The Training and Life of a Trooper

The Trooper Order, humanity’s protector and the sovereign government of Mars, is a military organisation founded in 3001 T.C by Colonel Utho von Rothhardt. Since its inception, the Troopers have acted as an army acting on behalf of all mankind. Its sovereign control over Mars, containing the largest human population in space, has allowed it to achieve much of this goal.

The Troopers have a varied structure throughout space. On Mars and the core worlds, Troopers are recruited from the population and trained rigorously in the art of modern warfare. On the frontier, the Trooper outposts and forces don’t have such luxury, and tend to resemble more a disparate militia than a highly trained and organised fighting force.

Trooper Ranks

Concept design of a Trooper

Troopers reward merit above all else. Promotion is completely dependent on combat experience on core worlds. While this same principle applies to frontier worlds and combat zones, each Trooper does have the ability to promote and recruit in relation to their own rank. This is due to a high turnover in dangerous areas, where formal promotion is unlikely and a chain of command needs to be maintained.

High Protector: First among equals of the Council-Generals. Makes final decision when consensus cannot be achieved. Can be seen as the ruler of the Trooper Order.

Council-General: An almost peerless general tasked with directing the grand strategy of the Order, including the affairs of the Armada, Logistics and Order.

Planetary General: The highest ranking general and commanding officer on a planet.

General: Leads an army made up of 2-5 sections.

Force Commander: Leads a force of 2-5 divisions.

Colonel: Leads a division of 2-5 companies.

Captain: Leads a company of 3-5 platoons.

Lieutenant: Leads a platoon of 3-5 squads.

Strike Leader: Leads a strike team of 10-20 men. Answers to superior officers but not formally a part of any greater structure. Acts semi-independently.

Sergeant:  Leads a squad of 6-12 men.

Corporal: Leads a fireteam or section of 2-6 men.

Lance Corporal: Leads a patrol of 1-3 men.

Specialist: Specially trained personnel.

Private: Inducted Trooper.

Trainee/Recruit: Informally inducted Trooper.

Recruitment (Core Worlds)

Core worlds are highly developed planets with generally well-educated and wealthy populations. Troopers recruit volunteers from core worlds. Many Trooper funded settlements around the Great Terra system and its neighbours encourage generations of Trooper recruits. Conscription is not used in the core worlds, as the high life expectancy of a core world Trooper and the use of syns (drones) has made the practice obsolete.

On planets like Mars, service is expected and often culturally pressured on many Martians. Trooper Dynasties and houses, ruled by Troopers who have lived centuries due to bio-tech and cybernetics often press their descendants into service.

Training and Service (Core Worlds)

Training involves a strict and advanced curriculum of military science, weapons usage and other specialty courses. The Military Academy of Mars and the Trooper University of Military Science are breeding grounds for Trooper officers. Troopers with lower ambitions and means are trained in virtual reality combat trainers, among basic training provided by the Order.

After completing training, recruits can choose their assignment. They can either join the planetary guard or choose to be sent to a combat operation. The Martian turnover of over a million recruits a year has been more than sufficient to man these initiatives, not including recruitment across the other core worlds.

Equipment is the finest that humanity has to offer. A typical infantryman will be equipped with full-kinetic and energy-proof body armour, Aegis smart-rifles, a wide array of combat gadgets and medical equipment. They are typically deployed from orbit as shock troops, following orbital bombardment by the Trooper fleet (which, while being under the High Command, has its own structure).

Concept design of a Red Sand Ranger, an elite frontier Trooper from Zona Nox.

Recruitment (Frontier)

Conscription and militias are more common than professional soldiers on the frontier. Generals and commanders on the frontier are often desperate for soldiers, and will press locals (primarily convicts) into service. Volunteer militias are also common. Often, the Troopers are the only employer on many frontier planets, so life as a Trainee or Private is the best option.

Training (Frontier)

Recruits on frontier worlds are lucky to be allowed practice at a range. Sometimes, instructors can provide some semblance of training, but more often, dangers and constant conflict do not allow for such trivialities. Frontier Troopers are forged in fire and often do not live long enough to see themselves promoted higher than sergeant.

When a frontier Trooper does survive long enough to be promoted, they become legendary. One such example is Marshal Rekkie of Zona Nox, who has since become known as the Slayer of Ganymede. Marshal started out as a militiaman for the Troopers on Zona Nox, finally achieving the rank of strike leader. He helped found the Red Sand Rangers, an outfit of Trooper snipers who have since become a formal body in the Order specialising in frontier operations. While life is hard for a frontier Trooper, there are opportunities for the skilled and lucky.

Conclusion

The Trooper Order has an ambitious function and in its service to mankind, it has to sacrifice scruples on many occasions. While the core world army is sufficient to fight humanity’s major wars against alien empires and the ever-increasing threat of the Imperial Council, it cannot be everywhere at once. In addition, the formal training and advanced technology has proven to be a crutch for many core-world Troopers in many hostile environments. For that reason, frontier Troopers, no matter their lack of training, equipment or etiquette, will always be an integral part of humanities’ finest.

The Edal

The Edal are an alien race from the Warpmancer Universe. They make up the bulk forces of the primary antagonist, the Imperial Council. Edal culture features in the Devil Child Arc, starting with Godkiller.

At a Glance

Species Name: Edal

Species Archetype: Anthromorphic Mammal

Homeworld: Grelaz

Dominant Language: Edallic

Warpmancy Status: Naturally proficient

Dominant faction: All non-dissident Edal are citizens of the Imperial Council.

Biology and Appearance

Artist: Tolulope Adeojo

The Edal are anthromorphic mammals, evolving down a similar path to humans. Their ears are long, ranging between 5 to 10 inches from lobe to a pointed end. Edal exhibit a range of blue hues as skin colours. Their hair colours are diverse, ranging from what would be deemed naturally human pigments, to hues similar to their skin colour. Edal are typically taller than humans, ranging from 6 to 7 feet tall. While there are notable exceptions, a fast metabolism and active lifestyle have left most Edal with a thin physique.

