You salvage the scrap from previous worlds, looking for a way to bring life back into them. You are the creator of sinister inventions, from deadly traps to small self propelled detonators.
Your cyphers allow you to overcome nearly any situation — and if you don't have the right one you need, you just might be able to create a new one on the spur of the moment. You create Scroungers, small animatronics who help you with remote tasks, often activating suspected traps or locating lost or hidden numenera.
Your passion for taking things apart is as strong as yours to put them together. This draws others to you, looking for assistance in disabling traps in ancient ruins. You sometimes have a reputation for being a dangerous companion, mostly from your tendency of detonating your Scroungers. However, you are not usually danger-prone. The real problem arises from carrying too many cyphers and even then mishaps and explosions do not occur as often as many believe.
Connection: Pick one other PC. This character can cause your Scroungers to act oddly. Every once in a while, if he stands directly next to you, your minions scurry away from him, but at other times, they seem attracted to him, crawling up and down his body.
Additional Equipment: You have a pair of Scrounger Goggles that provide an asset on search and identifying checks regarding numenera. These goggles also allow you to see through your Srounger's eyes.
Minor Effect Suggestion: The next task you perform through your Scrounger gains a +1 to the roll, or it does an additional 2 points of damage from detonation.
Major Effect Suggestion: The next task you perform through your Scrounger has its Difficulty Level reduced by one step, or it does an additional 4 points of damage from detonation.
Tier 1: Scrounger. You create a small Level 1 animatronic from an expended cypher. You can move the Scrounger remotely up to short distance in a round, but it never moves farther away from you than long distance. You can see through your Scroungers eyes by wearing your Scrounger Goggles, and can remotely search for and identify traps and numenera. Although they are Level 1 creatures, your Scrounger's attacks are reduced by one step, effectively making them non-combatants, but as Level 1 creatures, they have a target number of 3 and a health of 3. Its movement is based on the design type (walker, swimmer or flyer). If your Scrounger's is destroyed or detonated, you can create a new one in 1 hour. Each Scrounger that you create is considered a cypher when determining the number of cyphers you can carry. Action each turn to move, perform tasks or detonate.
Tier 2: Trapsmith. You are trained in identifying, crafting and disabling traps as well as lockpicking. The GM has the final say on the Difficulty Level, cost, time to build and effects of the traps you craft. Enabler.
Tier 3: Scout (3 Intellect Points). You can activate one of your Scrounger's to act as a scout. It can take it's own actions but must still stay within long range of you. When acting on its own, you make all the rolls for the Scrounger and it is considered specialized at stealth tasks. It can make lockpicking and and trap disabling tasks using your skill level. It can also detonate on its own. Action to activate.
Tier 4: Trapmaster. You are specialized in identifying, crafting and disabling traps as well as lockpicking. The GM has the final say on the Difficulty Level, cost, time to build and effects of the traps you craft. Enabler.
Repurpose (4 Intellect Points). You can cobble together two used cyphers to create a one shot ray emitter, attacking a target within long range. The emitter deals damage equal to half of each of the used cyphers levels combined. Action.
Tier 5: Sapper (5+ Intellect Points). You can move two or more of your Scroungers adjacent to a target within long range, detonating them all in unison. You make an attack against each creature in an immediate distance of the target, dealing 6 damage to each creature on a hit and half damage on a miss. You may add more Scroungers to the blast, each costing one level of Effort per Scrounger used, each one adding two addtional damage. The blast causes double damage to objects or structures. Action.
Tier 6: Improved Design. By using an unused cypher, you can create a Scrounger in 10 minutes. You can use the improved Scrounger to Scan an area as per the Level 1 Nano Esotery of the same name. In addition, the damage of its detonation is equal to the level of the cypher used to create it. Each improved Scrounger is only considered half a cypher when determining how many cyphers you can carry. Action to Scan, see Scroungers above.
Containment. Your maximum cypher capacity increases by two. Enabler.
SKRATT 2 (6)
A skratt is a small six legged animal no bigger than a man’s forearm. Its tail is as long as it’s body, but is made out of gray mist. The creature’s fur and its misty tail take on the brightness of the surrounding terrain, thus a skratt will be close to white on snow and black in a tar-pit. Skratts are silent predators who can see in the dark with their empty concave eye sockets. Skratts recoil from bright light.
Skratt are known to form temporary alliances with drebil.
Motive: Consuming blood and organs
Environment: Anywhere dark. Skratt prefer background radiation found in old ruins and can line their nests with numenera. They sometimes collect “shinies.”
Damage Inflicted: 3 points
Modifications: Skratt Sneak as level 4 (12) creatures.
Combat: Skratt typically retreat if they do not outnumber their prey by at least two to one, three to one or more if the prey is larger than they are. If cornered or if defending their nest Skratt will fight to the last. Skratt in numbers use the swarm rules (NWB 13).
A skratt harmed by a flaming weapon, including a torch, or a bright ray emitter will retreat to short distance for one round. A skratt whose health is reduced to 3 or less attempts to scurry off and escape into darkness.
When fighting a group of human sized foes, they will retreat if possible when their numbers no longer allow them to outnumber the humans by three to one or more.
Death Screech: When a Skratt dies in combat it emits a psychic screech that causes all other skratt to fight as two levels higher, inflicting double the normal damage for one round. Swarms will fight as four levels higher doing quadruple damage. If more than one die in the same round the effect lasts an extra round for every skratt killed but the other advantages do not stack.
GM Intrusion: A bite from a skratt can impart the bubbling sickness, dropping the victim one step down the damage track as well as causing damage.
Interaction: A skratt has the intelligence of an average five year old human and can speak in broken sentences using local languages. For this reason a skratt can be a source of information, having viewed the area from the darkness. In some cases, skratt have been known to befriend other thinking creatures.
Use: A noblewoman’s pendent has gone missing, as have other items in the area. It seems a skratt pack has moved into the local midden.
Loot: Because skratts collect shinies, a skratt lair includes a collection of junk but might also have 1d6-1 cyphers, 3d6 shins, and possibly an oddity.
Art to show players (sans mist-tail): http://www.deviantart.com/art/The-Swamp-Rat-316885154
Type Background: A Cobbled Jumble
Connection: Pick one other PC. That character shows interest in your firearm and you see potential in her ability to use it. You would like to train her, but you're not necessarily qualified to teach (that's up to you), and she might not be interested (that's up to her).
Might Edge: 0
Speed Edge: 1
Intellect Edge: 0
Cypher Use: She can carry two cyphers.
Tricks of the Trade:
Pierce (1 Speed Point): You deal 1 additional damage on a ranged attack.
Practiced in Armor: Reduce the Might and Speed pool cost of wearing armor by 2.
Flex Skill: Trained in one skill of choice each day.
Practiced in Light and Medium Weapons: Attacks with Heavy Weapons add one difficulty step.
Right Tool for the Job: You are always carrying light tools. Tools provide an asset for related Tasks.
Practiced in Medium and Heavy Firearms: You are can use Medium and Heavy firearms without increasing the difficulty level.
Gunslinger: You can spend Speed or Intellect points to use effort with firearm attacks.
Antiques: You are trained in crafting and repairing firearms and ammunition. Gun jams on a roll of 1, 2 or 3. Speed Effort needed to clear the jam.
Minor Effect Suggestion: Hit in a tendon or muscle, the target can't move on its next turn.
Major Effect Suggestion: Make an additional attack with your gun on your turn.
Trained in Repairing Clockwork Tasks. Can replace healing with this skill, for self healing.
Trained in Might Defense Tasks
Trained in Perception Tasks
Inability: Not Quite Human. The difficulty of any task involving charm, persuasion, or disguise is increased by one step. Increase the difficulty level of healing used on you by two steps.
Equipment: Explorers Pack, Light Tools
Money: 8 Shins
Armor: Leather Jerkin
Weapons: Well-Made Revolver (12 Rounds), Knife, Hammer
You may have been gravely injured or decided to make the leap of becoming something else, either way you sought out the Clockworkers. Whether partial or full conversion, you sought to become a perfect being, leaving the weakness of flesh in exchange for a body of metal, gears and springs.
Your torso and limbs may have been upgraded and/or fitted with a variety of hydraulics, pulleys and motors, but your brain remains unchanged. Your modifications can range anywhere from a single limb replacement, to full body prosthesis. People regard you now as something other than human.
1. You're acting as a bodyguard for one of the other PCs.
2. The clockworkers who rebuilt you asked you to help the PCs as a condition of repayment.
3. A colleague requested that you take part in the mission as a favor.
4. You suspect that the other PCs won’t succeed without you.
Numenera was the incontestable highlight of my 2013 Gen Con experience. I don’t know how I can go to Gen Con next year and top how great of a time I had with Numenera!!! Honestly, half of it was due to the people I played with and had never met: Troy, Nick, Yoshi and of course David Brown as the GM. The one person I knew at the table plays in a campaign that I run back home - Aaron. It was like the planets aligned because we had an all star lineup of players; who were able to dive deep into both their characters and the setting.
Oh, and I almost forgot gaming with Monte Cook was THE highlight… Did I mention that we got to play with Monte Cook as our GM? Oh!!! It almost didn’t happen for both us, because Aaron and I couldn’t find a room for another game. It was a total accident, because we didn’t use a damn map of the ICC, which I will get into later.
We had no plans to play Numenera. I mean, I knew that Numenera was an idea of Monte Cook. I had seen the video from the Kickstarter, but I didn’t realize it was going to be out for Gen Con. My life has been so hectic with work and vacations that I haven’t really been paying attention. Hell, I didn’t even finish the outfit I wanted for Gen Con, but that’s another story altogether.
Now, before I go into my time playing Numenera at Gen Con, I would like to give my background on gaming. I have been gaming since about ‘99. Primarily, my background has been in the D20 systems like D&D and Pathfinder. There had been a few D6 systems that I had played in the past. Primarily I am a GM in my groups. Rare is it that I have the chance to be a player. One of the things I love about going to a convention is the ability to play in a game and hopefully be in group with players who love my favorite aspect of the game: creative roleplaying.
Regardless of what systems and the numerous players that have played in the campaigns/adventures that I have run, there usually has been a mix between munchkiny power-gamers and storytellers, and sometimes a mix of both – (after all who doesn’t like rolling 20D6 just to add up the damage when they want to decimate someone/something, even if it is the player who took your last Mountain Dew without asking).
This was our first year at Gen Con. Not only that - Aaron was relatively new to roleplaying. My goal for us was to get as much exposure to the gaming hobby as possible. I was hoping that I could land under some GMs with more experience, that I could take some notes from for my own games back home. Especially since the only game Aaron had been exposed to was Pathfinder (at the con we had the opportunity to play 3 different games/settings - SUCCESS).
Before going to Gen Con there were several systems I wanted to look at. First, I wanted to check out the Shadowrun 5e. My group had played the quick start rules because we wanted some sci-fi adventure after all the fantasy we have been playing over the last two years. The other game I wanted to check out was Edge of the Empire – The pro of this game is that it’s the Star Wars that I know and love and the bad thing is that it is the Star Wars I know and love. Third, I wanted to test Mutants and Masterminds, which one of my friends not in my current campaign had said was an amazing supers game. Mainly, I wanted something that is not Pathfinder. After running 2 and a half campaigns that go from level 1-20; it was time for a change of pace. Needless to say, after playing Numenera, I can’t tell you what other game I plan to run in the next few months.
Thursday we were set to play two different games. We had a D20 Starship Troopers game early in the morning on Thursday, we made sure to have a big long wait between that first game and our second game, Mutants and Masterminds (Which was one of the games I anticipated most before the Con). After our first game which was so-so, the first booth we went to was Catalyst labs. Aaron said he was going to pick up Shadowrun 5e. Since he was going to do that I chose not to. Instead we went to look at Fantasy Flight’s booth. For those that did not attend, the booth had multiple human-posts because the line was so gawdawful long. I didn’t step foot inside for neither board games nor Edge of the Empire, which was on the top of my list. I wanted to wait until I played Mutants and Masterminds before I picked up the book (Which was very tempting after talking to the guys at Green Ronin).
Finally, we came to DriveThruRPG/Monte Cook’s booth.
After mulling through the Numenera book, and remembering the Kickstarter for it, I decided to buy it. Now, this wasn’t a random buy just because it wasn’t on the list of books I wanted to buy. Monte Cook had created one of the most memorable books in my gaming youth. Besides D&D 3.0, Arcana Unearthed is one of my most favorite books of all time. That book is what made me look outside the D&D 3.0 ruleset for the first time. I think it was also the first time the word “variant” entered into my vocabulary. But I digress, back to Numenera!!! The artwork looked amazing and yet somehow hard to describe, the art was like the setting of the Ninth world. I really wanted to check out how MCG incorporated a futuristic setting but yet was still fantasy. Too bad for me that Monte wasn’t at the booth at the time; but I did grab the card, because it had times that he would be at his booth for book signings.
After we left the booth, we went and got something to eat and I had a chance to mull over the book. I didn’t really get that far, because before long it was time to go on an adventure to find the Mutants and Masterminds game we signed up for at 6 PM. Oh, the Gen-Con virgins that we were… WE did not realize there were two Marriott Hotels. Poor Aaron was practically running to keep up with me. He made the mistake of wearing combat boots through the first part of the day and was pretty fatigued. We were determined to find the game; however, by the time we found out that there was a second Marriott, we were 20 minutes late and the game it was about 10 minute walk away. Being the guys that we are, we scoped out to find out where the fricken other hotel was. FINALLY, we had found it, but we were way late, so we went to get some tickets for another game.
