[instrumental break]


Life is hard when you’re severely depressed, poor, and trying to write professionally out of your childhood bedroom because there’s nowhere else you can afford in this nightmare capitalist wasteland. Also having a major health scare tends to make one… just a mite taciturn. It’s not serious, or at least it’s not as serious as originally thought, so, y’know, that’s nice.

That’s my excuse for a lack of updates, and by god I’m sticking to it.

Things are happening, and I suppose most of them are good, so I simply haven’t had either the time or capacity to write anything that wasn’t to a deadline and classified under an NDA. I still can’t talk about most of it, but that should change pretty soon.

One thing I can mention because I’m not under a non-disclosure clause is that the lovely French folks that made the virtual tabletop Let’s Role (God, I love that pun) approached me a little while ago about doing a little writing to include in the pack of little perks they give subscribers. I bang on about Foundry a lot because, well, it’s a good VTT, but I was a backer for Let’s Role when they launched a Kickstarter, and I’ve been following their progress closely ever since. It’s a pretty nifty place, with some very cool features I haven’t seen anywhere else. Also the dice feel really satisfying, someone put a lot of effort into those physics. You should check it out, it might fit the kind of game you want to run, and it won’t cost you anything you don’t want to pay. This is not a sponsored post, partly because I would never do that, partly because all of 5 people probably read this nonsense, and also because I say “fuck” far too often for that sort of thing.

Anyway. That’s me done for a while. Until my next existential crisis, friends!



Definitely Not A Reflection On The Author's State of Mind

It’s Stupid O’Clock, I can’t sleep, and my laptop is right there. So here’s a thing.

Welcome to the crossroads. “Welcome back?” No, that wouldn’t be quite right. Sure, you’ve been here before, and you’ll be here again, but… It’s not the same place, really, is it? It’s never the same place.

You have some choices to make. I know, I know, but I’m required to remind you. Oh, don’t you worry about who. Even if you recognised the name I doubt you’d believe me. And no, I’m afraid you can’t stay here. That’s not how it works.

Choose a direction. There’s no going back, much as it pains me to say.

“Why?” is… a bigger question than I think you fully realise. Even if I knew, I don’t think I could tell you. Hey, don’t give me that look. I’m just doing my job. I didn’t force this on you. I can’t. And I wouldn’t. It’s just not in me. You want to blame someone, look closer to home. Friends, family, enemies, whatever government is currently preening itself in the corridors of power, they’re the most likely suspects. I’m just the… Usher? Doorman? Close enough.

No, no, please, no apology necessary. You’d be amazed how often it comes up, is all. Oh yes, I get it a lot. I know, the place looks deserted. It’s… Hmm. I suppose you could say that the aesthetic is a major part of this whole process. Trust me, you’re far from the only person to stand here at any given moment.

Speaking of which, this is it, your moment. You, standing here, right now. It’s important. You know that. Every decision you’ve made or had forced on you has led you to this precise moment, and the choice you make here will colour every one that comes after it.


That’s part of the beauty of it, actually, the uncertainty. Did this or that choice make any difference? It’s obvious enough with, say, what college course you accepted. But what about your choice of toothpaste for the five years previous to that? How did that affect the offers? How did it affect your decision? Oh it was a subtle thing for sure, but it was there, nonetheless. That and a thousand tiny choices like it. Snowflakes building up to an avalanche. Consider this, though: If you knew the outcome of every choice you could make, would you be left with any choices at all?

Heh. The look on your face. The implications tend to upset people. Not you though. At least, not this time. Interesting.

Oh, now that’s a far better question than “why”. Maybe the uncertainty is what gives a choice meaning. Maybe it isn’t. I can’t answer that. There might not even be an answer. But I believe it’s important to ask the question, all the same. Sincerely, well done.

But I’m still rambling. My apologies. I’ve taken up enough of your time. I can see it in your eyes, you’ve decided. Good luck, friend.

I’ll see you up ahead some time.

Uncategorized Updates

I Aten’t Dead

I'm just tired.

Things have been… well, you can read previous blags yourself if you fancy a cocktail of bloody-minded rage and intense self pity, but add in a tooth that has been broken for over a year getting infected, and some other stuff. Mostly the tooth. Holy shit, that was painful. It did not help that I was encouraged to medicate with whiskey “because stronger painkillers can be addictive”, as if I didn’t spend 9 months up to my eyeballs on oxycodone just so I was able to sleep without waking up screaming about my spine.

I’m down 2 bottles of EXTREMELY fine duty-free because of that. I’m going to miss the Venezuelan rum particularly.

I suppose, at least, it did mean I got to visit an actual dentist. I have been trying to get the tooth seen since it broke but dental appointments are rarer than a Fine Gaeler with a conscience since at least the start of the pandemic. It’s not the dentist’s fault, either. Just another failure of the system to throw on the pile with the others. Fucking Stephen Donnelly. A useless haunted thumb in a suit.

Anyway, writing. It’s been bloody difficult of late. Haven’t been able to do any non-contracted writing, and even the contract stuff has been like pulling, ahem, teeth. I like writing dystopian fiction as long as the world isn’t itself a nightmare dystopia, and that has not been going so well, has it?

I may (he said extremely cautiously) be climbing out of that benighted pit a little in the last few days. I had to go a little over deadline for the last chapter I was contracted for, which is a source of shame, but I finished it at the start of this month. And now I have another chapter in 2 different projects to work on, with perhaps a month and a half to sort them out. Meanwhile, that previous chapter was pointed to as an example of what the editor would like to see in some of these new projects, which is a little gfratifying.

And I’m not panicking. That’s usually a good sign. They are both very exciting to me, for all that they’re hugely different in style and tone. I can’t talk about any of it yet.

But soon.


Ew, there’s a politics in my blag

Maybe it’s the fever dreams I had while recovering from the phenomenally idiotic decision I made to dine on KFC the other day, maybe it’s the way nobody has tried to set fire to Leinster House, but this has been weighing on me a lot and it needs to go somewhere so I can get back to IMPORTANT things like editing that second chapter of Peig Sayers: Vampire Hunter.

Anyway. Enjoy, or don’t, I’m not a cop etc.

Hopelessness is like a drug. That’s probably why news publishers sell so much of it these days. It can be very hard to realise that you’re sliding into the abyss until it’s staring you in the face, and even then you might not recognise what you see.

Things are… not good, right now. Some idiot started a war in Europe and the response from most countries has been, pretty much, a stern look and strongly worded letter. I think we’re on the fifth wave of sanctions against Russia, which tells you all you need to know about how effective the previous four were. The media have decided clapping for the Ukrainian president’s Dáil speech is what REAL solidarity and leadership are about instead of, say, actually doing something about the staggering amounts of Russian oligarch money in the IFSC or Aughanish. Micheál Martin, Irish Taoiseach and easily the most spineless, pathetic sack of shit in a parliament *absolutely stacked* with spineless, pathetic sacks of shit, continues to pretend he’s in control, that he’s in charge, that his complete lack of any sort of plan beyond “I’m in charge :)” will strike a meaningful blow against Putin and Covid, that other thing he did absolutely nothing about which got nearly 7,000 people killed so far. And the media are just as useless on that, too. I won’t forget that Virgin Media News labelled the day the government simply gave up on restrictions “Freedom Day”. Weekly deaths are still in double figures, not that any alleged journalists are really mentioning that. People are too sick to work, but those same reporters spin it as “We need to redefine what ‘sick’ means so we can force more people to work while sick”, giving more weight to the employers upset about falling profits than to the employees upset about *becoming really sick and often suffering permanent fucking damage* and simply pretending that “living with covid” means anything besides the reality, which is mass death and nobody being able to work.

Fucking neolibs. They’ve destroyed so much, and the public will cheer them because they were waving a rainbow flag when they got the Gardai to help illegally evict families for some US vulture fund that bought their house from under them.

And that’s only THIS week in Irish politics.

It’s all very wearying.

I don’t want to write about politics. Politics is full of incredibly dull, tedious little men with all the depth of a spoon run over by a freight train. I want to write funny little adventures about ghosts and trolls and butts and wizards who aren’t massive fucking bigots. Unlikely heroes and terrible villains, that sort of thing. But fuck me, no villain I could ever write will match the evil of those serious, bloodless, tedious little men in Leinster House. Those heinous little men who argue that private profit is more important than public health. Who calmly say that we should debate whether trans people deserve basic human rights. Who have been trying to sell off the country’s public water system for years.

You like to pretend that they’re not evil, that unfortunately some of them might be *right* and they have no choice but to let homelessness balloon to over 10,000 people, to vote against a livable minimum wage or welfare allowance for disabled people. You like to pretend that it’s all so very *academic* and that there have to be winners and losers.

You’re wrong, of course. And you’ll never fully silence that last tiny shred of conscience that tells you the truth about a man who would, for example, lie through his teeth about how Covid ran rampant through Irish schools and old folks’ homes and meat packing plants and direct provision centres, all so businesses could carry on as if there was no pandemic.

That’s what evil is. It’s Leo Varadkar stamping down on minimum wage workers. It’s Micheál Martin being too fucking pathetic to do what needs doing during a pandemic. It’s the minister for housing Darragh O’Brien (no relation, thank fucking god) directly profiting from deliberately failing to control the skyrocketing price of housing. It’s a government that has completely failed people, and who not only allowed the far right to capitalise on their failures, but actively encouraged them, and suppressed the people who tried to stop them., to the point where you have fucking neonazi sympathisers in the Dáil. People like Trump or Putin? They’re just symptoms. They’re the end result of the status quo you’re protecting. Completely predictable, utterly inevitable, because that’s simply what the status quo you’re all so comfortable in produces.

It’s the media who treat all of this as normal and proper instead of completely fucking insane. Maybe, if we’re REALLY lucky, one of them will write a book about how this shouldn’t have happened, and include damning information that COULD have made a differen- No, I can’t finish that joke, there are too many of those fuckers.

Things are not going to get better. Not if you keep pretending that it’s more important to clap for a speech than it is to take direct punitive action against a tyrant.

Me, I don’t really have any hope about this planet’s future. We’re all going to die because too many of you don’t want to make the effort to avoid extinction. When it comes, a lot of you will have deserved it. I doubt I’ll live to see it, but I want you to know that wherever I am by then, no matter what the laws of life or death forbid, I will be laughing as the mobs of starving poor you created beat down your mansion door in whatever high-security dystopian apartheid hellscape you made of once-leafy south Dublin.

God, that felt good to write. Hopelessness is like a drug, after all.

You’d probably think, from all the above, that I am a violent, angry, misanthropic, nihilistic soul. You’d be partially right, anyway. I abhor violence. Nihilistic? Eh, maybe a little, but existence without meaning just means I can invent my own. Angry? Oh my goodness, yes. Injustice makes me very angry, and given the pathetic state of this country’s ruling classes I may never stop being completely fucking furious. Anger at injustice is good, actually. You should try it. It’s a lot more effective than politeness.

I’m not going to give up working and calling and fighting for better than this bullshit. There’s more than enough pain out there without me adding to it. I’m doomed to failure, of course, far too many of you have decided that inflicting pain and destroying the world is the way to go, but that’s not really the point.

I’d rather try to make the world slightly less shit as it gets driven into oblivion by a pack of stupid wankers, is all.

Uncategorized Updates

We’re all we’ve got

Everything is terrible. We don't have to be.

So everything is terrible right now. The world’s on fire, the country is being run by *phenomenally* stupid cryptofascists and the chances of us all dying from a vaccine-resistant strain of the ‘rona are only increasing because everyone seems determined to re-enact the very dumbest parts of the whole Spanish Flu fiasco of the last century.

A worrying number of my friends are actively flirting with suicide because the world’s various governments have failed to control a simple disease so very badly that any hope at all seems like an alien prospect to most of us. We’re all expendable for the sake of the Holy Economy, especially the children who are being forced back into crowded classrooms with no mitigation measures at all because the cocking ministers for education and health outright refuse to admit they were wrong about schools being safe for the last two years.

It’s very hard to have any hope in the face of this relentless creeping horror of indifference from the ruling classes. And it’s in that context I eventually wrote this. I was thinking about the altruism I had written into the weird hyperdimension fiction I’d written previously. I admit there’s a lot of influence here from a particular scene in All Star Superman where Lex Luthor, having taken a serum that gives him the same abilities as Superman, starts to realise how interconnected everything is and suddenly realises why Superman does what he does. It wears off, Luthor says “If it wasn’t for you I could have saved the world!”. Superman responds with “If it mattered to you, you could have saved the world years ago.” In the comic, Superman also beats him unconscious. But in the animation, Luthor falls to his knees, looking beaten and ashamed, and whispers “You’re right.”

Bill Arrowsmith: Lex Luthor's Existential Epiphany and the ...
He was so CLOSE, damn it!

Now, I don’t care at ALL for superheroes. I think they encourage people to assume that someone else can solve all the world’s problems. If Superman was inherently good, one of the first things he would do would be to destroy the American police system. But rich people who can destroy comic writers generally don’t like it when comics are TOO on the nose. But I’m rambling (and there are comics like Black Summer and Supergod that do some quite interesting work critiquing the whole superhero trope, you should give them a shot if you haven’t already). But that scene of Luthor having a sudden epiphany, that has stuck with me for years. Perhaps it’s because he’s not a superhero. He’s a selfish asshole no different from any other selfish asshole, who almost understood. The way his monologue was going, another hour or two and he might have even developed an actual conscience.

Now I’m definitely rambling.

So yeah. Fuck the cruel arbitrary nature of things and the wankers in charge, they’re dead inside and don’t have the imagination to imagine a better world. You wanna do something truly, meaningfully radical? Show some fuckin’ compassion.

This universe is vast beyond human comprehension. Chaotic, fickle, and uncaring. Every day entire galaxies are torn apart and swallowed whole, displays of cataclysmic violence that could kill a god, and yet space-time is so inconceivably huge such events are lost in the abyss, never to be witnessed by sentient life. The silent black is not peaceful; Do not mistake the darkness of the beast’s stomach for serenity.

We are more like this universe than we care to admit when we are born. We come into this world wild and blind and insensate, blank slates lacking in awareness, slaves to cause and effect. Composed of the very same little deterministic clouds of charge and probability. We have no more power over the universe than a mote of dust has over a planet. By any metric one can think of we should not exist. And indeed some day, as the stars fade and our works crumble, we may as well never have existed at all.

And yet… Here we are, right now. Little smudges of carbon and lipid and water, the ash of dead stars, by blind chance forced into iteration upon iteration to the point of becoming aware of ourselves and the processes shaping us. It is inevitable that life should come to exist, yes, but to endure? To become aware of the world, of other worlds? Can you understand how infinitesimally unlikely that is? That our world was not swallowed by some leviathan black hole, or all nascent life destroyed by an impact event or star’s death spasm fifty million years ago… My friend, we are a miracle.

