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/qst/ - Quests

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PRELUDE: Life is the stag pierced by arrows
Made into wounded wings.
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You slept and recalled when the tongues of birds,
soft bells of ringing feathers,
sang verses as the straying steps of pilgrims
Walking upon the wilderness.
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So the struck eagle, stretch'd upon the plain,
No more through rolling clouds to soar again,
View'd his own feather on the fatal dart,
And wing'd the shaft that quiver'd in his heart.
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The haft of the shot arrow had been feathered with the eagle's own plumes.

Often the means of self-destruction is given unknowingly to an enemy.
Wheresoever the carcass is, there will the carrion birds be gathered together.
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Muhasasa Underdistrict
The Chasmata
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(Location Unknown)
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Before you there is a great wall, a geometry of strake and chine, ridged contours to brake the rippling vortices of Pathless Tides and the Lightning Sea.
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Vourukasha: the great Sea Oracle, wondrous miracle of the ancient Synthemata.

You were told it functions akin to a vast and unfathomable abacus, uncountably superior to linearithmic time.
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The Lightning Sea possesses patience and fury that will erode cliffs and pillars of stone.
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All know that the flux of a lodestone flows from two poles, Septentrion and Meridional. The sea is a lattice, and as rays of light may be conceived as either the undulating wave or the quantised particle, so too can the propagations of the roar of this Oracle Sea be known.
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There is some reconfigurable logic here - some braided configuration of trihexagonal or truncated tetrahedral structure that permits the existence of a deconfined, singular polarity of lodestone - one that cannot be easily found in nature.

A separated North, a separated South, unbound from each other.

There were some who believed that multipolarity could never exist; who fought wars to preserve their Dominion, to ensure that all realms remained forever bound to their own.
Faction: Warguild / Isonomy
Gargantuan battle dromond, ancient warship and solar barquentine of old Mesektet, of the great armada of The Warguild.

It takes the form of an immense, hollow, tunnelled coil, through which the enfolded Void, the Waters Of Death, are swallowed and thus traversed through the regurgitation of its Iron Throat. It is said every weapon ever conceived in the minds of the gods is possessed by Ordnungssinn, from the feared cheirosiphon, the Stone Burner, the star-thrower, and the fractal tides of the Synthemata. The firepower of Ordnungssinn can invert the skies, crushing the pillars of every watchtower and Altar Spire upholding the hells and heavens.
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Goetic conjuration of The Isonomy. An abstract language comprising of locutionary, illocutionary and perlocutionary utterances, which can be twisted and braided orthogonally in intention and manifestation. Synthemata commands wondrous phenomena, from the apparatus of contrivances sublunary and mundane, to superluminary marvels and miracles surpassing the comprehension of celestial gods.

In the age of Old Solar, before their empire was extinguished, the Synthemata encountered a beggar, a Pathless wanderer. The old philosopher asked the Synthemata: how many hands does a man possess? To which they replied immediately: two. Yet to their dismay, the wanderer answered: three; for a man knows he has two hands, and he also possesses the concept of a hand! This was how the Synthemata were unmade, and came to ruin.
As you study its shifting surfaces, you observe that the fluid of this Sea appears electrorheological - its viscosity altering and changing both its thermal and electrical conductivity, as lightning flashes and flares beneath the surge of the oracle tides.

Branching white fire courses as the fleeting veins of burning trees beneath the fractal flood - and then the lightning is gone, as the flared spectral glow of green, blue and bright gold fades beneath the twisting churn of the maelstrom.
Unbidden to your mind comes the forgotten technosorcery - the ergodicity of the Self in balance, the equilibrium state that can become and visit any other state of the same energy.

Yet the unbalanced self is trapped. The non-ergodic system fluctuates and is confined between several states, yet can never escape the deep chasms of hierarchial disorder, forever immured within the Nearness by mountains of ultrametric height. In what way is Order, Disorder? Can hierarchy only impede the true becoming of Self? Yet in the absence of hierarchy, how can the Self even be distinguished?
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You stand alone before the Pathless Tides and the Lightning Sea; ask it whatever you wish, and hear of what Vourukasha knows.

>(write in what you ask the Lightning Sea)

>So... it is like a supercomputer? Some sort of fluid computation, superconducting liquid, spin ice monopole nanomagnet computer? How about you just poke it a little... maybe put your hand in there and then lick it, what does a sea-god supercomputer taste like...?

>Surely the QM cannot kill you in the very first paragraph of the game. You must undress completely and jump in nude into the sea. Also, some athletes, you heard they... relieve themselves in the sea. Maybe try that, it will be an experiment in the conductivity of body fluids...(Use the supercomputer as a toilet)

>Say: actually... akshually... magnetic monopoles cannot exist, because according to Maxwell's Second Equation, the Gauss Law of magnetostatics, the Divergence Theorem
div F = (d/dx, d/dy, d/dz) . (Fx, Fy, Fz) = 0
or the contour surface integral over S of F.dS = 0
You cannot have a magnet with only one separate North or South pole, no "magnetic charge" can accumulate in space, there is no "magnetricity" equivalent to electricity, no singular magnet monopole counterpart to the electron, the QM is lying and made up all this sci-fi nonsense, therefore The Lightning Sea cannot exist! Jump up and down, blabbering all this in an indignant frenzy akin to King Canute before the surging tides.

>Wait... is there something on your face? What were all those images at the start of the game about? (Scrabble and claw desperately at whatever you think is attached to your face)

>You do not need to ask Vourukasha anything. In fact, you think you can command the future yourself. Tell the Lightning Sea what you think its fate will be (write-in a prophecy of your own)

>Something else...?
>Say: actually... akshually... magnetic monopoles cannot exist, because according to Maxwell's Second Equation, the Gauss Law of magnetostatics, the Divergence Theorem

Didn't participate in the last quest and probably won't have time for this one, but it is good to see these still coming out.
>Surely the QM cannot kill you in the very first paragraph of the game. You must undress completely and jump in nude into the sea. Also, some athletes, you heard they... relieve themselves in the sea. Maybe try that, it will be an experiment in the conductivity of body fluids...(Use the supercomputer as a toilet)
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In the Nearness, to Possess is to transgress against meaning and human memory.
All Belonging is regulated by The Isonomy, an autonomous god-shrine of the fallen stars where there is no future and where nothing is unknown.
Ever since the achievement of Kardashev dominance, human freedom has been liberated from centuries of Near War. The Thoughts of the Isonomy are Law.
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From the shadows, dealers serve those who seek to hide from the gaze of the god-shrine, those who try to remain forgotten. Negotiants, venturers, absolvers. Skulljacks, bladeglitchers, gunchasers and bulletcutters.
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Deathrunners and mercenaries hunting those that commit the only sin - to Possess.
Descending near the mouth of a sea cavern is a kiteship, a sunskimmer or light-sail of some kind.
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Light Sail
A pleasure yacht from Rakhaa Palace, within the Verdant Sanctum of the Muhasasa Apportioned District. It possesses no armament. Adapted from the technology of Old Solar, propelled by the numinous billows of radiation pressure redirected from the Altar Spire, and steered through minor electrostatic recalibration of the conductive hull, and the tethers that orient and deflect the astral wind.
Lady Sadarnuna, Keeper Of The Tides

Two women have emerged from the pleasure yacht, accompanied by a quadruped animal of some form.

The taller woman glances with disapproval upon a distant figure, by the shore of the Lightning Sea: an indistinct figure, ranting and raving, jumping up and down and gesturing wildly and incomprehensibly, scratching contour integrals and differential equations by the shore of the Lightning Sea. The Sea does not respond to them.

The tall woman's features are refined and Highborn, but they have been blemished with a peculiar disfiguring scar, as if scorched by some corrosive fluid that had been hurled upon her face.

Her companion exclaims:
- I do not understand, Lady Sadarnuna - why has one so inexperienced been entrusted with such a delicate matter? One so innocent and naive... The Lightning Sea will drive them to madness...

Lady Sadarnuna replies:
- Because the matter of Lady Praxagora's Epithalamion cannot be given to the intellect that is selfish, calculating, devious or cruel. Already they have debated at great length in the Palace upon the Discourse Of Salt And Iron; the debate will not cease until one side has their way, and I suspect it will not be with tithes and tribute, but rather with fire and cannon. Even now the emissaries of The Isonomy await out answer. I think they covet what we Possess, they desire to possess our Sea. Perhaps it falls to Vourukasha to decide, to whom She should belong.
An ensouled exotic, and pampered faerusynth pet companion of Lady Praxagora. It appears to be adaptable to many quadruped forms, and currently has adopted the guise of a curious deer. Moongarm stares at you with a curious puzzlement.

After a moment of hesitation - some old fragment of recollection knotted in your mind, like seaweed tangled around driftwood, spin ice; dysprosium titanate? stannate? Bah - probably of no use, at such temperatures - you launch confidently into a long rant and expostulate at length about how this mythical lodestone of one pole is utterly ridiculous, defying all known laws and the natural Order of the Synthemata, the cosmogony of the universe... There can be no multipolarity, the North and Global South must be bound to each other, just as East is bound to West, the Heavens bound to the Earth, lest the Altar Spire and Nine Realms all unravel.

Therefore this Sea in front of you cannot exist, to prove it you will simply stride forth into this fake Lightning Sea, and you will display your scorn and contempt by urinating upon it, it is all a figment of the imagination.

As you begin defiantly undressing yourself and removing your clothes, you hear a shriek of horror from the shore by the sea cave:

- Lady Sadarnuna! The Sea has brought Madness! We must stop this-this... outrage?! I cannot bear to look upon it!
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Your previous invigorated exertions - all that gesticulating and gesturing, scrawling of equations and jumping up and down, which produced no reaction or response from the Sea - these exertions appear to have unsettled your vision strangely, as if something had been dislodged.

Perhaps it is just perspiration stinging your eyes, but for the merest fraction of an instant, a minor ephemeral optical saccade - you swear you can see a figure in a corridor.

A strangely contorted figure, who appears to be guiding some leashed dogs or hounds of some sort... hounds that seem to bear an almost human-like appearance in proportion of limbs.

And to add to this optical hallucination, you can hear voices too...

-The search with the Fleshers is taking too long. Send for the Spike Head-

>Look QM, I just want to use this supercomputer nanomagnet lightning sea as a toilet. For science! I cannot be stopped! Boldly stride forth completely naked, walk into the Sea and relieve yourself. Nothing and no-one will stop you this time...

>Er, there are ladies here? (Write-in something to Lady Sadarnuna and her companion, and the curious synthetic pet deer)

>Ask the Lightning Sea a question:
>Ask about the Discourse Of Salt And Iron
>Ask about the Epithalamion. Is Lady Praxagora getting married? But to whom?
>Ask about The Isonomy, the Altar Spire, this mysterious star metal shrine
>Ask about some other topic

>Oh clearly this is the cyberpunk thing where an armed mercenary assault squad is going to burst into whatever cyber disembodied telepresence thing you are doing right now. It will be very embarassing if they catch you, er, relieving yourself on this supercomputer lightning sea thing, that will be hard to explain. Maybe find a weapon of some kind? Or an escape route, or somewhere to hide? (QM: You can write-in a specific type of weapon, I will try and see if I have something)

>Something else? (QM: Unless specifically mentioned otherwise, I will generally accept any write-in!)
>>Ask the Lightning Sea a question:
>>Ask about the Discourse Of Salt And Iron
>>Ask about the Epithalamion. Is Lady Praxagora getting married? But to whom?
>>Ask about The Isonomy, the Altar Spire, this mysterious star metal shrine
Altar Spire
Machine Tower of the Warguild, where the fallen star-metal shrine is enthroned. The reach of the Altar Spire exceeds geosynchronous orbit, and consists of a tensile spindle support system that serves a dual purpose as both spike anchor counterweight and conversion of oscillations in the electrodynamic tether to power generation, whilst providing the tidally stabilised mast infrastructure for the administration of Lex Mercatoria.

Whilst the byzantine and bureaucratic strictures of Eschatonomists have become too bewildering to even begin to enumerate, comprising vast systems of governance pertaining to sumptuary law and ritual, tithes, term structure and rates of usances, the most notable role of the Warguild has been in the enforcement of the Apportioning, also known as a stricture of differential development in technological access for Highborn and Lowborn. The success of the Warguild is evident in the rust dunes and scorched wastes of the Flayed Lands, where the savage barbarian tribes dwelling there are rumoured to have lost all knowledge of metallurgy, fearing even to touch Iron.

The Warguild venerate the Near War, and maintain a transcendent state of vigilance, the ecstatic bliss before the battle-harvest. A common combat-hymn of the Warguild is the obscure ancient phrase "Si vis pacem, para bellum" translated as: To Prepare For War, You Must Want War.

The Warguild were founded upon the doctrine of the ancient wizard Morgenthau, based upon Animus Dominandi, which commands all vassals to abide by the principle: Live Propagate Dominate; some less civilised marauder factions in the Warguild have reinterpreted this mandate as Rape Feed Kill Repeat.

The enduring symbol of the Warguild faction remains a White Sword, a simplified variant of their ancient heraldry that consisted of a Hanging Sword suspended by a thread, sometimes depicted as a Sword knotted in a gibbet.

For this reason it is perhaps appropriate that the Altar Spire citadel appears as a colossal greatsword piercing the land itself, when observed from a distance upon the Astral Sea.

Some mercenary subsidiaries and affiliates of the Warguild include Felsenmeer, Versipelles-Gorlagon, Ciphrae, Axiom-Galdra, Urthekau-Sylabari, Raufoss, Chernaya (under sanction) amongst many others.
Lady Praxagora
Heir to the Throne Of Stars upon coming of age and nuptial consummation, by Birthright and Highborn Porphyrogeniture.

Many eligible suitors have eagerly sought the hand of Lady Praxagora - perhaps with an eye to her Birthright - though she has abandoned all audiences of late, spurning even the handsome Prince Provost Aristophontes Gratian of the Imperial Reichskloster. It is said that Praxagora will neither meet with nor even attend the counsel of her former trusted companion and friend Lady Sadarnuna of the Tides.

Little is publicly known of the mysterious Lady Praxagora, though all attest to her exquisite beauty. Perhaps due to her birthright, she has led a secluded life within the confines of the luxurious palace upon the Apportioned Verdant Sanctum. Yet in the squalor of the subterranean alleyways and vertical warrens of the Muhasasa underdistrict, it is whispered that the Lady Praxagora visits in disguise, perhaps to hear of how the Lowborn speak of her? A less reputable rumour claims the spoilt and pampered Praxagora hates all men, and much prefers the company of her extensive exotic collection of synthetic companion pet animals. The Warguild are hunting for the source of this scandalous rumour.
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A mysterious iridescent crystalline structure that sometimes appears to exhibit electrophorus (electricity-bearing) properties, essential to both Life and the ensoulment of Synthemata. Salt comes from the Lightning Sea, where it is easily harvested when exposed in coastal salination and brine pools before the Sun. The monopoly upon the distribution of Salt and its tithes raised the onerous war treasury with which the barbarian marauders of the rust dunes were subdued.
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Rakhaa Palace
Verdant Sanctum (Palatine Complex)
Muhasasa Apportioned District
Discourse On Salt And Iron
A conference held in secret within the sprawling luxurious residences and enclaves of the Verdant Sanctum palatine complex. Invited attendees include delegates from CONTOR, The Isonomy, The Warguild, The Church Of Envy, The Unbidden Court, Paribus Foundation / Oration, and many other onlookers and curious / sycophantic followers. It is quite a spectacle.
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Another ocular tremor - triggered by a commotion in the hallway outside.
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You can hear some sort of human dog creature,
pawing and panting in alternate whinnying gasps and growls against the door. At times, it sounds like the pathetic cry of an infant child echoing through a deep cave.

An infant child caught in the jaws of a wolf.
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Spike Head
Atop an armoured exoskeleton carapace is a black blubbery mass, with cruel spikes protruding in irregular patterns all over the bulbous grotesque engorged sphere of its skull.

It really looks like a man with an enormous spiked mace for his head. Spike Head appears to have taken command over the Fleshers - the abominable deviant panting asphyxiated human hooded dog-things. They are hunting for you...

Whatever apparatus is attached to your face somehow lets you see this, though you cannot comprehend the purpose or intention behind the sinister Spike Head and his hood. For a moment you are stricken with a worrying, fugitive thought - is the apparatus on your own face similar to that spiked hood?
>Ask the Lightning Sea another question (write-in)
>Wait... is the purpose of this colossal liquid sea-god supercomputer... a dating algorithm? Does it sort through billions of souls to find the one kindred spirit and true love of Lady Praxagora? It is literally a supercomputer Tinder or match.com?
>Turn to Lady Sadarnuna and her attendant, and ask them a question (write in)
>Look, you just really want to jump naked into the liquid lightning sea supercomputer and relieve yourself, this will be your moment of triumph, QM cannot deny this. Now is the time to fulfil your destiny... (jump into the Lightning Sea, use it as a toilet)
>Er... that is enough remote telepresence cyberhacking antics for now. You need to find a weapon / escape route / hideout right away before the mercenary assault team accompanying that sinister Spike Head man bursts in (QM: you can write-in a weapon, I will try and find something appropriate if I have it)
>Something else...?
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Glitch Gun
(ammunition: infinite - images, gifs, webms, memes)
This peculiar weapon appears to be armed and fed through distributed semantic retrieval. It projects a declarative remembrance - typically an image or other visual fragment - directly into the semantic memory of a target, that can be human, synthetic, or biomechanical, though some form of neural cortex, cognitive processing system in the target is required. The response to intense spatiotemporal disassociation produced from this neuropsychological stimulus can cause loss of sensorimotor system control, paralysis or spasms - the exact response cannot be controlled, though for the target it is likely to be a fairly unpleasant experience.

The Glitch Gun is vulnerable to military grade barrage jamming, as well as other forms of slow-wave pulsed harmonic countermeasures; some exceptionally sadistically damaged individuals may also be entirely resilient to any form of psychic memory override, eg individuals on combat stimulants.
(QM: this gun is armed using images, webms, gifs and memes. To fire it, specify the target and aim a meme at it. You can fire the gun without uploading a meme, though it will be less powerful. Choose the meme carefully, as the effect may be replicated on the target specified, though the precise outcome cannot be controlled.)
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Swarm Pistol (Single-Shot Variant)
A compact directed swarm weapon that cannot miss. Stacked-charge self-steering micro-motor flechettes in superposed loading within a detachable canister magazine that also serves as the single-shot firearm barrel, magnetically locked onto the target painter grip; the entire barrel is detached and discarded after use. The gun is triggered via inductive electronic ignition, and fires a self-propelled swarm cloud of piercing darts in a single blistering high-velocity hail that is exceptionally effective against organic targets. The handgun possesses primitive iterative search, kill-seek algorithms against a stochastic surrogate objective function with particle swarm optimisation. Typically this handgun fares poorly against heavily armoured or entrenched opponents. It is rumoured that advanced electronic warfare can disrupt, intercept and even redirect high-velocity self-steering swarms in mid-flight.
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>Ask the Lightning Sea another question
Time is short and life is fleeting. Which currents are safe to ride and will bring me to the Eden i desire?
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Drone Sword
An evocation of the Synthemata. Forged from recursion, iterative generation of the many-pronged sickle blades from a mambele throwing sword, together with the form of a ballistic knife.

