants only small honour and a short life.
At least the big Otaku could handle other weapons. His ono was a particular favourite. Its head never failed to bite deep into training dummies.
A crab bushi named Hida Hankyu walked in and nodded slightly. Kiyomaro had seen him on numerous occasions over the Winter, noticeably eying up a kill when Otaku had returned from a hunting trip.
He looked flustered, or as flustered as a samurai can look without losing face. "Your presence is requested in the courtyard training grounds," he said, turned and walked back out of the stables.
Kiyomaro looked around. Aside from the horses, he was the only person the Crab could have been talking to. He walked out to the courtyard. Why had he not sent a heimin? he thought.
Waiting outside in the courtyard were a group of young samurai, similar to himself; three of them bushi and two shugenja. They nodded as Kiyomaro arrived. Hida Hankyu held a sealed letter, bearing Otaku Kiyomaro's name, as well as his own, and no doubt the names of all the others gathered. And one other: Soshi Sosumo, of the Scorpion clan. Kiyomaro recognised it as that of a young shugenja often seen lurking and watching a Lion bushi train, said Lion stood two feet from him now. Sosumo was a small boy, easily hidden within the walls of the large stronghold they stood in now.
"Where is the Scorpion boy?" Kiyomaro asked, looking down at the group he easily loomed above.
"A heimin was sent to bring him, Unicorn," came the reply from a young Phoenix girl with dazzlingly green eyes. She did not carry a katana at her side, but a small scroll case - she was shugenja, or would be after her gempukku.
"We wait for him, Hida-sama?" Kiyomaro ignored the disrespect of her address.
"We do, Otaku-sama."

Time passed, but there was still no sign of the Scorpion. In this time, Otaku Kiyomaro had made himself recall as many faces and names as he could. The two Crab bushi were Hidas, Hankyu and Ikki. The Lion was a Matsu boy named Kushi. The Phoenix shugenja was Isawa Nami no Yuki, her pale skin reflecting the wave of snow of her name. Last was the Dragon boy, Agasha Yakuza. The letter had been sent by Mirumoto Kido, the Emerald Magistrate resident at this stronghold. Why he had sent for such a group of samurai, none passed gempukku, no one seemed to know. It seemed unfathomable that they could help an Imperial Magistrate in any way.
A heimin ran up to Hida Hankyu, and bowed low. A brief glimpse of emotion crossed Hankyu's face, followed by a barked order at the heimin who ran off again.
"My apologies," he said. "In my haste, I did not tell the heimin to request the Scorpion's presence. This is why he has not yet come."
And so they waited some more.

Finally, the black robes and red mask of the young Soshi appeared. He bowed and joined the group. Hida Hankyu glared at the Scorpion as he casually strode towards the group, then unsealed the letter and read carefully.
"You are called to the Owana tea house at noon. Do not be late."
Looking up, it was obviously almost noon. With a glance at the Scorpion, all ran swiftly to the castle gates and out to the tea house.
Although Otaku Kiyomaro was large, he was also very swift, something his sensei would often remark upon. He made his way to the tea house with astonishing speed, arriving barely out of breath and still before noon. Looking over at the tea house, it seemed boarded up. At the door stood two Lion bushi, both women, and both wearing a Matsu mon. They were looking at the Unicorn. He chose to wait for the other samurai and compose himself, as he saw the Isawa appear from around a corner, closely followed by one, then another of the Hidas shortly afterward. All three of them stood catching their breath, whilst the Matsu women watched.
Noon came all too soon. With no sign of the other three samurai, the Crab, Phoenix and Unicorn all strode to the doors of the tea house. The Matsu stopped them to read the letter, then let them pass. Inside, heimin met the samurai to usher them to a room. Leaving their daisho at the door, they followed and were met by a Crane samurai sat on the floor with a woman making tea. As he finished, he looked up at the small group taking their places on the floor. He wore a sash showing his service to the Emerald Magistrate, and the mon of the Crane and Doji.
"Greetings, young samurai. Are there not more of you? My note was quite specific."
Sometimes, small lies must be told. "We do not know, Doji-sama," replied Kiyomaro, bowing.

Up to the door ran Matsu Kushi, immediately seeing the women of his clan guarding the door. Bowing profusely, he made to enter, but was barred by one of the warrior-woman's arms. "Where is it you go, little Mats-san?"
Kushi looked bewildered, replying "I have an engagement in this tea house. By order of the Emerald Magistrate."
"You have proof?"
Matsu Kushi remembered that one of the Hidas carried the letter of invitation, and he was sure they passed him by at a full run not too long ago. "My proof was carried by others also named upon the invitation. I am sure they have already arrived."
"Indeed they have. In you go, boy." She scowled down at him as he walked into the tea house. He was met by a young heimin woman, who ushered him to the others.
"You are late, Matsu-san" the Doji noted, as Kushi knelt down.
"My apologies, Doji-sama. I came as quickly as I could."
Noting Kushi's still heavy breathing, the Doji nodded politely, and continued drinking tea, waiting for the next arrival.
Outside, the Dragon boy marched up to the tea house doors. Once more he was barred by the Matsu guardswomen, though they were more wary of this spellcaster. "Where is it you go, little Dragon?" asked one of them, boldly.
"I go to meet with my fellow samurai in this tea house." There was something odd about the way the Dragon spoke. His eyes were slightly glazed, and his posture askew.
"Very well," spoke the other Matsu, "you may pass, Dragon-san." She was clearly wise enough to know the boy had no letter of invitation either.
Once inside, the Dragon placed himsel fon the floor in front of the Doji, bowing profusely and apologising for his lateness, blaming an incident at the castle gates for barring his path, and his honourable intervention in it.
But there was still one more samurai to arrive - the little Scorpion, Soshi Sosumo.

