August 2017

“And why should I help you?” the drake said.

“Because we rescued you as a hatchling, protected you against all dangers, and risked our lives to raise you and return you to your rightful kind,” Ecaf said.

Thorn made a disdainful sound. “And did you do it out of that goodness of your heart, or in the knowledge that you might have made yourself a powerful ally?”

“I don’t take your meaning,” said Ecaf.

“Perhaps it was your self-interest all along that made you act as you did, knowing that you’d have something to compel a drake to do your bidding,” Thorn said.

“If you refuse, you refuse,” Ecaf said. “That is your right. But do not try to cast shadows on my past good deeds.”

“So you admit it,” sneered Thorn. “You’re sorry you aren’t able to take advantage of me now that I’m powerful.”

“If I am sorry of anything, it is that anything I had a hand in raising could think such of me.”

The remark drew blood, and Thorn lowered his head. “I am sorry,” he said. “It is in the nature of the drakes to be uncharitable and suspicious.”

“I don’t believe it is in the nature of any being to be thus,” said Ecaf. “It is, perhaps, easily learned, for I know of many men who would take the same position.”

“Perhaps,” said Thorn. “So who are you here as, then, old man? A father? A supplicant? Or something else?”

“I am here simply as myself, and I ask nothing of you that I would not be willing to give of myself.”

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“What can you tell me of the drakes?” Ecaf said. “Practical stuff.”

“There’s nothing practial about them,” laughed Kip. “Intelligent and capable of speech, yes, but also alien and inscrutible. They love wealth but never spend a cent of their hoard. They love conversation yet generally shun one another’s company.”

“You and I have very different meanings of ‘practical,'” said Ecaf.

“Look, what do you want?” Kip said. “All we have to go on are those who have spoken with one and lived, people seeing them from a distance, and the occasional carcass.”

“Well, tell me what each of those things teaches us.”

“People who speak to them find they love the sound of their own voice. They love to seem clever, to seem mysterious, to seem impressive, and they seem to love suddenly turning on someone to whom they have been speaking almost as much. There’s no rhyme or reason to who is unscathed and who is crisped.”

“Seeing them from a distance, then,” said Ecaf.

“They grow their whole lives, and they take a while to get really smart–not unlike kids. But they can live a long time. They’ve also got the Touch about them. Some say they can do everything from change their shape to bewitch to soul, but precious few have ever seen either.”

“And their carcasses?”

“None have ever been found,” said Kip. “Ever. Even when one is killed in front of witnesses, it just…evaporates.”

“Why call it a carcass at all, then?”

“A few things survive. Whatever it had in its stomach, for one.”

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Fear of the planet Mars. Sufferers cannot bear to be under any sky that contains the Red Planet.

Fear of douches. Sufferers cannot be in any college town with active fraternity chapters.

Fear of buttons. Sufferers must use custom all-zipper clothing

Fear of chips. Sufferers cannot eat fried potato slices or use integrated electronics.

Fear of love. Sufferers spend all their time on the internet.

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1670 BC
Pharaoh Amenhotep VI decides that the eclipse is a sign of Ra’s anger and immediately vows to disband his brief flirtation with representative parliamentary democracy.

951 BC

Armies battling in central China pause their slaughter for an awestruck moment during the eclipse. Upon its expiry, the battle resumes as if nothing had happened.

217 BC
The Roman general Trivius witnesses an eclipse after praying to Jupiter for a sign of what to do in order to achieve victory. Inspired, he leads his men into battle blindfolded, resulting in a disastrous defeat.

5 AD
An African eclipse leads to a stampede of frightened wildebeest, trampling King Odayo II of Senemali and his court.

900 AD

An eclipse over the Yucatan convinces a Mayan ruler that the end of the world is at hand. He orders that all of his worldly possessions be hurled into a cenote, and then joins them after failing to pay his workers.

1491 AD
This widely observed Mesoamerican eclipse was dismissed at the time as portending anything ominous.

1603 AD

This eclipse is believed to be the inspiration for a lost Shakespeare play mentioned in the MacDunnagh Register: The Tragedie of the Sunne Blocke.