As a developer myself, I am impressed by the Gen Con mobile site, it was quick to find out which events were running at 7-9. While we found our way to the Event Registration and customer Service lines, I was on the phone seeing what all games were open. After looking through we found 4 games that looked good. One of them was Numenera which had only 2 slots left (was this fate? It must have been fate!) Anyways for those of you don’t know, you can’t get tickets if you are already supposed to be in a game at the Event Registration line. Nope! There is nothing they can do. BUT Customer Service has the power to do that. Oh, and Aaron didn’t have general tickets at the time or we would have just went to the game. Besides this way other people couldn’t trump us.
Since we were “in” a game scheduled at 6 PM the event registration people couldn't get our ticket. Thus with 15 minutes till 7 PM we go to the packed Customer Service line. At some point it was only 8 minutes till 7 PM and we were about a 10 minute hustle to where the Numenera game was located. I said to Aaron “I think we can make it, are you sure you want to try this game” He seemed hesitant because he didn't even know who Monte Cook was or what this setting was even about.
Right before we get to the Service Rep he says “I think we should be conservative and try for an 8 PM game so that we don’t have to rush, but I’ll go to the Numenera game if you want.” Being the risk taker I am and with 5 minutes to go I said F it. The guy goes “Normally I would say you have no way in hell making this game, but I’m going to tell you to run like hell.” He got our tickets and we hustled like hell. Oh, and somehow we passed the escalator to the game. AND it was located down the hall from the Mutants and Masterminds game we missed. I did something that most guys never do, I asked for directions. Luckily, we were only like 5-8 minutes late right when everyone was about to get started.
As we sat down at the table, Aaron was wiping sweat from his brow. We handed our tickets to David, who said something along the lines of “You guys missed your chance to game with Shanna or Bruce Cordell.” Lucky for us, we got David. I know I can’t vouch for Bruce Cordell, but the following session with David Brown at the helm as good as playing with Monte Cook - but in totally different ways. David quickly explained to us the overview of the setting as well as the mechanics. None of us had ever played, but both Yoshi and Troy were more familiar with the setting.
David did a great job quickly going over the character sheets and explaining what everything meant. I must say after playing multiple Table Top games in the past - getting up to speed with the character was very quick. Especially if you are used to a game where you need 1 - 3 pages of paper to briefly explain what your character is, and page references. Quickly, David said that his job as the GM was to almost always say “yes.” From my experience as a GM used to rules heavy game, this seemed like a luxury that I can’t wait to incorporate myself. There is always someone who disagrees with what someone wants to do and/or points out the exact rule.
We all got settled into our characters and introduced one another. The thing that immediately struck out to me as a player were the oddities. This was by far my favorite thing that can help give personality and insight to where the characters come from. Why does my character have this seemingly useless novelty? The second thing I loved were the descriptors. Not only do they affect you, but they also in some way affect another player character at the table. We did this randomly and it helped build our backgrounds and solidify a personality to the characters we were playing.
Everyone at the table was immersed and concentrated on story - both about the characters and the world that David helped us explore. We were launched into a quick roleplaying session that gave context to what kind of goal we were trying to achieve. As a group; we bantered quickly with one other. We used our oddities to define our quirkiness to one another (it helped that we gamed with some amazing role players).The first thing we got thrown at us was something that was left behind from previous civilizations. Something that a group of uniformed NPCs held in awe and mystery. We as explorers wanted to figure out what it was and what it did.
Using the backstory David laid out, we went to a town and interacted with more weird of the world. Shortly after that we came upon our first combat encounter. This is where we see a great use of the GM Intrusion. While investigating an occurrence around a small body of water, one of the players gets a GM Intrusion. He took it of course, and falls into the dark water and gets stuck/slowed plus causes unwanted attention. I love how the GM intrusion was used. I mean, I DO this in my own game, but the players are always like “I don’t get a roll for that?” Or the one that EVERY group has heard “but I’m always looking for traps.” So, when I do it in my own games I try to very carefully to do this where players can’t find an argument against it. With this in-game mechanic, the players have a choice. If they take the intrusion, they get an XP point or they forgo the intrusion they lose an XP point. I literally got goosebumps on my arms thinking about how to use this in future games.
Now, I could write pages on combat from multiple systems comparing their pros and cons - I can’t say enough how much I love this combat system. It was fluid, fast and was easy for David to describe to us what happened and keep our attentions. In my home games, I try to keep the story on what happens during combat, but some turns for certain players can take minutes to decide what action they are going to perform. Sometimes, it is so long between a round that some players lose interest and to speed things along I have to sacrifice story. Without any previous knowledge of the Numenera combat mechanics, the turns in that session were fast and fluid. Because we were able to quickly roll one die, David could focus on the story (I was jealous how easily David was able to describe the turn and it keep the cinematics in my mind). THAT is the aspect of combat that I fell in love with. I can’t wait to run my first session of Numenera, because it will be much easier to use the die to help direct the story more than strict mechanics.
By the end of the session, David said that this was the one of the best experiences in his time gaming. Both, Aaron and I felt it was our best gaming experience ever. We couldn’t fathom how we could top that event at the Con; not to mention it was still the first night. We were told to leave our contact information in case we would go on to the next round to game with Monte. The next day went by really quick. After 7 PM when the second round started, time slowed down. In my mind, there was no way that our session could have gone better so I felt we had a good shot to go on to play with Monte. Real late into the night we got the text that we would meet with Monte the next day at the same Marriott that we had trouble finding.
We made sure to not set an alarm so that we could get a good nights sleep. There was no need to be exhausted and looking like fools at the table. There is no way to describe how anticipated I was for the game. It’s not everyday you get to play with one of the authors who have inspired much of your own gaming style.
Being nervous for the session, Aaron and I did what any responsible adult would do - we went and got a few drinks to ease the edge. We only had a little bit to drink, but it was enough to keep us calm. We weren’t sure how to act around the table with so many people watching us and Monte Cook as the game master. There was also pressure to do a good job because we knew David had presented us as the most worthy group to play with Monte and we didn’t want to disappoint. It is almost a surreal feeling to have other people watch you game. The small drink we had before hand was definitely a good thing because Aaron and I were relaxed: it was easy to be ourselves.
Immediately Monte jumped into the session where David left off with our same characters and storyline. It was amazing how he had the time to take notes on what our characters did with David. Given how busy Monte must have been throughout the con, this was an amazing feat that shows both his dedication and enthusiasm for Numenera and the fans.
The two sessions were so completely different with the way the story changed from David to Monte. I honestly couldn’t tell you which session was better. In all my years of gaming, those two sessions of Numenera are the top two gaming experiences that I have ever had. Hands down they are the best sessions that I have been apart of. The group of amazing players was so perfect that I wish we could game with them on a regular basis.
That Saturday afternoon Monte sold me his viewpoint on the Ninth World first hand. He spun a tale, which I will not spoil, so well that made me rethink the way I run my own games. There was a tough combat, a small puzzle, exploration and an explosion. The best part was seeing how Monte would grin real wide as he would explain the setting or the rules to us. One of the best lines was towards Aaron - playing an NPC, Monte cocks his eyebrow and leans back a little bit and says in a skeptical voice “You worship that thing?” He quickly took how our characters interacted with the world he created and immersed us in it.
Both David and Monte would explain things by saying how indescribable they were. They made this world feel like we were cobbling things together just to stay alive through places that were so foreign that it was difficult to describe. Needless to say, based on some tough choices in game, as the session came to a close Monte left an open ending. As a player I was left wondering what the hell just happened. I have never felt in awe as my mind was trying to comprehend what my character just went through. There were almost no words to describe what the awe that I felt by the end of the session.
Within two days of Gen Con ending those two sessions were the highlight of my event. By Tuesday, I had set up plans to run my own game for early September for players in Peoria. Instead of just inviting the group that is currently in my campaign, I decided to reach out to multiple players/GMs around to get as many people involved in Numenera as I can. I have been talking to anyone who games and ramble on about how great of an experience Numenera was. I know a few of those people have already joined the Ninth World Hub. Some that are in on my September game have picked up the players guide on Drive Thru.
I’m almost nervous to run this session of Numenera. After talking it up how great of a game it is, I don’t want to mess up. I have a session this weekend of Pathfinder, so I won’t have time until next week to actually prepare for the Numenera session. Therefore; I think I’m going to run pretty much the same scenario as David/Monte took us through that way I don’t have to prep as much.. I wish I had more time to prepare for my own adventure, because I have SO MANY ideas churning in my brain. The main things I want to give to them are the mechanics and what the Ninth world is. Hopefully I can describe things by not describing them. I look forward to using both David and Monte’s technique of telling the players how indescribable those scenes/props are to describe.
I would like to thank David Brown for creating such a great site. Not only that he seems to be a cornerstone in the Numenera fan community.
I will definitely post on how my first session goes.
Happy gaming Ninth Worlders!!
This is the Aeon dream.
This is the Aeon truth.
We delude ourselves with illusions, live our lives in an illusion, that what we know is all there is. That what we know is the way it must be, all that it can be, and this brings us great comfort. It is a lie, and the journey of the soul is to understand this lie for what it is. The journey of the soul is to become what we were meant to be.
We live in a great illusion, that of the Ninth World, but one that more than any other we have a chance to see the truth. Here, in the dust and grit of a savage land, we find traces of the ancient worlds that lived before us. Here and there we find these oddities, curiosities left behind by people who have vanished, and see that what we have as our own world is not all that could be. We can see proof that betterment is not an idle dream, that our savage world is not all that it can be, but only what we make of it. It is an illusion that has holes, a mask through which we can see the true face that lies beyond.
Perhaps we can become more, and rise as the other worlds have, as civilizations rise out of apedom to grasp at and by grasping at truth. And perhaps, admitting that other worlds have been before us as we believe, we can avoid the illusions they failed to. For is it not true that, achieving enlightenment, they believed they had found all that was, and crumbled? And that all that is left are traces, do we not understand how deadly a fall from such great heights can be?
Yet we still live in illusions, and the journey to truth, call it the Aeon truth, is still a perilous one. For the very language we use to describe it is based upon illusions, upon lies. Lies spoken to describe the truth, a great irony, and one that calls us to dream outside what we know.
The very term “Ninth World” is a lie, a generalization we use to comfort ourselves, to simplify the epochs of time before ours in eight great eras, and counting our own among them. These eras span literally hundreds of millions of years, and in that time many more than eight civilizations must have grasped at the truth only to crumble and fall away. What we have overlooked thanks to this illusion is dangerous, akin to wrapping a serpent around our throat because it bears resemblance to what we call a scarf. So it is when we pretend that all of history includes only nine worlds, familiar, safe.
We do not see the worlds that lived between the nine worlds, the times between great times, and in so doing we also forget the truth of Aeon. In our quest for truth, for the secrets of the ancients who found or more often fumbled it before us, to look without wisdom is to seek danger, the danger that destroyed them, not truth. These forgotten worlds lie between the illusions that we accept, and the unwise will unleash what slumbers beneath our feet.
-Xeran, Prophet of Aeon, The Masks over Truth and the Forgotten Histories
Forgotten worlds hide to sight unseen
The slumbering spawn of the nightmare machine
Seekers be warned from their treasures to take
For the living shall envy the dead should they wake
-The last words of Loremaster Kvosk the many-handed, found scrawled on the wall of his asylum cell. Fragment of a much larger poem.
Duncan shivered as the night chill blasted through the homespun rags that girded him. His dreams of freedom offered little protection, but he persisted in them each night since he’d been sold to train as a gladiator. Warm sunlight, fields of soft green grass, and bright rivers stretching to the horizon, memories of his home before it and everyone he knew had been burned to the ground. He lay with his feet towards the door, belly to the floor and arms to his sides to hold in as much heat as he could. He still shivered uncontrollably, and sleep didn’t come. His collar chaffed him, a thick metal band with flat edges not designed for comfort. Dust in the scratches irritated him further, and his stomach cramped as it did each night when he knew his bowl of gruel was still hours away. This was nothing to the welts on his body, some from the constant beatings of his fellow slaves in training but most from the pain stick of the hunch-backed taskmaster who drove them.
Duncan was young and fit, but the other fighters were grown men and stronger-limbed deemed more likely to survive in the ring, so were afforded more food and relative comforts. Duncan’s potential was said to be good, which was why he was still there, but it meant little when it was still a season or more away. He was like so many slaves, bought as fodder for a star champion’s blade, or simply food for the beasts released from their cages to delight the crowds. For that reason he was chained closest to the doorway, so the wind and dust and chill blasted him first before hitting the valuable assets of the arena.
“Gentlemen, please, this is not a good time. I’ll have the money tomorrow, every shin, but I need these slaves to get it for you.” Angmarcus, Duncan’s owner, had a distinctive whine that was getting closer. He was snivelling, which meant he’d gambled again.
“Get that cage open, and get me what you owe me,” a gruff voice, and other footsteps in the dirt with it. They were large men, fighters from the sound of it, with chain shirts and heavy boots. The sound of leather squeezed over and over meant one of them had a whip. Slavers.
Angmarcus was at the gate shuffling with the keys and sniffling. The cage was opened and the warriors entered, one standing in the fore with old scars on his cragged face. He looked over the slaves, sneered, and started pointing with a thick finger.
“That one, him, them, those four...” and went over the trained fighters. Angmarcus started to sputter, but a glance from one of the other warriors silenced him. The first one counted out as he went over his choices, this time counting shin-value per fighter, and the tally went over a hundred shins, higher than Angmarcus had lost before.