Edal are mammals and reproduce in effectively the same manner as humans. Their harsh homeworld has given them an advanced immune system, making them natural space pioneers and settlers. Due to this, medical technology is not as advanced in Edal space, due to a lack of need. This heightened immune system has given the Edal a much greater natural life span, and life expectancy.

Culture

A beautiful, graceful people, focused on uniting the stars with fire and blood. Th Edal are a hardy race, with a dominant martial culture. Edal culture is very regimented, with authority being maintained through a variety of means. The core worlds are freer than the others, but are held together by a strict and well-oiled bureaucracy and thought-police. The outer planets are subjugated by a feudal system, designed to maximise production to feed the military machine.

Art, poetry, music and other aspects of culture are all formed to complement the war-machine. Stories commemorate battles, poetry glorifies war, and music is to inspire troops to action. Counter-cultural movements have not been successful in curbing this.

But many poets and philosophers have arisen throughout Edal history. Many of these have survived the strictly ultra-traditionalist hegemon, finding safe haven in the more tolerant Ulyx worlds.

Edal religion is more political than spiritual. The Martyrs, the Edallic gods, walk among them, so faith does not factor into the religion. Imperial doctrine is a codex of duties and restrictions as a citizen. Their religion is a dogma of being a good subject.

Politics and Government

The Edal are the founding race of the Imperial Council, founding it 10 000 cycles before the fall of Earth. In recent years, the government has stagnated, as the Martyrs and Councillors maintain control of the council across millennia.

The Imperial Council is a totalitarian theocracy, ruled by a bureaucracy called ‘the Council’ and godlike beings called ‘Martyrs’. Through overwhelming force, spiritual propaganda and terror, the Imperial Council has maintained power over huge tracts of the galaxy.

On the ground, Edal planets range between the core worlds, which run as well-oiled bureaucratic machines, and overtly oppressive feudal worlds, ruled by Warpmancer clans.

Fundamentally, like many other races, the Edal gained and maintained their power through the use of arms. The Edal soldier is legendary, being able to harness both Imperial discipline, advanced energy weaponry and Warpmancy. With their millennium old star fleets, they maintain and expand their power.

History

Earliest concept sketch of an Edal Warrior. This foot soldier would be stationed on a feudal Fringe World.

Grelaz, the Edal homeworld, is a harsh planet. Toxic plants are prevalent, the atmosphere is dense, the land is, by and large, infertile. Despite this, the Edal people persevered and, over a period lost in their history books, formed a civilisation. Like humanity, the Edal fought many wars. Unlike humanity, these wars were seldom condemned.

Warp crystals formed naturally on Grelaz, another source of danger, but also stimulating a natural proficiency in Warpmancy. Edal who mastered the art became rulers and warlords. Victory was determined by the greater Warpmancer, and their armies of Warp-tech armed troops.

Eventually, an Edal emperor united the disparate Edal empires. While wars were fought by warlords to secure crystal deposits, this emperor formed an alliance of warlords, subsequently betraying them in order to reign supreme.

With the planet united, the Edal war-scientists developed means to go off-world. With the Edal population growing, and not being kept in check by violence, the race needed new homes. With a natural affinity for pioneership, and a hardy physiology, the Edal spread across the stars. From this occupation of planets across the galaxy actually came the name ‘Edal’. Initially, the only name of their species was ‘al’ – meaning ‘all of us’. Edal was coined by the emperor, allegedly, and meant ‘Star People’.

The Star People formed the Star Horde, the emperor’s flagship fleet. Nothing could stop their expansion, as they conquered and purged alien species on many of the planets they discovered. Until they met the Ulyx.

The Ulyx were the calmer side of the Edallic passion. After a short stalemate, the Edal and Ulyx merged into the Imperial Council. With the Ulyx’s own grasp of Warpmancy, and their cold calculation, they struck a deal with the Edal, slowing down the occupation and solidifying the Imperia.

Now, the Edal still expands, but with their violence tempered by the logic of the Ulyx. The Imperial Council still grows, but with much more purpose and control than before. For now.


Have any questions about the Star People? Ask away in the comment section!

 

From Fall to Fall: A Post-World War 3 History of Earth

This article is a segment of lore from the Warpmancer Series.


From Fall to Fall is a history book written by New Brazillian author Jonathan Mygiel. It was published in 3001 by the University of Mars Press. Very few copies are still in circulation.

The book outlines the history of Earth society from 2200 to 3000. This period is set from the beginning of the Earth War to the Blighting of Earth.

The Earth War (2246-2256)

This event was also known as Word War 3. Little is known about the causes. What has been surmised is that a portion of Earth’s pre-war nations formed a bloc on the continents of Asia and Africa united under views that the other nations of the world couldn’t tolerate. A war eventually erupted, resulting in a decade long conflict as the combatants found themselves evenly matched. Eventually, in 2256, the Alliance posed against the bloc managed to occupy the home of the leader of the bloc. Knowing that his time was up, orders were sent to launch the nuclear arsenal of the entire nation. Despite attempts at disabling the ballistics and hidden explosives throughout the world, Earth was thrown into a nuclear winter.

Nuclear Winter (2256-2390)

The future balance of power was determined overnight, as many continents were bombarded more than others. Superpowers were overthrown and nations were destroyed. Many societies had been preparing for such an eventuality, however, and had prepared nuclear shelters. The societies that were hit the least, and those with adequate shelter, would come to be the next superpowers.

Post-War Society (2390-2700)

Post-War society started archaically and in conflict. Those who had managed to build an Ice Age life for themselves were met with the descendants of survivors from the shelters. One such encounter was in the Cape, where a scouting team from the Table Mountain Shelter eliminated a tribe and heralded the end of the Winter.

