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Campaign Creation => Homebrews => Topic started by: Steerpike on May 24, 2011, 04:22:55 PM



Title: Mytholith
Post by: Steerpike on May 24, 2011, 04:22:55 PM
Mytholith

Confrontation

In the circle of boar's blood, in the scabrous no man's land between the Moanlands of sallow grass and stunted skulltrees and the miasmic, moss-ridden undergrowth of Tatterwood, the two champions studied one another with wary deliberation, their respective tribes massed behind them, watching and waiting.

One of the warriors was noticeably bigger than the other, his muscles swollen with stolen brawn.  He grinned, revealing teeth fine and sharp as needles, uncannily long.  His tribe were the Flesh-Eaters: through ritual anthropophagy they absorbed the strength of fallen foes.  Their witch-doctors all had overlarge skulls and twisted necks made crooked by the weight of reappropriated brains taken from the heads of rival shamans, while their women were eerily sensual, become outrageously voluptuous by ghoulishly feasting on maidens taken captive in raids. The wide-hipped Flesh-Eater beauties jeered lasciviously at the men of the rival tribes, exuding a pheromone reek of fecundity gleaned from the wombs of the dead.  Behind them the Flesh-Eaters' zemi stood like macabre statues, built not of carven stone or clay or mud or polished wood like the automata of other tribes but of bones lashed with sinew, notched and splintered with gnaw-marks, ideoglyphs glistening as the slave-spirits bound within their marrow purred with anticipation.

The Flesh-Eater champion flexed his absurd musculature and twirled a heavy axe of etched stone.  The Flesh-Eaters had no metallurgy: their tools and weapons were all of bone, wood, or stone, never copper or bronze or sky-metal.  The little armour they favoured was of wood or hide, though the champion wore none, the better to display his grotesquely prodigious physique.  Thick scars - some of them the trophies of battle, others intricately curving ritual marks - crisscrossed his bare arms and chest.  His eyes smouldered with bloodlust and horrible hunger.

The other champion, leaner and smaller of stature, had gris-gris of his own: a necklace of eyes, pulled from the sockets of sabre-toothed cats, pickled, and strung like beads on a leather cord, augmented his peripheral vision and sharpened his perceptions; a locket made from a seashell, containing a crimson pearl drawn from the depths of the Bloody Sea, lent him courage; woad slathered on his bare flesh protected it from wounds.  A chitin cuirass fashioned from the shell of a molluscoid warrior he'd slain on one of the Fangs armoured his torso.  He used a sword of polished obsidian he'd made himself from a shard taken from the Wyrmwaste.  He would have preferred to use his gonne, a thing of bamboo and fired clay, but serpentine weapons were forbidden in such duels.  A bone dagger at his waist was his only other weapon.

His tribe were one of the Nameless: nomads, one of the itinerant mercenary clans who wandered from the Caul to the Worldwyrm's Tail and all the lands between, living by hunting and foraging or by bartering goods and services with those they came across.  In this instance another local tribe, the so-called Children-of-the-Crow (black of eye and hair, with shamans who knew the tongues of birds), had hired them to contest a part of the Moanlands with the Flesh-Eaters of Tatterwood.  The Flesh-Eater Elders (who gorged themselves on the meat of children, to rejuvenate their youth) had blustered and gnashed their jagged teeth, but when it became clear that the Children's new protectors would be ready to meet them in open battle they'd agreed to settle the dispute by single combat: if their champion was killed, they'd have no choice but to cede the disputed territories.  By the sacred laws that all knew and honoured they'd be cursed if they violated the covenant: their women would grow barren, their warriors would wither, their babes would sicken and die, their water would sour and their food would putrefy.

The Flesh-Eater's grisly grin suddenly vanished, replaced by a look of bestial rage, and the man-shaped horror darted forwards, axe held high.  His opponent, having read the warrior's movements, tumbled aside while slicing with his blade of black glass, ripping open the Flesh-Eater's abdomen.  The hulking brute's weapon hit the dry earth and produced a plume of fine, brown dust; his wound glistened, bleeding profusely.  Ignoring the cut the gigantic fighter swivelled and hacked again with startling speed.  This time the vagabond champion's necklace saved him, the preserved eyes seeming to swivel slightly on their thong, sending a flicker of vision to the Nameless warrior's mind.  He turned the blow with his sword, showering the combat-circle with sparks.  With a deft twist of the blade he circumvented the Flesh-Eater's counter-parry and hewed the cannibal's hand from his wrist.  Hand and axe fell to the ground as a sanguine jet gushed from the stump.