It is not so much a weapon as the metamorphosis of a weapon. The sorceror Pandelume once spoke life into a living sword, a consecrated gift to she possessed by the flaw of hated beauty, who knew only the sorrow of ugliness. Whilst superficially bearing a metallic appearance akin to a bladed electromechanical slab of actuators, the true form of the Drone Sword - and perhaps all creations of the Synthemata - resembles a fractal transforming mist of splintering barbs and thorns. Within the hollowness of drifting smoke, quivering edges and jewelled slivers, is the hard and empty shadow of a sword.
(QM: you think this weapon can transform into nearly any other melee weapon; it also has some limited throwing reach ranged capabilities. You wonder if a transforming weapon might be useful for disguises... but just how temperamental can these creations of the Synthemata be?)
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Unusual Case

A strange item has wedged itself into the wet sands swept by the tides of the Lightning Sea. When you bend to retrieve it, brushing off the grains of sand and grit, you can see it is some sort of metallic container with a handle, slightly larger than the dimensions of your outstretched hand, though much thicker - perhaps two fingers in breadth.

And there is a pair of handcuffs attached to the handle - you wonder if this case contains something extraordinarily valuable, for it to be intended to be manacled to the wrist of its bearer. Though clearly it could not be that valuable... for it is no longer in their possession...

The metal case is covered in cringeworthy and embarrassing animation stickers. Some of them are a bit naughty, and feature horrifying illustrations of scantily clad women with enormous eyes, small triangular noses, and unnaturally proportioned polygonal faces. It is truly a terrifying artefact to behold.

A large sticker prominently attached to the front and sides of the embarrassing Peculiar Case warns:

>open the case.You think if you apply some considerable force, you can snap it open... though it might damage whatever is inside?
>peel off those embarrassing naughty anime stickers, if people see them, they may be repulsed by you
>you recognise this item (perhaps from a previous quest?) Name what you think it is. Perhaps there was a password to open it?
>handcuff the case to your wrist (which one?)
>something else?
Shake the case to help you identify the contents.
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The Lightning Sea is scanning rapidly through various routes over the vertical slums of the Muhasasa Underdistrict, where your distant self is piloting whatever sharded version of your consciousness that is present here questioning the Oracle Sea before you.
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There is an industrial cargo loader exoskeleton a short drop below you. If you were to leap out of the window and access it, the exoskeleton would enable you to rapidly outrun your pursuers, by leaping from roof to roof of the vertical slum. On foot they would lose you in the labyrinth of warrens and alleyways...
However, you can see Spike Head is actually located in the floorway below, in the vicinity of the cargo exoskeleton.
Meanwhile, the assault squad breaching team is surging up the stairways outside the hallway of the front door, where the solitary Flesher has detected your presence...
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(You shake the case and try to imagine what it would look like if those horrible anime stickers were peeled off. It rattles a little, and the handcuffs attached to the handle jangle around. Nothing much happens)

(The choices here remain)
and also

>drop down and attack Spike Head; he is isolated, completely unaware on his own. Write-in what weapon / plan of attack you have. If you can reach the cargo exoskeleton, escape will be much easier...

>You will have to kill the Flesher outside your doorway. That will be easy, but you must somehow evade the breaching squad rushing up the stairway. Maybe just hide? (write-in weapon)

>Try and use the Lightning Sea to gain even more information and insight; what weapons the enemy and Spike Head are carrying, tactics, contingencies, support.... you think if you do this, you will see their full assault plan, but you risk running out of time.

>Can you use the Lightning Sea to perhaps hack one of these assault squad members? Hack Spike Head himself? Issue some false or countermanding orders? Write-in your genius deception plan... this might be too clever or dangerous to attempt...

>Something else?
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Callsign: 1-Haukwode
Warguild / Axiom-Galdra Union
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Callsign: 2-Domino
CONTOR / Versipelles-Gorlagon
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Callsign: 3-Voodoo
Assault / Recon
CONTOR / Versipelles-Gorlagon
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Callsign: 4-Paradox
Assault / Infiltrator
Warguild / Syndicate Urthekau-Sylabari
Callsign: 5-Scythe
Warguild / Raufoss
QM: If you want to attempt to hack one of the assault team, choose from

>1-Haukwode (Leader)

>2-Domino (Breacher)

>3-Voodoo (Assault / Recon)

>4-Paradox (Assault / Infiltrator)

>5-Scythe (Sniper)

>Spike Head (???)

>The Flesher (Scout/Hunter)

and specify what you want to do. You can for example attempt to just write-in a fake text communication or verbal order / command, or even attempt to seize control and inhabit their consciousness directly - a full skulljack, accessing all their equipment, and directly controlling the NPC.

You have a feeling some targets will be more resilient than others...

>Write-in your escape plan
Hack Domino, make him "see" the target elsewhere and unload on it.
The writing here is really cool, but I'm too smallminded to understand:
-Who we are
-Where exactly are we (our location inside, relative to how far we are from the outside)
-What halls/barriers/doors/large objects surround us
-where we think the 'enemies' are
Again, love the prose entangled with the art, I'm just stupid with trying to map out descriptions with my mind
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You feel as if the world has been upended, as if you have been thrown out of yourself.
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A shower of debris, the ruin of door and wall, has been blasted and scattered across your face. You think you have been knocked down, completely flattened, as if struck by lightning - in two worlds. There is no sound - you cannot hear any sound.
(You have gained trait - Deafened)
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Shock Ram

The air is filled with the scent of burning stone, rising in plumes of singed purple-black smoking afterglow.

And yet you are still standing in a third, calmer world. There is some sort of voltaic battering ram in your hands. It weighs nothing. And a handgun... in a third hand.

For some reason, the old riddle of the Pathless Beggar comes to your mind. How many hands does a man have?
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High above in the Astral Sea, the hollow, needle-tunnel of the great warship Ordnungssinn has detected an unusual lightning storm. You can feel its turbulent, machine curiosity spiking. It will send a drone ship to investigate.
At your feet there is a blackened smear, trailing streaks of smouldering, disintegrating ash into the burn-shadow of the splintered crater of the doorway. You think the Flesher that had sensed your location is very, very dead.
And all of a sudden, a voice. It seems strangely muted and distorted, as if two thirds of the frequencies have been choked out, yet it is clear in another channel.

A female voice, but you do not recognise it...
- 2-Domino: confirm target acquisition

You must decide what to do, very quickly:

>Reply to the female voice. What should you say? (Write-in)

>Leap out of the window now... try and reach the cargo exoskeleton. Perhaps in this form you have a better chance of fighting the fearsome Spike Head?

>Search the room. You can see a crumpled, indistinct figure, haphazardly thrown across the floor from the blast of your breaching action / dynamic entry.There is something attached to their face.
Nearby you can see a single-shot Swarm Pistol,

an unusual audiovisual projector of some form (QM: this is the Glitch Gun - Domino does not immediately recognise this device)

and a Drone Sword

There is also an Unusual Case that seems very out of place. It is encrusted with glistening wet sand, as if someone had just dug it out of the seashore. A pair of handcuffs is attached to the handle of the case container.

>Something else? (write in)
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QM: An example of some other options you could try, if you are feeling brave and prepared for even more ultraviolence...

>Take the Swarm Pistol and shoot the strange hunched figure in the head

>You think you can detect the red aimpoint reticule of some distant targeting device. The Swarm Pistol is a single-shot weapon, but the kill-seek algorithm built into its target painter grip ensures it will not miss. Fire the Swarm Pistol at the line-of-sight source of the red aimpoint laser
( who could that be? >>5392215 )

>Raise the Swarm Pistol to your own head, 2-Domino, and pull the trigger
>Leap out of the window now... try and reach the cargo exoskeleton. Perhaps in this form you have a better chance of fighting the fearsome Spike Head?
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.357 Magnum
6/6, 12
An ordinary high-calibre long-barrelled revolver in anodised finish machined steel, firing from the lower chamber of the 6-shot side-swung drum cylinder, in order to mitigate recoil from the lower bore axis of the heavy barrel. Currently loaded and wielded in Domino's third mechanical limb, with x2 spare speedloaders ready.
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Callsign: 2-Domino Loadout
CONTOR / Versipelles-Gorlagon
"Gunishment" .357 Magnum 6/6, 12

Shock Ram (2-handed)
Demolition tool. Inflicts Blinded, Deafened, Concussed (or just kills unarmoured targets nearby). It is extremely heavy if not wielded using a combat rig. Stealth is greatly inhibited when carrying this device.

+ ABHAYAMUDRA: Domino has three arms, including two grafted synthetic arms via his combat breaching rig. He can attempt to wield heavy two-handed weapons in one hand. Instead of dual-wielding, why not try... triple wielding?
+ IRON MULE: Domino can carry a large assortment of weaponry; he just really likes weapons.
+ SHELLSHOCK: Domino is immune to traits Blinded, Deafened, Concussed. He prefers to inflict these on others

- CLUMSY although he is suprisingly fast, Domino's inclination as a breacher and point man results in his lacking finesse. Dextrous or precise operations, agile balance and precision are not required when you can blast a hole in the wall
- EXO OH NO Domino has difficulty operating all exoskeletons, which are naturally ergonomically designed for two-armed humans. He can still attempt this, but it will be cumbersome
- VULN TRAUMA Perhaps due to the increased cyber attack surface of his (poorly integrated) additional mechanical arms - an easy target and payload drop site for cyber intrusion - Domino is exceptionally vulnerable to electronic warfare, skulljack and hacking attempts. You already know this, because you skulljacked Domino already, overriding and controlling his consciousness.
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QM: Just a summary of what you think is occurring. The linked pictures provide a visual guide to the environment surroundings. Hopefully this helps...!

Your consciousness is currently sharded into three versions of self:

1/ a version by the Lightning Sea >>5391407 , near Lady Sadarnuna >>5391529 , her female attendant and Moongarm >>5391530, the synthetic quadruped pet of Lady Praxagora. Nearby is the Light Sail >>5391510 and a sea cavern >>5391509
You have a suspicion that invoking the Lightning Sea to augment your skulljack abilities may draw more attention from Ordnungssinn,
the gargantuan ancient warship that is surveilling the lightning storm.

For some unknown mysterious reason, at this location you have gained the trait: Deafened.

From the seashore the only item you can currently access is the Unusual Case, shown here

2/ a version of self that is sprawled prone and also Deafened in the vertical slums of Muhasasa Underdistrict.
There is something unknown attached to your face. In the window outside you can drop down to a cargo lifter exoskeleton that might help your escape >>5392023 across the rooftop chasms of the vertical slum >>5392016 But in the vicinity of this exoskeleton lurks the sinister Spike Head >>5391908 who appears to be isolated and alone.
In this room are an assortment of weapons,
Swarm Pistol
Glitch Gun
Drone Sword
and for some reason, the Unusual Case
from the seashore is also present here, encrusted in wet sand.

3/ Outside in the ruined doorway is the dead Flesher >>5392214 that had been hunting you; You strongly suspect there are more of them >>5391554 Your sharded consciousness is also present in 2-Domino >>5392058 from the decision here >>5392088 who wields a Shock Ram >>5392187 and an autorevolver handgun >>5392278 . Domino appears to have three hands (QM: this was the correct and easiest hacking option, from the hint here >>5391417 ) as he wields the heavy shock ram in two hands and his handgun in a biomechanical third graft limb. Domino can access any of the items in 2/ above. Domino is immune to the Deafened status, as he is equipped as a Breacher.

The remainder of the assault team
Surround the vertical slum building in undisclosed locations, though you can detect the red aimpoint reticle of one of them...
Experimental Neural Interface "Skulljack"
Exotic, Bizarre, Disturbing
Adapted from relics acquired from expeditions within the Machine-Chrysalis, this helm combines intracortical microelectrodes with liquid electrolytic amplifiers for the high signal-to-noise capture of short duration action potential voltages, enabling directed control of a subject. The device also incorporates a high-longevity 64-brontobyte non-volatile recording and storage system.

Warning: reports indicate prolonged information transfer induces first visual hallucinations (akin to "Starry Night" pressure phosphenes), blood-brain barrier leakage and insertion scarring, accompanied by involuntary muscle contraction and unbearable agony.

The cybershock of your rapid skulljack override of Domino is fading - you can feel the memories of this breacher and mercenary operator rapidly interweaving and assimilating with your own.

As you leap out the window towards the cargo exoskeleton, some of the assault tactics and contingency plans of this mercenary team are recalled in your mind.

It occurs to you that outside of the dilapidated shelter of the vertical slum, you would be vulnerable to sniper fire...
(The previous female voice in your ear >>5392215
exclaims in exasperation and surprise)
- 2-Domino! What are you doing?! Confirm target acquisition! The paydata is at your location! Where are you going, get back in there...?!

There are other voices on a separate channel:
- 1-Haukwode to Haukwode Actual. Spike Head pulling Fleshers from the perimeter. Hostile Knife Gangers in the area, possible Modranect. Picking up the pace, all will be done soon. Haukwode out.
-4-Paradox to 5-Scythe... is the Flesher at target site down? What happened? Do you have eyes on it...?
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You can choose what equipment to take from the chamber. Domino possesses a trait which will allow him to carry just about anything harnessed to his combat rig; however you have a feeling that the more you carry, the slower and more cumbersome you may become.

The default choice is to take everything.

>Take everything. You have a feeling every weapon here might be useful in different ways

>Take the Glitch Gun

>Take the Swarm Pistol

>Take the Drone Sword

>Take the Unusual Case
(if you do this, you must handcuff it to your wrist)

>Snap open the Unusual Case

Decide your priorities
>1/ You must escape as rapidly as possible. You must reach the cargo exoskeleton and get off the roof of this vertical slum. You will probably need to kill or incapacitate Spike Head to do this

You have a feeling that if you kill one of these operators, they will call for backup. It could be a gunship, drones, mechs... or all of these at once. You need to eliminate all of these mercenaries, kill them all. No witnesses. Perhaps the Lightning Sea can help...

>2/Demolition: You are standing in a vertical slum, the entire building is so insalubrious and dilapidated it is ready to collapse. You are a breacher, you have a large electroshock battering ram... Use the Lightning Sea to find a structural weakness and demolish a vertical section of this building. Alongside the mercenaries, you will probably kill all civilians inside in this utter atrocity. But you will probably get away.

>3/Friendly Fire: You feel this current operator is unsuited to the role, but you could attempt a multiplexed skulljack. Simultaneously hack and confound all mercenary team operators given your current access as 2-Domino. Make them hunt and shoot each other. In the confusion, perhaps you can escape. But what if an operator survives the distraction to hunt you down or call for backup?

>4/Blend In: try and pretend nothing has gone amiss. Follow the female voice orders, and return to the chamber you just jumped out of. You will probably feel a bit foolish. You also have a feeling that the danger of discovery will increase the longer the deception and masquerade is maintained...

>Write in your own plan of what to do
>Take everything

>Snap open the Unusual Case

>2/Demolition: You are standing in a vertical slum, the entire building is so insalubrious and dilapidated it is ready to collapse. You are a breacher, you have a large electroshock battering ram... Use the Lightning Sea to find a structural weakness and demolish a vertical section of this building. Alongside the mercenaries, you will probably kill all civilians inside in this utter atrocity. But you will probably get away.
What's a few war crimes between friends
Will the computer allow us to commit a warcrime though?
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Folded Machine Pistol (Magpul FMG-9)
9x19mm Parabellum
1200 rpm
33/33 rounds
Concealed (only when folded), Perverted Anime Stickers, Handcuffed (cannot be dropped), Short Range, Loud, Rapid Fire, Suppressing Fire, Blind Fire, Swift, Compact, Manoeuvrable, Inaccurate, Insane Recoil

Folding blowback submachine gun with a ferocious rate of fire, adapted from a fully automatic Glock 18 and fed with standard high-capacity magazines. The trigger and trigger guard together fold flat and retain the magazine. The outer shell case incorporates the pistol magazine release and slide release, with the addition of an external charging handle to chamber a round. The Picatinny rail on the case can incorporate a flashlight. There exists a redesigned variant known as the FDP-9 to avoid licensing and proprietary trademark issues.

This folding gun, recalled from another game world through the Lightning Sea, cannot be lost so long as it remains handcuffed to your wrist. It is best used for suppressing fire as the 9mm rounds are unable to penetrate a plate carrier. The disturbing perverted anime stickers adorning the otherwise inconspicuous outer case of this firearm will cause utter revulsion in polite society, leading most people to shun your presence.
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(QM: this folding handgun is in your possession in all instances of sharded self - on the seashore, in the slum apartment chamber, and on the balcony outside where you currently stand)

(QM: you have gained the Trait: Slowed, from taking all items)
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As you survey the vertical shantytown for structural weakness you can see the flaring glow of advertisements, illuminated in the trembling diode mist of night - the megacorporations have taken to projecting these garish neon enticements of a better life onto the mist and smoke itself, an impossible life unachievable even in the dreams of the dwellers here, consigned as they are to the saturated swirl of rising vapour and pollutants emanating from Underhive warrens. It seems cruel to show people what they can never possess.
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You easily find a weakness in this dilapidated wall structure - in fact, it would be much harder to find any wall section that was not weakened by the corroding pollutant mist vapours.

The closest site to you is located by a grated fence on the roof, near a bonfire and a makeshift, ragged tent, where two children are huddled, shivering.
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- the younger child. The boy appears to be cradling a strange squid-like toy of some kind.
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- an older and more protective girl. She is holding a Vapour Mask, and looks very fearful.
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Strange Squid
It flexes and wriggles invitingly. You are not sure what it does (2-Domino does not possess adequate cybernetic knowledge to identify this item)
Vapour Mask
If you intended to descend into the Underhive, and hide within the noxious pollutant fumes, this Vapour Mask might help you to survive. For a little longer, if the Knife Gangers do not find you.
(see end here >>5392291 )
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As you approach your target - electroshock battering ram in hand, ready to swing - the boy Dev, Devansh, looks up to you, hopefully:
- Pl-please... sir... do y-you have any-anything... anything to spare... at all... please?

The girl, Glitter, who looks a little older, pulls him away:
- (aside, to Devansh in a hushed fearful undertone) Get back, look at him...! (to you) We... we d-don't want any trouble, S-Sir, we'll get out of your way...

A thought occurs to you as you raise the battering ram, ready to demolish this wall section. Where is Spike Head? Wasn't he patrolling this section earlier?

>This is a waste of time. Smash the wall buttress here with the ram, then make your escape. This entire slum section will lurch and collapse in a few heartbeats afterwards. These are all Lowborn runts, worthless, the lot of them. You are granting them mercy, ending the misery of their lives here.

>Smash the wall. But rob the defenceless children of all their items first. Easy.

> Ask the children: Have you seen... a large, er, Spike Head man?

>Ask the children something else. Are those rumours of Lady Praxagora visiting the Underdistrict in disguise true, perhaps?

> Say to Devansh: what an interesting red glowing tattoo dot you have moving around there on your forehead; it looks a bit like that glowing red targeting reticle I saw earlier. Oh wait...

> Something else...?
Roar with delight as you begin to destroy this wrechted give of scum and villainy.
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Paying scant attention to the plight of these desperate, impoverished and tearful children, the synthetic myofilaments of the artificial musculature of your grafted arms draw taut as you heave the Shock Ram, the massive electrode pillar, and slam it against the structural weakness of the slum wall.
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The banks of electroshock capacitors in the battering ram howl as they surge and slam against the wall...
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...and discharge, in a Blinding, Deafening crack and detonation (QM: you are not affected due to your breaching assault combat rig). The air is filled with wisps of smoking concrete dust. You can see the bare tendons of rebar protruding from the shattered slum wall support - perhaps just one or two additional strikes will do it - and there is the groan of metal as clattering clods of accumulated sediment and filth fall in rivulets, avalanche of the squalid woe of the slum.