“This is a big mistake, Vangar. I’ll make enough tomorrow with these fighters, I can pay you double!” Angmarcus said through gritted teeth. He seemed small next to the larger slaver, despite his round belly and long merchant’s robes.
“Or I could make the shins myself and not have to wait,” Vangar chuckled, then fixed Angmarcus with a shrivelling stare. “You little worm, don’t you ever forget who you’re dealing with. You lost. The only reason I don’t just kill you now is you squirmed your way into the brotherhood. You’ll make me those shins tomorrow, when my fighters cut yours down. Now give me what you owe me or I’ll carve you like the meat you stuff in that mouth of yours.”
Angmarcus clenched his fist around a winged skull pendant hanging on a chain on his neck, identical to one Vangar had on his own neck, and sweated under the larger man’s stare. He made the best grin he could, and barked out a name. “Klud! Get in here and give the man what he wants.”
Angmarcus’ minion, a hunchbacked man made of knotted muscles and covered in rags, lumbered into the cave and started unlocking the chains of the chosen slaves. They filed out, followed by the warriors, giving one last stare to the merchant before leaving.
“See you for the games tomorrow, worm. You know what happens if you forfeit.” Vangar ran a thumb across his neck, and left.
Angmarcus slammed his key ring against the wall and looked at the remnants left him. They were injured, or newly bought slaves for fodder. The slavers had taken everyone of value. Angmarcus looked about, then finally settled his gaze on Duncan. He was desperate, and his eye twitched as he stared at Duncan. It was the look of a mad man, one with nothing left to lose.
“Klud, get the box. And steeds, get three steeds,” he breathed.
Duncan held onto the back of the Vull as it bobbed along the canyon ridge. The riding birds were smaller mounts, one rider each, but they were fast over rough terrain and stayed in a group. Heads bobbed side to side, then low to the ground as they sped along in a line. A series of boulders had fallen onto the path, yet the Vull darted up the side of the mound and down without rocking the riders much.
Duncan was dazed, clinging to the saddle as they rode. The hunchback had prepared him for the ride through the wilderness with a severe beating, using a club that stung him with lightning at a touch. The pain had convulsed him to unconsciousness, until he woke tied to the back of the riding bird, welts on his back burning him awake. His hands were bound and the rope was tied to Klud’s belt. Such was the life of a slave fated to die in the ring. He was familiar with pain, and had seen the punishments of those who attempted to escape it. Yet Duncan never expected to leave the caves beneath the arena when he was dumped there. Now, slumped as he was in the saddle, he could see a vast horizon and an ocean of starlight above them. It was almost freedom, but for his captors and his injuries making escape unlikely. Klud was known for enjoying the task of finding escaped slaves and making them pay. Duncan refused to give him the opportunity.
“Damned wilderness,” Angmarcus swore, looking over a map scribbled on soft xi skin, then turning them sharply in a new direction. Each time he checked the map he flashed a small light under his cloak, then hid it. The plump merchant looked at either side of the path as they rode, and held a very expensive crossbow loaded across his saddle. Klud as well was armed, his own crossbow and a sword at his waist, and even he looked ill at ease. The great canyon was dangerous, known for predators and other horrors that lurked there. Wild places were always dangerous, but even bandits avoided the canyons. Riding through at night was suicide but Angmarcus had the stare of someone making a last, wild gamble to save their neck.
They turned again and again, walking the edge of the canyon, until their leader made a sharp turn and they bolted down into the gorge itself. It was a maze, but the map guided them through it, down long corridors and squeezed through narrow cracks in the rocks. It was a surprise when Angmarcus hissed for them to halt, and he advanced as they waited at the mouth of a particularly dark passage.
Angmarcus got off his horse and called out words Duncan could not understand, and held up his light. It was a small metal cylinder with one end that flashed blue over and over when Angmarcus touched the other end. They waited, and Angmarcus kept flashing his signal. He stopped, and waited, and Duncan heard his breath coming in quick huffs.
Two blue lights opened in the darkness high above them, glowing eyes. A second pair opened, blue slits above the first pair, and moved down to the canyon floor. A tall, slender figure emerged from the shadows, too slender to be a man, wearing a hooded cloak. In an instant four arms emerged from the cloak, holding a long staff or spear made of shining silver metal with barbs along its length that glowed and hummed violently. The double pairs of eyes stared from under the hood and the creature clicked a torrent of clicks and snaps, and at its gaze Angmarcus rushed to produce a long box from beneath his cloak. He held it up and hurriedly spoke more words Duncan could not understand. The creature twisted something on the spear and the humming silenced. Angmarcus huffed relief, and hurried back to the riding birds, to Duncan, and with trembling hands began undoing Duncan’s bonds. For his part, Duncan breathed out, only now realizing he’d held breath in.
“Boy, you have just seen something no one else has seen in a hundred years. Only Klud and myself, and that’s saying something. These creatures are priests, all of them, but not like the priests of Aeon you’ve heard of. No, not so friendly. This is their temple, they worship this place like a god. I’m giving them something of value, something else to worship, and I’m giving them you.”
Sacrificed to alien priests! Duncan found his strength in an instant and wrenched his hands free, but before he could kick the merchant and bolt for freedom, Klud was on him. One-handed, the hunchback pulled him from the Vull and set him on the ground, stabbing him in the side with the pain stick for good measure. Angmarcus hissed at them to keep it quiet, the creature-priest watching them with the still-glowing spear and its four glowing eyes. Duncan could barely hear him above the pain, so intense white lights filled his mind and threatened to knock him unconscious once more.
Angmarcus grabbed him as his head cleared and pulled him close. Instead of a desperate order, however, he was speaking softly, conspiratorially, pleading almost.
“Boy, hear me. You’re not going for food. These priests have... secrets. They can change you, make you stronger, faster. We don’t have a choice, and we’ll never get through this if we don’t take on some risk. Vangar and the other slavers, you see, they’ve got a big match tomorrow. You’re fighting in it, but you’ve got no chance. Just this. I’m no fighter, and they won’t take Klud. You’ve got a strong body, you could live through this, and if you do... I’ll free you, boy. You heard me. Free man.”
It was insane, Duncan’s head rushed at the thought of passing through the darkness with that creature. Yet Klud held him in that iron grip, and he knew he could never outrun him even if he could break free.
“Fine” Duncan grunted, and shook off the hunchback and the merchant, who smiled and sighed.
“Good choice, boy, very good,” Angmarcus gave him the box and a comforting pat on the shoulder.
Duncan took a shaky step forward, legs still weak from his various beatings, but stood straight and moved towards the monster with the spear. Every step became steadier than the last, until finally he was at the cloaked figure and the mouth of the passage. The creature-priest held out his hand, a long-fingered black hand with rounded joints and black hair-like spines along its length. Duncan handed over the box, which it opened and its face was lit by a light from inside. Its features were black-blue with a round muzzle and two leather lips that twitched as it looked at the treasure with its foursome of eyes. The eyes turned on Duncan, sizing him up, and then one too-long finger shut the box.
Duncan could see down the tunnel where white light flickered against a back wall. The creature-priest moved towards it, lowering its spear and motioning for Duncan to follow. Duncan looked up at the sky above, the stars twinkling in the blue-black night, and took one last breath before entering the tunnel.
It was rough hewn rock, tall like the cloaked creature and only just broader than its shoulders. He could see the marks where crude tools had carved through the stone wall of the canyon. Then, to either side, he saw more stone tunnels branching off. The white light was brighter along one tunnel, and down it the priest-creature moved, Duncan following. This was much wider, and as they went Duncan saw more of the creatures in the light. Some were cloaked, like Duncan’s guide, but others were bare, clad only in necklaces hung with strange objects, trinkets in metal that looked like the cloaked creature’s spear. They wore them like barbarian-slaves wore animal skulls, and lined the path towards the light with what Duncan could only describe as reverence.
At the end of the tunnel a perfect rectangle was outlined with the white light. The cloaked priest stood before it and waved its hand, and the rectangle opened, becoming a doorway. The creatures clicked furiously and moved forward, and one approached Duncan’s guide and held it by the forearm. His guide drew out the box, opened it and held up its contents. All the other creatures hissed and knelt upon the ground, clicking together as one. It was a single percussive chant, a prayer, a mantra, and the guide was at the front of their congregation holding up the object like some high prophet. It glowed hotly, an orb the size of a head on a short handle with long silver needles and blue lights below the orb sparkling. Every one of the creatures continued the chant, over and over. Duncan stood amid the kneeling creatures, hemmed in so that he could not go back. The creatures were so near, their bodies too-tall and too-lean, unmoving during their service. He did not wish to touch them, but his body was exhausted. His side swelled where Klud had shocked him, and the welts burned. His head swam, and for a moment he shifted in place with a grunt.
The chanting stopped. His guide clicked to the other creatures, then motioned Duncan towards the lit doorway. The others shifted out of the way, making a path for Duncan to follow. Their eyes followed him to the doorway and beyond.
The doorway was all light, white light, and as he stepped through it was all Duncan could see. The doorway behind him into the rough cave suddenly vanished, replaced by a perfect rectangular panel of white. Duncan leapt back, looking around, but he could only barely make out shapes around him in the glare. It was another tunnel, this one perfectly smooth glass. Duncan moved forward, his eyes burning.
“Too bright,” he grunted, and covered his eyes with his arm.
There was a series of notes of music and Duncan could hear his voice repeat his words. “Too bright. T’oo b’right. Too ber eyet.” Then more notes, and Duncan could feel his entire body hum, his legs, his chest, his head... And then the light vanished.
Duncan opened his eyes and looked around. The walls had become shining black glass, bright enough that he could see without going blind. He was at one end of a long hallway, perfectly smooth and polished black glass. He could see himself, wild and battered, and behind him a woman.
Duncan spun as fast as his battered body would allow, fists up, and saw the woman in the wall. She was his height, perfectly featured, with dark skin and hair wearing a fitted red suit. She was beautiful, more graceful and perfectly-featured than the wives of nobles who watched the gladiators fight. He wasn’t sure why, but he didn’t think she was alive. More like a spirit or illusion, trapped in the wall. Was this what the creature-priests worshipped? She smiled warmly at him, and started speaking in a language he didn’t understand. The words were similar to what Angmarcus had been saying, but were said more fluently, musically, and seemed to assume he understood her. Duncan put out a hand and touched the wall, saw that it was solid. Where his fingers touched he saw circles appear and lines spider out of them with symbols scrolling along the lines. Duncan snatched back his hand and relaxed, feeling his side ache from where Klud jabbed him, and started hobbling down the hallway. The woman floated along beside him, keeping pace but appearing to stand still, and continuing to speak in a friendly tone.
The hallway continued, and a line on the floor guided Duncan’s footsteps. Eventually he came to the end where the smooth glass was replaced by a round metal archway. Beyond the arch was a large round room, every surface made of smooth yet dull green-black metal. In the middle of the floor was a great block of the same substance, perfectly cubed. Duncan halted at the doorway, exhausted by the trip, and leaned to one side to watch the woman speak. Something about her calmed him greatly, made the pain in his body seem somehow bearable, somehow less.
Other images began to appear upon the walls, pictures of Duncan, his body and cross sections of it. He could see his injuries, every welt burn and bruise where Klud and others had beaten him. His heart moved in the images at the pace his heart moved, and his lungs breathed in and out as he breathed. He saw his skeleton separated from the rest of his flesh, and stopped. Devices appeared in the images surrounding his skeleton and began to attach themselves to his body, all explained by the friendly, beautiful girl. More and more of them, layered upon each organ and building him up until he was...
Duncan breathed in and out slowly, and flopped back against the wall. His side was swelling up now, and he knew he was injured badly when he coughed and tasted copper blood in his mouth. He was tired, hungry and out of options. If he turned back, he would either be killed by Angmarcus outside or slain in the arena in the morning by tougher slave gladiators. If he understood the images, they would take apart his body and he would be remade utterly.
The girl’s face smiled again, and a line extended from his feet and through the archway to the block.
Duncan took another look at the girl, then heaved his body up again, and limped forward.
Reaching out to the cube, Duncan was amazed that his hands were not trembling. The cube morphed so that a human-shaped mould formed in the side closest to him. Duncan presumed it would perfectly fit his own body. As he stepped forward, metal tubes extended from the surface, wrapped around his body and limbs, and pulled him in. There was a tingling sensation, and the impression that everything was spinning, but that was all.
Angmarcus paced back and forth by the tunnel mouth, occasionally checking the small crossbow to see that it was loaded. Klud was checking the vull, brushing them down and checking the saddles, while keeping watch on the outside of the canyon for wildlife.
“Damned slaves, damned arena, and damned... everything. Why is this taking so long?”
The vull startled, crying out and backing away from the tunnel mouth while Klud snatched at their reins. Angmarcus spun, loosing his crossbow bolt into the darkness with a yelp. The yelp echoed in the silence that followed, and Angmarcus drew his light and shone it into the tunnel. A crossbow bolt, his bolt, flew from the tunnel mouth and clattered on the ground at Angmarcus’ feet. Then a figure emerged.
He was tall, head and shoulders above either of the men, and broadly muscled. His limbs were thick and powerful, but he moved with the sureness of a predator. His face was chiseled, fit, but looked enough like Duncan that they could recognize him. The rest of his body was utterly different, a paragon. Most impressive, along his arms and legs, at the joints and on his chest were lines like seams, and glowing discs. His eyes were blue rings on black orbs, and locked on Angmarcus.
“I... am returned,” he said. His voice was deep, with a rumbling hum.