Howling in rage and pain the Flesh-Eater bounded forward, bearing the Nameless champion to the ground.  His yellow teeth gleamed: he fastened his jaws round the man's neck, but the bluish paint the mercenary tribesman had daubed himself with toughened his skin, and the Flesh-Eater bit in vain.  His sword-arm pinned, the Nameless warrior grabbed his bone dagger.  While the Flesh-Eater scrabbled with his teeth the vagabond brought the small blade up and jabbed it decisively into his assailant's ear.  The Flesh-Eater snarled, and then his eyes grew dull, the flames within them doused.

The surviving champion hefted the larger warrior's huge body off his own while the shamans intoned their chants, consecrating the victory.  The skeletal Flesh-Eater automata made hissing sounds as they ate the fallen warrior's ghost.  Without this consumption the Flesh-Eater's spirit would haunt the battleground forever, or else dog his killer and plague his dreams.

Rubbing his neck, the Nameless champion returned to his tribe.  Because of him they would eat well for a month: the Children-of-the-Crow would throw them a feast and ply them with as much food as they could spare.  They would have to make it last: next his tribe planned to cross the Plain of Sinews where the beasts were gaunt, meatless things, the puppets of wicked demons, and the only plants were poisonous creepers that tried to strangle any who came near.  Beyond lay lush regions where game was plentiful, but the journey there was a daunting one.  Vagrant tribes like his were doomed to wander until they found their Names; they could not stay in one place for more than a month, and already the moon grew gibbous...
Themes
   
Youth

The world is a callow, raw thing, still slick with the afterbirth of creation.  The primordial chaos from which it was spawned is not yet a distant memory.  Monstrous beasts of primeval dimensions and colossal hunger roam the land, devouring all that they find.  This is also a world of abundance and pristine, all but untouched grandeur: the mountains have not yet been hollowed of ore, the forests not yet mutilated, the seas unpoisoned by the effluent of cities.  Indeed, the only true cities are those of certain elder beings that predate humanity: denizens of the deep seas and the bowels of the earth, whose surface-dwellings are but outposts of largely unseen empires.

Humans, a young race even by the standards of the newborn world, share the land with many other peoples, such as the the sly, conniving Ophidians (who are said to slither freely between this world and the world of dreams), the calculating, inscrutable Trog, and various enigmatic insect-peoples, to name a few.  Still, however, the world is mostly a wild and empty place, the land untamed and unexplored.  Countless new discoveries await any who dares to stray beyond the bounds of inchoate civilization.

Animism

Everything has a spirit: a tree, a river, a mountain, a field of grass.  A thousand little gods fill the world; placate them or suffer the consequences.  Animals speak their own languages which other beings can learn, with effort. The souls of the dead can linger, if they died violently; even those that pass on can be dredged from the limbo-muck where they await reincarnation.  Spirits can be harnessed and trapped as well as communed with: bound within fetishes and totems, or even into living flesh.

Ingenuity (and Anachronism!)

Humanity's gift is that of inventiveness.  Though steel has never been forged and crafting using iron or base metals is still a poorly understood art, the steppes and forests echo with the rattle of firearms, bamboo hand-cannons and ceramic firespitters and copper cannons that hurl stone balls.  Daring pilots take to the skies in balloons of tanned hide, rickety gyropters, and intricate hang-gliders.  Mechanical automata animated by medicine men labour to stack mud bricks for houses or dig canals for nascent irrigation systems.  Some shamans use drugs and strange witcheries to augment their minds so powerfully as to allow for near-precognition; others commune with megaliths bound with thousands of souls, stone repositories of countless memories that function like databases for those who know the appropriate pass-rites.  So-called dreamwalkers nightly enter the nebulous realm of Dreamspace, refashioning their mental avatars into myriad shapes, communicating with one another over vast distances.

Survival

There are no castles to retreat to; there are no battlements to cower behind.  Monstrosities, vengeful gods, malignant demons, savage enemy tribesmen, and a million hungry beasts fill the world with perils.  Few tribes have developed proper agriculture: hunting and gathering is still the norm, leading to a feast-and-famine existence.  Storms, drought, and cold weather can decimate entire communities.  Pestilence, sometimes spread by the horrific servants of Nirgali, claims many daily, despite the efforts of healers.  This world is red in tooth and claw: compassion is a luxury, and frequently one must kill or be killed.

Adventure

Play as a witch-doctor laden heavily with gris-gris and speak to the spirits of the ancestors; as a hunter who can switch skins with the strange beasts he pursues; as a brave who wields a pair of sophisticated ceramic pistols; as a 'walker who taps into the forbidden archives of innermost Dreamspace; as a demon imprisoned in a body of etched stone; as a ghost on a quest for vengeance; as a humanoid serpent.