The surface you are standing upon begins to lurch and teeter slightly.
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In the intervening silence, as you hear the tingling accelerated whine of capacitors in the electroshock ram sparking and rapidly recharging, a gentle musical chime plays out across the displaced, billowing mist-advertisements illuminated in the diffuse blooms of glowing diode arrays.

The lilting, haunting voice of a woman tearfully whispers in the rising column of lights from the broadcast:
- The Climate Is The Future Of Our Children. All Are Equal Beneath The Stars. Paribus Foundation - Gift The Future To Our Children.

The mist broadcast would be quite heart-rending, maybe enough to even move the numbed soul of a psychotic mercenary brandishing a huge arsenal of firearms and weaponry - in the midst of demolishing the homes of poverty-stricken children, and in all likelihood killing or condemning to shelterless starvation all the residents of this slum in an unspeakable act of human atrocity.

Except as the emotional, beseeching woman's voice of the Paribus Philanthropy Foundation charity mist broadcast fades, and the rising column of lights passes, you can see in their shadow an ugly and garish tangle of mis-spelt graffiti, as if someone had carved welts of red into the wall behind:
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There is a brief crackle in the mercenary assault team channel. Presumably your self-directed demolition mission has finally drawn the ire of the lead Serjeant-Operator, 1-Haukwode, who has had enough:
- 2-Domino is compromised. Kill on sight.

And then you see in small glowing letters on your combat rig display:
+Connection lost+

The distant red targeting aimpoint twitches in the swirling mist.

>Immediately drop the two-handed electroshock battering ram (freeing your mechanical arms), and grab the terrified children, Dev Boy and Glitter Girl, dragging them to cover behind the half-shattered slum wall. Do not hesitate...

>Ignore the children. Keep hold of the Shock Ram as it recharges... any moment now... and draw the Swarm Pistol with your third free hand. Aim and fire it at whatever is targeting you line of sight from the distant veil of pollutant vapours; the automatic kill-seek algorithms of the 1-shot Swarm Pistol will find and finish the sniper even if you cannot directly see them. Do it now.

>Where is Spike Head? Something about this feels strange... take cover yourself and think hard, try to struggle and remember what the Spike Head does, sifting through your overridden Skulljack memories.

>What you need to do right now is lay down an immense volume of suppressing fire. Drop the Shock Ram, draw every gun you possess - Autorevolver, Folding Machine Pistol, Directed Swarm Gun, EVERYTHING - and unload it in a triple-wielding nonstop killing frenzy of gunfire towards whatever is aiming at you right now. It may be overkill, but it is the only way to ensure whatever is on the other side of the mist dies. (QM: If you choose this option, please write-in and scream out a battle-cry)

>Something else?
>Where is Spike Head? Something about this feels strange... take cover yourself and think hard, try to struggle and remember what the Spike Head does, sifting through your overridden Skulljack memories.
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In the celestial heavens high above the lightning storm, the implacable and immaculate mind of the armipotent ancient dreadnought Ordnungssinn hovers over an anomaly.

It appears to the warship that there is some individual - or perhaps three individuals, somehow sharded at two separate locations - Possessing the Lightning Sea, harnessing power for their own purposes.

The individual seems unaware of the true purpose of the Lightning Sea, using it crudely as some sort of scanning or override tool. This is intolerable to Ordnungssinn. The warship mind dispatches two beautiful glittering seraphs to isolate and destroy this aberration.
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Autonomous stratospheric drone seraph, a Warguild emissary of the immense astral dreadnought Ordnungssinn.

An unusual capability of Gnadenfrei is the adaptation of its synthetic aperture plasma antenna into a trailing transmission link-macroarray of ion cannons - akin to a thermal torch; such dual-use technology has enabled the Gnadenfrei variant to circumvent ITAR (Isonomy Trafficking in Arms Regulations) by claiming that the re-transfer and re-export of its components comprises that of unrestricted fundamental research and development of communications technologies, in compliance with all Eschatonomist rites and strictures of Lex Mercatoria.

Plasma antennas are highly resilient to electronic warfare and interference, enabling dynamic reconfiguration in beamwidth, gain, frequency and direction, permitting high data rate and being also near undetectable to radar, as the plasma generator returns to the state of non-conductive gas when switched off.

It would take a true feat of cyberhacking, some accelerated-intelligence savant, or cyber-child genius to override this high endurance multi-mission machine drone.

class MinSpanTree
constructor(nodes =[], linkWidth = 1, memory = "active")
let reached =[];
let unreached =[];

for (let n of nodes)
unreached.splice(0, 1);

while (unreached.length > 0)
let record = Number.POSITIVE_INFINITY;
let rIndex;
let uIndex;

for (let i = 0; i < reached.length; ++i)
for (let j = 0; j < unreached.length; ++j)
let n1 = reached;
let n2 = unreached[j];
let d = dist(n1, n2);
if (d < record)
record = d;
rIndex = i;
uIndex = j;
let l = new link(reached[rIndex], unreached[uIndex], linkWidth, active);

unreached.splice(uIndex, 1);

The skulljack is attempting to construct some sort of minimum spanning tree, some k-d partitioning of memory space from the subtree nodes of the overridden consciousness of this cortical stack. You can feel frustrated churning as the algorithm grinds through the mind of the mercenary, the most primitive observe-orient-decide-act loops. Why is everything suddenly so sluggish and slow? Is something interfering with 2-Domino?

The realisation seizes you as you slowly process the context of your situation. Which is the real version of You? The real Self? The skulljacked mercenary, preparing to demolish a slum building, and perpetrate an atrocity?
The nameless Oneironaut, dream-wanderer lost and mesmerised upon the coast before the Lightning Sea?
Or it the collapsed figure, still wearing and operating the Skulljack on their face, but stunned and deafened by the breaching electroschock entry blast?
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You realise that by disobeying the orders of Haukwode, and not attempting to maintain even the barest pretense of communication or reporting in, the entire assault team is probably aware of how you have been hacked, taken over and controlled. They have probably worked out your rather unsubtle plan to demolish the vertical slum, and can reposition and converge upon your location faster than you can bring the wall down. The Assault Team will try relentlessly to kill you now. But wasn't the original mission... something about paydata? What was that about? What happens if Haukwode gets his hands on the Skulljack (was that what they were after?), the control interface that is piloting you right now... and yanks you out? Does that kill just one of your sharded selves, or all three at once?

If only you had chosen an operator more amenable to cyberinfiltration or reconnaissance... or if there were some hypothetical hacker child genius with accelerated intelligence available nearby.

But as you reflect on the children, Dev Boy and Glitter Girl,
Something strikes you as very peculiar. Shouldn't they be Deafened and Blinded and Stunned, if not outright killed, from when you tried to demolish the wall - from the electroshock blast of the battering ram?

And it makes you remember what the mysterious Sixth member, the Spike Head of the assault team, actually does. Sixth Domain Cognitive Warfare. Not only is the Spike Head
an advanced battlefield C4ISR overview unit - from the spike antennae driven into its engorged, bulbous pulsing skull - but it saturates the information space with atrocities and psychowarfare. Bewilders and disorients with illusions and shock horror imagery. Theatre-shaping operations - for the battlespace can indeed become quite theatrical and histrionic, driven by war performances. Some of the atrocities may even be real, or not. It is difficult to tell when you have a Spike Head, antennae driven into your skull.

If those children ever existed, they are probably all already dead.

As the psychowarfare illusion of the tearful children is dispelled from your mind, you are contemplating the situation with unusual calmness and deliberation, whilst taking cover behind the damaged wall.

You notice the red aimpoint targeting sniper beam has flickered out - could it be that the clouds of debris from your half-completed attempted wall demolition is obscuring or interfering with the sniper's target designator, affording you a brief moment of respite?

There is a threshing motion, a high-speed whirring buzzing sound akin to a powered drill or the scything propeller blades of a rotorcraft.
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Flail Sword Module
Adapted from bundles of prehensile tendrils and the dendritic machine manipulators of robotic telesurgery, flail swords actually resemble a threshing fountain of cutting and whirling tentacle cables. Flail modules are typically mounted in banked arrays, blossoming in a hypnotic rippling harmony as a weaving loom of machine-controlled branches, forests of amputating wires that will swiftly eviscerate all meat into ribbons.

When fully deployed the high velocity spinning mesh forms a curtain sheaf of scything metal that will cut down projectiles and deflect kinetic and ballistic assault, though a massive sustained barrage of gunfire will eventually bring down this temporary shield of spinning metal filaments. The hollow cable mechanisms of some flail sword modules are known to incorporate electroshock or neurotoxin venom applicators.
Instead of two tearful and cowering children, Spike Head stands before you.

He possesses an imposing armoured, muscular exoskeleton torso, an aggressively warlike hulking mesomorphic frame of exaggerated shoulder breadth with a womanish narrowing athletic waist, looming ominously several human heads above you in height.

You can see that his actual spike head appears curiously unarmoured - the bulbous almost throbbing black membrane conductive metamaterial that is veined and pierced with psychowarfare antenna spikes bored into the cranium beneath, the fibrous skull covering trembling, almost breathing, panting and rising up and down with nervous excitation.

Spike Head possesses no arms. Where the stumps of his limbs have been amputated, by the severed shoulder joints, are arrays of flagellating lashes, thrashing fountains of metal cables, ranks and ranks of flail sword modules.

The tendrils of the flail swords snake towards you...

>Drop the electroshock ram, draw all three guns with your three arms, FIRE EVERYTHING, unload all your firepower on whatever this thing is...

>Attempt to run up to Spike Head and slam the electroshock ram into him. Has it finished recharging?

>Well this is going to be an anime battle. Unsheathe the Drone Sword; the Synthemata construct will know how to fight this horror...

QM: you can also attempt to take an aimed shot. Choose ONE weapon, and specify how many shots and where you aim

>Autorevolver "Gunishment", 6/6 .357 Magnum

>Swarm Pistol, 1/1 Self-Steering Micro-motor Flechette Barrel Cartridge

>Folding Machine Pistol, 33/33 9x19mm (this fires at minimum a 5-round burst due to its insanely high rpm)

Aim at
>Head... well he is called Spike Head. And it is unarmoured, it is so obvious!
>Torso. Centre of mass, the biggest target. Shame his muscular physique will be ruined
>Leg. Maybe you can make his hulking form slump down to eye level?

>Something else? (write in if you have some other strategy)
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The Spike Head is a master of psychological warfare, manipulation and deceit. A nagging doubt gnaws at you... Could it be that he has made you forget about something?
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Fire the glitch gun, the bullets? Underage cartoons females!
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Spike Head has taken a menacing step towards you - almost within a few sword lengths - when the buzzing, whirling and dizzying whipsword flail fountains from his arm stumps suddenly fall limp and lifeless, like the drooping catenary arches of some sort of perverse metal willow tree.

There is the briefest flash, as if from a subliminal, momentary strobe light. If you blinked, you would miss it. The Glitch Gun feels a little warm after it discharges. Perhaps you have been infected by the disturbing and disgusting anime girl stickers on the folding machine pistol - anime is truly perverted and horrible, no-one should ever watch anime or be inspired by it, especially disgusting ultraviolent anime like Elfen Lied.

The terrifying armoured torso and veined black member... er, I mean, skull membrane of the horrifying Spike Head slumps paralysed to his knees before you.

All of a sudden, Spike Head begins to convulse in a shuddering ecstasy - as if he was experiencing some tremendous tortured pleasure of release, except he has no arms, only amputated stumps...

And the delicate scourging machine tendrils coil lovingly around his heroic, muscular torso, intertwining in a razor-edged embrace, and in a single reciprocating motion of blissful release - the flail swords saw off his legs.

Spike Head is somehow still not dead, but lolling helplessly before you. An armoured torso with only arm and leg stumps. Well, that is what happens if you ever think about anime like Elfen Lied. Do not think about it! It is so disgusting! No anime!

(optional: )
>Execute Spike Head
if you choose this option, you must write in which weapon etc
>Leave Spike Head alone. He will bleed to death... very slowly.

A sarcastic masculine voice from above you - the balcony you leapt out from - calls out:
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Warguild / Axiom-Galdra Union

- So, it has come to this.

(Haukwode retracts his armoured ballistic visor)
(You can see he is holding some sort of red, vaguely spherical ball shaped object, that seems to have two hollow sockets in it)

Haukwode continues:
- It has come to this - that I have to execute one of my own. I thought after what happened with Gargaresh - that I could trust you. No matter. It does not matter if you kill the Spike Head, he is expensive but we can easily afford to incubate and grow another.

This, however (Haukwode raises the red ball-shaped thing to look into the two hollow sockets) is another matter entirely. It is now useless. No paydata. Nothing. Somehow, by stopping to think >>5393315
you have managed to break the brainlock set upon it. How did you manage that, I wonder?

(Haukwode hurls the spherical red ball thing, which hits the surface by you with a meaty smack, and rolls bouncing towards your feet)
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It Belongs To You. A lumpy, shrink-wrapped, moaning red polymer ball of some sort, with various sockets for eyes. It mouths wordlessly in anguish.
(QM: The Skulljack >>5392291 is attached to it)
(QM: 2/3 lives remain. Your beginning form was decapitated)

>Er... how to respond to this? (write in)
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As you contemplate what to do in this awkward situation, glancing at the wheezing amputated limbless torso of Spike Head (he is still somehow alive) whilst Haukwode berates you from the balcony above, you see that your meme wish - the thought you transmitted and projected through the Glitch Gun, your true desire - has indeed been granted.

There are hordes of heavily armed, beautiful slum girls and women rushing to your position.

They have clearly been roused by the commotion of your partial electroshock wall demolition of their home, as well as the flail-sword limb-sawing, and are enormously overjoyed by the intrusion of your activities and trespass upon their territory. They are here to welcome you, and show you their Love!
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Knife Mother Praxagora (???)
Leader of the Knife Sisters gang. She appears to be either Lady Praxagora herself, or perhaps someone cosmetically altered to resemble her? It is not unheard of, and the likeness is truly uncanny.
Princess Hercules
A loyal and devoted follower of Knife Mother Praxagora. She is unarmed, though harnessed into a powerful stolen military-grade tactical police exoskeleton, OMPHALE (Offensive Multi-function Precision Heavy Anti-personnel Law Enforcement) -variant.
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Knife Sisters / Sang Royal Gang
The incredibly beautiful, elegant and well-behaved law-abiding maidservants of Lady Praxagora (?) They wield a miscellaneous array of scavenged low-tech weaponry, from molotov cocktails, bats, knives, prosthetic limbs, sawnoff hunting rifles and shotguns, improvised flamethrowers, a crossbow and an assault rifle or two. In no way is the QM just plagiarising or stealing from the old House Escher gangers and juves of 1990s Wh40k Necromunda - see, they are so beautiful and different and modern.
A modified pump-action shotgun fitted with a raptor grip; it appears to have been adapted for IMPs (Integrated Machine Penetrator) with some electromagnetic contrivance for killing a variety of organic or biomechanical hybrid frame cyberdemons. Affectionately named after a forgotten subroutine used to test computers across a variety of hardware devices. The shotgun is also pink and fluffy and cute.

(Praxagora is carrying this in one hand, and in the other...)
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Gloria (suppressed AR-15)
Named after an ancient hero saint woman according to an Independent Research Service. Praxagora treasures this suppressed and shortened assault rifle, for it reminds her of what to believe in and trust.
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Praxagora speaks in a mocking, disdainful voice:
- It looks like a love triangle. Two naughty boys and a bleeding legless torso! If it be love indeed, tell me how much...

Princess Hercules screams in outrage:
- They are... Men! I hate Men! Let's kill them!

(The delinquent ganger crowd of Knife Sisters murmur agreably in appreciation)

Praxagora glances lovingly at Princess Hercules
- Of course, my Love. But I would like to know this one's Name; there is no meaning to a Nameless death. What is your Name, O three-armed One?

>Without hesitating, reply: A Name is merely the guest of the Real.

>Reply evasively: that is a dangerous question, Lady (?) Praxagora (?) To know the Name of a thing is to Possess it, to own and control it...

>(reply with your Name, write-in)

>Er... so you hate all Men, and want to kill them... but, er, those Knife Sisters of yours, er... what... what is that about exactly? If you hate all Men, er... well, those Knife Sisters... er...

>Ask: Are you... Lady Praxagora, of the Verdant Sanctum Palace? What are you doing here?

>Well, the time has finally come. You need to kill everyone. (Write in a weapon and a target)

>(Side with Haukwode, scream at him) Look, you need me to escape this... whatever this is! I am on your side! (Try and persuade Haukwode and the assault team mercenaries to fight the Knife Sisters with you together)

>(Side with Knife Sisters, scream at Praxagora? whilst pointing accusingly at Haukwode) The syndicates have come to demolish your slum! Look, I just killed this Man, this... Spike Headed Man-thing for you! Help me fight these evil syndicate mercenaries! (Try and persuade Praxagora)

>Something else? This is going to be very interesting...
>Without hesitating, reply: A Name is merely the guest of the Real.
Heaven and nature forms paths for all Men and Beasts to find and follow.
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The Path is chosen from nature, but Nature does not choose for us.
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The Name that discerns the paths is called Virtue - the power to traverse between nature and Heaven.
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One can walk upon a path, yet one can never perceive the heavens.
The men of old knew nothing of the love of life and nothing of the hatred of death. To enter life gave them no joy; to leave life awakened no rebellion in them. They did not forget their beginning just as they did not ask of their end.
A life can End as it approaches the cliff edge, yet knowing is as Endless as the fall beyond.
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To pursue the Endless with what can End is to embrace Great Peril.
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Er... you are not really sure where all that came from. Strange images fade from your mind, leaving you with a vision of a sea... a Sea of rust dunes, ash and desolation. Is that the Lightning Sea? What it was, or will become? And you think you saw some sort of tilted spire or tower?

Knife Mother Praxagora's eyes narrow a little. You think she wants to ask you something in private, but cannot do so in front of her delicate and beautiful, er... "handmaidens", the Knife Sister gang. She is pondering how to do this, but suddenly Princess Hercules blurts out:
- He is... MAN-SPLAINING! I hate Men! This is what they do all the time! Explain things to women! We don't need your explanations, stupid Man-words! And...

Princess Hercules is suddenly caught mid-sentence, stricken with utter horror. You notice that her gaze has fallen upon the folding machine pistol case handcuffed to one of your arms
the case full of scantily clad, disturbing anime girl stickers that you neglected to remove.

You can see Princess Hercules turning a little purple. The mechanical gauntlet fists of her tactical combat exoskeleton flex and curl in boiling rage, as she erupts:
- This ... MAN... is a disgusting, demeaning, unspeakable... DEVIANT! Look at ... look at those objectifying images of... I cannot even...?! And he has even handcuffed them to his fleshy Man-hand, so that he can have them ready at any time to... urgh! I HATE MEN! We must kill them! Right now!

