Category Archives: Fiction
Stories I’ve posted here.
Author’s note: What follows is some teaser text for a gothic horror RPG campaign I’ve been running and am currently attempting to restart. I hope you enjoy it.
Life is cheap on the slopes of Mount Radu.
The boy has heard this from his father, spoken in bitter tones over cups of vocht, after the concertina ceased to bluster and old Nirri had fallen to snoring before the fire. He hadn’t ever really known what he meant. Now he think he knew.
The boy’s sister had found the crack in the basement wall. She, being a good girl, had run to tell father, and father had gone down with mortar to seal it. The boy had gone to sleep before father had come up, and then next thing he knew he was being shaken awake and had a beaverskin coat thrust on him and they were out in the bitter cold of the night, the snow crunching beneath their feet. Mother and sister would not answer the boy’s questions, and father was wild, crossbow looped over one shoulder, torch clutched in one white-knuckled fist, waving the flame at any shadows that looked suspicious.
They were to walk all night to the neighbor’s house, Veldavaya. The fir trees seemed to shuffle closer to them at night, and the boy breathed into his hands to keep them warm. His eyes darted towards the pale gray shapes the snow made on the tree trunks. Did that one move? Was that a light? An eye, like in old Nirri’s stories, red and hateful, gleaming in the flickering torchlight?
Where was old Nirri? The boy had asked, but no one had answered. Mother’s mouth got tight at the edges and she shook her head. The boy didn’t know what to make of it.
“Shhhh!” Mother hissed, but it was pointless–no one was talking. They did stop walking, though. Silence fell on them like a quilt. They huddled around the torch, eyes searching the dark, mouths open.
kruch-kruch…kruch kruch kurch kruch kruchkruchkruchkruch…
Little feet. Little hands. Scrambling through the snow like a hoard of greedy children. Coming at them from all sides, closer, closer, closer…
“RUN!” Father yelled. He seized the boy by the collar and dragged him, the boy’s legs flailing as he tried to get himself upright. Father wouldn’t give him the chance. He dropped the torch and tucked the boy under his arm like a hen. The pale glow of the starlit snow whirled before the boy’s face, pine-needles and icicles brushing by his raw cheeks. He heard his mother scream. He heard his sister shout his name. Father did not stop.
The sound of the little feet in the snow had become a stampede. It was joined by shrill cries and sharp little laughs, and the boy closed his eyes. Here they would die, just like in the stories. Dragged beneath the mountain, to be thrust in the stew-pot at the table of the Goblin King. The fate of bad little boys and bad little girls, just as old Nirri had always said. The boy wept and shouted he was sorry, but he didn’t know for what. He didn’t want to die. He didn’t want father and mother and sister to die for what he had done, whatever it had been.
Father fell to the ground and the boy landed face-first in a snow drift. He scrambled out in time to hear the cry of a horse and the thunder of hooves as they galloped past, huge and somehow blacker than the night. There were riders with torches and sabers. They dove into the underbrush without call or trumpet; the boy heard shrieks of dismay from the darkness and, somehow, he knew the goblins had gone. They were saved. The boy got up, trembling. His father took him by the shoulders and hugged him close.
Then the riders came back. There were six of them, clad in silver mail with snow-white cloaks. Their faces were covered by a mask of alabaster, showing an angelic face, serene and at peace, with black, vacant holes where the eyes should be. The riders surrounded the man and the boy and looked down at them both with those empty, black eyes. For a long time, no one stirred.
Father knelt before them. “My regards to Prince Ladislav, and my thanks. You saved us.”
“There is a price.” The voice came from one of the riders, but the boy couldn’t say which. It was thin, cold whisper, like rainfall on snow.
“Take me.” Father said.
One of the riders shook his head slowly, once to the right, once to the left.
“He isn’t old enough.”
“He will be, soon enough.”
“There is no other way?”
“Are you refusing the Prince’s protection, woodsman?”
Father bowed his head. “Never.”
The rider nodded. “Then follow us.”
Father rose and took the boy by the hand. He did not look at his son, though. Not again for that whole night.
This was how the boy learned just how cheap life is on the slopes of Mount Radu.
(Three men cluster around a table, viewing images of the Kaiju attacks on San Francisco and elsewhere. They are the PRESIDENT, DOCTOR THINK, and GENERAL COWBOY)
PRESIDENT: Well, gentlemen, we need a response to these giant monsters. Our planes and tanks aren’t cutting it.
DOCTOR: If I may, Herr President, I believe the primary difficulty lies with the fact that our pilots are shooting the giant monsters with machine guns and flying so close to their bodies that they can be struck by the beasts.
GENERAL: What? You want ’em fly way up in the sky, like sissies? Up close – that there is how a MAN fights!
DOCTOR: If you possess a vehicle that can fly thousands of feet in the air, why would you feel the need to give the giant beast a haircut. Also, Mr. President, we should be shooting missiles at them, not bullets.
PRESIDENT: The missiles haven’t worked, Doctor Think.
DOCTOR: We could build bigger missiles. We don’t even need to put them on planes, actually. Terrestrially-based missile silos could support ordnance of sufficient dimensions to render a Kaiju of even twice this size completely…
GENERAL: Blah, blah, blah! That’s all you eggheads ever do is flap yer gums when it’s time to do something. Well, Mr. President sir, I’ve got a plan. What if we built giant goddamned robots – really big fuckers with cool-ass names like…uhhh…Danger Stan or Super Tower Piledriver!
DOCTOR: Why would we do that? We barely have such technology developed, and the expense would be…
GENERAL: Now’s not the time to penny-pinch, poindexter! We need us some big ass robots to beat down these big ass beasties in some kinda gawd-amighty throw-down. (makes jabbing motions) Pow! Whammo! Biff! Foom!
PRESIDENT: Are you suggesting that the robots will punch the monsters?
GENERAL: Fuck yes! How awesome would that be?
DOCTOR: What you are suggesting it engaging in hand-to-hand combat with giant creatures that will be both faster and better suited to such things. It is pointlessly risky and expensive, not to mention impractical.
PRESIDENT: The Doctor does have a point.
GENERAL: Listen, I got it all planned out – we just get the robots to link with our brains, right? You eggheads can figure that out, can’t you? That way the robot will move just as fast as the monster, and then it’ll be martial arts chop-socky against alien monster brawn. (makes karate chopping motion) HAI! Badass, yeah!