Evade capture by the slavers of the Ophidian Empire and steal gemstones and hexed weapons from mysterious cromlechs.  Barter with the misshapen folk of the Carrion Kingdom that lies in the bowels of the earth, trading hides or knowledge for their wondrous, sinister machines.  Fight rival tribesmen in treetop villages with hurled curses, bone crossbows, or bamboo hand-cannons.  Take to the skies on the back of trained wyrms or giant dragonflies or strapped into some intricate, unlikely vehicle; explore the Sky Mountains that float amongst the clouds.  Wander the coral fortresses and shadowy grottoes of slithering deep-dwellers in a bitumen-smeared wooden submersible beneath the Gurgling Sea.  Outwit one of the mischievous Tricksters or seek out Grandmother Spider to receive her cryptic wisdom.

Geography

Most of the world is unexplored: there are still whole continents uninhabited by humans.  The central inhabited continent is Mu, which extends from the Caul - a mountain range in the polar north - to the Worldwyrm's Tail, a cape in the extreme south.  Major landmarks include the Tree of the Heavens, a vast cedar tree at the center of the Omphalos Forest, said to be the 'Navel of the World': here a human proto-city thrives, dwellings and workshops and temples suspended in its branches and linked by swaying bridges, or else carved into its gigantic trunk.  Also of note is the Wyrmwaste, a huge plain of ash and obsidian riddled with active volcanoes, many of which are Wyrm-lairs.  Two smaller island-continents flank the central landmass of Mu: to the northwest is Thule, cold and grim, whose pale, vicious folk are marauders and skilled sailors, while to the southeast is Lemuria, a lush, tropical land under the rule of the Ophidian Empire.

Technology


Gunpowder, in the form of serpentine powder, is fairly well understood: it was developed after a shaman mixed together crystalline bat guano deposits (nitrate of potash), brimstone, and charcoal.  Consequently, those tribes with territories near to sulphur deposits tend to employ firearms the most, and sell gunpowder to other tribes.  Matchlock mechanisms are the most common, but crude wheellocks and even flintlocks with frizzens of fire-hardened sky-metal are also occasionally seen.  Grenades and rockets are also widespread; incendiary weapons - firespitters and the like - are likewise not unusual.

Electricity is not yet fully understood as a physical force, but batteries made from terracotta, vinegar, copper, and sky-metal are used by some tribes, allowing for the construction of arc-lamps, electrified fencing, and even electroshock weapons.  Analog calculators - known as Sortilege Mechanisms - are far rarer, but do exist, mostly being used to assist in mathematical and astronomical calculations; generally, such machines are built of bronze, but some have stone components.  While automata exist in great numbers, their sentience and animation is derived from slave-spirits bound within them rather than from pure mechanics.

Manned flight has been achieved in a variety of fashions.  Most common are hot air balloons of tanned hide and crude hang gliders made of leather, wood, bone, and bronze.  More elaborate flyers are somewhat rarer but still far from uncommon: gyropters and ornithopters, rickety things powered by battery, gunpowder charges, compressed air, or simple manpower.  Ground vehicles are rarer: horses and other domestic riding animals are widely available, and wagons and rickshaws are used to transport goods and people.

Solar power is widely utilized in sunny regions, especially in the form of solar ovens.  Some settlements sport enormous defensive burning mirrors which, when properly tilted, concentrate the sun's rays to devastating effect.  Burning lenses are also used to cauterize wounds and to power large furnaces for the smelting of metals.

Out of Character

What the hell is this?  I don't know yet, really, but for a long time I'd been toying with the idea of dong a sort of 'spiritual prequel' to the Cadaverous Earth set at the very beginning of a world rather than at the end.  There are several primordial/Hyborian/Bronze Age settings already out there on the site, though (the Bronze Age, Arga, Primeval), but I was recently replaying Zeno Clash (http://cache.gawker.com/assets/images/kotaku/2009/10/zenoclash.jpg) and started wondering about the possibilities of true Neolithic Fantasy and "Stonepunk"... let me know what you think!

EDIT: Is the title good?  Any other ideas?


Title: Mytholith
Post by: O Senhor Leetz on May 24, 2011, 04:43:29 PM
a mi me gusta mucho.


Title: Mytholith
Post by: LD on May 24, 2011, 05:14:15 PM
Seems fun; but-->

>>There are no castles to retreat to; there are no walls to cower behind. Monstrosities, vengeful gods, malignant demons, savage enemy tribesmen, and a million hungry beasts fill the world with perils.

If they don't have anywhere to develop safely, how do they have enough time to build their tanned hide balloons? I suppose that the technology is just created quickly and transiently, but it would appear to require some time to settle down in order for inventors to have a chance to invent. Similarly, a division of labor seems to be needed a bit, which implies either extremely efficient hunter-gatherers, or an agricultural society.  You later mention that there are clay houses... why aren't these houses surrounded by city walls? It's a similar concept- even Mesa Verde had walls and protection.