That is why we fight. To defy the indifferent chaos of reality is the only logical decision. The only one with meaning. The only choice that separates us from the arbitrary cruelty and hurt. We are all of us tiny, insignificant tangles of self-aware space-time, yet we are the only part of the universe that can choose. The cruel, the indifferent, the evil, they choose the easy path. They let their choices be guided by the indifference of reality. They impose chaos and entropy on others to enrich themselves, and in doing so become hollow puppets, dancing to the tune of exploding stars and ravenous event horizon jaws. In choosing they give up everything that sets them apart from the cruelty of reality.

But we can choose another path. It is a difficult path, but in the end not nearly so difficult as that easy path of cruelty.

We may choose to build where the universe can only choose entropy. We can choose light over darkness, people and community over the crude mindless selfishness that masquerades as natural selection. We may imbue existence with value simply by existing. With simple compassion, we can defy entropy itself. And, perhaps ironically, we MUST do so. When the law of the universe is entropy, compassion becomes the only radical act, the only possible rebellion.

This universe is vast and indifferent, and within this infinity of destruction we have nothing, in the end, but each other. And Entropy cannot have us.


A Town of Ash

The other day I was delighted to come across a TikTok video of a tiny, adorable kitten lapping up milk from a teaspoon, making the cutest “numm numm nlumm mlumm” sounds as it did so. That would have been good enough, but the video went on. The kitten’s nlumm sounds were put on loop, and then a series of musicians added instrumental layers until I was listening to an amazing little song. This song, right here:


Made a #duett chain out of the numnumcat! #numnum #numnumnumnumnum #fyp Credit goes to: @harrythedrummer @jaredbrake @malindamusic @melic6354 @otterchaosuk @samthehorn @sherzodergashevofficial

♬ Num Num Cat – MiMo

The lyrics were great. In particular the phrase “Towns of ash with a music borne sickness” simply would not get out of my head. It kept playing over and over again in my mind, maddeningly. Really evocative, isn’t it? “Towns of ash, with a music borne sickness“. It made me, as sometimes happens with certain well-turned phrases, want to write.

So Wednesday night I opened a blank document and started typing. That’s the main reason I didn’t get to bed until 4am, drank a large chunk out of my poitin reserves, and kind of completely missed Thursday altogether. But I really liked what was coming out of the click clack of my temperamental lappytop. The result is below. Enjoy? Or not? I’m not a cop I’m not telling you what to do.

“Welcome to Pennford” declares the sign at the edge of town. It’s painted a rather optimistic shade of blue. Friendly black print informs the reader that Pennford was established some 500 years ago, a ferry service across the least treacherous part of the Barrow River for 10 miles or more. The cost to traverse the river was a penny in those days, and when the Penny Ford Inn was built on the southern bank, it was only natural that the town that grew around it adopted a facsimile of the name. The sign also boasts about a bustling ceramics industry which owes its success to the fine clay found along the river banks. The Royalty personally sponsored no less than three pottery and ceramics companies from Pennford, an unheard of number at the time, but all three operations blossomed and became the envy of much longer established concerns, to the point where enemies and friends were made at court depending on the maker’s mark on the underside of the tea cup one sipped. Guided tours of a great many workshops and kilns are a popular draw for tourists, claims the sign. Pennford proudly counts over a thousand permanent residents, claims the sign.

Today, one can verify none of the sign’s claims. Pennford is a ruin, a gutted corpse of blackened wood, plague pyres and scorched cobblestones. A town of ash and bone.

Past the remains of the town, the Barrow runs swift, as it always has, down from the Kestrel Hills and across the tangled forests on its way toward the marshlands of Rhodda. The old ford is gone, centuries of digging and engineering in the name of commerce making it deep and wide, but it still flows with mighty energy, all swirls and eddies and undercurrents ready to drag the unwary down into the smothering depths. It remains a wild beast, and it demands respect. The noise of the town overwhelmed that of the river for centuries. The babbling of children at play, the flow of traffic and of commerce were rivers in their own way, fitting replacements for the roar of the waters as they were torn in two by mighty rocks jutting from the north bank, and the foamy susurrus lurking under the piers and boardwalks which crowded the south. The Barrow has since reclaimed its voice, a never ending roar of defiance that will brook no challenge. The kingdom sees no reason to argue. The place is shunned by all but the desperate and those cursed with curiosity, and even they do not tarry.

The ferryman of Pennford was a revered member of the town’s leadership in the early days. He could read the weather, predict floods, and a word from him would cease all river travel, no matter the rank or status of his passengers. As the town grew and the twin evils of money and influence wormed their way slowly into the fabric of society, the integrity of the ferryman became a more fluid thing. In the Clash of Three Duchies, the ferryman of the day became one of the wealthiest men in Pennford as he took money from all sides to carry, or refuse to carry, certain people, goods and messages. By the time the three Dukes uncovered his deceit, the Royalty was already besieging their homes to put a stop to their squabbling. Rumour had it that the ferryman had been in the Royalty’s pocket from the very beginning, escalating tensions between the Dukes until the Royalty had the perfect excuse to make an example of them and grant their lands to more loyal servants. Historians generally agree that acts of petty corruption such as this were the catalyst for what was to come.

It is generally agreed that Pennford was founded soon after the Throne Wars, that dark era when the lines of succession had become so blurred and indistinct that no less than five families could legitimately claim equal right to rule. Prince Tohsen of Rhodda supposedly found the ford and used it to surprise his rival, the Northern Sovereign Luga, in a surprise attack. With the balance of power securely in his favour, Tohsen called for peace and invited the remaining families to a council to find a way forward, and so began the rule of the Royalty, a council of the remaining families with ties to the old kings. This much is true, at least. Official records omit a great many details in their efforts to justify Tohsen’s actions, however. The crossing that would become Pennford did not exist at all before Tohsen’s arrival. A handful of crumbling scrolls in the deepest vaults of the royal library speak of a blood pact between Tohsen and the mighty spirit of the Barrow River. According to these records, Tohsen offered the spirit the blood and heart of his finest scouts in return for a means to cross the river. The spirit of the Barrow indulged the power-hungry prince, on the condition that he would build a temple to the spirit within seven summers, and that this new priesthood forever keep the laws and traditions he would bestow upon them. The prince kept his promise, and two years after the Royalty was established, the final stones of the Barrow temple were set in place.

It is lost to the world whether the priests of the river, who became the sole appointer of the town’s ferryman, originally had kind or unjust strictures. It is only known that in later years they became increasingly susceptible to bribes from the merchant families, even to the point where the office of the ferryman could be purchased outright, ignoring their own secret tradition of succession. If certain stories are to be believed, the first such corrupt appointment occurred seven years before the destruction of Pennford.

According to those tales, the day immediately after the appointment of the new ferryman, some inept fop from a decadent house of wine merchants, a hooded figure arrived in town. Stray dogs and cats flocked to him, and pigeons and crows alike flitted down from the rooftops to alight on a shoulder or his gnarled walking stick. He gave a kind word to each and every one before they bounded or flew away happily. He delighted the children too with tricks and games, and as he reached the open square outside the office of the ferryman, a crowd was already forming, though they could not say why exactly.

No records of what the man said exist. Even the few surviving men and women who were there can only agree that whatever was said, the man was angry and pleading. His voice roared like a waterfall, like a father desperately warning his child to step back from a cliff edge. The words of the ferryman, from a window above, are known, at least. After tossing the contents of a chamberpot on the old man’s head, he shouted:

“Away you old beggar! Nobody crosses for free!”

The crowd, perhaps of its own accord, perhaps incited by agents of the ferryman, at once erupted in laughter and mockery. It is unknown what happened next; the only survivors of Pennford were those that left that same day and did not return.They remember feeling sorry for the old man, if they were present at his humiliation at all.

Seven years went by, and Pennford’s wealth and corruption grew hand in hand. The wealthy lived lives akin to the Royalty while the poorest fought for scraps in the gutters. A month before the anniversary of the ferryman’s appointment, the hospitals and poorhouses of the town noted an unusual illness among their patients. The symptoms were similar to the marsh fevers caused by insect bites around Rhodda; the sick burned hot, their minds flooded with delirium. They babbled and raved, seemingly without end. No treatments seemed effective, but the strangest effect of the fever only became apparent once the poorhouses were filled to capacity with victims of this new sickness. The moans and cries of the sick had a pattern not unlike some macabre song. One patient would rave, “Hei! Gr’ruk entael…” only for another to continue the cry, “…th’ana Barroth! Nahe llae…” and another, and another. In the largest wards healers were subjected to a constant and relentless river of sound. “Hei! Gr’ruk entael th’ana Barroth! Nahe llaetio Barroth!” The babbling became the words of a chant, the moans and cries harmonizing in some obscene manner that chilled all who heard it. The plague was unholy, it was said.

The messenger pigeons sent by the rich for aid brought nothing but the royal armies. They declared a quarantine around the whole of Pennford, and any who tried to leave would be shot on sight. Investigators and thaumaturges bearing the royal seal of authority went into Pennford, to discover the source of the affliction, but found no success. Indeed, as the sickness spread, simply by hearing the maddening song while inside the walls it seemed, these learned men and women joined the ranks of the sick. Reports from soldiers manning the quarantine barriers write in trembling script of the terrible din of the voices of a whole town raised together in pained cries, like some grotesque orchestra of diseased meat. “Hei! Gr’ruk entael th’ana Barroth! Nahe llaetio Barroth!” The town was lost, they said. The quarantine was reinforced, and many expected an order from their commanders to put the entire town to the sword.

Then, a day after the anniversary of the ferryman’s appointment, on the stroke of noon, quarantine sentries suddenly spotted movement on the town walls. The town guards, in pairs seemingly dancing with each other, cavorting madly across the ramparts.The terrible sounds of the song intensified, as if all the town’s sick had left their homes to join the guards in dancing through the streets. The soldiers were already on edge; word had gotten around the camps that a hooded figure arrived at the general’s tent late the night before, though no sentries saw him enter and none witnessed his departure. Guards posted at the general’s tent could only make out the shadows cast by lamplight on the tent wall; General Mira, her long ponytail and broad shoulders; and the hooded man, a gnarled walking stick in one hand, the general’s fiercely protective hound meekly licking his free hand. None could make out the words of the meeting, but a messenger pigeon was sent to the capital that night, and one had come from the capital early the next morning. 

The cacophony from Pennford only increased as the day went on. By evening, the shrieking had taken on a desperate quality, like cries for help in the minds of the soldiers. One soldier who climbed a tree to see beyond the wall swore that the whole town had gone mad: Every living soul, men, women and children, thronged the streets in frenzied song and dance. Bloodied feet or mangled limbs were no deterrent to the compulsion, as if some power were forcing their broken bodies into motion regardless of pain or injury. They danced to some maddening plan, concentric circles of townspeople spinning in opposite directions, centred on – the scout swore on all the gods – the square where the office of the ferryman were located. Then, as the sun began to dip below the Kestrel Hills, the first fires began. They must have started by the square, but no-one had been seen to do anything but dance through the streets. Still the townspeople danced and screamed. When the flames leapt to the clothes of the dancers, still they danced and screamed, carrying the fires to new buildings and new victims. 

Hei! Gr’ruk entael th’ana Barroth! Nahe llaetio Barroth!

By nightfall, the entire town was ablaze, the guards on the walls cavorting madly even as their skin crisped and sloughed off, as their meat charred and their armour grew red from the heat. And even when the destroyed flesh fell from their bones the townspeople danced on, blackened bones moving like shapes cut through the flame to the night behind, and even when their lungs burst and burned to ash they screamed their unearthly song. The flames grew, so high and so hot that mere wood could not possibly have fuelled them. The one thaumaturge who had not been lost to the town said nothing, but the story was writ in the tears streaming down his face, the holy symbol clutched so tightly in his hand it bit into the flesh, and the numb stare of a man who had witnessed unimaginable horror.

Hei! Gr’ruk entael th’ana Barroth! Nahe llaetio Barroth!

For hours, Pennford burned. No soldier in the quarantine slept. The maddened screaming had not stopped, even though no-one could have survived the fires. Indeed, the quarantine line, from half a mile distant, saw some soldiers report mild burns from the heat. Just before dawn, the singing abruptly stopped and the flames ceased, as if some giant hand had reached down to snuff out a candle flame. By the cold light of the new morning, Pennford was a ruin. Barely a single building left standing, not a soul left alive. Only when the sun had risen did orders come from General Mira; pack up and leave. All questions were met with silence.

In a few scant years, Pennford slipped from the memory of the kingdom. It is marked on no maps. A great stone bridge was built across the river at the very edge of the Kestrel hills, where the Barrow is smaller and more easily tamed. Life goes on in the wider world. Only fools venture near the blackened stain that was once a town of a thousand souls, and nobody takes them seriously when they tell their tall tales. The fanciful works of an imagination without enough honest work, they scoff. Nobody could possibly believe their stories of the bones of the dead rising to dance in the dead of night, or the strange song that whispers from fleshless lips, strange words trickling forth like stream waters dancing down a rocky crevasse.

Hei! Gr’ruk entael th’ana Barroth! Nahe llaetio Barroth!

Coriolis Let's Play TTRPG Uncategorized

Fun With Side-Quests

A Tale From the Third Horizon

[Due to a plethora of scheduling issues, it has been EXTREMELY DIFFICULT to get a session of Coriolis going in the last couple of months. Last Thursday I decided come hell or high water I would run it with whoever managed to show up, which turned out to be only 2 of the team. To keep things manageable (and also because Free League finally provided official support for the Foundry modules so it was ready to go) I opted to run the adventure “The Statuette of Zhar Bhagra” from the core book. It didn’t seem entirely fair to continue the campaign proper with half the crew missing.]

It has been a week (9 days) since the Blue Beetle’s encounter with the horrific remnant of Nazareem’s Sacrifice on Xene’s 5th moon. Nine days since they received an invitation to the wedding of a man who received rather… unique, life advice from Pol the Mildly Blasphemous. The crew had been relaxing, trying to forget the hideous Darkbound entities that attacked them, or at least forget how there were still traces of humanity in their monstrous, hateful forms. It is the 14th day of the Segment of the Messenger, when the ship’s AI announced an incoming communication from a man named Merez Alcan.

Ash, being a data spider, but more importantly being paranoid, immediately began searching the name, while Fattah answered the call. Merez was a man in his late middle-age, with neatly trimmed hair and beard both gone grey. A cybernetic eye peering from one socket put one in mind of a monacle, how it whirred and changed shape. He regarded Fattah warmly.

“Good day to you, I am addressing the crew of the Blue Beetle, yes? Excellent. My name is Merez Alcan, and you were recommended to me by my contacts as efficient and discreet when it comes to finding things and people.