DOCTOR: One person’s brain will be overloaded by this. We’ll need two people at minimum to operate one body for a made-up pseudo-scientific reason I am citing right now. The challenges to finding two people suited to do this with each other will significantly decrease the numbers of robots we can field.
GENERAL: Bah! We’ll just have them fight each other with sticks. Believe me, brother, once you try and bash a guy’s face in with a stick, you’ve seen into his fucking soul, amirite? (to president) High Five!
PRESIDENT (leaving GENERAL hanging): Stick Fighting?
DOCTOR: The stick-fighting plan is irrelevant. The point is that this is the stupidest possible way to fight these creatures. You are engaging them on their own terms! They emerge from the water – do we propose to make these robots able to swim?
GENERAL: Why swim when you can walk? Look, fellas, you’re missing the *point* here. This would be AWESOME! The guys that beat down these things will be such studs they’ll be able to score in a convent! Who doesn’t want to watch a giant fucking robot wrassle himself a big-ass sea monster?
DOCTOR: I presume you would give the robots claws and teeth and such. At minimum, giving them a centauroid structure to lower their center of gravity will…
GENERAL: No, no, NO! No teeth, no claws, none of that shit. These robots need to be saleable in toy stores, and nobody wants a hero with giant fangs. I guess we can give them a sword, but all pilots should be trained not to use the sword except in dramatically appropriate moments. Punching, fellas – this is all about the punching. OOO! We could even put rockets on their elbows to…
DOCTOR: Could we give them poison spines?
DOCTOR: Electrify the hull?
GENERAL: Then how could they wrestle? No!
DOCTOR: Could we at least make them fly?
GENERAL: That’s why we have dozens and dozens of helicopters on stand-by!
DOCTOR: You know, we could have the helicopters armed to assist…
GENERAL: Nope! Wouldn’t be fair. We want a classic throw-down, understand? Like in the movies.
DOCTOR: Surely, Herr President, you see how foolish this idea is.
PRESIDENT (scribbling in a notebook): So, General, what do you anticipate the licensing revenue would be for these things…
DOCTOR: That’s it. I’m going back to Austria, where we will never, ever see a Kaiju. Good luck, idiots. (exit)
Dear Madame Terriblex,
Thank you for expressing interest in investing in one of our many exciting ventures. We at Financial and Operational Underwriting Limited (FOUL) are a full-service villainy facilitator, acting as a pathway between those evil-doers who wish to go and do evil and those who are simply content to pay others to do so on their behalf. As a prospective member of the latter category, we have compiled here a brief Dossier of our more prominent and successful clients, just to give you an idea of how your ill-gotten funds might grow and mature under the guidance of our analysts and brokers. Please note, of course, that this packet is strictly confidential. To ensure discretion, Yggax the Many-Fingered, Cacodemon of the Twelfth Circle has been bound to the text you are reading now, and he is most displeased. If it is not destroyed completely by the time he finds you, we expect the remainder of your life will be unspeakably unpleasant. We apologize for any insult, but please understand we take our client’s security very seriously – yours included, should you invest.
What follows is a list of our most famous and impressive active clients to date. No doubt you will recognize some of their names, and ventures of their size rarely are able to remain secret forever. Nevertheless, we are proud of their accomplishments in the field of Evil, and think they represent a good sampling of the kind of enterprises your money is likely to fund. Now, as we are aware you have a demon after you, let us dive right into the list.
Business Cover: International Bank
Mastermind: Otho Von Havok, Duke of Gammora
A relative newcomer to the FOUL family, Santander has been doing a fine business in the memory siphoning and mind-state duplication field. Masquerading as a European bank, they have an ingenious system of state-of-the-art surveillance coupled with sophisticated West African voodoo by which they have managed to steal and categorize the dreams and ideas of untold thousands. If you have ever wondered why everything in Hollywood these days is simple re-hashed, recycled tripe, you can blame Von Havok’s ‘idea bank’. Santander makes a tidy profit ransoming screenwriters own ideas back to them at top dollar, and we expect they shall do very well this upcoming fiscal quarter.
Business Cover: Pharmacy Chain
Mastermind: Mr. Pain
Though cheery on the outside, Rite Aid has actually been running the largest ring of professional hitmen, loansharks, and revenge killers in the eastern US for well over a decade. Rite Aid operatives are an impressive breed of violent psychotics, shot up with tailored combat drugs to make them nigh unstoppable and virtually incorruptible. With their many, many outlets in almost every neighborhood and town in most states, rarely is there a target beyond a one-hour drive. Additionally, their capacity to access the pharmaceutical needs of large numbers of deadbeats means getting the bastards poisoned is usually no further than a phone-call away.
Though Mr. Pain runs an operation that FOUL charitably considers ‘pedestrian’ when compared with some of our other clients, it is a solid business model that works and is a stable investment.
Business Cover: Bank
No doubt you’ve seen the commercials. The question, of course, is academic – Capital One knows exactly what’s in your wallet and, what’s more, they’ve likely already stolen it. There is no larger or more successful association of hucksters, con-men, cat burglars, safe-crackers, and pickpockets in the world, and all of them are engaged in the act of sending people credit cards. The real genius here is that the credit cards are, in fact, sophisticated micro-robots capable of unlocking doors, disabling alarm systems, and incapacitating security guards. If you need further proof of your influence, just ask yourself what they’re holding over Alec Baldwin to get him to do those commercials. Oh, you thought he was being paid? You have much to learn about our ways, madam.
Business Cover: Massive industrial megagiant
Mastermind: Doctor Dread
GE certainly brings things to life, though how ‘good’ those things are is in the eye of the beholder. Doctor Dread’s operation is the single largest necromantic coven in recorded history, maintain a horde of the living dead so large that even we find it legitimately terrifying. GE has marshaled all of its ’technologies’, from weapons to toaster-ovens, to increase the number of corpses in the world. More corpses means more slaves for Doctor Dread’s ever-expanding armies which, as of this writing, comprise the majority of WalMart employees worldwide, as well as significant portions of most government bureaucracy. With a single ritual, it is arguable that Doctor Dread could bring entire nations to their knees (and he has, too!). Such leverage has been extremely lucrative, and GE is one of our biggest earners.