Minutes passed, and finally the little Scorpion came into view. He was dressed in an impeccable robe, his face partially hidden by a small red mask. Leading him to the tea house was a heimin, who clearly felt put upon. As they both arrived, the heimin turned to face the Soshi, bowed and ran off. Sosumo then walked towards the guards. They were not impressed by the well-dressed little boy. "I will assume you are with the others. Did you think to bring your invitation, Scorpion?"
"Honourable Matsu-sama," said the boy, bowing low, "I have been called here by Mirumoto Kido, the Emerald Magistrate. My guide to this establishment has caused me to be later than I should be. I have no invitation, as I am sure the one given to all of us is already inside. I offer you my apologies, as I will now go and offer to the others here."
He walked between the two Matsu, who were still bemused by his arrival.
"You are late," said the Doji as Sosumo sat.
"My apologies, honourable Doji-sama. My heimin guide to this tea house caused me to be slower to arrive, and the Matsu outside caused further delay by asking for my invitation, which Hida Hankyu carried with him in his haste to arrive."
The Doji looked upon them both, realising what had transpired.
"Very well," he said, looking down to his tea. "As you are now all here, I can begin to tell you why you are here. You have spent the winter here, at Shiro Owana, as a guest of Kitsu Owana. Surely, you will understand that you may pay him in kind for his hospitality. Mirumoto Kido, the Emerald Magistrate resident here, has requested that I give you the chance to honour his hospitality on behalf of your families."
He paused, taking a sip from his tea. The woman who had prepared it left the room quickly.
"Underneath this tea house have been found tunnels. We do not know who constructed them, or when, or why. All that we do know is that many heimin have begun to disappear from this tea house, and we need those of noble spirit and warrior virtue to investigate."
He drank the last of his tea, stood, and walked out of the room, gesturing for the group to follow him.

Standing quickly, they followed first down a short staircase and into corridor. Further staircases followed, leading down deeper and deeper into basements and sub-basements, all filled with barrels of sake and chests of tea. Finally, the group reached a room with a carpet sat square in the middle of the floor. It was big, heavy and made of black fur. Something about it glinted green in the torchlight of the room. Something that the two Crab knew all too familiarly. The carpet was covered in jade powder.
"Beneath this carpet is a grate leading into the tunnels. It is covered for one reason, and one reason alone. It is incredibly Tainted."
Two heimin appeared from behind the group, and lifted the carpet with long poles. As it was raised, the Doji flung a short stick of pure jade towards the openings. As it glanced upon the metal grating, it turned instantly jet black, crumbling away into dust.
One of the Crab gasped, though in the torchlight it was hard to tell which.
"You will all be going into this tunnel and finding the cause of the disappearance of the local heimin. They always disappear one or two at a time, always in the depths of night, and always from this tea house. Sending a group such as yourselves will be sufficient to investigate."
With that, he turned and left the room, with the startled group, none of them yet past fifteen years old, stood awkwardly. They knew what was to come.


(Originally publish October 15th 2006)
Walker strode along the foggy quayside. In the darkness, the warehouses slowly loomed out of the mist towards him. Occasionally he would stop, look around at the empty dark grey, and then continue on his path.
He reached the end of the quay and stood by the guardrail, looking down below himself. He could just make out the rippling beneath him, the cool water condensing the mist.
A buzzing vibration came from his pocket: his alarm call. It was time.
He climbed over the rail, let go and fell back into the cold water, moments before the nearest warehouse burst apart with bright flame.

The dreams had started the previous week, as they always did. He saw what would happen, and where, and it would take a week to work out what he could do to change things. Normally he only managed to avoid the worst.
They’d been inside the building, and they’d known what they were doing, mostly. They hadn’t known the consequences that their actions would have.

Walker surfaced. Most of the quay had been blown away. He climbed back onto the unsteady structure. The fog had been dispersed instantly by the heat of the fire. Amongst the flames and debris he saw a body writhing, covered in fire. He pitied whoever it was their sad, painful death.
Scanning the scene again, he saw what he was looking for. Glowing in the wreckage of the warehouse was a scuffed chalk circle, and in the circle It stood. It had seen him already. It was preparing.
Muttering a quiet prayer to nobody at all, he moved forwards towards it. The smell of unnatural fire and sulphurous gas filled his nostrils, as he drew his sword and readied himself for the demon that these sad fools had released from chains of Hell.