Merez Alcan

“I would like to hire you for just such a case. I am an antiques dealer by trade, and one of my associates has gone missing. His name is Lavim Tamm, and I last saw him 3 days ago when I had agreed to purchase an item from him. My own sources cannot find any trace of him, but missing people are not exactly their expertise, and so I turn to outside help. I am prepared to pay 1,000 birr per day plus expenses, for you to try and find Lavim and the item of interest, with a bonus of… shall we say 10,000 birr, if you locate both?”

Fattah quickly ran the numbers in his head, and found the results quite pleasing. “I think we are certainly interested, Mr. Alcan, but I cannot speak for everyone. Please, allow us a moment to discuss the matter, and we will answer shortly.”

“Of course, I quite understand.”

With a bleep, the call ended.

“So what did you dig up, Ash?”

“Merez Alcan, antiques dealer right enough. Owns a respectable establishment on the classier end of Archaeology Alley near the Spring Plaza. Good reputation, known to be firm but fair and honourable in his dealings, nothing particularly weird or suspect.

“Lavim Tamm, though. Not much to go on. Graduated in archaeology on Coriolis a cycle ago. Not a registered inhabitant of Coriolis since his student days, or of anywhere else in the Kuan system. There are references to a Tamm family in the neighbouring Aiwaz system, might be him? Last reference I have is he was working for a professor called Zhar Bhagra, kind of infamous in archaeology circles, headed several expeditions to Firstcome and suspected Portal-Builder digsites.”

“Sounds fairly standard ‘missing person’, might be a nice change from, ahem, recent unpleasantness. And a thousand birr a day is nothing to be sneezed at.”

“I agree.”

Merez picked up the call almost immediately.

“Mr. Alcan, we would be only too happy to take the job for you.”

“Excellent, I am pleased. Allow me to give you what information I can. Mr. Tamm was one of a number of archaeological experts studying and working under the esteemed professor Zhar Bhagra, who most recently embarked on an expedition to the jungles of Kua, searching the Terenganu Plateau region if I remember correctly. That was several cycles ago, and there has been little communication from the expedition, which I usually take to mean that they are too busy discovering exquisite ruins and items.

“Now, like I said, I have my own network of contacts in the archaeology world, there being quite the overlap between that field and my line of business as you can imagine. So it was that I learned… oh, five days ago now, that Lavim Tamm had arrived on Coriolis, and that he had a number of curiosities with him. I reached out to express an interest, and three days ago we agreed on the sale of one item in particular over a video call. That call appears to be the last time anyone saw him. I am reasonably certain that he did not leave Coriolis, as a friend in the Judicators tells me there is no record of anyone matching his likeness departing. Perhaps you can succeed where I and my sources have failed.”

“We will certainly try. Can you provide us with the video call you mentioned? If that is his most recent likeness it may be helpful.”

“Ah, of course, I will forward it as soon as we are done. Is there anything else I may help with?”

The crew considered, and asked a number of questions. Lavim Tamm appeared to have been drinking when Merez had made the deal, although not nearly to the degree that such a deal could be rendered invalid. The last time his communication’s locator had been active was in the Spice Plaza. The item Merez wanted was an ancient Firstcome depiction of the Dancer, a particularly ugly statuette of an obscure aspect of that Icon called “The Shadow Monkey”. Far too unsightly to be worth much to the average person, but to certain collectors and students of theology it would be worth a great deal of money. No, Lavim was not known to have enemies, it was not known why he had left Zhar Bhagra’s expedition, and he had no known associates on Coriolis.

Their questions answered, the crew awaited the archived communication between Lavim and Merez. Lavim was indeed drunk. As they watched, he knocked back a tiny glass filled with clear amber-yellow liquid. Probably Miran fire kohôl, rather rare on Coriolis which tended to frown on public drunkenness, but the Spice Plaza would be an excellent place to find it, and thus they had a lead to pursue.

The Spice Plaza was crowded, and few people had the time to stop to examine a picture of a missing person. When fire kohôl was mentioned, however, those people flashed a rogueish smile and pointed them to either the bazaar kohôl trader Abzir, or the White Tugur Bar just on the edge of the Plaza. They decided that in the video call, Lavim’s surroundings looked like some manner of cantina or bar, and so they drew aside the bead curtain and stepped inside the White Tugur.

The bustling Spice Plaza

The bouncers outside were very imposing, but well dressed and impeccably mannered. Almost as soon as they entered, a middle-aged woman in Miran finery rushed to greet them.

“Welcome to the White Tugur Bar! It is a delight to see new faces. I am Jasina, the matriarch of this humble establishment.”

Ash was all smiles; she smelled kawah. “Thank you, Jasina. We were recommended this place by a friend, we’ve been looking forward to a visit. Is that kawah I smell?”

“It is indeed. Please, sit wherever you wish. Jinna! Food and kawah menus, please!”

Ash went for the third-most expensive coffee, splashing out 20 whole birr on a pot of Dabaran berry-kawah; an odd strain of bean that was halfway to being a dark, tangy fruit, but it percolated as well as any other, with an above average caffeine content and unique flavour profile including more than merely hints of blackberry and blueberry.

She savoured it as if it were words of wisdom straight from the Icons themselves.

“Delicious. Absolutely wonderful. Lavim was right about you.”

“Lavim… Lavi- Oh, the archaeology fellow? Yes, he does quite enjoy it here.”

“Has he visited recently? I only ask because we haven’t been able to contact him in the last few days. I’d hoped to come here with him but…”

Jasina put her hands on her hips, thinking. “Now you mention it, I haven’t seen a trace of him in… three days? Which is odd, usually he and Jinna are thick as thieves. Actually, maybe Jinna knows. Hey Jinna! Can you- oh!”

She turned around to see Jinna, who must have been listening, flee through the front door with a panicked expression.

“Well isn’t that typical. She has taken her break early. I was going to say, Jinna might be able to help you with Lavim, they’re good friends…”

Ash quickly sent a message to Dav, waiting outside, to follow the girl who had just fled the bar.

“I say,” said Jasina, seeing how seriously Ash and Fattah were taking things, “… Is… Is Lavim in some kind of trouble?”

“I hope not, ” replied Ash, “I really, truly hope not. But we need to find him to make sure.”

“I see. Well… I hope you find him soon, then. I’m rather fond of the boy. I mean I don’t mind if Jinna is in trouble, she’s far from the best waiter I’ve employed, but Lavim’s a good soul. You know how some mothers will say to their daughters, ‘Oh daughter, I love you… but I prefer him’?”

Ash indicated that she did, indeed, know exactly what Jasina meant. Thanking her for the coffee, the pair left to consider their next move.

The cramped, decadent splendour of the Student District

Dav had shadowed Jinna halfway across the station, reporting that she went to ground in the University District in the station Core. Ash decided to see what kind of digital footprint Jinna had. There was nothing particularly surprising. Final year of university, a year behind Lavim. Social net images of the two sightseeing or at gatherings. Working at the White Tugur to pay off student loans. Some rather lax university network security allowed Ash to determine Jinna’s class schedules and locations for the coming evening. The crew decided to wait on the path between classes and have a chat with her. Given that she had already run from Fattah and Ash, it was decided that Poll and Dav would intercept her.

Ash and Fattah were out of earshot when Pol began speaking to Jinna. She prayed to the Icons that he be convincing in spite of what he actually said. True to form, whatever it was he DID say (The only audible part was him exclaiming “like a giraffe’s PLUMS!”), it was enough to convince Jinna the crew meant no harm. She walked over to Ash and Fattah.

Jinna apologised for running earlier. She had seen Lavim, yes, but he was convinced that someone was following him with ill intent, and Jinna had assumed that Ash and/or Fattah were that someone. Like everyone else, she had not seen him in three days.

“But the last time I did see him, he said he was going to a place called Kaffra’s Antiques. I don’t know what for.”

It wasn’t much, but it was all they had. Fattah and Ash set out to the seedier part of Archaeology Alley, where Kaffra’s shop was alleged to be. Those who gave directions insisted that they would find far better in other shops, rather than “that quack Kaffra”, but directed them nonetheless. Kaffra herself was a wizened old woman with black hair, almost lost behind a prodigious number of embroidered shawls. Ash and Fattah posed as concerned friends of Jinna, looking for a charm or talisman that might help her forget her rotten, deadbeat boyfriend Lavim. Perhaps Kaffra was moved by their testimony of the hearbreak Lavim had caused, or perhaps it was because they didn’t haggle when she asked for 10 birr for a piece of half-rotted wood allegedly blessed by the Faceless One, but she recounted her own story, where Lavim came in to ask strange questions, with something wrapped up under one arm. When she asked what it was he was holding, he got very angry and left.

Being… perhaps slightly less possessed of nobility and grace than her peers, Kaffrah followed him, intending to pay for some burly stevedore to teach the impudent youngster some manners. But when she saw the flea-ridden boarding house he entered, half conscious after nearly a whole bottle of fire kohôl, Kaffra decided that perhaps he was punishing himself enough without her intervention. She gave the Blue Beetle crew the flophouse address, high up in the Promenade between the Spring and Market Plazas, perhaps thinking he still deserved a piece of someone’s mind for speaking like that to an elder.

On leaving Kaffra’s, Fattah and Ash became aware that someone was following them, a young woman by what they could make out underneath a dark, hooded kaftan. She was clearly no stranger to shadowing people, and it took every ounce of focus for Ash and Fattah to remain aware of her. Before leaving Archaeology Alley, they decided to head away from the flophouse where they might find Lavim, and then to split up and hopefully catch their follower by surprise.

They parted ways at the Spring Plaza. The mysterious shadow elected to follow Fattah, giving Ash leeway to circle around and ambush her. Ash crept close, then all of a sudden wrapped her arms around the stranger as if embracing a friend (and making escape all but impossible), exclaiming “Cousin! It’s been so LONG, how have you BEEN!?”

The woman tensed, taken completely by surprise. Ash could feel the faint smile on the woman’s lips as she said “Cleverly done. People are looking at us now, I cannot run or retaliate. Release me, and we shall talk.”

The woman brushed back her hood, revealing a calm, bright-eyed woman in her mid-twenties. Her stare was piercing, and her faint smile constantly suggested she knew something an onlooker did not. Both were quickly explained by her next words.

Salindre, with a fearsome meson handgun, which sadly did not make an appearance thanks to the players doing a pacifist run

“I am Salindre. I am a Draconite.”

The Draconites were a mystery. Originally, they were part of the crew of the Zenith, that great colony ship that arrived in the Third Horizon 65 cycles ago, which became the mighty station Coriolis and revived trade and travel across the Third Horizon. The Draconites saw the officer families of the Zenith arguing about the future of hundreds of thousands of people still in cryosleep, and revived all of them, so that they could decide for themselves. They then disappeared out into the great darkness of space. Decades later they returned, styled as disciplined warrior-philosophers, possessing advanced technology clearly not of the Third Horizon, and esoteric, mysterious beliefs to match. They are tight lipped, and thus far the only belief they have let slip to the greater public is their mantra: “Through conflict, the truth.” This has fuelled all manner of wild speculation, about their battle-prowess, and how they strive to win some “inner conflict”. The Draconites, for their part, say nothing, but their fearlessness in battle and diplomacy speak volumes.

“You are looking for a man who was part of Zhar Bhagra’s last expedition. I can tell you that Lavim Tamm is the sole survivor of that endeavour. Professor Bhagra found what he was looking for, and meddled with powers he did not understand. Lavim fled here, hoping to sell the statuette you no doubt wish to acquire for your employer.”

“How’d you know all that?”

She smiled. “I am a Draconite.”

“Uh, that doesn’t really answer the question.”

“I know. But it is the answer with which you must be content. Allow me to be blunt: I am not interested in Lavim Tamm, unless he is beyond saving. The statuette he carries is a thing of darkness. You have faced humans possessed by the great hunger that dwells in the black, have you not?”

Mentioning the Dark Between the Stars in polite company was a major taboo. Salindre clearly wanted to impress the seriousness of the matter on the crew.

“We have. It’s not something I wish to see happen to anyone else.”

“Indeed. The statuette is a thing of evil. It warps the mind, and perhaps the body. But its most damnable feature is that it is a weapon. Its malign influence can, with the correct knowledge, be directed. Do you understand? Merez Alcan works for the Syndicate. He keeps this secret closer to him than anything else. Should the Syndicate acquire the statuette, it is only a matter of time – and innocent bodies – until they unlock its full potential. I wish to ensure the statuette is placed beyond the reach of anyone who would attempt to use it. Should Lavim Tamm still be human, he is no concern of mine.”

“And if he… isn’t human?”

“Then you know he must be destroyed. The sooner we move, the better it will be for him. I propose that our interests are aligned, at least in this matter?”

Ash, suspicious to a fault, reluctantly agreed.

“Ok, we’ll go to Lavim, take him back to our ship, sober him up, and… work something out. Come on.”

The flophouse was a dismal place. The smell was awful, the air felt greasy in some manner, and the surly ex-Legion proprietor was not in the mood for small talk. As soon as he heard they were looking for a drunk man, he led them straight to Lavim’s deplorable room, where he was almost blind drunk. “AHA! I kneeeeeeeewwwwww I was being flflflflollowed! Go on then, k’ll me. Can’t be worser than… than the dreams in my heeeeeaaauuuurrrrrgblblbblblffftp” Lavim’s flow was interrupted by a stream of vomit which splashed on Ash’s shoes to her great annoyance. She looked at Salindre.

“He is… not corrupted by darkness, which is the nicest thing I can say about him.”

“Good enough for us. Fattah, can you hail a taxi? I don’t want him puking on my boots again.”

A grav-chair taxi ferried the motley crew to the Neoptra port, where the Blue Beetle was docked. Manhandling Lavim into the medbay, they called on Pol to see what could be done about his impressive insobriety. Pol administered a cocktail of antitoxins and alcohol destroying enzymes, and within 30 minutes Lavim was desperately hungover, but coherent.

“So you’re not here to kill me?” he said almost hopefully, clutching his aching head.

“Nope, we just want the statue you were going to sell to Merez Alcan.”

“Oh. Pity, my head is… Ugh. Look, I hid it, ok? It’s in a bag tucked into a crack under one of the bridges across the Promenade. It… I kept having dreams. Really, really horrible ones. I’ll give you the coordinates, just keep it away from me.”

Ash put on her Things-Shall-Be-Thus voice.

“Right, here’s what’s going to happen. Salindre, you go get your statue. We’ll keep Lavim here for 24 hours, then tell Alcan we found him but the statue’s long gone. We won’t get as big a bonus, but some birr is better than none. And you, Lavim, had better come up with a good bloody excuse for messing about with Jinna like you did!”

“Jinna? But I… Oh. You’re right. The poor-“

“Shut up, Lavim.”

“Shutting up right now, ma’am.”

Perhaps 20 minutes later, they received a message from an anonymous, untraceable user:

“Item secured. Recommend you inspect the bridge nevertheless; I was only after the statuette. Walk in the light of the Icons.”