“Feh,” Klud spat, and grabbed the ropes that had bound Duncan on the journey there with one hand, his pain stick with the other.
In an instant Duncan was standing over Klud’s stunned body. Angmarcus hadn’t seen him cross the distance from the tunnel mouth, swat the pain stick across the canyon, and strike Klud down. The hunchback crumpled, and the vull scattered. Duncan stood in place, unmoved, but his eyes turned on Angmarcus.
The merchant cringed and squealed a word in the strange language. When he opened his eyes to see, Duncan was frozen in place above him, hand a hair’s breadth from Angmarcus’ throat in what was a killing move.
“Hah, it worked!” Angmarcus breathed. He held up his light, and Duncan’s eyes locked on it. “A device that came with knowledge of these tunnels, something I failed to mention before you went in. A security measure to ensure your loyalty. You see, dear boy, eons ago men used the process you just underwent to make themselves, ah, an army of janissary warriors, invincible. Perfect soldiers, but sadly too perfect, and they fell in to fighting amongst themselves. Bloody conflict, toppled their world and buried their secrets with them.
“Years ago my friends and I found this little cavern and dug up its secrets, learned everything we could about what it just did to you. Most of those who went in died or like Klud were rejected, you see, or I’d have gone in myself. Rough process. “
“One of my friends created this little light for me, a little hack that uses your enhancements to make you obey my commands, and light my way when I need it. He could control your kind without this device, but he’d entered the machine himself and had an insider’s insight. Why the control? Because having strapping men like yourself running around uncontrolled would be chaos, can you imagine? Can’t build an empire if you can’t control your troops.”
“We made plans, bloody and glorious plans but the whole thing went the way of all worlds when those creature-priests arrived to worship at this their holiest of shrines. We learned to communicate with them but they are so emotionally volatile. They ended my friends while Klud and myself barely escaped with our lives and a few trinkets for my trouble. They may be superstitious alien savages, but they are formidable superstitious alien savages, now more so with the shrine’s secrets. Between them and the dangers of the process itself, there was little point in returning. A desperate shot in the dark at best, but it paid off,” Angmarcus allowed himself a chuckle as he inspected Duncan, running a hand along his arms and over the glowing nodes in his legs.
“You are glorious, the best I’ve ever seen. You’ll cleave me victory after victory in the arena, and make me a very wealthy man. I won’t need an army of you nor an empire. No I’m a simple man. You’ll do.”
Between the great nations of the Ninth World, there were spaces that owed allegiance to no state or monarch. These city states were isolated or else placed so that no single force could lay claim to them for long, or else they were wealthy enough that no nation could pass on their bribes. Such was Katan, a hub between great nations on an ancient dirt trade road. It was a haven for merchants, too easily attacked by any neighbour for a lasting occupation to stand, wealthy enough that its governor could buy their freedom easily. Here the elite gathered as on neutral ground, and outcasts of all nations scrabbled at the gates for a trickle of that wealth.
Mighty Katan was a mound in the middle of the desert, a shanty town surrounding a larger stone inner city defended by walls. It was not far from the great canyon, nor from the mines of salt and iron that employed most of its citizens, those not scratching a living from the dried earth or desperately farming moisture from the winds. Katan had a market place for these goods, and merchants traded what peasants earned for weights of shins on strings or in boxes. Yet Katan’s major resource was not its commodities. It was sin. Thieves picked clean the coffers of merchants, who picked the pockets of workers. Slaves of every description were sold on its blocks in great numbers, strong backed laborers as well as slender dancers. These went out to the fields, down into the mines, or filled the seraglios throughout the boroughs and back allies, serving merchants, guardsmen and soldiers. The mercenary bands that marched through Katan brought their prisoners to the brotherhood of slavers, who separated mothers from children and good workers from valueless elders. Yet even these had their uses, as fodder for the arena.
All things in Katan led to the arena. The governor’s palace was a fortress built into one end of the great mud wall that separated wealthy homes and businesses from the massive shanty town surrounding them. Yet it was dwarfed in size and grandeur by the Grand Arena of Katan. It was the size of five palaces, and could hold the entire population of Katan and every visitor to the city. A giant stadium made of smooth stone carved on the outside with beasts and gladiators slaying one another, could be seen from beyond the city borders. Massive flags made of leather and red cloth waved at the top, whipping in the wind off the desert sands, but they may as well have been an extension of the fury of the crowd. The arena was packed yet again, the crowd shoulder to shoulder in the stone confines. For their part, the crowd of slavers and caravan guards, merchants and bar wenches, vagabonds and nobles all gathered into the confines of the arena for the blood sport about to begin. As one they chanted a name, one name, the champion of slaughter.
“Duncan! Duncan! Duncan!” they roared, fists striking the air.
Inside the arena was a great circle of stone rings, one inside the next, with the lower classes in the tier closest to the arena’s battle floor, and above them the merchants and nobles. There was a central balcony at one end for the governor and his guests, and great gates at the other end for the entertainment to enter. The battle floor was covered in sand now, but could be shifted to raise stone walls or open deep pits, and even flood during the rainy season. The battle floor was far below the nearest seats, a sheer drop with spikes around the rim should a beast or a fighter escape into the crowds. The greatest of the gates, the middle gates, dwarfed the others in both size and strength of materials. When the beast behind it suddenly slammed the gate doors with a thunderous bang, the crowd went silent in fear... and then exploded with cheers and wild screams.
The crowd now hungered for the gates to open, chanting that name over and over. Never before had a champion gone this long undefeated, never before slain so many challengers, gladiators and savage beasts alike. Legends were whispered or shouted in the stands about him even now. The slavers brotherhood had emptied their reserves against him and found no sword strong enough or toothsome beast mighty enough to fell the champion of blood. Rumor spoke of some terrible thing spawned in caves beneath the city, dug up solely to fell this singular fighter. Today could be the day, they wondered, or the champion could slay again. Either way the crowd would see blood.
“Blood sport? Honestly, Xeran, I thought you were joking. Hardly what I’d expect from you,” sighed Zak, attempting to hide his discomfort by feigning boredom. He leaned close to his companion, as much to speak to him as to get away from the smell of the brute standing next to him. Zak could only guess this was a lard refiner or tanner from the stench, and not a clean one. “Not where I’d go to find inner calm.”
“Patience, friend, and listen to the music,” his companion said, his voice a calm breath. Xeran’s hood was pulled over his head, so Zak could see only his blue lips as he spoke. “What we seek awaits us in this place. The numina led us here, we have only to wait and see.”
Zak smirked but said nothing, having learned to trust the mystic’s intuition. There was no music, save the blaring of animal horn trumpets from the crowd, but these koans tended to work themselves out in the end.
Instead, he made a study of the crowd that surrounded him in the lower tier seats. Rowdy masses, starved and bitter at life’s treatment of them. Many of them hauled the rocks that built this place, day in and day out, for only a few handfuls of grain and a bowl of spirits to keep them going. Rotted teeth and rags treated as little better than slaves themselves. Yet they happily dragged themselves into the seats every week to watch other unfortunates torn to pieces before their eyes.
“It’s the bread,” Xeran said, seeming to read Zak’s mind yet again to answer the exact question he was thinking.
As if on cue, servers emerged and walked on the walkway before the upper tier, dragging large baskets of bread and barrels of spirits. They threw the loaves into the crowd, who dove after them, while others ladled the spirits into as many cups and bottles as came to them. When one basket or cask was emptied, another was already there to replace it. Drunk and fed by their masters the crowd settled in for the match.
“Feed them, breed them and work them to death, and they thank you for the privilege. Must be nice to be rich,” Zak grunted. He looked up to the wealthier tiers, where the merchant and noble classes sat back in relative luxury, served fine wines while the workers drank near-toxic dregs from some spirit-cooker, and dining on plates of sweet meats. This was not new for Zak, who had grown to manhood in slums of towns like this and was used to seeing slave owners flaunt their wealth while he and other worker families starved from day to day. He’d survived by luck, which he could prove because he usually did something incredibly risky when he was hungry enough, and only extreme good luck could see a half-starved daredevil survive to manhood. Sadly the habit had not left him as an adult.
“For some the weight of riches can be a burden worth relieving.” Xeran, still not looking, smiled his blue-lipped smile, and pointed up over his shoulder.
Zak followed his lead, and saw a middle-aged merchant in yellow silks seated at the wall between the tiers, just above them. His plate of food was stacked with sausages and a roast rik bird. Zak could smell the meal and his mouth watered.
Zak slipped a hand into his pocket to touch a small weighted ball. It was nothing special, but it had mass and helped him focus on tapping into the forces of gravity. A cold shiver ran through him and he gripped it tightly in his hands while staring intently at the rik on the merchant’s plate. It was some distance away but Zak focused intently on it. In his mind it was as if only his focus existed; Zak, the world and the ball bearing. Each had mass and each called to one another, drawing them together.
“Await the moment,” Xeran said, still not looking. The merchant was gazing at his food, but looked away when a buxom server came to fill his tankard. The merchant was leaning over, leering as she poured his drink. Distracted.
Zak focused hard on the roast rik, the ball bearing and the world, and suddenly excluded the world. It was only the rik and the ball bearing, and in that instant the game bird floated up and slipped off the plate, tumbling through the air to Zak. The merchant squawked, then barked at the wench to bring him more meat.
“Excellent, if I do say so myself,” Zak pulled the leg off the bird and sucked the meat away.
“For a jack of all trades, you have taken your gifts over gravity far, my friend,” Xeran nodded. “But if you had the focus on one trained by the priests of Aeon...”
The merchant reached for his flagon while watching the server walking away, and the plate slipped over the edge and fell smoothly down. Xeran held out his hand and caught the plate perfectly, the meats and some fruits in perfect order upon it. The merchant squawked again, and stared over the tier wall at them.
“Hey, watch it with the food! You could have taken my head off with this bird!” Zak yelled up, gesturing with the bird and taking another leg into his mouth. The merchant, for his part, beat his fist against the wall and scowled into his wine.
“No respect, the rich,” Zak sucked on a juicy finger, then moved gracefully to the side just in time to avoid a stream of red wine from above that splattered instead on Zak’s sweaty neighbour. There was yelling, and curses hurled up and down by the tanner while the merchant shied back behind the barrier.
Xeran said nothing, but ate his food and watched the gates.
Angmarcus lounged on the cushions in the governor’s balcony, a painted slave boy he hardly noticed feeding him sweet berries. He was despised by the elite, but wealthy beyond most of them simply because he owned the greatest gladiator of their age. Duncan had done exactly as he’d expected, and in no time reversed Angmarcus’ fortunes. Now he was a guest of honor in the most prestigious seats of the arena, surrounded by servants and being fanned at his leisure. His fingers moved, as they often did, to the small device hung round his neck at all times, the wand that controlled the greatest gladiator of the arena, and the wellspring of his good fortunes.
The balcony was spacious, and other nobles stood here and there, discussing grain shipments and the prices of salt and iron. The robes were the most extravagant, some stitched with great birds along the hems, others with plum-like headdresses and long silvery jewels hung from their ears. The wife of the governor had a great train from her robes that trailed along the floor, covered from the tip of their hem to her pregnant belly in highly detailed mythological creatures her husband insisted were spirits called “tie-gars” by ancient humans who worshipped them as gods of prosperity. Angmarcus thought little of that, but knew the governor was expecting an heir from his aristocrat wife any day now, which he’d paid a horde of Aeon priests their weight in shins to ensure was male. Angmarcus didn’t care who came out of the woman. They’d be as tiresome as their father and owe Angmarcus every penny he’d ever loaned their family.
“Angmarcus, my... brother,” a grizzly voice grunted his name. Angmarcus turned as well as he could, having gained a great deal of girth since last he’d laid eyes on the speaker, five years earlier.
“Vangar! My brother, what brings you to this lap of luxury? I’ve not seen you since... well, that unpleasantness with your slaves.”
Vangar grimaced a smile. “Yes, I was the first to learn how unbeatable your champion was. Who knew he could clear... all of them at once from the arena floor. And you’ve done well for yourself with the winnings since. If only I’d known where to find someone of his calibre when I went looking for slaves from you.”
Angmarcus feigned humility. “Just my good luck finding him last minute, I suppose. The Brotherhood has profited these past years, of course, as much as I have from such steady business. Have they sent you to collect another year’s tithe? Perhaps you could ferry it to them for me on your way?”
Vangar gave another tight smile, this one stretching the white scar-lines crisscrossing his lips. He had changed little over five years, and was as tall and thick-bodied as ever, his arms as thick as tree limbs, and still wearing his battle-beaten chain shirt and dust-covered boots. He was most out of place among the foppish elites. He reached into his belt and produced a small device, a disc of metal with a glowing sphere set into the center.
“No, Angmarcus, I’m afraid I’ve had a falling out with the brotherhood. I’ve decided to go into business for myself, and just wanted to... say goodbye personally,” and with that he tossed the oddity to land on one of Angmarcus’ cushions. The merchant stared at it as he would a tick. One of his boy-slaves scurried over and took the offending device and placed it on a tray. “A parting gift to remember me by, a cipher, among the things I had brought with me from the Beyond. I’ll be making this new trade my business, trading in numenera from various sources I’ve gathered. A sign of my customers’ extravagance that has paid off compared to my investments in slave trading. This is something I’ve been giving to people like yourself, as a going away present before I head back. A calling card, if you will.”
“Ah,” Angmarcus sniffed. Then, “So you’ll be leaving us? I suppose you’ll not be staying to watch the slaughter?”
