June 2015

To create an admirable and untiring Servant is the whole Purpose of Pumpkinhead crafting. If done with Care and Dilligence, the resulting Creature will posess both Loyalty and Strength and be easy to repair with even the simplest Tools.

First, one must craft the Creature’s Body. This is the most important Step, as the Wood chosen will greatly affect the Temperament and Personality of your Construct. Yew is the traditional Wood of choice, but Oak, Elm, or even Maple can be made to work if One does not mind the Scatterbrained, Delicate, or Mercurial constitution they impart–Yew being the choice Wood due to its imparting of both Flexibility and Strength.

The Body may be of any shape, but it must be capable of being clothed. Some ambitious Conjurers have made Pumpkinheads in the Form of Arachnids or Centaurs and had Clothing tailored for these; normal Raiments will generally suffice.

After coating the Wood with a Resin made from the Ashes of a Fire Temple’s Pyre, One must then carve the Pumpkin itself. The Gourd must be large and Hollow enough to contain a lit Candle, but that is all; many Conjurers coat the Gourd in Wax to give it Strength and protect against Rot.

The Candle itself is of utmost Importance. Its Wax must be native Beeswax, and it must contain a Wick soaked in the Oil of an Elderwood Tree. It must not be lit until the Ritual is complete.

Assemble the Pumpkinhead over a sacred Circle. The Body must be Complete and Articulated and fully Clothed before the Gourd is placed and the Candle lit. Once this has been done, Command the Pumpkinhead to arise and give it a Name. If it responds, the procedure has been a Success.

Pumkinheads must have their Heads replaced regularly. The exact Form is immaterial, and many Conjurers take the Opportunity to revise their Creation’s Features. The Pumpkinheads themselves, especially those made from pricer Woods, will often request a new Head with specific Features; it is of course up to their Creator whether said Request is honored.

The Pumpkinhead will endure until its Candle is extinguished. Heads, Limbs, and Clothes may be replaced, and an extinguished Candle can be re-lit or re-dipped in the same Wax to prolong its life. Pumpkinheads seem to regard their Extinguishment in the same way a Mortal regards Sleep, though should the Candle be destroyed the Pumpkinhead will forever expire. Even if a new Candle is created and placed within the same Body, it will be as if an entirely new Creature had been created and whatever Memories and Experiences it had will be lost.

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“Eyon,” said Gob. “Listen to me.”

Startled, Eyon fell silent. He had never heard Gob call him anything but “Master” before.

“Answer Gob this, Eyon: why do we, the gobs, have no king?”

“I…I don’t know,” stammered Eyon. “B-because his line died out?”

“We, the gobs, have no king because we believe that a person is defined by their actions. Not by their family. Not by their line. By their actions.”

“So then, to have a king, you would need someone to…act like one?” Eyon said.

“Not how one acts, Eyon. By their actions. Listen to Gob: we believe that anyone who would be out king must take kingly action. They must protect the gobs in time of war, see that they are provided for in time of peace, and act with wisdom and justice and kindness otherwise.”

Eyon rubbed his eyes. “But we’ve had good kings before in Pexate that did that,” he sniffed. “Good kings.”

“Perhaps we have, but we the gobs also hold that anyone who is king that ceases to act as one is no longer king, has that name stripped from them, and is cast down. As Gob has been cast down, from there to fade away or prove themselves anew.”

“You’re saying that the old kings of Pexate, even the best kings of Pexate, wouldn’t lose their name and their throne if they stopped being good, and that’s why they were never kings of the gobs?” Eyon said.

Gob said nothing, instead resting his hand on the hilt of his sword.

“No…no,” Eyon said. “You mean that they never did anything to earn the name in the first place.”

“Yes,” said Gob. “Now you and Gob must ask this question: what are you and Gob going to do to earn our names?”

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“You’re a terrible pilot. Maybe even the worst I’ve ever seen.”

“Your opinion has been noted, Myassa,” Jai said. “Would you like to add anything else to try and undermine my authority in spite of the fact that I’m signing off on your paychecks?”

“The only reason I’m here is money, and the only reason you’re here is money,” Myassa continued. “I don’t know how or where you got it, or how many bribes it took, but the idea that you and this ship are on the verge of qualifying for an ISG license is a cosmic joke.”