* * *

God is dead.
No, that’s not right. God is a lie. He’s a myth.
I think.
The Vatican knows. Mecca knows. Jerusalem knows. God never was. He was an idea created back in prehistory to protect us from the truth. The story isn’t such a bad thing. So long as people believe it, my life is a little easier.
My life. What a joke. My life got taken from me a long time ago. It’s not been my own since I was “chosen for duty”.
The Bible never properly explains to you what an Angel is. It talks about them. We know what Cherubim and Seraphim are. We don’t know who they are, or what they really do.
Here’s the truth. Angels are ordinary people like you or me. Mostly like me. Ordinary people conscripted into a war. They aren’t harp-playing idiots sat on clouds in Heaven. There is no Heaven. There never has been.
As for God…
As far as I can tell, he’s not too involved in anything, insofar as there is a God. Metatron, Gabriel, Michael; they’re all probably the same thing. I don’t know what It is. When you’re Chosen, you’re chosen by It. I guess sometimes it’s ‘peace and goodwill’ that needs to be advocated. I like to think I had something in common with prophets, saints, madmen. It would certainly explain a lot.
Sometimes, of course, all you have to work with is a lump of sharpened metal. That’s the end of the scale I work at.

* * *

Someone ran out in the road in front of Alan. He slammed his foot down on the pedal, stopping inches from the stranger.
Then Alan saw that it was Josh Walker. Walker had been in a lot of the same classes as Alan during school, but had dropped out early.
“Jesus fucking Christ! What the hell do you think you’re doing?”
Erik, Alan’s younger brother, stared wide eyed. His older brother was normally careful not to curse near him.
Josh had a black eye, bloody nose, and a large wound on his arm was turning his long jacket red. He walked up to the car, opened the door, and calmly climbed into the back seat.
“What do you think you’re doing?”
“Drive. Turn right at the junction here.”
“Get out of my car, Walker!”
“Drive. Turn right. Please Alan.” Josh grabbed Alan’s shoulder and looked hard at him.
There was something wrong with Josh. Although they’d never really been friends, Alan knew he was different. Just before he’d dropped out of school, he’d begun to act odd. He’d mumble to himself, and whenever anyone asked what was wrong he’d just complain of lack of sleep. He’d been branded the class freak by most of the school. When he’d disappeared from town, the rumour was he’d been carted off to an asylum. Then some idiot had burned the family house down. That would’ve been traumatic.
Best do as he says, Alan thought.
As the car turned the corner, Josh thanked Alan and sat back, sighing in pain as he tied a tourniquet around his arm.
“What the hell, Josh? Where have you been? I haven’t seen you since school.”
“I’ve been busy.”
“With what?”
“You wouldn’t understand.”
“Are you that Walker guy?” asked Erik. “I heard about you in school. You went crazy or something.”
“Not quite, Erik.”
That shut up the two brothers. Josh was worryingly good with remembering names, more worryingly when he’d never been told them before.

After five minutes of directions and unanswered questions, mainly about his injuries, Josh told Alan to stop. They had reached the mall.
“This is where I was heading anyway,” said Alan. “For God’s sake Josh, what’s going on? Why so cryptic?”
“You wouldn’t understand.”
“Stop saying that! You sound like Mr. Miyagi or something!”
Erik looked confused. “Who’s Mr. Miyagi?”
“Well, now I’m here, I can go meet Terry. You remember Terry Miller, right Josh?”
“Shit!” He shouted it. He suddenly gained a startled expression, completely losing his composure.
“What? He’s a nice guy.”
“You’d be surprised Alan.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
Walker’s calm came back to him. “Just stay here. I might need to get away quickly.”
“What? First you car-jack me, now you want me to be your getaway driver? Are you here to rob a store or something?”
“No. Just trust me. It’ll get ugly. Stay here. Erik, go see your movie.”
Erik practically ran from the car, almost crying. He definitely did not run towards the cinema. He definitely hadn’t told Josh he was going to the movies.

* * *

Was it a dream, or did it really happen? I don’t know anymore.
A few months before school finished for good, the dreams started. Sometimes I’d wake up happy and content, sometimes I’d have nightmares that woke up the rest of the house.
The nightmares came more and more often. I barely slept eventually.
Imagine your worst nightmares. They were worse than that. Imagine seas of fire, eternal torment. Imagine every painful memory, every sinful act, every unholy action of everyone who has ever or will ever live. Every bad dream, every waking nightmare, every torture known to man.
I’ve seen worse. I dreamt it nightly. And I remember it all.
Then I had a new dream. It showed up. God, Michael, Yahweh, Allah. He might as well have been Lucifer, for what he put me through. I was Conscripted. The most painful experience of my life was the forging of the sword. I don’t feel much pain anymore. Most of the time, it just doesn’t compare. Even the most annoying paper cuts.
It works like this. Conscription means you give up part of your essence. Willingly or unwillingly doesn’t really matter. For my part, I don’t think I was too happy about it. Your essence is like your soul, except most people think souls are eternal. They aren’t. Your essence becomes the iron.
Then Gabriel, or maybe God, or Buddha for all I care, patches some of his essence. You end up with steel. Angel steel. A sword of Angel steel.
Angel steel can hurt the other side. I’ve seen men fire guns at them and do nothing. Then I’ve watched them die.
I know what I can do. Unfortunately, so do they. Yet still I have to do my duty.

* * *

Walker walked through the spinning glass door. He was calm. He had to stay calm. The slash on his arm had moved from intense heat to a dull ache. He’d realised in the early hours of this morning that he wasn’t preparing for just one job. The nightmares he’d had recently had contained more than one – earlier had involved claws, this next one a flying tag-team.
If only the muzak playing over the P.A. system would stop making his teeth grind together, he’d feel a lot better about what he had to do.
He had a few minutes by his reckoning. He needed a coffee and something to eat. That idiot Alan would be along soon.