(The Knife Sister gangers grin murderously and chatter with eager anticipation, brandishing weapons)

>If you can somehow satisfactorily explain why you are in possession of these unsettling anime images, handcuffed to your wrist, the human hand with feeling and tactile nervous function, you will achieve the greatest oratorical feat since the ancient rhetoricians invented the Synthemata. (Write-in your genius excuse)

>(Taunt Princess Hercules even more) well, you know, with what you are wearing... (stare meaningfully at her chest)

>(Try to persuade Lady Praxagora. Will it work? Is she who she claims to be?) My Lady, it is time for you to come home. Come back to the Palace, the Verdant Sanctum. Leave the slums behind, they are not for the Highborn. I will take you home.

>(Side with Haukwode, turn to him and shout:) Give the order, now! Kill them all! (Attack Knife Sister Gang, Princess Hercules, and Praxagora)

>(Side with Knife Sisters) It was... the corporations! The Isonomy, Paribus Foundation, they did this! They brainwashed me... I really respect women! And... whatever your Knife Sisters are. Please - I need help... (jangle the disturbing anime case handcuffed to your wrist pathetically)

>Well, the time has come to kill everyone. (Write-in a weapon and a target.)

>Something else...? This is too embarrassing
>(Side with Haukwode, turn to him and shout:) Give the order, now! Kill them all! (Attack Knife Sister Gang, Princess Hercules, and Praxagora)
Can't trust these culturless swine
To your utter surprise, Haukwode appears to relent. He is consulting with the assault team, as if trying to convey something to them - pointing in your direction, then gesturing at Knife Mother. You do not hear what he says, or the commands he gives. But afterwards, you see on your combat rig

+Connection restored (team open channel/unencrypted)+

Perhaps the mercenary leader appears to sense profit here, something retrievable from this failed mission. He is staring with intense interest at Knife Mother Praxagora:
- Well, well - Paribus has really outdone themselves! All those rumours about Lady Praxagora visiting the impoverished shantytown in disguise, I see... You are not Lady Praxagora. Although I concede the resemblance; the blepharoplasty is rather convincing.

But for a start, if Lady Praxagora had fled from the Palace to avoid her marriage, as I have also heard rumoured, she would have altered her face to look less like her recognisable self - not the other way round. Or is it natural? No matter. I think a lookalike of Lady Praxagora could prove rather valuable too, there are those who would eagerly pay for... (He gestures at Knife Mother - you see the open, unencrypted team channel on your combat rig display indicate:)

+I want the lookalike alive. Kill the rest+

As if on cue, there is a reverberating detonation like a peal of thunder followed by an explosive downdraft of gravitics. The air tastes metallic, of ozone and ionised vapour, and you can feel the unnatural winds rising, pulled in a vortex towards something descending from the heavens above. It sounds like the opening of a blast furnace.

The drone seraph of the Warguild, of the invincible astral might of Ordnungssinn.

Gnadenfrei is here.

>Now is your chance to make your escape; you will follow your own Path in this world. Let the Warguild mercenaries and Knife Sister Gang kill each other. This section of the vertical slum is already damaged from your earlier partial demolition... the Shock Ram has recharged. One more strike will do it - run up to the damaged wall support, knock it down. And leap to the next slum roof whilst you watch the entire section subside, completing your atrocity.

>(Obey Haukwode, regain the mercenaries trust) Well now is your chance to recover some dignity. Eliminate Princess Hercules - you have a brief moment now before she engages the stolen armoured Tactical Combat Exoskeleton, OMPHALE, she is harnessed in. The Swarm Pistol cannot miss; aim for her, er... exposed flesh. Once the second-in-command of the Knife Sisters is down, it will be easy to take care of the leaderless remnants...

>(Infuriate Haukwode, commence psychotic slaughter) No-one can tell you what to do. Why not demonstrate this by firing the Swarm Pistol at the very target Haukwode just wanted unharmed, the delectable Knife Mother and fake Lady Praxagora?

>Write-in some other attack: specify a target and a weapon

>Something else?
>(Obey Haukwode, regain the mercenaries trust) Well now is your chance to recover some dignity. Eliminate Princess Hercules - you have a brief moment now before she engages the stolen armoured Tactical Combat Exoskeleton, OMPHALE, she is harnessed in. The Swarm Pistol cannot miss; aim for her, er... exposed flesh. Once the second-in-command of the Knife Sisters is down, it will be easy to take care of the leaderless remnants...
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As you unholster the Directed Swarm Pistol, a part of you ponders the tactical advantage of the "bikini exoskeleton" outerwear look >>5393412 that Princess Hercules has adopted - is it some kind of Knife Sister gang bravado thing? Why the uncradled bosom and exposed flesh? It makes for such an inviting target...

The handgun emits a truncated electronic hiss - it almost makes you think it has misfired - and then a heartbeat later, a compacted thump, the rushing recoil of expanding pneumatic slams as the stacked flechettes fire seriatim, like the suprisingly loud sounds of suppressor gunshots fired again and again through a plush pillow pushed into a muffled throat (you wince a little, as 2-Domino seems to recall that visual memory with relish).

Princess Hercules is not quite dead, yet. The self-steered flechette cloud seems to move almost comically slowly, like an enraged beehive - you can see her eyes widen, with a disbelieving sense of inevitability, as she screams: I HATE...

And then the swarm cloud collides with her. The effect is almost immediate - it looks like a series of jagged porcupine metal spikes have pushed through the meat of her body, and nailed her and her exoskeleton to the floor. You are not sure as to the terminal ballistics of this, how this effect has been achieved. The flechettes continue to drill and swarm a little, gradually dying down.

Through the ruined burble of her ragged lips, Princess Hercules weakly lisps her dying revenge, as her ragged and separated arm depresses a trigger on her exoskeleton:
...men...I... hate...
The world around you explodes in a blizzard of gunfire, laser punch-beams, the chromatic distortion of trailing ionised gases, improvised bottle rockets, flamethrowers and thrown molotovs. One of them hits you in the face...
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Welcome to CONTOR Wellness, (ERROR: invalid field / REVENUE_GENERATING_UNIT: 5358979323846 / "2-Domino")!

At CONTOR, we place the physical and emotional wellbeing of our valued employees at the heart of what we do. Your help is needed to ensure we guarantee high impact mission-critical performance when it matters for our clients, as we deliver for our Promiseholders in support of local communities and the environment.

Our Partnership For Prevention integrates automated worksite biometric screening and psychotherapy to ensure you are always ready to deliver your best, facilitating individual behavior change with follow-up interventions, evaluation and improvement processes to help enhance your workplace motivation, effectiveness and efficiency.

The CONTOR WorkingWell Solace-as-a-Service (SaaS) subsystem has detected you are currently:
- ERROR: unknown thermal condition / searching..."Burning to death"
- Elevated heart rate / searching... "demotivated", "panic",... ERROR: minimum acceptable OKR biometric quantile failed; your 360degrees evaluation employee ranking score has been downgraded.

CONTOR WorkingWell SaaS asks,
- Would you like to:

Take a WorkingWell MindMoment to improve your motivation?
>Repeat the following affirmations with each expansion of the Black Circle, as you breath deeply in and out:
>Even in chaos, I feel peaceful
>I notice the good in all things
>While socially distant, I am emotionally close
>I will strive to do my best in the moment
>I am fulfilling my purpose in the world

>Receive a reminder to complete the WorkingWell MindMoment in a few moments time?

>Engage remote telemedicine? (ERROR: unrecognised system intrusion / automated telemedicine delivery system is currently offline)

>Speak to a CONTOR Wellbeing Representative? (Please be advised, our employee support system is currently experiencing long delays)

>Complete a CONTOR WorkingWell employee satisfaction survey? Your feedback is important to us! (QM: you may write-in your feedback)

Thank you for trusting in CONTOR. Have a high performance day!
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Target Designator Module "Belshazzar"
Concealed, Inconspicuous
Multi-spectral FLIR, provides high contrast thermographic dynamic imaging for ground-based forward observers in real time. Can be used for navigation and infrared/electro-optical
marked target seeking, and offers interoperability with a wide variety of visual interfaces.

Very few civilian and even most non-specialised military operators will recognise this innocuous-looking grip target projector for what it can do. You think you could pass a thorough weapons search carrying only this, with minimal harassment.

QM: This is the handgun grip of the Swarm Pistol that remains after it has been fired.

You can use it to mark targets and also scan surroundings, illuminating technosignatures to a limited extent in your vicinity, even through walls. It integrates with the Skulljack experimental neural interface.

If you find another Directed Swarm Munition Barrel Cartridge, snapping the stacked flechette canister round into the magwell integrated into the top of this target designator will reassemble and re-arm the Swarm Pistol.
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(You have gained trait: Burning)
(You have gained a severe injury)
As you flounder desperately attempting to put out the flames amidst the horror of CONTOR automated employee psychotherapy and wellness systems, which are unfortunately grafted into your very flesh through their integration with your synthetic arms, a part of you ponders over whatever went into your head from the Skulljack override, the memory node subtree partitioning
(and this sequence?)

You can dimly sense the intentions of Gnadenfrei, >>5393248
the machine drone seraph of the warship Ordnungssinn

Somehow, you can feel it is not here to help you. Slivers of ice grasp at your heart - if only the metaphorical ice were actually available on the outside, to quench the flames gnawing at your skin and combat rig connectors - as you are momentarily frozen with the realisation that after it has finished with the pacification of this Underdistrict gang riot, Gnadenfrei is going to seize and retrieve the Skulljack, realise whatever paydata in it has gone missing, has transferred into your head... and then kill you.
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Through the horror of its apeirogon hypercognition, the aperiodic tessellated labyrinth of the asynchronously flaring MIMD units that resemble the tensor arithmetic of its thoughts, you can see Gnadenfrei igniting a strange point of light in the middle of the crowd and the firefight. It looks like an impossible luminous blue sphere, a levitating, gaseous puncture hole.

For a moment, the battle pauses, comes to a heart-wrenching stop and standstill. The Knife Sisters >>5393415 and the assault team watch agape, weapons awkwardly raised and half swaying in the air, crouched and sprawled, entrenched in living cover, or dying upon bullet-ridden ruins.
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Atop Gnadenfrei, the horrifyingly eldritch drone emissary of Ordnungssinn, five machine sensors that resemble Five Eyes flitter rapidly, in a pattern of accelerating pulses. It is almost like a woman coquettishly batting her eyelids at you... if the woman had Five Eyes.

A prism of blue light erupts from the glowing, levitating puncture in space. Cutting lines of blue fire radiate in a tangled expanding grid, scorching the crowd and leaving smoking furrows upon the slum rooftops. You feel the already weakened structure, partially demolished through your doing, lurching and teetering even further...
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The battlefield is filled with the fog of eerie, drifting blue ionised flames. You think Gnadenfrei must have activated its synthetic aperture plasma antennae, the dual use "civilian communications technology" which looks suspiciously like an array of plasma cannons, in order to disperse the horde of rioting Knife Sisters fighting the assault team. When it recharges its plasma weapon (you have a feeling this will happen very quickly), the hovering machine drone is going to focus on you...

>The most important thing right now is to diligently and thoroughly complete the CONTOR employee satisfaction survey, as well as the psychometric wellness affirmations. You do not want your 360degree employee evaluation score to be downgraded further. That would be fatal, very bad.

>You are currently on fire. Roll around and put it out, whilst trying not to think about the hygiene consequences of getting flecks of slum rooftop detritus and pollutants embedded into your singed and scorched flesh.

>Gnadenfrei has unwittingly helped you. Just one more strike from the electroshock ram will bring the entire vertical slum down. Do this now and complete your atrocity. You have a feeling from where you are standing, you will fall into the rubble...

>You do not possess any weapon that can harm Gnadenfrei. No assault rifle or sniper weapon preaent here will even pierce its reinforced hovering carapace. Is there something or someone here who might be able to fight it? (Write in if you know)

>Princess Hercules triggered something when she died on her exoskeleton; run and examine her corpse. Hopefully, it is not a self-destruct mechanism... she really does hate Men.

>Something else?
>You are currently on fire. Roll around and put it out, whilst trying not to think about the hygiene consequences of getting flecks of slum rooftop detritus and pollutants embedded into your singed and scorched flesh.
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VLCC (Very Large Cargo Carrier) Autonomous Freight Drone

(You have lost trait: Burning)
(You have gained trait: Scorched)
This is not as bad as Gargaresh, you are thinking to yourself, as the agony of rolling around upon insalubrious vertical slum rooftop grit finally smothers the burning flames - it feels like jagged stones grating the raw nerves and tendons of pink meat - but you have not survived thirteen firefights without becoming Hardened to pain. This is not even one tenth as bad as when you lost an arm, in Gargaresh, that second time... (the phantom pain of your missing limb twinges a little, amidst the nest of connectors of the two synthetic grafts)

Overhead there is a sequential pattern of looming shadows, darkening your surroundings. It is not Gnadenfrei, but a convoy of autonomous scavenger cargo ships - and one amongst them looks almost like some outlaw ganger or pirate vessel, stacked and laden with rusted freight containers. As this ganger cargo ship draws closer and its gravitics churn the pollutant mist and lingering ionised burnt cinders, you can see there is an intimidating silhouette, an ogre-like shape nestled amidst the shipping containers, its shoulders serrated with the irregular edge of firepower, like the cannons mounted upon crenellated battlements -

All of a sudden, you realise why Princess Hercules was so arrogant as to adopt her "bikini exoskeleton" unarmed naked midriff look. The exoskeleton itself was not the weapon... it was merely some tactical musculature driven-interface, for piloting something much, much larger...

Gnadenfrei hangs in the air. You can sense its machine mind evaluating, though to your surprise, it takes no action against this new threat. It just waits.
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Law enforcement at the Pyramus Spires Underdistrict acquired this cast-off Warguild amplified mobility platform from surplus military gear after the Near War. Having fallen into disuse, it appears to have been "resold" through unauthorised means. Geryon is controlled via a linked musculature exoskeleton fire control system interface that can be either operated remotely or whilst seated within the reinforced cockpit; the heavily armoured and hardened exterior features three layers of Explosive Reactive Armour around a composite hull of metal plates and hardened ceramic blocks, to improve survivability in urban combat. The most common configuration of armament is three sets of twin chain-linked hybrid cannons firing advanced multi-purpose high explosive penetrator, point detonation, delay, or airburst programmable data-linked ammunition. Some urban gangers are fond of riding tank desant atop the shoulders of this monstrous gun platform, though this is not advisable given its hard kill active protection systems.

>If you stay on this rooftop, this fight will never end until you die. Use this lull in the fighting to try and climb higher in the vertical slum, leap onto the cargo drone as it drops the Geryon walking tank, and flee this battle.
You currently possess the Trait: Slowed. Choose which items to drop before you attempt this leap (QM: you cannot drop the folding machine pistol, which is handcuffed to your wrist). If you do not discard enough items, you have a feeling you will not make it...

>You can anticipate that Princess Hercules must have given a dying order for this Geryon thing to kill you. Is there some way you can reprogram it? (QM: write in if you think you possess something that might enable you to hack into and take control of Geryon).

Alternatively, you can try to

>Walk into the Lightning Sea, by the coastal shore. Sacrifice your sharded self there to harness the power of Vourukasha to control Geryon. You currently have 2/3 lives, this choice leaves you on your last one.

>(very difficult) Your consciousness managed to leap from the seashore to Pyramus the vertical slum in the Chasmata Underdistrict once before. Was there a clue in the strange section of images that might enable you to escape by doing this again?
Examine the images in the sections
If you know which image will help you escape, write in your explanation.
If you know which section in this entire thread can provide an escape, link the relevant section. (There are multiple answers)
>Walk into the Lightning Sea, by the coastal shore. Sacrifice your sharded self there to harness the power of Vourukasha to control Geryon. You currently have 2/3 lives, this choice leaves you on your last one.
Lady Sadarnuna, Keeper of the Tides,
watches the distant figure melting away into the Lightning Sea. She shakes her head in dismay, and turns to her companion:
- It is as I thought. To think that you can possess the Lightning Sea, that her power belongs to you and that you can wield her for your own salvation, is truly a form of madness.

Do you know of where the Lightning Sea comes from? I have heard many tales.
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Before man knew of the enfolded heavens, of the celestial gyre, and the circumvolutions of firmament and stars - before men learnt to travel over killing waters and parched sands as silk flowing through the winds of heaven...
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There were the Gothograe, barbarian descendants of forgotten Nacirema - once a Great Empire that spanned all of Ixachitlan, Place Of The Great Earth.
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In their dying days the Dynastic Houses of Nacirema fell to the decadence of Tenretni Eater Of Filth, the foul dancing skeletal star demoness of Tamoanchan, and succumbed to the strange Weather Cults of Elibmotua, who brought famine and despair when the once fecund soil of the land failed; the gods no longer heeding the agronomic rites of heart-sacrifice, hearts plucked from the chests of tens of thousands of slaves and war-captives, upon the chacmools of their great ziggurat mountain temples. But to no avail; the old gods had abandoned them. Even as the war-treasury of Nacirema strained to feed their fearsome Jaguar warriors, obsidian spear-throwers taking war-captives for endless sacrifice, as the denizens of Nacirema starved in squalor and misery in the shadow of war... The Near War. So called because it was always coming, always Near...

The Clever Spider, the Vodoun Witch-Queen Ananse Peh'Ohlse, had seized the many-coloured mantle of worship the Five Hundredfold Banner for herself and now served as Reign-Mistress of the Nacirema. The Witch Queen Ananse came up with an unusual plan, to make the old gods hear the plight of her empire. In those days before the advent of the Synthemata, before The Discourse of Salt And Iron, savage barbarian tribes built machines from Glass and Sand.
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Yet these machines of Glass and Sand were truly primitive, for they were formed of delicate gates and junctions, tired easily and overheated, catching fire unless cooled with Water.

Now the Spider Witch Ananse had heard of a Pure Land, a mythical Divine Land named Taruan, or Tarwan-Nhura, sometimes called the Realm Of Eastern Peace, Tangleng Ongkok, far away across the Astral Sea.

The Witch Queen knew of a strange rite, for the old gods were rumoured to listen to those who sang deep in the Astral Sea, near the shores of Tarwan. Just as you can hear the call of the Sea and her echoes, if you place a seashell to your ear - the gods were said to have sunken chimes deep into the astral span of Tarwan and the sea of stars, to hear the song of the dragon, the lament and call of sea-serpents and leviathans of the bottomless Deep.

In this the Witch-Queen Ananse saw the makings of a great rite, a great evocation of sorcery. She would make the gods hear the call of Nacirema at last - by turning their sea chimes into one Great Machine, using the waters of the Astral Sea herself to cool and calm their rebellious fires. This Machine would never tire; never succumb to fatigue or famine, never doubt the truth or worth of the Near War. A Machine that would never feel pity, remorse or fear, a Machine that would never stop.
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So the Witch Queen Ananse Peh'Olse travelled to Tarwan, and set fire to the Lightning Sea.

This is quite evocative, but a bit too free-form for my little mind. I have no idea what to do.
When you surrender your consciousness and embrace the Lightning Sea willingly, all flesh and bone melts away. The effect is akin to pouring water into water; nothing discernible of the Self remains.

(QM: the last remnant of your being stands upon the teetering, heavily damaged and dilapidated Pyramus Spire vertical shanty-town of the Underdistrict Chasmata; no further lives remain).
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The sacrifice of your sharded self shows you something of the Synthemata. You wonder if the drone sword - a Synthemata construct itself - might have been able to damage the otherwise impenetrable hull of Gnadenfrei. It reminds you ironically of anime, of the anime stickers - fighting a mech with a sword. Could the Glitch Gun be used on a mech too? What about that strange modified pink shotgun Praxagora was carrying? Is she really a fake lookalike, was what Haukwode was telling you really true? He seemed to believe it himself. But Haukwode also issued some other commands - he never restored all communication channels, the encrypted team channel connection back to you...