Around this period, many societies began to emerge from their shelters or settle down from their nomadic lifestyle. Some examples are as follows:

  • The Cape Republic
  • Kingdom of Maluti
  • North African League
  • Nippon Shogunate
  • British States
  • Republic of Scotland
  • Duchy of Ireland
  • Tibetan Oligarchy
  • Grandy Duchy of Brazil
  • German-Holland
  • French Union
  • Estonia
  • Switzerland
  • Mauritius Enclave

The list goes on to include many minor nation states. In this period of warfare and conquest, many of these nations were conquered or willingly joined others. In 2412, the Cape Republic merged with the Maluti Kingdom to form the Cape Federation. Similar alliances also formed, as the British States formed the Commonwealth with Scotland and Ireland.

The territories previously belonging to the United States and China were mostly devastated, but a few city states prospered from their natural hegemony of the regions and their monopoly access to the warp crystals forming in the areas that were hit the hardest by World War 3’s heaviest weapons of war.

By 2700, Earth had risen back to its pre-war levels of prosperity and technology – and then grew further.

Golden Age (2700-2900)

The Golden Age saw the domination of much of Earth by a few enlightened superpowers. These were the Cape Federation, controlling Africa and much of the Indian Ocean, the Grand Duchy of Brazil controlling South America, and the Commonwealth controlling their original territories. This multipolar global political system, rather than resulting in open warfare, resulted in international cooperation and peace. Conflicts still existed, but were minimised by joint security forces. Earth was not a utopia, but was as close as it ever had come to one.

In this era, medical technology reached its veritable peak. Cybernetics replaced limbs, a myriad of diseases were wiped out or made irrelevant. Pharmaceuticals, under a vibrant global free market, were the cheapest they had ever been in history.

With this age of peace and prosperity, a global initiative formed to look for more. A multitude of nations and corporations formed the United Space Exploration Initiative, and moved Earth into its new era.

United Space Exploration Initiative (2853-2980)

Humans had never managed to accomplish efficient space travel, until forays into the still heavily decimated Badlands of America and China revealed a new mineral. The mineral was called tenebis crystallis. We know them today as Warp Crystals. Scientists soon discovered that these crystals could be used to manipulate a ships position in space, flinging it faster than the speed of light.

After years of research and development, a Warp-capable ship, the Erikson, was invented and put into action. In 2862, the Erikson arrived in Alpha Centauri. As they arrived, their surveying equipment picked up life. An alien vessel was located near to them. In a situation of panic and excitement, both the Erikson and the alien vessel fired at each other. Both projectiles hit one another and caused no damage to the other ship.

Attempts at communication were made by both parties, and after finding a common method of communication through radio signals, the aliens and humans began the lengthy process of greeting one another.

The aliens were Exanoids. After a joint effort between the two races, they finally managed to develop easy communication, as interpreters fluent in both languages developed. Trade began and the two races began working together to expand their reach in space.

During this period, many nations conducted their own space expeditions. With the cost of space travel rapidly decreasing, even small and weak nations could explore the stars and colonise habitable worlds.

With such a large diaspora of humanity, new species and alien races were discovered and contacted. Besides the Squogg, an isolationist race, these races were primarily friendly. This was until an Imperial ship entered the Turiel frontier system.

Imperial-Human War (2980-3000)

With a precedent of peaceful cooperation with other races, the Icelandic colony in Turiel attempted to contact the unknown ship, using a system of waves and signals that seemed to be a sign of parley among many of the mammalian races that they had encountered. In response, the ship fired upon the parley ship, decimating it with unknown technology.

A distress call was sent out across a series of space outposts, termed the Network, and finally reached the Sol system, where forces from Earth and Mars were rallied to investigate. Frigates and military vessels, developed in case of this situation, reached Turiel and found the system decimated.

The small settlements around the system had been wiped of all life. People were found incinerated. Structures were kept intact. The weapons that had been used left no residue other than their victims. As they were about to leave the system to report back, however, they were faced by an armada of alien vessels.

At this point, a message was sent telepathically to all the humans in the investigation team. The Imperial leader introduced himself and announced that he was to be one of their new leaders. They had slain the people of the system as a show of force, so to not waste time with any initial resistance. The Imperial gave an ultimatum: subjugation or death.

Then the armada warped away. The message got back to Earth quickly. The investigation team was ordered not to return to Earth, lest they be followed. In a period of 6 years, Earth built up their military capacity. Mars was turned into a planet-sized factory, churning out battleships daily.

In 2986, the Imperials revealed themselves once again. They had reached Alpha Centauri, and reminded the humans of their ultimatum. The combined forces of humanity responded. With the increased capacity of the united human military and their Exanoid allies, a rapidly deployed armada crushed the Imperial fleet. The humans had taken heavy losses, but had annihilated the aliens.

In response, the Imperials mounted a full-on war against the Human-Exanoid Alliance. The war was fought across space for a period of 14 years. Billions lost their lives.

Even so, humanity kept fighting. Neither side knew the homeworld or base of power of the other, preventing any possibility of encirclement. Neither side was losing the will to fight.

This ended on the 25th of December 3000. In a case of poetic coincidence, the Imperials had found Earth and waged a full invasion of it on Christmas Day. In the end, the human defence was inadequate and the Imperials blighted Earth, rendering it uninhabitable.

The Fall

The war and the Blighting of Earth left humanity shocked and broken. Their Exanoid allies stopped the war against the Imperials, not wanting to risk their homeworld being blighted. Luckily, the Council did not press their advantage. They were content to let the humans wallow in their defeat, perhaps expecting them to surrender on their own terms.

There was no official treaty or end to the war. The only signal of humanities’ loss was the darkening of their blue skies. The end of their total war on their would-be oppressor. But has humanity really lost? So long as they think they have – maybe. But, the will of humanity stays strong, and it will reclaim its world.


If you are intrigued by this, check out what happened half a millennium later by checking out Fall of Zona Nox.

Pleasure and Pain (D&D Adventure)

Previous installment: Undercover

A dark cloak concealed the drug dealer’s boss. Only his white teeth could be seen, shining from underneath the seemingly enchanted cowl.

“Gentlemen, I see you brought a guest.”

