May 2011


***Characters***
Name: Variant
Sex: M
Age: 15
Weapon: Big-Ass Sword
Birthday: February 30
Catch Phrase: “…”
Favorite Dish: Sashimi
Favorite Literary Device: the metaphor

Our hero, the reluctant savior of the world. Hailing from the tiny peasant village of Dedmeet, Variant is a professional soldier that has returned home after five years of decorated service in the Imperial Army, where he rose to the rank of Colonel. Doesn’t like to share his feelings with others, and doesn’t like straightforward explanations. You must have him in your party at all times, since the other characters like to hang around in his coat pockets, leaping out only when they have something to say.

Name: Joy
Sex: F
Age: 15
Weapon: Handbag
Birthday: April 1
Catch Phrase: “Sooo cute!”
Favorite Semi-Obscure Adjective: Ferbile
Favorite Poker Hand: Two Pair

Our heroine, the bubbly yet mysterious wandering princess. Exiled from her home in Veakling Castle by the Imperial Army, she is traveling incognito throughout the world to gather support to take it back, and is also interesting in running up an enormous debt on the Royal Credit Card before it expires. Possesses a mysterious pendant of mystery that may hold the key to saving the world as we know it. Also taught advanced quantum physics as professor emeritus at Veakling University

Name: Hatchet
Weapon: Axe
Age: 18
Birthday: June 28
Catch Phrase: “Cut it off!”
Favorite Mystery Food Additive: Sodium penthalazorbate
Favorite Disease: Gout

The battle-scarred old veteran of ten years in the Imperial army and war buddy of Variant. Is rather hardheaded and occasionally slow, and his first instinct is to chop first and ask questions later. Once you get past his berserker rage and chop-lust, he’s really quite a sensitive, caring guy.

Name: Fitzbang
Weapon: His rod.
Age: 17
Birthday: April 31
Catch Phrase: “What’s in it for me?”
Favorite Cliche: Deus Ex Machina
Favorite Meat Consistency: Medium rare

The former Grand High Total Head Mage of the Imperial Magic Academy, kicked out in disgrace five years ago. Has become bitter and selfish in his old age, and now sells his powerful magic skills to the highest bidder. Hired by both the Empire and its enemies, he won’t hesitate to change sides if even the possibility of slightly more money is involved. Is an accomplished poet and novelist with a keen sense of dramatic irony as well as a nihilist and a vegan.

Name: Pootikins
Weapon: Atomic fluff balls
Age: 2
Birthday: Dec 31
Catch Phrase: “Pootikins!”
Favorite Salad Dressing: Ranch
Favorite Blender Setting: Puree

A secret character, only recruitable after completing a lengthy side quest after the fall of Whokarez but before the death of Xpendble. Place the chest on the pressure plate in the third level of the Clay Caves before opening it, and choose “yes” when the dialog box pops up. Pootikins isn’t very talkative–he (she?) can say only his (her?) own name, and Atomic Fluff Balls are hard to come by. Better skip this one.

Name: Kephija
Weapon: Long-ass Sword
Age: Unknown
Birthday: Unknown
Catch Phrase: “Unknown.”
Favorite Variable Mortgage Rate: Unknown
Favorite manner of faster than light travel: Unknown

The right-hand man of the Imperial Emperor of the Empire himself, and a total mystery. No one knows where he came from who he is, his shoe size, or anything else. Is an extremely capable soldier, able to defeat entire armies with a wink of his eye and a toss of the head. Joins you only briefly, just before the confrontation with the Omninoob.

Dr. Avery had taken his notes long before modern standards of filing and information control had come into practice, and he’d never been known for being a tidy man even by the standards of his day.

But what Maribelle found in his personal collection beggared description.

“First volume: Manual of Axiomatic Set Theory by Quigley, first edition,” she said into her tape recorder. “Page 17: unsigned note reminding self to purchase bananas at the grocery store. Page 26: draft of a love letter to one ‘E. D. K.’ on notebook paper. Page 192: list of household items needing repair with hourly contractor rates on back of Chinese take-out menu.”

Nothing about Avery’s theories or academic work, just reams of bizarre personal scribbles unrelated to anything. Then there were the bookmarks marking the wrong pages, referring to lines, sets, and theories which didn’t exist in the text. Pieces of paper with notes, erratic bookmarks, and marginalia in an indecipherable hand despite Avery’s legible penmanship elsewhere…all things which seemed to have to have no single purpose.

The minor noble had nevertheless a fierce ambition with which he expanded and enriched his realm. But there came a time when his ambition had reached its limit, and he found himself blocked from further expansion by powerful noblemen with the ear of the Emperor.

To continue on his path would mean war, a war which he was ill-equipped to win. Given the choice between contenting himself with his lot or pushing forward, the noble made the ruinous choice to continue. He engaged to his court a certain magician and alchemist from Dejima, seeking to expand his power to the Chrysanthemum Throne through subterfuge and treason, the only outlets left to him.