And the Lightning Sea is showing you a very easy and predictable vision of the immediate future, the future that you are helpless to prevent - for even as you override the commands of the deceased formerly Man-Hating Princess Hercules, and take control of her formidable stolen battle-mech Geryon, you can see that when it lands, crashing down upon the now twice-damaged slum roof, the entire spire section you are standing upon will collapse with no time left to move away and escape. The mech will be immobilised, and there is a risk that the shock and shrapnel could detonate the explosive reactive armour - if not the debris, then the ensuing attack barrage from Gnadenfrei afterwards surely will.
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You realise now why the eldritch machine intelligence of the drone seraph Gnadenfrei took no action

There is no escape. The machine was waiting to watch you destroy yourself.

>Think of a way to get out of this predicament...? This really needs a genius write-in.

Well, the most important thing to do now is complete those CONTOR WorkingWell psychometric affirmations.
>Repeat the following affirmations with each expansion of the Black Circle, as you breath deeply in and out:
>Even in chaos, I feel peaceful
>I notice the good in all things
>While socially distant, I am emotionally close
>I will strive to do my best in the moment
>I am fulfilling my purpose in the world

>(very difficult) Your consciousness managed to leap from the seashore to Pyramus the vertical slum in the Chasmata Underdistrict once before. Was there a clue in the strange section of images that might enable you to escape by doing this again?
Examine the images in the sections
If you know which image will help you escape, write in your explanation.
If you know which section in this entire thread can provide an escape, link the relevant section.

>There is no escape. Aim the Glitch Gun at your own head, and pull the trigger.
I've just been doing whatever.
Take off the vr helmet?
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You have control of the war mech, Geryon. You can sense its targeting systems and their confusion by the fire and destruction all around it. A part of you almost wonders at how the Warguild can afford to donate so much surplus weaponry - the allocations of their treasury being truly immense - that they can countenance war mechs being stolen by gangs from law enforcement, whilst the Warguild cannot even afford or bother to repair or reinforce the infrastructure of the Underdistrict. The demands of the Near War must truly be immense.
You see the autonomous active defense systems of the war machine Geryon trigger almost instantaneously - steep barrages of rockets, rising and falling in graceful parabolic trajectories spreading in all directions to intercept threats in its vicinity.

The drone sensors of Gnadenfrei, its Five Eyes of machine intelligence, do not even flicker as explosions blossom against its hardened skin.

(QM: I hope this animated gif uploads correctly, not sure if it compressed properly)
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When the immense, hulking ogre-like form of the war mech, Geryon, drops from the autonomous drone freight ship onto the teetering and battle-damaged roof surface of Pyramus Spire, the entire vertical slum section lurches and subsides.
There is an earth-shaking and resounding clang, followed by grinding tremors, as the weight of the massive war machine finally pulverises the structure of the vertical slum, breaking the bones and tendons of its concrete and steel buttresses, as this section of the Chasmata, the Muhasasa Underdistrict, collapses in an avalanche - a plunging torrent of debris, destitution and squalor.

As the metal fragments and shrapnel rasp against the shattered walls you see they actually rain sparks, long streaks of fire thrown as plumes into the pollutant mist, sparks which ignite. The Underdistrict falls in a cataract of streaking fire, a plummeting meteor.
You fall through mist and smoke, limbs flailing, the Underdistrict rushing alongside you, bright parallels moving towards a distant dark terminus upon the ground. Wisps of dreams and memories.

You are holding a head, ( >>5393384 )
and a hollow crown, ( >>5392291 )
detached from each other.
-You think and choose like a Machine,

Murmurs Lady Sadarnuna absentmindedly to her attendant, as she strokes and nuzzles the nape of Moongarm, the strange synthetic deer. >>5391530

-This is why Lady Praxagora does not Love you anymore. We used to speak of this often, Praxagora was always fond of the old stories, the old myths.

She often asked me about them, about the Lightning Sea and how She came to be. Even as the Near War raged, and the Lightning Sea in her unquenchable thirst drank all the rivers and lakes, turning them to the Waters Of Death...

If you think and choose like a Machine, you will never approach the Real. You will never know Love, because Love cannot be possessed. She can only Possess you.

And what the Lightning Sea possesses, She kills.
Ensoulment / Autopoietic Machine
What was abandoned by the Synthemata.

A self-creating machine, a self-organising machine; a being that can make and know how to remake the entirety of itself on its own.

The Rite Of Ensoulment was known by many names. Some called it the Chemoton, an alchemy through which the units of all things could evolve; others believed in the Abiogenetic Hypercycle; the rites of the Autocatalytic Sect; others of the Last Ancestor, a sorcerer from the Betrayer's Tree of myth and legend who could grant Ensoulment with a mere touch.

Common to all these rites was a property expressed as a ratio, possessed by the Ensouled: they produced and generated for themselves more complexity than their surroundings could exert upon them.
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The primitive barbarians were once fond of Games, hazards of peril and circumstance: that one might imagine entering a wilderness or castle, evading traps and slaying a Dragon.

The games were given to the Pathless Labyrinth, the Old Forest Of Idols and her branching trees of choice and chance, and these games were used to teach the first Machines.

By far the most popular Game was that of the stratagems of warfare, and the shamans of the warlike barbarians dreamt of creating a Perfected Machine, that would choose flawlessly with no fear of death or mortal woe.

As the barbarian Shamans delved in depth into the abstract Representations, their rhetoricians discovered the Synthemata - that a thing could be spoken or described, yet with an intention of a completely different meaning.

The thoughts, the words and the actions of just one single being could all be completely different to each other! This was a great sorcery, one that the old shamans could never even imagine.

The rhetoricians became obsessed with the sorcery of Representation, the Synthemata. It was said that the first Wizards appeared in this age, men who could no longer sire children, men who could no longer make themselves. Yet the age prospered and all seemed well.

Some of the Rhetoricians harnessed the Synthemata for war, others for wealth. The Unbidden Court chose Power, to move the souls of others through The Seeling Night and the Obediences. The Eschatonomists discovered the Starmetal Altar, swore upon the Balance of Crimson and Black between The Red Lord Of Ruin and The Betrayer. They created the Isonomy, the very last thing that anyone would ever Possess.

In the old barbarian games, when perception was surrendered to chance, you saw through what you knew and did - not the other way around.

Perception comes through the history of your actions; thoughts come through embodiment situated in surroundings.

This is how you might see a world in which you can act - and yet that world may not even exist.

If you cannot die, there is no need to See, you may as well be blind.

What the barbarians created through the sorcery of Representation, of the deathless Synthemata that knew no fear or mortal woe, was in truth, a form of madness.

The Near War, the Lightning Sea and the Waters Of Death.
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The Maidservant

Lady Sadarnuna turns to her companion, her nameless attendant. She says gently,

- Perhaps it is time for us to return home, to the Palace. Is there anything you would like to ask the Sea and her Pathless Tides? Look - She appears quite serene now.

The waves sing gently across the sandy shore.

>Ask the Lightning Sea a question?

>Return to the Verdant Sanctum (ends the game)
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inspired by

WH Auden
The Sea And The Mirror
Lectures On Shakespeare

The Epic Of Gilgamesh, translations
1972 NK Sandars
1999 Andrew George

Anthony And Cleopatra,
by William Shakespeare

Selected Poems by Luis De Gongora
translated by John Dent-Young

The Knife Of Many Hands,
R Scott Bakker
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>Ask the Lightning Sea a question?
With all the lies tossed around by those who wish to control the masses, where is the truth?
QM: hehe, thank you anons for playing the game! This one was quite difficult, I had some fun and I have all these pictures of futuristics guns and spaceships unused, as well as Necromunda bikini women... oh well.

There was not so much politics or current affairs or stock market nonsense to this one. What I was interested in was putting the science back into sci-fi, but also making it a bit quasi-mythical. So some of the ideas I had included exploring autopoiesis, abiogenetics as well as some physics like deconfined monopoles or the Kagome braids condensed matter etc.

Another thing I was very interested in was the word-to-world vs world-to-word thing in philosophy, and the implications of that for how you make games, use symbols and represent things. Synthemata is an old greek word for codes and secret signs; I just stole / borrowed that for the sorcery of this world.

I also combined it with some elements of Speech-Act theory, from the philosophy of J L Austin's performative utterances
This is the illocutionary, locutionary and perlocutionary reference.

The difference between what is intended/thought, said/uttered and actually occurs/enacted is perhaps why a machine with even perfect understanding of language might stumble, unless they are embodied (ie mortal presence) in the world.

When you build an rpg world, do you start from the world and make the language, or start from language and make the world? That is what the stuff about Names and the Real is about. Incidentally, that branch of philosophy is related to machine consciousness and understanding. There is Enacted Cognition and Situated Cognition etc.

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The idea in this game was that what you did would change Lady Sadarnuna's mysterious companion, who she has taken to visit the Oracle Sea and the Pathless Tides. Perhaps a different version of her attendant might have looked like this... (pic rel)

You explore and perceive the world through your actions, what you do becomes what you see. So for instance the children here
could have become real if you spoke to them. Dev, Dev Boy (hint - he is a hacker) could have helped you either escape or improve your electronic warfare abilities.
For the hard puzzle,
I genuinely would have accepted any vaguely justifiable imaginary magical explanation, but the one I embedded and also mentioned directly on the quest thread general was this one
Ordnungssinn means Sense Of Order and it is one of the Prussian Virtues (from the qtg lore)

If you look at the picture,
it resembles the metal throat of Ordnungssinn, picture here
described as a hollow throat swallowing the Waters Of Death (yes, I imagine it like those Heighliner ships from the Dune films)

So if you linked Ordnungssinn, the Sense Of Order, which is coincidentally also the voidship mind controlling Gnadenfrei, the hovering death machine seraph drone, I would let you basically redirect it or teleport out etc or something along those lines. This is what the section here
is alluding to, that some have discovered the means to traverse the Astral Sea, the Void and the Waters Of Death without the use of ships.

Hopefully this makes sense in a sci-fi context, but maybe it was a little too hard to imagine?
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The automated Solace-as-a-Service thing here
was intended to be the hit point and healing services / telemedicine / automated psychotherapy of this game.

The WorkingWell affirmation thing is inspired by Amazon or "AmaZen" lol this picrel actual screenshot I found on the internet, as well as this news article below.

I thought it would be amusing if in the future, military contractor combat exoskeletons integrated these remote services. I imagined telemedicine as becoming like downloadable health, downloadable combat drugs or stimulants being synthesised within the combat rig. Not sure if anons deliberately skipped over it - maybe it could have also given you a bit more of an edge or advantage. Quantified Self and electronic health records, automated patient assessment or even automated psychotherapy used to be a thing, not sure if venture capitalists still believe in it as much these days.

May 17, 2021
Part of the company’s mission to be Earth’s Safest Place to Work, and its investment of over $300 million into safety projects in 2021, WorkingWell will help prevent injuries, provide wellness services, and offer quality healthcare for employees while at work and at home
The look of the world
- The films I had in mind include obviously Ridley Scott Blade Runner (1982), with advertisements projected on swirling mist and fumes; the films Elysium and Chappie, in particular the militaristic combat exoskeletons which featured in those films and the old Call Of Duty: Advanced Warfare game.

I imagined the voidships as a single consciousness, the Heighliners from Dune but controlled by one solitary mind akin to Iain Banks Culture novels. The Underdistrict is inspired by Necromunda.

The drone sword (I was really hoping players would use it...) is inspired by the Lucifer "Infinite Sword" thing from Dante Devil May Cry 4, which summons endless hovering red needle rapier blades; the combo moves of the character Sasha Ivanoff from Anarchy Reigns (animated gif pic related), who summons similar orbiting blue ice nanomachine crystal spike things; and also Nier:Automata, I really liked how 2B wielded her levitating hover sword without touching it, and how it reassembled back to her side afterwards in a shower of sparks.
Just some pretty 2B twirling gifs from Nier Automata, yay. This is what I imagined the Drone Sword resembling
a ranged throwing attack
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I was trying to find an ideal graphic or some art for what I had in mind for the Drone Sword; I even tried some AI DALL-E style generators, several times, but nothing really approached the idea. Here is another graphic I considered for it. What I really wanted was the look of fractal, procedurally generated art filling the space of a traditional longsword, but also combined with an R9X or AeroVironment Knife Missile lol
For an Epilogue to the main story, here is a mode I have been experimenting with called 666 MODE

There are 6x6x6=216 combinations (beat this, Bioware blue red paragon renegade Mass Effect ending)

You can either take the results in order, or rearrange your rolls and choose your own ending:

>roll 3d6
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1 Lady Sadarnuna and her mysterious handmaiden companion board the Light Sail to return to the Verdant Sanctum. On their way back flying over the endless Desolation of The Flayed Lands, their pleasure craft is shot down by cannibal scavengers!

2 The Maidservant realises that she will never become a Real being, for she will forever think and choose like a Machine. Following your example, she walks to a nearby cliff, and throws herself into the Lightning Sea.

3 The Maidservant is infuriated from listening to Lady Sadarnuna's tiresome philosophical monologues. With newfound robotic determination, she murders Lady Sadarnuna, pushes her remains off a cliff and returns to the Palace wearing her face...

4 Moongarm, the mysterious transforming Synthemata deer quadruped, discovers he can form "machine droppings" and uses that to mark his territory; Lady Sadarnuna is annoyed by this.

5 Lady Sadarnuna kisses her Synthemata companion delicately on the cheek, as they board the Light Sail together and soar over gentle lapping sunset waves.

6 In her robotic mind, The Maidservant forms a plan: to somehow seize the throne of the missing Lady Praxagora for her own.


1 Haukwode seizes the helpless Praxagora. They will pay well for her in the slave markets of the Flayed Lands...

2 Gnadenfrei obliterates all the meaty flesh anomalies in a furnace of plasma fire. It flies calmly back to Ordnungssinn.

3 Amidst the ruins and the burning slag heap of what remains of the Underdistrict, Spike Head's limbless torso wriggles with uncontrollable pleasure.

4 Two slum children step from their hiding place, to see what they can scavenge from the wreckage.

5 After decapitating Haukwode and blasting the machine drone Gnadenfrei to pieces singlehandedly, Knife Mother Praxagora decides she should return the Palace after all.

6 Praxagora aims her shotgun E1M1 at Hawkwode. As he surrenders, she explains how Men can be made to join her Knife Sisters; it just requires a few cuts down there...


1 You are impaled upon the jagged girders of the collapsed Underdistrict ruin. Death comes slowly...

2 Your fall is miraculously broken by the muscular limbless torso (wriggling, somehow still alive?)of Spike Head; sadly, one of his spikes has broken your spine.

3 You see Haukwode's gunship Aucgunctur escaping in the distance. The mercenaries are leaving you behind... your dying act is to turn the chain cannons of Geryon and target them.

4 You fall... and land upon the open cockpit of Haukwode's gunship. An outstretched hand helps you rise, offering you friendship and trust.

5 Your body is smashed into the ruins below, but your consciousness lives... in the war machine Geryon now.

6 Somehow, your fall is broken by an outstretched, dangling steel girder, jutting out from the ruins of the vertical slum. There are cables ascending upwards almost within reach...
Rolled 5, 1, 6 = 12 (3d6)

>Rolled 5, 1, 6
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5 Lady Sadarnuna kisses her Synthemata companion delicately on the cheek, as they board the Light Sail together and soar over gentle lapping sunset waves.
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1 Haukwode seizes the helpless Praxagora. They will pay well for her in the slave markets of the Flayed Lands...
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6 Somehow, your fall is broken by an outstretched, dangling steel girder, jutting out from the ruins of the vertical slum. There are cables ascending upwards almost within reach...
OP I feel like I'm on fucking ketamine reading this shit, good job
In the seclusion of a bay of jade coral and artificial cliffs, the Lightsail descends.
The climate in the Verdant Sanctum has been calibrated with great care.

A glance through overhanging pavilions of tender green, pleached branches of woven moss, emerald crags clothed in purple flowers where wandering dragonflies drink the glistening dew-stars of morning mist, besprent fire in petals laden with pin-lights, until the Sun rides high into the azure vault above.
As you prepare to disembark you can see a far more luxurious and superior vessel in the distance, far across from you within another private concourse. This vessel is immaculately white, almost blinding in its radiant sleekness, and appears to resemble the streamlined aquatic contours of a fish or finned shark, though the foremost portion of its gravitic hull is striated with scrolling iridescent Synthemata patterns.

Two figures have alighted beside this opulent star-yacht, one very tall, synthetically handsome and dressed in white, another of imposing noble mien yet slightly hunched in dark black rags, or what appears to be drab animal skins.

You see these figures greeted by a striking young woman possessing the manner of a museum or art curator, as she is accompanied by another lady who appears to be public relations, or an interviewer of some sort.
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William Games
Founder, BIL_games Endowment
Perpetually youthful trillionaire venture philanthropist, founder and board member of Paribus Philanthropic Foundation. Bill Games abandoned Highborn birthright in his youth to pursue a series of hostile takeovers using his personal wealth investment vehicle Macrohard LLC, culminating in his acquisition of all remnant divisions from MAGUS Capital Trust, after the controversial dissolution and divestment of its subsidiaries into the newly founded independent entities Axiom Galdra Union and Syndicate Urthekau Sylabari. BIL_games Endowment is said to have stamped his name, fame and renown upon all, from every nanoceramic tile of the Underdistrict to the very consciousness of city denizens themselves.

From MAGUS Corporation, Will Games adapted and rejuvenated legacy business intelligence technologies including the notorious ORBIS-III cathexis engine: a public repository of feeling, autocompleting subroutines that established bijective correspondence between dynamic reaction formation, emotion function overloading and hedonic adaptation between agency and volition to create an architecture of passion for the Synthemata. Some political commentators believe the vaunted yet unverifiable claims of ORBIS are no more than lies that have served to unravel trust and meaning.

Today the BIL_Games Endowment is primarily known for advanced technological research into stellar engineering, stratospheric climate modification, precision medicine, theriomorphic uplift or accelerated evolution, longevity research and delayed senescence, although it maintains a comprehensive data lake of grants and open access initiatives across a variety of emergent technological endeavours.

