ROW80 and Other Updates… Again

Well, I’m embarassed. I had a short story ready to post on Monday, as I had promised per my new schedule, but WordPress somehow or the other ate it up, and I lost quite a bit of the work I had done, plus the formatting went all crazy. So, I didn’t post anything, and am in the process of rewriting it (and making it better; it wasn’t going in a direction I liked in the first place). But, that’s not all… unfortunately, I have been busy and generally without energy this past few days, and as such have done almost no progress towards my ROW80 goals…. which is a really, really bad thing in my book. I hope to get things fixed by the weekend, though, since the weekends are when I have the most time and energy to actually work on my creative process, and as such I hope to start working for real on my novel again and produce a couple of short stories and other assorted posts to be published here over the week, thus avoiding this situation happening again. Hopefully everything will go as planned this time!
-JNicolini

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ROW80 and Other Updates

Hey folks, as some may have noticed, I have been totally inactive the past week. I apologise for that, but various exams, university projects. course assignments and quite a few other personal issues got into the way of any creative or even random writing. As a consequence, I also haven’t many any progress towards my ROW80 goals, but, fortunately, that is about to change. I also want to set up a more or less constant posting schedule for the blog, to make things more smooth (and hopefully allow me to have some worked-out posts in advance if something like this past week happens again). Therefore, I’m going to shoot for a schedule of 2 short story posts per week, one on Monday and one on Thursday, and at least one random post on Saturday (about RPGs, games, or other random subjects), in addition to ROW80’s update posts on Wednesdays and Sundays, of course.

That’s all for today, folks, just a short post to say I’m still alive.

-JNicolini

A Round of Words in 80 Days

So, while reading James’ blog, Speaking to the Eyes, I came across a post where he mentions A Round of Words in 80 Days, something that’s more or less like NaNoWriMo – which I’ve always wanted to participate, but never had the time to actually do it when it starts due to real life concerns -, but with more realistic and flexible requirements. Aha, it immediately piqued my interest, so I went to check it out and indeed, it seems like a lot of fun. Basically, the idea behind it all is that you have to give yourself one or more goals at the beginning of each 80-days round, and twice a week you post an update of your activity towards your goals; however, goals can be flexible and you can change them depending on your situation, which is awesome, since the unexpected can always happen to make your life miserable you find yourself with no time for your initial goals. Either way, their site (here, the link, one more time (: ) can explain it all far better than I. So, since I’m going to participate, what are my goals?

  1. Write two short stories (500~2500 words) per week, to be published here on my blog.
  2. Write at least 200 words per day towards my upcoming novel. Yes, I know it is just a few words, but unfortunately real life prevents me from writing more presently (especially considering goal #1).
  3. Self-publish at least one collection of short stories until the end of the round (or at least have one collection of short stories ready to be self-published at the end of the round, depending on real life constraints).

Well, that’s it, folks! Watch out for an update on my status on ROW80 on Sunday. :)

-JNicolini

As Above, so Below

High Lord Patrak, the Shining King, Defender of the Gate, Protector of the Walls and High Seat of House Olaryn paced around his audience room, unaware of the heat as sweat drenched his face and his finely cut coat. The audience chamber was empty now, but it was not the source of his distress. Rumours that an army was coming to Illaryon showed themselves all too true, and it was not any army that was camped on his doorstep, but the very Armies of Dusk themselves, as if springing forth from a nightmare, led by the terrible Black Knight. Patrak had faith in the strength of the Shining Walls – after all, they had never  fallen, for hundreds of years -, but the Black Knight’s presence unnerved him. The man was trouble, sowing death and destruction wherever he went, and there was no one who could quite match the Black Knight’s  talent for Earth Weaving. If there was anyone who could use it to breach the Walls, it was the Black Knight. The door to the audience chamber slammed open, and Crown Prince Larak entered in a fury.

“Father! Why do you stand idle while an army sets shop at our very gates? We have to act, now, and protect our city! We must attack them at once!” The Crown Prince was always impetuous, but he sometimes did not see what was right in front of him. “Do not be foolish, my son. The army that gathers at our gates is one that this city has never seen before. Do you really think our meagre forces could match such numbers, and such strength? I ‘stand idle’ now because I know the truth, that if I did anything, I would only be sending my men to their deaths, and precious resources to waste.” The prince bristled with barely restrained fury, though, refusing to believe the truth of what his father said, “But there must be something  we can do! If they lay siege on the city, we will soon starve… have you not seen the number of their ships?”