The next morning, they sent Dav and Pol to inspect the bridge, while Ash and Fattah went over their plan. Before long Dav called them, but it was not Dav’s voice on the communicator.

“I think we should meet. I’ll be at the bridge. You know the one.” Merez Alcan hung up.

Merez was waiting at the far end of the bridge, a roadway near the top of the Promenade for maintenance vehicles and repair teams to access the maze of ducts and cables above. He was flanked by four strong young men, two of which held Dav and Pol, their hands tied.

“Where is my statue?” Merez took a few steps forward.

“No idea” replied Ash, truthfully. “Could be anywhere by now.”

“This is very disappointing. I said that the statuette was worth a great deal of money, did I not? That your payment hinged upon its recovery?”

He took a few more steps, reaching the middle of the bridge. His bodyguards moved alongside him. Pol and Dav were marched to his right, where the railing was very obviously missing. There was a drop of several hundred metres beyond it.

“You told us a thousand birr per day until we found Lavim. We found him. Whatever happened the statue, it happened before we found him, not our problem.”

Fattah, perhaps sensing which way things might be heading, discreetly took out his communicator and began recording the proceedings. Merez’s heavies reached for weapon holsters, but the old man held up a hand to stand them down.

I put a LOT OF EFFORT into making this map look like it was dangerously high up in the air and not a single fight broke out on it! Bah.

Merez’s tapped his cane on the ground, his grip turning his knuckles white. Despite the calm face, he was evidently furious. “Most disappointing, indeed. I can only conclude that my contacts were mistaken about your reputation. So be it. In… two days,” he said with a smirk, suggesting he knew otherwise, “you found Mr. Tamm, and so I shall honour my offer of one thousand birr per day. Your failure to secure the item I so wished to purchase, however, not to mention your shameful disrespect, inclines me towards withholding the proposed bonus. May the Icons keep you from darkening my doorstep for eternity. Come, gentlemen, I believe we’re done here.”

Merez turned away and walked off into the shadows of the far Promenade. His goons formed a line until he disappeared, before roughly shoving Dav and Pol towards Ash and Fattah, and retreated likewise.

Lavim was having breakfast in the Blue Beetle when they returned. “How did it go?” he asked nervously.

“He’s not happy, but nobody’s dead.”

“Oh. Good? I think?”

“About as good as could be hoped, I suppose.” said Fattah.

There was a short silence, as Lavim helped himself to some more food.

“So… did you get the data tag?”


“The tag. Under the bridge. That thing has the coordinates of the expedition.”

“Oh. Right.”

“Lots more than just that ugly statue down there.”


“You… don’t have it, do you.”

“Not as such, no.”

“An absolute fortune in ancient relics. Not to mention the shredded remains of literally all my friends and colleagues, who deserved a proper funeral.”

“I, uh…”

“And now he has it.”

“Er, yes.”

“Brilliant. Just absolutely, utterly fantastic. You know I-“

“Shut up, Lavim.”

They arranged passage for Lavim home to Aiwaz, and paid a visit to Jasina and Jinna at the White Tugur once more. There, they explained that Lavim was fine, but had very important business to attend to back home, and wouldn’t be back for some time, and that Jinna should just get over him. Jasina remained tight-lipped but her face radiated “I told you he was no good, Jinna. didn’t I TELL you he was no good?” while Jinna was extremely confused as to why everyone thought she and Lavim were a couple, but decided to just go along with it to avoid further embarrassment.

Their good deeds done for the day, the Blue Beetle crew retired to their ship for a well-earned rest.

Coriolis Let's Play TTRPG Uncategorized

Coriolis 2: Electric Boogaloo

A Tale From the Third Horizon

It’s nice to be back.

Over the last month, I busied myself with switching the virtual tabletop I ran things on. That meant transferring the entire Coriolis campaign thus far from Roll20 to Foundry. It would have been considerably easier, had Free League Publishing released official modules on either VTT, but so far they haven’t, and I had to settle for creating the equipment, weapon and talent lists and random tables from scratch. The latter was a real pain in the ass because several of the tables involve modifiers to the results rolled. The best example is for when a ship fails to make its portal jump; you roll on a d66 table to see what happens. But if you you made the jump without all the necessary calculations, you add 10 to the result, so the table actually has d76 results, with the worst results only achievable in certain circumstances.

That involved a lot of searching around for Javascript tutorials that weren’t completely fucking mystifying to the lay person, and after much frustration I finally pieced together enough to write a little script that, when you clicked the “roll on the failed jump table” button, first asks you if you made the jump with or without the calculations, and modifies the dice rolled based on your response. I’m sure it’s an ugly, inelegant piece of coding but it works, and that’s the important thing.

Apart from that, the move went surprisingly smoothly. There’s a steeper learning curve with Foundry if you want to run games, but once you make the effort, it becomes so much more intuitive and useful. I felt I was constantly fighting Roll20, but the systems for Foundry are far more streamlined and focused on taking care of book keeping and busywork. The game tracks Darkness Points for me whenever a player pushes their roll, the combat turn tracker doesn’t accidentally leave out players who hadn’t explicitly clicked on their tokens before rolling, and it automatically sorts everyone on the fly if their initiative changes. You begin combat, and the music changes by itself to your predefined combat music playlist. Just loads of lovely little time savers.

And that’s the base system. With added community created mods I’ve been able to add some real flair to the game. There’s advanced lighting effects that outmatch anything Roll20 does for its $5/month subscription. Flashing, multi-hued lights in a variety of different effects from “faulty electrical light” to “ghostly light that is part illumination, part churning, dancing shadows” to “red. just a red light, nothing fancy”.

There’s a delightful little mod that places blood splatters on the map underneath a player’s token if their health hits a threshold of your choosing. And you can set any token to have a specific blood colour, so my big nasty creatures of darkness and shadow bleed dark purple ichor, and if I ever get an Alien game going the synthetics will bleed white.

Thanks to the Calendar mod I’ve been able to import a fan-made Coriolis calendar that splits each year into nine months with four weeks that are nine days long, with a “day of rest/accounting/settling debts” in between each month. It’s already full of holy days, reminders for the players of upcoming events, such as the monthly payment of 20,000 birr they need to make to stop the bank taking their ship.

None of this is really important from the point of view of the writeups, if I’m honest. I just wanted you all to know how hard I worked to give my players a cool experience.

It is the 1st day of the segment of The Messenger, CC 60. The crew of the Blue Beetle made their first payment on their ship the day before, the day of accounting, which also happened to be the Cyclade, or new year. Celebrations are rife on Coriolis, with the various plazas along the Promenade filled with pilgrims and prophets, acrobats, musicians, jugglers and fire-breathers, the many kawah shops taking in very satisfying profits as everyone makes merry and gives praise to the Icons.

The crew had just returned from a most interesting expedition. After delivering a cargo hold full of scientific equipment to the Foundation’s research station orbiting the gas giant Xene, they were contacted by a prospector on one of Xene’s moons who needed a fast ship to register what he thought was a rich gold find, but which turned out to be some strange manifestation of the Dark between the Stars within a buried temple, tomb or other archaeological find. The put the prospector, Faisal, in touch with their friend Adzem Kembouri, who had made quite the name for himself off the back of his adventure with the crew aboard Orun II, and his capture of the djinn that had wrought havoc on the crew.

Adzem Kembouri

Mr. Kembouri arranged to meet the crew at a kawah shop in the Spring Plaza, commanding a delightful view of the master-crafted fountains in the centre. He had a charming smile on his face, as always. “My friends, welcome! Please, have a seat, I have arranged fresh kawah for all. Some honeyed dates? Figs? Help yourselves.”

“Mr. Kembouri, always a pleasure. How’s business?” returned Dav.

“Magnificent, thank you for asking. Before Orun II, my biggest contracts would be a simple blessing of a shop here and there for good fortune in the coming business year. But now? I have sultans from Dabaran and dignitaries from Sadaal and beyond seeking me out! Hauntings, exorcisms, banishment of frightful creatures of shadow, I am so blessed with work to do, why, it is almost a curse, haha! I jest, of course. And I have you and your crew to thank for my good fortune. Speaking of which…”

He paused for a long sip of kawah, before popping a date in his mouth, chewing casually as he talked. His smile faded as he got down to serious business.

The Promenade, filled with markets, spice shops, and all manner of food and drink.

“… I’ve spoken with your associate Faisal. He was very… descriptive, of the unpleasant encounter you had with his former colleagues. I have no doubt what you fought were Darkbound, but the manner of their transformation is, if you’ll forgive the clinical observation of the tragic loss of two good men, quite fascinating. These men were, by all accounts, no less upstanding or pious than any pilgrim you see walking by right now. For them to suffer the transformation that they did, it must have been forced upon them, and suddenly. Only a place steeped in shadow and darkness would be capable of twisting an unwilling man.”

His smile returned. “Fortunately, you happen to know someone with a great deal of experience in cleansing the shadow from Icon-forsaken places. And since you blessed him with good fortune, he is pleased to return the favour. I would be delighted to accompany you back to this and help bring it back to the light of the Icons, and because you are my friends I will waive the extraordinary fees I have been able to charge my recent clients!”

A general grunt of polite laughter arose around the table.

“That said, I have one small request: This find of yours, it must be quite ancient. And from what Faisal has told me he is eager to make it someone else’s problem, most likely selling it to Foundation scientists. My request is that we go before this happens. Once it goes public, there will almost certainly be censorship, as some findings will refuse to line up with the Horizon’s official history. Take our time aboard Orun II for example. The Princess of Kah is a fairy tale, but we met her and her guard. Had we solid facts about her instead of fanciful stories, perhaps the bloodshed on board could have been avoided completely.”

A quick discussion among the crew ensued. “Not a problem,” said Dav, “We can leave as soon as you’re ready.”

“Oh my, in that case,” he swigged down the last of his kawah, “please allow me half an hour to grab some equipment, and I’ll meet you at your ship. Oh, and please make sure you have some firearms. Relic and ritual can banish many evils, but a few vulcan rounds are occasionally much more effective, yes?”

With a wave, he hurried into the crowds, to his lodgings. The crew contacted Faisal to advise him of developments, and he readily agreed to join them. With a little spare time they then looked to their armaments, and decided that a little shopping in the Ozone Plaza was in order. Fattah, only passing familiar with marksmanship, selected a long rifle with scope. Ash, already proficient with her vulcan cricket pistol and more comfortable with easily concealed weapons, added an accelerator pistol to her belt.

The journey to Xene was blessedly uneventful. Faisal mostly kept to his cabin, extremely focused on making sure his own rifle was in perfect working order. Mr. Kembouri spent most of his waking moments in the mess, poring over the reports and holy rituals stored on his tabula and on occasion physical books, the age of which would make many a librarian green with envy. The atmosphere remained upbeat, despite the knowledge that they were likely entering a dangerous battle. After all, it is said the Icons smile on the faithful. Many soldiers agree, but add that they smile more on the faithful who always make sure there’s a weapon within easy reach.

Everything on the unnamed 5th moon of Xene was as they left it, right down to the desiccated corpses of Faisal’s erstwhile partners they had unceremoniously left on the almost airless rocky plain after they had transformed and tried to kill everyone. Faisal was quiet, clutching his rifle tightly. The gold, too was where they left it. They ignored it for now, squeezing through the little tunnel Faisal and his partners had cut from the cliff face. With roughly a further 30 minutes of digging at the original “seam”, they broke through into a large, dark cavern.

The unnamed fifth moon of Xene.

The cavern itself looked quite naturally formed when they shone their torchlight inside. The many bones scattered in piles on the floor, however, quickly reminded them that this place was deeply stained by the Dark Between the Stars. Mr. Kembouri couldn’t contain his curiosity, and examined the intact skull of a human. “These remains are about four hundred years old!” he exclaimed. I don’t believe there is any record of this moon ever being inhabited before the recent mining boom. Fascinating.”

Just out of the range of their torches, the darkness moved. Animal hissing gave way to feral growls as misshapen humanoid husks leapt out from behind the corners and charged the crew. Scraps of hair and skin clung to grossly extended limbs, and burning fire where eyes should be. Darkbound. They attacked the party like rabid animals, a dervish of talons and fangs.

Dav and Fattah took the brunt of the attacks, but gave as good as they got with well placed shots from Dav’s accelerator pistol and mighty swings of Fattah’s powered gauntlet. Faisal got a few shots off with his long rifle after an initial shock. Ash, thinking tactically, covered the rear, and sure enough she saw shapes attempting to flank them.

The Darkbound perished quickly, save for one, who skittered off into the darkness. Dav, perhaps worried he might find allies, or perhaps enjoying the violence, gave chase. This was a mistake. Out of the darkness lumbered something altogether too bizarre to fully describe. It vaguely resembled a gigantic featherless vulture, but its form was hazy and indistinct, and as the torchlight flickered so did it, resembling by turns a raven, a mole, a reptile and a decaying corpse, the only thing Dav’s senses could agree on was that it was utterly repulsive. He emptied his clip at it but still it came at him, putrid filth dripping from its mandibles/beak/lips. Its head darted out, mouth snapping, and only Dav’s armour prevented the loss of a limb. the painful scratch along his arm immediately began to itch and Dav knew he had been infected with something.

A “typical” byara

Fortunately help was close behind. Faisal and Fattah rallied around Dav, and between the three of them they tore the creature apart. It bled a smoky, inky blackness instead of any physical ichor, and the corpse dissolve before their eyes, leaving a scorched stain on the ground like the site of a bonfire.

“What in the name of the Icons was that?” gasped Dav, feeling slightly woozy.

“That was a byara,” replied Kembouri. “They’re drawn to places of darkness, literally and figuratively. Sites of terrible tragedy, the dark side of tidally locked moons, battles, that sort of thing. To encounter one is thankfully very rare. Tell me, did it injure you?”

“Not really, but it scraped my arm here…”

“Please, allow me to examine the wound. The tales often mention one who was injured by a byara dying within a day, I suspect they carry all manner of disease…”

Kembouri produced a medical kit and took a small sample from the wound to scan. “Ah, I was correct. Quite a nasty cocktail of several pathogens. Easily dealt with using antibiotics…” he got a small vial and sprayed the wound, “…but had we no access to medicines, you would have died of terrible fevers by tomorrow. Did it injure anyone else? No? Excellent.”

There were a few Darkbound left in the cavern, but the team was on alert, and they were brought down quickly. Exploring further, the caverns gave way to human construction; Several walls and alcoves with torches illuminating a fine flowing script carved into the stone. Mr Kembouri was fascinated. “This is some dialect of Dabari. Unusual, the people of Dabaran were still spacefarers during the Long Night but very much kept to neighbouring systems.”