“Yes, boss,” the drug kingpin responded. “He’s looking for a big shipment.”

The man smiled and looked Kenshin in the yes. Kenshin could somewhat make out his pale blue eyes.

“Business or pleasure?”

“Both,” Kenshin responded.

The smuggler looked dubious. Kenshin explained.

“I run a mercenary group. Business is our mission. Pleasure is to keep them on the mission. Looking for sunrock to keep the boys happy.”

The smuggler smiled. “Excellent. Tell me, have you boys ever tried sunrock before?”

Kenshin nodded. The smuggler’s smile disappeared.

“Alas, I thought we could do business.”

Simultaneously, Kenshin was grabbed and restrained. His weapons were taken from him.

“If you or your group had sampled sunrock,” the smuggler continued. “You’d all be dead. Sunrock isn’t meant for the pleasure of narcotics or the pain of poison. It simply kills. Only through its scent has it become so seductive. Too bad. Thought I could accomplish my goals through you. But I can’t work with undercover agents. No hard feelings. You understand?”

Kenshin glared at him as he was hauled off by Michel and the drug dealer. They took him to an alley near the dock.

“Come on,” Michel whined. “Why you have to make me look bad?”

Kenshin shrugged.

They arrived in the alley. The drug dealer, his back to Kenshin, drew a dirk. Kenshin didn’t delay. He elbowed Michel and grabbed his katana that had been attached to Michel’s belt. In one fluid movement, he sliced the dealer in half. Michel was trickier as he dodged out of the way and slashed at Kenshin’s chest. Kenshin winced as the dagger cut into him. He kicked Michel in the groin and then battered him on the head. Michel fell to the ground where Kenshin beheaded him.

Kenshin wiped the blood from his blade and sprinted towards the dock.

“You survived?!” the smuggler announced, as he saw Kenshin approach. His voice revealed that he was impressed. “Why are you wasting such martial skill acting undercover?”

Kenshin didn’t reply.

“Come on. Join me. You had to have killed many people to get to this level of skill. You are like me already. You’re a life-taker. A deliverer to salvation. Join me.”

Kenshin shoved him to the ground and brought his metal clad boot upon his shin, shattering it.

The smuggler screamed out in pain. Then he pleaded.

“Don’t do this! I can make you rich. You wanted sunrock? I can give you the entire shipment. Don’t kill me. I’m not done.”

Kenshin grasped his throat and strangled him until he passed out. Glancing at the smuggler’s shipment, Kenshin shook his head. He took a torch from the quay and threw it into the wooden dingy. He then cut the rope and sent it into the Desolation. As it drifted past the dark horizon, Kenshin carried his quarry to his employer.

The Captain didn’t speak as Kenshin dropped the man upon his desk. He only wordlessly took out a bag and held it under the smuggler’s nose.

The smuggler awoke with a gasp and immediately started jabbering.

“I’m not a bad man! I did this for them.”

“Did what?” the Captain asked.

“I released them from their suffering. Life is pain. I gave them release. No pain. An end to the pain. An end.”

“Why did you do it?”

“I wanted to free them. I did it for them.”

“You say sunrock causes no pain, but what are these?” the Captain indicated to his tears. “My son is dead.”

“Your son is free.”

The Captain punched him in the mouth, breaking teeth. His and the smuggler’s blood stained the Captain’s knuckle.

He then turned to Kenshin. “Will you dispose of the evidence?”

The smuggler’s eyes widended and he shouted, filled with despair. “I’m not done yet! I’m not done. I need to end the suffering, don’t do this.”

The Captain drew his sword but the smuggler managed to get off the desk and run to the door, which was barred. He scratched, fruitlessly, at the wooden door. The Captain walked, almost leisurely, to the desperate man as he still begged and clawed.

His sword shone in the candle light.

“Why do you struggle?” the Captain asked. “You’re going to be free.”

The smuggler slumped to the ground, a pool of blood forming around him. The Captain wiped his sword and turned to Kenshin.

“Money is on the desk. Please dispose of the body. My guards here won’t question it.”

Kenshin turned towards the door.

“And…thank you.”

Kenshin didn’t respond.

Undercover (D&D Adventure)

Previous Installment: Only the desperate beg

Kenshin stepped over a prone man as he entered the bellows. He was not sure that the dirty human was alive. He didn’t stop to find out. His hand never left his hilt. This was not only for readiness, but to prevent theft. The law didn’t seem at home here.

At the end of the straight alley that acted as the entrance to the slum, Kenshin arrived at a small opening. The night sky was clearly visible, framed by scrap-wrought roofs. Torchlight illuminated a wife lambasting her drunken husband, a dog chewing on an indistinguishable bone and a man stabbing another in the throat.

Kenshin felt slightly unnerved by this final scene, but the lack of concern by the other denizens convinced him to maintain his steely façade.

The companion to the now dead rag-cladded human wasn’t perturbed by his friend’s demise. Rather, he came closer to the dirk wielding wood elf.

“I ain’t messing around, Grobo,” the wood elf threatened, levelling the dirk for another thrust.

“Ya hiding the shit, Michel,” Grobo replied, scratching and rubbing his arms. He didn’t seem to notice his dead friend. “Get me some of that yellow rock I smell on them sleepies in the alley.”

“You gonna pay for them?”

Grobo looked nonplussed. “D’aint pay I do. Ya been given it out. Give me sum, y’hear?”

“No charity, Grobo. Go molest someone else.”

Grobo seemed to turn, disappointed, then leapt at Michel. Kenshin caught him by the arm. He stared the junkie in the eyes.

“Best be on your way, Grobo.”

The death stare worked and Grobo dashed towards the nearest alleyway.

Michel sighed.

“Thanks, stranger. These junkies have been getting arrogant. They can’t pay but want a fix. Think their itch gives them the right to our livelihood.”

Kenshin nodded, feigning agreement.

“The drug he was speaking about,” Kenshin changed the subject. “He was talking about this sunrock stuff, right?”