Title: Mytholith
Post by: Steerpike on May 24, 2011, 05:30:15 PM
Good point about the total lack of walls... they probably would have walls of brick or wood.  I tweaked the description.

Labour-wise, they have the automata to do most of the really hard physical work, which frees up a lot of time for invention.  Likewise automata (zemi) could supplement a tribe's warriors to help protect a settlement.

There is a bit of agriculture here and there, but like metallurgy it's still emergent and fairly uncommon.

I do see the world as having some hotly contested areas of near-Edenic plenty as well as barren deserts and the like, so those tribes who manage to take and hold the most resource-rich areas would probably have the best inventions as a result, since less time needs to be devoted to feeding themselves.

EDIT: The Populous series of games are also in my head with this...

Also, you're spot on that the tech should have a hasty and cobbled-together feel, with a very DIY punk sensibility.


Title: Mytholith
Post by: TheMeanestGuest on May 24, 2011, 07:16:42 PM
Impressive as usual. Very evocative language, and prominent and visceral themes. Both help me get a really great feel for the setting without you actually presenting too much information.

You say gods are young and innumerable. How about for the older civilizations, 'the deep ones'? Are their gods more established, do they even have any, are they themselves transcendent in a way? Just some things I'm curious about!


Title: Mytholith
Post by: Steerpike on May 24, 2011, 07:21:29 PM
Stuff to ponder.  I'm thinking the gods of various elder civilizations will be more of the Lovecraftian and aloof variety than the petty gods of rock and tree that crowd the earth.  The Saurians (think evolved velociraptors crossed with the lizardfolk of Warhammer) worship their kings as gods.


Title: Mytholith
Post by: LD on May 24, 2011, 11:38:31 PM

Quote


Good point about the total lack of walls... they probably would have walls of brick or wood.  I tweaked the description.

Labour-wise, they have the automata to do most of the really hard physical work, which frees up a lot of time for invention.  Likewise automata (zemi) could supplement a tribe's warriors to help protect a settlement.

There is a bit of agriculture here and there, but like metallurgy it's still emergent and fairly uncommon.

I do see the world as having some hotly contested areas of near-Edenic plenty as well as barren deserts and the like, so those tribes who manage to take and hold the most resource-rich areas would probably have the best inventions as a result, since less time needs to be devoted to feeding themselves.

EDIT: The Populous series of games are also in my head with this...[/quote]
Good inspiration source.

Also maybe for future inspiration: The Humans http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Humans
And are your gods similar to those in Turtledove's Between the Rivers... http://www.amazon.com/Between-Rivers-Harry-Turtledove/dp/0812545206 They sound similar; and I think that is an excellent way to execute them.


Title: Mytholith
Post by: Kindling on May 25, 2011, 05:22:45 AM
I think I like this best out of all your non-CE settings to date.


Title: Mytholith
Post by: Steerpike on May 25, 2011, 01:48:11 PM
Yeah, the paradisaical locations would be sort of Great Valleyish.  Maybe I should make them genuinely preternatural in some way?  Perhaps a resident spirit of some kind infuses the land with vitality?

With regards to the gods, I was thinking sort of like a chop suey of shinto, Native American, Celtic, Greek, and Sumerian mythology.  An array of animistic minor 'deities' or demigods would fill the world, with more powerful gods ruling over portfolios.  The gods are definitely real in some form or another, even if the beliefs around them aren't always 100% correct.

Glad you like it, Kindling!

Question: should there be dinosaurs at all?  I was thinking more prehistoric megafauna and the like, plus a lot of primordial fantasy beasts.  Obviously the setting isn't realistic, but I feel like dinosaurs might be a bit too campy to include.  Despite some superficial similarities and a hint of tongue-in-cheek humor I want to avoid a Flintstones kitschy feel.


Title: Mytholith
Post by: Weave on May 25, 2011, 02:03:26 PM
I'm all for having big, primordial beasts rampaging around, but if they were referred to as dinosaurs I'd be a little turned off. I think even if I saw a big, stunted arm, bipedal, sharp-toothed green lizard that's called a "Bonecrusher" or something, I'd still be a little wishy washy about it.

I think the concept of having big, prehistoric animals is good, but I think it deserves to be executed in a more "CE" (or, in this case, "Mytholith") style.


Title: Mytholith
Post by: Magnus Pym on May 25, 2011, 02:13:03 PM
Damn, that definitely brings me back to Primeval. Except, the writing is far better.

I shall be following this for sure. Too bad I'm too busy to work on my own.

Edit: I carefully reread everything and it's much better than I had first thought!
Stonepunk... just awesome!


Title: Mytholith
Post by: Steerpike on May 25, 2011, 02:15:22 PM
OK, cool.  The closest thing to dinosaurs then will be the lizardfolk-type people, who wouldn't be out of place in a fantasy setting anyway.  They will be kinda like this (http://suptg.thisisnotatrueending.com/archive/14571245/images/1302656939629.jpg), or this (http://i.neoseeker.com/mgv/467547-emperor_ren/547/2/blackscale_lizardfolk_display.jpg).