“Oh no, friend, I wouldn’t miss it.” Vangar smiled broadly and bowed, the first time Angmarcus had ever seen him attempt anything like social graces, then turned and walked down a set of steps and out.
The governor approached Angmarcus’ seat, guiding his wife and a train of other courtiers. Angmarcus attempted to bow lying in the cushions, a courtesy to the man’s office he found amusing considering how much wealthier he was than the governor and the other nobles here. After all, he reflected silently, was it not they who approached him?
“My lord governor, I hope you are pleased by the extravagance of the festivities we have planned in honor of your heir’s immanent birth,” Angmarcus cooed, waving to the arena and the crowd. “I had my agents scour the ninth world for the most fantastic of attractions to please you.”
“As always, your showmanship outshines any we have ever seen,” the governor was graciousness personified, but Angmarcus knew the aristocrat was fuming at him beneath the surface. He truly had outdone himself, and of course outdone the governor’s recent grand games.
“I was myself amused recently by one of your guests, your grace. He seemed so eager in his solicitations,” Angmarcus snapped his fingers at the slave boy with the tray, who knelt and gave Vangar’s oddity to the governor. “I’m not sure if your grace is aware, but he seems to have fallen out with my brothers in trade, and it made me curious as to what you thought of his claims of a new business selling these.”
The governor looked at the trinket and shrugged. “Yes, we had ourselves received his visit and several of his wares have indeed shown great value. A source for secrets of the before times would seem to be excellent business for our city. Would you not agree?”
“Oh, of course, your excellence, I merely enquire about the man himself. A ruffian dressed as a common soldier in the company of your court, how distasteful. And his reputation...”
“One moment a commoner, the next fortune’s favoured son? It seems a familiar story, if we recall your history, Angmarcus,” the governor replied pointedly. His young wife, who had been looking away, turned back to them, amused at her husband’s sudden frankness with a man he owed great sums of money. Angmarcus stifled a response, remembering the governor’s station giving the privilege, and the military power, to say whatever he wished. Loans from Angmarcus had even paid their wages. “The Numena we uncover from men like Vangar can produce the most profound changes for anyone, it would seem. And what kind of governor would we be if we denied a man the same chance to profit as we did Katan’s leading citizen?”
“Of... of course, your excellence. How very wise,” Angmarcus bowed his head as the governor moved on to other guests. His hand went again to the wand-light hung about his neck, and his thoughts to how he could fund someone else to become the governor.
Drummers appeared on the walls of the lower tiers, and hammered a thunderous beat to the chant of the crowd. The master of the arena stood upon a ledge below the governor’s balcony, waving his arms to the chanting. He was an older man, tall and thin, but animated and painted theatrically with long sleeves of shining material that were themselves like flags. The chant got louder, louder, “Duncan! Duncan! Duncan!” until the master held his hand to his throat and began to speak. A device on his palm amplified his orator’s voice, which could be heard clearly throughout the arena.
“Dunnnnncaaaaannnnn! The name that brought you here today! The name that means victory! The name that will live forever! Duncan!” He let the crowd begin again, and the chanting raised to a feverish pitch before he continued.
“But why do we fear him? Why do we revere him? A slave? A Gladiator? A killer! Why do we gather here each week to observe the rites of combat? We observe, as they did in ancient days, the sacrifice of blood that binds us to this place. Eons of battle, of blood on these sands. A testing ground to sift out the weak from the strong before the witness of all our society. A test fit only for heroes, for champions!”
Zak smirked and leaned in close to Xeran, “He does like to go on, doesn’t he?”
“And have we not seen a champion in Duncan?” Again the crowd went wild. “Yes! Yes, a champion born! Every match a massacre! Every battle a bloodbath! Every combat a campaign! For five years, undefeated! For five years the greatest swordsman to ever march from out those gates! Gladiators, monsters, mercenaries, all have fallen before his blade. And all of them fallen before you! To sate your blood lust, your need for death!” Thunderous applause was the reply, and drum beats, until the master of the arena waved his hands for silence.
“Now, to whet your appetites... blood! From the farthest corners of the world, we bring you a hundred swords testing themselves to see who shall have the honor of fighting Duncan! The victorious team shall receive... freedom! Wealth! Immortality in the arena!”
The smaller gates rumbled open and lines of slaves marched out to bow before the governor and his guests. They were slave warriors imported from exotic lands, with skins ranging from deep black to tan to pale white. Their armor was colored different shades of silver, gold, bronze and azure, arranging them into teams. Each piece was different, an array of chain shirts or leather, with helms spiked or with long crests or fins. Patterns on their armor were more exotic and decorative than protective, meant to draw the eye but providing easy targets for other fighters. The heavier armored gladiators had lighter weapons, long daggers or spiked hammers, while those in leather jerkins held two-handed swords or pikes. Either absorb a blow but do little damage up close, or risk it all for one deadly hit. They were meant to fight for entertainment not a prolonged battle, and the crowd had short attentions.
With a shout from the governor, the four teams separated and the battle began. One group, the Azure, failed to form up and spread out instead, fighting as individuals. The other teams descended upon them, cutting them down before turning on one another. Only the gold stayed together as a unit after this, and chaos covered the battlefield. With each scream the crowd cheered.
Zak rolled his eyes and shifted back and forth, avoiding the ecstatic limbs of others around him. The tanner next to him spat out curses, spraying his words upon those ahead of them. He clutched a blue ribbon in his meaty fist, and his curses were directed at the now-slaughtered blue team of gladiators. Others in the peasant tier were just as loud, shoving, small fights breaking out between those with silver, gold, azure and copper strips of cloth. No guards came to break up these fights among the peasantry, only more servers flooded in with kegs of ale and baskets of bread. Zak noted that some in the noble tier were watching the commoner scuffles as much as the bloodbath on the field. It was chaos, both in the arena and the stands.
Duncan stood facing the wall of his cell, dreaming of freedom, but every day the sights and sounds grew fainter as he forgot what freedom felt like. The smell of grass was long gone, and the shapes of trees barely a memory. He could feel wind, though, and imagined standing on the edge of the cliffs back home. Yet the cliffs no longer looked like cliffs, but only the high walls of the arena, and he had begun to have difficult remembering if there was anything outside them.
His mind worked despite his dreams, calculating unconsciously even while he dreamed. He could hear the roar of the crowds, and the sounds of battle. He could hear everything, and in his mind every detail told a story.
There was a metallic clang, which told him one of the weapons had just struck a shoulder plate. A spiked hammer would have gone through, so it must have been a sword, wielded by one with little skill. There was a wet impact and a roar, the attacker was using a short sword against one of the armorless gladiators, and had scored a hit, midsection. They would take up the two-handed sword now, armored and armed. Elsewhere he could hear footsteps, two dagger-wielders squaring off, and a screech as a teammate speared one of them, ending the standoff. His mind counted thirty attackers left, two of the teams had been eradicated, and most of the remainder were skilled fighters. Soldiers, most likely taken in battle and sold in the markets, meaning Duncan would need to use dividing attacks to whittle them down before clearing the field. He would do it quickly, take short breaks between targets, and save his energy for the beast fight finale. As he stood there, his dreams a faded patchwork, part of him had already calculated which thrusts, parries and movements to use, step by step.
Sobs through the cage bars into the next room, smells of sweat and nervous urine told him more slaves waited in lines for entrance to the arena. The next batch. These were no soldiers, mostly farmers either taken from their lands or sold as debtors from around Katan.
“Who’s that?” one of them sobbed.
“That’s Duncan,” another grunted. The name meant enough to the first one, who broke out in new tears until the other prisoners smacked him.
“Please don’t kill me,” the crying man begged, grabbing onto the bars of Duncan’s cell. “I’ve got a wife, children, please. I’ll work for you, I’ll be a slave, I just have to see them again!”
Duncan turned and looked at the man. He was young, as likely his family was also, and had black hair of a length like Duncan’s before he was changed. A free farmer driven into debt and sold by his landlord, from the look of his hands. He walked with a pronounced limp, Duncan could hear, which meant he couldn’t work fast enough to pay off his family’s debts. Tears had cleared lines of grit from under his eyes, as they had from the eyes of many waiting in the lines to the arena.
When the farmer saw Duncan, looked into the glowing blue irises on his black eyes, he sucked in a breath and backed from the bars.
“I’m sorry,” Duncan said, his deep voice rumbling with its faint hum as gently as he could make it. “Mercy is not in my power to give.” The farmer backed into the line, cowed silent. Duncan looked away and tried hard to dream of freedom, of grass fields, while his enhanced mind calculated every step of the fight to come.
There was always at least one like this with batches of farmers. Duncan knew the terror of being a slave, of being the weakest slave in the arena, and had once tried to leave them for last. The waiting seemed wore for them, however, so now he picked them off first as mercifully as he could. A quick end to their suffering was the best he could manage. He’d attempted to hold back his deathblow in the past, but each time Angmarcus held his wand and forced obedience from Duncan. It had been this way every battle for five years, but Duncan hoped that one day the merchant would miss or be distracted even for a moment so he could show mercy. Perhaps that day would be today.
The gates rumbled open and the farmer and the other slaves marched out to the screams of the crowd.
The field was reduced to silver and gold teams of gladiators, the best of which had armed themselves with the best weapons of the slain. Some of them had severe wounds and huddled behind their teammates while their strength ebbed. Others had been taken by battle lust and begun collecting trophies from the fallen. These roared and raised trophies of severed heads to the crowd, who cheered them on, and painted themselves with blood in their madness. The remainder backed away and formed ranks, being former soldiers who had trained to fight together, and made ready to hold their ground. Gold had the advantage of numbers, and silver readied their defense.
“But what is this? Reinforcements enter the fray!” boomed the voice of the master of the arena, and on cue the gates released the lines of farmers-in-armor driven by the whips and prods of the slave-handlers behind them. They hesitated as they entered the field at the size of the crowds gathered around them, and spread out away from the other combatants. Men from the silver team called to the new soldiers in silver, motioned to them to join their ranks against the gold. Gold team hefted their swords and axes and with a roar charged the silver team, to wipe them off the field before they could rally strength.
As the combat started anew, the arena floor rumbled and split with many lines forming and becoming gaps. The fighters were divided, some silver and gold on one side of a crevasse, others elsewhere, and some falling with cut-off screams into the divide. Great black stone blocks rose up out of the golden sands at heights between low walls and high pillars. The arena was now a maze of passages and gaps the fighters needed navigate while fighting their own skirmishes. Two silver fighters on an island beat down one gold fighter and pushed another off the edge to his death.
On his own was a farmer from the reinforcements, the last survivor in azure-colored armor. He ducked away from the group and had followed the wall away from the charge of the golden team. Now he scurried down a catwalk lined with pillar-blocks, darting from point to point seeking only escape, refuge, or to wait out the fight.
Behind him crept one of the fighters driven mad by the arena, a dark-skinned hunter from the beyond who had painted his bronze armor red during the first fight. Born in the wilds of the ninth world meant putting survival first, and this one had paid to have claws implanted into his hands for climbing cliff sides to get at reptiles perched there. Now a stranger in a strange land, he had reverted to instinct over reason and covered his hands in gore. He would not be heard by the farmer even without the roar of the crowds, and he ducked behind each pillar in turn as the farmer peered over his shoulder for pursuit. Now the hunter’s limbs readied themselves for the pounce, a quick run and a single leap, hands strong enough to knock the farmer’s head off in one strike.
“Look at this display,” Zak shook his head. The tanner gripped his Azure ribbon in one meaty hand, watching the last of his wager hunted by the pillars below. Xeran said nothing, which irked Zak. “That man in blue doesn’t look like he’s ever held a weapon in his life, but the bloody, sorry the very bloody man behind him has mechanical claw implants. It’s murder for fun, Xeran, why are we here?”
“All events have a purpose, all persons a destiny, even if we do not know what it is,” Xeran stated. His hands had come out from under his cloak and he raised them at his waist, his fingers twitching to touch invisible points before him, subtly and going unnoticed by all save Zak.
The floor of the arena rumbled once more and a column of smoke exploded out of the ground before the farmer, who screamed and fell back on the ground. The hunter exploded forward at the opening, eyes wide open and claws extended like some jungle cat pouncing. Out of the smoke burst a massive figure who met the hunter in midair and was suddenly past him. The hunter was in two pieces and tumbling towards the farmer, still sprawled on the ground. The body fell just short of him with two thumps, and he scurried back from it to the edge of the plume of smoke, and looked up at the newcomer who had just extended his life.
It was a massive man at least head and shoulders above any of the other fighters in the arena. His hands held a long bladed sword, which had cleft through the hunter in one swing. His arms were covered in leather plates with great shoulder guards and straps across his back and chest, with beast hide used likewise in his boots. A great belt with a tusked animal skull on the front girded him with animal skins and held sheaths for two wide-bladed swords which, due to his size and obvious strength, he could have thrown like small daggers. At various points about his body were inset discs in his flesh that glowed blue, as his eyes did, with plates running down along his spine. For all his size and strength he moved like a hunter, smooth and fast.
“What... what is that?” Zak breathed as he laid eyes on the gladiator.
“Duncan!” the tanner beside Zak stood up with fists in the air, roaring the name along with the rest of the arena. The chant went up again, and the master of the arena egged them on along with the roar of the drum beats.
Duncan made no move towards the farmer, only surveyed the layout of the battlefield with a long, slow movement of his gaze. Then in a flash his sword was up, fast enough Zak had not even seen the motion, and a spiked hammer was batted away from his head. A second mad man, this one a pale-skinned fighter with bright red hair and beard, had run up to the catwalk and was preparing to throw another. He’d collected a half dozen of the smaller weapons, caked in the gore of the fighters he’d killed for them, and was launching them at Duncan with savage screams.