Michel nodded, leaning on the wall. His dirk was back in its scabbard. “Best damn stuff in Crestfire. Scent is heavenly. Alahur himself couldn’t bring such divine joy. Can smoke it, snort it or use one of those fancy injectors from Z’kla or the dwarf manufactories.”

“What’s the going rate for, let’s say, a gram?”

“Not much. Silver-a-gram. Stuff comes cheap and we trying to open up a market. Even then, these damn junkies got no cash. You, though. You looking to buy?”

Kenshin nodded. “In bulk, actually. No, not to trade. Not muscling in on your turf. My merc company is crossing the desert for some weirdo client. Real batty guy. Thinks we’ll find some cursed amulet or some such. Thing though is that he’s rich. Paid half in advance for supplies. I’m pretty sure we’re only gonna need water but cause we can’t get that, drugs will have to do.”

Michel grinned. “Boss is gonna love you. I don’t carry any rocks on me. Gonna have to come to the back with me.”

Kenshin followed the wood elf thug down a narrow alley to be met by a brutish half-orc. At the sight of Michel, the half-orc opened the door for them to reveal a lavish tented area covered with pillows and empty wine bottles.

Another wood elf dominated the scene, flanked by a human and elf woman. As Michel entered with Kenshin, he grinned.

“New customer, eh Michel?”

“Yes, boss,” Michel replied, “looking for bulk. From some merc corp.”

The boss turned to Kenshin.

“Aye, what you looking for?”

“Sunrock. My company needs it for the trek north.”

The boss looked dubious. Michel interjected. “Some crazy client wants them to loot the ruins. They want some stuff for the route.”

The boss relaxed. “How much stuff you looking for?”

Kenshin responded. “Company is eighteen men. We’re travelling for about fifteen days north. A hit a night – what you think?”

“Sounds good to me. I don’t have that much rock on me, but my supplier is in the neighbourhood. In fact, it is just about time to meet him.”

Only the desperate beg (D&D Adventure)

Previous Installment: God is Dead

Gold didn’t mean much to Kenshin. It was a means to an end. When he needed arrows, gold bought them. When he needed to fix his blade, gold paid the smith. When he needed food, gold converted to coppers to buy bread and tip the servers. He had enough gold as is. For this reason, when his comrades went searching for a rich woman’s cat, he decided to meet with the Captain of the Guard.

The Captain maintained a stoic façade, barely holding back a latent sadness and desperation. He had felt loss, anger and impotence. Kenshin had felt such before, and knew how to spot it in another man.

“Thank you for coming…”

“Kenshin.”

“Just Kenshin?”

He nodded. The Captain didn’t press the issue. He instead indicated to some laid out cups next to a bottle of clear liquid.

“Not enough water for tea, I’m afraid. I hope gin will suffice.”

Kenshin shook his head. The Captain frowned. “Well, then. Straight to business. I apologise for my treatment of your party back at the temple. I was desperate. The budget hasn’t allowed me to deal with my problem and I have lost too much manpower to whatever monster is infesting the water plant.”

Kenshin stared, stone-faced. The Captain continued:

“My son died a week back. He overdosed on a new drug. Many have already. It’s not like the usual swill that infested the streets. This poison has irresistibly intoxicated many, and kills them soon after. My son never took drugs. He was a good kid. We were going to send him to Z’kla. He wanted to be an Artificer.”

The Captain looked forlorn. He had already wept enough. “He didn’t choose to take Sunrock. Something happened. He was pressured into it, or charmed…I don’t know. What I do know is that this poison needs to get off my streets. I cannot dedicate the guards or the budget to do this officially. I need you – a foreigner. You can blend in. You aren’t a known informer. Please, do this for me. I can pay, from my own pocket – and I will owe you more.”

Kenshin stared for a while, contemplating. He eventually nodded and spoke:

“Possible leads?”

“My son got the sunrock from a dealer in the Bellows, a slum by the warehouse district. I’ve already dealt with the dealer, but I’m sure there’s more in the area.”

Kenshin nodded and left. The Captain didn’t speak to anyone for hours after that. He only stared out of the window, down onto the dry fountain below.

God is Dead (D&D Adventure)

Previous installment: Desk Jockeys and Pencil Pushers in Crestfire (D&D Adventure)

The party faced difficult circumstances. To cross the desert to the north, they needed water to last a month, but by the looks of it, the city didn’t have that much to spare. The party knew that they would need to solve the city’s water crisis but also needed to raise their own money to buy the amenities needed to continue their quest.

For this reason, the party pursued odd jobs and tasks posted upon the noticeboard outside Crestfire’s Consul building. They solved a feud between smithing brothers, agreed to track down a lost cat and finally, investigate the desecration of Crestfire’s most holy of sites.

The cleric of Alahur twitched as she was interviewed by Meowzer and Pemnaq. The rest of the party investigated the courtyard of Crestfire’s temple. The gardens remained green, despite water restrictions. Alahur’s healing energy kept the flowers in bloom, an acolyte stated. Kael revealed that the plants were fake. The opulence of the shrine belied its charitable and humble God, but the heroes didn’t take notice of this. Their query was the statue at the centre of the yard – a statue of the prophet of Alahur who allegedly founded Crestfire. The statue lay headless and upon its breast was written, “God is dead.”

“This is what happens when we let foreigners into our holy city,” the Cleric ranted, ignoring the fact that she was being interviewed by foreigners. “Good local catfolk don’t do this sacrilege. It’s all those foreign cats and humans.”

She still seemed blissfully unaware that she was speaking to a foreign catfolk and a human. They ignored her. Money would staunch their emotional wounds.

Eventually, they left the cleric and approached their compatriots at the statue.

“She didn’t help at all,” Meowzer sighed. Pemnaq shook his head.

Kael’thas, clutching his chin thoughtfully, ignored them. He approached the statue and in a stroke of genius, climbed up and licked the paint.

“2347 C. Lead-based. Fresh,” he savoured the taste. “Corner of Sphinx and Main.”

The party looked at Kael aghast.

“What?” he shrugged. “I did art in first year.”