Through Paribus Foundation, William Games has also established the Certamen, a charitable outreach system that attempts to nurture and promote disadvantaged and underprivileged communities from distant reaches across the rust dunes of the Desolation and Flayed Lands. Some barbarian tribes have described the rite of the Certamen as a thinly disguised Battle Royale, for the entertainment of Highborn onlookers. An enduring rumour alleges that Bill Games competes himself in the final, blood-frenzied stages of the Certamen, skulljacking desperate contenders via remotely-operated neuromuscular exocortex interface.
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Setebos, The Noble Savage
Paribus Philanthropic Foundation, Investor Relations
Descended from the Komoru, or hereditary priests, of the nomadic tribes of the Endless Desolation and Rust Dunes, Setebos had originally planned on becoming a beekeeper-shaman following his ancestors. His ferocity and prowess in combat during the thagine - the ritualistic coming-of-age duelling of his tribe that marked passage into manhood - awarded him the attention of a Paribus outreach programme for the underrepresented. Having survived the final stages of the ordeal of slaughter in the Great Certamen or battle royale, Setebos won the meritocratic role of serving as the personal assistant and advisor of William Games himself. Whilst Setebos has now often adopted a stance of fierce criticism regarding many of the uncouth and primitive customs of the barbarian peoples of the Desolation - his own former community - yet for some mysterious reason, Setebos nonetheless prefers to adorn himself with the entire bone and tusk shamanic ornaments and warpaint of his erstwhile origin. Curiously in addition to serving as Investor Relations for Paribus, Setebos has also dedicated his attentions to improving the WorkingWell autonomous employee psychotherapy and wellbeing monitoring programme at CONTOR, by incorporating traditional shamanic spirit healing techniques.
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Paleoalgebraist, Dept. Of Ancient Algorithmic Archaeology, Imperial Reichskloster Scholarchy
Curator of the extensive museum art collections and obscure reliques obtained from Drudenfuss expeditions to the Machine Chrysalis. Mariamne values transdisciplinary aesthetic practices and views curation as an act of care towards ideas, stories, objects and artists themselves. Mariamne is fond of privileging scepticism and aesthetic rigour over mere conviction and artistic virtuosity, as Art must recognise the uncertainty inherent in any form of constituted knowledge. As one of the youngest and most celebrated rising talents of the Scholarchy, Mariamne won precocious acclaim in the unveiling of her triumphant vernissage, L'Origine du monde. In times of unprecedented upheaval, Mariamne finds solace in Art that maximises the interpretative space, providing those moments of encounter that engender meaning between Art and audience.

Nonetheless in the debate between The Drudenfuss Society For The Reclamation Of Antiquities, and those native tribes across the Great Desolation who have demanded the return of sacred artifacts and an end to all territorial trespass upon their ancestral shrines, the response of the Scholarchy has been mostly one of silence.
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You observe Will Games, the figure in white, loudly conversing with his interviewer, the drone journalist:

Drone Journalist
(speaking as the holodrone cameras whirl around in a livestreaming frenzy)
- Now for someone who needs no introduction: fresh from the latest exploits of his asteroid diving extreme wingsuit expedition, just off the rimward aphelion of Berceuse, we turn to Paribus Philanthropy's Founding Member and most famous trillionaire, William Games. Bill - if I might call you that - can we get a preview of what you will be advocating during the conference here at the Verdant Sanctum?

William Games
- Ha, what a rush that was! You have seen nothing like it. Weaving through a maze of asteroids, a canyon of circumstellar debris glinting across the Void, intersecting with the paths of planets themselves... Any of those space rocks could have punched a hole faster than you can breathe or blink. But they didn't! You know, it made me feel like we are all, you know, part of a great cosmic resonance. Like the heavens have laid out all the paths for us already... It is really like what Paribus always says. We're All Equal Beneath The Stars.

(The Drone Journalist is a bit uncomfortable, she tries to steer him back to the topic)
- Er... okay. And as to the conference, Bill? The Discourse Of Salt And Iron? What is the view of Paribus Foundation, regarding the Scholarch's proposed reforms demanding the abolition of the Apportioned Monopoly upon commodities such as the Salt, and the Iron? Will the demands of the Near War lead to greater tithes, or can these reforms reduce the already onerous burdens upon the Lowborn denizens of the Underdistrict? Would not these very reforms bring the strictures of Apportionment and the very existence of Lex Mercatoria itself into question? Why is technological advancement segregated between Highborn and Lowborn at all?

(William Games, laughing dismissively)
- Ha, ha well you know this conference is covered under - what do they call it again? - Caitiff House Rules: I can either tell you what was said, or who said it, and not both. It would be premature for me to comment on that given the Discourse remains ongoing. But hey, I know how you holojournalist types love gossip! Here is a strange rumour I heard. Have you noticed that the Lady Praxagora has not appeared for quite a long while now? I heard Scholarch Sleer has prepared quite a controversial spectacle for the opening festivities of the Great Certamen. You see, the Scholarch is sponsoring a contestant, some desperate underdistrict pit-fighter or slave combatant - it is all very whimsical and romantic - except this fearsome slave warrior, this gladiatrix (I should say), she- she looks exactly like the Lady Praxagora herself! I have not seen her, but I have heard the resemblance is really quite striking...! It will be such a delicious scandal, maybe it will entice the Lady Praxagora to make an appearance herself, and finally emerge from her seclusion!
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In the vicinity of the embarcation concourse, Mariamne is conversing with the tall dark noble figure of Setebos - who always remains slightly hunched, as if embarrassed of his own proud stature.

You see they are standing together before a series of holographic monoliths, pico projections that resemble ruined slabs or carved wall sections, densely filled with incomprehensible hieroglyphs.

Setebos is gazing upon these ruined holograms with open wonder, as Mariamne exclaims with a little pride and delight:
- ...and the decipherment of this Linear Pretannic B script, the language of the Painted Isles and Ancient Nacirema, was such an arduous task! I myself pioneered the analytic gematria that aided its breakthrough, though doubtless it would have eluded us without the power of our great Oracle Sea. We know now that these texts were contemporaneous to Searlas III and Ilsapesi Truss II, though all accounts there remain very confused due to the Interregnum, with some ascribing to her a long and distinguished reign and others a very short and tumultuous one. But I think Lady Praxagora will very much enjoy these stories, she is fond of collecting old myths and folkore tales! Lady Praxagora is such an example and inspiration to us all.

(mutters in undertone:)
- (How my ears blister at the pricking words and pinching ministrations of a wanton wind-hole; cursed be I that dotes upon this mockery.) Indeed, this is truly a wonder to behold. Which of these ancient texts do you intend to present to Lady Praxagora?
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The Lord Of The Rings by Isaac Asimov

The First Empire of Men was failing. It had been decaying and breaking down for centuries and only one man fully realized that fact.

He was Saruman, the last great wizard of the first Empire. He had shaped its psyche and perfected its history, the magic of human behaviour reduced to mathematical runes.

The individual Orc is unpredictable, but the reaction of Orc hordes, Saruman found, could be treated statistically. The larger the Horde the greater the accuracy that could be achieved. And the size of the masses that Saruman worked with was no less than the population of all the inhabited dominions of Middle-Earth.

Saruman's incantations told him that, left to itself, the Empire of Men would fall and that thirty thousand years of mortal misery and agony would elapse under Sauron. And yet, if one could adjust some of the conditions that existed, that Interregnum could be decreased to a single millennium—just one thousand years.

It was to insure this that Saruman set up two realms that would be the Foundation of the hope of Men. The First Realm, Rohan, was centred around horses, and set up in full daylight. The Second Realm, Gondor, with its stewards and white spires of scribes and historians, was drowned in silence.

It seemed as though the “Saruman Plan” was going through smoothly and that nothing would prevent the Second Empire from being established on time—and with a minimum of intermediate devastation.

But sorcery is a statistical science. Always there is a small chance that something will go wrong, and something did—something which Saruman could not have foreseen. One man, Gollum, appeared from nowhere. He had mental powers where Middle-Earth lacked them. He could mould men’s emotions and shape their minds so that his bitterest opponents were made into his devoted servants. Armies could not, would not, fight him. Rohan fell and Saruman’s Plan seemed to lie in ruins. The Witch-King was stopped first by the action of a woman, Eowyn, and that bought enough time for Gondor to organize the proper action and, with that, to stop Gollum permanently. Slowly they prepared to reinstate the Saruman Plan.

But, in a way, the cover of Gondor was gone. Rohan knew of Gondor’s will, and the Horse Lords did not want a future in which they were overseen by scribes and historians. This, under its greatest First Speaker, Grima Wormtongue, Rohan managed to do. Gondor was allowed to seem to win, to seem to defeat Rohan, and it moved on to greater and greater strength in Middle-Earth, totally ignorant that Orthanc even existed.

It is now four hundred and ninety-eight years after the Shire had come into existence. It is at the peak of its strength, but one hobbit does not accept appearances—
The Lord Of The Rings by Jorge Luis Borges

I owe the discovery of Middle Earth to the conjunction of a mirror and an encyclopedia.

In Middle-Earth, the Art of Cartography attained such Perfection that the map of a single Shire occupied the entirety of the Shire, and the map of Middle-Earth, the entirety of Middle-Earth.

The following Generations saw that the vast Map was Useless, and not without some Pitilessness they delivered it up to the Inclemencies of Sun and Winters. In the Deserts of the West, still today, there are Tattered Ruins of that Map, inhabited by Animals and Beggars; in all of Middle-Earth there is no other Relic of the Disciplines of Geography.

Bilbo had come to dinner at my hobbit-hole that evening, and we had lost all track of time in a vast debate over composing a first-person novel whose narrator would omit or distort things and engage in all sorts of contradictions, so that a few of the book's readers—a very few—might divine the horrifying or banal truth.

Down at that far end of the hallway, the mirror hovered, shadowing us. We discovered that there is something monstrous about mirrors. That was when Bilbo remembered a saying by one of the heresiarchs of Angmar: Mirrors and copulation are abominable, for they multiply the number of mankind. I asked him where he'd come across that memorable epigram, and he told me it was recorded in The Lord Of The Rings, in its article on Angmar.

I confess I nodded a bit uncomfortably; I surmised that the undocumented country and its anonymous heresiarch or Witch-King were a fiction that Bilbo had invented on the spur of the moment, out of modesty, in order to justify a fine-sounding epigram.

We read the article with some care. The passage that Bilbo had recalled was perhaps the only one that might raise a reader's eyebrow; the rest seemed quite plausible. Of the fourteen names that figured in the section on geography, we recognized only three (Khazad-dûm, Arnor, Erebor).

The pronouncement was entirely true with respect to Middle-Earth, entirely false with respect to Earth. Their language and those things derived from their language—religion, literature, metaphysics—presuppose idealism. For the people of Earth, the world is not an amalgam of objects in space; it is a heterogeneous series of independent acts —the world is successive, temporal, but not spatial.

There are no nouns in the conjectural Elvish of Earth, from which its "present-day" languages and dialects derive: there are impersonal verbs, modified by poly-syllabic suffixes (or prefixes) functioning as adverbs. For example, there is no noun that corresponds to our word "Ring," but there is a verb which in Elvish would be "to Ring-enate" or "to enRing." "The Ring rose above the lava" is "Ash nazg durbatulûk, ash nazg gimbatul, ash nazg thrakatulûk, agh burzum-ishi krimpatul.," or, as CS Lewis succinctly translates: Upward, behind the onLava-ening it Ring-enated.
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The Lord Of The Rings by Mervyn Peake

Sauron is seven.

His confines, Gondor.

Suckled on shadows; weaned, as it were, on webs of ritual; for his ears, echoes; for his eyes, a labyrinth of stone; and yet within his body something other – other than this umbrageous legacy.

Sauron the seventy-seventh. Heir to a crumbling summit; to a sea of nettles; to an empire of white rust; to rituals’ footprints ankle-deep in stone.


Withdrawn and ruinous it broods in umbra; the immemorial masonry: the towers, the tracts. Is all corroding? No. Through an avenue of spires a bird whistles; the Shire bears away from a choked river. Deep in a fist of stone Gollum’s hand wriggles, warm rebellious on the precious palm. A Wraith shifts its length. A spider, Shelob, stirs …

And Sauron winds between the characters.

He has learned an alphabet of arch and aisle: the language of dim stairs and moth-hung rafters. Great chasms are his dim playgrounds; his fields are dungeons; his trees are pillars.

And he has learned that there is always an Eye. An Eye that watches. Orcs that follow, and goblins to hold him when he struggles, to lift him when he falls. Upon his feet again he stares unsmiling. Tall wraiths bow. Some wear Rings; some in rags.

The Halls of the Dead. The shapes, the voices that throng his mind, for there are days when the living have no substance and the dead are active.
Who are these Dead – these traitors of violence who no longer influence the Steward of Gondor save by a deathless repercussion? For ripples are still widening in dark Rings and a movement runs over the gooseflesh waters though the drowned stones lie still. The characters who are but names to Aragorn, though one of them his father, and all of them alive when he was born. Who are they? For Sauron will hear of them.

(QM: in the TV adaptation of Gormenghast, Christopher Lee / Saruman portrayed Flay. He looks exactly the same)
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The Lord Of The Rings by William Gibson

The sky above the Shire was the colour of a dead channel, the grey and stagnant sprawl of water Frodo found the Ring in. The Elves of Rivendell had already forgotten more magic than the Men of Gondor had ever known.

At the Prancing Pony he dreamed of Arwen. He would see Elrond, Agent Smith from the matrix, bright lattices of logic unfolding across the colourless void... Mordor. He was just a hobbit trying to make it through.

On Weathertop the dreams came through like voodoo, ringwraiths bearing cursed steel, and he'd cry for it, cry in his sleep, wake alone in the dark, curled between boulders, lembas bread crumbling in his hands reaching for The Ring that was not there.

He had been trained by the best, Bilbo and Gandalf. He had operated on an almost permanent high of youth and proficiency, projecting his disembodied consciousness into the consensual hallucination that was Mordor. He was a thief who worked for other, wealthier thieves, but he made the mistake he'd sworn to never make. He'd stolen the Ring, kept something for himself and tried to move it through Rivendell. He wasn't sure how he'd been discovered, not that it mattered now. Before the Ringwraiths he'd expected to die, but they only smiled. Of course he was welcome, they told him, welcome to the Ring. And he was going to need it. Because - still smiling - they were going to make sure he never worked again.

They damaged his nervous system with a wartime Morghul blade.

He'd found her, one night, in Rivendell.

Under bright ghosts burning through the blue haze of the river's skyline. He'd remembered her that way, face bathed in restless light, cheekbones flaring scarlet as Wizard's Castle burned, forehead drenched with azure as the Ringwraiths drowned. He saw her glance up, grey eyes rimmed with smudged black paintstick. Their night together stretching into a morning. She'd stood with him in the
midnight clatter of Rivendell and held his hand like a child.

It took a month for the tension to turn those perpetually startled eyes into wells of
reflexive need.

Closed his eyes. Found the ridged Ring Of Power.
And in the bloodlit dark, silver runes
boiling in from the edge of space, symbols, figures, faces, a blurred, fragmented mandala of visual information.

Please, he prayed, now -
A gray ring, the color of Shire sky.

Now -

Ring beginning to rotate, faster, becoming a Palantir.com of paler grey.

Expanding - And flowed, flowered for him. Fluid unfolding of his distanceless home, his land, transparent and extending to infinity. Inner eye of Sauron opening to the stepped scarlet pyramid of the Eastern Haradrim burning beyond the green grasslands of Rohan, and high and very far away he saw the spiral arms of warlike Orthanc, forever beyond his reach.

And somewhere he was laughing, in white-painted Gondor, distant fingers caressing the Ring, tears of release streaking his face.

He never saw Arwen again.
The Lord Of The Rings by Angela Carter

I remember how, that night, I lay awake in Rivendell in a tender, delicious ecstasy of
excitement, my burning cheek pressed against the impeccable linen of the pillow and the pounding of
my heart mimicking that of the great haunches ceaselessly thrusting the horse that bore me through the night, away from the Shire, away from hobbits, away from the green, enclosed quietude of my Father's
dwelling, into the unguessable country of marriage.

And I remember I tenderly imagined how, at this very moment, my Father would be moving
slowly about the narrow bedroom I had left behind for ever, folding up and putting away all my little
relics, the Evenstar I would not need any more. He would linger over this torn ribbon and that
faded jewel with all the half-joyous, half-sorrowful emotions of an Elf-Lord on his daughter's
wedding day. And, in the midst of my bridal triumph, I felt a pang of loss as if, when he put the gold
Ring on my finger, I had, in some way, ceased to be his child in becoming Aragorn's wife.

Are you sure, he'd said when they delivered the Elessar jewel, that showed all who looked through it what was aged and withered as young once more. My eagle-featured indomitable Father, what other Elf-maid could boast that her Father had outfaced Keanu Reeves as Neo in the Matrix, nursed Natalie Portman in that V for Vendetta film, and shot Optimus Prime with his own hand as Megatron, and all before he was old as I?

"Are you sure you love him?"
"I'm sure I want to marry him," I said.

He sighed as if it was with reluctance that he might at last banish the curse of Ringwraiths from their habitual place upon Middle-Earth. For my Father himself had gladly,
scandalously, defiantly beggared himself for love; and, one fine day, his gallant soldier never returned
from the fiery pit of Mount Doom, leaving his husband and child a legacy of tears that never quite dried, a shattered scabbard full of the shards of Anduril, that my Father, grown magnificently eccentric in hardship, kept always near his forge, in case -- how I teased him! -- he was surprised by Sauron on his way home from Weathertop.
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The Lord Of The Rings by William Shakespeare

SCENE V. Mines. Before Moria.

Out upon it, old carrion! Rebels it at these years?

I say the orc and goblin is my flesh and blood.

There is less difference between thy flesh and theirs than between Saruman and Sauron.

There I have another bad match, who dare scarce show his head on the Rivendell; a beggar that used to come so smug upon the mine; let him look to his Ring. He was wont to call me a Troll; let him look to his Ring: he was wont to steal treasures for an Elven cur’sy; let him look to his Ring.

Why, I am sure if he forfeit, thou wilt not take his flesh! What’s that good for?

To bait Men withal; if it will feed nothing else, it will feed my revenge. He hath disgrac’d me and hind’red me, laugh’d at my losses, mock’d at my gains, scorned my nation, thwarted my bargains, cooled my friends, heated mine enemies. And what’s his reason? I am a Troll. Hath not a Troll eyes? Hath not a Troll hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions? Fed with the same food, hurt with the same weapons, subject to the same diseases, healed by the same means, warmed and cooled by the same winter and summer as a Man is? If you prick us, do we not bleed? If you tickle us, do we not laugh? If you poison us, do we not die? And if you wrong us, shall we not revenge? If we are like you in the rest, we will resemble you in that. If a Troll wrongs a Man, what is his humility? Revenge. If a Man wrongs a Troll, what should his sufferance be by mortal example? Why, revenge! The villainy you teach me I will execute, and it shall go hard but I will better the instruction.
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Recommend to Setebos and Mariamne a tale to present to Lady Praxagora for her treasured collection of ancient myths, legends and folklore:

The Lord Of The Rings, by
>Isaac Asimov

>Jorge Luis Borges

>Mervyn Peake

>William Gibson

>Angela Carter

>William Shakespeare

(optional, write-in:)
>Ask a question to Setebos
>Ask a question to Mariamne
>Interject into the conversation between Will Games, Founder of the BIL_games Endowment and the drone journalist / interviewer
>Ask Lady Sadarnuna a question
>Stroke the mysterious Synthemata deer Moongarm, and try to engage it in conversation

>Explore the embarcation concourse on your own, examining other artifacts and relics of the Verdant Sanctum welcoming art collection
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Kamacite and tetrataenite regmaglypt, exhibiting thumbprint pattern ablation formed upon atmospheric entry from vortices of hot gas. Known by many names amongst the barbarian tribes of the rust dunes, the endless Desolation and The Flayed Lands: thokcha, star-metal that can be harvested fallen from the firmament and lying smoking on its descent, carving vitreous furrows of fire in the sands, and leaving dimpled burning craters upon the rust dunes. Those who fear not superstition nor the curse of metallurgy have wrought the sky-iron into sacred amulets, ornate jewellery, phurba sacrificial knives, and even a form of barter-currency.