Duncan slipped to one side to dodge the next hammer barely moving his head, then another and another as he rushed forward, the hammers striking only air. The berserk had grabbed the last two hammers in either hand and charged the gladiator howling. Before he could close, Duncan moved and was suddenly standing behind him holding his sword as if he had struck. The berserk fell to his knees, his hands fell from his wrists and his upper body fell from his waist.
The farmer wasted no time picking up his weapon but instead fled back across the pillar of smoke, anywhere to escape the fabled champion. Duncan made no sign that he’d even notice the farmer but merely swung his sword to clear the blade of blood and loped off to the nearest group of combatants. His stride appeared effortless even as he bounded across a gap no normal man could have cleared.
The arena’s battle floor rumbled again and more jets of smoke shot up from it, and where they did small pedestals had risen with shining metal crossbows. The fighters near them moved to arm themselves, hefting the weapons in desperation for any strength for this fight. More pillars and walls appeared as the arena continued to change, providing cover and obstacles for targets to hide behind, while the plumes of smoke created banks of mist that flowed along the corridors and between the pillars. At one end of the arena the gates clattered and opened, and shapes darted out.
“Now the game changes, friends,” said the arena master. “From the deadly caverns of Cenderak we bring you a pack of savage Hyda beasts! Rending claws and teeth like daggers, come to claim their sacrifice of blood. Who among these warriors shall fall before them?”
Hidden by the mists the Hyda beasts went unseen, but a rumbling chuffing noise echoed about the arena, and here and there the warriors spun to see great shapes dart past and disappear. The entire crowd hushed and leaned forward to see, whispering in expectation of seeing the survivors fend off one of these beasts.
The fighters were now divided by barriers of stone into much smaller clusters of three to five, or even by themselves. A sudden movement and one of them screamed and disappeared into the mist, then another. Silver and gold teams in a single space stopped fighting and backed together against the screams, here and there, from their fellows. The silence in the battle field and even in the stands was breathtaking, so that the fighters could hear their every breath, their own hearts pounding like drums in their ears.
One of the gold team who had found a crossbow looked wide-eyed for a glimpse of the creatures in the mist, but his hands were shaking and he loosed a bolt by accident. The bolt whistled through the air but struck something solid, and the air crackled and growled. A great cat-like shape formed out of the air, lightning crackling out across its body from where the bolt had struck. It was massive, the size of a horse, but shaped like a hunting cat with iridescent scales over its back and limbs. Its face and underbelly had white fur so fine the hairs were translucent. The bolt had injured it and though it attempted to fade back into the air it could not, and instead bared its fangs at the fighters who had unmasked it.
“Incredible,” the governor sighed.
“Aye, my lord governor, a most deadly beast so long as its scales are unharmed,” Angmarcus cooed. “My sources say they are not unlike your fabled ‘ty-gars’, deadly cats notables describe as magical spirits of air and death by local superstition. Of course we know they have merely been altered to cloak themselves from visible light through their scales.”
The visible Hyda beast closed with the fighters and slew two of them instantly with swipes of its claws and gave vicious gashes to the others before they finally retreated. The Hyda followed with a limping prowl.
“As you can see they are deadly even when revealed,” Angmarcus said. “They would make excellent additions to your excellence’s collection of exotic beasts, I had thought, and I took the liberty of purchasing the cubs along with the others. A gift in honor of your heir’s pending birth.”
The governor did not look away from the Hyda beast but smiled with excitement and said, “Yes... I would like that very much.”
“I thought you might,” Angmarcus cooed into his wine.
In a flash the Hyda beast had reared up on its hindquarters as Duncan had burst out of the mist with a double-handed slash that knocked the Hyda back. Duncan spun and slashed across into its forelimb, then reversed and brought his blade across its chest. Each hit sent more scales flying along with lines of red blood. The Hyda yowled and clawed at the gladiator with its great curved claws, but he was fast enough that it left only tiny scratches across his chest. At the same movement Duncan coiled himself up and brought his blade down with both hands across the Hyda beast’s neck, cleaving the head clear off. It fell, and Duncan was immediately up and searching for the other beasts still on the battlefield.
He was about to move off to find the other beasts when Angmarcus held his pendant close and whispered into it.
“Aren’t you forgetting something?”
Duncan’s body halted midstep and his eye was forced to turn towards the fighters wounded by the Hyda as they limped away. He heard the merchant’s voice as a whisper in the back of his mind but his will compelled the gladiator.
“Don’t think I didn’t see how you rescued that peasant back when you came in. You know how this crowd loves a bloodbath. It’s not like any of them are getting out of here anyway. Now get back to work.”
Duncan fumed, attempted to resist, but felt his body turning towards the injured fighters, his grip readying his blade for killing strokes. He strained against the commands to kill, willing the fighters to flee before his resistance broke and he would cull them like wheat.
“Flying fighters now?” It was the governor’s wife speaking and her voice distracted Angmarcus enough to break his concentration.
“Flying? There were no plans for flying...” his own voice fell away as he looked up at the same time as a high pitched bird call filled the air.
Above the arena floated a great pink-winged, reptilian bird. It was large and gliding on the wind before breaking into a dive and circling above the heads of the crowd. The masses were awed by the spectacle, ooh-ing in hushed tones with each pass, forgetting the death match below. There was a pair of riders on its back, and one of them put a great horn to its lips and blew a long tone. The sky above had filled with more and more such wind-gliders who circled round above the arena in their turn, effortlessly through the air.
And then one of them threw a spear.
It was a good shot that seemed to speed up mid-flight, striking impossibly fast and lancing through the governor’s chest and out the other side. Where it struck the ground there was a shock of lightning and sparks, and then the governor’s body convulsed and he fell to the ground, lifeless. His wife’s scream broke the awesome silence, and screams of terror broke out in the audience followed by the sound of more horn blasts from other riders in the arena.
Chaos broke out once more as the crowds fought to get away, trampling one another in the mad rush. All the wind-gliders threw spears at the crowds, but some threw sacks on rope lengths that landed by the doors and burst into flames. Some of the audience were engulfed in the flames, others in madness running from them and falling over the edge of the wall to the arena floor.
Then the secondary riders leapt down from their mounts and began carving a path through the mobs with curved swords. They were strong-bodied warriors with hairless pink hides, thick ridge-like horns on their heads, and mouths with double rows of sharp teeth. They leapt from row to row hacking with their cleaver-swords as they went. Those burly miners who refused to flee were cut down where they stood. Each kill was celebrated with a howl which others echoed. The wind-gliders flew up and left the arena to return with more raiders, and each time they dropped a cargo of flaming oil upon the crowd or threw down one of their lightning lances. It was a slaughter.
The governor’s guards had flooded the balcony and attacked the raiders who had landed with pikes glowing with fiery white light for blades. Their synth-steel helms and bright red tabards contrasted with the raiders’ wild animal hides. Elite warriors worth every last shin the governor had paid them, they slew two raiders for each of them that fell. Numbers were against them, and soon few of them were left. A pair of them grabbed the governor’s wife, still screaming at her husband’s body, and dragged her bodily through a doorway at the back of the balcony while others stood to cover their escape.
Angmarcus had seen enough, and the moment the governor had been slain he started the struggle to get to his feet, falling to the floor for his troubles. He cursed his boy slave as useless help, who had dropped his tray with the wine jug as the first of the wind-gliders landed on the governor’s balcony. The governor had dropped the trinket as he died, and it had clattered across the floor to lie an inch from the merchant’s face. His brain noted that the sparkling center, once glittering like tiny stars, now glowed like a pulsing red sun. A moment later and the slave boy was slain by a javelin a few steps away, shocking the merchant back to his senses. Angmarcus finally rolled onto his feet and scrambled through the door the governor’s widow had escaped through.
“Klud! Klud, where are you?!” Angmarcus cried as he scrambled through the opulent hallways beyond the balcony. His minion did not respond, and his voice echoed in the empty hallways. He could hear loud booms like thunder, and the stones shuddered beneath him. He hurried as fast as he could after the sound of the governor’s guards’ escape, lungs burning and heart pounding in his ears. He could still hear them, and felt a breeze from up ahead.
Angmarcus came to a wide doorway on the outside of the arena, a great flat balcony that ringed the stadium exterior with a view over all of Katan and beyond. From here Angmarcus could see the governor’s palace and beyond all the way to the Black Riage mountains. The guards had shuffled the governor’s wife onto an artefact the size of a ship that was shaped like a great silvery carriage, an extravagant conveyance only one as wealthy as the governor of Katan could have afforded. Angmarcus fled towards it, but before he could lumber across the balcony its doors closed, and though he rasped loudly they did not open as he got closer. Several flat metal sheets flew out of the front, half-moon “wings” tethered to the carriage by ropes made of light like a team of horses, and dragged the carriage into the sky after them at incredible speed. Angmarcus collapsed against a pillar and watched them go.
The ship soared towards the governor’s palace but then veered off and away to the south. The governor’s palace, and indeed all of Katan, was aflame. A great flock of the wind-gliders had filled the sky in a long line all the way to the horizon and across the mountains. Some circled the palace, others descended into the city, but most headed to the arena. An enormous fanged behemoth with a long, club-like tail swooped overhead, making great gusts of wind with each flap of its wings as it passed, and landed on the top of the arena with such force the very stones trembled. Katan, the city no one dared conquer in a thousand years of prosperous neutrality, was under siege.
“Every one of their subjects is dying back in that arena and the first thing they do is fly away. That’s the ruling classes for you. Left without you, did they?” a gruff voice, Vangar’s voice, coming from behind. Turning, he saw Vangar casually step out from behind a pillar and walk to him. “Not very nice of them.”
“Vangar... what’s... going on?” Angmarcus huffed. There was a sharp pain in his chest and shoulder, and his head felt light. It was the sign his physician had warned him about, the death that comes with soft living and too-rich foods. He cursed the mad dash that brought him here, cursed the raiders for chasing him, and for his weak heart failing him before his old rival Vangar.
Vangar bent down to support him as he slumped, lifted him from the pillar and walking him to the edge of the balcony where the carriage had been docked. Vangar was strong, holding Angmarcus up as though he weighed nothing, and moved so that they could better view the destruction of the flying army.
“Oh, just my new business venture come to Katan. You didn’t think I’d go from raiding for slaves to peddling baubles for noble ladies, did you? No, I return a conqueror, always a conqueror. After your monster obliterated my slave stocks I needed to rebuild from the ground up, so I headed well into the beyond for something to really make it big. I decided to get ahead of the game and found myself an army. These creatures, the Narakans, are the most savage abhumans I’ve ever met, killers as soon as they’re grown. They raid up and down the coasts where they live, anywhere they want with those flying things. They live in giant caves so strange you couldn’t begin to imagine them. I made friends and promised them Katan would be a great place to visit. After ransacking this little gem, no kingdom in the Steadfast will risk having us in the hands of their enemies. The finest mercenary army in the world under my control. Certainly a step up from shilling farmers as arena fodder.”
“They have everything I need: fierce warriors, siege weapons,” he said this just as whatever the giant wind-rider on the roof was struck again with its massive tail. “And, of course, a source of Numenera, like their lightning spears. Like these handy little tracer devices, helping my warriors to find specific targets for me. Odd that they missed one. No matter, I prefer it this way.”
He plunged a dagger into Angmarcus’ belly, and the merchant felt what little strength he had left flying from him.
“Don’t act surprised, this is how you were meant to die five years ago. If only you had that monster here I’d be the one with the knife in his stomach,” Vangar’s words echoed in Angmarcus’ ears. He had utterly forgotten his gladiator-slave in the excitement.
Vangar held the merchant off the ground and over the edge of the balcony with one hand, and patted him on the cheek with the other. The merchant numbly grabbed at the numina light around his neck, perhaps to call his champion to save him, but the fingers had lost their strength. He could not speak, could not breathe, and his thoughts came slowly as if through a fog.
“Goodbye my friend. Give my best to the Laak that pick your bones clean,” Vangar pulled the dagger from the merchant’s gut and released him to fall, end over end, to the pavement below.
Duncan had been frozen since the moment the javelin hit the governor, locked in a battle of wills with Angmarcus. He was but a few paces from the wounded fighters, crumpled on the ground bleeding from the talons of the Hyda beast. They had moved little, crippled by the claw wounds, and lay there waiting for death to find them. The order from Angmarcus to kill them was still fresh and it pressed itself against Duncan’s mind. He could have given in, moved forward and slain the men as he had hundreds before them. There were several more Hyda beasts on the battle floor still on the prowl for flesh. The javelins and fire bombs of the raiders were falling all around the stands, some not far from where they stood. A simple task to follow commands as he always had and save his own skin. Yet Duncan stood still, fighting with every ounce of will to hold back his killing stroke for even one second before the device broke him.
And then the will of Angmarcus was gone from his mind. The pressure was gone! The lack of it made Duncan stumble back a step, lightheaded. He checked himself to be sure, and his thoughts whirled at the enormous change he felt. Yet the part of his mind that calculated tactics was still active. It took in the battle overhead, the paths of the wind-gliders, layout of the battle floor of the arena, even the subtle changes in the shape of the mists around him. The logical part of him reminded him that the freedom could well be short-lived, that when the battle was settled Angmarcus would claim him once more and punish his disobedience. The answer was simple and lay with the fighters huddled in the rippling mists a few steps away.