“Because you don’t have a ship? Because you don’t have an ISG license and no one will hire your sassy assy unless they’re a rich unlicensed boob like me?” cried Jai.

“Pretty much,” Myassa said. “If I weren’t blacklisted, I’d be running the show. A much better show with a much better stage and lighting and direction. So it really wouldn’t be functionally the same show at all.”

“Again, noted,” said Jai. “And what would you like me to do about it all the way out here, exactly? I can’t send you packing and I don’t think you can afford to buy me out.”

“I just want you to know, as you’re lording it over this hunk of junk and what passes for its crew, that sooner or later the money’s going to run out. And when that happens, you’ll be left where you deserve to be. Nowhere, as a nobody. Capice?”

“If you’ll excuse me,” said Jai icily. “Captain Nobody needs to finish landing this hunk of junk.”

“Just don’t sink it in the drink, if you don’t mind, while Taos is doing the heavy lifting,” Myassa replied. “The last Captain Nobody I read about had a bit of a problem with that about twenty thousand leagues deep.

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The Kingdom of Pexate was founded in year 776 of the Old Calendar by Eyon of Anselm, a knight in the service of the Crimson Empire. He led a large band of surviving men-at-arms after the disastrous Battle of the Three Rivers in which the Emperor was killed and the lands his army defended overrun. Rather than lead his men and camp followers back to the collapsing Empire, Eyon instead carved out a kingdom of his own, at the strategic confluence of the River Pex and the Toothful Bay.

The lands were mostly inhabited by gobs, who Eyon defeated in a series of pitched battles. Unlike many of his fellows, he did not massacre the gobs after defeating them, but had each band acknowledge him as suzerain. The city of Simnel was founded as a fortified keep to defend the river mouth, and in time grew large and powerful from trade. Before his death, he engaged the services of magicians fleeing the chaos of the Empire to craft him an heirloom: the Purposeful Blade. Made with a bird-of-prey motif to comemmorate his family’s humble beginnings as falconers, it would only shine brightly in the hands of one of Eyon’s line, and shine brightest in the hands of the worthiest to rule.

In this way, he forestalled a succession crisis and upon his death his youngest son took the throne, being judged by the sword to be the worthiest of the king’s nne children. King Eyon I recognized the importance of economic strength and spent much of his reign building up the first of the famed Pexate Trade Fleets. His son and successor Eyon II followed this policy and also carved out a buffer of petty kingdoms under Pexate suzerainty to help defend their gains.

Eventually, the powerful House Lambert married into the royal line, bringing with it the former kingdom of Aloc. The enlarged Kingdom of Pexate was henceforth ruled by House Anselm-Lambert. Over time, the Purposeful Blade was seen less and less, until it appeared only at coronations. About 500 years after Eyon I, in OC 1204, Pexate endured a series of child kings and regencies. None of the three kings from Eyon III to Thurlford II lived to the age of 18, Pexate being instead reigned by a series of regents. King Thurlford III was the first to break this streak, and he fathered a single son with his consort after coming to the throne after his nephew Thurlford II’s death.

Thurlford III died only six months after his son Eyon’s birth, leading to the declaration of yet another regency. His distant cousin on his mother’s side, Lord Uxbridge, was elected regent. However, when the news of young Prince Eyon’s death broke a few months later, Uxbridge was crowned king of Pexate as Uxbridge I. Many suspected him of murdering the young heir, whom many called Eyon IV even though he had never been crowned.

It has been said that if Uxbridge exercised half of the statecraft in being king that he had in becoming king, Pexate would have entered a golden age. Instead, King Uxbridge proved to be a weak and ineffective ruler, incapable of commanding the loyalty of anyone who was not related to him. Thus began Uxbridge’s Anarchy, a period of unsettlement and strife where the various lords of the land increasingly asserted themselves against the crown.

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“Prithee, tell me how thou hast endured so well whilst thine flock and kind have ever diminished,” said the elder finch.

“It is a simple tale,” replied the younger finch. “You know of the great green ones, the moving-rocks who withdraw into themselves when threatened?”

“Yes, though there are fewer now than there once were.”