Title: Mytholith
Post by: Ghostman on May 25, 2011, 03:10:07 PM
Are there any large flying beasts then? I think pterodactyls (given an appropriately flavored name) would be a nice touch for this kind of world, even if there are no dinosaurs. Cooler than plain giant birds, anyway.


Title: Mytholith
Post by: Steerpike on May 25, 2011, 03:11:39 PM
I think maybe there might be dragony things somewhere between pterodactyls and wyverns.


Title: Mytholith
Post by: Steerpike on May 25, 2011, 04:31:28 PM
Sketch... going for a slightly smudged "cave painting" look (but obviously more detailed).  Very gently NSFW.

(http://imageshack.us/m/9/6362/scan0002mq.jpg)


EDIT: And, because the only thing better than one bodacious cavewoman gunslinger is two bodacious cavewoman gunslingers, here's a second... I promise the next one will be of a dude...

(http://imageshack.us/m/88/1381/scan0001rt.jpg)


Title: Mytholith
Post by: Steerpike on May 26, 2011, 02:27:47 PM
Stonepunk "bionics":
(http://img39.imageshack.us/img39/1515/scan0003kpz.jpg)


Title: Mytholith
Post by: Xathan on May 26, 2011, 04:34:15 PM
Okay, I was skeptical on how this whole thing would look...but that artwork is awesome and really makes me want to see/hear more about this setting. I mean, damn, that's about 100 different kinds of awesome. Will have more detailed later, just want to say I now love this setting.

BTW: mind if I borrow the idea of stonepunk? I'm feeling inspired by this and want to try my own twist on it - with your permission, of course.


Title: Mytholith
Post by: Superfluous Crow on May 26, 2011, 04:35:41 PM
Wow, didn't know you were such a skilled artist. Pretty good drawings. Although I can't help but wonder why the second gunwoman is wearing frilled leopard gloves :p
Also, what are the bionics in the last picture? the right arm?
I can't quite decide what I think about this. The concept is cool, but it could end up either very good or very bad depending on which direction you take it. I would perhaps try and make some of the allusions to the modern world less obvious e.g. not say that the dreamwalkers "hack" and such.


Title: Mytholith
Post by: LD on May 26, 2011, 05:52:01 PM
>>Wow, didn't know you [Steerpike] were such a skilled artist.

So quickly you forget Steerpike's Goblin! Series? :D.

The link seems to be broken in his signature though :( http://thecbg.org/e107_plugins/forum/forum_viewtopic.php?68868.post

This one works, however:
http://www.thecbg.org/PLUGIN_DIR/forum/forum_viewtopic.php?68868.post


Title: Mytholith
Post by: Steerpike on May 26, 2011, 10:18:59 PM
Thanks for the feedback, guys!

I replaced 'hack' with 'tap,' Crow.  Frilled leopard gloves felt both sort of punk and sort of stone age :P.  The 'bionics' are indeed the right arm of magically reanimated stone.

[blockquote=Superfluous Crow]I can't quite decide what I think about this. The concept is cool, but it could end up either very good or very bad depending on which direction you take it.[/blockquote]
Heh interesting.  Is it the potential for 'modern stone-age family' stuff that would make the setting potentially disastrous?

Xathan, you can definitely run with the idea of stonepunk - I didn't invent the term, though usually it's invoked to describe old stuff like the Flintstones and campy '70's cavewoman flicks.



Title: Mytholith
Post by: Superfluous Crow on May 27, 2011, 05:15:57 AM
I think the potential for disaster lies in this mirroring the real world too closely, with magic just directly taking the place of every modern technology. Like in some (bad) high fantasy settings where they have what are essentially magic telephones, magic tv's, magic cars etc.
The technologies have to fit in with the world and seem as though they sprang from the very tone, theme and core of the setting even if they are veiled anachronisms.
An idea like the database-monolith is pretty perfectly executed, but the Dreamscape is currently walking on the edge.
On another note entirely, I would probably rename the Saurians. It's just a very old school name and doesn't fit too well with the ingenuity of the rest of the setting.
I hope I don't come off as too critical. I like the concept and hope you will keep working on it!


Title: Mytholith
Post by: Steerpike on May 27, 2011, 10:30:04 AM
No no, criticism is good!  I will think up a new name for the Saurians or remove them altogether.

There will be no magic cars or telephones.  Promise.


Title: Mytholith
Post by: Superfluous Crow on May 27, 2011, 11:02:01 AM
I notice the bionic warrior holds a shrunken head. What are they good for in this strange world? Spirit-companions? Fragile containers of valued memories? Occult life-sucking weapons?