In the far corner of the cavern, the walls became a corridor, which in turn led to a large, circular stone door next to a collapsed corridor. It was clearly meant to roll into a recess in the stonework, but the mechanisms were jammed by a tangle of odd roots and plant growth. After clearing what they could with fire, the crew used brute force to roll the door back, wedging it open with a loose rock from the collapsed tunnel.

The inner chamber

Inside was a spectacular sight. A large rectangular room, the walls overgrown with luminescent fungi, with a large raised dais in the centre. The dais had four triangular structures at each corner. At the far end of the room, a huge stone carving of a woman’s face stared out at a busy collection of urns, vases and assorted offerings. As they got closer to the stone face, they could see unsettling bestial traits had been carved into the woman’s features. Her eyes were like that of a hunting cat. Her teeth were a little too sharp. She was not smiling, she was snarling. On the wall to her left was more of the Dabari script, more than simply decorative statements of faith. The crew recorded images and linked up with their ship’s AI to attempt a translation. The results were… somewhat unsettling, for the crew. But Mr Kembouri, well versed in ancient history and things often considered heretical, grew increasingly concerned as he read:

Here, in this most sacred place, did Dabbak the Soothsayer receive a vision of our destruction by unholy works. Here, an agreement was made to safeguard against such calamity. Here was made the Sanguine Accord, in the sight of The Beast, and cursed for all eternity be whosoever does not honour it. And thus here lie the souls of our masters, bound to the living rock of this most sacred place, until the day arrives when the terms of the Accord shall be fulfilled.

Unto Kalah is entrusted the Chrysalis Sequence, the Sacred Number, lest what the soothsayer foresaw should come to pass.

And unto Aram is entrusted the Alcheme, the Gift of Change, lest what the soothsayer foresaw should come to pass.

And unto Sora is entrusted our histories, all that we were and may yet become, lest what the soothsayer foresaw should come to pass.

And unto The Beast we entrust our souls, may She protect our people in their hour of need, should what the soothsayer foresaw should come to pass. Let the unholy have their victory. It matters not. For in the end, the Beast devours all who do not honour the Sacrifice of Nazareem.

Kembouri, when asked, stammered a little before taking some deep breaths and collecting his thoughts.

“I cannot imagine what most of this means. But I recognise some of these words and they worry me greatly. You are familiar with the mighty Factions of the Horizon, the Consortium, the Legion, and so on. Before the Portal Wars, there was another Faction. They were called Nazareem’s Sacrifice. Astonishingly little is known about them, because towards the end of the war they were wiped out. It is mentioned only in some of the oldest books I have seen. They speak vaguely of an alliance, but only the Order of the Pariah are named. It seems that Nazareem’s Sacrifice sided against the Third Horizon. Whether they were allied with the First or Second I cannot say, but nevertheless their betrayal was answered with terrible vengeance. Their seat of power was the Odacon system. History books teach us that the final battles of the Portal Wars took place there, and entire worlds were destroyed. The Odacon Portals are still unstable, centuries on. One may read between the lines and surmise that this is when the coalition struck at the betrayers, eradicating all but a few stragglers. I believe the Order and its allied attempted to destroy all record of the Nazareem, erasing them from history. And well they might. They worshipped the most accursed aspect of the Dancer, called the Beast.”

“Records of the Beast are a little easier to find, as doctrine and dogma on the Icons are only a relatively recent thing with the rise of the Church, and beliefs varied greatly from system to system. I’ll spare you the fine details, but cannabalistic orgies were one of the more common forms of worship. What we have found here… My friends, I think the sooner you sell this on and make it someone else’s problem, the happier we shall al-“

There was a grinding crunch as the door at the far end slammed shut, pulverising the wedge. The dais began to glow in eerie green waves of light, as if under water. And a face of each of the four triangular structures around it slid into the ground, revealing gleaming gold. The crew raced to the door and started to heave it open, as the gold flowed out like water onto the dais, leaving behind a perfectly preserved corpse in each alcove. Four wraith-like apparitions bubbled up into shape and form. They resembled Darkbound, but taller, dressed in centuries old finery fallen to decay. Their faces were no longer recognisable as having once been human, however. Glassy black orbs formed heads split in two by maws of razor-edged teeth. As they slowly advanced on the party, one of them threw back its head and howled. The sound seemed amplified by the chamber and struck terror into Faisal and Kembouri, both of whom froze in panic.

The elder Darkbound.

Finally, they managed to prise the heavy door open just enough for a body to squeeze through one at a time. Ash was first, wisely holding her pistol in the hand facing the terrors, squeezing off a few rounds as she emerged into the corridors. Another of the apparitions raised a claw at Dav, vomiting forth a stream of whispering Darkness. He paled in fright, the world around him twisting, becoming darker, sharper, devoid of light and hope. Another drew a talon across Kembouri’s shoulder, causing him to cry out in agony, although it seemed to do no harm.

That was enough to shake him to, if not his senses, then at least to flight, and he scrambled through the gap and kept running. Fattah attempted to steer Faisal through the gap, but the man was still too terrified to act. Dav and Fattah turned to face the four spectral things as they converged. Firing madly, Dav placed three shots into one of the creatures. All four grunted. They both realised that perhaps if they focused on one, they might destroy all four, and Fattah swung wildly with his powerfist while Dav and Ash fired shot after shot at the one target.

They were correct in that the four shared a link, but they did not destroy them. Each apparition froze, statue-like, and melted into puddles of gold, which flowed back towards the dais, slowly reforming. But they had bought themselves enough time to shove the numb Faisal through the gap, followed by Dav and Fattah, and then pull it shut. They did not stop to listen for sounds within the chamber.

They found Kembouri in the cavern outside. He was tending to his leg after a fall, and mumbling incoherently to himself. Dav pulled him up to his feet and got him to focus.

“Y- yes. We should go. We have to get out. This place… Get out, we have to leave…”

The Blue Beetle’s AI had warmed up the ship’s engines in anticipation and they left at maximum speed. It was going to be a long trip back to Coriolis.

Coriolis Let's Play TTRPG Updates

Coriolis is Returning

More Tales from the Third Horizon on the... uh...

It’ll take some time, but the most terrifying step has been taken: I have messaged the group to ask if they’re still interested in getting it back together.

The response was pleasantly positive.

However, since that long hiatus from Roll20 I have invested in another virtual tabletop called Foundry, and it’s safe to say I quite prefer it for… almost everything tbh. There’s more of a learning curve setting things up, sure, but the sheer breadth and depth of features and time-saving little bits and bobs is quite amazing.

To that end, rather than dust off my Roll20 account I’ll be porting all the stuff I’d… well, stolen, from my Coriolis PDFs and various art deposits across the internet. And that’s going to take some time. Especially in the current heat. Bloody hell. I can barely lift this delicious chilled can of ready made gin and tonic to my lips, such is the fury of Helios outside my window today.

But it’s coming. And, maybe, other things.

TTRPG Uncategorized WFRP

Shameless Self Promotion

Moi? Toot my own horn?

Been a while since I mentioned that I occasionally do freelance writing for rather famous and well-respected ttrpg publisher Cubicle 7. My little pack of punchy short Warhammer Fantasy adventures, One Shots of the Reikland, went Gold on DriveThruRPG quite quickly, which is a delight for my first professionally published, uh, publication. Yes I know I have scientific papers published too but that whole industry can fuck off into the sun thank you VERY much.

But I’ve been beavering away on a lot of other WFRP publications since that. Archives of the Empire Vol. 1, for example. I had the honour.. nay, the PRIVILEGE, to create some ranger-style careers, with none more noble and astounding than the Halfling Badger Rider.

I had the good fortune to contribute to the Death On The Reik Companion, too. It’s one thing writing your own one-off adventures but being asked to help write the director’s cut of one of the most popular ttrpg campaigns ever written, that’s an intimidating and amazing prospect.

I can hardly believe I’m in the credits!

Speaking of which, I was also one of the writers on Vol. 4 and Vol. 4.5 of that behemoth adventure, The Horned Rat, and The Horned Rat Companion. Death On The Reik was a firmly established adventure that got a shiny remaster, and that’s awesome. The Horned Rat though? Completely new and that’s intimidating as hell. Y’see, the campaign as originally published had something of a… well, let’s say the writers didn’t get to write the ending they wanted. There’s nothing wrong with the original Something Rotten in Kislev, mind they’re some great adventures, but they were originally intended as standalones and weren’t related to the Enemy Within campaign, and some shoehorning was done to accommodate that. The Horned Rat is a massive book that directly follows on from the political thriller that was Vol. 3, Power Behind The Throne. It was a hell of a thing to be considered good enough to not only help write enhanced versions of existing adventures, but to help create a new one to those same standards. Then again, judging from how The Horned Rat and Companion shot straight to Electrum and Silver on DTRPG respectively (the Companion was only released last week so that’s quite impressive), it looks like people are pretty satisfied with the results.

There’s other stuff I’ve worked on that I can’t talk about until after release, and I’m hoping to take on a couple of future projects that haven’t left the planning stages yet, but my goodness there are some exciting things ahead for WFRP, let me tell you. And some crazy how, I might have the privilege of writing some of it.

Also the artists have been absolutely amazing throughout this whole series. Fantastic, gorgeous stuff almost every page.
Let's Play TTRPG Uncategorized

Rocks Fall, You Die

An Ode to Random Misfortune Tables

I’ve been in a fairly steady campaign of Forbidden Lands for the last few months. It’s a good game, really focuses on the idea of a harsh, unforgiving setting where travel is dangerous, your weapons and equipment can fail you, and you really need to build yourself a stronghold to claim and protect anything you manage to create, loot, win or otherwise acquire. It’s dangerous, life is cheap, and no one person can survive on their own, are really the core themes.

I began that campaign with a Wolfkin Druid, combining lethal brawling skills with shapeshifting magic and Wolfkin hunting prowess. Arathus quickly became one of the front line fighters, dealing out terrific damage with fist and fang, helping bring down an ever-increasing number of deadly foes from slavers to demons to harpies to colossal Elven tree constructs (disgustingly, but accurately, dubbed Entapedes by the party).

We had losses along the way, of course. Poor Jim lost his hunter on our first foray to the castle of Weatherstone. Alive, but so badly wounded that moving would kill her, and with a small army of undead soldiers bearing down on us, Arathus decided that throwing her from the battlements would be a kinder death than rusty, blunt halberds. A flock of ravenous harpies left little beyond bones and cloth by the time we found her again. That was a sobering day for us all.

Fate was not done with Jim though, and several sessions later, we were south of Weatherstone, aiding a dwarven siege army retake their ancestral home of Wailer’s Hold, now overrun with demons and undead. They caught a break that allowed some deep reconnaissance into the Hold, when the undead armies of Weatherstop came south to battle everything in Wailer’s Hold, and sent us in to look (we decided it was better for everyone concerned if we didn’t mention that we were the reason Weatherstone’s armies were taking an interest in the outside world again).

At the last moment, our party was spotted by a Rust Knight and his demonic mount, and we had to flee beck to friendly territory. Jim’s character, a powerful geomancer who had made people explode simply by throwing a pebble at them, tried his favourite spell like he always did. The good news was that he defeated the Rust Knight and his griffon-like flying mount. Unfortunately for him, his roll for the spell included a fumble result, and he had to roll on the Magical Mishap Table. Essentially, he lost control of the spell and became the epicentre of the effect, blasting himself, Rust Knight and mount all together into a homogenous fine crimson mist.

I believe it was at this point (also owing to how one of the other players swapped their character’s profession previously for various reasons) that I called the group “The Adventure Party of Thesus”. There was still myself playing Arathus, and Shidd’Fuk the Goblin, who were founding members of the group (we don’t count the halfling because Dale didn’t join for a session or two), but we were fairly chewing through the membership to the point where some plot threads simply weren’t relevant to the group any more.

By this time, we’d all accrued quite a hefty chunk of XP. Arathus had maxed out his Brawling talents and had started taking further close quarters abilities, so not only could he attack twice per turn, his attacks hit with *tremendous* force, and he got a free dodge each round to boot, making him a warrior absolutely not to be trifled with, and with the druidic knowledge to talk with animals, become as stealthy as a cat, steal the sight of an eagle, or further augment his attacks with the strength of a grizzly bear. So when our party heard rumours of a dragon in the northwest, injured and potentially something we might have a shot at overpowering, we packed our bags, paid our stronghold’s guards several weeks in advance, reminded our accidental slave (a long story for another time, Orc society has some WEIRD ideas about defeated chiefs we didn’t know about) to keep fed, and set off for Adventure!

Along the way there were harpies, a racist halfling with a terrifying magical oven (pastries should not move.), and we got involved with an up and coming new empire of free Orcs when their king mistook us for ambassadors and we decided to run with it. That was when we encountered the Stones of Stanengist. Another long story, but suffice to say Elves turn into sentient rubies when they die, and allegedly the first 6 Elves in creation were wrought into the decorations of the Crown of Stanengist so they could be together forever. RPGs being what they are, the stones were scattered in ancient times and so on and so forth. This new Orc empire was being subtly manipulated by one such stone, imparting wisdom to their leader in his dreams. His wife, a rather more cunning and shrewd Orc, realised what was happening and got us involved to take the stone (or “homewrecker” as she called it) off her hands. That led to a fight with some elves who wanted the stone back, which didn’t go their way, and a heavily surreal dream sequence where the stone spoke to the party about how it was hoping to help the Orcs to atone for how its people treated them in the long long ago, and how WE might be able to seek out the 5 remaining stones, and with their power combined turn Ravenland into a paradise free of demons, slavery, hardship inclement weather yadda yadda yadda. Being the main point of contact between the Orc Queen and the party, Arathus took charge of the new Stone, which makes what happened next even funnier.

We decided that after coming all this way northwest, we might as well continue on the extra day or two travel to where the dragon had been spotted. After real life obligations caused the Adventure Party of Theseus to replace another member (just 2 founding members left now), we tracked down the dragon by the trail of destruction. The thing was a walking thunderstorm, literally; wherever it went, storm clouds followed. So when we saw a storm that wasn’t moving despite the winds, we just had to follow the lightning-blasted earth and petrified forests and horse-sized clawprints straight to the dragon’s lair.

There we stood, considering how to proceed. After seeing humanoid bootprints leading into the caves we decided to be stealthy and see whether the dragon had already been slain, or if it was sleeping after a nice feed of adventuring party.

Arathus declared “Rather than risk the stealth roll, I’ll use magic to automatically succeed.”

The GM gave his permission. “Cool, but you still have to roll your magic die to see if it’s 1 success or more”

I clicked, ,the RNG did its thing, and… Skull face.

“Ooh, a mishap. Roll D66 please!”

I duly rolled, thinking that at least the stealth part had worked so I wouldn’t be eaten by a dragon.

I rolled 66. That’s the highest number you get on a D66. In forbidden Lands, rolling higher on tables is almost always bad.

The GM duly read out the result:

Your magic rips open a rift to another dimension, and a demon pulls you over to the other side. Time to make a new character. Your old character will come back as an NPC after D66 days but will be … changed.