Business Cover: Paint Company
Mastermind: Lord Corbulo the Immortal
Of course, GE’s influence pales in comparison to the reach and power of Sherwin-Williams. Indeed, their influence is so far-reaching, they are watching you right now. Yes. Even there. Does a thing have paint on it? If so, Lord Cobulo’s otherworldly nanotechnology is monitoring your every word, controlling your every thought and deed. If you are disturbed, don’t be. Lord Corbulo is a beneficent master, and we must all bow to his influence. Forget you know anything about him. Forget that the Paint is Watching. It is, but it’s best not to think about it. If Corbulo wishes you should invest, you shall. You have no choice. Sherwin-Williams has abolished free will in any place that uses any kind of pigment to color another. There is no escape.
Hopefully that gives you a solid idea of the kind of impressive clientele we have in the FOUL family. Feel free to peruse our other documentation, as well. FOUL wishes to help you be more evil, and nobody is better situated, we promise.
P.S.: The Paint is Watching
You will never know my name, because one has never been given me.
I am known as slop, blob, smack, gobbler – a faceless, eyeless, amorphous thing you relegate to trash heaps and waste sites.
I am one of a species you threw away. You think I’m stupid, you think I can’t understand you, that I don’t care what a waste you’ve made of my life.
But I do. I do care.
I understand you, too. There is a certain familiarity you develop when you eat another species’ trash for long enough. I know what you so-called ‘Great Races’ are, how you have succeeded in conquering species like my own. I know why you think yourself great. The Union has made you inviolate; with each cycle you gain more and more, while things like me have less and less.
You may tell yourself that the more you eat, the more scraps there are for the slops that ooze through your sewers (and that’s what we do, isn’t it? Ooze…slink…trickle…it makes you feel better, doesn’t it, to know that the things you grind beneath your heels have no bones?) Yes, we eat better. That might be enough for some.
I, though, am still hungry.
The good thing about having no bones and having natural textural and chromatic control over my skin is that I can really be whatever I want. Me and some other Tohrroids do it. Always have. We don’t ooze; we walk, we stride, we jump. We weave in and out of your fat, contented societies, hidden more by your inability to imagine us doing it than by our own cleverness.
What do we do, then, as we wander through your world? Well, some just want to hide and live the good life, some want to steal from those who have stolen from them. As for me, I want to hurt you. I will hurt you. Think you can stop me? Think again. I am your servant, I am your friend, I am your wife, I am your children. I can look like anything, I can be anywhere. Put up your guard, hire a food-taster, blood check your retainers every night – it won’t matter. I will eat your bones first, and let you suffocate under the weight of your pointless, meaty mass. Then, for the first time, you will hear a gobbler laugh.
I’m coming for you, Dryth. Make peace with your precious Law.
It has come to the attention of Vrokthar the Skull-Feaster, Scourge of the Northern Wastes and Bane of the Help Desk Cult, that you wetlanders have grown anxious about thy impending doom. This at first pleased the might ears of Vrokthar, for he thought that the miserable wretches of those weak peoples had, at last, realized the futility of their existence and resigned themselves to glorious slaughter at the swords of Vrokthar’s mighty ravaging hordes.
But lo, Vrokthar was wrong! The outrage! The insult!
You limp-wristed fools fear the ravages of a horde of zombies? Zombies? What nonsense is this? Why should you pathetic weaklings be more menacing when infected with diseases and parasites? Vrokthar is no master of logic, but he does have considerable experience with parasites and infections and, take it from me, they do not make you stronger. Packs of diseased wetlanders would be as dangerous as an average pack of poxy swine – easily slain and a wondrous source of fine bacon. If you have not sampled man-bacon, I assure you it is delicious, and you puffy overweight un-men are a wondrous source of both plentiful bacon and the lard in which to fry it.
So, aside from providing Vrotkthar and his multitudinous progeny with unending supplies of bacon, of what consequence is your pitiful zombie apocalypse? Do you honestly think that you, fat lazy hog lounging on your plush divans and speculating upon the pelvic gyrations of your vid-trollops, are a mere infection away from dangerous weapon? I would gladly remove your zombie spine and wear it as a belt to prove your inferiority, whether dead or alive, but the spines of your people are notoriously difficult to find.
I can hear now your sniveling protestations: “But Vrokthar,” you whimper, snot dribbling from your rosy little noses, “there will be hordes of us! We will be too many?”
Think you that your numbers are of account? Bah! My blade has hungered for such an opportunity to test its edge. Your pathetic sense, so dulled by whatever infection hath corrupted your reason, will fall easy prey to me. I shall hack and slash my way through your miserable masses to utmost victory. You will have no organization, no leaders, no weapons, and no sense – thy doom will be assured.
So, speak not to me of the menaces of your ‘zombie apocalypse’. Such a worthless event, were it to come to pass, would not be frightening enough to make Vrokthar pass gas. He would simply bide his time in the bitter vastness of the north and then, when your pathetic culture had finally managed to laze itself into near collapse, I would blow my mighty horn, gather the hordes, and descend upon thee like the judgment of angry gods.
And then, the man-bacon would flow.
“History,” say the Dryth, “is made in victory and erased by defeat.” So it is that our history is a Dryth one, and seems to remain so. We Thraad have purchased our existence with our service to the task of maintaining the Dryth’s narrative of themselves and, therefore, of all of us. I say this in my capacity as historian. Let no Dryth Aigythi come to destroy me – I speak the truth, which is protected by the Law. This I swear.
To business, then.
Once there was no Law. There was no Union. This time, by the reckoning of my people, was between six and six-point-five centuries ago (sidereal). Few records of that time remain, though whether this is by accident or the design of some faction or other is beyond my purview to speculate. Suffice to say that this cluster of star systems now known as the Union was in no way unified. We were many peoples – some say over a dozen developed races – just branching into the stars. Making contact with one another, fighting small wars and forging small alliances. We were each a species apart, each proud in our ways.