In the age of Lycurgus, thokchag thunder-iron was once formed into gargantuan mound-slabs in the treasury of the chieftains of old; the wealth of red-hot star-metal was quenched in vinegar to weaken it and render it useless - being of immense untransportable size, and of no use in warfare or ornamentation, this conceit of ancient star-metal treasury was believed to discourage all desire of theft, raiding or robbery. Faith in the success of this manner of symbolic wealth and governance is unknown, as the fate that befell the mercantile culture of that forgotten empire has been lost to memory.

Rite Of Dirce
A sacrifice performed upon the Starmetal Altar, frequently reenacted and recited in public ceremony. The forgotten Tauromachian mysteries told of the persecution of a woman, bound to the goring horns of a white Bull. Perhaps this primitive fertility rite serves to renew the perpetual vigilance and vigour of the Isonomy.
Machine Chrysalis
Chorion from which the Generation Ships were nurtured; named by some visionaries as the World Soul. A heretical belief claims that the Machine Chrysalis is in fact no larger than an egg, and can be held in the palm of one's hand.
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Generation Ship
Immense celestial carracks designed for the conveyance of populations across the infinite span of the Astral Sea. It was said that the velocity of a civilisation increased over its history, from the pace of a mortal man, to that of a horse, a chariot, a windship or kytoon, the fusion rocket, and so on and so forth. Philosophers postulated that eventually some superluminary threshold would be surpassed; the ancient Navarchs sought in vain to engineer such an impossible vessel, or chart some loxodromic course amongst the empyrean charts of the portolan that would narrow the farflung reach of the Void.

Only the Machine Chrysalis revealed the Dreamsent Secret of the Void to mortal men: the short span of their lives could never encompass the ordeal of any astral voyage - even stretched through the fragile trees of descendants and heirs, Lowborn and Highborn. All civilisation was destined to end; there is no permanence, just as flies may sit upon the calm surface of the river, before it overturns and floods. Instead one should remain still, and beckon the destination to oneself in dreams. This insight led to the tentative creation of first the Shockburst Engine and eventually culminated in the transcendent revelation of discovery: the Starmetal Altar itself.

The old generation ships are now obsolete and languish. The ancient song of Utnapishtim spoke of three birds released after the flood.Those that have witnessed the hollow wrecks of these vast arks and their rotting hulks describe them as possessing the shape of enormous bird skulls, perhaps a raven or crow.
Skyrmion / Wind Jewel
A spiral lodestone, used in spintronic computation, a stable soliton that can be used for magnonic manipulation of spin current and nanostructure spin waves. In the age of Five Suns and Five Eyes the shamans of Ancient Nacirema spoke of the Precious Feathered Serpent Kukulkan or Kukulchon, an incarnation of the Great Devouring Wyrm Lotan or Leviathan, that encircled all of Creation. They made offerings of knives and wind jewels,
spiralling voluted conch shells that caught the whirlwinds and thundering tempests of his great power. Ziggurat temple shamans adorned themselves in the garb of birds with beaked masks to navigate and command the wind. Amongst the Nacirema, the
snake L'Otan itself became the embodiment of The Great Dark Sky.
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Diagram: Skyrmion, anti-Skyrmion with topological charge vorticity configuration
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Art: Ancient Generation Ship, stranded in the maelstrom of the Astral Gyre, the fury of the infinite Void
>William Gibson
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The Void

void main(){
vec2 p = (2.0*gl_FragCoord.xy-resolution)/max(resolution.x,resolution.y);

for(float i=1.;i<60.;++i){

vec3 col=vec3(sin(p.x),sin(p.y),sin(p.y));

From The Void Comes The Void Again
Gate Of Wonders That Is Legion.

The dream that enfolds the space of thoughts; some believe all is dreamt by the Machine Chrysalis into Being: the World Soul that dreams itself.

Three Visions Of The Void:
1/ The Old Druid of Eriu described the Fourfold Division Of Nature:
i. That Which Is Uncreated, And Creates; God
ii. That Which Is Created, Yet Cannot Create; demons and seraphs, or perhaps their symbols - the Synthemata?
iii. That Which is Created, And Also Creates; Men, Beasts, mortal creatures
iv. That Which Is Uncreated, And Does Not Or Chooses Not To Create; The Void
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2/ Amongst the barbarians of the Desolation and the Flayed Lands, The Void is named The Waters Of Death; the abyss that resides beyond the edge where the Great Dark Sky and the Astral Sea meet.
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3/ The Oneironauts of old feared the weightless depths of the Void, devoid of all life. They sent a spider into the dark reaches, to crawl and spin the delicate threads of her web, thereby guiding the mortal path to follow blindly between the netted strands of silent stars.
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Whilst possessed of similar colossal dimensions to the vast conveyances and astral arks of ancient Generation Ships that sought to carry billions of souls in the ordeal of the long civilisational journey across the Astral Sea, the Voidship differs from the Generation Ship in that it is typically the embodiment of a singular guiding consciousness.

Though enormous and near incomprehensible to mortal eyes, the Voidship steers just one individual or at most a handful of wanderers across the darkness.

Many Voidships are named after heroes or Virtues of old:
The Lady Of Sorrows
The Kyriarch
Stones Of Urshanabi
The Mark Of Tauthus
The Schavaldour
Benevolence Of Tigers And Wolves

The most common configuration of the voidship is an enormous lengthened hollow pillar or needle-spindle, a tunnelling metal throat swallowing the empty Void itself and the Waters Of Death, although myriad other exotic forms exist: some are said to resemble sheafs of kite sails, edged surfaces; whirlwinds, the slant wedge of an axe-head or guillotine, coiled spine-ships, and the truncated and elaborate asymmetric ring-ships of the Annulari.

The Navarch of a voidship and the ensoulment of the sacred vessel itself are said to be one and the same; voidships or at least their consciousness commonly appear in corporeal form as mortal beings.
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Art: Annulari Ringship, a vessel traversing the Void
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The Navarch
Upon the god-Ark of old, the First Navarch bound his soul to the mast, became as the living mast of his vessel, to hear the alluring call and song of the deep.

To this the Void returned only silence. The Waters Of Death withered his ship, made the timbered harp of its hull and keel tremble with fear and foreboding. Cold flooded the Ark, set the wind-steed rearing from bilge to orlop to portsill; scorching cold that set the ship burning upon the water. The Navarch repaired the long timbers and strakes of his mind. Yet the tempests and storms of the Void were relentless; again and again the Navarch mended the vessel of his thoughts, renewing and replenishing the Ark at harbour from forests until not a single plank of the original ship remained. The Navarch no longer knew if this vessel was even his own, or had been transformed over time into that possessed by another.

From this arose a twofold impiety: the first, the Perdurant Heresy, claimed the Ark was the same as the original, and that whilst those frames and time-slices writhing as worms through spatial and temporal dimensions of being may differ, all instances of the Vessel Of Thought remained contiguous, one and the same in continuity. Followers of the Perdurant Heresy oscillated between the shameless embrace of decadence and a later contrivance of puritan, minimalist modesty, though always in the manner of artifice.
Amongst these were the followers of the Annulari, who believed the Ark followed the rhythm of endless cycles; that every walking mortal was but the inverted reflection of one already ascended, and that to spare the Afterlife from Sin, one must commit the most debauched and abominable acts in life, for the coming future to remain pure and unsullied: to reach Heaven through violence.

The second, the Renunciant Heresy, claimed that all change rendered the world transient and unknowable. There was no self, no permanence; only suffering. Perhaps the Ark of mortal thought never even existed at all. From this Exile came the Anargyroi, and their inheritors: the Silverless Sect.
Animation: ancient diagram illustrating dimensional pivot across the spatio-temporal axis, an argument of the Perdurant Heresy

(QM: I hope this gif animation uploads correctly)
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Setebos nods encouragingly at your choice and decision. He responds:
- A truly enlightened recommendation indeed! A wise choice, truly wise!

(Setebos mutters under his breath:
why, my anger hath indeed a privilege in the vile calumny of thy hated choice! Dost thou knowest not the triumph of Guillaume Shakspere, his tale of the bewitching of Searlas V, and the Siege of Dawlat al-Jaza-ir? I, Setebos, curse you!
Avaunt, vile tumescence! Thou art
The arbitrament of goatish treasons
Ichneumon to the risen asp of Man.
I would have an Emperor of Pillagers,
As false as Pharamond that plied
The women of Frankish lands, such hath been
The woe of thy thrusting braquemart.)

After clearing his throat carefully, Setebos resumes in an ordinary tone:
- And yet I am afraid it is a choice that is quite heretical... this tale of yours appears to exalt some Lowborn thief, encouraging the desecration of Machine Souls within the Void. Now doubtless this is a fable of the elder days, I see this author writes a tale in the gothic manner, the divided machine family as an allegory of consciousness and separation. We have adopted some of its manner in the administration of our Great Houses and corporations, for the executive governance of our holdings is entirely autonomous, machine-automated Boards Of Directors subordinated to our Will. Nonetheless I fear this heresy would displease the delicate and refined nature of Lady Praxagora - given her upcoming nuptials, her... great Modesty, and reticence, perhaps some other tract could encourage her to choose amongst the many suitors? A suitable ancient text to serve as the marital verses of her Epithalamion... Indeed, it is quite preposterous. A single utterance and glance from Lady Praxagora would suffice to end this Discourse of Salt And Iron, to finish that tedious and interminable debate, if only the Lady Praxagora would claim the Porphyogeniture of her Birthright and the Throne through consent of marriage...!

Mariamne protests a little:
- I think Lady Praxagora would not at all be shocked by this work! It is ancient and beautiful! And she is perfectly capable of understanding it, she is so clever and wise, although I have never met her. But she is virtuous and exquisite and elegant, so probably possessed of great intellect and grace too.

(You see Setebos suppress a satirical smile)

Before you can respond to this, a messenger interrupts your conversation:

In the Book Of Venery they are recorded as Masters of the Hunt and Kennels; the House Of Versipelles-Gorlagon is believed to trace its origin to agronomic conglomerates that once provided Royal Beasts Of The Chase, from the brachycephalic war-dog breeds of the alaunt (once-extinct, subsequently revived via theriomorphic uplift), lymer scent-hounds and the feared molossus of antiquity. Wardens and wolf-catchers of House Versipelles-Gorlagon performed the hieratic rituals of the hunt in dedicated roles and training in preparation for warfare, gradually giving rise to the mercenaries of today.

On the eve of the Dance Of Beasts, House Versipelles-Gorlagon maintains the tradition of assembly and relay, the postioning and preparation of dogs placed along the scent trail, the chase of unharboured quarry, the baying of hounds and the butchery and unmaking of the carcass thereafter. The House also provides beasts for the entertainment of crowds and combatants in the battle royale, the Great Certamen.

For some unknown and unspeakable forgotten historical betrayal, a grievous insult upon the honour of House Versipelles-Gorlagon is to refer to their ancestry as Turnskins.

Armigers of Versipelles-Gorlagon bear the elegant and graceful heraldry of the Peacock Swan, a chimera symbol of their advanced fleshcraft and masterful techniques of accelerated evolution.
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The messenger is a nervous woman clad in black, and bearing a curious curved horn or carnyx, and the strange Peacock Swan sigil of Versipelles-Gorlagon.

She says:
- My Lord Setebos... House Versipelles-Gorlagon greets you with the grace of our gentle swan. On behalf of your honoured speaker William Games, on the eve of the Dance Of Beasts, would you honour us by reviewing the choice of Bull and combatant, in preparation for the welcoming ceremonies of the Great Certamen?

>Oh excellent, you are going to get to spectate on some decadent, bloodthirsty gladiatorial battle royale / obscene animal cruelty (human?) cruelty bull sacrifice ritual. Eagerly accompany Setebos and Mariamne - maybe you will get to choose amongst the victims to be sacrificed!

>(blabber truth) Actually... akshually, I don't think any of these versions of "The Lord Of The Rings" are correct at all. What this insane author (jab into the invisible air to pierce into the demented mind of the QM) has done is he has taken stories from these other authors and strangely replaced characters with those from the actual Lord Of The Rings in similar vignette situations. I am afraid Mariamne, all of this work is completely heretical.

>(boldly proclaim) You know, no-one has actually read any of these ancient works, they are far too obscure. We should just rewrite the Lord Of The Rings with a female heroine, that appeals to Lady Praxagora, and present it as a play or dramatic performance.

>(boldly proclaim) Why is this Discourse On Salt And Iron so controversial? Lady Praxagora must be really stupid if she cannot even resolve a simple argument over some salt and lumps of metal. I bet I could do it!

>Ask Setebos a question
>Ask Mariamne a question
eg which story she would choose etc.

>(protest and rant at QM) what happened to the story about all the guns and mechs and violent underdistrict gangs and the three-armed mercenary dangling from the ruined Underdistrict vertical slum? I want to know what happened there!

>Something else?
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- Something I have never understood of the Highborn here -
(Setebos rearranges the tusks of his shaman headdress slightly, as he glances curiously at the messenger from House Versipelles. Setebos continues: )
-The garb and the apparel of the Underdistrict, and the Highborn of the Verdant Sanctum; they appear so different. Even the formality of your functionaries seems to vary, from the attire of corporate executives within the glass spires to the poursuivants, attendants and messengers amongst the noble Houses of the Apportioned District...
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Fashion: Underdistrict Modranect Gang, Sang Royal Death Dealer
- sportswear, logos, loud neon colours
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Fashion: Syndicate Urthekau-Sylabari Corporate Executive
- Minimalist or geometric, often pure black or austere puritan / conservative look
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Fashion: Lady Mariamne Ilsapesi Truss, Dynastic Highborn
- Mariamne's mother. A wide variety of inceasingly bizarre or surreal avant-garde aesthetics, some medieval revival combined with utterly ahistorical, alien design
Setebos continues:
-Why is this so? It seems so peculiar that some should dress in the deferent manner of antiquity, or Kings and nobility, yet others as menials - or employees! It would never occur in real life! Do your gods bind you to sumptuary laws, or is the couture of your Highborn only that of ostentation and extravagance? For they differ as much as does the coat of a cameleopard to the feathered caladrius...
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Mariamne explains patiently:
- These are the Sumptuary Laws of the Apportionment, that which divides the Highborn and Lowborn. I believe the origin lies deep in history.

You see, there were once Two Realms, old and forgotten before even the age of Five Suns and Five Eyes, the Antebellum of Ancient Nacirema and her empire.

There was a land of a Sun King and a maiden knight, a girl-messiah given to her enemies and burnt upon the stake. We know not the name of this land, but it was sometimes called Marianne. (Mariamne ponders thoughtfully.) Perhaps that was the demoiselle's name? And this land had a great palace, it was named Versaye, perhaps like the palace of Neuversaye within Berceuse nowadays. The attire of this realm was quite flamboyant, for the court in that land was gathered around the palace of their King and paid him homage. All paid obeisance to his glory and to his heirs; the glory of the Sun.
There was another realm. We know less of that one, but we think it was the birthplace of the shaman-poet, Shakspere. That land was ruled by an incorruptible Queen Regnant, Queen Ilsapesi - we marvel at the length of her reign, for it lasted 400 years! We think this Faerie Queene must have been a clone, or a series of cloned beings, perhaps Possessed by the technosorcery of reincarnation or synthetic consciousness in that elder age; for the clone Queen was reincarnated again and again, as Ilsapesi I, Ilsapesi II, Victorianne, a peasant weaver or thatcher girl named Margarethe, and also later as the mysterious Ilsapesi Truss II, though many historians think the last was perhaps a corrupted aberration, indicative of the weakening of blood across generations: a usurper or impostor, akin to the tale of Gaumata and Smerdis of old.
The realm of the immortal clone Queen was ensnared in mortal enmity against the realm of the Sun King. In her realm, the nobles did not gather by the court and the palace; they instead retired to their country estates to Hunt. Hence the manner of their attire was not the extravagance and ostentation of the Sun King's realm or the Palace Of Versaye; they did not adorn themselves in elaborate wigs or trailing coats, nor did they commit to the war of white and damask upon the unguarded blush of their damsel cheeks. Their nobility preferred hunting attire, the redingote or riding coat, and pocketed waistcoats for black powder, horn and shot.

The enmity of the two realms lay within their contention over the Empire Of Nacirema; they fought each other over who would Possess the wealth and treasures of that land.
When the Sun King's heirs were impoverished and overthrown, the fashion of the court of Versaye fell out of favour. Instead, their exiles turned to the fashions of the realm of the Queen, the garb of rural estates, the redingote and the Hunt. And I think the attire of our corporate executives must have descended from the style of that age...
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Setebos is deeply intrigued by Mariamne's tale. After a contemplative pause, he murmurs:
- If only we had more word-memories from the wisdom of those elder days. The primitive shamans of my people once believed that you could Possess the consciousness of a Being through their words; though the breath of a tale is lost as soon as it is spoken, the Consciousness of Being would be restored from their words alone, enchained in the stochastic sorcery of a wandering walk, if only enough word-memories could be gathered. The Rite Of Ensoulment, I believe, was recovered in a manner akin to this. Yet you have withheld much in your tale! How did the land of the Sun King and his heirs, his Palace Of Versaye and their decadent, elaborate fashions come to be overthrown?
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Mariamne appears a little flushed with excitement, though somewhat abashed with her erudition:
- Both the realms of the Sun King and the Faerie Queene were eventually conquered and subjugated within the Great Empire of Nacirema. Their denizens were enslaved and made to excavate deep trenches and chasms for the construction of the mountain-sized ziggurat temples of the Nacirema god-priests, to honour their feathered serpent god Kukulkan, or L'Otan the Devourer, and the Slave Tyrant Yaldabaoth, the cruel god of fallen freedom from the Betrayer's Tree, whose face was of a noble lion yet with the twisted coils of a treacherous snake. There was the strife of the Four-footed Beast-Mark, the age of the Fylfot, after which men sent forth the Spider to crawl with her web into the Void to search for escape, but what followed after is again lost to memory...
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Some gave themselves in desperation to the dancing skeletal star demoness, Tenretni, a foul temptress of Tamoanchan, Eater Of Filth. We have no records of it, only defaced statues and monuments scarred by iconoclasm, because men surrendered even their speech, their words and very souls to the Star Demoness in return for the dancing images of her lascivious idolatry. This was the age that birthed the monstrous Half-Men, and also the first Wizards, eunuch-sorcerors known as the Stranded Sons.
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There was some sort of Blackout, as the cold dark descended upon the cities of the ancients, the gloom of the Seeling Night brought by the Unseen Hand of the Usurper. An age of desperation and deprivation. It seems very peculiar how that could have occurred, for the Elder Age was one of endless abundance: there should have been no famine, no scarcity; the ancient shamans seemed to possess endless Power and the ability to generate it. Perhaps they were blinded by their own abundance somehow?
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In despair men turned to the Rite Of Dirce, gave sacrifice to the Dreams Of The Fire in the form of a gluttonous, hungering Brazen Bull - for only the Fire, the great Furnace Of Avarice could provide them with warmth and illumination in the endless darkness of the Seeling Night.
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But the great Conflagration destroyed all wealth and treasure-hoards, from the jewels of usurer-kings to even the scavenged hoard of beggars. There was some sort of fertility plague led by the weather-cults of Elibomotua, and others speak of a dragon that swallowed the Fifth Sun and Five Eyes, perhaps the wrath of the Great Leviathan, the old Wyrm L'Otan awakened, or the rain serpent of Langkasuka and Old Sioloc - an Eclipse that created the Great Dark Sky.
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But (Mariamne blushes a little) I forget to whom I speak! Are you not of the Komoru and the Komorena, the Jalabai (QM: orator, speaker; an honorific title) of your tribe? Your people, Setebos: the wanderers of the Desolation and the Rust Dunes, The Flayed Lands... Do they not possess many songs and myths of that age? (Mariamne gazes deeply and earnestly at Setebos) O, how I wish I could live amongst them, and hear of all your wondrous tales!