“Relax, my son. I do not think they will manage a blockade on our city; our sea-ward countermeasures are better than that. No, that is not the danger… the danger is the Black Knight. That man is an uncontrollable and unpredictable beast… and the only reason we have to truly fear this army.” High Lord Patrak looked through the windows of his audience chamber, towards the immense wall at the border of the city, looked as if his vision could pierce the sturdy masonry into the fields beyond, into the waiting army led by the man whose coming might mean catastrophe, no matter what his generals said about the impervious defences of the city. “You were too young to remember, my boy, but that man sows trouble wherever he goes.” He said absent-mindedly, remembering half-forgotten events of almost forty years past, when he was still about his son’s age.

“Dorian Belzess… his name is still uttered in awe by the people of Laridsan, and as a curse by the Council of Thirteen. You have learned about what happened in Laridsan more than thirty years past, haven’t you?” He asked as he turned towards his son, who tossed his head angrily, his features still speaking of barely withheld fury, “Of course, Father. A rebellion rose against the Council of Thirteen and their oppressive rule, destroyed the Council’s stronghold in the city and used a powerful Karma Machine to split the island in two, thus separating Laridsan from the grasp of the Council.” He furrowed his brow, then, “I assume, by what you are saying, that this Dorian led this rebellion, though we never learned any names.”

Patrak laughed, startling his son and seemingly making him forget his anger. “Rebellion, my son? Either the Council’s influence is greater than we all think, or these scholars and historians really like to twist the facts to fit their own schemes and machinations… No, that was not the way of it. I was there at the time, though I hadn’t been crowed yet. Instead, I was sent as an ambassador, and  what honour it was for the Council, to receive the Crown Prince of Illaryon, one of the major powers of the world, in their island. I witnessed the whole thing, actually.” He moved away from the window, motioning for his son to take a place at the small table set beside the dais where his throne rested. “Belzess wasn’t called the Black Knight yet, at the time, but he soon would. Apparently, he claimed that there was a powerful Earth artefact buried somewhere in the lands around Laridsan, and was seeking the Council’s blessing in his pursuit of it.” He stopped as he picked up a handful of grapes from the table, toying with them in his mouth as he thought back to these distant events and poured himself a bit of punch.

“Perhaps they were in the wrong, but the Council refused to allow Belzess to search their lands, claiming that any artefacts or treasures buried in the Council’s jurisdiction was by rights their own property.” He took a swallow of punch, shaking his head. The Council’s decision might have been a bit overboard, but it did not merit the Black Knight’s reaction, either. “The man was in a fury. He shouted that the solution was to remove Laridsan from the Council’s jurisdiction, then, and stormed off from the Council Hall. Next thing we know, we received reports of a man single-handedly destroying the Council’s fortress in Laridsen, and proceeding to expel, by force, every Council soldier or representative from the city.” He drained the punch off the goblet. “Belzess then used his Weaving to rip the island in half, unaided, and separate it from the rest of the Council’s lands, thus doing exactly as he had promised and tearing Laridsen off of the Council’s grasp.”

“In the end, it was all for naught, as it turned out that there was no lost artefact hidden in the lands of Laridsen.” He finished, smiling at the expression on his son’s face; Larak’s eyes were bulging and his mouth was hanging open, or near enough. “See, son? A man who has such power at his disposal, and worse, the impetus to use that power without thought for the consequences, is a very dangerous man. Especially when his power is so closely related to the very thing that has our armies so sure of their protection.” He rose then, and sighed. What would come next had been one of his hardest decisions to that day.

“I’ve issued a special command to a select few of our city. I would have done the same for all, if I could, but unfortunately that is not possible. You will join a select few of the city’s younger generation, the sons and daughters of nobles, scholars and masters of their trade, and leave the city in a special convoy.” Larak opened his mouth to argue, but Patrak forestalled him, “Do not argue, son. It is your duty as the Crown Prince to lead where I cannot, and my place is here, with the city, should it stand or fall. You, on the other hand, will have a far more important duty to perform.”

He reached into his coat and took out a very special Device, the Symbol of Illaryon, a miniature shield carved in the colours of the city and with the symbol of House Olaryn at its middle, and handed it to his son, who gaped at the Device, knowing its symbolical and practical importance. “Larak of House Olaryn, I thereby give you the authority of the High Lord of Illaryon for as long as you hold this Symbol.” He very lightly touched the Symbol with a fine Weave of Spirit, Fire and Earth, the Elements of Illaryon, and smiled as he felt the shift through the Symbol, as if a part of him had left through his hand, into the Symbol, and into his son’s hand.