Alan walked through the doors. Josh had told him to wait in the car, but he wasn’t going to listen. He hadn’t seen Walker for years, and now he’d turned up looking beat-up and acting like a madman. Maybe that asylum rumour hadn’t been so far from the mark.
He’d run after Erik, given him bus fare and told him to go straight home. He hoped he’d be alright, but this whole situation was worrying. He shouldn’t be around Josh. Now he had to meet Terry in a few minutes.

* * *

Did you ever wish revenge on someone? Ever carry it out? There’s a big difference between those two, although they’re both a very dangerous approach to life. You’ll attract Their attention. You really don’t want Them to notice you. You especially don’t want Them to push you into helping Them out.
They need stuff like that. Cold, raw sin is what keeps Them going, helps Them to do what They do to us. “Sin” is what They feed upon. That’s what was taught to me anyway.
It was winter. I was in the Asylum and the dreams started. I had the worst nightmares, worse than I’d had before. They sedated me when I started telling them my parents were in trouble. They locked me in a padded cell when I shouted it to the other loons. Then came the Forging. That’s how it was described to me. I was asleep and I had a happy dream, the first I’d had in years. I felt love and contentment, but it was short-lived. I was told I was Chosen, that I had to fight. I wasn’t happy with that.
The pain didn’t last long. Suddenly I found myself in my cell with a feeling of weight on my back. Reaching behind me, I felt the hilt of a sword in my grip. I ran to the door and screamed for help.
It didn’t come.
But the nightmares came over and over.
Fire and smoke, the stench of burning meat, the screams of my mother, the choking of my father; it was too much. I broke out. I had to do something.
When they found me, it was too late. The house was burning down, I was coughing up smoke, my parents were dead and there was blood on my clothes. They thought I’d killed them. I’d failed to kill It. I’d failed. I wasn’t ready.
They took me away and put me in a maximum security asylum for the criminally insane. I didn’t resist. I thought they were right, that I’d imagined it all somehow, that I was responsible. I thought I’d murdered my parents.
Then the clergy came for me.

* * *

Alan walked through the mall to the central concourse clock. Sure enough, there was Terry Miller, with two twin beauties stood beside him. They had dark brown hair, pale skin, and as he got nearer he saw they wore matching purple contact lenses. They wore black blouses and miniskirts, and black choker bands. Not exactly what he normally went for, but for some reason as he got closer he couldn’t help but think of them as the two most beautiful women he’d ever met. And yet, there was something odd.
“Hey Terry. How’s it going?”
“Not bad Alan. What’s up with you? You look like crap… Is that blood?”
Alan looked down at where Terry pointed. On his shoulder was a small mark of red. He remembered Josh grabbing his shoulder.
“It’s... It’s nothing Terry. I just bumped into Josh Walker on the way here. He ran out in front of my car.”
“Jesus Alan!” The twins glanced over. “You saw Walker? Don’t tell me you ran him over!”
“No, stopped in my tracks. Scared the hell out of Erik, but he scared the hell out of me too! Ended up practically carjacking and making me drive him here.”
“Wow. And that’s his blood?”
“Yeah. He was beat-up. Looked like he was running from something, so why he came here, I have no clue.”
The twins suddenly looked at each other, sniffed in unison and began urgently looking in all directions. Alan noticed and made Terry turn around.
“What’s wrong with them?”
“No clue. They’re not normally like this. They’re very… well, how can I put it? They’re very good company, if you know what I mean. They keep asking to meet my friends, so I thought you’d be the person to call for a fun day out.”
“Thanks Terry. Thanks a lot.”

Striding along the upper walkway, Walker ignored the staring and sideways glances of passers by. He was used to it. The torn clothing and blood was a part of the job, just like the odd looks from these people. He knew where he was going; he knew what he had to do.
He leant over the rail and looked down at the small group under the clock. The two girls started to look around at his arrival, whilst Alan and Terry took notice. That was the tag team alright, and it was time for him to start work.

From above came a shout.
“Ladies and gentlemen, if I may have your attention please,” the twins’ heads snapped around and looked up at the long-coated figure above them. Alan and Terry looked about them before finding their addressor.
“I’m afraid that I can’t let Alan join your little group. Terry, I’m disappointed in you.” With that, Walker leapt the rail and fell to the floor below. He landed, rolled and stood up a few metres from the group.
“Josh?” Alan looked puzzled.
“Walker?” Terry looked worried.
“I told you Terry was bad news Alan. And I told you to wait in the car.” He turned to look at the ladies, both of whom seemed to be blurring at the edges. “Hello ladies. I think you know why I’m here.”
The girls seemed to rip apart, and in their place stood two emaciated, black bat-winged figures, clawed feet scratching the floor, clawed fingers poised and ready. They both jumped up into the air, as Walker reached behind his head and pulled out his sword.