Forbidden Lands Magic Mishaps Table, Player’s Handbook p119

There was, perhaps unsurprisingly, a rather awkward silence around the virtual tabletop.

Eventually the GM said “So, Arathus… would you like to describe how, precisely, you accidentally sneak straight into Hell and get trapped there for… 66 days!? Jesus christ.

Much laughter ensued.

And then we remembered that Arathus had been in possession of the Stone, the main plot maguffin for the entire future campaign, when he disappeared and unwittingly became a demonic adversary for his erstwhile companions.

The laughter continued, but with a slightly more “oh fuck oh shit he was a combat demon BEFORE becoming a literal demon” sort of tone. Brittle, I think is the word. To say nothing of what the effects of two months in Hell would have on the Stone itself. The GM, every bit as surprised as I was, decided to conclude the session there, as that one little chain of quickly escalating events resulted in him having to rewrite a large chunk of what he had planned for our group in the immediate future.

And so ends the tale of Arathus, heroic and mighty Wolfkin Druid to the Bloody Huntress, and the Adventure Party of Theseus has only one original member left.

God I love random disaster tables.

Coriolis Let's Play TTRPG Uncategorized

The Shadows Lengthen

A Tale From the Third Horizon

[My computer troubles haven’t been fixed, but it had been almost a month since I ran anything, and I had a Need. So I steeled myself and braved the random flickering of my monitor to keep my Coriolis campaign going. I am braver than the troops.]

The Blue Beetle and its crew, after quite the adventure on the distant Jevghena colony in the Caph system, were finally home. Docking at the Neoptra, the largest public space port on Coriolis, they were witness to their passenger Omar being greeted by his waiting uncle, an elderly gentleman with the look of a retired soldier about him. This man, Qamar, was so delighted to see his nephew arrive safely (well, alive and only with two broken legs, but better than dead), he insisted that as soon as Omar had been seen to by his doctors, he would take the crew out to dinner. Never ones to turn down a free meal, the crew graciously accepted.

The next day, Qamar sent his official invitation to the crew. He had chosen Alkamaar’s, the most exclusive restaurant on the station, and quite possibly the most exclusive and legendary dining hall in all the Third Horizon. For a crew more used to places like Wahib’s Cantina, where brawls, grubby back-alley deals and even the occasional murder were just something the clientele sort of got used to, this was almost as distressing as being shot at and nearly killed back at Jevghena. The day was spent hunting for acceptable formal attire so they wouldn’t automatically get turned away at the doors. It took *months* to reserve a table, and Qamar Nahas was able to walk in with 5 scruffy merchants and be seen to immediately. Clearly he was a man of means and influence.

Alkamaar’s, the finest restaurant in all the Third Horizon

They had of course seen the planet Kua from orbit many times as they came and went in their ship, but travelling to the very spire of Coriolis, and watching the blue-green world through the glass dome above them, surrounded by the scents of orchids, rare spices, incense and the delicate perfumes of the other guests, the view had never been more spectacular. They were assigned a courtesan to show them to their table, retreating to a divan to be summoned at a moment’s notice, and Qamar encouraged them to order whatever they wished from the multiple menus.

Conversation was pleasant, ranging from Omar’s modest sheep farm on Quidar to current political affairs and the latest happenings with the Council of Factions. Dav at one point saw Qamar being saluted by a Legion officer on his way to the bathrooms, and decided to ask if Qamar had served.

“Oh yes, proud family tradition. Although I don’t like to brag about it. Not to mention if I told you any more, I’d probably have to have you shot, haha. No, the military is a younger man’s game, and I’m happy to have survived long enough that I could put it all behind me. Now Majid back in Caph would be able to tell you many stories…”

And so it went. Qamar was an excellent host, many exquisite dishes and cocktails were sampled, and the crew made the most of what they suspected would be the only visit to Alkamaar’s they would ever afford. Ash made a point of getting a bag of Alkamaar’s finest coffee beans before leaving.

Zulaikha, graceful and handsome as ever

The following morning, those coffee beans were warmly welcomed by tender sleepy heads. As was the invitation to lunch with Zulaikha Irides, their mission broker for Melem Gessura. He was taking his leisure at one of the many cafes near the Spring Plaza, enjoying the bright open spaces and the exquisite fountains and public works. He greeted the crew with great enthusiasm, asked them how their mission went, and expressed sorrow over the danger that arose unforeseen. “By way of apology, please allow me to offer you a very safe, in-system job that nonetheless pays well. There is a shipment of scientific equipment that the Foundation needs to get out to station FS-7, which orbits the gas giant Xene. No portals, no pirates, no political or military upheaval, just a simple transportation job. 15,000 birr.”

The crew, perhaps naturally, was suspicious. But Zulaikha was correct; Xene was close by, Kua was a well-policed system when it came to open piracy, and the money was good. They accepted over a round of refreshing kawah, and made their preparations to leave. The cargo was checked and double-checked, loaded and secured, and they were off. Xene would take about 4 days of travel, which did prove rather boring. The open blackness of space has a strange effect on those who sail it. Some times the abyss looks back. But our heroes were determined and steely-willed (or perhaps just lucky), and boredom really was the only threat they encountered.

The gas giant Xene

Xene grew quickly in the distance. A massive planet, some ten times the volume of Kua, and an atmosphere constantly wracked by storms easily as large as that jungle world. Compared to Xene, station FS-7 was a mote of dust, but on approach the crew saw that it was quite large in its own right, clearly a major scientific endeavour. Since the mysterious Emissaries rose from the depths of Xene, with one of them remaining on the station, FS-7 had required several new habitation modules to account for the many faithful who believed the Emissaries were either the Icons made flesh or their messengers, and the science station had become an awkward fulcrum, an endless stream of pilgrims on on side and the original scientific teams and staff who just wanted to get on with their godless research. The docking ring was therefore a great deal busier than expected, and songs of praise and hoarse preachers formed the lion’s share of the background noise.

FS-7, cutting edge scientific research and pilgrimage site extraordinaire since the appearance of the Emissaries.

They were expected, and the chief scientist and her bodyguard were there to meet the crew. She introduced herself as Jarouma had Peleter and was almost unprofessionally giddy at the sight of the equipment. The crew received their 15,000 birr and an invitation to dine with Jarouma while her staff took care of the logistics.

The fare was naturally not as good as their time in Alkamaar’s a few nights previously, but for a research outpost it was impressive. Jarouma thanked the crew again, saying that since the Emissaries her work has been greatly delayed. “But with your delivery or replacements and repairs, I think we can finally get back to work!”. Dav, curious about what was actually done on FS-7 as well as politely making conversation, asked if she could elaborate on what that work entailed.

Jarouma had Peleter, Chief Scientist and de facto ruler of FS-7

“Well… Years ago, we found something on an expedition, a structure with very similar energy patterns and emissions as the portal fields we use for travel. Now, that’s all very fascinating and there is still a large team out there many systems away, trying to make sense of it as we speak. But… you see, I noticed not too long ago that the magnetic field of Xene naturally looked very much like those patterns when viewed through the correct instruments. My hypothesis is that… how to put it… well, if we were able to modify Xene’s magnetosphere, with targeted interference patterns, I think we might be able to create a brand new portal field!”

She sat back, beaming with pride. The portals were not at all understood beyond the mathematical formulae humanity had developed to allow their use. How they were created or how they allow one to jump instantaneously from one star to another was a complete mystery. Dav was mightily impressed. The crew and Jarouma talked for some time, making appropriate sounds at Jarouma’s ambitions, listening with sympathy when she described how the pilgrims make everyone’s jobs more difficult, and nodding pensively when she gave her opinions on the Emissary. “I don’t know who or what this Emissary is. They can certainly do things that should not be possible according to what we know of the universe. It’s not that I don’t believe in the Icons, I do of course, it’s just… Look, science isn’t about what one believes, right? It’s about what one can observe, measure and model, and how accurately you can use that model to predict something. Faith… well, it’s a dangerous thing to bring with you into a laboratory, you see. Faith might get in the way of how you observe the data, even if you’re trying hard to the contrary…” There was obvious tension between Jarouma’s staff and the new pilgrims, and Jarouma had perhaps celebrated a little too much, and she took the opportunity to thank them again and make her apologies, before heading to bed. The crew did likewise soon after.

Faisal. Or possibly Benit. Or Ahmed. It was very hard to tell with everyone sealed in pressurised suits against the near-zero atmosphere…

The next day, the crew was readying to leave, when Jarouma approached them in a most apologetic and embarrassed manner. She explained that while under the influence of perhaps a little too much kohol, she had maybe bragged about the station’s scientific goals a little too much, and could technically have said things that were, strictly speaking, highly confidential, at least until her papers on the topic had been published. She appreciated that the Blue Beetle’s crew were models of discretion and would of course keep such things to themselves until such time as discretion was unnecessary. Dav assured her that of course they could rely on her, and was delighted to note that when they shook hands, there had been a tag containing 5,000 birr in Jarouma’s palm, along with a relieved smile on her face.

Just as they were prepping their ship for launch, they received a call from a mining prospector. The moons of Xene had experienced a gold rush in the past decade, and dozens of mining colonies had sprung up on most surfaces. As the only transport ship nearby at the time, this prospector, by the name of Faisal, claimed to have struck gold, and wanted swift transport to Coriolis to register his claim before anyone else could. He also claimed to have about 50,000 birr worth of gold already extracted and ready for the markets. Some *extremely* tough negotiations on Dav and Ash’s part (ruthlessly exploiting Faisal’s need for speed and secrecy didn’t hurt) secured them a whopping 10% of the claim’s future profits. The deal agreed, Faisal transmitted coordinates to his claim, a fairly nondescript rocky plain on the near-airless 5th moon.

Landing the Blue Beetle, Faisal greeted them in protective exo-suit. He was not alone; he introduced his two partners Benit and Ahmed, both standing on an aged anti-grav hauling platform, indistinguishable in similar head to toe protection. They gave a little wave.

Xene’s fifth moon. Faisal, Benit and Ahmed on their little hauling platform.

The mining site was barely a kilometre away, where the plain encountered cliffs, probably thrown up in some tectonic upheaval long since passed. The crew decided that trust was a much rarer commodity than gold, and agreed that Dav and Fattah would accompany the men to the claim while the rest stayed on board the Blue Beetle and kept a close watch on, well, everything.

The claim was a modest cave entrance in the side of the cliff, some geological and mining equipment scattered haphazardly outside. Faisal was talkative as they piloted the loader, his excitement at the find very obvious. Inside the cave, the path turned into a cramped tunnel requiring all manner of squeezing and shimmying to get in between opposing sheets of rock, until perhaps 50 metres in, it opened up into a little staging area. As Faisal promised, there were some 20 crates filled with variously sized chunks of what looked to be extremely pure gold. On the far side of the little cavern halogen lamps shone on the rockface which sported a thick, shimmering golden scar from top to bottom. “Our instruments say this seam goes back for another 50 metres, and down at least another 70, which is the scanning limit. This is HUGE!”

Perhaps it was because every contract they’d agreed to inevitably had a catch, perhaps it was the touch of the Icons, but Fattah and Dav were suspicious. Such pure gold, just waiting to be mined out? After some discussion, they convinced Faisal to bring one crate back to the ship, where they could use the medlab to run a few basic tests on the metal. “Benit, Ahmed, start bringing the crates out front, we’re going to examine this one in their lab, establish purity and such so we know what price to set. All going well we should be back soon.” They hopped on the loader and returned to the Blue Beetle.

Pol was already in the medlab, wearing exactly no pants. Dav explained the situation, and Pol took a hunk of the gold and went to work examining it with what tools he had. Faisal looked about to inquire as to Pol’s immodesty but Ash shaking her head with a serious look persuaded him to remain silent. After some 30 minutes, Pol had completed his assessment.

“Well, it’s bad news and good news. The bad news is that our patient is dead. Can’t find a trace of life.

“Pol, it’s… it’s a geological sample. They’re not supposed to be alive.”

“Oh. Well then doubly good news! This is almost pure gold. About 5% of it is ionic salt-like compounds that… Well, you know electroplating? Where you submerge something in a salt solution and hook up an electric charge and the metal ions of the salt stick to the object? Yeah. That’s what this is. Here, one second…”

Pol jogged out to the ship’s temple and swiftly returned, bearing the small statue of the Messenger. “See this lad? Looks like solid gold but you’d know from the weight of him that he’s gold-plated. I bet if I analysed the surface it would be pretty much identical to what you brought in.”

Ash winced slightly. “Please don’t deface a holy statue of the Icons, Pol.”

“Relax, it’s not like I shove him down my pants when you’re not around.”

“… Pol, that’s a very specific thing for you to-“

Faisal interrupted. “Hang on, hang on. You’re saying I found… what, exactly?”

“Well, I’d guess it’s either *extremely* specific and improbable geochemistry, or this gold was used in electro-plating,” said Pol. “So… I guess your mining claim might be, uh, more of an *archaeological* claim, if you get me?”

Faisal’s face fell, but Dav stepped in. “Don’t worry, partner. Ok, so that means a little more paperwork when we get to Coriolis. An archaeological fine with that much gold in it is still a huge find, and we can still make a lot of money from it. The Foundation, the Consortium, Free League, Ahlam’s Temple even, there are a lot of extremely rich factions who’d be delighted to hand you a hauler full of birr for the chance to be the first at uncovering whatever history this place represents.”

As Faisal was recalculating the potential untold riches in his head, the silence was broken by the ship’s AI, cheerily announcing that 2 humans were approaching from the direction of the claim. “Must have gotten lonely I guess.” said Faisal, wandering out to the cargo bay to meet them on the ramp.

Benit and Ahmed stopped to meet him. “Quick change of plan, friends,” Faisal began, “we think this gold was used in electro-plating, meaning there’s a real good chance we’ve found us a hidden temple, or ancient factory, or some other installation.”

Ahmed’s head tilted, unsure of the full meaning. Faisal continued.

“Instead of a mining claim, we’re going to have to make it an archaeological dig site. Now don’t worry, this means we can get college students to do all the digging while we sit back, sell the finds to the highest bidders, and become rich enough to buy our own palaces on Dabaran!”

Benit and Ahmed looked at each other. Benit shrugged, and held out his hand to shake on it. Relieved, Faisal took the hand and shook.

“Good, good, I’m glad we can agree on… OK you can stop now. Ow. Benit, you’re squeezing-“

And then he screamed as Benit crushed Faisal’s hand in his, the crunch of bone shuddering through his body and audible over the comm links.

Dav and Ash were quick off the mark, whipping out their Vulcan Crickets and planting solid shots on Benit. Ahmed raised his rifle and shot Ash in the shoulder, before taking a round himself.

Any resemblance to Volatile Infected from Dying Light is purely coincidental.