“I give to you the duty of summoning the High Council, Larak of House Olaryn, and explaining the situation to them. Warn them of the coming of the Armies of Dusk, that they are not merely rumours incited by madmen. I urge you to call for a Vote of Leadership, and to guide the Council into preparing for war. Make them see, my son. Make them see that, without unity and preparation, the whole world will burn in the Black Knight’s footsteps. Go, now. I have prepared a ship for you and the rest of the refugees. Go, and do not fail.”

After an embrace and hasty words, High Lord Patrak watched from a high window as his son scurried in the plaza below, walking with determination towards the ship that would, if the Gods permitted it, lead him to safety. Now that he was alone, Patrak allowed the tears to roll through his face, for he had the feeling, deep in his bones, that he would not live to see his son again. As soon as Larak boarded the ship, though, the High Lord turned from the window and walked beyond his throne, to his dressing room. The impeding doom hang like a headsman’s axe above his head, but he still had a few duties to perform before the end. There was always the possibility of things going better than expected, and even if they didn’t, he had preparations to make, preparations that would hopefully spare as many as possible of his subjects from suffering.

The Last Flame

If he had been a human, he would be drenched in sweat. However, he was not a human; instead of soft, supple skin, he had hard scales, instead of fingernails and square teeth, he had claws and fangs. His bodily armour had two tailored holes at its back, to let his scaly wings through; they themselves were also covered in hard leathers and hides for protection. He had a large tail behind him, strong enough to push or pull a heavy man, and no boots covered his feet, for he needed no protection from the hard ground. His right hand grasped his battleaxe firmly as he slashed and hacked at his enemies, while his left parried their attacks with his heavy shield. His name was Hizir, and he was a dragonborn. In fact, he was the last of his kind… With a roar of released fury, Hizir split open the skull of the last human standing against him. He was alone in the battlefield, bathed in blood and gore, panting and sagging with exhaustion, but he was victorious once more. He had always been victorious. For the last dragonborn, the choice was always victory or death.

Wiping the blood from his axe-blade, to prevent it rusting, Hizir looked around him. There were five bodies sprayed around him; that meant one of the human scouts had managed to escape and flee the hills, and would soon be back with a stronger force. Hizir clasped the axe to his belt and turned to walk further into the hills, to the cave where he had hid his supplies. He regretted having to leave such a good position, but he would not be able to hold a dedicated group of soldiers trying to kill him. Walking into the cave, he sneered at the woman there, looking at him with such disapproving eyes.

“Do not condemn me for killing your kin, Princess. They were the ones who exterminated mine in the first place.” There was no response, but there seldom was. He had been on the run for three weeks now, after having captured Her Royal Highness, Princess Kadria. This was as low as he had to become: playing mercenary for the outside influences that surrounded the human kingdom. No matter; if this was the only way for him to get his revenge, so be it, and honour be damned. Honour had lost all meaning to him in the moment where he had become the last of his kind, three hundred years past. Now, where before there had been honour in his heart, only hatred remained.

“On your feet, Princess. We have many leagues to cover yet, before resting, if we are to keep ahead of your faithful men.” The dragonborn said as he gathered their meagre supplies in a battered bag and rested it on his massive shoulder, “We have many hours of walking ahead of us, and I do not want to carry you, not again. You’re smart enough to have learned that lesson already, yes?”

All defiance washed out from Princess Kadria’s eyes, and she gave a frightened nod, hurrying to her feet. Hizir was easily half again her size, and almost three times as large… the first few days, she had tried to resist him, even tried to escape. He had not hurt her, not really, but he had not been gentle either, and he had made it clear that he was doing this only as paid work, and as soon as she was too great a nuisance, he would simply get rid of her and leave. She believed him. “Good.” Hizir said, showing his pointy teeth in a mockery of a smile. “You learn. Humans are not so dumb as they seem, after all. Well, let’s get going then.”

The paths the pair wove through the hills were hard and uneven, not really paths made for walking around; more often than not, they had to cut their way through dense shrubbery or leap through small chasms, something only possible because of Hizir’s gliding abilities. At least that also made sure that they would not be followed, at least not so easily; any scrap of time they gained was a bonus. Hizir had been aware that there would be heavy pursuit after the Princess, but not that it would be so relentless and fierce. Either she was much loved by her people, or they knew what was at stake here.