* * *

I was in my room, and then they came in and restrained me. I let them. I didn’t struggle anymore. I only screamed in my sleep. I couldn’t look at other people for knowing what they saw when they looked at me.
In had walked the Cardinal. The colour of his robes had been the only thing I noticed about him. I didn’t know why he was there. I thought perhaps that he had come to exorcise me.
“Hello Joshua. My name is Cardinal Morre. I’m the Prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Angels. I’m here to help you.
“I know you’ve been having dreams, Joshua. Bad dreams, yes? I also know that it wasn’t you who caused the deaths of your family. If you come with me, I can help you.”
That’s what he’d said to me. With that I was carted off to the Vatican, for “training”. Moving away like that helped. My dreams stopped. I could sleep, when there was time.
As it turns out, I wasn’t alone. I met a handful of people like me. We would sit in a room in the Vatican’s Secret Archives and be taught about our abilities, what had happened to us, the truth about God. Everything. For one of us it was too much. He’d been religious before he was Chosen. They found him in a mausoleum for people like us who’d died. People who’d either died fighting the War or had somehow ended their time as an Angel and had come back to teach the Truth.
He was the lucky one, if you ask me. He’d gotten out before it really began. When they were done with us, we were blessed and made priests. Then they sent me back.
The dreams came back, but I knew what I could do. What I had to do.
Every time I sleep, I dread what may come. I just look forward to the dream when my sword is taken from me and I can finish my work.

* * *

They ducked and they dived and they jinked and they lunged. They fought with claws and sword. They bled and screamed and roared. The span and jumped and rolled and snarled.
The stench was terrible. Where the sword cut, the flesh boiled. Where the claws slashed, the flesh rotted. The smell of blood was pervasive.
And the twitching remains of the two succubae lay under the clock. Walker leant against a wall, his sword again at his back. He was bleeding from black gashes on his face, and he fiddled with his mobile phone.
“Hello, Ciccone? It’s Walker. Cleanup at the mall under the clock in the central concourse. Quickly.”
He hung up and limped towards the barricade in the nearby fast food emporium.
“Terry, come here.”
Terry peeped over the tables and chairs at Josh. Alan looked up at them both.
“What did you think you were doing, Terry? They were very dangerous. And you were going to give them Alan. I’m appalled.”
“Walker, you’re crazy man. I don’t know what just happened.”
“Yes, you do Terry.” Walker moved closer, pulling plastic zip ties from his pocket. “And you’re coming with me.”
“No way. You’re mad. Insane. I’m not going anywhere. Alan, help me out here.”
“He’s pretty crazy Terry,” said Alan slowly. “I’d do as he says. You saw him with that sword.”
Terry climbed over the bunker, and then made towards Josh.
“Thank you Ter-”
Terry ran for the doors, but before he could reach them they burst open to reveal a group of armed men in black security uniforms. Walker ran up behind and tackled the startled Terry, holding him on the ground.
“Terry, by Papal Sanction I hereby arrest you on the charge of misuse of the black arts and attempted blood sacrifice of a human being. You will be taken to a holding cell where you will be interrogated by members of His Holiness’ Inquisition. Should you repent your discretions you may one day see the outside world again. Do you understand?”
Terry said nothing, as he was carried away by two of the armed men. Walker slowly stood up from the floor as Alan ran up.
“Jesus H, Josh. What the hell is going on?”
“This is my job, Alan. Welcome to my world.” Josh walked back to the clock, where already the floor was being wiped clean. He cupped his hands to his mouth and shouted to the gangway above. “Erik, you should come down here now!”
Erik’s head peered over the edge of the rail. “What are you?”
“I’m a priest,” he shouted, as he walked away

The Oppenheim Irregular

(Originally published May 7th 2007)
Oppenheim. A city by the sea. From above, it would no doubt appear as a gnarled mass at the mouth of the Oppe, but no one living within it would regard it as one whole.
To its residents, Oppenheim is two cities. The city of the poor, the Lowtown, is filled with decrepit slums, smoke-belching chimneys, the poisons of industry, and the noisy docks in the estuary. The city of the rich, Hightown, has green gardens, expensive restaurants and boutiques, large mansion houses, and the infamous Gubernatorial Building. On its own, atop the only hill in the city, stands the Academy, where those skilled in the arcane arts research their abilities and any other magical effect that the Empire comes across.
Between the two runs the river, keeping them separate in the heads of the citizens, though in reality they share a central park and a giant market square.
By day, the city is alive with activity, horse drawn and horseless carriages ferrying people and their wares throughout the various districts. By night, as now, the streets are cold and quiet. The curfew set a decade since by Imperial Edict keeps it this way.
Sometimes, however, things happen during the night. The night is when the Imperial Irregulars patrol, the Emperor's secret policeman, finding as they do a steady stream of unwanted elements. More often than not, no arrest is ever made by them, no trial given to the criminals they find.
But again, sometimes, things happen.

Slowly through the night, the old man walked.
The sound of his cane rapping and scraping on the grey stone paving slabs filled the alleys and byways of the Oppenheim Hightown district.
His hair was the same grey as the storm clouds of the morning, as they had dissipated above the city. The long burgundy coat and his regal bearing marked him as a nobleman of some kind or other, no doubt stumbling his way home from a drunken affair of one kind or another.
In the street beside him, a horse drawn cart trotted past, followed shortly by a new horseless carriage. He glanced up at the great metal thing through the tiny lenses of his glasses. The new machines confused the old man, his opulent life having seen nothing like them.
He reached into the pocket of his burgundy leather waistcoat, pulling out a shining and highly ornate silver pocket watch. Almost midnight. His walk home from the party was taking longer than he had thought it would. Still, he would be home soon. He stopped at the end of an alleyway to strike a tindertwig and light his cigar.
He walked onwards, his cane tapping by his feet.
He paused as he reached another alleyway, as if he'd heard something he had not expected.
Sure enough came, as if in answer, a further scream in the night. A young lady. She seemed in a lot of trouble. He ducked into the alleyway.