Title: Mytholith
Post by: Steerpike on May 27, 2011, 11:13:13 AM
I think for the most part shrunken heads will contain the spirits of defeated enemies which can be compelled into service.  Real world head-shrinking practices generally were a measure to protect oneself against vengeful ghosts.

EDIT: the Ophidians are now the evil empire.  Might find a place for lizardfolk elsewhere.


Title: Mytholith
Post by: Superfluous Crow on May 27, 2011, 12:37:06 PM
I don't know why exactly, but I think Aboleth or some variation thereof would fit well in the setting. They are both primeval and sinister.
Having shamans I assume your world also contains necromancy to some degree. I assume this is of the speak-with-dead variety and associated with less stigma than in most settings?
I would also like to hear more about the spirit-construct practices you've mentioned and the funeral rites associated with a world where spirits roam freely.


Title: Mytholith
Post by: Steerpike on May 27, 2011, 12:46:46 PM
Yeah, lots of necromancy.  I will do some write-ups on magic at some point for sure.

Aboleth-like primordial deep-dwellers are a must.  Like most projects of mine, Lovecraftian elements are an inevitability.


Title: Mytholith
Post by: Superfluous Crow on May 28, 2011, 05:33:55 AM
Are there countries/subjugated territories or does everyone live as part of semi-nomadic cultures?


Title: Mytholith
Post by: Steerpike on May 28, 2011, 02:14:31 PM
There will be some proto-empires, but most will be under the sea or underground.  A couple will be above ground but they won't be human.

I was thinking also of having a quasi-city inside and on the branches of a gigantic tree, with various tribes occupying different areas and effectively becoming castes.  The tree would be a trade-meet/market-hub where various nomadic tribes and other merchants would gather.


Title: Mytholith
Post by: Steerpike on May 31, 2011, 07:02:19 PM
Random thingy I wrote...

The Caul

The air was so cold that Ogdar's phlegm froze in his nostrils.  Here, in the very foothills of the Caul - a range of mountains so unimaginably tall that, wisdom held, the stars made their homes at their peaks - temperatures were never above freezing, even during the long weeks of the midnight sun; now, however, was the time of night unending, when for months it seemed that the only light was the shimmer of spirits passing through the sky from this world to the one beyond the mountains.  It was said that some of the dead failed to make this journey, becoming lost in the twisted passes and dark valleys of the Caul.  These became ghosts, the wretched dead, who, pining for the next life, wandered restlessly back down the slopes.  A few of these, the shamans told, inveigled their way into human bodies during sleep: this was how Wendigo, the horrors Ogdar and his companions now hunted, were made.

For weeks now the cannibal monstrosities had stalked their reindeer-herders and mammoth-hunters.  Usually predators preferred to attack the reindeer or mammoths themselves: dire wolves and fangcats tended to avoid humans unless provoked.  Wendigo, however, scorned all but human meat.  A dozen men had already been claimed by the voracious creatures, carried off to some hidden lair in the upper hills where the trees dwindled and few things lived.  It was this den that the group of fur-clad humans sought.

Wendigo left almost no spoor, being soft-footed despite their enormous size.  They did not produce droppings: the flesh and bones they so greedily devoured was almost instantly added to their own bulk, with no waste excreted.  Young Wendigo were but twice or thrice the size of a man; elder Wendigo, the bethemothic giants of the cold waste, were said to tower over a hundred feet high, and were forced to sequester themselves in isolated fells, too large for the ice-caves favoured by their smaller ilk.  Often unable to hunt effectively, these miserable brutes became gaunt, emaciated things, skeletal, hairless, and shivering; their brethren were utterly without pity, the hungry spirits caring only for themselves and for the taste of raw flesh.

Ogdar held his firespitter tightly.  Somewhere below, in the depths of the black forest, a bull wapiti's whining bugle echoed, rebounding against the mountains.  The cry came back distorted and horrible, like the wail of someone dying.  The eerie scream made Ogdar's hair rise beneath his furs.

"Here," Yulik said, hunkered down and pointing to the barest suggestion of a footprint.  How Wendigo managed to step so lightly was a mystery.  "This is recent.  A few hours at most."  The tracker stood up, drawing his repeating crossbow.  Ogdar heard Urra murmur a prayer to the Antlered God, the caribou-spirit, asking him to guide them to their prey.  Her Tupilaq rustled disquietingly beside her, the charms that adorned its patchwork body of bones and leathery flesh rattling softly against one another.  The shackled spirit-thing turned its child's skull this way and that, the collar of narwhal horns and walrus tusks bristling from its neck gleaming in the hazy starlight.  Nhook, bringing up the rear, flexed his arms and muttered to himself; briefly, the skinwalker's limbs flickered, becoming those of a wolverine.  His eyes darkened, becoming black and bestial, pupils hugely dilated.  When the time for a fight came he would slough off his human form altogether.