“Why are you doing this?” The Princess asked once they had stopped once more to rest, now in a small cave on the other side of the hills. It was going to be a short rest, only to catch their breath before they continued on through the forest and into the shoreline, where they would get onto a pirate ship that would get them to their destination. “What do you have to gain by capturing me? Where are you taking me to?”

“Why did your people slaughter my kin? What did they have to gain? I could ask the same questions, Princess, though asking questions would not change anything. Yours are likewise irrelevant. This is all part of my revenge on your people, no matter how small or how feeble it is, or that I had to wait for three hundred years to see it begin.”

“But… It was not us who hunted your kind! The people who did it are long dead and buried… Why do you take your revenge on us?”

“Someone has to pay!”

“But… but…”

“Silence! Let’s move out.”

The trek through the woods was silent and slow. Hizir had the endurance of a horse, but the Princess was just human, and a feeble human girl, at that. She could not keep up with his large footsteps, especially not in difficult terrain such as the untamed forest, and the dragonborn found himself having to wait for the Princess to catch up more often than not. There was no fear of her trying to escape; there were no settlements in miles around them, and she would surely perish if left to fend for herself on the forest. The soldiers had been left behind on the hills – a big army such as the one that had them on the run would have trouble passing through the dangerous paths they had taken -, but Hizir disliked the slowness of their pace. No matter what he said to others or to himself, he still disliked having to do what he had done, kidnapping a young and defenceless girl, and he wanted to be rid of her as soon as possible. He didn’t dwell on what her fate would be, after he handed her to his employer, either.

At last, after two more days of trekking through the woods, the pair emerged from the untamed forest into the wild shoreline. The ship was easily spotted; there were no other vessels anywhere the eye could see, even to Hizir’s sharp eyesight. He sighed, watching the human pirates aboard the ship. He wondered again if he was doing the right thing; what the Princess had said was true, after all, and she could hardly be blamed for what people several generations before had done. At least his employer had promised him that she would not be harmed, and that, in the end, it would be painless. Small comfort that was, but Hizir had to take what was given him, not what he wanted.

The pirates recognized the dragonborn mercenary on sight, of course, and began lowering a small boat to get them at the shore. Hizir laughed to himself, simply grabbing the Princess and flying straight to the ship, landing in the middle of the startled pirates. He let go of the Princess then, who was trembling; with fear from the flight or the pirates, he did not know. He gently pushed her away, towards the waiting pirates, and she shot him a pleading look.

“Well, well, you have done as you were asked, dragonborn, surprisingly enough, and you’ll be handsomely paid. Your part in this is done, however. Take your gold and leave.” He tossed him a weighty bag, presumably filled with gold, which Hizir snatched from the air and tied to his belt. He turned to go, choosing to ignore the pirate’s taunt, and heard him talk to his men, “But look here… what a fine piece of flesh this princess is, eh boys? We’ll have a really fun time before we are done with her, won’t we?” Hizir stopped, clutching his hands. It was not his business, he shouldn’t care; all humans were supposed to be his enemies. Things were never simple, though; life always paints reality in shades of grey, never in black and white.

“What did you say, pirate scum?” Hizir rumbled, turning back to see a few of the pirates already groping the Princess. He quivered with barely contained rage, “This was not the deal. The Princess was to be unharmed and untouched until you reach our employer.”

“What? I made no such deal, mercenary. Your part in this is gone, go away. We’ll have our due fun, of course.”

Hizir’s roar shook the very foundations of the wooden ship, making it rock unsteadily from one side to another. In a flash,  he had his battleaxe in hand, and cut off the hands of two of the pirates trying to grope the Princess. Swooping her behind him with his free hand, he inhaled deeply and spewed forth his dragonflames, burning half of the pirate crew to a crisp in a swift movement. He looked at the Princess, “Find one of the boats, Princess, and try to get out of here. I’m sorry.”