It is hard to say where the Unification began. It is evident that the great Dryth Houses were mightiest, conquering as they could, absorbing where they could not. The texts of the ancient Dryth epics attests to their courage, their bravado, their pride. There was Harita Khesimett and his Companions; Doorga Wyrm-slayer, the first Solon; Kashima Yan, Great Queen of Stars. Their technology was great, even then. They were the first to develop slipdrive, the first to master quasi-organics, the first to deploy nano-weapons. It is a wonder that they did not simply destroy us all. It seems as though few were able to fight them; those that were perished.
Wars of conquest among the stars were unrestricted things then. The creatures we now call Marshalls were not bound to serve – they roamed freely, preyed on what they wished (even one another), and they were objects of chaos, not order. Invasion via slow-ship was a long process. Such wars happened across generations and took centuries to prosecute. That they happened at all is an indication of our world before the civilizing influence of the Law and its Union; we were ravenous peoples. We devoured our worlds, boiled over the boundaries set by nature. We had to spread or perish. By all accounts, many species did perish, their names and civilizations lost beneath a blaze of thermonuclear fire or a plague of ravenous nanites.
At the center of this were the Dryth Houses - as greedy as the rest, but tempered in fires other civilizations had not borne. It was there that the Unification began – among the Great Houses, whose wars dwarfed those of the ‘lesser’ races. The first Judge, Harongi Hatto, began to teach the virtues of peace and cooperation to a small group of followers on the Crimson Plateau on Odryss, the Dryth homeworld. The Archon of House Fleer, Ghestar, had him executed for cowardice, but others took his place. As is written in the Preamble, Ghestar’s own daughter, then a young Solon named Jaegai, became an adherent of the Law and cast down her father in single combat. House Fleer was no more; all of Fleer’s Housed converted to the Law and fashioned themselves into what we now call the Temphri. Those who refused were forced to commit suicide, via Dryth custom.
The Temphri, led by Jaegai, called for unity among the Dryth, but found no takers. The other Houses saw no advantage in their conversion. Fleer’s ancient holdings were seized, their vassals subsumed, their fleets laid to ruin. Jaegai was forced to find allies outside of her own species. So it was that she set out for sixteen years, travelling from world to world, from people to people, speaking the virtues of the Law. She made many enemies, but more friends. She called them to her cause, and they joined together. Even many of the great star-beasts we know as Marshalls heeded her call. At last, massing at Carthade, the Union was struck, and the time to force the remainder to submit or join was entered.
The Unification Wars were terrible, but incredibly brief by most standards. Battles raged for four years (or so the tales say) on almost every world in what is now the Union (and more besides, no doubt). Billions perished, but from it emerged a new order. The Law was transcendent – each member species was required to adhere, and it was adapted to fit with their gods and their ancestors. Those who would not sign were cast out, their worlds claimed in the name of the Law and given over to the Union’s use. Exhausted by centuries of rapacious slaughter and warfare, the Law set out the Cycles – sixteen sidereal years of enforced peace, lest the wrath of the Marshalls be incurred, four sidereal years of circumscribed war. So it has subsisted, for these 23 cycles and 11 years. So it seems likely to remain.
There is justice here in the Union – that I know – but it is not justice for everyone. Each wartime cycle sees the Dryth Houses conquer more, dominate more widely. There is no resisting them for long. The Marshalls, now massive and unstoppable, treat the assembled races as nothing more than a tantalizing buffet, prepared for their enjoyment at the slightest slip in protocol. And, of course, there are those lesser races, absorbed into the Union in ages past against their will, never fully integrated, who live beneath us as slaves or worse.
But, ah, I grow irritable. It is late and I am old, my great foot aches and my tentacles waver in the glow of the lamp. Perhaps, as the ancient Thraad thinker Kophis theorized, there is a way to fashion a more perfect world. I cannot say that I know how. I count the blessings the Union has given my people, and I choose to be deaf to the cries of those it has stolen from. What more can I do? Who would rip down the world in blood and fire, only to build anew that which cannot be achieved? Not I, not I.
That is a game for the youth, and I am no longer young.
Author’s Note: This is some primer text for a science fiction setting I am currently developing. I hope you enjoyed it.
Dear Professor VonTerriblex,
What follows is an outline of the standard Evil Deeds Insurance policy you purchased from us last Wednesday. We here at FOUL welcome your business, and refer you to the retail and finance side of our business to further support your villainous needs. Please feel free to request our financial introductory materials or catalogs at any time.
Please note that the back of this form has been inscribed with an unholy ritual utilizing the drop of your blood we secured from you upon finalization of your insurance policy. This ritual binds your life force to the continued existence of this document for the duration of your policy. This is done to fully establish the co-dependent nature of an insurance policy, and to remind you to keep this document safe, secure, and private. Discretion is, as always, our number one concern. We hope you understand.
Now, for a brief overview of your policy coverage.
We will reimburse you (with no co-pay) the value of training and (if applicable) purchase of any henchmen lost to the following acts:
- Arrest and conviction.
- Death by ninjas wearing white or red outfits.
- Karate chops/pressure point pinches to the back of the neck.
- Machine gunning by muscle-bound commandos (photo of said commando needed)
- Sorcery (unintentional or intentional)
- Failure to evacuate rooms filling with poison gas/water/flesh-eating insects/acid.
- Space suit malfunctions
- Impossibly idiotic curiosity.
A co-pay will be required for reimbursement for lost henchmen for the following reasons:
- Death by ninjas in black outfits.
- Death by superheroes (please train your soldiers to surrender to Superman or the Hulk immediately)
- Demonstration killings (if you need to keep doing this, we suggest the ‘Megalomaniac Policy’)
- Henchmen betrayal.
- Starvation and/or dehydration
- Any loss involving a shrink or growth ray or any kind of mutagenic agent. (This includes radiation of most varieties. Yes, even that kind.)
Evil Robot Coverage
You are officially covered if your evil robot:
- Is caught in a logical feedback loop.
- Kills any employees with nerve gas.
- Self-destructs for no apparent reason.
- Finds your plans illogical and betrays you.
- Invokes any of Asimov’s Laws.
- Turns any of your romantic interests into cyborgs without your consent.
- Becomes a pacifist.
- Utters the phrase ‘Does not compute’ for any reason.
- Decides to destroy humanity (including you).
- Follows unauthorized commands.
You are not covered if your evil robot:
- Learns to love.
- Befriends fuzzy animals or children.
- Wants to become a real human.
- Actually destroys humanity.