A frozen mist lay heavily on the hills, shrouding the path ahead with white.  They had no torches, but the little talismans they carried - made from the skulls of cats - augmented their night vision.  The Tupilaq, of course, saw in some esoteric and profoundly inhuman way, its eyeless sockets staring into the cold gloom as it picked its way daintily over the rocks and snow on splayed bird's feet.  Following the quasi-tracks the cannibal once-humans left Yulik led them onwards and upwards, scrambling up inclines too steep to walk.  Once they leapt over a cleft in the rock that made Ogdar wish for his ornithopter (though, of course, its wing-struts would freeze at this temperature - and anyway, hauling a flyer up the slopes, even a small one, would be exceedingly cumbersome).  A smear of blood on a rock, dry but not yet the crusty brown of an old stain, confirmed that they were going the right way.

At last they reached the mouth of a cavern, a ragged mouth in the mountainside with icicles for fangs; a fetid carrion stench hung about the place.  Inching in with weapons ready, ears pricked to the slightest sound, they made their way into the cave.  Nothing sprung from the frigid darkness; no slavering monsters burst from the recesses of the caverns.

"Where are they?" Nhook growled, features shifting between those of beast and man.  "You're sure those tracks were fresh?"

"Yes," Yulik whispering insistently.  "Faint, but definitely recent.  Perhaps they're out hunting?"

"I don't think so," Urra said.  "Look."  She pointed to a dark lump sprawled behind an ice-boulder.  The group clustered round it: a Wendigo corpse, sprawled in a pool of dark blood.

"I'm going to risk some light," Ogdar muttered, slinging his weapon over his back and taking out his fire syringe.  A quick pump and he lit a torch, illuminating the cave and the Wendigo cadaver.  The immense body was half-eaten, horribly savaged; gnawed viscera spilled from its ruptured belly.

"Perhaps they set upon one another?" Nhook suggested.  "Got too hungry and started a feeding frenzy?"

"No," Urra said, shaking her head.  "Wendigo only eat humans, not other Wendigo.  Besides, have you ever heard of a Wendigo leaving anything half-eaten?"

"Look at these marks."  Yulik indicated deep gashes.  "They were made by claws and teeth, but of something smaller than the Wendigo itself."

"Bear?"  Ogdar speculated.  "Wolf?  Fangcat?"

"Animals avoid Wendigo," Urra said, again shaking her head, furrowing her brow.  "They can sense there's something wrong with their spirits."

"If not other Wendigo or beasts, then what?"

"I don't know.  Let's keep going; there may be Wendigo left alive."

The band pressed on into the cavern, encountering more partially devoured corpses - all of them Wendigo - and smears of blood.

"A body was dragged here," Yulik said, noting the path of one blood-trail.  "Whatever it was killed the Wendigo, they took their own dead with them."  He bent low, following the trail of blood.  Eventually the hunter led them to a narrow cleft.  "Too small for any but the smallest Wendigo to enter," he muttered.  The Tupilaq rattled itself as if it were shivering.

"Do we go in?" Nhook growled.

"Whatever can kill a pack of Wendigo is a potential threat to the tribe," Urra said.  "Yulik, you should lead, then Ogdar with the light, then Nhook, me, and the Tupilaq."

"Agreed."

Ogdar's heart hammered in his chest as he followed Yulik into the gap, walking sidelong, squeezing himself through the crack.

"I smell something strange," Nhook snarled.  "A musty foulness, neither animal nor man nor Wendigo."

The passage sloped downwards, deeper into the mountains, twisting and turning without widening.  After an eternity they entered a broader cavern, low-roofed and dank.

"Look," Yulik said, pointing at a wall where strange, spidery pictograms were etched.  "Markings of some kind.   They're intelligent, whatever they are." 

"I've heard stories," Urra said.  "Of the time before the last Age-of-Winter, when all the word was frozen.  They say that those tribes that lived amongst the foothills, as we do now, fled into the Caul and huddled in caves, safe from the blizzards and the fell ice-demons who stalked the earth above.  In the darkness they grew strange, consorting with the spirits that sleep beneath the earth, falling to worship them, to breed with them, or somehow mingle their souls with them..."

Something stirred in the dark; they heard a scrape of nails on stone.

"What was that?" Ogdar demanded, holding his torch higher.  Something pallid skittered away from the light; he caught only a glimpse of greyish-white flesh, the colour of snow at twilight.  "Yulik, you take the torch; I'm getting my 'spitter ready."

"We don't know how many there are," Yulik said warily, taking the torch carefully.  "I say we get out of here, come back with explosive charges from the village and blow the tunnel, seal the entrance."