Red flashed through Hizir’s vision as he felt the sword cutting through his leather armour and the softer scales of his belly, drawing blood from the wound and making him spit some of it on the deck. He had no time to see if the Princess got to safety; he turned around and decapitated the pirate that had run him through, just in time to raise his shield and parry another pirate’s swing. The next few moments were frantic; the pirates were sloppy and untrained, but they had the advantage of numbers. As the battle raged, the fire from his dragonflames increased and burned away at the ship, hungrily eating the wood away. Hizir had no time to notice any single detail, as the frantic battle for his life continued, now parrying a sword thrust, now deflecting a bolt from a pirate’s crossbow. His wounds began to increase in number, as slowly the pirates withered away his defences and resolve. It was a race to see who would break first, now.

With a roar of pain and defiance, Hizir spewed more of his dragonflame around him, dispersing the closest pirates and finally making the rest of them see the futility of fighting an enraged, well-trained dragonborn elite in close quarters. They routed, jumping over the railings into the ocean, just as the main mast broke out from the fire and feel upon the deck, causing the ship to crack and split in half. Everything rocked out from beneath Hizir’s feet, but despite his wounds he extended his wings and took flight, praying to the Mother that the Princess had managed to escape. His vision wavered as he flew, even the meagre weight of his equipment now making him falter. He made a beeline for the shore, but exhaustion was faster and took him before he could land; he plunged into the cold sea.

As he fell deeper into the water, Hizir could not help but smile at the paradox of his life. Three hundred years spent hating all humans, just to die trying to save one. However, at least he felt at peace; his last act had regained a small bit of honour for him. Perhaps he would not feel so ashamed to confront his ancestors, now, when he ascended to the stars to join them. With the smile of those who know to welcome death, the last dragonblooded flame fell deeper into the ocean, winking out amidst the darkness and the cold.

Karma Constructs and Weapons

The magic in Dragonia is so advanced that it can emulate technology in many aspects, providing technological wonders such as elevators and printing presses, shifting Dragonia from a medieval society to something more akin to a “steampunk” society (though there is no steam!), in the sense that there is a lot of industrial technology going on, even though the setting is primarily medieval in nature and feel. Karma Cores and more elaborate Karma Devices allow the creation of many machines (logically called Karma Machines, or simply Machines) that would be otherwise impossible in a medieval context, and therefore Dragonia is a society in which medieval values and way of thinking coexist with a more advanced technology and culture.

One major application of this technology is the creation of Golems, Karmic constructs, generally humanoid, that have a modicum of awareness and intelligence. Golems are used as brute workforce (ie. ploughing fields, or building roads), to access places usually hazardous to normal humans (entering a volcano to collect volcanic rocks for a scholar, or entering an oxygen-deprived mine as a scout, or delving into the sea) and, sometimes, as servants to the wealthy and powerful. They can be made from many different materials, in different sizes and shapes, each according to the usage the Golem will face; most are humanoid, but there are some that aren’t. While Golems have a little intelligence and self-awareness, and even the ability to communicate with others, they are not, and neither do they see themselves as, individual creatures with freewill. However, they are still built with internal constraints that limits their actions for safety measures, and each Golem has a specific keyword that automatically deactivates it once uttered.

A specific type of Golem that is far more dangerous than the usual workforce type is the Legionnaire – a larger, stronger, more durable and well-armed version of a normal Golem, usually performing duties as constables, guards, and soldiers. Legionnaires were the reason behind the research on Golems in the first place, and they have neatly replaced almost all military personnel in the League of Empires, with the exception of officers and generals, reducing the cost in lives of war and conflicts. They are also far more powerful and destructive than the average soldier, giving the nations of the League an edge against their financially inferior enemies who do not have the resources to build their own Legions. However, no matter how strong the Legionnaire, a powerful War-Weaver or even a well-trained soldier is superior in war potential, due to their ability to adapt and work together, leading to many nations still keeping elite forces in reserve, in addition to – or, sometimes, instead of – automated Legions.

Another war-funded technology is that of the Karma Weapons, Devices that use one or more Karma Cores in conjunction or not with a standard weapon to maximize its war potential. Examples include swords that are powered by a Fire Core that makes their blade catch on fire, or bows strengthened by Wood Cores to provide more power for less strength wasted on their pull, or even more extraordinary weapons such as a sword that is comprised only of the hilt – which is in truth a complex Device – that, once activated, generates a sword-blade entirely of condensed Karma. However, all of these weapons are usually far too expensive to mass-produce for their benefit, and are relegated to either ceremonial status or as weapons to the rich and powerful. This is not the case with Fuciles, however.