The younger finch bobbed its head. “We built our home upon its back.”

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“Why do they call it Ogrestab Hollow?” said Eyon. “It doesn’t sound safe to me.”

“Gob would tell Master, but Gob feels that Master seeing it with his own eyes would be best.”

Ahead of them, the trees parted to reveal a very large ogre, skeletal, in great and rusting armor. He was propped up by a cottage and a lance that he held, one that had skewered the walls all the way through.

“Goodness,” Eyon said softly.

“Gob assures Master that the Hollow is quite safe,” Gob continued. “It is in fact one of the great prides of Gob’s people within these borders.”

“How do you mean?”

“Ogres are gobkin but often no friends of we the gobs. This ogre was particularly old, and thus particularly large and particularly clever, as Gob is sure Master knows that ogres get bigger and cleverer all their lives.”

Eyon did not, in fact, know this. He had never seen an ogre up close. “So he decided to take the village?”

“The ogre sought to take the village and live in the manner of a lord,” said Gob. “As you can see, his was very fine arms and armor. The villagers appealed to a band of gobs to drive him off, as it was during the Anarchy.”

“Looks like they were successful.”

“Master is very astute,” said Gob. “Most of the gobs were easily killed, but the great gob Rnaea Stonethrower climbed that cottage roof and killed the ogre with a single stone to the eye. He was too big to move, so after Rnaea earned her name he was simply left as he was.”

Eyon nodded. “Very brave. What happened to the gobs?”

“Rnaea Stonethrower became matron of her tribe, as I’m sure Master knows is the gob way. The villagers invited the gobs to live among them as equals in return for their service.”

“But I don’t see any people,” Eyeon said, squinting. “Only gobs.”

“As is so often the case, Master, your people eventually forgot their gratitude,” said Gob. “In time, they all moved away to be among their own kind and abandoned the village to the gobs. The gobs keep it now in their own way, and Master’s people rarely venture here, fearing ogres or worse. The great dead ogre, Rnaea’s ogre, is a useful reminder of that.

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They found him leering through the bullet hole his latest kill had torn in the windshield of a dereclict car. A lit cherry was clenched between skeletal teeth hidden only half-heartedly beneath a hood; with no nose and no lungs, there was no way he could have enjoyed it.

Unless, that is, he just enjoyed watching things burn.

“Well, we had quite a time finding you,” said Alicia, boldly opening the passenger side door. She cleared a pair of still-smoking brass shells off the seat and took a seat next to the Hecate anti-material sniper rifle that had fired them. “And I won’t waste your time: we have a job for you.”

“Job for me? You don’t even know me.” The voice was sepulcher and stone, issued from no voice box but just precipitating from an empty rub cage like vile precipitation.

“Nobody does, but you’ve done jobs all over regardless. Unless you’re going to tell me someone else has been precision reaping around here lately, which I doubt.” Alicia withdrew a short stack of photos from her messenger bag and laid them on the Hecate. Each was a simple, brilliant, and bloody reaping of a mortal soul, usually with a single bullet.

“Fair enough. What do you want, and what can you pay?”

Alicia had that ready in her messenger bag, too. A full dossier, with wherebouts, movement patterns, and of course a name. “Juan Ramirez, ex-military, now working as a mercenary on the East Side.”

“Surely you have your own people for such a thing. Why a reaping where a simple murder would do?”

“Because it’s not Juan Ramirez we want,” said Alicia, her foundation and mascara cracking a bit as she grinned. “That’s what our firm specializes in, you see. Since there aren’t natural deaths anymore, it becomes a numbers game: who can we remove to make all the great chains move, for people to slither into new positions?”

“It’s that same lack of natural death that has me out on the street accepting table scraps.” The reaper’s stub flickered orange in the car. “I’ll do it, and I’ll do it clean, but it won’t be cheap.”

“Name your price,” said Alicia. “His soul? It’s yours.”

“Don’t want his soul,” the reaper said. “Not interested.”

“Well, then, tell me what would interest you.”

The reaper, long out of work with bones worn in pursuit of a hard career, cast back his hood. “Your soul,” he said, the shadows falling in such a way as to suggest a smile. “I’ll do it for your soul.”

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