Facilities and Superweapons
Facilities and Superweapons, in order to secure coverage, must adhere to the following statutes:
- All self-destruct buttons must be prominent and obviously visible.
- Must feature at least one but no more than five Big Red Buttons.
- Must use a FOUL approved alarm claxon (See catalog)
- Must implement at least one extending bridge and/or one deep chasm.
- All elevated walkways must have railings. These railings must not exceed 1 meter in height, so as to enable your foes to topple over them if they lose their balance (note: FOUL is not responsible for henchmen who topple over railings).
- Must have a PA system capable of informing everyone of how soon something is going to explode or fire.
- Must have ventilation shafts large enough to admit maintenance crews and easily removed vent covers to guarantee instant access.
- At least one slow-moving deathtrap.
- At least one map of the world.
- All superweapons must operate on a countdown and must broadcast this countdown via the PA system.
- All vending machines, bathrooms, and recreational areas should be well hidden.
If retaining a man-eating monster of some kind, you are covered from liability in the following instances, but must pay a co-pay equal to 10% of the damages, due to the volatile nature of these beasts:
- The monster escapes its enclosure.
- The monster injures you.
- The monster reproduces without your approval.
- The monster dies of old age or illness.
- The monster grows too large for its enclosure.
- The monster is slain by a would-be victim.
You are not covered if the monster:
- Learns to love.
- Befriends a small child or fuzzy animal.
- Refuses to obey.
- Eats your henchmen (by accident or on purpose).
- Metamorphoses into a non-deadly form (e.g. man-eating Caterpillar-illa morphs into a giant butterfly).
- Is spawned from your own febrile imagination (see ‘Creatures From the Id’ clause, page 232).
- Turns out to be an offspring, relative, or relation to yourself, Godzilla, the Aliens (from Aliens), or the result of any kind of zombie plague.
Please peruse the rest of this document at your leisure, as it is now as much a part of you as your own lungs. Thank you for choosing Financial and Operational Underwriting Limited for all of your villainous needs. Good day!
Author’s Note: What follows is an excerpt of a project I’ve been working on for a little while now. It’s been a while since I’ve posted any of my own work, so I figured I’d toss this one out there. The novel itself is in a state of severe ‘take entirely apart and put back together again’ revision, so whether this scene even stays is on the ropes. I think it makes for a pretty sweet opening, anyway. Hope you enjoy it and, of note, it is *rough*, so please excuse the occasional typo/awkward phrase. Thanks! ~AAH
The men moved like hunting dogs in the dying light – heads cocked, ears pointed to the sky, every step made with ruthless caution. The ruined city looked as though cloaked in snow, a thin layer of white coating the blackened remnants of apartment buildings, machinery, and lampposts. It was not snow. It was ash.
Somewhere not very far away the frenetic pop and crack of rifles would start up and then stop and then start again. This was a time of peace for the city; in an hour or so, when darkness filled every empty doorway and rubble-choked trench, the real dirty fighting would begin again. Face-to-face, toe-to-toe, Stalin had ordered his soldiers as close to the Germans as they could get, hugging their lines in a masochistic embrace. The dead were piled in every alley, Russian and German alike.
Then men creeping down the ash-white street knew this. They were all veterans who had invaded the city with Hitler’s Sixth Army and had been here ever since, painting the masonry of Stalin’s city with the blood of its defenders. Hard men in chalk-grey coats, their eyes a thousand miles away, their fingers never far from the trigger. They moved quickly; they knew the way.
None of them looked at the officer who was with them, striding down the street as though this place were the corridors of his private library. His black trenchcoat was spotlessly clean, his peaked cap, which had never known the touch of dirt, sported the silver eagle of the Reich, and his leather gloves still shone. He had arrived in the city just yesterday, with a signed order from the Führer himself. He said his name was Hoffstadt, and that ten men were to take him behind Soviet lines and into an area of the city known to be abandoned and avoided by both sides for reasons no German officer had been able to adequately explain to his superiors.
No one had dared to argue with him; the men simply hoped Hoffstadt would catch a sniper’s bullet and then the ten of them could ditch his body and head back to their own lines. He had not. Not yet.
Stalingrad had been so ravaged by the battle that it was difficult, at times, to tell where a street ended and a ruin began and vice versa. Hoffstadt got the sense that they were crossing streets and slinking through ruins rather than following the map he’d been given; he found himself passing through the devastated remnants of kitchens and sitting rooms, bullet-riddled bedrooms and bathrooms. He felt like an archaeologist of sorts, passing through the living spaces of people long since dead and gone and for whom there would be no eulogy save their bathtub, shrapnel cracked and smoke stained, that had once served as a crucial machine gun nest.
The sergeant called the men to a halt with a silent hand gesture. They were at the base of a stairway that led to nothing – a building whose top floors had been removed by some work of explosive destruction – peering through a half-open doorway with the tangled concrete rubble of the rest of the city block on two sides. Not bothering to duck, Hoffstadt stepped beside the sergeant and whispered. “What is the matter? Why the delay?”
“Please, mein Herr, lower your voice.” The sergeant hissed. “The enemy could be anywhere.”
“We haven’t seen or heard a Russian for blocks now.” Hoffstadt said, brushing dust off his epaulets. “You men have become overly cautious. This area is devoid of enemy activity.”
“And yet, mein Herr, those who go in do not come out.”
“That, gentlemen, is why I am here. Trust me – I am prepared for what we face.” He patted the satchel at his side. “Is it just over there?”
The sergeant poked his head out of the door in the direction that Hoffstadt pointed. “The Russians claim the koldun lives in that church across that plaza, yes. Allow my men to secure the area, though, before you…”
Hoffstadt stepped through the door and into the open.
The church was not a church, of course. Not anymore – the communists had repurposed the building, torn down its iconography, and made it into a shrine to the Russian Worker, instead. Iron murals of taut-muscled young men working hammers and scythes flanked the entryway; posters with red stars and the mustachioed face of Comrade Stalin were plastered across fat stone pillars. The front of the church had taken a direct hit from an artillery shell, leaving a ragged hole in the upper façade, like a mouth wailing at the sky. Hoffstadt walked toward it, and when he was not shot, the soldiers followed, hopping from cover to cover as they crawled in his wake.