The Fucile is a ranged weapon that draws energy from one or more Karma Cores or the wielder to shoot out bolts of compressed Karma; its basic version, which draws energy from the user, is quite simple, and easily mass-produced, thus ensuring that all soldiers can have access to a powerful ranged weapon at almost no expense – and less training required than what is necessary to skilfully use a bow, for example. More complex or powerful versions of Fuciles exist, that draw on their internal Cores for energy, or on external “ammunition packs” made of disposable, low-cost Karma Cores, or that have special and powerful effects, but those are not freely distributed to the common soldiers, and are instead only found as property of the rich and powerful. It goes without saying that Legionnaires are outfitted with two or more Fuciles, thus ensuring their efficiency on the battlefield.

-JNicolini

The First of Many

Professor Stanwick hummed a tune as he entered his own personal laboratory in the Institute of Karmic Research and Engineering of Vedria,  one of the most renowned research facilities in the entire world. So intent on reading the latest report from his experiments, he did not notice the lights; there shouldn’t be anyone in his personal laboratories, for he had been gone almost six months, overseeing a joint project with a few colleagues from Orlina at the behest of the High Lord, but he was too distracted to notice anything amiss, itchy as he was to catch up on his own personal projects. A metallic clang made him look up, and finally notice the lights on, and the lone man busy on the workbenches across the laboratory. “Viktor, is that you? I was not aware you had continued your projects in my absence. How did you get into my laboratory?”

“A simple trick with the lock, Professor. I apologise, but it was necessary for my research.” His voice was a coarse, metallic echo of what the Professor remembered, but that could be a consequence of long hours cooped inside the laboratory; Stanwick himself had already gone for days inside the lab, so focused on one project or another that he was. Of course, that had been when he was younger, and still had the energy to pass so long without food or sleep. Suppressing a fond smile for his apprentice’s antics, Stanwick forced his voice to be harsh. “And what research is that, Viktor? You were always brilliant, of course, but do not think that being the High Lord’s grandson will allow you special rights. Everyone must pave their own way in this Institute, and we allow no corners to be cut.”

“Oh, I intend to pave my way alright, Professor…. just not in this Institute.” Viktor said as he turned, and the Professor noticed for the first time the strange glimmer off of his body, previously obscured by his apprentice’s bulky cape, and gaped at the metallic mask that met him, instead of his apprentice’s face. “What… what have you done, Viktor?”

“Synthesis, Professor. The final frontier between Man and Machine, overcome at long last.”

“But… but… it shouldn’t be possible!”

“Ah, but it is, Professor, as I have always claimed, even though you and the other Professors were too blind to see.” There was no way to see it on his metallic face, but Viktor’s voice held the note of a triumphant smile as he reached out with his hand, extending it towards the Professor, “Now, I will open your eyes. Relinquish the flesh, Professor, and join me.”

“You go too far, Viktor! Don’t you see yourself in a mirror? You have become a monster!”

“A monster?” Viktor said, closing his outstretched hand into a metal fist, “No, fool, not a monster! I have become the herald of a new age, an age of steel and perfection! Embrace progress! Join my glorious evolution!”

“You are a madman! You must be stopped!” he began to step back, away from Viktor, eyes intent on him even while his hands groped the wall for the emergency button near his workbench that would set all of the alarms on the building singing and call the Legionnaires, “Don’t you see that this has changed you? You weren’t like this, Viktor!” His eyes widened as two additional arms emerged from Viktor’s back, lazily opening their palms towards him. They began to glow with an orange glimmer, and he knew then that his apprentice was no more, replaced by this steel monstrosity, and that he would not survive the night.

“No, you are the madman who does not see the future, you and all the rest of this Institute’s decadent Professors. You will not stop me. I am the first of many.”

His scream was muffled by the heavy walls of the laboratory.

Beyond the Walls

Mikhel furrowed his brow as he inspected the circuitry of the broken-down Device that Old Nily had brought him. He was only an apprentice Karma Engineer, and many conservationists criticised his “sloppy” methods, but he was also widely regarded as the best among the younger generation of Engineers of Illaryon. Not even he could make heads or tails of the mess Old Nily had brought, however; for starters, the thing was at least some eighty years old, and it didn’t seem to have seen a repairer’s hand in almost as much. Scratching his excuse of a beard, Mikhel contemplated his options; disassembling the whole thing and going from there had its merits, but the risk of permanently breaking it was high, and Old Nily was known to be stingy with his stuff – and his coin. On the other hand, there wasn’t much he could do if he didn’t know what the main problem was, either, and he didn’t want to waste so much time on trial and error while fixing the old machine; the “less sloppy” methods the conservationist Engineers preferred, using standardized tests for discovering the most well-known problems. Usually he would have loved the challenge of meddling with such old equipment, and proving the superiority of his methods was always fun, but today was his date with Lynn, and he absolutely must not be late for that. Things were not looking good for him, but Mikhel knew he couldn’t simply pass on this job, either; there was more than just the coin of it for him, as each succesful job increased his renown and increased his chances of being formerly recognized as a professional Karma Engineer.