Whether it was inevitable or triggered by the damage they had taken, Benit and Ahmed both howled, the sound becoming less and less human as their pressurised suits stretched and ruptured, their helmets cracking apart to reveal burning pits of yellow fire where eyes should have been. Arms elongates with sickening pops, fingers became rending talons. And the howl went on, hate and pain and rage incarnate. The Darkness Between the Stars had claimed these two, body and soul. Darkbound.

The creature that had been Ahmed leapt with terrifying nimbleness, crossing the ship’s cargo bay in the blink of an eye to come face to face with Ash, rendering her cover useless. It was all she could do to dodge the thing’s claws. The other charged the doorway to the medlab, where Dav and Fattah were both taking cover. Fattah was unable to dodge, taking a nasty cut across the chest, while Dav put another round in it at point blank. Instead of blood or even ichor, the Darkbound bled thick oily black smoke, like a drop of paint diffusing through water. It was outnumbered, however, and between Dav’s handgun and Fattah’s powered gauntlet, they took it down.

Ash, being badly wounded by the remaining Darkbound, sprinted for the safety of the others in the medlab. Her opponent flexed its unholy powers and surrounded her in chains of shadow, attempting to poison her mind with despair. Ash’s will was steadfast, however; for an instant the world flickered and appeared bleak, colourless and devoid of hope, but she gritted her teeth and shook it off.

The remaining Darkbound tried changing tack, then. Leaping to the ceiling and skittering about like a perverse spider, its head turned 180 degrees to regard its victims. It lashed out at Ash again, cutting her shoulder with long claws, but the three were ready for it now, and sustained gunfire shredded it to wisps of oily smoke. Silence descended on the Blue Beetle once more, broken only by the faint sound of snoring coming from the ship’s temple. Pol had slept through the whole ordeal.

We absolutely did not play out this scene.

In the end, the crew took Faisal and only one crate of gold back to Coriolis, for fear it carried the taint of the Dark Between the Stars. Faisal split the sale with them, giving them 5,000 birr, which they added to a further 5,000 after dropping off Jarouma had Peleter’s latest data. This was all very fortunate for them, as upon docking, a representative of the bank they originally took a loan from to purchase their ship was waiting there to meet them. It was time for their first repayment of the loan. After a little to-ing and fro-ing, it was agreed that 20,000 birr per month was an acceptable arrangement for all parties. Bank accounts now considerably lighter, they took stock of their respective situations.

Faisal declared that he would remain on Coriolis for another week at least; to settle his nerves, let his hand heal, and figure out what to do next with his lucrative but dangerous find. The crew, perhaps convinced that Faisal was as surprised by his old partners’ transformations as they had been (or perhaps looking to make sure that they still got their cut), put him in touch with their old friend Adzem Kembouri, a now well-established name in djinni, exorcisms, lifting curses, ancient lore and all manner of supernatural phenomena. If they were to return to that cursed spot, they reasoned, better to do it with someone who knew how to fight the darkness.

All in all, the crew felt, things were going quite well. They had taken some risks, yes, but so far they had all paid off. They had enough birr to cover the next repayment, in the unlikely event no other jobs came their way in that time. And they already had some other backup options; the group of mercenaries hunting them had a pretty price on their heads, should the Legion learn of their elimination. They had also intercepted a delivery of stealth and weapon optics clearly intended for an assassination attempt aboard Coriolis. If they ever figured out how to crack the dynamic encryption on the datapad accompanying the gear, the target of such a dark deed, who was clearly quite rich to deserve such high tech treatment, would surely be grateful…

Coriolis cover art seems a good way to book-end the maybe last session for a while…

… And so the stars burn, and their worlds turn, and the people of the Third Horizon trade and explore and fight and love and die. Much has happened, much has been discovered, and much more yet remains in long forgotten places, the plans of great Factions, and the future’s infinitely branching potential. And so shall it be.

[NOTE: an indefinite hiatus is coming up, if this isn’t the last session then the next one will be, as I try to fix my computer’s display issues, and perhaps try out another game or something. Gun & Slinger is on the list, a more intimate sort of game where one player is a mysterious wanderer and the other is their sentient, magical firearm. Anyway, don’t be surprised if this is the last Coriolis update for a while, it’s part of the Plan!]


Shoneen: A Dolly Parton Tribute

Pandemic burnout and Good Friday Drinking, together at last

Now I’m not *saying* I wrote this parody about anyone in particular. I’m just saying that Fine Gael are fucking disgusting and absolutely would sign Ireland over to the British Commonwealth in a heartbeat if they thought it would hurt Sinn Féin at the next election. And let’s be honest, there’s no difference at all between Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil, they are both pompous, self-serving tory scum.

Anyway. Here’s a silly little song. Hum it along to Dolly Parton’s Jolene for extra bonus points.

Shoneen, Shoneen, Shoneen, Shoneen
I’m begging you to vaccinate my nan
Shoneen, Shoneen, Shoneen, Shoneen
Please stop changing up the vaccine plan

You make the country’s poorest pay,
So toffs like you can lounge all day,
Your laziness goes far beyond obscene

For Cromwell you would gladly die,
You subsidise the VHI,
Despite the low tax that they pay, Shoneen

Because of you we cannot sleep,
There’s nothing I can do to keep
My home from being repossessed, Shoneen

No depth to which you will not stoop,
While Ireland starves you took the soup
You never cared about us, you Shoneen

Shoneen, Shoneen, Shoneen, Shoneen
I’m begging you to vaccinate my nan
Shoneen, Shoneen, Shoneen, Shoneen
Please stop changing up the vaccine plan

For 2016 you had plans
To celebrate the Black and Tans
Your callousness just makes me sick, Shoneen

You sat and stared a year and more
While covid knocked on all our doors
5,000 lives were lost to you, Shoneen

Shoneen, Shoneen, Shoneen, Shoneen
I’m begging you to vaccinate my nan
Shoneen, Shoneen, Shoneen, Shoneen
Please stop changing up the vaccine plan

Shoneen, Shoneen

Coriolis Uncategorized Updates

Technical Issues

aaaaaaaaaaaaaa why is it on fire aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa

There was no Tale from the Third Horizon last week, because it was a short session mostly involving travel, which would be better off combined with the shenanigans planned for tonight’s game session.

Alas, fortune has once again vomited into the eiderdown pillow of my life, and there is no session tonight. You see, there’s something wrong with my computer, or at least its monitor. It has *something* to do with the HDMI cables, and/or the sockets they plug into at one end and/or the other. Or possibly the fact that the mains socket is extended off another one which has had so much damp creep in through the years that plugs come out covered in copper-green slime.

8 Most Dangerous: Electrical Hazards in Your Home | The ...
“Hmm. Nothing wrong on this end..”

The house could be built on an ancient burial ground or subject to even more curses than Leo fucking Varadkar appearing on tv for all I know, and would explain the issue about as well as anything else right now. I haven’t tracked down the precise cause yet, but the damn thing is unusable until I do. So no videosgame, no Youtubes, and no virtual tabletops for the foreseeable future.

This sucks. I have it on good authority that at least TWO whole people besides me reads this drivel and enjoys it, and writing up game sessions has been good for my memory and general creative muscles, and I am not at all pleased by the way a simple, cheap solution eludes me, leading me to have to consider less simple, and considerably less cheap, options.

So that’s what’s happening. Sorry to both of my fans, I’ll try to get things working as soon as possible.

Coriolis Let's Play TTRPG

“The Gang Commits Blasphemy”

A Tale From the Third Horizon

Platform Nakshatra, orbiting Quidar

When last we left our intrepid heroes, they had elected to “go meddle” in the affairs of the space station in which they were currently trapped; a sudden embargo arising from disputes between the Hydra Fleet (Zenithian Hegemony) and Jevghena Colony Security (The Legion) clamped down on all non-essential travel. It began, as meddling often does, in the local bar. Well, bar is perhaps the wrong word; Platform Nakshatra was a small station, with a fraction of the traffic seen by the mighty Coriolis. This bar, known simply as “The Bar”, was more like a an airport kiosk with cheap plastic furniture. It would be unfair to call it a place of ill-repute. It lacked repute of any kind at all. Into this softly lit den arrived Blue Beetle’s engineer Fattah, and science officer Pol. It was quite busy, relatively speaking; A merchant lay passed out on his spreadsheets, five off-duty Legion soldiers were gathered round a table, drinking hard liquor in that way grim men of war often do, which is to say silently and constantly. And a holy man sat next to a younger, panicked man, attempting to give him solace and wisdom about his impending marriage.

The arid world Quidar

While Fattah decided the best course of action was to ingratiate himself with the soldiers through the time-honoured practice of buying them a round of drinks, Pol immediately wandered up to the holy man and his charge, deciding to inject his own wisdoms into the rather dry conversation. “Ah, don’t worry too much about it buddy, there’s always divorce if it doesn’t work out!” This approach… did not go down particularly well with the preacher man (although it did raise a smile from the panicked groom-to-be, who truth be told was merely a little overwhelmed with the amount of planning he and his partner were doing for the celebration). He stiffly agreed that while, yes, divorce was legally and scripturally an option wedded couples could pursue, it was important to remember that marriage itself was a very serious institution, not to be entered into frivolously. Pol responded with a decidedly atheist argument about how the Icons were probably pretty chill about the whole thing, to which the preacher, now quite red of face, spluttered with rage that he had never before encountered such *disrespect* for the teachings of the Icons, and other such appalled indignities.

The young man, watching this in awe, suddenly laughed heartily once the holy man had left. “I’ve… I’ve never seen him so angry before, and he’s ALWAYS angry about something. I needed some levity today, thank you, friend.”

Pol waved for a couple of drinks to be brought over. “Oh, don’t worry about it. Think of it as a wedding present, you looked like you needed some cheering up.”

Fattah, meanwhile, now found himself sitting in the circle of soldiers, being appraised in a “I don’t know you, but you DID buy me a drink, so let’s see how this shakes out” manner. Not being able to recall any toasts specific to The Legion, he decided to play it safe and raise his glass simply “to The Legion!”, which went down well enough. Slightly relaxed, they began to talk. They mentioned how there was a fight brewing for months between the Hegemony and Legion, that there were multiple chances to avoid bloodshed, but stubbornness had kept winning out. “It could be 2, maybe 3 weeks before delegates arrive to mediate the dispute. Meanwhile, we’re stuck here in orbit with a bunch of toff-nosed Hegemony fools who’d run away if you showed them a real gun”

Legion soldiers tend to go drinking in their armour, too.

“Probably run towards it, not knowing what it was!” quipped Fattah, to much approval from the disgruntled grunts.

“Hah, yeah. Ugh, it’s a stupid mess. You ever been at a wedding where there were two guests that HAD to be invited, but you make sure they’re seated at opposite ends of the room? It’s a lot like that right now. Tense.”

“Anything an independent trader might be able to help with?” asked Fattah, deciding now was the time to press for details.

“Hmph. Couldn’t rightly say. I know there’s still traffic between here and the colony, so the higher ups must have agreed on something, but we’re definitely not the people to ask, we just point guns and shoot. You wanna talk to them, really.”

Pol and his new friend had settled into their fresh drinks by now. He had learned the man’s name was Shareef, that he was having the same stress that so many couples endure when planning a wedding, and that he was a Legion soldier currently on leave after a bullet to the leg rendered him unfit for duty. While he was enjoying the relative peace, he did admit that paid leave was nothing like an-duty wages, and times were a little tight. Pol again offered to help: “Look man, I know how it is. Tell you what: I’m not going anywhere while this lockdown is on, so if I can help clear anything off your to-do list over the next couple of days, just let me know. I’d be happy to help get you on your way to that honeymoon in your near future!” Shareef was quite beside himself at this offer.

“Very kind of you, sir! Let me think on it, and I might call you later?” They exchanged details, Shareef finished his drink, and limped home in a far better mood than when his day had begun.

Dav and Ash Drum had elected to stay with the Blue Beetle. Ash was idly monitoring radio chatter, Dav inspecting the ship to ensure there were no more surprises like the one which almost killed them on the portal jump. Ash’s tabula rang out. It was a call from Pol.

“Ash, my friend! You know how you’re a genius with information and computers?”

“… what do you want?” asked Ash, voice heavy with suspicion.

“Well, I met a fellow in the bar. He’s getting married soon! I hope that goes well for him, he’s a nice lad-“

“How many drinks have you had?” interrupted Ash, no less suspicious but now also slightly worried.

“Not enough. Not nearly enough. But where was I? Oh yes, the lad getting married. So I offered to give him a hand with his workload, and long story short, he gave me a whole bunch of confidential reports that need rubber stamping and I thought, you’re brilliant at writing programs and scripts to automate things, you could get this done in a couple of hours!”

“Yeah, but-“

“Great! I’ll send the files on over with a list of what boxes need ticking brilliant thanks bye!”

There was silence, but for the muffled sounds of the docking ring outside.

“I’m going to hide his damn pillow.”

Ash needed only minutes to write a script to automate the process of completing some 300 official Legion reports between Jevghena Colony and Platform Nakshatra. She spent several hours, however, devising a way to scan each report for interesting keywords or repeated phrases, aggregate the data and analyse the whole for useful, or valuable information that could fetch a nice price with the right collecter. By the time she had her scan running, Pol had returned, loudly exclaimed that Dav was going to be upset about his pillow being missing, and was sleeping off his adventures in the bar.

His peace was short-lived, of course. Presently, the Blue Beetle was visited by an official and his bodyguard of Legion soldiers. “Ahem. The crew of the Blue Beetle, yes? I apologise for interrupting but you see, there has been… a complaint. Some allegations of blasphemy, in fact.”

Ash was shocked. “What? They’re just boobs! I’m not even flashing them, they’re all in my shirt!”

“Ahem, I’m sure they are. No, the incident to which I refer concerns certain utterances made by crew members in the local cantina, and-“


“asdfgl” said Pol, waking slowly. Ash forced a cup of strong coffee into his hands, to better explain himself. The official seemed nonplussed, as if this happened every other day for him.

“Indeed, according to the complaint, one or more individuals who crew the ship named Blue Beetle insulted the Icons, and a priest of the Icons. Now I’m sure it wasn’t a serious as the complainant makes out, but nevertheless, the station must be seen to take all complaints of such concerning nature seriously, and so I must request that the crew accompany me-“

“What’s your name?” asked Pol.

“Kadife, sir, and now if-“

“Is this how you saw yourself as a kid, Kadife? Ticking boxes, filling forms for the Man?”

“Actually it is, I thoroughly enjoy the intricacies of bureaucracy.”

There was a stunned silence, which Pol broke by saying “Well I think we should follow him, I don’t know how to respond to that, he’s got me.”

Dav sighed. His day had been going so well. “Look, Mr. Kadife, this is all his doing, why do we have to be dragged into it?”