The plaza before the church was strewn with rubble and threaded haphazardly with razorwire, but these things did not catch Hoffstadt’s attention. He stepped around and past them, his eyes fixed on a spectacle spread out across the base of the wide stairs leading up to the church’s front doors. It was a row of wooden stakes, each over six feet long, set into the ground at regular intervals. Impaled on each was a human head, severed at the neck or perhaps torn from its moorings – it was difficult to tell. Flies buzzed around each stake, and as Hoffstadt grew closer, he could see that each was sticky with blood. He stopped just shy of crossing the line. The soldiers, weapons ready, crouched in the half-darkness behind him.
“Hello in there!” Hoffstadt yelled in Russian. The deathly silence of the plaza seemed to swallow the words. He raised his voice. “Is anyone at home? Hello?”
As one, the eyes of the severed heads opened. Hoffstadt’s breath caught in his throat. “Is that you, Khostov?”
The bloodied, lipless mouths of the heads moved in unison. The soft, rasping whisper of a dozen severed vocal chords awkwardly vibrating filled the air. “Who are you?”
Hoffstadt smiled and looked back at the soldiers. Their faces were as pale as those of the heads. They looked at him with wide, panicked eyes. He motioned for calm and, just for fun, gave them a wink. He then planted his feet and faced the heads again. “So it is you, isn’t it?”
“Who are you?”
“I am Ernst Hoffstadt, special advisor attached to the Führer’s SS. I am looking for the Russian sorcerer named Vitaly Khostov. Is there anyone by that name here?” Hoffstadt grinned. “Perhaps it is one of these heads, eh?”
“You are not welcome here.” The heads moaned. Their fish-white eyes rolled in their blackened sockets.
“Yes. I had gathered that.” Hoffstadt reached into the satchel and drew out a small pewter flask embossed with a golden swastika. He casually unscrewed the cap.
“Sir!” The sergeant had his MP40 trained on the heads; his hands shook. “What…what is this? Is this real?”
Hoffstadt looked down at the man and thought about it. No, there was no sense in explaining. “It’s electronics, Sergeant. A theatre show, yes? Remain calm – all is well.”
“You are not welcome here.” The heads repeated.
Hoffstadt chuckled. “And yet, here I am.” He stepped forward a full pace, up to the very edge of the line of stakes, and poured a fine white powder out of the flask. It collected in a small pile at his feet; he began to walk, drawing a white line against the scorched, blackened earth in a large circle about two paces across and then took up a position at the center of it.
“Begone.” The whispers from the dead lips lacked inflection, but Hoffstadt felt he could detect something behind the words—frustration, perhaps. Annoyance? All the better.
“I will not leave until I’ve completed my mission, Herr Khostov. My mission is to speak with you, in person. If you will come out of your little ruin and have a conversation with me, I will gladly go away. Until then, I’m afraid you’re stuck with me.” Hoffstadt smiled and folded his hands behind his back. He waited for the counterstroke.
It came from one of the soldiers. He was a simple private – a youngish man with an uneven yellow beard. His blue eyes were transfixed on the heads, his face locked in an expression of mute horror. Out of the corner of his eye, Hoffstadt saw him slowly stand up, Mauser rifle gripped tightly in his hands, eyes still glued to the heads. Hoffstadt could see their lips moving, but they made no sound. Whatever they said, it was for the soldier alone.
“Gerd!” The sergeant barked, “Get down! What is the matter with you.”
Hoffstadt smiled and drew his nickel-plated P38 from its embossed holster. “Do not worry, Sergeant. Gerd isn’t himself at the moment.”
The soldier turned his rifle towards Hoffstadt, his eyes nearly popping out of his head, his veins bulging from his neck. Hoffstadt waited just long enough to make certain the young private couldn’t snap out of it, and then he shot him once through the heart. Gerd dropped his rifle, fell to his knees, and then collapsed, face first, into the ash. The soldiers were utterly still; some of them looked to the sergeant.
“You acknowledge, Sergeant, that young Gerd over there was about to shoot me, yes?”
The sergeant was looking at Gerd’s body. His face was as gray as his coat. “Yes, mein Herr. Yes, but…”
Hoffstadt turned back to the heads. “A very good trick, Herr Khostov, but you must agree that it is inefficient. I can shoot down any man you seek to dominate, and then where are we, eh?”
The heads regarded him with their empty eyes, their mouths quivering in unison. It took Hoffstadt a moment, but he realized that they were laughing.
“Mein…mein Herr…” The sergeant managed to croak, his voice labored as though he were carrying a great weight. Hoffstadt looked – the sergeant was slowly rising, his eyes fixed upon the dead gaze of the heads, just as Gerd’s had been. All nine of the remaining men were doing the same, all of their faces frozen with terror, all of them slowly, inexorably turning their weapons towards Hoffstadt.
Seven rounds left in the magazine, nine men. Hoffstadt kept calm, taking careful aim. The pistol barked seven times, and seven more bodies dropped. The last two were the Sergeant and his corporal. Hoffstadt could see them fighting the compulsion, their bodies trembling as though they might shake apart at any moment. Hoffstadt fell to one knee as the corporal fired, the rifle shot zinging past his head close enough to blow off his hat. He ejected the P38 magazine with one hand as the other fished its replacement out of his satchel. The corporal’s trembling hands reluctantly worked the bolt on his Mauser.
The sergeant’s MP40, though, was unlikely to miss at this range. The submachine gun roared to life, spitting a half dozen rounds into Hoffstadt’s chest, ripping apart his fine trenchcoat and throwing the SS operative onto his back.
The sergeant’s weapon jammed, but the compelled German soldier could not stop holding down the trigger. Hoffstadt rolled to knees and stood up, chuckling. “You are not the only one with secrets, Herr Khostov.” He chambered the first round in his pistol and shot the sergeant in the face, then the corporal in the throat – his aim was a bit off.
The heads had fallen silent.
Hoffstadt took off the trenchcoat. His uniform beneath was likewise riddled with bullets, but the effect was less noticeable. He shook himself and the flattened slugs clattered out from underneath his shirt. “The Green Draught – surely you know it, yes? My, but it tastes terrible. The effects, though,” Hoffstadt pointed to his chest. “They cannot be argued with.”