Sighing, the young man took the small Core he used in his daily work, a beautiful little thing enhanced by himself which allowed him to Weave threads much thinner than he could without them, and also amplified the response of other Karmic circuitry; a very useful and handy tool to have with you while working. Carefully Mikhel probed the damaged Device with a wispy flow of Air, channelled through his Core and into each small nook and crane he could find in succession. This was one of the cruder methods of analysis, but also one of the safest; there was little chance of a bit of air damaging the inner workings of any of the Devices he knew. It was inevitable that, no later than a mere fifteen minutes into his checks, Mikhel had already lost himself to his work, applying increasingly complex Weaves containing tiny threads of other elements Woven together with Air, exploring not only the physical boundaries of the damaged Device but also its Karmic nature. Despite its condition of disrepair and its age, the Device was amazingly well-conserved, which made it easier for Mikhel to find his way around the old circuitry’s maze of effects and connections, thus resulting in him determining that the Device was actually malfunctioning because of a very simple short-circuit in one of its main components. It was a stroke of luck, truly, to have found the single piece that had broken down the entire Device so fast, but luck was a big part of Mikhel’s work, and he had come to accept it as natural.

Replacing the component took no longer than five minutes, and Mikhel was happy to see that the entire repair had taken him a little less than a full hour. He wouldn’t have all the time he had wanted to prepare himself, but at least he would be able to take a bath and change into a nice set of clothes before going to meet Lynn. Not that she was one to put too much stock into clothes, but anything he could do to impress her was welcome; this was one of the areas where he absolutely must not trust to luck, and where he absolutely had no experience with. He didn’t even know how he had mustered the courage to ask her out, or what she had on her mind when she said yes. Mikhel was not one to discuss with his luck, however, and it was with a grin on his face that he dropped the fixed Device in the small box behind the small shop’s counter, already addressed to Old Nily. Kidd would care of delivering it later that night; he took care of repairs, and Kidd dealt with deliveries, while their foster father ran the shop proper and dealt with finances. All thoughts of the shop or the Device fled Mikhel’s head as he climbed the stairs at the back of the shop, leading to their home, with a grin plastered on his face. He couldn’t contain his excitement.

A quick bath was followed by a lengthy perusal of his clothes, none fancy or expensive. Hard to impress Lynn with what he had, but Mikhel had to work with what he was given. Choosing the less battered of his black trousers, he passed on his usual hardy leather coat in favour of a more gentlemanly grey linen shirt, the best he had, in addition to the sky-blue scarf he had gotten as a birthday present and never really gotten used to wearing – that was why it was still brand new, unlike the rest of his second-hand clothes. Whistling to his own image in the mirror, Mikhel felt confident for the first time since Lynn had accepted his invitation, and a smile bloomed in his lips. Picking out the flowers he had bought for her, he checked the final minor details, making sure everything was just so, and departed to the Mozarra Square, where they had agreed on meeting.

It began while he was still in the streets. The earth began to shook, the sky turned red and green in turns and all around him people screamed, people ran, people died. Mikhel had heard the news about yet another foolish army camping at their doorstep, doomed to fail in conquering the unconquerable city, and yet scenes from his worst nightmares unfolded in front of his eyes, buildings crumbling and the earth being torn asunder by the strength of the invaders. Tossing his carefully-picked flowers aside, Mikhel sprinted the remaining distance towards the Mozarra Square, arriving in time to see a wide-eyed Lynn frantically trying to understand what was happening around her, frantically trying to find safety in the middle of the chaos and destruction. A sigh of relief escaped his lips as he saw that she was still alive; he would get her to somewhere safe, and they would get through this attack somehow. She turned in his direction, and her eyes filled with hope as she began to run towards him.

A shaft of Fire and Lightning descended from the heavens, a spear of death and destruction, tearing through Lynn’s stomach and exploding at her feet, throwing her into the air. Mikhel screamed, rushing to her side as she muttered his name and blood flowed from her mouth and the wound at her stomach.