Meowzer sighed as he healed Kael’s lead-poisoning with a blessing from Selune.

The corner of Sphinx and Main, to prove Kael’s suspicions true, was a paint shop – “Gnome Tones”.

The party entered.

Behind the countertop, only the top half of his head visible despite standing atop a tall bar stool, was a balding gnome with tiny spectacles. The rest of the store was lined with cans of paint.

“Hello, gentlemen. How can I help you?”

“We’re investigating some vandalism. Some red 2347 C lead-paint was used to deface the temple statue,” Pemnaq answered.

“I’m sorry. I do not reveal any details about my customers, even if they are an anti-religious insurgent group.”

Kenshin shared a dubious look with Meowzer.

“And where could we find this anti-religious insurgent group that you aren’t going to tell us about,” Kenshin asked.

“I’ll never tell you that they’re currently staying across the street at the Sphinx Inn! That goes completely against customer confidentiality.”

Feigning disappointment, the group left the paint store and approached the inn.

It was easy to spot their query in the sandstone room of the Sphinx Inn. While the majority of customers were down on their luck dockhands and desert guides, their tan and torn clothing revealing their poverty, one group of three individuals sat in the alcove dressed completely in the black uniforms of the Aulsan Foreign Students College.

Kael swore. Bad memories from the college, perhaps.

The party advanced upon the group, forming a perimeter that looked casual but had a combative purpose.

The head of the student group, a young woman with a Mohawk, smiled widely.

“Hello, friends. It is good to see fellow outlanders in these parts. Care to sit down with us?”

Her companion, a dwarf, let out a huge belch. The other companion, a half-orc, gave a small smile.

“Thank you for the offer but we haven’t got the time,” Pemnaq answered. “We are currently investigating a crime.”

The young woman laughed good-naturedly. “Crime, bard? What is a crime?”

Pemnaq wasn’t prepared for the question and didn’t answer. She continued.

“A crime is a term used by the weak to persecute the powerful. A crime is a fiction used to weaken the elite. The intelligent are condemned as cunning and fraudulent. The strong are abused for assault and murder. The laws of the weak call it a crime. But the powerful should know better. I see by your weapons that you are the powerful. Don’t be like these insects crawling around, subservient to a fictitious man in the sky. You are the powerful. You don’t need to delegate power to a story.”

Kael’thas brought his hand to his face. “Gods-damn Niatcha.”

“You are familiar with our teacher, wizard?” the half-orc asked.

“I tutored him in…well, that doesn’t matter,” Kael’thas winced. “He was a quack.”

The woman looked disappointed. “Quack, you say? Insanity! Another term used by the plebs to devalue the elite. I though more of you, magic-flinger.”

Kael’thas shrugged. He really didn’t care.

“Regardless,” Meowzer interjected. “Did you vandalise the statue at the temple of Pelor?”

“Vandalism is so subje…”

“Shut up. Did you do it or not?”

“Aye, we did,” the dwarf replied. “These insects crawl in the dirt for a God that calls himself humble. They make themselves worse than beggars.”

The half-orc and woman nodded.

“And we would do it again,” the woman added.

Kenshin advanced, hand on his hilt. “Then you’re going to have to come with us. Law being irrelevant or not – we’re bringing you in.”

The group remained sitting.

Kenshin tensed. Meowzer raised his shield slowly.

“Do you know the teachings of Niatcha?” the woman asked, quietly.

Kael let out an exasperated sigh and turned around.

“The teachings are about power,” she continued. “Power is a means to an end, but not any end. A slave can work towards the end of their master. Power is the means to one’s own end. Yet how do we establish our own end? Even if free in name, we are still slaves to a societal structure, culture and morality that hold us back. We are slaves to inhibition that hold back our total freedom and total power.”

“We all owe a duty,” Kenshin replied.

She laughed. “To who? To God? We only owe duty to ourselves. And not even then, lest we enslave ourselves. For true power, we must be sporadic. We must not let anything dominate us.”

Before any of them could react, furniture was flung out in an arc towards and behind them. They managed to retain their footing by Kael was knocked into a group of ruffians, who looked angry until they noticed the black-clad young woman begin to float into the air.

“This is true power,” she grinned as she pointed at the inn keeper, who exploded after being struck by a bolt of lightning.

Meowzer, regaining his composure, kicked the group’s table into the woman, knocking her down. He then charged, drawing his rapier. The half-orc crossed his path, blocking with a mace, parrying and then attempting to counter. Meowzer barely managed to block in time.

Kenshin followed right behind. In one clean swing he attempted to slash at the weakened woman, but was intercepted by the axe-wielding dwarf. He dodged the dwarf’s swing and sliced half-way through the dwarf’s thigh, crippling him.

Pemnaq was the only one to close the gap to the woman. He levelled his quarterstaff to deliver a blow to her head. The staff didn’t find its mark as she released a wave of energy, knocking him back.

Lightning followed and he was close to being fried if not for his superior agility.

Kael’thas chanted a spell as his comrades struggled in the melee. The half-orc was strong and the dwarf had proceeded to crawl to a waitress in order to attack her before Kenshin turned back to try finish the job.

Finally, Kael’thas shouted the final words to his spell. The group fell asleep, all except for the leader who had finally had her head crushed by Pemnaq’s staff.

Around them lay corpses from the woman’s storm and a dead waitress from the axe of the crippled dwarf. Exiting the inn, they carried the comatose bodies to the temple.

“Who are these immigrants?” the cleric asked.

“The culprits,” Meowzer answered simply.

The cleric took their word for it and handed them the reward. At that moment, the sound of metal boots clanging on stone sounded from the entrance to the temple.

A tall, dark-skinned human wearing plate mail and the Crestfire flag on his front appeared, flanked by two town guards.

“All of you are to come see me in the town keep,” he boomed. “You are under suspicion for inciting violence, disturbing the peace and destruction of property.”

Kael’thas smirked. “Are we under arrest?”