From out of the dark passage burst a different man. Over his face he wore a black hood, emblazoned with the Imperial Crest, and over his hands he wore tight black gloves. He carried a fine metal sword in his belt, and his long greatcoat flapped in his own personal gale as he ran towards the screaming voice. His pistols were strapped to the back of his belt, easily noticeable as his coat moved. The wiry frame of the man seemed to leave one with an insight of true hidden strength.
Flying sharply around a corner, he happened upon the screaming maid. She was now held against a wall by a short, plump man, one of his large hands covering her dainty mouth, whilst the other pawed at the green silk finery of her dress. Stood nearby was another man with a more muscular build, glancing back and forth for any night watchman who might come to the aid of the maiden. He had seen the hooded figure bound around the corner, grinned and hefted the sap he held in his hand. His grin quickly faded upon seeing the Imperial Crest of the hood, and soon turned into a look of immense fear when the Hooded Man drew his sword and a pistol upon the two men.
By now, the first man had let go of the maiden, turning and drawing a small blade of his own. Both of them remained looking worried however. They were petty thieves, and here they were faced with an Oppenheim Irregular. Behind them, the maiden looked aghast at the newcomer, but had the sense to turn and flee.
The protocol for these situations was set in stone by the Imperial Charter. The Hooded Man knew that he had to follow them to the letter.
"Stand and make ready for your arrest," the only blunt and terse statement the Charter authorised.
Both of the criminals began to back away. They knew that an Irregular was not someone that they wanted to try and fight, and that the local prison was not a place anyone wanted to visit. They turned and ran.
The echoes of a thunderclap rolled out across the city, winding and bouncing their way through the streets.
The Irregular held his pistol level as the criminal fell to the floor. The other man, the fat little man, paused for a moment, looking down at his comrade, and then ran as hard as he could.
"Stand and make ready for your arrest!" shouted the Irregular, suddenly moving, rapidly gaining upon the fat little man. As he got closer, he tried to trip the man with his sword, finally connecting and sending the little man flying forwards as his leg began to bleed from the sharp, deep cut it had received.
The Irregular knelt upon the little man, pushing his face into the muck and detritus of the darkened side street gutter in which he had landed.
"What is your name?"
The little man winced and yelped, gasping in his pain. The Irregular grabbed the man's neck, turning his head through the mess of the street to face his own hidden eyes.
"What is your name?" His voice had no hint of mercy. This fat little wastrel was making his life difficult, and the wastrel knew that difficulties like him were removable with ease.
"M-my name's Milles, guv. Sorry, guv."
"I'm not the one you attacked. You'll have plenty of chance to regret your actions later." The spite seemed to fly out of the mouth of the hooded figure, he couldn't contain it. "Who is that one?" he said, gesturing with a subtle nod as the other man, beyond help now.
"Th-th-that's Bonn. We din't mean nuthin', guv. I'm sorry."
The Irregular pulled a cosh from a hidden pocket, hitting Milles harder than he really needed to. Milles' head fell back into the mire, out cold.
With both men lying prone in the street, the hooded man stood and pulled a whistle from below his shirt, sending out its shrill blast three times, before replacing it under his shirt and pulling an oddly ornate watch from his waistcoat pocket. His clothes were slightly muddied by the chase. Bothersome, he thought. He could feel his fury subsiding. He felt horribly disappointed with himself.

The bar brawl erupted into the street. Thrown clear of the door, Jean-Pierre Binoche stood quickly and drew his sword. Falling afoul of these drunks had cost him two men already, and now he would have to face a horde of them alone. Fortune favoured him, as luckily none of them carried a firearm.
A group of three men charged him, with nothing more than a dagger between them. Binoche parried the blows of the blade-wielding lout and cut the belts of the others. Whilst they fell upon their faces, the dagger-holding man was joined by one holding a fallen guardsman's rapier. Worse still, though drunk, he clearly knew how to use it. From over the commotion, the screams of an unlucky woman could be heard. As Binoche attempted to defend himself against the drunken swordsman, whilst avoiding letting a dagger the chance to pierce him in the back, he knew that he would not be able to save the maiden.
Binoche bluffed a step to his left, jumped quickly to his right and landed a blow on the dagger-carrier's hand, making him drop his weapon upon the floor. Binoche's other opponent was distracted by a glance at his comrade long enough for Binoche to land a blow upon the man's upper arm. The crowd gathered around the fray was smart enough to disperse quickly.
"All of you," yelled Binoche, "are in breach of curfew. Go now, before I arrest you all." He pointed his sword at the necks of the two wounded men, watching the others furiously pulling their trousers back up to their waists. "You are now bound by law. You assaulted me, you will be held to account for the deaths of my men, and for the theft of a watchman's property." He hooked the toe of his boot under the blade of the sword on the floor, kicking it up into the air and catching it by the hilt with his free hand. Over the heads of the two men, he saw the new horseless paddy wagon come into view, heavy-set officers holding on for dear life as the driver learnt his way around the absurd vehicle. As it eventually slowed, three whistle blasts came rolling over the ears of the watchmen.
"You take these men and any stragglers that you find. That was an Irregular's whistle." Binoche knew that if an Irregular called, the most skilled officer came running. He ran off up the hill to the Noble Quarter in Hightown.