As his own claim to the throne was weak, the noble sought to clear out all more qualified claimants through a mass poisoning of the imperial court during a gathering of the houses of the realm from which he would excuse himself. The gaikokujin magician warned him against this course but was rebuffed, and set about fulfilling the noble’s desire. He produced a quantity of poison that was tasteless, odorless, and deadly within an hour and delivered it to the noble with a second warning against its use. For his impudence, and to cover his tracks, the noble had the magician executed.

Days before the grim plot was to take effect, citizens of Wazuyashi began to fall violently ill before dying. The poison had spread, and not one member of the noble’s household was spared. Only a few of the farmers in the outermost parts of his small realm were able to escape with their lives, and their tale of horror kept all others at bay.

Wazuyashi remains abandoned to this day, a monument to those whose ambition knows no bounds and whose fates are sealed thereby.

Nevertheless, out of all the Great Cosmic Beings who ruled the earth in the Darkened Ages Past, it was Gotul who attracted the most interest. Gotul, He-Who-Sleeps-In-Darkness, was the primary Being mentioned in the ancient sources, and the one to which the various cults which tended to arise often devoted themselves.

In the old days, when the cultists vanished, it was ascribed to a variety of causes. Perhaps He-Who-Sleeps-In-Darkness had taken his faithful to the paradise of nonbeing where he was reputed to reside. Perhaps his wrath had been invoked and he had destroyed the flies that buzzed about him. Perhaps the cultists had found their supplications unanswered and had moved on to more lucrative yet still evil endeavors, such as law practice or civil service.

That ambiguity had the natural effect of encouraging another cult to sprout up, once collective memory had selectively forgotten the worst parts of the story and the occasional bloody torsos that remained behind. As such, when the latest Cult of Gotul arose in the 1970’s, its disappearance on March 23, 1976 was accompanied by a press release on behalf of Gotul issued by Featherby, Brooke & Whitmire:

“Please cease any and all attempts to contact, raise, or invoke Gotul, also known as He-Who-Sleeps-In-Darkness or Foremost-Among-Great-Cosmic-Beings. He is, as his name suggests, very sleepy and would prefer to remain asleep and unmolested in retirement. Those who disregard this warning do so at the risk of being subject to an automatic Ritual of Rending Annihilation. Gotul reminds would-be cultists that the reality of the Darkness would rend in twain the sanity of any mortal who beholds it, and suggests devotees find a less overwhelmingly fatal outlet for their spiritual energies.”

The fact that the Exchange is, well, totally and completely illegal makes things a bit tricky as far as compensation is concerned. Electronic currencies can be tracked: even though the Exchange’s network is not connected to the hypernets, investigators are always sticking probes and eavesdroppers of all sorts in our business.

So everything is done in cash or barter, probably one of the only places around where that’s still true. The fuzz can only tell that someone converted their currency to cash, not what they bought with it. That lends a nice air of plausible deniability that keeps business booming for sentients from 113 official polities and dozens of unofficial ones.

Guess who gets to convert all those currencies into Exchange scrip, by hand?

“I need forty Confederate Riyals in scrip!”

“How much can I get for seven Commonwealth Bits?”

“Why does the sign say no transactions of more than twenty-five Ethereal Shekels are allowed? All I have is fifty!”

“My ten thousand Planetary Suzeranity Units are only worth two Exchange scrips?”

“I need eighteen Violet Republic Talents changed, even though our glorious and beloved Republic is only recognized by a single independent asteroid!”

There was only one catch and that was the Pizza Catch, which specified that no matter how much concern for one’s fellow eaters’ culinary requests, the person who ordered the pizzas would always order several with their favorite toppings. They were always toppings which no one in their right mind would ever like: anchovies and olives, onions and egg whites, marshmallows and bell peppers. Yet every gathering would have 2-3 such monstrosities, and the person who ordered them, unable to comprehend that their deviant choices weren’t widely shared, would eat a single slice and refuse to take any home.

No matter how fervently I argued time and again that cheese or pepperoni pizzas had the best statistical chance of pleasing the most people, the Pizza Catch would come into effect. People would duel over the single pepperoni pie while the three boxes of olive, onion, Canadian bacon, and pop tart pizza would lie untouched save a single slice. If you ordered the pizza, you enjoyed mutant toppings but refused to eat them–a paradox worthy of Yossarian. I was usually hampered in my quest to be the orderer by the fact that I was flat broke and relying on other peoples’ generosity, but the Pizza Catch was such that even if I did manage it, I wound up with a crowd of vegan and fruitarian eaters, who weren’t crazy about the thousands of innocent wheat stalks killed for their meal and certainly wouldn’t countenance anything as barbaric as cheese.

“People disappear all the time, especially in Manhattan,” I said. “What makes you think it wasn’t some unregistered Sphynx strangling and eating him in an alleyway?”

“Well, for one, a member of the Dakeg royal family is always accompanied by a bodyguard,” Aria said. “They’ve disappeared too.”