Duncan moved suddenly, surging forward with his blade in an overhead swing. A few steps from the fighters he leapt into the air, soared over them so quickly the fastest of them had only just looked up at the movement. Duncan’s entire body flexed in one chopping motion as he bore down with his blade above the fighter’s helm.
The Hyda beast’s head appeared in a burst of sparks at the end of Duncan’s blade. The sparks shivered along its body, revealing the scythe-like talons an inch from the wounded warriors. The momentum of the beast continued forward, halting Duncan’s charge. He planted his feet, took the weight of it onto his sword and turned, heaving it to one side and away. The body rolled and twitched on the ground, and then lay still as the last of the sparks glittered and died.
“The mists ripple as the Hyda beasts approach. Look for them in the mists before they strike,” Duncan rumbled. He inhaled deeply the moment of freedom, and turned back to the battle in the stands. No sign of Angmarcus above them, and no pressure from the device controlling his mind, even the slightest pull calling for aide. The governor’s balcony was being filled with raiders leaping from the wind-glider mounts, and even the guardsmen were falling to their onslaught. Duncan pushed down the thrill that the merchant could be dead, but felt a grin on his face.
“Can you walk?”
“Aye,” the fighter he’d saved grunted as he pushed to his feet, holding up a more wounded comrade on his shoulder.
“Then we follow the path and gather with the other fighters at the gates. We’ll break them open and escape through the tunnels beneath the arena. Follow me, and watch yourselves. Death comes from above and from the mists.”
Duncan dove forward through the mists, the fighters hobbling after him towards the gate.
Zak had watched the javelin slay the governor with as much shock as the others in the crowd. While he knew noble politics included assassinations, and in general expected violence in the Ninth world, this was open violence. Nobles drew blood only in the shadows. Even the shanty town thieves kept their knives hidden to avoid the crushing boot of the guardsmen in force. This was blatant, this was in front of every citizen in Katan...
The thought dawned on Zak suddenly as he looked up at the packed stadium, every row filled to standing room with every citizen of the city. Every noble, merchant, worker, slave and rogue was crammed in to see the gladiators fight. Every man, woman and child was penned in to this one stone structure.
“This is going to be a massacre!” he breathed, his heart sinking in his chest. He reached behind his back and pulled at the hilts of two curved short-bladed swords he’d smuggled in. Xeran nodded solemnly, his hands still upraised before him in his meditation.
And then the javelins rained down upon the crowds, the fire bombs covered the entrances, and raiders began to leap from the wind-gliders to slay with wide, curved blades and fanged mouths. One of them landed at the top of the tier above where they stood, and a moment later the gore-stained body of the merchant tumbled over the edge and into the crowd. The crowd spooked and moved in a single wave from it, climbing over one another to get out of the way. Zak and Xeran stepped back against the wall, but the tanner feared more would fall from above and stumbled forward into the space the crowd had emptied.
Immediately another raider landed before him with its sword out and swinging at the tanner for the kill. Zak leapt forward and caught its blade on his own thin sword, a close call, and shouldered the tanner to fall down the steps and out of the way. Zak bowed with one leg forward, like a courtier, dodging the wild swing of the raider trying to take his head off. Then he followed it with a backwards flip, kicking the raider under the chin with his back leg. He landed, leaned back and turned his head to let the raider’s next chop rush past his cheek. Seeing an opening he darted forward and stabbed at what he assumed was its heart from under the creature’s arm with one blade, then blocked its sword with the other and used it to stab through its eye. They were large-bodied and strong enough he was taking no chances on missing vital organs, and with luck he’d struck home. The wounds bled hot white blood and the raider tumbled to the ground.
Xeran was beside him along with two other raiders with a third coming in fast to flank them. Xeran’s eyes glowed and when he reached out a hand to one of them it rose from the ground. He swung his arm in an arc and ended with a clap of his hands. The floating raider swung around fast and clapped into the other two with a wet crunch, knocking all three off the edge of the tier to fall to the arena floor.
“You are needed above,” Xeran said, and pointed Zak to the upper tier of the nobles that was becoming increasingly filled with raiders.
Zak ran towards the tier wall as fast as he could, lifted his foot to meet it at full speed, and shifted, running up the wall to leap over the top. It was a minor feat, easier than willing the meal down off the wall perhaps because he was already such an accomplished acrobat. His body was lean and fit, incredibly graceful on its own, but empowered by his gifts to be supernaturally fast.
Over the wall he went and leapt through the air to plant both blades in the back of the first raider he could find where he thought its lungs would be. He was wrong, or the raider was tough enough to fight through the pain, and it swung its cleaver-blade around. Zak spun himself in an aerial cartwheel, the cleaver-blade sailing by him. Zak used the raider’s momentum to pull one of his blades out and stab it through his throat and killing it instantly. He spun to meet another raider leaping at him down the stairs, pointed his blade at its heart, but at the last second ducked to the side and casually pulled his second blade from the fallen raider’s body. The newcomer, overcompensating on the charge, flew past him with momentum and over the tier wall to smash into the steps below.
Xeran leapt out of the way of the falling raider as it hit the ground, and moving down the steps pulled a device from a pouch at his waist that whirred and opened itself into a handheld crossbow. The dart it fired was small, too small to kill or even harm one of the burly raiders. Yet the sorcerer found a target, took aim and fired. Xeran’s aim was true and the dart struck the wing of a wind-glider whose owner was releasing a fire bomb at a cluster of humans below. The flying mount shrieked as the tight skin that kept it aloft shredded, and it and its riders tumbled out of the sky.
Xeran reached out his hand again, extending his will around the leather sack the raiders had meant to throw down. He caught it, and it floated in mid-air for a moment, wavering slightly from side to side. A formation of wind-riders in the shape of an arrowhead was headed his way, javelins at the ready to strike down the resistors. With a push Xeran sent the leather sack flying towards them and, opening his fingers at the last, made the sack burst and spray its contents.
The leader of the formation swerved out of the way but the others moved too late and were covered in the black liquid the sack contained. It was a tar-like substance that clung to them and on contact with air burst into flames. The raiders cried out, their mounts shrieked and the wings shrivelled in the flames. The leader turned to watch his followers falling out of the air, and spat at the sorcerer. He pulled his wind-glider around, searching for another target. Below he could see the governor’s balcony swarming with his brothers, overcoming the guardsmen and slaughtering the nobles there. Yet, in a small balcony below the main one, there was a small man in rich threads, the master of the arena. He was trapped, unable to move up the steps to the main balcony and having no other exit from his perch not blocked by the raiders, so stood there quaking. Swearing to kill the sorcerer next, the rider raised its javelin and threw it at the easy target.
The lightning lance shot through the air from the powerful throw, then whirred to electric life and sped itself up as it struck the master of the arena down. The javelin passed through him and into the back of the master’s balcony where it struck a wall made of stone, synth and lights. The old master had watched others die for years in his rise to this public office, and as he’d aged imagined his own death coming for him. The thought had made him fearful, and that fear had kept him trapped at his perch waiting for the fighting above to cease so he could flee for safety. His body shocked by the javelin, he convulsed and fell back against the control wall.
The controls linked to the battle floor of the arena, shifting the surface terrain into walls, pillars and gaps with a wave of a hand. Whatever purpose the battle floor had served in earlier epochs, the enterprising refugees that had built Katan saw the potential for training warriors and founded the arena upon it. Blood and lightning striking the controls shorted them, causing the lights to shift and blur. A circle on the wall projected a moving image in blue and red light into the middle of the nook, of five tiny suns in an irregular pattern. It turned the suns around then zoomed in on one, making it grow and the other stars vanish, and displayed the fine details of the tiny spheres orbiting with strange alphabetical letters floating around them. A jolt from the lightning lance shocked the image away, replacing it briefly with the image of a beautiful human woman with dark skin and a friendly face. She shrank to appear beside a cylinder that was itself made up of pillars that rearranged themselves in different patterns as different shapes blinked above it. The shapes were like the carriage the governor’s wife had escaped in on the balcony dock, except larger and more strangely formed, and with each one requiring a different configuration of the pillars beneath it. Another jolt sent the image away entirely, and the room lights shifted from blue-purple to red. The arena began to rumble as the controls sent wild, undirected commands to the battle floor.
The pillars and walls surrounding Duncan and the other fighters rumbled and lowered themselves into the floor, making the surface flat and even. He could see all the other fighters across the arena, a good dozen or so still alive. Across the battle floor he could see the line of gates on the far wall, including the four gates for teams of human gladiators, the gates for exotic fighting beasts, and the great gate built to hold back whatever titan the ringmasters had prepared for him to fight that day. It was a far run but with no obstacles they could make it before the raiders noticed the easy targets on the battle floor.
“Follow me to the gates!” he roared at the others. He sheathed his great sword and, picking up two of the most wounded fighters in his group he led the charge across the arena. The other survivors took the hint and bolted to join them, moving fast across the floor while the space was open. Javelins fell around them, picking off another and then another of the fighters. Duncan passed one of the wounded men from his shoulder to the man next to him, drew a small sword from his waist and spun around to throw it at the closest wind-glider.
The sword spun through the air to land in the beast’s chest with a thunk. The wind-glider’s pilot felt the impact, and the mount shuddered and faltered beneath him. The vertigo that comes from freefall rushed over the raider as it fell out of the air, spinning before smashing into the stands.
Zak tumbled out of the way of the crashing wind-glider, rolling back to his feet and into a slashing strike with his blade that traced a line of the hot white fluid on the body of yet another raider. He had left a trail of the creatures as he made his way around the arena, but they had been culling the crowd like wheat, leaving bodies piled every step of the way. Zak was spending almost as much effort on avoiding the gore as he was dodging the cleavers, and on avoiding looking too closely at those killed by them. He was fast on his feet and with his blades but was slowed by the effort of fighting this army virtually single-handed. He also noted that his tactics were to dodge their swings while hitting them many times. The raiders were immense brutes, thick-bodied and strong. All this effort was wearing Zak down. He was not entirely surprised when the raider’s blade slashed through the front of his leather shirt. The forward-curved tip had caught on the edge of his jerkin, torn it across the chest and scratched a red line in his skin. It burned and bled. Zak, furious, stabbed it in the arm, bent down and slashed its knee, then back up to cut across its throat. The effort had taken its toll, and Zak stumbled and held a shaking hand to his chest that came back red. His limbs were heavier, sweat poured down his back, and now his chest burned as he breathed.
Zak heard screams from up ahead and saw pockets of resistance fighting raiders. A few of the nobles on his tier had been armed, likely officers in the guard or visiting mercenary captains, and were fighting back as they could. Others had taken up the swords of fallen raiders, or groups of them had tackled one to the ground. Some had pulled lightning lances from the dead to arm themselves. These were few and scattered, and did not have the physical advantages of the raiders with their thick bodies and long limbs. Their attackers had moved into a line down the steps and were hacking through the survivors as they walked. Zak was more capable with his weapons than any of the nobles, and despite his own troubles knew they would not survive unless he could get to them.
Zak ran forward and threw his sword at the middle-most raider’s knee. It slid through and the raider fell back, howling. The others to the left and right turned and saw Zak with his other dagger, pausing their slaughter. Zak planted one foot on the body of the raider he’d killed, and pulled the calling horn from its belt. He blew a note in as mocking a stance as he could, then chucked the horn end over end towards one of the raiders still engaging the rest of the crowd. It smacked it on the back of the head, and the rest of them turned towards him, seeing him and the trail of their dead behind him. First one and then the rest roared from deep in their throats, fanged jaws wide, and charged towards him.
“Well, here they come. Let’s hope the nobles return the favour and come at them from the rear so this doesn’t turn out to be as dumb an idea as I think it was,” Zak muttered, and took a long, deep breath to calmly gather his last reserves of strength.
Those among the nobles still armed fell back from the raiders and their new target. They even shied from the raider with Zak’s blade in its knee.
“Or I could just be right all the time,” he groaned, and felt his curled moustache with his off hand while flipping and catching his blade in the other. “I need to remember to carry a backup for days like this.”
There was a great bang and crash, and pieces of stonework clattered down on the stadium steps. There was an earth-shattering roar, and a massive chunk of stone tumbled out of the sky to land on the raiders just as they began to close with Zak. He jumped back, the masonry landing so close he felt dust and small shards of it pelting him. His mind froze with the single thought “Too close!”
Above them, the living siege weapon of the raiders roared again, full-throated from the top of the arena, a creature none of the citizens of Katan had seen before. It was a monster the size of a small fortress, four-limbed and covered in a stony hide with thick metal rings crafted onto its massive tail. Its every step caused tremors in the stadium, and each time it swung its tail a part of the arena crumbled and crashed down onto the crowds and raiders alike. It was perched at the top of the stone ring and its six-fingered paws left cracks where the talons pierced the rock. The wind-gliders moved around it like water around a rock in a stream, moving up or aside as it moved side to side. The great body shifted forward and stepped down into the stands. The raiders had moved on, and its feet crushed only the remnants of their slaughter. With another roar it lifted its hind quarters again and smashed the broken wall behind it with a flick of its massive tail. Another chunk of solid rock, this one the size of a fully-loaded wagon tore loose and soared end over end into the balcony of the master of the arena. Sparks flew out of the ruined control nook, and the floor of the arena began to move.
The battle floor of the arena was made up of long stone blocks lined side by side so they could be raised and lowered to make whatever terrain the controller wished. Low walls, high walls, deep trenches and more could be formed simply by adjusting the height of the blocks. Now that the controls were destroyed, the blocks shifted in place, ripples moving over the surface and a glow passing between the seams. All at once the surface began to part as some blocks moved up and others down. The floor began to shift between pre-programmed floor plans. Long hallways formed a maze, then lowered and became catwalks above a lethal drop, then shifted again to ridges of low walls.