As he rounded the corner, he saw a hooded Irregular standing over the writhing body of a fat little man, his old clothes covered in the damp detritus of the street now. As he neared the Irregular, the man put away a decorative pocket watch. Odd that a Hooded Man would carry one, perhaps taken from an arrest, he thought. The Irregular hailed Binoche.
"Jean-Pierre, my good captain. Strange that I should see you out this night. You are well, I take it?"
Binoche was somewhat taken aback. He was ranked as a Captain, yes, but normally an Irregular would not pay him any heed. Binoche was a ranking officer in the Imperial Forces, but he was not used to being accorded such respect from anyone outside of the Regulars, never mind such familiarity. The way he talked bespoke of an educated upbringing. The man had that kind of bearing, as he stood with one foot upon a writhing fat man in a gutter.
"What do you have for me, Irregular?"
"Attack upon a young maiden not long before curfew, Captain. The tall one, a Messer Bonn," he gestured over his shoulder to the corpse lying in the street, "attempted to attack. This one, Messer Milles, he claims" he kicked the man on the floor, causing him to yelp in further pain, "began to flee. He is ready for you and your men to take away, sir."
A 'sir' now. Binoche felt uncomfortable. This must be one of the older Irregulars, one of the Emperor's Originals, as they were known. No Oppenheim Irregular recruited in the past twenty years would stoop to call another man sir, even when outranked.
"Very well," said Binoche, slowly and slightly disconcerted. He'd noticed that only one of the men was ready for collection. The other was beyond help now. "I will wait for the wagon to take him away."
"By your leave, sir," said the Irregular, and then ran away into the night.
Binoche stood motionless for a few moments, the surreality of finding a soul in Oppenheim uncorrupted, a soul that had no doubt seen the Imperial Atrocities of only a decade before was overwhelming. There was something odd about the man. Something he had been wearing, which now Binoche couldn't quite recall. An Irregular is like any other Irregular, his mother used to tell him.
He pulled out his whistle and began blowing. There was a green high-heeled shoe sat in the middle of a murky puddle next to a wall. He reached down to pick it up.

Out from an alleyway stumbled an old man. He'd remembered an old shortcut from his youth and was now very nearly home. Soon he would no doubt fall asleep in front of a roaring fire, only to be woken up by a butler and escorted to his bed. No doubt.

The maiden had run off into the night. Hopefully she would be safe. Had the gentleman but turned down a different side street, he would have found her, lost in the eddy of her adrenaline rush. She knew these streets, but could not find her way home. She was about to step out into the street, to get a greater sense of her bearings, when her arm was grasped by someone. She span to defend herself as best she could, about to be set upon by the men from the alleyway or the Hooded Man who had bested them. Her eyes came to rest on the deep brown of his eyes. She was suddenly unaware of her surroundings, only seeing the man in front of her. A fast-moving horseless carriage fled by in the street. It would have been her grave, but she paid it no heed. Instead she drank in the man before her.
Here was a man in the blue military uniform that marked him as a watchman. His lack hair was long, tied back in a braid that reached his upper back. He wore a small moustache, waxed at its tips. Upon his blue chest was a bold Imperial Shield, the emblem of the military. The gilt decorations of his sword hilt marked him as an officer, whilst the small lenses he wore upon his face made him seem remarkably studious.
His deep, warm brown eyes kept pulling her vision back toward them.
"Are you ok, Young Miss?"
"I-" She was bewildered by the man, his voice was soft, but his grip firm. "I'm fine, good sir. I'm on my way home from a party. Have I strayed passed the curfew?"
"You have, Young Miss, but I know why." He held in his hand her missing shoe, dripping and ruined though it was. She glanced at it, then back at him, not wanting to look away from this entrancing watchman for too long. Then he surprised her further.
"Would you do me the honour of accompanying you home?" There was something in his eyes - a friendly warmth that she knew she could trust.
The girl was beautiful. Binoche could think of no other word to describe her. She was perhaps short, but what did height matter? She was amazing. Her hair was a warm chestnut brown, complimented by the lucent glow of her skin. The green, almost turquoise silk hung delicately from her shoulders, torn slightly at the breast, but not torn through. The dress fell down to her feet, and had been buffeting about upon its metal frame when he had seen her moving only a few moments ago. But it was her eyes that he couldn't stop looking into. They were the same awkward gold of an Imperial shilling, its gold debased by years of re-smelting.
He reached out and offered his arm. She took it.
They walked off into the night.