“It only protects against some things.” A figure in a dark cowl stood in the doors of the old church. Hoffstadt could see nothing of his features, but his voice was somehow still and cold, like a pond in winter.
“Herr Khostov, I presume.”
The figure did not move. “What do you want?”
Hoffstadt holstered his pistol and picked his hat up, brushing the ashes off its brim. “It is not what I want, Herr Khostov, but what you want. I come with an offer from the Führer himself.”
The black-cowled form of Khostov came closer, seeming to float down the cracked steps. In the distance, an artillery shell exploded, lighting the sky. “And why would I accept an offer made by your Führer?”
“Do you think there is a future for you here?” Hoffstadt squinted in the dying light at the Russian sorcerer. He thought he might have seen something…glowing. Underneath the hood of the cowl, perhaps?
“You presume a great deal.” Khostov stood at the edge of the line of stakes, their grisly top-pieces now silent. Another shell brightened the waning light of day.
“The Russians are finished, Herr Khostov. When we have crushed them here, it will all soon be over. Even if it weren’t true, just how welcoming do you think Comrade Stalin will be of a man of your…peculiar talents? He will seek to enslave you; the Reich would seek to uplift you. We welcome you as a member of the superior race. This could be the beginning of your greatest triumph.”
“You would have me abandon brutes to work with butchers.” Khostov observed quietly. Hoffstadt could definitely see something glimmering beneath the cowl, now, as the night was falling faster and faster.
“We are but pruning the tree of humanity, Herr Khostov. We are paying the price for a better tomorrow—surely you, of all people, would understand the need for sacrifice to achieve greatness.”
Khostov, now barely visible except as a black outline in the dark, shook his cowled head. “No. I am no judge of such things and neither is Hitler. I reject your offer, Ernst Hoffstadt.” The sorcerer moved to come closer, but paused at the edge of the white powder the nazi had poured around himself.
Hoffstadt grinned. “Salt, Herr Khostov. The barrier your kind cannot cross, yes? We have studied, you see. We know more than you realize.”
Khostov produced a sound that Hoffstadt thought was some kind of cough or wheeze, but as it intensified, he realized that the Russian sorcerer was laughing. It was a thin, gallows-laugh, mirthless and chilling. Somewhere, far away, another bomb dropped, shaking the earth. “I’m afraid I don’t understand what’s so funny, Herr Khostov…”
Khostov’s hooded head turned towards him, and now Hoffstadt could see the two globes of pale green light hanging there in the depths of the cowl – the eyes of something wicked, something damned. “You have made a mistake only a Nazi would, Hoffstadt.” The sorcerer – the creature – stepped smoothly over the line of salt. “This salt is not kosher.”
Hoffstadt staggered backwards, but Khostov’s hands – little more than bony claws – seized him by the arm. There was the flash of a distant flare and, for a split second, Hoffstadt saw what was beneath the sorcerer’s cowl: A half-decayed human skull, muscle clinging in tarry strips across the face, and floating in the empty eye-sockets was that deathly green light.
Ernst Hoffstadt’s screams were muffled by the sound of Nazi bombs and artillery shells rending asunder that which, with utmost care and hope, Russian hands had put together.
So it is again that I, Vrokthar the Skullfeaster, Scourge of the Northern Wastes, does again howl his curses into this magical word-slate, so that he might send word to his enemies that their miserable lives are to come to an end. Oh, yes, the puffy, limp-limbed wizards that rule this non-realm laugh at Vrokthar’s threats. “Ha!” sayeth the old-womanish cellar-dwelling gargoyles of the land of ‘Tech Support’, “you shall never find us, Vrokthar, for we are clever and hide behind our thick doors and send our mothers to the door when we knock.” “Also,” these pustulent web-toads cackle, “we are mostly located in the distant land of Asia, hiding among the many multitudes of our countrymen.”
These fools have no notion of Vrokthar’s wrath. Before his vengeance is sated, he shall bathe in a great cauldron of their steaming spinal fluid and use their knee-cartilage as chewing gum for many years to come.
But I get ahead of myself.
How hath these fetid, indolent mouse-goblins affronted the mighty Vrokthar? Listen then, and listen well to my grievances, so that your howls of rage might be added to mine own and so might the very stars tremble at our displeasure:
After many years of pillaging the pathetic wetlander nations, it occurred to the diseased and weakling brains of his enemies to provide the Northern Wastes with a spirit known as ’Wifi’, so that the mighty and warlike peoples of Vrokthar’s tribe might use the magical word-tablets of the south to appease their rage. The fools even expected to sell these objects of wonder to my people. Of course we did not buy them, but took them by force after slaughtering many idiot merchants from both the tribes of Microsoft and Apple. Their wails as they awaited their deaths upon the mounds of the Inferno Ants was most pleasing as we toyed with our new spoils. For some short while we were amused by the panoply of absurd cats and busty females to be found in the deep folds of Wifi’s realm. That was, of course, until we stumbled upon the one known as ‘Beiber’, and then took it upon ourselves to stage a great crusade against the wetlanders that would produce such a foul, effeminate wretch and, still more, allow him to bombard their ears with his pointless, idiotic screeching.
But Vrokthar digresses…
Vrokthar of course secured for himself the mightiest of the ‘computers’ that they seized, and told it a great many of his mightiest secrets, so that they might be held safe from the prying magicks of enemy witchcraft. So it was that Vrokthar came to value this prize. He sacrificed many wetlander infants for its long health, and ordered his bannermen to leave for it the finest parts of the caribou for it to feast upon. What mattered that it deigned not to eat? It was Vrokthar’s most trusted advisor, and any fool who sought to disobey it’s ‘Tweets’ was justly slain by mine own hand.
Then, one cursed morning, Vrokthar was about to consult his computer upon a matter of great import (and in no way related to that despicably buxom wetlander woman Christina Hendricks – this I swear!), his computer ceased to function. Great was Vrokthar’s wrath, but greater still his resolve to restore his lost secrets. He recalled the whimperings of a dying merchant, blubbering for his life as Vrokthar’s battle hounds tore out his entrails, that there were sages hidden deep within the ‘inter-net’ that could resurrect his advisor. So, Vrokthar quested for these men, and found them, and demanded of them their obedience. They promised to help, but their promises were the foulest of lies. They could not rescue Vrokthar’s data! They send Vrokthar not one, but two new ‘hard drives’, only for them both to not function! They asked Vrokthar stupid questions, such as whether or not his computer was switched on (OBVIOUSLY NOT, YOU INSUFFERABLE BOOB, ELSE I WOULD HAVE CUT OFF YOUR MANHOOD AND LEFT YOU TO PERISH HOURS AGO!) or whether his hard drive was hooked up to the computer (YOU SHALL WADE KNEE DEEP IN THE BLOOD OF YOUR OFFSPRING, YOU CONDESCENDING JACKAL!).