“I’m afraid my orders were quite specific, sir. Legion envoy Majid Nahas requested the whole crew. Please, I’m sure it is just a formality, a ticked box, a form filed, nothing exciting” his eyes flickered over to Pol for the briefest moment. It was like seeing Pol being slowly flayed with a rose-scented razor blade.

A collective sigh. “Pol, after this we are going to have to have a serious talk about insulting holy men. Fine, lead on Kadife.”

Majid Nahas was an imposing man, over six feet tall and every inch of him a Legion veteran. Muscular, his shaved head displaying the Legion’s skull tattoo proudly, his right eye and left arm replaced with intimidating cybernetic prosthetics chosen more for their value in combat than any ergonomic or aesthetic concerns. He shuffled some papers with his organic hand when the crew entered his office in the station’s administrative section.

Majid Nahas. Absolutely not that guy from Deus Ex. Shhhhh!

“Now. The Blue Beetle’s crew, yes? Brother Ravi here claims-“

The apoplectic man shot to his feet, pointing at Pol. “That’s him! That’s the man who slandered the Icons to my face! To my FACE!”

Pol waved at him.

“Yes, yes, calm down please. And you, Pol, do you dispute this?”

“All I did was say there’s nothing wrong with divorce. Honestly, if the Icons are so mad at me they could have sent a better envoy than shorty here…”

Brother Ravi, at this stage, was beginning to choke on his own rage.

Majid pre-emptively held up his bionic hand in a call for silence, which was quite effective given its large size and battle scarred exterior.

“Enough, gentlemen. Brother Ravi, I shall deal with this, have no fear. That will be all, thank you.”

“But wh-“

Thank you, brother Ravi, that will be all.” Majid had a very commanding tone when he wanted. He may as well have yelled “you are DISMISSED!” while drop-kicking the priest out of an airlock. The furious man slunk away. The door closed, and Majid sighed.

“I never liked him,” he began. “A real fire-and-brimstone zealot. He regularly denounces the use of cybernetics in the Legion, but he has never required life-saving surgery on the battlefield.”

Before any of the crew could say something, he spoke up again. “Nevertheless, he is technically correct, and an example must be made. I trust a small fine, say, 50 birr, will suffice?”

“If the money goes somewhere that’ll annoy him, I’ll double it,” said Pol.

“Hmph.” That was the closest thing to a laugh Majid appeared capable of. “He does have a particular dislike of the Legion’s widow and orphan fund, given they provide cybernetics to wounded family members.”

“Perfect”, Pol smiled widely. Majiid tapped a few commands into his tabula.

“Done. Thank you.”

“Thank YOU, sir,” said Ash. “While we’re here, do you have any idea when this lockdown is going to end?”

Majid gave them an appraising look. It lasted a while. “That depends. It might be in two or three weeks, when we expect diplomats from both Factions to arrive…”

He tapped the console on his desk. The doors audibly locked shut, and Ash saw the signal reception of her tablet die.

“… or it could be as soon as tomorrow, if you’re willing to do me a small favour.”

The crew’s ears picked up. Now, THIS sounded like some top quality meddling!

“As I’m sure you’re aware, hostilities have erupted between the Hydra Fleet and The Legion. Violence on this station has been limited to fist fights, but in Jevghena Colony there is already a bodycount. While outright fighting has ceased for the moment, there are no guarantees of peace until the diplomats arrive.” His bionic arm twitched, clearly feeding off his agitation.

I have a younger brother in Jevghena. Honourable discharge, like myself, but the circumstances were less than celebratory. He has a rare neurological condition, which cost him the use of his legs. The best minds in the Third Horizon tell me his condition is such that prosthetic replacements will not work, something about degraded nerve clusters. The Legion would not replace limbs that weren’t damaged in battle, in any case. Part of the reason I took this position was so I could look out for him.”

Majid’s mouth twitched. A proto-smile, maybe? He sat back, clearly not used to being this open, yet so clandestine.

“These hostilities have been brewing for months. Omar and I have had many discussions about what to do if… when they came to a head. He is headstrong, but he’s not a fool. We both agreed that in the event of things getting out of control, he would move to our uncle’s home aboard Coriolis station. Unfortunately, the lockdown happened quicker than we anticipated, and military personnel from either faction, even retired like I am, don’t get to travel anywhere right now. But your appearance presents a solution.”

“You have no affiliations that matter to this conflict. An independent trader would be of use to either Faction. I can arrange for your ship to have clearance to land at Jevghena, and, by pulling some strings while you’re away, I can pressure my opposite number in the Hegemony to grant you clearance to leave the Caph system. If you collect Omar and bring him safely to Coriolis, I will clear the path for you. And yes, I can provide some compensation. 5,000 birr, and on top of that…”

Now Majid did smile. It wasn’t a pleasant sight.

“Since I retired from The Legion, I developed a little hobby of keeping tabs on ex-Legion members, particularly deserters. I understand that your ship had a close call making the jump here from Kua, yes? An attack on your stasis chamber?”

Ash leaned forward. Oh, she was VERY interested in having a word with the people who nearly killed her.

“Once my brother is safe, I will tell you who was responsible. I will send you their entire military files, in fact. The Legion takes a very dim view of deserters, and you’ll find that the names I give you all have a pretty little bounty associated with them. Off official records, of course. Your discretion is very much appreciated in such matters.”

Down to the surface of Quidar, down to Jevghena colony in the northern hemisphere. The journey took 4 hours from high orbit. During this, the crew messaged Omar Nahas on the surface, agreeing on certain greeting phrases to make sure they knew who was who. Ash’s datamining algorithm also completed its analysis. With certain keywords and coded phrases scattered across dozens of reports, someone in the Legion had managed to conceal a smuggling operation! The algorithm determined the location of a dead drop within Jevghena’s space port and administrative buildings. The sun was rising as they landed at the space port, alongside the central colony administration in a rugged valley surrounded by grassy plains, it was looking like a beautiful, if extremely hot, morning.

Jevghena, on the planet Quidar. The main colony administration and space port shelter in the valley while the plains to the east support farming.

First up, they decided to investigate this dead drop Ash’s snooping had uncovered. It lay within a maintenance area that saw little in the way of traffic when the colony was running smoothly, and the rather unsubtle crew of the Blue Beetle had little trouble infiltrating unseen. They emerged with a large carrying container, hermetically sealed, the contents of which they could only guess at but which they were sure would fetch a tidy price with the right buyer. Then, on to locating Omar Nahas. His tabula signature pointed to one of the outlying farms on the plains beyond the valley. Temperatures were already approaching 30 C., and were due to climb as high as 50, so they elected to borrow a pair of sealed ATVs to keep the heat off them. Within half an hour they were clear of the valley and another 30 minutes took them to Omar’s small goat farm.

Omar Nahas. Nice fellow. Has a goat farm.

Omar was in a similar 4-wheeled pod to the crew, doing his morning inspections of the fences and his animals, accompanied by two men wrapped in many layers to ward off the growing heat. The crew radioed him. “This is the crew of the Blue Beetle, how is Abigail doing?”

Omar’s ATV and “minders”, a takeoff from Jevghena space port in the background. Note the adorable baby goats. One survived.

Abigail the goat, they had decided, would be their mutually agreed greeting.

“Hello! She’s fine, thank you for asking. These men will be looking after the farm while I’m gone, I was just showing them around. Shall we be off?”

With one ATV (carrying Dav and Pol) in front of Omar and one (Fattah and Ash) behind, they turned back toward the space port. Whether from pure luck, the will of the Icons, or razor-sharp perceptive skill, the occupants of the rear pod noticed a reflection of the receding farm and its new minders. They saw the men remove large hand guns from the folds of their apparel, and take careful aim at Omar’s ATV. They raised the alarm. An assassination attempt!

Dav, ever the quick-thinking pilot on or off the ground, sprang into action. “Omar, break right and follow me, now!” before executing a magnificent powerslide that wound between two boulders and led to somewhat rougher terrain, where the constant bumps would throw the aim of the two would-be assassins. Omar swiftly followed suit, proving almost as skilled a pilot as Dav. The first shot sailed wide. The second hit Fattah’s pod, smashing a glass panel and letting the baking heat fill the cockpit, but otherwise not harming the vehicle. Fattah messaged their employer as he drove. “Blue Beetle here, we have your brother but there are hostiles after us. Any backup you can send would be appreciated!” Ash leaned out and fired a shot from her Vulcan Cricket pistol. A miniature explosive rocket slammed into the shoulder of one man, wounding but not downing him. Their radio crackled in response. “This is Majid. Make for the eastern gates, I will double the guards there to provide covering fire.”

“Yes! Thank you! Everyone, eastern gates, we’ll be safe as soon as we’re within rifle range!”

Pol, being a wealthy upper-class dilettante before joining the crew as a penniless medic, had rather more personal wealth than the rest of the crew to spend on preparing for a life travelling the stars. While his friends armed themselves with the relatively affordable Vulcan Cricket (a common weapon that fired tiny rockets), he had treated himself to a top of the line hunting rifle that used magnetic field manipulation to launch tiny metal slugs at hypersonic speeds. His shot hit the second assassin’s leg with such force that a full third of the limb simply disappeared in an explosion of bone and blood, severing the leg and leaving the shocked man to swiftly bleed out on the ground. Such was the force of the explosion that a nearby goat, showered in gore, fell over in shock.

But the assassins were not finished. Taking careful aim again, the remaining killer fired again, this time hitting Omar’s ATV and causing something to spark and smoke. Omar’s vehicle started to slow, the damaged engine unable to keep pace with Dav’s ATV. Ash contacted Omar. “We’ll draw level with you, get you on to our pod, hold steady now!”

The two vehicles drew level. The cockpit on Omar’s ATV slid open, revealing a handsome, if understandably anxious, young man. The cradle that held him extended out, and Ash leaned out as far as she dared, ready to catch him.

Dav, watching carefully on his rear view mirrors, suddenly cried out in alarm. Three men on grav-cycles were approaching from another direction, weapons in hand! Somehow they had masked their sensor presence, and the lack of wheels left no dust trail to announce them. Thinking fast, he spun the ATV around…

… as the lead rider fired his gun at Omar’s vehicle. Something critical in the engine lurched, and the ATV flipped violently, hurling Omar forward into the air…

… Dav slammed down hard on the accelerator, and swung open the cockpit. This was going to be unpleasant for Omar, but better to live and complain about broken bones than blasted to pieces by hostile strangers.

It is unknown precisely what went through Omar’s mind as he was launched into the air. Perhaps as he sailed upwards, he cursed the crew of the Blue Beetle, his attackers, even his brother. Perhaps he surrendered himself to the mercy of the Icons as his flight reached its peak and the fall began. Nobody knows, he refuses to talk about that day, when he flew straight into the curvature of Dav’s raised cockpit like a ball into a basket, landing with little ceremony and at least one broken leg on Pol.

The riders, furious at being cheated of their prize, gunned their throttles and zipped towards the remaining ATVs. Fattah, a moment of inspiration flashing in his mind, shouted “take control for me!” to Ash, and began to tear into the electronics systems of the ATV. He recalled how vehicles like these ran on powerful fusion batteries, and that many of the electronic systems could be hardwired straight to the power source, overcharging them. Ash, struggling to drive while not in the driver seat, awkwardly fired off another round. The Icons smiled on her, and the remaining assassin on foot crumpled. There were only the three riders remaining.

“Go big or go home”, mumbled Dav. Sealing the cockpit once more, he launched the ATV straight towards the lead rider. His grav-cycle, while extremely fast, was not very big. Its rider was not blessed as Dav was with great knowledge of physics. When the two vehicles collided head on, the ATV didn’t even slow as it crushed both rider and ride under the wheels.

“What in blazes are you doing?” Ash screamed at Fattah. Her somewhat wobbly driving made their vehicle a surprisingly hard target to hit, the remaining riders’ shots sailing wide. Fattah did not explain, only clambered onto the roof of the ATV, calling on her to take full control and drive straight at one of the riders. As Ash turned to face their oncoming threats, Fattah, flicked his hastily constructed switch, the immense power of the ATV’s fusion battery bypassing the normal distributor circuits and flowing right to the microwave sensor emitter array one the roof, which he aimed at the nearest rider. Ash, now in the driver’s seat, was briefly annoyed as the electronic sensors fizzled and went dark. She might have complained, but the sight of a man on a grav-cycle being explosively vaporised led her to conclude that she could let it slide this time at least.

The remaining rider broke off, jinking side-to-side to throw off Pol’s aim, before coming around for another run. The inspiration of the Icons was not done with Fattah this day, as he remembered that he was in possession of a considerable length of “hyper-rope”, a very strong monomolecular carrying cable which required special gloves to handle without slicing your hands off. Ash pulled up next to the wreckage of Omar’s ATV, and Fattah jumped out, drawing a taut line of hyper-rope between his ATV and Omar’s.

The last rider, moments before he felt nothing at all. Nothing at all. NOTHING AT ALL!

Their pursuers defeated, the crew made their way to the space port, with Omar battered and nursing two broken legs but happy to be alive. Having lost his ATV, the crew made a quick stop at the colony administration to secure a wheelchair for Omar. Majid was true to his word, and no sooner had they reached Platform Nakshatra again than they were granted permission by the Hydra Fleet to leave the system. When they rose from their cryo pods in the Kua system once more, there was a message from Majid waiting for them on the ship’s logs.

“You have my most sincere gratitude, friends. My brother would be captured or dead now, but for you. Our uncle will provide him with a safe home on Coriolis, at least until it is safe for him to return to Jevghena. I have transferred 5,000 birr to your account as we agreed.”

“Now, as to the matter of those who tried to sabotage your cryo chamber. All available dossiers are attached. They are ex-Legion, as I suggested. Their leader is Ariana Remora, once a Lieutenant. She chafed at what she called the “red tape” of the Legion, which is to say she disliked the rules by which we operate, for example our rules on avoiding civilian casualties. My sources tell me that she has a band of at least four confirmed ex-Legionaries, and recently aligned her group with the criminal organisation known as the Syndicate. From what I can gather, it would seem that your last job for Melem Gesurra prevented Remora from completing a Syndicate-backed operation, and she has taken it personally.”

As they read through the files, a shock hit the crew almost simultaneously, as they beheld their attackers.

Lt. Remora and her crew

These rough, scarred men and women were the very same people who had tried to steal their first job with Adzem Kembouri! Majid’s message continued.

“I am confident that video footage from Coriolis will confirm what I have told you. I am sorry to bring you news of having made an enemy, but for what it is worth, you have made a friend in me. If I can help you against these honourless dogs, it will be my pleasure to do so. Again, thank you, and may the Icons light your way.”

And so the crew sailed through the dark between the stars, home to Coriolis, an uneasy feeling settling upon them. They had, however unwittingly, however minor, upset the schemes of a powerful organisation, and the sabotage of their ship was only a taste of things to come. There would surely be further attempts on their lives.