1962 AD
An eclipse over Antarctica leads a colony of Emperor Penguins to revert to their winter heat-retention behavior. Hundreds die of heatstroke on the ice.

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The Experiants are a group that milks unique experiences from the raw thought and emotion of the Astral. They contain them in ornate crystal spheres known as sensory stones, which allow an Experiant to relive the experiences trapped within. While they gather most such from the Astral itself, they are known to collect and even trade for particularly vivid experiences from travelers. They also must occasionally service corrupt sensory stones, which can be fatal to users as the experiences contained within them are all too real to the unprotected mind.

It is their belief that every experience is part of a great mystery they call the Cosmic Puzzle. The more unique an experience, the more insight they believe it will give them in solving said Puzzle. What will happen then is anyone’s guess, but the mere thought is enough to attract the more cerebral denizens of the Astral to attempt it.

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“Oh, don’t worry about this, it’s just niceocancer,” she said with a gentle pat on her bosom. “We’ve all got it here in the Nice Ward.”

“Well, I was hoping to break it to you more gently than that, but yes,” said Dr. Hawkins. “You’ve got niceocancer, Sally, as Missy says.”

“I am 1000% sure you just made that up,” Sally said. “I am seriously considering changing healthcare providers.”

“Oh, it’s quite real. Beneficial, even! Niceocancer is the rare positive form of cancer, and it results in you simply growing a spare organ.”

“Uh huh, yeah, right,” Sally said. “Can I know what my other in-network care options are? Maybe someone who doesn’t add a third latex boob to someone in the cancer ward?”

“I understand your skepticism, really, I do,” Dr. Hawkins said. “Here, meet some of the others. This is the largest niceocancer ward in the country after all!”

Sally followed, trying to get a signal on her phone to look up doctors who took Red Shield insurance.

“This is Kevin. He regrew an arm thanks to niceocancer,” Hawkins said.

“Ew!” cried Sally, revolted. “It’s a different color from the elbow down!”

“Well, he has an arm, doesn’t he? You’ve already met Missy, and this here is Gertrude.”

“She…she has three legs,” Sally said.

“Pride of the inter-city soccer league!” crowed Gertrude. “All thanks to niceocancer!”

“And that’s…Bob,” said Dr. Hawkins.

“Where’s his spare organ?” Sally said.

Hawkins was silent a moment. “Moving on,” he said briskly.

“Uh, yeah. What about me?” Sally said.

“Oh yes, that’s the only…complication,” said Dr. Hawkins. “Your niceocancer is…in your brain.”

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The Astral Plane is where gods go to die, and where the great physical forms of dead gods rest. One group believes that these deities must be mourned, interred, and remembered–and for that purpose they laboriously constructed the Crypts of the Dead Gods out of the flecks of solid matter amid the Astral.

The Cryptkeepers, as they are known, believe that once a portion of each god that has ever perished is entombed in the Crypt, that they will then be allowed to ascend as gods themselves, each taking the place of one of the fallen deities. Each tomb contains a portion of a dead god from the Astral–normally not more than a small chunk–and, if possible, at least one mortal who worshiped them in life. Each mortal is carefully stripped of their worldly possessions and mummified.

To help in their cause, the Cryptkeepers also entomb others who die in the Astral. They accept payment in gold for anyone wishing to be buried in solid matter, rather than the formless void, and ship off whatever possessions come into their hands to the various transplanar wholesalers that do business in that sort of thing.

A key facet of the Cryptkeeper burials is that they are not unlimited. Space is at a premium and the most lavish tombs are reserved for the god-chunks that have been obtained. As such, the internments are a 100-year rental only, by the reckoning of the great clock in the center of the complex. After 100 years, the rental must be renewed and repaid in full. Otherwise, the corpses are raised to “earn their keep” as undead before being cast into a communal pit to extend the size of the Cryptkeepers’ island. 100 years of undead servitude, assuming that the reanimated last that long, is enough to purchase another 100 years of rest.

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