Duncan knew the patterns well, having been in each one year after year, day after day. He knew where holes would open beneath them when the first ridges popped up, knew how high the walls would be, and directed the others around them. He put the wounded down by the gate when they reached it, then made a mad dash to another group and carried their injured over. Soon the remnant of gold and silver fighters was gathered around the gate.
These were all from the first batch of fighters, in gold, silver and one or two in bronze. All of them were seasoned fighters, either long time gladiators, bred from fighting stock, or else soldiers captured in war or hunters from nomad boarder tribes sold into slavery. They had been tested on the battlefield and survived where the unskilled had fallen. Though they had been fleeing for their lives they still carried their weapons and held them with confidence. Battle scars of earlier times traced their limbs in silvery lines, and each of them had corded muscles and hardened bodies.
Several of them were at the gate and pushing at it, lifting it or prising at it with weapons. The gate was a solid portal made of thick, spiked metal bars welded to a thicker stone base that had to be raised and lowered by a winch. Despite their efforts, the door did not move.
(this fan-created chart is intended for addition to the Oddities Table, featured on pages 314-316 of the Numenera core book; it is presented here only as an exercise in weird fun, as part of my ongoing delight in such a wonderful system and setting)
The lenses of this object are found as (1d10):
1-2: glasses, set in frames made of (1d6): 1-2 metal, 3 synth, 4 aged wood, 5 smart fluid with internal power supply (see pg. 306), 6 stronglass.
3-4: contact lenses, magnetically bonded so that they cannot be pulled more than (2d20) inches apart. The bond is commonly elastic, and the lenses can work as a sort of yo-yo; 10% of the time, however, the bond is unusually rigid — as if the lenses are attached to one another by a stout iron chain — and allows for no “give” of any kind.
4-5: goggles, set in frames (as glasses, above), including straps crafted of (1d6): 1-2 leather, 3 tough rubber, 4 adamant silk, 5 pliable metal, 6 regenerating plant tissue with the texture of leather, which sustains itself via photosynthesis and trace moisture drawn from the wearer.
6: small opera glasses, with frames made of (as above); lacking earpieces, the lenses are set on the end of a length or loop of chain or cord, made of (1d6) 1-2 metal, 3 synth, 4 old twine, 5 azure steel, 6 living muscle.
7: collapsible binoculars, fashioned of (1d6): 1 azure steel, 2 living plant tissue, 3 durable molded foam, 4 synthsteel, 5 regenerating paper, 6 incredibly dense organic stone under an antigrav effect.
8-9: a single, clear handheld viewing screen like an Imager (see page 306), in a protective folding case mode of (as glasses, above).
10: an additional set of eyes, either a biological symbiote or a mechanical implant (50/50) that (1d10): 1-4 attaches to the side of the head, 5-7 must be placed into an empty eye socket, 8-9 may be implanted anywhere on the body, 10 hovers within three feet of the user and transmits information via wireless telepathic communication.
The lenses (roll 1d100, halve the result):
1 - produce bright pop-up animations for the user when people seen through the lenses are angry or sad.
2 - shift all colors “up” by one along the ROYGBIV spectrum: red becomes orange, green becomes blue. Violet becomes jet black.
3 - shoot harmless pink lasers and play a short song whenever the user looks at someone who is ovulating; the song is different is the viewer is pregnant.
4 - reverse the genders of humans seen through them.
5 - show all humans without faces or hands.
6 - produce a barely-audible buzzing sound whenever the wearer stares at something for more than nine seconds.
7 - show all humans seen through them at 1.2 times their biological age.
8 - allow the user to smell whatever she is looking at as though she were standing three feet closer. This allows the user to smell the inside of objects within three feet.
9 - emit soft, slow strobe-light effects when in darkness, intermittently illuminating an area six inches in front of the user.
10 - provides complex subtitles, in an unknown language, of anyone speaking directly to the wearer.
11 - highlight areas of potential interest to the user in bright green, with specific attention given to knots, bottles and placards.
12 - vibrate quietly when the user is looking at anything made of (or containing) gold, platinum or diamonds.
13 - make non-biological objects look like they’re on fire.
14 - draw contrails behind living creatures when they move very slowly.
15 - show a unique yellow number floating above the heads of all humans seen. This number goes up sometimes.
16 - play soft music, audible only to the user, whenever she looks at anything containing alcohol.
17 - makes all synth and plastic materials look like they’re made of wood, and all metal look like it is rusted or tarnished.
18 - see through cotton, and turn bright red while doing so.
19 - “flatten” any carbonated beverage within four feet that the user looks at directly for seventeen seconds. A countdown of numbers in a unknown writing system appear when looking at such a beverage.
20 - produce a list of possible anagrams, viewable only to the user, whenever she looks at writing.
21 - produce the smell of delicious, sauteed vegetables of the appropriate type in a 3 foot radius whenever the user looks at vegetables or drawings of vegetables.
22 - shows the user a short, amusing animated video of a funny-looking, furred creature (species unknown) performing a variety of comedic acts whenever the user speaks one of several alien words or their biometrics seem to suggest that they are sad.
23 - makes blood look like bright, neon foam.
24 - shows a short animation and plays a song, audible only to the user, when certain ancient icons, symbols and logos are seen. These appear to be mocking, offensive jokes; the songs are high-pitched, fast, and contain many fart noises.
25 - reads aloud words (usually in unknown and long-dead languages) when the user looks at certain sigils or hieroglyphs, providing perfect pronunciation; these are often sounds that cannot be produced by humans. Releases a short but mildly unpleasant shock if the user subsequently mispronounces the word.
26 - removes blemishes of those seen, and draws elaborate hairstyles on them. This may serve to heighten the sex-appeal of those seen through the lenses, if one shares the fashion sense of the original creator.
27 - displays all fur and bone, including human teeth and hair, as invisible.
28 - draws funny hats, in a variety of styles, floating above anything that moves.
29 - shows scary, animated lighting bolts shooting from anything that has an electrical charge running through it.
30 - displays human sweat, saliva, mucus, urine and other bodily fluids as having a variety of bright and eye-catching colors.
31 - shows inorganic material in black & white.
32 - shows hallucinogenic rainbows shooting out of anyone under the influence of alcohol, a drug or tailored “party disease”.
33 - makes a soft “bonk” sound, audible only to the user, whenever the user observes two objects collide.
34 - displays members of the opposite sex only a silhouettes.
35 - makes an appreciative whistle, audible only to the user, whenever the user looks at something with complementary colors.
36 - superimposes the user’s face onto all other humans.
37 - displays a lengthy, scrolling series of notes and comments containing detailed information in an unknown language when looking at any food or drink.
38 - keeps a detailed record of human faces, and highlights people the user has seen before. Symbols, possibly numbers, appear next to faces — these seem to be keeping track of how many total seconds you have spent looking at them.
39 - shows all creatures, including plants, with bright, cartoonishly-emotive eyes. The emotions shown are often at odds with the actual emotional state of the creature.
40 - displays a series of unknown symbols whenever the user looks at anything made of synth. This may be a number, denoting the age of the materials, or perhaps the name of the manufacturer.
41-44 - roll twice.
45-47 - roll three times.
48-49 - roll four times.
50 - roll five times.
It would be seriously useful to have some sort of cypher that would let me pick this book up and grok it without all this reading nonsense. Yes, I could use that sort of cypher on some other voluminous literary classic, but right now I'm not worrying about one of those...
I'm 52 pages in and enjoying what I have read so far, though that's obviously pretty much just the kick-off fiction and character generation.
Here's to the next 350+ pages and getting a first chance to run this thing.
(this fan-created monster uses the base rules of the Raster, presented on page 253 of the Numenera core book; it is presented here only as an exercise in weird fun, as part of my ongoing delight in such a wonderful system and setting)
The vytpilchi, sometimes called angel-harps, aren’t human — not even close. They’re not messengers or gods, either, nor immaculate heralds or devilish spirits, nor are they sentient … but that that doesn’t stop many Nine Worlders from presuming that they are.
Always singing, these rare creatures are still quite “shy,” for lack of a better term, and do not like to be seen; although unskilled physical combatants, they will gladly kill and eat those who gaze upon them while the vytpilchi are attempting to rapidly escape observation. Knowledge of the secret word that temporarily calms an angel-harp is a closely-guarded treasure amongst some sorcerers.
From a distance, individual vytpilchi look like exotic, beautiful nobles of some indescribably elegant bloodline, clothed in elaborate, flowing gowns, piercings, makeup and hair-styles at least a half-million years out of fashion. Fluttering and glittering weightlessly through the air, borne upon an array of six mighty wings which emerge from their backs, they fly with unmatched speed and grace. Up close, they’re even more beautiful: gliding with the barest tips of their robes silently brushing the ground, vytpilchi are the rarest of stylish charm defined. They are, simply put, moving works of breathtaking, ancient art. Possessed of unearthly but decidedly appealing proportions, they speak with softly lilting voices that exude a sort of sly, sweet innuendo while seeming to say nothing.
"Nothing" is, unfortunately, exactly what they’re saying.
They have all the personality of a screen saver. Although a vytpilchi might make a fine background guest at a cocktail party, capable of performing beautiful music, acrobatic sexual acts, extensive wine-pouring rituals or cunning & erotic dances upon command — while constantly parroting one of millions of poetic phrases in a variety of dead languages — they are psychologically empty; the barest scan of telepathy or other simple psionic prod reveals that they are only elaborate machines running on standby, filling empty conversational space with trillions of cached verbal and physical responses from a massive, static look-up table.
One of those cached responses is, allegedly, if not (accompanied by/upon) [untranslatable], do not be seen — after bypassing that, it is theoretically possible to ask a vytpilchi for any favor; they make excellent scouts, bodyguards, servants, playthings and sentries. According to legend, also included in the table of an angel-harp’s “mind” is a well-locked switch designed to take the vytpilchi out of standby mode; it is presumed that this allows a user to pilot them as a direct puppet.
It is unknown if any sorcerer has succeeded in unlocking this switch.
Vytpilchi in standby possess no ability to improvise or extrapolate, and succeed in “trial-and-error” calculations only when incrementally harder or softer attempts of the same automatic response might achieve the final goal. Vytpilchi possess incredible sensory acuity, yet are unaware even of their own unawareness, existing only to politely provide some service long forgotten. Vytpilchi are, likewise, physically hollow: although crafted of some expertly-wrought self-replicating material that feels identical to the most supple of warm, soft human skin, they are merely dolls that operate mechanically by slowly breaking down the simple organic bonds of matter they consume via artificial chemosythetic means. Although they “bleed,” vytpilchi have no circulatory system and contain no major internal parts — they are, instead, the product of nano- or pico-technological level workmanship: gazing into the mouth and down the throat of a vytpilchi will reveal that it contains only a simple, well-greased tube.
Assuming they can be properly commanded to do so, vytpilchi are strong enough to carry horses in flight with unencumbered ease. They do not reproduce by any observed means, and do not walk; instead, they hover in antigrav, possessing no legs below the knee — although soft, jelly-like pads on the tips of their thighs seem to suggest that the vytpilchi are designed to “plug-into” something. If damaged but not destroyed, a vytpilchi regenerates to its preset form within hours; this form always includes the extensive make-up, jewelry, hair-do and clothing it wears.
It is theorized that the vytpilchi originally served as “masks” for some long-vanished visitant race that once interacted quite directly with the humans of a time-worn epoch; it is possible that the angel-harps also acted as a method of flight, and as artificial translators, vocal apparatuses, telescopes, sniper-weapons, social-dress or even more esoteric tools. What strange and scuttling things might have hidden below the hem of vytpilchi gown in those ancient days, however, none can guess.
And somewhere, undiscovered, something primeval — perhaps akin to those antediluvian and unnamed visitants, and perhaps not — has begun to produce more vytpilchi with each passing day.
In time, angel-harps may fill the skies.
I've been working on a little project inspired by the Nightmare Switch adventure PDF. I really, REALLY, liked how it was laid out. I love the design of the Numenera books so far and so I thought it would be awesome if people had a relatively easy way to write their own adventure modules in a similar style.
So, I knocked up this project today that allows you to build a document up that looks very similar in design to the Nightmare Switch PDF. To make your own document, you just download the website files and edit them.
It's a work in progress and it's really more of a fairly fragile toolkit for building PDFs using a browser's Print-to-PDF option, but I hope someone will find it useful.
The early version of it is here: http://darkliquid.co.uk/playground/numenera/template/
Tried to purchase the hard back book in the UK when the online company posted to me there new releases only to find out that it was sold out damn too slow with that buy now button. Oh we'll at least I got the PDF on drive thru
Just ran this for two players; I had to adjust the damage of one of the enemies, but otherwise it ran fine. They poked around the base of the tower, had some fun falling off spars toward the water, and one got bit by a GM Intrusion mechanical serpent lurking in the levitation superstructure before the whole platform finally collapse into the ocean (with some harrowing moments as one got caught in the tangle of material coming loose.)
They had no qualms about returning the revitalizer to Dracogen, and a few 1s rolled during the struggle to reclaim it wound up with the entire boarding house on fire, thugs chasing them (resolved as a chase scene with Speed checks), and them being wanted by the authorities for questioning in regard to the arson. (The Nano who Rides the Lightning got a couple 1s on his Onslaught attempts, causing said fires.)
Overall, though, a great session, and the lack of complex rules meant the characters got made in under half an hour, with personalities ready by the time we started the game proper.