Leland DuPont awoke with a start. His granddaughter Aradia walked through the door. Her green dress was torn near the shoulder.
"Aradia, dear? Is that you?"
"Grandfather?" She said, startled. She was flushed, breathing unsteadily. "I'm sorry grandfather, I didn't see you there."
"No doubt," said Leland, standing from his fireside chair. "What has happened to your dress? Your father paid a lot for that green silk, you know."
"Yes, grandfather," said Aradia, uncertain of how to explain. An idea presented itself though, as she heard the sound of a motor from outside. "I was walking home from the ball and was nearly run down by one of those awful horseless carriages." Aradia knew how her grandfather felt about the 'wretched things'. "I was so startled that I stepped into a puddle," she pulled her ruined shoes from behind her back, preparing for the biggest lie she had ever told her grandfather. How could she do this? She loved him so dearly. He would understand the truth. "But... But a nice watch-captain helped me home, so that I'd be safe from curfew." She couldn't look the old man in the eye.
"Very well dear," he said, in his calm, quiet little voice. "You get yourself off to bed now, before you wake your mother."
Aradia ran as fast she could to her room, not even calling upon her maid to come to her chamber. She wished to be alone with her thoughts.
In truth, she'd been attacked by a pair of vagabonds, was narrowly saved by one of the scary Hooded Men, but found it hard to run in the streets. She would have gotten herself lost, had not Captain Binoche run after her. He had the kindest eyes she had ever seen. He'd been so kind and understanding and he'd told her that the Hooded Man had even arrested the men. She couldn't believe that an Irregular hadn't killed a criminal, it was so unheard of, but coming from Jean-Pierre she could believe anything. She felt flushed as she readied herself for bed.
Back by the fire, Leland chuckled to himself. Such lies that girl comes up with. Still, better she run into a watch-captain than an Irregular. He pulled his watch from out of his pocket, and looked at the time. It was late. Just late enough that he could go to the kitchen and see what scraps the cook had left for him after his rounds.
No rounds tonight of course, he'd made his arrest tonight.

A Caitiff in Edinburgh

William’s eyes flickered open. Sundown. Hunger flushed through his body, the intense craving for the sweetest of God’s bounty.
He stood from the bed and walked to the basin in the corner of the room. Once more he’d slept above the covers, slumping into the bed too tired to climb beneath them and sleeping the deep sleep of a dead man. Except for the dream.
He rinsed his face in the basin, and looked up into the small mirror above it. He met his own eyes, and saw once more the bed as it had looked that first time: deep red and dreadful. Her eyes had been glazed over, although for an hour after she stopped breathing he could swear they still held the flicker of life.
William dried his hands and face and reached for the lavender water he kept nearby. His hair was no longer greasy, his skin refused to fall away, his body no longer felt the urge to sweat, but that didn’t mean he shouldn’t smell nice.
The second time had been worse. She hadn’t fallen unconscious as he sunk his teeth into her neck. After drinking his fill and his mind cleared, he found himself sat before her, blood rushing from her neck, or gurgling up her throat as she tried to talk, and falling out once more from her lips. She had used all her strength to reach out to him, obviously pained, as she slowly died before him. He had wept, rocking slowly back and forth on the bed. He couldn’t stop himself watching but hated every minute of it.
His ruby red tears had tasted of her.
He pulled a clean white shirt from his wardrobe, and put it on over a black t-shirt. His favourite jeans were stilled stained with drinks from his last night clubbing, so instead he found an older pair, horribly frayed.
He looked at his reflection in the full-length mirror built into the wardrobe door.
The third had been the worst. Her name had been Clare. He’d actually met up with her a few times and taken her out too. He’d answered the phone and told her he didn’t feel well. He didn’t, he knew it was going to happen again. She’d still turned up to cheer him up. After shouting at her to leave, followed by begging, she’d forced herself into William’s flat. She’d caught herself on the doorframe, and must have cut herself. When he’d blacked out, all he heard was the door slamming. When he woke up, he was staring into the lifeless eyes of his lover. Her skin was entirely pale, as if every drop of blood had been removed from her body, although the puddle she was lying in was much too small. The cat had left trails of red footprints all through the living room.
William grabbed his rosary and black velvet jacket and unlocked his bedroom door. In the office outside, Maria had left today’s newspaper. He turned on the computer whilst glancing at the various pieces of tabloid ‘news’. A handful of businesses were falling apart, Edinburgh Castle was reportedly no longer haunted, and one of the warehouses in the docklands in Leith had burnt to the ground. William tossed the paper back onto the desk and checked the online news. Various resignations at all levels at the Royal Edinburgh Hospital seemed to be caused by a sudden communal understanding that the bureaucracy simply didn’t work. Most of the people seemed to have been hired Birmingham Children’s Hospital. Building works at an office building in Holyrood continued, as its foundations had been found to be unstable. The work was scheduled to carry on for some time, even working throughout the night and day.
Business as usual, it seemed.
On his way to the door, William stopped before a small alcove in a bookshelf. He lifted his rosary and said a short prayer over three necklaces, still reliving every moment of the three women. His prayers done, he left his office by the front door, heading up the stairs to the bar.

New Blog, New Purpose

I've decided to start a new blog to fill multiple purposes, rather than my previous ones which have ended up being much more specific.

A little info: I'm in my mid 20s, British, currently unemployed, working on a variety of different projects including a diploma in Videogame Design. I'm trying to get my name out in various circles, mostly indie roleplaying games and publishing. With any luck I'll manage to throw something out into the void and hear back as to whether my ideas are worth my time sharing them.

I'm going to grab some posts from an old blog and transfer them over here before I delete it. They're old stories from various ports of call, mostly based on roleplaying games that I've been a part of.

I'm now a contributor to Troll in the Corner so expect to see links over to those articles when they're up (hint: here's the first one). When there's news on my current roleplaying project, I'll be linking over to that too.

Anyway, on with the show!

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