"They might not be hostile," Urra argued.  "Sure they kill Wendigo, but so do we.  We might even see about trading with them."

"They didn't just kill those Wendigo," Nhook said.  "They ate them alive."

Urra opened her mouth to argue, but was hushed by Yulik's raised hand.  The hunter had moved a few steps forward into the cavern and peered into the blackness, torch raised.  The group stopped talking and listened; a chittering sound was audible, a clicking rodent noise.

"Get back to the tunnel," Yulik said quietly.  "Hurry!"

As he spoke they scuttled into the torchlight: a great swarm of creatures, running alongside one another cheek by jowl.  Small and stunted, they resembled horrific hybrids of bats, rats, and albino apes, with tufts of whitish fur, long, bony limbs, snout-like mouths crowded with teeth, and beady, vestigial eyes that gleamed blindly in the dark.  Huge whorled ears and snub, wrinkled noses added to the grotesquery of their features.  Despite the monstrosity of their faces there was something uncannily human about them - perhaps it was the way they looked at things, some deliberate quality to their scrutiny.  Hunched in the darkness, they looked almost like a group of children.

The multitude hissed and shifted, a morass of pale bodies pressed close.  They moved in quick insect bursts, abruptly scuttling together as a horde, in eerie synchronicity.

"They're cutting off our escape," Odgar said in alarm, as the creatures circled them.  He kept his firespitter levelled at the mass of subterranean things.  Nhook had assumed his bestial form, fur bristling, slaver dripping from his jaws; Urra chanted prayers to the bear-spirit to lend them strength.  Yulik waved the torch back and forth, crossbow butt in the crook of his arm.  They hastily retreated, but the creatures swarmed forwards on all fours, grasping hands glinting with claws.  Her chant finished, Urra spoke a word of command and the Tupilaq sprang forth to meet the chthonic monstrosities.  The slave-spirit bound to the amalgam construct roared and tore at the oncoming horde with bony fingers.  The creatures leapt atop the familiar and began tearing it apart, shredding its leathery flesh, ripping bones from its frame.

Half a dozen of the child-sized things barred the exit.  Nhook swept two aside with his paws; Yulik put a quarrel through the head of three others, pinning them to the cave-wall.  Urra, bone knife in hand, slashed at the remaining creature and it darted back, hackles rising.

As the Tupilaq fell, the rest of the hunters entered the cleft, Ogdar taking the rear, the pygmy horrors close behind.  As their pale, furry bodies squeezed into the tunnel Ogdar pumped his firespitter, spewing a great gout of blazing oil on the advancing creatures.  The dwarfish, misshapen things squealed in pain, their fur catching alight.

"Keep pumping!"  Yulik shouted as they hastened through the passage, moving as fast as they could with quick sideways steps.  Ogdar gritted his teeth and continued his incendiary spray; there was a smell of burning hair and flesh.  The scampering creatures continued their pursuit, clambering over the charred corpses of their brethren while Ogdar ceaselessly pumped out flaming oil.

"I'm running out of fuel!" Ogdar yelled, moving backwards and madly pumping.  The beings refused to retreat; they filled the passage, advancing quickly and easily, unbothered by the tightness of the tunnel.  When they neared the fleeing hunters they were consumed by flame.

There was a dry hissing sound as the firespitter pumped air.  Ogdar prepared to batter the first creature to approach with the stock of the weapon, but none came: the passage was choked with blackened bodies.  Behind the wall of incinerated dead he could hear the frustrated trills of the remaining creatures.

Ogdar exhaled.  "I think they're stuck for now."

The hunters followed the passage back into the Wendigo lair, their bodies beaded with sweat despite the chill.

"It seems the stories are true," Yulik said.

"I must build a new Tupilaq," Urra muttered.  "But first, the elders must hear of this..."


Title: Mytholith
Post by: TheMeanestGuest on May 31, 2011, 11:29:31 PM
The whole environment as you've described it gives the story a very real sense of oppression. A silent and sparse forest buried in snow leading to cold, ancient tunnels beneath impossibly tall mountains. Just the sort of thing that I like. Your monsters are great too, and, at least in my opinion, actually frightening. I especially like your take on Wendigo.

I think this is a setting that could be very interesting to play in.


Title: Mytholith
Post by: Steerpike on June 01, 2011, 11:37:43 AM
Thanks!  The Wendigo increasing in size with each person they eat is take from a genuine myth about them, so I can't take credit for that.

Everything I write ends up being horror...

EDIT: added some brief bits on geography and technology to the first post.  Basically stuff that current-day scientists and anthropologists love to speculate about - the Baghdad battery, Archimedes' burning mirrors, the Antikythera Mechanism, etc - are all present in one form or another and have been considerably refined, in the same way that steampunk settings often posit refined difference engines and the like.