This caught the captain off-guard. “Well, no. But you are under…”

“Which means nothing, Captain. We will come if we’re under arrest, and as we have done nothing wrong, we will not come at all.”

A bead of sweat formed on the Captain’s brow. “Sirs, I still ask that you come to the keep. Yes, you aren’t under arrest – but I need your help…”

“Then you shouldn’t have attempted to threaten us,” Meowzer said dismissively.

The group exited the temple one by one, leaving the Captain with clenched fists.

Kenshin didn’t leave. He was curious. The Captain seemed a strong man, and strong men only begged when they were truly in need of help.

Desk Jockeys and Pencil Pushers in Crestfire (D&D Adventure)

Previous installment: Crestfire

“Please remain in the queue, foreigner,” the half-orc guard ordered, once again, as Kael tried to jump the queue. The line snaked all the way out into the sandbox streets, starting at the top of the pyramid that housed the magistrate of Crestfire – a representative of the interests of the local guilds and temples. The only equal to Magistrate Kiri would be Captain Jhova Kherd of the Town Guard.

In an effort to address their need for water to sustain them for their trek, Meowzer and Kael had gone to the magistrate to investigate the problems with the water plant. The word on the street was that the magical purification plant’s maintenance had been made difficult not only due to the lack of Ankorian mages but mainly due to the presence of a monster. As enterprising adventurers, Meowzer and Kael felt it only a small hindrance to their quest.

Backing away from the irate guard, Kael nudged Meowzer.

“You know elvish, right?”

“Ark,” Meowzer replied.

“Perr, perr,” Kael smirked. “Let’s try this. I’ll pose as an engineer from Aulsan. You are my interpreter. Follow my lead.”

Before Meowzer could give his consent, Kael approached the guard.

“Mo ik o picaais tren. O gyreela luktek’gron en’ Aulsan.”

The guard scratched his head. Kael breathed an inward sigh of relief. Meowzer caught up and ‘translated’ what he heard.

“My colleague here is an engineer from Aulsan. He heard of your water troubles and wants to see the magistrate to discuss details.”

“Well,” the guard scratched his head. “It’s not protocol, but these are trying times. Go ahead.”

The pair passed the guard, to the groans and insults of the peasants and merchants in the line.

The entrance hall was a bustling hive of bureaucrats, lobbyists and pencil pushers. A guard, at Meowzer’s questioning, indicated the direction to the magistrate.

Magistrate Kiri was a young cat-folk. While small of stature, she bore the weight of Crestfire’s governance on her shoulders.

“What can one do for you?” she asked, not lifting her eyes from her paperwork.

“Ukle gured. Vurm mon urz. Twaa truar defaia tru’ac te mon, twa shonda varmari Kael’thas en’ Aulsan.”

Meowzer ignored the elvish, hoping Kiri didn’t understand the tongue.

“My colleague here is an engineer from the faculty of alteration at the Aulsan College of Magic. We have heard that you have trouble with your water plant.”

Kiri looked up, pausing her work.

“Trouble? We’re a desert city that used to thrive as a trading hub along the Pike River. There is no longer a Pike River, but instead a gaping crevice of desolation that makes this city useless. The corruption in the water makes non-magical desalination impossible and there is no more Ankor to send mages to purify water for us. To add to this, we can’t even diagnose the problem in the water plant because everyone who enters winds up dead.”

“Sounds like trouble.”

Kiri looked irritable but regained her composure.

“Crestfire has seen better days. Onto business, we aren’t taking formal contracts to fix the water problem because we cannot adequately formalize the requirements. We don’t know what’s in there or what is actually wrong with the plant. Only person who may know is one of the Captain’s men, who came out covered in blood and blithering like an idiot. You can go see him at the temple east of the northern gate. Otherwise, there’s an open reward for fixing the plant – 100 gold pieces.”

Meowzer made a show of translating to Kael.

“Moa defaia uree adro, filf!”

Meowzer tactically mistranslated, “Thank you. Professor Kael’thas will investigate matters to the best of his expansive ability.”

Kiri nodded as they departed.

Crestfire (D&D Adventure)

(Artwork by Darkcloud013)

Previous installment: Diving in the Desolation

The golden sandstone towers of Crestfire were revealed upon the horizon long before its pyramids. The monuments of the once glorious port town were still famous across the lands – even in the high elf, Kael’s native Aulsan. Upon drawing nearer to the settlement, the city revealed that it was no longer in its golden age. Surrounding the bases of the wondrous towers were dung piles of filthy shanties and dilapidated warehouses.

Meowzer took a last swig of rum and then tossed the bottle into an empty barrel. Kenshin gazed towards the fast approaching wharf and then to the group of refugees that he had saved back at March Crossing. He hoped that the group would find greener pastures in this golden desert.

Upon docking, the group hoisted their luggage and began towards the exit of the barge. The refugees, unhindered by luggage, made it to the dock first, just to be shoved back on board by a burly catfolk.

The catfolk was of the desert variety – thinner and less stocky than Meowzer. He wore scale armour, with an image of a flaming moon embroidered on the material covering the armour.

“These plebs aren’t in the ledger, Captain.”

“Talk to the Ronin. He got them on-board.”

The guard glared at Kenshin, who glared back. Interrupting the silent sparring, Pemnaq piped up.

“They can’t do any harm, guv. They’re refugees from March Crossing. Urks took the town, see?”

“Don’t care, bard,” the guard waved him aside. “Under the usual circumstances, I’d let them in, easy. But ain’t usual. Haven’t been since the War. Not enough water for them. We rationing. They coming in? Death sentence for them. Then we have to deal with the pestilence.”

“What happened to the water?” Kael asked, his eyes darting to the guard’s waistline, examining it for gold pouches.

“Times past, we had a magical water plant. Purified the salt water for us. Needed it after the oasis and wells dried up. Thing kept Crestfire in and above water. Thing is, it broke. Back in the day, Ankorian mages would come fix it. That can’t happen anymore.”

“Will there be enough water for us to cross the desert?” Kenshin asked.