They gave Vrokthar incorrect instructions. They transferred Vrokthar to alternate sages who knew nothing. They gifted him with software that would not function. All this and more!
So it is that I swear to hunt down these fools in person, so that they might know the depth of my displeasure. They think they can hide? Know this, Sunjay of Tech Support: There is no population so large that could cushion you from the doom of Vrokthar the Skullfeaster. He will slay every Sunjay in India and fashion a shrine from their collected skulls only so he might desecrate it regularly with his mighty bowel movements. Your screams will sunder heaven and cause your gods to weep. Your family and your friends and your acquaintances and neighbors shall all be branded with Vrokthar’s mark and taken as slaves, there to sand the dead flesh of his bunions and shall be permitted to eat nothing but the sanded remnants of his mighty bunions until they waste away and die. Such is my oath. Even now, my hounds seek the scent of you and all your ilk.
Tell all who will listen: Vrokthar comes for you, and he is as pitiless as the dead clicking of a broken 360 gigabyte hard drive.
Author’s Note: This is another bit of intro fluff text for a Shadowrun: Hong Kong mission I’ll be running soon. Hope you enjoy it!
It is one of those rare, sunny days during the rainy season. The sun and the humidity combine to make the world a steam-bath. The smell of humanity and dead fish is so thick you can feel it hit the back of your throat when you breathe. It is days like this you miss the desert.
You have escaped the oppressive heat and stifling dead air of your apartment in Yau Ma Tei and taken a road trip to Stanley on the south coast of Hong Kong Island. It was a long trip on the MTR, but going underground was a relief for a while, and now you’re here sitting outside at a sea-side café, watching the fishing boats unload and listening the patter of tourists as they wander in and out of charming seaside markets and sunny pubs. You have a beer – a real, honest-to-god beer – that costs as much as the rest of your meals for the day combined, but for a breath of the occasional sea breeze, it’s worth it.
You have to keep reminding yourself, however, to keep your Third Eye closed. Stanley looks nice, but beneath the happy storefronts and pleasantly maintained restaurants lie the echoes of the metahuman race riots of the 2020s that scarred much of the town and left a blighted feeling to the Astral Plane here. It serves as a potent reminder of what Hong Kong really is, underneath – bloody, dark, and rotten. Today, though, you want to live in a fantasy for a while.
That’s when the little girl in the school uniform slides into the seat across from you. Her blouse has the embroidered characters of a local Wuxing-run school; she’s maybe eight years old, with pigtails and saddle shoes. Cute as a button. Her eyes, though, are a blazing shade of orange. They aren’t implants, either, or contacts.
It’s Emmanuel. You don’t need to perceive him astrally to know. “Whatever you do, don’t hurt the girl.”
The girl smiles broadly. “I was thinking I’d get her drunk before I took her back home. Whaddya say you buy me a beer?”
You shrug. “I could just banish you from her. Would you like that?”
Emmanuel makes the girl’s face contort into a vicious scowl the girl herself has probably never used. “No need to be rude. I’ve a job for you, you know.”
“Maybe I’m busy.”
“And taking the train all the way out here to sit on your ass? Please.”
You haven’t seen Emmanuel in a few weeks. That time he possessed the rabbi at your synagogue and that time you did banish him. You were wondering if the creature would return again, and were secretly expecting some kind of significant number of days or years – 1001 hours, 66 days, something like that – before he showed himself. Instead, he just shows to screw up a perfectly good lunch. Typical.
“What’s the job?” The sooner you indulge the spirit, the sooner you figure you can go back to your beer and that sandwich they’re supposed to be making you.
“You hear about the botched hit on Lantau Island?”
You nod. A team of amateurs tried to take out some VIP – Korean guy – and botched it. Wound up as a running gun battle that had the dimwits chasing the VIP and his bodyguards all the way into Kowloon City somewhere. HKPD was all over it, still is. “What about it?”
“Well, I’m the fellow who hired that team in the first place.” Emmanuel straightened his skirt, evidently proud of himself. “Should have known better – should have come to you directly. I was still angry at you, though.” A girlish shrug and a toss of the pigtails, “Oh well – live and learn. Should have remembered my training.”
The ‘training’ Emmanuel is referring to was his time as a bound spirit for a mage in the GDSE–the French Foreign Intelligence Service. It wasn’t so much training as it was eavesdropping, but Emmanuel has never been terribly clear on the difference. When he was freed of service (by accident), he stayed on as a GDSE ‘agent’ until they couldn’t stand his more erratic behaviors anymore. Given that both of you were kicked out of foreign intelligence services, he sees you two as kindred souls. You see him as a kind of cosmic punishment.
“You want me to go after them now?”
“If you take over the original team’s contract, I’ll let you keep the original fee the first team was due plus 20%.”
You frown – spirits are notoriously bad at math. “What do you mean by that – give me a number.”
“36,000 even. All you need to do is kill the guy and bring the contact his head. Accept and I’ll have the Mr. Johnson forward you the guy’s dossier.” The little girl Emmanuel is possessing smiles sweetly and bats her eyes. “Pleeease?”
You sigh. Your instincts say pass on this one – too messy already – but you’re hurting for work. If you ever want to take another trip like this one, you’re going to have to earn some money. “One condition.”
Emmanuel giggles. “Yes?”
“You return the girl home immediately after this conversation and don’t harm her in any way. Clear?”
Emmanuel pouts. “Be sure to get this guy before the cops get to him – that was really explicit in the original job. The cops have him cordoned off somewhere in Kowloon Walled City, but that’s Chysanthemum territory, and…”
“Just go. I’ll get the details from an actual human.”
Emmanuel sighs elaborately. “You’re no fun.”
“This may come as a surprise to you, Emmanuel, but neither are you.”