“I read about that,” I said, pointing to the open encyclopedia on my desk. I usually keep it out of sight, as clients tend to get spooked if they suspect I’ve ever read anything longer than a Moxie label. “He’s supposed to be accompanied by a troop of the Galloping Hooves Heavy Cavalry at all times.”

“C’mon, Mitch,” Aria said. “You think a dozen minotaurs from the O’Downl tribe in full dress uniforms armed with ceremonial but fully functional musket-axes are the kind of subtlety you need to move about unnoticed in this town?”

I shrugged. “Ever been on the square at midnight on New Year’s?”

“Dammit, I don’t need you being flip about this! A Dakeg is missing along with six mujina bodyguards, and I’m letting you in on the ground floor.”

The men conferred. “Says her name is Sei Iwashi, but the prints match one Joanna Suzuki from the Bay Area.”

“An alias?”

“Makes sense considering the reports we had of illicit activity. Let’s give it a go.”

Reynolds and Melick entered the room again. Sei still nervously fingered the smoldering cigarette in her hand but seemed to have composed herself. “I heard what you were saying,” she muttered. “It’s a nickname, not an alias. It’s very funny if you speak both Norwegian and Japanese.”

Reynolds glanced at Melick. “I see,” he said. “Good to know. You feeling a bit more cooperative now?”

“It’s like I said when they brought me in,” said Sei, lighting a fresh coffin nail with the butt of another. “My team hired the boat out of San Francisco. We went out to test ultra-sensitive hydrophones and a custom-made deep-sea ROV we’d developed in association with the University of Baja California Sur and Pelagica Corporation. They underwrote it, but it was an entirely independent, private venture in international waters.”

Melick made a show of taking notes on his pad, even though Reynolds could see he was only tracing a series of loopy lines. “And how exactly were you going to test your headphones and robot slave?” he asked.

“Deficiencies in your terminology aside,” said Sei, “we were going to test them by searching for the source of the Bloop.”

Reynolds put on his bad-cop face. “Are you making fun of us, Ms. Iwashi-Suzuki-whatever? Because if you are, I strongly advise you to reconsider. You are here because we have universal jurisdiction in this matter, and we can hold you almost indefinitely as a pirate if we’ve a mind to.”

Sei glared at her interrogators. “It’s NOAA’s term, not mine. They detected an underwater sound in 1997, one so loud it could be heard clearly over 5000 klicks away, with hydrophones they installed to detect Soviet submarines. They traced it to about 50° S 100° W and took to calling it the Bloop, since that’s more or less what it sounds like. It’s been heard a few times since then, but NOAA and the Navy were never interested in investigating. It was an opportunity to test our equipment and maybe make the headlines, and we took it.”

“Mmm-hmm,” Reynolds said, still in bad-cop mode. “And you expect us to believe that poking around with a microphone and a robot led to the disappearance of your entire crew?”

“Our history is…complex,” said the Ethereal. “It tends to happen when your civilization exists in fifteen timelines and seventeen dimensions simultaneously.”

“Well, just give me a rundown of the last few…times. You know, get my feet wet.”

“Well, right now my people are experiencing the Cosmic Age, a time of prosperity and renewal in which we are seeking to contact other beings.”

“Fair enough.”

“Before that came the Withering Time, when all our accomplishments as beings were laid low and we were reduced to mindless physical husks restricted to only seven combined dimensions and timelines. It was brought about by the collapse of the previous epoch, the Age of Golden Vices.”

“What made that happen?”

“The groundwork was laid in the Wholesome Age of Moons, when we experimented with tying our essences to satellites. The Myconid Implosion showed the folly of that line of thinking. The Corrupted Age of the Heretics immediately preceding it was to blame, since they had spurned any and all physicality.”

“I…see. and before that?”

“The Aeon of the Device,” the Ethereal said, making a reverent gesture (or at least appearing to).

“What was the Device?”

“We do not speak of it with outsiders!”

Quatrain the First:
In order to become a true warrior, one must first learn what it is to be vulnerable and weak. Only by proving oneself in the face of a superior opponent may one then understand the minds of those who wage hopeless battles.

Quatrain the Second:
As strength grows, one must find ways to exploit the weaknesses of the enemy while concealing and overcoming one’s own. Strike from behind; attack unceasingly without mercy; close rapidly. A weapon is little use beyond a club once the enemy is grappled with.

Quatrain the Third:
Only when one has shown courage in hand to hand fighting may one begin to attack from a distance. To rely on this is cowardly; to employ it is noble. Use the same tactics from a distance, and concealment or surprise become all the easier.

Quatrain the Fourth:
The final step along the path sees you stronger than many of your adversaries. Do not neglect what you have learned, for overconfidence is the most deadly sort of foolishness. Strike from afar, strike with blazing speed, and your enemies will know pain.

Quatrain the Fifth:
Those that are truly Honored spurn the weapons and equipment of their brothers in arms, for they know that true strength, true victory, comes from will alone. They have the strength of will to face any adversary on their own terms; do you?

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