“Surely, but gonna cost you. Might as well just suck each other’s blood for liquid. Much cheaper.”

None of the party appreciated the jest.

The guard, upset by the lack of reaction, continued:

“All in all, welcome to Crestfire – those with permits. Don’t know how you’re gonna get to your destination, but I ain’t got the power to keep you away.”

The group walked past the guard, all except Kenshin.

“Guard, what cost to the city is an attempt at survival?”

“That ain’t my business, Ronin.”

“Exactly. These refugees should be given a chance at a new life here. They aren’t costing you anything – on the contrary, they could be very lucrative to you.”

The guard raised his eye brow. “How can these flea bitten river dwellers be o’ use to me?”

“Like any trade, this is one of one set of value being exchanged for another. The survival of these people are important to me. Much more important to me than, say, a flask of water.”

The guard’s eyes opened wide as Kenshin drew his flask.

“We on the same page?”

The guard nodded, gulping and reaching for the flask.

Kenshin pulled it out of the way and then indicated at the refugees. The guard immediately stepped out of the way and allowed the refugees past. Satisfied, Kenshin gave him his water. As the group rushed past, Kenshin stopped a middle-aged woman and handed her a gold coin.

“I fear I cannot give any more than that. Please find me if you need any more help.”

Tears filled her eyes. Before Kenshin could react, she hugged him tightly and then let go.

“Thank you, sir. Thank you.”

Kenshin looked sad and shook his head. The woman had already caught up with her children and didn’t notice the gesture.

The party was waiting for Kenshin. Kael looked disapproving. Pemnaq had already lost interest. Meowzer gave out a big, tooth-filled, yawn and then indicated that they should keep moving.

Pemnaq volunteered to look for accommodation – offering to perform to pay for accommodation. Kenshin needed to restock on arrows. Both Meowzer and Kael, not wishing to pay all they had on water, felt it more prudent to try solve the problem of the water plant once and for all.

 

ID (Dystopian Short Story)

ID was written for a short story competition with the theme of life under a surveillance state. In the vein of 1984, I wrote this story describing a future world where crime has been eradicated by stripping us of all privacy. Enjoy!


“ID?” the black-clad patrol officer asked, his eyes not shifting from the computer tablet grasped in his hands.

“AX567-9B,” I replied, blinking nervously. I did not know what I had done, if anything, but that didn’t mean I hadn’t done anything. If I had done something, there was more chance that They would know, than I would.

“I know,” replied the officer. He already knew my ID. All the patrollers did. They knew everyone’s IDs. A small part of me wanted to snidely remark that there was little point enquiring if they already knew. I had learnt quickly that this morbid joke came with the job. Even a decade later, it seemed to never get old.

“Do you know why I’ve pulled you over?”

I shook my head vigorously, my chin hitting against the ‘Mobile Identity, Safety and Tranquillity Instigator’ around my neck. The MISTI had been cumbersome, at first, but I had soon become used to it. It was to be worn at all times, after all. It could come off easily, like any collar, but They would always know when that happened. It was a test after all. Everyone who wore the MISTI was faced with the suggestion of freedom and a world of privacy, but those falsehoods would always be crushed. No, the MISTI could be taken off, but its purpose could never be removed.

“Your MISTI was picking up a Level 5 just a few minutes ago. This is a Level 4 zone. What you were doing was illegal.” Every time the patroller spoke, a white line appeared on his pitch black visor, flitting from side to side. I should have been used to it by now, but even after ten years it was still somewhat hypnotic.

“That has to be a false reading. I was thinking about work. Nothing more.”

“Job clarification?”

I stifled an exasperated sigh. “You should know already.”

I couldn’t really know, but I somehow could feel the smirk underneath the large helmet that the patroller wore.

“It isn’t my job to know. It is Their job to know and your job to tell me.”

Defeated, I answered. “Personnel Enhancement Specialist – I have up to Level 6 clearance in any zone except for State administration facilities and Defender of the Collective bases.”

“Then what are you doing speaking to me, Professor.”

As I walked away from the patrolman, I couldn’t help but feel a tinge of sadness. Professor used to mean something. Now it was just a title he was given scathingly by audacious policemen. It was empty now.

It did have some benefits, however. My level clearance was one of them. Usually a citizen was forbidden high levels of complex thought, but those deemed to require more multifaceted thought patterns were given permission to think at that level. As a teacher, or Personnel Enhancement Specialist, I had this permission. This allowed me to think about multiple professions, skills and concepts rather than the one of my employment.

Ever since the Employment Security Act, a person was only allowed to learn one skill. The reason for such a law was that being able to utilise more than one would endanger workers who relied on that skill. Every task had a designated individual to fix it. My task was teaching these skills to people. I was an exception.

Yet, knowing these skills did little for me. My MISTI monitored my actions and if I was caught utilising any of these skills, I would be investigated by Them. All I could do was teach – teach hollow skills to hollow people.

Nevertheless, I still held a lower level than some. Not even the patrolmen held a high rank compared to a few. Even their bosses, the Overseers, were low in comparison to the complete all-inspiring power of the Benevolent – the rulers of the Collective. They were Them. The State was but a servant to the Benevolent, for They were truly above the law.

Very little was known about the Benevolent and that an oddity in a society where everything was known about everything. The only things not known were the inner workings of the State and the nature of the Benevolent. Games of strategy had become obsolete years ago, as any individuals intent was put on a public easily accessible database where an opponent was only to check it and know your next move.

As an ex-chess champion, it was one of the things I missed the most. The State had good reasoning, of course. Intent was needed to act and acting could lead to danger. It was better for everyone to know everyone’s intent so they could avoid criminals before the crime took place. Overnight, crime disappeared. The murder and theft that did happen was, of course, legal.

However, I digressed. It was not my place to think about the past or any criticisms of the present. It was my place to teach and that is what I loved. It might be different from what I wanted. I may not be allowed to cook my own food, or fix my own clothes even though I knew how – but at least I could teach. I still had that.

And above all, at least it was safe.