“Citizens of Illaryon, hear me out. I am Dorian Belzess, Commander of the Armies of Dusk. Your Shinning Walls lay like rubble at my feet, and your soldiers dead at my hands. Your city has fallen. Avoid further grief and destruction by submitting yourselves to my rule and forfeiting all previous allegiances; none that do so will be harmed.”

Hot tears streamed through Mikhel’s face as he held on with all of his strength to the dying moments of Lynn, as she tried to say something that would not come up due to all of the blood and the pain, as she smiled sadly and whispered gently “I love you,” and as her hand finally fell away and her eyes glazed over in the eternal rest of the dead. He screamed then, a scream that tore through his throat and his entire being, cursing the heavens, cursing the earth, cursing the man who had killed his love, “Burn you, Dorian Belzess! Burn you and your Armies to the ground!”

The Lopar People

One of the several minor cultures/societies that live on the outskirts of the spheres of influence of the League of Empires, the Lopar are a collection of tribes that live in a chain of islands – the Lopar Isles – close to each other, and they are a generally reclusive and aloof people, distancing themselves from the struggles of the greater powers. There are individual Lopar who travel away from their homelands, but those are few and far between; for the majority of the rest of the world, they remain mysterious and misunderstood figures. Even though the Lopar tribesmen are humans just like the rest of the world, their different culture and particular genetic and Karmic inheritance lead to strange tales and distrust; a Lopar is taller than most other humans, male or female, having an average height of above 1.80 meter, and due to their wilder (sometimes viewed as backwards) style of living, generally have tougher builds as well. Their hair is generally raven-black or dark blue, and eye shadings tend towards the darker spectrum as well, and males and females alike have a higher density of bodily hair than usual, which together with their costume of dressing in natural leathers, scales and furs, disregarding any clothing that cannot be found in a natural animal, like silks or linen, has led to many tales of savages and wildmen by wide-eyed explorers and sailors who didn’t have previous knowledge about the people they had found.

Each island in the Lopar Isles is home to a small number of loosely-related small tribes, varying from a few dozen to a couple hundred people; usually there are about a dozen or so tribes in each island. Each tribe is completely independent and self-sufficient, but the tribes from the same island consider each other like distant relatives, and as such there is always trade and mutual help on hard times. Trade with Lopar tribes from other islands is harder to come by, but not uncommon, while any interaction at all with outsiders is a rare sight; it is not that the Lopar are aggressive or refuse outsiders, exactly, but that they have an imposing figure and a general dislike for those who do not follow their ways, which creates difficulties for interactions with the outside world.

Each tribe is led by a Chief, responsible for the day-to-day affairs of the tribe, solving disputes, and making decisions that involve all the tribe, and a Shaman, responsible for the spiritual guidance of the tribe and the communication with the tribe’s Patron Scion. It is also a custom for the Chief and Shaman to be married, which symbolizes the tribe’s mundane and spiritual guidance being in concert. When matters that affect the whole island must be discussed, all the Chiefs and Shamans convene together in the Summit, where decisions must be reached by consensus. Each Summit also elects a Great Chief and a High Shaman, who convene (together with their spouses, if the chosen ones are not from the same tribe) with the other Great Chiefs and High Shamans in the Great Summit for matters that involve the entire Lopar People. In the event that a crisis is so great that a leader must be chosen out, they vote to elect a Chief of Chiefs and a Grand Shaman from among the Great Chiefs and High Shamans, who shall then lead the Lopar throughout the crisis.

The Karma inheritance of the Lopar People, and one of the reasons outsiders fear them, is their unmatched ability with manipulating natural Karma and internal Weaving, being able to enhance their own bodies beyond limits in feats that would be thought impossible by other people. Each Lopar tribe has a contract with a Karma Scion that takes the form of an animal aspect of nature, and each individual Lopar from that tribe can draw upon their Patron’s Karma to fuel exploits such as increasing their endurance or sharpening their sight, following the natures of their animal Patron. An individual Lopar who is blessed with a personal contract with an animal Scion can go as far as changing his body into the form of his partner’s animal, or into a beastly humanoid form somewhere in-between his natural human form and his partner’s animal form, which is extremely powerful. Few are blessed with such a personal connection with a Karma Scion, however, and every individual who is so acknowledged by a Scion rises to prominence among the tribes.

-JNicolini