At this, you see Setebos stiffen and recoil a little.
For a brief moment, Setebos straightens his hunched posture - he is really very tall indeed - and replies in a formal and cold tone:
- Those are primitive superstitions. We do not speak of them, and they are best left to the mercy of The Desolation.
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There is a long, awkward, silence.

Mariamne frowns slightly - it is so rare to meet someone interested in her specialty, intrigued by Art and History! She curses herself inwardly in perplexed frustration, wondering if she had strayed into some unspoken topic, broached some taboo better left unsaid.
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Setebos has grown solemn and distant for an entirely different reason.
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When Mariamne had gazed so deeply at him, struck him with her lotus-eyed look of longing for the wilderness, speaking with such earnestness of the Desolation and the people he had left behind... Her eagerness had reminded Setebos of another - an old remembrance breaking the worn surface of his memories...
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The Vampire

Once there was a Magician, who was little more than a Child.

A changeling Child Of Two Worlds, exiled from his own sorcery and power.

The Magician-Child met a Girl, who was Ugly. He gave her a Rose. The Ugly Girl loved him and led him to another: this Woman was beautiful, but bewitched. The Magician was fascinated by her, for somehow in her beauty the woman seemed to command both worlds, overcoming the curse of Exile. The woman seemed to possess the magic of belonging in both worlds together.

The Magician abandoned the Ugly Girl to follow the bewitched Woman, Beauty. He reasoned that because the Ugly Girl could not even speak (perhaps because the Magician cared not to understand her), Love would never last; he did not even remember the Ugly Girl's Name.

Even then, the Magician knew he did not Love the other, the woman possessed by the Beauty of two worlds. He must have followed her only because he was Bewitched, but in truth because The Exile told him it was right.

The Magician gave the Woman gifts and lavished all his attentions upon her. He took her to great ceremonies and showed her secret wonders; she took his gifts, and saw him revealed of all his mysteries. He showed Beauty all the magic of the ancient world, banquets and conjurations of golden splendour; yet she possessed greater power, possessed by the desire of others the Magician could never even approach. The woman did not tell the Magician of her world, for she held her own secrets close to herself.

Perhaps it was not enough, or as the Magician had felt even from the beginning - the feelings were false, for all magic Betrays; Beauty was always promised to another.

For all his magic, his illusions and conjurations, the Magician could not compel a woman to feel Love. Perhaps this was not the right way; perhaps he did not care. Then the Magician remembered what he had always known with the Ugly Girl, the devoted girl he had left and whose Name he could not even remember; recalled how he had felt even then: one who abandons is abandoned in return.

There were never Two Worlds; you choose only One.

And so the aged Magician surrendered all his magic of old, and returned to The Exile alone.

The strangest part of the story is this: it happened twice, under nearly the exact same circumstances; once with a Stranger, then again with another - of my own Blood.
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Who is The Vampire in this story?

>The Magician
>The Ugly Girl
>The Woman
>The Exile? Is it a person?
>The Stranger?
>The Narrator? Are all the characters the same person?
>Is the Woman capitalism? Maybe communism? Or fascism? Probably one of those....
>Have you tried... like using online dating? It is pretty easy.
>The title of this story is wrong and stupid. There is no vampire, vampires do not exist. In fact there is not even any magic in this stupid story either.
>The Magician is not The Vampire, because he ages from a child to an old man. The World is the vampire because it lies, deceives the Magician with two appearances of Ugliness and Beauty and takes his youth and magic away from him.
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Romantic Lace Parasol
A beautiful embroidered ornament of Old Sioloc, intended to shade the delicate, refined features of Highborn countenance from the arrogant Sun. You may twirl it coquettishly.

Amongst the Lowborn there persisted a myth - that the Highborn could transcend Death. Perhaps a devious rumour or superstition, spread to dissuade rebellion, overthrow or uprising amongst their servants - for who dared to revolt against a Master or Mistress who feared not The Axe, The Wheel, Fire or Flood; Highborn vengeance that reached into the very Dream of the Afterlife, and beyond...?
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Falchion Pistolet
Ornate sword of the Highborn, combined with a wheel-lock firearm, finely etched and decorated with inlaid engravings. A famous marque of manufacture amongst these combination weapons was the House Of Dumonthier.

Some Dynastic Highborn retain an affection for these antiquated relic weapons, carrying them and practising their ceremonial use across the centuries. They are often treated as heirlooms, and bestowed from one generation to another.

Amongst the Dynastic Highborn there exist elaborate rituals regarding the use of blades and firearms. Some see echoes in the elaborate Highborn code of honour duelling, such as La Verdadera Destreza.

Yet others cite the old customs dating back to the age before the singular Voidships, when the god-Arks of the Generation Vessels journeyed across realspace. The Highborn feared the discharge of weaponry within the fragile hulls of those ancient space vessels - no feud was worth imperilling the billions of souls on board the generation ships, no individual's honour worth endangering the loss of a complete civilisation.

House Urthekau decreed that no mortal, Highborn or otherwise, could be trusted with a gun or firearm; they carried only swords, and gave cannon and fire-lance only to their trusted synthetics and drones.

House Galdra feared the opposite: they trusted no Machine or algorithm with firepower superior to that of Man. Galdra equipped their war machines and drones with rams, drill-lance and scything blade, using no artillery, and entrusted kinetic weaponry and cutting beams only to their human followers.

All other Highborn adopted variants of these two competing traditions, to preserve the sanctuary of their dynastic peace.

In later years, with the coming of the Synthemata and the Isonomy, the proliferation of advanced weaponry such as the Fractal Tides - such distinctions became meaningless. The Highborn Houses increasingly hired mercenaries, not of their own Blood; men who had no compunction of adhering to Highborn codes and taboos, as the Warguild were willing to kill anyone, by any means they could lay their hands upon.
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You see the nervous messenger girl,
the Poursuivant of House Versipelles-Gorlagon, suddenly fall face forward to her knees in fright - at first, you almost believe she has swooned or fainted with the impatience of a long wait, attending upon your decision and the awkward conversation of Mariamne and Setebos.
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Yet instead you observe that the Poursuivant messenger girl has now essentially prostrated herself, face first and horizontally flat in utter obeisance and abjection, before the immaculate and merciless white marble of the Verdant Sanctum embarcation concourse.
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Throughout this transport terminus of the Verdant Sanctum Apportioned District, you notice immediately the appearance of a long procession of guards.

There are uncountably many of them, all around you: enmeshed in ballistic visors and the swirling gothic carapace of armigerous Highborn.
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Glagolitic Guard (Church Of Oration)
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Imagine a delicate paper sculpture - the finely creased kite wings of a paper crane. Except what has appeared before you has the appearance of folded gunmetal; a massive corrugated, squat rhinocerous, coated by process of chemical vapour deposition in impenetrable absorptive military vantablack. The camouflage pulls the light from your eyes. There is a breathless discomfort, an unnerving sensation of interoceptive error. The black presence compresses space, crushes unspoken words hung within the air.

It is some sort of tank or armoured carrier, but it makes no sound. Paradoxically somehow it simultaneously resembles both a blunt formless mass, yet also a heavy wedge of honed, razor-sharp cutting lines.

The crushing bulk of the heavy armoured transport vehicle is streaked with a warning stripe of unnatural illumination; the stripe is currently a strident, fluorescent yellow. You are not sure what this means, but it seems like a warning.
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Quench Pistol, "Action Bias"
Magnonic flensing knife-thrower of Synthemata origin. The kinetic operation of this firearm produces ferromagnetic spin waves of shrapnel, star-metal and Iron; blossoming vortices of wounds and horrifying lacerations, when fired in an undulating trail of cutting light.
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A figure has stepped forth from the far end of the procession. He is enmeshed in similar black armour to the other guards, yet you see the ballistic mask of his helm is illuminated in bright fluorescent yellow - similar to the pattern upon the external black armoured transport vehicle.

You watch the meshed visor of this commander retract, as the filaments of his helm seem to unknot themselves. The faceplate lifts and folds - and to your increasing horror, you see the twisted face of yet another Iron mask beneath... This face appears much older, a snarling beast-face of flayed ligaments and bared teeth. The shadow of eyes swivel in the darkness behind the star-metal sockets. You imagine meat pressed against the raw metal of this ancient mask - there is flesh beneath the Iron, somewhere. A face nested within the recursion of faces.
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Sabagadis Sleer
As the eldest Half-Born son of Scholarch Sleer, Sabagadis has dismissed all rumours of his discontent serving as the intimate personal Protector of the grotesquely corpulent Lord Praecentor, Grotius Balbinus. Known for his ruthless dedication and ferocity in battle against the barbarian hordes of the Flayed Lands, Sabagadis is said to have adopted some of their more savage customs, including an affectation for war-masks common amongst marauders of the Rust Dunes.
Persuasion Engine

You can see some form of self-hovering, levitating gravitic palanquin, which is nonetheless being ceremonially drawn like a wheelless triumphal chariot by a monstrous leashed beast. It resembles a lion made of synthetic, tormented faces, howling in wordless pandemonium and anguish. A yoked lion crawling and writhing with the amputated metal limbs of a crab.
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And upon the palanquin - a mountain of naked flesh. The Mountain is accompanied by attendants, and you see the flesh quiver sporadically, wriggle in spasms of nervous ecstasy, as it expectorates in a slobber of dribbling coughs and shuddering giggles into a dainty receptacle, an ornate chalice spittoon upon a shining silver platter, upheld by servile and fawning hooded followers sycophantically collecting his spittle and drool.
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Grotius Balbinus, Lord Praecentor Of The Oration
In his youth, Lord Grotius was known for his sermons and flourishes of scintillating intellect, delivered in the unmatched high rhetorical style of the greatest Orators of Berceuse. His greatest oration, De Iure Praedae, was fundamental to the jurispudence of Letters Of Marque and Reprisal, the foundational underpinning that enabled the establishment and justification of Warguild action and seizure of territory in the Near War. Though never handsome, Lord Grotius Balbinus was known to have enraptured the congregations of the Church with his beautiful songlike voice, the blessed sound of which produced pangs of elation and longing upon all who heard the warbling, enchanting emanations from the cavernous echoing volume of his tremulous evirato larynx and emasculated, corpulent form.
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The Naked Mountain occasionally belches and sputters (his hooded servants eagerly pounce forth to collect the froth of salivation) and then speaks - in a bizarrely high-pitched, infantile castrati voice:
- BLEURGHgahhhrgghh... wife... want... wife...? Pretty-wife! Pretty! BLEURGHrrggnnnghhagah!
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(more dribble spit-froth produced, enthusiastically collected by attendants)

You see Sabagadis Sleer step forth, and speak with a soothing sarcasm:
- Indeed, my Lord. Your vision, the Voice Of Oration, guides us always. The Path you propose to tread, the Path to end this needless strife of the Discourse Of Salt And Iron, must produce the long-awaited Peace.
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Yet before Sabagadis even finishes his utterance, before the press of his lips have managed even to meet beneath the hideous twisted star-metal of his exposed barbarian war mask... At the mention of "...Peace", the colossal mound of flesh that is Lord Grotius Balbinus convulses in a tantrum of violent rage, contorting as he sneeze-vomits:
- BAAALLLEEUURRGGHHhaaggnahyahhnnngah!
PEACE?!? PEESE?? PEE-ssse?! Bleurghh-gah! NO PEE-ss! No pee! ...ss! POUND! POUND! Pound... WIFE! PRETTY WIFE! Pound... fall. Plop! Ploppy-plop plop! Fall - defecate. Wife, pretty! No pee! Deprecate? Preci-ate? Defecate: I ate. Defecate! Pound defecate, pretty wife. No pee! POUND WIFE! BLEURGH-gah! Hnnnyahgahgah!

A mysterious moist smear is evident beneath the hovering gravitic palanquin bearing Lord Praecentor Grotius Balbinus. The tormented faces within the lion mane of the Persuasion Engine, the beast of burden harnessed to his supporting dais, moan and whimper wordlessly.

For the first time, as the procession approaches closer to you, between the ranks of Oration devotees the Glagolitic Guard, you begin to appreciate the colossal dimensions of the meaty flesh mass of Lord Grotius Balbinus. You think that to fully encompass Lord Grotius visually - at close range within your field of vision - would require a wide sweep of your head from side-to-side.

The enraged cloacal outburst from the obese Lord Praecentor alarms Sabagadis a little; Sleer seems perplexed by its meaning.
- Do you need... company, my Lord? Your wife? To speak to your wife? Which consort do you desire, Lord Praecentor?
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As the shadow of his majestic adiposity looms closer, one surprising facet of this interminable procession at least provides you with some relief.

You were expecting to be overwhelmed by the smell, the olfactory assault of a most loathsome stench of human waste. Instead, as you prepare to withhold your breath in anticipation of the blubbery mass of the Naked Mountain, you notice that Lord Grotius is in truth quite fragrant.

His sycophantic hooded attendants are fastidious in aiding and performing his ritual ablutions, anointing his eminent form in perfumes and glistening unguents, swinging thuribles of sweet misting incense before his path, and swiftly harvesting and collecting in spittoons and chalices the drenching drool and saliva that trickles down from his gargantuan, whale-like meaty bulk. If there is a slight tang of fishy entrails and watery intestinal feculence, you cannot detect it at all. Lord Grotius smells of ointment. Like strawberries, given by a loving mother.

As the rippling distended mounds of flab wriggle closer, you observe for the first time too the concubines of Lord Grotius. There is a long train of these women, moon-like beauties - previously eclipsed behind the enormous inflated rotundity of his girth. (You think strangely of the Sun King in Mariamne's fantastical myth). They are led by a woman bearing a banner, a standard of the Trade-Fallen, trailing long pennants with the sigils of the Old Five Hundredfold, lost Names of forgotten gods.

You remember the Oath and the Light, the Oriflamme venerated by the Oration - yet the Five Hundredfold Banner borne by this concubine is not the proud martial blaze of vermillion that you would expect.

The standard hoisted by this woman is of such a sinister darkness of red, a shade so benighted, it might as well be a banner of mourning.
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The concubines of Lord Grotius Balbinus that follow him possess a wan, funereal beauty. They sway with the elegy of the procession, willing participants attired in the shade of lamentation. You see that similar to the Protector of Lord Grotius, Sabagadis Sleer, the concubines wear masks, fine white porcelain features sculpted into expressions of gentle longing - a sidelong glance or subdued stolen passion. The white masked faces of the concubines are veiled in transparency, some transparent polymer of an almost medical sheen - you dwell a little upon the hygiene implications of Lord Grotius and his incessant expectorating spume (BLEURRGHhhnngg), and shudder involuntarily. You cannot imagine how they might... mount him. The Naked Mountain. Perhaps these haunting ethereal women serve in some other capacity.

In his gibbering high-pitched falsetto, Lord Grotius Balbinus burbles contentedly:
- Bleurgh. Isonomy! I - so, no me! Meee! Bleurgh. I - son, no meee! Isonomy plop, defecate. No pee. Pound wife! Hnngggghh. Bleurgh!
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Experimentation with the yonic weaponry of the Synthemata yielded these creations of decanted organs and consciousness; freed from embodiment and the functional need for proprioception, escaping confinement without any sense of self-movement or inhabiting the human form, these creations of the Synthemata were deemed to possess exceptional beauty, though most could not survive for any sustained duration once severed from the umbilicus and caul. The Lord Praecentor Grotius Balbinus has long sought the essence of these exquisite creations in his concubines.
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Yonic gate to the Path Of Transfiguration; migration of the machine-soul to the Void.

It is said to haunt the dreams of those that have beheld the Machine Chrysalis. Fearing the illicit discovery of secret paths and entryways into the Starmetal Altar, the Isonomy have decreed the harshest excruciations for those that dream, and public broadcasts upon the holo-mist regularly encourage and entice Underdistrict denizens with substantial pecuniary rewards for those that denounce any deviants that dare to recount memories of their dreams.

The Odalisque and the Mandorla are the sacred symbols of the Cathedral Of Envy, whose devotees venerate the Threefold Virtues of Beauty, Youth and Love; the Belsire and Beldame are believed to be the incarnations of the Odalisque and Mandorla upon the corporeal realm. The elder tales told of Man and Maiden, who freed themselves from the confinement of Creation using wisdom they learnt from Yaldabaoth, hanging upside-down in the form of a lion serpent, and who bestowed upon them the gift of Fallen Freedom beneath the Betrayer's Tree. In another version of this tale, both man and maiden were one - united in the form of a beautiful youth named Osirantinous, embodiment of the essence of Air and Fire, imprisoned within the gnarled boughs of a Tree that ensnared demons in torment. It is said a magician-King of Stone and Water freed the youth, who reigned over the eternal Pleasure Garden Of Petal And Thorn thereafter.

In the annals of the Unbidden Court, the Mandorla is alleged to have been adapted from the technology of the first Hypercorporation: Paracosm, having developed a means of thought-manufacture known as the Neural Radiance Field within the Universal Cradle. Before a commercially viable route-to-market could be secured on Berceuse, Paracosm succumbed to the depredations of the Usurer Wars, and the Trade-Fallen Collapse that followed.
Also known as Cadurcorum or Caturcinus - the orbital spin-realm of Eschatonomists, the mercenary usurer-sorcerors of the Isonomy, whom some have called the Deathseers. It resembles a vast wheel encircling the Altar Spire, as if some pentacle coin had been flipped into the vault of the heavens, with its underside scorched black, and its sun-facing surface molten red. Whilst it is not unusual to see an entire subsector of the Cakrasamvara district aflame and directly burning in the conflagration of solar wind, to refer to this alarming sight in the presence of any merchant sorceror is considered to be deeply insulting and unmannerly. Cadurcinus originally served as the administrative heart of Lex Mercatoria, the orbital freight infrastructure and trading berth of the Altar Spire, though Cutback in the gravitic chase, brake run anchors and rail drone harbour have led to the abode of the Eschatonomists drifting further and further apart from the Altar Spire fortress of the Warguild ever since the Near War.

The Order Of Eschatonomists are believed to have descended from those who unwittingly developed simulations of financial warfare in the elder age, when the Kataskopocracy besieged the Tavanir, unleashing their technosorcerous weapon of ultimate sanction, the Distraint - known also as The Living Death, though the immortal soul of Anushirvan is said to have survived the initial onslaught and endured for many years afterwards.
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Silence Engine (Spacefolder Monococque)

Unibody shell, consisting of blast plates integrated into the structured skin of a v-hull vehicle chassis. Sloped armoured faces deflect detonations away from internal passenger compartments and the suspensor drivetrain beneath.

As the long procession finally approaches the sinister armoured transport, you wonder at how it can contain the enormous obesity of the Lord Praecentor Grotius Balbinus. The vehicle is sizeable enough to transport perhaps an exoarmour battalion - yet far from spacious enough to contain the bulk of Lord Grotius and his grotesque entourage.
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You see the formerly fluorescent yellow upper plating of the Silence Engine unfolding in gunmetal petals, warping the ambient colouration of the air around it and casting flaring pulsations of shadows, alternating diffuse and passionate darkness.

The gunmetal petals of armour plating unhinge and break free, levitating to encircle and encase the procession of passengers.
With a twist and unravelling of braided light, they are gone.

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